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[l] at 10/17/19 9:04am


“We must determine the whistleblower’s identity,” tweeted Trump , who has become obsessed with finding and punishing the individual that blew the whistle on the president’s dealings with Ukraine. 

“Our primary interest right now is making sure that…they are protected,” responded Adam Schiff (D-CA) on Face the Nation , noting that two whistleblowers had now come forward from within the intelligence community. 

The ongoing public battle between Trump and Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, is part of an escalating war between Democrats and Republicans over the Ukraine whistleblowers. While Democrats hail the whistleblowers’ bravery , Republicans accuse them of espionage and treason.

We have entered the age of partisan whistleblowing, in which whistleblowers will be judged kindly only when their disclosures advantage one party over the other. 

The partisan treatment of whistleblowers is new. Until now, Congress has waged a bipartisan war on all public-interest whistleblowing. With politicians and pundits fixated on impeachment and democracy, what this moment portends for the future of whistleblowing and democracy has been largely ignored. 

Who is a whistleblower?

Disclosures of national security information have always been controversial.

They follow a familiar pattern. Immediately after a disclosure, the whistleblower is branded either a hero or a traitor. Politicians and pundits debate whether they are a “legitimate” whistleblower and obsess over hidden political motives. The whistleblower is often punished, usually incarcerated. Over time the obsession with the whistleblower displaces debates about the contents of the actual disclosure.

This pattern has played out with every episode of national security whistleblowing since the early 20th century, including high-profile cases from Daniel Ellsberg to Edward Snowden.

Consider the case of Reality Winner.

In 2017, the twenty-six-year-old NSA contractor revealed intelligence analysis of Russian interference in the 2016 election to The Intercept . The Trump administration branded her a “leaker” and convicted her under the Espionage Act, with the longest sentence ever given to a whistleblower. The press briefly obsessed about her name and personality , before the news cycle moved on.

Winner had no advocates in Congress. The only ones who branded her a hero were whistleblowing watchdogs and advocacy groups

So why the different treatment for the Ukraine whistleblowers?  

In disclosing the contents of the phone call and efforts to hide the full transcript, the Ukraine whistleblowers are presented as organizational defenders, protecting the national interest against corrupt presidential behavior. This fits within deliberately narrow state definitions of whistleblowing against “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Although Winner exposed the failure of the White House to address Russia’s election meddling, she did not use the right language, go through official channels, or conform to the image of a legitimate whistleblower.

Before now, Republicans and Democrats have come together to sanction, delegitimize, and prosecute anyone who discloses information related to national security.

“Snowden and his defenders claim that he is a whistleblower, but he isn’t,” said Schiff, only three years ago . “Most of the material he stole,” Schiff claimed, “has been of great value to America’s adversaries and those who mean to do America harm.”

These polarized political times have broken that bipartisan consensus. As attempts to investigate presidential behavior through establishment types like James Comey and Robert Mueller have failed, Democrats have looked to the Ukraine whistleblowers to build a case for dislodging Trump. And Republican have questioned whether these cases involve whistleblowing at all.

As the political trenches are dug, we should ask who defines national security whistleblowing and what protections whistleblowers actually receive. 

Who are the gatekeepers?

The Ukraine whistleblowers have used internal reporting channels to deliver their complaints to the Inspector General of the intelligence community. These channels were designed to keep concerns within the executive branch away from congressional and public scrutiny.

The public typically never knows about these complaints. The first one only reached congress because Democratic members pressed acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire after his office deferred to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and refused to pass it on .

Insider channels have failed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

In 2002, Thomas Drake, a senior NSA official used them to report waste and illegality in the “Trailblazer Project,” a massive secret surveillance program. Instead of protecting Drake, the insider channel became a tool of his undoing. The inspector general counsel passed documents to the FBI, which raided Drake’s home. When the Defense Department’s assistant investigator general advocated on behalf of Drake, he was fired. 

In 2006, the Defense Department acting inspector general said it was a “misnomer” to call the existing legislation whistleblower protection statutes. A recent report on internal reporting channels found that one quarter of all inspector general employees and one third of all reprisal investigators said they feared reprisal.

While the Ukraine episode is hailed for its potential political impact, the most consequential cases of whistleblowing have historically involved insiders going directly to the press.

Ellsberg first went to The New York Times with the Pentagon Papers, and Snowden shared his disclosures with The Guardian and The Washington Post. These actions led to landmark Supreme Court rulings on the right to publish and the passage of the USA Freedom Act . They also prompted increased penalties for whistleblowers and for journalists reporting on national security .

The national security state and politicians should not be the sole gatekeepers of what information circulates in the public sphere. Instead of simply celebrating or condemning the new whistleblowers along party lines, this moment should spark a conversation about the place of national security whistleblowing in a democratic society. 

Let’s not misread the rise of partisan support for whistleblowers as a sign of progress. National security whistleblowing predated Trump, and it will survive his presidency. What happens when the next whistleblower’s revelations are hailed by Republicans against Democratic administrations? 

The post The Ukraine Whistleblowers and the Rise of Partisan Whistleblowing appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Hannah Gurman is Clinical Associate Professor at New York University. Kaeten Mistry is Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia. They are lead researchers for NYU’s Blowing the Whistle project and coeditors of the forthcoming Whistleblowing Nation: The History of National Security Disclosures and the Cult of State Secrecy.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Adam Schiff, daniel ellsberg, Donald Trump, Edward Snowden, national security state, reality winner, thomas drake, whistleblowers]

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[l] at 10/16/19 12:31pm


There’s a growing awareness now that climate change is an existential threat to humanity. Inspiring movements are demanding solutions, and politicians are scrambling to offer them.

That’s good. But there’s another existential threat that gets a lot less attention: nuclear war. And a new study suggests it’s time to pay attention — and eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.

The study, published this October in Science Advances, warns that “rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals” could rapidly cause a “global catastrophe.” It examines the possible repercussions of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, but it’s relevant to anyone who lives on this planet — and especially in a heavily nuclear-armed country like ours.

The study paints a grim picture. In a conflict between Indian and Pakistan, it says, up to 50 million people would die if 15-kiloton weapons are used. Almost 100 million would die if 50-kiloton weapons are used. And about 125 million if 100-kiloton weapons are used.

Casualties would occur not only in the nuclear explosions themselves, but also due to smoke emissions and other environmental damage resulting from the aftermath of a nuclear exchange.

Because of the dense populations of cities in Pakistan and India, even a war with the lowest-yield weapons could kill as many people as died in all of World War II. But unlike World War II, these casualties would occur within a single week.

“Perhaps for the first time in human history,” the authors conclude, “the fatalities in a regional war could double the yearly natural global death rate.”

The study’s release is particularly timely, given that India and Pakistan are currently locked in another tense standoffover Kashmir. But the authors also point out that their analysis could be used to model potential impacts of a nuclear war between any two nations.

Indeed, India and Pakistan aren’t the only countries increasing tensions and heightening the risk of a nuclear exchange.

A new nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia is giving young people like me a firsthand, time travel-free look at the Cold War era we were too young to experience. This year, President Donald Trump asked Congress to fund a new so-called “low-yield” nuclear weapon, which is touted as being “more usable.”

But if this study shows anything, it’s that no nuclear weapon should be considered “usable.” Any nuclear exchange anywhere is likely to have catastrophic consequences for the earth’s climate and human health everywhere.

The world can’t afford to ignore these disturbing findings, which emphasize the urgent need to prevent nuclear conflict and to reduce — and eliminate — nuclear arsenals.

Pakistan and India have only a fraction of the nuclear weapons possessed by the United States and Russia — and only a fraction of their potential destructive power. Right now, the United States and Russia are currently engaged in a super-high-stakes game of chicken of their own.

We’ve come very close to nuclear war in the past. Human health and survival are at stake in preventing what we cannot cure. No nation on earth can afford the catastrophic regional and global consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.

There is no such thing as a small nuclear war. American decision-makers at every level of government need to heed this study’s findings and work to advance commonsense policies to reduce and eliminate the nuclear weapons threat — before it eliminates us.

The post Don’t Forget: Nuclear Weapons Are an Existential Threat, Too appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager at Physicians for Social Responsibility. 

[Category: War & Peace, Disarmament, nuclear weapons, nukes]

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[l] at 10/16/19 12:18pm


Donald Trump loves to talk about ending the endless U.S. wars that he inherited as president. He tweets about it. He endlessly criticizes his predecessors for their martial mistakes.

But like the old saw about the weather, Trump talks a whole lot about endless wars but doesn’t do anything about them.

Just this month, he went against the advice of pretty much everyone to pull 1,000 U.S. troops out of northern Syria where they were protecting a largely autonomous Kurdish region. The result has been an immediate flare-up in the Syrian conflict as Turkey sent troops over the border to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal. 

Then Trump turned around and sent an additional 2,000 troops to Saudi Arabia to help them defend against Iran or the Houthis or perhaps just internal critics of the regime. 

In fact, the Trump administration has deployed 14,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East since the spring. Compare that with the 1,000 troops that Trump is withdrawing from northern Syria. The president seems more focused on starting fires than putting them out.

Last month, Trump promised a grand deal with the Taliban that would allow the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. But that didn’t happen.

And what about the Kushner plan that was supposed to end the endless conflict between Israel and Palestine? Dead on arrival

America’s drone wars? By March 2019, Trump has launched more drone strikes (2,243) than Obama did in his two terms in office (1,878). 

Counter-insurgency campaigns in Africa? Trump has ordered a 10 percent cut in forces on the continent by 2022, but the total forces under the Africa Command actually went up by more than double that amount from 2017 to 2018 (6,000 to 7,500). 

Containment of China? The Pentagon, under Trump, has made China its “number one priority,” and much of the increase in military spending in the Trump administration has gone to preparing for war with Beijing .

Meanwhile, on the home front, Trump has declared war on Congress, on the mainstream media, on anyone who disagrees with him. A recent video shows Trump mowing down all of his critics in an altered outtake from the movie, Kingsman . As a meme, it’s disgusting. As a metaphor, it’s chillingly accurate.

Let’s face it: Trump is not against endless war. He is the embodiment of endless war. It’s the essence of his operating system. He went into politics because he understood that it’s endless war by other means (and he’s always been too squeamish to fight in endless wars by ordinary means). 

Once and for all, let’s bury the myth of Trump the dealmaker. He’s about as transactional as a heavyweight boxer. Remember: he was the host not of Let’s Make a Deal but of The Apprentice , in which he presided over a war of all against all with a single winner and lots of losers. He has simply brought that spirit of ungenerosity into the White House. 

The consequences have been devastating all around.

The Mess in Syria

Somehow Trump figured out the one geopolitical move he could make that could pave the way for a Turkish invasion of Syria, force a desperate alliance between beleaguered Kurds and the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, improve Russia’s standing in the region, and revive the fortunes of the Islamic State. 

He seized on this strategy of withdrawing 1,000 troops from northern Syria probably because everyone warned him not to do it. Trump loves to defy expert advice. He’s convinced that he knows better. It’s unclear whence he derives this confidence since he has made disastrous decisions his entire life that have produced bankruptcies, unbuilt buildings all over the world, and a near total refusal of banks to provide him with loans.

The latest fiasco started with a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 6 in which Trump effectively endorsed the Turkish cross-border operation in Syria. 

David Sanger, in The New York Times , explains that Trump’s “error, some aides concede in off-the-record conversations, was entering the Oct. 6 call underprepared, and then failing to spell out for Mr. Erdogan the potential consequences — from economic sanctions to a contraction of Turkey’s alliance with the United States and its standing in NATO.” 

This was enough of a green light for the Turkish leader. Erdogan has been dreaming of invasion for some time in order to neutralize what he believes are a bunch of terrorists aiding Kurdish separatists in southeastern Turkey. He’d also like to relocate many of the Syrian refugees in Turkey to a new Turkish-controlled area in northern Syria. 

Until this month, however, Erdogan had been satisfied with a buffer zone. In a sense, U.S. troops were serving as peacekeepers in the region. There were not enough to launch significant military operations but just enough to stand between Turkey and the Kurds on one side and the Syrian government and the Kurds on the other. But no more.

The immediate victims of Trump’s latest decision are the Kurds, the ally that Trump relied on so heavily in his campaign against the Islamic State. The hope of Syrian Kurds for maintaining a peaceful and semi-autonomous state is now gone. The Kurds immediately signed a deal with Damascus that has brought Syrian government forces into the one significant part of the country that remained in opposition hands. When Trump’s callous move forced them to choose, Kurds opted for the devil they knew over the devil across the border. 

Turkey’s intervention has displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Kurdish refugees are flowing into Iraqi Kurdistan, and humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps are pulling out their staff from northern Syria. Atrocities against civilians have taken place , including the execution of Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf. Turkey is also moving against domestic critics of the military operation, which also happen to be mostly Kurds. Erdogan’s move is motivated in good part by domestic considerations — his desire to silence his critics and generate a spike in nationalist sentiment.

Russia, meanwhile, has moved swiftly to take the place of the United States. Russian troops have flowed into northern Syria to serve as a buffer between Turkey and the government in Damascus. Perhaps it’s better for the Russians to play this role, particularly in the Trump era. But given Moscow’s support for the ruthless Assad, its willingness to sell anybody pretty much any weapon, and its general indifference to human rights, I’m not enthusiastic about an expanded Russian role in Middle East affairs. The United States was no great shakes, but Russia is worse.

Then there’s the Islamic State, which has not disappeared, contrary to Trump’s fanciful assertions. According to The New York Times

The White House statement on Sunday came as the Islamic State is gathering new strength, conducting guerrilla attacks across Iraq and Syria, retooling its financial networks and targeting new recruits at an allied-run tent camp, American military, counterterrorism and intelligence officers say.

Over the past several months, ISIS has made inroads into the sprawling Al Hol tent camp in northeast Syria, and there is no ready plan to deal with the 70,000 people there, including thousands of family members of ISIS fighters.

American intelligence officials say the Al Hol camp, managed by Syrian Kurdish allies with little aid or security, is evolving into a hotbed of ISIS ideology. The American-backed Syrian Kurdish force also holds more than 10,000 ISIS fighters, including 2,000 foreigners, in separate makeshift prisons.

In the chaos of the Turkish intervention, at least 750 Islamic State adherents escaped from a displacement camp in the Kurdish-held region. Trump has speculated without any proof that the Kurds deliberately released the prisoners in order to draw the United States back into military engagement. Nice try, Donald: the Kurds are no longer counting on the United States for anything. 

But the worst part is: it turns out that Trump didn’t end the war with the Islamic State after all. 

The War at Home

The president has been conducting a two-front foreign policy war ever since he took office. 

Overseas, he’s been involved in numerous conflicts with both allies and adversaries. But at home, he’s also been at war: with his own policymaking apparatus. He has chewed through foreign policy advisors of all types: Jim Mattis, John Bolton, Rex Tillerson, HR McMaster. As he retreats further into the mancave of his twitterverse, Trump has fallen back on the advice of someone with an even more paranoid and incoherent worldview than his own. 

It turns out that there’s an advisor even worse than Trump’s own gut: Rudy Giuliani. 

The impeachment hearings are every day revealing the real deep state — the shadow foreign policy orchestrated by Trump and Giuliani. Fiona Hill, who was responsible for Russia and Europe policy at the National Security Council, testified that Giuliani worked to get Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, removed from her post. He was also trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He was even trying to prove that Ukraine helped the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections.

According to The Washington Post , Giuliani “said he believed Hill was out of the loop compared to Sondland and others involved with Ukraine. ‘She just didn’t know,’ he said. He added that he had never talked to her about Ukraine policy.”

Wake up and smell the facts, Rudy: that’s the definition of a shadow foreign policy. The person who knew the most about Russia and Ukraine was out of the loop? And you, Rudy Giuliani, whose knowledge of Ukraine can be boiled down to a handful of ludicrous conspiracy theories, presume to displace Marie Yovanovitch, who speaks the languages of the region, was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Kiev from 2001 to 2004, and was determined to help root out corruption in Ukraine? 

And your chief ally in this endeavor, other than a president who has even less understanding of geopolitics than you do, is Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union? Sondland has only one qualification for his job: absolute fealty to Donald Trump. The guy’s nothing more than a glorified hotelier who has spent most of his time in Brussels overseeing an expensive renovation of the ambassador’s residence. 

Giuliani has emerged as this generation’s Oliver North, the architect of the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan years. Like North, Giuliani has been running a covert operation under the noses of the foreign policy professionals. Rudy’s goal was much narrower and grubbier than North’s: the reelection of the president. Giuliani, in other words, was basically a CREEP (Committee to Reelect the President) unto himself. 

All of this is bad news for Trump on the impeachment front. But it’s also bad news for Giuliani, particularly if it turns out that he didn’t disclose his lobbying ties, which would expose him to criminal charges . After all, he actively lobbied on Turkey’s behalf to persuade the Trump administration to extradite the cleric Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania back to Turkey. Mike Flynn, Trump’s erstwhile former national security advisor, went down for almost the identical offense. 

Meanwhile, Rudy was pulling down half a million dollars for his consulting work with the aptly named Fraud Guarantee (or is that Guaranteed Fraud?), which just happened to be owned by one of the Ukrainians recently arrested for campaign finance violations.

It’s not looking good for the president and all the president’s men. Trump continues to try to fight his way out of his predicament. So far, he still has the Republican Party in his corner. But that might not last long. 

The impeachment will not be an endless war. It will be nasty and brutish, but it will be relatively short. Trump the putative dealmaker might make one last appearance in an effort to stay out of jail. But the more fitting scenario would be if the president goes down in flames as the most prominent casualty of his own endless war against the U.S. people.

The post Trump’s Endless Wars appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, War & Peace, Afghan War, Donald Trump, drones, impeachment, Kurds, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rudy Giuliani, syrian civil war, syrian kurds, U.S. military intervention, ukraine scandal]

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[l] at 10/15/19 10:08am


The #MeToo movement started with a single tweet — now, it has produced an international treaty. 

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, while close to three in four report having been sexually harassed. Much of this violence occurs in the workplace, where power imbalances and economic pressures increase the risk of abuse. Yet 59 countries have no legislation specifically addressing workplace harassment.

This June, the International Labor Organization (ILO) —  the United Nations agency for workers’ rights — took a historic step to close this gap. In a landslide vote of 439 to 7, the ILO adopted the legally binding Convention Concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work , as well as a non-binding recommendation that builds out the details.

Following years of campaigning by labor unions, women’s rights activists, and human rights organizations, this was a landmark victory. But the fight is not over. Like most treaties, the convention is only binding for those that sign on. 

To further the struggle against workplace violence and harassment, both here and abroad, the United States should ratify this new convention, which commits its parties to “respect, promote and realize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment.” 

Under the new rules, states are obligated to ban violence and harassment, institute national prevention plans, establish substantive monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, ensure access to victim remediation, and more. Employers are required to work with employees to institute workplace protections, including complaint procedures, independent dispute resolution mechanisms, and whistle-blower safeguards. 

And, crucially for an agreement on labor rights, unions are championed for their essential role in combating abuse.

Some of the agreements’ greatest strengths are in the details: gender-based violence is highlighted as a unique, and uniquely insidious, challenge (though LGBTQ+ issues are not explicitly mentioned). Workers of all contractual statuses (such as trainees, contractors, and interns) and all sectors (public and private, formal and informal) are covered. The “workplace” is defined expansively, including travel, commutes, and meetings. 

States are also called upon to address domestic violence as it relates to the workplace — a particular win given that domestic violence is still legal in some countries. Vulnerable populations, such as migrant, hospitality, and domestic workers, are rightfully emphasized. 

Much of the implementation is left up to discretion. If the United States ratifies the convention, some existing regulations will be deemed sufficient, while others will require strengthening. Yet across the board, workers will gain a protective backstop and a powerful legal weapon in the fight for additional protections. Ratifying the convention would make all American workers safer. 

But the case for ratification extends beyond our borders. 

First, as the global hegemon, U.S. support sends a powerful message to other countries considering signing on, while providing leverage for the domestic civil society movements pressuring them to do so. 

Second, ratification is a precondition for other measures that may be used to improve global standards. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent trade plan, for example, would extend certain trade privileges only to countries that comply with international agreements like the Paris Accord. If similar methods are ever to be used for this convention, the U.S. must first sign on itself.

Third, the neoliberal model of globalization has allowed corporations to pursue opportunities for profits, and therefore exploitation, across borders. When countries are forced to compete to attract investment by weakening regulations , global treaties that establish minimum standards —  and the multilateral bodies dedicated to doing so — are essential. Ratification expresses a commitment to both.

Finally, the campaign for the convention has united major unions from around the world. Its ratification would be a victory for labor internationalism , and fuel for a growing movement with even higher aspirations .

Despite these benefits, ratification will be a struggle. The right wing is ideologically opposed to pro-worker regulations — especially when those regulations are embodied in an international treaty, a perceived restraint on unilateral American power.

With treaty ratification requiring the support of the president and two-thirds of the Senate, the U.S. has only ratified 14 of the ILO’s 190 Conventions. Under an administration resistant to multilateral cooperation, and with Republicans holding the Senate, the convention on violence and harassment is unlikely to be the exception.

But there is a chance. Of the ILO Conventions that the United States has ratified, one was a 97-0 vote in favor, and others have passed under a Republican majority. Further, while the U.S. delegation to the ILO was split on the recent recommendation vote, all four, including representatives of the government, employers, and workers, voted in favor of the convention. 

If past Republican senators and Trump administration delegates could bring themselves to support an ILO Convention, then a blue wave in the 2020 elections, leadership from the next president, and organized grassroots pressure may bring ratification within reach.

It won’t be easy an easy fight. But to address the scourge of violence and harassment in the workplace, to protect workers both here and abroad, and to enshrine the lessons of the #MeToo era into law, it’s a cause worth fighting for.

The post The #MeToo Movement Has Gone Global  appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Michael Galant is the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy 2019 Economics and Trade Fellow, and a recent graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is interested in building global solidarity for left alternatives to neoliberal models of globalization and “development,” and can be found on Twitter at @michael_galant.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Human Rights, Labor, Trade, & Finance, Women, #metoo, Convention Concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, ILO, International Labor Organization, sexual harassment, United Nations, workplace safety]

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[l] at 10/15/19 9:58am

Syrian Kurdish refugees, 2014 (Shutterstock)

The biggest problem with the U.S. withdrawal of forces from the Syrian border with Turkey is that they were there in the first place.

Trump’s decision hands over the Kurdish-run region of northern Syria to Turkey, a NATO ally with whom the U.S. has been conducting joint operations at the border. The move gave Turkey the green light to attack Kurdish communities in the region, which is currently held by the Kurdish YPG militia. The bombing has already begun, killing dozens and driving tens of thousands to flee the advancing Turkish assault.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has ordered an additional 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia, putting lie to Trump’s claims that the withdrawal from northern Syria had anything at all to do with ending “endless wars” or troop deployments.

The Turkish government has long been awaiting an opportunity to attack this region of Kurdish autonomy, while some inside Turkey support the Kurdish struggle. The issue is also linked to the region’s burgeoning refugee crisis: Turkey is preparing mass deportations of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey to the Syrian side of the border.

Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds, U.S. allies who have fought ISIS at tremendous cost, has sparked bipartisan outrage — from Hillary Clinton to Trump’s own former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who wrote on Twitter: “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.” Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, usually strong Trump supporters, also broke ranks with the president.

Yet the U.S. betrayal of the Kurds did not begin with Trump’s announcement. Trump is only writing the latest chapter in a shameful history.

Haley finished her tweet with the hashtag “#TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.” But the fact is that Turkey, a NATO ally that has long provided airspace and collaborated in various ways with the U.S. military, has been an important ally of the United States for years. Turkey’s violence toward the Kurdish people inside and outside its borders, and its government’s escalating repression at home, has not complicated this.

According to the Security Assistance Monitor, from 2002 to this year, the U.S. has given Turkey more than $300 million in military aid. Through the ups and downs of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, the aid keeps flowing and joint operations between the countries’ two militaries have continued. As Turkey begins its offensive in northern Syria, it is likely doing so with American weapons.

The Kurds are stateless people who have faced violence and discrimination in countries throughout the Middle East — not just Turkey. The U.S. has signaled support for Kurdish freedom before, only to turn its back on their struggles.

In 1991, after the U.S. defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, President George H.W. Bush encouraged Kurds and others oppressed by the Iraqi government to rise up and topple it — only for U.S. forces to give a green light for Hussein to crush the rebellion and stand by while his forces mercilessly slaughtered tens of thousands, preferring to negotiate a separate U.S. ceasefire instead.

That 1991 catastrophe came after Hussein’s forces used chemical weapons against the Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988 as part of the genocidal Anfal campaign, which was also a response to Kurdish resistance. Then too, thousands were killed. At the time, Hussein was an ally of the United States.

These atrocities should be seen in the context of broader U.S. violence in the region.

It is sickening that the U.S. would knowingly deliver the Kurds to Turkish violence again today. But our outrage should not lead us to embrace the U.S. presence in Syria. As in Iraq and beyond, that military presence — aimed at both defeating ISIS and jockeying for a seat at the table in determining Syria’s future alongside other regional powers — has been disastrous.

Amnesty International has investigated, for example, the Pentagon’s 2017 aerial siege of the city of Raqqa, where the Islamic State was headquartered. Amnesty concluded that U.S. forces acted with utter disregard for civilian life, killing and wounding thousands, and slaughtering whole families. Journalists Lama Al-Arian and Ruth Sherlock have documented the grim life for Raqqa residents since. The U.S. also abandoned these residents, freezing reconstruction funds after leaving 70 to 80 percent of the city’s buildings destroyed.

Trump may be especially brutish in the nakedness of his power calculations, and shortsighted in his outlook on U.S. strategy and relationships. But the U.S. has always been guided by what will advance its power on the world stage — and to the extent that there is a debate in Washington’s halls of power about foreign policy at all, it is usually about that.

If the U.S. wants to help the Kurds today, the answer is not more permanent war — that’s part of what’s made life so miserable for Kurds and so many others across the Middle East to begin with. Instead, it could suspend its military aid to Turkey, and end its racist exclusion of refugees.

Reversals and betrayals of allies are as common as long-term alliances. Patently uncommon are genuine commitments to democracy and human rights.

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and InTheseTimes.com.

The post Trump’s Betrayal of the Kurds Is Terrible, But the Answer Is Not Endless War appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

[Category: Human Rights, War & Peace, Donald Trump, Iraq War, iraqi kurds, Isis, Islamic State, Kurds, NATO, Saddam Hussein, syrian civil war, syrian kurds, U.S. military intervention]

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[l] at 10/9/19 2:52pm

Donald Trump with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: White House / Flickr)

The world’s burgeoning far-right movements are far-flung and diverse, but in government they share a few core tendencies: They attack minority populations. They criminalize dissent. And they’re horrible for the planet.

The slide into extractivist authoritarianism in the U.S. is part of a worldwide trend, exemplified by the parallels between the U.S. and Brazil, where far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is presiding over an accelerated destruction of the Amazon, attacks on Indigenous Brazilians, and brazen profiteering by aligned corporate interests.

Another striking international parallel was on display recently in Houston, Texas, where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the stage with Trump at an event that felt like a fascist rally.

I’m not using the term “fascist” lightly. Here’s a brief explanation for readers unfamiliar with Indian history.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s political party, is rooted in a much older organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a connection the BJP doesn’t deny — Modi himself is a long-time RSS member.

Early RSS ideologues were inspired by European fascism. B.S. Moonje, a mentor of RSS founder K.B. Hegdewar, visited Italy, met with Mussolini, toured fascist youth indoctrination camps, and was inspired to popularize an Indian version of these camps through the RSS.

M.S. Golwalkar, another early RSS leader, openly praised Nazism in his writings. He wanted to create a Hindu nationalist India based on the ethnonationalist, militaristic vision of fascism. Golwalkar never apologized for or retracted these views during his lifetime, and the RSS waited 67 years to publicly repudiate them, making the repudiation not particularly credible.

But this isn’t just an ancient skeleton in the BJP’s closet. The violent ethnonationalism that RSS leadership admired and espoused in the 1930s is very much alive in the agenda of today’s BJP. This ideology views Muslims as the enemy of India’s national identity, and Muslims have been the main target of the Modi government’s politics of violence and repression.

The best-known example is the BJP government’s escalation of the decades-long conflict in Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution provided for a certain measure of autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35A, a provision of Article 370, restricted acquisition of land in the state by persons from outside it.

In August, the Modi government unilaterally scrapped Article 370 using questionable means. This was a prelude to the further militarization of an already heavily militarized territory, a communications blockade that eliminated all internet, mobile phone, and landline service, and worsening violence against Kashmiris, with reports of deaths, torture, and detention (including detention of children).

Eliminating Article 35A opens the door to changing the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir through settlement, much like Israel’s practice in occupied Palestine. Doing so would be completely consistent with the BJP’s ethnonationalism.

A lesser known example of the Modi government’s Islamophobia is its campaign to strip Muslims of alleged Bangladeshi descent in the state of Assam of their Indian citizenship unless they can prove their citizenship — in a country where most people, especially the rural poor, don’t have birth certificates.

Also excluded from the “citizens’ list” created by the Modi government are transgender people.

The Indian government is now building camps to detain people who are stripped of their citizenship. Mass detention of a civilian population, usually based on their ethnic, religious, or other identity, fits the definition of concentration camps.

There are obvious parallels with the U.S. here. The Trump administration’s horrific border policies include detaining children and families in concentration camps, as experts who’ve studied the history of concentration camps agree, regardless of what right-wing apologists say. And The Trump administration is engaged in a legal assault of its own against the basic rights of transgender people and LGBTQ people more broadly.

Then, there’s the Modi and Trump regimes’ deep-seated hatred of Muslims. The U.S. government has gone to the extent of banning people from specific Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. altogether. While courts have upheld this policy on the grounds that its stated intent is to keep out nationals from countries with ties to “terrorism,” Trump’s own statements point to the intent to exclude Muslims from the U.S.

Other parallels between the far-right political projects in India and the U.S. include their ties to extractive industries and their shared objective of criminalizing opposition to extractivism, particularly by Indigenous peoples.

In the United States, a recent investigative news report revealed that oil and gas companies have been lobbying Congress to insert provisions criminalizing protests against fossil fuel infrastructure into a pipeline safety bill. Similar laws are already on the books in states such as Louisiana and North Dakota. Besides being an attack on the right to protest, these laws are outright assaults against Indigenous peoples who have been in the forefront of struggles against fossil fuel infrastructure in the U.S.

These laws are being pushed by the fossil fuel industry — along with regulatory changes rolling back automobile fuel efficiency standards, making it easier for coal power plants to pollute, and more. The U.S. government increasingly acts like a tool of fossil fuel companies and oligarchs.

Similarly, Modi has direct ties with Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, who has benefited from public subsidies and deregulation for his fossil fuel, mining, and other business interests. Adani has also been a vocal supporter of Modi, including when the latter faced scrutiny for his role in covering up an anti-Muslim pogrom when he led the state of Gujarat. Adani’s company has a sordid record of destroying ecosystems and violating Indigenous rights, from Gujarat to Australia.

And like the U.S. government, the Modi government is also criminalizing Indigenous resistance to extractivism by equating it with “terrorism.”

Exploring these parallels isn’t an academic exercise. For cross-border movements for justice to successfully dismantle far-right ethnonationalism backed by fossil fuel and other corporate interests, in the U.S., India, Brazil, and elsewhere, we must start with a shared understanding of the common material and ideological foundations of the global far right. Sharper understanding can make our resistance more effective.

The post Dig Beneath the World’s Far-Right Governments — You’ll Find Fossil Fuels appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

[Category: Energy, Environment, Human Rights, Labor, Trade, & Finance, BJP, fascism, fossil fuels, hindutva, indigenous peoples, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, oil, RSS]

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[l] at 10/9/19 2:23pm


For the Pentagon, happy days are here again (if they ever left). With a budget totaling more than $1.4 trillion for the next two years, the department is riding high, even as it attempts to set the stage for yet more spending increases in the years to come.

With such enormous sums now locked in, Secretary of Defense (and former Raytheon lobbyist) Mark Esper is already going through a ritual that couldn’t be more familiar to Pentagon watchers.

He’s pledged to “reform” the bureaucracy and the spending priorities of the Department of Defense to better address the latest proposed threats du jour, Russia and China. His main focus: paring back the Pentagon’s “Fourth Estate” — an alphabet soup of bureaucracies not under the control of any of the military services that sucks up about 20 percent of the $700 billion-plus annual budget.

Esper’s promises to streamline the spending machine should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. Virtually every secretary of defense in living memory has made similar commitments, with little or nothing to show for them in terms of documented savings. Far from eliminating wasteful programs, efforts pursued by those past secretaries and by Congress under similar banners have been effective in only one obvious way: further reducing oversight and civilian control of the Pentagon rather than waste and inefficiency in it.

Examples of gutting oversight under the guise of reform abound, including attempting to eliminate offices focused on closing excess military bases and sidelining officials responsible for testing the safety and effectiveness of weapon systems before their deployment.

During the administration of President Bill Clinton, for instance, the slogan of the day —  “reinventing government” — ended up, in Pentagon terms, meaning the gutting of contract oversight. In fact, just to repair the damage from that so-called reform and rebuild that workforce took another $3.5 billion. Gordon Adams, former associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, noted accurately that such efforts often prove little more than a “phony management savings waltz.”

Secretary of Defense Esper has also pledged to eliminate older weapons programs to make way for systems more suited to great power conflict. Past efforts along these lines have meant attempts to retire proven, less expensive systems like the A-10 “Warthog” — the close-air-support aircraft that protects troops in combat — to make way for the over-priced, underperforming F-35 jet fighter and similar projects.

Never mind that a war with either Russia or China, both nuclear-armed states, would be catastrophic. Never mind that more effort should be spent figuring out how to avoid conflict with both of them, rather than spinning out scenarios for fighting them more effectively (or at least more expensively).

Prioritizing unlikely scenarios makes for a great payday for contractors, but often sacrifices the ability of the military to actually address current challenges. It takes the focus away from effectively fighting the real asymmetric wars the U.S. has been fighting since World War II. It leaves taxpayers with massive bills for systems that almost invariably turn out to be over cost and behind schedule. Just as an infamous (and nonexistent) “bomber gap” with the Soviet Union was used by the Pentagon and its boosters to increase military spending in the 1950s, the current hype around ultra-high-speed, hypersonic weapons will only lead to sky’s-the-limit expenditures and a new global arms race.

Esper’s efforts may end up failing even on their own narrow terms. Reforming the Pentagon is hard work, not only because it’s one of the world’s largest bureaucracies, but because there are far too many parochial interests that profit from the status quo. Under the circumstances, it matters little if current spending patterns aren’t aligned with any rational notion of what it would take to defend the United States and its allies.

A Revolving-Door World

The Department of Defense regularly claims that it has implemented “efficiencies” to ensure that every penny of your tax dollars is being wisely spent. Such efforts, however, are little more than marketing ploys designed to fend off future calls for cuts in the Pentagon’s still-ballooning budget. Here are just two recent examples of this sadly familiar story.

In September 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that the Department of Defense had provided insufficient evidence that $154 billion in alleged “efficiency savings” from fiscal years 2012 to 2016 had been realized; the department claimed credit for them anyway.

Just this month, the GAO came to a similar conclusion regarding a proposed Pentagon reform plan that was to save $18.4 billion between fiscal years 2017 and 2020. Its report stated that the Pentagon had “provided limited documentation of… progress,” which meant the GAO “could not independently assess and verify” it.

Consider that a charitable way of suggesting that the Department of Defense was once again projecting a false image of fiscal discipline, even as it was drowning in hundreds of billions of your tax dollars. The GAO, however, failed to mention one crucial thing: even if those alleged savings had been realized, they would simply have been plowed into other Pentagon programs, not used to reduce the department’s bloated budget.

Esper and his colleagues have argued that it will be different this time. In an August 2nd memo, his principal deputy, David Norquist, stated that “we will begin immediately and move forward aggressively… The review will consider all ideas — no reform is too small, too bold, or too controversial to be considered.”

Even if Esper and Norquist were, however, to propose real changes, they would undoubtedly run into serious interference within the Pentagon, not to mention from their commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, a man determined to plough ever more taxpayer dollars into the military, and from members of Congress in states counting on jobs generated by the military-industrial complex.

Inside the Pentagon, on the other hand, resistance to change will be spearheaded by officials who previously held jobs in the defense industry or hope to do so in the future. We’re talking, of course, about those who have made use of, or will make use of, the infamous “revolving door” between weapons companies and the government. Consider that the essence of the military-industrial complex in action.

Such ties start at the top. During the Trump administration, the post of secretary of defense has been passed from one former defense industry figure to another, as if it were literally reserved only for key officials from major weapons makers.

Trump’s first secretary of defense, retired General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis, came to the Pentagon straight from the board of General Dynamics, a position he returned to shortly after leaving the department. Interim Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who followed him, had been an executive at Boeing, while current Secretary Esper was Raytheon’s former chief in-house lobbyist. The Pentagon’s number three official, John Rood, similarly comes courtesy of Lockheed Martin. And the list only goes on from there.

This has been a systemic problem in Democratic and Republican administrations, but there has been a marked increase in such appointments under Donald Trump. A Bloomberg Government analysis found that roughly half of the Obama administration’s top Pentagon officials had defense contractor experience. In the Trump administration, that number has reached a startling 80 percent-plus.

That revolving door, of course, swings both ways. Defense executives come into government, where they make decisions that benefit their former colleagues and companies. Then, as retiring government officials, they go to work for defense firms where they can use their carefully developed government contacts to benefit their new (or old) employers.

This practice is endemic. A study by the Project On Government Oversight found 645 cases in which the top 20 defense contractors hired former senior government officials, military officers, members of Congress, or senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018 alone.

There is, of course, nothing new about any of this. The late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) pinpointed the problem with the revolving door back in 1969:

“The easy movement of high-ranking military officers into jobs with major defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years from retirement and have the example to look at over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

Such revolving-door hires and former defense executives in government remain a powerful force for the status quo in Pentagon spending. They exert influence as needed to keep big-ticket weapons programs like the F-35 combat aircraft up and running, whether they are needed or not, whether they work as promised or not.

For his part, President Trump has repeatedly bragged about his role in promoting defense-related employment in key states, both from Pentagon budget increases and the sale of arms to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. In March, he held a one-hour campaign-style rally for workers at a tank plant in Lima, Ohio, at which he typically suggested that his budget increases had saved their jobs.

As for Congress, when the Army, in a rare move, actually sought to save a modest amount of money by canceling an upgrade of its CH-47 transport helicopter, the Senate struck back, calling for funding that the Pentagon hadn’t even requested in order to proceed with the program. The reason? Protecting jobs at Boeing’s Philadelphia-area factory that was scheduled to carry out the upgrades. Unsurprisingly, Trump seems fine with this congressional initiative (affecting the key battleground state of Pennsylvania), which still needs to survive a House-Senate conference on the defense bill.

The bottom line: Donald Trump is likely to oppose any changes that might have even the smallest impact on employment in states where he needs support in election campaign 2020. Defense industry consultant Loren Thompson summed up the case as follows: “We’re too close to the presidential election and nobody [at the White House] wants to lose votes by killing a program.”

And keep in mind that this president is far from alone in taking such a stance. Similar reelection pressures led former President Jimmy Carter to increase Pentagon spending at the end of his term and caused the George H. W. Bush administration to reverse a decision to cancel the troubled V-22 Osprey, a novel part-helicopter, part-airplane that would later be implicated in crashes killing dozens of Marines.

“We Won’t Get Fooled Again”

What would a genuine Pentagon reform plan look like?

There are areas that could easily yield major savings with sufficient political will and persistence. The most obvious of these might be the Pentagon’s employment of more than 600,000 private contractors, many of whom do jobs that could be done by government civilians for less. Cutting that work force to “only” about half a million, for example, could save more than a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade, as noted in a recent report by the Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force (of which both authors of this article were members).

Billions more could be saved by eliminating unnecessary military bases. Even the Pentagon claims that it has 20 percent more facilities than it needs. A more reasonable, restrained defense strategy, including ending America’s twenty-first-century forever wars, would make far more bases redundant, both at home and among the 800 or so now scattered around the planet in an historically unprecedented fashion.

Similarly, the president’s obsession with creating an expensive Space Force should be blocked, given that it’s likely only to increase bureaucracy and duplication, while ensuring an arms race above the planet as well as on it.

Real reform would also mean changing how the Pentagon does business (not to speak of the way it makes war). Such savings would naturally start by simply curbing the corruption that comes from personnel in high positions who are guaranteed to put the interests of defense contractors ahead of those of taxpayers and the real needs of American security. (There are also few restrictions on former officials working for foreign governments and almost no public disclosure on the subject.) The Project On Government Oversight found hundreds of Pentagon officials leaving for defense industry jobs, raising obvious questions about whether decisions they made were in the public interest or meant to advance their own future paydays.

Real reform would close the many loopholes in current ethics laws, extend cooling-off periods between when an official leaves government and when he or she can work for an arms contractor, and make far more prominent information about when retired national security officials switch teams from government to industry (or vice versa). Unfortunately, since Esper himself has refused to pledge not to return to the world of the corporate weapons makers after his stint as secretary of defense, this sort of reform will undoubtedly never be part of his “reform” agenda.

One outcome of his initiative, however, will definitely not be money-saving in any way. It will be to boost spending on high-tech systems like missile defense and artificial intelligence on the almost laughable grounds (given the past history of weapons development) that they can provide more military capability for less money. Whether you look at the Navy’s Ford aircraft carriers (the first two costing $13.1 billion and $11.3 billion) or the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker (which has taken nearly two decades to procure), it’s not hard to see how often vaunted technological revolutions prove staggeringly costly — far, far beyond initial estimates — yet result in smaller, less effective forces.

As longtime Pentagon reformer Tom Christie has pointed out, to really change the acquisition system would require building in significantly more discipline. That would mean demonstrating the effective and reliable use of new technology through rigorous field-testing before advancing fragile weapons systems to the production stage, ensuring future maintenance and other headaches for troops in combat.

There is, in addition, a larger issue underlying all this talk of spending reform at the Pentagon. After all, Esper’s “reforms” are visibly designed to align Pentagon spending with the department’s new priority: combatting the security challenges posed by Russia and China.

Start with one crucial thing: these challenges have been greatly exaggerated, both in the Trump administration’s national defense strategy and in the report of the industry-led National Defense Strategy Commission. That document, when you analyze its future math, even had the nerve to claim that the Pentagon budget would need to be boosted to nearly $1 trillion annually within the next five years, reports Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Russia has much to answer for — from its assistance to the Syrian army’s ongoing slaughter of civilians to its military meddling in the affairs of Ukraine — but the response to such challenges should not be to spend more on ships, planes, and advanced nuclear weapons, as current Pentagon plans would do. In reality, the economy and military of Russia, a shaky petro-state only passing for a great power, are already overshadowed by those of the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Throwing more money at the Pentagon will do nothing to change Russian behavior in a positive fashion. Taking measures that are in the interests of both countries, like renewing the New START nuclear reduction treaty and beginning new talks on curbing their massive nuclear arsenals, would be extremely valuable in their own right and might also open the door to negotiations on other issues of mutual concern.

China’s challenge to the U.S. is significantly more economic than military and, if those two nations wanted to make the planet a safer place, they would cooperate in addressing the threat of climate change, not launch a new arms race.

Genuine reform of the Pentagon’s massive budget is urgently needed, but rest assured that Secretary of Defense Esper’s claims about implementing real changes to save taxpayer dollars while making the U.S. military more effective are the equivalent of bestseller-list Pentagon fiction.

The motto of Congress, not to speak of the White House and the public, with respect to the Pentagon’s latest claims of fiscal probity should be “we won’t get fooled again.”

The post The Pentagon Is Pledging to Reform Itself. Again. It Won’t. appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Mandy Smithberger, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Labor, Trade, & Finance, War & Peace, Corruption, mark esper, military spending, Military-industrial Complex, pentagon spending, Raytheon, revolving door]

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[l] at 10/9/19 12:57pm


Trump’s public appeal to China last week to help with uncovering dirt on the Biden family was both a brazen flouting of the law and (it pains me to say) an astute political tactic.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump announced to reporters only moments after saying, about trade talks with Beijing, that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

Trump’s move coincides with two other critical revelations in the impeachment scandal.

The first is the release of texts that provide the proverbial smoking gun: the Trump administration was indeed promising a quid pro quo of a White House visit and/or the unfreezing of military aid for Ukraine’s assistance in digging up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Then came the announcement of a second whistleblower with direct knowledge of the phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Taken together — the appeal to China, the damning text messages, the second whistleblower — these developments add up to what I’d previously written was missing: a slam dunk in the impeachment of the president. He broke the law. He has tried to cover up the breaking of the law. He continues to break the law — and is defying the constitution by refusing to cooperate with Congress on its investigations.

But Trump, the Republican Party, and their captive media occupy a different reality, where the president is up against a vast conspiracy of corrupt officials, do-nothing Democrats, and biased mainstream journalists. This part of their story is obvious: it’s reiterated over and over in Trump’s tweets, Republican talking points, and Rush Limbaugh rants.

What’s not so obvious is that this conspiracy extends to the rule of law. According to this skewed version of reality, corruption has penetrated the bedrock institutions of American society: the political sphere, the intelligence agencies, the mainstream media. Corruption has transformed the very fabric of politics, culture, and law.

To root out corruption, then, it’s necessary to step outside the rule of law. Donald Trump hasn’t declared a state of emergency. But he is acting as if he has (which, by the way, is illegal). His decision not to cooperate with all the congressional inquiries, including the most recent impeachment inquiry, is also part of this unstated state of emergency.

The phone call with Zelensky was “perfect” not because it conformed with the conventional understanding of presidential conduct, but because it corresponded to Trump’s unstated state of emergency. His appeal to China was equally an attempt to normalize his acts according to this state of emergency.

Trump has tipped over the political chessboard because he believes that it’s warped. He is continuing to play nonetheless, but on his own board, with his own pieces, and according to his own rules.

What makes Trump’s move so fiendishly clever is that his paranoid style of governance has a grain of truth to it. The chessboard is warped.

A rule of law that permits a vice president’s son to benefit so blatantly from his father’s position, maintains a revolving door that transforms “corruption” into business as usual, and creates a state patronage system (the military-industrial complex) of astonishing size and influence is something of a contradiction in terms.

The rules are determined by law — except when they’re determined by power. American politicians have traded on their government connections with foreign leaders for private gain for a very long time indeed. That they did so only after leaving office, according to the dictates of the rule of law, only gives the corruption a veneer of respectability.

Trump, of course, doesn’t even respect this veneer. His violations of the emoluments clause of the U.S. constitution indicate that he is so impatient to use his office for personal gain that he isn’t waiting to leave the White House to start his influence-peddling. Trump’s chessboard, in other words, is even more warped than the conventional one.

The astute reader might ask how Trump can simultaneously challenge and benefit from the corruptions of the status quo. You could have asked the same question of Nicolae Ceausescu, the leader of Romania, who purported to lead a workers’ state but lived in unbelievable opulence. Leaders who operate according to unstated states of emergency can get away with such contradictions through outright repression or extraordinary lies. Trump, so far, has relied on the latter.

Such a state doesn’t last forever. On December 21, 1989, Ceausescu was giving what he believed to be a routine speech in Bucharest. This time, however, behind the first row of supporters, the crowd began to boo. The look on the leader’s face when he understood what was happening was priceless. It was his last public appearance. The next day, he and his wife fled the city by helicopter. They didn’t get far. They were tried and executed on Christmas Day.

At what point will Trump have his Ceausescu moment, when he realizes that the base he’d always counted on has turned its back on him?

Why China?

Donald Trump has alleged that Hunter Biden made $1.5 billion in payoffs from Chinese businesses. As with pretty much everything that comes out Trump’s mouth, this allegation is false. Biden’s son served in an unpaid capacity on the board of a U.S.-China joint venture, BHR Partners. In October 2017, Hunter Biden invested somewhere around $420,000 to acquire a 10 percent stake in the company and reportedly hasn’t received any compensation from his involvement in BHR.

There was no kickback. There was no collusion (Joe Biden wasn’t in government in October 2017). So, it’s a non-story.

But again, it’s a non-story according to the finer points of the law. Let’s face it: Biden’s son was following in the time-honored tradition of trading on his political influence. Indeed, it’s what Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer all have done with China as well — receiving favored treatment from the country after paterfamilias Donald Trump had already taken office.

In other words, the public is primed to believe that if you lie down with the Chinese, you wake up with pay-offs. To quote only the most salient example, Henry Kissinger, who helped negotiate détente with Beijing in the 1970s, went on to make tens of millions of dollars in consulting fees from parlaying his contacts once he left government.

Even if Hunter Biden wasn’t making out like a bandit in China, there’s the huge monthly salary he was pulling down as a board member of the Ukrainian energy company. As David von Drehle points out in The Washington Post, sober working people making $50,000 a year may be skeptical of a system in which a vice president’s addicted son reportedly collected that sum every month.” It’s not corruption by the conventional definition, but it’s unseemly.

Corruption: that’s the word that Trump is trumpeting, over and over. It’s a tricky strategy. Trump knows corruption when he sees it because, well, he’s soaking in it. But as long as his base continues to see him as an anti-corruption fighter, a drainer of the swamp instead of a denizen of it, the president will continue to hold his party captive and fend off impeachment charges.

Perhaps this time Trump has overreached. The latest polling suggests that nearly 20 percent of registered Republicans now want the House to vote to remove the president from office.

Meanwhile, Trump is upsetting his party in other ways.

Phony Phone Calls

The phone calls that Trump has with foreign leaders read like something out of an absurdist play: Trump Ubu.

He congratulates Vladimir Putin on his election victory even though his advisors pleaded with him beforehand not to. He promises to help Saudi Arabia join the Group of Seven. He praises Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous drug policy. In his quest for a Nobel Peace Prize, he tries to enlist the help of Japan’s Shinzo Abe. He drones on about chocolate cake with China’s Xi Jinping.

But his most recent phone conversation with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has generated some bipartisan criticism — and all because Trump is defying the Pentagon and trying to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” Trump tweeted.

The problem is that Trump is also giving Turkey a green light to strike against the Kurds in northern Syria. Trump’s critics, including those in the Republican Party, are worried that the Islamic State will re-emerge and the abandonment of a steadfast Kurdish ally will make others around the world think twice about siding with a fickle United States. Trump’s close pal in the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), called the president’s move “a disaster in the making.”

It’s not clear if Trump will actually go ahead with this plan any more than he followed through on his earlier declaration of a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. But all it takes is one phony phone call for Republicans to realize that the commander-in-chief does whatever he wants without any consideration of the party’s stated goals.

The Republican Party is not going to get bent out of shape about Trump breaking the law. Or Trump’s involvement in corruption. Or even his obstruction of justice. He has been engaged in these activities since day one. Republicans will continue to blather on about how his peccadillos don’t rise to the level of the “high crimes” required for impeachment.

But the president, in his “great and unmatched wisdom,” may yet piss off his party on some other foreign policy issue. He might, for instance, make a deal with Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, or some other disreputable rival autocrat that the Republicans just can’t stomach. Perhaps he’ll impulsively pull the United States out of NATO. Or maybe he’ll start savaging a critical mass of Republican lawmakers out of sheer pique.

Then Republicans will be forced to acknowledge that Trump’s unstated state of emergency is an authentic emergency that requires — for the sake of the Constitution, democracy, and rule of law — the removal of the perpetrator. They won’t do so out of principle. They will do so only out of expediency: to save their party and their own skins.

That’s when Trump will appear in front of the crowds to give a speech — perhaps during the impeachment process, perhaps at the height of the 2020 election campaign — and hear nothing but crickets from Graham, Fox News, and his previously rock-solid base. Maybe there will be even some boos.

That’s when Trump will have his Ceausescu moment. And that will be the last moment of his inglorious political career.

The post Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, China, Donald Trump, hunter biden, impeachment, Joe Biden, Nicolae Ceausescu, Republicans, State Of Emergency, ukraine scandal]

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[l] at 10/2/19 9:48am

School strike for climate in Melbourne (Julian Meehan via Flickr)

Led by young people, climate strikers blocked traffic on two mornings at the end of last month in Washington, DC. On the first day, protestors chained themselves to a boat three blocks from the White House, and 32 activists were arrested. On the second day, activists targeted the EPA and Trump International Hotel. It was a not-so-subtle suggestion to commuters stuck in their cars on those mornings to think more favorably about public transportation or telecommuting. It was also a potent reminder, as Congress remains polarized on so many issues, that some paralysis is healthy in the nation’s capital.

The DC protests were part of a global climate strike that involved an estimated 6.6 million people. In New Zealand, 3.5 percent of the population participated. Melbourne, Berlin, and London each had rallies of 100,000 people. In Seattle, over a thousand workers walked out of Amazon headquarters, demanding that the company reduce its carbon emissions to zero.

It wasn’t just the children of the privileged in the industrialized world who were out on the streets. Protests took place in 125 countries and 1,600 cities, including 15 cities in the Philippines, throughout India, and in thousands of places in Africa.

The global climate strike is just the latest mass protest this year. Demonstrations have roiled Hong Kong since the beginning of the summer. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets in Moscow through the fall to protest restrictions on local elections. Thousands of Brazilians thronged major cities to condemn their president’s handling of the Amazon fires, and the same outrage prompted people to gather with placards in front of Brazilian embassies all over the world. Protests against Venezuela’s leadership that broke out on January 1 have recently dwindled even as demonstrations to remove Haiti’s president have heated up and security forces have cracked down on Iraqis protesting the corruption and inefficiency of their government.

Anti-government rallies in Serbia became some of the longest running protests in Europe this summer. Elsewhere in Europe, the yellow vests continued to target the government of Emmanuel Macron into 2019. In the UK, thousands gathered to protest Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament in September.

Protestors marched last month in South Africa to decry rising violence against women. At the beginning of the year, the Women’s March 2019 again focused anger at Donald Trump and his administration’s record on women’s issues, while gun control supporters held “recess rallies” around the United States in August to push for stricter limits on firearms. After massive protests helped oust the previous prime minister in 2016, candlelight protests again returned to South Korea this last weekend as 800,000 people gathered to support an embattled justice minister and his reform agenda.

Analysts almost daily bemoan the erosion in democratic values that has accompanied the rise of autocratic politicians. And indeed, recourse to the streets can be a sign that people no longer believe that the ordinary mechanisms of democracy are working.

Viewed another way, however, the sheer number of protests and their geographic spread prove that 2019 was a banner year for engagement, for participation, for democracy. As protestors like to chant, this is what democracy looks like.

Ahead to the Past?

Fifty years ago, young people also declared that they were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. In Warsaw in 1968, Polish students demonstrated in defense of free speech and against police brutality. It was part of a larger rebellion in the Soviet bloc, led by Alexander Dubcek’s “socialism with a human face” reforms in Czechoslovakia. Students in Germany contacted their rebellious counterparts on the other side of the Iron Curtain as part of their own campus actions. In Paris, meanwhile, French students took over the streets with slogans like “Be realistic, demand the impossible.”

It was a worldwide phenomenon. Students mobilized in Mexico, Pakistan, and Japan. The first protests against the military dictatorship began in Brazil. And, of course, huge anti-Vietnam War demonstrations convulsed the United States.

Then as now, young people were upset with government repression, grievous policies of war and environmental destruction, and systemic sclerosis. They were critical of an imposed political consensus – by military juntas, communist governments, and the joint efforts of liberal and conservative politicians in the democratic world.

But there was also hope. Young people believed in 1968 that they could create new societies – at the micro-level in communes, in newly radicalized city councils, and even at a national level like Dubcek’s experiment in Czechoslovakia. “Beneath the paving stones – the beach!” French students wrote on the walls of Paris that year.

Alas, many of the protests of 1968 ended in tragedy. The Polish government threw the students in jail. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and ended Dubcek’s experiment. The Mexican government killed untold number of students. Richard Nixon was reelected in the United States, and the Vietnam War dragged on for another seven years.

Today, young people are operating under a sky full of ominous clouds. They aren’t filling the streets to create a new world so much as to save the old, imperfect one. If 1968 was a year of utopian protest, 2019 has been one long effort to prevent a dystopian future.

The Clampdown

The protests of 2019, so far at least, have not produced much change. In some countries, the pushback has been terrifying.

During a summer of escalating protests, Russian authorities detained 2,000 people, most of them young. The vast majority of the detainees were subsequently released. But several were convicted of various offenses, including inciting a riot, and sentenced to several years in prison. “I can say with certainty that Russia is striving inevitably towards freedom,” 21-year-old protestor Egor Zhukov said at his trial. “I don’t know whether I will be freed, but Russia certainly will be.” He is currently under house arrest and has been put on a government blacklist of terrorists. This week, 25,000 people returned to the streets in Moscow to demand the release of all those arrested over the summer.

As China celebrated its seventieth year of Communist rule, protestors in Hong Kong tried to upstage the proceedings. For the first time, police fired live ammunition at the crowds. One high school student was hit in the shoulder. Of the 51 people who went to the hospital, two are in critical condition. The protests, which have been going on for over 100 days, have not been entirely nonviolent. Protestors have thrown gasoline bombs and beaten police with metal pipes. The policy, too, have been increasingly aggressive. An air of desperation is settling over the scene.

In the United States, a few scattered protests have taken place in support of the impeachment of Donald Trump. The president’s wrath, meanwhile, has been focused closer to home. Trump has lashed out at the person who blew the whistle on his conduct with foreign leaders, which precipitated the Democratic Party’s decision to press ahead with an impeachment inquiry. Trump called the CIA whistleblower “close to a spy” – well, duh, the person does work for the CIA – and a “traitor.” Trump publicly lamented that the United States no longer treats traitors the way it once did (presumably by imposing the death penalty). Given his willingness to put his own interests – and occasionally the interests of other countries – above the national interest, Trump may one day soon be relieved that the United States has changed its policy toward traitors.

Even worse, Trump has retweeted pastor Robert Jeffress’ contention that the United States could descend into a “civil war” if the president is impeached. This is the closest that a president has come to a call to arms within the country since the 1850s. It’s one thing for an autocrat like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping to use the apparatus of the state to suppress protests. It’s quite another for a democratically elected leader to threaten to call on his well-armed supporters to rise up against the state itself.

As in 1968, the protestors can’t expect immediate results. It took twenty more years before the student protestors in Poland and Czechoslovakia would oust the governments that suppressed them. Mexico is no longer a one-party state, and Pakistan is more or less a democracy. Despite Jair Bolsonaro’s best efforts, Brazil has not returned to the days of military dictatorship.

Patience, however, is not the best strategy when it comes to climate change. The ice continues to melt. The temperatures continue to rise. Extreme weather events continue to happen. As the old advertising jingle used to go, you can’t fool Mother Nature. The #FridaysforFuture movement isn’t really a bunch of rebellious students. If they had one unified message last month, it was: please, for the sake of the planet, listen to your Mother!

The post The New Age of Protest appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: Environment, China, climate change, climate strike, Democracy, Donald Trump, environment, Hong Kong, protest, Russia]

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[l] at 9/27/19 1:56pm


Medea Benjamin

The environmental justice movement that is surging globally is intentionally intersectional, showing how global warming is connected to issues such as race, poverty, migration and public health. One area intimately linked to the climate crisis that gets little attention, however, is militarism. Here are some of the ways these issues — and their solutions — are intertwined.

  1. T he U.S. military protects Big Oil and other extractive industries. 

The U.S. military has often been used to ensure that U.S. companies have access to extractive industry materials, particularly oil, around the world. The 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was a blatant example of war for oil. Today, the U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia is connected to the fossil fuel industry’s determination to control access to the world’s oil. Hundreds of the   U.S. military bases spread around the world are in resource-rich regions and near strategic shipping lanes.

We can’t get off the fossil fuel treadmill until we stop our military from acting as the world’s protector of Big Oil. 

  1. The Pentagon is the single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world.

If the Pentagon were a country, its fuel use alone would make it the 47th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, greater than entire nations such as Sweden, Norway, or Finland. U.S. military emissions come mainly from fueling weapons and equipment, as well as lighting, heating, and cooling more than 560,000 buildings around the world.

  1. The Pentagon monopolizes the funding we need to seriously address the climate crisis

We are now spending over half of the federal government’s annual discretionary budget on the military when the biggest threat to U.S. national security is not Iran or China, but the climate crisis. 

We could cut the Pentagon’s current budget in half and still be left with a bigger military budget than China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea combined. The $350 billion savings could then be funnelled into the Green New Deal. Just 1 percent of the 2019 military budget of $716 billion would be enough to fund 128,879 green infrastructure jobs instead. 

  1. Military operations leave a toxic legacy in their wake

U.S. military bases despoil the landscape, pollute the soil, and contaminate the drinking water. At the Kadena Base in Okinawa, the U.S. Air Force has polluted local land and water with hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos. and dioxin. Here at home, the EPA has identified over 149 current or former military bases as SuperFund sites because Pentagon pollution has left local soil and groundwater highly dangerous to human, animal, and plant life. 

According to a 2017 government report , the Pentagon has already spent $11.5 billion on environmental cleanup of closed bases and estimates $3.4 billion more will be needed. 

  1. Wars ravage fragile ecosystems that are crucial to sustaining human health and climate resiliency .

Direct warfare inherently involves the destruction of the environment, through bombings and boots-on-the-ground invasions that destroy the land and infrastructure. In the Gaza Strip, an area that suffered three major Israeli military assaults between 2008 and 2014, Israel’s bombing campaigns targeted sewage treatment and power facilities — leaving 97 percent of Gaza’s freshwater contaminated by saline and sewage, and therefore unfit for human consumption. 

In Yemen, the Saudi-led bombing campaign has created a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe, with more than 2,000 cases of cholera now being reported each day. In Iraq, environmental toxins left behind by the Pentagon’s devastating 2003 invasion include depleted uranium, which has left children living near U.S. bases with an increased risk of congenital heart disease, spinal deformities, cancer, leukemia, cleft lip and missing or malformed and paralyzed limbs. 

  1. Climate change is a “threat multiplier” that makes already dangerous social and political situations even worse.

In Syria, the worst drought in 500 years led to crop failures that pushed farmers into cities, exacerbating the unemployment and political unrest that contributed to the uprising in 2011. Similar climate crises have triggered conflicts in other countries across the Middle East, from Yemen to Libya. 

As global temperatures continue to rise, there will be more ecological disasters, more mass migrations, and more wars. There will also be more domestic armed clashes — including civil wars — that can spill beyond borders and destabilize entire regions. The areas most at risk are sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South, Central, and Southeast Asia.

  1. The U.S. sabotages international agreements addressing climate change and war. 

The U.S. has deliberately and consistently undermined the world’s collective efforts to address the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and speeding the  transition to renewable energy. The U.S. refused to join the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord was the latest example of this flagrant disregard for nature, science, and the future. 

Similarly, the U.S. refuses to join the International Criminal Court that investigates war crimes, violates international law with unilateral invasions and sanctions, and is withdrawing from nuclear agreements with Russia. By choosing to prioritize our military over diplomacy, the U.S. sends the message that “might makes right” and makes it harder to find solutions to the climate crisis and military conflicts.

  1. Mass migration is fueled by both climate change and conflict, with migrants often facing militarized repression

A 2018 World Bank Group report estimates that the impacts of climate change in three of the world’s most densely populated developing regions — sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America — could result in the displacement and internal migration of more than 140 million people before 2050. 

Already, millions of migrants from Central America to Africa to the Middle East are fleeing environmental disasters and conflict. At the U.S. border, migrants are locked in cages and stranded in camps. In the Mediterranean, thousands of refugees have died while attempting dangerous sea voyages. Meanwhile, the arms dealers fueling the conflicts in these regions are profiting handsomely from selling arms and building detention facilities to secure the borders against the refugees.

  1. Militarized state violence is leveled against communities resisting corporate-led environmental destruction.

Communities that fight to protect their lands and villages from oil drills, mining companies, ranchers, agribusiness, etc. are often met with state and paramilitary violence. We see this in the Amazon today, where indigenous people are murdered for trying to stop clear-cutting and incineration of their forests. We see it in Honduras, where activists like Berta Caceres have been gunned down for trying to preserve their rivers.

In 2018, there were 164 documented cases of environmentalists murdered around the world. 

In the U.S., the indigenous communities protesting plans to build the Keystone oil pipeline in South Dakota were met by police who targeted the unarmed demonstrators with tear gas, bean-bag rounds, and water cannons — intentionally deployed in below-freezing temperatures. Governments around the world are expanding their state-of-emergency laws to encompass climate-related upheavals, perversely facilitating the repression of environmental activists who have been branded as “ eco-terrorists ” and who are subjected to counterinsurgency operations

  1. Climate change and nuclear war are both existential threats to the planet.

Catastrophic climate change and nuclear war are unique in the existential threat they pose to the very survival of human civilization. The creation of nuclear weapons — and their proliferation — was spurred by global militarism, yet nuclear weapons are rarely recognized as a threat to the future of life on this planet. Even a very “limited” nuclear war, involving less than 0.5 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, would be enough to cause catastrophic global climate disruption and a worldwide famine, putting up to 2 billion people at risk.  

T he Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set its iconic Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes to midnight , showing the grave need for the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons . The environmental movement and the anti-nuke movement need to work hand-in-hand to stop these threats to planetary survival. 

To free up billions of Pentagon dollars for investing in critical environmental projects and to eliminate the environmental havoc of war, movements for a livable, peaceful planet need to put “ending war” at the top of the “must do” list.


The post 10 Ways that the Climate Crisis and Militarism are Intertwined appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. For a full understanding of the intersection between war and the climate, read Gar Smith’s War and Environmental Reader. 

[Category: Energy, Environment, Labor, Trade, & Finance, War & Peace, climate change, climate refugees, green new deal, Gulf War, militarism, military spending, oil, pentagon budget, persian gulf, Refugees, U.S. Military Bases]

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[l] at 9/27/19 1:25pm

Burning oil fields (artist’s rendering / Shutterstock)

In many ways it doesn’t really matter who — Houthis in Yemen? Iranians? Shiites in Iraq? — launched those missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia. Whoever did it changed the rules of the game, and not just in the Middle East. “It’s a moment when offense laps defense, when the strong have reason to fear the weak,” observes military historian Jack Radey.

In spite of a $68 billion a year defense budget — the third highest spending of any country in the world — with a world-class air force and supposed state-of-the-art anti-aircraft system, a handful of bargain basement drones and cruise missiles slipped through the Saudi radar and devastated Riyadh’s oil economy. All those $18 million fighter planes and $3 million a pop Patriot anti-aircraft missiles suddenly look pretty irrelevant. 

This is hardly an historical first. British dragoons at Concord were better trained and armed than a bunch of Massachusetts farmers, but the former were 5,000 miles from home and there were lots more of the latter, and so the English got whipped. The French army in Vietnam was far superior in firepower than the Viet Minh, but that didn’t count for much in the jungles of Southeast Asia. And the U.S. was vastly more powerful than the insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we still lost both wars.

The September 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco refineries at Abqaiq and Khurais did more than knock out 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s oil production — it shook the pillars of Washington’s foreign policy in the region and demonstrated the fragility of the world’s energy supply. 

The End of the Carter Doctrine?

Since 1945, Washington’s policy in the Middle East has been to control the world’s major energy supplies by politically and militarily dominating the Persian Gulf, which represents about 15 percent of the globe’s resources. The 1979 Carter Doctrine explicitly stated that the U.S. reserved the right to use military force in the case of any threat to the region’s oil and gas.

To that end, Washington has spread a network of bases throughout the area and keeps one of its major naval fleets, the Fifth, headquartered in the Gulf. It has armed its allies and fought several wars to ensure its primacy in the region.

And all that just got knocked into a cocked hat.

Washington blames Iran, but the evidence for that is dodgy. The Americans have yet to produce a radar map showing where the missiles originated, and even the Trump administration and the Saudis have scaled back blaming Tehran directly, instead saying the Iranians “sponsored” the attack.

Part of that is plain old-fashioned colonial thought patterns: the “primitive” Houthis couldn’t pull this off. In fact, the Houthis have been improving their drone and missile targeting for several years and have demonstrated considerable skill with the emerging technology. 

The U.S. — and, for that matter, the Saudis — have enormous firepower, but the possible consequences of such a response are simply too costly. If 18 drones and seven cruise missiles did this much damage, how much could hundreds do? World oil prices have already jumped 20 percent. How high would they go if there were more successful attacks?

The only way to take out all the missiles and drones would be a ground attack and occupation. And who is going to do that? 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has already begun withdrawing its troops from Yemen and has been holding talks with the Houthis since July (which is likely why UAE oil facilities were not attacked this time around). The Saudi army is designed for keeping internal order, especially among Shiites in its Eastern provinces and Bahrain. The princes in Riyadh are far too paranoid about the possibility of a coup to build a regular army.

Would the U.S.? Going into an election with prices already rising at the pump?  The U.S. military wants nothing to do with another war in the Middle East, not, mind you, because they have suddenly become sensible, but as Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chair of the Joints Chiefs of Staff put it, it drains resources from confronting China .

Starting with the administration of George W. Bush, and accelerated during the Obama presidency’s “Asia Pivot,” the U.S. military has been preparing for a confrontation with China in the South and/or East China Sea. The Pentagon also has plans to face off Russia in the Baltic.

One suspects that the generals made it clear that, while they can blow up a lot of Iranians, a shooting war would not be cost free. U.S. Patriot missiles can’t defend our allies’ oil fields (or American bases in the region), and while the anti-missile capabilities on some U.S. naval ships are pretty good, not on all of them are armed with effective systems like the Sea Sparrow. Americans would be coming home in boxes just as the fall election campaign kicked into high gear.

Whether the military got that message through to the Oval Office is not clear, but Trump’s dialing down of his rhetoric over Iran suggests it may have. 

Making Good on a Stalemate

What happens now? The White House has clearly ruled out a military response in the short run. 

Trump’s speech at the UN focused on attacking globalism and international cooperation, not Iran. But the standoff is likely to continue unless the Americans are willing to relax some of their “maximum pressure” sanctions as a prelude to a diplomatic solution. 

The U.S. is certainly not withdrawing from the Middle East. In spite of the fact that shale oil has turned the United States into the world’s largest oil producer, we still import around one million barrels per day from Saudi Arabia. Europe is much more dependent on Gulf oil, as are the Chinese and Indians. The U.S. is not about to walk away from its 70 plus year grip on the region.

But the chessboard is not the same as it was six months ago. The Americans may have overwhelming military force in the Middle East, but using it might tank world oil prices and send the West — as well as India and China — into a major recession. 

Israel is still the dominant local power, but if it picks a fight with Iran or Hezbollah, those drones and cruises will be headed its way. Israel relies on its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system, but while Iron Dome may do a pretty good job against the primitive missiles used by Hamas, mobile cruises and drones are another matter. While Israel could inflict enormous damage on any of its foes, the price tag could be considerably higher than in the past.

Stalemates can be dangerous because there is an incentive to try and break them by introducing some game changing weapon system. But stalemates also create the possibility for diplomatic solutions . That is certainly the case now. 

If a more centrist government emerges from this last round of Israeli elections, Israel may step back from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relentless campaign against Teheran. And Trump likes “deals,” even though he is not very good at them.

“This is the new strategic balance,” says Newclick Editor-In-Chief Prabir Purkayastha in the Asia Times , “and the sooner the U.S. and its NATO partners accept it, the quicker we will look for peace in the region.”

The post How the Saudi Oil Field Attack Overturned America’s Apple Cart appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com.

[Category: Energy, War & Peace, Carter Doctrine, Houthis, oil, saudi oilfield attack, yemen war]

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[l] at 9/25/19 10:37am


A month after he won the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump gave a speech in North Carolina where he declared that “we will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.” 

It’s still commonplace for foreign policy analysts of the left , right , and center to distinguish Trump from his predecessors by pointing out that he hasn’t pursued the regime-policies of either neoconservatives or liberal internationalists. After all, there’s been no Iraq or Libya on Trump’s watch.

It’s a pretty myth. 

True, Trump has no beef against dictators who write him “beautiful” letters, so regime change is off the table for the time being with North Korea. But Trump developed a specific animus against Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and did what he could to push him out of office. First, Trump talked about the military option . Then he ratcheted up sanctions against the country. Finally, he supported what might have been a coup if the plotters hadn’t made such a mess of it. 

With Iran, the regime-change policy has been both subtler and more aggressive. Rather than encourage a coup within the country, Trump has developed a variety of different strategies to squeeze the regime. 

First, he withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal (over the objections of a number of his key advisors). Then he imposed ever-more punitive sanctions on the country and pressed hard against nations that continued to import energy from Tehran. Finally, he has continued to stand by Saudi Arabia as it seeks to destabilize Iran. 

So far, Trump hasn’t sent in the soldiers. But the goal of the administration remains the same. 

Of course, Trump denies that regime change is his objective. But it doesn’t really matter what Trump says. His rhetoric floats above reality like smog over a city.

Rather than debate the finer points of Trump’s objectives — which change from day to day, perhaps minute to minute — let’s reverse the lens. If it’s difficult to determine precisely what Trump’s intentions are toward countries he knows nothing about, it’s much easier to figure out what Trump wants to do in the one country he does know something about.

Trump wants regime change in the United States. He’s not interested in changing the leadership in the White House, as long as he’s occupying the Oval Office. But he does want to change the very nature of the government. 

Fox News and others love to talk about a “coup” by a “deep state” desperate to remove Trump from power. It’s but one more example of the radical right projecting its covert hopes and fears onto its adversaries. 

The coup is real. But it’s all about Trump transforming American governance from within and expanding executive power to the max. It’s not Trump vs. the “deep state.” It’s Trump vs. the state, full stop.

Incredibly, Trump has been busy enlisting the services of foreign leaders who can help make that happen. And it’s this malfeasance — on top of his other crimes — that has now driven Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to attempt a regime change of their own.

From Norway to Ukraine

Trump has flouted U.S. rules and regulations, relying on the incorrigible American love of outlaws to maintain his political base. The publication of the Mueller report, which detailed the wrongdoing of the Trump campaign and its connections to Russia, should have made the president think twice about once again enlisting the services of a foreign government to improve his own electoral chances. 

But when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on June 13, Trump responded, “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it…It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it.” Federal law, of course, prohibits the solicitation of anything of value from a foreign government in connection with an election.

The next month, Trump flipped the script. Instead of a foreign leader phoning in with a juicy morsel of information, Trump himself was trying to extract the intel from an unwilling or at least uncomfortable interlocutor. In a phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump reportedly pressured the Ukrainian president to initiate a corruption investigation into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son. 

Someone in the intelligence community who listened in on the phone call — and possibly Trump’s other communications with foreign leaders — decided that the president crossed a line. This person blew the whistle, which is how the phone call came to public notice.

Trump admits that he talked about Biden with the Ukrainian leader. He even admits that he put a hold on U.S. military aid to Ukraine prior to the phone call. But Trump denies any wrongdoing, including any hint that U.S. aid would stop flowing if Zelensky didn’t comply with the request. 

Trump, as usual, has tried to turn the tables by accusing both Joe Biden and his son of impropriety. Hunter Biden had served on the board of a large Ukrainian natural-gas company, Burisma, while his father was vice president. 

Although there is no evidence that Hunter Biden’s position affected Obama administration policy toward Ukraine, that hasn’t prevented Trump’s attack dog, Rudy Giuliani, from trying to manufacture such a connection. In 2018, Giuliani started building a case that Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire its prosecutor general Viktor Shokin because he was investigating Hunter Biden and Burisma’s co-founder Mykola Zlochevsky.  

As Adam Entous explains in The New Yorker :

There is no credible evidence that Biden sought Shokin’s removal in order to protect Hunter. According to Amos Hochstein, the Obama Administration’s special envoy for energy policy, Shokin was removed because of concerns by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the U.S. government that he wasn’t pursuing corruption investigations. Contrary to the assertions that Shokin was fired because he was investigating Burisma and Zlochevsky, Hochstein said, “many of us in the U.S. government believed that Shokin was the one protecting Zlochevsky.”

Facts be damned, Republican supporters of Trump are scrambling to get ahead of the scandal. The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes (R-CA), reading the old cue cards from Russiagate, immediately blamed everything on Hillary Clinton and the opposition research she’d dug up on Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian connections to counter his father’s possible presidential candidacy in 2016. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urged Trump to release a transcript of the phone conversation because he’s convinced that it will exonerate Trump. 

It’s not the scandal itself that reveals Trump’s executive overreach. It’s his blithe disregard of all rules in his quest for absolute power. He simply refuses to be handcuffed (literally and figuratively). 

In a democracy, the state — its checks-and-balances, its bureaucracy — is the box that contains any potential autocrats. The Republican Party adopted its anti-statist philosophy largely to benefit businesses and the wealthy. Trump has a different agenda. He’s against the American state largely to benefit himself.

The Siren Call of Impeachment

The Democrats have been in a quandary since practically day one of the Trump administration. 

Here was a president whose crimes and misdemeanors preceded his assumption of office. But for the first two years of Trump’s term, the Democrats were a minority in both houses of Congress. After 2018, they controlled the House, which meant that they could launch a series of investigations that the president and his team have stonewalled. Because the Senate remains in Republican hands, impeachment continues to be a long shot.

And yet, Trump continues to act with impunity. So, the Ukraine call has emerged as the proverbial line in the sand. A number of prominent Democrats threatened to proceed with impeachment if Trump didn’t disclose the full contents of his call with Zelensky. Some otherwise centrist Democrats , like Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, joined the bandwagon.

Trump backed down by promising to release both a transcript of his phone call with Zelensky and the whistleblower’s complaint. But Pelosi decided on Tuesday to press forward with an impeachment inquiry nonetheless. Right now, it looks as though the impeachment inquiry will focus only on the Ukraine matter rather than the other obstruction and financial issues that congressional committees are investigating.

Impeachment of Trump, at this point, is both a legal and moral necessity. It’s also very likely a political trap.

Trump relishes the role of an underdog, persecuted by the powerful. It’s what enables him to connect to a political base that, aside from his deep-pocket funders, feels disempowered by a rigged economy and a sclerotic political system. Impeachment, for this constituency, vindicates the narrative of the “deep state.” 

Indeed, it suggests that the entire state is out to get Trump – which it is and should. But impeachment is the only thing that can turn the most powerful man in the world into a cornered victim and thus, for a significant number of American voters, a sympathetic character.

Even better for Trump if impeachment hinges on this particular scandal. The rough transcript of the phone call , released on Wednesday, does not exonerate the president. It demonstrates that he brought up the Bidens as part of an implied offer of greater assistance to Ukraine. But it’s not a slam-dunk either, since there was no specific quid pro quo. A more comprehensive transcript as well as the whistleblower’s full complaint might provide more details. But inevitably there will be room for interpretation, and Trump will drive the bulldozer of his reelection campaign right through that gap.  

Public opinion, at this early juncture, is against impeachment. According to a Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday morning, which doesn’t reflect the events of the last few days, shows that 37 percent of Americans favor impeachment and 57 percent are opposed. Virtually no Republicans support impeachment.

Yet, if the Dems had continued to equivocate, they would have appeared weak and lacking the leadership necessary to govern the country. Appeasing Trump is not a good election strategy.

There’s no easy way out of this impossible situation. But let’s think inside the box. Or, rather, inside the boxing ring.

At a rally last year, Biden said of Trump , “If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.” Trump responded by tweet: “He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way.” 

So, let Trump and Biden fight a battle royal, just the two of them out back of the White House. If the country gets lucky, they’ll knock each other out — and out of the running for 2020. It would be a gift of regime change for both political parties. And maybe someone who’s not so punchdrunk will occupy the Oval Office in 2021.

The post For Trump, Regime Change Begins at Home appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Corruption, deep state, Democrats, Donald Trump, hunter biden, impeachment, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, ukraine scandal]

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[l] at 9/25/19 9:58am

Impeachment supporters rally outside the White House. (Shutterstock)

“Has Trump finally gone too far?” There’s a headline you’ve seen a thousand times.

At last, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says he has. A whistleblower says Trump withheld foreign aid to Ukraine to pressure the country’s new president into investigating Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s past business there. Trump doesn’t even really deny it.

Pelosi has long resisted calls for impeachment, to the chagrin of more progressive lawmakers and activists. But the latest revelations finally brought a cavalcade of more centrist party figures around on the issue.

If true, of course, Trump’s conduct was patently corrupt. “If the president used his office to get a foreign government to investigate a political rival, with an eye toward undermining that rival, that’s a clear abuse of power that assaults the basic premises of American democracy,” explains The Nation’s John Nichols.

But I admit I’m puzzled — not about why Trump’s behavior here was bad, but why this was the offense that got so many reluctant Democrats to stick their neck out.

There’s been any number of earlier abuses — from the merely venal (like altering a hurricane forecast with a sharpie) to the unapologetically corrupt (like putting military officers in Trump hotels and charging taxpayers for vacations at his own properties).

I also recall there was something about Russia, a fired FBI director, and — oh right — that time he called Nazis who’d just beaten people and killed someone in Charlottesville “very fine people.”

At every juncture, and countless others, pundits wondered whether this was the last straw, only to have a fresh truckload delivered the next day. (In fact, the Trump campaign now makes a killing selling Trump-branded plastic straws, to trigger the sea turtles I guess.)

To me the Ukraine-Biden gambit looks like a lot of other things Trump has accustomed us to expect from him. Is there some deep reservoir of public affection for Biden or Ukraine that Democrats feel they can draw on to get their case across this time? It seems unlikely.

The fact that we’ve grown desensitized to such abuses could itself be the best reason to finally prosecute one. But truthfully, there are about a thousand other things I’d rather see lawmakers build a case around.

For instance, after taking buckets of fossil fuel money, the president rolled back power plant emissions limitslaunched legal action against automakers who agreed to increase their fuel efficiency, and wants us out of the Paris climate agreement. He’s repeatedly censored government climate scientists to cover his tracks.

Is destroying the planet impeachable?

What about caging thousands of children, or continuing to separate them from their parents after a court ordered him to stop? Or openly violating U.S. and international law on the treatment of refugees? Or allegedly encouraging border officials to break the law, with the promise of pardons?

Speaking of attacking rivals, what about tweeting incendiary racist slanders against Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashid Tlaib, and other progressive women of color, all but openly encouraging extremist violence against them?

What about encouraging a foreign leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to block those members of Congress from an official visit to the top U.S. aid recipient?

Impeachment is as much a political tool as a legal one. If Democrats feel they need the Ukraine story as a legal hook to start the process, that’s one thing — but I hope they won’t forget to make a political case against these much more egregious abuses along the way.

Otherwise they risk sending the message that the worst thing a president can do isn’t to attack the people or the planet, but a fellow elite.

The post The Case for Impeachment Goes Way Beyond Ukraine appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and editor of Foreign Policy In Focus.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Energy, Environment, Human Rights, Benjamin Netanyahu, censorship, climate change, Democrats, Donald Trump, family separation, Ilhan Omar, immigration, impeachment, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, rashida tlaib, Refugees, ukraine scandal]

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[l] at 9/24/19 7:05am


An American white nationalist killed over 30 people recently. The victims, all brown, had full lives; children, loved ones, and years, full of plans, ahead of them. But then they were incinerated. Worst of all, they were murdered while Afghan. 

The deaths were noted in the press, and one Democrat running for president even acknowledged their passing. But this was foreign blood that spilled, and that does not lead on cable news — not in an era where every other day brings a revelation about the U.S. president, who bears ultimate responsibility for this killing, doing a touch of high crimes.

There will be no vigils, not this time around. Humans are limited enough in their capacity to sympathize; add thousands of miles, in the context of nearly 20 years of occupation and rarely an encouraging headline, and bad things happening to strangers will hardly register, even when the taxes we hate paid for their deaths. 

To be sure, there is a difference between a mass shooter in El Paso, Texas, who killed with racist intent, and the anonymous operator of a U.S. drone, who killed by mistake, and on another’s orders — a distinction, however real, that will not be perceived by the dead.

But white supremacy does not escape all blame for the September 18 killing. 

The strike killed at least 30 civilians and wounded 40 others, all “resting after a day’s labor in the fields,” per a report on the massacre . “Some of us managed to escape,” said Jama Gul, who was collecting pine nuts. “But many were killed.”

Mistakes happen, but they seem to happen more often, with far more lethal consequences, to those living under the watch of U.S. air power.

Statistics bear this out: the United Nations counted at least 363 people killed in the first half of this year by U.S.-led airstrikes . The majority of civilians who are violently killed in Afghanistan are now violently killed by the U.S. and its partners — and that’s not for a lack of competition, with the Taliban answering record-high airstrikes with atrocity after atrocity of their own.

This is happening more often because Donald Trump, a racist, does not care if Afghans die, having lifted inadequate Obama-era restrictions meant to protect, however inadequately, foreign civilians from U.S. incineration. Trump maintains he would prefer not to kill millions of them , while repeatedly stressing that he could “wipe the country off the face of the earth” in just “10 days,” he’s said. 

Mass murder is not something one casually ponders, if the threatened are considered to be fully human; it’s an exercise in sociopathy, by a president who saw good people among the Nazis in Charlottesville but can’t see the humanity in millions of foreigners he could kill on a whim, barring intransigence by one last aide with a conscience.

By contrast, Bernie Sanders, the social democrat from Vermont running to replace Trump, acknowledged the dead in Nangarhar province just as he had in the state of Texas.

“A U.S. airstrike was intended for ISIS, but killed 30 Afghan civilians,” the Democratic contender remarked . “ISIS did not even exist when America invaded Afghanistan 18 years ago,” he continued. “We need to end our longest war and bring our troops home.”

No one else running for president immediately weighed in. Most of them do sound the same tune when Afghanistan comes up, however. Elizabeth Warren, another social democrat, “will bring our troops home from Afghanistan starting immediately,” her campaign says , a pledge she reiterated at the last Democratic debate. Even the centrist Joe Biden says it’s time to get out.

But while liberals have drifted left in terms of questioning America’s role in Afghanistan, particularly in the wake of a surge that the Trump White House could hardly work up the energy to sell, there is good reason to be skeptical that a Democratic president would “end the war.” 

Biden, after all, promised to get out the last time he ran for president, with Obama. And while the Democrats running are not white nationalists in Trump’s mold, all believe in some form of “American Security First,” consequently tolerating a certain amount of innocent death that accompanies almost any military action against a non-state, ever-changing but never-extinguished threat.

Every politician who would like to be president supports bombing the hell out of Islamic extremists, in part because no space has been created for a national figure to embrace an alternative. Even the antiwar critique, as perverted by the likes of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, is that other conflicts the U.S. is said to wage — like a regime-change operation in Syria that doesn’t actually exist , and in fact never did   — distract from this all-important war on terror, mirroring the old liberal critique that Iraq distracted from Afghanistan (which has yet to benefit from our focus). 

Sanders, likewise, says he’s always “supported U.S. airstrikes against ISIS,” believing they do not require any additional congressional authorization. When he introduced a resolution seeking to end U.S.-support for the Saudi war in Yemen, he included an explicit loophole for the U.S.’s own airstrikes “directed at al-Qaeda or associated forces.

That may reflect the art of the possible, in the U.S. Senate and U.S. politics as a whole — good luck to the candidate who would be so brave as to say they would not strike what their intelligence briefers insist is a foreign terror cell, be it in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, or Syria. But those who wish that were not so — that our better politicians were as wrecked by the horror of killing innocents abroad as they would be at home — should be aware that it is our reality, not just for the purposes of tempering expectations, but for amending our tactics. 

“Bring the troops home,” is now a co-opted slogan. In the 21st century, we must not forget about our drones and the need to cater our demands to those of our victims. It’s not boots on the ground racking up kills in today’s American conflicts, but the air power that few have the courage to acknowledge, and fewer still would bring to an end.

The post Mass Killings In Afghanistan Are Acts of White Supremacy appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Charles Davis is a writer and producer based in Los Angeles. His work has been published by outlets such as Al Jazeera, The New Republic, and Salon.

[Category: Human Rights, War & Peace, Afghan War, Civilian Casualties, Donald Trump, drone strikes, drone war, racism, Tulsi Gabbard, War On Terror, white supremacy]

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[l] at 9/23/19 9:06am


It was unforgettable. 

A little boy living in a refugee camp, essentially in exile. In a city known for kidnappings and murders, and in a shelter with inadequate resources and supplies.

Most striking were the circumstances: The child was an American citizen, yet the shelter he resided in was located a few miles from the United States. Why, then, was he not living in his own country?

This is the distorted result of Remain in Mexico — officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — in which the administration forces asylum seekers from Central America to stay in Mexico to await their court dates, rather than allowing them to stay with sponsors in the United States.

In Mexico these migrants have nearly no access to family members, lawyers , or other support. Shelters and employment are woefully inadequate. 

This child, a U.S. citizen, faced the heart-wrenching choice of either staying in the United States motherless, or remaining in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with his mother, who was seeking refuge in the United States after fleeing violence in Honduras.

Asylum Under Threat

In international law, the principle of non-refoulement means that a person should not be returned to danger, whether in their country of origin or in another country. 

Yet migrants are being sent to parts of Mexico with high levels of violence , as documented by Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First . Asylum officers from the Department of Homeland Security have themselves criticized the policy as unlawful, with some refusing to implement it at the risk of losing their jobs. 

The outcome of a lawsuit from The American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is still pending. Meanwhile the numbers of people waiting in Mexico are growing both due to MPP, and to a process called metering , which limits the number of asylum seekers admitted each day.

And those are the people who at least in theory can be considered for asylum in the United States. Others’ opportunities have been curtailed by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow implementation of a rule that makes people ineligible to request asylum in the United States if they have passed through another country without applying for — and being denied — asylum there. 

This means that, with few exceptions, anyone crossing the U.S. southern border who is not from Mexico would not be eligible if they presented themselves after July 16, 2019. To further intensify the situation, the United States has signed an agreement with El Salvador — and seeks to do so with Honduras — in which migrants entering that country would need to seek asylum there, not in the United States. Given the intense gang violence in El Salvador, it is in little position to provide safety.

Courts in Tents

For those awaiting U.S. court dates in Mexico, what happens next? 

The administration has opened courts in tents on the U.S. side in places such as Brownsville and Laredo , Texas. Lawyers have limited access, the hearings are not open to the public , and media have not been allowed inside. Judges are beamed in remotely through video conference

Even more remote than the judges’ locations is the likelihood that any justice will be done. 

Experts believe that nearly all claims to asylum will be denied, since the purpose of the courts is not to protect people from violence in their home countries, but rather to ensure that the claimants do not remain in the United States. 

Of the tens of thousands in the Remain in Mexico program, nearly none have been granted asylum; one who has is facing his case being appealed . University of Texas at Austin professor Denise Gilman calls the tent court process a “sham,” saying “it is not intended to adjudicate claims but rather to exclude and deny asylum.” 

As such, it is the reverse of asylum. The policy takes people who are fleeing violence, makes them wait at the risk of their lives in a dangerous environment, and then sends them back to their countries of origin — potentially to their deaths. 

It’s vital to remember that arriving as an asylum seeker is not “illegal.” On the contrary, being able to request asylum is a right. What is in violation of the law are current policies that seek to deny this right. 

Not fairly hearing an asylum claim, and sending people to unsafe third countries, clearly violates international treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. 

It also contradicts U.S. law, including the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Refugee Act of 1980 . And trampling on people’s rights to a fair hearing violates the Constitution of the United States, which says in the 14 th Amendment that all persons (regardless of citizenship) are to receive due process and equal protection of law. 

How to Take Action 

The violation of rights at the border and throughout the country is directed at people of color, as part of a larger racist and xenophobic bout of white nationalism in our country. The shooting at a Walmart in El Paso is but one manifestation of the hateful discourse labeling the arrival of immigrants as an “ invasion .” White people and citizens need to acknowledge privilege, speak out, and take action lest silence amount to complicity. 

Yet it is all of us who risk living in a nation where our rights are removed, laws are undermined, the safety valve of asylum is denied, militarization creeps further and further into the interior, and fascism is ascendant. If equal protection, human rights, and due process are not preserved, then we all lose rights that we ultimately need. 

In this sense, the border is a harbinger of things to come for everyone — and what’s at stake is the soul of the country, as Fernando Garcia , head of the Border Network of Human Rights, has said. 

Given current policy, should efforts be directed toward getting legal representation to as many Remain in Mexico asylum seekers as possible? Or does that in itself legitimate an illegitimate system? 

Access to lawyers is essential for getting people out of U.S. detention centers and helping them obtain asylum. The El Paso Immigration Collaborative (EPIC) may be an important step forward in that regard. So are bond funds to get people released from detention — such as the Fronterizx Fianza Fund

In the case of Remain in Mexico and the tent-court arrangement, some lawyers are refusing to participate, lest they legitimate the system. While appreciating the work that other attorneys do in representing clients who otherwise have scant access to legal representation — and recognizing the vital role lawyers can plan in witnessing the court proceedings and bringing the problems to public light — Gilman believes a priority is to protest and challenge the tent-system before it becomes institutionalized. 

That could involve activism across communities — by witnessing, documenting, and spreading the word about these abuses, including through a massive social media campaign — and engaging politicians. Nationwide fury led to an executive order ordering the end of the family separation policy (although family separation itself has not ended ), and a similar public response could have an impact here as well. One example is an action being organized by Catholic nuns for October 26 in Laredo, Texas.

Central to the work are organizations at the border, many of which have been active for decades. Among those engaged in the work are: the Border Network for Human Rights , the Hope Border Institute , Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center , Al Otro Lado , The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR).

People I spoke to at various institutions during a trip to Texas for Moral Monday at the Borderlands highlighted the importance of education, saying that people around the country need to understand the politics and history of current policy, and comprehend what is actually happening as it unfolds. They emphasized that it’s crucial for allied groups throughout the United States to be in dialogue with border organizations. 

Because there is no single solution to the crisis, ongoing conversation and relationships are vital. Witnessing, seeing, photographing, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, and sharing with others what has been learned plays an important role. Storytelling of people’s experiences is especially useful: It shifts the discourse from one that identifies migrants as threats to one that sees migrants as fellow humans; it replaces racist rhetoric with empathy. 

And although people from different regions can go to the border to learn first-hand what is going on, they can also create welcoming environments in their own communities, as asylum seekers spread throughout the United States to join sponsors. 

There are many concrete things to do — funding bond and providing pro-bono legal services being priorities among them. Yet while physical donations like clothing and food can be useful, the main thing that can have an impact now is taking a moral stand against these atrocities and organizing for their transformation. 

The post The End of Asylum? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Julia Paley is the Director of Immigration Justice at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Human Rights, asylum, CBP, Central America, concentration camps, ice, international law, Internment, Refugees, remain in mexico]

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[l] at 9/20/19 10:20am

Shinzo Abe, Moon Jae-in, and Mike Pence (Wikimedia Commons)

The United States is losing its status as a Pacific power. It can no longer control developments in East Asia. It still maintains a large military footprint in the region. But that military presence no longer translates into an ability to achieve the outcomes that Washington wants.

For better or worse, the post-World War II order in East Asia is coming to an end.

China has become the dominant economic player in East Asia, and it’s acquiring a military commensurate with its economic strength. Japan has been breaking out of the restraints of its “peace constitution” to build up its own military power. South Korea recently canceled its intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, a cornerstone of the trilateral cooperation that Washington has urged on its two East Asian allies.

In a last-ditch effort, the Obama administration tried with its much-hyped Pacific pivot to reinsert the United States into the economic and security environment of East Asia. But the pivot didn’t happen. The U.S. military remained enmeshed in the conflicts of the greater Middle East. And the Trump administration immediately canceled U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the free-trade agreement that was supposed to hitch the United States to the powerful economies of the east.

Donald Trump has further hastened the end of the post-war order with his pursuit of three primary goals in East Asia. He initiated a trade war with China to force the country to accede to U.S. demands regarding market access and other features of the Chinese economy. Beijing has not backed down.

Trump’s second imperative is to press U.S. allies to pay more for hosting U.S. troops. In early 2019, the United States and South Korea signed a one-year agreement – rather than the usual five-year agreement – in which Seoul agreed to raise its contribution by around 8 percent.  Last month, a new round of negotiations began. On his visit to Korea in August, National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly demanded that Korea up its contributions to an astonishing $5 billion a year, a quintupling of the current amount.

Meanwhile, Trump is pushing the Abe government to increase military spending, in part to pay more for U.S. troops at bases in Japan but also for Tokyo to buy even more high-priced U.S. weapons.

Finally, Trump wants a deal with North Korea. But such a deal is not connected to any larger East Asian purpose. Trump simply wants to demonstrate that he can achieve something that his predecessors couldn’t.

None of these goals – confronting China, more allied burdensharing, a deal with North Korea – is new. All three policies have roots that go back to the 1990s. But Trump is taking more risks to achieve these goals. He is also paying little attention to the potentially high price of his actions.

The economic relationship between Beijing and Washington, for instance, may not recover, as China looks for other sources of key imports like soybeans and other markets for its exports. South Korea is not happy about the increased monetary demands from the United States. One recent sign of that unhappiness was the Blue House’s desire to expedite the return of 26 U.S. military bases to Korea.

And Trump’s on-again, off-again approach to North Korea has also complicated relations between Washington and Seoul. The cancellation of joint exercises has reduced military cooperation while the lack of sanctions relief for Pyongyang has blocked greater economic cooperation between north and south.

The United States always billed itself as a stabilizing influence in East Asia. In a region beset by longstanding rivalries, the United States intended to contain Japan by restricting it to a largely defensive military posture. Washington also worked hard to align the policies of Japan and South Korea, despite the unresolved territorial and historical disputes between the two countries. The U.S. military presence in the region was designed to prevent the rise of another hegemon.

The U.S. military remains in the region, but it no longer fulfills those goals. So, for instance, a

full-blown arms race is taking place in the region. Xi Jinping, determined to build a world-class military, will increase Chinese military spending by 7.5 percent next year. Combined with close trade relationships with the region, this improved military capacity means that China has emerged as precisely the hegemonic power that U.S. policy was intended to prevent.

Meanwhile, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, South Korea is now the tenth biggest military spender in the world, with Japan at number nine and China number two. Under Moon Jae-in, an otherwise progressive leader, South Korea increased its military budget by 8.2 percent in 2019, the largest increase since 2008, and plans increases of over 7 percent for 2020-2024.

Under Shinzo Abe, Japanese military spending has increased by 13 percent since 2013. With the military budget likely to set a new record next year, Japan is devoting a huge chunk of expenditures on U.S. weapons systems, like six new F35b, which each costs more than $130 million.

The United States, too, is increasing its military budget. But Trump seems determined to draw down U.S. forces overseas. The current burdensharing disputes may lead to a reduction of U.S. forces in Japan and South Korea.

True, the East Asian order that the United States helped build after World War II was not peaceful. It was founded on two wars – the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It relied on hundreds of military bases that increased the amount of violence in the host communities. It maintained a Cold War divide that is still strong and still justifies enormous outlays on the military.

But this order, for all of its obvious flaws, managed to keep a lid on the worst excesses of nationalism (just as the internationalist Communist order attempted to do the same on the other side of the Cold War divide).

The waning of U.S. influence in the region coincides with a powerful resurgence in nationalism. The most obvious example is Japan, where what had once been extremist views on Japan’s wartime conduct are now, thanks to Shinzo Abe, in the very mainstream. China, too, has become a much more explicitly nationalist country under Xi Jinping. South Korean nationalism has largely been subsumed under the project of reunification. A case in point is Moon Jae-in’s assertion last month that a united North and South Korean economy could leapfrog over Japan in “one burst.”

Donald Trump’s “America first” policies are perhaps the most explicitly nationalistic of them all. There wasn’t much any president could do to prevent the loss of U.S. power in the Pacific. But Trump’s approach has kindled nationalism and accelerated the arms race in the region.

As with Europe, U.S. withdrawal from Asia could have been accompanied by a strengthening of regional institutions of peace and cooperation. Instead, the collapse of the East Asian order has generated increased rivalry and conflict. Europe has largely transcended its twentieth-century history of war. Thanks in part to the short-sighted policies of the United States, East Asia is on the verge of repeating some very unfortunate history.

The post The Collapse of the East Asian Order appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: War & Peace, arms race, burdensharing, China, Donald Trump, East Asia, Japan, North Korea, Shinzo Abe, South Korea, xi jinping]

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[l] at 9/18/19 12:36pm


While the world watches in horror as fires rage in the Amazon, activists are naming culprits.

“Put out the flames, we name your names — politicians, corporate vultures, you’re the ones we blame,” demonstrators chanted as they marched from the White House to the Brazilian Consulate on September 5.

The fires are no accident. Most have been set by agribusiness and mining interests hoping to make money off the land.

Much of the blame has fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has steadily rolled back indigenous land rights and environmental protections. But the multinational companies turning a profit off the destruction of the Amazon are also coming under more scrutiny.

Amazon Watch, a California-based organization that works with indigenous and environmental groups, issued a report earlier this year documenting dozens of companies that stand to make money off the catastrophe.

The report, titled Complicity in Destruction, highlights the main drivers of deforestation — from soy and beef commodity traders like Cargill and JBS to their financiers in North America and Europe, like BlackRock, Santander, and JP Morgan Chase.

Research from Mighty Earth, another group, identified the retailers most associated with those traders, including Costco, Walmart, and Ahold Delhaize, which owns Stop & Shop, Giant, and Food Lion.

“We encourage all Americans to use their economic power to put pressure on these companies to do the right thing,” said Todd Larsen of the advocacy group Green America. His organization is encouraging Americans to shop elsewhere and move their investments away from the companies responsible.

“The only reason these companies are able to keep burning down the forest year over year is because their customers keep paying them to do so,” Brazilian activist Bárbara Amaral told the crowd in D.C. She called on the public “to show up at the front doors of Cargill headquarters and yell that it’s time to protect the Amazon.”

Others emphasize that protecting the environment requires big structural changes to keep companies from making a quick buck off climate disaster in the first place.

“I’m tired of hearing about how individual actions can address climate change, such as buying metal straws versus plastic straws,” said Gabby Rosazza, a campaigner with the International Labor Rights Forum. “I’m more interested in learning about who is profiting from climate change.”

One of the companies profiting the most? BlackRock — the largest asset manager in the world.

report released last month by Amazon Watch and Friends of the Earth found BlackRock to be a top shareholder in the 25 companies most involved in deforestation. BlackRock’s investment in these projects increased by more than $500 million between 2014 and 2018.

pressure campaign is mounting against BlackRock to stop profiting off climate destruction of all stripes.

BlackRock “is complicit in the destruction of tropical forests and violation of human rights,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, legal counsel for the National Indigenous Organization of Brazil, during BlackRock’s annual shareholders meeting this year. “BlackRock must use its significant influence over [the companies it invests in] to signal that it will not tolerate policies that violate indigenous rights and damage the climate.”

The Amazon fires are a terrible tragedy. But the worst tragedy is that companies get to make millions attacking indigenous people and burning down vital ecosystems. The damage will stop not when the fires are put out, but only when it’s no longer profitable to set them.

The post Who’s Burning the Amazon? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Negin Owliaei co-edits Inequality.org. Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson is a Landau Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. This piece first ran at Inequality.org and was adapted by OtherWords.org

[Category: Energy, Environment, Food & Farm, Labor, Trade, & Finance, amazon fires, blackrock, cargill, deforestation, Jair Bolsonaro, Wal-Mart]

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[l] at 9/18/19 12:24pm


John Bolton tried his best. 

The national security adviser entered the Trump administration as a predictable warmonger with an unslakable thirst for power. He streamlined the national security apparatus to maximize his access to the president. At least at first, he played the role of loyal adjutant to Trump. As in his days as an arms control official in the George W. Bush administration, Bolton quietly planted IEDs on the inside rather than throw bombs from the outside.

But ultimately, like the scorpion that stings the frog halfway across the river, Bolton couldn’t betray his own nature. In his eagerness to start wars with Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran, Bolton spoke out of turn, publicly clashed with his boss, and probably leaked information to the press. By August his position had become untenable, and he suffered the fate of so many Trump collaborators: expulsion by tweet. 

Looked at another way, however, Bolton accomplished what he set out to do. He scuttled the negotiations with North Korea by referring to the Libyan example of denuclearization (Pyongyang knew full well what happened to Muammar Qaddafi’s regime). He made sure that U.S. troops remain in Syria and in Afghanistan as well. He put the fear of a coup in the heart of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. And he ratcheted up the pressure on Iran to the point of near-conflict. 

Now, with Trump declaring that the United States is “locked and loaded” in the wake of the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil supplies, Bolton is no doubt pleased at the prospect of his wildest dream fulfilled: a war with Iran. He nearly pushed the president into military action against Tehran back in June when Trump self-reportedly stopped the strike 10 minutes before it was scheduled to take place. 

This time, thanks in part to the work of the not-so-dearly-departed Bolton, the president might go over the edge this time. 

Or perhaps Trump will stick to his pattern of making outlandish threats and then turning around to negotiate. The administration has more recently been dialing back its rhetoric. Maybe Bolton the scorpion has managed only to sting himself.

The Latest Incident

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused Iran of attacking the Aramco oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq in the heart of Saudi Arabia. Saudi and U.S. investigators have reportedly determined that the September 14 attacks came from an Iranian base near the border with Iraq. But the force that has claimed responsibility for the attacks are the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen for more than four years. 

On the face of it, the obvious culprit would be the Houthis. Over the last month, they have repeatedly launched aerial attacks on Saudi facilities: a drone attack on the Shaybah oil field on August 16, a missile attack against Jizan airport on August 26, a drone attack against Riyadh on August 27, and a failed drone attack on September 3. 

Also, as Kate Kizer of Win Without War points out , the Saudis and the Houthis have been engaged in a tit-for-tat game of aerial bombardment. The latest attacks on Saudi oil facilities could very well be a response to the Saudi air strike on Dhamar prison, which killed 100 people two weeks ago. 

Tit-for-tat doesn’t, however, mean that it’s been an equal contest. The Saudi campaign has killed thousands and thousands of Yemenis. Houthi attacks have resulted mostly in material damage and four civilian casualties

Those who point the finger at Iran argue that this latest attack was far from the border with Yemen. But the Khurais oil field (the most recent target) and the Shaybah oil field (hit in mid-August) are both about the same distance from the Yemen border. 

The latest attacks were also remarkably successful. The pinpoint strikes forced the suspension of more than half of Saudi oil production. But the Houthis have steadily increased their offensive capabilities, attacking Saudi airports at Jizan and Abha in May and June a total of 17 times . They’ve received some weaponry from Iran but also have some Soviet-era missiles as well as some from North Korea. They are now operating air defense systems as well.

Meanwhile, it’s rather difficult to imagine the Iranian government launching such an attack just after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had talked of Trump possibly meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly in New York this week. Even if the Iranian authorities are reluctant to sit down with Trump, for understandable reasons, attacking Saudi Arabia on the eve of the UN meeting doesn’t make much strategic sense. 

On the other hand, Iran pledged that if it couldn’t export its own oil, it would disrupt the global market. The Trump administration has certainly hobbled Iran’s energy industry through direct sanctions and pressure on other countries to stop their imports. Meanwhile, the Saudis didn’t see the attack coming, which suggests that it didn’t originate from the south, where Saudi air defenses are focused. But the missiles and drones were flying low, so they might have evaded air defenses. They might also have come from multiple locations.

Of course, it might not be an either-or situation. Iran provides some support to the Houthis. So, even if the Houthis are responsible for this attack, they likely got the green light from Tehran for such a significant attack. Or perhaps Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has never much liked rapprochement with the United States, wanted to make sure that any high-level meeting on the sidelines of the UN assembly would not take place.

In any case, the Trump administration was already walking back its hostile rhetoric by Monday. The absence of Bolton might have something to do with that. More likely, however, it reflects the situation on the ground in the Gulf.

The Larger Context

When Saudi Arabia launched its war in Yemen in 2015, the architect of the campaign, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seemed to think it would be a cakewalk . Instead, the Houthis have put up stubborn resistance. 

The rebel group, which adheres to a variant of Shi’ite Islam in contrast to the predominantly Sunni Saudis and their Sunni proxies in Yemen, continues to control the capital of Sana’a as well as the northern highlands and a stretch of the Red Sea coast. It has felt confident enough in the past weeks to start setting up a diplomatic corps, with its first envoy dispatched to Iran.

But the most influential development in recent weeks has been a split in the anti-Houthi coalition between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is focused more on containing Iranian influence rather than rolling it back — and it certainly doesn’t want a war with Tehran.

Back in July, the UAE announced that it would withdraw its troops from Yemen. It continued to support a group of southern separatists who, in mid-August, took over the port of Aden from the Saudi-backed faction.

As if Yemen hasn’t suffered enough — famine, drought, cholera — its civil war now threatens to spiral into a multi-party dispute even more resistant to mediation.

In this situation, the Houthis may feel more confident that they can force the Saudis into following the example of the UAE. It’s not like Mohammed bin Salman to cut his losses, but the war is threatening his larger plans to transform the Saudi economy. 

It’s one thing for Riyadh to pour money into the quagmire next door (with the help of U.S. taxpayers ) . It’s quite another to put its cash cow — oil and gas represent 50 percent of Saudi GDP and 70 percent of export earnings — within range of enemy fire. Also, having failed so miserably to subdue one of the poorest countries in the world, Saudi Arabia may be having second thoughts about confronting a country with considerable economic and military power. 

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is finding it ever more difficult to end U.S. involvement in wars in the region. Negotiations with the Taliban have stalled, so now U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is no longer in the offing. Not only are U.S. troops remaining in Syria but more will soon be heading that way. And even though Congress wants the United States out of Yemen, the president keeps vetoing the legislation.

Even the thick-headed Trump should be able to get the message: war with Iran would make these conflicts look like a walk in the woods. His advisers are also warning him that such a war would tank the U.S. economy and doom his reelection chances. That’s probably the only warning that Trump can understand.

After Bolton

Mike Pompeo is no less a warmonger than John Bolton. He also had far more doubts than Bolton ever did about Trump’s suitability as president, which the future secretary of state revealed as he was campaigning for Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential primaries. 

But those doubts are now gone. As Susan Glasser discusses in her recent New Yorker profile , “The Secretary of Trump,” Pompeo is the quintessential company man, striving to align his views with that of his president. 

If Trump decides not to attack Iran, in other words, Pompeo will go along without a protest.

Meanwhile, the president has chosen his new national security adviser. It would be hard to come up with someone as relentlessly militaristic as Bolton, yet Trump dug deep into his barrel of hawks to come up with someone with that special combination of ruthless craziness and devoted servility. 

His short list included Fred Fleitz, Bolton’s previous chief of staff, who heads up the Center for Security Policy, a fiercely Islamophobic think tank devoted to spreading conspiracy theories. Then there was Gen. Keith Kellogg, the vice president’s national security adviser, who’s been central to the effort to provoke regime change in Venezuela and also had the dubious distinction of having served as Paul Bremer’s chief of staff in the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq.

But the nod went to hostage envoy Robert O’Brien. This would seem to be a safe, diplomatic choice. O’Brien is a lawyer who once worked at the UN Security Council. 

On the other hand, O’Brien is also a fierce opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal, which he has called “rank appeasement.” On the appointment of his former colleague John Bolton to the position of national security adviser, he had this to say :

The person, if you’re the president of the United States, that you want sitting on your team to negotiate, the best lawyer in the house, the best foreign policy professional in the house, is John Bolton. He’s going to bring a level of seriousness, experience, depth of knowledge, but also hard-nosed, tough negotiation skills. 

I mean, you know, the Iranians are very good negotiators. They took us to the cleaners with the Iran deal. The North Koreans have been doing this for many years, and have taken a number of presidents to the cleaners. No one is going to take John Bolton to the cleaners in a negotiation.

With O’Brien on board, the Trump administration can be counted on to continue its overwhelmingly hostile policy toward a select group of outcasts like Iran, toward allies that don’t toe the U.S. line, and toward multilateralism more generally. Bolton will no longer be holding the reins of national security, trying to nudge the president one way or another. 

But Bolton’s bellicose worldview, which both O’Brien and Pompeo share, is the basic operating system of the Trump administration. 

Remember: this president is always 10 minutes away from war with someone.


The post The Threat of Bolton Has Receded — But Not the Threat of War appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: War & Peace, Donald Trump, Houthis, Iran deal, iran war, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Mohammed bin Salman, Yemen civil war]

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[l] at 9/13/19 8:54am


Eight years since its inception in 2011, the Syrian civil war rages on, a conflict that has taken on grand geopolitical dimensions and resulted in tens of thousands killed and a massive exodus of refugees. While other tensions and conflicts around the world have since grabbed the attention of major media outlets, the situation in Syria has not gotten any better. If anything, it has become even more complicated and violent.

As war rages on, so do attempts to peacefully solve this conflict. Case in point, the Republic of Kazakhstan has hosted over a dozen rounds of peace talks among the numerous warring factions in Syria. While there has been no lasting peace yet, good intentions do matter.

The latest military operations include a coordinated effort between Syrian forces, backed by Russian troops, in the rebel-held northern Idlib province. The goal is to attack three rebel movements: the National Liberation Front, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and Jaysh al-Izza. Though embattled, these groups are far from weak — on August 15, HTS claimed that it shot down a Syrian warplane

Meanwhile, ISIS, after suffering dramatic defeats in Iraq and Syria, is reportedly regrouping in the wake of the U.S. drawdown, and in mid-August carried out an attack against the Syrian Arab Army in Deir Ezzor.   

Despite the U.S. pullback, the U.S. and Turkey continue to cooperate along the Turkish-Syrian border , including by creating a “ a joint operations center to oversee the creation of a ‘peace corridor’” in early August. The future of the Kurds in the region is a sensitive issue for the two governments, particularly Ankara.

Kazakhstan first hosted a round of peace talks back in January 2017. The most recent round — the 13th — took place this past August 1-2, with the next talks scheduled for October. The Astana Peace process is meant to be a complement to the parallel Geneva process , while a third branch of negotiations was started by Russia, which hosted a Congress of Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi in January 2018. 

While no overarching peace deal has been achieved, the Astana Process has focused on smaller goals. For example, the 12th round, which took place in April, focused on the situation in northeast Syria and the release of prisoners. 

The most recent round primarily discussed the situation in Idlib province . As UN relief chief and Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock explains, “our worst fears are materializing…Yet again innocent civilians are paying the price for the political failure to stop the violence and do what is demanded under international law — to protect all civilians.” 

Hence, “the mos t significant gain [from the Astana talks was] secured during the first day of talks, with the announcement that Russia and the regime’s bombardment of Idlib would be halted, allowing Turkey an opportunity to marshal its forces in the area,” wrote The Arab Weekly at the time. Sadly, while the cease-fire that was agreed upon in Kazakhstan was an important achievement, it was short-lived , as violence in the area has resumed.

Also noteworthy about the August talks was the inclusion, for the first time, of observers from Iraq and Lebanon .    

Another important initiative under the umbrella of the Astana Peace Process and the Sochi conference, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reports, is the “formation of a commission to develop recommendations to amend the Syrian constitution .” Kazakhstan has eagerly supported this commission, but there has been little development — the parties cannot agree on who will constitute the membership. Meanwhile, the violence continues. 

As The Arab Weekly also explained, although the “results from the 13th round of Astana talks on Syria were limited ,” all parties “expressed satisfaction towards establishing a constitutional committee.”

The guarantors of the Astana peace process — Iran, Russia, and Turkey — released a statement after the 13th round. The declaration, the Kazakh foreign ministry said, “reaffirmed the determination to continue cooperation in order to ultimately eliminate DAESH/ISIL, Al-Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL.” 

Finally, the recent negotiations also discussed the release of detainees and abductees, with the guarantors praising the Astana working group on this issue as a “unique mechanism that had proved to be effective and necessary for building confidence between the Syrian parties.”

The Syrian conflict remains massively complex. It combines a despotic, authoritarian regime, Islamic fundamentalists and other militant factions, an ethnic group at odds with a neighboring NATO power (that’s the Kurds and Turkey), Iran, and the interests of two global superpowers (Russia and the United States). At the time of this writing, there is little reason to hope for a solution to this conflict in the near future, whether it be via further violence or peace negotiations. 

Kazakhstan has taken on a herculean task, though the country is no stranger to attempting to serve as a mediator. For example, in 2013 the country hosted a round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The Kazakhstani city of Aktau is also the location where the five Caspian states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) agreed in 2018 to find a solution regarding a territorial dispute over the Caspian Sea. 

Unfortunately, the interests and objectives of regional actors in Syria, not to mention global superpowers, prevents any easy resolution to this conflict. Nevertheless, it is important to continue trying to find some kind of peaceful outcome, if that can prevent further violence and loss of innocent lives. 

Kazakhstan’s ongoing interest in holding talks are commendable. Peace does not come easy, least of all in a geopolitically complex conflict like Syria. But it is important to keep trying.


The post The View from Syria’s Peace Talks appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

[Category: War & Peace, al-Qaeda, Bashar Al-Assad, idlib, Isis, Islamic State, Syria peace talks, syrian civil war]

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[l] at 9/11/19 12:57pm

Hong Kong protests, June 2019 (Shutterstock)

Something didn’t quite add up.

This past weekend, protestors were rallying outside the American embassy in Hong Kong. They were waving American flags. They were singing The Star-Spangled Banner . One 24-year-old protester wore a red Make America Great Again hat. Some signs at the protest read “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong.”

“The Chinese government is breaking their promises to give freedom and human rights to Hong Kong,” the MAGA cap-wearer said . “We want to use the U.S. to push China to do what they promised over 20 years ago.” 

First of all, the Trump administration cares not a whit about human rights. It’s not about to “liberate” Hong Kong any more than it was going to “liberate” the Rohingyas, the Venezuelans , the Iranians, or the Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province for that matter. With John Bolton now banished from the White House, the prospect of any kind of U.S. intervention has become even more remote.

Trump has called the protests “riots,” echoing Beijing’s rhetoric. He’s worried publicly that they are distracting from trade negotiations. MAGA hat aside, the U.S. president probably sees in the demonstrations a reflection of anti-Trump protests throughout the United States (and the world). Also, despite the trade war with Beijing, Trump has a fondness for Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He has even praised Xi’s handling of the crisis (though he has also suggested the Xi meet the protestors to resolve the crisis).

The protesters have a better chance of appealing to the U.S. Congress. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are currently considering the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act , which would allow Washington to impose sanctions on Mainland and Hong Kong officials who violate human rights and undermine the territory’s sovereignty. Even if it survives a Trump veto, however, the bill would not prevent Beijing from doing what it considers necessary.

Which brings us to the other half of the protester’s claim: that China promised freedom and human rights to Hong Kong in 1997 when it took control of the entrepot from the British. Actually, Beijing promised “one country, two systems.” It promised “a high degree of autonomy.” As for freedom and human rights, that was up to the residents of Hong Kong to secure for themselves. 

Which, of course, is what the protesters have been doing.

Two versions of the future have been on display in Hong Kong over the summer. In one version, the people of Hong Kong not only preserve their autonomy but expand their limited democracy into true, one-person-one-vote representation — and this political system inexorably spreads to the rest of China. In the other version, the Mainland and its Hong Kong representatives suppress the protests as China consolidates territorial control: over Xinjiang and Tibet, over Hong Kong, and eventually over Taiwan and the waters of the South China Sea. 

The United States, under Donald Trump or his successor, will have less and less to say or do about which of these versions become a reality. And it has nothing at all to offer in terms of a more viable third option that might emerge from the current crisis.

Origins of the Protest

The latest round of protests in Hong Kong began in March, when thousands took to the streets to protest amendments to an extradition law. Hong Kong residents have been concerned that, accused of some arbitrary crime, they might find themselves whisked away to the Mainland and its misrule of law. 

This is not an abstract concern. Lam Wing Kee, a Hong Kong bookseller who sold texts critical of leaders in Beijing, was abducted in 2015, charged with “operating a bookstore illegally,” and detained for almost eight months in Mainland China. He was released back to Hong Kong with the understanding that he return to face trial. 

Instead, Lam recently decamped to Taiwan , fearful of Hong Kong’s new extradition provisions. Canadian-Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua was abducted from Hong Kong in 2017 and is reportedly still awaiting trial . A wealthy Hong Kong media titan has spoken of successfully resisting a Beijing-orchestrated kidnap attempt earlier this year.

An extradition law would effectively legalize these abductions. It would also apply to the 85,000 American citizens currently working in Hong Kong.

Protests over the extradition law grew larger and larger at the outset of summer until 1 million people thronged the streets on June 9, followed by 2 million a week later. Protesters took over the legislative building. They shut down the Hong Kong airport. They disrupted traffic on roadways. Fearful of surveillance, they have donned masks and even torn down “smart lampposts” designed to monitor traffic (but perhaps other things as well). 

More confrontational protesters have set fires , vandalized metro stations and government buildings, and thrown petrol bombs at police. For their part, the police have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Masked thugs have attacked protesters. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, including pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow. 

Although Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam eventually withdrew the amended law, the protests have continued. Protesters have four principal demands: an investigation into police brutality, amnesty for those arrested during the protest, a retraction of the designation of the June 12 protest as a “riot,” and Lam’s resignation followed by a free and fair election for her replacement. The last item is a revival of the platform of the Umbrella Movement of 2014, a sustained but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to achieve universal suffrage in the territory. 

Lam is in a tough position, as she herself acknowledged in a leaked audio recording of a closed-door meeting of business leaders. Caught between Beijing and the protestors, she confessed that her maneuvering room is “very, very, very limited.” 

Response from the Mainland

So far, Beijing has expected the Hong Kong authorities to deal with the challenge, though it has made various ominous statements about acts of terrorism, the involvement of the United States, and the unacceptability of the protesters’ demands. 

Beijing has several options at this point. Chinese leader Xi Jinping could negotiate with the protesters, though this is unlikely. Xi wouldn’t want to show any weakness, particularly with the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding coming up on October 1. He could send in the army, a la Tiananmen Square 1989, and impose martial law in their territory. But that, too, is unlikely as long as the protestors don’t manage to seize the government and declare independence .

The leadership in Beijing may well be annoyed at what’s happening in Hong Kong. But this isn’t a Tiananmen Square situation. Protests are not popping up throughout the country in support of the actions in Hong Kong. Solidarity events have taken place in the United States, Germany, Britain, France, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. But on the Mainland, all is quiet, except for a few brave souls who have attempted to elude the censors to post information about what’s going on in Hong Kong.

It’s not possible to know how nearly 1.4 billion people think about anything, including a highly controversial topic like pro-democracy protests. However, given a steady diet of state-run media, the vast majority of Chinese likely view the protests in Hong Kong as simply disruptive. The events there have the flavor not of Tiananmen 1989 but rather the Cultural Revolution of the mid 1960s, when young people took to the streets and turned the world upside down, resulting in enormous pain and suffering. 

As former New York Times reporter Karoline Kan has written :

To many mainlanders who believe the China model has benefited their economic development and their private lives, Hong Kong’s pursuit of democracy and freedom is not so attractive any more. They believe the mainland government is not perfect, but a messed-up government is worse. They fear political turbulence, poverty, foreign invasion — but not an authoritarian government. What’s worse, many believe the existing freedom Hong Kong enjoys is a “special treatment” that spoils the city. They believe the mainland has helped Hong Kong, but the city is ungrateful and constantly making trouble for China.

Since 1989, public opinion on the Mainland has moved inexorably in the direction of nationalism. The Chinese public tends to be rather hawkish in its orientation , with the younger generation more hardline than their parents. Few dissidents have stuck their necks out for protestors in Xinjiang or Tibet. Hong Kong, with its privileged status and myriad links to the West, has gotten even less sympathy.

The Polish Example

Carrie Lam faces much the same dilemma that bedeviled Wojciech Jaruzelski in Poland in the 1980s. Jaruzelski was also an unelected leader caught between popular unrest at home and a much larger sponsor breathing down his neck. The Polish leader’s “solution” was to use the threat of a Soviet invasion to declare martial law in 1981 to suppress the rebellious Solidarity trade union. 

Out of that experience, Polish protesters came up with a different strategy. Rather than push Jaruzelski up against the wall again, they developed (or, in fact, revived) the notion of a “self-limiting revolution.” Solidarity would continue to organize, quietly and persistently, but it wouldn’t make a direct bid for power. Later, when the opportunity arose, it would negotiate with the Communist government and come up with a compromise solution for the country’s first semi-free elections.

The date of those elections? June 4, 1989. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Chinese government, having failed to reach a similar modus operandi with the Tiananmen Square protesters, violently suppressed the pro-democracy movement.

The Hong Kong protesters could take a few important lessons from the Polish experience. They should acknowledge the possibility, however remote, of a military intervention by Beijing. They should realize that no one in such a scenario — not the people on the Mainland or the U.S. government — is going to come to their aid (except rhetorically). And they should look for opportunities to compromise with the Hong Kong authorities, securing incremental victories that shore up the territory’s autonomy and its semi-democratic structures.

In this way, the Hong Kong protesters must be willing to play the long game. Solidarity came up against the wall of Soviet intransigence in 1980. By 1989, however, Mikhail Gorbachev was in charge in Moscow and the compromise strategy became spectacularly successful.

Xi Jinping is no Mikhail Gorbachev. And he has declared himself leader for life. So, the movement in Hong Kong has to be even more patient, even more strategic, and even more determined than their Polish counterparts. Their time will come. When it does, they need to be ready not only to democratize Hong Kong but also contribute to reshaping the model on the Mainland as well.

The post Hong Kong and the Future of China appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Human Rights, Hong Kong, Hong Kong protests, solidarity movement, Tiananmen Square, xi jinping]

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[l] at 9/11/19 12:35pm

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: nottheviewsofmyemployer / Flickr / creative commons)

In a week such as this you can’t help but think that famous cultural theorist Stuart Hall was on to something when he remarked that “the disorderly thrust of political events disturbs the symmetry of political analysis.”

For those unable or unwilling to keep up, Boris Johnson has become the first Prime Minister in UK history to lose his inaugural three votes in the House of Commons. He has also lost his majority, been deserted by his own brother, been widely heckled by members of the public (and the odd fast-food chain) and is now, for all intents and purposes, stuck in Number 10 Downing Street until opposition parties decide it is time to vote for an early general election.

Yet, to a certain extent, this was always part of the plan.

It is important to remember that Boris Johnson is not an ideologue. He is a man who cares, ultimately, about his own reckless pursuit of power. He may now masquerade as the buccaneering strongman that Brexiteers have long desired, but this is the same Boris Johnson who had famously written one newspaper column for Remain, another for Leave, and opted for whichever side he thought would best serve his career. The rest, as they say, is history.

But, back to the present, Johnson’s strategy should not come as a particular surprise. He inherited the exact same Parliament as his predecessor Theresa May and, inevitably, is running into the exact same problems. The simple truth, as it has long stood, is that there is no majority in the House of Commons for any form of Brexit and to remedy this situation, the only way out is an election.

In this light, everything points towards a People vs Parliament election. To frame himself as the voice of the people, however, the Prime Minister needs to undergo quite the transformation. He is Eton and Oxbridge educated, he is on record vociferously defending the bankers that caused the Great Financial Crisis and, without getting too ad hominem, his birth name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. A far cry from the kind of salt-of-the-earth character Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, for one, has spent years cultivating.

The key to this transformation, therefore, is to wholeheartedly and single-mindedly pursue “the will of the people.” While those grounded in reality will be painfully aware that there is no chance of a new Brexit deal, the government needs to spend a couple of months grandstanding about the prospect of securing a new deal in Brussels. Given the commitment to leave by any means necessary on October 31, when the so-called “new talks” with the EU break down, Johnson will be seemingly left with no choice but to pursue No Deal knowing full well that the UK Parliament would prevent him from doing so.

The UK’s growing problem of in-work poverty, crumbling public services, and vast levels of inequality need long-term, strategic thinking. We are stuck in a world of politics.

Thus, here we are, with Johnson claiming that the EU will not give him a new deal and Parliament will not let him leave with No Deal. The only option, therefore, is an election. The problem for Johnson, however, is two-thirds of the House of Commons need to agree to an early election, and opposition parties are quite happy to watch the prime minister stew in a mess of his own making — unable to leave without a deal, unable to negotiate a new deal, unable to call an election, and unwilling to ask for an extension from Brussels.

One of those four options will eventually have to give.

For the prime minister, his electoral success depends on his image as a hard-line Brexiteer. He’s stated he would rather be dead in a ditch than not deliver Brexit on October 31. Thus, asking for an extension is anathema to his chances of re-election. Rumors now abound that his government will break the law and ignore legislation that makes No Deal illegal, while Johnson himself may even step down to avoid the political backlash of going to Brussels and asking for an extension.

Either way, the government shut the doors of Parliament on September 9. All legislation not passed before then is dead in the water. In the middle of the UK’s biggest political crisis since the Second World War, we will have the longest prorogation, or suspension of Parliament, in modern history. The chaos, unfortunately, will no doubt continue.

It’s worth taking a step back from these incessant political shenanigans to highlight three crucial facts.

First, it’s a fair bet that the vast majority of the general public are ill-versed (and arguably rightly so in the current context) about the minutiae of Westminster politics. While the press and political commentators may be up in arms about Johnson removing the whip from Conservative Party grandees such as Nicholas Soames or Dominic Grieve, few outside political inner circles will know or care. The image that Johnson wants to portray is a man who is willing to do anything to get Brexit done, and if recent polls are to be believed, it is a strategy that is having some success.

Second, there is no version of events where we get Brexit done and dusted. All versions of Brexit simultaneously deliver for some and betray others. This is obviously true of options such as revoking Article 50 (effectively canceling Brexit) or leaving without a deal, but is equally pertinent for May’s Hard Brexit or a so-called Soft Brexit. Worryingly, after years of deepening polarization, the mere process of parliamentary democracy (through which the type of Brexit should be decided) is now being framed as a hindrance to democracy itself.

Third, while these developments seemingly move at a million miles an hour, there are problems beyond Brexit. This should hardly need saying. Climate breakdown, the UK’s growing problem of in-work poverty, crumbling public services and vast levels of inequality need long-term, strategic thinking.

We are stuck in a world of politics, fast and slow. Too fast for some issues, too slow for others. It’s not clear if an upcoming election will sort that out.

The post Boris Johnson, Voice of the People? Give Me a Break. appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Liam Kennedy is a London-based freelance researcher and commentator. Follow him @liamkennedy92.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Labor, Trade, & Finance, boris johnson, brexit, hard brexit, prorogation, soft brexit, uk parliament]

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