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[l] at 2/21/20 7:30am

After three and a half years of acrimony, Brexit has become a reality. One very small but extremely powerful grouping within British society is likely to be delighted that the independence they have long desired has finally been achieved; alongside a variety of fringe ethno-nationalist organisations that long to stop migrants from coming to Britain, the UK’s bloated, regulation-light finance sector and freemarketeers around the world are excitedly looking forward to Capital being able to move in and out without any limitations or oversight imposed by pesky EU regulations.

It remains to be seen whether the EU will use its power to try to scupper their plans although all around the world, those who work for greater social justice and human rights fear that the City of London, with the active support of its allies in the UK government, will move hastily to transform itself into an even more pernicious facilitator of abusive international tax practices, thereby accelerating the race to the bottom among nations on tax, secrecy and regulations.

As the world’s economic elite met in Davos recently to discuss the future of the global economy, a gaggle of international journalists was touring the City of London to find out what Brexit might mean for ordinary people. The Brexit Tax Haven Tour was organised by the Tax Justice Network and the Global Alliance for Tax Justice together with Tax Justice UK, Women’s Budget Group and Womankind Worldwide, taking international press on a walking tour of key sites in the City of London where they heard about the real and imminent threat posed to poorer/plundered and industrialised countries alike by the UK government’s ‘Singapore on the Thames’ strategy.

Speaking at the Bank of England, the Tax Justice Network’s John Christensen explained the peculiar history of this curious institution, which acts as both a central bank and also as a banking regulator, but has done little to counter London’s role as a global money-laundering centre, resolutely ignoring the global risks posed by Britain’s global tax haven network. When considered as a whole, Britain’s network of tax havens and financial secrecy jurisdictions represents the largest and most deleterious tax haven in the world, denying poorer/plundered countries billions of dollars in revenue every year and siphoning away resources urgently needed in all nations for climate change adaptation, economic and social progress and the fulfillment of basic human rights.

Following the Bank of England, the walking tour took journalists to the Maternité statue, Aimé-Jules’ 1878 depiction of a French peasant woman breastfeeding, which is nestled discreetly, and without any deliberate irony, behind the rather more imposing Bank and the Royal Exchange. At this stop, Womankind Worldwide’s Roosje Saalbrink explained the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work imposed on women by unjust tax policies, and the danger of this trend being further exacerbated by increased regulatory ‘competition’ among states.

Countries that are unable to raise enough revenue from businesses through corporate income taxes often have to resort to implementing higher taxes on working people through more regressive forms of taxation such as VAT

Feminist economist Susan Himmelweit of the Women’s Budget Group then elucidated the role the City of London plays in pillaging resources from poorer countries, and thereby preventing them from providing the basic social services that are fundamental to confronting inequality for women and girls. As she explained, countries that are unable to raise enough revenue from businesses through corporate income taxes often have to resort to implementing higher taxes on working people through more regressive forms of taxation such as VAT, or through myriad fees and special charges paid only by local residents. Women living in poverty, who generally have lower incomes than men, are doubly disadvantaged by such revenue generation measures.

The City of London, in pursuing its ‘Singapore on the Thames’ ambitions, will become “the capital of financial secrecy”.

The final stop of the Brexit Tax Haven Tour took us to Guildhall Square, site of the City of London Corporation building, which is the administrative hub of this “city within a city”. At this stop Dereje Alemayehu, Executive Coordinator of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, explained the machinery of international tax abuse that is managed from the site and the serious threat that the City of London poses, in pursuing its ‘Singapore on the Thames’ ambitions, to become “the capital of financial secrecy”.

As things already stand, countries in the Global South lose one trillion dollars every year because of capital flight and tax dodging. In Africa alone, between US$ 30 and 60 billion per year is transferred illicitly which is equivalent to 40 years of the development funding the continent currently receives every year. These figures are likely to rise post-Brexit.

As the afternoon’s activities drew to a close,  a protest illumination bearing the words ‘Tax Haven Britain: A threat to us all,’ appeared first on the City of London Corporation building and then on the Bank of England. It remains to be seen whether the world’s elite will see fit to hear this crucial message. Davos organisers notably opted not to invite economist Rutger Bregman back to this year’s event after he argued, at the previous 2019 meeting, that tax justice was the only way to confront the multiple crises now afflicting the world. Here’s a reminder of his comments which resonated strongly across the world:

truepublica.org.uk

[Category: Editor's Choice, Bank of England, Brexit, City of London, Economy, Society, United Kingdom]

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[l] at 2/21/20 7:00am

In announcing Richard Grenell as the new acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI), President Trump had high praise for the 53-year-old diplomat, saying: “Rick has represented our country exceedingly well and I look forward to working with him.”

If by “representation” Trump means insulting a host nation exceedingly well on behalf of the president, then, yes, Grenell has been outstanding in his role up to now as American ambassador to Germany.

Within hours of his appointment as US envoy in Berlin back in May 2018, Grenell riled German politicians and businessman by issuing a high-handed ultimatum that the country should “immediately” halt all commercial dealings with Iran. In delivering that undiplomatic message, Grenell was loyally relaying his master’s voice from the White House and the president’s death-wish for the Iran nuclear accord.

During his two-year tenure in Berlin, Grenell has alienated so many German politicians from his outspoken acerbic manner that Chancellor Angela Merkel and other senior government officials have reportedly refused to meet him. He has been accused of interfering in German internal affairs and acting like a viceroy in some colonial outpost.

It would seem rather surprising therefore that a mouthy maverick who has also worked as a Fox News pundit is now being given the top US intelligence portfolio. First, there is the supposed confidential sensitivity required for the post. Secondly, Grenell has zero experience in intelligence work.

As acting Director of Intelligence, Grenell will oversee all 17 agencies that make up the US intelligence community, including the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. It will be his responsibility to provide the Daily Presidential Briefs (DPBs) to Trump on national and international security concerns.

That new task seems extra challenging given that Grenell is reportedly keeping his post as ambassador to Germany during the three-month period while he is serving as acting DNI.

A permanent post as DNI has not been filled since Dan Coats stood down last August due to policy differences with Trump regarding North Korea, Russia and Iran. Grenell comes in to replace Joseph Maguire who was up to now serving as acting DNI. By definition, the acting position is a limited, temporary one until the post is made permanent.

It is unlikely Grenell is being groomed for the permanent position as DNI because the full-time appointment, unlike the present acting capacity, would have to be vetted by the Senate. Already, there is a much umbrage among senators, including Republicans, over what is being seen as Trump politicizing the intelligence post by giving the top job to someone conspicuously lacking in qualifications. The latest appointment by Trump underlines growing unease that the president is increasingly ruling by patronage.

Since its creation in 2004, the DNI has always been recruited from senior intelligence or military professionals. Grenell is seen as a Trump loyalist who is being rewarded by his boss in the White House for no other reason than being a loyalist, or less politely, a Yes Man.

On one hand, ironically, this may be a good thing. The fixture shows Trump has little time for “professional intelligence”. Not having spooks from the Deep State whispering into Trump’s ear keeps their machinations at bay. Grenell is hardly a Deep State cipher. He is more a Trump clone. His controversial remarks as ambassador in Berlin are seen as self-serving attempts to ingratiate himself with Trump.

On the other hand, being a Trump toady will reinforce the president’s ignorant and outré prejudices on international matters. As we have seen from his admonishment to German businesses over the nuclear deal, Grenell is a hawk when it comes to policy on Iran. His counsel to Trump on that score will play to Trump’s impetuous instincts. At a time of dangerous, volatile relations with Tehran, that kind of Yes Man in the Situation Room is undesirable.

In regard to Russia, Grenell has also shown hawkish stripes. Last year, he threatened German businesses with sanctions over the Nord Stream-2 gas project. Again, his intervention was seen as breaking the conventional rules for diplomats and displaying contempt for his German hosts. No doubt the high-handed warning over Nord Stream-2 was, again, in part motivated by Grenell’s ambition to please Trump’s hardline position.

The same can be said for his keenness for hectoring Germany and other European states to increase spending commitments to the NATO alliance. Trump has made that complaint a signature of his presidency. Grenell has loyally acted as Trump’s ventriloquist doll when it comes to gouging Europe for subventions to the American military-industrial complex via NATO budgets.

Several US intelligence officials have expressed disgust at Grenell’s appointment. Some have described the new DNI as “frightening” given his dearth of qualifications.

Frankly, one can hardly get more frightening and dangerous than the supposed professionals who have previously headed up the US intelligence community. After all, it was former DNI James Clapper who was instrumental in creating the Russia collusion hoax which so damaged bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow.

Having an openly gay, showboating part-time ambassador as DNI for three months can hardly get much worse.

[Category: Americas, World, CIA, FBI, Richard Grenell, United States]

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[l] at 2/21/20 5:16am

Eric ZUESSE for The Saker Blog

A reliable and exceptionally knowledgeable source, who doesn’t wish to be publicly identified, has confidentially informed me that an agreement has been reached in which U.S. troops will remain permanently in Iraq but under exclusively NATO command, no longer under the command of CentCom (US Central Command in the Middle East).

On February 12th, NATO’s defense ministers agreed to increase operations in Iraq. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has been working ever since Fall of 2019 to prepare this plan (Trump had been pushing for it even before that), and Stoltenberg has consulted in Jordan with King Abdullah, and also in Brussels with Sabri Bachtabji, Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, because Tunisia is a key part of Trump’s plan, to use other NATO nations as America’s proxies controlling the Middle East.

On February 1st, pro-Muslim-Brotherhood Turkey agreed to the plan, and will be transferring jihadists (al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, plus some ISIS) from Syria’s jihadist-filled Idlib Province, into Libya, via Tunisia, so as to boost the forces of Fayez al-Sarraj (former monarchist now backed by U.S., EU, and Turkey) to defeat the forces of Khalifa Haftar (former Gaddafi-supporter, now in the Libyan civil war claiming as his objective the defeat of all jihadists there). Whereas U.S., EU, and Turkey, back al-Sarraj, Russia isn’t involved in the war, except trying to negotiate peace there, but al-Sarraj rejects any involvement by Russia. Turkey’s interest in Libya is to win Libya’s backing so as to be in a stronger position to win turf in the emerging competition for rights to oil and gas under nearby parts of the Mediterranean Sea. To have Libya beholden to Turkey would be to increase the likelihood of Turkey’s getting that offshore oil.

America’s position regarding the jihadists that Turkey has been protecting in Syria’s Idlib province is that they can be useful as proxy boots-on-the-ground to defeat Haftar, whom America too opposes, favoring al-Sarraj, whom Turkey likewise backs; so, Turkey and U.S. are cooperating on this effort in Libya.

America’s interest is in overthrowing Syria’s secular Government and replacing it with one that would be acceptable to the fundamentalist-Sunni Saud family who own Saudi Arabia. In order to do this, America will therefore need to keep its forces in Iraq. Otherwise, Russia and Iran, both of which America and the Sauds hope ultimately to conquer, would have stronger influence in the Middle East, which neither America nor the Sauds want. America invaded Iraq not only directly for its international corporations to profit, but also in order to have its hundreds of bases there from which to control the entire Middle East — bases that are supplied out of the world’s largest Embassy building (from which even other U.S. embassies are supplied), which building was constructed in Baghdad after the 2003 invasion. Trump’s plan now is to bring in NATO allies, so that they will help out in the Middle East, more than in the past. Trump wants America’s vassal-nations to absorb some of the financial burdens of imposing empire, so that America’s taxpayers won’t need to fund the full cost of it, for the benefit of the billionaire owners of international corporations that are based in the United States and in its allied (or vassal) (including other NATO) countries. This is why Stoltenberg has been working, for months, to effectuate Trump’s plan.

On February 1st, the veteran Middle Eastern reporter David Hearst headlined at his Middle East Eye site, “EXCLUSIVE: US military offers Iraq a partial pullback”, and he reported that,

A representative of the US military told the Iraqis present that the United States was prepared to leave positions in or near Shia-majority areas, such as Balad Air Base, which is located 80km north of Baghdad and houses US trainers and contractors.

Washington, the Iraqis were told, could even consider reducing its presence in Baghdad.

We are prepared to leave some of the Shia-majority areas, like the base in Balad. Maybe we could reduce our presence in Baghdad,” the military representative told his Iraqi counterparts, who understood from this that the US presence in the Iraqi capital would be reduced to guarding its embassy and the airport.

However, the US side categorically ruled out withdrawing from their biggest air base in Iraq, and indeed the whole Middle East, Ain al-Assad. …

For the US side, Ain al-Assad was its “red line”.

The representative said: “We cannot even start talking about withdrawing [from that base]. Withdrawal is out of the question.”

Such was the sensitivity of these discussions that they were held well away from Iraq. The meeting took place in the private residence of the Canadian ambassador to Jordan in Amman, Middle East Eye was told.

Present at the meeting was a representative of the US military, a Nato official and a senior Iraqi security adviser.

America needs the vast Ain al-Assad base in order ultimately to overthrow Bashar al-Assad (no relation), Syria’s secular President, who is allied with Russia and with Iran. NATO will increasingly be taking over this function of assisting the war for regime-change in Syria.

On February 15th, Middle East Monitor bannered “Iraq: Washington to strengthen presence of NATO to disengage militarily from Baghdad” and reported that America’s allies will take over there but “This will only work if the NATO mission includes a strong US component.” So: America’s withdrawal will be only nominal. This will help NATO by assuring that Trump won’t abandon NATO if he wins a second term, and it will also help Trump to win a second term by Trump’s claiming to be withdrawing from the Middle East even without actually doing any such thing.

The aim of this is to fool the public everywhere. In international affairs, this is the way to win: first, fool your own public; then, get your allies to fool theirs. That builds a “coalition.” Donald Trump is doing precisely this.

Trump is continuing Barack Obama’s wars, just like Barack Obama continued George W. Bush’s wars. The plan for America to control the Middle East remains on course, now, ever since 2001. As Obama often said, “America is the one indispensable nation.” (All others are therefore “dispensable.”) It is certainly the leading nation. And America’s aristocracy possess patience. They know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In order to be the leading nation and the biggest international aggressor (so that “America is the one indispensable nation”), what is essential is to treat every other nation as being “dispensable” (make them fear you), so that either they will do as the leading nation wants, or else they will be dispensed with — they will become added to the list of target-nations to be conquered. They are dispensable; they are disposable. A disposable nation is aware of its subordinate position. On February 15th, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that

the US dedicated a significantly higher proportion of its defence budget to procurement and R&D than its NATO allies. European countries are increasing their defence investments as a share of their total spending – for those countries with available data, funds rose from 19.8% in 2018 to 23.1% in 2019 – but the equivalent category reached 29% in the US. The United States’ defence investments were thus worth around four times as much as European states’ combined.

A nation which spends 29% of its GDP on “defence” might be weak in other ways, but everyone in the world will fear it, and all other nations will know that they are “dispensable,” because the country which spends that high a percentage (and there is only one which does) also happens to have the world’s largest economy. Any other country, which isn’t one of its vassals, will be viewed by it (or by its aristocracy) as being an “enemy” — a nation that is targeted for “regime-change,” instead of for being a market. And being a targeted nation is very different than being a target market. It is to be only a target — a target of sanctions, a target of coups, and, if those fail, then a target of invasion and military occupation, like Iraq is.

(Howsever, actually, the U.S. spends only around 7% — $1.5 trillion divided by $22 trillion — of its economy toward the Pentagon and the rest of America’s military. Still, it might be the highest percentage on Earth. Because around $1 trillion yearly in U.S. military spending is off-the-books, that ‘defence’ figure could actually be closer to 10%. But it’s not 29%. Right now, around 20% of U.S. GDP goes to buy healthcare, which is the very largest percentage for healthcare of any country on the planet. America’s quality of healthcare is at or near the lowest of all industrialized nations; so, the wastage in its healthcare is even larger than in its military.)

Iraq and Iran and Syria — and every other nation that is friendly toward Russia — all of them, are targets of the U.S. regime. That’s why Trump plans to keep U.S. forces in Iraq: Iraq was conquered in 2003, and he wants it to stay that way.

thesaker.is

[Category: Editor's Choice, Donald Trump, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, War]

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[l] at 2/21/20 5:00am

The New Silk Roads – or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – were launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013, first in Central Asia (Nur-Sultan) and then Southeast Asia (Jakarta).

One year later, the Chinese economy overtook the U.S. on a PPP basis. Inexorably, year after year since the start of the millennium, the U.S. share of the global economy shrinks while China’s increases.

China is already the key hub of the global economy and the leading trade partner of nearly 130 nations.

While the U.S. economy is hollowed out, and the casino financing of the U.S. government – repo markets and all – reads as a dystopian nightmare, the civilization-state steps ahead in myriad areas of technological research, not least because of Made in China 2025.

China largely beats the U.S. on patent filings and produces at least 8 times as many STEM graduates a year than the U.S., earning the status of top contributor to global science.

A vast array of nations across the Global South signed on to be part of BRI, which is planned for completion in 2049. Last year alone, Chinese companies signed contracts worth up to $128 billion in large-scale infrastructure projects in dozen of nations.

The only economic competitor to the U.S. is busy reconnecting most of the world to a 21st century, fully networked version of a trade system that was at its peak for over a millennia: the Eurasian Silk Roads.

Inevitably this state of things is something interlocking sectors of the U.S. ruling class simply would not accept.

Branding BRI as a “pandemic”

As the usual suspects fret over the “stability” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Xi Jinping administration, the fact is the Beijing leadership has had to deal with an accumulation of extremely severe issues: a swine-flu epidemic killing half the stock; the Trump-concocted trade war; Huawei accused of racketeering and about to be prevented from buying U.S. made chips; bird flu; coronavirus virtually shutting down half of China.

Add to it the incessant United States government Hybrid War propaganda barrage, trespassed by acute Sinophobia; everyone from sociopathic “officials” to self-titled councilors are either advising corporate businesses to divert global supply chains out of China or concocting outright calls for regime change – with every possible demonization in between.

There are no holds barred in the all-out offensive to kick the Chinese government while it’s down.

A Pentagon cipher at the Munich Security Conference once again declares China as the greatest threat, economically and militarily, to the U.S. – and by extension the West, forcing a wobbly EU already subordinated to NATO to be subservient to Washington on this remixed Cold War 2.0.

The whole U.S. corporate media complex repeats to exhaustion that Beijing is “lying” and losing control. Descending to sub-gutter, racist levels, hacks even accuse BRI itself of being a pandemic, with China “impossible to quarantine”.

All that is quite rich, to say the least, oozing from lavishly rewarded slaves of an unscrupulous, monopolistic, extractive, destructive, depraved, lawless oligarchy which uses debt offensively to boost their unlimited wealth and power while the lowly U.S. and global masses use debt defensively to barely survive. As Thomas Piketty has conclusively shown, inequality always relies on ideology.

We’re deep into a vicious intel war. From the point of view of Chinese intelligence, the current toxic cocktail simply cannot be attributed to just a random series of coincidences. Beijing has serial motives to piece this extraordinary chain of events as part of a coordinated Hybrid War, Full Spectrum Dominance attack on China.

Enter the Dragon Killer working hypothesis: a bio-weapon attack capable of causing immense economic damage but protected by plausible deniability. The only possible move by the “indispensable nation” on the New Great Game chessboard, considering that the U.S. cannot win a conventional war on China, and cannot win a nuclear war on China.

A biological warfare weapon?

On the surface, coronavirus is a dream bio-weapon for those fixated on wreaking havoc across China and praying for regime change.

Yet it’s complicated. This report is a decent effort trying to track the origins of coronavirus. Now compare it with the insights by Dr. Francis Boyle, international law professor at the University of Illinois and author, among others, of Biowarfare and Terrorism. He’s the man who drafted the U.S. Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 signed into law by George H. W. Bush.

Dr. Boyle is convinced coronavirus is an

“offensive biological warfare weapon” that leaped out of the Wuhan BSL-4 laboratory, although he’s “not saying it was done deliberately.”

Dr. Boyle adds, “all these BSL-4 labs by United States, Europe, Russia, China, Israel are all there to research, develop, test biological warfare agents. There’s really no legitimate scientific reason to have BSL-4 labs.” His own research led to a whopping $100 billion, by 2015, spent by the United States government on bio-warfare research: “We have well over 13,000 alleged life science scientists… testing biological weapons here in the United States. Actually this goes back and it even precedes 9/11.”

Dr. Boyle directly accuses “the Chinese government under Xi and his comrades” of a cover up “from the get-go. The first reported case was December 1, so they’d been sitting on this until they couldn’t anymore. And everything they’re telling you is a lie. It’s propaganda.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), for Dr. Boyle, is also on it: “They’ve approved many of these BSL-4 labs (…) Can’t trust anything the WHO says because they’re all bought and paid for by Big Pharma and they work in cahoots with the CDC, which is the United States government, they work in cahoots with Fort Detrick.” Fort Detrick, now a cutting-edge bio-warfare lab, previously was a notorious CIA den of mind control “experiments”.

Relying on decades of research in bio-warfare, the U.S. Deep State is totally familiar with all bio-weapon overtones. From Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Korea, Vietnam and Fallujah, the historical record shows the United States government does not blink when it comes to unleashing weapons of mass destruction on innocent civilians.

For its part, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has spent a fortune researching bats, coronaviruses and gene-editing bio-weapons. Now, conveniently – as if this was a form of divine intervention – DARPA’s “strategic allies” have been chosen to develop a genetic vaccine.

The 1996 neocon Bible, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), unambiguously stated, “advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”

There’s no question coronavirus, so far, has been a Heaven-sent politically useful tool, reaching, with minimum investment, the desired targets of maximized U.S. global power – even if fleetingly, enhanced by a non-stop propaganda offensive – and China relatively isolated with its economy semi paralyzed.

Yet perspective is in order. The CDC estimated that up to 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season in the U.S. No less than 647,000 people were hospitalized. And 61,200 died.

This report details the Chinese “people’s war” against coronavirus.

It’s up to Chinese virologists to decode its arguably synthetic origin. How China reacts, depending on the findings, will have earth-shattering consequences – literally.

Setting the stage for the Raging Twenties

After managing to reroute trade supply chains across Eurasia to its own advantage and hollow out the Heartland, American – and subordinated Western – elites are now staring into a void. And the void is staring back. A “West” ruled by the U.S. is now faced with irrelevance. BRI is in the process of reversing at least two centuries of Western dominance.

There’s no way the West and especially the “system leader” U.S. will allow it. It all started with dirty ops stirring trouble across the periphery of Eurasia – from Ukraine to Syria to Myanmar.

Now it’s when the going really gets tough. The targeted assassination of Maj. Gen. Soleimani plus coronavirus – the Wuhan flu – have really set up the stage for the Raging Twenties. The designation of choice should actually be WARS – Wuhan Acute Respiratory Syndrome. That would instantly give the game away as a War against Humanity – irrespective of where it came from.

[Category: Security, War and Conflict, Belt and Road Initiative, Biological Weapons, China, Silk Road, United States, WHO]

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[l] at 2/21/20 3:00am

Western news media are once again distorting the conflict in Syria with lopsided coverage this week, claiming to focus their concern on a humanitarian crisis in the northwest of the country.

Outlets such as the New York Times and the BBC, among others, claimed that 900,000 civilians are fleeing violence brought on by Syrian state forces and their Russian ally continuing an offensive against “rebels”. The implication being that responsibility for immense humanitarian suffering was due to callous Syrian and Russian military actions. The NY Times described the plight of refugees with emotive words, saying, “it’s like the end of the world.”

No-one doubts that there is humanitarian plight from violence and displacement. But what the Western media are engaging in is a gross and nauseating distortion of what is really going on in Syria. It is typical of the way Western corporate media have been lying about the war in that country for the past nearly nine years.

It is by now untenable for Western media to spin the fictional narrative about “moderate rebels” fighting against a “cruel dictatorship”. The supposed “rebels” have vanished like the chimera they always were. What is left are the remnants of terror groups that are concentrated in northwest Syria. The dominant component is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Al Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, like Islamic State. These are internationally proscribed terror networks which have carried out the most hideous, barbaric cruelties against civilians.

Unable any longer to launder the bloody image of the terrorists and retail them as “moderate rebels”, the Western media are now laying on the “humanitarian emotion” as a way to undermine the sovereign right of the Syrian army to defeat and rid the country of the terror scourge.

The Syrian army has already largely eradicated this scourge from most of the country. The last remaining hold-out for the terrorists is in the northwest region of Idlib and Aleppo countryside.

Many of the civilians caught up in the conflict are being used as human shields by the militant groups to prevent Syrian state forces advancing towards the final endgame. Commendably, the Syrian army and its Russian ally have deployed valor and painstaking care to liberate terror-held areas with minimal civilian casualties. Again, Western media have functioned as propagandists for the terror groups and their White Helmet agents by airing febrile claims of atrocities committed against civilians by the Syrian and Russian forces.

Two significant events happened this week, both of which were largely ignored by Western media, which gives an indication of their duplicitous political agenda.

The Syrian army routed the terror groups from dozens of villages and towns in Aleppo countryside. What then followed were huge celebrations by civilians in Aleppo city because the terrorists would no longer be able to launch deadly rocket and mortar attacks on residents. It was these attacks over the past year in violation of countless ceasefire attempts by the government in Damascus that finally prompted the offensive by the Syrian army to eliminate the terrorist remnants.

The second significant event was the reopening of Aleppo international airport to flights. The airport was not able to operate despite the city having been fully liberated at the end of 2016 by the Syrian army and its Russian ally. The relentless shelling by terror groups from the surrounding countryside meant that Syria’s second city had to keep its airport closed for the past three years (in addition to the five years before liberation). As a result of finally clearing Aleppo province of militants this week, the city’s airport is now open for business. Life is returning to some normality.

Back when Aleppo city was liberated in 2016, the Western media again ignored the celebrations of the civilians overjoyed from at last being freed from the besieging jihadist groups which had held them under a veritable reign of terror. The Western media tried to spin that liberation as an impending massacre against civilians and “rebels” committed by the Syrian army and Russian forces. None of the Western media ever followed up with reports on real life in Aleppo following the liberation. The reality no doubt would have been too much of a contradiction for their fictive propaganda narrative.

Likewise this week, Western media roundly ignored the realities on the ground in Syria, by trying to repackage their “humanitarian crisis” fabulation.

The fact is since the beginning of the war in March 2011 Western governments and NATO members have been covertly arming the terror groups which have inflicted so much suffering and horror on Syria in a nefarious scheme for regime change in Damascus. The Syrian people, their government and army have bravely resisted this criminal conspiracy for the most part of a decade and are now bringing it to a final end. Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah deserve credit for their steadfast support to the Syrian nation against the foreign-backed aggression.

Turkey, a NATO member, is currently most visibly exposed as being an accomplice with the terror groups that are being rolled up by the Syrian army. But the United States, Britain and France have all played a dirty role in fomenting the war in Syria. Western media do not give this coverage because the appalling culpability and criminality of Western governments is too shameful to contemplate or expose to the public.

If Western media were genuinely concerned about “humanitarian crisis”, they would do well to report on how their governments have created the suffering and misery in Syria. Why don’t they report extensively on how U.S. military forces are illegally occupying the country and looting Syria’s oil fields which is preventing the nation accessing its natural wealth to fund reconstruction and supply returning refugees with fuel? Why don’t Western media report on how the U.S. and the European Union are tightening economic sanctions on Syria, again hampering a war-torn nation from reconstructing?

Syria is a case study of how Western news media – despite pretensions of ethics and journalism – serve as propaganda tools. And more than propaganda tools, they are complicit in the war crimes perpetrated against Syria because they have knowingly distorted the truth to cover up for their criminal governments.

[Category: Editorial, Middle East, World, Mass Media, Propaganda, Syria, Terrorism, War]

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[l] at 2/20/20 7:00am

The American two-party system has always been an electoral front to conceal the reality of how big money buys U.S. politics. Now with media tycoon Mike Bloomberg entering the presidential race, U.S. “democracy” can be seen for what it is: it’s all about big money duking it out. Political parties are now manifestly irrelevant.

With an estimated personal wealth of $60 billion, Bloomberg is reckoned to be one of the richest men in the U.S. He is vying for the presidency in November’s elections against White House incumbent Donald Trump – a billionaire real estate magnate before he was elected in 2016.

Trump’s earlier promises to be a “man of the people” are a cruel joke. He’s done nothing to drain the swamp of corruption in U.S. establishment politics. With his pardonning of white collar criminals this week, one can say Trump is refilling the swamp. But what else to expect from a billionaire oligarch whose White House tenure is just another crony dimension of his family business?

It would be rather fitting if Bloomberg ends up getting the nomination as the Democratic Party candidate to run against Trump, the Republican candidate. Then it would be merely two billionaires going head-to-head, and in that way cutting out the bothersome window-dressing of political parties seemingly competing. It was always big money from oligarchs and corporations that poured into the American two-party system to determine the winner. So why bother pretending there is a party competition and all that jazz, when we can just have the fat cats with the money standing in the ballot?

U.S. democracy is moribund. Arguably it has been that atrophied way for a long time. It’s rather devolved more into a dystopian contest between super-rich individuals who try to win votes by outspending each other. American politics has truly descended into a dark dungeon akin to Gotham City of Batman movies. Only there is no mysterious superhero to save the masses held captive by the oligarchs. It’s only a matter of time when the formal casting of votes will eventually be deemed superfluous in the exercise of power over the people.

This week saw Bloomberg being given a platform on the TV debates between Democratic candidates. He qualified for that nationwide spotlight because several public opinion polls have, it seems, registered growing support among voters, thereby meeting the supposed criteria of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

But that poll support for Bloomberg comes after he has spent – so far and counting – $400 million on TV, radio and digital advertisements promoting his campaign. That’s a flood compared to a trickle from other candidates.

That has led to the other Democratic candidates accusing him of “trying to buy the election”. Well, that may be true. But there again wasn’t it always the case that oligarchs bought the U.S. election? Maybe what the professional politicians are irked about is that they sense they are out of a job as being lackeys for the money-men.

A recent profile by the New York Times, headlined ‘Bloomberg’s billions: How the candidate built an empire of influence’, surveyed how the billionaire has spent years cultivating patronage and policy within the Democratic Party.

According to the NY Times: “In all, Bloomberg has spent at least $10 billion on his charitable and political pursuits… And it is not simply goodwill that Bloomberg has built. His political and philanthropic spending has also secured the allegiance or cooperation of powerful institutions and leaders within the Democratic Party who might take issue with parts of his record, were they not so reliant on his largesse.”

In a nutshell, the political party is bought. It has become a vehicle that is patently the political property of an oligarch. And not just this one oligarch, but the entire oligarchic system of super-wealth in the United States. Hillary Clinton, the Democrat candidate in 2016, was despised by voters because of her solicitous connections to Wall Street and Big Business. That corruption has now only become starkly manifest in the form an oligarch-in-person taking the political stage instead of a politician-surrogate. The same can be said for the other side of the oligarch coin, the Republicans.

It is rather fitting too that Bloomberg stood as a Republican when he was elected Mayor of Gotham (er, New York City) between 2001-2013. Since leaving that office be flipped to the Democrats, no doubt sensing a more expedient route for buying his way to the White House. That again demonstrates how hollow the party names are of any substantive meaning regarding policy.

In the 2018 mid-term elections, Bloomberg donated $100 million to the DNC to promote 16 new female lawmakers to Congress. Enamored by that superficial progressive benevolence, the party bosses are in his pocket.

A recent NPR/PBS poll puts Bloomberg on second place with 19% behind front-runner Bernie Sanders on 31%. Over night, Bloomberg has overtaken Joe Biden (15%), Elizabeth Warren (12%), Amy Klobuchar (9%) and Pete Buttigieg (8%). That mind-bending power of U.S. billionaire money over politics puts into perspective the nonsensical claims about alleged Russian influence.

Sanders, an avowed socialist candidate whose growing popular appeal stems from his criticism of American oligarchic wealth and politics, said: “I got news for Mr Bloomberg, and that is the American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections.”

That may well be true. But, unfortunately, Sanders and the American people will struggle to exercise their democratic freedom to vote for the next president. That’s because the Democratic Party leadership are hostages to Bloomberg’s fortune; and the antipathy of oligarch-bought news media towards any move towards a genuinely socialist democracy, will stack the deck in favor of Bloomberg. Or Trump.

The only “superhero” that can save Gotham (er, the U.S.) from the oligarchs is the American people themselves finding the strength and independence to rise up against the endemic two-party corruption, and voting for real change.

That, however, requires mass organization, mobilization and a class consciousness about the predatory capitalist, oligarch-ridden system that the U.S. has descended into.

[Category: Americas, World, Congress, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Party, Elections, Mike Bloomberg, United States]

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[l] at 2/20/20 6:00am

Conor LYNCH

Since Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination four years ago, mainstream media across the political spectrum have warned us about the rise of “populism.” The standard narrative goes something like this: those on the political extremes — especially the far-right but also the far-left—are rapidly gaining ground and subverting liberal democracy across the globe, ushering in a new age of authoritarianism.

“What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao,” explained former George W. Bush speechwriter turned #Resistance leader David Frum in 2017. “Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.”

When it comes to right-wing nationalists like Trump and others — Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Italy’s Matteo Salvini, to name just a few — this critique has largely proved correct. Trump’s authoritarian impulses are undeniable, and he has expressed his fundamental disdain for democratic norms, the free press and the rule of law on an almost daily basis. The former game show host has done extraordinary damage to America’s already deeply flawed institutions, and there’s no telling how much more he would do with another four years in office.

Whatever truth there is to this argument, however, there has always been something deeply disingenuous about veteran neoconservatives and neoliberals positioning themselves as defenders of democracy. Some of the loudest critics of this “new authoritarianism” were devoted supporters of Bush II, who was arguably an even more effective demagogue than Trump. Along with Frum, Bill Kristol, Thomas Friedman, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot and Jonathan Chait all supported the Iraq War and an unprecedented expansion of executive power. President Obama, of course, consolidated and strengthened that power by broadening the surveillance state that is now under Trump’s control. None of the aforementioned pundits felt compelled to speak up about these developments before 2017.

It’s not so much Trump’s authoritarianism that centrists object to then but the crude and impudent manner of its implementation. Three years after his election, they still regard him as a kind of aberration. Never has this been clearer than in the mainstream media’s recent embrace of Michael Bloomberg. With former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign in a death spiral, the former mayor of New York City has emerged as an appealing alternative for establishment types who despise Trump but cannot bear the thought of supporting a genuine social democrat like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The irony is that Bloomberg fits perfectly into Frum’s definition of authoritarianism, which he argues is built on “rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.” Not only does the billionaire own a media outlet that bears his name, but as his purchased endorsements make clear, he’s all too willing to subvert our political system for his personal gain. Indeed, he has staked his entire candidacy on his ability to do just that.

Bloomberg is notorious for disregarding rules and norms, infamously strong-arming New York’s City Council to overturn the mayorship’s term limits so that he could run for a third term. “Rules, in the Bloombergian universe, only apply to people with less than ten zeros in their net worth,” observed Joel Kotkin in The Daily Beast last month, adding that he is a “far more successful billionaire with the smarts, motivation and elitist mentality not only to propose but actually carry out his own deeply authoritarian vision should he be elected president.”

As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg governed as an authoritarian, from his draconian and racist stop-and-frisk policy to his heavy-handed crackdown on Occupy Wall Street. “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” Bloomberg once bragged. While evicting Occupy protesters from Zuccotti Park in 2011, he even made sure to prevent journalists from documenting police brutality, closing airspace in lower Manhattan to block any possible aerial footage.

The former mayor’s disregard for civil liberties and disdain for popular movements is a matter of public record. But whereas Trump’s behavior is almost atavistic, Bloomberg employs what The New Republic’s Alex Pareene calls a “polite authoritarianism.” Comparing the two, Pareene writes that the latter “has explicitly argued that ‘our interpretation of the Constitution’ will have to change to give citizens less privacy and the police more power to search and spy on them. In fact, he does not seem to believe that certain people have innate civil rights that the state must respect.”

That so many talking heads have rallied around somebody like Bloomberg as an alternative to left- and right-wing populism should come as no surprise. A paper from political economist David Adler indicates that contrary to the dominant media narrative, centrists are uniquely hostile to democratic values. “Respondents at the center of the political spectrum are the least supportive of democracy, least committed to its institutions, and most supportive of authoritarianism,” writes Adler, whose findings were based on data from the World Values Survey and European Values Survey.

Per his research, less than half of self-identified centrists in the U.S. believe that free elections are “essential to democracy.” Perhaps more troubling, they tend to view basic civil rights as non-essential. While dissatisfaction with democracy is high on both the left and right, Adler is careful to point out that this does not necessarily indicate these groups are ready to abandon it altogether; rather, they want their government to be more democratic than they are at present. There is a difference, he notes, between support for democracy and satisfaction with existing institutions. And while he found “moderate levels of satisfaction” with the current system among centrists, they are the least disposed toward democratic reforms.

What these people fear and abhor, ultimately, is any kind of threat to the status quo and the entrenched power of elites. As Jeet Heer recently argued in The Nation, those on the extremes of the political spectrum are more likely to criticize a state whose violence they frequently bear the brunt of, while centrists who are “safely ensconced in mainstream society and hold positions of high social status, are more likely to take an uncritical view of trampling on democratic norms, since they have the comfort of knowing that the authorities are unlikely to go after reputable figures.”

Bloomberg would govern as a well-mannered neoliberal autocrat, and his assault on American democracy would be more insidious—and perhaps more dangerous—than Trump’s in the long run. He let his mask slip last year when he commented that China’s Xi Jinping is not, in fact, a “dictator,” since he “has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive.” The Uighur Muslims currently residing in concentration camps might disagree, but then again Bloomberg never did care much about the civil liberties of Muslims or people of color.

Sanders, the current Democratic front-runner, offers a very different view of Xi. “In China,” he wrote in 2018 article for The Guardian, “an inner circle led by Xi Jinping has steadily consolidated power, clamping down on domestic political freedom while it aggressively promotes a version of authoritarian capitalism abroad.” Unlike Bloomberg and his toadies, Sanders is committed to expanding democracy and understands that the neoliberal status quo of the past several decades has fueled the rise of authoritarianism throughout the world today.

Here lies the crucial difference between those who denounce Trump from their armchairs and leftists who join popular movements fighting for radical change. With Bloomberg now set to challenge Sanders for the Democratic nomination, the divide couldn’t be starker. And for those who truly reject authoritarianism, the choice should be easy.

truthdig.com

[Category: Editor's Choice, Mike Bloomberg, Occupy Wall Street, United States]

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[l] at 2/20/20 5:00am

“Yesterday, upon a stair
“I met a man who wasn’t there
“He wasn’t there again today
“I wish, I wish he’d go away.”

Hughes Mearns

This year, the Democratic Party caucus-goers of Midwest, prosperous Iowa and the voters of hard-scrabble, post-industrial, impoverished Granite State New Hampshire 1,342 miles (2,160 kilometers) away agreed on a historic decision:

They put the fantasy of a wonderful, First-Ever Lady President of the United States behind them and significantly tilted towards embracing a First-Ever, Openly Gay President instead.

This is the real meaning behind the rise of Pete Buttigieg to second place among caucus voters in Iowa (though narrowly leading there in the number of pledged delegates) and in New Hampshire, and of the dramatic decline of Senator Elizabeth Warren in both U.S. states.

Warren tried out different suits of political clothes and public policies through her endlessly promoted but always hollow and insubstantial campaign. None of them fitted convincingly on her.

Warren tried to be the candidate of the fake populist, fraudulent left championing Those In Need –a familiar trope.

She did not realize that Senator Bernie Sanders – significantly always a flinty Independent outside the Democratic Party mainstream – retained his rock-solid hold on his supporters from 2016.

By the time Warren – not at all the brightest of political light bulbs – realized her crucial mistake and tried to cut back to the Democrats’ so-called moderate center (the terms are actually meaningless, but universally swallowed by gullible Americans), it was too late.

In reality, there is a much stronger and far more plausible mainstream lady Democratic potential candidate.

Senator Amy Klobuchar comes from Minnesota and is far more a daughter of the vast American Heartland than Warren, who grew up in Ohio, but fled it to Massachusetts and the fake intellectual distinction of Harvard as quickly as she could.

Klobuchar is 20 years younger than Warren, far more controlled in public and not prone to Warren’s hysteria.

In terms of policy there is in reality little to differentiate them. But Klobuchar knows how to superficially talk to Heartland Americans without convincing them she regards them as dumb little poodle dogs –an absolutely vital requirement for any presidential contender in the 21st century United States. Warren, like Hillary Clinton before her, could never master that vital skill.

However, as the contest outcomes in radically contrasting Iowa and New Hampshire show, instead of Klobuchar’s genuinely solid record after 12 years in the United States Senate, Democratic voters are tilting towards Pete Buttigieg: a man who only been mayor of tiny (100,000 population) South Bend, Indiana – and a far from distinguished mayor at that.

Far from being Mr. Clean, Buttigieg in fact has a mysterious background in U.S. Naval Intelligence and an astonishing degree of public support from scores of senior officials in the Secret State.

In fact Buttigieg has never been what he appears to be. He was accepted to Pembroke College at Oxford University in England on a Rhodes scholarship – an elite path previously followed by President Bill Clinton, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and warmongering neocon columnist the late Charles Krauthammer among others.

He went to Harvard. He has literally scores of endorsements from extraordinarily high level officials in the CIA and throughout the U.S. intelligence community on his web site.

He was a successful employed consultant at McKinsey for three years. His career trajectory closely parallels that of President Emmanuel Macron of France, the supposedly super-smart, highly sheltered and arrogant little policy wonk always ready to ax the jobs and lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary families on the sacred altar of “efficiency.”

Buttigieg served in the U.S. Navy Reserve in intelligence. He had a seven month deployment in Afghanistan in 2014 for which he was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal. Yet he never rose beyond the level of lieutenant – the bottom rank of officers. And he has all these Deep State endorsements.

In fact, in so far as Pete Buttigieg is typical of anything, it is not the Democratic Party, the American Midwest, the state of Indiana or the modest mini-city of South Bend he has so manifestly failed to run impressively.

Instead, Buttigieg is the latest classic example of what in these columns a year ago (March 29, 2019) I described as the phenomenon of the “Boy Toys” apparently cloned by the CIA as supposedly harmless puppets to (pretend to) run the West.

As I wrote at the time, there is an astonishing element of similarity to all these figures. They are all in their forties or late 30s (Buttigieg is 38). They could all pass as teenagers. They all project an attempted air of wholesomeness and earnest idealism which their records reveal as utterly fraudulent. And none of them has any record of distinction in either domestic or international affairs.

“Little Pete” Buttigieg fits this profile eerily: Like the rest of them, he was plucked from nowhere on the basis of nothing more profound than his willingness to swallow the same old internationalist, liberal, free trade party line to cover endless aggressions, fostered coups, civil wars and other crimes against humanity.

Buttigieg, like his fellow Boy Toys is also a perfect candidate to be, in the wonderful words with which Alice Roosevelt Longworth dismissed 1948 U.S. presidential candidate Tom Dewey, the little toy man on top of a giant wedding cake.

The Mighty Mayor of South Bend is also a convincing candidate to be the Last Ever President of the United States: For he is the natural successor to Romulus Augustulanus, the ludicrous teenage last legal emperor of Rome (for less than a year) in 475-6 AD.

What a way to go.

[Category: Americas, World, Democratic Party, Elections, Pete Buttigieg, United States]

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[l] at 2/20/20 4:00am

The only complaint the U.S. allows is that the United States might not defend us enough, when the greater danger comes from being defended too much, writes Diana Johnstone on the Munich conference.

Diana JOHNSTONE

“ The West is winning!” U.S. leaders proclaimed at the high-level Annual Security Conference held in Munich last weekend.

Not everybody was quite so sure.

There was a lot of insecurity displayed at a conference billed as “the West’s family meeting” – enlarged to 70 participating nations, including U.S. -designated “losers”.

Trump’s crude Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made nobody feel particular secure by treating the world as a huge video game which “we are winning”. Thanks to our “values”, he proclaimed, the West is winning against the other players that Washington has forced into its zero-sum game: Russia and China, whose alleged desires for “empire” are being thwarted.

The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is a private gathering founded in 1963 by  Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, a member of the aristocratic Wehrmacht officer class who plotted to get rid of Hitler when their estates in Eastern Germany were already being lost to the Red Army (to become part of Poland). The conference was evidently conceived as a means to enable Germans to get a word into strategic discussions from which they had been excluded by defeat in World War II.

The Munich conference knew its greatest hour of glory in February 2007, when Russian president Vladimir Putin shocked the assemblage by declaring his opposition to a “unipolar world” as “not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world.” Putin declared that NATO expansion up to Russian borders had nothing to do with ensuring security in Europe.


This speech was taken as a major challenge, redefining capitalist Russia as the new enemy of the West and its “values”.Russia, he said then, “ would like to interact with responsible and independent partners with whom we could work together in constructing a fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all.”

What is ‘The West?’

The term “the West” could mean a number of things. The conference organizers define it by “values” that are supposed to be essentially Western: democracy, human rights, a market-based economy and “international cooperation in international institutions”. In fact, what is meant is a particular interpretation of all those “values”, an interpretation based on Anglo-American history. And indeed, in historic terms, this particular “West” is essentially the heir and continuation of the British empire, centered in Washington after London was obliged to abdicate after World War II, while retaining its role as imperial tutor and closest partner.

It implies the worldwide hegemony of the English language and English ideas of “liberalism” and is “multicultural” as empires always are. While the United States is the power center, many of the most ardent subjects of this empire are not American but European, starting with the Norwegian secretary general of NATO. Its imperial power is expressed by military bases all around the world offering “protection” to its subjects.

As for protection, the United States is currently shipping 20,000 military personnel to reinvade Germany on their way to unprecedented military manoeuvers next month in ten countries right up to Russia’s borders. Some 40,000 troops will take part in this exercise, on the totally imaginary pretext of a “Russian threat” to invade neighboring countries.

This delights Washington’s enthusiastic vassals in Poland and the Baltic States but is making many people nervous in Germany itself and other core European Union countries, wondering where this provocation of Russia may lead. But they hardly dare say so in violation of “western solidarity”. The only complaint allowed is that the United States might not defend us enough, when the greater danger comes from being defended too much.

Opening this year’s conference, the President of the German Federal Republic Frank-Walter Steinmeier, expressed Germany’s strategic frustration more openly than usual. Steinmeier accused Washington, Beijing and Moscow of “great power competition” leading to more mistrust, more armament, more insecurity, leading “all the way to a new nuclear arms race.” He didn’t specify who started all that.

Overwhelming establishment distaste for Trump has provided a novel opportunity for leaders of U.S.-occupied countries to criticize Washington, or at least the White House. Steinmeier dared say that “our closest ally, the United States of America, under the present administration, rejects the idea of an international community.” But he made up for this by accusing Russia of “making military violence and the violent change of borders on the European continent a political tool once again” by annexing Crimea – forgetting the NATO violent detachment of Kosovo from Serbia and ignoring the referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to return to Russia, without a shot fired.

The only complaint allowed is that the United States might not defend us enough, when the greater danger comes from being defended too much.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed frustration at Europe’s dependence on Washington. He would like the European Union to develop its own military defense and security policy. “We cannot be the United States’ junior partner,” he said, although that is certainly what Europe is. While repeating the usual NATO line about the Russian threat, he noted that the policy of threats and sanctions against Russia had accomplished nothing and called for a “closer dialogue” to resolve problems. In that, he was surely echoing the consensus of the French elite which sees absolutely no French interest in the ongoing U.S.-inspired feud with Moscow.

Macron openly aspires to building a more independent EU military defense. The first obstacle lies in EU Treaties, which tie the Union to NATO. With the UK out of the EU, France is its strongest military power and its sole possessor of nuclear arms. There are indications that some German leaders might like to absorb France’s nuclear arsenal into a joint European force – which would surely arouse a “nationalist” uproar in France.

Playing the Game

Aside from providing protection, the Empire calls on everybody to play the game of international trade – so long as they consent to lose.

On Saturday in Munich, both Nancy Pelosi and Defense Secretary Mark Esper lit into China for daring to emerge as a trade giant and technological center. “China is seeking to export its digital autocracy through its telecommunication giant Huawei,” Pelosi warned.

Esper gave a long speech damning Beijing’s “bad behavior”, “malign activity”, authoritarianism and, of course, Huawei. The Pentagon chief concluded his diatribe against America’s number one economic rival by a moralizing sermon on “our values, sense of fairness, and culture of opportunity,” which “unleash the very best of human intellect, spirit, and innovation.”Huawei has overtaken Russian natural gas as the export Washington condemns most vigorously as nefarious interference in the internal affairs of importers.

“ Maybe, just maybe, we can get them on the right path,” Esper suggested benevolently. “Again, make no mistake, we do not seek conflict with China.”

In general, said Esper, “we simply ask of Beijing what we ask of every nation: to play by the rules, abide by international norms, and respect the rights and sovereignty of others.” (He could say, what we ask of every nation except our own.)

The Department of Defense, he said, is doing its share: “focused on deterring bad behavior, reassuring our friends and allies, and defending the global commons.” We want China to “behave like a normal country” but, said Esper, if it “will not change its ways”, then we must make “greater investments in our common defense; by making the hard economic and commercial  choices needed to prioritize our shared security … prepared to deter any threat, defend any Ally, and defeat any foe.”

In short, China’s economic progress provides another excuse to increase the Pentagon budget and pressure European allies into more military spending. This could only please such major sponsors of this conference as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin (and probably did not displease Goldman Sachs and all the other major Western industries backing this get-together).

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi replied to Esper’s harangue with some lessons of his own for the West, concerning “multilateralism”.

“It is not multilateralism if only the Western countries prosper while the non-Western countries lag behind forever. It would not achieve the common progress of mankind,” said Wang. “China’s modernization is the necessity of history.” China’s history and culture meant that it could not copy the Western pattern nor seek hegemony as major powers in the past.

Wang said the West should discard its subconscious mentality of civilization supremacy, give up its bias and anxiety over China, and accept and welcome the development and revitalization of a country from the East with a system different from that of the West.

The West at Munich did not appear particularly ready to follow this advice. Nor that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who was also allowed his few minutes to address deaf ears. Lavrov lamented that the structure of the Cold War rivalry is being recreated ”  as NATO continues to advance eastward, carrying on military  exercises  of unprecedented scope near the Russian borders, and inflating arms budgets. Lavrov invited the West to stop promoting the phantom of the Russian or any other “threat” and remember “what unites us all” before it’s too late.

But the self-appointed representatives of “the West” hadn’t come to hear that. They were much more ready to listen respectfully to representatives of such friendly arms purchasers as Qatar and Saudi Arabia whose acceptance of “Western values” was not called into question.

Westlessness’

It had evidently been decided who belongs to “the West” and who is threatening it: China and Russia. “China’s rapid ascent has stirred much debate over the primacy of the United States and the West in the 21st century,” Esper remarked. Indeed, the “Munich Security Report” published for the conference was devoted to the odd theme of “Westlessness”, lamenting a new “decline of the West” (in echo of Oswald Spengler’s famous  Der Untergang des Abendlandes  of a century ago). The world was becoming less Western – and even worse, so was the West itself.

‘We cannot be the United States’ junior partner,’ Macron said, although that is certainly what Europe is.”

This complaint had two sides, material and ideological. In material terms, the West feels challenged by foreign economic and technological development, especially in China. It is notable that, while Western powers vigorously promoted international trade-based economies, they seem unable to react to the results except in terms of power rivalry and ideological conflict.

As long as Western dominance was ensured, international trade was celebrated as the necessary basis for a peaceful world. But the moment a non-Western trader is doing too well, its exports are ominously denounced as means to exert malign influence over its customers. The prime example was Russian natural gas. Chinese technology is the next. Both are decried, especially by U.S. spokespeople, as treacherous means to make other countries “dependent”.

Of course, trade does imply mutual dependence, and with it, a certain degree of political influence. Certainly, the overwhelming U.S. dominance of the entertainment industry (movies, TV series, popular music) exercises an enormous ideological influence on much of the world. The U.S. influence via Internet is also considerable.

But the avoidance of such nefarious foreign influence would call for precisely an “inward-looking” nationalism that the MSC denounced as destructive of our Western values.

The Western strategists see themselves threatened by too much globalization abroad, in the terms of China rising, and not enough enthusiasm for globalization at home. Enthusiasm is waning for foreign military expeditions to impose “values” – an essential aspect of Western identity.

The Report deplored the rise of “inward-looking” nationalism in Europe, which could be called patriotism, since it has none of the aggressive tendencies associated with nationalism. In fact, some of these European “nationalists” actually favor less intervention in the Middle East and would like to promote peaceful relations with Russia.

When the alleged threat to the West was “godless communism”, Western values were relatively conservative. Today, the liberal West is threatened by conservatism, by people who more or less want to preserve their traditional lifestyle.

Finally, the MSC acknowledged that “the defenders of an open, liberal West, … so far seem unable to find an adequate answer to the illiberal-nationalist challenge…”. Part of the reason “may be found in the long almost unshakable conviction that all obstacles to liberalization were only minor setbacks, as liberalism’s eventual triumph was seen as inevitable.” Politicians have presented their policies as without alternative. As a result, there is growing “resistance against a system allegedly run by liberal experts and international institutions, which in the eyes of some amounts to a ‘new authoritarianism’…”

Isn’t “liberal authoritarianism” an oxymoron? But what do you call it when Macron’s police enjoy impunity when they shoot out the eyes of Gilets Jaunes citizens peacefully protesting against massively unpopular social policies, when the UK holds Julian Assange in a dungeon despite denunciation of his cruel treatment by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture? When the United States holds a record number of people in prison, including Chelsea Manning, simply to force her to testify against her will, and with no end in sight?

The day may come when it is accepted that the world is round, and “West” is only a relative geographic term, depending on where you are.

consortiumnews.com

[Category: Editor's Choice, Munich Security Conference]

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[l] at 2/20/20 3:00am

The inept course of what passes for United States Foreign Policy continues, with the Trump Administration now going after the nation’s second oldest friend, Great Britain. With Trump having serially insulted America’s oldest ally France last year, it should only have been expected that the Brits would be next on the list, joining the other key European ally Germany, which is being threatened with sanctions over buying gas from Russia.

In the latest episode of international misunderstanding, the British media has aggressively latched on to a traffic death involving the wife of an American government technical employee at a top-secret communications facility in England. The story has been prominent in the U.K. papers since last August, when the incident occurred, with much of the editorializing in England blaming the White House and State Department for a grave miscarriage of justice. The woman, Anne Sacoolas, was reportedly driving on the wrong side of the road near the RAF Croughton airbase in Northamptonshire, which hosts the communications facility, when she had a head on collision with motorcyclist Harry Dunn, killing him instantly.

Sacoolas was questioned by the police and then released with the understanding that the authorities would follow up with more questions if warranted but the U.S. Embassy put her and her husband Jonathan and three children on a plane and flew them back to Washington, claiming diplomatic immunity in the accidental death. The British did not buy into that argument and demanded that Anne Sacoolas be extradited to the U.K. to take responsibility for what she had done, denying that she had diplomatic immunity because she had fled the country without making any such claim.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected the British demands, arguing that “If the United States were to grant the UK’s extradition request, it would render the invocation of diplomatic immunity a practical nullity and would set an extraordinarily troubling precedent.” In simpler language Pompeo was declaring that he would never under any circumstances recognize that the killing of a foreigner might justify allowing an American government official to stand trial, even in a Western European country where the accused would have rights and be treated fairly.

In October Sacoolas was interviewed by British police officers in the U.S. and in December the U.K. government charged Sacoolas with “causing death by dangerous driving” and made clear that it was demanding cooperation from Washington. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also warned that he would go directly to President Trump over the issue. However, the State Department refused to budge and Sacoolas was last seen pumping gas in Falls Church Virginia.

There is, of course, more to the story. The Daily Mail has published a piece asserting that the husband and wife are actually Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employees, though she was “not active” in their posting in Britain. The article also states that Anne Sacoolas outranks her husband.

The Mail article relies on unnamed sources and the manner in which it is framed suggests that the United States government is refusing to extradite Anne Sacoolas because she is an intelligence officer, active or otherwise. The implication would seem to be that Washington is fearful lest Sacoolas be questioned by the British police and wittingly or unwittingly reveal details of classified secret CIA operations.

A simpler explanation for the State Department’s unwillingness to compel Sacoolas to return to England would be that it would compromise the cover arrangements at Croughton base. And the claim that she and her husband are both CIA should also be taken with somewhat more than a grain of salt. The media in Europe and much of the rest of the world routinely labels any U.S. intelligence link as CIA. As Croughton is presumably a major communications and “listening post” intercept center for the U.S. government it would include elements of all the alphabet soup that makes up the intelligence community, to include the National Security Agency (NSA) as well as representatives from all the armed services and the State Department.

The argument over returning Sacoolas to Britain centers around the use or abuse of diplomatic immunity. Diplomatic and Consular immunity are defined by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which was codified in 1961, but the protections provided are not the same for all employees of embassies overseas. In principle, diplomatic immunity became an established practice to prevent a local government from using the law to maliciously harass the emissary of a foreign country. This has inevitably produced some bizarre cases where the privilege has been abused. Back in 2010, a Qatari diplomat Mohammed al-Madadi was in the news when he was caught by an air Marshal for smoking in the bathroom of a Washington to Denver flight. He joked that he was actually lighting a bomb in his shoes before claiming diplomatic immunity and being released by the police.

In reality, ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission plus their families have full immunity and can commit any crime, though the host country has the option of demanding that such individuals go home as personae non gratae (PNG). Diplomats with something like full immunity are normally accepted by the Foreign Ministry of the host country and they are then entered on the diplomatic list. Other embassy employees, to include those at Consular posts, have what is regarded as “functional immunity,” which means that they are protected as long as they are performing work that is related to their jobs at the foreign mission. Other embassy administrative employees who have no diplomatic related duties have no immunity at all.

It is by no means clear how Jonathan Sacoolsa, identified both as a “technical” officer and “intelligence officer” by various sources had diplomatic immunity in the first place, as he clearly did not function as a diplomat and was working at a communications site. It is possible that there was some special arrangement made with the British government to cover intelligence officers who were declared to the British security services.

With the Sacoolsa case still roiling the international waters, one would think that the Trump Administration just might talk nice to America’s closest ally to undo some of the damage. But no, Donald Trump does not do nice and is angry with Boris Johnson because British government has contracted with Chinese tech giant Huawei to build part of Britain’s next generation 5G cellular phone network. According to the Financial Times Trump vented “apoplectic” fury at Boris Johnson in a tense phone call before slamming down the receiver. Boris has, as a consequence, canceled an upcoming trip to Washington.

The president, claiming that using Chinese technology is “very dangerous,” a “security issue,” threatened that there would be consequences arising from the British decision, including some limits on the Five Eyes intelligence sharing as well as less willingness on the part of Washington to enter into bilateral trade talks. Johnson, taken aback by the verbal onslaught, argued that there was no commercially available alternative to the Chinese technology to no avail. Trump has also been angered by Britain’s continued adherence to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) intended to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and prohibit development of a weapon. Officials who have been engaged in the management of the bilateral “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain believe that the rift between the two countries, fueled solely by Trump’s taking personal affront whenever anyone disagrees with him, is wide and growing. If Trump is reelected it is quite likely that by 2024 the United States will have no friends left in Europe.

[Category: Americas, Europe, World, CIA, Criminal, Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State, United Kingdom, United States]

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[l] at 2/19/20 7:00am

The U.S. has declared “revolutions” on its own terms, and its own image, writes As`ad AbuKhalil. 

As`ad ABUKHALIL

It is rather amusing to see Western media hailing, as of late, the advent of what they refer to as “Arab revolutions.” Western media never hail revolutions. Instead itpropagandizes against revolutions in developing countries, as it did during much of the Cold War.

Why would anti-revolutionary Western media be suddenly interested in promoting what they now call “revolutions?” The answer is simple. These are not actual revolutions. Western governments and media want to bestow the title of “revolution” on political events and developments that serve its interests in order to give them political legitimacy and cachet.

When the U.S. government and Western media support what they call a “revolution,” you know it is not a revolution, and can’t be a revolution.

The U.S. has been unsettled since the end of the Cold War. After the Clinton administration (with the help of EU and Western lending institutions) secured the tenure of the corrupt Boris Yeltsin, the world was supposed to fall at its feet, now that the U.S. had become the sole global empire. Since that point, the U.S. has not stopped launching wars, under different names and with different goals.

The U.S. was determined to impose world domination. No state, and no organization would stand in its way, and all means of control (from propaganda to the massive use of force) would be deployed.  But why didn’t the world turn into a U.S. sphere?  The U.S. government and its loyal media were frustrated.

The Arab world was a major irritant in the face of U.S. hegemony.  Successive Arab public opinion surveys showed that despite years of wars and massive propaganda expenditure, the people of the region remain opposed to the U.S. and Israel.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. bombs have fallen on these Arab countries: Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen and Syria. And during that same period, Israel — the U.S. close ally — bombed the following Arab countries: Sudan, Egypt (through “anti-terrorism” campaigns in Sinai), Syria, Lebanon, Iraq; assassinated a Hamas leader in Dubai and had earlier attempted to assassinate the leader of Hamas in Amman, Jordan.

In the same period, the U.S. expanded its sponsorship of Arab despotic regimes. Because those regimes are the official sponsors of most Arab armies, the people living under those regimes became aware that their oppression had become both an external, as well as internal affair.

After Sept. 11, the Bush administration took the wars of the empire to another level: here was an opportunity to force the Arab world to submit to U.S. will, as if Bin Laden was the chosen leader of the Arab world.  The invasion of Afghanistan was a mere prelude. Successive wars were supposed to change the political landscape of the Middle East, and make the region more hospitable to U.S. hegemony and Israeli occupation.

President George W. Bush dispatched his secretary of state, Colin Powell, to submit ultimata to all leaders of the region and Israel was given free rein to handle the Palestinians with more force.

The early phase of the Afghanistan war seemed promising, and that whetted the appetite of the Bush regime to invade more Arab countries, on the cheap.  The Iraq invasion was supposed to lead to changes of regime in Syria and Iran. (Seven countries were supposed to be taken by the U.S. in total, according to Gen. Wesley Clark’s account.) No Middle East regime was supposed to block the projection of U.S. power.

What could be achieved by propaganda and covert action saved the metal and blood of the empire.

The so-called Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005 (which is a reference to protests by pro-Saudi regime crowds in the wake of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri) was an example of how the U.S. exploited the assassination of a corrupt right-wing billionaire for political ends. There was as much revolution in the political movement of March 14 (the right-wing coalition that the U.S. and Saudi embassies set up in Beirut) as in the Nicaraguan Contras.

But early U.S. success gave way to failures, defeats, stalemates, and various scandals related to human rights violations by U.S. armed forces (and their contractors) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. needed to reconsider its course of action.

The American public’s appetite for military victories and wars had substantially diminished.  By the time Bush left office, the idea of another Middle East war was seen as unthinkable. His successor, Barack Obama promised to end, not expand, Bush’s wars.

But the logic of the war empire would not have that. Obama managed to expand Bush’s wars and add new wars to the repertoire of empire.  Large-scale invasions were by then out of the question, given the resilience and effectiveness of popular resistance to U.S. occupation in both Iraq and Afghanistan; which is not even acknowledged in U.S. political culture. But the U.S. was not going to “abandon” its imperial responsibilities.  The new methods of war and intimidation were covert wars, drone attacks, assassinations, and the reliance on local armies and jihadist militants of Arab regimes to do the job — and to do the dying — on behalf of the U.S.

But then came the Arab Uprisings in 2011. The U.S. was initially taken aback since pro-U.S. depots were supposed to last forever.  But when Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the president of Tunisia, was ousted, and then Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, a state of panic prevailed in D.C.

Counter-Revolutions

The U.S. then managed to organize the Arab counter-revolution. It aligned with Saudi Arabia and UAE (and Qatar in some places) to prevent real revolutions from occurring.  The U.S. imposed three key principles on the parameters of acceptable change:

No. 1) that no constitutional ban on normalization with Israel be enacted and no closure of Israel embassies in places where they existed be allowed;

No. 2) that the military command would not be altered or changed in pro-U.S. regimes;

No. 3) that the governors of the Arab central banks would remain someone either approved or handpicked by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The Muslim Brotherhood were able to reach power in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt after Rashid Ghannushi of Tunisia and a delegate of the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood assured Zionists in the U.S. Congress and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, or WINEP, that they would not push for confrontation with Israel or for a ban on normalization.

The U.S. was able to do business with regimes run by the Muslim Brotherhood provided that their foreign policy and militaries were handled by U.S.-picked generals in those countries. That was especially true in Egypt, where the U.S. pays an annual bribe to the military to impose the peace treaty with Israel on the Egyptian people. (Early in the uprising in 2011, Egyptian protesters set the Israeli embassy on fire, and were about to chase the Israeli “diplomats” inside, when the Egyptian army intervened at the request of the U.S. government).

The U.S. quickly realized that it could handle change, provided the change is managed carefully with the use of client armed forces.

In Tunisia, the U.S. looked the other way when the UAE regime arranged for the coup by General Rashid Ghannushi in 2014, and when the UAE also tried to overthrow the pro-Qatar government in Libya.

The U.S. declared “revolutions” on its own terms, and in its own image.  Using the Western tentacles of NGOs, the U.S. spread the themes of local issues and peaceful change (only for clients of the U.S., as violence is permitted against U.S. foes) while banning any support for resistance groups in the region.

Under U.S. orders, all pro-Arab regimes banned funding for the Palestinians and also any declaration of support for resistance to Israeli occupation and aggression.  If those bans took the shape of sectarian anti-Shiite rhetoric, the U.S. didn’t mind as long as governments (like UAE and Saudi Arabia) were switching from anti-Semitism to hostility to Shiites and Alawites.  In Syria, the U.S. actually derailed an Arab uprising and allowed Gulf regimes to arm an insurrection which wound up helping the regime in its quest for political survival.

In recent months, Iraq and Lebanon have witnessed what some local protesters call (comically or tragically) “revolutions.”

In Iraq, the protests started with the sacking of a client general of the U.S., Gen. Abdul Wahab Asaadi, (who was trained by the U.S. in counter-terrorism).  Western media quickly took the cause of the Iraq protesters because they had an anti-Iran cast.  When some protesters set the Iranian consulate on fire in Najaf, the event was hailed by Western media. (Compare the coverage of the burning of the Iran consulate with that of the attempt to storm into the U.S. embassy in Iraq).

Images of a few hundred (or sometimes dozens) of protesters who chanted against Iran were more prominently published and circulated than images of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (or Iranians for that matter) who protested against the U.S.

Western media here operate as a mere arm of the U.S. government apparatus.  But what is revolutionary about those protests? In Lebanon, there is a genuine popular uprising going on but it has thus far failed to dislodge the corrupt sectarian regime.  The bulk of the ruling class there are clients of the U.S. and Saudi regime.

The U.S. has turned what started as genuine popular uprisings against despots into opportunities for political exploitation in favor of the regional regime order and against the enemies of Israel.  The pain of the Lebanese and Iraqi people is largely the doing of the U.S. government.  The U.S. has few qualms about inflicting more pain and harm on the people of the region if serves the interests of its hegemony or the Israeli occupation project.

consortiumnews.com

[Category: Editor's Choice, Arab Spring, Coup, Middle East, Regime Change]

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[l] at 2/19/20 6:28am

Alison Rose LEVY

Deepwater Horizon, called “the worst environmental disaster in American history,” was one of the environmental stories I covered at HuffPost a decade ago.

“On April 20, 2010, a fiery explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had killed 11 workers and injured 17. One mile underwater, the Macondo well had blown apart, unleashing a gusher of oil into the gulf,” Grist reported.

For 87 days, the leak was unstoppable.

“The damaged Macondo wellhead, located around 5,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, leaked an estimated 3.19 million barrels (over 130 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico — making the spill the largest accidental ocean spill in history,” according to Grist journalist Mark Hertsgaard, in an article written three years after the accident.

“At risk were fishing areas that supplied one-third of the seafood consumed in the U.S., beaches from Texas to Florida that drew billions of dollars’ worth of tourism to local economies, and Obama’s chances of reelection.”

In revisiting the terrible accident, which produced lasting environmental contamination, it’s important to examine the Obama administration’s “pragmatic” decisions that caused, allowed to proceed, and ultimately failed to remediate the disaster by:

  • Allowing the driller, BP, to cut corners, and to self-regulate
  • Ignoring well-known corruption within the federal agency charged with oversight
  • Dismissing concerns posed by its own scientists
  • Bypassing authentic remediation and instead pouring 1.84 million gallons of a chemical product called Corexit into the Gulf of Mexico without regard for environmental or health consequences.

This was done, ostensibly, to clean up the contamination. The reality is that Corexit did not clean up the over 92,000 miles of spilled oil. Instead, it visually covered up the extent of the damage done by the fossil fuel industry. Protecting the industry’s image superseded the environmentally sound response to the worst environmental disaster in the U.S.

Unsound Environmental Decisions

Ten years later, it’s easier to recognize that such decisions, which elected officials at the time viewed as pragmatic, can produce major, ongoing negative ramifications when the superficial solution fails to address the problem.

Revisiting the now decade-long evolution of the disaster and the cover-up, a recent article in Common Dreams reports on a study published in Science, which reveals that “a significant amount of oil was never picked up in satellite images or captured by barriers that were meant to stop the spread.”

One of the study’s authors notes that “[o]ur results change established perceptions about the consequences of oil spills by showing that toxic and invisible oil can extend beyond the satellite footprint at potentially lethal and sub-lethal concentrations to a wide range of wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico,” with “invisible oil” reaching an area 30% larger than the 92,500 square miles experts identified at the time.

Public officials may exonerate themselves for a bad decision by claiming that the terrible outcome could only be known with 20/20 hindsight. But in this case, that’s not true.

As a health reporter back in 2010, I always read labels, because products sometimes contain understudied toxic ingredients, which are mistakenly regarded by the general public as harmless when diluted or dispersed — a claim made then and now by industry and its media spokespeople, and ignorantly codified even by journalists well-versed in other areas but overly zealous in a unilateral defense of science. I therefore researched Corexit, which, as I reported back then in HuffPost, is a dispersant that its producer, a company called NALCO, claimed on its website was “safer than dish soap.”

My specific concerns were, first, that the use of the product would spread the oil throughout the waters of the gulf, making it harder to pick up and remove the spilled oil. Because Corexit was known as a dispersant, I could not understand why the government chose to use it.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “Dispersants are chemicals that are sprayed on a surface oil slick to break down the oil into smaller droplets that more readily mix with the water. Dispersants do not reduce the amount of oil entering the environment, but push the effects of the spill underwater.”

I also was concerned about the biological hazards of exposure to Corexit’s proprietary and undisclosed ingredients. The claim that Corexit was safer than dish soap did not account for possible health impacts of ingredients in soap, when used at such scale in combination with the already toxic oil. It turned out that this concern was shared by scientists.

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when combined with Corexit.

Government scientists also found that the combination of Corexit and crude oil “caused terrible damage to gulf wildlife and ecosystems, including an unprecedented number of seafood mutations; declines of up to 80 percent in seafood catch; and massive die-offs of the microscopic life-forms at the base of the marine food chain.”

The Government Accountability Project noted that “as a result of Corexit’s perceived success, Corexit … has become the dispersant of choice in the U.S. to ‘clean up’ oil spills.”

Protecting the Fossil Fuel Industry and Destroying the Gulf of Mexico

Proper management of the disaster might have entailed curtailing drilling activities, getting sufficient payback from the offending company to undertake complete environmental remediation, and providing aid to affected communities.

Although BP eventually was held “responsible for the oil spill as a result of its deliberate misconduct and gross negligence” by a federal court in 2014, that did not alter the management of the clean-up. The Obama administration accepted BP’s cosmetic solution — something that improved appearances — and silenced concerns. It was a cover-up, not a cleanup.

Fortified by President Obama’s promise that “the buck stops with me,” the gulf oil spill was deep-sixed, and disappeared from headlines and news accounts. Meanwhile, the very real contamination of the Gulf of Mexico continued, worsened and spread.

The government missed addressing — and, in fact, increased — a vast ecological harm. Contaminating water, creating dead zones and killing off wildlife in order to perpetuate an industry exemplifies a profound disorder in priorities. There is nothing pragmatic about it.

Now, like a toxic salad dressing concocted by industry and government, the blend of Corexit and oil has traveled miles beyond the original spill location, killing 50% of all marine wildlife wherever it spreads.

Environmental Talking Points

The ongoing tragedy of Deepwater Horizon is relevant today, because it challenges both people and government. How can citizens move beyond slick buzzwords and cosmetic approaches to environmental dilemmas embedded in systemic infrastructures? Talking points with an environmental theme don’t really reveal much. When politicians fail to define their plans, they use talking points as a protective cover for just about any policy decision. Some people trust or like politicians and don’t look further into what they are being sold. Blatantly partisan media outlets don’t fulfill their traditional journalistic role by delving into policy differences. They tend to focus superficially, on personalities.

For example, based on New Hampshire exit polls, The Washington Post reported that 29% of voters who view climate as their top issue voted for Pete Buttigeig on that basis. This reveals that some people are unable to distinguish between a verbal assurance, such as Buttigeig provides, and Bernie Sanders’ concrete climate plan, which was rated A+ by the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund’s Environmental Voter Guide. The center gave Buttigeig’s proposed environmental policies a C- rating.

While Republicans are blatantly anti-environmental, Democrats come off as well-spoken and dedicated to climate action. But history tells us that posing as an environmentalist while pursuing anti-environmental policies is a Democratic tradition, which Democratic voters need to acknowledge if we really want to act on climate rather than fall for polished phrases and firm assurances. Joe Biden’s climate change adviser is a fossil fuel industry veteran. Michael Bloomberg supported the use of fossil fuels by pouring millions of dollars into scientific research that aimed (unsuccessfully) to remediate fracking infrastructures  from leaking methane. Jay Inslee changed his stance to oppose two gas projects he had previously supported — right before announcing his presidential aspirations. Yet many wrongly considered him the “climate expert” among the Democratic candidates.

The Democratic Party’s track record for timely action in environmental matters can no longer be given a pass. It must be measured by the current state of multiple ecological crises that have taken place under its watch, not merely by comparison to the Republicans’ dire and destructive actions.

It’s time to get real about crucial planning, which Democrats have historically paid lip service to and failed to enact. They defer to industries and billionaires, some of whom like to pose before the life-or-death issue of planetary survival — as if they own that, too.

Ten years after the Deepwater Horizon contamination, the gas and oil industry still has a chokehold on both parties in our political system, the cleanliness of which they pollute.

The Deepwater Horizon spill was a flashing red light to prompt us to stop and reconsider these fossil fuel drilling activities, which had been critiqued a decade ago. But that warning was ignored.

Unless someone at a private dinner records something that was never meant to reach the public, we can never cite evidence of backstage conversations and deals that determine the future of life on this planet.

But more and more people can see the evidence:

  • A brutal unraveling of sane environmental policies and regulations
  • A blatantly partisan media funded by corporate interests
  • A heavy hand on the nomination and electoral process
  • The condition of the gulf 10 years later
  • The destruction of Australia right now.

truthdig.com

[Category: Editor's Choice, Crisis, Democratic Party, Ecology, United States]

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[l] at 2/19/20 6:08am

U.S. hostility against Cuba and Latin America prompted Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel to publicly reflect and draw attention to the Second Declaration of Havana (1962), in which the Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro cautioned about the perpetual danger of U.S. imperialism.

On February 4 1962 in Plaza de la Revolucion, Fidel proclaimed the document in response to the decision by the Organisation of American states, influenced by the U.S., to expel Cuba from its ranks. The Cuban response was a pledge of resistance against U.S. interference in their country – a stance which Diaz Canel recently described as “resistance, struggle and emancipation.”

The U.S. illegal blockade against Cuba since February 7 1962 was a consolidation of previous restrictions placed by the imperialist power since the early days of the revolution. Targeting Cuba’s economy was one of the measures through which the U.S. sought to end the Cuban Revolution. What the U.S. failed to comprehend was that the revolution’s emphasis on education ensured a revolutionary process as opposed to a short-lived triumph. The Second Declaration of Havana is a magnificent representation of the revolutionary dynamic imparted and acted upon by Fidel.

Referring first to Cuban poet and revolutionary José Martí, Fidel juxtaposes two processes – imperialist intervention in Cuba and Latin America, and the importance of sustaining the revolution. One insight from Fidel which was later proved by U.S. intervention in Chile to depose President Salvador Allende is the following: “What unites them [the U.S.] and stirs them up in fear? What explains it is fear. Not fear of the Cuban Revolution but fear of the Latin American revolution.”

The Cuban Revolution was the first stage that represented a possibility for the rest of the region to follow suit and dissociate from U.S. imperialism. In 1962, Fidel asserted, “Today in many countries of Latin America revolution is inevitable.” The trail of U.S. interference in the region to this day has ensured a perpetual need for regional revolution. Indeed, the tactics employed by the U.S. as described by Fidel in the Second Declaration of Havana have not altered. The links between Latin American governments and the U.S. military, the CIA, as well as other forms of more covert interference to influence the rise of new dictatorships and the preservation of neoliberal legacies are what have prompted countries in the region to clamour for change.

In Fidel’s words, “North American imperialism’s declared policy of sending soldiers to fight against the revolutionary movement of any country in Latin America, that is, to kill workers, students, peasants, Latin American men and women, has no other objective than the continued maintenance of its monopolistic interests and the privileges of the traitorous oligarchies which support it.”

Cuba has protected its revolution at a cost. It is this cost that makes the Cuban Revolution relevant to other regional and international struggles. The U.S. blockade, which violates human rights and which the UN General Assembly has regularly voted against, is one lengthy example of U.S. diktats in a world that purportedly abides by international law.

The Cuban Revolution moved away from this dynamic. Its respect for international law is not determined by the international community, but rather the revolutionary values that are part of the Cuban people’s historical and current narratives. For Fidel, the UN provided a platform to articulate Cuba’s demands. The revolution, therefore, was never subjugated to external influence – a condition that is enshrined in UN Resolution 2625: “Every State has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State.”

The Cuban Revolution works within the parameters of international law, yet the same law has been corrupted by imperialist interests in furthering foreign intervention. While the current interference in Latin America may be constructed as a strategy to isolate Cuba further, imperialism is missing the point – revolutions are made by the people and the U.S. has triggered all the conditions for change in the region.

[Category: History, Cuba, Fidel Castro, Imperialism, Latin America]

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[l] at 2/19/20 3:59am

Rhodes Scholar. Afghan vet. Mayor. An impressive resume, to be sure, but to have made the fantastic leap from local politics to the doorstep of the Oval Office – at the age of just 38 – seems altogether impossible without some serious behind-the-scenes connections.

Let’s just cut right to the chase with a couple questions that the media has glaringly failed to consider about the top-polling Democratic presidential candidate. First, the most obvious one. How on earth does a young Midwestern mayor, regardless of his polished resume, jump to the front of the serving line, past hundreds of veteran politicians who have quietly nurtured presidential ambitions inside of the Beltway their entire lives?

As The Economist emphatically stated this week, “Mr Buttigieg is ridiculously young to be doing so well.”

Second, if the mayor of South Bend, Indiana (pop. 101,166) is now in serious contention to challenge Donald Trump in November, what exactly does that say about the depth of the Democratic bench, loaded as it is with Senators, House members, Governors and various state officials with far more political experience and acumen?

TWEET: https://twitter.com/Chas10Buttigieg/status/1229493981203091456

While the Oval Office has seen its share of pretenders, and even actors, the great majority of those men who made it to the pinnacle of power have spent at least some time in high political office before contemplating a presidential run. Incidentally, it is on this particular point, political experience, which could make a Trump-Buttigieg debate a very interesting spectacle. Although Buttigieg has limited political experience, Trump had none before he entered the White House, although certainly proving his abilities once in office.

For Pete’s sake!

Born on January 19, 1982, Buttigieg graduated valedictorian from St. Joseph High School in 2000. That same year he won a JFK ‘Profiles in Courage’ essay contest on the subject of none other than Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist the incredibly rising mayor is competing against for the November nod. “Above all, I commend Bernie Sanders for giving me an answer to those who say American young people see politics as a cesspool of corruption, beyond redemption,” Buttigieg wrote. His trip to Washington D.C. to collect his prize included a meeting with members of the Kennedy clan, an honor that must have left a deep impression on the 18 year old.

Upon graduation from Harvard University, Buttigieg did a stint (2007-2010) at the Chicago office of McKinsey & Co, the discreet U.S. management consulting firm. During his time there, the young upstart took a trip to perhaps the most unlikely destinations in the world, Somaliland, a self-proclaimed independent state in Africa that is struggling for international recognition to this day. In other words, not a trip to Disneyland.

Just before embarking on his African adventure (Summer of 2008), Buttigieg was taken on as a fellow with the Truman National Security Project, a neoliberal think tank that has been described as “a powerful and exclusive club for the best and brightest young progressives in the country.” Among its esteemed alumni is none other than Madeleine Albright, chief architect of NATO’s obliteration of Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, the founder of the Truman Project, Rachel Kleinfeld, deserves some consideration.

Upon graduating from Oxford, Kleinfeld took up employment with Booz Allen Hamilton, the private contractor that carried out a long list of services for the military. It has also been described as “the world’s most profitable spy organization.” The head of the company at the time was none other than James Woolsey, the neoconservative former CIA director who has advocated for a fiercely interventionist U.S. foreign policy, notably the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Back to Somaliland. In addition to Buttigieg’s affiliation with the Truman Center, where he now sits on the advisory board, his Somalian ‘vacation’ managed to garner special attention in The New York Times, suggesting this was much more than your ordinary getaway.

“Somaliland is pursuing investment and support from China and Gulf countries,” Buttigieg wrote in the Times piece, co-authored by Nathaniel Myers, who also went along for the joyride. “Such support might be enough to ensure Somaliland’s survival and eventual growth, but it will crowd out America’s chance to win the gratitude of a potentially valuable ally in a very troubled area.”

Possibly more than just incidentally, Myers, a Harvard buddy of Buttigieg, now serves as Senior Transition Advisor at USAID – Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), which works to destabilize governments deemed unfavorable to U.S. interests.

Just over a year later, in September 2009, Buttigieg, and despite his participation in anti-war rallies while at Harvard, signed up for the U.S. Navy Reserve. Due to his particular “pedigree,” writes Stars and Stripe magazine, he was sworn in as an ensign in naval intelligence without any prior preparation, which is not the traditional route for enlistees. In 2014, he was deployed to Afghanistan, which required Buttigieg to take a seven-month leave of absence from his mayoral duties in South Bend. Here is where the political upstart’s career begins to look a little sketchy.

This most disturbing thing about Pete 100% pic.twitter.com/1EhgcCyZgT

— Heshmat Alavi’s Trenchcoat (@UrOrientalist) February 5, 2020

According to The Grayzone, Buttigieg “spent his six months in Afghanistan in 2014 with a little-known unit that operated under the watch of the Drug Enforcement Administration. It was the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC), according to his appointment papers.”

What exactly did Special Officer Pete Buttigieg do in this unit, which was founded by none other than the future CIA chief General David Patreaus, who at the time was the head of U.S. Central Command? Well, that’s hard to say because the job description that appears in his discharge papers is left conveniently blank. This, and the fact that the ATFC has direct links to U.S. intelligence has fueled rumors with regards to who or what was responsible for placing the mayor of South Bend, Indiana on the political fast lane.

But those sorts of connections alone cannot explain Buttigieg’s meteoric rise in Washington, D.C., especially when the young upstart spent the majority of his time in South Bend. No, Pete Buttigieg would require boatloads of cash to earn such fame in such a short time. And as it turns out, the money has been pouring into his coffers from some of the wealthiest families in the country.

The spook’s choice: Coup plotters and CIA agents fill Mayor Pete’s list of national security endorsers@Cancel_Sam looks at Buttigieg’s new roster of endorsements from high-ranking spies, regime-change architects, and global financiershttps://t.co/RBQTnDKu7g

— The Grayzone (@TheGrayzoneNews) December 30, 2019

Buttigieg attracts the bucks

According to federal election data, forty billionaires and their spouses have donated to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, putting his campaign war chest at around $52 million, the most collected among all the Democratic candidates. An analysis of the contributions shows that the majority of the billionaire donators came from the financial, media and technology sectors.

In something that should surprise no one, Pete Buttigieg’s Monday fundraiser in San Francisco is sold out at the upper-most level ($2,800), which doesn’t happen too often. pic.twitter.com/6YFcbn2yfd

— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) December 13, 2019

Of particular interest, however, is how much the tech titans of Silicon Valley have lavished the democratic frontrunner with attention as well as infusions of hard cash. In December, for example, Rex Reed, co-founder of Netflix, helped organize a fundraising dinner at a wine cellar in Palo Alto, California, which gave Buttigieg’s Democratic opponents a golden opportunity to expose his billionaire connections.

“Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Elizabeth Warren told Buttigieg in a December debate.

Buttigieg responded that he was “literally the only person on this stage who is not a millionaire or a billionaire,” and that therefore Warren had failed the “purity test.”

I find it “Ironic” that suddenly Wine Caves Are The Hot Topic On All News… #WineCaves

The California winemakers who hosted a dinner at a “wine cave” for [D] Con Party presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg are defending the fundraising eventhttps://t.co/VjI26zj41a

— Steven Lundgren (@love4thegameAK) December 22, 2019

It’s not just billionaires, however, who are cracking open their wallets for the Indiana native. The list includes more than 200 foreign policy and intelligence officials, including Anthony Lake, national security adviser for President Clinton, former National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, and former deputy CIA director David Cohen, among many others. Although such support from the foreign policy and intelligence community doesn’t prove cause and effect, it has helped spawn a number of online conspiracy theories that Buttigieg is something of a Manchurian candidate, propped up by a deep state desperate to beat the swamp drainer Donald J. Trump.

Those ideas were brought to a boil during the Iowa caucus when the aptly named app Shadow, designed to perform the simple task of reporting the polling results in a timely and efficient manner, fizzled out just as Bernie Sanders had taken a commanding lead over Buttigieg. Would it come as any surprise that Shadow Inc. has a very shadowy history?

“Shadow Inc. was picked in secret by the Iowa Democratic Party after its leaders consulted with the Democratic National Committee on vetting vendors and security protocols for developing a phone app used to gather and tabulate the caucus results,” AP reported. “Shadow Inc. was launched by ACRONYM, a nonprofit corporation founded in 2017 by Tara McGowan, a political strategist who runs companies aimed at promoting Democratic candidates and priorities.”

McGowan is married to none other than Michael Halle, a senior strategist for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, which records show has also paid Shadow Inc. $42,500 for the use of software.

And people wonder why there are so many ‘conspiracy theorists’ running around these days.

In any case, the glitch led to many days of debate as to who really won the Midwestern state, a debate that continues today. Yet despite that state of mass confusion, Buttigieg didn’t miss an opportunity to seize victory from the claws of (possible) defeat, announcing just hours after the technological breakdown that he had been “victorious” in Iowa. Meanwhile, Sanders’ supporters saw it as yet another brazen move by the DNC to sideline the democratic socialist.

So how does one explain the incredible string of political success for the young star of the Democratic Party? Is he really so politically talented and smart that there was no choice but to let him move to the front of the pack? That seems hard to believe since his speeches come off as hollow and scripted, a rhetorical trick that many politicians with far more experience have perfected. And how about all those billionaires, former state officials and people from the national security apparatus who have come forward to support him? A case of billionaire grassroots democracy in action, or just more good luck for the South Bend native?

As it stands, Pete Buttigieg remains a great mystery, a proverbial dark horse on the U.S. political scene. While there can be no question that he has a long future in American politics, it is too early to tell if that will be a good thing for the American people. There is still a lot of unpacking to do on the life and times of the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

[Category: Americas, World, Democratic Party, Elections, Pete Buttigieg, United States]

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[l] at 2/18/20 6:00am

 

The impeachment hearings and trial of Donald Trump were filled with talk of Russian aggression against Ukraine and threats to the United States. But what would it be like if we switched the roles of Russia and the U.S.?

Imagine if we substitute the U.S. for Russia and the country “invaded” was Canada, rather than Ukraine, the government overthrown was in Ottawa and not Kiev, and the provinces embroiled in a foreign-backed civil war have been Nova Scotia and New Brunswick rather the provinces of Eastern Ukraine? This report, written in 2016, may make it easier to understand what has been really going on in Ukraine. Clicking on the links is key to understanding the real story.

Joe LAURIA

The United States has “invaded” Canada to support the breakaway Maritime provinces that are resisting a Moscow-engineered violent coup d’etat against the democratically elected government in Ottawa.

The U.S. move is to protect separatists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia after Washington annexed Prince Edwards Island in a quickly arranged referendum.

The Islanders voted over 90 percent in favor of joining the United States following the Russian-backed coup. Moscow has condemned the referendum as illegal.

Hard-liners in the U.S. want Washington to annex all three Maritime provinces, whose fighters are defying the coup in Ottawa after Moscow installed an unelected prime minister.

Russian-backed Canadian federal troops have launched so-called “anti-terrorist” operations in the breakaway region to crush the rebellion, shelling residential areas and killing hundreds of civilians.

The Canadian army are joined by Russian-supported neofascist battalions that played a crucial role in the overthrow of the Canadian government. In Halifax, the extremists have burned alive at least 40 pro-U.S. civilians who had taken refugee in a trade union building.

Proof that Russia was behind the overthrow of the elected Canadian prime minister is contained in a leaked conversation between Georgiy Yevgenevich Borisenko, foreign ministry chief of Moscow’s North America department, and Alexander Darchiev, the Russian ambassador to Canada.

According to a transcript of the leaked conversation, Borisenko discussed who the new Canadian leaders should be six weeks before the coup took place.

Russia moved to launch the coup when Canada decided to take a loan package from the IMF that had fewer strings attached than a loan from Russia.

Russia’s Beijing ally was reluctant to back the coup. But this seemed of little concern to Borisenko who is heard on the tape saying, “Fuck China.”

Weeks before the coup Borisenko was filmed visiting protestors who had camped out in Parliament Square in Ottawa demanding the ouster of the prime minister. Borisenko is seen giving out cakes to the demonstrators.

The foreign ministers of Russian-allied Belarus and Cuba also marched with the protestors through the streets of Ottawa against the government. Russian media has portrayed the unconstitutional change of government an act of “democracy.” Russian senators have met in public with extreme right-wing Canadian coup leaders, praising their rebellion.

Borisenko said in a speech that Russia had spent $5 billion over the past decade to “bring democracy” to Canada.

The money was spent on training “civil society.” The use of non-governmental organizations to overthrow foreign governments that stand in the way of Russia’s economic and geo-strategic interests is well documented, especially in a 1991 Washington Post column, Innocence Abroad: The New World of Spyless Coups.”

The United States has thus moved to ban Russian NGOs from operating in the country.

The coup took place as protestors violently clashed with police, breaking through barricades and killing a number of officers. Snipers fired on the police and the crowd from a nearby building in Parliament Square in which the Russian embassy had set up offices just a few floors above, according to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Son Gets Job After Coup

Russian lawmakers compared President Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler for allegedly sending U.S. troops into the breakaway provinces and for annexing Prince Edward Island in an act of “American aggression.” The Maritimes have had long ties to the U.S. dating back to the American Revolution.

Russia says it has intelligence proving that U.S. tanks have crossed the Maine border into New Brunswick, but have failed to make the evidence public. They have revealed no satellite imagery. Russian news media only reports American-backed rebels fighting in the Maritimes, not American troops.

Washington denies it has invaded but says some American volunteers have entered the Canadian province to join the fight.

Russia’s puppet prime minister now in charge in Ottawa has only offered as proof six American passports of U.S. soldiers found in New Brunswick.

Son gets job on energy company board after his father’s government backs violent coup.

The Maritime Canadian rebels have secured anti-aircraft weapons enabling them to shoot down a number of Royal Canadian Air Force transport planes.

A Malaysian airlines passenger jet was also shot down over Nova Scotia killing all on board. Russia has accused President Obama of being behind the incident, charging that the U.S. provided the anti-aircraft weapon.

Moscow has refused to release any intelligence to support its claim, other than statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Canada’s economy is near collapse and is dependent on infusions of Russian aid. This comes despite a former Russian foreign ministry official being installed as Canada’s finance minister, only receiving Canadian citizenship on her first day on the job.

Despite installing a Russian to run Canada’s economy, President Putin told the U.N. General Assembly that Russia had “few economic interests”in the country. But Russian agribusiness companies have already taken stakes in Albertan wheat fields. And Ilya Medvedev, son of Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, as well as a Lavrov family friend joined the board of Canada’s largest oil company just weeks after the coup.

Russia’s ultimate aim, beginning with the imposition of sanctions on the U.S., appears to be a color revolution in Washington to overthrow Obama and install a Russian-friendly American president.

This is clear from numerous statements by Russian officials and academics. A former Russian national security advisor whom Putin consults on foreign policy said the United States should be broken into three countries.

He has also written that Canada is the stepping stone to the United States and that if the U.S. loses Canada it will fail to control North America.

consortiumnews.com

[Category: Editor's Choice, Canada, Coup, Maidan, Regime Change, Ukraine]

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[l] at 2/18/20 5:00am

British ambassador’s weird manners could cost Britain lives as hundreds of expats in Marrakesh claim they have been abandoned before an imminent terrorist attack. But it could also cost a billion pounds in lost arms deals after Reilly’s Gibraltar gaffe and “insult” to Moroccan king.

British expats in Marrakesh are asking that the UK ambassador there resigns as soon as possible, accusing him of leaving them high and dry in the face of a new terror attack – and even blocking their own evacuation exercises, Strategic Culture Foundation can reveal.

Angry British residences in Marrakesh believe that the Foreign Office is already cutting short its ambassador’s term because of his offhand manners, outbursts and twitter addiction which not only has left 300 Brits in Marrakesh without any support in case of terror attack, but has also created a crisis with Gibraltar.

The Britain’s Foreign Office in London deny this and claims he has not being moved on.

Either way, the early departure of the controversial ambassador Thomas Reilly also threatens 100s of millions of pounds of potential arms deals which Downing Street was hoping to secure in 2020 – which have been left hanging on a thread, following the visit to Rabat of two ministers last year and one just last week who practically begged the Moroccan government to increase its trade with the UK in a twitter video ahead of a recent London conference, which left the UK with not one penny of new business in Morocco.

Thomas Reilly was in the news last year for being eccentric, following a tweet which revealed that he talked to his SOCKS and even imagined they had feelings and were jealous of one another.

But now he’s in the news for his whacky behaviour and anger management issues which have resulted in his term being concluded in August, according to Brits living in Morocco who don’t believe the Foreign Office line.

What is not disputed is that Mr Reilly is facing a wave of accusations from British expats in Morocco who accuse him of having outdated views of British diplomats and how they should behave – as he has created a crisis between London and Rabat, after constantly making outrageous, some say even ‘racist’ comments, about Morocco and its subjects, landing him in hot water.

Consequently, it’s believed Britain’s Foreign Office is moving ahead with plans to cut short his term as ambassador, Strategic Culture Foundation understands, although the Ambassador is telling local journalists that he is leaving early due to family issues.

But last week, some were arguing that he should leave the job immediately after upsetting Moroccan dignitaries who are calling his comments “racist” – following a year of constant jibes and complaints about Morocco, which even colleagues have admitted are “inappropriate” for an ambassador, prompting at least one Consulate General to quit his post, while a defence attaché bites the bullet and remains, while “hating” Reilly, insiders claim.

Even the Moroccan elite in Rabat is confused about Reilly, in particular his constant complaining about his host country.

‘Racist’ comments?

“Some of these comments could be interpreted as racist and inappropriate” says Moroccan politician Nizar Baraka, who heads the powerful conservative party here, which has good relations with Downing Street. “And Mr Reilly was certainly different from previous British ambassadors”, he concedes. “It’s a shame as there are so many opportunities now for the UK here” he adds.

Adil Alaoui, a physiotherapist in Casablanca, agrees with Baraka, the former finance minister. “Reilly’s comments would be seen by many here as racist, certainly, as they are not really appropriate for a diplomat, I think” he tells Strategic Culture Foundation . “I mean, who is Thomas Reilly? He’s been invited here and he’s a diplomat so she shouldn’t say such things about Morocco. And as far as Gibraltar goes, he shouldn’t be telling Morocco who it should or should not develop relations with” he adds.

Experts are worried his manners and his general obsession with himself – which has included self gentrification involving polo lessons and a twitter campaign targeting the national airline which resulted in the CEO giving him VIP treatment – will scupper a massive arms deal Downing Street was hoping to secure with Rabat in 2020.

Expats “appalled”

Indeed, the accusations of racism, personal attacks and strange behaviour are backed up by a good number of British expatriates living in Morocco who are “appalled” by his abrupt manners and “colonial” swagger. Many accuse him of being “delusional” about his position as ambassador as he has not only managed to upset important figures in Rabat but is engaged in a number of personal, vindictive spats with Brits living in Morocco who believe his unique style could threaten British jobs and investment post Brexit.

His vindictive treatment of those who anger him is to shut down embassy and consular services to them as an act of spite, according to some. Enquiries by Strategic Culture Foundation immediately found at least three British subjects who claim they have fallen victim to this.

But even on a grander scale, his brash style has “raised eyebrows by colleagues” according to a previous senior colleague who worked with him in Rabat.

There have been a number of gaffes. The biggest one which caused outrage in Gibraltar by the UK’s chief minister there who complained to the Foreign Office about Mr Reilly, came when he appeared to have made a perceived threat to Morocco. In a radio interview with a Moroccan journalist Mr Reilly warns Rabat not to develop relations with Gibraltar as this would anger Madrid. But the comment has been taken as a threat from London to Rabat and caused an even deeper diplomatic rift between Morocco and the UK, angering the Gibraltar minister so much that he lobbied London to recall Reilly.

The reckless remark by Mr Reilly, who has seen service as a diplomat in Yemen, Kuwait and Argentina, is not the first to anger dignitaries in Rabat though. It is widely known in Rabat that Mr Reilly does not get on well with Morocco’s foreign minister who has been snubbed on occasion, according to diplomatic sources. Not one photo exists of the two of them together and his office doesn’t even wish to comment on Mr Reilly’s departure – not even wish him good luck, as is typical when an ambassador moves on.

In fact, the fall out between Reilly and Nasser Bourita is said to have got so bad, that in early December, Mr Reilly felt the need to defend himself in a first person article published in a Moroccan journal where he suggests that the foreign minister in Rabat is not important – putting his foot in it once again and making the situation even worse.

These disrespectful and condescending comments come after three years of inappropriate ramblings on social media which Rabat has had to tolerate, but which even Brits have found racist and patronising – ranging from how badly Moroccans drive, to how they cope with garbage right through to repeatedly running down the national carrier Royal Air Maroc, which appeared to be an on line obsession with Mr Reilly who is obliged to use it for UK flights.

New terror threat scares Brits

But his petulant outbursts, sometimes directly to the faces of his victims is how Mr Reilly will be remembered by British expatriates here, who are largely delighted that the Foreign Office has listened to their complaints.

Many fear that Mr Reilly’s pomposity and how he looked down on the 300 British residents in Marrakesh as beneath him, has left them high and dry, in the face of a new terror threat in the tourist hotspot. Despite repeated calls from them to engage with them over the subject of security, Mr Reilly has chosen to flatly IGNORE them and their demands, they claim.

Just recently, the tension with the Marrakesh Brit community came to a head when one of its pensioners – a retired defence and security expert – travelled hundreds of miles to Rabat to meet with Reilly, whereupon the British ambassador “insulted” him with a verbal attack which left him “shaken”, according to an eye witness. The pensioner, who is in poor health and who refuses to go on record, due to fear of reprisal of Reilly, claims that the ambassador launched into a tirade of abuse and inappropriate accusations the moment the topic of security of British residents in Marrakesh was raised – a subject which enrages him, and, his colleagues claim “he just can’t be bothered with”.

The former Consulate General, who witnessed the shameful outburst explained to the elderly gentleman, who was recovering from a stroke, that “…it’s what he does, I’m afraid. He just has these outbursts”.

Boris Johnson asked to deal with “total prat”

Another retired British resident had a clash with Reilly and lost her patience with him, on the same subject – prompting her to write a letter complaining to Boris Johnson, when he was foreign minister.

“He’s just such a total prat” gasps Susan Machin, a retired high class barrister who used to be a drinking pal of Johnson when he was editor of the Spectator.

“He’s wholly inappropriate as an ambassador and I find him very unpleasant, full of himself. Thomas Reilly knows it all”, says Machin, a pillar of the British community in Morocco, who runs a donkey sanctuary south of Marrakesh.

“There are very bad vibes about Reilly from many Brits living here but many top Brits who are well connected are ignored by Reilly who doesn’t even invite them to events”.

She claims Reilly is self-obsessed and cares little about British residents.

“It’s all about what we call the Thomas and Alix show” she claims the wife of the British defence attaché said, when talking about the clash between Reilly and the senior British diplomat who could strike gargantuan deals for UK arms makers – if he too didn’t have a problem with Reilly, who doesn’t take advice from anyone. Even about the royal visit of Meghan and Harry, which she claims was a “disaster”.

Meghan’s jeans and British guns

“He made huge mistakes when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex came and Meghan wore jeans to an event which shocked the Moroccans. The advice should have been a party dress, as “local Berber women were insulted by the stunt”, according to one British resident . During that visit British journalists were invited but that resulted in the following Sunday one writing a huge piece on the King of Morocco calling him a ‘despot’”, she claims.

She believes this insult to King Mohammed VI is responsible for total failure for British defence firms to sell to Morocco.

“I’m sure we’re losing out on arms deals and until he leaves, we’ll continue to lose out as the relations between the UK and Morocco are good and we have a good defence attaché”

The final straw for Mrs Machin was Gibraltar though where his behaviour was outrageous and he “should have gone” then.

“For me, this was his biggest mistake as earlier I had written to Boris Johnson who I had quite good relationship with when I was a barrister asking him in the event to being kidnapped or arrested here in Morocco how could I be sure that I would have embassy or consular support [under Reilly as ambassador]?”

Blocks army exercise to rescue Brits

James Cutting, a film producer and scout who has worked with Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp here on a movie, agrees with these concerns about terrorism and also says that Reilly should resign. “He simply hasn’t got the skills” he tells Strategic Culture Foundation .

Cutting claims that an excellent warden network, volunteers who help anyone in distress in Marrakesh, has been entirely abandoned by the embassy, which has not updated or checked it in years – leaving Brits wide open to danger in the event of a panic following an attack, similar to the bombing in 2011 which killed 16, including a British travel writer.

Even military exercises carried out by British army officers to evacuate people in the event of a terror attack were not supported by Reilly who a senior ex army officer accused outright of obstruction: “He told me that they’ve had no help whatsoever from Reilly on these exercises” Cuttings recalls. “In fact, permits from the ministry of interior were not even arranged… Reilly was very much against it”.

“Reilly blocked the whole thing and we couldn’t go ahead with it” he explains.

Cutting also bemoans the short comings of British embassy and consular staff in Rabat which, like the two honorary consuls in Marrakesh, are all Moroccan nationals – causing a myriad of communication problems and misunderstandings as officials invariably don’t even speak English.

The British security expert, who Reilly attacked in the embassy in Rabat who we don’t wish to name, agrees.

“Marrakech is very fine at the moment but vulnerable to terrorist attack .The Hon Consulate is useless, though the Moroccan staff are very nice people, as it’s nothing more than a travel agency” he explains.

“Marrakech I think is wide open despite the very fine efforts of the British Consular”.

“I think there is a total failure to look after British nationals despite the very fine efforts of the UK consular and the Moroccan security services, I hope nothing goes amiss but I think we are vulnerable”, he warns.

Cuttings, who is one of those residents, didn’t clash with Reilly but still thinks he should leave. He says that Reilly’s unique characteristics might be costing the UK hundreds of millions in lost trade and that, consequently, it’s “for the best” that he leaves as soon as possible, not least because of his undiplomatic manners but because of the cost of his outbursts and histrionics which British subjects have to endure.

“There are enormous opportunities for trade between Morocco and the UK, in so many different fields. Now the UK is leaving the EU Morocco can trade in agriculture, clothing and also arms” he adds. “I got on reasonably well with Reilly but I do believe he lacked the necessary diplomatic skills that are required of an Ambassador”.

Claims by British residents of Mr Reilly’s damage to relations with Morocco and potential arms sales was supported recently when Rabat announced a new record deal with U.S. arms firm totalling almost 10bn USD for Apache helicopters and F16 fighter jets, considered a slap in the face to the UK, which was hoping to benefit from Morocco’s new arms race with Algeria. Reilly’s reaction to this news was to simply make social media posts about his socks again on the day of the London conference aimed at drumming up trade, which enrages expats in Morocco who think he’s lost the plot.

In recent days, news came also that Rabat was buying Israeli-made drones as part of its defence spending bonanza. Britain’s defence attaché in Rabat refuses to comment.

[Category: Europe, Middle East, World, Gibraltar, Morocco, Spying, Terrorism, United Kingdom]

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[l] at 2/18/20 4:12am

Huge intelligence failure has compounded Pentagon’s flip-flop policy and led to key allies refusing to heed Trump’s plea to avoid tech giant’s 5G system

David P. GOLDMAN

Humiliated by the United Kingdom’s refusal to exclude Huawei from its 5G broadband network, the Trump Administration has doubled down on its attempts to stop China, with poor prospects for success.

The American response includes prosecution of Huawei under the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute, drafted to combat organized crime.   It also includes proposed regulations that would stop the sale of any US components to Huawei and China’s second-rank telecommunications firm ZTE if 10% of their production comes from American technology.

Also proposed is a ban on sales of jet engines for civilian passenger aircraft that General Electric and France’s Safran have been selling to China since 2014 – an economic warfare measure that has no national security justification.

Never in the course of American events have so many said too much to so little effect.

US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, meanwhile, told the Wall Street Journal  on February 12 that the US had uncovered a secret backdoor in Huawei equipment that enabled the Chinese firm to spy on Western communications.   Huawei rejected the charge, demanding that the United States make the data public.

The US charge elicited ridicule overseas.   Orange CEO Stephane Richard said on February 14: “I’d be interested to see the evidence.   It reminds me of the weapons of mass destruction during the Iraq war.”   Germany’s Der Spiegel headlined its report: “A backdoor that only the US can see.”

At the weekend’s annual security conference in Munich, American officials including Defense Secretary Mike Esper and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned European countries to shun Huawei.   “Reliance on Chinese 5G vendors, for example, could render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation and espionage,” Esper said.   “It could also jeopardize our communication and intelligence sharing capabilities, and by extension, our alliances.”

But the US news outlet Politico titled its report, “Europe turns deaf ear to US warnings on Chinese 5G.”

Major potential blowback

The blowback against American prestige and the risk to key American companies is enormous.   If the United States makes good on the rumored threat to suspend jet engine shipments to China, effectively suspending China’s program to develop a home-built civilian passenger jet designed around the GE/Safran engine, the US-China trade war will take on an entirely different character.   France’s Safran is a national security asset and the sandbagging of the French firm will push Paris towards Beijing.   The prospective damage to leading US firms, including Boeing – which sells a quarter of its planes to China – as well as the top US chip designers may be devastating.

None of these measures has a precedent since the end of the Cold War.   Their adoption stems from a fit of frustration in Washington after nearly all of America’s allies – except Israel, Japan, and Australia – ignored strident American demands to exclude Huawei from the rollout of 5G mobile broadband.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly remonstrated with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his decision to permit Huawei to build part of Britain’s 5G networks, and President Trump personally intervened with the British Prime Minister to no avail. The Financial Times reported on February 6 that President Trump was “apoplectic” in a call to Johnson.   On February 14 Johnson postponed a planned White House visit in response.

Germany’s government, meanwhile, overruled objections to Huawei’s involvement in its 5G rollout by a group of ruling party Bundestag members.

It is not clear what the RICO statute can do to impede Huawei’s operations, apart from subjecting individual employees of the Chinese company to extreme legal penalties. Export controls on US components to Huawei imposed in May 2019 failed to slow Huawei’s deliveries of 5G equipment and smartphones, as the Chinese giant turned to Japanese, Taiwanese and other suppliers instead.   Huawei now manufactures both 5G ground stations and smartphones with no US components.

In late January the US Department of Defense vetoed a proposal from the Commerce Department to impose a 10% US content rule on component sales to Huawei and ZTE, in order to prevent foreign companies using American technology from selling to the Chinese firms.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told the Wall Street Journal on February 4 that he supported the Pentagon’s objections, because “we don’t want to put our great companies out of business.”

But on February 12, the American media reported that the Pentagon had changed its mind, and now supported the more stringent ban on component exports to Huawei — evidently in response to the shift in mood at the White House.

Companies ‘will take their toys elsewhere’

Some US companies won’t go out of business, but they will go out of the United States. On February 16 the New York Times reported that the “RISC-V Foundation, a nonprofit that has created an open-source software standard for the chips that power smartphones and other electronics, acknowledged in recent months that it had chosen to move its incorporation from Delaware to Switzerland because of concerns from its members about more stringent regulations in the United States.”

The Times added: “If this administration proceeds with the current trajectory, we’ll see more defections of companies, of scientists,” said Scott Jones, a nonresident fellow with the Stimson Center.   “They’ll take their toys and they’ll go elsewhere, and other economies will be the beneficiary of that.”

Qualcomm, Nvidia and other US semiconductor companies earn most of their revenues in Asia.   If they are not permitted to sell to China, they will lose a large part of their business.   Even worse: Huawei now produces smartphone chipsets like the Kirin series that compete head-on with Qualcomm’s offerings, and the Ascend processor for servers that compete with Nvidia.

According to a Chinese analyst, Huawei might drop the price of its chipsets by 30% in a price war with the Americans, driving them out of the whole of the Asian market.   In that case, the analyst said, Nvidia would run out of cash in 18 months and Qualcomm would run out in 24 months, forcing them to shut down research and development.   That would mark the end of American importance in the semiconductor industry that the US created.

Reportedly, the mooted ban on jet engine sales to China will be discussed at a February 28 cabinet meeting in Washington.   General Electric and other US companies are lobbying furiously against the proposal, which has no clear national security purpose. Some US officials have suggested that China might reverse engineer the French-American engines, but GE observes that China has been buying such engines since 2014, and doesn’t need any new ones to tinker with.

The proposal will be read as an attempt to prevent China from developing a conventional technology.   The likely result will be a shift in Chinese aircraft orders to Europe’s Airbus away from Boeing, already facing financial difficulties after the collapse of its 737 Max program.

Catastrophic intel failure

The Trump Administration has given conflicting signals about its intent towards Huawei, as in the flip-flop at the Pentagon over the proposed restrictions on sales of components with US content.   The White House believed that it could cajole the British government into excluding Huawei, and failed to grasp what had happened even after London made its decision.   This implies an intelligence failure of catastrophic proportions on the part of the United States.

Huawei has done more than sell high-quality, inexpensive telecommunications equipment to Britain’s mobile phone providers.   It has made itself part of the fabric of British telecommunications engineering starting in 2011, when it hired the Chief Information Security Officer of the British government, John Suffolk, as the head of its UK business.   A senior Huawei executive told me that the company’s relationship with the UK is the best of any Western country.   GCHQ, the British counterpart of the National Security Agency, spent years critiquing Huawei’s code, often demanding improvements that the Chinese firm promptly made.

In 2012, Huawei announced to the applause of then Prime Minister David Cameron that it would invest £1.3 billion in the United Kingdom.   A Huawei report notes that in 2018 it “invested £112 million in research and development, employing more than 300 researchers in the UK.   Huawei also collaborated with 35 universities and research institutes, according to the report.”

Huawei employs 50,000 foreigners, most of them researchers, in two dozen research centers around the world, and subsidizes thousands of others.   It is the first Chinese company that has engaged the engineering and scientific elite of the West and with their help, seized a commanding technological lead.

There never was any doubt that the United Kingdom would continue its collaboration with Huawei, illustrating Gen. Sun Tzu’s adage, “Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.”   Huawei built its relationship with Britain in the open and became part of the British engineering establishment with strategic investments and calculated deference to Britain’s security services.

The United States didn’t see it coming for the same reason that no American agency considered the possibility that Pearl Harbor might be a Japanese target in December 1941, or the British military didn’t consider the possibility of a Japanese land attack on Singapore in 1942. It simply didn’t occur to America’s intelligence services that the Chinese were capable of cornering the world market in a game-changing technology.   It also didn’t occur to Washington that China had developed sufficient capacities in semiconductors to produce its own high-end chips and ignore an American export ban.

Donald Trump evidently is getting his briefings from the same intelligence services that ignored the challenge from China until it was too late to stop it – and wants nothing more than to shift the blame away from its own failures.   The result is a cringeworthy embarrassment for the United States and the danger of serious economic disruption.

asiatimes.com

[Category: Editor's Choice, Big Tech, China, Huawei, U.S. Department of Defense, United States]

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[l] at 2/18/20 3:00am

It is intriguing but almost inevitable that examination of so many European policies must begin with reference to the United States. The reason is that the US is majestically (and the word is used advisedly) important to Europe, and no matter what opinions may be held of Washington’s policies under the erratic Trump, these will always have influence in Europe’s capitals.

One major Europe-US consideration is the Trump administration’s decisions on nuclear strategy which have an enormous impact that will be likely to shape international relations indefinitely.

This has been examined by President Macron of France whose recent speech on Defence and Deterrence Strategy has not received the attention it merits in the US media. He delivered his talk at the military’s War College on February 7, and opened by making the point that he was the first president to speak there since Charles de Gaulle “announced on 3 November 1959, sixty years ago, the creation of what he then called the force de frappe”. The force de frappe is literally the nuclear ‘Strike Force’ (now less combatively referred to as ‘deterrence’) and is comparatively modest, consisting only of some 300 weapons, as assessed by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 2019.

Of course the word ‘modest’ in reference to nuclear weapons’ arsenals is somewhat misleading, if only because 300 of them (or Israel’s 100 or so; China’s 290; Pakistan’s 200 or India’s 180) could destroy the world. But it is used in comparison to the arsenals of the nuclear super-powers, the US and Russia, which each have over 6,000. Macron said that “Russian-American bilateral treaties relate to a chapter of history – that of the Cold War – but also to a reality that is still relevant today, that of the considerable size of arsenals still being held by Moscow and Washington, without a possible comparison with those of other nuclear-weapon-States. In this respect, it is critical that the New Start Treaty be extended beyond 2021.” And there he put his finger on the button.

The New Start Treaty — the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty agreed between the US and Russia — was signed in 2010 and if Trump fails to take action it will expire in February 2021. Its main “Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms”, according to an April 2019 report by the US Congressional Research Service “limits each side to no more than 800 deployed and nondeployed land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers and deployed and nondeployed heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear armaments… The treaty also limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads; those are the actual number of warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and one warhead for each deployed heavy bomber.”

The accord could be described as modest but exceptionally important, and has been acknowledged as such by Russia whose deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, stated on February 11 that the country has “confirmed its readiness at the highest level to extend this treaty without any preconditions and, moreover, to do it urgently.”

But in spite of the fact that Russian readiness “was officially brought to the notice of the American side by a diplomatic note at the end of last year” there has been no positive reaction from Washington, which is disturbing, to put it mildly. Macron was right in observing that “there can be no defence and security project of European citizens without political vision seeking to advance gradual rebuilding of confidence with Russia” and he has made it clear that for the moment there is little prospect of true détente (to use the old Cold War term) because the “divide between us is growing and dialogue is weakening precisely at a time when the number of security issues that need to be addressed with Moscow are increasing.”

But Trump does not appear to be prepared to talk with Russia about any security problems. As noted by Defense News on February 10, his fiscal 2021 budget details a massive increase in expenditure on nuclear weapons, which is not the signal that Washington should be sending to China and Russia. The $28.9 billion to be spent on nuclear modernisation includes over 4 billion for Columbia Class submarines, almost 3 billion on B-21 bombers, and a billion for the Trident missile life-extension programme. All of these are notably offensive “mutually assured destruction” style decisions, and by no stretch of the imagination can be described as confidence-building or indicative of desire to embrace the Start Treaty — which could be agreed by a simple presidential signature. There is no requirement for any legislative procedure.

The Washington Post, no champion of Russia, and indeed a fervent critic of Russian policies about almost everything, observed on February 10 in an editorial that “Putin wants to extend arms control. What’s Trump waiting for?” The paper referred to the New Start Treaty in supportive terms and notes that it “provides for intrusive verification and ensures stability in nuclear arsenals. If New Start lapses, both countries will be free to deploy more nuclear warheads and build new generations of weapons and delivery systems” — which has been heralded in the US by the Pentagon’s programmes.

At a meeting of the US-Nato military alliance in Brussels on February 12-13, however, there was no mention of Washington’s impending expansion of nuclear weapons’ capabilities, but much focus on criticising Russia and supporting Ukraine while attempting to justify Nato’s movement further away from Europe to “enhance Nato Mission Iraq” which is madness.

Macron has a wider and more pragmatic view of international affairs and wants Europe to devise “an international arms control agenda” because “the end of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the uncertainties about the future of the New Start Treaty and the crisis of the conventional arms control regime in Europe have led to the possibility of a return of pure unhindered military and nuclear competition by 2021, which has not been seen since the end of the 1960s.”

Macron is concerned that dialogue is being rejected in favour of nuclear sabre-rattling, but unfortunately cannot rely for support from the only other nuclear weapons-capable country in Europe, the United Kingdom, which is squandering billions on its nuclear programme that its National Audit Office reported is facing “delays of between one and six years, with costs increasing by £1.3 bn.” In spite of this shambles the UK’s nuclear policy will not alter, because prime minister Johnson has approved expenditure on replacing the existing Trident nuclear missiles, and the independent Forces Network records that he voted for “a series of proposed spending cuts and changes to the welfare system in favour of spending on new nuclear weapons.”

Further, Britain is heavily influenced by Washington in its nuclear posture, as made clear by US Admiral Charles Richard whose testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 13 included the statement that the new W-93 nuclear warhead will “support a parallel Replacement Warhead Program in the United Kingdom whose nuclear deterrent plays an absolutely vital role in Nato’s overall defence posture.”

It seems that in Europe Emmanuel Macron is a lonely voice in attempting to encourage Trump to renew the Arms Reduction Treaty and that his only significant supporter in moving towards dialogue with Russia is Angela Merkel, who has almost as many domestic political problems as he has. It is hoped that more nations will pay attention to Macron’s wise pronouncement that “there can be no defence and security project for European citizens without a political vision that seeks to progressively restore trust with Russia.”

If there is no movement towards dialogue with the intention of establishing a latter-day détente, and if Trump refuses to extend New Start, then the nuclear dominance option, as already being embraced by Washington, will further destabilise our already shaky world.

[Category: Arms Control, Security, Arms Race, Diplomacy, Emmanuel Macron, France, NATO, Nuclear Weapons, START]

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[l] at 2/17/20 7:00am

This weekend 75 years ago, the German city of Dresden was razed to the ground by British and American aerial bombardment. At least 25,000 mainly civilians were destroyed in raid after raid by over 1,200 heavy bombers, indiscriminately dropping high explosives and incendiaries. It took seven years just to clear the rubble.

The destruction of Dresden, a world-famous cultural center of Baroque majesty, has been long dogged by controversy. Official British and American military accounts claim it was necessary to hasten the collapse of the Third Reich; with a reasoning that resonates with US claims for dropping the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Critics say, however, that the mass bombing of Dresden was immaterial in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany. It was a wanton act of terror – a war crime – carried out by the British and Americans. Critics point out that most of the industrial and military targets on the outskirts of the beautiful city were largely left untouched by the bombing. British wartime leader Winston Churchill is even said to have expressed misgivings about the morality of this and other indiscriminate bombing of German civilian centers.

Ardent advocates of the terror-bombing campaign said it would exhaust German morale. A classic case of ends justifying means, no matter how vile the means.

There were also claims at the time that the damage to Nazi communication and transport lines would aid the advancing Soviet Red Army.

But there is good reason to believe that the rationale for the obliteration of Dresden was for an altogether more sinister reason. It wasn’t so much an act of terror aimed at Nazi Germany, but rather a show of maniacal power to the Soviet Union.

A British Royal Air Force memo on the Dresden operation noted that it would “show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do.” (See caption 17 in this linked photo essay.)

By mid-February 1945, the front lines of the Western and Eastern allied forces were such that the American and British ground troops had not yet entered Germany territory, while the Soviet Red Army had crossed the Oder River and were a mere 70 kilometers from Berlin, the seat of the Third Reich. Such was the keen advance of the Soviets that the Western allies were concerned that the Red Army might take all of German territory.

Rather than aiding Soviet forces from the mass bombing of Dresden, Leipzig and other cities in the German east, it seems plausible that, as the above British RAF memo indicates, the Western allies were intent on demonstrating a shockingly brutal, raw power to Moscow. Not just military power, but a will power to use any means necessary to defeat enemies.

There is a direct analogy here with the subsequent atomic bombing of Japan. At the Potsdam conference in July 1945 following the defeat of Nazi Germany and the carve-up of Berlin, giving the Western allies shared control of the German capital way beyond their final front lines, the American president Harry Truman relished the ability to drop a sinister hint to Josef Stalin about a newly acquired secret weapon – the A-bomb.

As with the earlier British and American bombing of Dresden and other German cities, there was arguably little military justification for dropping the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9. Like Dresden, the military significance of those cities was dubious. The death of 200,000 civilians from the atomic inferno was not a military necessity for defeating imperial Japan, as Truman’s top generals MacArthur and Eisenhower were advising him against.

So if the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki was unnecessary from a military point of view to end the Pacific War, why was it done?

As with Dresden, the point was a monstrous display of terror by Western powers to let the Soviet Union know that nothing would be off-limits in the postwar geopolitical stand-off that was anticipated and which became the Cold War.

When the A-bombs were dropped on Japan, Stalin was said to have been frozen by reports of the awesome new destructive power. The Soviet Union was not to develop its A-bomb until 1949.

The terror unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems to have had the intended effect of halting Soviet Red Army advances that were being made into the Korean Peninsula and onwards to Japan. The American troop lines were relatively remote by comparison with their Soviet counterparts, yet after the A-bombing the US was catapulted to take over both Asian-Pacific territories in the postwar period. Not unlike the precocious territorial gains that were acquired by the Western allies in defeated Nazi Germany.

Thus the moral controversies about the British and American bombing of German and Japanese cities goes way beyond arguments about the right or wrong of mass murder for the supposed purpose of ending wars. That moral hazard is difficult enough. But even more fiendish is a bigger picture; one in which the cold, calculated use of terror and genocide is not about ending war, but rather to simply exert geopolitical power against a perceived rival in the postwar era. Terror for terror sake, evil for evil sake.

A final note: it has become fashionable to falsify the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany by claiming that the Red Army became an occupying tyranny in eastern Europe after the war’s end. Suffice to say that if the Soviets committed even a fraction of the crimes that were actually carried out by the Americans and British from their aerial bombing of civilians in both Germany and Japan, one would never hear the end of deafening Western condemnations against Moscow to this day, and for decades to come.

[Category: History, Cold War, Germany, USSR, War Crimes, Winston Churchill, World War II]

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[l] at 2/17/20 6:00am

New York City taxpayers are on the hook for a multi-million dollar cyber center in the heart of Manhattan with deep ties to Israel’s high-tech intelligence apparatus.

Whitney WEBB

E arly last week, the city of New York launched — with little media scrutiny — one of two new massive cybersecurity centers that will be run by private Israeli firms with close ties to Israel’s government, the so-called “Mega Group” tied to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and prominent pro-Israel lobby organizations operating in the United States. The centers were first announced in 2018 as was the identity of the firms who would run them: Israel-based Jerusalem Venture Partners and SOSA.

As MintPress has reported on several occasions, all three of these entities have a history of aggressively spying on the U.S. federal government and/or blackmailing top American politicians, raising concerns regarding why these companies were chosen to run the new centers in the heart of Manhattan. The news also comes as Israeli cybersecurity companies tied to Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200 were revealed to have access to the U.S. government’s most classified systems and simulating the cancellation of the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

The new cybersecurity centers are part of a new New York City public-private partnership called “CyberNYC” that is valued at over $100 million and officially aims to “spur the creation of 10,000 cybersecurity jobs and make New York City a global leader in cyber innovation.” CyberNYC is an initiative of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation.

However, the companies that will be responsible for creating those cybersecurity jobs will benefit foreign companies, namely Israeli and most of the jobs to be created will go to foreigners as well, as media reports on the partnership have quietly noted. Those reports also stated that, while the stated purpose of the centers is to create new jobs, the Israeli firms chosen to run them — Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) and SOSA — view it as an opportunity to provide Israeli cybersecurity companies with a foothold into the American market and to see Israeli cybersecurity products adopted by both small and medium-sized American businesses, not just large corporations and government agencies.

For example, the founder of JVP and former Knesset member, Erel Margalit, told the Jerusalem Post that “the center we are setting up [in New York] will assist Israeli hi-tech companies in collaborating with customers and companies in the US and around the world.” More recently, ahead of the opening of the cybersecurity center that Margalit’s firm will manage, he told the Times of Israel that “New York is about something else, it’s about the drama of taking investors from Israel and Spain or Paris and other places and taking them to the next business level.” In other words, the companies set to benefit from these new centers will be foreign and mainly Israeli, as JVP invests the vast majority of its funds in Israeli start-ups.

Given that Wilson Lin, the head of CyberNYC, explained the reason behind the initiative as the fact that “there are not enough well-trained people in cyber security to fill the jobs that are required for a safer, more thriving commercial sector,” the statements of JVP’s founder strongly suggests that those “well-trained people” will not be Americans in New York, but will be brought in from abroad, namely Israel’s cybersecurity sector.

Of the companies chosen by CyberNYC to run its new cybersecurity centers, both have clear and demonstrable ties to Israel’s government and military intelligence as well as controversial groups of pro-Israel donors with considerable political clout in the United States.

For instance, Jerusalem Venture Partners was founded by Erel Margalit in 1993, with funding from the Yozma Program, an Israeli government program to “incentivize venture capital investment” in Israel. Since then, it has been a driving force in the development of Israel’s hi-tech sector and regularly collaborates with the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry and the EISP (Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program) alumni organization of Unit 8200. Today, it is the second largest venture capital fund in Israel.

JVP was also the sole venture capital fund chosen to partner with Israel’s government and military to establish the public-private “cyber hub” in Beersheba. This “hub” not only houses the IDF’s technology campus, but also the Israel National Cyber Directorate, which reports directly to Israel’s Prime Minister, as well as a high-tech corporate park that mostly houses tech companies with ties to Israel’s military intelligence apparatus. The area has been cited in several media reports as a visible indicator of the public-private merger between Israeli technology companies, many of them started by Unit 8200 alumni, and the Israeli government and its intelligence services.

A composite image of the future JVP-funded New York City cyber center

A composite image of the future JVP-funded New York City cyber center. Photo | JVP Press Release

In addition to JVP’s close ties to Israel’s government and its key role in the merging of Israel’s private cybersecurity sector with Israeli military intelligence, JVP also has close ties to the Bronfman family through its Chief Operating Officer and general partner, Fiona Darmon. Prior to working with JVP, Darmon worked for Claridge Israel, the investment arm of the Bronfman family that was founded by Charles Bronfman in 1987.

Charles Bronfman was a one-time business partner of Mossad agent Robert Maxwell, father of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell, and co-founded the “Mega Group”, a group of pro-Israel oligarchs with clear and direct ties to organized crime, alongside Leslie Wexner, the main financier of Jeffrey Epstein’s operation that involved the sex trafficking of minors on behalf of Israeli military intelligence.

SOSA was founded much more recently than JVP, yet also has close ties to Israel’s government and military. Created in 2014, SOSA has grown rapidly by connecting mostly Israeli start-ups with investors and through its partnerships with the IDF. This partnership first became clear in 2018, when SOSA created the Homeland Security (HLST) Innovation Hub, which the Times of Israel described as “a first of its kind program that aims to create a defense and security innovation community that will match homeland security and defense industry firms with startups, to help industry giants maintain their leading edge.”

Last year, SOSA became one of two companies to manage the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s program INNOFENSE, an innovation program for civilian tech start-ups in the country’s defense industry. SOSA’s collaboration with the IDF also involves the creation of “joint business activities between international companies, [government] security organizations, investors and startups,” making SOSA a key player in the blurring of the line between Israeli military intelligence and its private tech sector.

SOSA is also directly partnered with two of Israel’s top weapons manufacturers, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, as well as defense electronics companies ELTA Systems and Elron Electronics, the former parent company of another Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems. It is also partnered with the Unit 8200 alumni-founded tech company CheckPoint Systems and Leumi Tech, the hi-tech subsidiary of one of Israel’s largest banks, Leumi. Leumi Tech exists only in the U.S. and specifically aims to “provide a comprehensive suite of products and services to Israeli high-tech companies operating in the US.” The bank was recently forced to pay $400 million to the U.S. government for assisting U.S. citizens, most of them dual U.S.-Israeli citizens, in preparing false tax returns and hiding their assets in offshore accounts.

SOSA’s General Manager Guy Franklin is of particular interest, due to his close ties to the Israeli American Council (IAC), a pro-Israel lobby group created by convicted felon and ultra-Zionist millionaire Adam Milstein and largely funded by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. The Adelsons are also the largest donors to both President Trump and the Republican Party in the United States.

SOSA Israel

In this photo posted on SOSA’s Facebook page, SOSA execs Uzi Scheffer and Guy Franklin pose in New York’s Time Square

Of the $100 million in funding for the CyberNYC initiative, $30 million comes from New York taxpayers and the remaining funds coming from the program’s partners, which includes Goldman Sachs and the Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200 incubator Team8, a start-up accelerator which has been discussed at length in several past MintPress News reports, including the recent MintPress investigation into the Israeli company Cybereason — a partner of Team8.

Team8, particularly its presence in New York, has long been associated with the push by pro-Israel political donor and American hedge fund manager Paul Singer and Israel’s government to make Israel the global cybersecurity leader as a means of preventing countries from boycotting Israel over human rights violations and war crimes. Team8’s role in CyberNYC will see them not only finance part of the initiative but also training cybersecurity workers who will be hired as part of the partnership.

Singer, who is based in Manhattan, created Start Up Nation Central in 2012 to specifically outsource American tech jobs to Israel in collaboration with top AIPAC officials and Israel’s government. Meanwhile, in parallel, Israel’s government and intelligence apparatus began a policy that same year that involved outsourcing intelligence and military intelligence operations to private companies created for that very purpose, particularly in the field of cybersecurity.

Thus, much as Israel’s cybersecurity industry has long been fused to Israel’s military and intelligence apparati, the Paul Singer-funded and Israel-backed policy has openly sought to bring American companies and government agencies into the fold in order to prevent boycotts of Israel. Though the so-called “anti-BDS laws” that have been passed in several U.S. states are one facet of this push, the use of Israeli tech, namely cybersecurity, sector to pursue this same end has received decidedly less coverage.

New York City has long been a major focus on this policy, with the growth of Israel hi-tech start-ups present in New York and run by former members of Unit 8200 exploding since this policy officially began in 2012. Indeed, Haaretz noted that, between 2013 and 2017 alone, the number of Israeli tech start-ups in New York City grew by fivefold and the number of Unit 8200 alumni working in NYC tech start-ups has also spiked in that same time frame.

The number of Unit 8200 alumni working in NYC’s tech sector has grown so much that they host an annual gala closed to the press where the goal, per Haaretz, is “to try to connect startups and early stage entrepreneurs from 8200 EISP (the Israeli accelerator for Unit 8200 alumni) with clients and venture capital funds in the United States.” One of the main players at that gala is Guy Franklin, the CEO of SOSA, which was chosen to run the other NYC cybersecurity sector.

The decision to create expensive, new cybersecurity centers run by JVP and SOSA, two Israeli firms with clear ties to controversial pro-Israel lobby organization and donors as well as Israel’s government and intelligence apparatus, reveals that not only is this Singer and Israel-backed policy continuing to develop and expand at a rapid pace, but now the money of New York City taxpayers is now being used to propel it to new heights even though that very policy benefits Israel’s economy at the U.S.’ expense.

mintpressnews.com

[Category: Editor's Choice, Big Tech, Cyber Security, Elections, Israel, Spying, United States]

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[l] at 2/17/20 5:00am

Amid the hubbub over the Trump administration’s latest affront to the rule of law, it’s worth keeping in mind what the late great Anglo-American journalist Sally Belfrage had to say about the three rules of US discourse:

Never mean what you say.
Never say what you mean.
Be sincere.

Belfrage, who died tragically in her mid-50s and whose McCarthy-era memoir, Un-American Activities, is still worth reading, was talking about teenage American girls. But she may as well have been discussing Democrats working themselves up into an entirely artificial lather over Attorney General William Barr’s veto of a recommended seven to nine-year prison sentence for alleged Russiagate mastermind Roger Stone.

The ever-righteous Adam Schiff declared that the AG is guilty of “a blatant abuse of power,” Elizabeth Warren says he “should resign or face impeachment,” while Hillary Clinton promptly accused his boss, Donald Trump, of “using the powers of the presidency like a tyrant.” Not to be outdone, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have both called for an investigation.

But what we know from Belfrage is that such words are not to be taken at face value. Schiff knows that the term “abuse of power” will raise eyebrows since he’s spent the last three years using his position on the House intelligence committee to drum up hysteria over nonexistent Russian collusion. But he figures that if he says it one more time, then maybe Barr will take notice. Warren is likewise aware that impeachment is a dead letter, but still hopes that the I-word’s magic is not entirely spent. Ditto Clinton, Pelosi, Schumer, and the rest of the impeachment chorus. They figure that if they raise another clamor, then maybe, just maybe, Barr will back off.

But since everyone knows it’s not going to happen, what’s it really about?

The answer has little do with a two-bit dirty trickster like Stone and everything to do with a goateed and balding federal prosecutor in Connecticut named John Durham. Durham is the guy whom Barr tapped last April to head up a second investigation into Russiagate – not collusion itself but how the investigation got started in the first place and why it dragged on so absurdly long. Previously, Durham was so highly regarded that he was entrusted with the most ultra-sensitive tasks. In 2002, he helped convict two retired FBI agents on charges of protecting a pair of notorious gangster informants named Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemmi, helping them evade arrest and even murder a Tulsa businessman. In 2008, he headed up an investigation into the CIA’s destruction of torture videotapes, while in 2009 he took charge of an inquiry into CIA “enhanced interrogation” in general.

Leftists were not pleased with the latter two since neither resulted in a criminal charge. But as far as the establishment was concerned, Durham was above reproach. But then came the Russiagate investigation, and suddenly he was the opposite. Vanity Fair said the AG had gone “rogue” in appointing him to the job and suggested that he was “doing the partisan bidding of his boss.” Vox.com worried that “a hit job” was in the works and speculated that Durham was “trying to protect Trump politically and damage his political opponents.” The New Yorker accused him of entertaining “bizarre conspiracy theories” and quoted a disgruntled Russiagate investigator to the effect that the probe was “evocative of regimes in history that conduct purges for perceived disloyalty.”

Formerly a prosecutor’s prosecutor, he was now little better than a presidential hitman. But the real reason Democrats are up in arms over the Durham investigation is that they’re afraid it will undermine the one that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller concluded last March. Mueller is the Ivy League twit who covered up Saudi involvement in 9/11 and testified on the eve of the 2003 Iraqi invasion that Saddam Hussein’s WMD’s posed an imminent threat. In July, he stammered and mumbled his way through testimony before the House intelligence committee and didn’t even seem familiar with his own findings. Still, while his report concluded there was no evidence in support of collusion, it said that Russia had carried out a “sweeping and systematic” interference campaign in the 2016 election regardless, that “the Trump Campaign showed interest” in hacked emails that Russian intelligence allegedly fed to WikiLeaks, and that the Trump campaign had “multiple contacts” with individuals tied to the Russian government.

This was all Democrats needed to bash Trump and move ahead with impeachment. In their eyes, consequently, the Mueller report became the Gospels, the Qur’an, and maybe the Upanishads all rolled into one. That’s why, in the face of the latest threat from Barr and Durham, they’re girding themselves for battle in defense of the sacred text.

The fact that three of the four Roger Stone prosecutors who resigned in a huff over Barr’s veto were part of Mueller’s Russiagate team shows how the battle lines are being drawn. It’s Mueller versus Barr and Durham – maybe we should call them “Barrham”? – an investigation that ended ten months versus one that is still ongoing. The fact that no one knows what Durham will come up with is irrelevant. Since he works for Barr, his findings must be invalid and corrupt. He must therefore be stopped.

But since Democrat never mean what they say or say what they mean, they must dial up their outrage to show they’re really, truly sincere. One would never guess from such sturm und drang, meanwhile, that Stone is a two-bit hustler who tried to obstruct a House intelligence committee that Schiff had already turned into a three-ring circus of anti-Russian conspiracy-mongering; that not even Randy Credico, the New York radio host whose dog Stone threatened to kidnap if he spoke to the feds, took him seriously, or that seven to nine years behind bars for such a minor transgression is obviously over the top.

No, the republic is in danger, democracy is under threat, the rule of law must be preserved, and so on and so forth. When Durham at last comes out with his report, the outcry will start up all over again, louder than ever. But how much sound and fury can Americans take before realizing that it signifies nothing at all?

[Category: History, Society, McCarthyism, Roger Stone, Russiagate, United States]

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[l] at 2/17/20 4:00am

President Tayyip Erdoğan said: “Whoever says, ‘What business does Turkey have in Syria?’ is either unaware or intentionally an enemy of this people.”

Yusuf KARATAS

In the speech he made at his party’s parliamentary group meeting last tuesday, President and AKP General Chair Tayyip Erdoğan targeted those who criticize Turkish troops coming under fire and a state of war being reached with the Syrian army in Idlib by saying, “Whoever says, ‘What business does Turkey have in Syria?’ is either unaware or intentionally an enemy of this people.” That is, ever since 2011 Erdoğan has accused critics of the intervention-based policy in Syria of either lacking awareness or harbouring enmity towards the nation. As his speech progressed, Erdoğan says the “Adana Agreement” signed with the Syrian administration in 1998 authorizes Turkey to stage operations in Syria and Turkish troops are in Idlib pursuant to this agreement.

Let us start with the issue of “awareness.”

I wonder if Erdoğan accuses askers of the question, “What business does Turkey have in Syria?” of either “lacking awareness” or “harbouring enmity towards the nation” because he is so sure of the correctness of the policies he is implementing and that they are in the popular interest, or to conceal the problems and threats this policy has created.

Yes, I have repeatedly posed this question and will continue to do so.

This is because if in 2011 you set out with the claim of democratizing Syria and turn the country into a motorway of jihadists from all four corners of the globe going to wage war in Syria, we are entitled to inquire, “What business do we have in Syria?”

If jihadist gangs create “emirates” and radical religious militants swarm on our borders as a result of the policies you have implemented and the interventions you have staged in the name of ensuring the country’s security, we are entitled to say, “What business do we have in Syria?”

If, having advertised the camps set up in the country so as to create a basis for the interventionist policy in Syria and encouraged the flow of refugees to this degree, you say, “We are in Idlib to stem the flow of refugees,” we are entitled to inquire, “What business do we have in Syria?”

If, with the table set up for the peaceful solution of the Kurdish problems and talks with the Syrian Kurds making headway, you abandon this policy and obdurately engage in operations that serve no other function apart from aiding imperialists in using this problem for their own interests, we are entitled to say, “What business do we have in Syria?”

This means those who ask, “What business does Turkey have in Syria?” are not asking this question for nothing.

This is because lying at the heart of all the problems and threats Turkey faces today in Syria is the AKP-Erdoğan administration’s policy of intervention in Syria in 2011 on which it embarked with claims to “regional leadership” and dreams of “neo-Ottomanism.”

Let us turn to what Erdoğan says about the Adana Agreement and the presence of Turkish troops in Idlib.

Whichever of Erdoğan’s pronouncements in his group speech you take, you are left with a dud.

In this speech, he both proclaims the Syrian regime to be “illegitimate” and says he does not recognize it and also defends Turkey’s presence in Syria by virtue of an agreement made with this regime. This is not the full extent of the quirkiness: Erdoğan threatens war and grants the Syrian army until the end of the month to withdraw from Idlib which is part of its own national territory.

Let us leave this to one side and inquire whether the Adana Agreement really, as alleged, grants Turkey the right of intervention.

The Adana Agreement was signed on 20 October 1998 with the mediation of Iran and Egypt following the removal of PKK leader Öcalan from Syria (9 October 1998), which created serious tension between the Turkish and Syrian administrations. In this five-article agreement, the Syrian administration undertakes to ban the PKK’s activities in Syria and to prevent threats and actions targeting Turkey on its own territory. There is no wording in any article of the agreement about an intervention right of Turkey. However, despite this, the Erdoğan administration intervened in areas governed by the Syrian Kurds (Syrian Democratic Forces) by arguing that this agreement granted it the right of intervention!

In fact, we encounter a situation today that cannot be accounted for on such grounds, either. The Syrian administration is staging an operation against an organization that the UN and Turkey officially proclaim to be a “terrorist organization” to ensure security in its own territory. Moreover, it is staging this operation to secure the M4 and M5 motorways in the wake of Turkey’s failure to fulfil its commitments in the Sochi Agreement signed between Erdoğan and Putin on 17 October 2018. And, see if the Erdoğan administration is not restricting itself to opposing this operation and is threatening the Syrian army with intervention and, furthermore, is premising this on the Adana Agreement!

A further important point that shows the extent of the contradiction and impasse against which the Erdoğan administration has run up is that Russia is supporting this operation by the Syrian army with aerial bombardment. But, when it comes to Russia which he cannot boss about and which in fact instrumentalizes its relationship and cooperation with the Erdoğan administration in its fight for supremacy with the USA, Erdoğan says and is obliged to say, “We attach special importance to the continuation of our friendship with Russia.”

There remains but a single question. Which betrays lack of awareness: questioning a policy that exposes the country and the people to such great threat and problems, or obdurateness over this policy?

evrensel.net

[Category: Editor's Choice, Neo-Ottomanism, Syria, Terrorism, Turkey]

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