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Trump, McCabe and our Permanent Constitutional Crisis

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 - 4:49am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump’s conviction that being president means never having to say you are sorry, and being able to do whatever the hell you please, is likely to cause him legal trouble sooner or later.

His vindictive firing of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, just before McCabe could retire and qualify for his pension, is typical of this president. McCabe appears to have been passing on memos on his interactions with Trump to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the firing may be related to these memos.

Trump is attempting to humiliate and discredit McCabe because he is corroborating witness for James Comey, the FBI director whom Trump also fired, last May. The Comey firing is far more serious, since it may constitute obstruction of justice.

Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, more or less corroborated the political motive for firing McCabe in this mortifying way, by saying that it should form a precedent for firing Special Councel Robert Mueller, who Dowd implied was part of the same corrupt partisan gang irrationally hounding the president over the fake news Russia collusion story.

If Trump fired Mueller, that really would be obstruction, and could create a huge constitutional crisis of a sort not seen since the days of Reagan’s Iran-Contra or Nixon’s Watergate.

And unfortunately for Trump, the revelation that Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm founded by his backer and part-time Neo-Fascist billionaire James Mercer, illicitly used 50 million voter profiles from Facebook Trump’s behalf, and that CA met with the Russians, kind of reduced the supposed fakeness of the story. Mercer was also behind building up white supremacist rag Breitbart, and appears, despite denials, to have been close to Steve Bannon, who was a vice president at Cambridge Analytica and the editor of Breitbart. Bannon for a while White House chief strategist, has recently been in Europe urging French fascists to own their racism and boast of it, and praising Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whose troops killed or wounded 300,000 American and British soldiers. That is what Trumpism, which Bannon championed, stands for.

Trump admitted in his interminable tweets that he got rid of the FBI director to stop the Russia collusion probe. Comey has also alleged that Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over his undeclared and likely illegal contacts with Russia and Turkey.

If Mueller works up an obstruction case against Trump over the Comey firing, then it is possible that the McCabe firing could be seen as an action in furtherance of the original obstruction.

Trump also sees McCabe as a Democratic mole because his wife Jill ran unsuccessfully for office in Virginia in that party. Vox says Trump once asked McCabe to ask his wife how it felt to be a loser.

Apparently Trump is the only one in Washington who has never heard of the power couple James Carville and Mary Matalin (the former a Democratic strategist, the latter a Republican one). You don’t judge someone on ascriptive grounds (their inherited or family or other involuntary identity) but on those of actual personal behavior.

But then Trump’s entire life and his movement are based on judging people on ascriptive grounds rather than by the demonstrated content of their character. Perhaps he is blind to character because he has none of his own.

Trump knows that the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller are coming for him over his many crimes, political and financial, and he is hoping to muddy the waters by creating a reputation for the FBI as corrupt and partisan, thus undermining public confidence in its finding.

Incidentally, one of the things Trump blamed McCabe for was letting James Comey fly back from LA to Washington on an FBI plane *after* Trump had fired him while he was in the field. Apparently Trump had wanted Comey to be forced to hitchhike home.

The petty-minded disgracing of his enemies speaks poorly of Trump. But if Dowd’s memo to CNN was a trial balloon for the firing of Mueller, we could pass beyond the realm of the petty to a huge societal explosion.


Bonus video:

CBS Los Angeles: “McCabe Calls Dismissal Part Of Trump’s ‘War’ On FBI”

From Dead Spies to Dead Syrian Villagers, Russian Denialism on Chemical Attacks

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 - 2:40am

By Brian Whitaker | ( | – –

Russia’s RT links the Skripal poisoning to British jealousy over hosting of the World Cup

There’s something uncannily familiar about Russia’s propaganda antics over the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain. We’ve seen them before in Syria where Russia has steadfastly defended the Assad regime against accusations of using chemical weapons.

On an August morning in 2013 news began to emerge of mass deaths in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. A report from Reuters began: “Syria’s opposition accused government forces of gassing hundreds of people on Wednesday by firing rockets that released deadly fumes over rebel-held Damascus suburbs, killing men, women and children as they slept.”

Right from the start, there was little doubt about what had happened: videos of those affected showed classic symptoms of nerve agent poisoning. Within a month, UN inspectors confirmed the worst: the environmental, chemical and medical samples they had collected provided “clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin” had been used in Ghouta.

Sowing doubt

Given that these deaths and injuries occurred in rebel-held areas that were under attack from Syrian government forces and that the government had previously admitted possessing chemical weapons, there was one very obvious suspect. But Russia had other ideas.

Its first response was to question whether anything untoward had actually happened. On the day of the attack, an article posted on the Russia’s RT website described the reports as “fishy” and claimed that international media had simply “picked up” the story from al-Arabiya, a Saudi TV channel which was “not a neutral in the Syrian conflict”.

Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, hovered between denying an attack had taken place and claiming it had been staged (or perhaps faked) by anti-Assad forces. He talked about an “alleged” attack and a “so-called” attack while asserting that “materials of the incident and accusations against government troops” had been posted on the internet several hours in advance. “Thus, it was a pre-planned action,” he said.

Lukashevich’s argument had actually been cribbed from conspiracy theorists on the internet, but without checking properly. Reuters’ report of the attack and some of the videos did appear to have been posted before the attack took place but that was simply the result of automated time-stamping in a different time zone.

Following publication of the UN inspectors’ report, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged that it showed chemical weapons had been used but said it offered no proof that Assad’s forces were to blame. This implied the inspectors had failed to reach a conclusion about who was responsible but the terms of reference set by the UN had not allowed them to apportion blame.

Diversionary tactics

Lavrov went on to say that Russia still suspected rebel forces were behind the attack and that the UN report failed to answer a number of questions, including whether the weapons were produced in a factory or “home-made”. He added that the UN report should be examined not in isolation but along with evidence from sources such as the internet and other media, including accounts from “nuns at a nearby convent” and a journalist who had spoken to rebels.

The questions Lavrov raised – about home-made sarin, the nuns in the convent and the journalist who had spoken to rebels – looked suspiciously like a diversionary tactic, and that is what they were. They didn’t withstand serious scrutiny but in propaganda terms they didn’t need to. The point was not to persuade people of anything in particular – which was one reason why many people had difficulty recognising it as propaganda.

The slogan of RT is “Question More”, and its purpose is exactly that: to ask lots of questions, not in the hope of getting closer to the truth but in order to sow as much doubt as possible. This doesn’t require real evidence and it doesn’t matter if some of the “alternative” theories promoted are mutually contradictory or purely speculative, so long as there are plenty of them. If the result is that people become so confused they are unsure what to believe the propaganda can be considered a success.

Russia’s propagandists also have a symbiotic relationship with conspiracy websites in the west which not only re-circulate and amplify the theories but sometimes generate them in the first place.

False flags in Salisbury?

Fast-forward to March 2018 and the English city of Salisbury where Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned. As with Syria in 2013, there was one rather obvious suspect. The Skripals were Russian. Sergei had been a double agent in the murky world of espionage, and as far as Russia was concerned had betrayed his country.

Over the last 40 years a number of mysterious deaths in Britain have been linked to Russia or its predecessor, the Soviet Union. At least two of those involved murder by exotic means – Georgi Markov in 1978, stabbed with a ricin-tipped umbrella, and Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 who was killed with radioactive polonium. There have been other cases too, outside Britain.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found on a park bench “reportedly exhibiting symptoms similar to a drug overdose” according to Russia’s RT. Another RT article suggested they might be drug users.

Amid the initial speculation about what might have caused the Skripals’ poisoning, there was talk in several British newspapers that the substance involved might be fentanyl, a powerful opiate. One factor behind that idea was that fentanyl, or a version of it, is thought to have been used by Russian special forces to subdue Chechen separatists who held 800 people hostage at a Moscow theatre in 2002 (as the Sun newspaper pointed out). RT, however, had a different spin on the fentanyl angle:

“The highly addictive synthetic opiate has been linked to a sharp increase in overdoses in the US and has also resulted in dozens of deaths across the UK. The drug has repeatedly made headlines as part of the so-called ‘opioid crisis’, especially after famous American singer/songwriter Prince died from an accidental overdose of fentanyl in April 2016.

“An eyewitness told the BBC she saw a woman and a man sitting on a bench and that they ‘looked like they’d been taking something quite strong’.”

Since then, the Russians have moved on from trying to deny that a nerve agent attack took place, as they did in Syria over sarin. They are now promoting multiple “false flag” theories – as they also did in Syria over sarin. Daft as the theories might be, in Syria’s case they found some vocal supporters in the west – and the same thing seems to be happening now with the Skripal affair.

“I think this will go down with the Gulf of Tonkin incident as one of the great hoaxes, with the most serious implications in all of history,” former British MP George Galloway told Sputnik Radio’s listeners.

With Syria, the main false flag theory was that rebels attacked themselves with sarin to create the pretext for a large-scale military intervention by western powers against the Assad regime. This was also linked to the dubious claim that western powers had spent years plotting “regime change” in Syria. Despite two confirmed sarin attacks, however, western powers have still not responded in the way the theory has been predicting.

With the Skripal affair, Russia is strongly suggesting a false flag operation carried out by the British government but is unclear about its exact purpose.

Galloway, who became notorious for his tribute to Saddam Hussein in 1994, suggested it might have something to do with Putin’s re-election or the World Cup (which is due to be held in Russia this summer). The Russian foreign ministry also appears to favour a World Cup connection: the British are “unable to forgive” Russia for winning the right to host this summer’s contest.

More vaguely, Sputnik quotes Helga Zepp-LaRouche – leader of the German Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität party and wife of the controversial American, Lyndon LaRouche – as blaming British intelligence for “fabricating another Litvinenko case as a pretext for another anti-Russia escalation”. It’s unclear why Sputnik regards her as an authority on the matter.

While mainly trying to direct suspicion towards Britain, the Russians are also speculating that some other country might be the culprit – almost any country apart from Russia. According to a former Kremlin adviser quoted by Sputnik News, “every laboratory in the west including Porton Down which is only seven miles away from Salisbury, has a sample” and there are “are rouge agents of a different nation that have gotten access to this particular nerve agent”. The mention of “rouge” (rogue) agents may be intended as a reference to Ukraine.

These ideas have already acquired some resonance at the further ends of the political spectrum (both left and right) in the west. Look on Twitter and you will find that many of those adopting them have previously been active in questioning the Assad regime’s sarin use.

Not surprisingly, there have been calls to cancel RT’s television broadcasting licence in Britain – which would probably be a mistake. RT would have a field day complaining about being victimised, and blocking its TV output would have little practical effect. RT would still be able to function online, which in some ways may be more important because its propaganda is often circulated in the form of YouTube videos.

No matter what anyone does to try and stop it, though, propaganda will always exist. The important thing is to recognise it for what it is, and not to be fooled by it.

Brian Whitaker is a former Middle East editor of the Guardian. He is the author of several books about the region, most recently Arabs Without God: Atheism and Freedom of Belief in the Middle East


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Licence.

Under Pompeo, will Trump Foreign Policy be Even Worse?

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 - 2:23am

By Alastair Sloan | (Middle East Monitor) | – –

The appointment of Mike Pompeo as the new US Secretary of State by Donald Trump will not signal a change in Washington’s Middle East policy. It doesn’t mean that America will no longer endorse the alliance between the Saudi and Israeli governments. Nor does it, despite Donald Trump’s admiration, mean that America will switch its support to Bashar Al-Assad, or take up the Qatari cause in the embargo crisis. The Iran nuclear deal will continue to be degraded and dismissed as appeasement, but it will likely stay in force. The Israeli settlers expanding into the occupied West Bank will continue to win solid approval from the United States, and the war in Yemen will continue with Washington’s encouragement.

What Pompeo represents to the Israel-Palestine problem will be necessarily historic, though. So much is at stake. President Trump has announced that the US Embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, the first stage in what he thinks will be the dramatic and final end of the peace process.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Trump will be publishing his new peace-plan. The Palestinian Authority will not accept the validity of any such plan on principle. It remains deeply discouraged by Trump’s bullish embassy move. The Palestinians, who Trump ultimately determines to be in opposition to his interests, are facing an end game that will see the formal annexation of the West Bank by Israel.


Trump has encouraged the new alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and continually encouraged Israel’s other new Arab friends – notably Jordan and Egypt — to make even closer kin of the ruling Likud. All of these are historic rapprochements in which the United States has had a hand in creating. They are also rapprochements which see the Palestinians fundamentally abandoned by the most important Sunni states in the region, who have chosen to side with the occupiers and not the oppressed.

Isolated always, but even more so now, anti-occupation Palestinians will rely for the time being on Qatar and Iran to maintain their military resistance movements. The public and the Palestinian Authority will still receive vast amounts of private charity from concerned Muslims, and UN funding, from a variety of other countries; as their plight worsens, though, the voices dominant in Palestinian politics will continue to be warlike and shrill. They will be positioned by Israel and the West as they always are; impossible to negotiate with. Finally, Trump will call Netanyahu and say that the formal annexation of the West Bank is not something that America would object to.

Previously, it was hoped by the Trump clique that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would make this happen. Associated closely with the Israeli settler movement, Kushner is now facing severe issues with his White House security clearance, potential complicity in Russian support for Donald Trump’s candidacy, and diminishing personal power within the first family and its inner circle.

With the foundations set but Kushner disappearing, and Trump himself too distracted by CNN and Fox News to get involved in the heavy-lifting, Secretary of State Pompeo has inherited the task of implementing this madcap “peace deal”.

Read: Kushner says Israel-Palestine deal prerequisite for regional ‘stability’

His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, was very obviously not on board with Trump’s bold plan for the Israel-Palestine crisis. After Trump announced the intention to shift the embassy eastwards, Tillerson interjected that the move could take “several years” in an attempt to buy time in order to deflate Palestinian outrage. The US President ignored him and construction is already underway. Tillerson also wanted to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, but his boss did not. Late last year, it was reported that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron”.

Pompeo will not act in this way. He will not, like Tillerson, attempt to contain Trump or to act in the best interests of the United States to defend the country from its most dangerous domestic threat in history. He is too much of a good friend, on a personal level, with his President.

The new Secretary of State will make Trump more effective, becoming his iron fist in Foggy Bottom, the foreign policy district of Washington. Former US Army officer Pompeo will dutifully carry out his orders, drawing on his military background and outlook in the process; and he will do so, crucially, with the same political convictions as Trump, convictions that his predecessor did not share.

US embassy might be moved to Jerusalem – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

If anyone in this administration can pull off Trump’s “deal of the century” – sorting out peace between the Israelis and Palestinians — Trump thinks that it will be former CIA chief Pompeo, because he is what Trump likes to call “a winner”. According to the President, he and Pompeo are “on the same wavelength”. Although Trump’s erratic and impulsive changes in mood may eventually mean that, like so many senior officials before him, Pompeo will fall foul of his boss’s tantrums, he has shown remarkable resilience so far, mainly because the two are aligned on every major domestic and foreign policy issue. As Director of the CIA, Pompeo ended the apolitical nature of the role, speaking out loyally in favour of Trump on every possible occasion. In contrast, Tillerson and the President were barely on speaking terms.

Secretary of State Pompeo will have other problems on his plate, though, besides the Palestinian peace deal. Relations with Russia and European allies are torturous, as it becomes clear how much the Kremlin was complicit in smoothing Trump’s path to the White House, and as the worldwide ramifications of a nerve gas attack on British soil by Russian agents play out.

The North Korea crisis has also entered a new chapter, with Trump and Kim Jong-Un pledged to meet; Pompeo will need to make sure that this happens and then manage the fall-out if things go wrong. The war in Syria and all its attendant problems are still there; Pompeo’s main job will be to keep the US at a respectful distance from Assad so that Putin can gain the upper hand, in line with Trump’s obvious pro-Russian sympathies, as well as manage relations with Turkey, an important but unpredictable NATO ally. Washington’s relations with most European nations are also at a low ebb, as are relations with Canada and Mexico, and Pompeo will need to fix these. China, meanwhile, in a move praised by President Trump, is shifting from a one-party dictatorship to a one-person dictatorship.

America: From head of the snake to honest sponsor of peace process

With all that going on, Pompeo’s interest in the Palestinian crisis is likely to be slim. The situation is presently manageable and requires little “attention” in order to meet Trump’s foreign policy aim of allowing Israel to subsume the Palestinians. The embassy will be built as quickly as Pompeo and Trump desire. Within a couple of years, the new outpost of US sovereignty will be opened at a ceremony that Trump has already said he would like to attend.

Saudi attracts US attention by singing Israel’s tunes – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The message will then be clear to the Palestinians: “America stands with Israel.” They will be told to look around; the major Muslim powers, who have abandoned them, also stand with Israel. The Palestinians are isolated on the world stage and defeated at home. They have failed to rally around a single leader since Arafat, and the closest they got was with Marwan Barghouti, who is inside an Israeli prison. They cannot agree amongst themselves whether Palestine should be a secular, semi-religious or theocratic state, and given the animosity of Islamists towards Israel it is rational for Israel to be nervous about at least one of those options, and thus to work against a consciously Muslim Palestinian state being formed. The writing for all of this is already on the wall.

Pompeo, mirroring his chum Trump, will deliver a stark ultimatum to the Palestinians: submit to life within an Israeli state stretching “from the river to the sea” or live forever under increasingly arduous military occupation. That will be their choice. They can ask their friends in east Jerusalem how much better they fare economically for even being within commuting distance of the mainstream Israeli economy. How many Palestinian voters would mind if their wages, educational outcomes and lives benefited from joining the Israeli economy? It would be hard for many to turn down such an opportunity.


Does Pompeo live in the real world if he issues such a brutal ultimatum? Before Trump was elected, the former congressman was a lead voice criticising Hilary Clinton over the Benghazi tragedy in Libya, possibly her most vocal critic on the issue. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Pompeo contorted the facts into a grotesque and puerile conspiracy theory, stomping over the dead bodies of Americans and Libyans simply in order to score a political point against crooked Clinton.

Such an attitude is disturbing in the man who now dictates US foreign policy in the tricky problem of Palestine, where several different realities can be true at the same time for different people, depending on which political viewpoint – pro- or anti-Zionist— they support. It is nothing new for the Trump administration, of course, where fantasy and fact are interchangeable. What is clear now is that Trump’s man is in charge of foreign policy. Whatever Trump tweets, could now become reality; nothing is beyond the realms of possibility.

Alastair Sloan writes on international affairs, terrorism and Westminster politics and is author of the upcoming book, “What Does Michael Gove Really Think?” You can also read his work in Al Jazeera English and Newsweek.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

VOA News: “Under Pompeo Analysts Expect More Reliance on US Military”

Facebook Suspends Cambridge Analytica Firm Involved in Trump Campaign

Sat, 17 Mar 2018 - 11:08pm

TeleSur | – –

The social media company warned it “will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”

Social media giant, Facebook, said it on Friday it was suspending political data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the United States President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, after discovering the firm had violated Facebook’s privacy policies.

In a public statement, Facebook’s Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal announced it suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) after reports they had not deleted information about Facebook users and sold it to a third party.

The statement, which did not mention the Trump campaign, also warned they “will take legal action if necessary to hold them (Cambridge Analytica and SCL) responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior,” adding that it would continue its investigations.

On Cambridge Analytica’s website, the firm claims it “provided the Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and insights that helped win the White House.” According to a Reuters report, so far neither the firm nor Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s digital ad operation in 2016, have commented.

In previous interviews Parscale has underplayed the firm’s role in the campaign, insisting they mostly relied on data from Republican-affiliated organizations. However, according to Federal Election Commission records the Trump campaign paid the analytics firm over US$6.2 million.

Facebook had had previous problems with SCL, after learning in 2015 that University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan violated its policies when he shared data he acquired with a so-called “research app” that used Facebook’s login system to SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies.

The suspension means Cambridge Analytica and SCL cannot buy ads on Facebook or administer its client’s pages.

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Channel 4 News: “Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower reveals data grab of 50 million Facebook profiles”

Thousands flee E. Ghouta as Regime Army Advances, Rebels ask for Talks

Sat, 17 Mar 2018 - 5:02am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Thousands of civilians fled the southern pocket of the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus on Thursday and Friday and Saturday, carrying what few belongings they could with them. The rate seems to have been about 10,000 people a day until today. Russian sources are saying 11,000 people left Saturday morning alone and that on Saturday, 3,000 people an hour are exiting the checkpoint to flee the enclave. Their exodus, after seven years of steadfastness in the face of regime probes, suggests a conviction that a battle royale is coming to their neighborhoods and that they do not want to risk being present for it.

#Russia says more than 7,000 people left #Ghouta Saturday morning

— Orient News English (@OrientNewsEn) March 17, 2018

The Syrian Arab Army of President Bashar al-Assad advanced in the rebel-held enclave of some 250,000, with Russian Aerospace Forces subjecting neighborhoods to intensive bombardment, which killed over 75 people on Friday.

The Syrian Arab Army has split East Ghouta into three cantons, each dominated by a different rebel group. These are the Saudi-backed Army of Islam, the Turkish-backed Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra) in Douma in the north and the local breakaway from the Syrian Army, the Brigades of the All-Merciful in the east. With these three cut off from one another and from supply routes, the Syrian Arab Army commanders and their Russian advisers are hoping that the rebels will surrender or agree to be transported to Idlib in the far north, one of the last areas under rebel control. Some reports say that Turkey is trying to get this deal for its client, the former Nusra Front (which has been linked to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda).

Overivew Of Battle For Eastern Ghouta On March 17, 2018 (Map, Video) via @southfronteng

— Eli Kvåle Lysne (@ekvaale) March 17, 2018

The Syrian Arab Army is claiming to have taken 70% of the territory of East Ghouta, and is now bringing in national police to patrol captured villages in the rear of the front lines instead of the army.

On Friday night, the Army of Islam, the Brigade of the All-Merciful and the Freemen of Syria announced their willingness to negotiate with Russia. The Syrian Conquest Front or Nusra is considered a terrorist group by Russia so there is no point in their joining such calls for talks.


Bonus Video:

CGTN: “Thousands more civilians flee devastated Eastern Ghouta in Syria”

Oh Magog! Apocalyptic Christianity Returns to U.S. Foreign Policy

Sat, 17 Mar 2018 - 3:01am

By John Feffer | ( Foreign Policy in Focus) | – –

Trump is no churchgoer. But for evangelicals, his hard right line on Israel and machinations against Iran make him an instrument of the endtimes.

Welcome back, Gog and Magog. I can’t say that I’ve missed you.

You might remember the Gog and Magog story from 2003, when George W. Bush was making plans to invade Iraq and assembling a “coalition of the willing.” French President Jacques Chirac was quite unwilling, so Bush went to great lengths to break down his resistance.

As part of this wooing of Chirac, Bush referred to the Biblical prophecies regarding Gog and Magog that suggested to some evangelicals that the end times were approaching in the Middle East.

Chirac had to consult a theologian to find out what Bush was going on about. Gog, Chirac was told, is the leader of Magog, and Magog is the enemy. A war involving Gog and Magog would basically trigger the apocalypse. Because the Bible was not precise in its predictions, Magog could be anyone or anything: Satan, Muslims, even (for Chirac) a poorly executed soufflé.

Bush, however, had a much more precise interpretation in mind: Saddam Hussein was Gog, and the call had gone out to rally the forces of good for a grand showdown. Chirac, who confirmed the story in 2009, was taken aback at Bush’s religious fanaticism.

A number of U.S. officials around Bush, including diplomat Kurt Volker, have strenuously denied the story. But even if Bush himself didn’t indulge in such millenarian fantasies, there were plenty of evangelicals in his circles who did have an impact on U.S. foreign policy. Over the years, Washington has identified plenty of Magogs and set out to topple nearly as many Gogs, always with the certainty of having “God on our side.”

Indeed, the U.S. role in the realization of God’s plans on Earth has been a leitmotif of American foreign policy since the days of John Winthrop and his assertion of the new colony in the Massachusetts Bay as the future “city on the hill.” It is a foundation stone of American exceptionalism. It is a contributing factor to this country’s recurrent xenophobia.

But the application of Biblical prophecy to the geopolitics of the Middle East is something more recent.

Late, Not So Great

The publication of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 brought the wild predictions of end-times fundamentalists to the mass market. Issued by Bantam Books, Lindsey’s book started a cottage industry of pseudo-scholars combing through the Bible for clues to deciphering the puzzle of Middle Eastern politics.

Lindsey predicted that the war of Gog and Magog would begin with a Soviet invasion of Israel. The Anti-Christ would appear in the form of a United Europe, and the rapture would usher all the chosen up to heaven some time in the 1980s. In a sign of the mainstream appeal of this nonsense — and I confess that I devoured the book as a pre-teen under the impression that it was science fiction, which it was — Orson Welles provided the voice-over for the film version. (And you thought that Orson shilling on TV for Paul Masson wine was the lowest he went!)

The 1980s came and went. The world didn’t end. And neither has Hal Lindsey, who at the age of 88 still produces a half hour of fabulous folderol every week.

After all, the failure of predictions to come true has never stopped peddlers from making new forecasts or the gullible from listening to them (just ask the Seventh Day Adventists). Some years after Lindsey’s success, the Left Behind books brought the end-times narrative to a whole new generation. This version of Gog and Magog also centered on Israel, but identified the United Nations as the villain. And this time it was Nicholas Cage who embarrassed himself by appearing in the film version.

Today, some millenarians continue to identify the United Nations as Magog. Others happily enlist North Korea for the role of anti-Christ.

But generally, the focus remains on Israel — and Jerusalem more specifically.

And that’s where Donald Trump comes in.

The current U.S. president would seem an even less likely crusader against Gog than was the eternal fratboy, George W. Bush. Yet the evangelical community rallied around Trump in force in the 2016 election and has largely stayed by his side despite the nonstop revelations of his myriad sins (Summer Zervos, Stormy Daniels, and so on).

Much of the support derives from Trump’s domestic promises (abortion, Supreme Court nominees). But there’s also a foreign policy component.

For example, despite some early nods in the direction of the Palestinians, Trump has become a major champion of Israel. He has even announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the country. For run-of-the-mill, right-wing evangelicals, Trump’s decision is just plain good geopolitics: They believe that Israel is a force for good in the world, and anything that Washington does on its behalf helps both the United States and Christianity in general.

For the dispensationalists who are obsessed with the Rapture and the coming of end times, the Jerusalem decision is a sign and portent that Trump is willing to stand against the entire world, if necessary, to stand up for Israel. Mainline evangelicals often pretend that dispensationalists attract only a small number of folks. According to one poll, however, 65 percent of evangelical leaders identify with premillennialism — that’s the strand of Christian doctrine that involves the second coming of Jesus, a period of tribulation, and a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth (with the Rapture happening at some point during that period).

“What kick-starts the end times into motion is Israel’s political boundaries being reestablished to what God promised the Israelites according to the Bible,” Nate Pyle, a pastor and author of a book about Jesus, informed Newsweek. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in other words, is the instrument of God when he blockades Gazans, encourages illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and otherwise defeats any two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump is Netanyahu’s fanboy, so Trump too is God’s instrument. As I wrote back in October 216, “Much millenarian support comes from a belief that God has anointed Trump the ultimate disrupter of the status quo, the human wrecking ball that will smite all the structures standing in the way of Christ’s Second Coming. No one (other than the Donald himself) would confuse the candidate with the Messiah, but some evangelicals imagine him in the role of a John the Baptist gone slightly berserk.”

In the secular world, the Doomsday Clock has moved to within 150 seconds of midnight. Likewise, the clock of the end times has been ticking along, and many of the faithful are preparing for the Rapture.

The Trump era has kicked off a boom time for apocalyptics.

The Signs and the Portents

Don’t let the defeat of the Islamic State fool you. The Middle East remains a cauldron of conflict, and there are still plenty of Gogs to go around.

One of the best candidates for a Hal Lindsey-like showdown in the Middle East is Syria. Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, has all the hallmarks of a good Gog.

Like Saddam Hussein, he’s a Baathist who represents a ruling minority (in Assad’s case it’s the Alawites in a majority Sunni country, while Saddam presided over a minority Sunni government in a majority Shia country). Also like Saddam, Assad has been ruthless in eradicating his own population, though he was considerably more selective in his killing before the Arab Spring protests broke out. The most recent attacks by Russian and Syrian planes in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus held by opposition forces, have resulted in more than 500 dead and more than 1,500 injured (in a conflict that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives).

Syria is now the focal point of numerous contesting powers. Russia and Iran are backing Assad. Turkey has invaded to suppress the Syrian Kurds, which has caused the latter to team up with Damascus (on the principle that the distant enemy is better than the enemy nearby). Despite Trump’s pledge to Turkey to stop backing the Syrian Kurds now that the Islamic State is no more, this military support is still a hefty line item in Trump budget.

Meanwhile, the United States is maintaining an unknown number of U.S. troops in Syria…for what? Answering that questions leads to Trump’s true Magog.

Trump doesn’t care about Assad. Sure, he’s called him a “butcher,” and lobbed 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian forces last April in response to the Syrian use of chemical weapons. But Trump has something of a fondness for embattled autocrats and has acceded to Russian wishes to keep Assad in place, at least until 2021.

What Trump does care about, however, is Iran. The administration wants to keep U.S. troops in Syria to block Iran from expanding its influence in the country. Add to that the various indications that the Trump administration is gearing up for a direct confrontation with Iran, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for Gog and Magog.

Of course, there are other apocalyptic scenarios in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Iran might go to war, directly or through their proxies. If the Iran nuclear deal falls through, Israel might decide to bomb Iran’s nuclear complex. A new version of Sunni radicalism — a la al-Qaeda or the Islamic State — might mutate out of the primordial stew of resentments in the region.

But all of these scenarios converge if Trump decides to create an explicit coalition of the willing against Iran, with Israel and Saudi Arabia as founding members, and some secret side agreements with Sunni terrorist organizations to carry the fight to the Iranian Shia.

For Trump’s purposes, which would be to rally his base and distract attention from his various policy failures, the confrontation with Iran would really be of biblical proportions. The mullahs of Iran are much better candidates, in the long run, for Gog than a secular nationalist like Assad.

Trump is not a religious man. He can’t quote the Bible properly, and he has the most tenuous connection to the Church of any modern president. Don’t expect him to quote Gog and Magog in his conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But Trump is itching for a fight. He wants to shake things up. With evangelicals and right-wing Likudniks forming a significant core of support, he is already fulfilling the Middle East agenda of the apocalyptics. And, unfortunately, there’s more to come.

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

Syndicated with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

USA Today: “Who is Mike Pompeo?”

Total cost of Owning an Electric Vehicle falling below Gasoline Dinosaurs

Sat, 17 Mar 2018 - 2:41am

Asit K. Biswas and Cecilia Tortajada | (The Conversation) | – –

Global interest in climate change – its effects on the environment and society more broadly – is probably at an all time high. Countries around the world, with the glaring exception of the US under President Donald Trump, are increasingly acknowledging the shift that’s needed from a fossil fuel-driven economy to one that is sustainable, green and attempts to mitigate climate change.

One area where this shift will be needed is transportation. In the US, more than 90% of this sector depends on liquid fuels to function; the lion’s share of these fuels goes to passenger road transport. China uses most of its liquid fuels to transport goods by road and both Australia and New Zealand use a fair amount for aviation.

Non-liquid fuels which include electricity and natural gas will become increasingly important in the coming decades. This move is being driven by concerns about air pollution, governmental regulations, social attitudes and rapid technological advancements. The current model of road transportation is also becoming more problematic: private cars powered by petrol and diesel contribute to air pollution, traffic congestion and noise.

A growing number of countries, including Austria, Denmark, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal have established targets for electric vehicle sales. The UK and France want all new cars to be electric and produce zero emissions by 2040.

And, according to a report just released by BP, global oil demand will peak in the 2030s. This will be primarily because of a 100-fold increase in sales of electric vehicles, capturing one-third of the car market.

Electric cars, planes and ships

Two countries are leading the way when it comes to electric cars and hybrids which contain both internal combustion engine and an electric motor. One is Norway, where more than half of the new cars sold in 2017 fell into these categories. The other is China, which leads the world in electric vehicle sales and whose market keeps growing. In 2017, more than 600 000 electric vehicles were sold, 71% higher than 2016. Sales increased every month in 2017.

Electric cars will form an important part of China’s “war on pollution”, and it has been aggressively adjusting its policies accordingly. For instance, by 2025, 20% of cars sold in the country must be electric vehicles. Volkswagen has responded by announcing a $10 billion investment in China for developing relevant technology and plans to manufacture 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025.

It is not only vehicles that are going electric. Norway plans to make all short-haul flights of 1.5 hours or less using electric planes. Avinor, the public operator of Norwegian airports, is planning to launch a tender to test a commercial short-haul route by an electric-powered plane in 2025. Zunum Aero, a start-up partly financed by Boeing, plans to have an electric plane available by 2022.

Airbus, Rolls Royce and Siemens are working together to develop a hybrid model which may make its maiden flight as soon as 2020. These developments will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also reduce noise levels by half.

There’s also been some progress in “electrifying” maritime transport. Passenger and cargo ships and ferries are developing hybrid and electric alternatives to reduce reliance on diesel and heavy fuels. YARA International, a Norwegian chemical company, is working with high-technology group Kongsberg to produce a zero emissions electric ship that could be operational later this year.

All of these changes are exciting and necessary. But how will ordinary transport users benefit, and when? And what are the pitfalls?

Rapid shifts

A major Swiss bank, UBS, predicts that electric vehicles will account for 14% of global car sales by 2025. The figure was just 1% in 2017. That time line may shift backwards because the technology involved is evolving and improving so quickly.

For instance, batteries are constantly getting cheaper and more efficient. The cost per kilowatt-hour for a battery used in a standard electric vehicle has come down from $1000 in 2010 to $130-150 now. The distance you can travel with a single charge is steadily increasing: some electric cars can be driven for more than 1000km before the battery needs to be charged.

As battery technology improves, costs are coming down. It’s predicted that the total cost of owning an electric vehicle – including charging and maintenance – will fall below conventional car ownership in Europe in 2018. And Nissan estimates that electric vehicles and conventional cars will cost roughly the same by 2025.

This is all good news for drivers, who will be able to buy an environmentally friendly car at reasonable prices. But jobs are at risk. Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts than their traditional counterparts, so they need fewer people to assemble them and fewer supply chains for getting the necessary parts. With fewer moving parts, market for spare parts and maintenance will decline.

Traditional auto workers may find their jobs at risk, as large factories become increasingly obsolete. Shift to electric vehicles will create many jobs. However, many existing car workers will lose their jobs. Accordingly this shift will create both winners and losers.

On the flip side, entirely new markets may open up. Saudi Arabia is the oil capital of the world, raking in billions as it fuels traditional cars. Chile, which has by far the largest lithium deposits in the world, may become the new Saudi Arabia because lithium is essential to manufacture batteries of electric cars.

Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore and Cecilia Tortajada, Senior Research Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Jaguar I-PACE | Creating the World’s Finest Electric Car

Israel’s new Jewish state bill ‘institutionalising the apartheid regime’

Sat, 17 Mar 2018 - 2:21am

Middle East Monitor | – –

The Israeli Knesset is fast tracking a “nation-state bill” which opposition groups have denounced as “institutionalising the apartheid regime”. Knesset members approved the final draft of the bill defining Israel exclusively as a nation for Jews.

The “Zionism’s flagship bill”, as it’s been described by Israeli politicians, will permit Jewish-only communities and mark a dangerous turning point for Palestinians whose democratic rights will come under greater threat.

Critics say the bill will effectively block any chance for Israel’s large Palestinian minority – 20 per cent of the population – to reform Israel in the future into a normal, Western-style democracy. Palestinian members of the Knesset condemned the move saying the bill “institutionalises an apartheid regime in the most blatant way”.

Once the bill comes into law Arabic will no longer be regarded as an official language alongside Hebrew. The bill will discriminate against non-Jews by promoting Jewish communities that strictly enforce rules which exclude Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens.

Most significantly the bill will dispense with any “democratic” component in Israel’s self-definition making Israel’s “Jewishness” paramount. Such a shift will place demands on state officials to make decisions that put Jewish identity above democratic principles.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who maintains close ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, observed of the bill: “It will bring order, clarify what is taken for granted and put Israel back on the right path. A country that is different from all others in one way – that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

The “Zionism’s flagship bill” will be further proof for Israel’s many critics who say that is impossible for Israel to be both “Jewish and democratic” – any more than it could be “white and democratic” or “Christian and democratic”. Israel is defined by its critics as a non-democratic type of state known as an “ethnocracy”.

License This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Bonus Video:

Israel approves more squatter homes in East Jerusalem – Daily Mail

Why Electric SUVs will save the American Car Companies, not China Tariffs

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 - 2:49am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Joann Muller at Forbes, in a piece on Ford Motor Company’s plans vastly to expand its electric and hybrid offerings, puts her finger on something absolutely crucial.

Ford and other American car companies really, really need electric sport utility vehicles in order to get through the coming years. Some electric sports cars wouldn’t hurt, either.

The lack of affordable electric SUVs has been a real drag on the market in the Midwest, where snowy winters make low-riding sedans impractical and families that can afford them want the bigger vehicles. (They would help the earth if they would use public transport, but this column is about real world behavior).

Here’s the issue, as Muller lays it out with crystal clarity. The profit for Ford and other manufacturers is in bigger vehicles. You can build a much bigger profit margin into an SUV or a truck than into a little Ford Focus. And, American consumers want the bigger vehicles for all sorts of reasons and not just snow or mud.

Sports cars also have a huge profit margin, as with Volkswagen’s Porsche.

The problem is that SUVs and sports cars are gasoline hogs. When gasoline prices are low, as they are now, relatively speaking, that isn’t a big problem. But when they go up substantially, as they did earlier in this decade, it kills SUV and muscle car sales.

In the primary commodities business, whether oil or coffee or iron, prices are typically a roller coaster ride of peaks and crashes. That is why there are often attempts to form cartels in those sectors, as with OPEC, which hope to smooth out the up and down prices (which make it hard to plan and can lead to bankruptcy at low points). The way it works is that usually primary commodities are produced both by companies with low extraction costs and by companies with high overhead. For natural reasons, Saudi Arabia can get a barrel of oil out of the ground and onto a supertanker for about $2 a pop. But if you dig in the North Sea it might cost you $40 a barrel to get the oil out. So when the prices are low, only the companies with low extraction costs can make a profit, but then that reduces supply over time. Assuming demand stays stable or rises, prices will then go back up and the marginal producers will come back on line. But then that process will increase supply and a glut ensues, sending the prices back down sharply.

Crude Oil Prices during the past 70 years h/t MacroTrends

So what Ford execs are telling Forbes is that they know we are in a gasoline price trough right now, and that they know it is highly unlikely to last. Another big run-up of prices is around the corner. (More especially since demand from growing economies such as China and India could well grow significantly as people abandon bicycles for motorcycles and automobiles).

When the price of gasoline goes back up, demand for SUVs and Mustangs will plummet, and Ford will be in trouble.

But there is an escape hatch for Ford and other American automobile manufacturers.

The electric SUV?

You nailed it.

Renewable electricity is the future, and it is highly deflationary because the fuel is free. Renewables now account for 18% of American electricity generation and for the bulk of *new* installations. In Iowa, wind alone will make 40% of the state’s electricity by 2020.

So as we go, over the next decade and a half, to a grid largely powered by renewables, we will escape the roller coaster ride of oil and gas prices and electricity will get cheaper and more reliable. In fact, some towns in Texas are opting for wind power because the utility can tell you the cost of wind for 25 years out (after installation and maintenance, basically 0). No one can tell you the cost of fossil fuels even 5 years out.

Utilities are waking up to the renewables revolution, which will happen long before anybody expects it, and, as Quartz reports, are now actively promoting the idea of electric vehicles, since EVs will be crucial to their own profit margins. They will have to slightly shift their business model, charging not for the cost of fuel to generate electricity but for the cost of construction, maintenance and distribution of wind and solar facilities. EVs will be what they have going for them with regard to growth. And electric SUVs will be even better for their bottom line.

So, an electric SUV like the 2020 Ford Mach 1 or an electric Mustang won’t be vulnerable to consumer fickleness and Ford can count on steady sales year after year, escaping a major challenge to its business model.

And when the future of multi-billion-dollar American corporations depends on something, they will make it happen. Automobile companies used to do sweetheart deals in back rooms with Big Oil. They were an obstacle to the growth of green energy.

But if Ford switches around and takes a stand that is earth- and climate-friendly, that is a bright ray of hope for the future of the planet.


Bonus video:

The Inspiration Behind Ford’s New Battery Electric Performance SUV | Ford

Europe to finance $800 mn. for Indian Solar Industry

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 - 1:18am

By Frédéric Simon | | – –

A handout photo made available by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) showing the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (L) during the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance in New Delhi on 11 March 2018. [ISA]

The European Investment Bank (EIB) signed an agreement last Friday (9 March) to provide €800 million for clean energy projects in India, one day before an International Solar Alliance summit took place in Delhi.

The EIB funding is part of an €800 million package the EU bank committed to clean energy investments in India. Of that, €640 million will go to solar projects, the bank said.

“Solar power is providing clean energy for millions of people around the world and solar energy now represents the single largest source of new power generation,” EIB President Werner Hoyer said in a statement.

“The fate of this planet depends on continuing to expand the use of renewable energy to support sustainable economic growth,” he added.

India has become the leading recipient of EIB financing for solar investment outside the EU, both in 2017 and overall since 2013. In 2017, the EU bank provided €1.05 billion of new financing for solar energy projects around the world, the largest ever annual support provided by the EIB to the solar sector.

India wants every car to be electric by 2030

India is hoping to become the first big world power where all cars on its roads are electric, as part of its efforts to combat severe atmospheric pollution. 1.8 million deaths are caused by it every year on the subcontinent. EURACTIV’s partner Italia Oggi reports.

“More than a trillion dollars of new solar investment will be required by 2030 to deploy affordable solar energy,” said said H.E. Upendra Tripathy, Interim Director General of the International Solar Alliance, giving a sense of the scale of investment needs.

At the International Solar Alliance summit, held in Delhi on Saturday (10 March), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated his country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, saying India will achieve its target of 175GW of renewable energy by 2022.

Two years after it was proposed at the COP21 UN climate summit in Paris, the ISA has become a treaty-based international organisation, with three aims: to aggregate demand to reduce solar technology costs, to lower the cost of finance for rapid solar deployment, and to pool resources for next generation of solar R&D.

France will commit €700 million to the ISA, President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday at the founding conference of the organisation. Overall, ISA aims to mobilise $1 trillion in funds for future solar generation, storage and technology across the world. It has 60 signatories, 30 of which have ratified the agreement.

US President Donald Trump signed into law a steep tariff on imported solar panels on Tuesday, a move billed as a way to protect American jobs but which the solar industry said would lead to thousands of layoffs and raise consumer prices.

Off-grid, decentralised solar power generation “can be a game changer in many regions and communities which have so far been without first access to electricity,” said Meagan Fallone, CEO of Barefoot College, a voluntary organisation working on development issues.

“The International Solar Alliance is a tremendous initiative by India and France to accelerate the inevitable, technology-driven renewable energy transformation of world electricity markets,” said Tim Buckley, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a research organisation focusing on the financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment.

“The deflationary benefits of renewable energy are an added bonus to consumers world-wide, and the policy learnings evident from India’s accelerated deployment are exceptionally valuable as countries as diverse as Egypt, the Philippines and Thailand now embark on a similar journey,” Buckley added.

Buckley said international collaboration “is absolutely key” to minimise the disruption and cost of the energy transition. “As solar penetration increases, grid integration becomes more problematic and solar + storage, pumped hydro storage, greater grid interconnectivity and other technology deployments becomes essential,” Buckley said.


Pompeo’s rise at State will make Mideast war more likely

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 - 12:42am

By Gregory Aftandilian | (The Conversation) | – –

After U.S. president Donald Trump fired his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, many analysts have focused on how this high-level ouster took place: unceremoniously, on Twitter, not in a face-to-face meeting.

As a former Middle East analyst at the State Department, though, I think the real drama of replacing America’s top diplomat lies in the foreign policy implications. Trump has tapped Mike Pompeo, the hawkish CIA director and former Kansas congressman, to replace Tillerson.

In 2015, Pompeo voted against a deal that the Obama administration negotiated to remove some international economic sanctions on Iran. In exchange, Iran would significantly scale back its nuclear program and submit to intrusive international inspections.

Tillerson’s departure means the Iran nuclear deal is in trouble.

And if Trump scraps it, I fear the whole Middle East could erupt in conflict.

Why Tillerson had to go

The outgoing secretary of state was fired for a host of reasons, some of them personal.

Tillerson and Trump did not know each other prior to the 2016 election, and it seems Tillerson never gained the president’s trust. The president reportedly found Tillerson arrogant, disrespectful and less compliant than other cabinet members.

Tillerson earned Trump’s ire by disagreeing with him on many substantive policy matters, including the president’s decisions to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cozy up to Russia. Tillerson also called his boss a “moron” after a July 2017 meeting at the Pentagon.

In short, as Trump suggested to reporters on the White House lawn, the two never developed good “chemistry.”

Iran deal in danger

Perhaps most importantly, though, Tillerson defied Trump on Iran. Trump has been highly critical of the international nuclear agreement since his 2016 presidential campaign, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

He wanted to scuttle it when it came up for recertification in July 2017, but his secretary of state advised against it on both diplomatic and security grounds.

Tillerson has been strongly critical of Iran, condemning its regional aggression and its meddling in the Syrian civil war. But I believe he understood, as many other policy analysts did, that backing out of the nuclear deal would destabilize the Middle East – and potentially put the world at risk – because Iran would likely react by restarting its nuclear program.

Tillerson, a former international business executive, was also more sensitive to the opinion of European allies than his boss. Rather than sour relations with the U.K., France, Germany and other key partners by terminating an agreement that they helped negotiate, he worked with the Europeans to come up with a compromise that Trump might find tolerable.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis agreed with Tillerson on Iran. The two of them periodically lobbied the president not to scrap the deal, and their influence got the agreement recertified in July 2017.

But Trump resented being pressured. Remember, this is a president who has openly stated that only his views matter when it comes to foreign policy.

Tillerson disagreed. As he said in his somber March 13 goodbye speech, he believed his job as secretary of state was to serve the nation and defend the U.S. Constitution.

To Trump, Tillerson’s stance on Iran wasn’t just a difference of opinion – it was, perhaps, an act of disloyalty.

Pompeo’s dangerous instincts

In October 2017, Trump finally decertified the Iran deal, which effectively opened the door for the U.S. Congress to reimpose sanctions. In his January 2018 State of the Union address, he was more direct, calling on lawmakers to “address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”

The newly nominated secretary of state shares the president’s dim view.

As a congressman, Pompeo opposed the Obama-era Iran agreement as “unconscionable,” and he said after Trump’s election that he was looking forward to “rolling it back.” Pompeo – with whom, Trump reports, he has very good chemistry – is also on record saying that Iran is “intent on destroying America.”

Congressional aides who’ve worked with him say that Pompeo is a smart guy, level-headed and reasonable. But if he eggs on Trump’s most belligerent instincts, I believe the Iran deal won’t last the year.

Destabilizing the Mideast

This could unleash a dangerous chain of events in the volatile Middle East.

If the U.S. reimposes sanctions on Iran, hard-liners there – who have always opposed the nuclear deal – would likely pressure Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to retaliate by restarting the country’s uranium enrichment program.

I believe Israel would then feel justified in taking military action against Iran, which has been threatening its national security for decades. In doing so, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have the behind-the-scenes backing of Saudia Arabia, a regional power and longtime rival of Iran, and possibly other states with a Sunni Muslim majority.

Iran is governed by conservative Shiite Muslim clerics. Sunni-majority countries like Saudi Arabia dislike Iran’s policy of financing violent Shiite militias to push its sectarian agenda in Arab states with significant, and sometimes restive, Shiite populations.

Israel and Saudi Arabia never supported the Iran nuclear deal. They feared that lifting sanctions on Iran would merely give Tehran more resources to foment strife in the Arab world.

Analysts agree that should some Sunni Arab countries team up with Israel against Iran, Iran would not limit itself to responding with missiles. It could also persuade its well-armed allies like Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to launch rocket attacks on Israel, too.

I doubt Mideast war is the outcome Pompeo and Trump would seek by ending the Iran deal, but it may be just the disaster they create.

Gregory Aftandilian, Lecturer, Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Who Is Mike Pompeo And What Are His Policies? | Velshi & Ruhle | MSNBC

Can Democracy Survive Trump’s untransparent Forever Wars Abroad?

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 - 11:11pm

By William J. Astore | ( ) | – –

Overseas, the United States is engaged in real wars in which bombs are dropped, missiles are launched, and people (generally not Americans) are killed, wounded, uprooted, and displaced. Yet here at home, there’s nothing real about those wars. Here, it’s phony war all the way. In the last 17 years of “forever war,” this nation hasn’t for one second been mobilized. Taxes are being cut instead of raised. Wartime rationing is a faint memory from the World War II era. No one is being required to sacrifice a thing.

Now, ask yourself a simple question: What sort of war requires no sacrifice? What sort of war requires that almost no one in the country waging it take the slightest notice of it?

America’s conflicts in distant lands rumble on, even as individual attacks flash like lightning in our news feeds. “Shock and awe” campaigns in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, initially celebrated as decisive and game changing, ultimately led nowhere. Various “surges” produced much sound and fury, but missions were left decidedly unaccomplished. More recent strikes by the Trump administration against a Syrian air base or the first use of the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the MOAB super-bomb, in Afghanistan flared brightly, only to fizzle even more quickly. These versions of the German blitzkrieg-style attacks of World War II have been lightning assaults that promised much but in the end delivered little. As these flashes of violence send America’s enemies of the moment (and nearby civilians) to early graves, the homeland (that’s us) slumbers. Sounds of war, if heard at all, come from TV or video screens or Hollywood films in local multiplexes.

We are, in fact, kept isolated from Washington’s wars, even as America’s warriors traverse a remarkable expanse of the globe, from the Philippines through the Greater Middle East deep into Africa. As conflicts flare and sputter, ramp up and down and up again, Americans have been placed in a form of behavioral lockdown. Little more is expected of us than to be taxpaying spectators or, when it comes to the U.S. military, starry-eyed cheerleaders. Most of the time, those conflicts are not just out of sight, but meant to be out of mind as well. Rare exceptions are moments when our government asks us to mourn U.S. service members like Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, killed in an abortive raid President Trump ordered in Yemen in early 2017 in which children also died (though that was something just about no one here even noticed). While the military has been deploying and striking on a global scale, we’ve been told from the very first moments of Washington’s self-proclaimed war on terror to go shopping or to Disney World and let the experts handle it.

We have, in short, been sidelined in what, to draw on the lexicon of World War II, might be thought of as a sitzkrieg, the German term for phony war.

A bizarre version of blitzkrieg overseas and an even stranger version of sitzkrieg at home could be said to define this peculiar American moment. These two versions exist in a curiously yin-yang relationship to each other. For how can a nation’s military be engaged in warfare at a near-global level — blitzing people across vast swaths of the globe — when its citizens are sitting on their collective duffs, demobilized and mentally disarmed? Such a schizoid state of mind can exist only when it’s in the interest of those in power. Appeals to “patriotism” (especially to revering “our” troops) and an overwhelming atmosphere of secrecy to preserve American “safety” and “security” have been remarkably effective in controlling and stifling interest in the country’s wars and their costs, long before such an interest might morph into dissent or opposition. If you want an image of just how effective this has been, recall the moment in July 2016 when small numbers of earnest war protesters quite literally had the lights turned off on them at the Democratic National Convention.

To use an expression I heard more than a few times in my years in the military, when it comes to its wars, the government treats the people like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.

The Fog of Phony War

Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously spoke of the “fog of war,” the confusion created by and inherent uncertainty built into that complex human endeavor. As thick as that fog often is, in these years the fog of phony war has proven even thicker and more disorienting.

By its very nature, a real war of necessity, of survival, like the Civil War or World War II brings with it clarity of purpose and a demand for results. Poorly performing leaders are relieved of command when not killed outright in combat. Consider the number of mediocre Union generals Abraham Lincoln cycled through before he found Ulysses S. Grant. Consider the number of senior officers relieved during World War II by General George C. Marshall, who knew that, in a global struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, subpar performances couldn’t be tolerated. In wars of necessity or survival, moreover, the people are invariably involved. In part, they may have little choice, but they also know (or at least believe they know) “why we fight” — and generally approve of it.

Admittedly, even in wars of necessity there are always those who will find ways to duck service. In the Civil War, for example, the rich could pay others to fight in their place. But typically in such wars, everyone serves in some capacity. Necessity demands it.

The definition of twenty-first-century phony war, on the other hand, is its lack of clarity, its lack of purpose, its lack of any true imperative for national survival (despite a never-ending hysteria over the “terrorist threat”). The fog it produces is especially disorienting. Americans today have little idea “why we fight” other than a vague sense of fighting them over there (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, etc.) so they won’t kill us here, to cite George W. Bush’s rationale for launching the war on terror. Meanwhile, with such a lack of national involvement and accountability, there’s no pressure for the Pentagon or the rest of the national security state to up its game; there’s no one even to point out that wherever the U.S. military has gone into battle in these years, yet more terror groups have subsequently sprouted like so many malignant weeds. Bureaucracy and mediocrity go unchallenged; massive boosts in military spending reward incompetency and the creation of a series of quagmire-like “generational” wars.

Think of it as war on a Möbius strip. More money shoveled into the Pentagon brings more chaos overseas, more imperial overreach, and undoubtedly more blowback here at home, all witnessed — or rather largely ignored — by a sitzkrieg citizenry.

Of course, for those fighting the wars, they are anything but phony. It’s just that their experience remains largely isolated from that of the rest of us, an isolation that only serves to elevate post-traumatic stress disorder rates, suicides, and the like. When today’s troops come home, they generally suffer in silence and among themselves.

America’s New (Phony) National Defense Strategy

Even phony wars need enemies. In fact, they may need them more (and more of them) than real wars do. No surprise then that the Trump administration’s recently announced National Defense Strategy (NDS) offers a laundry list of such enemies. China and Russia top it as “revisionist powers” looking to reverse America’s putative victory over Communism in the Cold War. “Rogue” powers like North Korea and Iran are singled out as especially dangerous because of their nuclear ambitions. (The United States, of course, doesn’t have a “rogue” bone in its body, even if it is now devoting at least $1.2 trillion to building a new generation of more usable nuclear weapons.) Nor does the NDS neglect Washington’s need to hammer away at global terrorists until the end of time or to extend “full-spectrum dominance” not just to the traditional realms of combat (land, sea, and air) but also to space and cyberspace.

Amid such a plethora of enemies, only one thing is missing in America’s new defense strategy, the very thing that’s been missing all these years, that makes twenty-first-century American war so phony: any sense of national mobilization and shared sacrifice (or its opposite, antiwar resistance). If the United States truly faces all these existential threats to our democracy and our way of life, what are we doing frittering away more than $45 billion annually in a quagmire war in Afghanistan? What are we doing spending staggering sums on exotic weaponry like the F-35 jet fighter (total projected program cost: $1.45 trillion) when we have far more pressing national needs to deal with?

Like so much else in Washington in these years, the NDS doesn’t represent a strategy for real war, only a call for more of the same raised to a higher power. That mainly means more money for the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and related “defense” agencies, facilitating more blitz attacks on various enemies overseas. The formula — serial blitzkrieg abroad, serial sitzkrieg in the homeland — adds up to victory, but only for the military-industrial complex.

Solutions to Sitzkrieg

Of course, one solution to phony war would be to engage in real war, but for that the famed American way of life would actually have to be endangered. (By Afghans? Syrians? Iraqis? Yemenis? Really?) Congress would then have to declare war; the public would have to be mobilized, a draft undoubtedly reinstated, and taxes raised. And those would be just for starters. A clear strategy would have to be defined and losing generals demoted or dismissed.

Who could imagine such an approach when it comes to America’s forever wars? Another solution to phony war would be for the American people to actually start paying attention. The Pentagon would then have to be starved of funds. (With less money, admirals and generals might actually have to think.) All those attacks overseas that blitzed innocents and spread chaos would have to end. Here at home, the cheerleaders would have to put down the pom-poms, stop mindlessly praising the troops for their service, and pick up a few protest signs.

In point of fact, America’s all-too-real wars overseas aren’t likely to end until the phony war here at home is dispatched to oblivion.

A final thought: Americans tell pollsters that, after all these years of failed wars abroad, they continue to trust the military more than any other societal institution. Consistent with phony war, however, much of that trust is based on ignorance, on not really knowing what that military is doing overseas. So, is there a chance that, one of these days, Americans might actually begin to pay some attention to “their” wars? And if so, would those polls begin to change and how might that military, which has experienced its share of blood, sweat, and tears, respond to such a loss of societal prestige? Beware the anger of the legions.

Faith in institutions undergirds democracy. Keeping the people deliberately demobilized and in the dark about the costs and carnage of America’s wars follows a pattern of governmental lying and deceit that stretches from the Vietnam War to the Iraq Wars of 1991 and 2003, to military operations in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere today. Systemic lies and the phony war that goes with them continue to contribute to a slow-motion process of political and social disintegration that could result in a much grimmer future for this country: perhaps an authoritarian one; certainly, a more chaotic and less democratic one.

Societal degradation and democratic implosion, caused in part by endless phony war and the lies associated with it, are this country’s real existential enemies, even if you can’t find them listed in any National Defense Strategy. Indeed, the price tag for America’s wars may in the end prove not just heavy but catastrophic.

William Astore, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and history professor, is a TomDispatch regular. He blogs at Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 William J. Astore


Happiness Index: From Immigrants to Health, how Trump & GOP are making America Sad (Sad)

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 - 4:37am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The World Happiness Index is out this year, and the United States is ranked only 18 for the years 2015-2017– lower than Iceland or Costa Rica, and not much ahead of places with real problems like Mexico and Brazil.

And, the US has fallen 4 spots in recent reports.

The US is still the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, so why isn’t it the happiest?

Because although a good income contributes to happiness, power doesn’t seem to, and wealth is only one of six things that makes a person happy (or else millionaires wouldn’t commit suicide).

Although income is associated with happiness in general (up to about $75,000 a year after which it doesn’t seem to matter), it isn’t correlated with what psychologists call affect, which in this study has to do with laughing, joking, and experiencing joy in social settings.

Experiencing positive emotions has a much bigger impact on happiness than negative emotions. That is, we can get through some hatefulness if only we have love (Paul of Tarsus was right about that). Daily laughter and enjoyment is really important. The barracuda American style of being work-a-holics, which interferes with just sitting around with family members and/or friends and joking around, detracts from our happiness. Isolation and loneliness are a bigger health problem for Americans than obesity. Binge-watching t.v. and being a good little consumer the way the advertisers want apparently induces the blues, big time. Reading and hanging around with friends are much more satisfying.

Speaking of which, social support is another biggie. The researchers measured that variable by asking the question, “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?” Ideally, all Americans should have each others’ backs. But we have entered an era where if you’re down, the fatcats will kick you instead of helping you up.

The Trump administration in particular and right wing politicians in general completely misunderstand what makes people happy, or perhaps they do not care if people are happy as long as their billionaire campaign donors are.

It turns out that being generous to others makes you happy. Studies have shown if you just help a challenged person to cross the street or do other acts of random kindness everyday, your happiness increases. The World Happiness survey study finds that being welcoming to immigrants is a factor in a society being happy. The Trump administration is making us positively miserable on that scale.

Right wing politicians and Trump in particular, in contrast, take delight in screwing people over. Reducing Federal aid to poor children, taking away health insurance, destroying social security–all of these legislative actions about which Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are so enthusiastic–all of them make us sad. Because we aren’t helping people, we are hurting them, and only sadists get a kick out of hurting people.

A perception of lack of corruption is also a big contributor to happiness. If so, under Trump we must be the saddest people on earth.

Since our # 18 ranking is a three-year average, the full extent of our current doldrums won’t be apparent for a couple of years.

Good health and a long life expectancy are also extremely important to happiness. Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has systematically done everything he can to reduce the life expectancy of the average American, overturning regulations intended to prevent corporate pollution from harming our health. When the Republican Party complains of regulation, they are complaining that the government is preventing rich people from making more money in ways that might harm people’s health. Unlike all other technologically advanced countries, life expectancy in the US is actually falling. African Americans and minorities have long suffered with health statistics similar to the Third World, being deliberately excluded from the good life in white America. But now even white people are seeing their health go down the tubes.

One driver of the fall in life expectancy for two years in a row is the opioid epidemic. It has been shown that marijuana legalization reduces use of opioids, so one obvious response to the epidemic (about which Trump and the GOP appear simply not to care) would be to legalize marijuana for over-21-year-olds nationally. (There is some reason to think teenagers shouldn’t be smoking pot, but it doesn’t harm adults).

Instead, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced a jihad against pot. Sad.

The US Right Wing wants to regiment Americans and deprive people of the ability freely to make life choices. It wants to roll back legalization of gay marriage and to impose social costs on LGBTQ people making the choice to seek life liberty and happiness in accordance with their own personalities. It has more or less made abortion impossible to obtain in much of the country and wants to deprive women of the choice not to have the baby of their rapist or not to bear to term (if they do not want to) a seriously damaged fetus.

Promotion of dangerous climate change and global heating through favoring the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of more deadly carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will also reduce our choices– as we flee wildfires and other extreme weather events and our white sand beaches are swallowed up by angry rising seas.


Bonus video: “Top 10 Happiest Countries In The World”

CIA Cables detail New Director’s Role in Torture at Thailand Black Site (Redacted)

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 - 2:59am
Correction: Trump’s Pick to Head CIA Did Oversee torture at Thai black site but Not of Abu Zubaydah

On Feb. 22, 2017, ProPublica published a story that inaccurately described Gina Haspel’s role in the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaida leader who was imprisoned by the CIA at a secret “black site” in Thailand in 2002.

The story said that Haspel, a career CIA officer who President Trump has nominated to be the next director of central intelligence, oversaw the clandestine base where Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods that are widely seen as torture. The story also said she mocked the prisoner’s suffering in a private conversation. Neither of these assertions is correct and we retract them. It is now clear that Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of Zubaydah ended.

Our account of Haspel’s actions was drawn in part from declassified agency cables and CIA-reviewed books which referred to the official overseeing Zubaydah’s interrogation at a secret prison in Thailand as “chief of base.” The books and cables redacted the name of the official, as is routinely done in declassified documents referring to covert operations.

The Trump administration named Haspel to the CIA’s No. 2 job in early February 2017. Soon after, three former government officials told ProPublica that Haspel was chief of base in Thailand at the time of Zubaydah’s waterboarding.

We also found an online posting by John Kiriakou, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer, who wrote that “It was Haspel who oversaw the staff” at the Thai prison, including two psychologists who “designed the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on the prisoners.”

The nomination of Haspel this week to head the CIA stirred new controversy about her role in the detention and interrogation of terror suspects, as well as the destruction of videotapes of the interrogation of Zubaydah and another suspect. Some critics cited the 2017 ProPublica story as evidence that she was not fit to run the agency.

Those statements prompted former colleagues of Haspel to defend her publicly. At least two said that while she did serve as chief of base in Thailand, she did not arrive until later in 2002, after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended.

The New York Times, which also reported last year that Haspel oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, published a second story this week making the same point. It quoted an unnamed former senior CIA official who said Haspel did not become base chief until late October of 2002. According to the Times, she was in charge when al-Nashiri was waterboarded three times.

James Mitchell, the psychologist and CIA contractor who helped to direct the waterboarding of both suspects, said in a broadcast interview on March 14 that Haspel was not the “chief of base” whom he described in his book as making fun of Zubaydah’s suffering.

“That chief of base was not Gina,” Mitchell told Fox Business News. “She’s not the COB I was talking about.”

Mitchell’s book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,” referred to the chief of base in Thailand as both “he” and “she.”

We erroneously assumed that this was an effort by Mitchell or the agency to conceal the gender of the single official involved; it is now clear that Mitchell was referring to two different people.

ProPublica contacted Mitchell in 2017 to ask him about this passage in his book. Facing a civil lawsuit brought by former CIA detainees, he declined to comment.

At about the same time, we approached the CIA’s press office with an extensive list of questions about the cables and Haspel’s role in running the Thai prison, particularly her dealings with Zubaydah.

An agency spokesman declined to answer any of those questions but released a statement that was quoted in the article, asserting that “nearly every piece of reporting that you are seeking comment on is incorrect in whole or in part.”

The CIA did not comment further on the story after its publication and we were not aware of any further questions about its accuracy until this week.

The February 2017 ProPublica story did accurately report that Haspel later rose to a senior position at CIA headquarters, where she pushed her bosses to destroy the tapes of Zubaydah’s waterboarding. Her direct boss, the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, ultimately signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a shredder. Her actions in that instance, and in the waterboarding of al-Nashiri, are likely to be the focus of questions at her confirmation hearings.

Dean Boyd, director of the CIA’s office of public affairs, praised Haspel’s 30 years of public service and said Thursday in a statement that her qualifications and capabilities would be evident in the hearing process.

“It is important to note that she has spent nearly her entire CIA career undercover,” Boyd said. “Much of what is in the public domain about her is inaccurate. We are pleased that ProPublica is willing to acknowledge its mistakes and correct the record regarding its claims about Ms. Haspel.”

A few reflections on what went wrong in our reporting and editing process.

The awkward communications between officials barred from disclosing classified information and reporters trying to reveal secrets in which there is legitimate public interest can sometimes end in miscommunication. In this instance, we failed to understand the message the CIA’s press office was trying to convey in its statement.

None of this in any way excuses our mistakes. We at ProPublica hold government officials responsible for their missteps, and we must be equally accountable. This error was particularly unfortunate because it muddied an important national debate about Haspel and the CIA’s recent history. To her, and to our readers, we can only apologize, correct the record and make certain that we do better in the future.

—Stephen Engelberg, editor-in-chief

Update, March 13, 2018: President Donald Trump has nominated CIA deputy director Gina Haspel as the agency’s new chief. We published the story below on Feb. 22, 2017.

In August of 2002, interrogators at a secret CIA-run prison in Thailand set out to break a Palestinian man they believed was one of al-Qaida’s top leaders.

As the CIA’s video cameras rolled, security guards shackled Abu Zubaydah to a gurney and interrogators poured water over his mouth and nose until he began to suffocate. They slammed him against a wall, confined him for hours in a coffin-like box, and deprived him of sleep.

The 31-year-old Zubaydah begged for mercy, saying that he knew nothing about the terror group’s future plans. The CIA official in charge, known in agency lingo as the “chief of base,” mocked his complaints, accusing Zubaydah of faking symptoms of psychological breakdown. The torture continued.

When questions began to swirl about the Bush administration’s use of the “black sites,” and program of “enhanced interrogation,” the chief of base began pushing to have the tapes destroyed. She accomplished her mission years later when she rose to a senior position at CIA headquarters and drafted an order to destroy the evidence, which was still locked in a CIA safe at the American embassy in Thailand. Her boss, the head of the agency’s counterterrorism center, signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a giant shredder.

By then, it was clear that CIA analysts were wrong when they had identified Zubaydah as the number three or four in al-Qaida after Osama bin Laden. The waterboarding failed to elicit valuable intelligence not because he was holding back, but because he was not a member of al-Qaida, and had no knowledge of any plots against the United States.

The chief of base’s role in this tale of pointless brutality and evidence destruction was a footnote to history — until earlier this month, when President Trump named her deputy director of the CIA.

The choice of Gina Haspel for the second-highest position in the agency has been praised by colleagues but sharply criticized by two senators who have seen the still-classified records of her time in Thailand.

“Her background makes her unsuitable for the position,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., wrote in a letter to Trump. “We are sending a classified letter explaining our position and urge that the information be immediately declassified.”

That’s not likely to happen. ProPublica has combed through recently declassified documents, including CIA cables and Zubaydah’s own account of what he endured, and books by officials involved in the CIA’s interrogation program to assemble the fullest public account of Haspel’s role in the questioning of Zubaydah. The material we reviewed shows she played a far more direct role than has been understood.

Asked to respond to the specific allegations about Haspel, a CIA spokesperson said only that, “Nearly every piece of the reporting that you are seeking comment on is incorrect in whole or in part.” We reminded the spokesperson that many of the specifics came from books written by former CIA officials and cleared before publication by the agency. He declined to say which aspects of the reporting, or those books, were incorrect but did provide a long list of testimonials to Haspel’s skills from present and former intelligence officials.

Critics of Haspel’s appointment argue that her past is particularly relevant in light of Trump’s shifting statements on the value of torturing terror suspects. During the campaign, former director of Central Intelligence Michael Hayden said in response to Trump’s endorsement of torture that “if any future president wants (the) CIA to waterboard anybody, he’d better bring his own bucket.” After he won the election, Trump said he was persuaded by his secretary of defense, James Mattis, that torture is not effective. The Trump administration recently drafted and then withdrew a draft executive order asking American intelligence agencies to consider resuming “enhanced interrogation” of terror suspects.

Much of the material we reviewed for this story referred to Haspel only by her title, chief of base, or “COB.” Three former government officials, however, said the person described by that title in books and declassified documents was Haspel. As chief of base, these officials said, Haspel signed many of the cables sent from Thailand to CIA headquarters recounting Zubaydah’s questioning. The declassified versions of those documents redact the name of the official who sent them.

One declassified cable, among scores obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the architects of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques, says that chief of base and another senior counterterrorism official on scene had the sole authority power to halt the questioning.

She never did so, records show, watching as Zubaydah vomited, passed out and urinated on himself while shackled. During one waterboarding session, Zubaydah lost consciousness and bubbles began gurgling from his mouth. Medical personnel on the scene had to revive him. Haspel allowed the most brutal interrogations by the CIA to continue for nearly three weeks even though, as the cables sent from Thailand to the agency’s headquarters repeatedly stated, “subject has not provided any new threat information or elaborated on any old threat information.”

At one point, Haspel spoke directly with Zubaydah, accusing him of faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown. In a scene described in a book written by one of the interrogators, the chief of base came to his cell and “congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting.” According to the book, the chief of base, who was identified only by title, said: “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling; it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”

Haspel was sent by the chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism section, Jose Rodriquez, the “handpicked warden of the first secret prison the CIA created to handle al-Qaida detainees,” according to a little-noticed recent article in Reader Supported News by John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer. In his memoir, “Hard Measures,” Rodriquez refers to a “female chief of base” in Thailand but does not name her.

Kirakou provided more details about her central role. “It was Haspel who oversaw the staff,” at the Thai prison, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two psychologists who “designed the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on the prisoners,” he wrote.

Kiriakou pleaded guilty in 2012 to releasing classified information about waterboarding and the torture of detainees, and served 23 months in prison.

The CIA officials in Thailand understood that the methods they were using could kill Zubaydah and said that should that happen, they would cremate his body. If he survived questioning, Haspel sought assurances that “the subject will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

So far, that promise has been kept. Zubaydah is currently incarcerated at Guantanamo. His lawyers filed a court action in 2008 seeking his release, but the federal judges overseeing the case have failed to issue any substantive rulings.

Zubaydah was seized in a raid in Pakistan in late March 2002, during which he suffered life-threatening bullet wounds in his leg and groin. The CIA had long been hunting for Zubaydah, who had worked as what one former government official described as “administrator” at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. The camp was started by the CIA during the Soviet occupation, was not under the control of al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, the official said, but Zubaydah had on occasion supplied false passports and money to al-Qaida operatives.

American doctors saved Zubaydah’s life, and after he was stable enough he was drugged, gagged, trussed and blindfolded, and put on a CIA charter flight. In order to avoid being traced, the plane flew around the world, stopping in several places, including Morocco and Brazil, before landing in Thailand.

While still hospitalized, Zubaydah was interrogated by the FBI, led by Ali Soufan, an Arabic speaker. According to Soufan, Zubaydah, who was generally cooperative, provided the FBI interrogators with valuable intelligence on the overall structure of al-Qaida.

His information also confirmed what the CIA already believed, that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. A talkative sort who expressed a willingness to cooperate, Zubaydah gave the FBI information that led to the arrest of Jose Padilla for plotting to detonate bombs in the United States. Zubaydah, who was born in Palestine, said that while he believed in jihad, the 9/11 attacks were not justified because they killed innocent civilians.

CIA officials were convinced that he knew about plots in America, and with the horror of 9/11 still fresh, the agency was determined to prevent another attack. A month after Zubaydah was captured, Haspel drafted a cable titled “Turning Up the Heat in AZ Interrogations.”

Soon after, he was put into isolation for 45 days, kept awake with loud music and doused with cold water. During this time, the ALEC team at CIA headquarters, which was assigned to find Osama bin Laden, sent questions to Thailand for the team to ask Zubaydah; they went unasked, and unanswered, because he was in isolation.

The FBI and CIA clashed over whether or not Zubaydah was fully cooperating on the subject of possible future attacks. The agency’s view prevailed, and counterterrorism officials sought permission for harsher measures.

In late July, the CIA team conducted a “dress rehearsal … which choreographed moving Abu Zubaydah (Subject) in and out of the large and small confinement boxes, as well as use of the water board,” Haspel notified Washington.

A few days later, she wrote, “Team is ready to move to the next phase of interrogations immediately upon receipt of approvals/authorization from ALEC/Headquarters. It is our understanding that DOJ/Attorney General approvals for all portions of the next phase, including the water board, have been secured, but that final approval is in the hands of the policy makers.”

By this time, the source on whom the CIA had based its assessment that Zubaydah was number three or four in the al-Qaida organization had recanted his testimony, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture released in 2014. The agency would ultimately conclude that Zubaydah was not even a member of al-Qaida.

“So it begins,” a medical officer on Haspel’s team wrote on the morning of Aug. 4, 2002.

Later that year, when journalists began asking the CIA and the White House about a “black site,” in Thailand, the CIA rushed to close it. Zubaydah was again drugged, trussed, blindfolded, and put on another secret CIA flight to another black site, this time in Poland.

Haspel moved to cover up the agency’s operations at the Thai base. The chief of base told the security officer “to burn everything that he could in preparation for sanitizing the black site,” Mitchell wrote in his book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,” which was published late last year.

According to Mitchell’s account, the security officer asked the chief of base whether he should include the tapes; he was told to hold off until “she” could check with Washington.

She was told to retain them. A few years later when she was back in Washington and chief of staff to the director of operations for counterterrorism, Jose Rodriquez, the man who had sent her to Thailand, she continued to lobby for destruction of the tapes.

“My chief of staff drafted a cable approving the action we had been trying to accomplish for so long,” Rodriquez writes in his memoir. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes. They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.”

Without approval from the White House or Justice Department, Rodriquez gave the order.

In a twist of fate, destroying the tapes drew more outside scrutiny of the program. Disclosure of the shredding prompted the Senate Intelligence Committee to begin its long-running examination of the torture program. The result was a 7,000-page report that drew on thousands of highly classified cables relating to the Bush administration’s rendition and detention program and concluded torture was not effective.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Via ProPublica


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CBS This Morning: “Questions of torture linger over CIA director pick Gina Haspel’s past”

Did United Arab Emirates lobbying instigate Tillerson’s sacking?

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 - 2:47am

Middle East Monitor | – –

US President Donald Trump has sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, one week after the BBC obtained emails revealing efforts by the UAE to have him sacked at “a politically convenient time.”

Was this an unlikely coincidence? Should Americans not wake up to the power of lobby groups that are threatening to undermine their country’s democracy?

The former chief executive of ExxonMobil, regarded by many as the lone voice of reason in the Trump Administration, is the latest in the long line of senior officials who have been ousted by the president. Explaining the dismissal a senior White House official said, “The president wanted to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations.”

It’s not clear how the dismissal of a steady figure like Tillerson amidst the mayhem surrounding Trump helps the US during the sensitive talks with North Korea. Tillerson wanted to continue and “had every intention of staying,” according to statements released by the State Department.

Despite his desire to remain, Tillerson’s job security had always seemed precarious. Trump summed up his tension with Tillerson telling reporters that he had made the decision to sack Tillerson by himself and alluded to their disagreements saying, “We were not thinking the same.” Trump even made it seem as though the sacking was to please Tillerson himself, predicting that “Rex will be happier now.”

Tillerson had outlasted his compatriots and managed to steer clear, until now, from the turbulent revolving door that has become characteristic of the Trump Administration. By his own admission, he wanted to remain presumably because he felt America needed to be rescued from a president he described as a “moron.”

The two men often contradicted each other on major issues. While at times their differences appeared juvenile – Trump once joked he should “compare IQ tests” with Tillerson after being called a “moron,”- the extent of their disagreement is quite unprecedented in US history. Their contrasting views over the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar probably best typify the rift between the two leading figures in the US administration.

Rarely had the White House and the State Department been so at odds. On Qatar, the two appeared to have adopted distinctively contradictory policies. Tillerson and Secretary of Defence James Mattis were both said to have been “surprised” and “shocked” by the sudden move to blockade and punish the Gulf nation. Having overcome the shock and disbelief, Tillerson was reportedly scrambling to undo the damage caused by the blockade. Within days of its announcement, Tillerson called on Riyadh to ease the siege, while lending American support for the Kuwait-led mediation.

Tillerson’s intervention may have surprised the UAE. They probably assumed that the deals struck during Trump’s Riyadh visit in the summer of 2017 ensured US silence over their plans to attack another sovereign country. Tillerson’s persistence, in contrast to Trump’s nod, likely turned him into public enemy number one in the eyes of the Emirates.

Tillerson’s position became tenuous the moment he became a marked man; but, did it cost him his job? The timing of Trump’s decision suggests that his strong backing of the Qataris may have been a key factor; Trump, after all, was goading the UAE and Saudi Arabia to embark on a foreign policy venture that was independent of the US, despite its damage to US interest in the region. Unlike Trump, the truth of this fact would not have been missed by realists within the State Department.

Speculation that the Emirates played a hand in Tillerson’s dismissal has also been fuelled by the BBC. Leaked emails obtained by the BBC revealed UAE-linked lobbying efforts to have Tillerson sacked for failing to support Abu Dhabi against its Gulf neighbour, Qatar.

The emails which were addressed to Trump urged the President to sack the top diplomat who was described as “a tower of Jello”, “weak” and needed to be “slammed”. In this regard, Trump was further advised not to get involved in the Gulf rift. It accused Al Jazeera of doing “nothing positive.” The emails went on to suggest a “sit down” between Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, a top UAE military commander and President Trump.

Tellingly, the emails went on to advise Trump over Tillerson who was described as “performing poorly and should be fired at a politically convenient time”.

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Via Middle East Monitor


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Aljazeera English from last week: “Emails show UAE-linked lobbying effort to oust Tillerson: reports | Al Jazeera English”

‘Algorithms of Oppression:’ How Corporations Reinforce Racism and Biases

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 - 2:30am

TeleSur | – –

“People think of algorithms as simply a mathematical formulation, but in fact, algorithms are really about automated decisions.”

Through the book, “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” Safiya Umoja Noble, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, USC’s, Annenberg School of Communication, broke down how algorithms work in systematically oppressing the women of color.

“People think of algorithms as simply a mathematical formulation, but in fact, algorithms are really about automated decisions,” Noble explained in a USC Annenberg university video.

The book started as a project to track “misrepresentation happens for women of color on the internet and what some of the social consequences of that are…to look at the ways some of these platforms are designed to amplify certain voices and silence other voices.”

Through her extensively researched socio-cultural informatics, Noble takes a perspective from a feminist, historical and political-economic perspective on computing platforms, and software in the public interest. She has experience of over a decade working as a marketer, in some of the largest corporate brands to back how advertisements play a key role in promoting several types of biases “who elevate the brands and amplify these messages.”

“It was interesting to see this total diversion of public goods, public knowledge, and libraries being shifted into a corporate, privately-held company, when we go to Google, people think it would be credible and fairly representing different types of ideas, people, and spheres of knowledge,” Noble said.

“I study the history of computerization, and I was thinking about the way in which men in the U.S. dominated the field of information science and computing,” she explained in an interview with the Colorlines.

“This phenomena of people acting upon myths and disinformation circulating on these large digital media platforms is what’s ultimately important,” she told the Colorlines.

“In “Algorithms of Oppression,” you contest the notion that “filter bubbles” are trapping people in individualized, identity-based versions of the web. You argue that Black women and other marginalized people actually can’t avoid the racial and gender violence in the material world when they go online, even when they don’t seek it out.

How did that argument come together, particularly since mainstream discussion of filtering is relatively new?” she told the Colorlines.

Noble said there are ways to address the issue.

“Public interest searches that are not driven by commercial biases…if anything, at least the book will help us reframe the idea of “just google it.””

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

USC Annenberg: “Algorithms of Oppression: Faculty Focus: Safiya Umoja Noble”

Pompeo, Big Oil and the attack on Iran Deal

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 - 3:49am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

All you need to know about Mike Pompeo, the four-term congressman from Kansas who is actually from California, is that most of his life he has been in business with the Koch brothers. His appointment as Secretary of State puts a seal on Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords.

More dangerously, Trump was straightforward that he put Pompeo in to replace Rex Tillerson in order to destroy the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action treaty between the United Nations Security Council and Iran.

Pompeo, despite his obvious brilliance, appears to be driven by profound currents of anger, resentment and vindictiveness, and to be unable to feel remorse for purveying falsehoods. His shameful performance at the circus he ran attempting to blame Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2011 Benghazi attack and its aftermath demonstrated a willingness to play fast and loose with the facts and an inquisitorial, McCarthyite mindset.

His lack of a moral compass makes his connection to the Kochs especially dangerous.

Charles and David Koch, the notorious billionaires gnawing like termites at the foundations of American democracy, are all about petroleum. They fund phony climate denialism with a Potemkin village of foundations and expert frauds, to make sure oil keeps its value for as long as possible (even at the cost of visiting catastrophes on our children and grandchildren, since burning oil is causing catastrophic global heating).

The Koch brothers have worked by exploiting the shameful corruption of US campaign finance, where candidates are forced to raise large sums of money to pay for radio and television ads over the public airwaves. It turns out that even small campaign donations can have a huge effect on public policy. Hence, their use of the American Legislative Exchange Council, where the “exchange” refers to state and national lawmakers’ exchange of their conscience for corporate campaign funds. The Koch-backed ALEC has singlehandedly worsened environmental protections and harmed workers in most states in the nation.

The mystery here is the difference between Koch-backed politicians and Exxon-Mobil-linked ones on the Iran deal.

Rex Tillerson was also from the world of Big Oil, but was, as Trump said with annoyance, all right with the JCPOA.

Pompeo is a huge Iranophobe (and also a fierce bigot against Muslim Americans).

The Kochs fund Libertarian groups (who fondly imagine that the rule of unelected giant corporations would be kinder than that of elected governments), which in turn have tended to be anti-war. The Trumps and their interest groups opposed the Iraq War of 2003-2011.

So if Pompeo is tight with the Kochs, why is he so truculent with regard to Iran?

Let me just speculate here. One aim of the Iraq War, revealed by Rupert Murdoch, was to reduce vastly the cost of petroleum. For small oil services companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, the advantages of gaining access to Iraqi bids (which would become possible once regime change had caused Congressional sanctions on Saddam Hussein to lapse) outweighed the likelihood of lower prices.

But for Big Oil, with many long-term bids and perhaps ownership of fields, having Iraqi oil come online would be undesirable, since their assets would be worth less if Iraq flooded the market. Hence the Kochs had an economic reason to oppose that war, and the consequent lifting of sanctions on Iraqi petroleum.

The Iran Deal of 2015 also has the effect of reducing oil prices, since it allows Iran to export more oil and increases supply at a time of stagnant growth in demand. Moreover, there is no prospect of American companies getting any of the Iranian profits.

Finding a way to put Iran back under sanctions would firm up oil prices and make billions of dollars for the Kochs. Hence the desire to roll back the Iran deal.

Even if this explanation is incorrect or insufficient, what seems clear is that Pompeo is very bad news for stability in the Middle East, because of his obsession with finding a way to hurt Iran.


Bonus video:

The Real News: “Newly Tapped Sec of State Mike Pompeo Comes with Deep Ties to the Koch Brothers”

Turkey says US & Kurds will Leave Manbij or Else, Prepares for Iraq Incursion

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 - 3:11am

Middle East Monitor | – –

Turkey and the US will oversee the withdrawal of forces allied to the YPG (People’s Protection Units) from the northern Syrian city of Manbij, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced today, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

Speaking to reporters during a flight to Moscow, Cavusoglu said Turkey and the US would decide on a detailed plan for the region in the coming week, vowing that Turkish forces would go ahead with a military operation if those talks fail.

The foreign minister added that Ankara would “monitor” the return of weapons given to the YPG by Washington, an issue that has strained ties between the NATO allies.

Turkey is currently undertaking an air and ground offensive in Syria as part of “Operation Olive Branch” against the YPG, Kurdish militias that have been affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terror organisation that has launched continual attacks against Turkey. The YPG make up a large proportion of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the US has backed in the fight against Daesh.

Read: US denies reducing operations from Turkey airbase

The latest comments come amid reports that Turkish forces have surrounded the Kurdish stronghold of Afrin, after entering the outskirts of the town last week. In a statement, the military said that “areas of critical importance” had been captured, following a statement yesterday by government spokesperson Bekir Bozdag, confirming that Turkish armed forces had gained control of more than half the area.

As of yesterday, Turkey authorities stated that a total of 3,393 militants have been “neutralized” since the start of Operation Olive Branch in January.

Last week, Cavusoglu announced that the Turkish operation in Afrin will be completed by May, when the country is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections, after which the military may look to move into Iraq to continue the offensive against forces linked to the PKK.

Relations between the US and Turkey have been strained as a result of the operation, with Ankara accusing Washington of leaving pockets of Daesh militants in Syria intact to justify continued cooperation with Kurdish forces in the country.

In an effort to reduce tensions, Turkey and the US announced the establishment of “working groups” to tackle some of the most contentious issues, including the YPG presence in the SDF. The first meeting of the respective groups concluded last Friday, with diplomatic sources describing it as “positive”.

Creative Commons License This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Via Middle East Monitor


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Vox: “How Syria’s Kurds are trying to create a democracy”

Renowned Physicist, Social Activist Stephen Hawking Dead at 76

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 - 2:22am

TeleSur | – –

In addition to his achievement in science, Hawking was a longstanding activist for numerous social causes.

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76, the U.K. Press Association reported on Tuesday, citing a spokesman for the family.

“We are deeply saddened, that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world. We will miss him forever,” Hawking’s children said in a statement.

Hawking was a world-renowned cosmologist, author and director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge.

He received countless accolades over the years, ranking number 25 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, in 2002.

In addition to his achievement in science, Hawking was a longstanding activist. He was an advocate for numerous social causes including opposing wars in Vietnam and Iraq, campaigning for nuclear disarmament and universal health care, as well as calling for action on climate change.

It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.

– Stephen Hawking

He was also critical of capitalism, stating: “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

Several tributes were posted by individuals in the science sphere, politicians and others on social media reacting to the famed scientist’s passing.

His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018

The physicist was known for pioneering works with black holes and relativity. Hawking author was of several popular science titles including “A Brief History of Time.”

Hawking is survived by his children, Lucy, Robert and Tim.

The beloved scientist was beset with early-onset, slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which resulted in degenerative paralysis.

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Stephen Hawking dies at age 76 | Al Jazeera English

Pushing back against Trump Criminalization of Immigrants

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 - 2:08am

By Aviva Chomsky | ( | – –

The immigration debate seems to have gone crazy.

President Obama’s widely popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which offered some 750,000 young immigrants brought to the United States as children a temporary reprieve from deportation, is ending… except it isn’t… except it is… President Trump claims to support it but ordered its halt, while both Republicans and Democrats insist that they want to preserve it and blame each other for its impending demise. (Meanwhile, the Supreme Court recently stepped in to allow DACA recipients to renew their status at least for now.)

On a single day in mid-February, the Senate rejected no less than four immigration bills. These ranged from a narrow proposal to punish sanctuary cities that placed limits on local police collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to major overhauls of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that established the current system of immigration quotas (with preferences for “family reunification”).

And add in one more thing: virtually everyone in the political sphere is now tailoring his or her pronouncements and votes to political opportunism rather than the real issues at hand.

Politicians and commentators who once denounced “illegal immigration,” insisting that people “do it the right way,” are now advocating stripping legal status from many who possess it and drastically cutting even legalized immigration. These days, the hearts of conservative Republicans, otherwise promoting programs for plutocrats, are bleeding for low-wage workers whose livelihoods, they claim (quite incorrectly), are being undermined by competition from immigrants. Meanwhile, Chicago Democrat Luis Gutiérrez — a rare, reliably pro-immigrant voice in Congress — recently swore that, when it came to Trump’s much-touted wall on the Mexican border, he was ready to “take a bucket, take bricks, and start building it myself… We will dirty our hands in order for the Dreamers to have a clean future in America.”

While in Gutiérrez’s neck of the woods, favoring Dreamers may seem politically expedient, giving in to Trump’s wall would result in far more than just dirty hands, buckets, and bricks, and the congressman knows that quite well. The significant fortifications already in place on the U.S.-Mexican border have already contributed to the deaths of thousands of migrants, to the increasing militarization of the region, to a dramatic rise of paramilitary drug- and human-smuggling gangs, and to a rise in violent lawlessness on both sides of the border. Add to that a 2,000-mile concrete wall or some combination of walls, fences, bolstered border patrols, and the latest in technology and you’re not just talking about some benign waste of money in return for hanging on to the DACA kids.

In the swirl of all this, the demands of immigrant rights organizations for a “clean Dream Act” that would genuinely protect DACA recipients without giving in to Trump’s many anti-immigration demands have come to seem increasingly unrealistic. No matter that they hold the only morally coherent position in town — and a broadly popular one nationally as well — DACA’s congressional backers seem to have already conceded defeat.

Good Guys and Bad Guys

It won’t surprise you, I’m sure, to learn that Donald Trump portrays the world in a strikingly black-and-white way when it comes to immigration (and so much else). He emphasizes the violent criminal nature of immigrants and the undocumented, repeatedly highlighting and falsely generalizing from relatively rare cases in which one of them committed a violent crime like the San Francisco killing of Kate Steinle. His sweeping references to “foreign bad guys” and “shithole countries” suggest that he applies the same set of judgments to the international arena.

Under Trump’s auspices, the agency in charge of applying the law to immigrants, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has taken the concept of criminality to new heights in order to justify expanded priorities for deportation. Now, an actual criminal conviction is no longer necessary. An individual with “pending criminal charges” or simply a “known gang member” has also become an ICE “priority.” In other words, a fear-inspiring accusation or even rumor is all that’s needed to deem an immigrant a “criminal.”

And such attitudes are making their way ever deeper into this society. I’ve seen it at Salem State University, the college where I teach. In a recent memo explaining why he opposes giving the school sanctuary-campus status, the chief of campus police insisted that his force must remain authorized to report students to ICE when there are cases of “bad actors… street gang participation… drug trafficking… even absent a warrant or other judicial order.” In other words, due process be damned, the police, any police, can determine guilt as they wish.

And this tendency toward such a Trumpian Manichaean worldview, now being used to justify the growth of what can only be called an incipient police state, is so strong that it’s even infiltrated the thinking of some of the president’s immigration opponents.Take “chain migration,” an obscure concept previously used mainly by sociologists and historians to describe nineteenth and twentieth century global migration patterns. The president has, of course, made it his epithet du jour.

Because the president spoke of “chain migration” in such a derogatory way, anti-Trump liberals immediately assumed that the phrase was inherently insulting. MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid typically charged that “the president is saying that the only bill he will approve of must end what they call ‘chain migration’ which is actually a term we in the media should just not use! Because quite frankly it’s not a real thing, it’s a made up term… [and] so offensive! It’s shocking to me that we’re just adopting it wholesale because [White House adviser] Stephen Miller wants to call it that… [The term should be] family migration.”

Similarly, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand claimed that “when someone uses the phrase chain migration… it is intentional in trying to demonize families, literally trying to demonize families, and make it a racist slur.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi agreed: “Look what they’re doing with family unification, making up a fake name, chain. Chain, they like the word ‘chain.’ That sends tremors through people.”

But chain migration is not the same as family reunification. Chain migration is a term used by academics to explain how people tended to migrate from their home communities using pre-existing networks. Examples would include the great migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North and West, the migrations of rural Appalachians to Midwestern industrial cities, waves of European migration to the United States at the turn of the last century, as well as contemporary migration from Latin America and Asia.

A single individual or a small group, possibly recruited through a state-sponsored system or by an employer, or simply knowing of employment opportunities in a particular area, sometimes making use of a new rail line or steamship or air route, would venture forth, opening up new horizons. Once in a new region or land, such immigrants directly or indirectly recruited friends, acquaintances, and family members. Soon enough, there were growing links — hence that “chain” — between the original rural or urban communities where such people lived and distant cities. Financial remittances began to flow back; return migration (or simply visits to the old homeland) took place; letters about the new world arrived; and sometimes new technologies solidified ongoing ties, impelling yet more streams of migrants. That’s the chain in chain migration and, despite the president and his supporters, there’s nothing offensive about it.

Family reunification, on the other hand, was a specific part of this country’s 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which imposed quotas globally. These were then distributed through a priority system that privileged the close relatives of immigrants who had already become permanent residents or U.S. citizens. Family reunification opened paths for those who had family members in the United States (though in countries where the urge to migrate was high, the waiting list could be decades long). In the process, however, it made legal migration virtually impossible for those without such ties. There was no “line” for them to wait in. Like DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the two programs that President Trump is now working so assiduously to dismantle, family reunification has been beneficial to those in a position to take advantage of it, even if it excluded far more people than it helped.

Buy Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century

Why does this matter? As a start, at a moment when political posturing and “fake news” are becoming the norm, it’s important that the immigrant rights movement remain accurate and on solid ground in its arguments. (Indeed, the anti-immigrant right has been quick to gloat over Democrats condemning a term they had been perfectly happy to use in the past.) In addition, it’s crucial not to be swept away by Trump’s Manichaean view of the world when it comes to immigration. Legally, family reunification was never an open-arms policy. It was always a key component in a system of quotas meant to limit, control, and police migration, often in stringent ways. It was part of a system built to exclude at least as much as include. There may be good reasons to defend the family reunification provisions of the 1965 Act, just as there are good reasons to defend DACA — but that does not mean that a deeply problematic status quo should be glorified.

Racism and the Immigrant “Threat”

Those very quotas and family-reunification policies served to “illegalize” most Mexican migration to the United States. That, in turn, created the basis not just for militarizing the police and the border, but for what anthropologist Leo Chávez has called the “Latino threat narrative”: the notion that the United States somehow faces an existential threat from Mexican and other Latino immigrants.

So President Trump has drawn on a long legacy here, even if in a particularly invidious fashion. The narrative evolved over time in ways that sought to downplay its explicitly racial nature. Popular commentators railed against “illegal” immigrants, while lauding those who “do it the right way.” The threat narrative, for instance, lurked at the very heart of the immigration policies of the Obama administration. President Obama regularly hailed exceptional Latino and other immigrants, even as the criminalization, mass incarceration, and deportation of so many were, if anything, being ramped up. Criminalization provided a “color-blind” cover as the president separated undocumented immigrants into two distinct groups: “felons” and “families.” In those years, so many commentators postured on the side of those they defined as the deserving exceptions, while adding further fuel to the threat narrative.

President Trump has held onto a version of this ostensibly color-blind and exceptionalist narrative, while loudly proclaiming himself “the least racist person” anyone might ever run into and praising DACA recipients as “good, educated, and accomplished young people.” But the racist nature of his anti-immigrant extremism and his invocations of the “threat” have gone well beyond Obama’s programs. In his attack on legal immigration, chain migration, and legal statuses like DACA and TPS, race has again reared its head explicitly.

Unless they were to come from “countries like Norway” or have some special “merit,” Trump seems to believe that immigrants should essentially all be illegalized, prohibited, or expelled. Some of his earliest policy moves like his attacks on refugees and his travel ban were aimed precisely at those who would otherwise fall into a legal category, those who had “followed the rules,” “waited in line,” “registered with the government,” or “paid taxes,” including refugees, DACA kids, and TPS recipients — all of them people already in the system and approved for entry or residence.

As ICE spokespeople remind us when asked to comment on particularly egregious examples of the arbitrary detention and deportation of long-term residents, President Trump has rescinded the Obama-era “priority enforcement” program that emphasized the apprehension and deportation of people with criminal records and recent border-crossers. Now, “no category of removable aliens [is] exempt from enforcement.” While President Trump has continued to verbally support the Dreamers, his main goal in doing so has clearly been to use them as a bargaining chip in obtaining his dramatically restrictionist priorities from a reluctant Congress.

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) made the new restrictionist turn official in late February when it revised its mission statement to delete this singular line: “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” No longer. Instead, we are now told, the agency “administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise… while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”

Challenging the Restrictionist Agenda

Many immigrant rights organizations have fought hard against the criminalization narrative that distinguishes the Dreamers from other categories of immigrants. Mainstream and Democrat-affiliated organizations have, however, generally pulled the other way, emphasizing the “innocence” of those young people who were brought here “through no fault of their own.”

Dreamers, TPS recipients, refugees, and even those granted priority under the family reunification policy have all operated as exceptions to what has long been a far broader restrictionist immigration agenda. Trump has now taken that agenda in remarkably extreme directions. So fighting to protect such exceptional categories makes sense, given the millions who have benefited from them, but no one should imagine that America’s policies have ever been generous or open.

Regarding refugees, for example, the State Department website still suggests that “the United States is proud of its history of welcoming immigrants and refugees… The U.S. refugee resettlement program reflects the United States’ highest values and aspirations to compassion, generosity, and leadership.” Even before Trump entered the Oval Office, this wasn’t actually true: the refugee resettlement program has always been both small and highly politicized. For example, out of approximately seven million Syrian refugees who fled the complex set of conflicts in their country since 2011 — conflicts that would not have unfolded as they did without the American invasion of Iraq — the United States has accepted only 21,000. Now, however, the fight to preserve even such numbers looks like a losing rearguard battle.

Given that a truly just reform of the country’s immigration system is inconceivable at the moment, it makes sense that those concerned with immigrant rights concentrate on areas where egregious need or popular sympathy have made stopgap measures realistic. The problem is that, over the years, this approach has tended to separate out particular groups of immigrants from the larger narrative and so failed to challenge the underlying racial and criminalizing animus toward all those immigrants consigned to the depthsof the economic system and systematically denied the right of belonging.

In a sense, President Trump is correct: there really isn’t a way to draw a hard and fast line between legal and illegal immigration or between the felons and the families. Many immigrants live in mixed-status households, including those whose presence has been authorized in different ways or not authorized at all. And most of those felons, often convicted of recently criminalized, immigration-related or other minor violations, have families, too.

Trump and his followers, of course, want just about all immigrants to be criminalized and excluded or deported because, in one way or another, they consider them dangers to the rest of us. While political realism demands that battles be fought for the rights of particular groups of immigrants, it’s no less important to challenge the looming narrative of immigrant criminalization and to refuse to assume that the larger war has already been lost. In the end, isn’t it time to challenge the notion that people in general, and immigrants in particular, can be easily divided into deserving good guys and undeserving bad guys?

Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a TomDispatch regular. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Aviva Chomsky