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Khamenei, in reply to Trump, gives Europe 6-point Ultimatum on Nuclear Deal

Thu, 24 May 2018 - 4:16am

Iran’s clerical Leader, Ali Khamenei, weighed in on Trump’s violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran nuclear accord of 2015, which the US signed off on along with the rest of the UN Security Council and Germany (informally representing the European Union). Speaking frankly to Iran’s European trading partners, the ayatollah laid down six requirements for Iran to remain in the JCPOA itself. These demands appear to be a response to those made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Khamenei has dismissed as a mere “spy.”

Khamenei expressed his disappointment in Europe’s past and present behavior. He noted that some large European firms were already pulling out of Iran (this may be a reference to Total, SA). He said that on several occasions the US has violated its responsibilities under the JCPOA (referring to new economic sanctions slapped on Iran by Congress after it was signed with a promise of sanctions relief). He added that the Europeans had not so much as complained about these US violations. Then he set out his requirements.

1. The US has violated UNSC Resolution 2231 by revoking its signature. The European members of the Security Council (France and Britain), along with non-member Germany must introduce a resolution there condemning the US for this violation.

2. The 3 Western European Powers must stop pressuring Iran about its ballistic missile tests and its presence in the Middle East. Khamenei said that every time there is a meeting with them they bring up these two issues. (Neither was part of the JCPOA). He insists that they cease and desist. He said that Iran’s relationship with Middle Eastern countries is based on Islamic soft power and Iran’s strategic depth, and is key its ability to defend itself. It will not give up this element of its strategy.

3. Every time Trump announces a new boycott on Iran, Europe must explicitly reject it and stand against it.

4. If the US manages to damage Iran’s ability to export its petroleum (it is now exporting 2.5 mn barrels a day), Europe at Iran’s request must make up the shortfall. It may be, Khamenei said, that the Islamic Republic will view a reduction in its oil exports as a positive. If, however, the Iranian government decides it is being harmed by the US ability to strong-arm some of Iran’s customers into ceasing their imports of Iranian oil, Europe must agree to hold Iran harmless.

[The line about the benefits of any reduction in Iranian oil sales may reflect a conviction in some circles that it is never bad for an oil state to keep the oil in the ground, since its value will only increase in the future. This line of thinking does not reckon with the rise of electric vehicles, which may make petroleum worthless in 15 years or so.]

5. European banks must guarantee both governmental and private financial transactions (i.e. they must not yield to US blacklisting of Iranian banks. The US has just slapped sanctions on the Bank Melli, a major government institution, in an attempt to make it harder for Iran to buy and sell on the world market).

6. The Europeans must be prompt in responding to these requests.

If France, Germany and Britain will not undertake these guarantees, Iran reserves the right to start back up its enrichment activities, and would go back to enriching to 19.75%.

(That level of enrichment produces fuel useful in medical reactors and nuclear submarines; but Iran only has one of the former, and none presently of the latter, so enriching to that percentage is simply a form of deterrence, since obviously it is easier to enrich a stockpile of 19.75% to the 95% needed for a bomb than it is to start from scratch. – JC)

Khamenei underlined that since the US plans to make war on Iran via the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assent Control (OFAC), Iran would have to respond with its own economic and financial organs, as well as via the foreign ministry.

Khamenei was firm that Iran reserves the right to start back up its enrichment program if it concludes that the JCPOA is useless to it.

A set of ultimatums of this sort signals that Khamenei wants out of the JCPOA, since he surely knows that Europe is highly unlikely to acquiesce in his demands. He clearly has decided that Europe cannot be depended upon to buck Trump, and that its major corporations will most likely fold and pull up stakes from Iran. He may be underestimating the will of the French in particular to defy Trump, and Paris’s willingness to run interference for smaller French firms that do not have significant US business and who want to invest in Iran.

What the UNSC got from Iran in the JCPOA was pushing the timetable for any Iranian nuclear bomb, once Iran decided to create one, from three months out to a year or more. Khamenei’s response to Trump’s destruction of the JCPOA is to go back to the three-month timetable. It is a realistic and significant threat, which not only Europe but Israel and Saudi Arabia will take seriously. Europe in the end will shrug. Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their bought man in the White House are more likely to respond with extensive covert action against Iran, in hopes of stirring up its ethnic minorities and restless working class.

The aggressive quartet, however, should be careful, since Iran is not helpless and can make trouble for them through covert operations as well.

Featured photo: KHAMENEI.IR/AFP/File / – Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pictured in this handout photo from March 2018, said on May 23 that the United States does not honor its promises.

Wrong: Netanyahu thinks Massive Israeli PR can cover up Occupation & end of Peace Process

Thu, 24 May 2018 - 2:33am

Sidney (The Conversation) – The opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem last week represented a major PR coup for Israel, a move the country had sought for decades. It also came hot on the heels of another celebrated Israeli PR victory – the win by Israeli singer Netta Barzilai in the hugely popular Eurovision song contest.

The New York Times hailed Barzilai’s win as a “diplomatic victory and national vindication” for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters. Netanyahu himself proudly declared Barzilai “the best ambassador of Israel”.

However, these PR successes were overshadowed by events near Israel’s border with Gaza. Last Monday, Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian protesters in the “no-go zone” that Israel enforces in Gaza near the border, killing 60 Palestinians, including eight children, and injuring more than 2,000.

It was the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in four years. And the international response was fierce. Senior UN officials condemned the violence as an “outrageous human rights violation”. Even Israeli media noted it was Israel’s anti-Palestinian violence, not Netta Barzilai or the embassy move, dominating international headlines.

This international condemnation of Israeli violence flies in the face of what has been a concerted, long-term PR strategy by Israel to occlude its actions against the Palestinians and improve its image on the international stage. The well-funded “Brand Israel” campaign, launched in 2005, was intended to improve Israel’s soft power and show what makes the country attractive from a tourism, culture and foreign investment perspective. But as the recent backlash against Israel illustrates, it’s struggling to change opinions.

Musicians as soft power tools

Following the 2009 Gaza conflict, Israeli officials declared a plan to send novelists, art exhibitions and theatre productions overseas in order to “show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war,”
as Arye Mekel, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director for cultural affairs, put it.

Israel also reportedly requires artists who receive state funding to sign a loyalty pledge “to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel”.

On top of this, a series of PR manuals have been published by public relations specialists and pro-Israel supporters over the years, recommending that Israel continue to use “culture” (and other PR and marketing tools) to promote a positive image of the country. Some of these manuals have been authored or supported by right-wing American spin doctor and pollster Frank Luntz.

In the US, Luntz developed PR campaigns for Republican opponents of healthcare reform and was credited with convincing former President George W. Bush to stop using the term “global warming” in favor of “climate change”, because the latter term “sounds a more controllable and less emotional challenge”.

In the cultural sphere, Israeli government officials have heartily promoted big-name artists who have performed in Israel, such as Alicia Keys and Radiohead. Within days of Ringo Starr announcing a concert in Tel Aviv this June, international pro-Israel organisations were already celebrating a victory.

Israeli government supporters have even set up an entertainment executives lobby group – whose origins and motives have attracted controversy – to pressure artists to perform in Israel and disregard boycott calls.

Push-back from artists

Despite these efforts, a range of prominent musicians, actors and artists have decided against performing in Israel or visiting the country. According to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions organisation, artists who have cancelled performances in Israel or declined to perform there include Elvis Costello, Lauryn Hill, U2, Bjork, Jean-Luc Godard, Snoop Dogg, Cat Power, and Vanessa Paradis, among others.

In December, the New Zealand singer Lorde cancelled a Tel Aviv concert following calls for an Israel boycott from human rights activists. More than a hundred writers, actors, directors and musicians pledged their support for her decision. The move attracted intense media coverage, as well as threats directed towards activists. Pro-Israel organisations claimed that it was Lorde herself who was a victim of bullying – by human rights activists.

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Israeli government supporters in the Florida state legislature even tried to ban Lorde from performing in the Sunshine State, and unsuccessfully pressured concert venues to cancel her shows.

Then, in apparent response to Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza protesters, Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman refused to accept a prize a few weeks ago that was to be awarded to her by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She said at the time she didn’t “want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu” and “the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values.” It was a remarkable development given Portman’s previously staunch pro-Israel positions.

A new response?

The Israeli attacks on Gaza protesters and the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem last week were also met by a chorus of concerns and criticisms from the Jewish-American community, many of whom identify as “pro-Israel”, including US Senator Bernie Sanders.

Israel quickly deployed its PR efforts to carefully manage its response to the international condemnation.

However, research in international conflict resolution shows how stands by cultural figures like Lorde and Portman can make important contributions to reducing violence and driving peace efforts. Evidence from fields as diverse as terrorism studies, peace building, and international conflict resolution demonstrates that an imbalance of power and associated human rights abuses are major blocks to achieving peace through dialogue.

Israel clearly maintains a significant power imbalance over the Palestinians. By refusing invitations to Israel to be potential PR instruments, these artists are refusing to contribute to this power imbalance that is a such heavy obstacle to peace.

Paul Duffill, Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney

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

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Palestinian writer speaks on Palestinian resistance”

Saudis to let women drive but Jail a dozen Women’s Rights Activists

Wed, 23 May 2018 - 11:13pm

Dubai (AFP) – Saudi authorities have widened a crackdown on women’s rights advocates, detaining at least three more activists a month before the kingdom lifts its decades-old ban on women drivers, campaigners said Tuesday.

Saudi authorities on Saturday announced the arrest of seven people, mostly identified by rights groups as women who have long campaigned for the right to drive and to end the conservative Muslim state’s male guardianship system.

Amnesty International told AFP the number of detainees has risen to 10, including at least seven women, while the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and another Saudi activist said the number stood at 12.

“Despite international outcry and calls for the release of these activists, they still remain detained for their peaceful human rights work,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns.

“Saudi Arabian authorities cannot continue to publicly state they are dedicated to reform while treating women’s rights campaigners in this cruel way.”

The detainees include three generations of activists such as 28-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul — who was also held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighbouring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia — and Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh’s King Saud University.

Also arrested, campaigners say, was Madeha al-Ajroush, a psychotherapist in her 60s, well known for being part of a group that mounted the first Saudi protest movement in 1990 for the right to drive.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights voiced concern that Hathloul, one of the most outspoken activists, was being held incommunicado, while other campaigners said the detainees were without any access to lawyers and their whereabouts were unknown.

Saudi government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Without naming those detained, authorities have accused them of “suspicious contact with foreign parties”, providing financial support to enemies and attempting to undermine the kingdom’s “security and stability”.

State-backed media branded them traitors and “agents of embassies”.

– ‘No country for bold women’ –

The crackdown has cast a shadow on the kingdom’s much-publicised liberalisation drive launched by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who recently undertook a global tour aimed at reshaping his kingdom’s austere image.

The self-styled reformer has sought to break with long-held restrictions on women and the mixing of the genders, with the decades-old driving ban on women slated to end June 24.

“It is clear that underneath all the PR hype and spin, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms exclude human rights activism,” Hadid said.

“We continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all activists still being detained solely for their human rights work.”

In a scathing statement, the New York–based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded the release of detainee Eman al-Nafjan, a linguistics professor and mother-of-three who ran the popular “Saudiwoman” blog.

“Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman recently toured the West to project the image of a modernist and reformer,” CPJ deputy executive director Robert Mahoney said in the statement.

“But the moment he’s back home Saudi authorities revert to old habits — stifling dissent and detaining critical journalists. Writing about the place of women in Saudi society is not a crime.”

Those arrested had campaigned for the lifting of the driving ban and also against the guardianship system requiring women to obtain permission from their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons for a host of life decisions.

“The kingdom’s small community of liberal activists is reeling and struggling to make sense of the events,” the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy said in a report titled “Saudi Arabia: No country for bold women”.

“The arrest of so many well-known figures seems an ominous sign that the government is determined to wipe out what remains of Saudi civil society.”

Featured Photo: AFP/File / FAYEZ NURELDINE. Saudi women check out cars at an automotive exhibition for women in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 13, 2018.

Ethnic hostility is contagious: Czech-Slovak study

Wed, 23 May 2018 - 11:04pm

Prague (AFP) – Hostility towards ethnic minorities is contagious and the acceptability of destructive behaviour towards them can easily change depending on how others behave, according to a new study by a Czech-Slovak team.

“Social norms regulating anti-social behaviour are very fragile if this behaviour is aimed at ethnic minorities,” researchers Michal Bauer and Julie Chytilova told AFP on Wednesday.

The study by the CERGE-EI Institute at Prague’s Charles University, the Munich-based Max Planck Institute and the Technical University in Kosice, Slovakia was conducted in eastern Slovakia, a district with a large Roma ethnic minority, in 2013.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA in April, the study was based on a game in which the players — 327 school children from the majority ethnic Slovak population aged 13-15 — first received two euros ($2.34) each.

Then they had to decide whether to pay 0.2 euros to reduce their rival’s funds by half — a “destructive” choice — or whether to keep the payoffs unchanged.

Next, in groups of three, they played against potential rivals represented by a list of 20 typical Slovak majority or Roma minority names, with all three players making their choice one after another.

“We tested the hypothesis that susceptibility to follow peers becomes magnified when harm is done to ethnic outgroup members compared with coethnics,” reads the study.

– ‘Fragile social norms’ –

The results were “striking” — the study pointed out a significant influence of peers in decision-making on doing harm to the minority.

If the first child to choose was “peaceful” towards the minority, only 19 percent of the second decision-makers were hostile.

But a total of 77 percent of second decision-makers showed hostility if the first child to choose had been hostile.

Among the third decision-makers, only 18 percent were destructive if one or both their predecessors were peaceful, but 88 percent were destructive if the previous two showed hostility.

Besides, “the participants saw hateful behaviour towards the Roma as more socially acceptable if somebody else treated the Roma with hate,” said Bauer and Chytilova.

Featured Photo: AFP/File / SAMUEL KUBANI. A study looking a Slovak majority and Roma minority names in Kosice, Slovakia, where a Roma community is seen in 2015, found “social norms regulating anti-social behaviour are very fragile if this behaviour is aimed at ethnic minorities.”

Israeli Gov’t directly involved in Cyberbullying, Stalking of our US Students: MESA

Wed, 23 May 2018 - 1:11pm

Tucson, Az. (Middle East Studies Association of North America [MESA]) –

May 23, 2018

Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan
gerdan@knesset.gov.il
sar@mops.gov.il

Dear Minister Erdan:

We write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our dismay that the Israeli government has been involved in facilitating and directing abusive actions, including cyberbullying, against students at universities in the United States who have been active in campaigns for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This constitutes unwarranted interference by a foreign power in these students’ free speech rights and threatens academic freedom at institutions of higher education in the United States.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,500 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The most recent incident of which we are aware took place at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. during April 2018. On 16 April 2018, a Student Senate vote on a resolution urging the university to divest from a number of companies (including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Elbit Systems, Caterpillar, CEMEX, General Electric, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Motorola Solutions) was cancelled after students witnessed two unidentified individuals placing threatening posters around the university. The vote was rescheduled for 24 April 2018 and on that date the divestment resolution was approved by a vote of 18-6, with 6 abstentions.

Two men wearing bird costumes and masks, apparently evoking the Canary Mission website which features some two thousand derogatory and generally inaccurate and misleading profiles of students and faculty who have advocated for Palestinian rights, along with someone who appeared to be coordinating their activities, stood outside the room in which the Senate Senators were meeting to vote on the resolution. The clear intent was to intimidate the Senators as well as student supporters of the resolution. These individuals were later seen putting up posters around campus that read, “SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine], you saw two of us, we saw all of you.”

After the vote, administrators of the Act.il app, which media reports indicate your ministry was integrally involved in developing and promoting in order to combat the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, began directing its users to “like” and share a Facebook page set up to threaten and bully the GWU Student Senators who voted in support of the resolution. The Facebook page was taken down soon after the Senate vote, but Act.il did not remove its listing of the cyberbullying campaign as a “mission” to be conducted by anti-BDS activists until it expired.

We note in this connection that you personally promoted the launch of Act.il at the February 2017 Celebrate Israel Parade and that your ministry placed paid articles advertising the app in the Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel (see The Forward).

Your status as an official of the Israeli government makes your involvement, and that of the ministry you head, in campaigns to try to intimidate American college and university students and to inhibit or suppress their freedom of expression especially egregious. These students have a right to be free of harassment, intimidation and cyberbullying by people who are in effect agents of the Israeli government. We therefore call on you and your ministry to cease promoting or supporting such campaigns of harassment, whether online or in person, and to refrain from interference of any kind when students and faculty in the United States exercise their constitutionally protected right of free speech and their academic freedom rights.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Judith E. Tucker
MESA President
Professor, Georgetown University

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director

MESA Committee on Academic Freedom

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Mondoweiss: “‘Canary Mission’ at George Washington University”

Palestine takes Israel to Int’l Criminal Court at Hague over Gaza Massacre

Wed, 23 May 2018 - 3:59am

Palestine has submitted a formal referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague over Israeli sniping with live fire at peaceful Gaza protesters this spring, which killed some 60 persons and literally wounded thousands.

Palestine, which is a cautious and timid government, had earlier declined to go to the ICC, in hopes instead of reaching a negotiated settlement. The Trump decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, however, forestalled a negotiated settlement on that issue. Israel’s illegal flooding of its citizens onto Palestinian property in the West Bank and refusal to negotiate any freeze in squatter settlements has also convinced Palestine that the US-Israeli “peace process” is a cover for slow genocide. Ironically, it was Trump’s lack of diplomatic grace that in large part impelled this step.

TRT World: “Palestine to submit a referral to ICC: Interview with Dr.Anis Qasim”

Palestine (or the Palestine Authority) was established in 1994 as a result of the Oslo peace accords signed by Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. It held elections in 1996 and 2006. The PA was recognized as having authority over Gaza and Areas A and B of the West Bank, and the Israelis had promised at Oslo in 1993 to turn over all of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestine by 1998. Instead, they flooded hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters into the Palestinian West Bank and ultimately reneged entirely on their Oslo commitments. In 2013 the PA began styling itself the State of Palestine after UN recognition.

This spring, activists rallied near the fence erected by the Israelis to cage Palestinians into Gaza, but none of them appears actually to have crossed the fence into what Israel considers its territory (Israel and Palestine have no formal recognized borders with one another, only armistice lines that Israelis have seldom honored). Some 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza were expelled in 1948 or 1967 from what is now Israel in a systematic Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing, after which Jewish colonialists usurped Palestinian homes, land and other property and have kept their victims cooped up in Gaza ever since. Palestinians in refugee camps demanded to be allowed to return home.

Shooting down unarmed people on their own territory when they posed no immediate physical danger to any Israeli is a war crime in international law. In fact, a war crime pursued so systematically after a while becomes a crime against humanity.

The International Criminal Court began functioning in 2002, when the Rome Statute came into effect. The Statute is an international treaty now ratified by 123 countries, which attempts to strengthen the prosecution of war crimes where local courts cannot or will not do so.

So how could a Palestinian referral work? In the law, issues of standing and jurisdiction have to be settled before there is even a court case. The Israelis are denying that the ICC has jurisdiction and that the Palestinians have standing. They are wrong, and here is why.

In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly bestowed on Palestine (as created by virtue of the Oslo Accords, which Israel signed onto), recognition as a “non-member observer state.” This is the same status enjoyed by the Vatican. The vote made Palestine a UN observer and recognized it as a sovereign state.

That vote in turn gave Palestine the standing to join the International Criminal Court, which it did in 2015. Israel has refused to sign the ICC or recognize the body’s jurisdiction over Israeli territory.

So, Palestine is a member of the ICC and has been recognized as a state by the UNGA, and it certainly has standing to take this issue to the court.

How about jurisdiction? The Israelis are correct that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed on Israeli territory, since Israel is not a signatory. The only way for the ICC to pursue a case in Israel proper would be for the United Nations Security Council to refer it to the court on the grounds that the issue was a threat to world order. The UNSC took this step with regard to Libya, and Moammar Gaddafi and his son Saif were found guilty at the court of crimes against humanity, which helped the Libyan people in their quest to overthrow the brutal and erratic regime.

The ICC does, however, have jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Gaza and the West Bank. So the shooting dead of Palestinian protesters on Gaza soil by Israeli army snipers certainly would lie within its jurisdiction.

In short, Israel doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on here. In the past, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has threatened to simply destroy the ICC if it dares move against any Israeli official. Israel certainly has levers it can pull against the funding of the court and it can target individual justices in various ways (Netanyahu invented many techniques later made famous by Trump). Whether this simple bullying can succeed is unclear.

The ICC does not charge governments with crimes, only individuals. If specific Israeli army snipers can be identified who shot dead unarmed civilians in Gaza, they could be tried, even in absentia. Further, the Israeli chief of staff and the prime minister, who have vocally supported the Gaza massacre, could be charged, as the responsible authorities. If they were convicted, they would experience difficulty traveling internationally, though obviously it would be difficult for the court itself to have them arrested. Their political enemies in Israel would certainly be emboldened against them, however.

In the past, the Israelis have also threatened tit for tat, saying that if Palestine brought charges against Israeli officials of war crimes, Israel would initiate similar charges against old PLO guerrillas guilty of past attacks on civilians.

This threat could be carried out by Israeli courts, but, ironically enough, not at the ICC. Since Israel is not a signatory it cannot refer cases. And, if the attacks occurred in Israel proper, the ICC would not have jurisdiction over them. Moreover, by now few State of Palestine officials could be so charged.

The really huge implication of these developments, however, had to do not with the Gaza Massacre of 2018, but with Israeli squatter settlements on the West Bank. They constitute a violation of the Geneva Accords of 1949 on the treatment of populations in militarily occupied territories, and are so arranged as to fall under the crime of Apartheid as defined in the Rome Statute. If the ICC takes up that issue, it could reach decisions with far-reaching implications for Israeli policy. Again, even if the decision would be difficult to implement, it would certainly result in growing sanctions on Israel internationally.

Will biggest victim of Trump Golden Shower Diplomacy be global Rule of Law?

Wed, 23 May 2018 - 2:22am

Madison, Wi. ( Tomdispatch.com)

Month by month, tweet by tweet, the events of the past two years have made it clearer than ever that Washington’s once-formidable global might is indeed fading. As the American empire unravels with previously unimagined speed, there are many across this country’s political spectrum who will not mourn its passing. Both peace activists and military veterans have grown tired of the country’s endless wars. Trade unionists and business owners have come to rue the job losses that accompanied Washington’s free-trade policies. Anti-globalization protesters and pro-Trump populists alike cheered the president’s cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The idea of focusing on America and rebuilding the country’s tattered infrastructure has a growing bipartisan appeal.

But before we join this potential chorus of “good riddance” to U.S. global power, it might be worth pausing briefly to ask whether the acceleration of the American decline by President Trump’s erratic foreign policy might not come with unanticipated and unpleasant costs. As Americans mobilize for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential contest, they might look beyond Washington’s mesmerizing celebrity scandals and consider instead the hidden consequences of the country’s ongoing withdrawal from the global arena. Indeed, this fitful, uncontrolled retreat carries with it such serious risks that it might be time for ordinary voters and political activists alike to put foreign policy, in the broadest sense, at the top of their electoral watch list.

First, let’s just admit the obvious. After 18 months in office, Trump’s one-man style of diplomacy, though potentially capable of a few “wins,” is clearly degrading American global stature. After surveying 134 countries, Gallup’s pollsters recently reported that worldwide approval of U.S. leadership has plunged from 48% in 2016 to a record low of 30%, a notch below China’s 31% and significantly under Germany’s 41%.

As Trump has abrogated one international accord after another, observers worldwide have struggled to find some rationale for decisions that seem questionable on their merits and have frayed relations with long-standing allies. Given his inordinate obsession with the “legacy” of Barack Obama, epitomized in a report, whether true or not, of his ritual “defiling” of his predecessor’s Moscow hotel bed via the “golden showers” of Russian prostitutes, there’s a curious yet coherent logic to his foreign policy. You might even think of it as Golden Shower diplomacy. Whatever Obama did, Trump seems determined to undo with a visceral vehemence: the Trans-Pacific trade pact (torn up), the Paris climate accord (withdrawn), the Iran nuclear freeze (voided), close relations with NATO allies (damaged), diplomatic relations with Cuba (frozen), Middle Eastern military withdrawal (reversed), ending the Afghan war (cancelled), the diplomatic pivot to Asia (forgotten), and so on into what already seems like an eternity.

As bizarre as all this might be, Trump’s four to eight years presiding over what still passes for U.S. foreign policy through such personal pique will have lasting consequences. The American presence on the global stage will be further reduced, potentially opening the way for the rise of those autocratic powers, Beijing and Moscow, hostile to the liberal international order that Washington promoted for the past 70 years, even as — thanks to Trump’s love of fossil fuels — the further degradation of the planetary environment occurs.

The Delicate Duality of American Global Power

To fully understand what’s at stake, you would need to reach back to the dawn of U.S. global dominion and try to grasp the elusive character of the power that went with it. In the closing months of World War II, when the United States stood astride a partially wrecked planet like a titan, Washington used its extraordinary clout to build a new world order grounded in a “delicate duality” that juxtaposed two contradictory attributes. It fostered an international community of sovereign nations governed by the rule of law, while also building its own superpower dominion through the raw Realpolitikof economic pressure, crushing military force, unrestrained covert action, and diplomatic leverage.

Keep in mind that America had emerged from the ashes of that world war as a behemoth of unprecedented power. With Europe, Japan, and Russia in ruins, the U.S. had the only intact industrial complex left and then accounted for about half of the world’s entire economic output. At war’s end, its military had swelled to more than 12 million troops, its Navy ruled the seas with more than 1,000 warships, and its air force commanded the skies with 41,000 combat aircraft. In the decade that followed, Washington would encircle Eurasia with hundreds of military bases, as well as bevies of strategic bombers and warships. In the process, it would also confine its Cold War enemies, China and Russia, behind that infamous Iron Curtain.

Throughout those early Cold War years, Washington’s diplomats walked tall in the corridors of power, deftly negotiating defense pacts and trade deals that gave the country a distinct advantage on the world stage. Meanwhile, its clandestine operatives maneuvered relentlessly in the shadow lands of global power to topple neutral or hostile governments via coups and covert operations. Washington, of course, eventually won the Cold War, but its tactics produced almost unimaginably dreadful costs — brutal military dictatorships across Asia and Latin America, millions of dead in Indochina, and devastated societies in Central Asia, Central America, and southern Africa.

Simultaneously, however, the U.S. victory in World War II also brought a surge of citizen idealism as millions of American veterans returned home, hopeful that their sacrifice had not only defeated fascism but also won a more peaceful world. To ensure that the ravaged planet would never again experience such global death and destruction, American diplomats also began working with their allies to build, step by step, nothing less than a novel architecture for global governance, grounded in the rule of international law.

At the Bretton Woods resort in New Hampshire in 1944, Washington convened 44 nations, large and small, to design a comprehensive economic regime for a prosperous post-war world. In the process, they formed the International Monetary Fund, or IMF (for financial stability); the World Bank (for postwar reconstruction); and, somewhat later, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (for free trade), the predecessor of the World Trade Organization.

A year after that, in San Francisco, Washington led 850 delegates from 50 allied nations in drafting the charter for a new organization, the United Nations, that aspired to a world order marked by inviolable sovereignty, avoidance of armed conflict, human rights, and shared prosperity. In addition to providing crisis management through peacekeeping and refugee relief, the U.N. also helped order a globalizing world by creating, over the next quarter century, 17 specialized organizations responsible for everything from food security (the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO) to public health (the World Health Organization, or WHO).

Starting with the $13 billion Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of war-torn Europe, Washington also supplemented the U.N.’s work by providing billions of dollars in bilateral aid to fund reconstruction and economic development in nations old and new. President John F. Kennedy globalized that effort by establishing the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that today has a budget of $27 billion and 4,000 employees who deliver humanitarian assistance worldwide by providing, for instance, $44 million in emergency relief for 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Washington was careful to weave this new world order into the web of international law it had been building assiduously since its debut on the world stage at the Second Hague Conference on peace in 1907. Under the U.N. charter of 1945, the General Assembly convened the International Court of Justice, which took its seat at the grandiose Peace Palace in The Hague built by steel baron Andrew Carnegie years before to promote the international rule of law.

Just months after its founding, the U.N. also formed its Human Rights Commission, chaired by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, to draft the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in Paris on December 10, 1948. In addition, instead of firing squads for the defeated Axis leaders, the U.S. led the Allies in convening tribunals at Nuremburg and Tokyo in 1945-1946 that tried their war crimes under international law. Three years later, Washington joined the international community in adopting the four modern Geneva conventions that laid down the laws of war for future conflicts to protect both captives and civilians.

During the 70 years that Washington led many of these international institutions, half the world won national independence, economic prosperity spread, poverty declined, hunger receded, diseases were defeated, world war was indeed avoided, and human rights advanced. No other empire in world history had presided over so much progress and prosperity for such a significant share of humanity.

Citizen Diplomats

Some scholars of international relations remain confident that the international institutions America has long promoted can survive its demise as the globe’s dominant power. But Trump’s control over foreign policy and his erratic leadership make that prospect at best uncertain. While scholars place their hopes on the internal resilience of the liberal world order, an equally important source for its potential survival lies with the millions of U.S. citizen-diplomats who have served, for the past 70 years, as adjuncts in its promotion and remain, as activists and voters, potential advocates for its preservation — and these even include one group that might normally be considered unlikely indeed: the very evangelicals who, in recent times, have backed Donald Trump in startling numbers.

Unlike the genteel elite exchanges and government programs that marked Europe’s old empires, America has influenced billions of people worldwide pervasively through mass communications and directly through citizen initiatives. While in Britain’s imperial heyday, elite circles communicated with each other via telegraph, newspaper, and radio, America has freed the flow of information for uncounted billions through television, the Internet, and cell phones — making grassroots activism a global reality and citizen diplomacy a major force in a changing world.

Although much less visible than those cellular towers lining rural roads and the computer screens dotting desktops in every city, the global impact of U.S. citizen initiatives has been no less profound. Despite a foreign policy that frequently retreated into isolationism or hyper-nationalism or brutal wars, since the end of World War II a surprising number of Americans have immersed themselves in the wider world, arguably far more deeply than any other people on the planet. The old European colonial empires were state enterprises, but the U.S. imperium has been, in significant ways, a people’s project (as well, of course, in Washington’s coups and wars, as an anti-people’s project).

If Europe’s missionary efforts were generally state-sponsored, the spirit has moved millions of individual American evangelicals to “go on mission,” often to the most remote, rugged parts of the planet. From the Civil War to World War II, mainline Protestant denominations sponsored small numbers of career missionaries who made the conversion of China the aspiration of the post-Civil War generation. But since the Boeing Corporation introduced cheap jet travel in the 1960s, countless millions of evangelicals have launched themselves on short-term missions. While religious conversion has certainly been their prime goal, providing medicine, food, and education to remote areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America has also been a key part of that endeavor.

As a way to count these countless evangels, in my own small family circle a cousin, a Harvard-trained pediatrician, has made several medical missions to West Africa; the real-estate agent for my mother’s house repeatedly slowed the sale by going on education missions to Cambodia; friends from my Anglican parish travel regularly to Haiti on a development mission to a sister church; and my father-in-law’s old army buddy for years flew his private plane down to Central America on gospel missions.

Whenever global disasters strike, the Mormons, along with the 5,000 employees of Catholic Relief and 46,000 workers of the Protestant World Vision, mobilize what has become billions of dollars annually to send massive shipments of relief goods to the farthest corners of the Earth.

America’s concern for the world beyond its borders also has a no-less-vital secular side. Paralleling the rise of Washington as a world power, the Chicago-based Rotary International, for instance, has grown into a global network of 33,000 clubs in 200 countries. Since 1985, its 1.2 million members have donated nearly two billion dollars to inoculate two billion children worldwide against polio. As someone who still limps from this childhood disease, I was delighted to learn a few years ago, when I spoke before my local Rotary Club in Madison, Wisconsin, that my speaker’s fee had been automatically donated to the worldwide fight against polio.

When I spoke to the local Kiwanis chapter, I found that they were crisscrossing the state collecting antique foot-pedal Singer sewing machines for shipment to rural co-ops in Central America without electricity — catalyzing this small city’s Sewing Machine Project that has sent 2,500 machines worldwide since 2005. In a similar fashion, recent immigrants to the U.S. have often sponsored schools and medical care in their former homelands; military veterans have promoted humanitarian efforts in old battlegrounds like Vietnam; the 230,000 returned Peace Corps volunteers have been voices for a people-oriented foreign policy; and the list only goes on.

Whether passing the plate down the pews or logging onto the Internet, millions of Americans send billions of dollars overseas every year through their churches or activist groups like Doctors Without Borders, CARE USA, and Save the Children USA, whether for the Ethiopian famine, Indonesia’s tsunami, or the Rohingya crisis.

This tradition of what might be thought of as citizen diplomacy and the ingrained internationalism that goes with it were manifest in the extraordinary eruption of mass protest that occurred when, in his first week in office, President Trump tried to ban travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations. Within a day, a small crowd of 30 people with placards at JFK international airport in New York swelled into impassioned protests by thousands attending demonstrations across the city. Over the next week, there would be parallel protests by tens of thousands in some 30 cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Portland, Maine. It is these ardent demonstrators and the millions more with their own international causes who seem mindful of what might be lost as America heads for the exits from the world stage.

China Rising

Yes, CIA coups, the Vietnam War, and untold other horrors of empire will long remain troubling memories of U.S. hegemony, not to speak of the twenty-first-century war on terror, those CIA black sites, drone strikes, and so on, so why should anyone, liberal or conservative, who harbors doubts about America’s global power be concerned with its accelerating decline? At its core, the U.S. world order has rested, for the past 70 years, on that delicate duality — an idealistic community of sovereign nations and sovereign citizens equal under the rule of international law joined tensely, even tenuously, to an American imperium grounded in the grimmest aspects of U.S. military and economic power.

Now, consider the likely alternatives if Donald Trump succeeds in withdrawing the U.S. from any form of idealistic internationalism. While the downside of Washington’s harsh hegemony of the last almost three-quarters of a century was in some part balanced by its promotion of a liberal international order, both Beijing and Moscow seem inclined to the idea of hegemony without that international community and its rule of law. Beijing accepts the U.N. (where it has a seat on the Security Council) and the World Trade Organization (a convenient wedge into world markets), but it simply ignores inconvenient aspects of the international community like the Permanent Court of Arbitration, recently dismissing an adverse decision there over its claims to the South China Sea.

Beijing has quietly challenged what it views as pro-Western organizations by beginning to build its own parallel world order, which it naturally intends to dominate: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization instead of NATO, its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in lieu of the IMF, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to supplant the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. The trillions of dollars in trade and development agreements that Beijing has doled out across Asia, Africa, and Latin America in recent years are the epitome of commercial Realpolitik, devoid of any concern for the environment or for workers’ rights. Putin’s Russia is even more dismissive of the restraints of international law, expropriating sovereign territory, invading neighboring nations, assassinating domestic enemies abroad, and blatantly manipulating elections overseas (a subject in which, of course, the United States once showed a certain expertise).

Although overshadowed in recent years by its endless counterterror operations and its devastatingly destructive wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa, the United States has nonetheless had a profound and often positive impact upon the world, in terms both of its high politics and its mass culture. Long after the damaging excesses of Washington’s hegemonic power — the CIA coups, the torture, the drone killings, and those never-ending wars — fade from memory, the world will still need the more benign dimension of its dominion, particularly the very idea of global governance through international organizations and the rule of law, especially as we face a planet similarly in decline. The loss of all of that would be a loss indeed.

If the world experiences a slow, relatively peaceful transition away from U.S. hegemony, then the subsequent global order just might maintain some of the liberal international institutions that still represent the best of American values. If, by contrast, the golden-shower diplomacy of Donald Trump continues, while the Chinese and Russian versions of hegemony only gain strength, then we will likely witness a harsher world order based on autocracy, Realpolitik, and commercial domination, with scant attention to human rights, women’s rights, or the rule of law. At this critical turning point in world history, the choice is still, to a surprising degree, ours to make. But not for long.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, the now-classic book which probed the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over 50 years, and the recently published In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Dispatch Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, and Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead.

Copyright 2018 Alfred W. McCoy

Tomdispatch.com)

Why Pompeo’s Iran speech was So Outrageous

Tue, 22 May 2018 - 11:14pm

Oxford (The Transnational) – Speaking at the Heritage Foundation…, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo practically declared war on Iran. His unprecedented threats against Iran went even beyond what President Trump had said in the past.

Commenting on the speech (full transcript here), JStreet wrote: “With their decision to violate the historic JCPOA arms control agreement, the president and his ‘war cabinet’ have created a strategic disaster of their own making and undone the major accomplishments of the previous administration. They have made the US, Israel and the world less safe.”

Short history of Iran’s nuclear activities: 1957 to the JCPOA

After 12 years of intensive talks, initially between Britain, France and Germany (the EU-3), and finally between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), Iran and the leading world powers reached a landmark agreement. The nuclear deal (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) was the result of the efforts of the greatest experts in nuclear non-proliferation, including experts from the IAEA and departments of energy and intelligence service of all those countries.

Iran’s nuclear programme had started in 1957 with the help of the United States as a part of the Atoms for Peace program, when a “proposed agreement for cooperation in research in the peaceful uses of atomic energy” was announced.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mohammad Reza Shah’s government started an ambitious nuclear program. It established the Tehran Nuclear Research Centre in 1967, with a US-supplied 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor, which was fueled by highly enriched uranium.

Iran was one of the first countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. The NPT allows all member states to engage in peaceful nuclear activity, including full range of processing, so long as they refrain from manufacturing nuclear weapons.

In return, the five recognized nuclear states (the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France) promised to move towards the elimination of their nuclear weapons in “good faith”. Not only have they not fulfilled this requirement, on the contrary, they have continued to develop more and more deadly and sophisticated nuclear weapons, and they have also been joined by India, Pakistan, Israel and recently by North Korea.

In 1974, with US backing, the Shah approved plans to construct up to 23 nuclear power stations, producing 23,000 megawatts of electricity. US and European companies competed against each other to help build those reactors.

In 1975, the Erlangen/Frankfurt firm signed a contract worth up to $6 billion to build the first nuclear power station in Bushehr. President Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Iran the chance to buy and operate US built power stations, including a U.S.-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel.

After the Islamic Revolution, all those programmes were suspended, including the Bushehr power station that was nearly complete.

The start of the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war further delayed the resumption of the nuclear program. Eventually, in 1981 during the presidency of the late Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Iranian officials decided that the country’s nuclear development should continue.

They turned to the Western countries that had promised to build reactors in Iran to resume their work, but all of them refused to cooperate.

In 1983, IAEA officials were keen to assist Iran in various aspects of reactor fuel fabrication, chemical engineering and design aspects of pilot plants for uranium conversion, corrosion of nuclear materials, LWR fuel fabrication, and pilot plant development for production of nuclear grade UO2. However, contrary to NPT regulations, the United States directly intervened to discourage IAEA assistance to Iran.

Finally, Iran turned to China, but under US pressure China too dropped her nuclear commerce with Iran.

However, Iran was successful to persuade Russia to complete the Bushehr reactor, which was completed after long delay and at great cost to Iran. Faced with this situation, Iran decided to conduct her own work on nuclear enrichment, in which she succeeded.

The United States imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran and forced other countries to follow suit. Iran was taken to the Security Council, which also imposed crippling sanctions that cut Iran’s oil exports by half and cost Iran billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Iran continued with her nuclear programme and increased the number of her centrifuges, despite threats of war, crippling sanctions, cyber sabotage, the assassination of her nuclear scientists by Israeli agents, etc.

It was only after President Barack Obama agreed that as a member of the NPT Iran was entitled to a peaceful nuclear programme that intense negotiations started, resulting in the JCPOA.

While establishing her right to engage in nuclear activity, Iran accepted the harshest conditions as confidence-building measures. The agreement reduced Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile by 98 percent and restricted the level of enrichment to 3.67 percent.

Given that an enrichment level of more than 90 percent is needed to build a nuclear bomb, the deal makes it impossible for Iran’s uranium to be weaponized.

Under the deal, Iran also reduced the number of its centrifuges from 20,000 to a little over 5,000, far below the number that would be needed for manufacturing a single bomb, even if she wanted to do so. Iran closed the Arak reactor, which was capable of producing plutonium, and agreed to severe restrictions on research and development activities in other facilities.

In short, the agreement made it virtually impossible for Iran to build a single bomb.

Some of Pompeo’s intolerable conditions

1) Pompeo demands that: “First, Iran must declare to the IAEA full account of prior military dimension of its nuclear programme, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity”.

This is something that was pursued under PMU or Possible Military Use during the talks. The IAEA studied all those allegations, including taking soil samples from Parchin military base where the Israelis had claimed that nuclear activity had been conducted. The IAEA decided that there had been “no diversion” of nuclear material for military use.

Iran has agreed to abandon work on nuclear weapons in perpetuity, and all the talk about so-called “sunset clauses” is baseless. In addition to being a member of the NPT, Iran has also joined the “Additional Protocol”, which requires continuous, unannounced inspections of all her nuclear sites, and she has also given an undertaking never to produce nuclear weapons.

The prohibitions do not stop at the end of the “sunset clauses”, but will continue in perpetuity.

The IAEA that is the only legal body in charge of monitoring the deal has, on eleven separate occasions, certified that Iran has fully complied with the terms of the deal.

2) “Second, Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing. This includes closing its heavy water reactor.”

Demanding that Iran should stop enrichment goes against NPT rules. As for “never pursuing plutonium reprocessing”, this is precisely what Iran has agreed to do under the JCPOA, and has destroyed her heavy water reactor.

3) “Third, Iran must also provide to the IAEA full unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country.”

This is again another provision of the JCPOA, which the IAEA has used on many occasions.

4) “Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt the launching or development of nuclear-capable missiles.”

This is yet another misleading and illegal demand. Like any other country, Iran has the right to defend herself (UN Chater Art 51) and as she is unable to acquire advanced military equipment that the United States has readily sold to all Iranian neighbours, Iran’s missiles are her only means of deterring a military aggression.

Iran does not have intercontinental ballistic missiles as she has limited the range of her missiles to 2,000 kilometres. They are not designed to carry nuclear weapons, and in any case Iran does not have nuclear warheads.

5) Pompeo accused Iran of spreading terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.

Iran has been fighting against ISIS and other terrorists in Iraq and Syria at the invitation of the governments of those countries. It is up to the Syrian government to ask Iran to withdraw her forces from that country, not for a US Secretary of State to dictate to other countries what they should and should not do.

All experts agree that the mantra of “Iran-backed Houthis” is exaggerated propaganda, as Iran’s contacts with the Houthis and influence over them is minimal.

It is Saudi Arabia and members of her coalition who, with American support, have been bombing Yemen, killing and wounding tens of thousands of innocent people and creating the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe there.

What this is really about: Obsession with revenge and regime change

President Trump and his three senior officials, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani, seem to be preparing the ground for a disastrous war with Iran.

Their hostility towards Iran does not seem to have anything to do with Iran’s nuclear programme, but has everything to do with an obsession for regime change.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Mike Pompeo boasted that “one of the first things the President did is to go build a coalition of [Persian] Gulf states and Israel to help find a platform which could uniformly push back against Iranian expansionism.”(1)

When he was still a member of Congress in 2016, Pompeo called for action to “change Iranian behaviour, and, ultimately, Iranian regime.” (2)

In the past, he has called for strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.(3)

Some of his hostility towards Iran seems to have been based on his hatred of Islam. In 2015, Pompeo, then a Congressman, attacked Barack Obama, who, according to him, took the side of the “Islamic East” in its conflict with the “Christian West”. “Every time there has been a conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic East, the data points all point to a single direction,” he said.

Some of his hostility towards Iran seems to have been based on his hatred of Islam. In 2015, Pompeo, then a Congressman, attacked Barack Obama, who, according to him, took the side of the “Islamic East” in its conflict with the “Christian West”. “Every time there has been a conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic East, the data points all point to a single direction,” he said. (4)

John Bolton is another strong advocate of regime change in Iran.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on 15 January 2018, entitled “Beyond the Iran Nuclear Deal: US policy should be to end the Islamic Republic before its 40th anniversary”, Bolton condemned the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as a “massive strategic blunder.”

However, he went on to say that American policy, “should be ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its fortieth anniversary.”

He continued: “Recognizing a new Iranian regime in 2019 would reverse the shame of once seeing our diplomats held hostage for four hundred and forty-four days. The former hostages can cut the ribbon to open the new U.S. Embassy in Tehran.” (5)

The former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, who is now a member of Trump’s legal team has also been a fervent advocate of regime change in Iran.

Speaking at a conference of the terrorist, cultish group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation, in Washington on 5 May 2018, Rudy Giuliani openly said that Washington’s policy was regime change in Iran, and he even promised that next year they would celebrate the event in Tehran. (6)

This obsession with the past and a deliberate decision to bring about a regime change in Iran will have incalculable costs.

Let’s not forget that prior to Iraq war, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the authors of that war, predicted that it would be a “cake walk”, that it “would pay for itself”, and that “US forces would be welcomed with roses”.

Fifteen years after that disastrous war, American forces are still operating in that country, and the war which has cost trillions of dollars to US taxpayers has killed and wounded millions of innocent Iraqi people, shattered that country and has given rise to a number of vicious terrorist movements.

It should be clear to everyone who is familiar with the Middle East that a war against Iran will not be like Iraq, it will be much worse. It will kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, will set the Middle East on fire and will do a great damage to Israel and other US allies that she seemingly wishes to support.

During his confirmation hearing at the US Senate, Mike Pompeo was asked if Russia was a unique country. He replied: “This [US] is a unique, exceptional country. Russia is unique, but not exceptional.” (7)

This kind of aggressive, bullying, threatening, demanding and illegal language has not been heard from a responsible government official since before the Second World War.

The concept of Americans being unique and exceptional and almost chosen by God, and referring to other nations as inferior, in the way that President Trump referred to the Latinos as animals, is not far removed from the concept of a superior race and Der Untermensch, or subhuman people.

If we wish to avoid the horrors of the Second World, we must put an end to this kind of arrogant mentality.

It is time for the Europeans, for all the peace-loving Americans and for millions of concerned people across the world who will be paying the cost of this misadventure to stop this madness before it is too late.

Notes

1. Aspen Security Forum, The View from Langley, July 20, 2017.

2. “Rep. Mike Pompeo: One year later, Obama’s Iran nuclear deal puts us at increased risk”, Fox News Opinion, July 14, 2016.

3. Raphael Ahren, “With anti-Iran, pro-Israel stances, Pompeo may become Jerusalem’s new darling”, The Times of Israel, 14 March 2018.

4. Peter Beinart, “Mike Pompeo at State Would Enable Trump’s Worst Instincts”, The Atlantic, Nov 30, 2017.

5. “Beyond the Iran Nuclear Deal: US policy should be to end the Islamic Republic before its 40th anniversary”, Wall Street Journal, Jan 15, 2018.

6. “Rudy Giuliani speaks at Iran Freedom Convention”, CBSN, May 5, 2018.

7. USA: ‘US exceptional, Russia is not’ – Trump’s Sec of State pick Pompeo on YouTube here.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Transnational

In growing Constitutional Crisis, Trump attacks CIA, FBI over Investigations

Tue, 22 May 2018 - 11:07pm

Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump attacked the probe into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia as a “political hit job” on Monday, as a part of a mounting White House effort to paint the probe as politically motivated.

In the latest salvo from Trump’s administration and his Republican Party, the president assailed former CIA chief John Brennan, a strident critic, as having initiated the investigation.

A day earlier, Trump demanded the Justice Department investigate the FBI for allegedly planting an informant in his campaign, and his lawyer pressed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to speed up the probe to avoid it affecting November’s mid-term elections.

Both moves highlighted the heightened political stakes surrounding the year-old probe, as Mueller seeks to interview Trump himself amid growing chances of an impeachment effort against the president if evidence of collusion and obstruction of justice is found.

“This was a Political hit job, this was not an Intelligence Investigation,” Trump said in a series of tweets, quoting Fox News commentator Dan Bongino.

Brennan, the CIA’s head from 2013 to 2017, “started this entire debacle about President Trump,” the president said. “He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community.”

– FBI infiltrated Trump campaign? –


GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / CHIP SOMODEVILLA. US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein promises to investigate whether there was any politically motivated surveillance of the Trump campaign.

In recent weeks, Trump has stepped up his attacks on the Russia investigation, aiming to erode trust in Mueller’s integrity in the event the probe takes aim at the president himself.

After hitting the one-year mark last week, Mueller’s probe has taken on increasing political weight as the country heads towards midterm elections.

Investigators have already issued 22 indictments, including of top Trump aides like chairman Paul Manafort and former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

More indictments are expected, but Mueller and his team have remained absolutely silent about the direction of the investigation and what evidence they have, especially with regard to Trump.

Aiming to exploit that silence, Trump took to Twitter on Sunday to order the Justice Department to investigate the FBI’s implanting of “at least one” informant in his 2016 campaign, suggesting it was an act of political espionage by president Barack Obama’s administration.

Late last week, some US media identified a British-based American academic and former government official, with longstanding ties to the CIA, as the informant who sought meetings with several Trump aides during the campaign at the FBI’s request.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats met Trump to discuss the issue Monday.

Based on the meeting, the Justice Department will include in its ongoing investigation into the 2016 election “any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign,” according to the White House.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani added pressure on the probe, telling media Mueller hopes to wrap up by September 1 — a target date that no one on Mueller’s team has made public.

Vice President Mike Pence reiterated that stance, telling Fox News: “I think it’s time that the special counsel wrap it up.”

The White House is gambling that by both pressuring and denigrating the investigation, Republicans can gain voter support ahead of the November elections.

If Mueller finds evidence of criminal behavior by Trump, it is crucial the Republicans prevent Democrats from gaining control of the House of Representatives, which would rule on any impeachment motion.

Analysts say Trump’s strategy to attack the CIA and FBI could be working.

“The FBI and DOJ are reluctant to publicly respond in any way that makes them appear political,” said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

“By tweeting the accusation, the president has already cast the doubt in the public mind.”

Feature photo. AFP / SAUL LOEB. US President Donald Trump accused former CIA director John Brennan of launching the Russia meddling probe of his campaign as a “political hit job”.

The New American Aristocrats: Growing Inequality threatens Democracy (Atlantic Video)

Tue, 22 May 2018 - 7:25am

By Matthew Stewart | – –

“When it comes to the division of wealth, many Americans believe that the country is split between the 1%, which possesses a significant share of the country’s money, and the 99%, or “the people.” In reality, The Atlantic writer Matthew Stewart argues, 9.9% of the population comprises America’s new aristocracy, which often “takes wealth out of productive activities and invests it in walls.” But this group of people is rich in more than mere money, and its constancy poses an insidious threat to the promise of American democracy.”

The Atlantic: “The 99% Is a Myth—Here’s How It Really Breaks Down ”

Five myths about Palestine’s youth activists – debunked

Tue, 22 May 2018 - 6:35am

Belfast (The Conversation) – – Wisal Sheikh Khalil was just 14 years old when she was shot dead by an Israeli sniper during the protests on May 14, 2018, in Gaza. Of the 60 Palestinians killed, eight were under 16 years, and most were under the age of 30. Earlier this month, 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi was sentenced to four months in prison by an Israeli military court, just one of over 300 Palestinian minors held in Israeli custody.

It can be hard for people outside the conflict to understand what motivates young Palestinians such as Wisal and Ahed to risk arrest, injury and death. Worse, there are several persistent myths which have clouded people’s perceptions about Palestinian activism, and youth activism more broadly.

My research with young Palestinian activists over the past ten years has given me a chance to investigate how they understand their role in the conflict – and collect the evidence needed to challenge those myths.

Young people are ready to die

During the height of the second intifada (or uprising) in the early 2000s, a story spread that young Palestinian activists were seeking death through suicide bombing. This idea has persisted in Palestine and throughout the Middle East, with both media and academic focus on youth “radicalisation” feeding into the rhetoric that young people are drawn towards violence or self-sacrifice.

Some youths may be thinking about martyrdom; Wisal, for example, had told her mother she was prepared to die. But the actions taken by most young Palestinians are anything but a death wish. Rather, they are attempting to transform their daily lives under occupation. As Palestinian journalist Mariam Barghouti wrote this week:

The misconception is that we actually have a choice, that we are wilfully choosing death. The truth is that the only remaining option is to silently be imprisoned, controlled, dispossessed, and attacked for being Palestinian. There is no choice but to seek life, and that is all that we are doing. This is our crime. We are the criminals that dared to wish for life.

More young people means more resistance

A related myth is that of the “youth bulge”: the idea that the sheer size of the youth population in the Middle East will lead to more resistance. In reality, that is not the case. While 30% of the population in Palestine is between the ages of 15 and 29, there is not notably more or less Palestinian activism now than there was in the past.

Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi marches with her mother and father beside her.
Haim Schwarczenberg/Flickr, CC BY-SA

As a protracted conflict, resistance in Palestine is intergenerational, with many of today’s young people taking inspiration from the earlier activism of their parents and grandparents, many of whom still participate in demonstrations, protests and other forms of everyday activism.

Youth activism is spontaneous

It is a misconception that youth-led protests spontaneously erupt in Palestine. In fact, Monday’s protest was the culmination of over six weeks of protest at the Gaza border. Villages across the West Bank have held weekly demonstrations for years – some for over a decade .

Young people organise through local “popular committees”, campus groups, social media, word of mouth and direct outreach in villages, refugee camps and communities. While protests such as Monday’s garner the most attention, young people are active in other ways as well. They coordinate Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns, use media, music and art as modes of resistance and connect with international solidarity groups.

Young people are the pawns of political parties

There were reports that Hamas had orchestrated or hijacked Monday’s protests, suggesting that the estimated 40,000 participants – mostly young people – were simply political pawns.

While Hamas did provide logistical support throughout the protests, nearly all young activists I have interviewed saw their resistance as distinct from any political party – Fatah or Hamas, neither of which has served Palestinian civilians well.

To suggest that young activists are passive pawns manipulated by the parties undercuts the agency and leadership that young Palestinians have expressed in the absence of strong leaders.

Young people are the future

Young Palestinians are not just the future – they are also the present. To refer to young people only as “the future” diminishes the important role they are already playing in Palestine, and throughout the Middle East, to reshape their societies and challenge political realities.

Young people are neither passive victims nor violent extremists; they are leaders, activists, students, artists and engaged citizens ready to challenge the status quo, not only for the future, but for the immediate present.

Julie M Norman, Research Fellow in Global Peace, Security, & Justice, Queen’s University Belfast

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

Featured photo: Courtesy Maan images.

Iran’s Rouhani: ‘world no longer accepts US deciding for them’

Tue, 22 May 2018 - 6:13am

Tehran (AFP) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani dismissed threats made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, saying the rest of the world no longer accepts Washington making decisions on their behalf.

“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?” Rouhani said in a statement carried by multiple Iranian news agencies.

“The world today does not accept that the United States decides for the world. Countries have their independence,” he added.

It was a pointed response to Pompeo’s speech earlier in the day, in which he threatened the “strongest sanctions in history” against Iran unless it capitulated to a series of 12 demands regarding its regional behaviour and missile programme.

But Rouhani dismissed the administration of President Donald Trump as a “move 15 years backwards to the era of Bush junior and a repeat of the same statements as 2003”.

“The era of such statements has evolved and the Iranian people have heard these statements hundreds of times, and no longer pays attention,” he added.

European leaders have strongly condemned the US move to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions, seeing it as undermining regional security and a direct attack on their economic interests.

Russia and China — two other parties to the agreement — have also criticised the US move and vowed to maintain trade with Iran.

“The world does not accept the logic by which a gentleman who was head of the spy service… decides for others,” said Rouhani, referring to Pompeo’s recent job as head of the CIA.

Featured photo: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP/File. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dismissed the administration of President Donald Trump as a “move 15 years backwards to the era of Bush junior and a repeat of the same statements as 2003”.

How Pompeo’s “Severest Sanctions” on Iran will Backfire

Tue, 22 May 2018 - 3:41am

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speech on new sanctions on Iran lays out a wide range of Iranian behavior he would like to change, and specified harsh US financial sanctions as his instrument.

Pompeo, a Kansas oil man backed by the Koch brothers, is just a former congressman and a virulent Christian fundamentalist with white nationalist tendencies. He knows little about the world and is among the worst prepared secretaries of state in American history. He also knows nothing about the history of the region.

Unilateral US sanctions as a means of regime change or radically changing regime behavior have a strong record of failure, especially when applied to states with pricey primary commodities like petroleum.

Among the harshest sanctions ever were applied by the US and the UN to Iraq in the 1990s, and the ruling Iraq Baath Party of Saddam Hussein was able to survive. They cheated on oil sales, smuggled by truck to Turkey and Jordan, and built up billions in their coffers, which cushioned the Baath officials and the military commanders. At the same time, the sanctions destroyed the middle classes and drove people into slummy poverty. Iraq’s literacy rate even slipped. These effects strengthened the regime, which was still oil rich, against the increasingly poverty-stricken Iraqi public, many of whom began turning to religious fundamentalism of the Sadrist variety. The sanctions backfired on the West. It took an actual invasion and long term occupation of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and his Baath regime. Ex-Baathists thus forcibly deposed sometimes joined extremist groups such as ISIL.

The classic work on sanctions by K.A. Elliot and G.C. Huffbauer “concluded that empirical research on 115 cases of sanctions imposed from World War I to 1990 indicate that sanctions are more likely to succeed if its goal is modest, the target country is smaller than the sending country, the receiving and sending countries have friendly relations with substantial trade prior to imposition of sanctions, the cost to sending country is not significant, and sanctions are imposed quickly and decisively.” (Quoting S. Shojai and Patricia S. Root, “Effectiveness Of Economic Sanctions: Empirical Research Revisited,” The International Business & Economics Research Journal (Online) Vol. 12, Issue 11. Date: 2013.)

Pompeo’s press on Iran is the opposite of those successful cases in most regards. The US did not have good trade relations with Iran before Pompeo, and Pompeo’s demands are extremely wide-ranging. Historical experience therefore predicts failure.

Moreover, Pompeo’s image of the politics of the Middle East is just warmed over Christian Zionism. He sees tiny Hizbullah of Lebanon as a threat to Israel. In fact, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, half destroyed Beirut (which helped inspire Bin Laden to attack New York) and occupied 10% of Lebanon’s territory for 18 years, in the south. Hizbullah grew up as a resistance movement to that occupation, and it has been designated by the Lebanese cabinet as a national guard for the country’s south. Pompeo and his ilk never minded this brutal occupation and never went to bat for Lebanon. If Hizbullah did not exist, likely the Israelis would try to expand north again the very next day. But Hizbullah has not capability to attack Israel conventionally. In Lebanese terms, it is a defensive organization, which is why Lebanon’s Christians now appear largely to support it politically.

Pompeo also completely disregards the key role of Shiite militias backed by Iran in defeating ISIL, an organization that grew up as a direct result of the Republican Party’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.

From a Middle East point of view, the US gave them ISIL, and Iran defeated ISIL. Even some Iraqi Sunnis feel this way. Pompeo’s perspective will have no resonance in the region outside Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Even Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, half of the old Gulf Cooperation Council of Sunni Gulf monarchies, have reacted with dismay or lukewarmness toward the Trump withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

What Pompeo’s policy does suggest for the future is that Iran’s middle class will probably suffer some downward mobility, which will strengthen the regime and the hardliners and prolong the life of the regime.

—–

Bonus video:

PBS: WATCH: Secy. of State Pompeo discusses Iran at Heritage Foundation

Trump Collusion: How afraid should we be of Mohammed Bin Zayed of the UAE?

Mon, 21 May 2018 - 4:49am

Another meeting between the Trump campaign and a representative of the leader of the United Arab Emirates has been uncovered by the New York Times’s Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, and David Kirkpatrick, this one in August of 2016.

The gathering at Trump Tower was arranged by George Nader, a Lebanese-American international fixer with ties to Israeli intelligence as well as to Erik Prince’s Blackwater mercenary company. In the past decade, Nader emerged as an adviser to Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan, 57, of the UAE.

Donald Trump, Jr., attended, as did Joel Zamel, head of an Israeli psy-ops firm called Psy-Group specializing in manipulating social media. Zamel appears to have been offered to Trump by the UAE and Nader, and the connection suggests that Mohammed Bin Zayed of the UAE has been deploying Israeli companies for various purposes for some time and offered to let Trump in on the deal. Zamel and Psy-Group are denying working for the Trump campaign according to the Times.

Trump officials’ connection to Israeli media manipulation firms is a constant in the unfolding scandal. It has been alleged that when Trump went to Tel Aviv last year, his aides hired an Israeli firm named Black Cube to smear Obama-era officials who had worked on the Iran nuclear deal, as a way of undermining the deal itself. Black Cube wrote to Informed Comment to deny the allegation.

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven princely states along the Gulf littoral that had been trucial states with Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries to guarantee the security of British Indian shipping in the Gulf. Abu Dhabi, one of the seven, has emerged as hegemonic because of its vast oil wealth, sold mainly to Japan. The other six have largely been subordinated to Bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, whose official biography says:

    “His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, is the son of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ‘Father of the Nation’ and the first President of the UAE, and the brother of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. Sheikh Mohamed is married to Her Highness Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, and has four sons and five daughters.”

Nader was convicted in the US in the early 1990s of possession of child pornography, and served a year in prison in Prague in 2003-4 on ten counts of abusing minor boys.

The pedophilia angle on Nader needs to be unpacked. Did his activities in those circles in Washington, DC, in the 1980s and 1990s allow him to discover which American politicians and even foreign dignitaries were engaging in secret pedophilia activities, and then to pass that information to foreign intelligence agencies so that these individuals could be blackmailed? It is worth noting, though no one does, that at least allegations have been made against Trump by underaged girls. If Nader had files on “colleagues” in those circles, it might explain why he kept being picked up as useful even after the Prague year in jail. He was in Iraq with Prince’s Blackwater in the 2000s, and then around 2011 suddenly pops up in Abu Dhabi as adviser to Mohammad Bin Zayed, the crown prince.

Nader allegedly told Donald Trump, Jr., at the August meeting that the UAE and Saudi Arabia wanted to help Trump win the presidency.

Barack Obama had deeply disappointed the wealthy pro-American oil monarchies of the Gulf. He had decided, instead of backing them to the hilt against Iran or holding out a prospect of US military intervention in Iran, to play them off against Iran. He made the nuclear deal and got sanctions removed from Tehran, and was content for Iran and Saudi Arabia to check one another in the region. This strategy is one of several often lumped under the rubric of “offshore balancing.” Obama wanted to get out of the Middle East and focus on East Asia.

Obama also bucked the Gulf in its desire that he intervene in Syria against the al-Assad regime, as a way of dealing a blow to Iran and the Lebanese Hizbullah. Obama called his decision not to bomb Syria in September of 2013 a “declaration of independence” against the Gulf states. He was at that point pretty annoyed with their pressure on the US and their desire to use it against Iran for their own purposes and he was telling them to jump in a lake.

But the Gulf states are more powerful than they might appear. They have trillions of dollars in walking around money and small populations so that they don’t have to spend much of it locally. That is, Saudi Arabia’s GDP is similar to that of the Netherlands, but the Netherlands government has to spend a lot of money running the country, whereas the Gulf states can do that with a fraction of the investment.

This extra money can then be funneled into influence peddling. And it is.

Mohammed Bin Zayed also has a suspicious relationship with Vladimir Putin. The UAE has substantial Russian investments, and both the UAE and Russia are afraid of Sunni extremism (not only al-Qaeda and ISIL but they also lump the peaceful Muslim Brotherhood under that rubric).

The UAE and Saudi Arabia appear to have tried to hook Zamel’s Psy-Group up with the Trump campaign so that it could do a number on Hillary Clinton for them and suppress Democratic votes. At the same time, troll farms in St. Petersburg were engaged in the same sort of activity.

Mohammed Bin Zayed, having helped elect Trump, then slipped into the US incognito (highly irregular) in December of 2016, while Obama was still in office, for a meeting at Trump Tower with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon. Kushner told the crown prince he wanted a back channel to Russia. Flynn had been communicating directly with Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak. Apparently the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency was so thick he did not realize that Kislyak was under NSA surveillance. Jared seems to have realized the danger of a direct communication, so he asked the UAE to set up a back channel.

In January of 2017 before the inauguration, Prince met with Nader and Kirill Dmitriev, an investment banker whose bank is under US sanctions and whose wife has long been best friends with and works for Putin’s daughter. Dmitriev, with whom the UAE has business, was being provided to Trump at Jared’s request as the back channel in place of Kislyak. Also at the Seychelles was Elliott Broidy, the co-chair of the Republican National Committee, who had done $200 million in arms sales with the UAE and is also close to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.


Elliott Broidy, w/ h/t to Lunapic

In February of 2017, after the inauguration, Broidy requested $20 million as a lobbying fee from a Russian firm under sanctions to try to get the sanctions lifted.

Broidy had been recruited by Nader some time before and was perhaps himself a go-between for Trump and Bin Zayed.

Broidy had ingratiated himself with Trump by using Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen to pay $1.6 million to a Playboy bunny who had had an affair and gotten pregnant, then got an abortion. Paul Campos has argued at New York magazine that Broidy was taking care of all this for Trump, who was the one who actually had the affair and arranged the abortion, and that Trump was afraid it would all come out and sink him with the Evangelicals. In essence, the $1.6 million may have been a bribe to Trump from Broidy, which then opened for Broidy the coffers of the Russian firms lobbying to get sanctions lifted. Trump seems to use Playboy magazine the way other people use online restaurant delivery menus.

The UAE’s Bin Zayed also had a reason to want sanctions lifted on Russian banks and firms, since he held shares in some of them.

So the plot had several angles:

1. Get Trump elected since he is corrupt and can be easily bribed and possibly blackmailed

2. Use him to lift sanctions on Russian firms in which the UAE had invested.

3. Use him to scotch the Iran nuclear deal and put downward pressure on Iran’s oil sales, which would help the UAE make more money from its own oil.

4. Offer lobbying money as bribes to Trump principals so as to reward them for past cooperation and to encourage future cooperation.

5. Enlist the US in a UAE/ Saudi raid on Qatar’s $300 billion sovereign wealth fund, while at the same time drying up funding for the Muslim Brotherhood.

I suspect getting the US out of Syria was also part of the plot, but I haven’t worked that out yet. Trump cancelled a CIA program that more or less supported Muslim Brotherhood rebels in Syria.

The June 5, 2017, attack on and blockade of Qatar, orchestrated by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Russian hackers, was also part of the plot.

So too was maneuvering Mohammed Bin Salman into being the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, which Bin Zayed succeed in last summer.

Obviously, there is a big Israeli angle to all this of which we so far only have intimations, but obviously Netanyahu wanted the Iran deal sunk and Trump was more likely to sink it, and while Hillary Clinton is insufferably pro-Israel, she wouldn’t have let Netanyahu get away with nearly as much as Trump does.

Keep one eye on Putin with regard to the collusion story. But keep the other eye on Mohammed Bin Zayed.

——–

Bonus video:

Wochit News: “Saudi Arabia, UAE Officials Also Helped Trump Win? ”

Featured photo courtesy kremlin.ru

After Trump stab in Back, Will Iran withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Mon, 21 May 2018 - 1:47am

President Donald Trump announced that the US is pulling out of the Iran nuclear accord–and Iranians are really pissed.

Thousands of Iranians demonstrated in Tehran chanting “Death to America.” Thousands more attended Friday prayers in Tehran to hear hardline leaders denounce Trump’s actions.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, an influential Friday prayer leader in Tehran, warned against making deals with the west “since they cannot be trusted.”

While Iran’s hardliners spearheaded those protests,Iranians of all political views united against Trump. Interviewed at the Tehran Bazaar during a recent trip, Massoud Nashebegi anticipated Trump’s action. US animosity towards Iran “is getting worse,” he told me. “It’s because we in Iran stood up to the Americans.”

Foad Izadi, an assistant professor at the University of Tehran, told me in a phone interview that Iranians are angry at imposition of new sanctions despite Iran living up to terms of the nuclear accord, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iranian officials are meeting with European leaders in hopes they will defy Trump’s sanctions. But so far European corporations have started cancelling their investments rather than risk American ire.

“If the Europeans are not able or not willing to oppose Trump,” Izadi said, “then Iran will leave the JCPOA sooner or later.”

In 2015 seven countries signed the JCPOA in which Iran agreed to intrusive inspections of its nuclear power facilities in return for lifting of economic sanctions. The US, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China reached the accord after years of difficult negotiations. The JCPOA was codified into international law by a unanimous vote of the UN Security Council.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration renounced the JCPOA and announced unilateral resumption of harsh economic sanctions in 90-180 days, setting the stage for a major confrontation with Iran.

Trump’s actions have rallied Iranians around their government. An Iran Poll survey conducted in April showed that 67% of Iranians want their government to retaliate against the US in response to any cancellation of the agreement. They want Iran to restart portions of the country’s nuclear program suspended since the accord took effect.

And Iran’s leaders are preparing to do just that, although they differ sharply on how.

Some hardliners want to withdraw from both the JCPOA and the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT prohibits signatories from developing nuclear weapons. Once out of the NPT, Tehran could block all international inspectors from entering the country . The US would then have a much harder time determining if Iran was developing a nuclear weapon.

Izadi said Iran is also considering how to stay within the NPT and JCPOA while sending a sharp message to Washington.

  • Iran may step up the training of nuclear scientists. University level programs have lapsed in recent years, according to Izadi. By encouraging graduate studies in nuclear engineering, future personnel could go to work in Iran’s nuclear power industry, but also be ready to research nuclear weapons technology. Such academic research carried out before 2003 was a contentious issue in the JCPOA negotiations. Iran maintained that academic research didn’t violate the NPT while the US and Israel argued that it was part of a nuclear weapons program.

  • Iran could enrich uranium to 20%, which is well above the 4% level needed for nuclear power but far less than that needed for a bomb. Under terms of the JCPOA, Iran can enrich up to 20% for medical research. Iran had enriched to 20% during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

  • Iran could even enrich well above the 20% level to have fuel for nuclear submarines.

“Having a nuclear powered submarine is not a violation of the nuclear agreement,” Izadi noted. He admitted that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear submarine program. But implementing high levels of enrichment sends “a sign to the other side that Iran is not happy with all these sanctions.”

Most Iranians believe the nuclear issue is only an excuse to attack Iran. Izadi said even if Iran completely stopped its nuclear power program entirely, the US would invent a new excuse, such as Iranian support for “terrorism.” All these assertions are a cover for the US to expand its hegemony in the Middle East, he said.

“One of the primary objectives that the US has in this part of the world is to make sure that the oil that exists here is directly or indirectly controlled by the United States,” he said.

American companies once dominated Iran’s oil production. After the 1979 Iranian revolution, U.S. oil companies lost a major source of profits. Izadi said “the US wants to restore economic, political and military control over Iran as it tried to do in Iraq.”

The Trump administration is pursuing two-track military policy towards Iran. If Iran attacks Israel, the US and Israel would launch a large scale military attack. Otherwise, Trump will use harsh sanctions to worsen economic conditions for ordinary Iranians in hopes they would overthrow their government and install a US friendly regime.

The Securities Study Group (SSG), a right wing think tank close to National Security Advisor John Bolton, is circulating an Iran position paper to Trump’s national security team calling for regime change.

“The Trump administration has no desire to roll tanks in an effort to directly topple the Iranian regime,” said SSG PResident Jim Hanson. “But they would be much happier dealing with a post-Mullah government.”

Republican neocons tried such policies during President George W. Bush’s first term, and it failed miserably, noted William Beeman, an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota and an Iran expert.

“The Trump administration is only the latest Republican administration to advocate regime change,” Beeman told me. “Accusations that Iran was developing nuclear weapons was promulgated to convince the American public that this was desirable.”

Republican neoconservatives now play a prominent role in Trump’s cabinet as seen by the appointment of Bolton and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State.

“The idea that creating harsh conditions would cause the population of that country to rise up and overthrow their rulers is a longstanding act of faith on the part of the US government,” Beeman said. “Iran is only the latest nation to which this bankrupt strategy has been applied.”

Military conflict with Iran has already begun. Earlier this month Israel accused Iran of firing missiles into the Golan Heights, and Israel bombed what it said were Iranian military facilities in Syria. The decision to withdraw from the JCPOA has sent a signal to the region. The prospects for military conflict have increased–whether in Syria, Lebanon or Iran itself.

Feature photo: AFP / Alexander NEMENOV. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, pictured on April 28, 2018 while attending a meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow.

With Palestinian help, Syria forcing ISIL Terrorists from last pocket near Damascus

Mon, 21 May 2018 - 1:21am

Beirut (AFP) – Islamic State group fighters began evacuating their final stronghold in southern Damascus on Sunday, a monitor said, bringing Syria’s government closer than ever to flushing out the last threat to the capital.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used a combination of military pressure and evacuation deals in recent months to recapture territory around the capital from his armed opponents.

Last month, troops and allied Palestinian militia launched a fierce offensive to oust IS from a cluster of districts in southern Damascus, including the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk.

After weeks of combat and heavy casualties, an apparent deal was reached for remaining IS fighters to leave Yarmuk and the adjacent district of Tadamun, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

IS jihadists burned their headquarters in Yarmuk before boarding buses with their relatives to leave the area, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

“The six buses left at dawn, heading east for the Syrian desert,” he told AFP.

Abdel Rahman could not specify how many had left, but said a majority were relatives of jihadists and not armed. More than two dozen buses remained in Yarmuk for additional evacuations, he said.

Syrian state media and a Palestinian official have denied a deal was reached or that evacuations were taking place.

IS has had a presence in southern Damascus since 2015, expanding in recent years from Yarmuk to Tadamun and the nearby districts of Hajar al-Aswad and Qadam.

Yarmuk in particular has been devastated by Syria’s conflict, suffering a crippling government siege since 2012 and ruined by years of fighting.

It was once home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees, as well as Syrians, but just a few hundred remain.

– IS ‘surrendering’ –

Assad has already ousted tens of thousands of rebels and civilians from areas around Damascus this year through military force and negotiated withdrawals, including the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta.

The regime used similar tactics to clear opposition towns northeast and south of Damascus earlier this month, leaving IS as the only armed presence in the capital.

The assault against the jihadist force has left more than 250 pro-regime forces, 233 jihadists and more than 60 civilians dead according to the Britain-based Observatory.

But the offensive died down around midday Saturday after a truce between IS on one side and pro-government Palestinian militias and regime ally Russia on the other, said the monitor, which relies on a network of sources in Syria.

“After the ceasefire on Saturday, IS withdrew from areas in the western part of Yarmuk camp, east towards the centre of the camp,” Abdel Rahman said.

“Troops and Palestinian loyalist militias entered that area for sweeping operations,” he told AFP.

Syrian state media on Sunday denied evacuations were taking place in Hajar al-Aswad and made no mention of any departures from Yarmuk or Tadamun.

“Army units in southern Damascus continued their operations against the remaining terrorists in a small area of Hajar al-Aswad, making further progress towards ending the terrorist presence in the area,” it said.

Anwar Abdel Hadi, the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) also denied the evacuations but said IS appeared to be giving up.

“Daesh is surrendering in Yarmuk, Hajar al-Aswad, and Tadamun,” he told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

– Artillery backs SDF –

It remains unclear exactly where Sunday’s evacuees will go, or if they will be pursued by regime troops.

A similar deal reached last year by Syria’s regime and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah saw IS fighters bussed out of the Lebanon-Syria border area towards Syria’s east.

IS once held large parts of Syria’s north and east, but offensives by rival forces have whittled down its control to less than three percent of the country.

The jihadists still hold some territory in remote parts of central Homs province and Deir Ezzor in the east, according to the Observatory.

But IS is even under attack there.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by Western powers, launched an assault on IS holdouts in Deir Ezzor earlier this month.

On Sunday, they were closing in on a key IS-held village, backed by close US and French ground support, the Observatory said.

“There are intense clashes around Hajjin, and the SDF is advancing thanks to American and French artillery fire,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The SDF has already driven IS out of large parts of northern and eastern Syria, including the onetime jihadist capital of Raqa, with help from the coalition’s air strikes, weapons and special forces advisors.

Feartured Photo: SANA/AFP/File / Handout.

Europe must stand up to Trump bullying its Companies on Iran investments

Sun, 20 May 2018 - 11:04pm

Europe’s biggest challenge in resisting US sanctions on Iran is not legal or even geopolitical. It is psychological: European leaders act as if the US still cares about a trans-Atlantic alliance of shared interests, values, and approaches.

NEW YORK (Project Syndicate) – Donald Trump’s renunciation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and the reimposition of US sanctions on that country threaten global peace. Europe’s security depends on defending the agreement with Iran despite the US withdrawal. That, in turn, requires Europe, along with Russia, China, and other United Nations member states, to ensure that economic relations with Iran can develop. And that can happen only if Europe confronts, and ultimately overturns, America’s extraterritorial sanctions, which aim to deter trade and financial activities with Iran by non-US actors.

The purpose of Trump’s move is clear and indeed explicit: to topple the Iranian regime. Given this folly, European citizens accurately sense that Europe’s security interests are no longer closely aligned with those of the United States.

America’s bullying approach to Iran has been seconded – indeed championed – by two Middle Eastern allies of the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel invokes US power to avoid having to make any compromises with the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia invokes US military power to contain its regional rival, Iran. Both are hoping for a direct US war with Iran.

America’s previous efforts at regime change in the Middle East yielded horrendous results for the US and Europe (to say nothing of the disasters that befell the countries caught up in the US-provoked mayhem). Such “wars of choice” have been the major factor in the surge of migration to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. Even when regime change has “succeeded,” as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the aftermath has been violence and instability. And when regime change has failed, as in Syria, the result has been ongoing war.

The humiliating failure of French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convince Trump to remain in the JCPOA was predictable. The US decision reflects two converging forces: a deep-seated foreign-policy tendency – manifested by all recent US administrations – to seek hegemony in the Middle East, and Trump’s peculiar brand of psychopathy. Trump delights in embarrassing European leaders; their squirming is his triumph.

Yet they are not powerless. The agreement with Iran can still be salvaged, precisely because it is a multilateral agreement, endorsed by the UN Security Council (Resolution 2231), not an agreement solely between the US and Iran. Indeed, under Article 25 of the UN Charter, all UN member states, including the US, are obligated to fulfill the JCPOA. Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA is itself a violation of international law.

The essence of the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 is Iran’s cessation of activities that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons. Strict compliance by Iran is linked to the normalization of international economic relations, including the lifting of UN-agreed sanctions.

Even if the US now absents itself from the JCPOA, it has only two means to block the implementation of the agreement between Iran and the rest of the world. The first would be to foment war. This clearly is on the US agenda, especially with the neoconservative doyen John Bolton back in the White House as National Security Adviser. The world must steadfastly resist another ruinous US military adventure.

Extraterritorial sanctions are the second way the US could kill the JCPOA. It is one thing for the US to decide that it will not trade with Iran. It is quite another for the US government to attempt to block trade with Iran by non-US parties. This is America’s intention; it is up to Europe and China to defeat it, in the interest of global peace, as well as in their own direct economic interest.

In practical terms, the US will be able to enforce anti-Iran sanctions on companies operating in its domestic market, and most likely on subsidiaries of US firms operating abroad. Yet the US will try to go much further, by trying to block non-US companies from dealing with Iran. The US will probably succeed in clamping down on dollar-based transactions, as these are generally cleared through the US banking system. The real issue will come with non-US companies operating outside of the US and interacting with Iran via non-dollar currencies such as the euro and renminbi.

The US will certainly try to punish such companies, whether by targeting their local subsidiaries, by trying to haul them into US courts, or by denying them access to the US market. Here is where the European Union must take a strong stand and move beyond begging Trump for “waivers” for specific European business deals, a process that would make European countries even more subservient to Trump’s whims. Europe should defend a firm and unequivocal “No” to US extraterritorial sanctions, notably on companies operating in non-dollar currencies.

The EU should insist that extraterritorial sanctions violate international law (including the Resolution 2231 and therefore the UN Charter) and the rules of the World Trade Organization. They should recognize that acquiescence would be tantamount to handing the US a blank check to set the rules of war and peace beyond the UN Security Council, and the rules of global trade beyond the World Trade Organization. The EU should be prepared to use the WTO dispute resolution process against the US, and to bring its case to the UN Security Council and General Assembly. Where Europe is afraid to tread, China will surely swoop in to capitalize on business opportunities in Iran. And China would be right to do so.

Europe’s biggest challenge is not legal or even geopolitical. It is psychological. European leaders act as if the US still cares about a trans-Atlantic alliance of shared interests, values, and approaches. Sadly, this is no longer the case.

The US and Europe do still have many shared interests; but they have many divergent ones as well, especially when the US violates international law. Europe needs its own security policy, just as it needs its own trade and environmental policies. The showdown over the JCPOA is therefore a moment of truth. World peace depends on Europe’s defense of the UN Charter and the rules of international trade.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: German SMEs continue to trade with Iran under EU’s help

The Bolton Administration Has Already Begun

Sun, 20 May 2018 - 7:27am

The hard-right national security adviser successfully tanked the Iran deal. His next target? The North Korea talks.

For a man with a reputation for venting spleen and flying off the handle, John Bolton bided his time before finally rising to the position of power he now occupies.

The former U.S. ambassador to the UN spent much of the last decade consolidating his political base through stints at right-wing institutes like the American Enterprise Institute, media appearances on Fox, and the occasional reckless op-ed. He considered running for president in 2012 and 2016 but chose not to take the risk. Instead, he raised large amounts of money for extreme right-wing Republican candidates like Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR).

When Donald Trump appeared on the political scene, Bolton eagerly endorsed the candidate in the presidential race and offered himself up as a potential secretary of state. Trump won, but Bolton didn’t get the call. A similarity in temperament and a difference in ideology seemed to doom his appointment. The White House, after all, couldn’t possibly accommodate two filterless hotheads.

Moreover, Bolton’s continued support for the Iraq War and a more interventionist U.S. foreign policy seemed to put him forever at odds with the new president. “Bolton’s lambasting of global aristocrats aside, there isn’t much in the man’s worldview that rings consonant with President Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy,” wrote Daniel DePetris in The American Conservative.

That was then. Now John Bolton is Trump’s national security advisor.

After a steady diet of levelheaded corporate execs and restrained military men, Trump clearly wanted a little more hot sauce in the Oval Office. As for the differences in ideology, those were largely fictitious. Trump has no ideology, and Bolton is smart enough to tailor his message to his audience.

Trump is a very powerful boat with no rudder. Unfortunately, Bolton is now his rudder. Which effectively means, when it comes to foreign policy, that it’s Bolton’s administration now.

Bolton’s Impact

National security advisor is the perfect position for Bolton. He didn’t have to go through any messy confirmation hearings. He doesn’t have to perform any of the ceremonial tasks of a secretary of state.

He can instead focus on what he does best: steering government policy far to the right. Only a few weeks into his job, he can already put one notch in his gun for helping to steer the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

This should have been an easy task, since Trump had already made clear his distaste for the agreement. But there was still significant disagreement within the administration. Bolton, it appears, tilted the balance away from those, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who preferred to remain within the agreement. Writes Mark Langler in The New York Times:

Even if Mr. Mattis had wanted to fight for the deal, it is not clear how much he would have been heard. Mr. Bolton, officials said, never convened a high-level meeting of the National Security Council to air the debate. He advised Mr. Trump in smaller sessions, otherwise keeping the door to his West Wing office closed. Mr. Bolton has forged a comfortable relationship with the president, several people said, channeling his “America First” vocabulary.

Now that he has this comfortable relationship, Bolton will move on to more challenging assignments. “By working in the West Wing, the national security adviser spends more time with the president than the secretaries of State or Defense, and so can always get the last word,” writes Jonathan Swan in Axios. “But Bolton is signaling restraint until Trump makes a decision.”

So, for instance, with the Iran deal decision made, Bolton has been coy about whether he’s still pushing a regime-change strategy toward Iran. In public, of course, he must defer to the president. In private, Bolton would never keep his ideas to himself. As one of the biggest boosters of the militant, cult-like People’s Mujahedin of Iran (or MEK), Bolton is no doubt whispering into Trump’s ear at every possible opportunity that Iran is on the verge of regime collapse and a cadre of Ahmed Chalabis are ready to take over. All it needs is a tightening economic noose and a military nudge from Israel.

Meanwhile, as the president’s enforcer, it’s Bolton’s job to play the bad cop. He’s already done so with Europe, raising the possibility of sanctioning European businesses that continue to work with Iran. Bolton must love the opportunity to kill two multilateral birds with one unilateral stone.

However, the test of Bolton’s impact shouldn’t be Iran, where his views intersect with Trump’s. The real challenge will be on issues where Bolton’s stated preferences are diametrically opposed to current policy.

From Regime Change to Rapprochement?

John Bolton has never concealed his desire to see the collapse of the current government in North Korea. In February, even after the two Koreas had cooperated in the Winter Olympics, Bolton continued to argue in the Wall Street Journal that the United States should launch a preemptive military attack on Pyongyang and its nuclear facilities.

The Journal piece featured a bizarre, legalistic argument based on his interpretation of a British attack on a Canadian steamboat in U.S. territory in 1837. (No, I’m not making this up). Bolton didn’t bother to devote any space to the likely consequences of a preemptive attack on North Korea that, unlike the British example, could escalate to an exchange of nuclear weapons and involve the deaths of more than a million people.

It was pure Bolton: a legal intellect plus an instinct for bombast — and minus any acknowledgement of real-world consequences.

Now, as national security advisor, Bolton must wrap his mind around the reality of the potential summit between his boss and Kim Jong Un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. This might seem to put Bolton in a bind, forcing him to make arguments that run counter to his long-held preferences.

But remember: Bolton knows how to bide his time. He knows that the track record of U.S.-North Korean negotiations isn’t very good. He knows that a failed summit could easily push Donald Trump to the other side of the spectrum — or perhaps, given North Korea’s reaction to the recent U.S.-South Korean military exercises, the summit might not happen at all. A Trump scorned will likely find regime-change arguments more compelling.

In the meantime, Bolton is doing what he can to subtly undermine the upcoming summit. He’s ratcheted down expectations by saying that the Trump administration isn’t “starry-eyed” about the meeting. He’s loaded the summit agenda by adding “their ballistic missile programs, their biological and chemical weapons programs, their keeping of American hostages, the abduction of innocent Japanese and South Korean citizens over the years.” It would be hard enough to negotiate a nuclear agreement even without adding these other elements (though North Korea has already released the “American hostages”).

But perhaps the most sinister tactic Bolton has deployed involves his references to Libya. In interviews, he has said that Libya’s denuclearization in the 2000s can serve as a model for the North Korea talks.

Libya? The country that gave up its nuclear weapons program and then, within a few years, experienced civil war, foreign intervention, and regime collapse? Is that really the kind of model you want to highlight with a country like North Korea, which is worried about precisely such a scenario?

An anonymous source in the Trump administration told Abigail Tracy of Vanity Fair that Bolton is sending his own message to the North Koreans: “I mean, there is only one reason you would ever bring up Libya to the North Koreans, and that is to tell them, ‘Warning: don’t go any further because we are going to screw you’… So yeah, I completely agree that that is a dog whistle to the North Koreans, telling them, ‘don’t trust us.’”

Of course, Bolton’s mere presence in the administration, even if he just stands quietly in the corner and scowls, sends the message that this government is not to be trusted. Perhaps that’s the real reason for North Korea’s sudden summit skepticism.

War at the Top?

John Bolton isn’t stupid enough to contradict his boss, at least not directly. He’s a sycophant to his superiors and a sunvabitch to his subordinates. The interesting part comes with his relations to his equals. The most interesting part will be his relationship with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Thomas Wright, in Politico, argues that Bolton and Pompeo are cruising for a mutual bruising. He argues that it’s not hawks versus doves in the Trump administration, but “litigators versus planners.”

The litigators, led by Trump and deputized to Bolton, see national security policy as a way of settling scores with enemies, foreign and domestic, and closing the file. They will torpedo multilateral deals, pull out of international commitments and demonstrate American power before moving on to the next target.

Planners, on the other hand, are worried about the day after — for instance, how the United States addresses Chinese economic power in the wake of a pullout from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

It’s not yet clear whether Pompeo is a litigator or a planner, and thus whether he’ll team up with Bolton or side with the quintessential planner, Jim Mattis, to challenge the national security advisor’s blow-‘em-all-up philosophy. Wright expects a showdown.

I’m not sure. I expect tactical alliances between Bolton and Pompeo (on Iran) and tactical disagreements (on China). Where they disagree, Bolton probably will gain the upper hand, if not immediately then eventually, because he knows better how to manipulate the levers of power.

But on the general direction of Trump’s foreign policy, Bolton and Pompeo are in agreement. The faux-isolationism of Trump during his presidential campaign fooled a number of neoconservatives into voicing their opposition. But it didn’t fool either Bolton or Pompeo.

Let’s be clear: There is no American “retreat” from the world. Under the rubric of “America First,” the Trump administration has created a new kind of multilateral engagement — aligned with the hard right in Israel and Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, allied with authoritarian and far-right leaders like Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Viktor Orban in Hungary, and in support of a range of plutocratic interests over and above the wellbeing of the majority and the planet as a whole. (I long for Angela Merkel to just come out and say it: “Gott im Himmel, we must oppose this new Axis of Autocracy!)

So, not a retreat from the world but a retort to the world: Move this way, not that. As the Washington Examiner recently editorialized, “Trump’s foreign policy record is one of America continuing its role as global leader — even if we’re leading in a direction that displeases John Kerry.”

But please, let’s not talk about Trump’s “foreign policy record.” This is not the world of Donald Trump. The world of Trump is Mar-a-Lago, Fox News, and his Twitter account. His worldview is limited by his over-inflated ego and bank account.

No, this is the world of John Bolton. And, for a limited time before he blows it up, we’re just living in it.

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

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

——

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Why Trump and North Korea Disagree with Bolton’s ‘Libya Model’ | NYT News

Yes, you can stand for Palestinian rights without being Antisemitic

Sun, 20 May 2018 - 6:41am

( Otherwords.org) — I was told again and again to stand up when someone’s being mistreated. So I realized I had to stand up for Palestinians.

Now that Israel has killed dozens of Palestinian protesters in an obviously gross human rights violation, can we get something straight? You can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic.

I grew up Jewish, in an environment strongly supportive of the Israeli state. But I don’t support the way Israel treats the Palestinians, particularly when they slaughter unarmed people as they did this week.

My parents sent me to 13 years of Jewish Sunday school, complete with a Bat Mitzvah and all. I don’t really consider myself Jewish as an adult, but an entire childhood of religious education still made its mark.

Half of Jewish holidays revolve around the theme that some people oppressed us or tried to wipe us out just for being Jewish, and we suffered but we survived.

We were told again and again that when you stand silently when someone is being mistreated — whether it’s a kid getting bullied on the playground or an entire people suffering genocide — you are part of the problem.

If there’s one single lesson I learned from growing up Jewish, that’s it.

Unfortunately, that lesson can be at odds with another one we commonly get growing up: that Israel is our homeland. Whoever you are, if you are Jewish, when you go to Israel, you are home.

Sadly, nobody in our synagogue ever mentioned that the Palestinians should have rights, or even questioned whether Israel was treating them justly.

I internalized a belief that Israel was the land of the Jews, and when the Jews came back to reclaim it in the 20th century, the Palestinians were in the way. So they should leave. (Also, they were terrorists.)

At 18, I finally went to Israel. But Israel didn’t feel like my home. It felt like a blend of Middle Eastern and European culture. I felt just as foreign there as I did in Italy, Greece, or Egypt when I visited those places.

I saw a small snapshot of how badly the Palestinians were treated by the Israeli government. I also saw that the Palestinians were people too, mostly just trying to live their lives.

For the first time, I questioned what I’d been told about Israel. My principle of opposing injustice meant that I should stand for Palestinian rights, even if it meant disagreeing with the Israeli government.

I thought being Jewish was synonymous with supporting Israel, so after my trip I decided I was no longer Jewish.

Looking back, it was a mistake to equate Judaism with unquestioning support of Israel’s government. I know now that I if I chose, I could be Jewish while remaining critical of the Israeli government.

Many Israelis oppose their own government’s treatment of the Palestinians. Left-leaning Israelis vote against Prime Minister Netanyahu, and they oppose Trump’s inflammatory decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The same is true of millions of Jews here in the United States.

Of course Palestinians protest. Life has gotten worse for Palestinians since I visited, particularly in Gaza. Some call Gaza an “open air prison” and compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to South Africa’s apartheid. If Israel has a problem with Palestinians protesting, improving those conditions makes more sense than killing people.

Calling anyone who critiques the Israeli government’s policies and actions “anti-Semitic” may be a useful way to silence dissent, but it’s not at all accurate.

Israel is not Judaism. We can and should have a healthy debate about Israel’s policies and U.S. policy on Israel, just like we debate anything else in politics.

Via Otherwords.org

—–

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CCTV+: “Jewish-Americans Protest in Washington against US Embassy Move to Jerusalem”

Review of Bernard Lewis’ “What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response”

Sun, 20 May 2018 - 5:59am

Review of Bernard Lewis’ “What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response”

by Juan Cole

Reprinted from Global Dialogue, vol. 4, no. 4, Autumn 2002.

Bernard Lewis. What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 172 pp. Index to p. 180. Hard covers, $23.

Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong? is a very bad book from a usually very good author. How a profoundly learned and highly respected historian, whose career spans some sixty years, could produce such a hodgepodge of muddled thinking, inaccurate assertions and one-sided punditry is a profound mystery. While I cannot hope to resolve the puzzle, I can explain why I come to this conclusion.

Lewis never defines his terms, and he paints with a brush so broad that he may as well have brought a broom to the easel. He begins by speaking of the “Islamic world,” and of “what went wrong” with it. He contrasts this culture region to “the West,” and implies that things went right with the latter. But what does he mean by the “Islamic world?” He seldom speaks of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, who form a very substantial proportion of the whole. Malaysia and Indonesia are never instanced. He seems to mean “the Muslim Middle East,” but if so he would have been better advised to say so. With regard to the Middle East, what does he mean by the question “what went wrong?” Does he mean to ask about economic underdevelopment? About lack of democracy? About a failure to contribute to scientific and technological advances? About ethnocentrism? All of these themes are mentioned in passing, but none is formulated as a research design. If “what went wrong” was mainly economic, political and scientific, then why pose the question with regard to a religious category? Lewis straightforwardly says that Islam in and of itself cannot be blamed for what went wrong (whatever that was). Since Islam is not the independent variable in his explanation, why make “the Islamic world” the unit of analysis? Discerning exactly what Lewis is attempting to explain, and what he thinks the variables are that might explain it, is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.

Lewis has a tendency to lump things under a broad rubric together that are actually diverse and perhaps not much related to one another. Speaking of classical “Islam,” presumably about 632-1258, Lewis says that the “armies” of “Islam” “at the very same time, were invading Europe and Africa, India and China” (p. 6). Here he makes it sound as though “Islam” was a single unit with a unified military. Later, (p. 12) he actually speaks of the Crusaders’ successes impressing “Muslim war departments,” as if medieval institutions were so reified. In fact, Moroccan Berbers fighting in Spain are highly unlikely even to have known about the Turkic raids down into India. Nor is it clear that those Turks were motivated primarily by Islam (pastoralists have been invading India from Central Asia for millennia). Moreover, tribal alliances across religious boundaries bring into question the firmness of the military boundaries suggested by speaking of “Islam.” Even the early Ottoman conquests in Anatolia were accomplished in part through alliances with Christians. Finally, much of the advance of Islam occurred quite peacefully, through Sufi missionary work for example.

When discussing some European fears of the Ottomans (p. 9), Lewis lets it slip that the Iranian Safavids sought alliances with the Europeans against their Ottoman enemies. Lewis does not tell us that the Ottomans also made Protestant alliances in the Balkans against Catholic powers. Since Europeans were fighting amongst themselves, and Muslim powers were fighting amongst themselves, and each was willing to make tactical alliances across religious boundaries, it is not clear what is gained by setting up a dichotomy in the early modern period between the “West” and “Islam.”

When speaking of Ottoman military weakness, Lewis generally skips over the brilliant fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the Ottomans won wars in Europe handily in part because they quickly took up field artillery and their Janissary infantry was an early adopter of the matchlock. Military historians do not think central and western European armies began having a technological and organizational advantage over the Ottomans until after 1680. From Lewis’s account here one would have thought that the Ottomans were all along somehow backward.

When Lewis does speak of the military advances of the Europeans in the 18th century, he does not specify what they were, and he does not say why the Ottomans failed to adapt, merely noting the failure. Comparative historians have long held that Western Europe was innovative in warfare and technology in this period because it consisted of many small states constantly at war with one another. Many small states, moreover, could not stifle innovation or impose censorship effectively, since if only one broke ranks the innovation could be introduced. Large empires such as those of the Ottomans, the Mughals and the Qing tended to be more complacent, simply because they faced fewer powerful challenges. The Mughals never much improved their casting of cannon over two centuries, for instance, because it was perfectly serviceable against the rebellious clans they faced. And the regulatory power of these great empires was vast. Lewis, by neglecting to discuss such social and structural explanations, implicitly displaces the question onto character or culture. The Ottomans were hidebound, he implies, because Muslims look askance at learning from the infidel. How such an explanation could hold given the innovations adopted by the Ottoman military in the sixteenth century is not clear.

Lewis repeats his often stated contrast between curious Europeans who established chairs in Arabic and tried to learn about the Orient, and remarkably self-satisfied Muslims who did not interest themselves in the outside world. In fact, the primary impetus for the study of Arabic in Europe until the twentieth century was that it helped in deciphering biblical Hebrew, a matter of interest to European Christians for internal reasons. Further, since al-Biruni learned Sanskrit to write about India, Shahristani created an encyclopedia of the world religions, and Qadi `Abd al-Jabbar and many other Muslim theologians engaged at length with Christian doctrine, Lewis cannot mean to suggest that such a lack of curiosity was characteristic of Islam or Muslims all along. He must surely mean to say that after 1492 there was relatively little such curiosity.

In fact, after that date the Spanish Inquisition forcibly converted hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Andalusia and ruthlessly executed the recalcitrant. The Andalusians had been key transmitters of knowledge between civilizations, and now they were gone. The eminent medieval historian R. I. Moore has called Europe in this period “the persecuting society.” In the age of the Spanish and Roman Inquisitions the sort of access Muslims would have needed to Europe for a study program in Occidentalism was largely denied them. (Lewis admits this briefly on p. 42 but elsewhere keeps blaming Muslims for being unduly insular in this regard!) They were confined to a few trading enclaves in places like Venice, and even there a debate raged about whether they should be allowed. In contrast, Christian Europeans lived freely in Muslim lands. Rather than blaming Muslims for knowing so little of Europe in the age of the Inquisitions and the Wars of Religion, one might well view that continent as isolated from the rest of the world in that period by its own paroxysms of religious intolerance. Lewis notes abstract juridical reasoning by muftis about whether a Muslim should live in a state ruled by non-Muslims (the jurists said “no”), but does not take into account realities on the ground. Real Muslims in fact paid no attention to such strictures when living under Christian rule in southern Spain before 1492. Muslims also lived under Hindu and later British rule in India despite what jurists may have said.

Lewis creates a problematic West/Islam dichotomy virtually everywhere. When he comes to Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and the expulsion of the French in 1801, he says that “the French were forced to leave – not by the Egyptians nor by their Turkish Suzerains, but by a squadron of the Royal Navy …” In fact, the Egyptian populace revolted more than once against French rule, and the British and the Ottomans allied to expel the French from Egypt. While the role of the British navy was pivotal, significant Ottoman land forces at Akka and in Egypt also fought crucial battles that helped convince the French to surrender. A joint British-Ottoman military alliance to expel the French, however, complicates the story he wants to tell. The Ottomans are reduced to the burghers of Hamelin, forced to call upon a British pied piper who would rid them of the French rats. In fact, the British needed the Ottoman alliance against the French to protect their Indian routes as much as the Ottomans needed the British.

In discussing nineteenth-century Muslim responses to the new superiority of Europe, Lewis says that they could not consider science and philosophy the secret of success because they reduced philosophy to the handmaiden of theology. Yet, it is the hallmark of the thought of the Egyptian Rifa`ah al-Tahtawi (1801-1873) that he views European advances in “practical philosophy” to be the major reason for their flourishing civilization. Similar views were held by Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. It is unaccountable that Lewis does not know this. Lewis goes on to discuss attempts to found factories in the Middle East, and simply says “the effort failed, and most of the early factories became derelict” (p. 47). He maintains that these efforts were largely aimed at equipping armies. While it is true that the Egyptian textile industries ultimately failed, at their height they employed some 40,000 workers and were involved in rather more than making uniforms. Later silk factories in Lebanon were also highly successful for a period of thirty or forty years. Debate rages as to why early attempts at industrialization failed in the Middle East in the long run. Some blame the restrictions European powers placed on tariffs in the treaties of 1838 and 1840, while others point to Egypt’s lack of coal for energy, and of trained mechanics who could perform maintenance on the imported machines. Middle Eastern silk industries fell behind Europe in part because Pasteur invented a way of quarantining healthy silkworms against diseased ones, while Lebanese and Iranian worms suffered from such outbreaks. Lewis here as elsewhere attempts no explanation, simply noting the failure of industrialization in the region.

He then adds that “later attempts to catch up with the Industrial Revolution fared little better” (p. 47), linking the present-day with the 1840s without any segue. In fact, the 1960s and after witnessed extensive industrialization in the Middle East. The decade of the 1960s saw a substantial rise in living standards for Egyptians, after a wage stagnation 1910-1950. Everywhere in the region industry now makes up a significant part of local economies, which are no longer primarily agricultural. Light textiles have been a relative success story in Turkey and even in Pakistan. There are real problems with the economies of the Middle East, but to say that the development efforts of the past fifty years have been no more successful than those of the nineteenth century is frankly bizarre. That the rise of Israel put pressure on Arab budgets, when a different sort of neighbor might have allowed them to invest the money in more fruitful areas than the military, is never considered. Among the biggest problems for Middle Eastern economies have been high rates of population growth, which Lewis does not even mention. That is, Pakistan’s economy has grown a respectable 5 percent per annum or so in the past twenty years, rather better than Hindu India’s 3 percent, but the population growth rate is so great that the per capita increase remains small in both countries. Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, has done even better than Pakistan economically, and does not have a similar population problem. Lewis does not mention Muslim countries like Malaysia. He is not writing analytical history here, with a view to explaining particular problems by isolating independent variables. He is writing moral history, which is tautological. He seems to insist on erasing any successes they have had, and to imply that the Muslims have failed because they are failures.

The supercilious air of the bemused put-down suffuses this book. Lewis tells us that it is “sadly appropriate” that the first telegraph sent from the Middle East to the outside world concerned a military event, the fall of Sebastopol. He adds, with drop-dead timing, that “it is also sadly appropriate in that it was inaccurate; it hadn’t yet fallen” (p. 51). What sort of history writing is this? The clear implication is that the important news about the Middle East has for some time been military. The other clear implication is that the military news coming out of the region is full of falsehoods. The use of clever asides to create such a latticework of calumny has more in common with the techniques of propaganda than with academic history. Has Europe witnessed fewer wars than the Middle East in the past two centuries? Surely the comparative death toll from wars is about 100 to one in that period in Europe’s favor. Even the Crimean War, the butt of the joke, was primarily a European conflict in which France and Britain objected to Russia’s aggressive invasion of the Principalities (Romania) and riposted with Ottoman help in Russia’s Crimea. As for the inaccuracy, it was more premature than false. It is not clear that Middle Eastern wars generate more lies and propaganda than other wars, in any case. Truth is the first casualty of war, the saying goes. It does not specify “Middle Eastern war.”

Lewis virtually ignores European colonization of the modern Middle East. He alleges (p. 153) that it was “comparatively brief and ended half a century ago.” The French ruled Algeria 1830 to 1962. The British were in what is now Bangladesh from 1757 to 1947. While Britain only formally ruled Egypt 1882 to 1922, it was already making and breaking its rulers in the 1870s, and continued to play a heavy-handed role in Egyptian politics and in the Suez Canal until 1956. Radical Islamism was first provoked to terrorism in Egypt precisely by the arrogance of British power there, beginning a genealogy of violence that leads through Ayman al-Zawahiri directly to September 11, 2001. In a marvelous bit of misdirection, Lewis praises the “Chamber of Deputies” that British colonial administrators allowed to the Egyptians, which was merely an ineffectual debating society. He neglects to inform the reader that in 1880-1881 a popular Egyptian movement arose that imposed on the dictatorial Ottoman governor a real parliament with the purview of budgetary oversight, and that in 1882 the British invaded to overthrow this democratic experiment and put the autocratic Khedive back on his throne as their puppet. In any case, Franco-British involvement in the Middle East was not “brief.” If we include various forms of economic imperialism with actual colonization, the period would be even longer.

Nor is the length of European rule the only important factor. How deeply did they affect the local economy and society? The French powerfully shaped Algeria in ways that certainly contribute to its current travails, including substantial expropriation of land from owners and peasants and the creation of a comprador bourgeoisie. While one certainly cheers the British for giving refuge in Palestine to Jews fleeing Hitler, it would have been nobler yet to admit them to the British Isles rather than saddling a small, poor peasant country with 500,000 immigrants hungry to make the place their own. Nor was it a good idea, having created such a situation, to simply leave and let the two populations fight it out. The British exit from South Asia was similarly botched, leaving us with the Kashmir dispute as a nuclear flashpoint. Lewis’s attempt to virtually erase two centuries of European imperialism and all its long-term consequences with a wave of the hand is breathtaking. Nor did all significant decolonization end half a century ago. The French did not leave Algeria until 1962, and the British did not leave the Persian Gulf until 1969.

Lewis repeats the tired saw (p. 62) that there was widespread support in the Middle East for fascism in the 1930s. That some urban groups admired Mussolini in particular is true, but they were hardly “widespread,” and not all of them were Muslim. Young Egypt, a minor fascist-inspired party, had its analogue in the Phalange Party of some Maronite Christians in Lebanon, and later on in the Stern Gang and other Revisionist Zionist movements. Israel Gershoni has shown that Egyptian mainstream intellectuals roundly condemned fascism in the 1930s. Moreover, since the vast majority of Middle Easterners at the time were illiterate peasants, and the transistor radio had not yet been invented, the likelihood is that most of them had never heard of fascism or Mussolini, much less leaning toward them. Lewis alleges that “Muslims developed no secularist movement of their own” (p. 103). It is difficult to understand what this could possibly mean. Obviously, if he is referring to believing Muslims, they would not be secularists. If he means persons of Muslim background, then the secularist wing of Iran’s National Front in the 1940s and 1950s was developed by Muslims; the secularist policies of Muhammad Reza Pahlevi were developed by his circle of Muslim technocrats; Turkey’s secularist movement was developed and promoted by Muslims; and although the Baath Party was initially the brainchild of Christian Arabs, its secularist ideology was taken up with alacrity by Syrian and Iraqi Muslims in large numbers. Nor is it true that a separation of religion and state never occurred in Islam, in contrast to Christianity. Ira Lapidus dates such a separation from the classical period of Islamic civilization.

A final question has to do with Europe, the explicit contrast for the Muslim Middle East in this book. Why does he think things “went right” in the West? I should have thought that the slaughter of World War I, the rise of fascism and communism, the 61 million butchered in World War II, the savage European repression of anticolonial movements in places like Vietnam and Algeria, and the hundreds of millions held hostage by the Cold War nuclear doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” – that all this might have raised at least a few eyebrows among emeriti historians looking for things that went wrong. It is true that the East Asian and European economies have flourished in the past 50 years under a Pax Americana, but this development hardly seems intrinsic to the West as a whole. Political and economic instability relentlessly stalked Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, and it was divided against itself in a bitter ideological battle for much of the second half. That is, even the Western European efflorescence of recent decades took place against the backdrop of a deadly Cold War that could have wiped us all out in an instant. In contrast to the massive death toll racked up by Europeans in the past century, Muslim powers in the second half of the twentieth century have probably killed only a little more than a million persons in war (mainly in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s). The Middle East has its problems and Muslims have theirs. Lewis’s analytical views of what those problems are, why they have come about, and how to resolve them, would have been most welcome, given his vast erudition. Instead, he has chosen to play a different role in this book.