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Merkel: Migrants did not bring Radical Terrorism to Germany

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 - 11:37pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a campaign event on Wednesday evening, that there is no relationship between the influx of some one million migrants and refugees into Germany in the past year and the incidents of radical Muslim violence in the country.

She pointed out that Muslim radicalism as a phenomenon pre-existed the rise of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and that even Daesh was there before the refugee crisis. She said that German authorities have been worried about Daesh for some years.

To some extent she blamed social media rather the the influx of refugees.

She said that the right way to deal with domestic terrorism is more state powers and better trained police.

Reuters reports that Merkel said that forms of Islam compatible with the constitution are welcome in Germany:

“”We have said clearly that an Islam that works and lives on the basis of the constitution … belongs to Germany . . .”

About half of Germans agree with her. And what is remarkable is that you have the head of state talking in this clear-eyed and generous way about people who have lost everything and sought a better life. It is hard to imagine a US politician of Merkel’s level openly speaking out this way. Of course her party may suffer for it at the polls– we have yet to see. But Merkel is not backing down.

Merkel has long insisted that Islam belongs to Germany. I pointed out 18 months ago that this assertion is historically true.

If Germans did not want Islam to belong to Germany, they shouldn’t have gone out and subjugated e.g. Tanzania in the 19th century (although a mixed society it has a strong Muslim community). There was also German colonialism in West Africa, where there were also Muslims. If you go out an incorporate people into your empire, they belong to you whether they or you like it or not.

I wrote:
“Some 57% of Germans say in polls that they feel threatened by Islam. A country of 80 million, Germany has 4 million Muslims, 2/3s of them Turks. About half of these Turks of Muslim heritage, however, hail from the Alevi Shiite minority in Turkey, and many Alevi families became secular leftists in the 1960s and 1970s. So most Turkish Muslims are not interested in Sunni fundamentalism. Moreover, only about half of resident Muslims are citizens, so they are not in a position to ‘Islamize’ anything, even if they wanted to– which most do not. In polling, Germans give unrealistically high estimates of how many Muslims they think there are in the country.

Germans have very small family size and the country is projected to fall from 80 million to only 60 million by 2050, thus falling behind France, which is growing through immigration. Merkel’s government appears to favor emulating the French policy, encouraging immigration, to avoid Germany losing its economic and demographic leadership role in Europe”.

Besides, there was radical terrorism of leftist and rightist varieties in Germany in the twentieth century and it was far more deadly than the Daesh attacks of today (as horrific and inexcusable as those are). To start the clock on social violence with last year’s arrival of so many immigrants and refugees and then to blame everything on them is ahistorical thinking.


Related video:

Angela Merkel stands by refugee policy after attacks in Germany

Five truths about the Hijab (Muslim Veil) that need to be told

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 - 11:24pm

By Peter Hopkins | (The Conversation) | – –

Rio 2016 is proving not just to be a platform for sporting prowess, it is also helping to shake up some traditionally-held cultural misconceptions too.

In the West, many regard traditional Muslim dress like the hijab as a sign of oppression, with women forced to wear the garments by men. But it is not as simple as that: many women choose to wear the hijab as a sign of faith, feminism, or simply because they want to.

Recently, 19-year-old Egyptian volleyball player Doaa Elghobashy’s decision to wear a hijab while competing against Germany caused a stir. Her and partner Nada Meawad’s team uniform of long sleeved tops and ankle length trousers were already a “stark contrast” to the German competitors’ bikinis, yet it was Elghobashy’s hijab that media attention focused on.

Elgobashy and Meawad were the first team to represent Egypt in volleyball at the Olympics and, in the words of Elgobashy, the hijab which she has worn for ten years “doesn’t keep me away from the things I love to do”.

The determination and sporting prowess that Elgobashy displayed is a polar opposite to the assumption that all hijab-wearing Muslim women are passive and oppressed. The support and celebration that Elgobashy’s hiajb has also received is in direct contrast to the banning of burkinis in several French towns – though to look at both outfits, they cover the same amount of the body.

Many Muslim women today are wearing hijabs and other traditional dress to challenge the assumption that these are symbols of control. In fact, there are several revealing truths about Muslim dress that society must hear.

1. Women are not forced to wear hijabs

Some women choose to wear the hijab because it is a national tradition of their country of origin, or because it is the norm in their local area, city or country. Others wear it to demonstrate their commitment to dressing modestly and for religious reasons. Like any item of clothing, some women wear the hijab for specific occasions, such as for family or community events, or during particular times of day but take it off at other times, such as wearing the hijab to and from school or work but taking it off while studying or working.

A very small minority may claim to be forced to wear the hijab. However, many studies show that in fact Muslim women choose to wear the hijab as a way of showing self-control, power and agency.

2. You’re not sexually oppressed

Many hijab wearers have said that they wear the veil not as a symbol of control by a man, but rather to promote their own feminist ideals. For many Muslim women, wearing a hijab offers a way for them to take control of their bodies and to claim a stance that challenges the ways in which women are marginalised by men.

Research has shown that for young Muslim women, wearing a hijab says little about the likelihood of them having a boyfriend or participating in a sexual relationship. Indeed, some young women have said they would wear the hijab to give them more space to engage in such activities.

3. You’re not more likely to be linked to terrorism

Since 9/11, negative media coverage of Muslim communities, alongside government counter-terrorism policies in many Western countries, has further demonised Muslims. British research has shown that government policies have resulted in Muslims receiving unjustified attention in airport security, for example. They have also been shown to have created extra tensions and divisions between Muslim communities and the police.

For some hijab wearers, the hatred towards Muslim communities pushed them to stop wearing the veil after terrorist incidents, like the 7/7 London bombings, in order to minimise the chance of them experiencing racism. However, at the same time others started to wear the hijab to show their commitment to their religious faith. The hijab therefore cannot be a fixed symbol, but is far more flexible and changeable – and certainly cannot be deemed a marker of terrorism.

4. It’s not a ‘West versus rest’ division

There are many different styles, colours and shapes of hijab including different ways of wearing it. There is also a rising transnational Muslim fashion trade focusing particularly on younger women. In many respects, the hijab is similar to any other item of clothing with businesses marketing different styles and brands in order to maximise sales.

This global fashion trade transcends national and regional boundaries. It is about maximising the market rather than reinforcing divisions between the West and the Muslim “rest”. Rather than asking why a women is wearing a hijab to reinforce difference, we should ask what high street store or online retailer she purchased her clothing from and what attracted her to this brand. For some wearers, this is far more pertinent and telling of their personality.

5. The hijab is not something to be feared

A recently published report of anti-Muslim abuse in England found that more than 60% of victims are women, and 75% of these women were visibly Muslim so were likely to be wearing some form of head-covering. Women were also more likely than men to suffer anti-Muslim attacks on public transport or when shopping. The vast majority of the perpetrators in these incidents were white men, motivated by stereotypes. So rather than being feared, it’s more likely that women wearing hijab might fear others.

Muslim women wear the hijab for many different reasons all of which can change over time. This applies if the wearer is a community activist, an Olympic athlete like Elghobashy, a PhD student, a mother of young children or some or all of these. Any assumption that society attaches to the veil will never be right for each individual wearer, and it is for that very reason that we need to start changing the way we view it.

Peter Hopkins, Professor of Social Geography, Newcastle University

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

Gaza power plant runs out of fuel amid longstanding electricity crisis

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 - 11:18pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

GAZA (Ma’an)– The besieged Gaza Strip’s only power plant announced on Thursday that it was unable to operate on more than one generator after exhausting its fuel reserves.

In a statement, the electricity supplier noted that efforts were being made to obtain fuel in the coming week.

Even at full capacity, Egyptian and Israeli electricity grids, together with Gaza’s sole power plant, fail to cover the Gaza Strip’s energy needs. The power plant has not run at full capacity in years, with Israel’s crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.

The enclave has experienced severe electricity shortages over the years, exacerbating already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.

Gaza’s usual electricity schedule alternates eight hours of power followed by eight hours without.

Gaza’s electricity crisis made headlines in May when three small children died in a house fire caused by candles that the family used during a power cut.

War has also taken its toll, and during Israel’s 50-day offensive on Gaza in 2014, the power plant was targeted, completely knocking it out of commission.

The UN has warned that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel’s blockade.

Via Ma’an News Agency

The Haunting Image of a Syrian Boy Who’s Only Known War

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 - 11:14pm

TeleSur | – –

The image is haunting:

A boy sits silent and stone-still in an ambulance, hands resting in his lap, his feet dangling from the chair as though suspended in mid-air, staring straight ahead, dust and dried blood covering his face like a mask. With a shock of thick, brown hair dissecting his face and bearing down into his eyes, he looks at once oddly calm and bewildered, sober yet dazed, afraid and resolute, boyish and ancient, like something dug up.

Russia Plans 3-Hour Daily Truces as 250,000 Trapped in Aleppo

He is 5.

The boy was pulled from the rubble following airstrikes that bombarded the Syrian city of Aleppo Wednesday, the photograph of him, taken minutes later, went viral, spreading across the Internet and social media like wildfire, as an uncomfortable reminder, perhaps, of war’s unimaginable toll, on body and soul.

Doctors at the Aleppo Media Center identified the boy as 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, He was pulled from the rubble in the aftermath of the airstrike, along with his siblings aged 1, 6, and 11, and his parents.

None of them sustained major injuries, but their building collapsed entirely soon after the family was rescued.

Rescue workers and journalists arrived in the rebel-held neighborhood of Qaterji soon after the strike and began pulling victims out from from the carnage.

"We were passing them from one balcony to the other," said photojournalist Mahmoud Raslan, who took the iconic photo, as reported by AP. He recounts passing along three lifeless bodies before receiving Daqneesh.

A doctor at the hospital known as “M10,” where victims were treated, later reported eight dead, among which five were children.

In the video that was posted late Wednesday by the Aleppo Media Center, a man is seen plucking the wounded boy away from the scene, and carrying him inside the ambulance. The boy is seen running his hand over his blood-covered face, which he looks at before silently wiping it on the ambulance chair.

The image is also reminiscent of the anguished global response to the pictures of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey, both coming to encapsulate the horrific costs of Syria’s 5-year civil war.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 233 civilians have been killed in Aleppo in just the past two weeks alone.

Additionally, the United Nations envoy to Syria, Stefan de Mistura, has halted his humanitarian task force as the fighting continues. Mistura said no aid has reached the city in a month, and has urged international powers to come to an agreement for the 48-hour ceasefire.

Via TeleSur

Sanders: Aetna’s Obamacare threat shows what Corporate Control Looks Like

Wed, 17 Aug 2016 - 11:33pm

By Nika Knight, staff writer | ( | – –

Aetna threatened federal government with withdrawal from Affordable Care Act if controversial merger didn’t go through, new reporting reveals

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini bluntly told the Justice Department in July that the healthcare behemoth would drop out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges if its controversial merger was not approved—threatening millions of Americans’ healthcare coverage. (Photo: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage)” title=”Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini bluntly told the Justice Department in July that the healthcare behemoth would drop out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges if its controversial merger was not approved—threatening millions of Americans’ healthcare coverage. (Photo: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage)” width=”692″ height=”362″ />

Healthcare giant Aetna directly threatened the federal government by vowing to pull out of Obamacare if its proposed merger to Humana was not approved, revealed a letter by the company’s CEO sent in July and reported on Wednesday.

The letter, obtained by the Huffington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request, proves what many observers have suspected and what the company has been denying: that its decision to pull out of most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health exchanges was a bargaining chip in its effort to achieve the controversial merger.

Aetna’s threatening letter was authored by Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, who would have “personally [made] up to $131 million” if the Humana merger had gone through, as International Business Times reporter David Sirota observed last month.

The Justice Department sued to block the merger last month.

Bernie Sanders tweeted a link to the Huffington Post‘s reporting, calling the article a “must-read” and condemning the government for giving so much power to corporations like Aetna:

This is what corporate control of our government looks like.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 17, 2016

Indeed, the government is not without an active role in this mess: the letter from Bertolini was in response to a letter from the Department of Justice, in which the department “asked Aetna how, if at all, a decision on the proposed merger would affect Aetna’s willingness to offer insurance through the exchanges,” the Huffington Post writes.

“Bertolini responded bluntly,” the Huffington Post reports. “[…] if the Justice Department were to block the merger, Bertolini warned, Aetna could no longer sustain the losses from its exchange business, forcing it to sharply change direction.”

The online outlet quotes from Bertolini’s letter at length:

[I]f the deal were challenged and/or blocked we would need to take immediate actions to mitigate public exchange and ACA small group losses. Specifically, if the DOJ sues to enjoin the transaction, we will immediately take action to reduce our 2017 exchange footprint …. [I]nstead of expanding to 20 states next year, we would reduce our presence to no more than 10 states .… [I]t is very likely that we would need to leave the public exchange business entirely and plan for additional business efficiencies should our deal ultimately be blocked. By contrast, if the deal proceeds without the diverted time and energy associated with litigation, we would explore how to devote a portion of the additional synergies … to supporting even more public exchange coverage over the next few years.

“Aetna may not like the Justice Department’s decision to challenge its merger, and it has every right to fight that decision in court,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote Tuesday. “But violating antitrust law is a legal question, not a political one. The health of the American people should not be used as bargaining chips to force the government to bend to one giant company’s will.”

In response to the news of Aetna’s pullout from the ACA, advocates of Medicare-for-all, such as Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, have renewed the call for universal, single-payer healthcare—which would, unlike Aetna and other healthcare corporations, put people’s health above profit:

Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein

Medicare for All is the only solution that will provide all Americans the comprehensive health care they need. …
9:50 AM – 17 Aug 2016

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License



Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Healthcare Giant Threatens To Destroy Obamacare”

Economic Damage from Civil War Costs poverty-stricken Yemen $14 Billion

Wed, 17 Aug 2016 - 11:17pm

TeleSur | – –

The civil war in Yemen has caused a humanitarian disaster.

The cost from damage to infrastructure and economic losses in Yemen’s civil war is more than $14 billion so far, according to a confidential report obtained by Reuters that highlights the effort needed to rebuild the country, where more than half the population is suffering from malnutrition.

“The conflict has so far resulted in damage costs (still partial and incomplete) of almost $7 billion and economic losses (in nominal terms) of over $7.3 billion in relation to production and service delivery,” said the May 6 joint report by the World Bank, United Nations, Islamic Development Bank and European Union.

More than 6,500 people have been killed, displacing more than 2.5 million since the Saudi-led coalition began its assault on Yemen in March 2015.

The Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment report is an internal working document that is not being publicly released.

“These preliminary findings are not only partial, but also evolving” because the conflict is ongoing, the report said. The assessment was conducted between late 2015 and early this year.

A survey by Yemen’s education ministry cited by the report showed that of 1,671 schools in 20 districts which suffered damage, 287 need major reconstruction, 544 were serving as shelters for internally displaced persons, and 33 were occupied by armed groups. Based on a sample of 143 schools, the estimated cost of the damage was $269 million.

Citing the Ministry of Public Health and Population, the report said 900 of 3,652 facilities providing vaccination services were not operating in early 2016, leaving 2.6 million children under the age of 15 at risk of contracting measles.

In Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, the public health system has nearly collapsed, with half of the public hospitals damaged or inaccessible.

“There has been a surge in civilian morbidity and mortality as an indirect consequence of the conflict,” the report said.

The report could assess residential damage only in the cities of Sanaa, Aden, Taiz and Zinjibar, and data collection was cut off in Oct. 2015 — only about seven months into the conflict. That data alone found an estimated $3.6 billion in damage.

Via TeleSur


related video added by Juan Cole:

NewsBeatSocial: ” Report: Yemen’s Civil War Has Cost $14 Billion”

Dragon Rising? China seeks Closer military Cooperation with Syria

Wed, 17 Aug 2016 - 11:07pm

By Juan Cole | Informed Comment | – –

The Arabic press is reporting that a high Chinese official on a visit to Damascus has announced that Beijing intends to strengthen its military relationship with the current Syrian government. At the same time he affirmed that China would avoid involvement in the civil war. Reuters broke the story in the West.

China has a long history of involvement in Syrian security affairs and is already doing some training of the Syrian military. But Beijing now seems intent on taking the relationship to the next level.

The news comes in the wake of reports that Russia is strengthening its own military ties with Iran and may be flying missions against fundamentalist rebels in Syria from that country.

China and Russia both belong to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which appears to see Iran and Syria as potential strategic assets in its rivalry with the US and NATO. They feel as though NATO stole Libya from them, and are determined to make a stand in Syria. The newspaper of the Chinese military said that Russia’s moves in Crimea and Syria should be studied by Chinese officers. Iran has observer status in the SCO.

The director of the Chinese Central Military Commission’s Office for International Military Cooperation, Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, made the remarks after meeting with Fahad Jassim al-Freij, the Syrian Defense Minister.

China’s Global Times quoted Hua Liming, former Chinese Ambassador to Iran, as saying that “China’s position on the Syrian crisis will not change, that is, [it will] allow the Syrians to decide their country’s destiny . . . Intervention from outside can only enlarge the crisis, so China will maintain the relationship with the government and encourage negotiations between different parties.”

The same newspaper said that “Observers said China is worried about the terrorists’ influence on religious extremists in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

That is, China’s interest in increasing its training of and support for the Syrian Arab Army of the al-Assad regime stems in part from fear of the hundreds of Uyghurs who have gone to join Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) or to follow the al-Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani, leader of the Army of Syrian Conquest. They are apprehensive that these fighters will return to Xianjiang in northwest China and spread radicalism. China has about 40 million Muslims. Many are Han Chinese. But in the northwest, about 12 million Turkic Uyghurs live. The government has relocated millions of Han Chinese there to reinforce Beijing’s control, in the face of a small separatist movement. The Western intelligence agencies have been accused of stirring up the Uyghurs, as well.

The Global Times also quoted a professor of Middle East Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, Zhao Weiming, who suggested that the Syria play is payback by Beijing for perceived US interference in the South China Sea.

Professor Zhao further pointed out that China may see the Syrian civil war as beginning to wind down, given the ceasefire agreement of spring-summer 2016 (and despite its recently unraveling). It might then be an opportune time for China to put down a marker of influence in Syria without risking getting involved in the civil war or in the Iran-Saudi rivalry.


Related video:

RT: “China ‘to provide aid, enhance military training’ in Syria – top army official”

Israelis raze homes near Hebron, Bethlehem, Palestine, leaving 70 Palestinians homeless

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 - 11:21pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

HEBRON (Ma’an) — More than 50 Palestinians of the same extended family, including several children, were left homeless Tuesday morning after Israeli forces demolished eight homes in the outskirts of Sair village in the eastern Hebron district of the southern occupied West Bank, while another 20 lost their home in a house demolition near Bethlehem.

h/t Ma’an Photos

One of the homeowners, Ziad Shalalda, told Ma’an that Israeli troops stormed the area of Jurat al-Kheil just east of the town of Sair, and forcibly removed eight Palestinian families from the extended Shalalda family from their homes at gunpoint.

An excavator then demolished the buildings under heavy military protection.

Shalalda said that he and the other homeowners had been given “stop-work warrants” two years ago on the grounds that they did not have the necessary construction licenses from Israeli authorities.

Under the jurisdiction of Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel retains full military control over security and civil administration, residents suffer under arbitrary policies of land classification, where they may not utilize any of their lands for building or farming in the areas without having proper authorization from the Israeli Civil Administration, which are nearly impossible to obtain.

According to Shalalda, ever since he and his fellow homeowners were issued the warrants to stop construction, they have been consistently trying to obtain licenses, but Israeli authorities have rejected every applications.

Shalalda added that Tuesday’s demolitions came without any previous warnings, other than the stop-work warrants the owners received two years ago.

Also on Tuesday morning, Israeli forces demolished multiple structures in Palestinian communities in the Jerusalem area under the pretext that they lacked Israeli-issued building permits.

The refusal to grant permits, like in the case of the Shalaldas, by Israeli authorities has forced many Palestinians to build without permission, at the risk of seeing their homes or structures demolished.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel only granted 33 building permits out of 2,020 applications submitted by Palestinians between 2010 and 2014.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces on Tuesday left another estimated 20 Palestinians homeless in Beit Jala’s Beir Ouna neighborhood in the Bethlehem district of the southern occupied West Bank.

Israeli authorities demolished two homes and a room that were part of a family complex.

Moussa Zreina, one of the residents of the homes, told Ma’an that he, along with his five brothers and a total of 20 family members, were left homeless after their houses were destroyed with no prior notice.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is responsible for implementing the Israeli government’s policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the demolitions in Sair or Beit Jala.

Israeli authorities have demolished more Palestinian homes in the West Bank in the first six months of 2016 as they did in all of 2015, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem revealed in a report released recently, in a worrying confirmation of Israel’s ongoing crackdown on Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank.

A total of 168 homes were destroyed during the first half of 2016 for lacking hard to obtain Israeli-issued building permits, leaving 740 Palestinians homeless, compared to all of 2015, when 125 homes were demolished, leaving 496 Palestinians without a home.

Via Ma’an News Agency

Does this Change Everything? Russia’s first strikes on Syria from Iran Airbases

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 - 11:14pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russian bombers for the first time have taken off from bases in Iran to carry out air strikes on rebel targets in Syria.

The US military is complaining that under a Russian agreement with the US, it was supposed to get a timely notification of Russia air strikes so they could avoid any conflicts. The Russians appear to have given the Americans last-minute notice– enough so that the US could make the necessary arrangements, but only barely so. Likely Russia did not want to give the US time to complain about the basing in Iran or to try to pressure Moscow back out of this plan.

According to Russian sources, this procedure is a matter of saving money on logistics. But the move will inevitably be seen in the light of grand strategy. A tightening of Russian-Iranian security cooperation will be seen by Saudi Arabia and Israel as a threat, and since those two countries have the most powerful lobbies in Washington, it will view the development as threatening, as well.

BBC Monitoring says that “Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, chair of the State Duma’s Defence Committee and a former commander of the Black Sea Fleet, told RNS (Rambler News Service, 0952 gmt 16 Aug 16):”

“It is expensive and takes a long time to fly from bases in the European part of Russia. The issue of the cost of military combat activities is, at present, a priority. We must not go over the current Defence Ministry budget. Flying Tu-22s from Iran means using less fuel and carrying larger payloads . . . Russia won’t be able to find a friendlier and more suitable, from the point of view of security, country in that part of the world, and strikes must be carried out if we want to end this war . . . Airfields in Syria are not suitable because of the constant [need for] flying over areas of combat activities.”

TeleSur reports that the “long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers” took off from Iran’s Hamadan air base. These are the first strikes by Russia on Syrian targets from the territory of another country.

It is also unprecedented since 1979 for the Islamic Republic of Iran to allow a foreign power to use its facilities for military purposes. The United States had bases in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s and US soldiers were guaranteed immunity from prosecution in Iranian courts. After 1979 when Iran and the US cut off relations, the slogan of Iran was “Neither East nor West, an Islamic Republic.” This slogan referred to the Cold War exigency of allying with the US or the USSR, and Khomeini’s refusal to play that game.

From an Iranian point of view, closer military relations with the Russian Federation at this juncture have advantages. They are some protection from the belligerence toward Tehran of Binyamin Netanyahu’s far-right, expansionist Israeli government, and of the new and reckless Saudi government, which is bombing Yemen, supporting Salafi extremists in Syria, and rattling sabers at Iran.

Asked about the Russian basing, Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, said that it was a matter of strategic cooperation against terrorism– given the importance of defeating ISIL.

Shamkhani appears to have been a little embarrassed about the de facto return of Iran to being a military asset of a great power. He went on to underline that in all its struggles in the region against terrorism, in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Tehran was depending primarily on local people power.

What Russia and Iran aren’t talking about is that apparently they have given up on the February cease-fire in favor of an aggressive campaign to conquer rebel-held East Aleppo as a way of ending the Syrian civil war. The Russian air strikes from Iran are in service to that goal.

Since it is likely that there will be a Clinton administration in January, this Russian-Iran cooperation on Syria will pose a problem for a president Hillary Clinton. She is on record as wanting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to impose a no-fly zone over that country, and to support the remnants of the Free Syrian Army– exactly the opposite of the policies of Moscow and Tehran. You could imagine a clash.

The development may also hurt Donald Trump, since he says he wants an alliance with Russia against Daesh (ISIL, ISIS). Since Russia has such an alliance with Iran, wouldn’t that in reality make Trump allied with Iran? (Actually the US is already de facto allied with Iran against Daesh, but no one is willing to admit it.)


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV: “Russia uses Iranian base to bomb ISIL in Syria”

Evangelical Lutheran Church Votes to Divest from Israeli Occupation

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 - 12:08am

by Anna Baltzer, US Campaign to End the Occupation | IMEMC | – –

On Friday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted overwhelmingly — by an estimated 90% — to create an investment screen that would identify and remove the Church’s investments in corporations profiting from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, and other human rights abuses around the world.

The new screen has a broad reach, ensuring that the Church would avoid investments in corporations currently complicit in human rights violations as part of the Israeli occupation, as well as any future corporations that become complicit.

In addition, the ELCA voted by a margin of 82% — 751 to 162 — calling for an end to unconditional U.S. aid to Israel.

ELCA marks the ninth denomination to engage in economic acts of conscience to support justice for Palestinians, following the Quakers, Mennonite Central Committee, United Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and the Alliance of Baptists.

ELCA voting member Darla Thiele, Dakota name Shining Star Woman, had this to say before the vote:

“As a Native woman, the situation in Palestine reminds me of what my people have gone through here in America. I have seen my people lose our land, our lives, our culture — our songs, dances, spiritual ways. Like the Palestinians, we have no justice. Treaties have been broken… We talk about loving our neighbor. We talk about justice. But where is the justice?… Now is the time for the church to stop profiting from these injustices. Now is the time to bring healing, to bring peace, to bring justice.”


Trump and Extreme Vetting of Muslims

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 - 12:01am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In an attempt at a foreign policy speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday, Donald Trump attempted to get back to his fearmongering roots by focusing on the threat of ISIL, which he depicted as a hydra-headed menace with tentacles in a range of Western countries including the US.

In fact, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) is a relatively small organization that has been shrinking in both personnel and territory. It has lost its footholds in Diyala, al-Anbar and Salahuddin provinces in Iraq and a campaign against its remaining stronghold in that country, Mosul, by Kurdish and Shiite forces is now building. It is possible that it will be finished as a holder of territory in Iraq before the November election in the US. Likewise, in Syria, Daesh has just lost Manbij, which sits astride one of its major smuggling routes. It has also lost most of northern al-Raqqa province, the city of Palmyra, and other important real estate. In Libya, its fighters in Sirte have fled the city under US bombardment. As for Sinai, those are mistreated Sinai residents– some of them Bedouin tribes, who have been fighting the Egyptian army for some time and only declared themselves ISIL to gain the benefits of franchising, sort of like a local burger joint putting up golden arches and pretending it is a McDonald’s. The terrorism it has pulled off in Europe has been of the lazy soft-target variety, and while the deaths it has caused have been traumatic and are horrific, the incidents haven’t actually been a challenge to national security anywhere outside the Middle East.

Trump supported the interventions he now condemns, including the Iraq War and the no-fly zone in Libya, so his picture of a Middle East in flames as a result of President Obama’s policies is ignoring his own positions.

Trump said he wanted to ally with Russia against ISIL. De facto, that is an arrangement President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have already worked out.

Having tried to scare people with an ISIL clearly in rapid decline, he went on to bash ordinary Muslims again. He wants to exclude immigrants from “volatile” parts of the world, and wants to exclude those who question gay marriage e.g.

He called for extreme vetting of those admitted. But US visa procedures, unbeknownst to Trump, are already extremely strict. His vague addition of the modifier “extreme” to “vetting” won’t make them more strict.

He said,

“We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people. . . In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles – or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted.”

Sharia law is just Muslim religious law, akin to Roman Catholic canon law or Jewish religious law (Halakhah). It isn’t a substitute for the US constitution. Aside from a few countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, it isn’t even part of the constitution of most Muslim countries (Turkey’s constitution is based on that of Switzerland; even Tunisia’s party of the religious right, al-Nahda, declined to push for putting shariah in the Tunisian constitution; etc., etc.)

Would believing in these things religiously make you ineligible to come to the US?

Marriage age for girls of 12

Stoning adulterers to death.

Death penalty for gay sex

Burning at the stake for incest

If so, Trump would actually be excluding fundamentalist Jews from the US. Some American Jews are worried that Trump would exclude Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews from Israel.

Likewise, a lot of Ukrainians, who are also from a volatile part of the world, likely don’t subscribe to some of the values Trump wants to make litmus tests.

Trump hopes for a bounce in the polls via this ugly religious bigotry. I am hoping that Americans are better than that.


Related video:

PBS Newshour: “Trump reveals his national security plan — while Clinton says he doesn’t have one”

Top 5 Ways Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad is a Better American than Trump

Mon, 15 Aug 2016 - 12:27am

Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American woman athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing the hijab or Muslim head-covering, is a fatal complication to Donald Trump’s Islamophobia.

Opening Ceremonies! One of the best days of my life! #TeamUSA

2 out of 5 Palestinian youth in Israeli-occupied Palestine unemployed

Sun, 14 Aug 2016 - 11:24pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Two out of five Palestinian youth were unemployed during the first quarter of 2016, according to data recently released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) on the occasion of International Youth Day on Friday.

The highest unemployment rate was among youth between 20 and 24 years old, which reached 43 percent, compared to 39 percent unemployment for youth aged 25 to 29, and 35 percent for youth aged 15 to 19 years old.

Unemployment among youth who have not completed any grade level reached 55 percent, though graduates did not fare much better, with unemployment among young graduates reaching 51 percent in the first quarter of 2016.

Graduates of education and teaching programs had the highest unemployment rate at 64 percent, while law school alumni scored the lowest unemployment rate among youth graduates at 25 percent.

A statement released Friday marking International Youth Day by the United Nations Resident Coordinator in the State of Palestine, Robert Piper highlighted the “substantial challenges” Palestinian youth faced “resulting from their social, economic and political marginalization.”

“High poverty rates, shrinking economic opportunities, and an uncertain future, are all leading to an alarming sense of hopelessness among young people today.”

“Yet Palestinian youth are also blessed with possibility,” Piper said. “Palestine’s large youth population, around 1.44 million people, represents a historic demographic opportunity; if these 1.44 million youth are given access to quality education and productive employment, if they are empowered as active citizens, there is a powerful cohort of future Palestinian leaders in the making.”

“We must ensure that youth are at the core of our efforts for Palestine and are given the tools they need to lead the way. In Palestine like everywhere elsewhere in the world, there is no road to peace and stability without engaging youth to help chart the course.”

via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

IREXDC: ” Empowering Palestinian youth as agents of change”

10 Children Killed in Saudi Airstrike on Yemeni School

Sun, 14 Aug 2016 - 11:05pm

TeleSur | – –

The Saudi-led coalition admitted children were at the site of the airstrike but jets “don’t distinguish ages” during attacks.

At least 10 Yemeni children were killed in a Saudi airstrike targeting a school in Haydan, a town in rebel-held Saada province, Doctors Without Borders, a Paris-based relief agency also known as MSF, and the United nations said Sunday. The Saudi military admitted youths were present but claimed they were child soldiers.

“We received 10 dead children and 28 wounded, all under the age of 15, who are victims of air strikes on a Koranic school in Haydan,” in Saada province, MSF spokesperson Malak Shaher told on AFP Sunday. The attack took place on Saturday.

Shaher added that MSF had received the children at a field hospital near the school before they were transferred to a public hospital.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, also reported the attack, warning that “with the intensification in violence across the country in the past week, the number of children killed and injured by airstrikes, street fighting and landmines has grown sharply”.

The Ansarullah rebels, also known as Houthis, posted pictures and videos on Facebook of dead children wrapped in blankets.

Saudi Arabia said the school it targeted was a “training camp” for child soldiers, suggesting it was not the coalition’s responsibility that children were killed. “The site that was bombed… is a major training camp for militia,” Coalition spokesman General Ahmed Assiri told AFP .

He seemed to acknowledge there were children in the area but said they were part of the rebels and thus targeting them seemed justifiable.

“They … use them as scouts, guards, messengers and fighters,” he added, citing previous reports from Human Rights Watch on the rebels’ use of underage recruits.

AFP said Saudi Arabia sent the agency pictures of children holding guns and in military uniform. “When jets target training camps, they cannot distinguish between ages,” Assiri said.

More than 6,400 people have been killed, more than half of them are civilians, since Saudi-led coalition began its assault on Yemen in March 2015. The coalition of Arab states intervened in the country after the rebels seized the capital Sanaa before expanding to other parts of the country.

Saudi Arabia reacted angrily to a decision in June to blacklist the coalition after a U.N. report found the alliance responsible for 60 percent of the 785 deaths of children in Yemen last year.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he took Saudi Arabia off the list after Saudi Arabia threatened to cut off funding to U.N. aid programs.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Ten children reported dead in air strike, as parliament convenes in Yemen”

People in Syria’s Manbij Rejoice by Shaving, throwing off Veil as ISIL fighters Flee

Sun, 14 Aug 2016 - 1:06am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

People in Syria’s norther town of Manbij, now entirely liberated from the rule of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), rejoiced on Saturday. Men shaved their beards (which had been imposed on them by the fundamentalists) and women threw off their burqas (full-face veils) and burned them. The burqa is a Gulf custom, not a Muslim one, and many Muslim countries frown on it, including Egypt. In 2010 it was banned in Syrian schools.

People were also happy in the city that Daesh fighters, who had taken 2,000 hostages, released some of them as they escaped for Jarabulus, the last major border town they hold.

Now the Kurdish militia, the YPG or People’s Protection Units, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, faces the problem of encouraging the city population that fled to return. There is also a problem of some covert fighters still being in the city.

Another big problem is that the victorious Kurds may wish to see the Manbij joined to a Kurdish “federal region.” They have dreamed of a Rojava or Kurdish enclave in Syria for decades. With the fall of Manbij, nothing really stops them from declaring Rojava. Some Kurdish sources are saying that it will be announced momentarily.

For now, let’s let people celebrate.


Related video:

Euronews: “Liberation of northern Syrian city of Manbij is major blow to IS”

Climate Change Terror as Deserts Bury 2/3s of African Lands

Fri, 12 Aug 2016 - 11:24pm

By Baher Kamal | (Inter Press Service) | – –

ROME, (IPS) – Two-thirds of the African continent is already desert or dry-lands. But while this vast extension of the second largest continent on Earth after Asia is “vital” for agriculture and food production, nearly three-fourths of it is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

This shocking diagnosis illustrating the current situation of this continent of over 30 million km², home to 1,2 billion human beings living in 54 countries, comes from the top world body dealing with desertification.

In fact, in its report “Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in Africa”, the Bonn-based UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) explains that the continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

“Poverty and difficult socio-economic conditions are widespread, and as a result many people are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods,” it says.

On this, another UN agency has once more warned, “With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018.”

The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 28 July alerted against what it called “race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support.” As little as just 109 million dollars are urgently required for the provision of seeds and other agricultural inputs and services.
Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

FAO reports that its prepared response plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilisers, tools, and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to smallholder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region.

“Farmers must be able to plant by October and failure to do so will result in another reduced harvest in March 2017, severely affecting food and nutrition security and livelihoods in the region.”

Desperate Situation

Africa’s near, medium-term future looks any thing but bright–by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Also by 2020, in some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent.
“The continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel” — UNCCD

The situation is so dire that the African Union (AU) along with the UNCCD and other partners, have organised the Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

The conference, which is expected to bring together around 700 participants, on August 15-19 will focus on ways to halt and continue to prevent the rapid advance of the desert in the continent. Specifically, participants will concentrate their attention on mitigating the impacts of droughts and the development of national drought policies.

This event comes at an opportune time, as East and Southern Africa suffer from the worst recorded drought in the past 50 years, induced by El Niño.

Namibia appears as one of the most appropriate venues for such an event for several reasons, one of them being the fact that it was ranked 51 out of 120 countries by the 2014 Global Hunger Index, which measures the levels of hunger in the world’s countries.

While Namibia has improved, this ranking still indicates “a serious food problem,” says the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Critical water shortages are impacting harvests and the livestock industry in the agricultural sector, which sustains about 70 per cent of the Namibian population.

“Continued episodes of drought threaten to unravel the gains made in poverty alleviation, and thus drought is an issue that needs collective response.” In 2015 drought reduced Namibia’s national crop yields to 46 per cent below the sixteen-year average, and as a result, around 370,316 people are estimated to be vulnerable to Hunger in Namibia, UNDP reports.

Here, the three top UN agencies dealing with food—FAO, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), informed in their joint World Report on The State of Food Insecurity 2015, that 42.7 per cent of Namibian population was undernourished.

Looking beyond Namibia’s borders, humanitarian and development bodies estimate that over 52 million people are food insecure in East and Southern African Countries, and that number could increase. Alarmingly four of the 15 South African Development Community member states have already declared national drought disaster with 2 additional countries having declared partial emergencies.

Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, reminded “Water resources play a defining role in economic development between and across sectors. Investment in water security is not only a matter of protecting society from specific water risks; it is an investment in enabling economic growth.”

This desperate situation pushed FAO to talk about a race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support. “Widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region.”

With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018, FAO on 28 July said.

Worst Drought in 35 Years

Two consecutive seasons of droughts, including the worst in 35 years that occurred this year, have particularly hit vulnerable families in rural areas, as prices of maize and other staple foods have risen, it added.

“The result is that almost 40 million people in the region are expected to face food insecurity by the peak of the coming lean season in early 2017. All countries in Southern Africa are affected.”

On this, David Phiri, FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, warned, “The high levels of unemployment and sluggish economies, means that the main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce. Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 per cent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.”
FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

Moreover, widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region. More than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe alone due to lack of pasture, lack of water and disease outbreaks.

FAO urges investments that equip communities with the ability to produce drought-tolerant seed and fodder, along with climate-smart agriculture technologies like conservation agriculture. The aim is to enable rural families to build resilience and prepare for future shocks, especially that more challenges are still to come.

“El Niño’s counter-phenomenon, La Niña, is likely to occur later this year and while it could bring good rains that are positive for agriculture, measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of floods which could destroy standing crops and threaten livestock, including making them more vulnerable to disease.”

Via Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV Africa: ” Experts warn drought conditions in southern Africa may intensify due to looming La Nina”

ISIL fighter number falls to 15,000 as Manbij capture Cuts off Route to Europe

Fri, 12 Aug 2016 - 11:22pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) |

AP is reporting that Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland maintains that the number of ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq is in steep decline, having fallen to as little as 15,000, down from 25,000 at the organization’s height.

In Iraq the organization has lost Tikrit, Beiji, Mt. Sinjar, Sinjar, Diyala, Ramadi and Falluja among other cities. In Syria it lost northern al-Raqqa, was pushed out of al-Hasaka, lost Palmyra.

It has lost funding through the bombing or capture of its oil refineries.

The joint Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces backed by US special forces and US and allied air forces has consolidated its control over the key city of Manbij in northern Syria. Nairoz Kobani, spokeswoman for the Women Units of the leftist Kurdish YPG, says that the remaining 150 fighters are fleeing toward Turkey and have taken some 2,000 persons hostage. She said that those fleeing north are mostly foreign fighters from Russia, the Caucasus and North Africa. Local Syrian Daesh fighters just threw down their weapons and melded into the refugee flow pretending to be civilians.

Without Manbij, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) will find it more difficult to import weapons and foreign fighters to al-Raqqa. Other routes still open to it, such as Jarabulus, are also under pressure and could be the next target of the Syrian Democratic Forces. It is much further to import foreign munitions.

Daesh as a territorial power is coming to a slow end; Daesh as a source of terrorism still has a good long run.

Related video:

Euronews: ” Assaults and air strikes in northern Syria”

Monsters to Destroy: Top 7 Reasons the US could not have forestalled Syrian Civil War

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 - 11:57pm

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The interventionist temptation, muted since the Iraq imbroglio, is now returning. Sec. Clinton’s team are already talking about taking steps to remove Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from office as soon as they get into the White House. An excellent and principled NYT columnist called the non-intervention in Syria President Obama’s worst mistake.

I understand the impulse. Who can watch the carnage in Syria and not wish for Someone to Do Something? But I beg to differ with regard to US intervention. We forget now how idealistic the rhetoric around the US intervention in Vietnam was. Johnson wanted to save a whole society from the Communist yoke. Our idealist rhetoric can blind us to the destruction we do (the US probably killed 1 to 2 million Vietnamese peasants, recalling Tacitus’ (d. after 117 CE) remark about the Pax Romana, “and where they make a desert, they call it peace.”–atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.)

1. There was no UN Security Council consensus on intervention in 2011 and after, and so no authorization for the use of force. In 2012 at a policy meeting, I pressed a French diplomat whether there wasn’t a way to interdict weapons shipped to the regime (which was using heavy military weapons on peaceful protesters in 2011 and 2012). He said that given the lack of authorization for the use of force, arms-bearing ships headed to Latakia could only be boarded if they were foolish enough to come into the territorial waters of a state willing to take them on (none have). Every time the US intervenes in a country with no UNSC authorization and no issue of self-defense, it further degrades the rule of law. Other countries still cite Bush’s invasion of Iraq as justification for their acts of aggression.

2. Civil wars like that in Syria are forms of micro-aggression. Fighting happens in back alleys and neighborhoods where no outsider understands the terrain. The US had 160,000 troops in Iraq in 2006-2007 when Iraqis fought a civil war that ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from Baghdad and turned it into a Shiite city. So many thousands of people were killed each month that Baghdad police had to establish a morning corpse patrol. If Iraq was occupied and run by Americans but it still had excess mortality of hundreds of thousands, why does anyone think that a much more limited US intervention in Syria could forestall death on this scale? I am a little afraid that the widespread underestimation of civilian excess mortality in Iraq is producing the wrong impression here. Its death toll was similar to that of Syria. I also think it isn’t realized that US troops don’t know the language and can’t tell one player from another unless they are specially trained small special forces units. And, they are targets for suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. When the US troops stopped patrolling major Iraqi cities in summer of 2009 the number of bombings and civilian casualties actually went down, because their patrols had been a target.

3. Short of US troops, people have advocated the establishment of safe zones for displaced civilians. But those zones would not stay safe from regime troops or fundamentalist militias unless they were protected by military force. So safe zones are actually a prescription for the insertion of infantry battalions to guard them. The no-fly-zone over the Kurds in Iraq only worked because the Kurds had a military force, the Peshmerga, that could take advantage of US air cover. Without US military protection on the ground, the so-called safe zones would be car-bombed or subjected to artillery barrages or bombed from the sky.

4. Hillary Clinton’s call for a no-fly zone in Syria was impractical because of no. 1 above– no UNSC authorization for the use of force. Moreover, the Syrian military had good anti-aircraft systems. Unless you bombed all those batteries intensively at the start you’d just be shot down. So a ‘no-fly-zone’ is not a minor intervention but a very major one. Now that the Russian air force is flying in Syria, a no-fly zone for regime planes is completely impractical.

5. I supported the UNSC no-fly zone in Libya in 2011, but was dismayed to find that it soon became a NATO mission and then it soon became replaced by another policy entirely– bombing Tripoli and trying to change the regime. Critics forget that the initial resolution just wanted to protect civilians in places like Zintan from Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships. I perceived that once the no-fly zone was implemented, there were enormous political pressures on NATO generals to achieve a tangible victory– hence the bombing of Tripoli (which isn’t exactly the same as a no-fly zone). Then because the mission was transmogrified into regime change from above, the militias never demobilized. That there were no foreign ground troops was a plus in some ways, but it did also mean that no one was responsible for training a new army and incorporating the militias into it. Despite promising democratic elections, militia demands gradually undermined the civilian government, taking the members of parliament more or less hostage and leading to Libya having two or three governments, each with its own militia backers. And then some fighters declared for Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). So the intervention in Libya went from being a humanitarian one to a method of regime change to having a legacy of civil war. Why exactly would Syria be different?

6. Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal and his regime is known for mass torture of prisoners. It would be better for everyone if he stepped down. But if he were removed abruptly with the help of US airstrikes, then wouldn’t what happened to Libya happen to Syria? What would stop al-Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani from sweeping into Damascus and taking over? What would stop Daesh from picking up the pieces in Syria? As horrible as it is to contemplate, a Daesh or al-Qaeda victory in Syria is even worse than regime stability.

7. We can’t trust US intervention because Washington power elites are amoral and have been perfectly willing, under Saudi influence, to back fundamentalist militias. Most of them have the ethnic cleansing of Alawis, Druze, Christians and secular Sunnis on their minds. The CIA is nevertheless using Saudi Arabia as an intermediary to supply them with arms. Washington is also so tied to Tel Aviv that you can’t assume any US intervention in Syria would be for the sake of Syrian civilians. Some US policy makers, including former NSC, have suggested that it benefits the US and its allies to have the Syrian civil war continue. And some US policy-makers favored breaking up Iraq when they were running it. (Partitions just create smaller states that go on fighting with one another; see: South Sudan). Washington elites are also greedy and implemented policies in Iraq aimed at enriching themselves or their buddies. In Syria, they’d be carpetbaggers again.

Americans are practical people and they incorrectly believe that all problems have relatively simple solutions. Contemporary civil wars at the level of back alleys, fought between neighbors of different ethnicities or religions with suicide bombings and Kalashnikovs, are an unsolvable calculus problem. International law can be a hindrance to timely action but flouting it can undermine what little order and norms the international arena has. The US military is far too blunt an instrument to be deployed successfully in this case, and US policy-makers can’t be trusted to do what is good for the Syrians. As bad as things in Syria have been, they would have been as bad or worse if the US intervened more heavily.

(I except the actions taken against Daesh, because they are plausibly self-defense and not condemned by anyone on the UNSC. But the aerial bombardment hasn’t been effective.)

In the 1820s when the Greeks rose up against their Ottoman government, President Secretary of State John Quincy Adams got enormous pressure to intervene on the Greek side. He declined, saying of the USA, “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” We need to get back to that policy and recognize that American wars not fought in self-defense are American imperialism and American quagmires.

The most effective thing anyone has done to tamp down violence in Syria was the Kerry-Lavrov ceasefire of the past spring and early summer. If someone wants an intervention, let’s try to get that one back on track.


Related video:

France24: “War in Syria: Russia says daily ceasefires starting today in Aleppo”

If the Military had Permission to Speak Freely: They might rescue us from the Politicians’ Forever War

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 - 11:02pm

By William J. Astore | ( | – –

The United States is now engaged in perpetual war with victory nowhere in sight.  Iraq is chaotic and scarred. So, too, is Libya. Syria barely exists. After 15 years, “progress” in Afghanistan has proven eminently reversible as efforts to rollback recent Taliban gains continue to falter. The Islamic State may be fracturing, but its various franchises are finding new and horrifying ways to replicate themselves and lash out. Having spent trillions of dollars on war with such sorry results, it’s a wonder that key figures in the U.S. military or officials in any other part of America’s colossal national security state and the military-industrial complex (“the Complex” for short) haven’t spoken out forcefully and critically about the disasters on their watch.

Yet they have remained remarkably mum when it comes to the obvious.  Such a blanket silence can’t simply be attributed to the war-loving nature of the U.S. military.  Sure, its warriors and warfighters always define themselves as battle-ready, but the troops themselves don’t pick the fights.  Nor is it simply attributable to the Complex’s love of power and profit, though its members are hardly eager to push back against government decisions that feed the bottom line. To understand the silence of the military in particular in the face of a visible crisis of war-making, you shouldn’t assume that, from private to general, its members don’t have complicated, often highly critical feelings about what’s going on. The real question is: Why they don’t ever express them publicly?

To understand that silence means grasping all the intertwined personal, emotional, and institutional reasons why few in the military or the rest of the national security state ever speak out critically on policies that may disturb them and with which they may privately disagree. I should know, because like so many others I learned to silence my doubts during my career in the military.

My Very Own “Star Wars” Moment

As a young Air Force lieutenant at the tail end of the Cold War, I found myself working on something I loathed: the militarization of space.  The Air Force had scheduled a test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile to be launched at high altitude from an F-15 fighter jet.  The missile was designed to streak into low earth orbit to strike at the satellites of enemy powers.  The Soviets were rumored to have their own ASAT capability and this was our answer.  If the Soviets had a capability, Americans had to have the same — or better.  We called it “deterrence.”

Ever since I was a kid, weaned on old episodes of “Star Trek,” I’d seen space as “the final frontier,” a better place than conflict-ridden Earth, a place where anything was possible — maybe even peace.  As far as I was concerned, the last thing we needed was to militarize that frontier.  Yet there I was in 1986 working in the Space Surveillance Center in Cheyenne Mountain in support of a test that, if it worked, would have helped turn space into yet another war zone.

It won’t surprise you to learn that, despite my feelings, which couldn’t have been stronger, I didn’t speak up against the test.  Not a peep.  I kept my critical thoughts and doubts to myself.  I told myself that I was doing my duty, that it wasn’t my place to question decisions made at high levels in the administration of then-President Ronald Reagan.  You can’t have a disciplined and orderly military if troops challenge every decision, can you?  Orders are to be obeyed, right?  Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die — especially since we were then at war with the Soviets, even if that war fell under the label of “cold.”

So I buried my misgivings about facilitating a future shooting war in orbit.  I remember, in fact, hoping that the ASAT test would go well and that I’d be seen as effective at my job.  And in this I think I was probably pretty typical of military people, then and now.

The F-15 ASAT program was eventually cancelled, but not before it taught me a lesson that’s obvious only in retrospect: mission priorities and military imperatives in such a hierarchical situation are powerful factors in suppressing morality and critical thinking.  It’s so much easier, so much more “natural,” to do one’s job and conform rather than speak out and buck a system that’s not made for the public expression of dissenting views.  After all, a military with an ethos of “we’re all volunteers, so suck it up — or get out” is well suited to inhibiting dissent, as its creators intended.

To those who’ve been exposed to hierarchical, authority-heavy institutions, that lesson will undoubtedly come as no surprise.  Heck, I grew up Catholic and joined the military, so I know something about the pressures to conform within such institutions.  In the Church, you learn — or at least you did in my day — that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, and the “old guard” priests and nuns I encountered were more than ready to encourage that fear.  In the military, you learn from day one of basic training that it’s best to put up and shut up.  No grumbling in the ranks.  No quibbling.  Yes, sir; no, sir; no excuse, sir.  Cooperate and graduate.  That conformist mentality is difficult to challenge or change, no matter your subsequent rank or position.

There’s a sensible reason for all this.  You can’t herd cats, nor can you make a cohesive military unit out of them.  In life and death situations, obedience and discipline are vital to rapid action.

As true as that may be, however, America doesn’t need more obedience: it needs more dissent.  Not only among its citizens but within its military — maybe there especially.

Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 era, we’ve exalted and essentially worshipped the military as “our greatest national treasure” (the words of former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta at the recent Democratic convention).  The military has, in fact, become so crucial to Washington that aspiring civilian commanders-in-chief like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump lean on retired generals to anoint them as qualified for the job. (For Trump, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn did the honors; for Hillary, General John Allen.)

The Pentagon has, in a very real sense, become America’s national cathedral.  If we’re going to continue to worship at it, we should at least ask for some minimal level of honesty from its priests.  In militarized America, the question of the moment is how to encourage such honesty.

Call it patriotic dissent.  By “dissent” I mean honest talk from those who should know best about the hazards and horrors of perpetual war, about how poorly those conflicts have gone and are going.  We desperately need to encourage informed critics and skeptics within the military and the Complex to speak their minds in a way that moves the national needle away from incessant bombing and perpetual war.

Yet to do so, we must first understand the obstacles involved.  It’s obvious, for example, that a government which has launched a war against whistleblowers, wielding the World War I-era Espionage Act against them and locking away Chelsea Manning for a veritable lifetime in a maximum security prison, isn’t likely to suddenly encourage more critical thinking and public expression inside the national security state. But much else stands in the way of the rest of us hearing a little critical speech from the “fourth branch” of government.

Seven Reasons Why It’s So Hard to Break Ranks   

As a start, it’s hard for outsiders to imagine just how difficult it is to break ranks when you’re in the military.  So many pressures combine to squelch dissent — everything from feelings of loyalty and patriotism to careerist concerns and worries about punishment.  I wasn’t immune from such pressures, which is why my story is fairly typical.  As I’ve said, I had my criticisms of the military, but I didn’t begin to air them until 2007, two years after I’d retired.

Why the delay?  I can offer explanations but no excuses.  Unless you’ve been in the military, you have little idea how all-enveloping and all-consuming such a life can be.  In a strange way, it may be the closest thing to true socialism in America: base housing provided and tied to your rank, government doctors and “socialized” medicine for all, education for your children in base schools, and worship at the base chapel; in other words, a remarkably insular life, intensified when troops are assigned to “Little Americas” abroad (bases like Ramstein in Germany).  For Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, think of Ramstein and similar bases around the world as the Borg cubes of American life — places where you’re automatically assimilated into the collective.  In such a hive life, resistance is all but futile. 

This effect is only intensified by the tribalism of war.  Unit cohesion, encouraged at all times, reaches a fever pitch under fire as the mission (and keeping your buddies and yourself alive) becomes all-consuming.  Staring at the business end of an AK-47 is hardly conducive to reflective, critical thinking, nor should it be.

Leaving military insularity, unit loyalty, and the pressure of combat aside, however, here are seven other factors I’ve witnessed, which combine to inhibit dissent within military circles.

1. Careerism and ambition: The U.S. military no longer has potentially recalcitrant draftees — it has “volunteers.”  Yesteryear’s draftees were sometimes skeptics; many just wanted to endure their years in the military and get out.  Today’s volunteers are usually believers; most want to excel.  Getting a reputation for critical comments or other forms of outspokenness generally means not being rewarded with fast promotions and plum assignments.  Career-oriented troops quickly learn that it’s better to fail upwards quietly than to impale yourself on your sword while expressing honest opinions.  If you don’t believe me, ask all those overly decorated generals of our failed wars you see on TV.

2. Future careerism and ambition: What to do when you leave the military?  Civilian job options are often quite limited. Many troops realize that they will be able to double or triple their pay, however, if they go to work for a defense contractor, serving as a military consultant or adviser overseas.  Why endanger lucrative prospects (or even your security clearance, which could be worth tens of thousands of dollars to you and firms looking to hire you) by earning a reputation for being “difficult”?    

3. Lack of diversity: The U.S. military is not blue and red and purple America writ small; it’s a selective sampling of the country that has already winnowed out most of the doubters and rebels.  This is, of course, by design.  After Vietnam, the high command was determined never to have such a wave of dissent within the ranks again and in this (unlike so much else) they succeeded.  Think about it: between “warriors” and citizen-soldiers, who is more likely to be tractable and remain silent? 

4. A belief that you can effect change by working quietly from within the system: Call it the Harold K. Johnson effect.  Johnson was an Army general during the Vietnam War who considered resigning in protest over what he saw as a lost cause.  He decided against it, wagering that he could better effect change while still wearing four stars, a decision he later came deeply to regret.  The truth is that the system has time-tested ways of neutralizing internal dissent, burying it, or channeling it and so rendering it harmless.

5. The constant valorization of the military: Ever since 9/11, the gushing pro-military rhetoric of presidents and other politicians has undoubtedly served to quiet honest doubts within the military.  If the president and Congress think you’re the best military ever, a force for human liberation, America’s greatest national treasure, who are you to disagree, Private Schmuckatelli?

America used to think differently.  Our founders considered a standing army to be a pernicious threat to democracy.  Until World War II, they generally preferred isolationism to imperialism, though of course many were eager to take land from Native Americans and Mexicans while double-crossing Cubans, Filipinos, and other peoples when it came to their independence.  If you doubt that, just read War is a Racket by Smedley Butler, a Marine general in the early decades of the last century and two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor. In the present context, think of it this way: democracies should see a standing military as a necessary evil, and military spending as a regressive tax on civilization — as President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously did when he compared such spending to humanity being crucified on a cross of iron.

Chanting constant hosannas to the troops and telling them they’re the greatest ever — remember the outcry against Muhammad Ali when, with significantly more cause, he boasted that he was the greatest? — may make our military feel good, but it won’t help them see their flaws, nor us as a nation see ours.

6. Loss of the respect of peers: Dissent is lonely.  It’s been more than a decade since my retirement and I still hesitate to write articles like this.  (It’s never fun getting hate mail from people who think you’re un-American for daring to criticize any aspect of the military.)  Small wonder that critics choose to keep their own counsel while they’re in the service.

7.  Even when you leave the military, you never truly leave: I haven’t been on a military base in years.  I haven’t donned a uniform since my retirement ceremony in 2005.  Yet occasionally someone will call me “colonel.”  It’s always a reminder that I’m still “in.” I may have left the military behind, but it never left me behind.  I can still snap to attention, render a proper salute, recite my officer’s oath from memory.

In short, I’m not a former but a retired officer.  My uniform may be gathering dust in the basement, but I haven’t forgotten how it made me feel when I wore it.  I don’t think any of us who have served ever do.  That strong sense of belonging, that emotional bond, makes you think twice before speaking out.  Or at least that’s been my experience.  Even as I call for more honesty within our military, more bracing dissent, I have to admit that I still feel a residual sense of hesitation.  Make of that what you will.

Bonus Reason: Troops are sometimes reluctant to speak out because they doubt Americans will listen, or if they do, empathize and understand.  It’s one thing to vent your frustrations in private among friends on your military base or at the local VFW hall among other veterans.  It’s quite another to talk to outsiders.  War’s sacrifices and horrors are especially difficult to convey and often traumatic to relive.  Nevertheless, as a country, we need to find ways to encourage veterans to speak out and we also need to teach ourselves how to listen — truly listen — no matter the harshness of what they describe or how disturbed what they actually have to say may make us feel.

Encouraging Our Troops to Speak More Freely

Perpetual war is a far greater threat to democracy in our country than ISIS, Russia, or any other external threat you want to mention.  To again quote former President Eisenhower, who as supreme commander of Allied forces in World War II had learned something of the true nature of war, “Only Americans can hurt America.”

The military and the entire apparatus of the burgeoning national security state should exist for a single purpose: to defend the country — that is, to safeguard the Constitution and our rights, liberties, and freedoms.  When it does that, it’s doing its job, and deserves praise (but never worship).  When it doesn’t, it should be criticized, reformed, even rebuilt from the ground up (and in more modest, less imperial fashion).

But this process is unlikely to begin as long as our leaders continue to wage war without end and we the people continue to shout “Amen!” whenever the Pentagon asks for more weapons and money for war.  To heal our increasingly fractured democracy, we need to empower liberty and nurture integrity within the institution that Americans say they trust the most: the U.S. military.  Dissenting voices must be encouraged and dissenting thoughts empowered in the service of rejecting the very idea of war without end.

Some will doubtless claim that encouraging patriotic dissent within the military can only weaken its combat effectiveness, endangering our national security.  But when, I wonder, did it become wise for a democracy to emulate Sparta?  And when is it ever possible to be perfectly secure? 

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and a TomDispatch regular. He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 William J. Astore



Ring of Fire: ” Obama’s Drone Papers Don’t Explain Abnormally Large Civilian Death Toll”

How labor’s decline opened door to billionaire Trump as ‘savior’ of American workers

Wed, 10 Aug 2016 - 11:22pm

By Raymond Hogler | (The Conversation) | – –

Out of the economic maelstrom of the last decade, Donald Trump has emerged as the improbable, and self-proclaimed, champion of American workers.

And that’s despite the fact that Trump has failed to articulate substantive policy positions regarding labor issues, other than generic railing against foreign competition and bad trade deals. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for one, has attacked him by tweeting a number of examples in which Trump’s past behavior shows that he is no friend to working people.

Everything Trump says shows he is desperate to be working ppl’s friend but everything he does proves he is our enemy

— Richard L. Trumka (@RichardTrumka) 19 July 2016

The important question is how has Trump – a wealthy real estate mogul and reality TV star – managed to attract substantial support among white men without college degrees, a demographic that makes up the base of industrial unionism?

The answer is an interlocking set of changing economic and cultural conditions in the U.S. that has undermined middle-class incomes and values. And it starts with the steady erosion of the American labor movement.

In my recent book on labor decline, I explored the historical evolution of the movement and concluded that state right-to-work laws are instrumental in breaking down working-class solidarity. Paradoxically, it is in these states that Trump’s support is strongest.

The decline of unionism

In 1950, Walter Reuther and the United Auto Workers negotiated a landmark labor contract with General Motors known as the “Treaty of Detroit,” which set the terms for working-class prosperity over the next three decades. According to a study by economists Frank Levy and Peter Temin, the golden age of the American working class depended on a set of institutional supports that included collective bargaining and union power.

Deteriorating economic conditions and membership declines in the late ‘70’s led organized labor to mount a pivotal effort for labor law reform to reinvigorate the movement, but a proposed bill was defeated by a Republican filibuster in 1978. Subsequently, union membership fell at a faster rate than at any time since the 1920s and presently stands at 11.1 percent of workers.

The effect of union deterioration on income inequality is nicely illustrated by the relationship between membership and the income share of the top 10 percent. In 1956, membership in unions was 33.2 percent, which was slightly higher than the share of national income taken in by top earners. In 2013, the figures were 11.2 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

The role of culture

Coupled with stagnant wages, changing social conditions have inflamed the cultural divide among identity groups. A psychological theory known as “cultural cognition” argues that Americans fall primarily into two ideological camps that shape their responses to such divisive issues as guns, race, gender and public toilets.

“Hierarchical individualists” adhere to traditional social roles, such as marriage between a man and a woman, freedom from government interference with personal liberties belonging to citizens of our nation, and regard for institutions such as the church and the military. This type of person holds deep religious views and respects authority arising from legitimate sources. Trump identifies himself as a billionaire who succeeded through his own talent and who states his views without regard for “political correctness.”

The contrasting cultural position is “collective egalitarianism,” which values group action to achieve equality of opportunity, opposes race and gender discrimination, and rejects the dead weight of the historical past. This person advocates economic policies to reduce inequality, such as by increasing the minimum wage and eliminating unfair labor practices. Bernie Sanders’ economic platform embodies these ideals.

The key point of the theory is that culture takes precedence over rational thought. One study, for example, shows that white males perceive risk much differently than other groups when it challenges their cultural identities and orientation. The authors conclude that “the white male effect might derive from a congeniality between hierarchical and individualistic worldviews, on the one hand, and a posture of extreme risk skepticism, on the other.”

Consequently, Trump’s base has less apprehension about the risks of his presidency, such as his lack of experience in foreign affairs and his disastrous imbroglio with the Khan family, than do other social groups; and they remain positive about his candidacy because of who they are, not who he is.

Trump’s heartland

The two largest cohorts of union membership are aged 45 to 54 and 55 to 64.

Overall, there are 6.3 million white male union members compared with slightly more than one million black male members. Analysts predict that Trump will need to win around 67 percent of the white vote to prevail in the election.

What political strategy would enable Trump to capture key industrial states like Pennsylvania and Ohio? Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist, argues that Trump’s appeal is based on racism, writing that “Trump is an unfiltered primal scream of the fragility and fear consuming white male America.” From this perspective, Trump’s best campaign strategy is further attacks on such groups as Muslims and Mexicans.

Thomas Frank, another well-known political commentator, disagrees. He quotes a labor union official in Indiana who points out that working-class Americans are probably no more racist that any other group. Rather, Trump’s appeal to the white male without a college degree is better understood by simple economics. As Frank explains: “Ill-considered trade deals and generous bank bailouts and guaranteed profits for insurance companies but no recovery for average people, ever – these policies have taken their toll.”

In the end, both approaches are needed to grasp the Trump phenomenon and the possibility that he might become president because his political rise is a conflation of historical circumstance and cultural gridlock.

In other words, Trump achieved a Republican primary victory at the moment when unions no longer could offer economic security for middle-class workers and when dominance based on race and gender was rapidly disappearing.

Back to the future

Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” appears to offer a restoration of power to his supporters, but that restoration will not be achieved through positive labor law policies and union growth as took place during the New Deal.

For unions, it is unlikely that Trump would promote statutory changes to make organizing easier and more efficient because Republicans have systematically sought to destroy unions by adopting right to work legislation in states like Indiana, Michigan and West Virginia, and repealing state laws that protect public sector labor organizing.

Realistically, Trump’s campaign is devoid of any substantive policy proposals to improve wages and benefits for American workers. Trump succeeds not as a legitimate political candidate but as a “cultural symbolist” who relies on emotionally charged tropes to attract followers, such as walling off our border with Mexico and banning Muslims from entering the country.

His approach for the most part has been successful and may be so in the future. A New York Times editorial warned against dismissing Trump with the comment, “He is speaking to people who disbelieve conventional politicians, who detest a Washington they think has betrayed them. He promises nothing of substance to ease their pain, but he gives voice to their rage.”

Responding to the “voices of rage” is hardly a worthwhile agenda for national prosperity or security, but it could be enough to win an election.

Raymond Hogler, Professor of Management, Colorado State University

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


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