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Why Watergate is not the Right Analogy for the Trump Constitutional Crisis

Thu, 18 May 2017 - 1:15am

By Neal Gabler | ( | – –

Contrary to the myth, Nixon’s resignation was anything but the inevitable consequence of a powerful constitutional juggernaut.

A witness indicates H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, on a diagram as he testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee during the Watergate hearings. The nationally televised hearings began in mid-May 1973 and resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon on Aug. 8, 1974. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Our Constitution works.” So declared newly installed President Gerald Ford in 1974 after Richard Nixon’s resignation. “Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.”

Oh glory be! All’s well that ends well. That has been the conventional wisdom ever since. Nixon was checked by checks and balanced by balances. The republic was saved, proving, in the words not only of Ford but of just about everyone, that the system does indeed work.
The real lesson of Watergate is not that the Constitution worked. It is that it failed spectacularly.

Except for one thing: It didn’t. In fact, the real lesson of Watergate is not that the Constitution worked. It is that it failed spectacularly. Contrary to the myth, Nixon’s resignation was anything but the inevitable consequence of a powerful constitutional juggernaut.

Rather, it was the consequence of a bizarre, highly improbable series of events that was more reminiscent of Rube Goldberg than James Madison or Alexander Hamilton (Goldberg being the cartoonist who drew elaborate machines that performed the simplest task by setting off a long, complicated chain reaction). So if you’re thinking (dreaming) that crazy King Donald will be deposed by our vaunted checks and balances, consider first that if the political system really worked, a narcissistic man-child like Trump could have never gotten to the presidency, and second, that the Constitution is a shoddy and inadequate contraption unsuitable for ridding us of narcissistic man-children.

Simply put, don’t count on it.

I don’t know if Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election or if he is conducting a cover-up of his minions’ actions. New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote that Trump’s machinations either indicate concealment or insanity. I would actually bet on the latter. But even if he is guilty — even if he has a smoking gun in his hand — it would still take Rube Goldberg to oust him. So says Watergate.

Let’s begin at the beginning. It is incontrovertible that President Richard Nixon connived to pay off the Watergate burglars so that they wouldn’t squeal and that he approved of an elaborate system to halt the investigation that could lead from the burglars to his Committee to Re-Elect the President. But to get from there to a possible impeachment and the resignation that obviated the necessity for the impeachment was a long and tortuous road.

If the pugnacious senior justice on the District of Columbia Federal Court, John Sirica, hadn’t appointed himself to preside over the burglars’ trial; and if Sirica hadn’t expressed his skepticism that the crime ended with the Keystone Cops who stood before him; and if that skepticism hadn’t led Sirica to pressure the defendants to turn on the higher-ups responsible; and if one of those Cops, James McCord, hadn’t accepted Sirica’s invitation to do so and hadn’t written him a letter exposing the hush money…

And if two enterprising Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, hadn’t sniffed a larger conspiracy and began unearthing it; and if The Post’s managing editor Howard Simons, the paper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee and its owner Katharine Graham hadn’t supported them against enormous pressures and threats from the administration; and if the media hadn’t picked up the story instead of ignoring it; and if FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt hadn’t decided to leak information on the Watergate investigation to Woodward and Bernstein, thus keeping the story afloat; and if, despite the 1972 Nixon landslide, Congress hadn’t been in Democratic hands, allowing a Senate investigation that would have never occurred under Republican rule; and if the chairman of the Senate Select Committee hadn’t been a canny old conservative Southerner named Sam Ervin, who looked like anything but a hardened partisan out to get Nixon …

And if the House Judiciary Committee hadn’t wrung a promise from Attorney General Eliot Richardson that he would appoint a special prosecutor; and if Richardson hadn’t appointed Archibald Cox, a man of impeccable character and integrity; and if Nixon himself hadn’t recorded his conversations; and if, during those Senate hearings, John Dean, White House counsel, hadn’t hypothesized that Nixon might have been taping conversations, which prompted committee staff to make that query of every witness; and if a Nixon deputy assistant named Alexander Butterfield hadn’t then revealed the recording system and the tapes; and if Cox hadn’t then subpoenaed the tapes; and if Sirica hadn’t ordered the White House to honor the subpoena; and if Nixon hadn’t poured gasoline on the Watergate fire by refusing to honor the subpoena; and if Nixon hadn’t ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox; and if Richardson hadn’t resigned rather than do so; and if the deputy attorney general, William Ruckleshaus, hadn’t also refused to fire Cox; and if the odious solicitor general, Robert Bork, as now acting attorney general, hadn’t finally fired Cox, touching off a firestorm; and if Cox hadn’t reacted to his firing so temperately that partisan hostilities weren’t enflamed; and if Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN) hadn’t been the ranking minority member on the Select Senate Committee investigating Watergate and reluctantly allowed to follow the trail where it led rather than take the partisan approach and resist it …

And if Nixon hadn’t rejected advice to take the tapes on the White House lawn and burn them; and if Sirica’s order for Nixon to turn over the tapes hadn’t been upheld by the Supreme Court (with Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Nixon appointee, writing the majority opinion); and if another man of integrity, Leon Jaworski, hadn’t been named to replace Cox as special prosecutor and continued to pursue the matter doggedly; and if the tapes hadn’t finally been revealed to contain a smoking gun as to Nixon’s participation in the cover-up — if any one of those things hadn’t happened, the investigation almost certainly would have been derailed, the media and public interest almost certainly would have waned, the Republican charge that it was all a partisan witch hunt almost certainly would have prevailed, and Nixon almost certainly would have survived.

Too many ifs. And that is precisely what Trump is counting on to derail the Russian investigation.

Trump can’t help but notice that almost everything that led to Nixon’s demise was extra-constitutional: the media’s diligence, the cooperation of leakers, the probity of the individuals investigating him, the conscience of the judges and of the appointed officials like Richardson and Ruckleshaus, who eschewed partisanship for patriotism, and finally the public pressure that got the Republicans to cave. In short, there was nothing inevitable about it, which also means it is very unlikely to be replicated.

Republicans, then as now, were determined to defend their man and throw every monkey wrench they possibly could to stall the investigation. The other day I heard some pundit wax rhapsodically about how Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Hugh Scott (R-PA), and Rep. John Rhodes (R-AZ) marched to the White House to deliver Nixon the news that the jig was up and he would have to resign, as if these three wise men were putting country over party.

That is a lot of bull roar. Those wise men only gave Nixon their verdict after he finally was outed as having approved a cover-up, which is to say long after the public had already turned decisively against him. By May 1973, for the first time, more Americans disapproved of him than approved of him. By the end of the year, that disapproval was well above 60 percent.

The handwriting wasn’t only on the wall for Republicans. It covered the wall. But even then, they didn’t run from Nixon. They crawled from him. Remember: It took more than two years for Watergate to play out. Two years. Again: the system didn’t work.
– Sen. James Risch on PBS NewsHour

Back to present day: Trump can pretty much count on Republicans’ support, unless his approval ratings continue to nosedive, because Republicans are largely hypocrites and because there are no Howard Bakers anymore (not that Baker was a paragon), or anyone on the Republican side for whom collusion with the Russians would outweigh dismantling the welfare state. On Tuesday, Sen. James Risch of Idaho told the PBS NewsHour that Trump should be “commended” for giving classified intelligence to the Russians and that the investigative focus should be on finding the “traitor” who leaked the story to The Washington Post. Not exactly a profile in courage.

What’s more, Nixon didn’t have Fox News, Limbaugh and Drudge to fight back on his behalf. Trump does. And don’t count on public pressure from the right. While Trump’s approval ratings are historically low — at roughly the same level as Nixon’s during the Watergate hearings — there is still that core that sticks with him, 82 percent of rank-and-file Republicans. They pose a threat to any Republican officeholder who breaks with Trump because they are likely to abandon them before they abandon him.

And as for those honorable men and women of conscience, well, we have only to look at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to see how imperiled they are. In just a day, Rosenstein sullied a nearly 30-year reputation as a sterling public servant by drafting a shockingly phony excuse for Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey — an excuse that Trump undermined the next day.

Apparently, integrity isn’t what it used to be. And remember that the hopelessly compromised Rosenstein, who has already said he sees no need for a special prosecutor, would be charged with appointing one. And as for a new FBI chief to head the investigation? Well, of course, Trump will appoint him or her. And finally there is this: unlike Nixon, Trump ain’t leaving unless he is booted out.

So don’t count on some moderate Republican or some high-minded career prosecutor or some unimpeachable judge or some FBI leader or some administration whistle-blower or the Supreme Court or the Constitution or even Rube Goldberg to save us from Trump. We got lucky once — very, very lucky. We aren’t likely to be that lucky again.

Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today’s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS News: “McCain: Trump’s actions are of “Watergate size and scale”

GOP not the party of ‘Security’ as Intel Allies Flee Trump

Wed, 17 May 2017 - 11:20pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Globally, US security partners are beginning to rethink sharing sensitive intelligence with the United States. That decisio should worry all Americans, since it puts the US at greater risk of being blindsided.

The Republican Party has long claimed to be the party of security, in large part because they confuse belligerent rhetoric with security. A war with Iran would have made the United States beleaguered, bankrupt and feeble. President Barack Obama’s deal with Iran saved the US from that fate. Diplomacy and care with words enhances US security. Rattling sabers leads to being run through by a saber.

The hollowness of GOP claims to be the party of strength are demonstrated by the mass of US allies running for the door and vowing never to show Washington anything remotely important.

Even the Israelis, who would have no security without the US, are kvetching about Trump’s latest breach. It is widely thought that he endangered an Israeli spy who had penetrated ISIL. And Tel Aviv is royally angered.

Former Mossad head Shabtai Shavit slammed Trump and said he’d be careful about sharing intel with the US in future, and observed that all America’s allies would have the same reaction. Another former Israeli intelligence head, Danny Yatom, said that Washington had to be punished for Trump’s gaffes, or else he would just go on making them.

It should be noted that the CIA considers Israeli intelligence one of the leakiest among US allies, and according to Sy Hersh, Washington was convinced that Mossad ran Jonathan Pollard to get US naval secrets, some of which somehow ended up in Moscow. Also, somehow some US military weapons specifications ended up in China.

So if the Israelis now think Trump is too leaky to do business with, that is saying something.

Then Burkhard Lischka, a member of the German parliamentary intelligence oversight committee, called Trump “a security risk” and said: “If it proves to be true that the American president passed on internal intelligence matters that would be highly worrying.”

So it seems that the vaunted Republican Party advantage on security and intelligence issues is a mirage. A sitting Republican president is scaring off our closest allies from tight security cooperation. Who knows what terrorist plot might be missed because of it?

Trump has only been in office a few months, and he has already ruined intelligence relationships forged over decades.

Because he is a bratty blabbermouth?


I wish this controversy were even at the level of policy. But you know, the Republicans had a chance to look at Trump and say, ‘no way.’ Instead they embraced him and joined his administration. All of us will pay the price for their pusillanimity and shortsightedness.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News: Former Mossad chief says Israel will “think twice” before sharing sensitive info

Could Comey Memo lead to Impeachment of Trump?

Wed, 17 May 2017 - 3:21am

Jon Queally, staff writer | ( | – –

“Donald Trump wanted to stop the FBI investigation, which is the definition of obstruction of justice,” says Sen. Bernie Sanders.

President Donald Trump’s threat also follows differing reports of what occurred during a dinner between him and James Comey just before the FBI director’s firing. (Photo: Getty)

The possible existence of memorandum penned by former FBI Director James Comey in the immediate wake of a dinner he had with President Donald Trump earlier this year is being treated Tuesday night as an explosive development if its version of events, specifically that the president asked the chief of the bureau to drop the investigation into national security adviser Michael Flynn, is verified.

First reported by the New York Times, the memo—which journalist Michael S. Schmidt did not see himself but which a source, identified as a “one of Mr. Comey’s associates,” read aloud selected portions—is Comey’s account of the dinner meeting with Trump just a day after Flynn’s resignation in February. As the Times reports:

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey. Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

While the White House “denied the version of events in the memo,” the Times reports that Comey shared it among high-level FBI associates, part of a “paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation.”

And while it could be seen as one person’s version of events against another, Schmidt notes that an “F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.”

Under increased scrutiny already for his firing of Comey and the explanations given for the abrupt ouster, the latest revelations only served to increase the political heat now facing President Trump.

“Donald Trump wanted to stop the FBI investigation, which is the definition of obstruction of justice. We need a special prosecutor,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in response to the developments.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) called it a “very serious matter” and though previously “reluctant” to utter the phrase, told CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday night that impeachment of Trump should now be on the table “because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense.”

Earlier on Tuesday, as Common Dreams reported, a new Public Policy Polling survey showed that for the first time more Americans support impeachment proceedings against Trump than oppose them.

Other members of Congress used the word “impeachment” with less apparent reluctance than Sen. King:

If reports about #ComeyMemo are true, the president committed obstruction and this is grounds for impeachment.

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) May 16, 2017

In addition to the letter sent to the FBI requesting relevant documents, Chaffetz—a member of Trump’s own party who so far has been criticized for not standing up to the president over alleged ethical breaches and conflicts of interest charges—made it clear Tuesday night that he was ready to use the Oversight Committee’s authority to secure information on this matter. The committee, Chaffetz tweeted, “is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.” Here is the copy of the letter (pdf) Chaffetz sent to the FBI’s Acting Director Andrew McGabe on Tuesday.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California and the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, also indicated he would utilize all the power at his disposal to obtain the reported memo.

“Today’s allegations that the President urged Director Comey to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn are among the most disturbing to date,” Schiff said in a statement. “Following shortly on the heels of the President’s admission that he raised his own potential liability at a dinner with the Director and at a time when the Director was concerned about keeping his job, the allegations paint an alarming portrait of a President potentially interfering with, or worse, obstructing, the progress of the Russia investigation.”

“If there are notes of these meetings,” he continued, “they should be provided to Congress immediately – subpoenaed if necessary – and Director Comey should be brought back to testify before Congress without delay. Finally, this report further strengthens the case for the appointment of a special counsel in the Russia investigation to ensure that prosecutorial decisions are fully insulated from any White House’s effort to interfere.”

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



Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS News: “Comey memo: Trump asked Comey to end Flynn investigation”

Erdogan & Trump: Can the Confict over Syria be Resolved?

Wed, 17 May 2017 - 2:12am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Two really big egos met Tuesday at the White House, as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan consulted with Donald Trump.

The two countries are deeply divided over Syria policy. Syria is actually several wars at once:

Rebels are fighting the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad.

An al-Qaeda-linked group is allied with the rebels and spearheading the fight against the regime in the northwest.

ISIL (ISIS, Daesh) is ensconced in the east, imposing a radical fundamentalist cult. It opposes the regime, the rebels and the Kurds.

The Kurdish Democratic Union party controls the northeast. It opposes ISIL and has bad relations with Sunni Arab fundamentalist rebels.

So which of these fights do outside powers prioritize?

The US says, go after ISIL first. That means allying with the Kurds, the only group on the ground with the will to defeat ISIL as its top goal, since ISIL is an aggressive neighbor and has it in for the Kurds.

Second, the US says, al-Qaeda in the northwest needs to either be defeated or to radically de-radicalize.

A tertiary US goal is to see al-Assad step down under pressure from what Washington sees as ‘moderate rebels.’

The conflict between the US and Turkey is mainly about how you order these priorities.

Turkey says:

Goal number one is to defeat the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of the Syrian Kurds and make sure it is subordinated to whatever Arab government emerges in Damascus. Ankara sees the PYD and its paraamilitary, the YPG, as linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which both Turkey and the US tag as a terrorist organization.

Overthrowing al-Assad is task number two, which means strong backing for the Sunni Arab rebels and winking at the al-Qaeda connection of some of them.

Erdogan goal number three, if it can someday be gotten around to, is to roll up ISIL. But maybe leave it there for a while to put pressure on al-Assad from one side and the Kurds on the other.

Inasmuch as Erdogan has backed Sunni rebels in the far north of the country against ISIL, it wouldn’t be true to say he’s done nothing against the phony caliphate. But rolling it up in Raqqa just isn’t his top priority.

So the US is backing the Kurds as its number one priority, in order to get at ISIL, and that is the opposite of Turkey’s policy.

The Syria priorities have roiled relations between the two countries, for which ERdogan blames the Obama administration.

Erdogan said as he was going to Washington,

“There are Obama’s men in lower positions [in the current administration]. He [Trump] is looking at the situation in Iraq and Syria through the information fed by them. And I say there is no need for the YPG [Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units] or PYD [Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party]. These are terrorist organizations. Considering cooperation with the YPG as a condition to fight Daesh is in fact destroying the reputation of the US and the [US-led anti-ISIL] coalition.”

Erdogan is wrong. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has obviously looked at the Syria battle plan and decided that the alliance with the Kurds is the ony practical approach to defeating ISIL. Moreover, it is necessary for the US to synchronize Syria policy with Iraq, where Kurds are also US allies.

I’m not sure Trump can get his magpie mind around the complexities of Syria. He just patted Erdogan on the back as a good ally against terrorism. Trump has hotel investments in Istanbul, and has admitted that he has a conflict of interest in dealing with Turkey, as a result.

What matters is that Mattis has ordered US priorities opposite from those of Turkey, in continuity with the Obama Pentagon under Ash Carter, and so Washington-Ankara relations are going to remain difficult.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS Newshour: “Trump meets with Turkey’s Erdogan amid slew of tensions”

Should the Pentagon be Propping up Dictatorships around the World?

Wed, 17 May 2017 - 1:30am

By David Vine | ( ) | – –

Much outrage has been expressed in recent weeks over President Donald Trump’s invitation for a White House visit to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, whose “war on drugs” has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings. Criticism of Trump was especially intense given his similarly warm public support for other authoritarian rulers like Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (who visited the Oval Office to much praise only weeks earlier), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who got a congratulatory phone call from President Trump on his recent referendum victory, granting him increasingly unchecked powers), and Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha (who also received a White House invitation).

But here’s the strange thing: the critics generally ignored the far more substantial and long-standing bipartisan support U.S. presidents have offered these and dozens of other repressive regimes over the decades. After all, such autocratic countries share one striking thing in common. They are among at least 45 less-than-democratic nations and territories that today host scores of U.S. military bases, from ones the size of not-so-small American towns to tiny outposts. Together, these bases are homes to tens of thousands of U.S. troops.

To ensure basing access from Central America to Africa, Asia to the Middle East, U.S. officials have repeatedly collaborated with fiercely anti-democratic regimes and militaries implicated in torture, murder, the suppression of democratic rights, the systematic oppression of women and minorities, and numerous other human rights abuses. Forget the recent White House invitations and Trump’s public compliments. For nearly three quarters of a century, the United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in maintaining bases and troops in such repressive states. From Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have, since World War II, regularly shown a preference for maintaining bases in undemocratic and often despotic states, including Spain under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, South Korea under Park Chung-hee, Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Djibouti under four-term President Ismail Omar Guelleh, to name just four.

Many of the 45 present-day undemocratic U.S. base hosts qualify as fully “authoritarian regimes,” according to the Economist Democracy Index. In such cases, American installations and the troops stationed on them are effectively helping block the spread of democracy in countries like Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kuwait, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

This pattern of daily support for dictatorship and repression around the world should be a national scandal in a country supposedly committed to democracy. It should trouble Americans ranging from religious conservatives and libertarians to leftists — anyone, in fact, who believes in the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. After all, one of the long-articulated justifications for maintaining military bases abroad has been that the U.S. military’s presence protects and spreads democracy.

Far from bringing democracy to these lands, however, such bases tend to provide legitimacy for and prop up undemocratic regimes of all sorts, while often interfering with genuine efforts to encourage political and democratic reform. The silencing of the critics of human rights abuses in base hosts like Bahrain, which has violently cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators since 2011, has left the United States complicit in these states’ crimes.

During the Cold War, bases in undemocratic countries were often justified as the unfortunate but necessary consequence of confronting the “communist menace” of the Soviet Union. But here’s the curious thing: in the quarter century since the Cold War ended with that empire’s implosion, few of those bases have closed. Today, while a White House visit from an autocrat may generate indignation, the presence of such installations in countries run by repressive or military rulers receives little notice at all.

Befriending Dictators

The 45 nations and territories with little or no democratic rule represent more than half of the roughly 80 countries now hosting U.S. bases (who often lack the power to ask their “guests” to leave).  They are part of a historically unprecedented global network of military installations the United States has built or occupied since World War II.

Today, while there are no foreign bases in the United States, there are around 800 U.S. bases in foreign countries. That number was recently even higher, but it still almost certainly represents a record for any nation or empire in history. More than 70 years after World War II and 64 years after the Korean War, there are, according to the Pentagon, 181 U.S. “base sites” in Germany, 122 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea. Hundreds more dot the planet from Aruba to Australia, Belgium to Bulgaria, Colombia to Qatar. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, civilians, and family members occupy these installations. By my conservative estimate, to maintain such a level of bases and troops abroad, U.S. taxpayers spend at least $150 billion annually — more than the budget of any government agency except the Pentagon itself.

For decades, leaders in Washington have insisted that bases abroad spread our values and democracy — and that may have been true to some extent in occupied Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II. However, as base expert Catherine Lutz suggests, the subsequent historical record shows that “gaining and maintaining access for U.S. bases has often involved close collaboration with despotic governments.”

The bases in the countries whose leaders President Trump has recently lauded illustrate the broader pattern. The United States has maintained military facilities in the Philippines almost continuously since seizing that archipelago from Spain in 1898. It only granted the colony independence in 1946, conditioned on the local government’s agreement that the U.S. would retain access to more than a dozen installations there.

After independence, a succession of U.S. administrations supported two decades of Ferdinand Marcos’s autocratic rule, ensuring the continued use of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two of the largest U.S. bases abroad. After the Filipino people finally ousted Marcos in 1986 and then made the U.S. military leave in 1991, the Pentagon quietly returned in 1996. With the help of a “visiting forces agreement” and a growing stream of military exercises and training programs, it began to set up surreptitious, small-scale bases once more. A desire to solidify this renewed base presence, while also checking Chinese influence, undoubtedly drove Trump’s recent White House invitation to Duterte. It came despite the Filipino president’s record of joking about rape, swearing he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts just as “Hitler massacred [six] million Jews,” and bragging, “I don’t care about human rights.”

In Turkey, President Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule is only the latest episode in a pattern of military coups and undemocratic regimes interrupting periods of democracy. U.S. bases have, however, been a constant presence in the country since 1943. They repeatedly caused controversy and sparked protest — first throughout the 1960s and 1970s, before the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more recently after U.S. forces began using them to launch attacks in Syria.

Although Egypt has a relatively small U.S. base presence, its military has enjoyed deep and lucrative ties with the U.S. military since the signing of the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1979. After a 2013 military coup ousted a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama administration took months to withhold some forms of military and economic aid, despite more than 1,300 killings by security forces and the arrest of more than 3,500 members of the Brotherhood. According to Human Rights Watch, “Little was said about ongoing abuses,” which have continued to this day.

In Thailand, the U.S. has maintained deep connections with the Thai military, which has carried out 12 coups since 1932. Both countries have been able to deny that they have a basing relationship of any sort, thanks to a rental agreement between a private contractor and U.S. forces at Thailand’s Utapao Naval Air Base. “Because of [contractor] Delta Golf Global,” writes journalist Robert Kaplan, “the U.S. military was here, but it was not here. After all, the Thais did no business with the U.S. Air Force. They dealt only with a private contractor.”

Elsewhere, the record is similar. In monarchical Bahrain, which has had a U.S. military presence since 1949 and now hosts the Navy’s 5th Fleet, the Obama administration offered only the most tepid criticism of the government despite an ongoing, often violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. According to Human Rights Watch and others (including an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa), the government has been responsible for widespread abuses including the arbitrary arrest of protesters, ill treatment during detention, torture-related deaths, and growing restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly. The Trump administration has already signaled its desire to protect the military-to-military ties of the two countries by approving a sale of F-16 fighters to Bahrain without demanding improvements in its human rights record.

And that’s typical of what base expert Chalmers Johnson once called the American “baseworld.” Research by political scientist Kent Calder confirms what’s come to be known as the “dictatorship hypothesis”: “The United States tends to support dictators [and other undemocratic regimes] in nations where it enjoys basing facilities.” Another large-scale study similarly shows that autocratic states have been “consistently attractive” as base sites. “Due to the unpredictability of elections,” it added bluntly, democratic states prove “less attractive in terms [of] sustainability and duration.”

Even within what are technically U.S. borders, democratic rule has regularly proved “less attractive” than preserving colonialism into the twenty-first century. The presence of scores of bases in Puerto Rico and the Pacific island of Guam has been a major motivation for keeping these and other U.S. “territories” — American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — in varying degrees of colonial subordination. Conveniently for military leaders, they have neither full independence nor the full democratic rights that would come with incorporation into the U.S. as states, including voting representation in Congress and the presidential vote.  Installations in at least five of Europe’s remaining colonies have proven equally attractive, as has the base that U.S. troops have forcibly occupied in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since shortly after the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Backing Dictators

Authoritarian rulers tend to be well aware of the desire of U.S. officials to maintain the status quo when it comes to bases. As a result, they often capitalize on a base presence to extract benefits or help ensure their own political survival.

The Philippines’ Marcos, former South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee, and more recently Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh have been typical in the way they used bases to extract economic assistance from Washington, which they then lavished on political allies to shore up their power. Others have relied on such bases to bolster their international prestige and legitimacy or to justify violence against domestic political opponents. After the 1980 Kwangju massacre in which the South Korean government killed hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators, strongman General Chun Doo-hwan explicitly cited the presence of U.S. bases and troops to suggest that his actions enjoyed Washington’s support. Whether or not that was true is still a matter of historical debate. What’s clear, however, is that American leaders have regularly muted their criticism of repressive regimes lest they imperil bases in these countries. In addition, such a presence tends to strengthen military, rather than civilian, institutions in countries because of the military-to-military ties, arms sales, and training missions that generally accompany basing agreements.

Meanwhile, opponents of repressive regimes often use the bases as a tool to rally nationalist sentiment, anger, and protest against both ruling elites and the United States. That, in turn, tends to fuel fears in Washington that a transition to democracy might lead to base eviction, often leading to a doubling down on support for undemocratic rulers. The result can be an escalating cycle of opposition and U.S.-backed repression.


While some defend the presence of bases in undemocratic countries as necessary to deter “bad actors” and support “U.S. interests” (primarily corporate ones), backing dictators and autocrats frequently leads to harm not just for the citizens of host nations but for U.S. citizens as well. The base build-up in the Middle East has proven the most prominent example of this. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution, which both unfolded in 1979, the Pentagon has built up scores of bases across the Middle East at a cost of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars. According to former West Point professor Bradley Bowman, such bases and the troops that go with them have been a “major catalyst for anti-Americanism and radicalization.” Research has similarly revealed a correlation between the bases and al-Qaeda recruitment.

Most catastrophically, outposts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have helped generate and fuel the radical militancy that has spread throughout the Greater Middle East and led to terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. The presence of such bases and troops in Muslim holy lands was, after all, a major recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and part of Osama bin Laden’s professed motivation for the 9/11 attacks.

With the Trump administration seeking to entrench its renewed base presence in the Philippines and the president commending Duterte and similarly authoritarian leaders in Bahrain and Egypt, Turkey and Thailand, human rights violations are likely to escalate, fueling unknown brutality and baseworld blowback for years to come. 

David Vine, a TomDispatch regular, is associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. His latest book is Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (the American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books). He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Mother Jones, among other publications. For more information, visit and

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

Copyright David Vine 2017


CO2 putting Oceans on verge of Oxygen Starvation for next Million Years

Wed, 17 May 2017 - 1:09am

University of Exeter | – –

Scientists believe the modern ocean is “on the edge of anoxia” – and the Exeter researchers say it is “critical” to limit carbon emissions to prevent this.

The depletion of oxygen in the oceans is known as “anoxia”, and scientists from the University of Exeter have been studying how periods of anoxia end.

Dramatic drops in oceanic oxygen, which cause mass extinctions of sea life, come to a natural end – but it takes about a million years.

They found that the drop in oxygen causes more organic carbon to be buried in sediment on the ocean floor, eventually leading to rising oxygen in the atmosphere which ultimately re-oxygenates the ocean.

“Once you get into a major event like anoxia, it takes a long time for the Earth’s system to rebalance,” said lead researcher Sarah Baker, a geographer at the University of Exeter.

“This shows the vital importance of limiting disruption to the carbon cycle to regulate the Earth system and keep it within habitable bounds.”

The researchers, who also include Professor Stephen Hesselbo from the Camborne School of Mines, studied the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event, which took place 183 million years ago and was characterized by a major disturbance to the global carbon cycle, depleted oxygen in Earth’s oceans and mass extinction of marine life.

Numerical models predicted that increased burial of organic carbon – due to less decomposition and more plant and marine productivity in the warmer, carbon-rich environment – should drive a rise in atmospheric oxygen, causing the end of an anoxic event after one million years.

To test the theory, the scientists examined fossil charcoal samples to see evidence of wildfires – as such fires would be more common in oxygen-rich times.

They found a period of increased wildfire activity started one million years after the onset of the anoxic event, and lasted for about 800,000 years.

“We argue that this major increase in fire activity was primarily driven by increased atmospheric oxygen,” said Baker.

“Our study provides the first fossil-based evidence that such a change in atmospheric oxygen levels could occur in a period of one million years.”

The increase in fire activity may have also helped end ocean anoxia by burning and reducing the amount of plants on land.

This is because plants can help to erode rocks on the land that contain nutrients needed for marine life – therefore with fewer plants, fewer nutrients are available to be carried to the sea and used to support marine life in the oceans.

Less marine life – that would use oxygen to breathe – would mean less oxygen being used in the oceans, and could therefore help the oceans to build up a higher oxygen content, ending anoxia.

It may therefore be essential to maintain the natural functioning of wildfire activity to help regulate the Earth system in the long-term, the researchers say.

The charcoal sediment tests were carried out at Mochras in Wales and Peniche, Portugal.

The paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, is entitled: “Charcoal evidence that rising atmospheric oxygen terminated Early Jurassic ocean anoxia.”

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Via University of Exeter


Related video added by Juan Cole:

UCSD Ocean Scientists:
“Ocean Deoxygenation: Our Ocean’s Oxygen Supply & Demand Issue”

Even Conservative SCOTUS can’t Stomach N Carolina Voter Suppression

Tue, 16 May 2017 - 4:28am

by Andrea Germanos, staff writer | | – –

North Carolina’s Voter ID Law Meets ‘Its Much-Deserved Demise’
Decision by U.S. Supreme Court not to review appeals court decision on 2013 law affords ‘a huge victory against sham voter ID laws’

The Supreme Court’s decision today, said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, means “[a]n ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.” (Photo: AFGE/flickr/cc)
Monday brought a victory for voting rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined (pdf) to review a lower court’s decision that struck down North Carolina’s controversial voter ID law. According to Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, the development means “[a]n ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

A federal appeals court last year found that law, which shrunk the early voting period and stopped the practice of pre-registering teenagers in addition to the ID requirement, was racially discriminatory as it targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Now, Ho added, the law has met “its much-deserved demise.”

The ACLU, along with other civil rights groups, had challenged the law, which was passed in the wake of the high court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder. That decision was decried as having “sounded the death knell” for a key provision in the Voting Rights Act.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also applauded the announcement, with its president and executive director, Kristen Clarke, saying it “now renders North Carolina’s law null and void, and brings to close a long and protracted battle over a law deemed one of the most egregious voter suppression measures of its kind.”

It also, according to Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, “tells the people of North Carolina and across the country that the right to vote unencumbered by expansive restrictions or by racist politicians or racist policies is fundamental, and that under the laws of the land, it will be upheld.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) took to Twitter to call it “a huge victory against sham voter ID laws written to suppress the vote.”

“Next,” she continued, “we must restore the #VotingRightsAct gutted by #SCOTUS.”


“Can you believe the World we Live in?” Trump doesn’t understand “Classified”

Mon, 15 May 2017 - 11:25pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump is most probably not a Russian spy. He may have unusual connections to Russian businessmen (that isn’t clear), and seems to have made $100 million off Russia since 2008 (not that huge a sum for a multi-billionaire).

Donald Trump is a braggart. He grabs a piece of information the way a crow grabs paste jewellery. Unlike the crow who will likely hoard it, Trump passes it around for all to see.

Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe at WaPo got the story. Trump was bragging to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak and a whole gaggle of Russian reporters from outlets like RT and Sputnik (the US press was excluded, apparently for being the worst people in the world).

We have the best intelligence, he said.

Then he told the story of how we know from an ally who has a spy inside ISIL (ISIS, Daesh) in a particular city, and who discovered that ISIL has an evil plot. They want to take the batteries out of laptops, and fill the space in with a special explosive that is hard to detect. That explosive has to be detonated with a fuse lit on fire, it can’t be done remotely. So the plan was to get a laptop-bomb aboard a plane and light a quick match and … kablooie. This is a variation of previous al-Qaeda plots– the shoebomber put the material in the heel of his shoe, which is why we have to take off our shoes at the airport. They were thinking of dissolving it in a big cup of liquid, which is why we can’t take receptacles of liquid bigger than 3 oz. The underwear bomber over Detroit in 2009 used the same substance, but it is hard to ignite and he had it in a pouch in his underwear, and well, I think he probably can’t have kids anymore, besides doing life in a Federal penitentiary. The underwear bomber had a pouch on his body, which is why those machines at the airport want to see under our clothes.

The big deal is not that Trump told the Russians the vague outlines of the plot. It had more or less been announced because the US is putting pressure on the airlines not to let customers bring laptops into the cabin. I figured that out immediately on hearing it.

The big deal is that Trump told them from which city the foreign intelligence partner of the US derived the information, i.e. which ISIL cell has been penetrated. The US has not told that to anyone among allies, for fear of compromising an ongoing intelligence operation.

Trump may have just killed the spy who with incredible bravery penetrated ISIL.

But if Trump had wanted to slip the Russians this information, he could easily have done so indirectly, through back channels, using some of his private bag men.

He wasn’t deliberately leaking.

He cannot understand the concept of classified information or the consequences of revealing sources and methods.

Despite the attempt to whitewash all this by National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, it is clear that a serious violation was commited by Trump.

Trump is not fit to be president, as a matter of temperament. But his temperament was on full display before the American public and they voted for him anyway, so those voters deserve him.

I can’t let another irony go by. The intel officials who leaked all this to the Washington Post were doing exactly what Edward Snowden did. The WaPo editorial board, despite having itself published some Snowden revelations, has called for him to be jailed. Would they like to call for these leakers to be jailed, too? Or are only some leaks good and others bad.

Another irony is that Snowden is not proved to have endangered any US intelligence assets, whereas we now know that Trump has certainly endangered that of an ally. Snowden made his revelations to protect the US constitution from the American deep state. Trump made his to show off to Lavrov, sort of the way he would boast of his sexual prowess to a night club date.

We have the best intelligence.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS Evening News: ” How serious is Trump’s information leak?”

It’s the wrong time to mock Republican voter outrage

Mon, 15 May 2017 - 11:23pm

By Ian Berman | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Waking of the American Voter

As voters express their anger at Republican politician town halls, Democrats are rejoicing saying I told you so. The desire to mock these voters for being shortsighted is understandable, but this outrage is half of exactly what the country needs.

Republican voters may finally be waking up to the idea that the Republican party is dedicated to the maximization of the wealth of the 0.1%. That every step it takes is not for the Common Good, but to maximize their constituency’s take. Their true constituency is the wealthy elite.

Occasionally the Republicans will throw a piece of social agenda in to keep their voter base pleased, but that doesn’t really cost the 0.1% a lot of money. The Democrats appear to miss the importance of this and dismiss Red state voters’ desires, while the Republicans recognize the votes are necessary.

The other half of what we need is to learn that the Democrats are no more than a False Left. Pretending to represent a populist party, they still serve the same 0.1% Masters. Otherwise, why are several different types of universal healthcare off the table when it has so much broad appeal right now? It is the single best initiative in a long time that would attract Red and independent voters. Bernie Sanders’ primary success with no corporate backing made that evident, but Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi just say no.

Instead, Democratic leaders prefer just to celebrate the political hit the Republican will suffer. The Democratic solution is to leave Obamacare in place; a/k/a the Heritage Foundation-created Romneycare. Yet this leaves 28 million Americans uninsured and the rest of Americans facing spiraling premium costs and deductible increases.

So what makes Obamacare the best option? The $400 billion giveaway to the healthcost companies© and the government purchase of pharmaceuticals without negotiating. This second half of what America needs is for voters to ask, who are the Democrats serving? After 8 years of sleeping through President Obama’s service to the 0.1%, Democratic voters should wake up now. There is only one corporate party in two parts and that will not change unless We the People act.

Given the stranglehold of our two party system on the election process, the only choice remaining is to vote every last incumbent out. There are only a handful of exceptional politicians who are willing to stand up to their own party’s service to the 0.1% – the rest must go. If a voter prefers party loyalty and wants to take back their agenda, they can take out their representative in the primaries. The general election works just as well to send a message too.

The only way this system changes is with active voter political participation and the loss of representatives’ seats for failing to live up to the will of the People.

– – – – – –
Ian Berman is an entrepreneur and former corporate banker at leading global banks in New York City. He now focuses on renewable energy, financial advisory services and writing about representative government, equitable public policies and ending American militarism and Israel’s continuing colonization of Palestine. He is the Co-Founder of Palestine 365, the Ongoing Oppression and its predecessor, Palestine 365, on Facebook.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

NJTV News: “Outrage Aimed at MacArthur in Town Hall Following AHCA Revival”

The Refugee Crisis and the Renewal of Our Humanity

Mon, 15 May 2017 - 11:11pm

By Gregory Alonso Pirio | (Informed Comment) | – –

The colossal refugee crisis confronting humankind today has created an unprecedented opportunity to awaken our sense of common humanity and compassion. No doubt, the challenges of offering care to strangers can be daunting. It is, however, in the compassionate response to such challenges that we may become more fully human, making connections to others, to whom we may have been closed off, and at the same time advancing our personal empowerment.

And then, we may also discover that the refugee has much to offer us. Certainly, some of the world’s great religions are replete with stories of refugees, their trials of expulsion and flight, and their transformative spiritual creativity. Just look at Adam and Eve; Moses and the children of Israel; baby Jesus and his parents; and the Prophet Mohammed and his followers, to name a few.

The refugee story as person and archetype sheds light on one of the fundamentals of the human condition: change is our constant companion in this world of natural evolution and of human inventiveness, endlessly creating for us occasions of risk and potential suffering, and also opportunities for rebirth and growth. Despite their best efforts, refugees are pushed into a crisis — and how they respond determines their fate. And like a refugee, whenever we are expelled from a comfort zone, this is the opportunity for persons and societies to grow.

The urge to run away from the pain and discomfort that may have been thrust upon us by unwanted change – whether by circumstance, fate or people – is assuredly behind the impulse to reconnect to the spot we have been thrust out of — in the hope of finding a footing on familiar ground. The “Make America Great Again” slogan we hear today seems to derive from this familiar, common urge to reconnect to or reconstruct the corner of comfort and security from where we came or at least as we conceived it to have been. But like a refugee we cannot reconnect to that historic homeland that no longer exists.

It is in such moments of historic expulsion, like that of Adam and Eve, that we become fully human. Like them, we no longer live a life of dependence, we are required to seize the opportunity of choice and create our new world. In making creative choice, we exercise true freedom.

Responding positively to the present-day refugee crisis also represents an opportunity to grow personally and spiritually. The connecting to the refugee in need helps erode the legacy of “othering” that we have inherited.

History is awash of examples of how economic and political actors have exploited the physical, cultural and religious differences among human kind both to divide and rule and to self-enrich. The British colonialist othered the Irish Catholic, slave interests othered the black African, Western colonizers othered Muslims, Hutu politicians othered the Tutsi, Al Qaeda leaders othered Christians and moderate Muslims; American expansionists othered Mexicans; the Nazis othered Jews. And on and on. Welcoming the refugee helps us to overcome this othering. In the act of compassion, we become one.

In embracing the refugee, the other, we also embrace some parts of ourselves that may cause us discomfort from which we seek escape. In such an embrace, we confront our own sense of vulnerability – our own fear that we too could find ourselves in difficult straits. So much of the fixation on achieving material successfulness arguably finds its origins in the impulse to flee a sense of inadequacy and vulnerability. The trappings of external success, however, provide insufficient reprieve from the discomfort of such fears.

Ironically, it is in the embrace of the other in need that we find an authentic rescue from such fear. This rescue does not come from denial or the pursuit of external measurements of success; it comes from forging community. We as persons are only truly realized in community. It is only in community, knowing that we can call upon each other for support when needed, that we can truly feel rich. Richness does not come from accumulation. Richness comes from belonging.

The refugee crisis is our opportunity to redefine, engage and empower self and community. Let’s not waste this opportunity by succumbing to the temptation of othering.

However we may feel about the social and political issues that have resulted in people leaving their homes, reaching out to them is basically an expression of our humanity. So, let’s embrace.

Gregory Alonso Pirio earned an M.A. in African Studies and a Ph.D. in African History from UCLA. His dissertation was entitled, “Commerce, Industry and Empire: The Making of Modern Portuguese Colonialism in Angola and Mozambique, 1890-1914.” He is also author of The African Jihad: Bin Laden’s Quest for the Horn of Africa (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 2008). Dr. Pirio was editor of Rebuilding Shattered Nations and Lives: Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development in Africa (UNHCR, 2009), for which he wrote the introduction, “African Conflicts in Historical Perspective.” He has published and produced studies on numerous topics, including on media issues, Pan-Africanism, global health, African conflicts and terrorism.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: ” Venice Biennale: Refugee crisis takes centre stage”

Clapper Lied & Spied, now charges Trump w/ assault on Gov’t Institutions

Mon, 15 May 2017 - 1:59am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

During the past week we’ve been subjected to hours of testimony by or interviews with James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence.

On Sunday, Clapper made waves when he said on CNN that Donald Trump is engaged in an assault on US institutions by doing things like firing the head of the CIA and challenging the separation of powers between the executive and the legislative.

We can agree with that sentiment without agreeing that Clapper can be the poster boy for upholding the integrity of US institutions.

Clapper is a former head of the Army’s Defense Intelligence Agency and for 7 years, 2010-2017, he headed up Barack Obama’s NI, which oversees the 17 intelligence agencies including the shadowy NSA.

Clapper massively undermined the 4th Amendment of the Constitution with bulk warrantless surveillance of the US public. It was the malpractice of the NSA under Clapper that drove otherwise good soldier Edward Snowden to risk life and liberty to blow the whistle.

I wrote about Clapper in 2014,

“James Clapper. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, was involved in massive and willful violations of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He perjured himself before Congress, denying that the NSA was collecting masses of personal material from Americans. President Obama excused Clapper’s behavior on both accounts, saying he should be more careful. A-Rod should have been more careful. Clapper should not have told Congress a bald-faced lie, and shouldn’t have snooped into our metadata to begin with. Showing his fascist colors, he now wants to make journalists “accomplices” for publishing Snowden’s revelations. Clapper himself should be in the slammer, not Snowden.”

Clapper’s NSA was collecting location data on 5 billion cell phones around the world, including those of some Americans.

The NSA also used dirty tricks to weaken encryption standards, the kind of thing that led directly to the massive ransomware hacks that hit hospitals and other key institutions this weekend. That attack hit Microsoft. Apple has better encryption, but Clapper’s friend Jim Comey tried to weaken privacy on all Apple devices to solve one mass killing (there are hundreds of those a year).

Apparently no one told Obama what the NSA was up to for the first year or year and a half of his presidency. Talk about Deep State! Frontline reported that he finally got read in, in 2010. I suppose it must have been Clapper who deigned to let the Commander in Chief know that the NSA had unilaterally suspended the constitution and was rifling through the private papers and effects of millions of people. It is one of the things about the Obama presidency about which future historians will judge him negatively, that he just nodded and let Clapper carry on.

Senator Ron Wyden knew what Clapper and other US security agencies were up to, but could not speak out for fear of being arrested. He hinted around as broadly as he could that a provision in the highly unpatriotic USA PATRIOT Act was being misused for mass spying on us.

What kind of tinpot dictatorship do we live in where a sitting senator can know of executive branch crimes against the constitution, and be afraid to speak about it on the floor of the senate?

Clapper testified under oath before Congress about these issues and was directly asked if he was surveilling us.

He said, “No.”

He lied under oath.

Lying under oath was actually the charge on which Bill Clinton was impeached by the lower house (and I do mean lower).

Clapper also wanted to violate the first amendment of the constitution (having more or less abolished the 4th amendment) by jailing reporters who covered the Snowden revelations!

Clapper skated. I don’t know if, like J. Edgar Hoover, he just has fat files on the foibles of Washington heavyweights or what. For some reason he was teflon.

So, Clapper cannot be the poster boy for objections to Trump acting high-handedly.

We have to find someone with integrity to idolize as a Trump critic if we are actually going to dig out of this hole.


*An earlier version of this essay misidentified Mr. Clapper as having been head of the NSA.

Related video:

Ron Wyden: “DNI Clapper tells Wyden the NSA does not collect data on millions of Americans”

Trump and Israel/ Palestine: Art of the Deal or End of 2-States?

Sun, 14 May 2017 - 11:53pm

By Ali R. Abootalebi | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Trump recently told the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, that “I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians,”…Let’s see if we can prove them wrong,” insisting that “We will get it done.” This is while, vice president Mike Pence said some days prior that President Trump was still “giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”. Interestingly enough, the administration’s ‘front men’ in negotiations between Palestinians and the Israelis are none other than Jared Kushner, president’s son-in-law, and David Friedman, a lawyer with long history of ties with Israel; both men having strong ideological and business ties with Israel. Then, Armin Rosen in an article in Foreign Policy argues that President Trump’s front man negotiator in the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jason Greenblatt, is ‘perfectly unqualified’ and that ‘might be exactly why he pulls off a peace deal.’ This is because he is not part of the Washington establishment and entrenched interests. Although there is merit in this observation, reasons behind the failure of a Palestinian-Arab-Israeli peace agreement is a great deal more complex. No, Mr. President, it is harder than you think.

Whether deliberately stated to gain political score or naively believing a quick-fix is within reach, this is purely a simplification of the situation and closer to a fantasy. Beyond such declarations remains the hard reality of the state of the conflict and what has prevented its resolution throughout decades: the imbalance in power of the opposing negotiating sides. First, Arab governments have been too inept and corrupt to effectively negotiate on behalf of their own peoples and in the interest of the Palestinians. Second, successive Israeli governments have had the upper hand in power parameters and in negotiations, with the intention to dictate the terms of a Palestinian surrender while neutralizing Arab States’ security threats. Finally, the United States has been far from a neutral third party mediator, using its hard and soft power in the service of a ‘peace settlement’ or a ‘conflict resolution’ and not reaching for a true ‘positive peace’.

It is well known that the mother of all conflicts is the Arab (Palestinian)-Israeli conflict that has engaged major actors in global politics. After decades of conflict and repeated wars since 1948, the end result for the Arab States has been military defeat and loss of territories and national pride. Years of negotiations and attempts at safeguarding peace has resulted in a cold peace between Israel and some Arab States—Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994—and a long arduous negotiation process resulting in the 1993 Declaration of Principles and Palestinian self-rule in parts of the occupied territories. That process, as imperfect as it was, finally saw its demise after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and the rise of political right in Israel in the ensuing years. The failure of Camp David II in 2000 effectively declared the demise of the Oslo Process.

Today, the PNA is in charge of merely 18% of the West Bank, where it can exercise respectable but not complete sovereign control in the designated Area A. Areas B (22%) and Area C (60%) are outside PNA’s sovereign control, where Israel has the ultimate say in matters of security and all that falls within its security parameters, including, communication, transportation, and all matters of governance in general. The Palestinian people remain divided between those living in the West Bank under the PNA rules and those living under Hamas control in the Gaza Strip. Israeli settlements have expanded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where settlers’ population now exceeds over one-half a million. Gaza is a vast prison camp surrounded by Israeli and Egyptian soldiers, and at the mercy of political events happening outside its borders. Syria’s Golan Heights and its precious water resources also remain under Israeli control.

Wider regional and global events have overshadowed and marginalized the plight of the Palestinian people. These events include, but not limited to: the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks on America, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), Israeli invasion of Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2008; 2014), the rise of Hamas in Gaza (2006), Arab Spring (2011—present), U.S. and NATO intervention and regime change in Libya (2011), political change in Egypt and the 2015 military Coup d’état with silent U.S. approval, Saudi Arabian intervention in Bahrain (2011) and Yemen (2015), and the ongoing, devastating war in Syria since 2011.

The latest blow to the Arab States and the Palestinian leadership and people is the destruction of Iraqi and Syrian states and infrastructure and the threat of Daesh and instability to Lebanese and Jordanian national cohesion, as well as the Palestinian refugees. The Arab world, for the most part, remains divided and uncertain over domestic and regional ‘security threats,’ only to show frivolous unity in the Arab League meetings. The rise of Iranian power is the Arab States’ latest excuse to deflect their endemic problems in governance by inflaming a Sunni-Shi’a divide and the fabrication of a security threat to their respective states.

The security threat to many Arab governments emanates from within these countries. Many Arab regimes have for decades neglected their own population and have ruled with impunity, pillaging national treasures in the service of the elite and the privileged. Gilbert Achcar explaining Arab states’ political economies, argues that the peculiar modality of the capitalist mode of production dominant in the Arab region is a mix of patrimonialism, nepotism, and crony capitalism; and pillaging of public property, swollen bureaucracy, and generalized corruption. All of this occurs against a background of great sociopolitical instability and impotence or even nonexistence of law.

The central threat to Arab regimes’ existence is due to the archaic nature of Arab states’ governance, where people are treated as subjects and not as citizens. The Arab Spring movement in 2011 was a manifestation of Arab peoples’ frustration with governance that unfortunately has since produced more hardship instead of liberation. Arab populace for long has been kept marginalized. The Iranian threat to Arab regimes is not due to its military might and/or threat of an invasion. In spite of all its shortcomings, majority of Iranians today consider themselves as participatory citizens in Iran’s political economy, and not as mere voiceless subjects of the ruling elites.

The Palestinian leadership for its part has failed to either chart its struggle separate from the Arab States or maintain a degree of independence free from the Arab regimes’ control. So, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and later the PNA, have remained dependent on the Arab regimes’ largesse and political whims and power play. The history of the conflict testifies in many occasions when Palestinians have been victimized by the Arab regimes’ armies and their cronies. Yasser Arafat endlessly struggled to keep Palestinian national aspirations for statehood alive while facing Jordanian, Syrian, and Lebanese military and militia onslaughts and resisting Israeli war machine, control, and occupation.

The end of the cold war pushed a desperate Palestinian leadership into a ‘process of negotiation’ that was paved from the beginning with unsurmountable obstacles, destined to failure. The Oslo process only neutralized the Jordanian threat and left the Palestinian leadership at the mercy of the Israeli protagonists and their American supporters. The failure of the Camp David II (2000) showed the total weakness and dependence of the Palestinian leadership on their Arab patrons and the United States who in the end blamed Yasser Arafat for its failure. Abandoned by the Arab States, Yasser Arafat could not betray the Palestinian people’s trust and agree to the terms of the agreement: to effectively forsake the dream of statehood and control over East Jerusalem and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. The rise of Hamas and the split in leadership since 2006 has eroded the Palestinian position. President Mahmoud Abbas term ended in 2009 and he has ruled since without a mandate from its people—the irony of Arab leaders’ political legitimacy. There is also no united front in support of the Palestinian people in the Arab League. Unsurprisingly, Iran, and not Israel, the threat of the Daesh, sectarian violence, chaos of war and refugees, and extra-regional invasion and intervention is named the undeclared enemy of the Arab regimes!

Israel in the past seventy years has been transformed from a small state with a population of less than one million to a regional hegemon with the fifteenth powerful military in the world, nuclear weapons, an advanced economy, and a democratic political system, imperfect as it is. The cold peace with Egypt and Jordan still is holding and the flux of over one million Russian Jews in the 1990s brought more economic vigor, as well as challenges, to its political economy. Israel with a population of just over seven million had a GDP of $312 billion and ranked 34th in the world in 2016. Israeli democracy has many faults, including the ambiguity over its secular and religious divide and its overall treatment of its twenty percent non-Jewish citizens. Yet, Israeli citizens’ participation in politics and civil society is highly valued.

Israeli politics have shifted to the right since the demise of the Oslo Process and the years of increased violence in the 2000-05 period, coinciding with America’s declared war on global terrorism in 2001. The Obama years of presidency will be remembered as a disappointment to many Israeli pundits. Obama met with Prime Minister Netanyahu 17 times, approved in 2016 a sizeable $38 billion aid for the decade ahead, and yet could not convince Israeli leadership to stop its settlement activities in the occupied territories, effectively killing any prospects for meaningful negotiations.

The unbiased and keen observer notices that the United States has not been completely an honest broker throughout the years of the conflict. The U.S. pursued a four-tiered policy of anti-communism, stability, free flow of cheap oil, and ensuring Israeli security throughout the cold war. Such umbrella policy goals often meant U.S. support for authoritarian Arab regimes and in Iran, large cache of arms transfer, political, and covert and overt military intervention. The U.S. policy in the region since 1990 has continued the tradition of strong support for Israel and the defense of authoritarian but friendly Arab regimes, significant arms transfer, and a ‘declared war’ on terrorism that has effectively brought chaos and destruction to much of the region.

The United States’ policy preferences have helped perpetuate a dominant Israeli position in its relations with the Arab states and the unresolved Palestinian dilemma. The U.S. continues to overlook Israeli stockpile of nuclear weapons, its illegal occupation of Arab lands and settlement activities, and its repeated violation of its Arab neighbors’ national sovereignty through military incursions. This has been occurring in defiance of international law and in violation of the United States’ declared core values—human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

What has remained constant in U.S. Middle East policy since 1945 is inattention paid to the legitimate will of the Arab populace for popular participation and democracy, and national development and pride! Therefore, Arab peoples’ frustration with authoritarian rule, corruption, military defeat on the battlefield (1967; 1973; 1991; 2003; 2011), and low level of socioeconomic development in human capital, technological penetration, and innovation instigated the Arab Spring revolt in 2011.

Today, the U.S. policy in the Middle East is viewed as unpopular, biased and even hostile to the welfare of the people in the region. The U.S. remains extremely unpopular in the Arab world, despite millions spent on efforts at public diplomacy during the G W Bush and Obama administrations. A 2016 survey on Arab public opinion of the United States’ policy in 12 Arab countries, that included face to face interviews with 18,310 respondents, finds that that sixty-three percent of respondents believed the United States to be the greatest threat to stability in the Arab region, beating out Iran, Russia, and China, while falling short behind Israel. Over a quarter of respondents believed the United States’ policy towards Palestine, Syria, and Iraq to be either negative or very negative while almost a quarter believed the same of the U.S.’s policy towards Yemen and Libya.

The resolution of the Arab (Palestinian)—Israeli conflict is intimately related to the political and socioeconomic realities in Arab countries, Israel, and the U.S. view and policy practices in the region. Arab politics and international politics matter. The optimism expressed by President Trump and Armin Rosen is thus unwarranted. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not primed for a newcomer’s fresh thinking, and U.S. involvement in the conflict has not been spearheaded by a quarter century of careful, deliberative, and well-intentioned professional U.S. diplomacy.

In the absence of a viable two-state solution to the conflict, while also resolving the Syrian and Lebanese concerns over their territorial disputes, a one-state solution may be, by default, emerging. Palestinians, like others in Arab countries, yearn for political expression and the right to have a say in determining their lives. The millennial Arab generation deserves a better future. Despite their differences and grievances, many Israeli Arab citizens still view the Israeli state with a high degree of legitimacy to rule. A surprisingly two-thirds of Israel’s Arab citizens are pleased with the situation of the state in Israel. Their rating of its achievements (except in defense issues) is even higher than that of the Jews. A very large majority (86%) of the Jews and a small majority (51%) of the Arabs are proud of being Israelis. This is perhaps because, in spite it all, what matters most in governance is that people everywhere wish to be free from severe socioeconomic hardship and/or political conditions that humiliate them on daily basis.

Ali R. Abootalebi is Professor of Middle Eastern and Global Politics in the Department of Political Science, UWEC. He is the author of Islam and democracy: State-Society Relations in Developing Countries, 1980-1994 (Garland, 2000), and, coauthored with Stephen Hill, Introduction to World Politics: Prospects and Challenges for the United States (Kendall Hunt, 2013) and more than fifty articles on Iran, Arab Politics, Civil Society and Democracy and U.S. foreign policy.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “Trump peace effort”

Mosul on My Mind: What It Really Means to Be on a Flattening Planet

Sun, 14 May 2017 - 11:31pm

By Tom Engelhardt | ( | – –

The closest I ever got to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was 1,720.7 miles away — or so the Internet assures me.  Although I’ve had a lifelong interest in history, I know next to nothing about Mosul’s, nor do I have more than a glancing sense of what it looks like, or more accurately what it looked like when all its buildings, including those in its “Old City,” were still standing.  It has — or at least in better times had — a population of at least 1.8 million, not one of whom have I ever met and significant numbers of whom are now either dead, wounded, uprooted, or in desperate straits.

Consider what I never learned about Mosul my loss, a sign of my ignorance.  Yet, in recent months, little as I know about the place, it’s been on my mind — in part because what’s now happening to that city will be the world’s loss as well as mine. 

In mid-October 2016, the U.S.-backed Iraqi army first launched an offensive to retake Mosul from the militants of the Islamic State.  Relatively small numbers of ISIS fighters had captured it in mid-2014 when the previous version of the Iraqi military (into which the U.S. had poured more than $25 billion) collapsed ignominiously and fled, abandoning weaponry and even uniforms along the way.  It was in Mosul’s Great Mosque that the existence of the Islamic State was first triumphantly proclaimed by its “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi.

On the initial day of the offensive to recapture the city, the Pentagon was already congratulating the Iraqi military for being “ahead of schedule” in a campaign that was expected to “take weeks or even months.”  Little did its planners — who had been announcing its prospective start for nearly a year — know.  A week later, everything was still “proceeding according to our plan,” claimed then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.  By the end of January 2017, after 100 days of fierce fighting, the eastern part of that city, divided by the Tigris River, was more or less back in government hands and it had, according to New York Times reporters on the scene, been “spared the wholesale destruction inflicted on other Iraqi cities” like Ramadi and Fallujah, even though those residents who hadn’t fled were reportedly “scratching out a primitive existence, deprived of electricity, running water and other essential city services.”

And that was the good news.  More than 100 days later, Iraqi troops continue to edge their way through embattled western Mosul, with parts of it, including the treacherous warren of streets in its Old City, still in the hands of ISIS militants amid continuing bitter building-to-building fighting.  The Iraqi government and its generals still insist, however, that everything will be over in mere weeks.  An estimated thousand or so ISIS defenders (of the original 4,000-8,000 reportedly entrenched in the city) are still holding out and will assumedly fight to the death.  U.S. air power has repeatedly been called in big time, with civilian deaths soaring, and hundreds of thousands of its increasingly desperate and hungry inhabitants still living in battle-scarred Mosul as Islamic State fighters employ countless bomb-laden suicide vehicles and even small drones.

After seven months of unending battle in that single city, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Mosul has receded from the news here, even as civilian casualties grow, at least half a million Iraqis have been displaced, and the Iraqi military has suffered grievous losses.

Though there’s been remarkably little writing about it, here’s what now seems obvious: when the fighting is finally over and the Islamic State defeated, the losses will be so much more widespread than that.  Despite initial claims that the Iraqi military (and the U.S. Air Force) were taking great care to avoid as much destruction as possible in an urban landscape filled with civilians, the rules of engagement have since changed and it’s clear that, in the end, significant swathes of Iraq’s second largest city will be left in ruins. In this, it will resemble so many other cities and towns in Iraq and Syria, from Fallujah to Ramadi, Homs to Aleppo.

The Disappearance of Mosul

At a moment when Donald Trump makes headlines daily with almost any random thing he says, the fate of Mosul doesn’t even qualify as a major news story.  What happens in that city, however, will be no minor thing. It will matter on this increasingly small planet of ours.

What’s to come is also, unfortunately, reasonably predictable.  Eight, nine, or more months after this offensive was launched, the grim Islamic State in Mosul will undoubtedly be destroyed, but so will much of the city in a region that continues to be — to invent a word — rubblized.

When Mosul is officially retaken, if not “ahead of schedule,” then at least “according to plan,” the proud announcements of “victory” in the war against ISIS will make headlines.  Soon after, however, Mosul will once again disappear from our American world and worries. Yet that will undoubtedly only be the beginning of the story in a world in crisis.  Fourteen years have passed since the U.S. invaded Iraq and punched a hole in the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  In the wake of that invasion, states have been crumbling or simply imploding and terror movements growing and spreading, while wars, ethnic slaughter, and all manner of atrocities have engulfed an ever-widening region.  Millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, and others have been uprooted, sent into exile in their own countries, or fled across borders to become refugees.  In Mosul alone, untold numbers of people whose fathers, mothers, grandparents, children, friends, and relatives were slaughtered in the Iraqi Army’s offensive or simply murdered by ISIS will be left homeless, often without possessions, jobs, or communities in the midst of once familiar places that have been transformed into rubble.

Mosul now lacks an airport, a railroad station, and a university — all destroyed in the recent fighting. Initial estimates suggest that its rebuilding will cost billions of dollars over many years. And it’s just one of many cities in such a state. The question is: Where exactly will the money to rebuild come from? After all, the price of oil is at present below $50 a barrel, the Iraqi and Syrian governments lack resources of every sort, and who can imagine a new Marshall Plan for the region coming from Donald Trump’s America or, for that matter, anywhere else?

In other words, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Libyans, the Afghans, and others are likely, in the end, to find themselves alone in the ruins of their worlds with remarkably little recourse.  With that in mind and given the record of those last 14 years, how exactly do you imagine that things will turn out for the inhabitants of Mosul, or Ramadi, or Fallujah, or cities yet to be destroyed? What new movements, ethnic struggles, and terror outfits will emerge from such a nightmare?

To put it another way, if you think that such a disaster will remain the possession of the Iraqis (Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans, and Afghans), then you haven’t been paying much attention to the history of the twenty-first century. You evidently haven’t noticed that Donald J. Trump won the last presidential election in the United States, in part by playing on fears of a deluge of refugees from the Middle East and of Islamic terrorism; that the British voted to leave the European Union in part based on similar fears; and that across Europe pressures over refugees and terror attacks have helped to alter the political landscape.

Where Is Globalization Now That We Need It?

To frame things slightly differently, let me ask another question entirely: In these last years, haven’t you wondered what ever happened to “globalization” and the endless media attention that was once paid to it? Not so very long ago we were being assured that this planet was binding itself into a remarkably tight knot of interconnectedness that was going to amaze us all.  As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it in 1996, we were seeing “the integration of free markets, nation-states, and information technologies to a degree never before witnessed, in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations, and countries to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever.”  All of this was to be fed and led by the United States, the last superpower standing, and as a result, the global “playing field” would miraculously “be leveled” on a planet becoming a mosaic of Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses. 

Who of a certain age doesn’t remember those years after the Soviet Union imploded when we all suddenly found ourselves in a single superpower world?  It was a moment when, thanks to vaunted technological advances, it seemed blindingly clear to the cognoscenti that this was going to be a single-everything planet.  We were all about to be absorbed into a “single market for goods, capital, and commercial services” from which, despite the worries of naysayers, “almost everyone” stood “to gain.”  In a world not of multiple superpowers but of multiple “supermarkets,” we were likely to become both more democratic and more capitalistic by the year as an interlocking set of transnational corporate players, nations, and peoples, unified by a singularly interwoven set of communication systems (representing nothing short of an information revolution), triumphed, while poverty, that eternal plague of humanity, stood to lose out big time.  Everything would be connected on what was, for the first time, to be a single, “flattened” planet.

It won’t surprise you, I’m sure, to be told that that’s not exactly the planet we’re now on.  Instead, whatever processes were at work, the result has been record numbers of billionaires, record levels of inequality, and refugees in numbers not seen since much of the world was in a state of collapse after World War II.

Still, don’t you ever wonder where, conceptually speaking, globalization is now that we need it? I mean, did it really turn out that we weren’t living together on a single shrinking planet? Were the globalists of that moment inhabiting another planet entirely in another solar system? Or could it be that globalization is still the ruling paradigm here, but that what’s globalizing isn’t (or isn’t just) Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses, but pressure points for the fracturing of our world?

The globalization of misery doesn’t have the cachet of the globalization of plenty. It doesn’t make for the same uplifting reading, nor does skyrocketing global economic inequality seem quite as thrilling as a leveling playing field (unless, of course, you happen to be a billionaire). And thanks significantly to the military efforts of the last superpower standing, the disintegration of significant regions of the planet doesn’t quite add up to what the globalists had in mind for the twenty-first century. Failed states, spreading terror movements, all too many Mosuls, and the conditions for so much more of the same weren’t what globalization was supposed to be all about.

Perhaps, however, it’s time to begin reminding ourselves that we’re still on a globalizing planet, even if one experiencing pressures of an unexpected sort, including from the disastrous never-ending American war on terror. It’s so much more convenient, of course, to throw the idea of globalization overboard and imagine that Mosul is thousands of miles away in a universe that bears next to no relation to our own.

What It Really Means to Be on a “Flattening” Planet

It’s true that in France last week extremist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was defeated by a young, little known former investment banker and government minister, Emmanuel Macron, and the European Union preserved.  As with an earlier election in Holland in which a similar right-wing candidate lost, this is being presented as potentially the high-water mark of what’s now commonly called “populism” in Europe (or the Brexit-style fragmentation of that continent).  But I’d take such reassurances with a grain of salt, given the pressures likely to come. After all, in both Holland and France, two extreme nationalist parties garnered record votes based on anti-Islamic, anti-refugee sentiment and will, after the coming parliamentary elections in France, both be represented, again in record numbers, in their legislatures.

The rise of such “populism” — think of it as the authoritarian fragmentation of the planet — is already a global trend.  So just imagine the situation four or potentially even eight years from now after Donald Trump’s generals, already in the saddle, do their damnedest in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  There’s no reason to believe that, under their direction, the smashing of key regions of the planet won’t continue.  There’s no reason to doubt that, in an expanding world of Mosuls — the Syrian “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa, is undoubtedly the next city in line for such treatment — “victories” won’t produce a planet of greater ethnic savagery, religious extremism, military destruction, and chaos.  This, in turn, ensures a further spread of terror groups and an even more staggering uprooting of peoples.  (It’s worth noting, for instance, that since the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Operations forces, al-Qaeda has grown, not shrunk, gaining yet more traction across the Greater Middle East.)  So far, America’s permanent “war on terror” has helped produce a planet of fear, refugees on an almost unimaginable scale, and ever more terror.  What else would you imagine could arise from the rubble of so many Mosuls?

If you don’t think that this is an ever-more connected planet still being “flattened” (even if in quite a different way than expected), and that sooner or later the destruction of Mosul will reverberate in our world, too, then you don’t get our world. It’s obvious, for instance, that future Mosuls will only produce more refugees, and you already know where that’s led, from Brexit to Donald Trump. Destroy enough Mosuls and, even in the heartland of the planet’s sole superpower, the fears of those who already feel they’ve been left in a ditch will only rise (and be fed further by demagogues ready to use that global flow of refugees for their own purposes).

Given the transformations of recent years, just think what it will mean to uproot ever vaster populations, to set the homeless, the desperate, the angry, the hurt, and the vengeful — millions of adults and children whose lives have been devastated or destroyed — in motion.  Imagine, for instance, what those pressures will mean when it comes to Europe and its future politics.

Think about what’s to come on this small planet of ours — and that’s without even mentioning the force that has yet to fully reveal itself in all its fragmenting and globalizing and leveling power.  We now call it, mildly enough, “climate change” or “global warming.”  Just wait until, in the decades to come, rising sea levels and extreme weather events put human beings in motion in startling ways (particularly given that the planet’s sole superpower is now run by men in violent denial of the very existence of such a force or the human sources of its power).

You want a shrinking planet? You want terror? You want globalization? Think about that. And do you wonder why, these days, I have Mosul on my mind?

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

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

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just one day left in our offer of a signed, personalized copy of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower’s highly praised new Dispatch Book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two, in return for a contribution of $100 ($125 if you live outside the United States). It will be taken off our donation page Monday afternoon, so check it out now. The good news is that the book itself will be available for years to come. As a gesture to this site, however, think about getting your hands on a copy of a great and disturbing book in the near future either at Amazon by clicking here (and so giving us a few extra cents at no extra cost to you) or by visiting the website of publisher Haymarket Books where it’s available at a significant discount by clicking here. Tom]

Deadly Cholera Outbreak in Yemen Under Saudi Bombing; State of Emergency Declared

Sun, 14 May 2017 - 11:14pm

TeleSur | – –

Authorities warned that the cholera outbreak could lead to an “unprecedented disaster” if not managed immediately.

Officials in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, controlled by the armed Houthi movement, declared a state of emergency on Sunday amid an outbreak of cholera that has killed 115 people from late April to May and left thousands infected.

Calling to avert an “unprecedented disaster,” Yemen’s Health Ministry has urged several humanitarian organizations and aid donors to help deal with the epidemic. Yemen’s health care system has severely deteriorated due to the ongoing civil war that has also displaced millions, the state news agency, Saba, told Reuters.

Yemen is reeling from the conflict between Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, and a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition. More than 10,000 people have been killed, mostly by almost-daily air strikes, since the fighting began.

According to the United Nations, only a few medical facilities are still functioning and two-thirds of the population are without access to safe drinking water. Yemen authorities first reported the outbreak in October 2016 and since then the outbreaks of cholera are becoming more frequent. According to World Health Organization Sanaa has been worst hit by the outbreaks, followed by the surrounding province of Amanat al-Semah. Cases in other major cities including Hodeidah, Taiz, and Aden have also been reported.

According to WHO, the medicines and medical supplies, including cholera kits, oral rehydration solutions, and intravenous fluids as well as medical furniture and equipment have been distributed at the diarrhea treatment centers. Ten new treatment centers are being established in affected areas.

Dr. Nevio Zagaria, WHO representative in Yemen, said in a statement, “We are very concerned with the re-emergence of cholera across several areas of Yemen in the past couple of weeks. Efforts must be scaled-up now to contain the outbreak and avoid a dramatic increase in cases of the diarrhoeal disease.”

So far, the diarrheal disease has killed 115 people since late April, according to WHO, and 2,752 people have had suspected cases. WHO estimates nearly 7.6 million people live in areas at high risk of cholera transmission.

“WHO is in full emergency mode to contain the recent upsurge of suspected cholera cases,” Zagaria added. “Containing the spread of the outbreak is a high priority for WHO and we are coordinating efforts with all parties and with our health, water, and sanitation partners to scale up an integrated and effective response to the cholera epidemic.”

According to the U.N., nearly 17 million of Yemen’s 26 million people lack sufficient food and at least three million malnourished children are in “grave peril.”

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGNT: “Cholera outbreak kills at least 115 in war-torn Yemen”

GOP Greatest Single Threat to Mothers on Mother’s Day

Sun, 14 May 2017 - 2:56am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I know it is sort of gauche to politicize Mother’s Day. But then politicians politicize family values all the time. And besides, the Republican Party is being mean to moms, and today is when they should be called out for it.

The way this gentleman called out Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) on the danger that Trumpcare poses to his wife, who has a pre-existing condition (she fought off cancer once) and his children, who also have pre-existing conditions. He pointed out that Trumpcare lets Health Insurance companies cycle people with pre-existing conditions into expensive high risk pools, meaning that lots of people will die because they can’t afford coverage. He had the right congressman to complain to– letting insurers not cover pre-existing conditions was specifically MacArthur’s idea.

To GOP Rep Tom MacArthur – “You have been the single greatest threat to my family.”

Trumpcare doesn’t specify that rape be treated as a pre-existing condition. It just allows insurers to seek a waiver (from Tom Price who will give it) allowing them to charge a lot more for such conditions. Insurers have been known to want to avoid covering medicine for STDs incurred or possibly incurred as a result of rape. You never like to think about a mom being raped, but it happens. And then to have certain complications of that dreadful, horrid experience not be covered by her insurance?

Under Trumpcare, insurers would not have to cover maternity care!

Just that point alone would justify the title of this column. That is mean to mothers. Big time.

Rolling Stone says Trumpcare would permit states to extend Medicaid to fewer pregnant women and children.

Mean to mothers.

A lot of women get affordable health care via Planned Parenthood (it does lots of things besides family planning). Trumpcare forbids Medicaid money from going to PP for one year.

Insurance companies in the US before Obamacare considered the male body the default. In essence, being a woman was treated as a pre-existing condition, as Janel George pointed out to VICE. Obamacare put an end to that practice. The fat, balding, greying plutocratic men of the GOP are bringing it back.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone. Except to GOP congressmen, who obviously don’t know what the phrase means.

American Workers in Age of Trump just aren’t being Paid Fairly

Sun, 14 May 2017 - 2:15am

By Josh Hoxie | ( ) | – –

Imploring people to simply work harder ignores the fact that most jobs don’t pay enough to get ahead.

The gap between the rich and poor has been growing for decades. Some claim this growing gap is the natural result of smart, hard workers getting what they deserve (fabulous wealth) and lazy, mediocre workers getting what they deserve, too (poverty).

This framing is fundamentally wrong.

Consider, as Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck points out, that Bill Gates’ net worth exceeds 30 years’ worth of the entire collective output of Haiti. Consider further that Gates’ full time job right now is to give away his money. All day, every day — through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation — the Microsoft founder seeks ways to give away his enormous fortune.

Despite his best efforts, Gates’ treasure continues to rise, not shrink, year after year by more than 10 percent — meaning his $80 billion could become $1 trillion before his 90th birthday. That’s trillion with a T.

This is obviously an extreme example, but it’s illustrative.

Today’s inequality isn’t driven by individual choices, but by an unfair system that enables a few (mostly white) people to become wealthy, while many (mostly non-white) families are unable to build wealth.

The racial component of our growing divide is often overlooked, but it’s a critical part of just how unfair our economic system is. If current trends persist, it would take the average black family 228 years to reach the level of wealth the average white family already has today.

For comparison, George Washington started his presidency 228 years ago. It’s a long time.

If you think the main driver of poverty is lazy takers sitting around rather than working, the solutions to poverty are pretty straightforward: Eliminate public programs that help the poor, so they have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That’s essentially the doctrine of the modern Republican Party.

But imploring people to simply work harder ignores the fact that most jobs don’t pay enough to get ahead. The federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, isn’t enough to live on in any major city in the country. And half the jobs in the United States pay less than $15 an hour.

Getting an education isn’t a guaranteed pathway out of poverty either. Consider, as New School professor Darrick Hamilton points out, that black college graduates only own about two-thirds the wealth of white high school dropouts.

Creating a more fair and just economy will require solutions at the systemic level, not the individual level. That means acknowledging the unfair starting points we all begin with and taking steps to level the playing field.

One idea for how to do this is through baby bonds, also known as child savings accounts. This would basically start every child with a small savings account at birth, which would appreciate over time and could be used for getting an education or starting a business later on.

A 1992 bill called KidSave, for example, would’ve given $1,000 to each of the 4 million babies born in the United States. That would’ve grown to an estimated $700,000 each by age 65 thanks to the wonder of compounding interest.

Had child savings accounts been established in 1979, the racial wealth gap would be 82 percent lower than it currently is, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The gap within racial groups would likely be smaller, too.

Other systemic ideas include including instituting single-payer healthcare, ending mass incarceration, investing in debt-free higher education, and much more.

To create a more fair and just economy, one first must recognize that the current economic system is deeply unfair and unjust. Then the work to change the system can begin.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Would a $15 minimum wage work in Ohio? NBC4 WCMH-TV Columbus

US Nears $100B Arms Deal for Saudi Arabia: White House Official

Sun, 14 May 2017 - 1:53am

TeleSur | – –

The official said the deal will be good for the U.S. economy.

The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals forSaudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Riyadh.

The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

“We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump’s visit.

The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs.

The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. “We’ll see a very substantial commitment … In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face.”

The official added: “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region. Israel would still maintain an edge.”

Via TeleSur

Is China Now the Adult in the Room? Xi and Macron Consult

Sat, 13 May 2017 - 2:30am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump preferred the Neofascist Marine Le Pen as president of France, who wanted to pull out of NATO and the European Union. Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency advisers are resigned because of his attack on the science of climate change. Trump is mulling pulling out the the Paris agreement on combating climate change adopted by 200 countries and territories.

In contrast, China’s President Xi Jinping called the new French leader Emmanuel Macron this week, urging him to adhere to the Paris agreement.

He was preaching to the converted, since Macron is big on green energy and has even called on American scientists and engineers disillusioned with the GOP war on science to come to France. Macron plans to invest 30 bn Euros ($32.8 bn.) in wind, solar and other green energy, and to double electricity production from renewables in five years.

For its part, China just suspended any plans for new coal plants in 29 provinces because of the severe pollution and health costs of smog and the danger to the world from emitting poisonous carbon dioxide, which is destroying the climate.

Beijing sighed a sigh of reliev when Macron beat the extreme right candidate Le Pen by 30 points. Their only worry now is whether the untested and very young Macron can actually deal effectively with crises like unemployment and tensions in Europe.

In the phone call, Xi also affirmed China’s support for European integration. Unlike Trump, who wants to pull Europe apart and push each individual country toward white nationalism and plutocracy, China prefers to deal with larger units economically and politically.

Xi also invited France to buy into China’s New Silk Road, the attempt to redo Eurasian transportation and other infrastructure so as to give a fillip to world trade.

I know which leader is a more positive force in international affairs, by far (domestic policies and press are a different issue, though I don’t trust Trump on those either).


Related video added by Juan Cole:

China’s President Xi urges closer ties in phone call with French President-elect Macron

Why the Weaponization of Health Care in the Syrian War threatens Us All

Sat, 13 May 2017 - 1:48am

By Xavier Symons | (The Conversation) | – –

Few events in Syria have attracted as much attention as the alleged chemical weapon attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun. The callous use of biological agents to target civilians is a “crime against humanity” and a serious violation of international law, according to human rights experts.

Far less attention has been given to the Syrian government’s targeting of health-care facilities in rebel territory. This ruthless strategy, which also constitutes a crime against in humanity, has made it impossible for humanitarian organisations to provide care for injured soldiers and civilians in some cases.

The Syrian American Medical Society reports that at least 168 attacks on medical facilities were carried out in the second half of 2016. These injured at least 80 medical staff and killed 26. This adds to an estimated death toll of over 800 medical personnel since the conflict began.

Operating in the theatre of war

As a recent report in the medical journal The Lancet suggests, international authorities must act strategically to deter further military attacks on humanitarian organisations. In particular, there’s a need to collect and disseminate accurate data about the attacks and increase support for overwhelmed health-care workers.

Failure to do so may not only contribute to the future targeting of neutral organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), but also the continued use of tactics such as chemical warfare.

The 1949 Geneva Convention contains a series of strictures that all parties involved in international conflicts must “respect without prejudice”. Convention IV emphasises the need to respect and help with the provision of health care for civilians. And Convention I extends this principle to enemy combatants.

The philosophical foundation for the strictures is the notion that the theatre of war is confined to defined “conflict spaces”. These should under no circumstances be allowed to encroach upon the domain of basic humanitarian care, such as the provision of health services.

Sadly, most of the articles of Geneva Convention have been systematically violated in the years following their ratification. But the targeting of health care in Syria constitutes a particularly egregious violation of strictures pertaining to the provision of humanitarian care.

Specifically, it is an example of what scholars are calling the “weaponisation of health care” – a multi-dimensional tactic that includes practices such as attacking health-care facilities, targeting health workers, obliterating medical neutrality, and besieging medicine.

The primary international organisation affected by government bombings has been MSF. The most infamous attack occurred in late April 2016, when Syrian jets bombed the MSF-supported Al Quds hospital and surrounding neighbourhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The attack killed at least 55 people, including patients and at least six medical staff.

What may not have been apparent to an international audience is that this attack was preceded by five years of targeting health-care facilities. Apart from the hundreds of medical personnel killed during the conflict, almost all hospitals in cities such as Aleppo have been closed.

“The ‘humanitarian system’ is failing in Syria,” MSF’s most recent report on the conflict states. “Many hospitals are facing critical supply shortages, and there are ever-diminishing numbers of health workers, as medics have fled or been killed. From the beginning of the conflict medical staff and medical facilities have been targeted.”

A precedent for future conflicts

The Lancet report discusses the need for the international community to act on several policy imperatives. It warns that failure to intervene will affect “health workers not only in Syria, but also in ongoing and future armed conflicts elsewhere”.

Among the policy recommendations of the report are:

  • collect and disseminate accurate and well-documented information on the nature and extent of the routine attacks, including the identification of perpetrators

  • “investigate war crimes, create prosecutable cases, and establish tribunals for prosecution”

  • academic and non-academic institutions to conduct “essential research to build the evidence base for action on issues affecting health workers in conflict”.

Swift action on these recommendations is crucial not only for the protection of health-care workers, but also for deterring future chemical attacks, such as the bombing of Khan Shaykhun.

There’s a conceptual link between biological warfare and the targeting of health-care facilities. At a superficial level, both constitute grave human rights abuses. And at a deeper level, both involve extending the theatre of war into the civilian domain, and both exploit the fragilities of the human body.

A failure to prevent attacks on health care may send mixed messages about the acceptability of “weaponising” the human body.

One influential commentator recently suggested that, rather than focusing on human rights abuses, the international community should have as its primary goal a swift conclusion to the conflict.

I do not disagree with this contention. Crucially, action on human rights abuses is not necessarily opposed to a diffusion of tensions, and, trivially, military retaliation is not the only means of reacting to rights violations.

What is clear is this: in the midst of the fog of the Syrian war, clear information and increased support of health-care workers could save countless lives.

Xavier Symons, Research Associate, University of Notre Dame Australia

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


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera from earlier in the week: “Syria: Heavy fighting threatens de-escalation deal”

After Mosul: The Coming ISIL Apocalypse in al-Anbar Desert

Sat, 13 May 2017 - 1:33am

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | ( | – –

While fighting against the Islamic State group drags on in Mosul, tribal and military forces in Anbar are preparing for what will likely be the final battle against the extremists. But this fight will take many months.

Many Iraqis and international observers are continuing to watch the fighting in Mosul, where pro-government forces are slowly driving out the last vestiges of the extremist group known as the Islamic State. But even as this happens and the troops continue their painstaking and expensive advance toward victory, the extremists are re-grouping elsewhere in Iraq.

It seems that all those involved are coming to the conclusion that, in order to truly expel the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group from Iraq, the final campaign must take place in the deserts of Anbar province, around the borders of Iraq and Syria.

They are going to fight very, very hard here. They know that this – not in Mosul or Raqqa – is where they are going to end.

“Ending the IS group in Mosul will make the extremist group sick,” a senior Iraqi army officer told NIQASH, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to media. “But ending the organisation in Anbar will kill them. That is why fighting in Anbar will be the next main campaign in Iraq and also the most dangerous yet. It is different there because the battle will take place around international borders.”

A plan for this is already taking shape, the officer noted.

“The plan includes the mobilization of large numbers of pro-government forces from both the Iraqi army and from the anti-terrorism corps, that are currently in Mosul, as well as tribal brigades, along with US forces to provide air and artillery support,” he added.

It has been clear for some time already that fighters from the brutal extremist group are regrouping in this area. The fighters are obviously trying to destabilize the cities in the area. There have been a number of extremist attacks in Rutba, Haditha and Ramadi over the past week or so.

After months of stability and relative security, a car bomb exploded in Haditha, killing at least five people. Extremists also attacked border guards on the road between Iraq and Jordan near Rutba and some got as far as the outskirts of Ramadi where they tried to destroy the homes of locals who are in the military or members of tribal militias.

The aim of these attacks is to try and terrorize the people in Anbar, and make them frightened that the IS group is returning to their areas, Rajeh al-Issawi, a local politician and member of Anbar’s provincial security committee, told NIQASH.

“We expected these recent terrorist attacks because the IS group can move freely across the desert and easily threaten the outskirts of cities like Ramadi and Rutba, which they no longer control,” al-Issawi says.

Al-Issawi was also critical of the Iraqi government, saying that instead of heading to Mosul they should have cleaned up the rest of Anbar beforehand.

This has meant that for the first time in the months since extremists were pushed out of the major cities in Anbar, the Iraqi government has been forced to send reinforcements to the province. Although the IS group were pushed out of major cities, smaller towns and cities like Qaem, Ana and Rawa, near the Syrian border, were left because the Iraqi government decided that it needed to push the fight onto Mosul before tackling these places.

That desert border area – which the IS group describes as its Euphrates wilayat, or province – stretches from Qaem down to the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal. The area is vast and will make for a dangerous battlefield, in a fight that could last for many months. That is why, analysts say, the government has chosen to leave it for last.

The senior military officer says the campaign will begin with forces clearing the desert areas of Anbar, starting from the Jazeera area and the Rutba area, that borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They will try to push the extremists to escape toward the borders.

Then forces would fight in Ana and Rawa before a final and more difficult battle in Qaem. The extremists who flee over the borders should then be chased by Syrian military, according to an apparent agreement with that country’s government.

This agreement with the Syrian government, headed by Bashar al-Assad, appears to complement one between the two governments last month that allowed each country’s air force to make strikes just over the other’s border, in pursuit of IS fighters.

No matter what happens, the campaign to remove the IS group and allies from Anbar is going to be exceedingly difficult. Anbar is one of Iraq’s largest provinces, around 138,500 square kilometres, and makes up about a third of the whole country. Much of it is isolated desert and there are huge distances between the province’s cities, connected by a limited network of roads. For example, the armed forces in Ramadi are 300 kilometres away from Rutba and 130 kilometres away from Qaem – a long distance, on often-single lane highways, deep into the Iraqi desert.

This allows the extremists to launch attacks on troops as they move slowly through the landscape, something that was not a problem in places like Mosul, Ramadi or Fallujah.

The biggest problem though is what happens to the extremist fighters once they are pushed toward the border of Iraq and Syria.

Retired Iraqi major general, Abdul Karim Khalaf, a military analyst and former government spokesperson, told NIQASH that the Syrian military are not ready to cooperate on this job. “The Iraqi forces are ready to clean out the valleys and plains of the Anbar desert that have become safe havens for the extremists,” Khalaf told NIQASH. “But the Syrian side is not.”

Fighting on the long borders, stretching around 600 kilometres, between Iraq and Syria would be useless if there is no plan to control the extremist fighters as they cross them. If there’s no way to stop them, the Iraqi security forces will simply continue to be attacked as the extremists make forays back and forth across the borders, Khalaf argues. This happened recently on the border of Jordan, he says.

There had been attempts to try and clean up the borders in this area recently. But this has proved difficult and there has been a recognition that a lot of manpower will be needed to make a success of this kind of operation.

At the same time, the IS group too realizes the strategic significant of this area. Thousands of fighters who escaped from other areas the extremist group used to control, such as Mosul, Salahaddin and others parts of Anbar, are stationed here now. Analysts say that this is also where the IS group has established factories for manufacturing improvised explosive devices and other bombs and it is now where it receives volunteer fighters.

Ahmad al-Mahlawi is a tribal leader from the Qaem district currently living in Haditha where he leads a brigade of tribal fighters supported by the Iraqi government and US forces; his group work from out of the Ain al-Asad military base In Anbar.

“The extremists have started to plant mines in the desert, between Qaem and Albu Kamal and they are preparing hiding places along that road too, so that they can stop the Iraqi army when it launches the attack on them that everybody expects,” al-Mahlawi says. “They are going to fight very, very hard here,” he notes. “They know that this – not in Mosul or Raqqa – is where they are going to end.”



Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24 English: Mosul Offensive: Correspondent Matthieu Reports on Situation on the Ground