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Putin’s End Game in Syria

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 - 2:17am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Syrian press is watching Oliver Stone’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin and likes what it sees. Syria’s al-Watan (The Nation) reports that Putin’s Syria policy is the complete restoration of central government authority over the entire country, in preparation for a pull-back of Russian military forces to the Humaymin Air Base and Tartus on the Mediterranean.

He doesn’t appear to envisage that the Syrian military is capable, however, of taking all the country’s territory back, no matter how much air support Russia gives. Instead he sees a negotiation process, helped along by outside players such as the United States, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey willing to negotiate at Astana, Kazakhstan. He says he is asking them for “constructive cooperation.”

Putin believes that all the major players can agree that terrorism must be stopped.

Putin admits the need for “dialogue” between the opposition and the regime, including the armed opposition. (If Putin is sincere about this, he should be aware that Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly refused to talk to armed rebels, dismissing them as terrorists.)

Asked if it is necessary to partition Syria to resolve its crisis, Putin strongly disagreed and argued for the necessity of maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria and attaining a resolution of the various conflicts going on in the country.

He points out that partitioning Syria might only result in the mini-states fighting wars with one another.

Putin said that Russia was willing to support those Sunni rebel groups that fought ISIL (Daesh, ISIS) and the Nusra Front (the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate). He revealed that al-Assad is OK with that.

The end game, Putin says, will be the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of new presidential elections under watchful international supervision, as soon as possible.

In the meantime, in his phoner with the press on Thursday, Putin gave some less noble reasons for his involvement in the Syrian war, according to BBC Monitoring:

“The experience that the Russian military have gained in Syria is priceless, President Vladimir Putin said, speaking at his annual phone-in as shown live on official state TV Rossiya 1 on 15 June.

“We can say that the experience of using our Armed Forces in combat while employing modern weapons is absolutely priceless, I am saying this without any exaggeration. You know, our forces have even gained an absolutely different quality,” Putin said.

Combat experience also gave a chance to military engineers to test and tune the weapons on site, he added.”

Source: Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 0903 gmt 15 Jun 17

That sounds about right. The Russian military-industrial complex isn’t less than anyone else’s.

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Related video :

CGTN: “Putin: Russia aims to strengthen Syrian military”

Have Syria’s Kurds invented a Democratic Neo-Socialism?

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 - 12:58am

Dmitry Petrov | (OpenDemocracy.net) | – –

In an effort to get through to the Syrian Kurdish autonomous region, I met kindred spirits and found out more about the political and cultural landscape of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Sulaymaniyah’s Market Square. Image courtesy of the author.Tossing about on a broken bed in a cheap hostel in the centre of Sulaymaniyah, I was struggling to fall asleep. The sun hadn’t come up yet, but I could already hear the muezzin’s call to prayer drift through the window. My interest in socio-economic alternatives to capitalism had led me off the beaten track: this was my first night in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdistan is the unofficial name of territories where Kurds form a majority of the population. These include large parts of modern-day Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The Kurdish people are a fairly diverse ethnocultural group; the spoken dialects of the Kurdish language can be quite distinct from each other.

The development of national self-identities, which accelerated among many Asian peoples in the twentieth century, has given many people of starkly different social and cultural backgrounds who live in different parts of Kurdistan a sense of belonging to the same nation. This became an important factor in regional politics. Often, it has led to armed and occasionally deadly conflict. The pursuit of national self-determination by Kurdish organisations has shaped the fate of four separate states to a significant degree.

The autonomous Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq was established by Kurdish independence advocates in 1991. It forms a part of Iraq, but is de facto independent of Baghdad. The capital of autonomous Kurdistan is Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah is second in terms of both size and importance. Sulaymaniyah was where the Kurdish dialect group known as Sorani developed into a literary language, home to many Kurdish poets. Today, it has four universities (two private, two state) and houses three museums. Sulaymaniyah is seen as the cultural capital of autonomous Kurdistan, with a way of life more liberal than elsewhere in the region.
On Kurdistan’s threshold

As the overnight plane from Istanbul to Sulaymaniyah took off, I panicked a little. This was my first time travelling to a country of indeterminate political status – and what’s more, it was going through a full-scale war. In practice, the arrival to Kurdistan was an entirely mundane affair.

The Sulaymaniyah international airport has something in common with a bus station in a town not far from Moscow. It’s a small building, with screens dividing it into several rooms. On the wall, a discreet portrait of the local political leader, the chairman of the Patriotic Union party and former president of Iraq Jalal Talabani. The visa desk, border agents, and baggage claim could all be found a few feet from each other. A few people at the airport even spoke English, more or less. Soon, my passport was sporting a Republic of Iraq stamp – foreigners can stay in Iraqi Kurdistan for 30 days before they need to extend their visa.

Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, this building housed the local secret police. Now it’s home to the national museum. Image courtesy of the author.The plan was to leave Sulaymaniyah quickly and travel to Syrian Kurdistan, our final destination. When the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) took over from Bashar al-Assad’s officials with little bloodshed. In accordance with their political programme, the activists set up local councils and self-government committees; land previously owned by the state was given over to agricultural and manufacturing cooperatives. In addition, the existing paramilitary party units served as the basis of a more regular armed force. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) were formed of volunteers and acted as a militia.

The nascent autonomous region was christened Rojava, or “the west” in Kurdish – the Syrian lands are in the western part of Kurdistan. In 2012, Rojava proclaimed itself a “democratic autonomy”. Since then, Syrian Kurdistan has seen an influx of people from Western countries who believe in a new kind of society and want to help build it. Very soon after its formation, the autonomous region came under sustained assault from a variety of Jihadist groups. Soon, Rojava became a magnet for people wishing to take up arms against the mightiest Jihadist group of our day: ISIS.
The crossroads of Kurdish politics

On our first morning in Sulaymaniyah, we started looking for ways into Syrian Kurdistan, sending email after email and making phone call after phone call to every local contact we had, thanks to our friends from Europe.

Getting to the coveted land is not easy: on every side, Rojava is surrounded by political opponents or military adversaries. The southern frontier is the frontline of the war against ISIS and other Salafist groups. To the north and west is Turkey: its government has long been in conflict with the Kurds and closed the border with Rojava as soon as it proclaimed its interest in political autonomy. Crossing the border of Rojava either with Turkey or with the Iraqi Kurds’ autonomous region can be a struggle even for humanitarian convoys of international NGOs. We found ourselves to Rojava’s east, across the Tiger River, in Başûrê (or, in Kurdish, “the south”) — the southern, Iraqi part of Kurdistan.

lead A YPG fighter in Rojava. CC-BY-2.0 Kurdishstruggle / Flickr. Some rights reserved.Rojava’s leading political force, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has proclaimed its intention to create a society based on direct democracy, “communal economy”, and ecological sustainability. Within its first year, the autonomy established a system of local authorities, based on street and village assemblies that elect delegates to higher-level councils. Particular attention is paid to the need for gender equality – an especially relevant and explosive issue in the Middle East. Similarly, ethnic equality is considered important: Rojava is home not just to Kurds, but also Arabs, Assyrians, and smaller ethnic groups.

Critics accuse the Democratic Union Party of creating a one-party regime in Rojava under the pretence of self-government. However, western activists and scholars (such as David Graeber, Janet Biehl, and others who have visited the region) are saying that the radical democratisation of society in the autonomy is real.

According to Revolution in Rojava. Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan, a book written by three activists who visited Northern Syria in 2014, the self-governing structures of Rojava consist of several levels. The foundation of self-government is the “commune”, an assembly of residents of a street or a village. The communes send delegates to local councils, responsible for town districts or whole villages. One level up is the canton council, which covers entire towns and their environs. Finally, at the top of this system of self-government is the People’s Council of West Kurdistan, which includes every delegate of Rojava’s canton councils as well as representatives from the civil society and political organizations.

Each assembly has two co-chairs: a man and a woman. As a rule, they are the ones who serve as delegates to higher-level councils. Together, the co-chairs of canton councils are part of TEV-DEM – the Movement for a Democratic Society (Tevgera Civaka Demokratik). Each council also has separate committees that deal with specific issues: economic, political, judiciary, female and so on.

The complexities of Kurdish politics can be confusing. Most political forces describe themselves as adherents of “democratic” and “patriotic” ideologies. In reality, however, they hold very different principles and are in a constant state of struggle with each other. The Syrian Democratic Union Party and the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK), led by the president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani, are not on friendly terms. PDK has its own designs on oil-rich Rojava. Through the party’s affiliates, it aims for regional hegemony.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are the main political forces in the Iraqi Kurd autonomy. They have a long history of confrontation and even armed conflict. In 1998, the two adversaries made peace and came to a power-sharing agreement. Even so, the region is still divided into two parts. The north, which includes Erbil, is controlled by PDK; the south, and its main city of Sulaymaniyah, is ruled by the PUK. Both parties have their own armed militias, the peshmerga.

As a result, the PDK government (citing variously the danger of jihadist attacks or Rojava’s “undemocratic” behaviour) periodically closes crossings into Syrian Kurdistan, including the main one: Semalka, on the River Tiger.
Pilgrims looking for a way in

Getting around Sulaymaniyah is even more difficult than navigating the complexities of Kurdish party politics. Although the most widely spoken and best known dialect of Kurdish, Kurmanji, uses the Latin script, the population of Sulaymaniyah speaks and writes in Sorani, which has an alphabet based on Arabic letters. Not all signposts and street signs have Latin equivalents.

Asking for directions can be difficult, too. Few people here know any English words whatsoever. On a couple of occasions, we were given directions in English, sometimes our rudimentary Kurdish was enough, but most of the time passers-by just shrugged their shoulders. All the same, locals can have a picturesque appearance. Many men over thirty wear traditional Kurdish clothes: wide, baggy trousers, a sash around the waist, and star xani – a buttoned jacket tucked into the trousers. Younger people often prefer western clothes.

Many women wear long skirts, although trousers are common, too. However, you would never see a skirt shorter than the knee. Many wear headscarves, but the hijab is less frequently seen than one might expect. The stricter forms of Islamic female dress, like the niqab, are something of a rarity. Generally speaking, the progressive nature of life of Sulaymaniyah is evident even in the dress of its inhabitants.

A May Day celebration in Sulaymaniyah, with European and US leftwing activists taking part. Image courtesy of the author. Sulaymaniyah is where most people wishing to get into Rojava come to. Here, you can safely wait for your opportunity to travel into Syria. If it presents itself, you can take a bus or drive a car through PDK-controlled territory and cross the border. However, ever since Rojava proclaimed itself the Federation of Northern Syria in March 2016, the relationship between the two neighbours has been strained and the border remained closed at the time of our arrival.

In the end, every question we had about crossing the border into Rojava invariably received the same answer: “The situation is too difficult, border crossings are blocked by the PDK – there is nothing we can do to help”.

Since becoming an autonomy, Rojava, a small region with a population of three and a half million people, has been a magnet for numerous civil society volunteers, anarchists, and left-wingers. So we were not the only people stuck in Sulaymaniyah — there were dozens of young Europeans and Americans looking for ways into Syrian Kurdistan. For them, Sulaymaniyah became more than just a transit point — it was their home while they waited and searched for paths across the border. Many had been stuck here for several months.

Our group of patient pilgrims had some truly extraordinary members. Marvin (his and others’ names have been changed) was an engineer and anarchist from the USA, looking every bit the A-student: thin, bespectacled, and somewhat dishevelled. Not that long ago, he had graduated with a master’s degree. “In the US, when you study engineering, you hear all about how great your prospects are. In reality, finding a truly interesting job is hard. I feel like in Rojava I could do something that would really benefit people,” he said.

Marvin wanted to live in Kurdistan for, at a minimum, two years. His plan was to help Rojava’s self-government to assemble complicated machinery. He had spent more than a month in Sulaymaniyah — at first, at the same hostel that we lived in, later moving to a cheaper one, a kind of dormitory for migrant workers. When he began to run out of money, Arif, a local left-wing activist, took him in. The US consulate had refused Marvin assistance with extending his permission to stay. In a few days, he would have to pay a fine of two hundred dollars and take a bus to Silopi, a Turkish town on the borders of Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Here, he would take the same bus back and get another thirty-day visa.

Others told similar stories. All of them had been in Sulaymaniyah for a long time, a depressing state of affairs. Bob, a large, portly old man with sideburns, was another American, an agricultural scientist by background, 45 or 50 years old. He wore a Kurdish red-yellow-green scarf and pins with emblems of YPG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. In a deep voice, he told us that he was heading to Rojava to set up agriculture organized on Kropotkin’s principles, the chief of which are cooperation and communal ownership of land. A few other young men, twenty-five or so years old, wanted to join the YPG: Klaus, a militant antifascist from Germany; Pierre, a black Frenchman of African extraction and former member of the Légion Étrangère. Pierre often mused about improving Rojava’s financial situation by ramping up the export of oil.
The oasis of Makhmur

A week after our arrival to Sulaymaniyah, we had abandoned all hope of getting into Rojava: no-one had offered to organise our transit there. Fortunately, we did not have to come back to Russia with nothing to show for our troubles. A few Kurdish friends arranged for us to go to a refugee camp in Makhmur, 60 kilometres from Erbil and twenty from the frontline with ISIS. The only thing I knew about Makhmur at that stage was that it was one of the places where the Workers’ Party (PKK) were active in Iraqi Kurdistan.

There are, essentially, two Makhmurs. One is a fairly ordinary town with a mixed Arab-Kurd population. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, it came under the control of Kurdistan’s regional government. The other Makhmur, about half a kilometre away from the main town, is a camp for refugees from the Turkish parts of Kurdistan who left their homes in the mid-1990s, at the height of the armed conflict between Turkish government and the PKK. In 1998, they settled here, where, as every local told us, “there had only been desert, teeming with snakes and scorpions”. Over the past eighteen years, the camp became an autonomous settlement with its own complex social structure. The deadly desert was turned into an oasis with gardens, flowerbeds, parks, and gardens. Twelve thousand people live here.

In 2014, Makhmur was captured by the advancing Islamic State. However, the civilian population was able to evacuate and the self-defence units retreated to the Karachokh mountain behind the camp. Just then, the Workers’ Party militia swiftly counter-attacked from the Qandil Mountains and recaptured the camp after two days of fighting. Since then, the settlement has been under PKK’s control. At least a thousand armed members of the party are stationed near Makhmur and they (rather than government forces) are the inhabitants’ shield against “jihadist” attacks.

A cooperative cafe in Makhmur. Image courtesy of the author. Makhmur defences are threefold. The first line is the PKK cadres deployed near the camp, who man the frontlines against IS. The second is the Asayish, a security force that controls checkpoints and guard towers as well as a moat dug around the camp to fend off potential attacks. The third group is the entire adult population of Makhmur, regardless of gender. Any adult living in the camp may receive military training, after which they are sent on armed patrols outside the camp’s perimeter every twenty days.

Nonetheless, although the situation in the region remains tense, we only saw armed people on the streets of Makhmur twice over the two and a half weeks that we spent there. These were members of the Asayish (meaning “security” in Kurdish), a voluntary militia whose task is to intervene in cases of major disturbances and protect Makhmur from outside attacks. “We make decisions on everything together, at weekly meetings within squads and monthly general assemblies. If a senior officer makes mistakes, they are recalled”, says Sadiq, a member of the Assayish with grey hair and a large family, who seems to have some experience with military conflicts in Turkish Kurdistan.
Kurdish self-government

The Makhmur camp is an oasis in another sense, too. The PKK, which has been the major political force in the settlement from the very beginning, has organized self-government on a wide scale, a system of mutual aid, and several cooperatives. The scope of these systems is astonishing to someone used to life in a Russian metropolis.

The camp is divided into five areas or sectors. Each has its own council, or mejlis. The sector’s mejlis is responsible for solving all internal issues, from social welfare to family conflicts. Each has several committees: on welfare, education, ecology, conflict resolution, and so on. Any problems that go beyond the scope of the sector or cannot be solved by the local assembly on its own are escalated to the settlement’s general mejlis, which is composed of delegates from sectoral councils and committees. It also has a number of directly elected members.

When we arrived at a local council — an unassuming concrete building in the midst of a pleasant small garden — we saw a group of middle-aged men, sitting on chairs scattered outside. In front of the closed door there were many pairs of women’s shoes. “The female part of the council is holding its own separate session,” the men told us.

Over the next several days, we had many meetings with members of the general mejlis and various committees in Makhmur. There are many of those, about 30. They serve as the executive branch and regulate almost all spheres of public life, each with own area of responsibility: from car owners’ issues to workers’ rights, education, healthcare, and justice.

The judiciary committee has 11 members, elected by Makhmur residents. “We are not some kind of state-sanctioned court. In cases of serious transgressions, we summon the offender’s relatives, members of his sector’s self-government, people from other committees and try to solve things through dialogue. We want those who are guilty to understand that they were wrong and make amends,” the committee’s co-chair Zeinap Kara explained.

Kara said that the main problem in Makhmur was domestic violence, which both the judiciary and the Assayish (the law enforcement) are fighting hard to root out. We were told that in eighteen years, there had only been one murder in Makhmur. The killer was put in isolation for two years, while the families worked through the conflict to avoid a blood feud (still widespread in Kurdish communities).

As for where he had been isolated, Kara’s colleague on the judiciary committee Yusuf Sidar ardently insisted that “it was not a prison, it was a place where we can compel someone to listen to us. We talk to them until they understand that they were wrong”.

Travelling between the institutions and organisations of Makhmur, we could not help but notice the many small shops clustering in the central part of the camp. Aziz, an energetic member of the shop owners’ committee, said there were 110 of these in Makhmur. Most are family businesses, but a few hire one or two employees.

Another form of economic activity found in the camp is the cooperative. The settlement has a small sewing cooperative with nine members and a cooperative cafe with three workers. Both enterprises are run and staffed by women – we were told that these were the first steps towards women’s economic independence. Moreover, there is a cooperative greenhouse in Makhmur, where both men and women – members of the camp’s economic committee – work. The greenhouses were set up with help from the UN and the Qandil charity foundation, but now rely solely on local resources. They grow cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, sold at prices 50% below the market rate – just 500 dinars per kilo. The earnings are invested in the running of the project and cover the workers’ basic needs.

However, most residents of Makhmur do not have a constant source of income. The norm is for one family member to earn money and support the rest and for another to take part in local self-government. Those who can find a job usually do so outside Makhmur: men work as taxi drivers and construction workers all over Iraqi Kurdistan; women work as cleaners in Erbil’s medical facilities.
Rojava and Russia

Among the Russian libertarian left, news of Rojava and its social project, so congenial to anarchist principles, began to spread in autumn 2014. The turning point was the epic defence of Kobanî, when many anti-authoritarians (both in the former USSR and in the west) came to see the Kurdish revolutionary movement in a new light.

For many on the Russian left, Rojava embodied anti-authoritarian practices that had only been known through historical or theoretical works. The Kurdish movement gave them a sense of belonging, a feeling that here was a place where they could put their ideals into practice. To be fair, in Russia’s Marxist circles there has long been an interest in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Some representatives of that community had made contact with Russian Kurdish organizations close to the PKK years prior.

One of the first Russians to visit Rojava was Aleksandr Rybin, a correspondent for the left-wing online publication Rabkor. Aleksandr described his experience of a visit to the Rojava canton of Jazira, its everyday life, and systems of self-government. A little later, news spread of Evgenii Semenov, a volunteer from Russia who went to Rojava and fought for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main military force of the Syrian Kurds’ autonomy. Soon, there appeared the first anarchist website in Russian dedicated to news and articles about Kurdistan.

A year later, the Kurdistan topic suddenly became the focus of official Russian media. Russia Today aired “Her War. Women vs ISIS”, a documentary about the fighters of Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) of Rojava. This renewed interest was the consequence of, on the one hand, the young autonomy’s strengthening position and, on the other, the intensified conflict between Russia and Turkey.

Since then, pro-Putin activists can be found at the Kurdish cultural centre in Moscow, while some critics of Rojava rushed to condemn “the Kurds’ alliance with Putin”. A more measured view of the situation seems closer to the truth. There can be no doubt that the Kurdish movement is involved in some diplomatic interchange with Moscow. However, claims that the Russian government’s line has any influence on PKK’s political position, let alone Rojava‘s internal politics, are baseless.

We did not spend as much time in Kurdistan as we would have wished and never made it to coveted Rojava. However, we did see a new society. For us, Makhmur became a “Rojava in miniature”. Of course, we did not have a chance to see its system “from the inside”, thanks to the language barrier, the short amount of time we could spend there, and the fact that, one way or another, our view of local social structures was controlled by our hosts. However, the aims of the dozens of people we spoke with in Makhmur and their achievements to date in getting “regular people” involved in public life deserve close attention from those who are interested in projects for social transformation, alternatives, and potential solutions to the Middle East crisis.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s track record shows that significant social transformation driven by leftwing forces is possible even in societies where the political and social culture may at first glance seem inimical to all forms of democracy and equality. That is an important lesson for the left in other countries, including Russia and Eastern Europe.

A lack of interest in the principles of political and economic egalitarianism within a society, major inter-ethnic issues, and the concentration of power in the hands of authoritarian state structures are not excuses to throw in the towel. Rather, these are all the more reasons for intense scrutiny and hard work in the service of embedding one’s ideas into public consciousness and everyday practices.

Dmitry Petrov is a researcher at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute for African Studies. He is a member of Russia’s anarchist movement and runs Hevale, a Russian-language internet project on the Kurdish revolution.

Via OpenDemocracy.net.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Journeyman Pictures: “The Kurds Forging A New Nation In Syria”

Do Egyptians have any Rights Left at All? – HRW

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 - 12:42am

Human Rights Watch | – –

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities in recent weeks have arrested at least 50 peaceful political activists, blocked at least 62 websites, and opened a criminal prosecution against a former presidential candidate, Human Rights Watch said today. The actions are further closing any remaining space for free expression.

The charges against the activists appear to be based on peaceful criticism of the government and some local law provisions, such as insulting the president, that inherently violate the right to freedom of expression. At least eight face possible five-year prison terms under Egypt’s 2015 counterterrorism law for their posts on social networking sites. The website blocks affected major Egyptian and international news organizations as well as political groups.

“Egyptian authorities are using the pretext of fighting terrorism to crush peaceful dissent,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle east director at Human Rights Watch. “The government isn’t going to make inroads against extremists by shutting down peaceful opposing voices.”

Among those arrested was a prominent human rights lawyer, Khaled Ali, whom prosecutors called for questioning on May 23, 2017, and subsequently sent for a fast-track trial on the charge of “committing a scandalous act” in public. Ali ran for president in 2012, coming in seventh with about 134,000 votes. He has signaled interest in challenging President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the 2018 presidential election.

The wave of arrests during April and May was reported by Freedom for the Brave, an independent Egyptian group that tracks such arrests.


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Egyptian activists shout anti-government slogans during a protest against the government’s decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt, April 13, 2016.


© 2016 Reuters

On June 1, the group released a detailed list of the 42 people detained, showing that 29 remained in custody, four of whom had already been sent to trial. Many were active in movements critical of the government, including the nascent Bread and Freedom Party.

Prosecutors accused 17 of membership in prohibited groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the April 6 Youth Movement. On June 13, Interior Ministry forces arrested five more activists and three journalists from around the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo.

The government invoked article 28 of Law 95/2015 for Confronting Terrorism to charge at least eight activists with “propagating ideas or beliefs advocating the commission of terrorist acts.” The charges stemmed from Facebook posts, according to a statement by six Egyptian rights groups. Mohamed Walid, a Bread and Freedom Party member from Suez, was arrested after posting, “I am neither pro-Mubarak nor do I belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, I just want to live as a human being,” as well as “down with the military rule” and the slogan of the Bread and Freedom Party, “bread and freedom for all people.”

Human Rights Watch reviewed the prosecution file for Andrew Nassef, also charged with “promoting terrorism.” It stated that prosecutors seized publications and banners from his home that were critical of the government, such as “January 25 Again,” a reference to the 2011 uprising, and “Release Egypt.” Nassef’s Facebook posts cited in the file included: “When will we overthrow the prisons and military dictatorships again,” and, “Seek freedom and talk about every oppressed person in the country whether you know him or not (…) because one day it will be your turn.”

Other detainees are accused of insulting the president, spreading false news, or using social networking sites to incite against the state or advocate the overthrow of state institutions.

On May 24, Egyptian authorities imposed a coordinated blackout on at least 21 websites, most belonging to news organizations, for allegedly “supporting terrorism and spreading lies,” according to an unnamed senior security source who spoke to the official Middle East News Agency. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an independent Egyptian rights group, said the block had grown to 62 sites as of June 12.

Among those affected were Egyptian news websites such as Mada Masr, Masr al-Arabiya, and Daily News Egypt; Turkish news websites; international news websites such as Al Jazeera and the Huffington Post’s Arabic edition; the official websites for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian movement Hamas; and the website for the Tor Project, which supports internet anonymity.

The move occurred hours after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates blocked access to Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based websites, ostensibly in reaction to statements by Qatar’s emir published by Qatar’s state news agency. The apparently coordinated effort by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other allied countries to isolate Qatar stemmed from years of anger at Qatar’s foreign policy and has in recent days extended to Saudi Arabia and the UAE severing all ties and closing air, land, and sea transportation to Qatar.

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Qatar claimed that the statements attributed to the emir were false and that its news agency had been hacked. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and British law enforcement officials supported that assessment, media reports said.

Egypt has gone further, extending its censorship to domestic opposition movements, including by blocking a website for the National Popular Campaign to Defend the Land, which opposes a plan by al-Sisi to cede two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The Sisi administration has sought parliamentary approval to move ahead with the plan, despite court rulings that it is illegal. It went before the parliament for debate on June 11 and 12, and parliament approved the decision on June 14. On June 13, while activists gathered at the Journalists Syndicate to protest the agreement, Interior Ministry security forces surrounded them and arrested some. At least eight, including three journalists, are being held for investigation by prosecutors for protesting without a license.

On May 31, representatives of four websites, including Mada Masr, said they would file a joint complaint to the prosecutor general on the basis that the block was unlawful.

Ali, the lawyer and former presidential candidate, was also a key member of a legal team that successfully challenged the decision to cede the two islands to Saudi Arabia. He was accused of making an obscene gesture with his middle fingers during a celebratory street protest following the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling on the Red Sea islands issue in January. The charge is punishable with a sentence of up to one year or a fine of 300 pounds (US$17) under article 278 of Egypt’s penal code.

Ali’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch that they fear that a conviction on a charge of public indecency would probably prevent Ali from running for president in 2018, since elections laws disqualify those sentenced for “crimes that undermine honor.” No law defines such acts, but the lawyers said that Egyptian courts have interpreted sexual gestures or conduct as offenses that undermine honor.

Though many countries criminalize offenses to public order, prosecuting someone for making an obscene gesture during a peaceful protest would be an unreasonable limitation on freedom of expression, and it would be disproportionate to penalize such an act with imprisonment or the forfeit of political rights, Human Rights Watch said. The Dokki Misdemeanour Court for Minor Offenses in Cairo has scheduled Ali’s next hearing for July 3 and ordered that defense lawyers be allowed to obtain the case file.

Egypt’s constitution, in article 57, states that it is “impermissible” to deprive citizens of the right “to use all forms of public means of communications” or to interrupt or disconnect them arbitrarily. Article 71 states that “it is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way.”

However, Egypt’s 59-year-old emergency law, which al-Sisi invoked on April 11 after deadly twin church bombings by the extremist group Islamic State, allows the authorities to censor publications at will. After al-Sisi declared the state of emergency, Ali Abdel Aal, the parliament speaker, said that social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube would fall under its surveillance and censorship provisions, the newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm reported.

The Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, stated in its general comment 34 that the prohibition of “a site or an information dissemination system from publishing material solely on the basis that it may be critical of the government or the political social system espoused by the government” constitutes a violation of the right to free expression. Egypt ratified the covenant in 1986.

Via Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung: “Egypt’s Human Rights Crisis – Europe’s Responsibility?

Aerospace Campaign in Syria: Did Putin kill ISIL’s so-called ‘caliph’?

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 - 12:16am

TeleSur | – –

The statement came a day after Russia said it killed several senior leaders, 30 field commanders and up to 300 of their personal guards in an airstrike last month.

Russian Aerospace Forces based in Syria have made significant gains in the first half of June, eliminating two Islamic State group field commanders and 180 fighters for the group, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Using unmanned aerial systems, Russian personnel struck Islamic State group facilities, disrupting the militants’ plans to launch a “breakthrough battle” on the defense lines of Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor, according to the ministry’s statement.

Anti-government rebels have sworn to work alongside United States forces to drive the Syrian Government from Deir al-Zor, which is currently the largest stronghold of the Islamic State group.

“The preemptive airstrikes, which the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out on the sites of ISIL facilities on June 6 and June 8, killed ISIL field commanders Abu Omar al-Baljiki and Abu Yassin al-Masri,” Russia’s Interfax news agency cited the ministry’s statement as saying, using another acronym for the Islamic State group.

The statement came a day after Russia said it may have killed Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an airstrike last month that also killed several other senior leaders, 30 field commanders and up to 300 of their personal guards at a Raqqa command center. Washington said it could not corroborate al-Baghdadi’s death, which remains unconfirmed by the Islamists.

In addition, the ministry noted that a total of 16 automotive and armored vehicles and tanks, one artillery, four control posts and an ammunition storage depot were destroyed in the strikes.

TeleSur

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Russia: ISIS leader possibly killed in strike”


In March for 1st Time, 10% of US Electricity came from Wind and Solar

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 - 1:29am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I’ve been a booster of renewable energy for years and years. I can remember when readers would taunt me that only one percent of US electricity came from non-hydro renewables.

So here we are in 2017 and this March for the first time wind and solar accounted for ten percent of US electricity production.

In Iowa, 37 percent of the electricity comes from wind alone all year around.

There are now over 800,000 jobs in green energy in the US.

Solar jobs are growing 17 times faster than the general economy in the US.

After Trump reneged on the Paris Climate Accord, dozens of US cities have pledged to go 100% green in their energy consumption, with Santa Barbara being only the latest.

The Federal government isn’t the only player here, and anyway, large parts of it, such as the Pentagon, continue to favor renewables.

—–

Related video:

KCCI Investigates: Could wind energy power all of Iowa?

Don’t Slow Down on Impeachment

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 - 12:08am

Robert Reich. | Yes! Magazine | – –

The three previous presidential impeachment inquiries rested on less evidence of obstruction of justice than is already publicly known about Trump.

The real reason Democratic leaders don’t want to seek an impeachment now is they know there’s zero chance that Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress, would support such a move.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) is already drafting articles of impeachment related to Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, believing there’s enough evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice to begin an impeachment inquiry (not to mention Trump’s blatant violation of the Constitutions emoluments clause by profiting off his presidency, and much else).

But Democratic leaders are pushing back, warning there aren’t enough facts to justify an impeachment inquiry at this point, and, in any event, such an inquiry would politicize ongoing congressional investigations.

Baloney.

Historically, the three previous impeachment inquiries in the House (involving presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton) rested on less evidence of obstruction of justice than is already publicly known about Trump.

Comey’s testimony to Congress is itself more than enough—confirming that Trump demanded Comey’s loyalty, asked Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn, repeatedly told Comey the FBI investigation was a “cloud” on his presidency, and asked Comey to declare publicly that Trump wasn’t an object of the investigation.

In addition, we have Trump’s interview with Lester Holt on NBC and Trump’s subsequent meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. In both instances, Trump connected his firing of Comey with the Russian investigation.

Also bear in mind the obstructions of justice that caused the House to impeach previous presidents concerned issues far less serious than Trump’s possible collusion with a foreign power to win election.

Democratic leaders say they don’t want to talk about impeachment now because they’re worried about politicizing the current congressional investigations, which aren’t impeachment inquiries. Hello? Republicans have already politicized them.

The real reason Democratic leaders don’t want to seek an impeachment now is they know there’s zero chance that Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress, would support such a move. So why engage in a purely symbolic gesture?

Democratic leaders figure that between now and the midterm elections there will be even more revelations from non-partisan sources – future testimony by Trump operatives like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, early reports from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and leaks to the press – that will build the case, and fuel more public outrage.

That outrage will give Democrats a strong chance of taking back the House and maybe even the Senate. Then they’ll really impeach Trump.

I can’t argue with the political logic of Democratic leaders. And if their strategy will lead to Trump’s ouster sooner than any other way, I’m all for it.

But here’s the problem. It’s not clear America can wait for the midterm elections, followed by what’s likely to be a long and drawn-out impeachment investigation, followed by a trial in the Senate. (Note that none of the presidents listed above was ever convicted by the Senate and thrown out of office.)

With each passing day, Donald Trump becomes a greater danger to America and the world. We don’t have time.

The advantage of introducing a bill of impeachment now—even attempting to do so—is that such an action might itself galvanize the vast majority of Americans who want Trump out of office. It could mobilize and energize people around the most important immediate issue facing the country.

Never underestimate the power of a public aroused to action. It is worth recalling that Nixon resigned of his own accord before the House had even voted out an impeachment resolution. The American public demanded it.

This article was originally published at RobertReich.org. It has been edited for YES! Magazine.

Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under former President Bill Clinton. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” “Locked in the Cabinet,” “Supercapitalism,” and his most recent book, “Aftershock.” He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

Via Yes! Magazine

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

EuroNews: ” Trump confirms he is under investigation”

Iraq Deployed Shiite Volunteers to defeat ISIL, but now has a Militia Problem

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 - 11:55pm

Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | (Niqash.org) |. –

The Iraqi government’s next big problem is coming into view: The group of powerful Shiite Muslim militias loyal to Iran seem to want to keep the country enmeshed in regional turmoil.

As the extremist group known as the Islamic State is driven out of the country, the Iraqi government is facing up to a new threat to its authority – this comes from the Shiite Muslim militias, once volunteers who came together to defend their towns against the Islamic State but who have since turned into a formidable, quasi-official fighting force.

The Shiite Muslim militias themselves are divided into three main groups, with some professing loyalty to the Iraqi government and the Shiite Muslim religious authorities in Najaf, while others openly admit they take orders from neighbouring Iran and Iranian clerics. A third group is affiliated with the Iraqi clerics, Muqtada al-Sadr or Ammar al-Hakim.

The factions loyal to Iran differ from the others in that they are the most well-armed and more powerful than the others. They are called the Walaei militias – the word means “loyal” – and they say that they prefer to obey Iran’s spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and that they see Iraq and Syria as one military front, where they will continue to fight even after the Islamic State, or IS, group has been expelled.

I can openly say that we do not take our orders from the Iraqi government. We are ready to fight in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, or any other country where there are terrorists.

One of the around 20 different groups associated with the Walaei militias is the Khorasani Brigade, who are closely associated with Iranian General Hamid Taghavi, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who was killed fighting the IS group in northern Iraq in late 2014. Alongside pictures of Taghavi, the faction has idolizing pictures of Khamenei in its headquarters and on their military vehicles.

“I can openly say that we do not take our orders from the Iraqi government,” says Abu Hassan al-Atabi, one of the members of the brigade, speaking to NIQASH on the phone. “We fought in Iraq during these difficult times and we have fought to prevent the fall of Baghdad [to the IS group]. We will be present even after the extremists have been pushed out. The IS group is just one of our challenges,” he continued. “The conflict in the Middle East continues and we are ready to fight in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, or any other country where there are terrorists.”

These kinds of ambitions mean that pro-Iranian militias are becoming more and more of a problem for the Iraqi government. At the end of last month, Iranian loyalist militias almost connected with the Syrian army and pro-Iranian militia groups in Syria, on the Iraqi-Syrian border. There were some fears that when the two sides met, they would open a land corridor, that would, as the Washington Post reported, “give Tehran control of a large swath of the Syrian-Iraqi border, securing a land route through Iraq and across southern Syria to its proxy, ­Hezbollah, in Lebanon”. Coalition aircraft flew overhead and dropped leaflets asking the militias to leave the border area.

In a mid-May speech, Qais al-Khazali, head of the pro-Iranian League of the Righteous militia, said that, “we will reach the borders with Syria and our brothers in Syria are getting closer to the borders too. In this way, we, the Shiite Muslim militias, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthi movement [of Yemen] are going to establish the Shiite crescent”.

In March this year, another pro-Iranian militia, Harakat al-Nujaba, announced they were forming a special unit called the Golan Heights Liberation brigade. This refers to the Golan Heights, which belonged to Syria until 1967, after which Israel took control of the area. The Iraqi militia said it was willing and able to take back the Syrian territory from Israel.

Leaders of the various Shiite Musilm militias.

“The Iraqi government is in an embarrassing position because of the pro-Iranian faction,” a senior government official told NIQASH, off the record. “The US spoke directly with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and urged him to maintain control of these factions and to try and keep them away from Iranian influences. But that is very hard to do.”

It had been proposed that the volunteer militias be absorbed into the regular Iraqi army and police but this is far from happening in reality. Pro-Iranian factions are very popular and influential in Iraq at the moment, particularly in Baghdad and in southern provinces. They have large offices that are similar to regional police stations and if the regular army and police are not busy trying to avoid any contact with the groups, then they are likely to be currying favour with their leaders in order to avoid any kind of neighbourhood conflict.

The pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq actually date back to 2003, and the US-led invasion of Iraq that removed Saddam Hussein from power. Back then, Iraq’s supreme Shiite Muslim religious authority, Ali al-Sistani, resisted pressure to tell the Iraqi people to fight US forces in the country. Instead he asked them to remain neutral. It was then that Iran took advantage of another influential, and much younger, cleric’s desire to fight the US. That was Muqtada al-Sadr, who benefitted from Iranian influence and largesse with the creation of the Mahdi army, basically an army of followers of the cleric and his family that is now known as the Sadrist movement.

The Mahdi army is the spiritual ancestor of the Shiite Muslim factions who are loyal to Iran to this day, says Hamid al-Taei, a cleric who teaches in a Najaf religious school, adding that, “this conflict dates back to al-Sadr choosing to fight the US troops, and receiving military aid from Iran to do so.”

When al-Sadr decided it was time for the Mahdi army to put down its weapons and chose to publicly distance himself from Iranian influence, some of his senior aides defected and formed another militia of those who wished to continue fighting. One of these was the League of the Righteous, headed by al-Khazali today. Since 2014, the number of militias who have pledged allegiance to Iranian religious authorities, rather than Iraqi ones has grown, al-Taei explains.

After Iraqi religious authority Ali al-Sistani called for volunteers to fight against the IS group in mid-2014, al-Taei says that the pro-Iranian factions basically executed a sort of coup against al-Sistani, taking advantage of that call to form more military units that they would be able to continue to influence.

Via Niqash.org

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “ISIL still capable of launching counter-attacks in Mosul”

Trump to Send 4,000 More US Troops to Afghanistan as Mattis admits ‘Not Winning’

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 - 11:16pm

TeleSur | – –

The Trump adminstration plans to deploy 4,000 more troops, extending the nearly
The official says troops will train Afghan soldiers, and fight Taliban and Islamic State group forces.

The Pentagon is planning to send almost 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, an official said anonymously Thursday. There are already around 8,400 U.S. ground troops stationed in the country.

The decision could be officially announced next week. On Wednesday, President Trump authorized Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to adjust the deployment level to Afghanistan.

According to the official, most of the soldiers will be assigned to train and advise Afghan forces, with some also devoted to ongoing military operations against the Islamic State Group, and the Taliban.

“Thanks to the vigilance and skill of the U.S. military and our many allies and partners, horrors on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been repeated on our shores,” said a White House statement authorizing the adjustment of deployment levels.

“However, the danger continues to evolve and that danger requires a commitment to defeat terrorist organizations … we will achieve victory against the terrorists abroad, protect our borders at home, and keep America safe,” the statement continued.

The announcement comes shortly after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis admitted that things weren’t going well for U.S. operations in the country.

Describing the Taliban as “surging,” Mattis said “we are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The decision would be the largest military deployment of President Trump’s term so far.

U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan 16 years ago, on October 7, 2001, mere weeks after the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.

The U.S. operation in Afghanistan, originally called “Infinite Justice,” but later changed to “Enduring Freedom,” for fear that the former name was offensive, reached a peak in 2010, with the U.S. forces reaching around 100,000 after the administration of former President Barack Obama ordered a 33,000 troop deployment.

U.S. deployment levels in Afghanistan have steadily declined since 2012, and in 2014 Obama made plans for a complete military withdrawal. Troops have been at their current level since Obama left office.

The ongoing U.S. operation in Afghanistan has taken a heavy toll. It is estimated that at least 31,000 civilians have been violently killed in the country during the operation, according to the Watson Institute at Brown University.

The Institute acknowledges however, that civilian deaths are very often not reported by the U.S. military, making it difficult to arrive at a precise figure of the ongoing war’s death toll. The estimate also does not include those who have been affected by the exacerbated poverty, malnutrition, and lack of health care access that has resulted from the operations.

Via TeleSur

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

VOA News: “Mattis: US ‘Not Winning’ in Afghanistan”

Putin offers Comey Asylum, likens him to Snowden

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 - 1:00am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

BBC Monitoring translates the remarks of Russian President Vladimir Putin broadcast on Rosiyya 1 TV on Thursday.

He responded to the remarks last week of former FBI director James Comey in his testimony before the senate, deploring Comey’s assertion, without offering any proof, of Russian interference in the US election.

Putin misrepresented the allegations against Russia as simply the broadcast of the Kremlin’s views, saying “We have our own opinion and we are expressing it openly. It’s not some underground undermining activity, but we are expressing our opinion.”

What is being alleged is that Russian government outlets such as RT and Sputnik deliberately spread largely false but damning stories about Hillary Clinton, which were picked up by fellow travelers such as Breitbart and other alt-Neonazi websites and then spread around to millions of unsuspecting voters via Facebook and Twitter, especially in states that might be close. The hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails and those of Clinton campaign director John Podesta was in service of generating these negative stories, and is alleged to have been coordinated with Russian intelligence if it wasn’t actually directed by it. There was, in short, a Russian government-directed disinformation campaign that aimed at voter suppression through discouraging Democrats from going to the polls.

It is a complex theory of disinformation cascade and may or may not be true. But it cannot be refuted by simply insisting on Russia’s right to broadcast the views of the Kremlin.

Putin then tried the typical propaganda trick of changing the subject, charging that the US is constantly doing propaganda abroad and funding non-governmental organizations. He said that in private conversations with world leaders, everyone complained about US interference in their politics.

The idea that the US funds non-governmental organizations to make revolutions is a conspiracy theory. The US AID and other funding agencies like NGOs because of the theory that emerged during and after the 1989 East Bloc revolutions that societies with numerous NGOs are more likely to turn and remain democratic. The local version of the Girl Scouts is not being funded in hopes they will make a coup.

Besides, Putin’s charge that the US interferes in other people’s elections (which is not untrue) does not address the questions of whether or how Putin interfered in the 2016 American election. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Putin said he found the idea that Comey wrote down his conversations with Trump and then found a way to leak them via a friend to the press “very strange. “What is the difference between the FBI head and Mr Snowden then? In this case, he is not the special services’ head, but a rights activist who defends a certain position.”

Putin then joked, “By the way, if he is persecuted in this relation, we will be ready to give him too political asylum in Russia. He should know this.”

Source: Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 0903 gmt 15 Jun 17

It is amusing to think of Comey, an information hardliner who called Ed Snowden a traitor, as himself a whistle blower. He tried to strong arm Apple into unencrypting all our phones, opening us to hackers. In this regard, Putin makes a fair point. But the rest of his remarks on this issue came across as sleazy.

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RFE/RL: “Putin Compares Comey To Snowden, Offers Asylum”

From Syria to Somalia: Where have all the Children Gone?

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 - 11:24pm

By Karen J. Greenberg | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

“This is a war against normal life.” So said CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward, describing the situation at this moment in Syria, as well as in other parts of the Middle East. It was one of those remarks that should wake you up to the fact that the regions the United States has, since September 2001, played such a role in destabilizing are indeed in crisis, and that this process isn’t just taking place at the level of failing states and bombed-out cities, but in the most personal way imaginable. It’s devastating for countless individuals — mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers — and above all for children.

Ward’s words caught a reality that grows harsher by the week, and not just in Syria, but in parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, among other places in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Death and destruction stalk whole populations in Syria and other crumbling countries and failed or failing states across the region.  In one of those statistics that should stagger the imagination, devastated Syria alone accounts for more than five million of the estimated 21 million refugees worldwide. And sadly, these numbers do not reflect an even harsher reality: you only become a “refugee” by crossing a border.  According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in 2015 there were another 44 million people uprooted from their homes who were, in essence, exiles in their own lands.  Add those numbers together and you have one out of every 113 people on the planet — and those figures, the worst since World War II, may only be growing.

Rawya Rageh, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, added troubling details to Ward’s storyline, among them that deteriorating conditions in war-torn Syria have made it nearly “impossible to find bread, baby formula, or diapers… leaving survivors at a loss for words” (and just about everything else). Meanwhile, across a vast region, families who survive as families continue to face the daily threat of death, hunger, and loss.  They often are forced to live in makeshift refugee camps in what amounts to a perpetual state of grief and fear, while the threat of rape, death by drone or suicide bomber, or by other forms of warfare and terror is for many just a normal part of existence, and parental despair is the definition of everyday life. 

Resignation Syndrome

When normal life disintegrates in this way, the most devastating impact falls on the children. The death toll among children in Syria alone reached at least 700 in 2016. For those who survive there and elsewhere, the prospect of homelessness and statelessness looms large. Approximately half of the refugee population consists of young people under the age of 18.  For them and for the internally displaced, food is often scarce, especially in a country like Yemen, in the midst of a Saudi-led, American-backed war in which civilians are commonly the targets of airstrikes, cholera is spreading, and a widespread famine is reportedly imminent.  In a Yemeni scenario in which 17 million people now are facing “severe food insecurity,” nearly two million children are already acutely malnourished. That number, like so many others emerging from the disaster that is the twenty-first-century Middle East, is overwhelming, but we shouldn’t let it numb us to the simple fact that each and every one of those two million young people is a child like any other child, except that he or she is being deprived of the chance to grow up undamaged.

And for those who do escape, who actually make it to safer countries beyond the immediate war zone, life still remains fragile at best with little expectation of a sustainable future.  More than half of the six million school-age children who are refugees, reports the UNHCR, have no schools to attend.  Primary schools are scarce for them and only 1% of refugee youth attend college (compared to a global average of 34%).  Startling numbers of such refugees are engaged in child labor under terrible working conditions.  Worse yet, a significant number of child refugees are traveling alone.  According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in 2015-2016… easy prey for traffickers and others who abuse and exploit them.”

Such children, mired in poverty and dislocation, are aptly described as growing up in a culture of deprivation and grief.  At least since the creation of UNICEF in 1946, an agency initially focused on the needs of the young in the devastated areas of post-World War II Europe, children at risk have posed a challenge to the world. In recent years, however, the traumas experienced by such young people have been rising to levels not seen since that long-gone era.

A heartbreaking story by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker catches the extremity of both the plight faced by child refugees and possible reactions to it.  She reports on a group of them in Sweden, largely from “former Soviet and Yugoslav states,” whose families had been denied asylum and were facing deportation.  A number of them suffered from a modern version of a syndrome once known as “voodoo death,” in which a child falls into a coma-like trance of severe apathy. Doctors have termed this state “resignation syndrome, an illness that is said to exist only in Sweden, and only among refugees.” Fearing ouster and threatened with being deprived of the ties they had already formed in that country, they simply turned off, physically as well as emotionally. 

While this is certainly not the first time grief has engulfed parts of the world, children have felt the brunt of its woes. By its nature, warfare breeds destruction, dislocation, and grief. But America’s never-ending war on terror, its “longest war,” has contributed to the instances of trauma suffered globally among children and continues to undermine their chances for recovery.

As psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in grief have found, it takes time as well as help to absorb and deal with such trauma and the grief for lives lost and worlds destroyed that follows in its wake. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who famously identified the five steps involved in reacting to grief, has underscored the time it takes to recover from such traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, for refugee children and those uprooted in their own lands, there is usually no time for such a recovery, no safe space in which to experience those five steps. Instead, year after year, the trauma, like the wars, simply persists and intensifies.

One thing seems guaranteed: children who suffer long-term trauma are likely to develop physiological and psychological symptoms that persist into adulthood, rendering it hard for them to parent in a healthy and supportive way. And in this fashion, the wounds of the wars of the present will be handed on to the future.  In the technical language of the experts, “Adverse childhood experiences increase the chance of social risk factors, mental health issues, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, and adult adoption of risky adult behaviors. All of these can affect parenting in a negative way,” and so perpetuate a cycle of dysfunction and trouble.

The Living Casualties of This New Age

There are many ways to think about this twinning of trauma and childhood, which is becoming such a signal part of our age. After the era of the concentration camps in Nazi Europe, psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, who had himself spent almost a year in one, studied the effects of trauma on those who survived exposure to extreme deprivation and the constant threat of death. Adults, he concluded, face the possibility of schizophrenia and the destruction of their personality structures, but children, he wrote, faced worse: the destruction of the self before the ego even came into being. Having been exposed to “extreme situations,” they ended up feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and “deprived of hope.” Many of them had also been forced to grow up without parents who might have helped them through the trauma. Worse yet, some of those he studied had actually seen their parents — or siblings — killed.

What he learned remains, unfortunately, applicable to children in our moment.  Isn’t it time to begin paying more attention to the cost of losing so many children to the forces of deprivation, soul-crushing devastation, and the culture of death at both a global and the most personal of levels?  Isn’t it time for the rest of us to begin to imagine just what millions of damaged children will mean both for our world and for the world they will inherit as adults? Some of them, of course, will rise above the damage done to them in their youth, but many will not and so will lead lives of loneliness, confusion, and pain, and will potentially pose a danger both to themselves and to others.

As Bettelheim’s work, which almost anticipated Sweden’s “resignation syndrome,” suggests, the early years of the twenty-first century are hardly the first age of grief, nor will they likely be the last.  They are, however, ours to deal with and their ravages are already evident not just in the Middle East, but in the rest of the world, too. In Europe and the United States, terrorist attacks tied ideologically to the war on (and of) terror and targeted against civilians, continue to undermine the sense of security to which the citizens of such countries were until recently accustomed. Children are not only part of this cycle of death and destruction, but in a recent instance — the suicide bombing in Manchester, England — were its target, as they also have been elsewhere, as in the abduction of hundreds of young girls by Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014. Meanwhile, teenage boys are being targeted as recruits for ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Strikingly, the United States has shown remarkably little concern for the children of the war-torn and violence-ridden areas of the Greater Middle East. Those young people could be thought of as the worst of the collateral damage from the years of invasions, occupations, raids, bombing runs, and drone strikes, including the children or youthful relatives of targeted, designated American enemies like Anwar al-Awlaki.

This lack of concern is strikingly reflected in the anti-refugee policies of the Trump era. Refugee children refused admission to the U.S. and other advanced countries and, forced to live in a state of limbo, are being harmed.  Such policies and “bans” are exactly the opposite of what’s needed to heal the world and move forward. Recently, as if to make just that point, an old photograph of a child has been appearing on Twitter over the caption “Denied refuge and murdered in Auschwitz: the human cost of refugee bans.” As a signal of what to expect from the U.S. in the age of Trump, consider his administration’s proposed budget, which calls for a cut of more than $130 million in funding for UNICEF, the signature agency providing relief and services to children in need globally.

The U.S. and its allies may one day defeat ISIS and other terror groups, but if what’s left in their wake is only bombed-out, unreconstructed landscapes and millions of uprooted children, what kind of victory will that be? What kind of future will that ensure?

There will be no “winning,” not truly, if the crisis of grief, the crisis of the children who are the living casualties of this new age, is not addressed sooner rather than later. For every dollar that goes toward a weapon or the immediate struggle against terror outfits, shouldn’t another go to the support of those children, to the struggle to stabilize their lives, to provide them with homes, education, and care of the sort that they so desperately need? For every short-term prediction about the possible harm refugees could bring to a country, shouldn’t there be some consideration of what the children who are taken care of will want to give their new homelands in return?  Shouldn’t some thought be given to the world that the rejected or deported young, if left in distress, will someday create?

In Sweden, where the problems of traumatized refugee children have now been studied for more than a decade, the recommendation of psychiatrists and other experts to that country’s policymakers was simple enough: “A permanent residency permit is considered by far the most effective ‘treatment.’”

The loss of childhood, the crippling effects of trauma, the narrative of grief, and the cruel removal of any sense of hope or of a secure future have been seeping into global discourse about children for many years now. Isn’t it time to begin to see their global crisis for what it is: one of the major threats to a stable future for the planet?

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. Her latest book is Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, out in paperback this May. She is also author of The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 DaysRose Sheela and CNS interns Anastasia Bez, Rohini Kurup, and Andrew Reisman contributed research for this article.

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 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

How Long can Qatar defy its powerful neighbors? It depends on Trump

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 - 11:15pm

By Nader Habibi | (Conversation) | – –

The recent decision by half the nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and a few other countries to isolate fellow member Qatar came as a surprise to many – though perhaps it shouldn’t have.

Nearly all of Qatar’s residents live in its capital, Doha.
Doha skyline via www.shutterstock.com

Essentially, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt severed all ties over Qatar’s positive opinion about Iran and support for Islamist groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Besides cutting those ties, one of their demands also included putting curbs on the Al-Jazeera media network, which is based in Qatar’s capital of Doha and is partially funded by its ruling family.

The diplomatic and security ramifications have so far taken center stage, with most Western nations, including the U.S., and countries in the region calling for a negotiated resolution to avoid further escalation. Yet the dispute that led to the recent outburst has been lingering for years – and erupted in a similar if smaller kerfuffle in 2014 – which begs the following questions:

What exactly has allowed Qatar to defy its more powerful GCC neighbors for so long? And what (or who) could possibly change that?

Flouting its neighbors’ demands

Qatar is the second-smallest country in the GCC with a national population of just 243,000. That swells to almost 2.4 million when you include expatriates, yet it’s still just a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s 31 million total population or the UAE’s 8 million.

It also has the smallest military, at just 12,000 soldiers, compared with Saudi Arabia’s 227,000.

Despite this large gap in population and military power, Qatar has long ignored the complaints of its stronger neighbors over its foreign policy positions that on some issues are diametrically opposed to theirs.

There’s essentially one reason Qatar can afford to do this: the American security umbrella, which includes basing some 11,000 U.S. military personnel in Doha – the largest deployment in the region – as well as hosting the U.S. Combined Air Operations Center, which oversees air power in 20 countries.

Like the other GCC countries, Qatar has a bilateral security arrangement with the U.S., and it hosts the United States’ largest military base in the region. The U.S. military protection not only shields Qatar against military threats from outside the region but empowers it to stand up to its larger GCC allies when it chooses to do so.

Qatar is not the only GCC member that takes advantage of U.S. military protection in this manner. Bahrain has also defied other GCC members on occasions. In 2005, this tiny island of one million and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet upset Saudi Arabia when it signed a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S., which violated the GCC common tariff regulations. In a sign of America’s pull in such disputes, it was Saudi Arabia that ultimately backed down.

Consequently, as long as Qatar remains under U.S. military protection, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can not resort to military options and have to limit their campaign to diplomatic and economic pressure. In other words, bilateral security relations with the U.S. serves as an equalizer in interactions among GCC countries regardless of their size.

How long can Qatar hold out?

A secure and protected Qatar can afford to remain defiant in the face of economic isolation from its neighbors as long as it can tolerate the economic and financial costs. While these costs are hardly trivial, Qatar, as the richest country in the world on a per capita basis, can probably afford to ride them out for some time.

In terms of imports, Qatar’s reliance on other GCC countries and Egypt is relatively modest and easily substitutable. The main immediate impact of the severing of ties was a disruption of food imports from Saudi Arabia, but Qatar managed to quickly switch to air shipments from Iran and Turkey – notably more expensive than ground shipments via Saudi border.

Qatar’s dependence on these neighbors for exports is even less. In 2015, only 4.6 percent of Qatar’s US$80 billion worth of exports went to the UAE, while just 1 percent flowed to Saudi Arabia.

A key reason for so little trade between countries in the GCC is that their primary exports (oil and gas products) and imports (food and industrial products) are very similar.

So all in all, economic disengagement from the UAE and Saudi Arabia will disrupt about 13 percent of Qatar’s commodity imports and 5.6 percent of its exports (trade with Bahrain and Egypt is insigificant).

Qatar also has financial and commercial investment links with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. By one account, 300 Saudi businesses are active in Qatar with investments worth $13.3 billion, as well as 1,075 UAE companies. The same report estimated 4,200 Qatari businesses were engaged in the UAE in 2016.

While disruption of these business activities will also be costly for Qatar, the value of these investments is only a small share of its financial and commercial capital. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, for example, is estimated at $335 billion.

Beyond U.S. protection, the relatively small size of trade and investment links with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is what gives Qatar little immediate incentive to concede to their demands, even as it hopes to avoid escalation.

US still holds the key

So while Qatar’s economy is under some stress, its substantial financial resources as well as diplomatic and economic support from several countries including Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Oman give it quite a bit of breathing room.

But in the end, it all comes down to its security patron, the U.S., and President Donald Trump, who in a tweet praised and even seemed to claim credit for the move by Saudi Arabia and the other countries.

During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017

Afterwards, officials at the State and Defense departments expressed a more neutral position toward this dispute and called for a negotiated resolution, as some diplomats acknowledged Qatar’s efforts to prevent financial support for terror groups.

So if Qatar ends up making any major concessions, it will most likely be a response to demands from the United States, on whom Qatar depends for its security. A few years ago, Qatar’s former ruler Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani put that dependence this way: Without the Americans, “my Arab brothers would invade me.”

And in a sign that the U.S. commitment to Qatar remains solid, the Pentagon just announced a $12 billion deal to sell as many as 36 F-15 jets to its ally.

In other words, apart from President Trump’s tweet burst, the U.S. government has given diplomatic breathing room to Qatar. But if the United States calls for significant concessions, it is unlikely that Qatar will risk its military protection by saying no.

Nader Habibi, Professor of the Economics of the Middle East at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University

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

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Qatar-GCC: France’s Macron pushes for solution to crisis”

Don’t get mad over Trump’s Climate Policies, Get Even

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 - 11:11pm

By Michael Brune | ( Otherwords.org ) | – –

The White House may have accidentally sparked a revolution in efforts to address climate change.

If it makes you mad that President Trump announced that he’ll withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, good. If that makes you outraged and disgusted, even better.

We have good reason. Even for a president whose administration has quickly earned a reputation for reckless and morally bankrupt policies, this appalling decision stands out, and the reaction both here and abroad has been withering.

For the rest of the planet, the message is clear: Donald Trump has zero interest in being the “leader of the free world,” much less in international cooperation to solve global problems. In the dark and self-destructive world view of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, the U.S. has no allies — only competitors. We don’t win unless other nations lose.

For those of us who do care about our planet’s future, what happened on June 1 should be a movement-defining moment. “Hold tight to your anger and don’t fall to your fears” is how Bruce Springsteen put it in his song “Wrecking Ball.” Trump’s action is unforgivable, but it should only make us more determined to protect our future.

The most important thing to remember is that although Trump can try to slow climate progress in the U.S., he’s powerless to stop it.

It’s true that the anti-environmental ambitions of his administration have exceeded almost everyone’s worst expectations. Equally extraordinary, though, is the administration’s astounding refusal to accept reality — and I don’t just mean the reality of climate change. I mean the reality of 21st century America.

Every day, more U.S. cities, states, and corporations are committing to reducing carbon emissions and adopting clean, renewable energy.

Just before Trump’s announcement, three additional coal plants came offline, including the two biggest ones remaining in New Jersey. The next day, more retirements were announced in Missouri, along with a massive investment in new locally sourced wind power. This announcement was followed by the largest purchase of electric school buses in history, in Southern California.

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More than 200 mayors have adopted the Paris agreement since Trump’s announcement. And just hours after Trump claimed he represents “Pittsburgh, not Paris” in his address on withdrawing from the Paris deal, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced his support for a goal of powering Pittsburgh entirely with clean and renewable energy by 2035.

And he’s not alone. The city of Portland, Oregon just officially committed to transitioning to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Dozens of other cities have committed to going 100 percent clean, and more than 60 U.S. mayors have pledged their support for a community-wide clean-energy transition.

Trump’s withdrawal also provoked a response from corporate America, which correctly sees climate disruption as a serious economic threat. More than 1,200 businesses, colleges, and others joined a “We Are Still In” agreement regarding the Paris accord.

Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $15 million contribution to help fund the operations budget of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which coordinates the Paris pact.

So, yes, progress on achieving our emissions reduction goals will continue. In fact, progress may actually be faster as a result of Trump’s decision — because we all just got a big bucket of ice water dumped over our heads.

Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org

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Mattis overrules Trump on Qatari “terrorism,” sells it $12 bn in F-15s

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 - 1:43am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis defied his boss Donald Trump on Wednesday and inked a deal with the Qatar government to sell it $12 billion in F-15 fighter jets. Qatar hosts a US air base, al-Udeid, where some 11,000 US military personnel are based, and from which the US flies sorties against the Taliban and ISIL. Qatari pilots have flown missions against ISIL in northern Iraq, in cooperation with the US Air Force, and Mattis indicated that he hoped the deal would increase US-Qatari cooperation in this regard.

What makes this arms sale unusual is that Trump twice called Qatar a supporter of terrorism in the past week! If that were really true, the US couldn’t sell it a hammer, much less all those F-15s.

While Trump took sides with Saudi Arabia in its anti-Qatar campaign, Secretary of State Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disagreed with his boss. He urged an early resolution of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, declining to take sides. Tillerson, amazingly, told the Senate on Wednesday that there was no daylight between him and Trump on Qatar.

Now Mattis is strongly supporting Qatar.

For a long time Steve Bannon seemed to be calling the shots in the White House so dexterously that people were calling him “President Bannon.” Since Trump is highly erratic, a single-minded ideologue like the alt-NeoNazi Bannon could influence him just by being consistent.

But on foreign policy perhaps we have to speak of President Mattis.

Qatar, of course, is not actually a terrorist-supporting state, and has in fact been a close ally of the US against al-Qaeda and ISIL. And if Saudi Arabia thinks it can come for it the way they came for Yemen, Riyadh has another think coming.

Because there is still an adult in the room on US foreign policy and he is Jim Mattis.

——

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Wochit Politics: “Pentagon Agrees to F-15 Fighter Arms Deal Worth $12 Billion with Qatar”

The top 4 Challenges facing the Arab World

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 - 12:46am

By Tarek Osman | (Project Syndicate) | – –

LONDON – Fifty years after the Six Days War, the Middle East remains a region in seemingly perpetual crisis. So it is no surprise that, when addressing the region, politicians, diplomats, and the donor and humanitarian community typically focus on the here and now. Yet, if we are ever to break the modern Middle East’s cycle of crises, we must not lose sight of the future. And, already, four trends are brewing a new set of problems for the coming decade.

The first trend affects the Levant. The post-Ottoman order that emerged a century ago – an order based on secular Arab nationalism – has already crumbled. The two states that gave weight to this system, Iraq and Syria, have lost their central authority, and will remain politically fragmented and socially polarized for at least a generation.
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In Lebanon, sectarianism remains the defining characteristic of politics. Jordan has reached its refugee-saturation point, and continued inflows are placing limited resources under ever-greater pressure. As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is no new initiative or circumstance on the political horizon that could break the deadlock.

The Middle East is certain to face the continued movement of large numbers of people, first to the region’s calmer areas and, in many cases, beyond – primarily to Europe. The region is also likely to face intensifying contests over national identities as well, and perhaps even the redrawing of borders – processes that will trigger further confrontations.

The second major trend affects North Africa. The region’s most populous states – Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco – will maintain the social and political orders that have become entrenched over the last six decades of their post-colonial history. The ruling structures in these countries enjoy broad popular consent, as well as support from influential institutions, such as labor and farmers’ unions. They also have effective levers of coercion that serve as backstops for relative stability.

But none of this guarantees smooth sailing for these governments. On the contrary, they are poised to confront a massive youth bulge, with more than 100 million people under the age of 30 entering the domestic job market in North Africa between now and 2025. And the vast majority of these young people, products of failed educational systems, will be wholly unqualified for most jobs offering a chance of social mobility.

The sectors best equipped to absorb these young Arabs are tourism, construction, and agriculture. But a flourishing tourism sector is not in the cards – not least because of the resurgence of militant Islamism, which will leave North Africa exposed to the risk of terror attacks for years to come.

Moreover, a declining share of the European food market and diminished investments in real estate undermine the capacity of agriculture and construction to absorb young workers. The likely consequences of North Africa’s youth bulge are thus renewed social unrest and potentially sizeable migration flows to Europe.

The Gulf used to provide a regional safety valve. For more than a half-century, Gulf countries absorbed millions of workers, primarily from their Arab neighbors’ lower middle classes. The Gulf was also the main source of investment capital, not to mention tens of billions of dollars in remittances, to the rest of the region. And many Arab countries viewed it as the lender of last resort.

But – and herein lies the third key trend – the Gulf economies are now undergoing an upgrade, ascending various industrial value chains. This reduces their dependence on low-skill foreign workers. In the coming years, the Gulf countries can be expected to import fewer workers from the rest of the Arab world, and to export less capital to it.

The Gulf might even become increasingly destabilized. Several Gulf powers and Iran are engaged in a partly sectarian proxy war in Yemen – one that will not end anytime soon. And now, several Sunni powers are forcefully trying to compel one of their own, Qatar, to abandon a regional strategy it has pursued for decades. The pressures being generated across the Arabian Peninsula could produce further political shocks.

That is all the more likely, given mounting domestic pressure for reform from a technologically savvy and globally engaged young citizenry. Reforming centuries-old social and political structures will be as difficult as it is necessary.

The fourth trend affects the entire Arab world, as well as Iran and Turkey: the social role of religion is becoming increasingly contested. The wars and crises of the last six years have reversed much of the progress that political Islam had made in the decade before the so-called Arab Spring uprisings erupted in 2011. With radicalism becoming increasingly entrenched, on the one hand, and young Muslims putting forward enlightened understandings of their religion, on the other, a battle for the soul of Islam is raging.

The problems implied by these four trends will be impossible for leaders, inside or outside the Arab world, to address all at once, especially at a time of rising populism and nativism across the West. But action can and should be taken. The key is to focus on socioeconomic issues, rather than geopolitics.

The West must not succumb to illusions about redrawing borders or shaping new countries; such efforts will yield only disaster. One highly promising option would be to create a full-on Marshall Plan for the Arab world. But, in this era of austerity, many Western countries lack the resources, much less public support, for such an effort – most of the Arab world today couldn’t make the most of it in any case.
The Year Ahead 2017 Cover Image

What leaders – both within and outside the region – can do is pursue large-scale and intelligent investments in primary and secondary education, small and medium-size businesses (which form the backbone of Arab economies), and renewable energy sources (which could underpin the upgrading of regional value chains).

Pursuing this agenda won’t stem the dissolution of the modern Arab state in the Levant. It won’t generate workable social contracts in North Africa. And it certainly won’t reconcile the sacred with the secular. But, by attempting to address young people’s socioeconomic frustrations, it can mitigate many of the longer-term consequences of these trends.

Tarek Osman is the author of Islamism: What It Means for the Middle East and the World and Egypt on the Brink.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

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The End of pan-Arab Media? Governments Ban whole Channels, Fine Fans

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 - 12:20am

Human Rights Watch | – –

(Beirut) – Arab countries engaged in a dispute with Qatar have shut down media outlets with links to or considered sympathetic to the Qatari government, Human Rights Watch said today. The action is a violation of freedom of expression. The countries involved include Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain have also threatened criminal sanctions under existing laws against people who criticize the actions these governments have taken against Qatar and its citizens or who have expressed sympathy toward Qatar.

“Individuals have a right to express a variety of perspectives on current events,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments don’t have the right to close down media outlets and criminalize speech to shut out criticism they find uncomfortable.” On May 25, 2017, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates blocked Qatari media outlets, including Al Jazeera, after Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, was quoted in state media attacking United States foreign policy, praising Iran, and vowing to withdraw its diplomatic representation from several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia. The Qatari government has since denied that al-Thani made the offending statements, alleging that their state media was hacked. Related Content

Also on May 24, Egypt blocked the websites of 21 media outlets it accused of being favorable toward the Muslim Brotherhood, including Al Jazeera and at least four other Qatari government-linked outlets. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an independent Egyptian rights group, said the block had grown to 62 sites as of June 12. On June 7, Jordanian authorities closed Al Jazeera’s Amman bureau and stripped it of its operating license, stating that the decision was made to ensure regional stability, coordinate the policies of Arab countries, and “end the crises in our region.” The next day, Saudi authorities did the same to Al Jazeera’s Riyadh bureau, accusing it of promoting terrorist groups in Yemen and of sparking divisions in Saudi Arabia. On June 9, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage ordered hotels and other tourist facilities to block “all channels from the Al Jazeera Media Network” and replace them with other channels, threatening to punish violators with a fine of up to US$26,000. In addition, on June 7 and 8, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates announced that any speech critical of their governments’ measures against Qatar or sympathetic to Qatar would be prosecuted as crimes. Citing existing laws that violate free speech, on June 7, the United Arab Emirates’ general prosecutor announced that people who express “sympathy” for Qatar or objections to the UAE government’s own actions could face up to 15 years in jail. On the same day a state-controlled Saudi Arabian media outlet stated that such expression could be considered a cybercrime offense in the kingdom. On June 8, the Bahraini Interior Ministry also threatened anyone who shows “sympathy or favouritism” to the Qatari authorities either on or off line or critiques Bahrain’s actions, with up to five years in prison and a fine under the Penal Code. Authorities should repeal or amend laws that are used to criminalize peaceful expression. International law on freedom of speech prohibits the banning of peaceful criticism of governments, and crimes such as insulting the president or state authorities. “The media need protection from political interference, not official muzzling,” Whitson said. “The offending governments should demonstrate they understand and respect the role of media outlets, even those they don’t agree with.”

Via Human Rights Watch

Did Sessions and Trump conspire to obstruct justice?

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 - 11:46pm

By Clark D. Cunningham | (The Conversation) | – –

Did Attorney General Jeff Sessions conspire with President Donald Trump to fabricate a false story about why former FBI Director James Comey was fired?

If the answer is yes, it could be grounds for criminal prosecution of either Sessions or Trump. And, it could be grounds for impeachment of the president.

It is a crime to “corruptly” endeavor to impede a proceeding before a federal agency. The law says, “corruptly means acting with an improper purpose… including making a false or misleading statement.”

On May 9, President Trump fired Comey in a terse five-sentence letter. It said he was acting on the recommendations of Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Trump attached a letter from Sessions and a memo by Rosenstein. The only basis for dismissal stated in the Rosenstein memo, and adopted by Sessions, was that the FBI director had mishandled the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

However, critics have suggested the real reason Comey was fired was to impede the FBI’s investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. That would mean Trump’s dismissal letter was a “false” or at least a “misleading” statement, and thus a “corrupt” action in violation of the law.

The most compelling reasons to suspect this are found in the president’s own words later that week. In an interview, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt: “I was going to fire Comey… regardless of recommendation… [W]hen I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.‘”

Then, when Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he refused to answer key questions about the firing, claiming he owed a duty of confidentiality to the president.

As a scholar of legal ethics and the director of a national institute on teaching ethics and professionalism, I found Sessions’ evasion at the hearing about his May 9 letter to Trump suggests further evidence of a “corrupt purpose” for two reasons:

1. Conflict of interest

Sessions chaired the National Security Advisory Committee for the Trump campaign. He thus had an ethical obligation to consider the possibility that he was or could become a subject of the FBI’s investigation.

On March 2, the attorney general, under considerable outside pressure, announced he would recuse himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President.” However, Sessions incorrectly told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had no further ethical obligation. He went so far as to say his obligation to recuse himself did not “interfere with my ability to oversee… the FBI.”

The attorney general is the country’s top lawyer. According to mandatory ethical rules applicable throughout the country, lawyers are not supposed to provide advice if they have a conflicting personal interest. The attorney general’s willingness to ignore his ethical obligations by advising that Comey be fired raises serious questions about whether he had a corrupt purpose in writing the letter used to fire Comey.

2. An ongoing investigation

Remarkably, neither Sessions nor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein supported their recommendation to dismiss Comey with any findings from Justice Department officials who usually investigate allegations of misconduct. The only other time an FBI director was outright fired was after a seven-month review of a 161-page report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Neither Sessions nor Rosenstein acknowledged that Comey’s handling of the Clinton email matter was already being reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General.

Of course, Sessions should not have offered the president any advice about firing Comey. But if competent advice were to be given, it surely should have addressed whether to defer the decision until the inspector general completed his work. Neither Sessions nor Rosenstein has yet explained why they omitted reference to the inspector general’s investigation, a failure that raises further doubts about the credibility of the memos they wrote for the president.

Clark D. Cunningham, W. Lee Burge Chair in Law & Ethics; Director, National Institute for Teaching Ethics & Professionalism, Georgia State University

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

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Why Saudi Extremism, Instability is an Argument for EVs, Wind and Solar Energy

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 - 2:10am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Saudi Arabia has gotten too big for its britches, and the oil-producing Middle East is turning even more unstable. Not to mention that global warming is getting worse and worse because of burning fossil fuels like petroleum.

And it is your fault. If you are an American, your country imports 1.1 million barrels of petroleum every day from Saudi Arabia. Every time you fill up at the pump, you are enriching the Saudi elite and making the world more unstable.

In the European Union, Statoil and Saudi Arabia account for 20% of imports of petroleum.

The obvious solution to this problem, of instability, extremism and climate change emanating from Riyadh, is electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. They should be adopted as quickly as humanly possible.

Cambridge Econometrics concluded that Europe could make its energy supplies secure by “decarbonization,” that is, getting off gasoline/ petrol, coal and natural gas. Transport & Environment, reporting on the study, added, “A shift to electric vehicles would lead to a 1% increase in EU GDP, create up to 2 million new jobs and reduce emissions from cars and vans 83% by 2050, according to the study.”

This plan is no pie in the sky. It is already happening. Solar and wind are already producing more electricity in the UK than dirty coal. All we have to do is finish of coal and natural gas with renewables, and then plug electric vehicles into the green grid.

Saudi Arabia is denying that it has blockaded Qatar, since it says it is allowing goods and people in and out. How kind. 90 percent of Qatar’s food came overland through Saudi Arabia, so cutting off that lifeline is certainly a blockade. Qatar can fly in or ship in food, but at a premium, and many guest workers may not be able to afford it at those prices. The Saudis are trying to cripple the Qatari civilian economy, which is a war crime.

Now it and its allies are pressuring the United States to close down al-Udeid air base, from which most sorties against ISIL and the Taliban are flown. This is rich, since back in the 1990s when the US leased a Saudi air base to fly sorties over Iraq, radical Saudis like Usama Bin Laden claimed that this lease was a form of American military occupation of the Muslim holy land. Bin Laden gave this US presence as one of the reasons for his strike at New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. So are the Saudis roping us back into this situation? Note that Saudi Arabia has flown almost no sorties against ISIL, and defeating the latter doesn’t seem to have been high on Riyadh’s to-do list. Qatar has been far more helpful in the anti-terror fight than has Saudi Arabia.

In addition, Saudi Arabia has since spring of 2015 conducted a campaign of indiscriminate bombing against Yemen civilians and key civilian infrastructure in Yemen, leaving millions hungry, hundreds of thousands displaced, thousands dead, and tens of thousands sick with cholera. The war is ostensibly against the Houthi militia, but it is in fact being waged against Yemenis, especially the northwestern Zaydi population, in hopes that a war of attrition can bring the whole country to its knees. (This is a war crime; but then the Saudis bought their way onto the UN human rights committee, so as to deflect international condemnation). The Saudi war on little Yemen will add to the refugee crisis, promote instability, and result in more terrorism.

All this is not to mention the sinister role that Saudi Arabia has played in spreading around its militantly fundamentalist version of Wahhabism, which delights in vigilante morals police and discourages friendly relations between Muslims and others. (Qatar is also a Wahhabi society but mostly has relatively liberal emphases). Tolerant, Sufi strains of Islam (which are appreciated by many in Qatar) are hated in the Saudi Wahhabi heartland of Najd. Riyadh has virtually waged war on Sufism in Pakistan and Indonesia, both of which had been much more open and tolerant before they started coming under Saudi influence.

Putting solar panels on our homes, where we own them and can afford to do so, and then running an electric car like a Chevy Bolt or other similar off of these panels, is the single most important thing most of us can do to combat not only catastrophic climate change but also the menace of Saudi bullying and extremism-promotion. Around the world, about 15 percent of the toxic carbon dioxide that causes global warming comes from burning petroleum in cars, trucks and other vehicles. If we solve this one, we only have 85% of the problem to go. (And a lot of the rest comes from burning coal and natural gas, which we should replace with wind and solar so as to run our electric cars and buses cleanly). But, defunding the Saudi hard line version of Wahhabism would make it all worthwhile, just by itself.

——

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Sessions on Harris’s Questions re: Russia: “It makes me Nervous”

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 - 1:06am

TeleSur | – –

Sessions’ testimony did not provide any damaging new information on alleged Trump campaign ties with Russia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denounced as a “detestable lie” the idea he colluded with Russians meddling in the 2016 election, and he clashed with Democratic lawmakers over his refusal to detail his conversations with President Donald Trump.

Sessions, a senior member of Trump’s Cabinet and an adviser to his election campaign last year, had a series of tense exchanges with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during about 2-1/2 hours of testimony as they pressed him to recount discussions with the Republican president.

“You raised your right hand here today and said you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich said. “Now you’re not answering questions. You’re impeding this investigation.”

Sessions refused to say whether he and Trump discussed FBI Director James Comey’s handling of an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the election campaign before the president fired Comey on May 9.

He also declined to say if Trump opposed Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe in March, and whether Justice Department officials discussed possible presidential pardons of individuals being looked at in the probe.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Sessions: “I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. Americans don’t want to hear that answers to relevant questions are privileged.”

“I am not stonewalling,” Sessions replied, saying he was simply following Justice Department policy not to discuss confidential communications with the president.

Sessions’ testimony did not provide any damaging new information on alleged Trump campaign ties with Russia or on Comey’s dismissal, but his refusal to discuss conversations with Trump raised fresh questions about whether the White House has something to hide.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a parallel Russia probe, said on Twitter that Congress “must compel responses using whatever process necessary.”

Last week, Comey told the Senate committee that Trump had fired him to undermine the FBI’s investigation of the Russia matter.

Trump’s decision to fire Comey, a move recommended by Sessions despite having already recused himself from the Russia probe, prompted critics to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal investigation.

Senator Angus King, an independent, questioned Sessions’ legal basis for refusing to answer questions after Sessions said Trump had not invoked executive privilege regarding the conversations.

Executive privilege can be claimed by a president or senior government officials to withhold information from Congress or the courts to protect the executive branch decision-making process.

Sessions said it would be “inappropriate” for him to reveal private conversations with Trump when the president “has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision on whether or not to approve such an answer.”

Legal experts said there was some merit to Sessions’ argument.

Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School and associate counsel under former President Barack Obama, said it was not unusual for government employees to refuse to discuss conversations with the president in order to preserve the right to invoke executive privilege later.

Sessions’ clash with the Democratic senators was the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged Trump in his first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major healthcare and tax cut initiatives.

“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said.

“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected with the Trump campaign.”

A former Republican senator, Sessions was an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign, but sources say there has been tension between the two men in recent weeks because Trump was annoyed that Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe.

Sessions said on Tuesday he did not recuse himself because he felt he was a subject of the investigation himself but rather because he felt he was required to by Justice Department rules.

Via TeleSur

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Science: Back Electric Cars if your City wants to defy Trump & Go Green

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 - 12:42am

By Daniel Cohan | (The Conversation) | – –

President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement reaffirmed what was already clear: The federal government is no longer leading American efforts to shrink our carbon footprint. But many state and local governments – along with businesses and consumers – aim to help fill this policy void.

At least a dozen governors have joined the United States Climate Alliance, committing their states to achieve emissions reductions consistent with President Barack Obama’s Paris pledge. More than 200 mayors are promising their cities will follow suit.

My research with my former student Shayak Sengupta about how cities can benefit from buying electric cars suggests that fuel-free municipal fleets can cut urban carbon footprints while improving public health and saving taxpayers money.

Options for states and cities

States can help curb emissions in many ways, such as by setting caps on power plant emissions and creating incentives and targets for renewable electricity.

Most of those steps lies beyond the jurisdiction of cities. So how can they take climate action?

Urban governments most strongly impact emissions by influencing the behavior of local residents and businesses through building codes and incentives, public transit and urban planning. Buying increasingly affordable electric vehicles gives cities an additional opportunity to cut climate-warming emissions by reducing the amount of fossil fuels their vehicles consume.

Historically, cities and transit agencies turned to natural gas as an alternative fuel for fleet vehicles and buses. However, our previous research showed that natural gas does not provide significant emissions savings compared with gasoline cars or diesel buses.

Electric vehicles, however, can bring about clear-cut reductions in carbon emissions.

Even buses can run on electricity now.
www.shutterstock.com
The electric vehicle market

U.S. cities own few of the 540,000 electric cars on the road nationwide as of 2016. The nation’s two largest cities, New York City and Los Angeles, operate 1,000 and 200 electric cars, respectively.

That could soon change. Thirty cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, are seeking bulk-rate deals on electric vehicles. They’ve asked manufacturers to submit bids to supply up to 114,000 electric vehicles, ranging from police cruisers to trash haulers, at a total cost of roughly US$10 billion.

This surge in electric vehicle sales could make them more affordable not just for cities but for the rest of us too. That’s because emerging technologies typically get cheaper as production increases. A study by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute estimates that electric car batteries prices fall by 6 percent to 9 percent every time production doubles.

Some analysts forecast that as soon as 2025, electric cars will become cheaper than gasoline-powered cars. In some cases, they are already cheaper to own and operate over the vehicle’s lifetime, our research has shown. If cities help ramp up demand for electric cars faster than anticipated, this transition could happen even faster.

Municipal fleets

City-owned fleets are in some ways ideal candidates for electric-powered transportation. Cities operate large numbers of vehicles in densely populated areas, where emissions most endanger human health.

Local driving by municipal employees is well-suited for electric cars. For example, the Nissan Leaf now has a range of as much as 107 miles, and the Chevy Bolt can travel 238 miles without recharging.

Meanwhile, electric models of pickup trucks, dump trucks, buses and police cruisers are becoming increasingly available.

Houston’s vehicles

We studied vehicle options available to Houston, which operates a fleet of about 12,000 vehicles, in 2015. Those options included two gasoline-powered Toyota sedans (the Corolla and the Prius), the natural gas-powered Honda Civic, the plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius and the fully electric Nissan Leaf. Since all these sedans seat five passengers, they are interchangeable.

Because Houston in 2015 bought 75 percent of its electricity from wind farms (it now draws even more of its power from wind and solar sources), we calculated that the fully electric Leaf would have reduced life cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 87 percent relative to the gasoline-powered Corolla over seven years. About half of those benefits would have been lost if the Leaf was charged from the fossil-heavy grid elsewhere in Texas.

Financially, the savings on fuel and maintenance would have more than offset the $12,000 premium for buying a Leaf instead of a Corolla. We estimated that Houston would have saved about 4 cents per mile while operating the Leafs, as long as enough charging stations were available. That’s even before counting any savings from bulk purchases or federal tax credits.

Charging stations

One significant problem holding back demand for electric vehicles is the shortage of charging stations. Greater availability of charging stations assures cities and consumers that full electrics like the Nissan Leaf can complete their trips, and lets plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt operate mostly in electric mode.

That’s why cities like Pittsburgh have obtained state grants to build their own, while utilities in Seattle and Kansas City are building charging stations to jump-start demand for electric cars.

Electric municipal fleets won’t by themselves propel cities all the way to their Paris-based pledges. But by speeding the adoption of charging stations and cleaner cars, they could help curb emissions – while saving money for urban taxpayers and improving public health.

Daniel Cohan, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, Rice University

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

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

World Economic Forum: “Beijing is replacing its fleet of 70,000 taxis with electric cars”

Making America a Pariah again?

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 - 12:22am

By Tom Engelhardt | (Tomdispatch.com) | – –

In its own inside-out, upside-down way, it’s almost wondrous to behold. As befits our president’s wildest dreams, it may even prove to be a record for the ages, one for the history books. He was, after all, the candidate who sensed it first.  When those he was running against, like the rest of Washington’s politicians, were still insisting that the United States remained at the top of its game, not an — but the — “indispensable nation,” the only truly “exceptional” one on the face of the Earth, he said nothing of the sort.  He campaigned on America’s decline, on this country’s increasing lack of exceptionality, its potential dispensability.  He ran on the single word “again” — as in “make America great again” — because (the implication was) it just isn’t anymore.  And he swore that he and he alone was the best shot Americans, or at least non-immigrant white Americans, had at ever seeing the best of days again. 

In that sense, he was our first declinist candidate for president and if that didn’t tell you something during the election season, it should have. No question about it, he hit a chord, rang a bell, because out in the heartland it was possible to sense a deepening reality that wasn’t evident in Washington.  The wealthiest country on the planet, the most militarily powerful in the history of… well, anybody, anywhere, anytime (or so we were repeatedly told)… couldn’t win a war, not even with the investment of trillions of taxpayer dollars, couldn’t do anything but spread chaos by force of arms.

Meanwhile, at home, despite all that wealth, despite billionaires galore, including the one running for president, despite the transnational corporate heaven inhabited by Google and Facebook and Apple and the rest of the crew, parts of this country and its infrastructure were starting to feel distinctly (to use a word from another universe) Third Worldish.  He sensed that, too.  He regularly said things like this: “We spent six trillion dollars in the Middle East, we got nothing… And we have an obsolete plane system. We have obsolete airports. We have obsolete trains. We have bad roads. Airports.”  And this: “Our airports are like from a third-world country.”  And on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, he couldn’t have been more on the mark.

In parts of the U.S., white working-class and middle-class Americans could sense that the future was no longer theirs, that their children would not have a shot at what they had had, that they themselves increasingly didn’t have a shot at what they had had.  The American Dream seemed to be gaining an almost nightmarish sheen, given that the real value of the average wage of a worker hadn’t increased since the 1970s; that the cost of a college education had gone through the roof and the educational debt burden for children with dreams of getting ahead was now staggering; that unions were cratering; that income inequality was at a historic high; and… well, you know the story, really you do.  In essence, for them the famed American Dream seemed ever more like someone else’s trademarked property. 

Indispensable? Exceptional? This country? Not anymore. Not as they were experiencing it.

And because of that, Donald Trump won the lottery.  He answered the $64,000 question.  (If you’re not of a certain age, Google it, but believe me it’s a reference in our president’s memory book.)  He entered the Oval Office with almost 50% of the vote and a fervent base of support for his promised program of doing it all over again, 1950s-style.

It had been one hell of a pitch from the businessman billionaire.  He had promised a future of stratospheric terrificness, of greatness on an historic scale. He promised to keep the evil ones — the rapists, job thieves, and terrorists — away, to wall them out or toss them out or ban them from ever traveling here.  He also promised to set incredible records, as only a mega-businessman like him could conceivably do, the sort of all-American records this country hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

And early as it is in the Trump era, it seems as if, on one score at least, he could deliver something for the record books going back to the times when those recording the acts of rulers were still scratching them out in clay or wax. At this point, there’s at least a chance that Donald Trump might preside over the most precipitous decline of a truly dominant power in history, one only recently considered at the height of its glory.  It could prove to be a fall for the ages.  Admittedly, that other superpower of the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, imploded in 1991, which was about the fastest way imaginable to leave the global stage.  Still, despite the “evil empire” talk of that era, the USSR was always the secondary, the weaker of the two superpowers.  It was never Rome, or Spain, or Great Britain.    

When it comes to the United States, we’re talking about a country that not so long ago saw itself as the only great power left on planet Earth, “the lone superpower.”  It was the one still standing, triumphant, at the end of a history of great power rivalry that went back to a time when the wooden warships of various European states first broke out into a larger world and began to conquer it.  It stood by itself at, as its proponents liked to claim at the time, the end of history.

Applying Hard Power to a Failing World

As we watch, it seems almost possible to see President Trump, in real time, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, sword dance by sword dance, intervention by intervention, act by act, in the process of dismantling the system of global power — of “soft power,” in particular, and of alliances of every sort — by which the U.S. made its will felt, made itself a truly global hegemon.  Whether his “America first” policies are aimed at creating a future order of autocrats, or petro-states, or are nothing more than the expression of his libidinous urges and secret hatreds, he may already be succeeding in taking down that world order in record fashion. 

Despite the mainstream pieties of the moment about the nature of the system Donald Trump appears to be dismantling in Europe and elsewhere, it was anything but either terribly “liberal” or particularly peaceable.  Wars, invasions, occupations, the undermining or overthrow of governments, brutal acts and conflicts of every sort succeeded one another in the years of American glory.  Past administrations in Washington had a notorious weakness for autocrats, just as Donald Trump does today.  They regularly had less than no respect for democracy if, from Iran to Guatemala to Chile, the will of the people seemed to stand in Washington’s way.  (It is, as Vladimir Putin has been only too happy to point out of late, an irony of our moment that the country that has undermined or overthrown or meddled in more electoral systems than any other is in a total snit over the possibility that one of its own elections was meddled with.)  To enforce their global system, Americans never shied away from torture, black sites, death squads, assassinations, and other grim practices.  In those years, the U.S. planted its military on close to 1,000 overseas military bases, garrisoning the planet as no other country ever had. 

Nonetheless, the cancelling of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, threats against NAFTA, the undermining of NATO, the promise of protective tariffs on foreign goods (and the possible trade wars that might go with them) could go a long way toward dismantling the American global system of soft power and economic dominance as it has existed in these last decades.  If such acts and others like them prove effective in the months and years to come, they will leave only one kind of power in the American global quiver: hard military power, and its handmaiden, the kind of covert power Washington, through the CIA in particular, has long specialized in. If America’s alliances crack open and its soft power becomes too angry or edgy to pass for dominant power anymore, its massive machinery of destruction will still be left, including its vast nuclear arsenal.  While, in the Trump era, a drive to cut domestic spending of every sort is evident, more money is still slated to go to the military, already funded at levels not reached by combinations of other major powers. 

Given the last 15 years of history, it’s not hard to imagine what’s likely to result from the further elevation of military power: disaster.  This is especially true because Donald Trump has appointed to key positions in his administration a crew of generals who spent the last decade and a half fighting America’s catastrophic wars across the Greater Middle East.  They are not only notoriously incapable of thinking outside the box about the application of military power, but faced with the crisis of failed wars and failing states, of spreading terror movements and a growing refugee crisis across that crucial region, they can evidently only imagine one solution to just about any problem: more of the same.  More troops, more mini-surges, more military trainers and advisers, more air strikes, more drone strikesmore.

After a decade and a half of such thinking we already know perfectly well where this ends — in further failure, more chaos and suffering, but above all in an inability of the U.S. to effectively apply its hard power anywhere in any way that doesn’t make matters worse.  Since, in addition, the Trump administration is filled with Iranophobes, including a president who has only recently fused himself to the Saudi royal family in an attempt to further isolate and undermine Iran, the possibility that a military-first version of American foreign policy will spread further is only growing.    

Such “more” thinking is typical as well of much of the rest of the cast of characters now in key positions in the Trump administration. Take the CIA, for instance.  Under its new director, Mike Pompeo (distinctly a “more” kind of guy and an Iranophobe of the first order), two key positions have reportedly been filled: a new chief of counterterrorism and a new head of Iran operations (recently identified as Michael D’Andrea, an Agency hardliner with the nickname “the Dark Prince”).  Here’s how Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman of the New York Times recently described their similar approaches to their jobs (my emphasis added):

“Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.”

In other words, more! 

Rest assured of one thing, whatever Donald Trump accomplishes in the way of dismantling America’s version of soft power, “his” generals and intelligence operatives will handle the hard-power part of the equation just as “ably.”

The First American Laster?

If a Trump presidency achieves a record for the ages when it comes to the precipitous decline of the American global system, little as The Donald ever cares to share credit for anything, he will undoubtedly have to share it for such an achievement.  It’s true that kings, emperors, and autocrats, the top dogs of any moment, prefer to take all the credit for the “records” set in their time.  When we look back, however, it’s likely that President Trump will be seen as having given a tottering system that necessary push.  It will undoubtedly be clear enough by then that the U.S., seemingly at the height of any power’s power in 1991 when the Soviet Union disappeared, began heading for the exits soon thereafter, still enwreathed in self-congratulation and triumphalism. 

Had this not been so, Donald Trump would never have won the 2016 election.  It wasn’t he, after all, who gave the U.S. heartland an increasingly Third World feel.  It wasn’t he who spent those trillions of dollars so disastrously on invasions and occupations, dead-end wars, drone strikes and special ops raids, reconstruction and deconstruction in a never-ending war on terror that today looks more like a war for the spread of terror.  It wasn’t he who created the growing inequality gap in this country or produced all those billionaires amid a population that increasingly felt left in the lurch.  It wasn’t he who hiked college tuitions or increased the debt levels of the young or set roads and bridges to crumbling and created the conditions for Third World-style airports.

If both the American global and domestic systems hadn’t been rotting out before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, that “again” of his wouldn’t have worked.  Thought of another way, when the U.S. was truly at the height of its economic clout and power, American leaders felt no need to speak incessantly of how “indispensable” or “exceptional” the country was.  It seemed too self-evident to mention. Someday, some historian may use those very words in the mouths of American presidents and other politicians (and their claims, for instance, that the U.S. military was “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known”) as a set of increasingly defensive markers for measuring the decline of American power.

So here’s the question: When the Trump years (months?) come to an end, will the U.S. be not the planet’s most exceptional land, but a pariah nation?  Will that “again” still be the story of the year, the decade, the century? Will the last American Firster turn out to have been the first American Laster?  Will it truly be one for the record books?

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 TomDispatch.com. 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

Via Tomdispatch.com

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