Informed Comment

Syndicate content
Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 1 day 2 hours ago

Mideast Partition Plans won’t Bring Peace, just Imperial Social Engineering

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 11:06pm

By Laura Robson | (Informed Comment) | – –

The idea that partition and population exchange might represent “solutions” to Middle Eastern conflict, long advocated by a wide variety of observers and commentators, is being put to the test.

Diplomats and pundits alike have proposed the sectarian partition of both Syria and Iraq for years. “It’s Time to Seriously Consider Partitioning Syria,” trumpeted a 2016 James Stavridis piece in Foreign Policy, echoing any number of similar proposals for Iraq ranging from what Fareed Zakaria called an “enclave” strategy toJoe Biden’s 2006 call for autonomous Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi‘i regions loosely connected via a federal government in Baghdad.

.

Click to buy States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (University of California Press, 2017).

Thomas Friedman is the latest to resurrect proposals for sectarian partition, with a column last week advocating the division of Syria and the construction of some kind of semi-autonomous Sunni area – guaranteed by external military force – as the “least bad solution” for Syria’s travails.

In Syria, where the civil war has taken on an increasingly sectarian cast, this idea is now being implemented. Small-scale sectarian population exchanges have begun, with Sunni and Shi‘i villagers swapping territory under the terms of a negotiated deal between the regime and the rebels under Iranian, Qatari, and Lebanese auspices. A few days ago, a bus convoy carrying Shi‘i evacuees became the target of a suicide bomb that killed more than a hundred people, including dozens of children. Despite the violence, all parties have agreed to continue the swap, with some sources reporting this weekend that as many as 30,000 people could be forcibly transferred over the next two months.

The impulse behind this isn’t humanitarianism; it’s imperialism. Partition and its conjoined twin, population transfer, emerged after World War I as strategies of external intervention designed to serve the purposes of European colonial ambition, and they have a long and disgraceful history in the twentieth century Middle East.

As the British and French empires struggled to take over new Middle Eastern territory after the First World War amid a global surge in anti-imperial nationalisms, they tried to find a way to present their colonial takeover as a form of altruistic modernization. So in collaboration with the new League of Nations, they created a system of “mandates,” and charged themselves with the task of remaking the pluralistic populations of the old Ottoman Arab provinces into modern nation-states. From the beginning of their occupations of Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, both the British and the French looked for ways to homogenize and standardize populations in ways that would strengthen imperial governance while making the case that they were merely trying to create viable political entities out of a primitive and highly sectarian region.

So, claiming to have the interests of various “minorities” in mind, the French high commission in Syria prevented Armenian refugees from assimilating into their host communities, instead maintaining them in distinct geographical blocs, recruiting them into colonial military forces, and using them to settle hard-to-control regions like the Jazira. In Iraq, the British coopted Assyrian refugees into the colonial “levies” and used them as both a military tool and a rationale to enforce British control over the oil-rich area around Mosul. This extended to Palestine too, with the British and the League of Nations alike offering support for the creation of European Jewish settler blocs and proposing, in 1937, mass population exchange and the creation of ethnically homogenous spaces as a “solution” to the post-Balfour morass.

Demographic engineering like this offered both a mechanism and an excuse for a continued European military presence. And the more resistance such plans engendered, the stronger the case became for a more or less permanent colonial occupation. That it often made victims of the very communities it was claiming to protect was irrelevant to its backers. Likewise, contemporary calls for partition and transfer in Iraq and Syria have nothing to do with protecting populations on the ground. In fact, as was demonstrated this week, advocates are willing to stomach very high levels of violence to accomplish their goals.

Partition and population exchange are not being proposed because they work to reduce bloodshed; they are being proposed because they are both rhetorically and practically useful to the wide variety of external actors intent on maintaining and expanding their positions in Syria and Iraq. They elide external responsibility for contemporary Middle Eastern violence by assigning sectarian origins to state collapse and civil war. They buttress the idea, valuable in so many different contexts, that the Middle East is so fundamentally divided that security there is impossible without an external force acting as mediator. They offer both a rationale and a means for exerting physical influence on the ground. And when they go wrong and turn violent – as partitions and transfers inevitably do – they can be presented as yet another example of why external political and military intervention will unfortunately be needed for the foreseeable future.

Laura Robson is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Portland State University. Her most recent book is States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle EastUniversity of California Press, 2017.

Can the Left Rebuild in the Deep South?

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 11:06pm

The Atlantic | (Video News Clip) | – –

“Georgia’s sixth congressional district is a Republican stronghold—a Democrat hasn’t won in nearly 40 years. Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide, is trying to change that. Backed by anti-Trump forces across the country, Ossoff has raised a striking 8.3 million dollars and has a chance of winning Georgia’s special election on April 18, 2017. In this Atlantic documentary, we go inside Ossoff’s campaign. The left is the energized and working hard for an Ossoff victory, but so are those who see the candidate as inexperienced, overly groomed, and out of touch.”

The Atlantic: “Can the Left Rebuild in the Deep South?”

As Leftist Turks Protest, Trump congratulates Erdogan on Authoritarian Turn

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 2:33am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Several hundred Turks demonstrated in Istanbul on Monday in protest at the referendum result on Sunday transforming Turkey into a presidential system and handing vast powers to right wing politician Tayyip Erdogan.

In contrast, US president Donald J. Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory. Social media is saying that Trump only wishes he could get the kind of power Erdogan just did.

Trump confidant Lt Gen. (ret) Mike Flynn was hired last summer and fall by a firm close to Erdogan and he appears to have hidden or under-reported his substantial income from Turkish graft. Had he not been forced out, Erdogan would have had a mole in the National Security Council.

In Istanbul, demonstrators shouted “Shoulder to Shoulder against Fascism!” as the marched on the HQ of the High Electoral Commission.

Another rally was held in Istanbul’s Besiktas neighborhood, known as a bastion of secularism.

Leaders of the People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the two opposition parties in parliament who hold about a third of the seats, hastened to reject the outcome of the referendum. They maintained that the High Electoral Commission decided after voting was already underway to count contested ballots, and that it was unfair to change the rules abruptly.

Scattered, smaller demonstrations took place throughout Turkey. Some 13 persons were arrested in Antalya.

France 24 reports that

“However, Tana de Zulueta, head of the observer mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe specifically criticised a decision by Turkey’s electoral board to accept ballots that did not have official stamps, saying it removed key safeguards and undermined the fight against fraud. The system is designed to ensure that only one vote is cast per registered person and to avoid the possibility of ballot box-stuffing.”

Also on Monday, Erdogan extended the state of emergency declared after the failed coup of July 15, 2016, for the third time. Under this law, basic civil liberties such as habeas corpus are suspended. Over 100,000 government employees have been fired in the past 8 months, with professors fired or chased out of the country along with journalists.

—–

Related video:

The Young Turks: “Was Turkey’s Election Rigged? (Spoiler: Probably)”

Was US Airstrike on Syrian Mosque a War Crime?

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 1:38am

Human Rights Watch | – –

(Washington, DC) – United States forces appear to have failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties in a March 16, 2017 strike that killed at least 38 people in western Aleppo in Syria, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 16-page report, “Attack on the Omar Ibn al-Khatab Mosque: US Authorities’ Failure to Take Adequate Precautions,” found that statements by US military authorities after the attack indicate that they failed to understand that the targeted building was a mosque, that prayer was about to begin, and that a religious lecture was taking place at the time of the attack. A proper analysis of the target and its use would probably have established at least some of these elements. Human Rights Watch has not found evidence to support the allegation that members of al-Qaeda or any other armed group were meeting in the mosque.

“The US seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The US authorities need to figure out what went wrong, start doing their homework before they launch attacks, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Excerpt from video by Forensic Architecture, which conducted a separate investigation of the attack. The findings are consistent with those of Human Rights Watch. © 2017 Forensic Architecture

US authorities have said they will investigate both whether civilians were killed in the attack and whether the building hit was part of a complex belonging to a mosque. The US government should make public the detailed findings of its investigation, provide adequate redress to civilian victims or their families, and hold those responsible for the attack to account.

Human Rights Watch interviewed by phone 14 people with firsthand knowledge of the attack, including four who were in the mosque at the time of the attack. In carrying out the investigation, Human Rights Watch used some of the research provided by the open source investigative group Bellingcat, which analyzed video footage and photographs from the attack, and Forensic Architecture, which created models of the mosque and a reconstruction of the attack. However, Human Rights Watch, Bellingcat, and Forensic Architecture conducted separate investigations into the attack.

Excerpt from video by Forensic Architecture, which conducted a separate investigation of the attack. The findings are consistent with those of Human Rights Watch. © 2017 Forensic Architecture

At about 7 p.m. on March 16, US aircraft attacked a location southwest of al-Jinah, a village in western Aleppo province. US military authorities have acknowledged that they carried out the strike, saying that they targeted a meeting of al-Qaeda members.

While US officials acknowledged that there was a mosque nearby, they claimed that the targeted building was a partially constructed community hall. But information from local residents, photographs, and video footage of the building before and after the attack show that the targeted building was also a mosque. Local residents said that the mosque was well-known and widely used by people in the area, and that dozens, if not hundreds, of people were gathering in the building at prayer times. While the mosque did not have a minaret or a dome, aerial surveillance should have shown the people gathering. Any attempt to verify through people with local knowledge what kind of building this was would likely have established that the building was a mosque.

US authorities also appear to have inadequately understood the pattern of life in the area. A US official said that the attack happened after evening prayer had concluded, implying that civilians had left the area. While it is not clear which prayer the official referred to, the sunset or night prayer, US statements show that the attack took place at about 6:55 p.m., just 15 minutes before night prayer on that day. Even if US authorities believed that the targeted building was a community hall, the knowledge that prayer was about to start was relevant because they knew that another mosque was nearby. Information about prayer times is easily accessible online and should have been well-known by US authorities.

Local residents said that it was well-known in the area that the religious group in charge of the mosque was holding religious lectures in the targeted building every Thursday between sunset prayer and evening prayer, around the time of the attack. Any attempt to gather information about the targeted building from people with local knowledge might also have alerted US authorities to this fact.

Human Rights Watch has not found evidence to support the allegation that members of al-Qaeda or any other armed group were meeting in the mosque. Local residents said that no members of armed groups were at the mosque or in the area at the time of the attack. The residents said that the victims were all civilians and local residents. First responders said the dead and injured wore civilian clothes and that they saw no weapons at the site. US authorities have released no information to support their claims that members of armed groups were in the mosque.




April 18, 2017 Report Attack on the Omar Ibn al-Khatab Mosque

US Authorities’ Failure to Take Adequate Precautions

Even if armed group members were in the mosque, understanding the nature of the targeted building and the pattern of life around the building would be crucial to assessing the risk to civilians and taking necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Striking a mosque just before prayer and then attacking people attempting to flee without knowing whether they were civilians or combatants may well have been disproportionate or indiscriminate. Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks violate the laws of war, as does failing to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian deaths.

Syria Civil Defense, a search and rescue group operating in opposition-controlled territory, said that it recovered 38 bodies from the site. The group published the names of 28 who were identified by relatives at the site, including five children, saying that 10 bodies were unidentified.

The laws of war strictly prohibit attacks targeting civilians or civilian structures, including mosques, unless they were being used for military purposes. The laws of war also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, which fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and disproportionate attacks, in which the civilian casualties or damage to civilian buildings is excessive considering the military advantage gained. All feasible precautions must be taken by all parties to the conflict to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.

Serious violations of the laws of war can amount to war crimes. These include deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects, including mosques, or carrying out attacks in the knowledge that they will likely result in indiscriminate or disproportionate death or injury to civilians. The US authorities’ failure to recognize the most fundamental aspects of the target and pattern of life around the target raises the question of whether individuals were criminally reckless in authorizing the attack.

Human Rights Watch submitted its findings to the US Central Command. In response, the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate said in a letter dated April 14, 2017 that based on “a thorough examination of the classified intelligence used to inform the targeting decision and the classified intelligence that emerged following the airstrike…[a] comprehensive investigation reached the preliminary conclusion that the strike was lawful.” The letter said that the US Central Command will “carefully review this incident” in light of the Human Rights Watch report.

On March 28, Human Rights Watch said that procedural changes for authorizing airstrikes in Iraq raise concerns about the protection of civilians, especially following airstrikes in Mosul on March 17 that allegedly caused dozens of civilian deaths.

“Whatever changes the US administration makes to how they authorize and carry out attacks, it should make sure that they are in line with international law,” Solvang said. “Otherwise civilians will die unnecessary and US officials risk being charged with war crimes.”

Via Human Rights Watch

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: ” Air raid hits Syria mosque, civilians killed”

Trump White House Taking “Marching Orders” from Hundreds of CEOs: Report

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 1:13am

Nadia Prupis, staff writer | ( Commondreams.org ) | – –

One of every five of the corporate executives who met with the Trump administration within the first 100 days represented the banking or financial sector’

“President Trump not only has betrayed the promises of candidate Trump by failing to break up the special-interest monopoly in Washington, D.C., he has invited the special interests into the White House and asked them for guidance on how to deepen and perpetuate their monopoly.”

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has met with at least 190 corporate executives, not including phone calls with heads of banks or his numerous Wall Street appointees, the watchdog group Public Citizen reported Monday in a new analysis.

And since the November election itself, he’s met with at least 224.

“One of every five of the corporate executives who met with the Trump administration within the first 100 days represented the banking or financial sector, a particular focus of Trump’s criticism during the campaign,” Public Citizen noted in a write-up of its findings.

The group’s report comes just days after the Trump administration announced it would not disclose visitor logs from the White House, Trump Towers, or the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort to the public.

With those documents unavailable, Public Citizen developed its analysis via news reports and White House press releases.

The gatherings reflect the administration’s interest in giving special treatment to corporate sectors, such as Big Pharma, banks, and the automotive industry, among others—and it’s yet another example of Trump breaking his “drain the swamp” campaign promises, Public Citizen said.

“Donald Trump has asked America’s CEOs for marching orders, and in meeting after meeting, they are happily issuing instructions,” said the group’s president Robert Weissman. “As best anyone can decipher what’s going on at the White House, the CEOs are in charge now—and they are predictably advocating their narrow, short-term profitability interests, not what’s in America’s interest.”

Sheldon Adelson, David Koch, and Carl Lindner III are among the wealthy benefactors that Trump has met with in his first 100 days; he’s also entertained JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical, and Doug McMillon of Wal-Mart, along with four separate executives from Fox News.

“President Trump not only has betrayed the promises of candidate Trump by failing to break up the special-interest monopoly in Washington, D.C., he has invited the special interests into the White House and asked them for guidance on how to deepen and perpetuate their monopoly,” Weissman said.

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

Via Commondreams.org

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The White House: “President Trump Leads a Strategic and Policy CEO Discussion”

Over 1,000 Palestinian Prisoners Launch Mass Hunger Strike

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 12:57am

TeleSur | – –

“Salutes of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Glory to the martyrs. Freedom for the prisoners of freedom,” stated the PFLP in support of the strikers.

On Palestinian Prisoner’s Day Monday, hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons staged a mass hunger strike, continuing the decades-long resistance of prisoners in the apartheid state.

Ma’an News Agency reported that prisoners throughout the country have purged all food products from their cells and have shaved their heads. According to Israel’s prison service, some 1,187 detainees from across the political spectrum are participating, with support from groups as diverse as the Palestine Liberation Organization  to the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, known as the PFLP.

In a statement in support of the strike, PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi affirmed on behalf of Palestinian leadership “unwavering commitment to ensuring the safe and unconditional release of all 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners.”

According to Ma’an, these prisoners include 57 women, 300 children, 13 members of parliament, 500 administrative detainees, 800 prisoners who require medical care and 18 journalists.

PFLP Prison Branch urges action & unity to support Pal prisoners engaged in the battle for dignity https://t.co/A3lygv1ktm #PrisonersDay

— صوت الجبهة الشعبية (@PFLP_info) April 17, 2017

“Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip began nearly 50 years ago, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been kidnapped and imprisoned by Israel, and in the past two years alone, at least 13 discriminatory and racist laws have been enacted by the Israeli government that deliberately target Palestinian prisoners and are in direct violation of international law and conventions,” Ashrawi wrote in her impassioned statement.

“The entire global community should be alarmed by Israel’s willful breach and devaluation of the rights and lives of Palestinian political prisoners, especially in regards to the imprisonment and ill-treatment of Palestinian men, women, children, and the elderly," she added.

The PFLP also released a statement in support of the strikers, saying, “…We salute every prisoner, the heroes and heroines of the battles of will and steadfastness … to the sick prisoners, administrative detainees and imprisoned leaders … and the long line of leaders who represent the national struggle and the prisoners’ cause.”

This 12-yr-old Palestinian girl spent 75 days in Israel’s prison…u know the…"only democracy in the Middle East" #PalestinianPrisonersDay pic.twitter.com/Q2cBvcrgPd

— Abbs Winston (@AbbsWinston) April 17, 2017

“We hope that the culmination of all of these battles waged by the prisoners inside the prisons, with the popular support inside and outside Palestine, will be to unify the prisoners’ movement, in light of the traditions and norms established by the prisoners’ movement for over 50 years, of prisons as revolutionary schools which unite all forces behind revolutionary national ideals,” the PFLP concluded.

The group also congratulated the longest-serving woman prisoner, Lena Jarbouni, on her freedom after 15 years in Israeli jails. 

Israeli authorities released Jarbouni Sunday, who stressed upon her release the right of Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation. She also expressed support for the prisoner’s strike. 

Ahmad Herzallah, a former detainee and now with the Mohjat al-Quds Prisoners’ Association explained Jarbouni’s case to teleSUR. "Lina Jarbouni has been subjected to all forms of humiliation and repression practiced by the Zionist enemy against Palestinian detainees," he said. "She is the only female prisoner who remained in Israeli custody after the Gilad Shalit’s exchange deal between Hamas and Israel in 2011, despite (the fact that) the agreement stipulated the release of all female prisoners under the deal."

Jarbouni was detained on April 18, 2002 after Israeli army troops raided her home in the town of Arraba in Galilee over alleged charges of her affiliation with the Islamic Jihad movement and for housing Palestinian resistance fighters. Known for her advocacy for women’s rights inside Israeli jails, Jabrouni was elected to a leadership position of an organization of female Palestinian detainees in the Hasharon Prison.

WATCH: Silencing Palestine, Prison and Repression

The strike, which started Monday, is being led by Palestinian resistance leader Marwan Barghouti, who despite being imprisoned, has been touted as a possible future successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Despite the mass uprising, an Israel Prison Service official reportedly said they would not be responding to any of the prisoners’ demands, according to Ma’an.

Meanwhile, Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan has ordered a separate military hospital to be set up so that hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners are not taken to civilian hospitals.These hospitals have so far refused to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, in line with accepted medical ethics that force-feeding is a form of torture.

The Israeli Supreme Court, however, recently ruled that force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners is constitutional.

While the strike began Monday, it is intended to be an open-ended one, with more prisoners expected to take part as the days go on. Protesters in support of the strikers are also staging mass rallies.

Via TeleSur

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Inmates begin hunger strike on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day”

Turkish Democracy in Trouble, but not Because of Presidential System

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 - 2:45am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkey’s historic referendum on Sunday will move the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Many observers are sounding a death knell for Turkish democracy as a result, but the move to presidentialism in and of itself isn’t the problem.

Interestingly, Erdogan won with a similar demographic profile to that of the 2016 US presidential election. Erdogan’s constitutional change largely triumphed on the basis of rural and provincial voters but was rejected by the big cities. Turkey’s equivalent of the Red States drove the change.

Turkey is in essence moving from a British parliamentary system to a French presidential one.

In a parliamentary system, there is no strong separation of powers, since the prime minister represents the executive but he is elected by and functions within the legislature.

In a presidential system, the is a separation of powers and parliament is not so beholden to the executive.

Although some political scientists have argued that parliamentary systems are more stable than presidential ones, others have complained that his generalization is skewed (most presidents were in Latin America, e.g.).

The 18-point referendum even has a few areas where it is more democratic. The age at which candidates can serve in parliament was lowered from 25 to 18!

The real problem with Turkish democracy is not that it is parliamentary or presidential. It is that it isn’t functioning very well and that the executive is grabbing extra-constitutional powers.

The July 15, 2016, failed coup, gave Erdogan the pretext to declare a state of emergency suspending civil liberties. (National states of emergency have always struck me as fairly stupid. The nation never needs its rights more than when there is an emergency). He has by decree just fired over 100,000 people from government jobs, has fired large numbers of university professors, has dissolved entire universities. In most instances there has been no judicial procedure.

There apparently hasn’t ever been any real freedom of the press in Turkey. This sad state of affairs was revealed with the Gezi Park protests in 2013, when it became obvious that the press was afraid to cover them or to offer a point of view on the protests differing from that of the government.

Since the failed coup, things have of course gotten dramatically worse, with many journalists jailed or chased out of the country. But these steps were taken in a parliamentary system, after all.

Then there is a tyranny of the majority. Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t believe in minority rights and Turkey has no Connecticut Compromise. Erdogan’s center-right, religiously-inflected Justice and Development Party (AKP) appears to have the reliable support of a bare simple majority of the population. But he is typically also supported by the rightwing nationalist party, the MHP. Between the two of them he typically has had about 2/3s of parliament behind him.

As long as that configuration remained stable (and it has been true since 2002), Erdogan and other AKP leaders have had virtually no checks, even in a parliamentary system.

Actually, in this referendum Erdogan’s typical coalition broke down slightly, so that he was not able to get 2/3s but only a simple majority. The larger cities all defected (Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir), even though Ankara and Istanbul had in the past been strongholds of AKP. So Erdogan won his referendum almost entirely on the basis of the rural Sunni Turkish vote. Rural Kurds in the southwest (many of whom had been in his parliamentary majority) also defected.

So Turkey’s system has been changed by provincial Turkish Sunnis, over the objection of urban people and of rural Kurds and Alevis.

. h/t Hurriyet

There are, of course, anti-democratic implications of some of these changes. Under the old system, the president was symbolic and could not remain head of a political party, so that Erdogan faced the possibility of losing control of the AKP. Now he can be president and party head at the same time (as the US president is). In essence, Erdogan has gained a potential political longevity under the new system that was not assured to him under the old. Since Erdogan’s actual aim is to move Turkey to a dictatorship Lite, what some call “illiberal democracy,” his new shot at remaining in power for a decade or more gives him plenty of time to implement that project. (I say this as someone who argued since the early 2000s that the AKP and Erdogan should be given a chance to build a pluralist society. You could say I was always wrong. Or you could say Erdogan abruptly changed on me. Either way, I haven’t come to this conclusion glibly).

He also can now shape the judiciary unilaterally, which bodes ill for the future. He will almost certainly pack the courts with, if not fundamentalists, then very conservative judges who lean toward religion.

In that sense, sure. Turkey’s brief experiment with pluralistic democracy is definitively over with. But probably it has been dead for a while, and some at the funeral were too polite to say so.

——

Related video:

Turkey referendum: Erdogan wins vote to expand presidential powers – BBC News

Neoconservatives almost Giddy over Trump Syria Strike

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 - 12:55am

By Jim Lobe | FPIF | (Originally published in Lobelog) | – –

Many architects of the Iraq War openly hope Trump will go further in pursuing regime change in Syria — and then Iran.

After the pre-dawn cruise-missile strike against Syria’s al-Shayrat airfield, neoconservative hawks, many of whom beat the drums for war in Iraq 14 years ago, are feeling the warm spring breezes of renewal and rejuvenation. Suddenly hopeful that Donald Trump may yet be coming around to their worldview, neoconservatives are full of praise for the action, which they (like many liberal interventionists) insist was long overdue.

Not surprisingly, neocons are pressing for more.

The strike, which marked a dramatic reversal by a president who had strongly opposed any similar action by Barack Obama in 2013, coincided with a number of reports that Steve Bannon’s influence on Trump was on the wane amid intensified infighting between Bannon’s “nationalism” and Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn’s “globalism.” The potential eclipse of Bannon has only added to the giddiness of the neocons as they anticipate what might now be possible.

For now, at least, it’s the generals — in the form of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Pentagon chief James “Mad Dog” Mattis — who appear to be masters of the moment both with respect to the decision to strike and the specificity of the target. The principal justification for the strike — to uphold the international ban on chemical weapons as opposed to, say, the broader aim of “regime change” — was also narrowly drawn, reflecting the military’s determination to avoid being drawn into yet another Middle East civil war.

Nonetheless, the neocons, who have rarely met a slippery military slope they weren’t tempted to roll down, embraced wholeheartedly both the strike and its justification. They view it as a first — but absolutely necessary — step toward a new phase of U.S. interventionism of precisely the kind that Bannon and his “nationalist” and Islamophobic allies abhor. The perceived decline in Bannon’s influence gives them an opening that, until this week’s events, they thought was out of reach.

Thus, the dominant theme for neocons in the strike’s aftermath was applause for what they see as an abandonment of Obama’s post-Libya policy of military restraint and, quite possibly, the restoration of Washington’s credibility as the global hegemon newly resolved to impose its will anywhere it sees a threat to its vital interests very broadly defined.

Neocons Exult

Elliott Abrams, a top Mideast aide to Bush who Trump rejected as deputy secretary of state reportedly as a result of Bannon’s opposition, thus exulted in the Weekly Standard over Thursday’s strike with the kind of capitalized flattery that appeared as carefully targeted at Trump’s enormous ego as the most sophisticated cruise missile. No doubt, Abrams still entertains hopes of getting a top post in the administration if Bannon’s declining influence is true.

The president has been chief executive since January 20, but this week he acted also as Commander in Chief. And more: he finally accepted the role of Leader of the Free World. …

And the strike will have far wider effects [beyond Syria]. It was undertaken while Chinese president Xi was with Trump in Florida. Surely this new image of a president willing to act will affect their conversations about North Korea. Vladimir Putin will think again about his relations with the United States, and will realize that the Obama years of passivity are truly over. Allies and friends will be cheered, while enemies will realize times have changed. When next the Iranians consider swarming around an American ship in the Gulf, they may think again.

Bill Kristol — the Standard’s editor-at-large and co-founder and director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which did so much to coordinate with the Bush administration in rallying elite support for the Iraq invasion — declared Abrams’s analysis a “must read” in a tweet issued Friday morning.

Indeed, prominent neocons clearly saw their opportunity after the lethal chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province Tuesday to press their agenda on the administration.

None other than Paul Wolfowitz, Bush’s deputy defense secretary and a chief architect of the Iraq invasion and disastrous aftermath, suggested in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that statements by Trump’s senior officials suggesting that Washington was reconciled to Assad’s continued rule over the country may have emboldened the Syrian leader to test the limits.

Let us hope Mr. Trump will reassess the impact of recent statements by members of his administration indicating that the U.S. is prepared to live with the Assad regime. The Syrians — and their Russian and Iranian backers — might well have interpreted this as a signal that they could continue terrorizing the population.

Encouraged by Trump’s initial verbal condemnation of the gas attack, Wolfowitz made clear that action was required:

President Trump may have initially believed that he could avoid the fork in the road presented by the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria by simply blaming the crime on Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his “red line” four years ago. Fortunately it seems he has reconsidered.

To drive the point home, the Journal editors headlined the op-ed “For Syria, Words Won’t Be Enough: Trump says attacking civilians crosses ‘many lines.’ Will he back it up?”

Meanwhile, the looniest among the neocons, former CIA director James Woolsey — who was one of the first to publicly claim a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 — was urging trump to do much, much more than a simple retaliatory strike.

This at least gives us an opportunity to do something that is tied to the Syrian events, and that would be to use force against the Iranian nuclear program … If we want to change the nature of the threat to us in that part of the world, what we have to do is take out the Iranian nuclear program — if we can without hitting any Russian units — and some of the Syrian capability.

Pump Up the Volume

Although most other neocons were not quite so explicit about their fondest desires, they made perfectly clear that the cruise-missile strike should only be a first step toward a larger regional strategy designed to roll back Iranian (and Russian) influence (much as PNAC warned after 9/11 that taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan should only be a first step in the war against terror). Writing in the New York Daily News, Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) argued that

President Trump’s decision to attack the airfield from which the most recent chemical attack was launched must be the start of a new strategy. It must begin a campaign to drive the Assad regime to compromise. It must be the start of an effort to regain the confidence of Sunni Arabs in Syria and around the world that the U.S. stands with them against all those who would attack them, ISIS and Al Qaeda as well as Iran and its proxies.

Katherine Zimmerman has also echoed this theme of backing the region’s Sunni states. Like both Wolfowitz and Kagan, Zimmerman is based at AEI, the neoconservative think tank that not only led the public campaign for invading Iraq but played a critical role in planning the post-invasion occupation.

The US cruise missile strikes are the first step to restoring America’s credibility within the very population — the Sunni Arabs — that it must win over to secure its strategic interests in the Middle East. The action against the Assad regime starts to chip away at al Qaeda’s narrative that it alone is the defender of the Syrian Sunni. But an isolated response will not achieve systemic effects. It is impossible to defeat al Qaeda and ISIS without the support of the Sunni, and re-establishing America’s credibility will certainly be difficult.

(The irony of AEI’s strong backing for Sunnis throughout the region is particularly rich given its historic role in enhancing the influence of Ahmad Chalabi in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Once re-installed in Iraq, Chalabi, a Shiite, was the principal driver of the “de-Baathification” that principally victimized Iraqi Sunnis.)

The same message was conveyed Friday by Christopher Griffin, the executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), PNAC’s lineal descendant, in a bulletin entitled “Syria Airstrike Necessary But Insufficient” in which he argued for reviving U.S. efforts to “empower a moderate opposition” to Assad with the larger ambition of diminishing Iran’s influence.

It may now be possible for the U.S. to coordinate a meaningful coalition that brings together its Sunni Arab allies and potential partners within the Syrian opposition. Since 2014, a major constraint on that coordination has been Washington’s insistence on supporting only military operations against ISIS, and not the Assad regime. If American policy is revised, it will create new opportunities to protect the Syrian people from the Assad regime and to legitimize non-extremist alternatives to the ISIS and al Qaeda affiliates in Syria. …

If American pressure can limit Russian support while bringing together a more effective anti-Assad coalition, the United States may be able to isolate Iran and place one of its few allies in the Middle East at risk. The United States should not hesitate to seize such an opportunity.

Neocon Overlap with Trump

Of course, this is precisely where the neocon agenda overlaps with that of Pentagon chief James Mattis who, of all the members of the Cabinet, seems to enjoy the greatest influence with Trump at the moment.

Since serving as chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), he has said on numerous occasions that Tehran poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East (although, unlike many neocons, he strongly supports complying with the 2015 nuclear deal). Late last month, the current CENTCOM commander, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, repeated that threat assessment and even suggested that he was eager to confront Iran militarily, presumably short of war. “We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities,” he said.

CENTCOM, of course, has always been cozy with — and relied on — the region’s Sunni autocrats, whose seemingly insatiable appetite for sophisticated U.S. weaponry has the added benefit of profiting U.S. arms producers (on whose boards retired brass often serve).

With Mattis at the Pentagon, Obama’s notion that Washington can help bring about some kind of equilibrium between the Sunni-led Gulf states to begin stabilizing the region is long gone. Washington’s clear alignment with the Emiratis and Saudis in their catastrophic Yemen campaign since Trump took power makes that particularly clear. And, with Netanyahu publicly boasting about Israel’s growing security cooperation with the Gulfies, especially with the United Arab Emirates, out of their mutual hostility toward Iran, the convergence between the neocons and the Pentagon, at least insofar as the Middle East is concerned, is growing.

At the same time, however, the military has learned through painful experience, notably in Iraq, that indulging neocon notions such as “regime change” and “nation-building” is the road to perdition. If the neocons want to gain influence with the ascendant powers in the administration — Mattis, McMaster, and the brass — they have to proceed delicately, one step at a time.

For example, Kristol’s tweet Saturday afternoon — “Punishing Assad for use of chemical weapons is good. Regime change in Iran is the prize” — is not going to help their cause. Similarly, if you’re looking for slippery slopes, look no further than the advice proffered by Kristol’s partner-in-hegemonism at PNAC and FPI, Bob Kagan, who argued for a slew of follow-up steps in a column entitled “What Must Come Next in Syria” in the Washington Post.

Griffin was one of about 150 mainly neocon national-security wonks who signed letters insisting that they would never serve in a Trump administration, an act that probably disqualifies him for consideration. Some prominent neocons — including Abrams, Fred Kagan, former Cheney national security adviser John Hannah, former Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, former assistant secretary of state Stephen Rademaker, and Abrams’ Mideast aide on the National Security Council Michael Doran, to name a few — decided against signing. Given the scores of senior foreign-policy positions that remain unfilled under Trump, this may be their moment.

Indeed, if Bannon and the “nationalists” are truly in eclipse, even some of those who signed those letters may now be back in consideration.

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

Via FPIF

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Ring of Fire: “Donald Trump Has No Conscience, He Only Sees Profits”

Can a New Era of Progressive Protest Revolutionize our values in Age of Trump?

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 - 12:30am

By Ira Chernus | ( Tomdispatch.com ) | – –

You could hear the deep sadness in the preacher’s voice as he named “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”  With those words, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., launched a scathing indictment of America’s war in Vietnam. It was April 4, 1967.

That first antiwar sermon of his seemed to signal a new high tide of opposition to a brutal set of American policies in Southeast Asia. Just 11 days later, unexpectedly large crowds would come out in New York and San Francisco for the first truly massive antiwar rallies. Back then, a protest of at least a quarter of a million seemed yuge.

King signaled another turning point when he concluded his speech by bringing up “something even more disturbing” — something that would deeply disturb the developing antiwar movement as well. “The war in Vietnam,” he said, “is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”

Many of those who gathered at antiwar rallies days later were already beginning to suspect the same thing. Even if they could actually force their government to end its war in Vietnam, they would be healing only a symptom of a far more profound illness.  With that realization came a shift in consciousness, the clearest sign of which could be found in the sizeable contingent of countercultural hippies who began joining those protests. While antiwar radicals were challenging the unjust political and military policies of their government, the counterculturists were focused on something bigger: trying to revolutionize the whole fabric of American society.

Why recall this history exactly 50 years later, in the age of Donald Trump? Curiously enough, King offered at least a partial answer to that question in his 1967 warning about the deeper malady. “If we ignore this sobering reality,” he said, “we will find ourselves… marching… and attending rallies without end.”  The alternative?  “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” 

Like many of my generation, I feel as if, in lieu of that radical revolution, I have indeed been marching and attending rallies for the last half-century, even if there were also long fallow periods of inactivity. (In those quiet times, of course, there was always organizing and activism going on behind the scenes, preparing for the next wave of marches and demonstrations in response to the next set of obvious outrages.)

If the arc of history bends toward justice, as King claimed, it’s been a strange journey, a bizarre twisting and turning as if we were all on some crazed roller-coaster ride.

The Trump era already seems like the most bizarre twist of all, leaving us little choice but to march and rally at a quickening pace for years to come.  A radical revolution in values?  Unless you’re thinking of Trump’s plutocrats and environment wreckers, not so much. If anything, the nation once again finds itself facing an exaggerated symptom of a far deeper malady. Perhaps one day, like the antiwar protestors of 1967, anti-Trump protestors will say: If the American system we live under can create this atrocity, there must be something wrong with the whole thing. 

But that’s the future.  At present, the resistance movement, though as unexpectedly large as the movement of 1967, is still focused mainly on symptoms, the expanding list of inhumane 1% policies the Republicans (themselves in chaos) are preparing to foist on the nation. Yet to come up are the crucial questions: What’s wrong with our system? How could it produce a President Trump, a Republican hegemony, and the society-wrecking policies that go with them both? What would a radically new direction mean and how would we head there?

In 1967, antiwar activists were groping their way toward answers to similar questions. At least we have one advantage.  We can look back at their answers and use them to help make sense of our own situation. As it happens, theirs are still depressingly relevant because the systemic malady that produced the Vietnam War is a close cousin to the one that has now given us President Trump.

Diagnosing Our Deep Sickness

The Sixties spawned many analyses of the ills of the American system. The ones that marked that era as revolutionary concluded that the heart of the problem was a distinctive mode of consciousness — a way of seeing, experiencing, interpreting, and being in the world. Political and cultural radicals converged, as historian Todd Gitlin concluded, in their demand for a transformation of “national if not global (or cosmic) consciousness.”

Nor was such a system uniquely American, they discovered. It was nothing less than the hallmark of Western modernity.

In exploring the nature of that “far deeper malady,” Martin Luther King, for instance, turned to the European philosopher Martin Buber, who found the root of that consciousness in modernity’s “I-It” attitude. From early childhood, he suggested, we learn to see other people as mere objects (“its”) with no inherent relation to us. In the process, we easily lose sight of their full humanity.  That, in turn, allows us free rein to manipulate others (or as in Vietnam simply destroy them) for our own imagined benefit.

King particularly decried such dehumanization as it played itself out in American racism: “Segregation substitutes an ‘I-it’ relationship for the ‘I-thou’ relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things.” But he condemned it no less strongly in the economic sphere, where it affected people of all races. “The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system,” he said, “encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspire men to be more I-centered than thou-centered… Capitalism fails to realize that life is social.”

Another influential thinker of that era was a German-American philosopher, Herbert Marcuse. (Some radicals even marched in rallies carrying signs reading “Marx, Mao, Marcuse.”) For him, the dehumanization of modernity was rooted in the way science and technology led us to view nature as a mere collection of “things” having no inherent relation to us — things to be analyzed, controlled, and if necessary destroyed for our own benefit.

Capitalists use technology, he explained, to build machines that take charge both of the workers who run them and of aspects of the natural world. The capitalists then treat those workers as so many things, not people. And the same hierarchy — boss up here, bossed down there — shows up at every level of society from the nuclear family to the international family of nations (with its nuclear arsenals). In a society riddled with structures of domination, it was no accident that the U.S. was pouring so much lethal effort into devastating Vietnam.

As Marcuse saw it, however, the worst trick those bosses play on us is to manipulate our consciousness, to seduce us into thinking that the whole system makes sense and is for our own good. When those machines are cranking out products that make workers’ lives more comfortable, most of them are willing to embrace and perpetuate a system that treats them as dominated objects.

Marcuse would not have been surprised to see so many workers voting for Donald Trump, a candidate who built his campaign on promises of ever more intensified domination — of marginalized people at home, of “bad hombres” needing to be destroyed abroad, and of course, of nature itself, especially in the form of fossil fuels on a planet where the very processes he championed ensured a future of utter devastation.

One explanation for the electoral success of Trump was the way he appealed to heartland white working-class voters who saw their standard of living and sense of social status steadily eroding. Living in a world in which hierarchy and domination are taken for granted, it’s hardly surprising that many of them took it for granted as well that the only choice available was either to be a dominator or to be dominated. Vote for me, the billionaire businessman (famed for the phrase “You’re fired!”) implicitly promised and you, too, will be one of the dominators. Vote against me and you’re doomed to remain among the dominated. Like so many other tricks of the system, this one defied reality but worked anyway.

Many Trump voters who bought into the system will find themselves facing even harsher domination by the 1%. And as the Trumpian fantasy of man dominating nature triggers inevitable twenty-first-century blowback on a planetary scale, count on growing environmental and social disasters to bring disproportionate pain to those already suffering most under the present system. In every arena, as Marcuse explained back in the 1960s, the system of hierarchy and domination remains self-perpetuating and self-escalating. 

“The Long and Bitter But Beautiful Struggle for a New World”

What’s the remedy for this malady, now as lethally obvious at home as it once was in Vietnam?

“The end of domination [is] the only truly revolutionary exigency,” Marcuse wrote. True freedom, he thought, means freeing humanity from the hierarchical system that locks us into the daily struggle to earn a living by selling our labor. Freedom means liberating our consciousness to search for our own goals and being able to pursue them freely. In Martin Luther King’s words, freedom is “the opportunity to fulfill my total capacity untrammeled by any artificial barrier.” 

How to put an end not only to America’s war in Vietnam, but to a whole culture built on domination?  King’s answer on that April 4th was deceptively simple: “Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door… The first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

The simplicity in that statement was deceptive because love is itself such a complicated word. King often explained that the Greeks had three words for love: eros (aesthetic or romantic love), philia (friendship), and agape (self-sacrificing devotion to others). He left no doubt that he considered agape far superior to the other two.

The emerging counterculture of those years certainly agreed with him on the centrality of love to human liberation. After all, it was “the love generation.” But its mantra — “If it feels good, do it” — made King’s rejection of eros in the name of self-negating agape a non-starter for them.

King, however, offered another view of love, which was far more congenial to the counterculture. Love unites whatever is separated, he preached. This is the kind of love that God uses in his work.  We, in turn, are always called upon to imitate God and so to transform our society into what King called a “beloved community.” 

Though few people at the time made the connection, King’s Christian understanding of love was strikingly similar to Marcuse’s secular view of erotic love.  Marcuse saw eros as the fulfillment of desire. He also saw it as anything but selfish, since it flows from what Freud called the id, which always wants to abolish ego boundaries and recover that sense of oneness with everything we all had as infants.

When we experience anyone or anything erotically, we feel that we are inherently interconnected, “tied together in a single garment of destiny,” as King so eloquently put it. When boundaries and separation dissolve, there can be no question of hierarchy or domination.

Every moment that hints at such unification brings us pleasure. In a revolutionary society that eschews structures of domination for the ideal of unification, all policies are geared toward creating more moments of unity and pleasure.

Think of this as the deep-thought revolution of the Sixties: radically transformed minds would create a radically transformed society. Revolutionaries of that time were, in fact, trying to wage the very utopian struggle that King summoned all Americans to in his April 4th speech, “the long and bitter but beautiful struggle for a new world.”

50 Years Later: The Thread That Binds

At this very moment 50 years ago, a movement resisting a brutal war of domination in a distant land was giving birth to a movement calling for the creation of a new consciousness to heal our ailing society. Will the resistance movement of 2017 head in a similar direction?

At first glance, it seems unlikely. After all, ever since the Vietnam War ended, progressives have had a tendency to focus on single issues of injustice or laundry lists of problems.  They have rarely imagined the American system as anything more than a collection of wrong-headed policies and wrong-hearted politicians. In addition, after years of resisting the right wing as it won victory after victory, and of watching the Democrats morph into a neoliberal crew and then into a failing party with its own dreary laundry lists of issues and personalities, the capacity to hope for fundamental change may have gone the way of Herbert Marcuse and Martin Luther King.

Still, for those looking hard, a thread of hope exists. Today’s marches, rallies, and town halls are packed with veterans of the Sixties who can remember, if we try, what it felt like to believe we were fighting not only to stop a war but to start a revolution in consciousness. No question about it, we made plenty of mistakes back then. Now, with so much more experience (however grim) in our memory banks, perhaps we might develop more flexible strategies and a certain faith in taking a more patient, long-term approach to organizing for change.

Don’t forget as well that, whatever our failings and the failings of other past movements, we also have a deep foundation of victories (along with defeats) to build on. No, there was no full-scale revolution in our society — no surprise there. But in so many facets of our world, advances happened nonetheless. Think of how, in those 50 years just past, views on diversity, social equality, the environment, healthcare, and so many other issues, which once existed only on the fringes of our world, have become thoroughly mainstream. Taken as a whole, they represent a partial but still profound and significant set of changes in American consciousness.

Of course, the Sixties not only can’t be resurrected, but shouldn’t be.  (After all, it should never be forgotten that what they led to wasn’t a dreamed of new society but the “Reagan revolution,” as the arc of justice took the first of its many grim twists and turns.)  At best, the Sixties critique of the system would have to be updated to include many new developments.

Even the methods of those Sixties radicals would need major revisions, given that our world, especially of communication, now relies so heavily on blindingly fast changes in technology. But every time we log onto the Internet and browse the web, it should remind us that — shades of the past — across this embattled Earth of ours, we’re all tied together in a single worldwide web of relations and of destiny.  It’s either going to be one for all and all for one, or it’s going to be none for 7.4 billion on a planet heading for hell.

Today is different, too, because our movement was not born out of protest against an odious policy, but against an odious mindset embodied in a deplorable person who nonetheless managed to take the Oval Office. He’s so obviously a symptom of something larger and deeper that perhaps the protesters of this generation will grasp more quickly than the radicals of the Vietnam era that America’s underlying disease is a destructive mode of consciousness (and not just a bad combover).

The move from resisting individual policies to transforming American consciousness may already have begun in small ways. After all, “love trumps hate” has become the most common slogan of the progressive movement. And the word love is being heard in hard-edged political discourse, not only on the left, but among mainstream political voices like Van Jones and Cory Booker. Once again, there is even talk of “revolutionary love.”

Of course, the specific policies of the Republicans and this president (including his developing war policies) must be resisted and the bleeding of the immediate moment staunched. Yet the urgent question of the late 1960s remains: What can be done when there are so many fronts on which to struggle and the entire system demands constant vigilant attention? In the age of a president who regularly sucks all the air out of the room, how do we even talk about all of this without being overwhelmed?

In many ways, the current wave of regressive change and increasing chaos in Washington should be treated as a caricature of the system that we all have been living under for so long. Turn to that broader dimension and the quest for a new consciousness may prove the thread that, though hardly noticed, already ties together the many facets of the developing resistance movement.

The largest mobilization for progressive politics since the Vietnam era offers a unique opportunity to go beyond simply treating symptoms and start offering cures for the underlying illness. If this opportunity is missed, versions of the same symptoms are likely to recur, while unpredictable new ones will undoubtedly emerge for the next 50 years, and as Martin Luther King predicted, we will go on marching without end. Surely we deserve a better future and a better fate.

Ira Chernus, a TomDispatch regular, is professor emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of the online MythicAmerica: Essays.

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 Ira Chernus

Via Tomdispatch.com

Everyone could celebrate Easter in Jerusalem except Palestinian Christians

Sun, 16 Apr 2017 - 11:06pm

By IMEMC. | – –

Thousands of Christian followers of the Orthodox and Catholic faiths from all over the world, gathering at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, celebrated Easter Holy Saturday with the emergence of the holy fire from the location of the tomb believed to be that of Jesus Christ.

However, according to WAFA, only a few privileged Palestinian Christians, mainly those living in East Jerusalem or Israel, were able to attend the celebrations. Thousands of their brethren from the locked West Bank and Gaza Strip, only few kilometers away from Jerusalem, were not able to attend them.

Israel does not allow Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to reach the wall-in East Jerusalem without special army issued permits.

As with every year, Israel issued a number of permits for West Bank and Gaza Christians to enter Jerusalem during Easter. But, then, it imposed a week-long closure on the occupied territories for the Jewish Passover holiday, which coincided with Easter celebrations, thus deeming all permits void for this week.

At the same time, Israeli police set up blockades around the Old City of Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, preventing thousands of pilgrims from reaching their holy sites.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III emerged from the recently renovated tomb, known as the Edicule, with lit candle sticks to indicate the appearance of what Christians of all sects call the holy light.

Once the patriarch has emerged from the tomb, the thousands waiting since the morning hours and carrying candles lit them from the holy fire. The light is then taken to churches around the country and the world.

Christians marked, on Friday, the annual Easter Good Friday procession with thousands of pilgrims from all over the world congregating on Jerusalem to walk the path Jesus Christ had walked to his crucifixion.

Orthodox and Catholic churches marked Easter, this year, at the same time when, usually, each mark it a different time from the other.

Via IMEMC

Why Population Exchange Fails: Over 100 Dead as Buses Bombed

Sun, 16 Apr 2017 - 2:01am

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Someone detonated a car bomb in the (rebel-held) Rashideen district of Aleppo Province Friday night, killing over 100 and wounding over 500. It targeted lead buses that had brought in evacuees from two Shiite villages being evacuated because their sectarian complexion makes them sitting ducks in the civil war. Sunni extremists are being sent north to Idlib and Shiites will be sent south to take over the evacuated formerly Sunni lands.

The Shiites from Kefraya and al-Foua, then, were on their way down south, having been swapped out for Sunni villages on Lebanon’s border (Madaya and Zabadani) where Salafi Jihadi extremists– Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate and its close ally the Freemen of Syria– had been starved by the regime (along with women, children and other noncombatants.) The population exchange is controversial because it seems to involve acquiescing in a logic of ethnic cleansing contrary to the values of the nation.

The Saudi press and pro-rebel outlets are trying to blame the bombing on the regime. But since the regime of Bashar al-Assad negotiated this swap with the Qatari government, it is difficult to see the motive for reneging. The people who regularly blow things up with suicide bombings are the al-Qaeda affiliate and its close allies. That is not a government m.o.

Population transfer, like partitioning countries, always occurs to dictatorial or colonial regimes in the midst of civil wars.

Partition seldom works. India and Pakistan were partitioned but went on fighting one another, resulting in 3 major conventional wars and then almost a nuclear exchange in 2002.

As for population transfer, it can save individual lives but no one should doubt that it is hugely disruptive, and creates long-term enmities that do more harm than good. Ben Gurion’s population exchange beginning in 1948 has left millions of Palestinians stateless and homeless, without rights or even the right to have rights.

Syria would do better to foster political compromise. Then you would not have to move anyone around. The sanguinary bombings this weekend clearly demonstrate that top-down ethnic cleaning does not produce peace.

—-

Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Syria: Many killed as blast hits evacuation convoy in Aleppo”

Turkey’s Referendum on Democracy vs. Illiberal Rule

Sun, 16 Apr 2017 - 12:43am

By Natalie Martin | (The Conversation) | – –

When the Turkish government announced its plans to transform itself into an executive presidency, no-one was particularly surprised. This plan, which has been described as “the most radical political change since the modern republic’s foundation in 1923”, is the culmination of a steady drift towards authoritarianism in Turkey which began a decade ago.

It’s set to come to a head on April 16, when the country will vote on whether to endow its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with near-total control over the major state institutions – military, financial and political. If Erdoğan wins the day, the nexus of political power in Turkey will become the huge marble encrusted presidential palace which he ordered built on the outskirts of the country’s capital, Ankara, at a reported cost of US$350m. The whole scenario has much more in common with a central Asian dictatorship than an aspirant EU member.

Erdoğan’s camp within the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party or AKP, argues that what’s proposed is nothing more than a typical executive presidency, with the head of state doubling as head of government. They are quick to compare it to the American system – but less eager to highlight the proposed system’s near-total lack of checks and balances, which have been eroded over the past decade by the same president who now wants to be given full control.

It’s been a full decade since Erdoğan lost hope that the EU would let Turkey join it, and began to consolidate his domestic power base instead. Turkey’s long quest for liberal democracy soon went into reverse. Since then, the country’s scrutinising forces – the military, the news media, the judiciary, the academy – have seen their power and independence incrementally pared back to a point where the rule of law, freedom of expression and association are hopelessly compromised.

This semi-authoritarian state of affairs is a great help to the “yes” (evet) camp. Government loyalists have a strong presence on social media and control most news outlets. Yet the referendum seems too close to call, and the campaign has polarised Turkey’s people into two camps: those who believe everything Erdoğan says, and those who believe nothing.

Nearly there

In authoritarian regimes where leaders are used to getting their way, close outcomes can be dangerous, and so it goes in Turkey. Erdoğan is a skilful populist operator; he plays to the gallery by demonising anyone who opposes him, whether at home or abroad, as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte found when his Turkish counterpart accused him of behaving like the Nazis. But whereas his foreign targets can lick their wounds at a distance, the consequences are more serious for domestic opponents.

More than 80 journalists are languishing in prison for simply questioning AKP policy. Reports of maltreatment and even torture are commonplace. Many Turks living and working abroad who have criticised the AKP fear they will be arrested if they return home to a country where criticising the president on Twitter is now a criminal offence.

As things stand, Erdoğan already exerts something close to the total control he hopes the referendum will formalise. Turkey has been in a state of emergency since the attempted coup d’etat of July 2016. The attempted coup has also been the pretext to purge state of opposition voices, particularly followers of exiled Sufi cleric Fetullah Gülen.

For Erdoğan, this is all the culmination of a ten-year quest to take back control from the secular Kemalist elite which dominated Turkey for so long – and he isn’t going to let the chance slip through his fingers now without a struggle.

Close calls

If the “yes” camp wins, Turkey can expect further AKP domination. If Erdoğan loses, he may start to play even tougher than he has done already, especially with the progressive Kurdish HDP party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi) and the wider Kurdish issue.

The HDP’s leaders are already in prison on terrorism charges, and Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey have seen many civilians killed by government forces. There is always a danger the de facto civil war in eastern Turkey could spread westwards.

The international community has said remarkably little to criticise this authoritarian drift – perhaps because Turkey holds serious sway over major problems affecting both the EU and the US.

European leaders worried about anti-migrant populism depend on Ankara to control the number of refugees heading west from Syria. Meanwhile, the US faces the awkward truth that its ostensible NATO ally is mired in the bloody Syrian quagmire, and possibly fighting a different enemy – but so long as Washington needs Turkey in the fight against Islamic State and Bashar al-Assad, it cannot publicly scold its president.

If Turkey ends up voting “yes” by a close margin, the lid will stay on these problems for a while yet. But they won’t go away – and nor will Turkey lose its crucial geopolitical position.

Natalie Martin, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Nottingham Trent University

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

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The National: “Turkey prepares for referendum to expand presidential powers”

After the Chemical Attack, It’s Time to Get Rid of the ‘Muslim Ban’

Sun, 16 Apr 2017 - 12:35am

By Peter Certo | (Otherwords.org) | – –

Now that he cares about the fate of Syrian children, I hope Trump will open up our country — not bomb theirs.

When I saw footage of the alleged sarin gas attack in Syria, I felt ill.

The whole episode, which killed up to 100 civilians in Syria’s Idlib province, was ghastly. But worst of all was the kids — glassy-eyed, discolored, and limp as their little bodies were carried away.

Donald Trump apparently felt the same way.

“That attack on children had a big impact on me,” he told reporters, condemning the Syrian regime’s “heinous” targeting of “innocent people” and “even beautiful little babies.” Then he fired 59 cruise missiles at the Syrian air base supposedly used to launch the chemical attack.

Even some of Trump’s critics applauded that move. But it was a huge flip-flop.

The Obama administration faced a similar crisis in 2013, following a much deadlier chemical attack on a Damascus suburb. Back then, Trump was unambiguously against intervening. “DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA,” the billionaire tweeted in all caps. “VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN!”

World Bank Photo Collection/ Flickr

An informed change of perspective is a good thing — but only if it’s informed. Though it might’ve felt good to see the Syrian regime pay a price for its crimes, there’s no way a strike like this can ease civilian suffering.

For one thing, it was a pinprick. Within days, Syrian planes were taking off from the same base and bombing the very same town. But escalating the war risks provoking a devastating conflict with Russia or Iran, Syrian allies who could step up their support in response.

Even if that war succeeded in ousting the regime, the country would only plunge deeper into chaos — just as Iraq and Libya did after we ran their similarly horrible governments out. Islamist extremists would be well positioned to fill the void in Syria, too: Al Qaeda-linked forces currently hold Idlib, while ISIS controls much of the east.

Either way, it’s innocent people who pay the price. Just ask the families of the 1,700 civilians reportedly killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria last month alone. Many of those were children, too.

Airstrikes, in short, are a recipe for humanitarian catastrophe. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing the U.S. can do to help suffering Syrians. It’s just going to require another big flip-flop.

For starters, Trump should give up on his “Muslim ban.” Both versions of that order, now held up in the courts, would have indefinitely banned all migration from Syria — and suspended refugee resettlement from everywhere.

Trump’s said that’s necessary because Syrian refugees are “pouring in” and we don’t know “who they are.” But the U.S. admitted just 18,000 Syrians from 2011 to 2016, all after years of vetting. (Syria’s tiny neighbor Lebanon, with a population less than metro DC, has taken over 1 million.)

During the campaign, it never bothered Trump that children might be affected by his anti-refugee policies. “I can look at their face and say you can’t come here,” he said about Syrian kids in February 2016. “They may be ISIS.”

That’s chilling. I hope Trump now understands there’s a direct line from that policy to the “beautiful little babies” murdered in Idlib.

Another welcome about-face would be to ramp up relief for those Syrians who remain. Trump’s “skinny budget” proposal nearly zeroes out humanitarian aid, but food and medicine are much cheaper than Tomahawk missiles, which run $1.4 million apiece. And they’ll save a lot more suffering Syrian kids.

Getting more deeply involved in Syria’s war is a grievous mistake. The silver lining is that it proves Trump can change his mind. Now that he cares about the fate of Syrian children, I hope he’ll open up our country — not bomb theirs.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Syria, Trump and a media u-turn – The Listening Post (Full)

1 million Palestinians detained by Israel since 1948: Joint statement

Sun, 16 Apr 2017 - 12:09am

Ma’an News Agency | – –

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Israeli authorities have detained approximately one million Palestinians since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, according to a joint statement released Saturday by the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS), and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).

“The question of Palestinian prisoners is central for the Palestinian cause,” the statement affirmed, two days before Palestinians mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day on April 17.

The groups said that Israeli forces detained hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the first and second intifadas, which they referred to as one of the “most difficult historical stages” of Palestine.

During the First Intifada, which lasted from Dec. 1987 until the Madrid Conference in 1991 aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, scores of Palestinians were detained by Israeli forces as a result of the largely nonviolent uprising which relied on various campaigns of civil disobedience.

In 2000, the Second Intifada broke out — known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada — after then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in an act of provocation, causing heavy clashes to break out between Palestinians and Israeli forces, which developed into a full-scale uprising.

According to the joint statement, by the time the uprising ended in 2005, Israeli authorities detained some 100,000 Palestinians, including 15,000 minors and 1,500 women, and 70 Palestinian lawmakers and former ministers.

In addition, Israeli authorities issued some 27,000 administrative detention orders against Palestinians at the time — an Israeli policy of detention without charge or trial almost exclusively used against Palestinians, the statement read.

The statement added that since October 2015, when a wave of political unrest erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel in what many locals refer to as the “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Intifada,” some 10,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israeli forces, the majority of whom were from occupied East Jerusalem.

About one third of the Palestinian detainees since 2015 were children and teenagers, the statement said. According to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 300 of the 6,300 Palestinians currently being held in Israeli prisons are minors.

“Human rights violations and the torture of children have been documented via lawyers working in these institutions,” the statement read. “Night arrests, severe beating in front of their parents, shooting at them before detaining them, handcuffing, feet cuffing, and blindfolding, in addition to delayed notification of their right to legal assistance,” were among the violations committed by Israeli forces against minors.

The statement also pointed out that 13 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), including a woman, Sameera al-Halayqah, are currently being detained by Israeli forces. The oldest detained MP is Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi who has been detained since 2002 and is serving five life sentences.

Some 210 Palestinian prisoners have died as a result “extrajudicial exterminations” or from “deliberate negligence under torture” in Israeli custody, the report highlighted, saying that the most recent case was Muhammad al-Jallad, who died in detention in February after succumbing to a gunshot wound inflicted by Israeli forces months before.

“Since the creation of the Israeli occupation state in 1948, collective extrajudicial extermination has been committed against Palestinian prisoners by shooting them after their arrest.” the statement continued.

Fatah-affiliated Palestinians held in Israeli prisons announced last month that they would stage a mass hunger strike on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, in an action by Marwan Barghouthi. The strike calls for an end to “provocative and humiliating” searches of prisoners, an end to medical negligence, ensuring regular family visits, an end to isolation and administrative detention, as well as a long list of other demands.

According to the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, 65 percent of the Palestinians imprisoned in Israel are affiliated with the Fatah movement. Palestinian prisoners held in Israel’s Nafha prison affiliated with Islamic Jihad and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) also said they would join the strike.

“Every day, Palestinian prisoners are on the front lines of struggle, facing torturous interrogation, nighttime raids, solitary confinement, and relentless attacks on their rights at the hands of Israeli occupation forces. Those attacks are aided by international and corporate complicity, support and profiteering,” prisoners’ rights group Addameer said in a statement last month.

“Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is a critical time to stand against state and corporate complicity with Israeli imprisonment of Palestinian political prisoners.”

Via Ma’an News Agency | – –

Press TV: ” Gazans rally in solidarity with prisoners ahead of mass hunger-strike”

40% of California Grid Power from Solar, Sometimes Costs less than Nothing

Sat, 15 Apr 2017 - 2:13am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

For the first time, on the day of March 23, 40% of Californian grid power between 11 am and 2 pm was generated by utility-scale solar plants.

This proportion was a seasonal effect but not a fluke, and it certainly points to what will be routine in the very near future.

California has so much solar power now that sometimes the price of electricity turns negative. Natural gas plant owners actually have to pay the state to take their electricity when that happens. But they make up for it during high-demand periods.

The negative prices were not passed on to consumers because they get charged for the whole mix, and California electricity rates are among the highest in the country.

If you count in the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels, then on that day at that time, California was actually getting fifty percent of its electricity from solar.

This level of solar electricity generation is new in California. During the past year, there has been a 50% increase in utility-scale solar generation.

California now has nearly 10 gigawatts of solar power. That is more than the entire country of Britain. It is more than the entire country of France. Even more than the entire country of India.

If you looked at all the electricity generated in California on the day of March 23, you’d find that 56.7 percent of it was generated by renewewables– in addition to solar there are wind turbines, hydroelectric from dams, geothermal and biomass.

Jobs in solar energy in California expanded by 67% year on year.

California wants a third of its grid energy to come from renewables in only 3 years, in 2020. It wants the proportion to rise to 50% by 2030.

——
Related video:

Wochit: ” Solar Power Continues to Grow in California”

What is Trump trying to Hide by disappearing WH Visitor Logs?

Sat, 15 Apr 2017 - 1:21am

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer | ( Commondreams.org ) | – –

‘The only reasonable conclusion is to believe the Trump administration has many things it is trying to hide’

The decision comes just days after the Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) and other watchdog groups sued the Trump administration for visitor logs from the White House and Trump’s residences at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and Trump Tower in New York. (Photo: ychamyuen/flickr/cc)

The Trump administration will not publicly disclose White House visitor logs in a decision the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said was just another move to avoid accountability.

“Elected officials work for the people and we deserve to see government business conducted in transparent daylight,” said Faiz Shakir, ACLU’s political director. “This ‘Good Friday’ news dump is simply the latest in a series of efforts by President [Donald] Trump to avoid public accountability, and it’s not the way to improve the people’s declining trust in this administration.”

The decision comes just days after the Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) and other watchdog groups sued the Trump administration for visitor logs from the White House and Trump’s residences at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and Trump Tower in New York.

CREW’S executive director Noah Bookbinder said Friday, “It’s disappointing that the man who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ just took a massive step away from transparency by refusing the release the White House visitor logs that the American people have grown accustomed to accessing over the last six years and that provide indispensable information about who is seeking to influence the president.”

Paul S. Ryan, president of Common Cause, added, “Donald Trump is charged with doing the people’s business, but by keeping his visitors logs a secret, the people will have no idea who he is doing business with at the White House.”

Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said, “The only reason to keep secret the White House visitor logs is to hide from the American public the corporate influence-peddlers who are seeking favors and gifts from the White House. More secrecy equals more cronyism, more insider dealing, and more corruption.”

The president has a history of evading transparency, from belittling media outlets who question his decisions to refusing to release his tax returns. On Saturday, tax marches are planned throughout the nation to demand he disclose the documents, as all presidents since Richard Nixon have done. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) accused Trump of having “something to hide” by refusing to do so.

ACLU’s Shakir echoed that sentiment on Friday.

“Trump has bullied the press when they report on him,” he said. “He has promoted the reporting of fake and outright false information. He imposed gags on federal employees in the earliest days of his administration. He has avoided disclosing his tax records, and he has avoided releasing information about his conflicts of interest.”

“The only reasonable conclusion,” Shakir said, “is to believe the Trump administration has many things it is trying to hide.”

Commondreams.org

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

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Donald Trump White House Is Keeping Its Visitor Logs Private | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

No, MSM: Man-Baby Trump didn’t become President with Missile Strikes

Sat, 15 Apr 2017 - 1:10am

By Bill Moyers | BillMoyers.com | – –

It’s been a week now since Donald Trump once again became our president.

Here’s how it happened.

After he unleashed missiles on a Syrian airfield, members of Washington’s national security establishment and elite pundits swooned. Top Democrats and Republicans led the way. Good soldiers all in the military-industrial-political complex, they stood smartly at attention and saluted the commander-in-chief for sending a message to the world, although exactly what the message meant remains far from clear.

The headline above Glenn Greenwald’s story at The Intercept summed up the response: “The Spoils of War — Trump Lavished with Media and Bipartisan Praise for Bombing Syria.” The hawkish Hillary Clinton, who long had been critical of Barack Obama for not bringing Bashar Assad to heel, “appeared at an event” — and this was before the bombing even happened! — “and offered her categorical support for what Trump was planning.”

Up in the choir loft, the media and pundits sang as one from the official hymnal, praising Trump’s “presidential moment” and transforming him from a pathetic dunderhead suffering from narcissistic personality disorder into the Lord of Hosts. It was CNN’s Fareed Zakaria who pronounced the decision to fire away as the “big moment” when “Donald Trump became president of the United States.”

The theatrics were perfect. The Pentagon shopped to the media a video of the missiles as they were lofted up and away. MSNBC’s Brian Williams was among those moved by the aesthetics of violence: “We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two Navy vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

When I heard those words, I thought back to that night in 2003 when another president lit up the skies over Baghdad with the “shock and awe” of his air attack on Iraq. Suddenly the press was talking about George W. Bush as if he were George Washington, George Marshall and George Patton rolled into one. A touch of George III came later, as our newly refurbished president donned a flight suit and strutted aboard the aircraft carrier with the banner behind him that read: “Mission Accomplished.” Not quite.

Then a more recent scene and another miraculous moment came to mind, from six weeks ago — Feb. 28, to be exact. Donald Trump spoke to a joint session of Congress. He paused, pointed to the balcony and recognized the widow of the Navy SEAL who was killed during a raid on an alleged terrorist compound in Yemen, the very first military mission dispatched into harm’s way by the brand-new commander-in-chief himself.

That mission went badly, so much so that at least two dozen local civilians, including women and children, were killed. Trump did not mention them. He focused on honoring the grieving widow in the balcony who was trying, unsuccessfully, to hold back her tears as wave after wave of applause rolled across the House chamber and ricocheted from wall to wall.

Time magazine’s White House correspondent tweeted that the speech was the “clearest example Trump is beginning to own and understand the powers of the office.” The next day, The Washington Post’s White House bureau chief tweeted, “This is the best morning of Donald Trump’s presidency. He is basking in positive pundit reviews. All that tumult [of the previous month] feels like yesteryear.” Politico’s man on the scene admiringly described it in a tweet as Trump’s “Reaganesque moment.”

And over at CNN, liberal commentator Van Jones called it

“one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period… And for people who have been hoping that he [Trump] would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment… He did something tonight that you cannot take away from him. He became president of the United States.” [italics mine]

I understand what these people were saying — that although constitutionally Trump had become president when he was inaugurated four weeks earlier, he had not metaphorically made the leap into the persona expected of him. He did not fit the mythical image of a president we prefer over the real thing. Above all, he had yet to put on a sufficiently good show (the crowd at the inauguration was not much larger than his two undersized hands clasped together). Nor had the establishment pundits fully weighed in with any semblance of support, and without their blessing, Trump was obviously just a usurper who could barely read a speech, even with a teleprompter.

But after the dramatic spectacle of that Feb. 28 speech, the white smoke rose from the chimney: America at last had a president who could act the part even if his cronies were ripping out the plumbing, stripping the wiring and carting it all off in Uber cars.

Alas, the euphoria of that night was not to last. Once again it evaporated as fast as the truth on Kellyanne Conway’s lips. Trump quickly returned to governing by anarchy. Chaos again ruled the White House. Wrecking crews installed by Bannon and Priebus at federal agencies continued their bloodbaths. Trump’s state of mind once again became the subject of much speculation. Trump’s health care “reform” went down in flames. His proposed budget exploded on contact with reality. Conflicts of interest littered the city like cow patties in a pasture. The atmosphere stank like a fetid swamp, the one Trump has made no attempt to drain. And his popularity dropped lower than any president so early in the game.

Yet after the bombing a week ago, Trump towers again. Fifty-nine cruise missiles — tomahawks — were all it took.

Mind you, there is little to show for the attack. The airbase was open the very next day. Russia’s Putin and Syria’s Assad may be forced into a tighter embrace as Donald chills on Vladimir — and vice versa.

And really, what was the big deal, anyway? As Glenn Greenwald wrote,

“The CIA has spent more than a billion dollars a year to arm anti-Assad rebels for years, and the US began bombing Syria in 2014 — the seventh predominantly Muslim country bombed by Obama — and never stopped. Trump had already escalated that bombing campaign, culminating in a strike last month that Syrians say destroyed a mosque and killed dozens. What makes this latest attack new is that rather than allegedly targeting terrorist’s sites of ISIS and al-Qaida, it targets the Syrian government — something Obama threatened to do in 2013 but never did.”

Trump will be tempted to do it again, because he likes big booms and especially if such thunderbolts gain him adulation from hard-liners in the national security complex and the press.

There will be opportunities because even if Assad stops using chemical weapons, he will no doubt continue to pummel what remains of Syria’s civilian population. As Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official, told The Huffington Post: “You’ll see many more pictures of beautiful [Syrian] babies [dying] on TV – specifically to humiliate the United States and show the fecklessness of military action.” In other words, Trump is about to find out why Obama avoided military intervention in Syria.

Meanwhile, here at home, our institutions bend and buckle and approach the breaking point from benign, blind or willful neglect — and above all, from a leadership vacuum.

One example: our transportation infrastructure. A week ago, as Trump & Company plotted the attack on the Syrian airfield, here in the Northeast corridor of America’s vast transportation system a second train derailment in two weeks again plunged hundreds of thousands of commuters into nail-biting, life-upending chaos.

It began as a minor derailment at Penn Station, the hub of our transit network, but like a spider web, everything transit-related is so connected in these parts that the upheaval quickly spread to Long Island and New Jersey and then to the corridor between Boston and Washington, DC. The New York Times called the calamity “another reminder of the decrepit, tenuous state of much of the region’s infrastructure and transit systems.”

You would think this would be a priority of Donald Trump. He grew up in New York. He knows the crucial role of mass transit. He spins a good spiel on infrastructure. Yet for all this, he has rejected an Obama-era program that would have funded long-range improvements to our regional infrastructure, even as he proposes huge tax breaks for builders and real estate developers like himself.

He also wants to increase defense spending by $54 billion and proposes to slash non-military spending by a corresponding amount. This includes slicing funds for Amtrak and transit and commuter rail programs across the country. The National Association of Rail Passengers estimates the cuts of federal funding for Amtrak’s national network of trains would drastically affect service to 23 states and 144 million Americans, many of them in rural towns in the Midwest and the South, including my home town in East Texas which went for Trump by an overwhelming majority — and I mean overwhelming.

How is it Trump seems to care the least for the very folks who voted for him? Not a day passes that he doesn’t betray some of them.

And instead of bombing another country, how about building our own with better bridges, railroads, highways and airports, how about tending to those who need jobs and homes, how about health care that really gets the job done?

Then we might finally achieve the transformative moment when even Donald Trump at last becomes president for real. But don’t hold your breath. It is foolish to expect anything like this from a man-child who plays with America’s destiny as if it were a rag doll in his gilded crib.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com

Via BillMoyers.com

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Can Donald Trump Really Be ‘Unpredictable’ On Foreign Policy? | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

Syria: to Assad & Kurds go the Spoils; Sunni extremists have Lost

Sat, 15 Apr 2017 - 12:56am

By Mehmet Ozalp | (The Conversation) | – –

The devastating gas attack in Syria, attributed to the Assad regime, and the swift US missile response is a game-changer for all parties involved in the Syrian conflict. This is a complex war, but it helps to look at the key players in three interlocking layers.

First layer

In the first layer are the local players within Syria. Since the 2011 Arab spring uprisings, all local players wanted to get rid of the 17-year-old regime of Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad. He desperately tried to cling to power and proved surprisingly resilient under immense political and military pressure.

Assad’s strength comes from Russian, Chinese and Iranian support – as well as support from the large portion of secular Arab Syrians and religious minorities (Alawites, Assyrian Christians and Druze).

Initially, there were three main insurgent groups opposing Assad. The first was the moderate Islamic coalition made up of Sunni Syrian elite who established the Free Syrian Army (FSA), made up of officers who had defected from the Assad forces. The FSA’s initial promise soon gave way to pessimism, as it could not deliver a decisive blow against Assad.

Second, Kurds in northern Syria organised themselves as the YPG (a militia group whose name translates to “People’s Protection Units”) and established the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They received widespread acclaim and support, particularly from the US and other Western nations, for their strong defence against Islamic State (IS) forces.

Third are the Salafist jihadist groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which changed their name to the Front for the Conquest of the Levant, and claimed independence from al-Qaeda. It was these jihadist groups that led the chief military opposition to the Assad regime for the last six years, including in Aleppo until its fall in 2016.

IS emerged as a key political and military force in Syria in 2014. Unlike other insurgent groups, it did not fight Assad. Rather, it opportunistically claimed large swathes of uncontrolled land and declared an independent caliphate state, becoming the chief source of radicalism threatening Western societies.

Second layer

The second layer in the Syrian conflict is occupied by regional powers such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iran has been a longstanding ally of the Assad regime because of its sectarian, political and economic interests. Assad and his entourage are Alawites, an off-shoot of Shia Islam.

Syria is an important corridor for Iran to press its influence over Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah and provide access to the Mediterranean. Iran’s regional ambitions require the continuation of the Assad regime.

Worried about Iran’s growing influence in the region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported the Salafist insurgent groups. Fearing the spread of IS ideology and popularity in its realm, the Saudi government has supported US-led air strikes on IS since 2014.

Turkey has been the most active regional player in the Syrian conflict. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has supported all Sunni insurgent groups with weapons, training and logistics since the beginning of the conflict, with the exception of the Kurdish YPG.

Turkey fears that an independent Kurdish region in Syria (combined with Kurdish northern Iraq) would encourage its Kurdish population to also seek separation.

Erdogan pushed the Turkish army into Syria in August 2016. Although he desperately wanted to become involved in the impending US-backed offensive on the IS capital of Raqqa, he was left out of the US plans.

Third layer

The third layer of the Syrian conflict is occupied by Russia and the US. They are major geopolitical players whose conflicting interests over Syria are the source of the current impasse, and the reason why removing Assad has become exceedingly difficult.

Unhappy with the increasing US and Western influence in the Middle East, Russian President Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity to expand his economic and military interests in the Syrian conflict, and staged a challenge to the geopolitical world order.

In the course of the Syrian civil war, Putin has become the custodian of the Shi’ite alliance between Iran, Syria and Shi’ite political forces in Iraq and Lebanon. Deep down, Russia fears a destabilised Syria falling under IS control would mobilise radical Muslim groups within its borders.

Under the Obama administration, the US consistently stayed out of direct involvement in the Syrian conflict. Busy with the Iraq exit, Barack Obama missed the window of diplomatic opportunity in the crucial early months of the Syrian uprising. When violence started, Obama elected to provide limited military support to YPG and FSA, hoping they could muster enough opposition to dismantle Assad.

Obama admitted his strategy failed as the “US was muscled out of Syria” by an increasingly bold Putin. His support allowed Assad to gain the upper hand in Syria with the fall of Aleppo in December 2016.

This is why it was bizarre that Assad would launch a gas attack at this crucial juncture. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Assad vehemently denied the use of chemical weapons, while Russia claimed the Syrian air strike hit a rebel chemical munition depot.

The reason is now irrelevant, as the swift US missile attack has sealed the issue. US President Donald Trump served notice not only to Assad and Russia, but all the players in the conflict.

Even though Russia and Iran responded with no-crossing-red-line tough talk, the missile attack opens a large ground for a US-led offensive on the key IS stronghold of Raqqa. The US intends to use this space to eliminate IS and dismantle the Assad regime.

However, this is not likely anytime soon. Western powers suffer from a dissidence – they would like Assad to go, but cannot see a viable alternative. With his secular outlook and promise of protecting religious minorities, Assad still wields much support.

Trump’s impulsive nature is the US’s greatest weakness in world diplomacy, but counter-intuitively, is its greatest strength in a conflict like Syria.

The impulsive courage of Trump, coupled with the military prudence of the Pentagon, gives the US the best advantage in the region and disturbs the Assad, Iran and Russian alliance. They can no longer act with impunity, knowing Trump would have no qualms about hitting Syrian regime targets, which were untouched by the Obama administration.

Trump has tasted the rush of being commander-in-chief. He is likely to follow with other bold military steps, and insist on the demise of the Assad regime.

Assad’s future lies with Putin’s obstinacy and ability to withstand US pressure. As the FBI investigation into the Trump election campaign’s Russian links deepens, Trump is likely to use Assad card to deflect attention and prove his disassociation with Russia.

Betting all his money on Assad, Putin will use the Syrian leader as a bargaining chip to press Trump to accept a place for Assad in the post-IS Syria, at least in the Western part of the wrecked country. This could save Assad’s skin, but at the expense of Syria remaining a divided country.

The YPG will emerge as the main winner securing an autonomous polity in northern Syria in exchange for its help in the US-led Raqqa military offensive, driving another wedge toward the eventual division of Syria. It will follow the trajectory of the northern Iraq Kurdish region, with the prospect of future independence.

Sunni insurgent groups are likely to be the biggest losers. They may have to contend with the remaining remote regions while Syria harbours the propensity to be another Iraq and a breeding ground for IS-inspired radicalism threatening societies the world over.

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

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

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Russian, Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers condemn U.S. strikes on Syria”

In 3 months, Trump has Charged into 4 Mideast Wars, to no Avail

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 - 2:15am

Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In his less than three months in office, Donald Trump has escalated four wars, and all of his escalations have been failures.

To be fair, Trump inherited all 4 wars from Barack Obama– Afghanistan, Iraq v. ISIL, Leftist Kurds v ISIL in Syria, and targeting support and tactical advice to Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Trump campaigned on reducing such foreign entanglements and focusing on the US and its needs. But in office he has declined to rethink any of these commitments and indeed has escalated in each theater.

Trump’s first escalation was in Yemen, in late January. He sent in a team of navy Seals to attack an alleged al-Qaeda compound. But the man he was targeting had switched sides and was supporting the Yemeni government. The raid produced no useful intelligence and the target disappeared. A navy Seal was killed along with some 30 civilians, including children. The raid did not further the Saudi war aim of defeating the Houthi militia– it was aimed at al-Qaeda in Yemen, which has taken advantage of the Saudi intervention to grab territory.

In Iraq in late March, once Trump came in, the restrictive rules of operation for the military insisted on by Obama were loosened by the US miltitary. A bombing by a US aircraft caused the collapse of a civilian apartment complex, killing at least 200 innocent civilians.

In Syria’s Northeastern Front, Trump doubled the number of US special ops troops embeded with the leftist Kurdish militia, the YPG. These forces are intended to attack ISIL in its Syrian capital, Raqqa, but despite promises by Trump, no such concerted new campaign has begun. Then when it appeared last week that the Syrian regime used poison gas in its struggle against the al-Qaeda affiliate and its allies in the Northwestern Front at Idlib, Trump dropped 59 Tomahawk missiles on a small airbase. No significant damage was done and Syria was flying missions again the next day.

On Thursday, Trump hit with an 11 ton bomb some caves in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, said to be being used by Taliban rebels who had joined ISIL. The US has lost 1/3 of Afghanistan to fundamentalist rebels, mostly Taliban, in a 16-year war that is going worse now than than at any time since spring, 2002. There is no prospect of defeating guerrillas with air power, no matter how massive. The US carpet-bombed Vietnam and still lost. The desperation of the Trump administration is demonstrated by the use of old Saddam Hussein hyperbole, calling the missile ‘The Mother of all Bombs.’ Trump is actually translating his propaganda directly from Dictator Arabic! Saddam had called the Gulf War ‘the Mother of all Battles’ (Umm al-Ma’arik), though this was a literal press translation. The phrase means the ‘essence of all battles.’ Saddam’s hyperbole did not serve him well.

What all four Trump interventions in his ongoing US wars in the Middle East have in common is that they were splashy, produced headlines for a day, and altered the course of the conflict not a jot or a tittle.

Trump is gradually inducting his Four Wars into his Reality-Show universe, where everything is done for ratings and just for show.

——

Related video:

CBS – “Mother of all bombs” dropped in Afghanistan, targeting ISIS-

‘Suicide belts Everywhere’: As Iraqi Forces Close in, ISIL prepares to Drink the Coolaid

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 - 12:55am

Special Correspondent | (Baghdad) | (Niqash.org) | – –

As pro-Iraq forces close in on the Islamic State fighters in Mosul, civilians trapped in the city with them, say the extremists roam around wearing suicide belts and appear to be ready to fight to the death.

Word from inside Mosul makes it clear that the extremist group known as the Islamic State is preparing for their last stand.

“We are caught between the bombardment of the Iraqi military and the crimes committed against us by the Islamic State,” one Mosul resident, who is still trapped in the extremist-held areas, told NIQASH in a phone call. “In the past two weeks, the Islamic State fighters have killed more than 80 people around us. Some of them were our friends and neighbours. They torture them, mutilate their bodies after death and then hang the corpses on power poles.”

The sounds of shelling can be heard in the background during the phone call. “The Islamic State cars drove around the streets here with corpses,” the man continued. “They throw one or two bodies in each alleyway, in order to terrorize the people and prevent them from trying to escape.”

When the IS fighters arrived, we begged them to leave in case we became a target. He told us: Your lives are not more precious than our lives.
The Islamic State, or IS, group won’t hesitate to kill those trying to escape, he explained. “They say that any person who tries to go to areas not controlled by the IS group and not part of their caliphate must be an infidel, and therefore deserves death.”

It seems as though many of the IS fighters know that they must soon make their last stand and they appear to have chosen the Mosul neighbourhoods in which this will happen, even renaming the areas.

Iraqi pro-government forces and army have managed to take control of more than half of the western side of the city, which was previously under extremist control. The eastern side was cleared of IS fighters several weeks ago.

There are very few areas still to be liberated but the ones that remain will be the hardest, the head of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces, Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, has said.

The IS group is present in large numbers in two main areas. The first is the neighbourhood known as the old city. The extremists are making use of the high population density and the narrow alleyways; additionally if the houses in this area are shelled at all, there is great danger of collapse onto other buildings as they are old, fragile and built very close to one another.

This means that the potential for air strikes, which have been decisive elsewhere against the IS group, is extremely limited. The IS fighters, who wear belts of explosives in case they need to commit suicide, know this, as they travel among the civilian population trapped in the area.

The old city also has symbolic value for the IS group and for the Iraqi pro-government forces. It houses the mosque where the leader of the IS group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the creation of his Islamic state in 2014.

The second area is comprised of three adjoining neighbourhoods: 17th July, Musharrafieh and Harmat. In the north the area is bounded by the Tigris river, in the east there is a valley and then Syria lies to the west. However there’s no way to go west: Iraqi pro-government forces have completely surrounded the area, and an IS fighter would only be able to get about ten kilometres before being caught by them. The IS group has called this area, one of the first to fall to them back in June 2014, “land of the steadfast”.

The IS group is maintaining tight control in these neighbourhoods and building up its military presence, making use of delays in fighting caused by the mistaken bombing of civilians that forced anti-IS forces to slow down, for fear of causing more non-combatant casualties.

In the areas where there is fighting, civilians say they can watch the IS snipers on the roofs around them, moving from one house to the next.

“Two weeks ago, 19 IS fighters came into our house fully armed and some were wearing suicide belts,” says Barazan Ahmed, who fled Mosul’s Yarmouk neighbourhood after the Iraqi army arrived and who is now living in a camp for the displaced south of the city. “When the IS fighters arrived, we begged them to leave in case we became a target. But they refused. And one of them was very demanding. He insisted that we offer them food. He told us: Your lives are not more precious than our lives.”

Just a few hours before the Iraqi army arrived, anti-IS forces bombed houses near where Ahmed was sheltering; dozens were killed as the buildings collapsed, including some of his own relatives, the Mosul man says. That is why he and the rest of his family left the city.

It is becoming increasingly clear to civilians in Mosul that the IS fighters are not about to surrender. They know the Iraqi army is moving more slowly as it closes in on the extremists. They also know that that they, their families and their homes are caught in the middle of a hopeless situation.

Via Niqash.org

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Iraqi Troops In Mosul Push Closer To Landmark Mosque – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty