Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

Maybe Kim really would give up nuclear weapons

June 13, 2018

I’ve never believed that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un would give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons, mainly because, if I were him, I would regard nuclear weapons as the only way to deter an attack by the United States.

But Joel S. Wit, a former American diplomat who participated in negotiations with North Korea in the 1990s and again in informal talks in 2013, said he believes Kim really would be willing to give up nuclear weapons in return for cessation of hostilities by the United States.

Kim wants diplomatic recognition by the United States, a peace treaty formally ending the Korean Conflict and an end to trade restrictions and economic sanctions, Wit said.  In return, KIm would freeze nuclear weapons development and, step by step in return for U.S. actions, to dismantle nuclear and missile test sites.

This would not be the same thing as giving up nuclear weapons entirely, but it would be a sign that Kim wants peace, and a first step to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.  There is nothing that the United States is doing to North Korea that is of any direct benefit to the American people.

These objectives weren’t achieved at the Kim-Trump summit, and maybe the negotiations will ultimately fail, but the door is still open.

The biggest reason for hope is the desire of President Moon Jei-in of South Korea to make peace with North Korea.   As long as the governments of the two parts of Korea were enemies, peace was impossible.  If they are no longer enemies, peace is achievable.

President Moon’s accomplishment is like West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, which resulted in the signing of a treaty in 1972 between the West and East German governments recognizing each other’s right to exist.  This didn’t end the Cold War, let alone end the East Germany Communist dictatorship, but it helped make possible.

I don’t see any path to democracy in North Korea, but bringing the North Korean people into contact with the outside world would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

LINKS

North Korea’s Denuclearization and the ‘Libya model’ by Joel S. Wit for The Atlantic.

How Corporate Media Got the Kim-Trump Summit All Wrong by Gareth Porter for Truthdig.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

How Moon Jai-in Brought North Korea to Negotiate by S. Nathan Park for The Atlantic.

Singapore agreement will end the cold war, South Korea’s President Moon Jie-in says by the South China Morning Post.

The key word in the Trump-Kim show by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

The North Korean summit and deal by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution.

What price U.S. world power?

May 18, 2018

Many commentators think U.S. power is declining, largely due to long-term trends, but speeded up by Donald Trump.

I think that’s true.  How much should we the American people worry about this?

Paul Street wrote a savage but accurate article for Truthdig about reasons why the world in general would welcome the downfall of U.S. power.   The enumeration of the death and destruction caused by U.S. military interventions, acts of war, covert action and economic sanctions makes is painful reading for an American.

And what benefit have we, the American people, gotten from it?  Little or nothing, that I can see.  In fact, the welfare of Americans has been sacrificed to maintaining American military power.  We can’t afford to maintain decent public services, but cost is no consideration when it comes to the military.

That doesn’t mean that loss of American global power would be painless.  We would have to find new ways to employ the millions of people employed by the U.S. military, the covert action agencies and their many contractors and suppliers.

Having a large number of unemployed, some highly qualified in the use of lethal force and others in covert political action, would be no small problem.  Neither would being a pariah among nations, as the Germans were for a time after their defeat in World War Two.

The British and French people were better off in the long run after they lost their overseas empires.  The German and Japanese people were better off in the long run after their defeats in World War Two.  We Americans will be better off in the long run if we give up the quest for world domination.

LINK

The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony by Paul Street for Truthdig.

Can the US bring about ‘regime change’ in Iran?

May 11, 2018

President Trump’s administration appears set to wage economic war against Iran in order to bring about “regime change.”

The pattern would be the economic war the U.S. government has waged against Venezuela, which has crashed that country’s economy and created desperate poverty.

Top members of the Trump administration have long been committed to overthrowing the Iranian government.  But they’re not going to get the American public and Congress to support war with Iran.

What’s left is covert warfare, subsidizing dissidents and rebels in Iran, and economic warfare, using U.S. financial power to punish businesses that do business with Iran.

Because most international trade is done in U.S. dollars, and because most transactions in dollars go through U.S. banks, the U.S. government is in a position to do great damage to businesses and business owners that displease it.

This comes at a price, though.  Each time the U.S. government forces foreign governments and businesses to sacrifice their own interest to do its bidding, it brings the day closer when foreigners unite to set up an alternative international financial system that doesn’t use the U.S. dollar or U.S. banks.   That is the ultimate goal of China, aided by Russia. (more…)

Trump: the art of the deal-breaker

May 9, 2018

As a business tycoon, Donald Trump was noted for breaking contracts and not paying bills.  He relied on his wealth and his lawyers to deter less-wealthy contractors and creditors from collecting what they were owed.

In renouncing the nuclear arms deal with Iran, he is trying to treat a small nation the way he once treated small businesses.   He evidently thinks he can do this without any bad consequences to the United States.  If so, he is wrong.

President Trump

The reason the Iranian government was willing to negotiate limitations to its nuclear program was that Iran faced economic sanctions by the United Nationals Security Council, which represents all the great powers, not just the United States, which has been waging economic warfare against Iran since the present regime came to power in 1979.

The nuclear agreement was negotiated with six countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, not the United States alone.   Renunciation by the U.S. government isn’t binding on any of the others.

It’s highly unlikely that Britain, France and Germany would agree to resume economic warfare against Iran, especially since President Trump did not consult them in advance.

It is certain that Russia and China will not, since the U.S. government, unlike when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Iran in 2006, now treats these two countries as adversaries.   So what Trump has done is to force Iran into alliance with Russia and China.

No objective observer doubts that Iran has kept its side of the agreement.  The problem from the standpoint of the United States is that the agreement has not affected Iran’s struggle with Saudi Arabia and Israel for  geopolitical power in the Middle East.

But what has made Iran so powerful?   U.S. military interventions are what has empowered Iran.

In 2001, Iran, which is ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, was hemmed in by two hostile powers—the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the west.

The U.S. overthrew the Taliban, who were Sunni Muslims, with the aid of Shiite Muslims friendly to Iran.  The U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein, another Sunni Muslim, and empowered the Shiite majority in Iraq.

Then the U.S. government-funded Sunni Muslim rebels against the Assad regime in Syria.   Bashir al-Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, called on Iran for help and got it.   Presumably he wouldn’t have wanted Iranian fighters in his country if his government hadn’t been in danger..

Another consequence of Trump’s decision is that North Korea will keep its nuclear weapons for at least a generation.   Why would Kim Jong Un negotiate over nuclear weapons with a government that has demonstrated it does not keep agreements?

But maybe the North and South Korean governments, out of fear of Trump’s recklessness, will negotiate a peace agreement between themselves.

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It’s okay to negotiate with North Korea

March 13, 2018

It isn’t wrong to negotiate with tyrants and terrorists.  It is wrong to prop them up with money and weapons, but it isn’t wrong to negotiate with them when the alternative is mutually destructive war.

But if you have no plan to get rid of them or if there’s no assurance that their successors will be any better than they are, then sooner or later you have to deal.

President Nixon negotiated with Mao Zedong and ended the Cold War with China.   President Reagan negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev and ended the Cold War with the USSR.

President Trump’s willingness to negotiate with Kim Jong-un is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I think the odds are against success, but you never know.

Donald Trump

The reason I think the odds are against success is that the U.S. goal is for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, and, if I were Kim, I never would agree to that.

Kim in the past has said his government would never give up nuclear weapons so long as the United States refused to sign a peace treaty ending the Korean Conflict of 1950-1953 or to guarantee it would not attack North Korea.

The implication is that if a peace treaty was signed, and if the U.S. government renounced the use of force against North Korea, Kim would consider giving up nuclear weapons.

But without nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, there is no way North Korea can deter an attack by the United States, except maybe by the threat of a massive attack with conventional weapons on Seoul, which is just across the border.

Would negotiations with the United States even by on the table if North Korea didn’t already have nuclear weapons?

President Trump is talking about renouncing the U.S. nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.  How could Kim be sure he wouldn’t renounce an agreement with North Korea?

Maybe Kim would agree to give up nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee against attack by China and/or Russia.  Is this something the U.S. government would want?

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Trade war tactics and strategy

March 5, 2018

Reuters reported that the European Union is considering applying 25 percent tariffs on American motorcycles, bourbon and blue jeans, if President Trump imposes new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Motorcycles, bourbon and blue jeans?  Kevin Drum of Mother Jones explained the significance.

Hmmm.  Harley-Davidsons are made in—what?  Wisconsin, right?  In Menomonee Falls, actually, about 50 miles from Janesville, where Paul Ryan lives.  The Jim Beam bourbon distillery is in Clermont, Kentucky, about 20 miles from Mitch McConnell’s house in Louisville.  Levi’s is headquartered in San Francisco, about two miles from Nancy Pelosi’s house.

I think that’s a pretty funny example of trade war tactics.

Americans and Russians in deadly clash in Syria

March 2, 2018

Update 3/5/2018:  According to this article in Der Spiegel, Russians didn’t participate in the attack and few of them were killed.   If that’s so, how did the other version of events originate?  Fog of war, or something more sinister?  At this point, I don’t know what to believe. 

During the whole of the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never engaged in direct combat.   But early last month, Russian mercenaries attacked a U.S. position in Syria, and an estimated 100 to 300 Russians were killed.

The Russian troops reportedly were employed by a private company funded by a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin, who also funded the company accused of illegally meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. troops and an allied militia called Syrian Democratic Forces were protecting an oil refinery at Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.   The SDF position was attacked by Syrian government forces along with by Russian troops employed by the Wagner PMC (private military company).

U.S. forces counter-attacked with artillery, air strikes and drone strikes, smashed the attacking force and didn’t suffer any casualties themselves.

The Russian government said no Russian government troops were involved.  All the Russians in the battle were private individuals who were in Syria for their own reasons, the government said.

The U.S. government also had no official comment, but since then journalists have written a good bit based on off the record comments by U.S. intelligence and Treasury officials.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known at “Putin’s chef,” got his start as a hot dog vendor, then the owner of a chain of restaurants, a caterer to the Kremlin and then a caterer to the Russian armed forces.   He owns two companies, Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering.

Both he and his companies were indicted on charges related to interfering in the 2016 election, and he and his companies are on the U.S. sanctions list.

He reportedly is an investor in Wagner PMC, which was founded by Dmitry Utkin, also on the U.S. sanctions list.  Wagner PMC reportedly employed the “green men,” troops without insignia who engineered the Russian takeover of Crimea and supported Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin allegedly owns or controls Evro Polis, a Russian company that has been promised a 25 percent share of oil and gas revenues in territories recaptured by the Syrian government from the Islamic State (ISIS).  Evidently Wagner PMC’s mission is to help secure these territories, and that was the reason for the attack.

I can see why Vladimir Putin might work with a private individual such as Yevgeny Prigozshin.   I don’t think Russians are any more willing than Americans to see their sons drafted to fight wars in distant countries for obscure purposes.  Hiring mercenaries solves this political problem, and also provides a way to deny responsibility if thing go wrong.

But what if it is the other way around?  What if this whole operation is to serve the business strategy of a Russian oligarch?  This is a dangerous situation, because both the Russian and U.S. governments could be sucked in a conflict they didn’t intend or expect.

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Russiagate and the lost hope for peace

February 19, 2018

Prior to the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin said he would welcome the election of Donald Trump because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

But, as Robert W. Merry of The American Conservative pointed out, any faint hope of that happening was snuffed out by the exposure of Russian attempts to influence the election by means of fake posts on social media.   The Russians shot themselves in the foot.

Most of us Americans have no perspective on this because we don’t know, or choose to ignore, the extent of our own government’s meddling in foreign countries.

U.S. meddling not only includes propaganda, open and covert, but taking sides in civil wars and outright invasions of foreign countries whose leaders oppose U.S. policy.

I don’t argue the U.S. government should tolerate violations of American election law by foreigners in order to atone for American sins abroad.  I do say this should not be used as an excuse for risking war or suppressing dissent.

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Why does hawkish Trump object to sanctions?

February 8, 2018

President Donald Trump is resisting congressional mandates to punish Russian individuals through economic sanctions.

At the same time he is going along with sending advanced weapons to the Ukrainian government to use against Russia, and with keeping American troops in Syria where they may come in conflict with Russian troops.

And he acts as if he was getting ready for war with North Korea and Iran.

So why is he digging in his heels over this one thing?

I don’t see any fundamental conflicts of interest between Russia and the United states, except maybe in the Arctic, and none that are worth the risk of nuclear war.

Vladimir Putin is authoritarian and ruthless, but no more so than many other world leaders, including Boris Yeltsin, with whom the U.S. government got along and gets along with just fine.

The problem with economic sanctions directed against whole countries is that they harm the common people of a country without touching the leaders.  If American leaders want to use U.S. economic power to reward and punish, economic sanctions aimed at individuals are probably the least harmful and most effective of doing it.

But overuse of economic sanctions of all kinds will be harmful to the United States in the long run because foreign countries will protect themselves by disconnecting from U.S. banks and the U.S. dollar.

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The meaning of North Korea’s “ghost ships”

January 22, 2018

Last year the wreckage of at least 104 North Korean fishing boats washed up on the shores of northern Japan.  The crews were either missing, or dead from starvation and exposure, or, in a few cases, only half-dead.

What happened was that they got so far from home that they did not have enough fuel to make it back home, and so died at sea.

Never before have so many derelict North Korea fishing boats been found.  No doubt this is but a fraction of the actual number of lost boats.

What this means is that North Koreans are so desperate for food that they will risk going out to sea in dangerous waters with inadequate fuel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview that this represents a triumph of American policy.  North Korea is really feeling the bite of American economic sanctions, he said.

Economic war can be as deadly as a shooting war, although it hardly ever brings about a change in regime.   If there comes a time when there is only one bowl of rice left in North Korea, it will be eaten by Kim Jong Un.  If there are only two bowls left, they will be shared by Kim and his bodyguard.

The U.S. has been waging war by means of economic sanctions long before Tillerson or President Donald Trump took office.  Economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein back in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of thousands of young Iraqi children want of medicine and proper nutrition.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the price was worth it.  To what end?  I can’t see anything good that the Iraq blockade accomplished for us Americans.  It did not remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The appeal of economic sanctions as a substitute for war is that it seems to be a safe way of waging war.  That is true only in the short run.   Generations later people in North Korea, Iraq, Venezuela and other countries will remember how their people suffered under the U.S. economic blockage.

During the First World War, Britain blockaded food imports into Germany.  The food blockade continued even after the German army surrendered, in order to make force the German government to agree to the Allies’ peace terms.  Many Germans grew up with stunted growth because they were born during the blockade.

I don’t say the food blockade was, in and of itself, the main reason for the rise of Hitler, but it surely contributed to the German hatred of the Allies and desire for revenge, which the Nazis exploited

I think in generations to come, there will be millions of people through the world with similar reasons for a desire for revenge against Americans.

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Haiti’s problems mostly originate outside Haiti

January 18, 2018

Haiti is poor largely because outside powers keep it poor.   Not that Haiti doesn’t have its own home-grown crooks and tyrants, but the Haitian people would be better able to deal with them if the crooks and tyrants weren’t backed by the U.S. government.

President Trump’s recent vulgar comment about immigrants from Haiti and other majority-black was offensive.  But offensive language isn’t the main problem.  The problem is the centuries-long history of the United States and other powerful countries holding Haiti down, of which Trump is just the latest example.

LINKS

One of the most repeated facts about Haiti is a lie by M.R. O’Connor for VICE News.

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U.S. interventionism started long before Trump

January 15, 2018

Click to enlarge.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a supporter of Donald Trump.  But American foreign policy was on the wrong track long before Trump took office.   It’s not enough to just put things back the way they were in 2016 and before.   It is necessary to abandon worldwide military intervention as a policy and worldwide military intervention as an achievable goal.

LINKS

U.S. Counterterrorism Forces Are Active in Many More Places Than You Know by Catherine Bateman and Stephanie Sowell for U.S. News.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler, He’s Another Obama by Caitlin Johnstone for Medium.

When Washington Assured Russia NATO Would Not Expand by Andrew J. Bacevich for The American Conservative.

The Duplicitous Superpower by Ted Galen Carpenter for The American Conservative.

The real winners in Iraq and Syria

January 2, 2018

Pipeline map via Southfront

Russian-backed forces have defeated the so-called Islamic State in Syria.  U.S.-backed forces have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq.  Peace may be at hand.

The winners in these wars were Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq.  The losers, in addition to the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), were Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Israel.

The United States was in a contradictory position.  By invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. gave power to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, which is aligned with Iran.   This went against long-range U.S. goals, which are to support Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Also, the official justification for intervention in the Middle East was to fight Al Qaeda terrorists.  But the regimes attacked by the U.S. government—Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria—were enemies of Al Qaeda, as was the Ayatollahs’ Iran.  No matter what U.S. did, it would either strengthen Al Qaeda or strengthen Iran.

Given the inherent contradiction in U.S. policy, I think the current outcome was the best that could be expected.   Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump deserve credit for not escalating a new war to keep Russians out of Syria and Iranians out of Iraq.   I’m not sure Hillary Clinton, given her record of starting wars, would have shown the same wisdom.

LINKS

As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syrian endgame by Sami Moubayed for Asia Times.  [Added 1/3/2018]

Iraq War 3.0, the War to End All Wars, Is Over by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Are the Wars in Syria and Iraq Finally Coming to an End? by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.

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China tries to draw Afghanistan into its orbit

December 30, 2017

China’s ancient Silk Road

China’s modern Silk Road

The U.S. government for 15 years has been trying to pacify Afghanistan, without success.

During these same 15 years, the Chinese government has been extending its power and influence into the interior of Asia by investing in railroads, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure across the region at the invitation of local governments..

The Chinese call this the “Belts and Roads Initiative”—the belts being the oil and gas pipelines. Others call it the New Silk Road.

Recently China made an agreement with Pakistan to create an economic development corridor, culminating in a port giving China direct access to the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.   Now China and Pakistan are trying to draw Afghanistan into their economic alliance.

I don’t know how all this will turn out.  Many things can go wrong.

But it seems clear that Beijing has been more effective in extending its power by offering material benefits than Washington has by means of military intervention and economic sanctions.

Furthermore China’s policies have made it economically stronger while U.S. policies have depleted U.S. strength.

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Background on the North Korean crisis

October 20, 2017

The important things to remember about North Korea are:

  • North Korea for nearly 70 years has been under a totalitarian government which has indoctrinated its people with absolute loyalty and obedience.
  • Its ruling ideology—called Juche—is based on the principles of national independence, economic self-sufficiency, cultural purity and glorification of leaders.
  • Despite loss of an estimated 20 percent of its population during the Korean Conflict, and starvation in later eras, the leaders have never given in to threats.
  • Based on past actions of the U.S. government toward Iraq, Libya and Iran, North Korean leaders have good reason to think that giving up nuclear weapons would be suicidal.

The Hermit Kingdom

Korea at the dawn of the 20th century had little relation with the outside world, except for Christian missionaries.  Japan made it a protectorate in 1905 and annexed it in 1910.  The Korean language and culture were suppressed, and Korea was exploited for the benefit of the Japanese Empire.

Kim Il-sung

Kim Il-sung was born in 1912 to Presbyterian parents.  His name, which is not his birth name, means “Kim became the sun.”  His birthday is a national holiday called “day of the sun.”

The Kim family fled the repressive Japanese regime and settled in Manchuria in 1920.  Young Kim supposedly founded something called the Down-With-Imperialism Union, dedicated to liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, in 1926, at age 14.

He joined the Chinese Communist Party in the 1930s and led a guerrilla band that fought the Japanese in Manchuria.  Ultimately defeated, he fled into the Soviet Union, where he became an officer of the Red Army.

As World War Two drew to a close, the USSR declared war on Japan, overran Manchuria and occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel, with Kim as head of the North Korean Communist Party.   US forces occupied the southern party

Supposedly this was a temporary measure until Korea was unified, but an independent Republic of Korea was declared in the south in May, 1948, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with Kim as the head, in August of that year.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and nearly conquered the whole Korean peninsula before being driven back.  Max Hastings, a British military historian, said there had been considerable pro-Communist sentiment in South Korea, which might have led to a guerrilla movement as in South Vietnam.   But the brutality and mass executions carried on by North Korean troops soon changed their minds.

U.S. intervention turned the tide, and then Chinese intervention created a stalemate.  American air forces bombed North Korea until there were no targets left, and then they bombed the river dams, flooding the country’s sparse farmland.   General Curtis LeMay estimated that 20 percent of the North Korean population were killed.

The two sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1953, in which the division of the country was frozen along existing battle lines.  Part of the armistice agreement was that neither sides would increase the size of its force or introduce new weapons.  That agreement was broken in 1958 when the U.S. brought nuclear weapons into South Korea.

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′Deep Space Gateway′ planned by Russia and US

October 2, 2017

Click to enlarage.  Source: Popular Mechanics

Despite geopolitical conflicts, the United States and the Russian Federation are still working together on  space exploration, as this news item indicates.

Work on a joint US-Russia space station orbiting the Moon is to begin in the mid 2020s. The base is intended to serve as a launching point for manned missions to Mars.Deep Space Gateway (NASA)

The station would be serviced by craft such as the Orion space vessel.

The US and Russia on Wednesday [Sept. 27] announced plans to cooperatively build the first lunar space station.

Roscosmos and NASA, Russia and America’s space agencies, said they had signed a cooperation agreement at an astronautical congress in Adelaide.

The agreement brings Russia onboard to the Deep Space Gateway project announced by NASA earlier this year, which aims to send humans to Mars via a lunar station.

The proposed station would serve as a base for lunar exploration for humans and robots, and as a stopover for spacecraft. 

While the Deep Space Gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space (between Earth and the Moon) as the next step for advancing human space exploration,” said Robert Lightfoot, acting administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington.  [snip]

Roscosmos and NASA have already agreed on standards for a docking unit of the future station,” the Russian space agency said.

“Taking into account the country’s extensive experience in developing docking units, the station’s future elements — as well as standards for life-support systems — will be created using Russian designs.”

Source: DW

The International Space Station is a joint project of the USA and Russia, and many of the spacecraft visits to the ISS are launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

I hope this new project bears fruit.  It shows that the United States and the Russian Federation have more to gain through cooperation than ramping up a new Cold War.

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Bernie Sanders’ baby steps toward peace

September 27, 2017

On foreign policy, Democrats in Congress fall into two broad categories.   There is a small group that is anti-war under Republican administrations and pro-war under Democratic administrations.   There is a larger group that is consistently bipartisan and pro-war.

Bernie Sanders was relatively silent on foreign policy during the 2016 election campaign.   He was less militaristic than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but did not question the fundamental assumptions behind U.S. global military intervention.

Recently he made a foreign policy speech and gave an interview to The Intercept criticizing some bad aspects of American foreign policy.

Most importantly, he questioned the long-standing U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, which goes back to Henry Kissinger and the Nixon and Ford administrations.   Kissinger made a deal in which the U.S. would support and protect Saudi Arabia militarily in return for the Saudis assuring the U.S. of an oil supply and recycling its oil profits into purchases of arms made by U.S. companies.

This long-standing policy continues in the form of U.S. support for the Saudi government’s struggle with its rival, Iran, to be the dominant power in the Middle East.

Sanders said he does not regard Saudi Arabia as an ally—in contrast to President Trump, whose praise for Saudi Arabia contrasts with his hostility toward European democratic allies.

He correctly pointed out that the Saudis support jihadist terrorists and the radical jihadist ideology and he opposed U.S. support for the murderous Saudi attack on Yemen.

In contrast, Sanders supports the agreement with negotiated by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, in which Iran agreed to stop its uranium enrichment program  in return for listing of international sanctions.

Mostly, though, Sanders criticized Trump administration policies mainly on procedural grounds, much like Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s criticism of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.   The criticism is less of what is being done as the way it is being done.

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President Trump and his new axis of evil

September 20, 2017

President Donald Trump said this to say in his address to the United Nations yesterday—

We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government.  But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.

He went on to say—

Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

I think these would be excellent points, if only he had applied them to the United States as well as the rest of the world.

He called for an intensification of economic and diplomatic warfare against North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, his new axis of evil.

How is this in the interest of the American people?  How is this consistent with respecting national sovereignty?   Are not North Korea, Iran and Venezuela sovereign nations?

The United States has paid radical jihadist terrorists to overthrow the government of Libya and is attempting to use them to overthrow the government of Syria—two sovereign states that never have threatened the United States.   The result has been to reduce these two countries to chaos and misery, as the cost of thousands of innocent lives.

President Trump in that very speech threatened another nation with the most destructive weapons known to humanity—

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

He accused the North Korean government of starving and torturing its own people, and various other crimes, which were real though not necessarily current.  But then he threatened an even worse atrocity.

To be fair, it is not clear whether he is threatening North Korea with attack merely if it fails to disarm or whether he is threatening retaliation in the event of an attack, which is different.

This ambiguity may be deliberate on President Trump’s part; he may think keeping others guessing is a good negotiating strategy.   Where nuclear weapons are concerned, this is dangerous.  It may lead the other person to think he has nothing to lose by launching an attack.

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North Korea: totalitarianism in action

September 19, 2017

When I was young, I was haunted by the specter of totalitarianism—the idea of an all-powerful state that not only could regulate its subjects’ every action, but get inside their minds and convince them this was normal.

As a college student, I read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and George Orwell’s 1984 and most of his essays.

I thought the future held three great perils: (1) the collapse of civilization due to overpopulation and resource exhaustion, (2) the destruction of civilization through nuclear war and (3) the triumph of totalitarianism, as manifested in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China.

None of these fears came true, although the first two are still very much with us.   As for totalitarianism, there are many cruel and bloody governments in the world, but they are not, in the strict definition of the word, totalitarian.   Totalitarianism exists in only one place—North Korea—where it has endured for 70 years.

I got an inside view of North Korea by reading WITHOUT YOU THERE IS NO US: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.   She is an American of Korean heritage who taught English for six months in 2011 at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUSH).

The title of the book is taken from an anthem the students sang at different times each day.    The “you” was Kim Jong-il, then the ruler of North Korea, and the “us” is everyone else in North Korea.

Suki Kim said the whole idea of individual thinking was alien to her students.   For example, they found it incredibly difficult to write a five-paragraph essay, because this involved stating an argument and then presenting evidence in support of the argument.   What they were accustomed to writing was unstructured praise of their country, their leaders and the official Juche ideology.

PUSH was founded and financed by evangelical Christians, many of Korean extraction, who agreed to build and staff a university at no cost to the North Korean government, and to refrain from proselytizing.   Presumably their hope was that they could subtly plant the seeds of Christianity and that they would be on the scene when and if North Korea ever granted religious freedom.

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The US has tried negotiating with North Korea

September 10, 2017

The negotiations room at Panmunjom

North Korea is ruled by a murderous totalitarian government that has committed acts of terrorism.   But that government has been willing to make arms agreements with the United States in the past, and it is the U.S. government that has broken these agreements.

 The first agreement was the 1953 Armistice that ended the Korean Conflict.   Under this agreement, the two sides agreed to stop fighting, pull back, respect and demilitarized zone and not introduce any new weapons into the Korean peninsula, pending signing of a peace treaty.

That is, each side could replace weapons, rifle for rifle and tank for tank, but they couldn’t increase the total number of weapons or introduce new weapons.   The U.S. renounced that part of the treaty in 1958 by bringing atomic weapons to South Korea.

Now, you can make the argument that this action was necessary to preserve the balance of power.   And later on, the North Koreans were discovered to have dug tunnels under the DMZ for the purpose of sending spies and agents into South Korea.   But still: It was the United States, not North Korea, that broke the terms of the Armistice.

Sometime in the 1980s, North Korea began work on a nuclear bomb.  In 1994,  President Bill Clinton sent ex-President Jimmy Carter to North Korea, where he persuaded the North Korean government to shut down its plutonium test reactor and put it under the control of international inspectors.   In return, the North Koreans got shipments of oil for its power grid and two light water reactors built by an international consortium.   All this was supposed to lead to normal relations between the two countries—which didn’t happen.

In 2002, President George W. Bush canceled the agreement.   His administration claimed the North Koreans  were cheating, by working on a uranium bomb.   The evidence for this is unclear, and the North Koreans claimed that the U.S. hadn’t fulfilled its part of the agreement.

Be that as it may, the North Koreans sent the inspectors home and resumed their work on a plutonium bomb.   By 2007, they exploded their first nuclear device.   Ending the agreement accomplished nothing.

The Bush administration resumed negotiations and arrived at a new tentative agreement to freeze nuclear weapons development at the new level.   But President Barack Obama didn’t follow through.   Maybe he thought that he didn’t have enough political capital to try to make peace with Iran, Cuba and North Korea, too.

Instead the U.S. government tried to pressure North Korea by means of economic sanctions.   North Korea responded by doubling down on its nuclear weapons program.

Now President Donald Trump threatens “fire and fury”.   The government of North Korea says that it will never give up its nuclear weapons so long as the United States is hostile and threatens North Korea with its own nuclear weapons.   Which is a way of saying it might give up its nuclear weapons if the U.S. was genuinely willing to make peace.

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Why threatening Kim Jong-un is futile

September 7, 2017

Kim Jong-un tells the people of North Korea that they live in the most advanced and admired nation in the world, but that they are under threat by the United States.

Threatening North Korea reinforces the message that they have to unify behind their Supreme Leader.

Isolating North Korea helps shut out the knowledge that not everybody in the world is as regimented and poor as they area.

Recent history shows Kim that there is no safety in renouncing nuclear weapons.  Saddam Hussein renounced nuclear weapons,   Muammar Qaddafi renounced nuclear weapons.   That didn’t save them from being killed like animals following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and proxy invasion of Libya.

Kim Jong-un surely knows that a nuclear attack on the United States would be suicidal.   His nuclear weapons tests and missile demonstrations make sense as an attempt to deter attack.   Bear in mind that the United States  conducts military exercises in South Korea as if rehearsing for an attack on North Kora.

The real danger is if Kim Jong-un comes to believe that his country is going to be attacked, and that he has nothing to lose by firing nuclear missiles (assuming he actually has nuclear missiles).

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Congress reins in Trump’s peace-making powers

August 3, 2017

You might think Congress would try to rein in President Trump’s war-making powers, considering his lack of judgment and self-control.

You might think Congress would have second-thoughts about giving Trump authority to engage in acts of war, order assassinations and engage in economic warfare, strictly on his own say-so.

You might thank that, and so might I.

But what Congress has done is to let all of Donald Trump’s war-making powers stand, while limiting his power to make peace.

The new sanctions legislation writes existing sanctions against Russia into law, enacts new sanctions and forbids the President to lift sanctions without consent of Congress.

  • This is a bad idea because it puts the USA in a permanent state of cold war with the world’s second largest nuclear weapons power.
  • This is a bad idea because it sets the United States against its European allies, who see their oil and gas prices go up.
  • This is a bad idea because President Putin is likely to retaliate by ending U.S.-Russian co-operation in the space program.

All this is to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2017 U.S. election, even though such interference has never been proved.

The charge that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign computers is treated by Congress and most of the Washington press as a proved fact, but the FBI has never been allowed access to those computers, and has never demanded access to those computers.

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Don’t underestimate Trump’s power to do harm

July 28, 2017

Because Donald Trump seems so undisciplined and ignorant, I continually underestimate his effectiveness.

I didn’t think he would be nominated.   I didn’t think he would be elected.   And sometimes I fool myself into thinking it is better to have Trump in the White House than somebody with the same agenda, but more competent.

This is a mistake.   In order to do good, you need not only good will, but intelligence and hard work, but that in order to do harm, all you need is malice.

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>>>Donald Trump has left many key positions in government unfilled, but is moving forward at a rapid pace to nominate federal judges and U.S. attorneys.   The judges will be in office possibly decades after Trump is gone.   District judges and appeals court judges are almost as important as Supreme Court justices because most cases don’t reach the highest court.

Many of Trump’s executive orders have been blocked by court rulings.   Putting his own people on the bench lessens the likelihood that this will happen.

The bulk of his nominations have been in states represented by Republicans.   Customs of the Senate allow a Senator to block a judgeship nomination.   Concentrating on Republican states is smart because it means he can get a lot of his people approved before turning to the Democratic states.

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Did Senate Dems trade ACA for Russia sanctions?

June 15, 2017

Senate Democrats reportedly made a deal to allow Republicans to gut Obamacare in return for their support of tougher sanctions against Russia.

The Republicans have a 52 to 48 majority, so they have the power to force through their plan.   We the public don’t know what it is going to be, but, in order to be reconcilable with the House bill, it will include denying government health care benefits to millions of people in order to enable tax cuts for the very rich.

There are procedural tactics that the Democrats could use to delay action until public opposition has time to build, but they reportedly have agreed not to do this.

So the public loses a program that, despite its many flaws, has saved lives in return for the increased possibility of war with Russia.

Reports of a deal may be false or exaggerated and, if there is a deal, not all Democrats may be on board with it.

But it is an indisputable fact that the Democratic leadership in Congress is putting much more energy into investigation, so far fruitless, of Trump’s ties with Russia than into opposing the Republican political agenda.

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ISIS vs. Iran: which side should we be on?

June 7, 2017

The ISIS attack on Iran shows the alignment of alliances in the Middle East.

On one side, there are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and also Israel.

On the other, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

If the U.S. aim is to crush Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, why does the U.S. side with Saudi Arabia against Iran?

If you think Iran is the problem, ask yourself:

When was the last time that Iranian-backed terrorists attacked people in Europe or North America?

When was the last time that terrorists backed by Al Qaeda or ISIS attacked people in Israel?

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