Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

How to avoid war with Russia and China

January 5, 2022

Click to enlarge. Source: The Sun.

The way for the United States to avoid a shooting war with China and Russia is to unilaterally stop waging economic, diplomatic and covert war against those two countries, and to stop positioning offensive military forces near their borders.

I use the word “unilaterally” for two reasons. One is that we the American people get no benefit from our government’s Cold War against these two countries. Therefore it costs us nothing to give it up.

The other is that the leaders of these two countries are not going to negotiate with us because the U.S. government has proved itself, in a Russian phrase, “not agreement capable.”

The U.S. government has broken agreements under both Democratic and Republican admininstrations.  President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that, if he agreed to the reunification of Germany, the NATO alliance would not expand one inch eastward.  This agreement was broken by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.  

President Obama signed a formal agreement, along with five other countries, to lift economic sanctions against Iran, in return for Iran’s accepting restrictions on their nuclear development program.  This was a sacrifice on the part of Iran, which looks to nuclear energy as a source of power when the oil runs dry.  It cost the USA nothing.

Even so, President Trump canceled the agreement, and President Joe Biden says he will not reinstate it unless Iran accepts additional restrictions.  But why would the government of Iran trust the USA?  Why would China or Russia?

War hawks argue that President Vladimir Putin is a new Adolf Hitler, who intends to conquer the former Soviet republics first, the former Soviet satellite states next, and, after that, who knows?  I don’t see any evidence of this.  I don’t see any evidence of Russian troops having a permanent presence in any country where they’re not wanted.

Russian “volunteers” helped the Russian-speaking secessionists in Donetz and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.  But President Putin has ruled out annexing these regions to Russia.  He wants them to remain as part of Ukraine, but with autonomy to shield their people from extreme Ukrainian nationalists and neo-Nazis.

Russia did annex Crimea, but most Crimean residents are Russians and Crimea is the long-time location of a vital Russian naval and military base.  

If Russia was interested in reconquering former Soviet republics, it would have had a perfect excuse to do so in 1991.  Georgia attacked Russian troops in a neighboring territory, and Russians responded by occupying all of Georgia in a swift five-day war.  But then the Russians withdrew.  

If Russian troops had remained in Georgia, or if Russia invaded Ukraine proper, the result would be a quagmire war, similar to Russia’s war in Afghanistan.  I think Russian leaders have learned from experience, even if U.S. leaders have not.

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The passing scene: Links 12/27/2021

December 27, 2021

The Claims of Memory by Wilfred M. McCloy for First Things.  Conservatism is necessary for progress.  If you can’t preserve existing good things, it is futile to try to create new good things.  Burning everything down and starting over is one of the worst ideas in history.

Everything Going Great: Bad Faith, Worse News and Julian Assange by Edward Snowden for Continuing Ed.

2021 Year in Review: The Only Way Out Is Through by Alexandra Bradbury for Labor Notes.  The labor movement is reviving, but has a long way to go.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

Smartphones Are a New Tax on the Poor by Julia Ticona for Wired.  Low-wage workers are expected to be connected to the Internet, even though many can’t afford it.  As someone said, it’s expensive to be poor.

Hillary 2024? Given the competition, she may be the Dems’ best hope by Joe Concha for The Hill.

Friendly foul-mouthed crow befriends entire elementary school before state police are called in by Lizzy Acker for The Oregonian.  Something cheerful to end with.

Putin’s ultimatum and the threat of war

December 21, 2021

Destruction Is Still Mutually Assured by Freddie deBoer.

Russia Details Security Demands to U.S. and NATO by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Only the Powerful Issue Ultimatums by Andrei Martyanov (a Russian view).

Russia’s Ultimatum to the West by the Saker (another Russian view)

A surprise Russian ultimatum: new draft treaties to roll back NATO by Gilbert Doctorow.  [Added 12/23/2021]

We’ve Seen the Ultimatum: What Is the ‘Or Else’? by Patrick Armstrong for Russia Observer.  [Added 12/23/2021]  A long list of things Russia could do short of nuclear escalation.

Globalist Germany and nationalist France?

December 20, 2021

German Chancellor Olaf Scoltz and French President Emmanuel Macron

Diana Johnstone, a long-time independent reporter of European politics, wrote an interesting article about the differences between Germany and France in economic, environmental and military police.

Germany is confident and expansive.  France is defensive and fearful of national decline.  Or so she says.

Germany is committed to green energy, feminism, globalization and an anti-Russian “rules-based international order.”  France is committed to nuclear energy and a nationalistic industrial policy, and is reluctant to join in a new Cold War against Russia.

Franco-German unity has been the key to European unity since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Union, in 1952.   If they can’t stay unified, the EU may not have much of a future.

Germany’s new government is, as she puts it, a “traffic light” coalition.  Red represents the Social Democrats, yellow (or gold) represents the pro-business Free Democrats and green represents the Green Party.

A new Ministry of Economic and Climate will be in charge of reducing CO2 emissions.  Every governmental measure will have to pass a climate check.  

Germany today is heavily dependent on coal as a result of phasing out nuclear energy, and it has delayed certification of the new gas pipeline from Russia.  Itt has a goal of generating 80 percent of Germany’s electricity from renewable energy, mainly wind farms, by 2030, sooner than before.

One of the new government’s priorities is to develop an electric car industry for the export market, both inside and outside the EU.  Germany’s expectation is that all EU countries will be open to importing the new electric cars without favoring their own industry.   The European Commission is considering rules that would require all cars sold in Europe after 2035 to be carbon neutral.

France’s Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is being pulled to the right, Johnstone wrote.  There is a fear that France is losing its national character and also its position in the world.  France is not going to shut down its network of nuclear-powered electric power plants any time soon.

The French government wants to build up French manufacturing industry.  This might bring it into conflict with EU rules and regulations, which bans government policies to favor domestic industry, except in the military sphere.

There has a strong right-wing, anti-immigrant movement in France, led by Marine Le Pen.  But now there’s an even more extreme movement, led by a journalist named Eric Zemmour.  His party is called the Reconquest Party; the idea is to reconquer France for the French.

The new German government wants strong ties with the United States, which, according to Johnstone, means dropping objections to storing nuclear weapons on German soil.  France hasn’t openly opposed NATO, but is less enthusiastic about the alliance than Germany is.

Macron has floated the idea of an independent European military force, independent of the United States, but hasn’t gotten anywhere with the Germans and other NATO allies.  Johnstone said he wouldn’t like Ukraine in NATO, because it would expand German influence and its farm exports would compete with French farmers.

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China, journalism, strikes: Links 10/15/2021

October 15, 2021

The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning by N.S. Lyons for Palladium.   The clash of civilizations.

Intersectional Imperialism and the Woke Cold War: The New Faith Prepares for a Global Crusade by N.S. Lyons for The Upheaval.

‘Frozen Chosin’ Korean War Movie Set to Be Biggest Hit of 2021 by James Barber for Military.com.  In the movie, the Chinese are the good guys.

Out of the Newsroom by Spencer Ackerman for Forever Wars.  Newspapers whose reporters and editors all work from home.

“Government Without Newspapers”: the manufacture of ignorance by Patrick Lawrence for The Scrum.

A strike wave is coming to save America’s working class the old-fashioned way by Will Bunch for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Great Strike of 2021 by Jack Rasmus.  They also strike who simply refuse to take dangerous jobs for less than a living wage.

Why Record Numbers of Workers Are Quitting and Striking by Sonali Kolhatkar via Naked Capitalism. [Added 10/16/2021]

The Untraversed Land by John Michael Greer for Ecosophia.   How the structure of the world economy causes shortages.

The Afghan War Comes Home to Minneapolis by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.

The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think by Zeynep Tufeckci for The New York Times.

How many people get long Covid?  More than half of those infected, researchers say by Pennsylvania State University.

The old Cold War and the coming one

October 11, 2021

The United States is gearing up for a new Cold War with China.  But the new Cold War will be difference from the one with the Soviet Union.  In some ways, the roles are reversed.

At the outbreak of the first Cold War in the late 1940s, the United States was the world’s leading industrial power and a champion of the status quo.

The Soviet Union tried to catch up with the USA, but never succeeded. It was seen as threat, first, because of its nuclear arsenal. It was, and still is, the only nation with the capability of destroying the United States. Its ability to retaliate with nuclear weapons made it virtually invulnerable to attack.

It also was a threat because it used its invulnerable position to subsidize, sponsor and inspire insurgents and terrorists all over the world, which is not to say the USA did not itself engage in covert action and dirty tricks.

The Cold War ended because the Soviet Union’s failed economic system could not sustain its ambitions for world power.

Now compare that with the situation of the USA and China today. China is expected to surpass the United States as an industrial power within a few years.  By some measure, it already has.

China is a defender of the status quo, except for certain border area claims.  Unlike the old Soviet Union, it doesn’t have a national goal of making the world over in its image.

It doesn’t project its military power far beyond its borders. Its main tool for power is to grant or deny access to its huge market to nations, companies and individuals based on whether they pay lip service to or go against Chinese perceived national security interests.

One of the main sources of U.S. power is the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which gives it the same invulnerability to attack as the old Soviet Union had and the Russian Federation still has.

The other source is financial power, a legacy of the late 1940s when the USA was the world’s main industrial power. The fact that the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds are still the basis of the world’s financial system gives the U.S. government leverage it does not hesitate to use.

It uses its position to finance covert wars, proxy wars and acts of war short of full-scale invasion. It is a source of instability, not stability. The Chinese, except in their own borderlands, and their Russia allies are champions of world order and the status quo.

In the old Cold War, the Soviet Union was pushing an ideology.  In the new Cold War, the U.S. is trying to impose “woke-ness” and neoliberalism on the world.  In the old Cold War, time was on the side of the USA.  In the new Cold War, time is on the side of China.

Of course there are a lot of things wrong with the world as it is.  Accepting the status quo means accepting tyranny, poverty and war.  And the Chinese system is not one that I would wish to live under.

Maybe I push the role reversal analogy too far.  But U.S. interventions do not make the world better, and are not really intended to.  The present-day USA is a disrupter.  China, unlike in the Mao era, is not a disruptor.  And unlike in the first Cold War, time is not on the side of the USA.

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Woke-ness as a U.S. soft power weapon

September 24, 2021

Enemies of the woke?

The economist Tyler Cowen says the U.S. government should use the “woke” movement as an instrument of U.S. soft power.

Although Cowen himself deplores the excesses of woke-ism, he pointed out that it is a genuinely popular movement, which has taken hold in large corporations, private universities and the mainstream press, and is spreading around the world.

Why not take advantage of this? he asked.  Almost every country has some group of people who are oppressed, or feel oppressed.  Point this out, identify with this group of people and you have a movement that looks to the USA for inspiration and help.

I think he underrates the degree to which this is already being done, and the degree to which the world is already polarized around woke-ism.

This wouldn’t be new.  In the old Cold War days, it is said that the Central Intelligence Agency promoted logical positivism and abstract art in order to discredit the Soviets’ historical materialism and socialist realist.

Look at the campaign against Hungary for being anti-immigration and suppressing pro-gay educational materials in its school system.  Look at how foreign aid is used to pressure African governments to be less anti-gay, just as the G.W. Bush administration used aid funds as a lever to suppress birth control and abortion.)

Then look at the nations that attended the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  One thing Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan have in common is that they are anti-woke.

China, for example, has cracked down on portrayals of effeminate men in the entertainment media.  RT News ridicules American social liberalism.  The governments of Iran, Pakistan and India are committed to religious nationalism—different religions, but united in being anti-woke.

Putting the merits of these issues to one side, I think anti-woke patriotism is a source of national unity and woke identity politics is a source of disunity.  A completely cynical government would export identity politics to its rivals and enemies while emphasizing national unity at home.

Conflicts over wealth and power can be compromised, but not questions of religion and ideology.  But that’s the point.  It is easier to get people to fight in your interest if you can convince them they’re fighting for their religion and their ideals.

LINKS

Woke entry in Wikipedia.  I myself define woke-ness as a civil rights movement in support of ethnic identity and the sexual revolution.

Woke Movement Is Global, and America Should Be (Mostly) Proud by Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg Opinion.

Eurasia takes shape: How the SCO just flipped the world order by Pepe Escobar for The Cradle. 

China and Russia are the real winners

August 19, 2021

The real winners in Afghanistan were Russia and China.   The intrepid foreign correspondent Pepe Escobar of Asia Times reported on how the Russians and Chinese have advised the Taliban on how to put their best foot forward.  He went on to write:

What matters is that Russia-China are way ahead of the curve, cultivating parallel inside tracks of diplomatic dialogue with the Taliban. 

It’s always crucial to remember that Russia harbors 20 million Muslims, and China at least 35 million.  These will be called to support the immense project of Afghan reconstruction – and full Eurasia reintegration.

Source: BBC

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi saw it coming weeks ago.  And that explains the meeting in Tianjin in late July, when he hosted a high-level Taliban delegation, led by Mullah Baradar, de facto conferring them total political legitimacy.

Beijing already knew the Saigon moment was inevitable. Thus the statement stressing China expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan”.

What this means in practice is China will be a partner of Afghanistan on infrastructure investment, via Pakistan, incorporating it into an expanded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) bound to diversify connectivity channels with Central Asia.

The New Silk Road corridor from Xinjiang to the port of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea will branch out: the first graphic illustration is Chinese construction of the ultra-strategic Peshawar-Kabul highway.

The Chinese are also building a major road across the geologically spectacular, deserted Wakhan corridor from western Xinjiang all the way to Badakhshan province, which incidentally, is now under total Taliban control.

The trade off is quite straightforward: the Taliban should allow no safe haven for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and no interference in Xinjiang.

The overall trade/security combo looks like a certified win-win.  And we’re not even talking about future deals allowing China to exploit Afghanistan’s immense mineral wealth.

LINK

How Russia-China are stage-managing the Taliban by Pepe Escobar for The Vineyard of the Saker.

What the Geneva summit revealed about Biden

June 23, 2021

Joe Biden arrives in Geneva June 15. (AP)

During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, a number of observers expressed concern about Joe Biden’s cognitive abilities.

Foreign corespondent Patrick Lawrence wrote that President Biden’s performance at the Geneva summit meeting last week bears this out.

Geneva requires us to face a fact most of us have either flinched from, buried altogether, or noted in an offhand manner not devoid of mockery. 

The fact is this: We have a president who suffers some measure of senility and is in consequence incapable of fully executing his duties.  Geneva brought this home in the starkest of circumstances.

[snip]

Flubs in press conferences, more malapropisms than you’ve had hot dinners, Biden’s failure to remember what the Declaration of Independence is called—“the, you know, you know, the thing”—are small stuff in the end, the stuff of the jokes.

An inability to conduct the affairs of state with a major world power is quite another. No room for ridicule or YouTube segments here. The matter is simply too grave.

Two highly consequential treaties—Open Skies and New START—tensions NATO provokes on Russia’s western flank, the Syria mess, the Ukraine mess, Russia’s hypersonic weaponry, Israel’s apparent intent to go for broke this time with the Palestinians, all the cyberbusiness—little to nothing got done in Geneva on any of these questions.

Given how thoroughly Biden’s people scripted his appearance, I am convinced this was intentional. Get out there and posture for the “folks” back home, Mr. Prez. We’ll take care of the substantive stuff later.

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The sources and future of U.S. global power

April 20, 2021

Click to enlarge.

The goals of U.S. power.

With the fall of Communism in Russia in 1991, the USA found itself an unrivaled global power. Two factions in the U.S. governing establishment—the deep state, the establishment, the power elite, call them what you will—decided to keep it that way.

They set policy all through the Clinton, G.W. Bush, Trump and Obama administrations, and they continue to set policy today.

Neoconservatives sought full spectrum military dominance for the United States in every region of the world. Aside from the love of power for its own sake, they thought this would forever secure the United States from any military threat.

Neoliberals sought to give U.S. banks and global corporations access to every region of the world as a source of customers, raw materials and cheap labor. 

This meant suppression of socialist and nationalist regimes that opposed foreign domination of their economies, and, above all, any regime that refused to do business in U.S. dollars.

Other motives are loyalty to alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel and avoidance of the humiliation of obvious defeat.

No doubt there were and are individuals in the U.S. power structure who sincerely believe in using U.S. power to promote democracy, human rights, a “rules-based international order” and the like.  But they are not the decision-makers.  They are only allowed to speak when their ideals happen to coincide with U.S. policy goals.

The sources of U.S. power.

The main source of U.S. power is the dominance of the U.S. dollar in conducting world trade.

This gives the U.S. government the power to borrow money to finance the world’s most expensive military establishment, and not worry about paying it back.

The U.S. Navy dominates the world’s sea lanes, and the U.S. Air Force dominates the air over poor countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  This allows bombing with impunity.

By using air power and flying killer drones, special operations forces and subsidized foreign fighters, the U.S. military can wage war without large-scale sacrifice of life.

The Central Intelligence Agency has a record of plotting the overthrow of left-wing governments and installing U.S.-friendly dictators.  Latin Americans have a joke: There will never be a military coup in the United States because there is no U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C.

Another source of U.S. power is the thousands of weapons in its nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world.  The only nation with a comparable arsenal is Russia.  This means that no other nation except Russia can rule out the possibility of a nuclear attack.

The power of the dollar also gives the U.S. government control of the financial bottlenecks of world commerce, and impose sanctions and embargoes on foreign countries without having to worry about retaliation.

Much of the world’s commerce flows through the New York money center banks.  This gives New York banks the authority to impound the funds of nations such as Iran and Venezuela.  It also gives federal judges in New York jurisdiction over such things as Argentina’s settlement with his creditors or Ecuador’s fine of Chevron for environmental violations.

The SWIFT system—Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, based in Brussels—is a messaging system used by banks to transfer money and communicate information.  Being cut off from the SWIFT system means being cut off from the bulk of the world financial system, and SWIFT enforces U.S. sanctions.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are dominated by Americans.  They have a record of insisting that debtor countries impose “austerity”—higher taxes, fewer government services, higher prices and lower wages.  The debtor countries have to sell national assets and open up to U.S. and other foreign investors.

The 2014 coup in Ukraine came after the incumbent President decided to take a Russian loan instead of an IMF loan.  The new government took the unpopular IMF loan.

Click to enlarge.

The threat to U.S. power.

The greatest threat to U.S. power is neither Islamic terrorism, nor Russian subversion, nor China’s growing industrial power. 

It is the replacement of the U.S. dollar as the medium of exchange for doing world business.  Without dollar supremacy, all other sources of U.S. power would collapse.

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Afghanistan, Iran and U.S. power

April 19, 2021

This is from a message by my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey.  It’s as good an analysis as I’ve seen lately. .

Whether my speculation on the continuing US presence in Afghan has much to do with their intransigence there, I can’t see the pressure-on-Iran angle as water under the bridge, whatever the status of the nuclear deal.

There are at least these factors: –

Long-time obsession, certainly 1979 on, with Iran for many of the people with a say in making the decisions. –

Iran’s role in MEast:

US fealty to Israel.

US- Saudi relationship, though not as firm as it used to be, remains in operational high gear.

Iran’s reach throughout the region-  Hezbollah; the Houthis; the Palestinians; the Assad regime; the ascendant position of the Shias in Iraq, courtesy of the Bush II gang.

What am I missing?

Yes, there’s the pivot to Asia where I agree our greater focus should be, but these factors in MEast won’t be overlooked any time soon.

– Iran in US-Europe entanglements- finance capital and energy policy, where the US squeeze on Europe has all but slipped away. And NATO, which has taken a hit recently from Trump (even a broken clock is right twice a day), will continue to be a sore point, especially when the Afghanistan post-mortems begin and many European commentators will be asking “How did we ever get into THAT?”

– Iran itself has been and continues to be a big plum for imperial gazers. In addition to all the other factors I list here: oil; other resources?  – natural gas in the field in the Gulf and co-administered with Quatar is the largest reserve in the world; 75 million relatively prosperous (or could be) souls- quite a market opportunity (The Burger King in Pristina, tennis shoes, movies, bank loans for mega-dams…); and quite a few hands to work the small assembly industry that once was growing in Iran; yet another “threat” for military producers and their flunkies to use to gas up Congress (as if they need it). … …

– Internal Iranian politics- properly speaking, not a factor for this list, but a factor: Who in Iran, of whatever political persuasion, could sensibly trust the US on anything?

– THE UPSHOT: The imperialists are between a rock and a hard place. Everywhere their options are limited by the will of others and most of those limited options have obvious unhappy downsides for them. Their stumble-bumbling is rooted in this predicament. It’s dangerous.

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Biden’s bombs and the forever wars

April 6, 2021

America’s Longest War: No Bang, No Whimper by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Biden’s Foreign Policy Is Largely Indistinguishable from Trump’s, an interview of Noam Chomsky for Truthout.

The passing scene: March 26, 2021

March 25, 2021

Here are links to some articles I found interesting, and maybe you will, too.

The US Intelligence Community, Flouting Laws, Is Increasingly Involving Itself in Domestic Politics by Glenn Greenwald.

“A letter from House Intelligence Committee members demands answers from the DNI about illegal breaches of the wall guarding against CIA and NSA domestic activity.”

When the CIA was chartered in 1947, it was prohibited from spying on Americans, in part because President Truman was afraid it would get involved in politics.  In the 1960s, the CIA was caught spying on U.S. political activists.  Now it is happening again in the name of a “war on domestic terrorism.”

A Biden Appointee’s Troubling Views on the First Amendment by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

“Columbia law professor Timothy Wu wonders if the First Amendment is ‘obsolete’ and believes in ‘returning this country to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s’.”

There is a contradiction between the view of Timothy Wu, an appointee to the National Economic Council, that anti-trust enforcement should be a priority in the Biden administration, and his view that Facebook, Google and other social media companies have a responsibility to protect the pubic from false statements.  These companies need monopoly power in order to carry out that mission.

If you give a private corporation or government agency the power and mandate to monitor communication to separate truth from lies, what you’re doing is giving that corporation or that agency a monopoly on lying.

Biden Team Prepares $3 Trillion in New Spending for the Economy by Jim Tankersley for the New York Times.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas.)

“A pair of proposals would invest in infrastructure, education, workforce development and fighting climate change, with the aim of making the economy more productive.”

The consensus in the Biden administration appears to be that President Obama was too cautious in fighting the 2008 recession, and that they will not repeat that mistake.

Good!  But can he overcome Republican opposition in the Senate?  What about monopoly power, financial fraud, international competitiveness and other problems that can’t be solved simply by flooding the economy with money?  Still, it’s early days and a good start.

Does Biden Really Want to End the Forever Wars? by Jack Goldsmith and Samuel Moyn for The New York Times.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas) 

“If he does, he must work with Congress and go far beyond narrowing old permission slips for conflict.”

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines: If a headline asks a question, the answer is “no.”

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Biden says he told Putin he doesn’t have a soul

March 19, 2021

There are a number of disturbing things about President Biden’s interview on ABC News last Wednesday.  One is that he plans to retaliate against Russia over something that has not been defined and for which there is no evidence.

Another is his lack of discipline in his speech, and how easily he was led to say things that have important diplomatic repercussions.  He talked to George Sephanopoulos as if he were talking to a good friend in private over drinks, not to a reporter on public record.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Director of National Intelligence came out with a report today saying that Vladimir Putin authorized operations during the election to under — denigrate you, support President Trump, undermine our elections, divide our society. What price must he pay?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: He will pay a price. I, we had a long talk, he and I, when we — I know him relatively well. And I– the conversation started off, I said, “I know you and you know me.  If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.”

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You said you know he doesn’t have a soul.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I did say that to him, yes. And — and his response was, “We understand one another.”  It was– I wasn’t being a wise guy.  I was alone with him in his office.  And that — that’s how it came about. It was when President Bush had said, “I looked in his eyes and saw his soul.”  I said, “Looked in your eyes and I don’t think you have a soul.”  And looked back and he said, “We understand each other.”  Look, most important thing dealing with foreign leaders in my experience, and I’ve dealt with an awful lot of ’em over my career, is just know the other guy. Don’t expect somethin’ that you’re– that — don’t expect him to– or her to– voluntarily appear in the second editions of Profiles in Courage.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Uh-huh. I do.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So what price must he pay?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The price he’s gonna pay we’ll– you’ll see shortly.  I’m not gonna– there’s– by the way, we oughta be able that ol’ — that trite expression “walk and chew gum at the same time,” there’re places where it’s in our mutual interest to work together.  That’s why I renewed the START agreement with him.  That occurred while he’s doin’ this. But that’s overwhelmingly in the interest of humanity, that we diminish the prospect of a nuclear exchange.  But that and SolarWinds as well.  He’s been — they’ve done some mischievous things, to say the least.  And so we’re gonna have — I’m not gonna announce what I’m doing, but he’s gonna understand that —

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How about Mohammad —

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: — it’s not free.

Source: ABC News

What’s all this about looking Vladimir Putin in the eye?  Is there a ZOOM connection between the White House and the Kremlin?

What’s all this about being alone with Putin?  Was he able to speak to Putin without an interpreter?

What gives an American President standing to accuse any other foreign leader of being a “killer”?  Doesn’t he remember that the U.S. has been waging war by means of assassination since the George W. Bush administration?  Doesn’t he remember that President Obama boasted of being “pretty good at killing people”?

Did he really tell Putin that he doesn’t have a soul?  How does that help where “there are places where it’s in our mutual interest to work together?”

This is much like the kind of interview Ronald Reagan might have given in his declining years.

If President Biden goes along with ramping up a new cold war with Russia and China, while continuing to wage other big and little wars all over the world, then his other announced goals won’t be achieved and probably won’t matter.

It’s early days yet, so Biden’s course is not set.  It is encouraging that he is at least willing to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which President Trump refused to do.  One can hope.

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The forever wars are on track to continue

March 9, 2021

Click to enlarge

President Biden gives no indication of wanting to end the forever wars.  He does not plan to reopen negotiations with Iran or end the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia.  He is going along with a military buildup to confront China and Russia.  All this is bleeding the country dry, and making the United States weaker, not stronger.

LINKS

U.S. military budget: What can global bases do vs. COVID, cyber attacks? by Kim Helmgaard for USA Today.  “The U.S. has enjoyed military dominance for decades.  But in the face of emerging threats, some say a new strategy is in order.”

United States Counterterrorism Operations, 2018-2020 by Stephanie Saveli, etc., for the Costs of War project for Brown University’s Watson Institute.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Biden’s “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Promise Extends to His Foreign Policy by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Rewarding Failure by William Astore for TomDispatch.  “Why Pentagon Weapons Programs Rarely Get Canceled Despite Major Failure.”  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Biden’s Protection of Murderous Saudi Despots Shows the Hidden Reality of U.S. Foreign Policy by Glenn Greenwald.  “That the U.S. opposes tyranny is a glaring myth.  Yet it is not only believed, but often used to justify wars, bombing campaigns, sanctions and protracted conflict.”

New President, Same Old Forever Wars by Jacob Silverman for The New Republic.  “Biden’s air strike in Syria shows how little is going to change about America’s military entanglements in the Middle East.”

Dr. Tedros, the WHO, Africa and Chinese power

May 8, 2020

Nikolai Vladivostok is the blog handle of an Australian expatriate who has worked extensively in the Horn of  Africa.  He made four posts that contain good information about China, and its influence on the World Health Organization and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of WHO, which I haven’t come across elsewhere.

Here are links to the four posts—all well worth reading.

Dr. Tedros

Trust WHO?

Who the hell is Tedros?

How did China wrest control of the WHO?

How does Tedros manipulate the WHO?

N.V. described how the Chinese have extended their economic influence into Africa and used their leverage on African governments to influence United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization, and how that paid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve been skeptical of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempt to blame China for the spread of the virus.  I see it as a cynical attempt to divert attention from U.S. failures and to weaken China politically.

But propaganda—systemic attempts to influence public opinion—is not necessarily false.  There is circumstantial evidence that the virus could have originated in a Chinese research lab (not a bio-warfare lab) and escaped into the world through negligence.  I don’t claim to know the whole story, but there certainly is something to investigate.

The Chinese government has used the coronavirus pandemic to increase its geo-political influence.  It presents itself to the world as a kindly helper—the opposite of the U.S. government, whose diplomacy is based on threats and naked self-interest.

As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.  But if you are a fly, it doesn’t matter how you are caught.

Should we scapegoat China for the pandemic?

April 24, 2020

The Trump administration blames China for the coronavirus pandemic.  Administration sources say that if Xi Jinping had acted a week sooner than he did, some 95 percent of the infections in China could have been avoided.

Some go on to suggest that the Chinese government may lying about the pandemic.  They say it may have originated in a bio-lab and not in unsanitary live-animal meat markets as is generally believed.  And they say that Xi Jinping is lying about China’s success in bringing the pandemic under control.

Xi Jinping

I think there’s something to the first claim, but it’s a case of a pot calling a kettle black.  The world would have been better off if Donald Trump had acted six weeks sooner than he did.   People who live in a glass house throwing stones.

And while it’s possible that the Chinese government is lying, the U.S. government does’t have a good record for truth-telling.  Recall the claims that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction, that the Syrian government used sarin gas against its people and that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.

I’m reminded of a comment made by the late Richard Feynman when somebody asked him whether it was possible that UFOs are piloted by extraterrestrials.  He replied that he wasn’t interested in what was possible, but in what was so.

Lots of things are possible, but claims require evidence—or at least the considered opinion of some qualified expert who doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

The states of Missouri and Mississippi are suing China in U.S. courts.  Presumably the lawsuit won’t get anywhere because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bars lawsuits against foreign countries.

There’s a good reason for such a law.  If the Americans could sue foreign countries in U.S. courts and get damages, presumably by seizing foreign assets in the United States, then foreigners could sue the USA in their own courts and seize American assets.

My first thought in writing this post was that ramping up the cold war with China was a terrible idea because the U.S. depends on China for 80 percent of essential drugs.

However, a Google search turned up an article in Reason magazine that show this dependence is greatly exaggerated.  Nobody knows for sure, but the likely figure is closer ti 13 percent from China.

It is true that we Americans are overly dependent on foreign countries overall for medical supplies and much else.  We should do what we can to reduce that dependence, but that will be a project that will take years—assuming we can do it at all.  Meanwhile we can’t afford any break in these fragile global supply chains.

The other problem with scapegoating China is that it is a distraction from American failure.  For example, many countries screen travelers arriving at their airports from foreign countries.  If the traveler has a temperature, he or she is placed in quarantine for 14 days.  But travelers arriving at the New York City airports are allowed to go their way without checking.

It’s not a good sign when governments put excuses for failure in place while the crisis is still ongoing.  It means nothing will be learned from experience.

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China to reopen its filthy live-animal markets

March 31, 2020

Wet market in Guilin, China in 2014. Business Insider.

The coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated in filthy live-animal meat markets in Wuhan, China.  Now the Chinese government plans to allow these sources of infection to re-open.

A would-be totalitarian government can’t or won’t enforce basic public health measures.

This endangers not only the Chinese people, but the whole world.

Maybe this is a reflection on human nature.  It is easier to make people give up basic rights as citizens than give up cherished habits.

The point is not whether the Chinese government is mainly to blame for the pandemic.  That is a question for a later time.  The point is to demand that China change its policy once again and safeguard itself and the world.

Although the Chinese authorities originally suppressed news of the coronavirus outbreak, they then responded in a way I thought was magnificent.

Dan Wang, a business researcher, and Don McNeil, a New York Times reporter, described China’s effective quarantine and testing.

The Chinese built new hospitals in a matter of days, sequenced the virus genome and shared the information with the world, and provided needed medical supplies to other nations.

They’re getting a lot of credit for their achievements, which they deserve, but they also deserve condemnation for leaving the causes of the virus outbreak untouched and for spreading propaganda about U.S. biowarfare in order to distract attention from their own failures.

I know my own country’s leaders do not have great credibility.  China’s leaders see an opportunity to enhance their country’s power and prestige and I do not blame them for taking advantage of it.

But they’ll have greater prestige in the long run if they face facts and stop lying.

LINK

China’s Assault on the World by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  This is a good roundup of all the things the Chinese government is doing wrong.  Dreher advocates severance of all ties with China.  This is easier said than done.

Witnessing Wuhan by Tracy Wen Lui for Project Syndicate [Added 4/3/2020]

Note; I made minor rewrites a few hours after posting this.

The coronavirus and the new China-U.S. cold war

March 19, 2020

Xi Jinping visits Wuhan on March 10.  Photo via Unz Review

Xi Jinping is using the coronavirus pandemic to discredit the USA and to position China as the world leader and exemplar.

He contrasts China’s decisive response to the Wuhan outbreak to the slow, fumbling U.S. response.

He contrasts China’s generosity in helping other nations with U.S. economic warfare against vulnerable states.

And his government is spreading a theory that the disease originated not in a Wuhan meat market, but in a U.S. biowarfare laboratory.

Pete Escobar of Asia Times reported—

Beijing is carefully, incrementally shaping the narrative that, from the beginning of the coronovirus attack, the leadership knew it was under a hybrid war attack.

Xi’s terminology is a major clue. He said, on the record, that this was war.  And, as a counter-attack, a “people’s war” had to be launched.

Moreover, he described the virus as a demon or devil.  Xi is a Confucianist.  Unlike some other ancient Chinese thinkers, Confucius was loath to discuss supernatural forces and judgment in the afterlife.

However, in a Chinese cultural context, devil means “white devils” or “foreign devils”: guailo in Mandarin, gweilo in Cantonese. This was Xi delivering a powerful statement in code.

When Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, voiced in an incandescent tweet the possibility that “it might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan” – the first blast to this effect to come from a top official – Beijing was sending up a trial balloon signaliing that the gloves were finally off.  

Zhao Lijian made a direct connection with the Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019, which included a delegation of 300 US military.

Via Asia Times

The Chinese leaders claim to have the coronavirus under control in their own country, and now are taking a lead in fighting the disease worldwide.  Pepe Escobar went on to report—

Beijing sent an Air China flight to Italy carrying 2,300 big boxes full of masks bearing the script, “We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.”

China also sent a hefty humanitarian package to Iran, significantly aboard eight flights from Mahan Air – an airline under illegal, unilateral Trump administration sanctions.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic could not have been more explicit: “The only country that can help us is China. By now, you all understood that European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper.”

Under harsh sanctions and demonized since forever, Cuba is still able to perform breakthroughs – even on biotechnology. The anti-viral Heberon – or Interferon Alpha 2b – a therapeutic, not a vaccine, has been used with great success in the treatment of coronavirus.  

A joint venture in China is producing an inhalable version, and at least 15 nations are already interested in importing the therapeutic.

Now compare all of the above with the Trump administration offering $1 billion to poach German scientists working at biotech firm Curevac, based in Thuringia, on an experimental vaccine against Covid-19, to have it as a vaccine “only for the United States.”

Via Asia Times

China’s governing philosophy is a weird mixture of Maoist thought control, Confucian conservatism, blood-and-soil nationalism and neoliberal capitalism, together with elements of independent civil society left over from the Deng Xiaopeng era.  But Chinese success and American failure to deal with the coronavirus make the Chinese system highly appealing.

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The Cold War, Bernie Sanders and me

March 5, 2020

The divided world of 1980. Click to enlarge. Source: Wikipedia

A lot of politics consists of argument about who was right about conflicts of the past.

The rights and wrongs of the Civil War were a dividing line in U.S. politics for more than a century after it ended.  U.S. intervention in World War One and the Vietnam conflict were issues for a generation or more after those conflicts ended.  So it is with the Cold War, which more than 30 years ago.

When the Cold War began, many people, myself included, saw it as a conflict between freedom and totalitarianism.   Over time, increasing numbers of people, evidently including Bernie Sanders, saw it as a conflict between capitalism and revolution.

Joseph Stalin’s USSR killed millions of its people through purges and through famines caused by government policy.  Mao Zedong’s China did the same.  Their goal seemed to be to seed the world with little junior replicas of themselves.  To me, the danger was clear.

As what was called a “cold war liberal,” I was in good company.  My fellow anti-Communists included many liberals and social democrats, including the great George Orwell, and disillusioned ex-Communists, who had come to realize that Soviet Union was the opposite of their ideal of a good society.

But the opposing view had support, too.  It had support from George F. Kennan, Dean Acheson, John J. McCloy and the other architects of Cold War policy, who in fact saw their mission as the defense of capitalism against revolution.

In their correspondence among each other, they did not express fear of the nightmare vision of Arthur Koester’s Darkness at Noon or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Their fear was that revolutionary movements would cut off American business from access to markets and raw materials.

Here’s how Kennan, who was head of the State Department’s policy planning staff, explained U.S. priorities in 1948:

We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.

Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction….

We should cease to talk about vague and…, unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.  The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.  The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

Source: Noam Chomsky.

They didn’t think the U.S. public was willing to accept such harsh truths.  They agreed it was necessary to frighten the American people—to be, as Acheson put it, “clearer than the truth.”

So which side was right—the anti-Communists or their opponents?  Both had facts on their side.  Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China really were murderous dictatorships.  U.S. foreign policy really was more cynical than Americans were led to believe.  The question is: Which facts were more significant?

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Trump escalates U.S.-Russia nuclear arms race

February 23, 2020

Source: The Gray Zone.

Far from being an appeaser of Russia, President Trump is ramping up a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race and greatly increasing a real danger of nuclear war.

The USA has a bad bipartisan foreign policy

February 15, 2020

The so-called War on Terror is bipartisan.

George W. Bush ran in 2000 on a promise to adopt a more “humble” foreign policy.  He said the United States should stop dictating to the rest of the world.

But following the 9/11 attacks, he not only got authorization for an invasion of Afghanistan, whose government had given refuge to Osama bin Laden, the planner of the attacks.

He obtained authorization for an invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, based on false claims that its ruler, Saddam Hussein, was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO, said he was shown a plan by the Secretary of Defense shortly after 9/11 that called for invasion of seven countries in five years—Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.

Barack Obama voted against the authorization to invade Iraq.  But during his administration, the US continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and financed radical Al Qaeda-like militias to overthrow the governments of Libya and Syria.  The U.S. also bombed Somalia and stationed troops in Sudan, among many other countries.

In fact, nobody knows how many countries U.S. forces have bombed or how many they are bombing right now.

Obama did try to ease hostilities with Iran.  He negotiated an end to international economic sanctions on Iran in return for the Iranians renouncing a nuclear weapons development program that never existed in the first place.

Donald Trump is continuing all the wars of the Bush and Obama years, including the ones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, while working up to a possible new war with Iran.

He also is doubling down on the use of economic sanctions, which is a form of war.  The use of U.S. financial power to try to cut off Venezuela and Iran from world trade is the same as surrounding these two countries with ships and troops to prevent trade from getting in.  It creates just as much suffering as other forms of war.

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What the impeachment report really said

February 3, 2020

U.S. Senate holds impeachment trial

Michael Tracey of Real Clear Politics is probably one of the few people who read the House Judiciary Committee’s 658-page impeachment report.

The basis of the report is not just that President Trump abused the power of his office to harm his political rival, Joe Biden.  It is that his pause of military aid to Ukraine was actually a “betrayal of the nation” because it helped Russia.

The rhetoric reminds me of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s and his “twenty years of treason.”  McCarthy said U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union was not only wrong, but a conscious betrayal by Communist sympathizers, up to and included General George C. Marshall.

The impeachment report contains the same rhetoric.  According to Tracey, the report uses the phrase “impeachable treason” and states, “At the very heart of ‘Treason’ is deliberate betrayal of the nation and its security.”

“Such betrayal would not only be unforgivable,” the report’s explication of treason reads, “but would also confirm that the President remains a threat if allowed to remain in office. A President who has knowingly betrayed national security is a President who will do so again. He endangers our lives and those of our allies.”

This language is then imported into the impeachment articles almost verbatim: “Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.”

The report mostly uses the word “betrayal” rather than “treason” because treason has a specific Constitutional definition.  Treason consists of fighting for an enemy in time of war or giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy in time of war.  Conviction of treason requires confession by the accused or testimony of two independent witnesses of the treasonous act.

Although the Constitution gives the President the authority to determine foreign policy, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate on treaties and major appointments, the report does not recognize that authority.

 It accuses Trump of going against the official “national security policy” of the United States, which supposedly is determined by the national security bureaucracy and not by the President.

This is consistent, it says, with Trump requesting help from Russians in the 2016 election.  So the Russiagate accusations are folded into the new accusations.

Democrats who voted for these impeachment articles voted not simply to punish Trump for soliciting an investigation of Biden.  Rather, they also voted to impeach him for committing treason at the behest of Russia.

And in turn, they ratified a number of extremely fraught New Cold War assumptions that have now been embedded into the fabric of U.S. governance, regardless of what the Senate concludes.

It’s crucial to emphasize that this is the first impeachment in American history where foreign policy has played a central role.

As such, we now have codified by way of these impeachment articles a host of impossibly dangerous precedents, namely:

1) The U.S. is in a state of war with Russia, a nuclear armed power;

2) the sitting president committed treason on behalf of this country with which the U.S. is in a state of war;

3) the president lacks a democratic mandate to conduct foreign policy over the objections of unelected national security state bureaucrats.

So the articles of impeachment are not just an indictment of President Trump.  They are an attempt to define objection to U.S. war policy as treasonous and not subject to debate.

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Impeachment and the undeclared war with Russia

January 28, 2020

Historian Stephen F. Cohen pointed out in an interview how Rep. Adam Schiff frames the Trump impeachment in terms of the undeclared war with Russia in Ukraine.

President Trump is accused of pausing military aid to Ukraine for personal, political reasons.  Schiff said that undermines the necessary war against Russia “over there” so “we won’t have to fight them over here.”

In fact, what’s going on in Ukraine is a civil war.  An anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist government, with Nazis in the governing coalition, came to power in a U.S.-backed coup.

Vladimir Putin seized control of Crimea, location of Russia’s main naval base in the region.  Russian-speaking areas in western Ukraine attempted to secede, provoking a civil war.  Putin has helped his fellow Russians defend themselves, but not march on Kiev.

The best solution would be some sort of compromise that would allow residents of the Donblass and Luhansk regions the minimum amount of autonomy and security they need to feel safe.

The best contribution the U.S. government could make is to join with Germany and France to help mediate between Russia and Ukraine.  But I know of no Republican or Democratic leader who supports this.

Of all possible criticisms of Donald Trump, the idea that he is insufficiently warlike makes the least sense.

Trump has canceled an important nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and seems ready to cancel the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (StART) when it come up for renewal in 2021.  This increases the danger of a possible nuclear war with Russia, a much more real possibility than “having to fight them over here.”

The main differences between the Democratic and Republican leaderships is that the one prioritizes military confrontation with Russia and the other prioritizes military confrontation with Iran.

I recommend watching the interview of Prof. Cohen by Aaron Maté on the video above.

How U.S. foreign policy is like 1930s Germany’s

January 10, 2020

I am careful about using the words “fascist,” “Nazi” and “Hitler,” and I do not think that what’s left of American freedom and democracy is equivalent to Nazi Germany’s totalitarianism.

But there are good reasons why other nations view the USA as the same kind of threat to international order as the Axis powers posed in the 1930s.  We Americans need to try to see ourselves as others see us.

I recommend you click on the links below.

LINKS 

On Rogues and Rogue States: Old, New and Improved by Fred Reed.

Reclaiming Your Inner Fascist by C.J. Hopkins for Consent Factory.