Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

′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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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).

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

Click to enlarge

>>>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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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?

(more…)

Why the US bears the cost of NATO

May 26, 2017

My sixth most-viewed post is about a warning in 2011 by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to European allies to pay their proportionate share of the cost of the NATO military alliance.

This is much the same as what President Trump is saying now.

I thought then, and I still think, that members of the European Union are strong enough and wealthy enough to protect themselves without relying on the USA.   I thought then, and I still think, that this would be a good thing.

But if the Europeans paid for their own defense, they might be less willing to follow the U.S. lead in military policy.  And, maybe more importantly, they might be less willing to buy their weapons from American manufacturers.

The advantage of paying the piper means that you get to call the tune.

Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia

May 24, 2017

I came across this picture a couple of days ago and wondered what it was.

It is a ceremony conducted Monday in honor of the opening of the Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia.

The participants touching the glowing orb are Egypt’s President Abdul-Fatah Al-Sisi, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and President Donald Trump.

The name of the center is ironic, because Saudi Arabia is the center for extremist ideology in the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia pays for missionaries to spread Wahabism (or Salafism), a highly intolerant version of Islam.  Wahabists believe that Shiites and other Sunnis are not true Muslims.

Hassan Rouhani

King Salman and his son, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, are  waging a bombing campaign against Shiite villagers in Yemen, is stepping up aid to rebels in Syria and is trying to organize a Sunni Arab military alliance against Iran.

Voters in Iran, meanwhile, have re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate reformer who negotiated the nuclear deal with the USA.

Rouhani is more democratic and peaceable than the hereditary Saudi rulers.  He has won honest and contested elections.  The range of choices in Iranian elections is limited because the ayatollahs vet candidates.  But you could say the same about U.S. elections, except that our candidates are vetted by big-money donors.

The Saudis seek regime change in Syria and Yemen; Rouhani seeks increased trade and investment.   In Middle East geopolitics, the Saudi monarchy is the aggressor, the Iranian clerical regime is the one on the defensive.

(more…)

Can the Saudis lure the US into a war with Iran?

May 19, 2017

Prince Salman meets with President Trump in March

The young new ruler of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Mohammad, is trying to organize an alliance of Sunni Muslim nations against Shiite Iran.

And President Donald Trump is expected to endorse an anti-Iranian “Arab NATO” during his forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.

This is a terrible idea.   It doesn’t benefit Americans and it risks a war that would be disastrous for both Americans and people in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is an enormously wealthy nation, but it is thinly populated and militarily weak.  It depends on the United States for its defense.  In return, the Saudis buy billions of dollars in armaments from American companies and pump oil in sufficient quantities to keep world oil prices low.

So the United States since the 1970s has sided with Saudi Arabia and also Israel against their geopolitical rivals in the region.   Once Saudi Arabia’s chief rival and threat was Iraq.  Now it is Iran.

This has nothing to do with making Americans safe from terrorism, and everything to do with promoting the strategic and economic interests of Saudi Arabia.

(more…)

The Comey memo and U.S. policy toward Russia

May 17, 2017

The controversy over the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump is basically a behind-the-scenes battle over U.S. policy toward Russia.

Trump is being attacked because he wanted to improve relations with Russia, while the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, the Washington press corps, the Pentagon and the so-called “intelligence community” seem hell-bent on reviving the Cold War, or worse.

My reason for thinking so is that the anti-Trump campaign suddenly stopped when he ordered a missile attack on Russia’s ally, Syria.   And my suspicion is that it would stop again if he started making threats to Russia over Syria or Ukraine.

That’s not to say that Trump or members of his team may not have done something wrong.  It is just that those in government who are leaking all this anti-Trump information are doing it as a means to an end—to damage Trump politically and sabotage attempts to improve relations with Russia.

The Real News Network broadcast broadcast a good discussion of this subject with Robert English, an expert on Russia.   As English noted, the things that are coming out about Trump are either trivial, or without evidence, or similar to things previous Presidents have done.

He pointed out that the elder George Bush committed a much more serious security breach than Trump is currently being accused of, and that the younger George Bush intentionally released classified information to destroy the reputation of a whistle-blower within the administration.

(more…)

Can the U.S. make credible threats or promises?

April 19, 2017

President Trump reportedly hopes that cruise missile attack Syria and the 11-ton MOAB bomb dropped on Afghanistan will make American threats more credible when he deals with North Korea and other hostile countries.

But it is not enough for a leader of a great nation to be able to make credible threats.  He also has to be able to make credible promises.

It is not enough for foreign heads of state to feel in danger if they oppose the United States.  They have to be able to feel safe from U.S. wrath if they cooperate with the United States.

Otherwise the threats will make them redouble their efforts to be able to strike back.

Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad all found that appeasing the United States was more dangerous than defiance.

Unfortunately for President Trump, he—for reasons not of his own making—is in a situation in which neither his threats nor his promises are credible.

(more…)

Official story of sarin attack debunked

April 19, 2017

Theodore A. Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology and national security as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written a series of reports that convincingly debunk the claim that the Syrian government attacked civilians with sarin two weeks ago.

He said, among other things, that—

The video evidence shows workers at the site roughly 30 hours after the alleged attack that were wearing clothing with the logo “Idlib Health Directorate.”

These individuals were photographed putting dead birds from a birdcage into plastic bags.  The implication of these actions was that the birds had died after being placed in the alleged sarin crater.

However, the video also shows the same workers inside and around the same crater with no protection of any kind against sarin poisoning. These individuals were wearing honeycomb face masks and medical exam gloves. They were otherwise dressed in normal streetwear and had no protective clothing of any kind.

The honeycomb face masks would provide absolutely no protection against either sarin vapors or sarin aerosols. The masks are only designed to filter small particles from the air.  If there were sarin vapor, it would be inhaled without attenuation by these individuals.  If the sarin were in an aerosol form, the aerosol would have condensed into the pours in the masks, and would have evaporated into a highly lethal gas as the individuals inhaled through the mask.  It is difficult to believe that such health workers, if they were health workers, would be so ignorant of these basic facts.

In addition, other people dressed as health workers were standing around the crater without any protection at all.

I don’t know for sure what happened.  What Prof. Postol’s report proves is that President Trump committed an act of war against a sovereign nation for reasons not supported by evidence.  Although the attack resulted in relatively few casualties and little damage, it may well have destroyed the possibility of peace with Syria and Russia.

(more…)

An interview with Noam Chomsky

April 11, 2017

I missed this interview with Noam Chomsky when it was broadcast a week ago, but he has good insight into U.S. and world politics.   I respect him for his breadth of knowledge and independence of mind.  The broadcast is a little over an hour, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen, but you don’t have to watch it all at once.

It took me many decades to appreciate Chomsky.  During the Cold War, I thought he was insufficiently aware of the evil and threat of the Soviet Union and of Communism generally, and overly quick to condemn the United States because our faults were aberrations whereas theirs were systemic.

I started to change my way of thinking in the 1990s when the Soviet threat ended, but the United States did not return to what I thought was normal.   I was shocked at how easily the Bush administration was able to wipe the Bill of Rights off the blackboard and commit the country to perpetual war.

But my real disillusionment was when the Obama administration, instead of offering hope and implementing change, simply filed some of the rough edges off the Bush policies to make them more acceptable.

Now comes Donald Trump who is, as Chomsky said, a kind of parody and exaggeration of what has gone before.

I can appreciate Chomsky, now that I have freed myself of the mental limitation of refusing to consider anything outside the range of the opinions expressed by Democrats and Republicans.   As Chomsky noted in the interview, what we should worry about are the policies on which self-described conservatives and self-described liberals agree.