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Despite Coal Lobby, Australia to Double Solar Energy in 2018

17 hours 38 min ago

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Australia’s march to solar power is a reason for climate optimism because it is happening under adverse circumstances. Australia has a big and important coal industry that spends millions on lobbying and election campaigns, and the Australian government is in its back pocket. They, too, have the fraud of “clean coal” hopes [that is not a thing]. The central government is no friend of renewables. Some state governments are deeply committed to dirty coal as well. Australia has a horrible environmental record and is among the worst carbon polluters per capita.

Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world, providing 33% of world exports of this commodity. Some three quarters of Australian coal mined is exported and the industry brings in on the order of US$126 bn a year.

At the same time, the Australian public desperately wants renewable energy (96%) and Australia is especially vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change. In a continent already suffering from aridity and heat waves and wildfires, all three will worsen. And, Bondi Beach in Sydney will shrink as the sea level rises.

h/t Wikimedia

And yet, Australia is in the midst of a solar revolution in which it could double its solar energy production in a single year. In this past January, rooftop solar installations were up 69% over January 2017. It is estimated that rooftop solar is the most dependable electricity source in Australia.

The growth of solar has mainly been driven by rooftop installations, but companies are now planning more industrial grade ones. Already, 1 in five Australian homes have solar panels on their roofs. In one Australian state, 18 new big solar farms are planned. Solar farms can be built relatively inexpensively in a few months, so unlike nuclear plants, which take five to ten years and often suffer billions in cost over-runs, solar is nimble.

In the small state of South Australia, 53% of electricity already comes from wind and solar. (Australia has 23 million people, South Australia only about 1.7 million). Tesla’s superbattery has stabilized the South Australia grid, and Tesla and the local government are now planning a virtual power plant that will coordinate the solar panels and batteries in residential buildings.


Virtual power plant: Tesla helps build world’s largest virtual power plant in Australia – TomoNews


In New South Wales, renewables are already up to 20% of electricity generation, though that includes small hydro. (New South Wales has over 7 million people.)

(Of all the fossil fuels, coal emits the most carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas and when it goes into the atmosphere some of it stays for a long time, making the world dangerously hotter; the rest goes into carbon sinks like the oceans and igneous rock; it makes the oceans acidic and will kill off half of marine life at the rate we are going.)

Australian Energy Update 2017

The above chart is already much out of date. Wind and solar are making up the bulk of new electricity production (solar is 46% of new energy in recent years) and by May of last year renewables provided 17% of Australia’s total electricity production.

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Worse than Russian Hack: GOP Voter Suppression planned in 20 States

Sun, 2018-02-18 01:41

By Jen Herrick | (

This year, at least 20 states are considering laws that would make it harder to vote.

When President Trump created the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” last spring — and put notorious vote suppressor Kris Kobach at the helm — voting rights advocates had decades of good reasons to be concerned. The panel seemed destined to back harsh restrictions on voting rights.

The fraught commission was recently disbanded. But while that provides a momentary sigh of relief, it doesn’t mean that this Trump-Kobach crusade — or voter suppression — has gone away.

For one, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what information the commission collected and what the administration intends to do with it now.

Early reports are troubling. For instance, we now know the commission asked Texas to turn over a list of its voters with Hispanic last names flagged. The threat of officials using this data to fuel large-scale voter roll purges looms large.

Kobach, who’s served as Kansas secretary of state since 2011 and is currently running for governor, says that he remains at the center of ongoing administration efforts to crack down on voting. (Trump claims “illegal votes” cost him the popular vote in 2016, despite the lack of any evidence.)

Disturbingly, both Kobach and Trump have said that the Department of Homeland Security will now take up their cause.


While Homeland Security counters that its priority is election infrastructure, not voter fraud, the agency also says that it’s working with a handful of states to compare voter data with citizenship data. In addition, the Department of Justice (whose leader, Jeff Sessions, is a notorious voting rights foe) made a sweeping voter data request around the same time that the commission was getting going.

Even without a formal voting commission, the threat of eligible voters who’ve done nothing wrong having their rights restricted is still very real. Twenty states are considering bills this year that would restrict the ability to vote.

This includes Kobach’s home state of Kansas as well as New Hampshire, where they’re trying — and not for the first time — to make voting harder for students and anyone else who moves a lot.

We’re also seeing attempts across the country to enact voter ID laws, restrict early and absentee voting, and to aggressively purge voters who skip just one election cycle, a practice currently being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Congress is complicit through its lack of action on voting rights, having gone nearly five years without mending the gaping hole the Supreme Court ripped into the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, this crown jewel of the civil rights movement has provided important tools to address voting discrimination against racial minorities and others.

It’s still very much needed. But thanks to the Supreme Court, the federal law no longer has the teeth to stop bad state laws before they get started — when it makes the most difference to voters.

As Trump and Kobach and their far-right allies continue to dismantle democracy at the federal, state, and local levels, those who champion voting rights have a big task ahead of them. But there are signs of hope on the horizon.

Perhaps the brightest light shines in Florida, where voters this November will be asked through a ballot measure to give a second chance to fellow Floridians who’ve done their time and paid their debt to society — but who currently can’t vote because of a past felony conviction. If successful, this measure would restore the ability to vote to 1.5 million Floridians.

Trump lost his commission, but he isn’t giving up on voter suppression. And that means we can’t give up on fighting for a democracy where everyone can cast a vote that counts.

Jen Herrick is the senior policy analyst at People For the American Way. Distributed by



Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Mother Jones: “How a new voter suppression law threw Wisconsin to Trump”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Jews Must Stand Up for Ahed Tamimi: Sarah Silverman

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:41

TeleSur | – –

Silverman, who is of Jewish heritage, became the latest high-profile U.S. celebrity to lend her support to the imprisoned Palestinian girl.

U.S. Comedian Sarah Silverman . . .has publicly come out in support of iconic Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi, making her the latest high profile celebrity to support the jailed 17-year-old.

“Jews have to stand up EVEN when — ESPECIALLY when — the wrongdoing is BY Jews/the Israeli government,” Silverman, who supported progressive U.S. senator Bernie Sanders for president, wrote in a tweet in which she shared a link to Amnesty International’s campaign calling on Israel to free Tamimi.

Ahed was arrested and indicted on 12 charges including assaulting an Israeli soldier and throwing stones after a video of her slapping a soldier in her home’s yard went viral. It was revealed later that the Palestinian girl was upset after soldiers had shot her 14-year-old cousin in the face a day earlier.

The strong-worded appeal by Silverman comes days after a military court barred the media and public from attending Tamimi’s first hearing earlier this week. Ahed was arrested in December and has been denied bail by the presiding judge. Israel tries most Palestinians, including minors, in military courts which have a conviction rate of more than 99 percent.

Her arrest and trial have been harshly criticized by many human rights organizations in Palestine, Israel and the world including the United Nations. Also many celebrities, academicas, actors and artists from around the world have come out in support of the iconic teen over the past few weeks.

Earlier this week more than two-dozen high-profile art and film figures, as well as athletes and academics, from the U.S. signed a letter calling for Ahed’s release in which they compared the jailed teen to slain Black teen Trayvon Martin.

Netflix Marvel series star Rosario Dawson, Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams, famed progressive actor Danny Glover, activist and author Angela Davis and philosopher Cornel West were among the 27 figures who signed the petition.

Meanwhile Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who is famous for drawing the iconic 1968 poster of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, revealed Tuesday his latest painting titled “There is a real Wonder Woman” depicting Palestinian imprisoned teen Ahed Tamimi as a superhero.

Over the years Ahed gained international attention for her brave actions against Israeli occupation forces during protests and clashes in and around her village. In 2015 a video of her, along with female members of her family, went viral showing her fighting an Israeli occupation soldier who was pinning down her 12-year old male cousin.

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Ahed Tamimi Court Case: “It”s not just Tamimi’s trial, it’s the trial of occupation”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Saudi Arabia’s Filthy Lucre & its War on Yemen’s Civilians

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:22

By Daniel Martin Varisco | (MENA Tidningen) | – –

“Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” (Titus 1:11)

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged to provide over $1 billion to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that they have created through a brutal bombing campaign, a ground war turning Yemenis against Yemenis and an illegal blockade of aid entering areas controlled by the Huthis. The best way to characterize this hypocritical largesse is in the colorful 17th century King James Version biblical prose: it is nothing but “filthy lucre.”

Top: Islamic coin from the era of the caliph ‘Abd al Malik with Arabic words only; bottom: Saudi riyal with the king’s face.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May, presiding over a Britain not as great as it once claimed to be, is pushing for a UN resolution to praise this cynical ploy to cover up crimes against humanity. No doubt this move by an unpopular politician about to welcome the Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman has a political and an economic edge. Consider the statement by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the praise dripping down his cheeks, about Britain’s historic relationship with the Saudis: “It’s an extraordinary partnership. It’s a partnership based on a common view of the world in many ways, not every way, but in many ways.” I suppose two of those “many ways” includes the British abandonment of Prince Faisal in World War I and their financially motivated love of oil. Or is it Saudi public execution by beheading, which is certainly part of English history?

Johnson’s ignorance, whether conscious or not, is quite profound. “Reform in Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the holy places, will be a change in the whole Islamic world,” he asserts. In terms of the “whole Islamic World,” Saudi Arabia is an outlier with its austere intolerant Wahhabi doctrine. If the major elements of reform are allowing women to drive and attend a football match, it is hard to see what this has to do with Islam anywhere else in the world. The Saudis have turned Mecca into a Disney pilgrimage with perks for the rich that would make the Prophet Muḥammad turn over in his grave (assuming the Wahhabi state is not going to pave that over for the world’s tallest shopping mall). Saudi Arabia is a family business before it is an Islamic state.

The idea that a billion dollars is an apology for the destruction of far more than 10,000 Yemeni lives, the threat of famine and a total breakdown of the economy is the worst kind of pandering, filthy in the biblical sense. Perhaps Johnson and May think that selling Saudi Arabia a billion British pounds of military equipment in just the first six months of 2017 is equalized by the Saudi coalition pledge. If May and Johnson bother to watch documentaries on the BBC, they may have learned that Bin Salman is building his reform on a sand dune. It seems that ordinary British citizens are as wary of a visit by the Saudi royal as they are with Trump.

The biblical reference in the epistle of Titus is to those who were spreading false teaching for the sake of money. In his well-known biblical commentary, the late 17th century scholar Matthew Henry explains the problem: “They had a base end in what they did; serving a worldly interest under pretence of religion: for the love of money is the root of all evil.” The Saudi royals, with their billions upon billions of dollars invested around the world, their palaces in Europe and North Africa, their yachts and just about any exotic item that money can buy, may pray five times a day, but their real worship is filthy lucre. The royal face graces the Saudi riyal, while throughout Islamic history Arabic script alone was the norm. Henry continues: “Shameful actions, the reproach of heathens, should be far from Christians; falsehood and lying, envious craft and cruelty, brutal and sensual practices, and idleness and sloth, are sins condemned even by the light of nature.” Such a sentiment works equally well for Muslims not of the Wahhabi persuasion.

If the love of money is indeed the root of all evil, then the praise of blood-soaked humanitarian aid money must be evil as well. To kill someone and then offer to pay for an expensive coffin for the mangled corpse does not cover the evil of the deed. Yemen does not need Saudi filthy lucre; the Yemeni people should be left alone to sort out their own grievances as a sovereign people.

About the Author

– Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, a Senior Postdoctoral Scholar at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

Reprinted from MENA Tidningen with the author’s permission.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Russia Today: “‘Enough is enough’: After 3 years & 10,000 killed, Saudis still can’t end war in Yemen — journalist”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Russian campaign Interference looks like ISIL in Polarizing Techniques

Sat, 2018-02-17 03:32

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Mueller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign has now brought indictments against specific Russian individuals and organizations, including the crony of Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” because the Russian president throws his business large numbers of high level government catering jobs.

The complicated Russian plot against the 2016 elections involves several distinct questions, as John Feffer points out:

1. Was there a concerted Russian attempt to influence the election?

2. Which individuals and organizations in specific were involved, if any?

3. If there were Russians so involved, were they directed by the Russian government?

4. How exactly did they intervene? Did they change votes by hacking into voting machines? [No, they did not change votes; yes, they hacked into the Illinois machines.] Did they attempt to suppress the Democratic vote? How?

5. If there was a major cyber-campaign to influence the US election, did it have any success? How could its success be measured?

6. Was the interference welcomed by the Trump campaign and did Trump and his cronies insert themselves into the ongoing Russian operation against the Hillary Clinton campaign once Trump emerged as a front-runner for the GOP nomination?

Friday’s DOJ indictments answer some of these questions but by no means all of them.

The first takeaway of the indictments is that, yes, there was a significant Russian operation to influence the US election, funded in part by Prigozhin. While in legal matters guilt by association is not probative, in politics it cannot be dismissed. Prigozhin’s role points strongly to Putin direction of this campaign operation. Moreover, the Russian government is the primary likely beneficiary of a sidelining of Ms. Clinton. It is hard to see how Prigozhin himself could benefit. By the rule of means, motive and opportunity, we can reasonably conclude there was a Putin-directed plot.

The second takeaway we already knew–that Russian cells were formed to establish phony Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that pushed divisive politics in the United States. At one point a supposed Islamophobic group protested outside a Texas mosque, met by a pro-Muslim counter-demonstration. Both demonstrations were called for by fake Russian sites. These sites grew to have enormous popularity, with hundreds of thousands of followers. They spread around memes such as that Clinton supports sharia or Islamic law. Supposed Black Lives Matter sites argued that African-Americans should not vote, which would hurt Clinton. I’m sure we all have relatives who kept sending us those Russia disinformation links on Facebook.

A corollary of this second takeaway is that the philosophy of the Russian operation was similar to that of ISIL and other extremist terrorist organizations. ISIL briefly took over 40% of Iraq by striving for a decade to provoke hatred between Shiites and Sunnis. They concentrated on bombing Shiites and making it clear Sunnis had done it. Then the Shiites attacked the Sunnis, driving them into the hands of ISIL. ISIL and al-Qaeda have tried to play the same number on Muslims living in Europe and North America. While the Russian operation was not violent, its premises were similar (and ISIL used its techniques on the internet, too).

In turn, I have argued that Muslim extremists were influenced by the old Soviet Communist tactic of “sharpening contradictions.” That is, the similarity of approach may actually have a common genealogy back to the early 20th century.

The third takeaway is how big the operations were. There were entire troll factories that got millions of Twitter retweets and Facebook shares.

A fourth takeaway (and on this I have changed my mind over time) is that the Russian campaign may well have had such success that it did actually affect the outcome.

Trump’s victory was extremely narrow. If just a few tens of thousands of Black voters in Detroit stayed home rather than coming out for Clinton, that threw Michigan to Trump. Note that Michigan had been trending Democratic in presidential elections for two decades, by a 5% margin. So Clinton’s loss is weird. It can’t be explained only by a swing of white working class voters to Trump. Only 14% of white blue collar voters who had cast their ballots for Obama defected to the GOP in 2016. Given that lots of other kinds of people live in Michigan, that wouldn’t by itself have erased the 5% tilt to the Democrats.

On the other hand, it is also true that Detroit has hemorrhaged population in recent decades, shrinking from 1.1 million in 1990 to less than a million in 2000 and now we are down to probably 670,000 and going on down from there. African-Americans have moved to Atlanta in large numbers.

Moreover, Clinton declined to campaign in Michigan, which certainly contributed to her loss of the state. A friend of mine in the DP tried to get her to come talk to the Arab Americans in Dearborn and she would not do it, possibly because she was in the back pocket of Israeli billionaire Haim Saban and did not want to risk annoying him.

Also Clinton was a horrible candidate and her shilling for Goldman Sachs in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech hurt her with those many Michiganders who had had their homes repossessed by the banks.

So whether the Russian attempts at voter suppression were the cause of Trump’s victory in Michigan is still hard to know, but it cannot be ruled out. What is clear is that Clinton can’t take any satisfaction in this possibility, since if she had been a better candidate she could have counter-acted the fairly flat-footed Russian propaganda mill.


Bonus video:

CBC: “13 Russians indicted for interfering in 2016 U.S. election”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Russiagate or Deep State? What Some Progressives Get Wrong on Russia

Sat, 2018-02-17 02:36

By John Feffer | ( Foreign Policy in Focus) | – –

The bizarre denialism of some on the left and right about Russiagate doesn’t bode well for the future of American politics.

When it comes to the Russiagate scandal, progressives usually take one of two positions.

Glenn Greenwald talking Russiagate on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

They either dismiss the scandal as a lot of hooey, a “nothingburger,” just a way for warmongers and the “Deep State” to revive a cold war between Washington and Moscow. Or they treat the scandal as just a means to an end, a way to cast doubt on the 2016 presidential election, implicate the administration in a variety of crimes, and ultimately impeach the president.

Both of these positions are wrong.

I last wrote about the perplexing positions of some progressives on Russia back in March 2015, long before the Russiagate scandal and the 2016 elections. At the time, I was trying to understand why some progressives were bending over backwards to excuse the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, both domestically (his authoritarianism) and externally (his meddling along the periphery of Russia and further afield in Syria).

Putin, I argued, was an autocrat, an anti-progressive nationalist, and an imperialist wannabe. By all means, the United States should negotiate treaties with Russia and avoid a resurgent cold war, I maintained, but progressives should have no illusions about the nature of the current wielder of power in the Kremlin.

What had once been a strange sideshow of geopolitics has now, with the election of Donald Trump, become the main act. And the bizarre overlap in positions between some elements of the left and the right about Russiagate does not bode well for the future of American politics.

The stakes, in other words, are far greater than the fate of the current president of the United States. Why focus on Russiagate when we face possible nuclear war in Korea, a slow-motion apocalypse through climate change, and growing economic inequality worldwide? Because Russiagate points to a new kind of politics, in the United States and elsewhere, that makes resolution of these crises increasingly difficult.

Yes, the U.S. status quo before Russiagate was grossly unfair. The future status quo, a world of continuous Russiagates, will be grossly unfair and authoritarian as well.

Addressing the Skeptics

The Russia scandal has scrambled the political spectrum. Consider the case of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist based in Brazil who writes for The Intercept.

Greenwald has emerged as one of the prominent skeptics of the investigation into collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Once a fixture in the progressive media for his dissection of the national security state, he is now more frequently cited by the far right in its efforts to discredit the investigation run by Robert Mueller. The journalist used to chat regularly with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, but now he’s more likely to appear with Tucker Carlson on Fox News.

“I used to be really good friends with Rachel Maddow,” Greenwald told New York magazine. “And I’ve seen her devolution from this really interesting, really smart, independent thinker into this utterly scripted, intellectually dishonest, partisan hack.”

Wow, that’s harsh.

Greenwald is not alone. You can find skeptical articles about Russiagate at The Nation, Counterpunch, Consortium News, and many other progressive outlets. And these articles can be equally scathing about the journalists, mainstream or otherwise, that take the investigation seriously.

Over at The Nation, Russia specialist Stephen Cohen regularly challenges the emerging narrative, most recently suggesting that the intelligence community essentially fabricated Russiagate, which has generated in turn a different scandal — he calls it “Intelgate” — even larger than Watergate.

I cut my Sovietology teeth on Stephen Cohen and have always had tremendous respect for him. I certainly understand his desire to counter the demonization of all things Russian and his skepticism of the organs of U.S. national security. But he seems to have lost sight of the fact that the two principal groups of actors in this saga — the Trump team and the Putin people — are ruthless operators who have imported their mafia style into democratic politics.

Remember: The enemy of my enemy, even if that enemy is the U.S. national security state, is not necessarily my friend!

Consortium News, meanwhile, likes to give voice to former intelligence operatives. For example, former CIA analyst Philip Giraldi accepts the charges in the recent Nunes memo at face value and asserts that Israel, not Russia, played a much more prominent role in determining the 2016 election. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, also at Consortium News, believes that he can prove that the FBI, on behalf of the “Deep State,” is out to get the Trump administration.

But really it’s the same old material that Fox News has been trumpeting. I suppose it takes one to know one, but I suspect these former operatives have other axes to grind in this fight. Hell hath no fury like an intelligence operative scorned.

At Counterpunch, meanwhile, political economist Rob Urie argues that Russian involvement in the 2016 election is a “red herring” because, essentially, it has not been proven that any voter changed his or her mind as a result of Russian influence. Oh, and there isn’t any proof anyway of Russian meddling — or, if there is “proof,” it comes from unreliable sources. And if Russia engaged in such meddling, it had good reason to do so, given U.S. foreign policy maneuvers in Ukraine and elsewhere.

There’s a lot here to parse (which I will do below). But let’s return to Greenwald, because his perch at The Intercept is so influential.

Most of the time, Greenwald has delighted in revealing what the mainstream media has gotten wrong on the Russia story. In September, he ridiculed reports of Russian hacking of 21 state election systems, which turned out to be, in some cases, misreported. But some overly hasty conclusions don’t entirely discredit the entire story. The Department of Homeland Security first mentioned the attempted hacks in June 2017 but noted that it did not affect any votes. Again, this month, the head of cybersecurity for DHS, Jeanette Manfra, repeated the same claim.

Perhaps DHS is continuing to engage in disinformation. But Greenwald didn’t bother to write anything about Illinois, the one specific and rather well-documented case of Russian hacking that did manage to penetrate a state system (again without having any impact on the election results).

Also escaping his scrutiny have been the reports I mentioned in last week’s column: Dutch surveillance of Cozy Bear in Moscow as the operation hacked into the Democratic National Committee and the trial in Russia of a hacker who described receiving orders from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) “to attack the DNC’s servers for the purpose of manipulating the U.S. electoral process.”

Okay, so the U.S. media has made mistakes in its coverage of Russiagate. It’s not exactly a transparent story. And it’s very useful for journalists to keep other journalists honest (not to mention government officials).

But Greenwald is after something different. He is out to discredit all claims of Russia’s malign conduct. In a recent article, he made a list of all the “false” claims involving Russia — interference in the Brexit vote, responsibility for the #releasethememo Twitter campaign, intervention in the recent German and French elections — alongside the “corrections.”

These dismissals are too casual. The jury is still out on how much Russian social media presence influenced the Brexit vote. Greenwald cites a Senate report on Russian bots using Twitter and Facebook in large numbers then “refutes” the report with an article on YouTube’s denial of Russian interference. Well, those are very different platforms. Greenwald is skeptical that the #releasethememo Twitter campaign was, in part, Russian-influenced, but cites as proof an article with a single anonymous source. On Russian involvement in the German election, he identifies a New York Times article with the headline: “German Election Mystery: Why No Russian Meddling?” But he neglects to investigate the deeper Russian involvement — in cultivating the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland, supporting its messages on social media, and unleashing a botnet onslaught in the final hours of the campaign (a story that broke after The New York Times article but well before Greenwald’s putative takedown).

Finally, Greenwald points to an AP article refuting Russian involvement in a celebrated hacking of Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign. Perhaps Fancy Bear was not involving in phishing schemes, as investigators allege. But, as with Germany, Russia was involved in other ways, primarily through support for the National Front and Marine Le Pen.

In other words, the exposure of one poorly reported story on Russia — or even a dozen such embarrassments — does not mean that Russiagate or reports of Russian interference in European elections are “fake news.” Greenwald should know better, as a lawyer and a journalist. He’s pissed at the Democratic Party for running a lousy presidential campaign. He’s pissed at the Obama administration for its drone and surveillance policies. Fair enough. But please, do us a favor and look at all the evidence instead of playing the blinkered prosecutor.

Now let’s take a look at some of the other efforts to debunk this supposed myth.

Countering the Counter-Narrative

One of the major arguments of the skeptics is that Russian interference, even if there was some, didn’t influence the election because it was only a trivial amount of Twittering, Facebook ads, and trolling. Okay, perhaps that’s true. But Russian hacking was not just bots and trolls. The release of the results of the DNC hacking turned out to be quite damaging for the Clinton campaign.

But frankly, this isn’t the most important question. The election is over, and the Democratic Party should own up to its failures rather than blame it on some other party, be it Bernie Sanders, the Green Party, the Russians, or the deplorables.

Instead, the investigation should focus on only two things — the Trump campaign’s complicity and safeguarding future elections. Any interference in U.S. elections — whether from a foreign power or domestic actors trying to suppress voter turnout — should be taken very seriously.

A corollary to the “Russia didn’t really do anything” argument is that other countries had greater impact on the elections. The two countries usually cited are Israel and Mexico.

Certainly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown a fondness for Donald Trump, and hardline pro-Israel donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson poured millions into the Trump campaign. But there were also plenty of friends of Israel pushing in the opposite direction because of an authentic fondness for Hillary Clinton, or because of authentic fears of the anti-Semitic forces supporting Trump. As for Mexico’s meddling, this is largely a right-wing rant about how immigrants are subverting America, not about Mexico trying to sway any particular election.

Then there’s the argument that Russia wasn’t doing anything that the United States hadn’t done over the years. It’s certainly true that the United States has engaged in such conduct. So? It has also been involved in the assassination of foreign figures. Would that justify another country taking out the U.S. president? Do U.S. regime-change efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq justify another power taking over Washington DC and setting up a puppet government?

It’s always useful to point out U.S. hypocrisy. But this should be done in order to reform U.S. policy — not to excuse other countries for acting in similarly reprehensible ways.

Finally, let’s talk about the so-called Deep State.

I have to be honest. I’m not really sure what the “Deep State” is. Given that the pushback against Trump has been widespread, does the “Deep State” include all the judges who have blocked the administration’s immigration plans? Does it encompass all the career bureaucrats who refuse to go along with the anti-regulatory fervor at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and elsewhere in the federal system?

Should we include whistleblowers who are aghast at the abuses of power? What about the “Washington playbook” that pushed for military solutions during the Obama era but has also resisted Trump’s more radical proposals?

Obviously such an amorphous entity lacks any meaningful coherence. So, let’s assume that it’s just the intelligence community and elements of the Justice Department and the FBI that are “out to get” Trump because he’s a rogue president.

Stephen Cohen argues that the intelligence community targeted Trump during the Obama administration and continues to push its agenda. But this is more usually an argument from the right wing. As Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs put it, “It may be time to declare war outright against the deep state and clear out the rot in the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.”

I’m quite sure that there are a lot of folks at the FBI, the Justice Department, and the intelligence agencies who are freaked out about Trump. The president shows little interest in intelligence briefings, has casually given away sensitive information and shown no regard for security protocols, has sought to politicize intelligence, has given highest-level security access to people like his son-in-law without proper vetting, supports all manner of lawbreakers (Joe Arpaio, neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, sexual harassers left and right), has defied the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and so on.

Is it remotely possible that intelligence agencies are genuinely worried about Russian interference? At the latest congressional hearing on Russia’s gearing up for the U.S. midterm elections, even Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA chief Mike Pompeo expressed their very clear concerns about Russian interference, directly contradicting their commander in chief.

Forget the Deep State. The intelligence agencies are just doing their day job — which I often don’t like, but which I also don’t think is conspiratorial against Trump.

Moreover, might Greenwald and others consider the possibility that a number of federal actors are pursuing investigations of Trump and his colleagues because this is how a democratic system operates?

It’s not a question of partisan squabbling. It’s not a question of some shadowy group of operatives trying to take down the president in secret. This is an open investigation, by people who call themselves Democrats and Republicans and independents, into the potential violations of the U.S. law by a presidential candidate and now a current president.

To the extent that these operators began to investigate Trump during the Obama administration, they only did so in a partial and, given the potential enormity of the threat, frankly half-hearted way. Now, when the very rule of law is threatened, the institutions of American democracy are arguably doing their job.

Ultimately, the strengthening of the rule of law and of democratic process — not the impeachment of the president — should be the goal of these investigations. Yes, it shouldn’t be just any rule of law (apartheid was a rule of law, after all), but rather a rule of law informed by all the social movements that have shaped it. And it shouldn’t be just any democratic process (Putin is an elected leader, after all), but it should be a democracy of citizens informed by a free press and influenced as little as possible by big money and the machinations of foreign governments.

Impeachment, however satisfying, would be just a quick fix to the more serious threats Trumpism poses to democracy and rule of law.

Trump is leading the country in the opposite direction, and he’s doing so to a large extent by trampling on U.S. laws and institutions. If that isn’t clear to Greenwald and others, then they’re missing the big picture even as they get so many of the details wrong as well.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Israel: Protesters call for ‘crime minister’ Netanyahu to step down

Sat, 2018-02-17 02:25

Middle East Monitor | – –

Israeli demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv today to urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign after police recommended he be charged with bribery in two corruption cases.

Police said on Tuesday enough evidence had been found for Netanyahu to be charged, saddling the four-term premier with one of the biggest challenges to his long dominance of Israeli politics.

Netanyahu, 68, denies wrongdoing in both cases and has said nothing will come of the police investigations. It is now up to the attorney general to determine whether to press charges against him.

Around 1,000-2,000 protesters rallied in a Tel Aviv square, some with signs saying “crooks go home” and “crime minister”.

“We think the prime minister should immediately disqualify himself and resign,” said Shlomit Bar, 63, a retired music teacher. “He cannot be any longer the prime minister of Israel.”

Netanyahu: What happens next?

“From a moral standpoint, this is a disgrace to the state of Israel, where a prime minister is suspected of such serious crimes,” said Oren Simon, one of the protesters. “He should go home. Enough.”

A poll published on Wednesday showed almost half of Israel’s electorate believe the police rather than Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is currently entangled in four political scandals: Case 1000 which involves allegations that the PM and his wife accepted illegal gifts from businessmen; Case 2000 which accuses Netanyahu of attempting to buy favourable newspaper coverage; Case 3000, also known as the “submarine scandal”; and Case 4000, in which a close associate of Netanyahu is suspected of providing confidential information to Israel’s largest telecoms company.

New Israel election poll places Yair Lapid ahead of Netanyahu

The prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, has also been accused of using public funds for private expenditure in the prime minister’s households. Only 20 per cent of respondents to the recent survey believe she is innocent.

It could be months before the attorney general makes a decision on whether to charge him.

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Via Middle East Monitor


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

File from two months ago:

Guardian News: “Protesters chant ‘shame’ during anti-corruption rally in Tel Aviv”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Israel to Deny Benefits for Pro-Boycott Citizens, Local Groups

Sat, 2018-02-17 00:58

TeleSur | – –

The government will create a blacklist for local individuals and groups known to support the pro-Palestinian boycott movement against Israel.

Israel is ramping up its crackdown on the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as the government plans a blacklist for citizens and companies in Israel that support the movement to then deny them tax breaks and other state benefits, Israeli media reported Thursday.

According to left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is set to approve within days new regulations to prevent organizations and individuals in Israel who support a boycott of Israel from “receiving various tax breaks or from participating in government bids.”

The list will target political activists and organizations who are actively supporting the BDS movement but will not include people who are simply critical of Israel, the report claimed according to sources at the ministry.

The list could also include those who are less hostile towards Israel and only call for boycotting the illegal Israeli Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank as Israel does not distinguish between calls for boycotting the settlements or Israel itself, the newspaper argued.

Such a list would be a complement to the already-existing Boycott Prevention Law that lists foreign organizations and individuals supporting the BDS and ban them from entering the country or doing business or work in Israel. A list of those people and organizations was published in January.

The unnamed Israeli finance ministry officials told Haaretz that anyone who is to be sanctioned under any new regulations would first be summoned for a hearing on the matter. The companies, groups and individuals would be barred from tax breaks, government contracts bids and government jobs.

They also said the ministry is trying to expand the Boycott Prevention Law to allow for suing boycott activists and organizations.

The BDS movement was launched in 2005 to promote a peaceful action around the world to help end Israel’s abuses against Palestinians, by cutting off cultural, academic, and economic ties with the state.

Supporters of the movement argue that the latest Israeli offensive against boycott efforts is evidence that the campaign is fruitful and is hurting Israel internationally as many global artists, prominent figures and companies have in fact positively responded to calls by the pro-Palestinian activists for boycotting Israel.

The latest endorsement of BDS came from New Zealand singer Lorde when in December she canceled a show in Tel Aviv after two fans wrote an open letter asking her not to perform in Israel, as that would be seen as supporting the state’s abusive policies and occupation in Palestine.

She was then attacked by the Israeli right-wing government and its supporters, prompting more than 100 artists, actors and authors from around the world to pen a letter in support of her endorsement of the pro-Palestinian boycott.

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “Lorde scraps Israel concert amid boycott calls”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Let’s remember the Schoolchildren US & Russian bombs are killing, too

Fri, 2018-02-16 03:33

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US-backed Saudi-led war on Yemen is keeping two million children out of school (Yemen is a country of 27 million). Worse, schools and schoolchildren have repeatedly been struck from the air by Saudi, UAE, Moroccan and Jordanian pilots using American-supplied planes and bombs, in a campaign backed by Washington and the Pentagon and the United Kingdom. The US military supplies logistics, refueling and targeting advice to the aggressors.

Just for one of many possible examples, in August of 2016, a Saudi or allied bomb hit a Yemeni school, killing 10 and wounding 28. Although these children were not Floridians, they were human beings and deserved to be mourned more widely than they were. US television news virtually ignores the US-backed war in Yemen and I’d wager most Americans have never heard of it. The dead children were between 8 and 15 years old. They were from the desperately poor Saadeh district in the north, which the Saudis have been trying to reduce to rubble in their Wahhabi war on the Shiite Zaydis.

Then last year in January the Saudi coalition pilots hit a primary school, killing 5.

This goes on all the time. The US is backing the airstrikes. It isn’t even a controversy.

One in three targets hit by the Saudi coalition has been civilian in character, according to the Yemen Data Project.

Then you have the Russians, who have been heavily and indiscriminately bombing Syria since 2015, and have been helping the Syrian air force do the same You almost never see a denunciation of the Russian carpet bombing of Syria in the West except from Turkey and the Middle Eastern religious right or from the US Neoconservatives. But folks these are children. It isn’t ideological. Like Putin, don’t like Putin. His Aerospace Forces should not be dropping bombs on civilian areas. And yes, the US did this all the time in Iraq, and intensified it during last year’s Mosul campaign. My kindergarten teacher told us that two wrongs don’t make a right. Didn’t yours?

Late last year, the Russian and/or Syrian air forces hit a “makeshift school” in Eastern Ghouta, a stronghold of the Saudi-backed Army of Islam fundamentalists who sometimes shell nearby Damascus. The previous year, Russian and Syrian air strikes hit a residential and school complex in Idlib Province, which is under the rule of the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front). HRW reported it as a war crime: “On a clear morning, warplanes attacked a large school compound while class was in session, and kept on bombing while children and teachers tried to flee,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. ”

In one six-month period, it was estimated that Russian airstrikes killed 2,000 civilians. That’s a lot of innocent people to die. Noncombatants. Some were schoolchildren.

After World War II the world forged the Geneva Conventions to attempt to outlaw the most horrid excesses of the Axis powers. International human rights law has proceeded with further treaties and instruments.

But the world of the early 21st century seems on a bizarre course to reenact the 1930s and 1940s, with the rise of far right mass parties and a cavalier insouciance toward brazen war crimes. Against children.

Of the six million Jews murdered by the National Socialists in the 1940s, Anne Frank is among the more famous. Surely it is in part because she was a child. A schoolgirl.

The world is back to killing schoolchildren in a paroxysm of hatred. War may sometimes be necessary and legitimate, but there is no excuse for indiscriminate bombing that puts children at undue risk. Win your war some other way. And while there are legitimate reasons for gun ownership, for congressmen and senators to run interference for 10 gun manufacturers to make sure their sales are in no way hindered is also a sort of war crime.


Bonus video:

Yemenis mark anniversary of Saudi airstrike on Sa’ada school

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Why do Iraq’s Shiites want US Troops out, but Sunnis prefer they Stay?

Fri, 2018-02-16 01:10

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | ( |

Iraq’s Sunni Muslims are anxiously watching the debate over the presence of US troops in Iraq. Civilians believe they are an important neutralising presence and military personnel want their help and their technology.

On January 27, a friendly fire incident in Iraq’s Anbar province ended in the deaths of eight members of Iraqi security forces. An air raid had been called in, in the town of Baghdadi, and approved by the Iraqi military but had targeted local police by accident. Even though Iraq’s own Ministry of Defence confirmed it had called in the air raid, the incident sparked yet another heated debate about the US presence in Iraq.

International coalition forces help train Iraqi soldiers. (photo: وزارة الدفاع العراقية)

After the friendly fire incident, a number of the Shiite Muslim militias that usually profess more loyalty to Iran than to Iraq, demanded yet again that US troops leave the country.

Several of the militias also made threats against US troops in Iraq. A spokesperson for Hezbollah in Iraq, Jaafar al-Husseini, stated that “confrontation could begin at any time and unlike on previous occasions, mediation will not be successful.”

The day that the US troops leave our cities will be a day celebrated by the remaining IS fighters.

The political representatives of the militias promised to bring up the matter in the Iraqi parliament and to question the government about the topic. And the militias were not the only ones making this call. Several Shiite Muslim-dominated political parties have also asked why the US is still around. “The government needs to clarify the number of US troops present in Iraq and it should specify their departure date,” Mansour al-Baiji, an MP for the major Shiite coalition, asked. “Because if they are planning to stay in Iraq that means there is plan afoot to divide the country.”

The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has tried to remain neutral on the subject – clearly, he does not wish to arouse the ire of either of Iraq’s two major allies, the US or Iran. But it is most likely to be one of the first really controversial debates that any new Iraqi government has to have, after federal elections are concluded in May. The US itself has said it plans to keep 6,000 soldiers in Iraq, according to the official US government budget.

However there are certainly some Iraqis who really want US forces to stay in the country -and many of them are Sunni Muslims. Sunni-majority areas bore the brunt of the fighting against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which based itself in those areas due to its ideology being an extreme version of Sunni Islam.

Bu, as a senior Sunni official on Anbar’s provincial council explains, many of the people living in those areas remain displaced or resident in damaged neighbourhoods and they feel that the US troops are a neutral element, one that will prevent the return of the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group as well as stop Shiite Muslim militias from deploying in Sunni cities, under the pretext of maintaining security there.

An Iraqi officer thanks a trainer from the international coalition after a workshop.

“Frankly, the day that the US troops leave our cities will be a day celebrated by the remaining IS fighters,” the official said, speaking to NIQASH on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic. “They know only too well the danger that remotely piloted aircraft pose to them, as well as the threats of an air strike by the international coalition.”

The government in Baghdad is well aware that the IS group didn’t just suddenly appear on Iraq’s borders in 2014, he says. “It had been getting ready ever since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011,” the official notes. “It was then, when the US planes stopped watching the Syrian border, that the terrorists started to infiltrate back into the deserts in Anbar, using valleys for their hidden headquarters, without the danger of being watched – until they could find an opportunity to attack Fallujah and the other cities in this province.”

The US had 160,000 troops in Iraq at one stage with thousands stationed in Anbar’s cities. Despite the manpower, protecting the province’s international border very much depended a full squadron of helicopters to patrol them as well as higher-altitude jets, says Shakir al-Dulaimi, an officer with the Iraqi army deployed in Anbar. Iraq doesn’t have that kind of technology or those resources.

“The IS group knows all about the shelters and roads in the valleys, leading up to Anbar’s large and small cities,” al-Dulaimi explains. “It knows about natural and man-made tunnels and there are also tunnels connecting Syria with Iraq.”

Today the Iraqi army and militias are trying to patrol the 600-kilometre long border area. “But it’s a huge area and they are continuously being attacked,” the officer reports.

Sunni fears are not just limited to the potential return of the extremists. When the IS group took over cities in Salahaddin, the police force there largely disintegrated, with those who stayed to fight facing death or imprisonment and others fleeing for their lives. Of course, some also cooperated with the IS group. The Iraqi government has no confidence in the local police for those reasons – but it is also clear that to ensure security and restore trust in the judiciary, that local forces should be the ones taking care of local security.

That’s going to be difficult though: Salahaddin city, Tikrit, has not been under IS control for over two years now but the security forces there are still not united in anyway. There the Iraqi army, militias, tribal militias and the local police proceed in a random way

“We have real concerns about the continuing presence of the militias in our areas, especially if they are planning to stay for a long time,” a provincial council member in the province of Salahaddin told NIQASH; he spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “This fear stems from an absence of trust between the population and these fighters. We hope that members of the international coalition deployed in the Balad [air force] base will help support our local forces. But training them will take months, possibly even years.”

Meanwhile on the outskirts of Heet, a town in the west of Anbar province, a group of tribal fighters under the command of local man, Abdul Rahman al-Nimrawi, is conducting night sweeps, looking out for IS fighters sneaking back into town. His men have some light weapons from the US but al-Nimrawi would like more.

The IS fighters have tried to get through Iraqi borders ten times already this month, he points out, and it is only thanks to the information provided by the international coalition at the Ain al-Asad army base, via their surveillance aircraft, that his men have even known where to find the extremists.

“The government in Baghdad promised us better weapons and to pay the salaries of our men,” al-Nimrawi continues. “But it has abandoned us. We’ve sent dozens of messages to Baghdad and every time we get the same reply: That the government must deal with a financial crisis first. The US forces at Ain al-Asad are training us and giving us some weapons, with Iraqi government approval. For now, that is better than nothing,” he concludes.



Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “US troops continue assisting Iraq forces along Syria border as wider US drawdown begins”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The Boomerang Effect: How Netanyahu Made Israel a Partisan US Issue, and Lost

Fri, 2018-02-16 00:16

By Ramzy Baroud | (TeleSur) | – –

Netanyahu’s strategy in courting U.S. conservatives has proved a success. However, the price of that success is that the relationship between Israel and the American public has fundamentally changed.

Despite massive sums of money spent to channel public opinion in the United States in favor of Israel, unmistakable trends in opinion polls are attesting to the changing dynamics of Israel’s support among ordinary Americans.

Not only is Israel losing its support and overall appeal among large sections of American society, but among young American Jews, as well – a particularity worrying phenomena for the Israeli government.

The trend promises to be a lasting one, since it has been in the making for years, starting some time after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

It was on that date that the affinity between Israel and the U.S. purportedly grew to unprecedented levels, since both countries claimed to be fighting “Islamic terror.” In reality, the attacks, the ensuing media discourse and subsequent wars have all coagulated the support of Christian Evangelists behind Israel, as they saw the widening conflict in the Middle East as part of a long-awaited prophecy.

It was precisely then that the support of Israel by American Liberals, especially those identifying with the Democratic Party, began to weaken.

With time, supporting or not supporting Israel became a partisan issue, which is, itself, unprecedented.

While the Israeli government under Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, exploited every opportunity to maximize support for Israel in order to achieve objectives deemed important by the Israeli right-wing, ultra-right and religious parties, Netanyahu’s conceited and confrontational style has alienated many Americans, especially Democrats.

Worse, Netanyahu’s policies of entrenching the Occupation, blocking any peace efforts and expanding illegal Jewish settlements, also began to shift the kind of support that Israel has historically taken for granted, that of American Jews.

A comprehensive Pew poll published in October 2013 indicated that a growing number of U.S. Jews question the sincerity of the Israeli government in its alleged efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Palestine. Only 38 percent thought Tel Aviv was sincere, and only 17 percent agreed that the illegal Jewish settlements are conducive to Israel’s security. Forty four percent thought otherwise.

The Israeli government, aware of the generational gap within the U.S. Jewish communities, seemed more fixated on maximizing the unprecedented trend of support it was receiving from U.S. Republicans and religious conservatives, especially Christian Evangelists.

Fast forward to January 2018 and Israel’s ratings among American Jews has plummeted even further.

According to a recent Brand Israel Group study, “support for Israel among Jewish college students in the United States has dropped 32 percent between 2010 and 2016,” reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The report was accompanied by stern warnings from the CEO and director-general of the influential Jewish Agency, Alan Hoffman, who described the findings as “extremely worrisome.”

However, no contingency plan is likely to reverse these numbers any time soon, since they are consistent with the overall perception of Israel among the U.S. population.

The assumption that the U.S. Jews is an insulated group which lends support to Israel, irrespective of political trends in the country as a whole, no longer suffices.

U.S. Jewish communities are changing, and so is the entire country: the number of those identifying as “liberal” in the U.S. has leaped from 27 percent to 41 percent between 2000 and 2015, respectively.

This change was accompanied by rising sympathy towards Palestinians by that same group as indicated by a May 2016 Pew poll. More liberal Democrats said they sympathized with Palestinians than with Israel, in a ratio of 40 percent vs. 33 percent, respectively.

At the time, it was prematurely concluded by various media analyst that the growing disenchantment with Israel had much to do with the feud between Netanyahu and then U.S. President Barack Obama. Netanyahu had repeatedly challenged – and often humiliated – popular Democratic President, Obama, on various issues, notable amongst them is the expansion of the illegal settlements and the Iran nuclear deal.

The trend, however, continued, simply because once an issue falls in the realm of Washington’s partisan politics, it immediately becomes a polarizing one.

For decades, Israel was considered the only issue that united all Americans regardless of their political and ideological affiliations. That is no longer valid, and Netanyahu has played a major role in this.

The trend among Liberal Democrats was countered with another trend among Republicans, who have adopted the cause of Israel as their own. According to Pew, 79 percent of conservative Republicans support Israel, while 65 percent among liberal Republicans share their views.

While Christian Evangelists succeeded in making the unconditional support for Israel the litmus test for any candidate who seeks their vote, the Israeli cause is no longer a rally cry for Democrats.

Pew concluded that “the share of liberal Democrats who side more with the Palestinians than with Israel has nearly doubled since 2014 (from 21 percent to 40 percent) and is higher than at any point dating back to 2001.”

More studies by Pew were conducted in January 2017 and January 2018, all confirming that the trend is a lasting one.

Of all Democrats, only 33 percent sympathized with Israel according to Pew’s January 2017 poll. It was the “first time ever” that the Democratic Party “was split in nearly half between the support for Israel and the support for Palestinians.”

And as support for Palestinians grew among Democrats, so did the margin between the two major parties as the most recent January 2018 Pew research indicates.

While support for Israel among Republicans has remained high, a whopping 79 percent, support for Israel among Democrats has sunk even further, to 27 percent.

True, Netanyahu’s strategy in courting U.S. conservatives has proved a success. However, the price of that success is that the relationship between Israel and the American public has fundamentally changed.

Netanyahu has shoved Israel into the heart of polarizing American politics, and although he has achieved his short-term goals (for example, obtaining U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel) he has irrevocably damaged the decades-long consensus on Israel among Americans, and in that there is a great source of hope.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

NBC from two weeks ago: “President Donald Trump Discusses Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu | NBC News”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The Hidden Costs of America’s Perpetual Wars

Fri, 2018-02-16 00:16

By Stephanie Savell | ( | – –

I’m in my mid-thirties, which means that, after the 9/11 attacks, when this country went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq in what President George W. Bush called the “Global War on Terror,” I was still in college. I remember taking part in a couple of campus antiwar demonstrations and, while working as a waitress in 2003, being upset by customers who ordered “freedom fries,” not “French fries,” to protest France’s opposition to our war in Iraq. (As it happens, my mother is French, so it felt like a double insult.) For years, like many Americans, that was about all the thought I put into the war on terror. But one career choice led to another and today I’m co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

Now, when I go to dinner parties or take my toddler to play dates and tell my peers what I do for a living, I’ve grown used to the blank stares and vaguely approving comments (“that’s cool”) as we quickly move on to other topics. People do tend to humor me if I begin to speak passionately about the startlingly global reach of this country’s military counterterrorism activities or the massive war debt we’re so thoughtlessly piling up for our children to pay off. In terms of engagement, though, my listeners tend to be far more interested and ask far more penetrating questions about my other area of research: the policing of Brazil’s vast favelas, or slums. I don’t mean to suggest that no one cares about America’s never-ending wars, just that, 17 years after the war on terror began, it’s a topic that seems to fire relatively few of us up, much less send us into the streets, Vietnam-style, to protest. The fact is that those wars are approaching the end of their second decade and yet most of us don’t even think of ourselves as “at war.”

I didn’t come to the work that’s now engulfed my life as a peace activist or a passionate antiwar dissenter. I arrived circuitously, through my interest in police militarization, during my PhD work in cultural anthropology at Brown University, where the Costs of War Project is housed. Eventually, I joined directors Catherine Lutz and Neta Crawford, who had co-founded the project in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Their goal: to draw attention to the hidden and unacknowledged costs of our counterterror wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a number of other countries as well.

Today, I know — and care — more about the devastations of Washington’s post-9/11 wars than I ever imagined I would. And judging from public reactions to our work at the Costs of War Project, my prior detachment was anything but unique. Quite the opposite: it’s been the essence of the post-9/11 era in this country.

Numbers to Boggle the Mind

In such a climate of disengagement, I’ve learned what can get at least some media attention. Top of the list: mind-boggling numbers. In a counterpoint to the relatively limited estimates issued by the Pentagon, the Costs of War Project has, for instance, come up with a comprehensive estimate of what the war on terror has actually cost this country since 2001: $5.6 trillion. It’s an almost unfathomably large number. Imagine, though, if we had invested such funds in more cancer research or the rebuilding of America’s infrastructure (among other things, Amtrak trains might not be having such frequent deadly crashes).

That $5.6 trillion includes the costs of caring for post-9/11 veterans as well as spending to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil (“homeland security”). That figure and its annual updates do make the news in places like the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic magazine and are regularly cited by reporters. Even President Trump, we suspect, has absorbed and, in his typical fashion, inflated our work in his comment at the end of last year that the U.S. has “foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East” (which just months earlier, more in line with our estimate, he had at $6 trillion).

The media also commonly draws on another set of striking figures we issue: our calculations of deaths, both American and foreign, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. As of 2016, about 14,000 American soldiers and contractors and 380,000 inhabitants of those countries had been killed. To these estimates, you have to add the deaths of at least 800,000 more Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis from indirect causes related to the devastation caused by those wars, including malnutrition, disease, and environmental degradation.

Once you get past the shocking numbers, however, it becomes far harder to get media (or anyone else’s) attention for America’s wars. Certainly, the human and political costs in distant lands are of remarkably little interest here. Today, it’s difficult to imagine a devastating war photo making the front page of a mainstream newspaper, much less galvanizing protest, as several now-iconic images did during the Vietnam era.

In August, for instance, the Costs of War Project issued a report that revealed the extent to which immigrant workers in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are exploited. From countries like Nepal, Colombia, and the Philippines, they work for the U.S. military and its private contractors doing jobs like cooking, cleaning, and acting as security guards. Our report documented the kinds of servitude and the range of human rights abuses they regularly face. Often, immigrants are stuck there, living in dangerous and squalid conditions, earning far less than they were promised when recruited, and with no recourse to or protection from the American military, civilian officials, or their home governments.

Our report’s revelations were, I thought, dramatic, largely unknown to the American public, and another reason to demand a conclusion to our never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were also a significant black mark against the private contracting companies that, for years now, have profited so greatly from those wars. Nonetheless, the report got next to no coverage, as has often been the case when it comes to human suffering in those war zones (at least when the sufferers are not U.S. soldiers).

Do Americans really not care? That, at least, seems to have been the judgment of the many journalists who received our press release about the report.

In truth, this has become something like a fact of life in America today, one that’s only been made more extreme by the media’s full-time fascination with President Donald Trump — from his tweets to his insults to his ever-wilder statements. He — or rather the media obsession with his every twitch — poses just the latest challenge to getting attention of any sort for the true costs to us (and everyone else) of our country’s wars.

One small way we’ve found of getting around this media vortex is by tapping into pre-existing communities of interest like veterans’ groups. In June 2017, for instance, we issued a report on the injustices faced by post-9/11 veterans released from the military with “bad paper” or other-than-honorable discharges, usually thanks to minor forms of misconduct, acts that often stem from trauma sustained during military service. Such bad papers leave veterans ineligible for healthcare, education, and housing assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. While the report got little press attention, news of it traveled along the circuits of veterans-oriented blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, generating far more interest and commentary. It was even, we later learned, used by such groups in attempts to influence veteran-related legislation.

War to the Horizon and a Demobilized Public and Congress

At heart, though, whatever our small successes, we continue to face a grim reality of this twenty-first-century moment, one that long preceded the presidency of Donald Trump: the lack of connection between the American public (myself once included) and the wars being fought in our names in distant lands. Not surprisingly, this goes hand-in-hand with another reality: you have to be a total war jockey, someone who follows what’s happening more or less full time, to have a shot at knowing what’s really going on in the conflicts that now extend from Pakistan into the heart of Africa.

After all, in this era, secrecy is the essence of the world of Washington, invariably invoked in the name of American “security.” As a researcher on the subject, I repeatedly confront the murkiness of government information about the war on terror. Recently, for instance, we released a project I had worked on for several months: a map of all the places where, in one fashion or another, the U.S. military is now taking some sort of action against terrorism — a staggering 76 nations, or 40% of the countries on the planet.

Of course, it’s hardly surprising these days that our government is far from transparent about so many things, but doing original research on the war on terror has brought this into stark relief for me. I was stunned at how difficult it can be to find the most basic information, scattered at so many different websites, often hidden, sometimes impossible to locate. One obscure but key source for the map we did, for example, proved to be a Pentagon list labeled “Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medals Approved Areas of Eligibility.” From it, my team and I were able to learn of places like Ethiopia and Greece that the military deems part of that “War on Terrorism.” We were then able to crosscheck these with the State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism,” which officially document terrorist incidents, country by country, and what each country’s government is doing to counter terrorism.

This research process brought home to me that the detachment many Americans feel in relation to those post-9/11 wars is matched — even fed — by the opacity of government information about them. This no doubt stems, at least in part, from a cultural trend: the demobilization of the American people. The government demands nothing of the public, not even minimalist acts like buying war bonds (as in World War II), which would not only help offset the country’s growing debt from its war-making, but might also generate actual concern and interest in those wars. (Even if the government didn’t spend another dollar on its wars, our research shows that we will still have to pay a breathtaking $8 trillion extra in interest on past war borrowing by the 2050s.)

Our map of the war on terror did, in fact, get some media attention, but as is so often the case when we reach out to even theoretically sympathetic congressional representatives, we heard nothing back from our outreach. Not a peep. That’s hardly surprising, of course, since like the American people, Congress has largely been demobilized when it comes to America’s wars (though not when it comes to pouring ever more federal dollars into the U.S. military).

Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon’s various commands. Yet the majority of those representatives remain all too quick to grant blank checks to President Trump’s requests for ever greater military spending (as was also true of requests from presidents Bush and Obama).

After visiting some congressional offices in November, my colleagues and I were struck that even the most progressive among them were talking only about allocating slightly — and I mean slightly — less money to the Pentagon budget, or supporting slightly fewer of the hundreds of military bases with which Washington garrisons the globe. The idea that it might be possible to work toward ending this country’s “forever wars” was essentially unmentionable.

Such a conversation could only come about if Americans — particularly young Americans — were to become passionate about stopping the spread of the war on terror, now considered little short of a “generational struggle” by the U.S. military. For any of this to change, President Trump’s enthusiastic support for expanding the military and its budget, and the fear-based inertia that leads lawmakers to unquestioningly support any American military campaign, would have to be met by a strong counterforce. Through the engagement of significant numbers of concerned citizens, the status quo of war making might be reversed, and the rising tide of the U.S. counterterror wars stemmed.

Toward that end, the Costs of War Project will continue to tell whoever will listen what the longest war(s) in U.S. history are costing Americans and others around the world.

Stephanie Savell is co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. An anthropologist, she has conducted research on security and civic engagement in the U.S. and in Brazil. She co-authored The Civic Imagination: Making a Difference in American Political Life.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Stephanie Savell


Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Black Panther: Honoring the legacy of Black style

Thu, 2018-02-15 02:57

by Henry Navarro Delgado | (The Conversation) | – –

One knows that something is touching a nerve in North American culture when a foreign luxury car company wants a piece of the pie. The movie Black Panther is that type of archetypical popular culture milestone.

The release of Black Panther provides the opportunity to honour the many
contributions of Black style to North American fashion. -(Marvel)

The film has generated a widespread sense of optimism. No wonder Lexus invested heavily in Black Panther’s production — in hopes that the movie’s popularity may lift car sales.

The timing of Black Panther couldn’t be better either. It’s Black History Month in Canada and the United States and disappointment over the lack of African-American winners at the 2016 Oscars is still fresh

Lexus aside, what has gathered a lot of media traction about the movie relates to dress. Both the costumes of the Black Panther’s characters and the styles worn by the actors at the film’s premiere have become a popular focus.


There are several other culturally significant aspects about the movie, of course. Chief among them is the fact that Black Panther features the only Black protagonist superhero in the Marvels Comics universe.

But dress style has long been one of few accessible forms of self-expression for North America’s marginalized groups. For the African Diaspora in North America, dress has always had political connotations.

Black style politics

For social groups that can’t access institutionalized forms of creative expression, dress and personal style often become a form of political and cultural broadcasting. The immediacy of clothing and its perceived lack of pretension provides a visible and versatile canvas. For North American Black communities, style can also connect them to a cultural continuum that stretches all the way to Africa.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown,
Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y.,
ca. Sept. 1947. – William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)

In understanding how and why Black Panther entered our collective consciousness, it’s important to make a distinction between the film’s two strands of dress. On one hand we have dress as a fictionalized characterization; the movie costumes. On the other hand we have dress as celebrity-enabled commentary; the actor’s outfits during the film’s premiere.

Both wardrobes represent related but distinct aspects of Black style’s linkage to identity, race and culture in North America. Within this context, both the political and social significance of Black style are important. But most important is the long overdue need to honour the many contributions of Black style to North American fashion.

Black Panther’s dress codes

Similar to other Marvel superheroes, Black Panther has a double life and matching outfits for each one of those lives. His supernatural persona is outfitted in a skintight, high-tech suit complete with a feline mask. When not on superhero duty, he wears dapper suits or African warrior regalia. Each of those outfits represents different strands of Black style.

Like Black Panther himself, supporting characters exist in three overlapping spaces; the U.S., the fictional African country of Wakanda and the legendary kingdom of Wakanda.

Like most superheroes, Black Panther leads a double life. – (Marvel)

Costumes worn by characters in each of these spaces capture complementary facets of pan-African dress style across geographical, temporal and cosmological boundaries. We see the expected Westernized dress of Wakanda — a front for the hidden Wakanda Kingdom. But when the action takes place in the kingdom of Wakanda, the overall aesthetic is Afrofuturistic.

However disparate those realms, the overall visual ambience of the movie, including costumes, just flows. How is this even possible? Maybe visual culture from Africa defies stylistic, spatial and temporal demarcation. No wonder modernists used traditional African artifacts as a springboard to reinvigorate European art styles.

Distinctions such as traditional and contemporary don’t apply to African cultural products, including dress. Instead there is a continuous process of concurrent celebration and improvement of ancestral themes and motives. The end result is a sort of permanent impermanence of artifacts and practices.

A celebration of ancestral themes.

This sensibility underpins the design of the costumes and the overall art direction of Black Panther. The result is a coherent depiction of several visions of African-ness taking place simultaneously. Slick and fluid as these filmic visions are, there is still a political undertone to it; it challenges our uncomplicated ‘National Geographic’ understandings of Africa.

Take for example the hairstyles featured in the movie. Black characters sport endless variations of natural hair; from bald to intricate braiding to dreadlocks and everything in between. And this is no small thing.

In Black style, especially Black style in North America, hair is a contentious topic. In this context, natural Black hair has connotations that range from racist implications of backwardness to empowerment to militant attitudes.

Black Panther live

Connected to the time-bending quality of the film was the decision by the cast to appear wearing Afrocentric outfits during Black Panther’s world premiere. It was a display of homage to the celebration of African style and beauty manifest in the movie. It also demonstrated the diversity and timeless quality of African style.

For example, there was a nod to ancient Egyptian dress in the pleated and bejeweled outfit worn by Lupita Nyong’o. While Danai Gurira’s ensemble pays tribute to jazz age Black divas, Angela Bassett’s look evokes Afrofuturistic styles. Clearly this was all mindfully orchestrated.

Because of these dress codes, the premiere worked to as a real-life prolongation of the premises of the film. Simultaneously, it visualized how the influence of Black style pervades every corner of North American dress culture. From costumes for show business performers to colourful sportswear and streetwear, Black style is discernible everywhere.


Perhaps Black style is one of the key ingredients of that distinctive flavour of fashion that is North American style. Take for example that uniquely North American export called cool. It originated in predominantly Black urban communities before it became a mainstream staple of style.

Furthermore, the evolution of Black style in North America and its influences to mainstream fashion can be readily traced. It starts with 19th century Black dandies that crystallized into the ‘New Negro’ style of the early 20th century. From there it forks into several streams that includes conformity,rebellion, tradition and innovation.

Portrait of Thelonious Monk, Minton’s Playhouse, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept.
1947. – William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)

Black Panther conveys all the complexities of Black style. It is a vehicle for asserting cultural significance and enabling identity in a culturally hostile environment. Symbolically the movie also transmits the struggle inherent to this process.

Black Panther’s popularity then begs the question: Is our society finally ready to fully recognise the contributions of Black style to North American fashion?

Henry Navarro Delgado, Assistant Professor of Fashion, Ryerson University

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

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

11,004 Gun Murders in US vs. 26 (equiv. 130) in England Annually

Thu, 2018-02-15 02:29

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –


A lot of smoke is being generated to cover up the fact that the horrific Florida school shooting that has left at least 17 dead results from a virtual absence of meaningful gun controls in the US, such that a few gun manufacturers are allowed to make powerful military-style weapons available to the homocidally insane and to gangbangers etc. The Las Vegas shooter, whom the US press has buried long ago, was not an immigrant. And, Britain has a lot of immigrants, too, but it has almost no gun murders.

The US policy of constantly endangering our children is enacted by a bought-and-paid-for Congress on behalf of 10 major gun manufacturers with an $8 billion industry. Most Americans don’t have or want a gun, and 50% of all guns in the US are owned by 3% of Americans, i.e. some 6 million people out of 320 million. That three percent would survive better security checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Last year, there were 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days in the United States. (This statistic covered just part of the year).

You’ll note you don’t hear about mass shootings in Australia, Japan or for the most part the United Kingdom, or other civilized countries whose politicians have not been bought by 10 major gun manufacturers.

The United States continues to be peculiar in handing out powerful magazine-fed firearms to almost anyone who wants one and not requiring background checks on private purchases even if these are made at gun shows or by persons with a history of mental illness. 80% of civilian-owned firearms world-wide are in the US, and only Yemen vaguely competes with us for rates of firearm ownership; Yemen is a violent mess with Shiite insurgencies, al-Qaeda taking over cities from time to time, tribal feuding, southern separatism and US drone strikes. And even it has fewer guns per person than the USA.

It has gotten to the point where the increasing epidemic of mass shootings now threatens law enforcement.

The US is downright weird compared to civilized Western Europe or Australia (which enacted gun control after a mass shooting in 1996 and there have been no further such incidents).

In 2015-16 (the twelve months beginning in March), there were 26 fatalities from gun-related crimes in England and Wales (equivalent to 130 because Great Britain 1/5 the size of the US).

Police in the UK fired their guns 7 times in 2015.

Number of Murders by Firearms, US, 2016: 11,004

Percentage of all Murders that were committed by firearms in 2016 in US: 73%

Suicides in US 2015: 44,193

Gun Suicides in US, 2015: ~22,000

Percentage of suicides where the method was guns in 2015: 49.8

Percentage of all murders in England and Wales that were committed by firearm: 4.5 percent.

Academic research shows that more guns equal more suicides.

Number of suicides in England and Wales, 2016: 5,668 (equivalent to about 28,330 in US or 36% lower)

Number of suicides by firearam in England and Wales, 2011: 84 (this is the most recent statistic I could find but the typical percentage is given as 1.6% of all suicides; that would be the equivalent of 707 suicides by firearm in the US instead of 22,000).

For more on murder by firearms in Britain, see the BBC.

The US has the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest murder rate in the developed world.

It seems pretty clear, as well, that many US suicides would not occur if firearms were not omnipresent.

There is some correlation between high rates of gun ownership and high rates of violent crime in general, globally (and also if you compare state by state inside the US):

h/t Christopher Majka

In the case of Britain, firearms murders are 53 times fewer than in the US per capita. [Don’t bother with flawed citations of Switzerland or Israel, where most citizens are the equivalent of military reservists.]

Every mass shooting since Sandy Hook, mapped.

— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) December 2, 2015

Do hunters really need semi-automatic AR-15 assault weapons? Is that how they roll in deer season? The US public doesn’t think so.

PS this is a revised version of an older column; if they keep refusing to legislate rationally and go on causing these massacres, I can keep writing a similar column.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS: “Sheriff: At least 17 dead in Florida school shooting”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

54 Palestinians from Gaza died in 2017 awaiting Israeli travel permits

Thu, 2018-02-15 00:36

Middle East Monitor | – –

The record low rate of permits issued by Israel for Palestinians seeking vital medical treatment to travel outside the Gaza Strip underlines the urgent need for the Zionist state to end its decade-long closure of the enclave, a group of Palestinian and international rights groups have said in a joint statement. Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) confirmed that 54 Palestinians from Gaza died while they were waiting for Israeli travel permits. They added that a record level of delays by the Palestinian Authority in issuing required approvals last year, as well as Egypt’s continued closure of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza have further restricted movement and caused additional suffering to the Palestinian people.

According to the NGOs report, the Israeli authorities approved travel permits for medical reasons for only 54 per cent of those who applied in 2017, the lowest rate since the World Health Organisation (WHO) began collecting statistics in 2008. The WHO reported that 54 Palestinians, 46 of whom had cancer, died last year following the rejection or delays in their travel permit applications.

“We’re seeing Israel increasingly deny or delay access to potentially life-saving cancer and other treatment outside Gaza, with shockingly high numbers of Palestinian patients subsequently dying,” explained Aimee Shalan, the CEO of MAP. “Gaza’s healthcare system, meanwhile, having been subjected to half a century of occupation and a decade of blockade is increasingly unable to meet the needs of its population.”

Read:16 medical centres cease work due to lack of electricity, fuel in Gaza

The NGOs insisted that Israel should lift the unlawful sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement of people from Gaza, most critically those with significant health problems.

For the past two decades, and especially since 2007 when Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Gaza, Israel has kept Gaza mostly closed, unlawfully depriving its population of basic rights. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), among others, have declared this policy “collective punishment” and called for Israel to lift its closure. Israel controls all access to and from Gaza, with the exception of the Rafah Crossing via the Egyptian border, and all transport between Gaza and the occupied West Bank, as well as the border between the West Bank and Jordan. The Israeli authorities will not allow the Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild and open their airport — destroyed by Israel in 2001/2 — or build a functional seaport, leaving Palestinians dependent on foreign ports for travel abroad.

Travel through the Erez Crossing, Gaza’s pedestrian route to Israel, the West Bank and the outside world, is limited to what the Israeli military calls “exceptional humanitarian cases,” meaning mainly those with significant health issues and their companions, as well as prominent business people. The gradual decline in Israel’s issue of medical permits, from 92 per cent approval of applications in 2012 to 88.7 per cent in 2013; 82.4 per cent in 2014, 77.5 per cent in 2015, 62.07 per cent in 2016 and 54 per cent in 2017 indicates that Israel has increasingly restricted travel even for “exceptional humanitarian cases,” said WHO. In 2017, travel via Erez accounted for less than 1 per cent of the travel recorded in September 2000.

Palestinians from Gaza missed at least 11,000 scheduled medical appointments in 2017 after the Israeli authorities denied or failed to respond in time to applications for permits. Research by Al Mezan, supported by MAP, into the cases of 20 Palestinians who died after missing hospital appointments due to denied or delayed travel permits found that 14 had cancer, nine of whom were women. PHRI has highlighted how women in Gaza with cancer have faced heightened obstacles to accessing medical care and consequently expended energy fighting bureaucracy rather than their illness.

The significant decline runs counter to the ever-increasing health needs in Gaza. The besieged territory’s 2 million people endure what the UN labels “a protracted humanitarian crisis.” Amid widespread poverty and unemployment, at least 10 per cent of young children are stunted by chronic malnutrition; up to half of all medicines and medical disposables in Gaza are completely depleted or below one month’s supply; and chronic electricity shortages have caused officials to cut health and other essential services.

The three Israeli military offensives on Gaza since 2008 have also taken a heavy toll on essential infrastructure and further debilitated Gaza’s health system and economy. In light of the control Israel effectively exercises over the lives and welfare of the people of Gaza, the Zionist state continues to maintain ultimate responsibility for ensuring their well-being under the laws governing military occupation, as the ICRC and UN, among others, have recognised.

“It’s unconscionable that Israel prevented so many critically ill people from accessing care that might have saved their lives,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel’s continued control over movement into and out of Gaza creates obligations to facilitate – not thwart – humanitarian access.”

Palestinians in Gaza require referral permits to access the more advanced health care in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, as well as in Israel. The health services most commonly requiring referral outside of Gaza are for oncology, paediatrics, cardiology and heart problems, and haematology. The Israeli authorities state that they can process priority permits in one day, although the typical waiting time averages two weeks, while “regular” cases require 23 days, and often fail to meet this timetable.

The WHO has deemed the ensuing process “neither transparent nor timely,” and the UN coordinator for humanitarian aid and development activities in the occupied Palestinian territory has stated that a “minefield of interviews, paperwork, opaque procedures and logistical hurdles stand between a cancer patient and his or her urgent treatment.”

The Palestinian Authority’s financial approval of referrals for those in need of essential medical treatment in Gaza also fell in 2017, with at least one subsequent death reported. While the PA approved about 2,000 applications in each of the first three months, this fell to under 500 in June, before increasing to more than 2,000 later in the year amid efforts at Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, according to the WHO. Additionally, the PA’s reduction of essential services to the Gaza Strip between July and December 2017 – including electricity and medical supplies – also undermined Palestinians’ right to health.

Egypt has kept the Rafah Crossing mostly closed for the population in Gaza since 2013, which contributed to restricting access to health care. Before July 2013, more than 4,000 Palestinians travelled monthly via Rafah for health-related purposes. As a state bordering a territory with a protracted humanitarian crisis, Egypt should facilitate humanitarian access for the population. Nevertheless, ultimate responsibility remains with Israel, the occupying power.

“The Israeli government’s restrictions on movement are directly connected to patient deaths and compounded suffering as ill patients seek permits,” Issam Younis, Director of Al Mezan, pointed out. “These practices form part of the closure and permit regime that prevents patients from a life of dignity, and violates the right to life.” The closure system must be abolished so that patients have safe access to healthcare in Palestinian hospitals in the occupied Palestinian territories and elsewhere, he added. “The victims and their families must have their right to justice and redress upheld.”

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Via Middle East Monitor


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

RT America: “Israel’s blockage of Gaza continues to have dire consequences for Palestinians”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Celebrities speak out for Jailed Teen Ahed Tamimi: Israel/Palestine

Thu, 2018-02-15 00:13

IMEMC | – –

Celebrities and civil rights figures declared their support for imprisoned Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, 17, who was detained by Israeli forces on December 15, after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier who broke into her house in Nabi Saleh village, near Ramallah, went viral.

A number of high-profile entertainers, scholars, and civil rights icons signed on Monday a letter in support of Ahed Tamimi and other Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel.

American political activist and author Angela Davis said she doesn’t only stand with Tamimi, but with the rest of the Palestinian children held in Israeli prisons.

“I stand in loving solidarity with Ahed Tamimi and the 300 Palestinian children languishing in Israeli prisons. Over 70 years of state violence and land theft has aimed to break the Palestinian people, but, it has not worked and will not,” said Davis. “They remain steadfast in their pursuit of freedom and equality in their homeland and we must stand with them until justice is delivered. Only in the presence of justice can Palestinian and Israeli children flourish together in peace.”

American philosopher, activist, critic and author Cornel West also spoke out in support for Tamimi.

“I indeed sign on, and say we must defend our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” said West, “especially the children, living under vicious Israeli occupation.”

American academic and television personality Marc Lamont Hill thinks that Tamimi’s case reflects a crisis in the Israeli legal system.

“The tragic case of Ahed Tamimi reflects a broader and deeper crisis within the Israeli legal system, which consistently criminalizes Palestinian children. Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children – through arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, and inhumane physical and mental abuses – reflects a complete indifference to the lives and well being of the vulnerable,” said Hill. “These actions not only contradict the most basic standards of human dignity and respect, but also violate the letter and spirit of international law. As Israel’s largest source of financial support, the United States government has a moral responsibility to immediately reject, denounce, and prevent the military detention of Palestinian children.”

Phillip Agnew, director of Dream Defenders Mission, a member group of the Movement for Black Lives that recently initiated a letter in support of Tamimi signed by a number of high-profile entertainers and activities, said the only way to protect the community is to build a loving world for everyone.

“Committing to building a more just and loving world for us all,” said Agnew. “And embracing our shared struggle for liberation is the only way we can protect our communities.”

Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, also detained on the same day as her daughter, appeared in an Israeli military court near Ramallah on Tuesday, but the hearing for Ahed was postponed until March 11 and Nariman until March 6.

According to WAFA, the Tamimis’ attorney, Gaby Lasky, said Israel fears the attention Tamimi’s case has garnered.

“This [Israeli Military] court of Occupation fears the light shined on it by this case,” said Lasky. “After it placed Ahed under open-ended detention in violation of her rights as a minor, the court now uses the false pretext of protecting these very rights as cover to shield itself from criticism this case raises.”



Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Ahed Tamimi trial: The conditions of detention of under-aged Palestinians”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

What Does Netanyahu Corruption Case tell us about Trump’s Fate?

Wed, 2018-02-14 01:32

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu be indicted for corruption. The recommendation now goes to attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, who may or may not decide to act on it. Although 60% of Israelis in polling have said they wanted Netanyahu to step down if the police made this recommendation, he is refusing to leave and will fight the cases from office.

The police instanced two cases, one in which Netanyahu allegedly accepted a couple hundred thousand dollars in bribes from an Australian businessmen in return for favorable treatment of his business and attempting to get him a US visa. (Whether Netanyahu regularly got people visas should be looked into as a form of corruption on the US side).

In the other case, Netanyahu is alleged to have offered a deal to Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel’s biggest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu supporter and shady casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson had begun a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Yisrael Ha-Yom, and it obviously was eating into the profits of the other newspapers in the country. (How this is not illegal as “dumping” baffles me.) Netanyahu allegedly told Mozes that he could persuade Adelson to reduce the publication run of Yisrael Ha-Yom, which would help his bottom line. In return, Mozes should report more favorably on Netanyahu.

In my view it is the second case that is explosive. In the first one Netanyahu got champagne and cigars. But the second case shows how far right wing nationalist politics is intertwined with shady businesses like casino-owning and their ability, having bilked millions of poor and working people out of their money, to turn around and buy influential press organs to convince the latter to vote for the people who screwed them over. (Although Netanyahu is notorious in the West for having reneged on the Oslo Accords and having denied Palestinians their rights, within Israel he has also led an assault on the old socialist welfare state, throwing workers under the bus and diverting money to the billionaire class.) It is a perfect vicious circle.

Sheldon Adelson, who allegedly recouped his fortune at one point by bribing members of the Chinese Communist Party to let him operate in Macao, has the dubious distinction of having ruined both the United States and Israel by pushing, repectively, Netanyahu and Trump. Adelson sidelined New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the 2016 Republican primary for having referred to Gaza and the West Bank as “Occupied Territories,” which they self-evidently are. In Adelson’s warped world, there are and never have been any Palestinians and random Arabs have no business in his Israel.

Are there parallels between Netanyahu’s situation and Trump’s?

Both came to power in part through the backing of billionaires and their fake news organs such as Fox Cable News for Trump and Yisrael Ha-Yom for Netanyahu.

Both men are being investigated for corruption.

Both have responded by denigrating law enforcement. Netanyahu attacked the police, Trump the FBI.

Both have tried to normalize corruption. Netanyahu dismissed the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received as a few gifts among friends. Trump asks his audience if they don’t want him to make money for his businesses.

And in the case of both men, if they are removed from office for corruption, they will be succeeded by political figures even farther to their right and more dangerous to the world.


Bonus video:

AFP: “srael police recommend corruption charges for Netanyahu”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Sea Level Rise Speeding up as Humans burn more Fossil Fuels

Wed, 2018-02-14 00:21

TeleSur | – –

The rise in global sea levels has accelerated since the 1990s amid rising temperatures, with a thaw of Greenland’s ice sheet pouring ever more water into the oceans.

Sea level rise is accelerating and could reach 66 centimeters by century’s end, in line with United Nations estimates and enough to cause significant problems for coastal cities, a study found Monday.

The past annual rate of sea level rise — about three millimeters per year — may more than triple to 10 millimeters per year by 2100, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed U.S. journal.

The findings are “roughly in agreement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report (AR5) model projections,” said the report, based on 25 years of satellite data.

“This acceleration, driven mainly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica, has the potential to double the total sea level rise by 2100 as compared to projections that assume a constant rate — to more than 60 centimeters instead of about 30,” said study author Steve Nerem.

“And this is almost certainly a conservative estimate,” added Nerem, a professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Co-authors on the study came from the University of South Florida, Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, Old Dominion University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

A rise in sea levels will threaten low-lying coasts from Miami to Bangladesh, cities from Shanghai to San Francisco and small island states such as Tuvalu in the Pacific.

Climate change leads to rising seas in two ways.

For one, higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere boost the temperature of water and warm water expands.

This so-called “thermal expansion” of the oceans has already contributed about half of the seven centimeters of average global sea level rise in the past quarter century, Nerem said.

Oceans also rise with the increasing flow of water due to rapidly melting ice at the poles.

“This study highlights the important role that can be played by satellite records in validating climate model projections,” said co-author John Fasullo, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

NASA Goddard: “Sea Level Rise Accelerates Over Time”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The U.S. Is Permanently Occupying Northern Syria, and That’s Trouble

Wed, 2018-02-14 00:18

By Reese Erlich | (The Progressive) | – –

When President Barack Obama started bombing Syria in 2014, he enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington, D.C. Americans were appalled by the atrocities of the Islamic State, which had massacred Yazidis, and seized swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.

At the time I warned that, far from being a humanitarian intervention, this action threatened to precipitate yet another Middle East war: “Once again, the United States is waging an open-ended war with no concern for the long-term well-being of the people in the region.”

And sure enough, with the Islamic State on the ropes, the Trump Administration has announced that some 2,000 U.S. troops will stay permanently in the Kurdish region of northern Syria. Ostensibly, the troops will fight Islamic State remnants and combat Iranian influence. In reality, the United States seeks to remove President Bashar al Assad, or failing that, dismember Syria into zones controlled by outside powers.


Reese Erlich

In 2014 the U.S. responded to Islamic State attacks on Yazidis by bombing northern Syria, and later sending troops there. Here aid workers provide food for Yazidis after the attacks.

On February 7, U.S. jets and artillery attacked pro-Assad forces in Khusham, an oil-rich area in north eastern Syria outside of the Kurdish region. The U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had captured the area from the Islamic State and Assad-allied troops were trying to take it. Needless to say, the fighting had nothing to do with Yazidis or remnants of the Islamic State.

Then on February 9, Israel claimed an Iranian drone entered its airspace, a charge denied by Iran. On the same day Assad’s artillery shot down an Israeli jet fighter, the first such loss since 1982. In retaliation Israel bombed a dozen sites in Syria. The United States is allied with Israel against Assad, Russia, and Iran.

Such clashes are just the latest indication of the expanded role played by outside powers. So the U.S. occupation won’t be easy. Turkey launched an attack on the U.S.-aligned SDF forces last month, promising to “suffocate this terror army before it is born.”

How did the United States get tangled up in another Mideast quagmire?

In September 2014, the United States had no allies on the ground when it began bombing the Islamic State in Syria. The CIA and Pentagon had spent more than a billion dollars trying to create pro-U.S. rebel groups that would fight Assad. Both agencies failed miserably as the ostensible guerrillas accepted U.S. arms and promptly handed them over to terrorist groups fighting in Syria.

But there was one insurgent group, the Kurdish-based Democratic Union Party, that effectively battled the Islamic State. The problem, from the United States’ perspective, was that the group was affiliated with a leftist Kurdish group based in Turkey. Turkish leaders denounce the group as terrorists—an accusation that conveniently covers up Turkish government repression of its Kurdish minority.

Turkey invaded northern Syria in 2016 and seized part of the Kurdish region in order to prevent the SDF from creating a contiguous territory along the Turkish border. Turkey, like every foreign power invading Syria, proclaimed their incursions as temporary. But it set up military bases and ran electricity wires from Turkey into the Syrian cities under its control.

Then, on January 20 of this year, Turkey launched an invasion of Afrin, an isolated area in the far northwest of Rojava, the Kurdish name for their region in Syria. Turkish bombing of the city has already killed 150 civilians and wounded 300, according to Sinam Mohamad, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council in the United States. The council is the political wing of the SDF.

Mohamad says that the ultimate goal of Turkey is to drive the Kurds out of Afrin in order to create a buffer zone under its permanent control. She accuses the Turkish Army of ethnic cleansing. “They want to kick out the Kurds,” she says.

The Turkish military created a Syrian Arab militia, appropriating the name Free Syrian Army. The group stands accused of war crimes for mutilating the body of a Kurdish female fighter, and filming it. Mohamad compares such actions to atrocities carried out by terrorist groups.

“What’s the difference between them and Islamic State?” she asks.

But the United States has no plans to prevent the Turks from taking Afrin, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in peril.

The Pentagon seems to be drawing a line at the Rojava town of Manbij, some thirty-seven miles east of Afrin. The United States sent high ranking army officers into Manbij, riding in vehicles prominently displaying U.S. flags, accompanied by a New York Times reporter to make sure the message was received in Ankara.

For the moment, it appears the U.S. military will maintain its alliance with Kurdish forces while Turkey will continue its military opposition, but within limits.

In my opinion, the Syrian Kurds are playing a very dangerous game allying with the United States. They may think it will protect the Kurds, but nothing in history suggests it will be a reliable partner. And the people of Rojava will suffer.

There’s an old saying commonly used in the Middle East: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We Americans have another old saying: “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Reese Erlich’s syndicated “Foreign Correspondent” column appears every two weeks. The revised and updated edition of his book The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis will be published in September. Follow him on Twitter.

Via The Progressive

Reprinted with author’s permission


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Wochit News: “Several Russian Contractors Killed In Battle Between US And Syrian Pro-Regime Forces”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The US is near to Turning a Corner in Afghanistan etc. and always Will be

Wed, 2018-02-14 00:16

By Tom Engelhardt | ( | – –

If you’re in the mood, would you consider taking a walk with me and, while we’re at it, thinking a little about America’s wars? Nothing particularly ambitious, mind you, just — if you’re up for it — a stroll to the corner. 

Now, admittedly, there’s a small catch here. Where exactly is that corner?  I think the first time I heard about it might have been back in January 2004 and it was located somewhere in Iraq. That was, if you remember, just nine months after American troops triumphantly entered a burning Baghdad and the month after Iraq’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein, was captured near his hometown, Tikrit.  Yet despite President George W. Bush’s unforgettable May 1, 2003, “mission accomplished” moment when, from the deck of an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego, he declared “major combat operations in Iraq… ended,” the American war there somehow never actually stopped.  An insurgency had already flared, U.S. bases were being periodically mortared, and American officials feared that some kind of civil war was in the offing between the country’s formerly reigning Sunni minority and its rising Shiite majority.

It was then that Major General Charles Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, mentioned that corner (and as you’ll gather from his comments, it wasn’t even the first time he’d brought the subject up).  Here, as New York Times correspondent John Burns reported it, was Swannack’s assessment of the situation:

“The general, a large, imposing figure renowned among his troops for his no-nonsense ways, began his remarks by reminding the reporters that he had appeared in Baghdad six weeks ago, about the time of the insurgents’ Ramadan offensive, and had said he believed [troops] in his area were ‘turning the corner.’

“Now, he said, ‘I’m here to tell you that we’ve turned that corner. I can also tell you that we are on a glide path towards success, as attacks on our forces have declined by almost 60 percent over the past month.’”

As it happened, Americans would remain on the glide path to that corner of ultimate success for some time, not just in Iraq but in Washington, too.  There, as Rowan Scarborough reported more than a year later, in March 2005, “in the privacy of their E-ring offices, senior Pentagon officials have begun to entertain thoughts that were unimaginable a year ago: Iraq is turning the corner. ‘This is still a tough fight. We don’t want anyone to think that it is not,’ said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a military analyst who strongly supports Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. ‘But the momentum is in our direction.’”

Corner-less Iraq

Here was the problem: every time American troops actually turned that corner, what they found there were insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and other weaponry, sometimes even American-produced arms.  In addition, the streets around that corner turned out to be pitted with half-buried improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, those same insurgents could build from instructions on the Internet and that could destroy the most well-armored Humvee for the price of a pizza.  (Early on, in fact, some of the places down which American troops had to turn were already being given grimly sardonic names like “RPG Alley.”) There were, as it happened, so many corners to turn and yet, from 2003 on, seemingly nowhere to go. 

I don’t doubt that those of you of a certain age preparing for our little walk are already thinking about a somewhat more perilous image from another war: the infamous “light at the end of the tunnel” that will forever be connected with Vietnam.  That phrase was repeatedly used by Americans to describe the glide path to victory in that conflict and would long be associated with the commander of U.S. forces, General William Westmoreland. He used it to remarkable effect in 1967, a mere 10 weeks before the enemy launched its devastating Tet Offensive.

However, the general was anything but alone in his choice of imagery.  That “tunnel” was also occupied by a range of top U.S. officials, from President Lyndon Johnson to National Security Advisor Walt Rostow.  And it wasn’t the newest of images either.  After all, General Henri Navarre had used it a decade and a half earlier in the French version of that losing war. 

For those in the antiwar movement of the era, it was an image that always had a particularly ominous resonance, since you weren’t just heading for “the corner” but deep inside a dark tunnel where, just beyond the light glimmering at its end, it was easy enough to imagine a train bearing down on you.  By the way, lest you think there’s anything especially original about the American military in the twenty-first century, Westmoreland also spoke with hope in 1967 (but assumedly before he found himself in that tunnel) of how the U.S. “had turned the corner in the war” and how its end had begun “to come into view.”

In Iraq, the light at the end of the corner would prove no more evident than it had been in that Vietnamese tunnel and, as a result, the corner itself simply disappeared.  In fact, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2008, U.S. commander (and Iraq surge general) David Petraeus even admitted, however reluctantly, that “we haven’t turned any corners, we haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel.”  And soon after that, corners of any sort were largely abandoned (at least as figures of speech).  Or perhaps, thought of another way, the problem of finding a corner, no less any good news on the other side of it, would be solved by a change in tactics in the second iteration of Washington’s Iraq War in this century: the one against the Islamic State.  From August 2014 on, the U.S. Air Force would be called in to play a major role in turning Iraq’s embattled cities, from Fallujah to Mosul, into so much rubble.  No corners, no problems, you might say.

Now, I don’t want you to be disappointed.  I was serious about that walk to the corner, just not in Iraq.  Consider corner-less Iraq no more than background information for the real walk we’re going to take. 

But before we leave Iraq, let me mention — and I hope you won’t consider me too much of an optimist for this — that I just might see a little light glimmering at the end of the rubble.  Is it possible that, some 14 years late, America’s mission-accomplished moment is finally arriving?  After all, the “caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is history and, in December, President Donald Trump even declared victory over ISIS.  (“We’ve won in Iraq,” he said without hesitation or qualification.)  No tunnel, no corner, no glimmers of light, just the whole shebang. 

Now admittedly, while the so-called caliphate is gone and its militants driven out of the Iraqi and Syrian cities they had occupied, some of its fighters seem to be turning themselves back into guerrilla warriors and suicide bombers — the first post-caliphate bombings in Baghdad have evidently begun — and aren’t quite acting like they’re down for the count.  Not yet anyway (and let’s not forget as well that, in the years leading to Washington’s “victory,” the Islamic State did somehow manage to turn itself into a global terror brand).

Still, give me a little leeway here.  I’m just talking about glimmers, and… oh, wait, I should mention one more thing: in neighboring Syria, all a-glimmer itself these days, the U.S. is now seemingly on the brink of involvement in a whole new war between NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish forces it’s still backing against ISIS and, talking about what’s glimmering in the distance, a possible future war with Iran also seems to be lurking just around the next turn of the Trumpian corner. 

Still, let’s keep the good news in full view.  U.S. troops are actually being drawn down in Iraq and a mere 14 years after that mission-accomplished moment, some of them are evidently being sent to the place where that corner-to-be-turned still evidently stands, where for America’s war-fighting generals and other key officials, there have always been corners to turn beyond compare.

“Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan”

So how about taking that little walk of ours somewhere in Afghanistan? After all, a mere 16 years after the Bush administration invaded and liberated that land — at the end of November 2017, to be exact — U.S. commander Army General John Nicholson, who had only recently been claiming that the fight against the Taliban (and a new branch of ISIS) was “still in a stalemate,” suddenly suggested… yes, you guessed it… that the by-now famous corner, so long sought after, was once again being turned.  He managed to make the point by quoting a recent statement of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, saying, “Now, looking ahead to 2018, as President Ghani said, he believes we have turned the corner and I agree.  The momentum is now with the Afghan Security Forces and the Taliban cannot win in the face of the pressures that I outlined.  Again, their choices are to reconcile, live in irrelevance, or die.”

If, so many years later, General Nicholson were alone in such a conclusion, you might question his claim, given that the Taliban now control or contest more Afghan territory than at any time since they were driven from power in 2001; that President Ghani’s government seems shakier than any since the U.S. “liberated” the country; that the Afghan security forces have been taking a beating; and that the capital, Kabul, the heartland of government control, has been a veritable inferno of terror attacks.  Still, here’s what gives Nicholson’s statement its power: he’s not alone.  His conclusion has been backed by a remarkable array of knowledgeable officials since at least 2010. 

Here’s just a partial list:  U.S. Afghan commander General Stanley McChrystal in February 2010 (the U.S. had “turned the corner” in Helmand Province in the embattled poppy-producing southern heartland of the country); Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on June 7, 2011 (“I leave Afghanistan today with the belief that if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner in this conflict”) and his boss President Barack Obama on the same day (“We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, trained Afghan security forces, and are now preparing to turn a corner in our efforts”); Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey in April 2012 (“In my opening months as chairman, I worked with the secretary of defense and the president to fashion a new defense strategy, guidance that would address the security paradox. This guidance is meant to help our military… turn the corner from a decade of focus on stability operations and find a new way forward to address that wider spectrum of threats”); and Gates’s successor, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in September 2012 (“We have turned the corner”); and so it’s gone in Afghanistan.

Or put another way, never have so many prospective corners been turned over so many years to so little effect.  Nonetheless, if you’re game, let’s think about heading out in search of just such a corner one more time.  Before we go, though, let me mention one other thing.  Given the experiences of the British and the Soviets, among others, Afghanistan has long been called “the graveyard of empires.”  However, for Afghans since 1979, when the first iteration of America’s wars there began, it has simply been a graveyard. This year, things have already gotten so bad in Kabul — from attacks on a major hotel and a military academy to a devastating bomb concealed inside an ambulance — that city dwellers have reportedly taken to carrying “in case I die” notes with them, lest their bodies be shredded and left unidentifiable by the latest Taliban or ISIS terror assault. 

Across the country, in winter — usually a time of little fighting — the war(s) are simply being ratcheted up.  The Trump administration and the Pentagon are sending in more troops (“advisers”), more planes, and more drones.  The U.S. military has announced soaring numbers of air strikes, as well as more bombings (including record ones) than at any time since 2012 when 100,000, not 14,00-15,000, U.S. troops were in-country.  And the U.S. air commander there, Air Force Major General James Hecker, recently threatened more of them, claiming that “the Taliban still has not felt the full brunt of American and Afghan air power.”  And yet, according to both the Pentagon and a recent BBC study, the Taliban is now contesting more territory than at any time since 2002 and militants from the ISIS branch there have similarly been spreading to new parts of the country. 

Yes, the U.S. military (in support of Afghan security forces) and the Taliban (as well as ISIS) are fighting each other, but functionally, when it comes to ordinary Afghans, they are colluding in killing striking numbers of civilians across the country.  In other words, more than a decade and a half later, despite those corners, it all only seems to be getting worse with no end in sight. 

After all, in these years, the two groups the Bush administration went after in 2001, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, have somehow morphed into “more than 20 terrorist and insurgent groups” on either side of the Afghani-Pakistani border.  (And in case you doubt those figures, they’re straight out of a recent ill-titled Pentagon report, “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan.”)  Beyond Afghanistan, in these years, the same process has been repeating itself, as the original al-Qaeda morphed into a whole range of groups (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and so on) and the same thing is now happening to ISIS. 

In fact, I’m starting to wonder about almost any corner in much of the Greater Middle East and Africa, which means it’s true: I’m the one who’s hesitating now.  I know what I promised you, but to be honest, I’m having my doubts about this walk of ours.  I’m worried about what exactly will happen if we ever do get to that corner.  Who, after all, wants to whistle past a graveyard?

So here’s my suggestion.  Why don’t we just postpone our walk for a while?  Bad as things are right now, experience tells us — or at least our military commanders swear to it — that they’ll get better sooner or later.  What if we check back this fall, or maybe early next year, or perhaps sometime in 2020, or even 2021?  By that time, there has to be at least one corner around which we could… well, you know what I’m about to say.  Count on one thing: I’ll be in touch.   

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower WorldHis next book, A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books), will be published in May.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Tom Engelhardt


Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs