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Updated: 13 min 2 sec ago

The New Arab League Cold War

10 hours 9 min ago

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Arab League is embroiled in a new cold war among its own members, largely over Iran’s role in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have so much influence in the Arab League that they got through a resolution of the foreign ministers committee condemning Iran and casting Lebanon’s Hizbullah as a terrorist organization committing terrorism in Arab countries. (This attitude is not new. In 2016, as well, the Arab League called Hizbullah terrorists).

This resolution was rejected by Lebanon, Syria and Iraq as well as by the Palestinian party-militia Gaza. At least in the past, Algeria has also refused to buy into such rhetoric. The Houthi government of Sanaa Yemen demurred, as well. I can’t imagine Oman going along with this wording, since it brokers deals with Iran.

Qatar has also rejected the resolution (it is being targeted by Saudi Arabia).

Egypt, too, has been signalling that Cairo thinks the time inopportune for ratcheting up tensions with Iran.

Iran charged that Saudi Arabia is the country destabilizing the Middle East.

So my guess is that governments representing a majority or plurality of the Arab League states are actually opposed to this FM Council resolution.

The Arab League comprises 22 members, all but three of them Arabic-speaking (Somali, Djibouti and the Comoros Islands make a special place for Arabic as an official language). Since a language is not actually an ethnicity or a nation, it is not surprising that the Arab League usually does not amount to much as a nationalist organization. It has frequently been split over key issues. In the 1960s it was split between nationalists like Gamal Abdel Nasser who tilted toward socialism and the Soviet Union, and monarchies like those of Saudi Arabia and Morocco who tilted toward capitalism and the United States. In a later era it expelled Egypt for concluding the Camp David Peace Accord with Israel in 1978-79. It split on the Arab Spring in 2011.

So this split is nothing new, though the occasion for it– the question of how belligerent to be toward Iran, is new.

If Saudi Arabia dreamed of regimenting all the Arabs behind this conference, they failed.

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Related video:

New China TV: “Debate at Arab League meeting over Qatar’s alleged link with terror”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Sexual Predator Trump backs Sexual Predator Roy Moore (TYT Video)

10 hours 42 min ago

The Young Turks | (Video News Clip) | – –

“Does Trump support Roy Moore? Cenk Uygur, the host of The Young Turks, breaks down Trump’s response: “President Donald Trump on Tuesday directly addressed the sexual misconduct allegations against Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, nearly two weeks after the first accounts of Moore’s alleged sexual predation were first reported by The Washington Post. “Roy Moore denies it. That’s all I can say,” Trump told reporters while leaving the White House to go to his Mar-a-Lago resort for the Thanksgiving holiday.”

The Young Turks: “Trump On Roy Moore”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Israeli Minister Confirms Secret Contacts with Saudi Arabia

Wed, 2017-11-22 01:46

By IMEMC News | – –

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed that the country maintains secret contacts within Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim and Arab countries, especially those with shared concerns from Iran.

Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, did not characterize the contacts or give details when asked why Israel was “hiding its ties” with Saudi Arabia, He replied: ”We have ties that are indeed partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries, and usually we are not the party who is ashamed,” according to Reuters.

When asked about Israel’s interest in establishing relations with a state that does not have a parliament, does not contain opposition, and the king is appointed by the ruling family, he said: “This is not our way. We prefer democracy.”

He also added, according to the PNN, that Saudi Arabia is recently undergoing a process of moderation, escalating its stance against Iran, Hezbollah and terrorism; Saudi Arabia is our partner in the face of the Iranian threat.”

He revealed that “the diplomatic efforts by Israel with the US administration and the United Nations to reconsider the nuclear agreement with Iran is happening through contacts with the Saudi authorities and through their help.”

Via IMEMC

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV [Iran]: “Israeli minister: Tel Aviv had covert contacts with Saudi over Iran”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

W. Bush Still a War Criminal: Can’t Get Fooled Again

Wed, 2017-11-22 01:35

By Rebecca Gordon| ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

He received a prestigious award from the West Point Association of Graduates. He published a “runaway” bestselling autobiography. Last February, a lavishly produced book celebrating his paintings of Americans who served in the military was, as Time put it, “burning up the Amazon charts.”

Still, the liberal media wasn’t ready to embrace George W. Bush — not at least until he made some oblique criticisms of the current tenant of his old position, suggesting that, in the present political climate, “bigotry seems emboldened.” Seems? Have you been to Charlottesville lately, Mr. Bush?

The former president was less tentative on the main subject of his address to a conference on “democracy” he’d organized in New York City: the importance of free trade and the need for a large American footprint in the world. “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade,” he said, “forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.” More on that speech later.

Not the First Rehab Job

George W. Bush is hardly the first disgraced Republican president and war criminal to worm his way back into American esteem. Richard Nixon remains the leader in that department.  He spent his later years being celebrated as an elder statesman and a master of realpolitik in international relations. In the process, he managed to shake off the dust of Watergate.

In those years, few even remembered that his was the first administration in which both the president and vice president resigned. In 1973, that disgraced vice president, Spiro Agnew, pled guilty to a felony count of tax evasion, but not before he’d bequeathed the English language a few of its most mellifluous sobriquets, among them the “nattering nabobs of negativism” and the “effete corps of impudent snobs” (aimed at those who opposed the Vietnam War).

Nixon’s rehabilitation not only reduced the Watergate scandal in American memory, but also essentially obliterated his greater crimes, among which were these:

* while still a presidential candidate in 1968, he opened a secret back channel to the South Vietnamese government to keep it out of peace talks with the North that might have benefited his Democratic opponent;

* in the war itself, he oversaw the expansion of the CIA’s Phoenix Program of torture and assassination in which, as historian Alfred McCoy has described it, “the formalities of prosecution” of suspected Viet Cong were replaced “with pump and dump — pumping suspects of information by torture and then dumping the bodies, more than 20,000 of them between 1968 and 1971”;

* he also oversaw an expansive, illegal, and undeclared war in Cambodia (which, when it was about to come to light, he described as a brief “incursion” into that country);

* he oversaw the saturation or “carpet” bombing of the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, and that country’s major port, Haiphong;

* and he presided over the “first 9/11,” the 1973 military coup that murdered Chile’s elected president, Salvador Allende, ushering in years of terror and torture under General Augusto Pinochet.

And don’t think that Richard Nixon is the only other example of such a post-presidential rehabilitation. Ronald Reagan is now remembered by friend and foe alike as a kind, folksy president and a wily strategist who ended the Cold War by forcing a cash-strapped Soviet Union to keep up with U.S. defense spending and then negotiated directly with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. When he died in June 2004, the New York Times was typical in the largely fawning obituary it ran, describing him as “the man who restored popular faith in the presidency and the American government.”

That obituary did at least mention the Iran-Contra conspiracy in which President Reagan approved the (illegal) sale of arms to Iran to fund his (illegal) support of the Nicaraguan Contras, the murderous rebel force that sought to overthrow that country’s leftist Sandinista government. “The deception and disdain for the law,” commented the obituary, “invited comparisons to Watergate, undermined Mr. Reagan’s credibility, and severely weakened his powers of persuasion with Congress.” An odd set of observations about a man being hailed for restoring faith in the presidency, but consistent with the contradictions inherent in any lionization of Reagan.

Lest we forget, he was also the president who began his first term by attacking unions, starting with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, a move which so many years later still results in regular flight delays, thanks to a 27-year low in the number of air controllers. Reagan also inaugurated the mania for deregulation that led to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ultimately to the subprime mortgage crisis and financial meltdown of 2007-2008. His presidency reinforced what would become a never-ending slide in the value of real wages and his tax policies were the starting point for what has, in our own time, become not an inequality gap but an inequality chasm that has now left three men with the same amount of wealth as 160 million Americans. (Not surprisingly, depending on who’s calculating it, the United States either has the world’s highest or perhaps fourth-highest Gini score, a measurement of economic inequality.)

Nixon had to wait many years for his rehabilitation and Reagan’s was largely posthumous.  At a vigorous 71, however, Bush seems to be slipping effortlessly back onto the national stage only nine years after leaving office essentially in disgrace.  He will evidently have plenty of time to bask in history’s glow before the first of those nostalgic obituaries are written.  And for that, he can thank Donald Trump.

W. Redux?

During that October 17th speech in which he criticized Trump without mentioning his name, George W. Bush touted the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, in the World.” There, he bemoaned the degradation of political discourse by “casual cruelty,” noting that “bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.” Like the rest of his family, Bush does not share Trump’s aversion to immigrants, so he added that this country seems to be forgetting “the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

Articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Guardian eagerly reported Bush’s implicit criticisms of the president as a hopeful sign of resistance to Trumpism from the “responsible” Republican right. Politico simply labeled the event a “George W. Bush speech on Trumpism,” although much of it was about the decline of democracy in Europe and the value of free trade.

It’s certainly true that his speech included oblique critiques of the man who repeatedly insulted his brother Jeb as “a very low-energy kind of guy” and knocked him out of the race to be the third Bush to sit in the Oval Office, but it’s worth reading the whole address. It’s vintage W. — that is, vintage W. as a war criminal. He began, for instance, by reprising the lie that “since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of free markets, from the strength of democratic alliances, and from the advance of free societies.”

As Alfred McCoy demonstrates in his recent book, In the Shadows of the American Century, that is a particularly disingenuous description of a 70-year history in which Washington supported and, in a remarkable number of cases was directly involved in, the destruction of free societies. A list of examples would perhaps begin with the 1953 British and U.S.-backed coup against the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh that would install the despotic Shah in power in that country.  It would certainly continue with the 1954 U.S. and United Fruit Company coup against Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala (an early instance of Washington’s post-World War II “encouragement” of anything-but-free-trade); the 1960 CIA-backed coup against, and the murder of, Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; and the 1973 military coup in Chile. An honest history would also include the active “encouragement” of societies that were anything but free, including those run by juntas, dictators, or military governments in Greece, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Uruguay, Iraq, and South Korea, to name just a few.

Of course, George W. Bush is hardly the first president to lie about the post-World War II record of the United States.  Nor is he the first to suggest that “American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places,” which he attributed in his speech to the lack of the democracy Washington put so much effort into destroying in more than 70 countries across the planet.

And don’t forget that it was precisely the pretext of a direct threat to American security that led to the most criminal lie of his career: the insistence that Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that the U.S. invasion of his country was justified by a (legally questionable) case of preemptive self-defense. By initiating a war of aggression, by loosing “shock and awe” on the capital of a nation that had not attacked ours, President Bush committed a war crime. Indeed, it was the first in the list of crimes for which the leaders of Nazi Germany were indicted at Nuremberg after World War II: the ultimate crime against peace.

Few Americans have ever heard of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but in 1928 the United States signed it and the Senate ratified it by a vote of 85-1. The 50 signatories of that treaty renounced war as a means of settling international disputes and, as the authors of The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World have argued, by implication made aggressive war a violation of international law. The U.S. Constitution states in Article 6 that “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” By invading Iraq, Bush broke both international and U.S. law.

In addition to his crimes against peace, Bush and his administration were also the authors of such traditionally recognized war crimes as torture and the use of chemical weapons. One of the uglier aspects of the U.S. military’s battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah was its use of white phosphorus, an incendiary munition. Phosphorus ignites spontaneously when exposed to air.  If bits of the chemical attach to human beings, skin and flesh burn away. The burning continues as long as there is oxygen available, sometimes right into the bone.

In short, isn’t it a little early to begin rehabilitating the man responsible for indefinite detention at Guantánamo, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and at least 150,000 Afghans — not to mention the trillions of U.S. dollars shoved down the memory hole in pursuit of the futile wars that followed?

Leda and the Swan 

The same year that the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed, William Butler Yeats published a collection of poems called The Tower. It contains what many consider his masterpiece, the harrowing sonnet “Leda and the Swan.” In it, Yeats recreates the moment in Greek myth when Zeus, the ruling god of Olympus, having taken the form of a swan, rapes the helpless human woman Leda, leaving her pregnant with a daughter.  That daughter became Helen of Troy, whose abduction was the casus belli for the Trojan War.

The poet begins with the victim’s shock and awe:

“A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

In the final stanza, Yeats writes:

“A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.”

In those brief words can be read an entire history of war and death, recounted more fully in the 15,693 lines of the Iliad, all somehow encapsulated in that first act of violence.

In his poem, Yeats implies that Zeus knows full well the final outcome of his act. Similarly perhaps, the “swans” of Washington in 2003, which was at that time the planet’s own imperial Olympus, had more than an inkling of the broken walls, the burning roofs and towers their invasion of Iraq might engender. As early as 1996, future Vice President Dick Cheney’s fellow hawks Richard Perle and Douglas Feith — who would later join the Bush administration as adviser on the Defense Policy Board and under secretary of defense for policy — helped write a report for Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then running the Israeli government for the first time. Titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” it urged the leaders of Israel’s right-wing Likud party to leave behind the nation’s previous geopolitical strategy by abandoning peace negotiations with the Palestinians and using military means to actively restructure the Middle East in their favor.

“Israel,” the authors argued, “can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria.” Such a campaign would begin by “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” The ultimate goal was a realignment of power in the region, with Syria destabilized, a monarchy in Iraq, and a new regional alliance among Turkey, Jordan, and Israel.

It would prove to be the geopolitical equivalent of a movie preview. In the wake of 9/11, the same cast of characters would take a similar path in Washington and, in the end, that “rolling back” operation would shake or destroy country after country from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Yemen.  Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria has certainly been destabilized in ways almost impossible to imagine, through the rise of ISIS (born in an American military prison) and a vicious, multi-sided civil war that, by early 2016, had left more than a tenth of its population killed or injured.  In the process, more than 10 million people, including untold numbers of children, were turned into internal or external refugees.

Netanyahu, in fact, would reject the “clean break” proposal (perhaps because it also suggested that Israel make a clean break with its dependence on U.S. aid), but the neocons were undeterred. In 1998, they resurrected the plan as part of a new pressure group they formed, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and presented it to Bill Clinton in a letter encouraging him to direct “a full complement of diplomatic, political, and military efforts” to “remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

Nor were they overly concerned about the legality of such a move, writing that “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the U.N. Security Council.” In other words, the country should not be “crippled” by adherence to the U.N. Charter, whose Article 51 prohibits unilateral war making without Security Council approval, except in cases of immediate “individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

Like Netanyahu, Clinton ignored their suggestion. However, the signatories of the letter included many figures who would become key players in the Bush administration, among them Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Richard Armitage, Reagan hold-over Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad, who among other roles served as Bush’s special envoy and ambassador at large for free Iraqis. And it included, of course, Cheney adviser and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who had prepared a draft of a 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document for President George H.W. Bush in which he argued for the importance of U.S. readiness to take unilateral military action, whether approved by the United Nations or not.

In other words, the top officials of the Bush administration took office already planning to attack Iraq. It only awaited 19 mostly Saudi terrorists hijacking four American commercial airliners on September 11, 2001. That would be the pretext to launch what has become a “generational struggle” that would eventually destroy Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen (and almost as a side dish, Afghanistan), and which now threatens to engulf the entire Greater Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia, from Afghanistan to the Philippines, in a set of never-ending wars and spreading terror movements.

All that suffering sprang from the actions of one feckless president and his crew. So what if — after 16 years of fruitless war, 16 years of disintegrating American infrastructure, 16 years of almost unprecedented inequality — George W. Bush does find Trump’s rhetorical style distasteful? Is that really any reason to turn a presidential war criminal into a liberal hero?

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

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 2017 Rebecca Gordon

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Do Democrats Miss George W. Bush?”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

World’s Cheapest Solar Power in Mexico a Coal-Killer

Tue, 2017-11-21 02:27

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

China will have installed 54 gigawatts of new solar energy by the end of 2017, instead of the 15 gigawatts forecast last January or the 30 gigawatts forecast as late as last June.

As of last June, the US installed solar capacity was only 47 gigawatts, accounting for less than 2% of American electricity generation. That is, China is putting in more solar energy in 2017 than has ever been installed in the whole history of the United States. The US was installing an anemic 2.5 gigawatts a quarter this year, way down from the 20 gigs of new solar it did in 2016. Republican, dirty-oil politicians in many states have adopted punitive policies intended to hurt solar and help fossil fuels, at the sow-like teats of which their political campaigns suck.

Not only is the sheer amount of solar power generation increasing at blinding speed but the cost is plummeting in unrigged markets, as well. Mexico just accepted bids of 1.77 cents per kilowatt hour. That is, if you had 10 light bulbs with a brightness of 100 watts each, and you burned them for one hour using electricity generated by the solar farm to be built in Mexico by 2020, that would cost you 1.7 cents. In most states in the US it would now cost you 8 cents to 22 cents, if the electricity were generated by coal and natural gas.

Mexico has pledged to get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2025, but unless they up their game, this goal seems unrealistic. Still, at these prices, it costs them a lot of money *not* to go solar by 2025.

How would you like your electricity bill to fall by 80% or 90%? (I have solar panels on my house in cloudy Michigan and my electricity bill since last May has been averaging $14 a month).

Moreover, in Mexico the cost of a kilowatt hour from solar is expected to fall yet again by 2019 to only 1 cent a KWh. Coal is generally estimated to generate electricity for 5 cents a kilowatt hour, so it is now 3 times as expensive as the cheaper solar, and it is headed toward being 5 times as expensive by the time Trump is running for reelection. Nuclear costs 12 cents a kilowatt hour. Of course those prices don’t count externalities. If you count the damage coal does to the environment, from producing pollution that causes heart attacks to producing heat trapping gases that cause global heating and hurricanes, then coal is more like a dollar per kilowatt hour. It isn’t even remotely in the same league with solar.

In a new Climate Change Performance Index, the top three positions have been left blank because no country is really doing what it needs to do in order to stop climate change.

But Lithuania is number 5, Morocco is 6, Norway is 7.

India ranks 14, mainly because so many hundreds of millions of Indians are still without electricity.

Germany is 24.

About the US, you don’t want to ask.

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Nuclear Apocalypse by Accident? Age of Trump

Tue, 2017-11-21 00:38

By John Buell | (Informed Comment) | – –

Ironically, President Trump’s frequent nuclear blustering serves to hide one aspect of the nuclear risk. Focus on his instability and possible impetuous resort to the nuclear trigger may distract from equally significant dangers. Any discussion fo the threat posed by nuclear weapons should include recounting and further explanation of the multiple accidents with nuclear weaponry as well as the environmental dangers their manufacture and storage pose. In a review of Eric Schlosser’s book on nuclear weapons, Jenny Turner comments: “the effort to control nuclear weapons – to ensure that one doesn’t go off by accident” is undermined, over and over again, by demands from the military for bombs they can trust to explode.”

There is a long catalogue of near disastrous accidents with nuclear weapons. Details of an infamous 1961 incident involving the accidental drop of an H=Bomb over Greensboro NC are especially chilling, especially given President Trump’s decision similarly to arm B-52s today. These details also suggest we should place little reliance on the willingness of top level generals to restrain the president. Here is a summary from the Guardian:

“Further detail on what happened to the Mark 39 bomb when it fell over Goldsboro is given in a newly declassified document written in 1987 reviewing the US nuclear weapon safety programme. It records that as the B-52 broke up, the pin to arm the bomb that was normally manually operated was yanked out as it fell, thus arming it.

All the various stages of the bomb’s fall – the operation of the arming system, deployment of the parachute, timer operation, activation of its batteries, and delivery of the signal that would actually fire the bomb at impact – “all followed as a natural consequence of the bomb falling free”. Only the lack of engagement of the final ready-safe switch “prevented nuclear detonation of this bomb”.

Despite such expert awareness of the extremely tentative safeguards that stood between America and unthinkable disaster, successive US administrations kept up the line in public that the country’s nuclear arsenal was free from any risk of accidental detonation.” This incident, just like the Cuban Missile crisis soon to follow, was just one more case where political and military leaders put the preservation of state power ahead of genuine public safety.

Because they are so dangerous, access to them must be limited, and thus independent investigators cannot accumulate information that could inform a critical assessment of their domestic risks. In addition, because they are one of the central pillars in our collective identity as a power second to none, criticism of these weapons is often written off as enemy inspired and thus illegitimate. Add to this the economic boost nuclear arms provide to key military contractors and one has the makings of an almost invulnerable political machine. As Turner puts it, “Nuclear weapons are not like Wikipedia, on which anybody can spot a mistake and write in.” [Talk about the Progressive’s H bomb case?}

About the best argument I can think of for the safety of nuclear weaponry is that none has been accidentally detonated so far. From Schlosser’s description, this technological success is in large measure fortuitous. I will state it as a law: Complex systems are prone to unpredictable malfunctions. And as with many features of industrial life, there is more glory and economic reward in building the technologies than in maintaining them. Furthermore, in the grand scheme of human civilization, not to say of the planet, 72 years is but a trifle.

Donald Trump’s climate agenda is extraordinarily dangerous, but his posture on nuclear weapons is not as far out of the accepted strategic doctrines as his critics charge. Policy in both domains constitutes an imminent threat to the future of human civilization. Climate denialism has its parallel in those elites expecting to survive nuclear winter. Up until recently climate concerns have largely displaced the issues of nuclear weaponry. That must stop. Movements against nuclear power and nuclear weapons have a long history of facing repressive attacks and mounting cross- border collaboration. Enormous sums are already invested even in the shoddy maintenance of our nuclear arsenal, and many of Trump’s opponents are committed to dangerous modernization of that arsenal. Those funds might better go to meeting the long- term climate crisis. Intensifying climate deterioration risks exacerbating cross border tensions and provoking war, which will surely some day become nuclear. These issues and movements need each other.

John Buell has a PhD in political science, taught for 10 years at College of the Atlantic, and was an Associate Editor of The Progressive for ten years.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

MSNBC: “Senators Worry About Donald Trump And Nuclear Weapons | The Last Word | MSNBC”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

R.I.P. The Internet, 1983-2017: End of Online Liberty

Tue, 2017-11-21 00:27

By Corynne McSherry and Elliot Harmon | ( Electronic Frontier Foundation) | – –

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gets ready to abandon a decade of progress on net neutrality, some in Congress are considering how new legislation could fill the gap and protect users from unfair ISP practices. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers seem to be embracing the idea that they should allow ISPs to create Internet “fast lanes” — also known as “paid prioritization,” one of the harmful practices that violates net neutrality. They are also looking to re-assign the job of protecting customers from ISP abuses to the Federal Trade Commission.

These are both bad ideas. Let’s start with paid prioritization. In response to widespread public demand from across the political spectrum, the 2015 Open Internet Order expressly prohibited paid prioritization, along with other unfair practices like blocking and throttling. ISPs have operated under the threat or the reality of these prohibitions for at least a decade, and continue to be immensely profitable. But they’d like to make even more money by double-dipping: charging customers for access to the Internet, and then charging services for (better) access to customers. And some lawmakers seem keen to allow it.

That desire was all too evident in a recent hearing on the role of antitrust in defending net neutrality principles. Subcommittee Chairman Tom Marino gave a baffling defense of prioritization, suggesting that it’s necessary or even beneficial to users for ISPs to give preferential treatment to certain content sources. Rep. Marino said that users should be able to choose between a more expensive Internet experience and a cheaper one that prioritizes the ISPs preferred content sources. He likened Internet service to groceries, implying that by disallowing paid prioritization, the Open Internet Order forced more casual Internet users to waste their money: “Families who just want the basics or are on a limited income aren’t forced to subsidize the preferences of shoppers with higher-end preferences.”

Rep. Darrel Issa took the grocery metaphor a step further, saying that paid prioritization is the modern day equivalent of the practice of grocery stores selling prime placement to manufacturers: “Within Safeway, they’ve decided that each endcap is going to be sold to whoever is going to pay the most – Pepsi, Coke, whoever – that’s certainly a prioritization that’s paid for.”

That’s an absurd analogy. Unlike goods at a physical store, every bit of Internet traffic can get the best placement, and no one on a limited income is “subsidizing” their richer neighbors. When providers choose to slow down certain types of traffic, they’re not doing it because that traffic is somehow more burdensome; they’re doing it to push users toward the content and service the ISP favors (or has been paid to favor)—the very behavior the Open Internet Order was intended to prevent. ISPs become gatekeepers rather than conduit.

As ISPs and content companies have become increasingly intertwined, the dangers of ISPs giving preferential treatment to their own content sources—and locking out alternative sources—have become ever more pronounced. That’s why in 2016 the FCC launched a lengthy investigation into ISPs’ zero-rating practices and whether they violated the Open Internet Order. The FCC focused in particular on cases where an ISP has an obvious economic incentive to slow down competing content providers, as was the case with AT&T prioritizing its own DirecTV services. Some members of Congress fail to see the dangers to users of these “vertical integration” arrangements. Rep. Bob Goodlatte said in the hearing that “Blanket regulation… would deny consumers the potential benefits in cost savings and improved services that would result from vertical agreements.” But if zero-rating arrangements keep new edge providers from getting a fair playing field to compete for users’ attention, services won’t improve at all. Certainly, an entity with a monopoly could choose to turn every advantage into savings for its customers, but we know from history and common sense that monopolies gouge customers instead. It’s telling—and unfortunate—that one of Ajit Pai’s first actions as FCC Chairman was to shelve the Commission’s zero-rating investigation.

The other goal of the hearing was to consider whether to assign net neutrality enforcement power to the Federal Trade Commission instead of the FCC. This is a rehash of long-standing argument that the best way to defend the Internet is to have ISPs publicly promise to behave. If they break that promise or undermine competition, the FTC can go after them.

Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny correctly explained why that approach won’t cut it: “a framework that relies solely on backward-looking consumer protection and antitrust enforcement” just cannot “provide the same assurances to innovators and consumers as the forward-looking rules contained in the FCC’s open internet order.”

For example, as McSweeny noted, large ISPs have a huge incentive to unfairly prioritize certain content sources: their own bottom line. Every major ISP also offers streaming media services, and these ISPs naturally will want to direct users to those offerings. Antitrust law alone can’t stop these practices because the threat that paid prioritization poses isn’t to competition between ISPs; it’s to the users themselves.

If the FCC abandons its commitment to net neutrality, Congress can and should step in to put it back on course. That means enacting real, forward-looking legislation that embraces all of the bright-line rules, not just the ones ISPs don’t mind. And it means forcing the FCC to its job, rather than handing it off to another agency that’s not well-positioned to do the work.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “R.I.P. The Internet, 1983-2017”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Israeli Policies eroding Rights of Palestinian children in Occupied West Bank

Tue, 2017-11-21 00:07

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — On the anniversary of Universal Children’s Day, international NGO Save the Children released a statement highlighting ongoing the rights violations of Palestinian children in the occupied territory by Israel.

Jennifer Moorehead, the country director of Save the Children in the occupied Palestinian territory called for greater protection of schools and children’s right to education, saying that “children’s most fundamental right to education is being eroded” in the territory.

Moorehead highlighted the cases of 55 Palestinian schools in Area C, the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli civilian and security control, that are under threat of demolition by Israeli forces.

“Distance, risky roads, the presence of settlers or of military checkpoints had presented insurmountable challenges for many children to reach the nearest schools,” Moorhead said.

“The challenges in the education sector reflect the increasing protection risks we are seeing across the occupied Palestinian territory,” she said, adding “school demolitions, threats of violence and harassment, military presence in and around school premises and lack of adequate resources are all undermining children’s basic right to education.”

“These children are being denied a future in areas where unemployment has risen to among the highest in the world and restrictions on movement make it difficult to get to school or university or access vital healthcare.”

Save the Children called upon world leaders to take action to protect children’s “inalienable right” to safe access to a quality education and to guarantee the special protection afforded to children in areas of conflict.

“We call upon those with responsibility for upholding children’s rights in the oPt and world leaders to address the growing child protection risks in the education sector; to support and endorse the the Safe Schools Declaration and the related Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use; and to take concrete and immediate steps towards the demilitarisation of school spaces,” the statement concluded.

Via Ma’an News Agency

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Doctors of the World USA: “Hamzeh Discusses Life For Children In The West Bank”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Trump’s attack on UCLA Athletes’ right to Dissent an Attack on America

Mon, 2017-11-20 02:27

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

So Trump intervened with Chinese authorities to release three UCLA basketball players guilty of shoplifting from a mall in Hangzhou while playing in China. They thanked him, he told them to change their ways.

Then Levar Ball, the father of LiAngelo Ball–one of the three freed players–played down Trump’s involvement in an interview with ESPN. So of course Trump had to tweet:

Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017

What Trump is really saying is that we are his subjects and he is our king and we do not have a right to dissent.

One of the purposes of the US government is precisely to help American citizens who get into trouble overseas, whether their trouble resulted from their stupidity or cupidity or not. Especially in the cases where a foreign country has unreasonable statutes that would be unconstitutional in the United States. In the US a first-time offender committing shoplifting would likely be sentenced to community service, or at most 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine (though laws differ from state to state). If China sentences people to 10 years for this same offense, it is especially important that the US government try to get the US citizen back.

The US government does not intervene to get US citizens out of foreign jails because it thinks that ever after the should give up their first amendment rights. That would be noblesse oblige, the notion that high station lays obligations on the aristocracy to be generous to the poor.

Trump has shown his hand. He thinks he is doing noblesse oblige toward us all. And we should all be grateful. And Trump thereby has struck down our first amendment rights to free speech. If we aren’t free citizens but only subjects, then the government can do to us whatever it wants and we can’t complain.

Of all the many dangers posed by Trump to the United States, his instinct to suppress dissent is the worst.

You don’t save Americans abroad from unfair sentencing in order to shut them up forevermore. You save Americans so that they can going on being Americans. And that involves dissent.

So here’s what a much better president said on this issue:

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then.” — Thomas Jefferson letter to Abigail Adams, February 22, 1787.

Or the very first president said this:

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

— George Washington, first U.S. president

And dumb and silent we are, and led to the slaughter any moment.

——

Related video:

CNN: “Trump: I should have left UCLA players in Chinese jail”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Come Back, Barack – SNL/ Chance the Rapper Video

Mon, 2017-11-20 01:28

Chance the Rapper et al. | Saturday Night Live | (Video Clip) | – –

De-Von-Tré (Chance the Rapper, Kenan Thompson, Chris Redd) wishes President Barack Obama would come back.

Saturday Night Live: “Come Back, Barack – SNL”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

COP23: Global Heating threatens Mideast with Mega-Droughts

Mon, 2017-11-20 01:18

By Christophe Maroun | ( GlobalVoices.org) | – –

As the world's nations met in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd annual conference of the parties (COP23) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 2017 was set to be one of the hottest years on record.

COP 23 Logo. Source: COP 23 Website.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have predicted a harsh fate for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Jordan currently faces one of the most severe droughts in recorded history. In the absence of international climate policy action, the country could receive 30 percent less rainfall by 2100 and annual temperatures could increase by 4.5 Celsius.

The landmark Paris Agreement at COP 21 in 2015 provided the first truly global deal to tackle climate change. The 2017 Bonn meeting will be paramount in building the rules to enact the Paris deal and toughen national actions to meet the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

MENA faces massive heats waves

In October 2015, the journal Nature Climate Change predicted that heat waves in parts of the Persian Gulf could threaten human survival by the end of the century. Heat wave duration in the MENA region will prolong dramatically, lasting 80 days by mid-century and 118 days by the end of the century compared to the present average of 16 days, even if greenhouse gas emissions decline again after 2040.

Screenshot from Google Earth of the Persian Gulf and neighboring countries.

Unrestrained demand for water for agricultural purposes in the region has led to groundwater over‐drafting, declines in water quality and land degradation including salinization (increasing salt content in the soil).
Climate change is expected to compound these trends and the agriculture sector will hit the hardest. More frequent and intense heat waves and reduced rainfall will curb growing seasons. With less rain, there will be a reduction in soil moisture, river runoff, and aquifer recharge. Increased uncertainty will affect productivity, and make agricultural planning more difficult.

As Safa’ Al-Jayoussi from ‘Climate Action Network – International‘ told Al-Ayam newspaper:

«المنطقة العربية تعاني من الجفاف حاليا الذي ما هو الا بداية تبِعات التغير المناخي ولذلك يجب على المناقشات أن تراعي المجتمعات المحلية الاكثر تأثرا بالأضرار من جهة والتعويض عن الخسائر الناتجة عن تلك الظاهرة من جهة أخرى.”

The Arab region is currently suffering from drought, which is only the beginning of the consequences of climate change and therefore the discussions should take into account the communities most affected by the damage on the one hand and compensation for the losses resulting from that phenomenon, on the other hand.

Jordan, for example, draws 160 percent more water from the ground than is replenished by nature, yet there is little incentive to conserve this precious resource.

The use of water for irrigation remains heavily and unsustainably subsidized by the government, and wastage is a major issue. More than half of Jordan's water is used for agriculture which only produces only a small share of the local food supply. An estimated 50 percent of the water supply is lost due to misuse or theft.

Egypt faces similar problems:

Climate change drives hunger – it hits the most vulnerable the hardest. As Egyptian farmers struggle to adapt, @WFP is there to help. #COP23 pic.twitter.com/3a7QQutIDB

— WFP Middle East (@WFP_MENA) November 6, 2017

Harnessing the power of sun and wind

Middle Eastern countries are paying a heavy price for their focus on fossil fuels in the form of air pollution and contaminated water. Increasing desertification has adversely affected farming. The fishing industry suffers from deteriorating quality in coastal waters and the negative effects of changing sea temperatures on catches.

But fossil fuels continue to enjoy huge subsidies and are so underpriced that it is difficult for renewable energies to break through. They are perceived as not being cost-competitive because of the sometimes-hidden subsidies offered to fossil fuels.

Share of Renewable Energy Capacity in the Arab World, Turkey and Iran (2016) #FESMENA #COP23 #CANAW pic.twitter.com/Jfd3s7GomN

— @CANArabWorld (@CAN_ArabWorld) November 5, 2017

Only some countries in the region have grown rich by exploiting fossil fuels with the majority sourcing less than 1 percent of electricity from renewables. While all MENA countries stand to benefit from the sun, and the region has huge potential for solar energy and wind power, renewable energies investment is among the lowest in the world. MENA falls behind similar-income countries in this regard, but also behind many poorer countries.

Countries in the Arab World have voluntary committed to renewable energy targets as a percentage of overall electricity generation capacity. #CANAWA #FESMENA #COP23 pic.twitter.com/gWeGGMFg2O

— @CANArabWorld (@CAN_ArabWorld) November 8, 2017

MENA braces for a future of extremes

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), anthropogenic climate change is already significantly increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events like heatwaves, floods, and wildfires. The impact of these natural disasters may be irreversible, severe and widespread for billions of people unless action is taken now to drastically cut global carbon emissions.

Over the last decade, various nations have announced long and medium-term development plans for alternative installations to fossil resources.

For example, Morocco and Jordan have been driven to diversified their energy sources to meet a greater dependency and demand for fuel imports that continue to increase in cost.The Moroccan government is on the verge of achieving its objective to produce 2 Gigawatts (GW) of solar energy and 2 GW of wind energy by 2020, whereas its current wind capacity is over 750 Megavolts (MV). The Jordanian government is planning to increase its initial objective of 600 Megawatts (MW) of solar power to 1 GW by 2020.

Current pledges for carbon cuts by the world’s nations would mean at least 3 degrees Celcius of global warming and severe damage, experts warn. Without serious preparation to build trust and agreement, deals are likely to delay, as the failed COP in Copenhagen in 2009 revealed.

While the Paris Agreement included a mechanism to review and ratchet up these pledges, the rules have not been set, adding pressure to the Bonn meeting to complete this vital work before 2018.

Christophe Maroun is a Lebanese researcher from Beirut currently based in Barcelona. He’s currently enrolled in the Joint European Masters for Environmental Studies – Cities and Sustainability at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He mostly writes on environmental issues related to Lebanon and the wider region.

Via GlobalVoices.org

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Middle East Institute: “Climate Change in the Middle East”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

MbS a la Trump: “Making Saudi Arabia Great Again”!

Mon, 2017-11-20 00:48

By Reese Erlich | ( 48hills.org) | – –

I stood in front of a mosque in the city of Qatif, Saudi Arabia, interviewing people for a story. Suddenly, two city police cars pulled up. Several minutes later plain clothes officers from the secret police began questioning me.

I had entered the country with a journalist visa, but committed the grave crime of practicing journalism without official permission. All interviews, even with ordinary people, had to be cleared in advance.

I was told not to leave my hotel and exited the country soon thereafter. I was, however, able to report on the brutal repression of Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, who had been demonstrating against the government since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is of the most repressive regimes in the world, and of course, a close US ally. The Kingdom is back in the news because it’s leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS for short), has arrested more than 200 of his royal cousins and businessmen on corruption charges.
Lebanon has suffered from the Syrian civil war next door. Here a house in Hermel, Lebanon, was destroyed by rockets fired by Saudi backed rebel groups. Photo by Reese Erlich

In a truly Saudi twist, those multi millionaires are jailed at a Ritz Carlton in Riyadh seized by the government for the occasion. Some faced the indignity of sleeping on mats in the lobby.

Some media and the Trump administration portray MBS as a reformer cracking down on corruption and the reactionary religious establishment. The Cairo Review, for example, wrote, “The crown prince has moved quickly to confirm his liberal progressive credentials…. [H]e sought to float 5 percent of the Saudi Aramco shares (dubbed the biggest IPO in history), allowed women to drive, tolerated the reopening of cinemas, has plans for a tourism industry, and reigned in the powers of the religious police.”

Notice the conflation of political liberties with “liberalization” of the state owned oil company, Aramco. Somehow, the achievement of political freedoms must include foreign bankers making super profits on an IPO (initial public offering).

Madawi Al-Rasheed , a visiting professor at the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics, told me MBS is no reformer. He’s “more like an autocrat who employs public relations and management consultants to package the worst changes as historical reform,” she said. “He is desperate to attract foreign investors who should not rush to save his throne and risk losing all their investment.”

The crown prince’s anti-corruption campaign is a phony. He arrests his political enemies while his corrupt cronies remain untouched.

“Autocrats use populist policies to gain popularity, and MBS is no exception,” Al-Rasheed added. “What we have seen is consolidation of military, political and financial power rather than anti-corruption.”

In foreign policy MBS is equally reactionary. He’s trying to ratchet up hostility towards Iran to cover up multiple regional failures. The KSA is bogged down in a war in Yemen and its efforts to isolate Qatar have failed miserably.

Since 2012 the KSA backed al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria, as I exposed well before it was acknowledged in the US.

Those extremists have lost the civil war, and the Saudis lost influence along with them.

And then there’s Lebanon. In early November, MBS summoned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh. Hariri and his political party have long depended on Saudi royals for financial backing. But on this trip, instead of a red carpet befitting the prime minister, Saudi guards confiscated the cell phones of Hariri and his body guards.

They were held incommunicado until Hariri appeared on TV in Riyadh to resign his post. He blamed Iran and Hezbollah for creating a crisis in the region. Many Lebanese thought Hariri had been forced to do Saudi bidding.

“Hariri is not arrested but he was given a political ultimatum,” Elie El-Hindy told me. He is an associate professor of International Relations at Notre Dame University in Lebanon. Hariri had to take a harder line against Iranian-backed Hezbollah “or bid farewell to any Saudi Arabian political, financial or other kind of support.”
Sponsored link

Hezbollah is both an armed militia and political party that leads the elected, coalition government in Lebanon. If Hariri’s resignation stands, then it would break up that coalition. Saudi Arabia could claim the Lebanese government is not legitimate, a mere tool of Hezbollah and Iran. That would set the stage for a new military conflict.

MBS has forged close relations with the Trump administration. The Saudis and Israelis enthusiastically welcomed Trump’s election in 2016. Presidential son in law and top advisor Jared Kushner has visited the Kingdom three times this year.

Politically, MBS and Trump have a lot in common. They both have authoritarian proclivities, they distrust minorities and women, and they blame Iran for all the problems in the Middle East.

For example, both blame Iran for the war in Yemen. They argue that Iran is arming and directing the Houthi rebels. Both the Obama and Trump administrations fully backed the KSA and have sent troops to Yemen in yet another undeclared US war.

In fact Saudi Arabia started the war by invading the southern part of Yemen in 2015, expecting a quick victory. The Saudis intentionally bomb civilians in an effort to weaken Houthi morale. More than 5000 Yeminis have died and 8,000 are injured. Cholera has spread throughout the country. Nearly 19 million face a humanitarian catastrophe because of hunger and lack of health care. The KSA spends billions per month on a war that has no end in sight.

Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA official who is now a fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Securities Studies, told me Iran did not initiate the Yemen War; it does not control the Houthis. That’s just an excuse used by the Saudis and United Arab Emirates, the other country occupying Yemen.

“The Iranian aid to the Houthis is tiny compared to the Saudi and UAE military effort, said Pillar. “The war has had cataclysmic consequences.”

Both the US and Saudi Arabia also claim that Iran is trying to create a “land bridge” stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria to the Lebanese coast. That would enable Iran to supply Hezbollah with weapons for its fight against Israel.

Pillar snorted that he’s tired of hearing this phony argument. He noted that Hezbollah has gained strength over the past 30 years without any land bridge.

“Iran will have access to Lebanon, but it doesn’t need a land corridor,” he said. “They can ship by air.”

I worry that MBS’s latest moves are part of a broader plan to encourage Israel to attack Lebanon. Hezbollah has emerged on the winning side in Syria, having backed President Bashar al Assad.

A political analyst with the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote the Saudis are trying to “move the battlefield with Iran from Syria to Lebanon, trying to get Israel to do Saudi Arabia’s dirty work.”

There’s a fierce debate within Israeli ruling circles as to whether and when to attack Lebanon. Israel already lost a war with Hezbollah in 2006. Hezbollah sank an Israeli naval ship and fired missiles into northern Israel. Today Hezbollah has a lot more missiles and troops battle hardened in Syria.

For the moment, Israeli officials are talking down the prospects for a full scale attack on Lebanon. But there’s no question that MBS machinations are causing severe tensions in the region.

As former CIA analyst Pillar told me, “The odds of war are greater now than a few months ago.”

If you want to see corruption and political chicanery American style, keep your eyes on former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. We already know that Flynn was on the Turkish payroll, and he tried to cut US support for Syrian Kurds, which reflected Turkish policy. Now the special counsel’s office has leaked Flynn’s possible connection to a $15 million plot to kidnap a prominent opponent of the Turkish government living in Pennsylvania and deliver him to Turkey. If pursued by the special counsel, the Flynn story will reveal a lot about Washington’s real inner workings.

Reese Erlich’s syndicated column on international affairs appears every two weeks in 48 Hills. The revised and updated edition of his book The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of US and Policy and the Mideast Crisis, will be published in 2018.

His home page is www.reeseerlich.com; follow him on Twitter @ReeseErlich or on Facebook, Reese Erlich foreign correspondent.

Reprinted with author’s permission from 48hills.org

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

New York Times: “Saudi Arabia’s Political Crisis, Explained”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Trump’s revival of ‘Tactical Nuclear Weapons’ Idiocy endangers World

Mon, 2017-11-20 00:38

By Michael T. Klare | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

Maybe you thought America’s nuclear arsenal, with its thousands of city-busting, potentially civilization-destroying thermonuclear warheads, was plenty big enough to deter any imaginable adversary from attacking the U.S. with nukes of their own. Well, it turns out you were wrong.

The Pentagon has been fretting that the arsenal is insufficiently intimidating.  After all — so the argument goes — it’s filled with old (possibly unreliable) weapons of such catastrophically destructive power that maybe, just maybe, even President Trump might be reluctant to use them if an enemy employed smaller, less catastrophic nukes on some future battlefield.  Accordingly, U.S. war planners and weapons manufacturers have set out to make that arsenal more “usable” in order to give the president additional nuclear “options” on any future battlefield.  (If you’re not already feeling a little tingle of anxiety at this point, you should be.)  While it’s claimed that this will make such assaults less likely, it’s all too easy to imagine how such new armaments and launch plans could actually increase the risk of an early resort to nuclear weaponry in a moment of conflict, followed by calamitous escalation.

That President Trump would be all-in on making the American nuclear arsenal more usable should come as no surprise, given his obvious infatuation with displays of overwhelming military strength.  (He was thrilled when, last April, one of his generals ordered, for the first time, the most powerful nonnuclear weapon the U.S. possesses dropped in Afghanistan.)  Under existing nuclear doctrine, as imagined by the Obama administration back in 2010, this country was to use nuclear weapons only “in extreme circumstances” to defend the vital interests of the country or of its allies.  Prohibited was the possibility of using them as a political instrument to bludgeon weaker countries into line.  However, for Donald Trump, a man who has already threatened to unleash on North Korea “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” such an approach is proving far too restrictive. He and his advisers, it seems, want nukes that can be employed at any potential level of great-power conflict or brandished as the apocalyptic equivalent of a giant club to intimidate lesser rivals.

Making the U.S. arsenal more usable requires two kinds of changes in nuclear policy: altering existing doctrine to eliminate conceptional restraints on how such weapons may be deployed in wartime and authorizing the development and production of new generations of nuclear munitions capable, among other things, of tactical battlefield strikes.  All of this is expected to be incorporated into the administration’s first nuclear posture review (NPR), to be released by the end of this year or early in 2018.

Its exact contents won’t be known until then — and even then, the American public will only gain access to the most limited version of a largely classified document.  Still, some of the NPR’s features are already obvious from comments made by the president and his top generals.  And one thing is clear: restraints on the use of such weaponry in the face of a possible weapon of mass destruction of any sort, no matter its level of destructiveness, will be eliminated and the planet’s most powerful nuclear arsenal will be made ever more so. 

Altering the Nuclear Mindset

The strategic guidance provided by the administration’s new NPR is likely to have far-reaching consequences.  As John Wolfsthal, former National Security Council director for arms control and nonproliferation, put it in a recent issue of Arms Control Today, the document will affect “how the United States, its president, and its nuclear capabilities are seen by allies and adversaries alike.  More importantly, the review establishes a guide for decisions that underpin the management, maintenance, and modernization of the nuclear arsenal and influences how Congress views and funds the nuclear forces.”

With this in mind, consider the guidance provided by that Obama-era nuclear posture review.  Released at a moment when the White House was eager to restore America’s global prestige in the wake of George W. Bush’s widely condemned invasion of Iraq and just six months after the president had won the Nobel Prize for his stated determination to abolish such weaponry, it made nonproliferation the top priority.  In the process, it downplayed the utility of nuclear weapons under just about any circumstances on just about any imaginable battlefield.  Its principal objective, it claimed, was to reduce “the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in U.S. national security.”

As the document pointed out, it had once been American policy to contemplate using nuclear weapons against Soviet tank formations, for example, in a major European conflict (a situation in which the USSR was believed to possess an advantage in conventional, non-nuclear forces).  By 2010, of course, those days were long gone, as was the Soviet Union.  Washington, as the NPR noted, now possessed an overwhelming advantage in conventional weaponry as well. “Accordingly,” it concluded, “the United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.”

A nuclear strategy aimed exclusively at deterring a first strike against this country or its allies hardly requires a mammoth stockpile of weaponry.  As a result, such an approach opened the way for potential further reductions in the arsenal’s size and led in 2010 to the signing of the New Start treaty with the Russians, mandating a sharp reduction in nuclear warheads and delivery systems for both countries.  Each side was to be limited to 1,550 warheads and some combination of 700 delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. 

Such an approach, however, never sat well with some in the military establishment and conservative think tanks.  Critics of that sort have often pointed to supposed shifts in Russian military doctrine that suggest a greater inclination to employ nuclear weapons in a major war with NATO, if it began to go badly for their side.  Such “strategic deterrence” (a phrase which has a different meaning for the Russians than for Western strategists) could result in the use of low-yield “tactical” nuclear munitions against enemy strongpoints, if Russia’s forces in Europe appeared on the verge of defeat.  To what degree this doctrine actually governs Russian military thinking no one actually knows.  It is nevertheless cited regularly by those in the West who believe that Obama’s nuclear strategy is now dangerously outmoded and invites Moscow to increase its reliance on nuclear weaponry.

Such complaints were typically aired in “Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration,” a December 2016 report by the Defense Science Board (DSB), a Pentagon-funded advisory group that reports to the secretary of defense.  “The DSB remains unconvinced,” it concluded, “that downplaying the nation’s nuclear deterrent would lead other nations to do the same.” It then pointed to the supposed Russian strategy of threatening to use low-yield tactical nuclear strikes to deter a NATO onslaught.  While many Western analysts have questioned the authenticity of such claims, the DSB insisted that the U.S. must develop similar weaponry and be on record as prepared to use them.  As that report put it, Washington needs “a more flexible nuclear enterprise that could produce, if needed, a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use should existing non-nuclear or nuclear options prove insufficient.”

This sort of thinking now appears to be animating the Trump administration’s approach to nuclear weapons and is reflected in the president’s periodic tweets on the subject.  Last December 22nd, for example, he tweeted, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”  Although he didn’t elaborate — it was Twitter, after all — his approach clearly reflected both the DSB position and what his advisers were undoubtedly telling him.

Soon after, as the newly-installed commander-in-chief, Trump signed a presidential memorandum instructing the secretary of defense to undertake a nuclear posture review ensuring “that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.”

Of course, we don’t yet know the details of the coming Trumpian NPR.  It will, however, certainly throw the Obama approach to the sharks and promote a far more robust role for nuclear weapons, as well as the construction of that more “flexible” arsenal, capable of providing the president with multiple attack options, including low-yield strikes.

Enhancing the Arsenal

The Trumpian NPR will certainly promote new nuclear weapons systems that are billed as providing future chief executives with a greater “range” of strike options.  In particular, the administration is thought to favor the acquisition of “low-yield tactical nuclear munitions” and yet more delivery systems to go with them, including air- and ground-launched cruise missiles.  The argument will predictably be made that munitions of this sort are needed to match Soviet advances in the field.

Under consideration, according to those with inside knowledge, is the development of the sort of tactical munitions that could, say, wipe out a major port or military installation, rather than a whole city, Hiroshima-style.  As one anonymous government official put it to Politico, “This capability is very warranted.”  Another added, “The [NPR] has to credibly ask the military what they need to deter enemies” and whether current weapons are “going to be useful in all the scenarios we see.”

Keep in mind that, under the Obama administration (for all its talk of nuclear abolition), planning and initial design work for a multi-decade, trillion-dollar-plus “modernization” of America’s nuclear arsenal had already been agreed upon.  So, in terms of actual weaponry, Donald Trump’s version of the nuclear era was already well underway before he entered the Oval Office.  And of course, the United States already possesses several types of nuclear weapons, including the B61 “gravity bomb” and the W80 missile warhead that can be modified — the term of trade is “dialed down” — to produce a blast as low as a few kilotons (less powerful, that is, than the bombs that in August 1945 destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki).  That, however, is proving anything but enough for the proponents of “tailored” nuclear munitions. 

A typical delivery system for such future nukes likely to receive expedited approval is the long-range standoff weapon (LRSO), an advanced, stealthy air-launched cruise missile intended to be carried by B-2 bombers, their older cousins the B-52s, or the future B-21. As currently envisioned, the LRSO will be capable of carrying either a nuclear or a conventional warhead.  In August, the Air Force awarded both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin $900 million for initial design work on prototypes of that delivery system, with one of them likely to be chosen for full-scale development, an undertaking expected to cost many billions of dollars.

Critics of the proposed missile, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry, argue that the U.S. already possesses more than enough nuclear firepower to deter enemy attacks without it.  In addition, as he points out, if the LRSO were to be launched with a conventional warhead in the early stages of a conflict, an adversary might assume it was under nuclear attack and retaliate accordingly, igniting an escalatory spiral leading to all-out thermonuclear war.  Proponents, however, swear that “older” cruise missiles must be replaced in order to give the president more flexibility with such weaponry, a rationale Trump and his advisers are sure to embrace. 

A Nuclear-Ready World

The release of the next nuclear posture review will undoubtedly ignite a debate over whether the country with a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets actually needs new nukes, which could, among other dangers, spark a future global arms race.  In November, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report indicating that the likely cost of replacing all three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad (intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and strategic bombers) over a 30-year period will reach a minimum of $1.2 trillion, not including inflation or the usual cost overruns, which are likely to push that figure to $1.7 trillion or beyond.

Raising questions about the need for all these new weapons and their phenomenal costs couldn’t be more important. After all, one thing is guaranteed: any decision to procure such weaponry will, in the long term, mean budget cuts elsewhere, whether in health, education, infrastructure, or fighting the opioid epidemic.

And yet questions of cost and utility are the lesser parts of the new nuclear conundrum.  At its heart is the very idea of “usability.”  When President Obama insisted that nuclear weapons had no battlefield use, he was speaking not just to this country, but to all nations.  “To put an end to Cold War thinking,” he declared in Prague in April 2009, “we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

If, however, the Trump White House embraces a doctrine that closes the distance between nuclear weapons and ordinary ones, transforming them into more usable instruments of coercion and war, it will also make the likelihood of escalation to all-out thermonuclear extermination more imaginable for the first time in decades.  There is little question, for instance, that such a stance would encourage other nuclear-armed nations, including Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, to plan for the early use of such weaponry in future conflicts.  It might even encourage countries that don’t now have such weaponry to consider producing them.

The world imagined by President Obama in which nukes would be a true weapon of last resort was certainly a more reassuring one.  His vision represented a radical break from Cold War thinking in which the possibility of a thermonuclear holocaust between the planet’s two superpowers seemed like an ever-present possibility and millions of people responded by engaging in antinuclear protest movements. 

Without the daily threat of Armageddon, concern over nukes largely evaporated and those protests came to an end.  Unfortunately, the weaponry and the companies that built them didn’t.  Now, as the seemingly threat-free zone of a post-nuclear era is drawing to a close, the possible use of nuclear weapons — barely conceivable even in the Cold War era — is about to be normalized.  Or at least that will be the case if, once again, the citizens of this planet don’t take to the streets to protest a future in which cities could lie in smoldering ruins while millions of people die from hunger and radiation sickness. 

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author of 14 books including, most recently, The Race for What’s Left. He is currently completing work on All Hell Breaking Loose, a book focused on climate change and American national security.

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 2017 Michael T. Klare

Via Tomdispatch.com

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The Saudi-US war on Yemen is killing 130 Children a Day & Other Bleak Statistics

Sun, 2017-11-19 02:02

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Saudi-led coalition is waging total war on Yemen in a bid to defeat the guerrilla group, the Houthis or the Helpers of God. The Houthis took power in Sanaa in fall of 2014 and consolidated it in early 2015. By March-April, Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Bin Salman, now the crown prince, had ordered air strikes on the country that have continued to this day. These strikes have been indiscriminate, hitting schools, hospitals, apartment buildings and key civilian infrastructure like ports, bridges and roads. Any one of these strikes is a war crime. In the aggregate they become crimes against humanity.

The Houthi gang is also guilty of war crimes, and of severe human rights violations and cannot be held blameless in the unfolding devastation of Yemen. But the Saudi-led war and the various forms of blockade Riyadh is imposing on Yemen are far worse. The Houthis are a radical group deriving from Zaydi tribes in Saadeh and other towns in rural north Yemen, who as Shiites deeply resent Saudi proselytizing for hard line Salafi Sunnism in Yemen. Houthi leaders have vowed to overthrow the House of Saud and have tried to imitate the rhetorical style of Hizbullah in Lebanon. However, Houthis are a local indigenous protest movement in Yemen, and are not a proxy for Iran. Houthi weaponry is mostly American and Iran does not give them much money or other support. The Saudis try to blame Iran for the Houthi revolt in order to shift blame from their own aggressive policies.

These political considerations should not allow us to forget what is being done to Yemen children.

Save the Children writes,

“Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and dangerous form of undernutrition. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin with visible wasting of body tissue, or swelling in the ankles, feet and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin.”

* 130 children die every day in Yemen from extreme hunger and disease–one child every 18 minutes. The Saudi blockade on ports such as Hudeida will increase this death toll.

*This year, at least 50,000 children are expected to die as indirect casualties of the war (if food cannot be off-loaded at ports, and bridges are knocked out, children will die of malnutrition).

* Nearly 400,000 children will need to be treated for severe acute malnutrition in Yemen in the next twelve months. Aid organizations are being actively interfered with in this work by the Saudi blockade and bombing strikes.

* As a result of the Saudi blockade, aid organizations like Save the Children will be out of food and medicine stocks in the next two to three months.

* If left untreated some 20 to 30 percent of children with severe acute malnutrition will perish every year.

* It should be remembered that famines usually do not kill people because there is no food at all. What happens is that the food becomes too expensive for the poor to purchase. This situation now obtains in Yemen and obviously the Saudi blockade, by obese princes who are obviously getting three square meals a day, is driving up the price of food for Yemenis.

* A shocking 10,000 children are likely to die in Taiz district and another 10,000 in the Hodeidah district this year.

The aid organization concludes:

“Save the Children currently has five shipping containers full of life-saving food for sick and malnourished children stuck in Aden because of road closures. Our staff cannot reach communities to provide life-saving care and much-needed supplies and relief workers cannot enter the country. Essential medicines, fuel and food stocks could start running out in a matter of weeks. It’s utterly unacceptable to let children die of neglect and a lack of political will. Without urgent action the future looks bleak.”

———–

Related video:

Yemen: Millions of children and families are on the brink of starvation | UNICEF

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Republicans Admit Their Tax Plan Is All About Rich Donors

Sun, 2017-11-19 00:36

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

It’s unpopular. It’s expensive. But the donors want it.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that people in “real America” with “real jobs” don’t while away their mortal hours reading about politics. But God help me, if you’ve suffered through any coverage of the Republican tax plan, you’ve probably heard three things.

First, it’ll dramatically slash taxes on corporations and billionaires, raise them for nearly a third of us in the middle class, and blow a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit.

Second, it’s unpopular. Less than a third of Americans support it, Reuters reports. That’s worse than Trump’s own approval rating, which remains mired in the 30s.

And third, the Republicans who control Congress believe it simply must pass.

In fact, this third point sets the tenor for the entire debate. “Republicans are desperate to rack up a legislative win after a series of embarrassing failures,” TIME observes. “If tax reform doesn’t pass, many in the party fear an all-out revolt in 2018.”

“All of us realize that if we fail on taxes, that’s the end of the Republican Party’s governing majority in 2018,” South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham told Fox News recently. In fact, “that’s probably the end of the Republican Party as we know it.”

If the tax giveaway doesn’t pass, adds Utah Republican Mike Lee, “We might as well pack up our tent and go home.”

The thing is, that doesn’t make any sense. Gallup polls have shown over and over that most Americans think rich people and corporations should pay more, not less. Even a majority of Republican voters worry about what this wealth grab will do to the deficit.

If they were looking for a win, then, Republicans would be running against their own plan. So what gives?

Well, New York Republican Chris Collins recently offered a clue: “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” Ah!

Many voters in Collins’ high-tax district will likely pay more, since the GOP wants to end federal deductions for state and local taxes. But it doesn’t have a lick to do with voters. It has everything to do with the affluent donors who bankroll GOP campaigns.

A similar dynamic played out in the health care debate. GOP leaders trotted out plan after plan that would eliminate coverage for anywhere from 20 to 24 million Americans — plans that never topped the low 20s in public support.

But those plans would have reduced taxes on the wealthy. So they had to pass.

“Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who has been deeply involved in health policy for years, told reporters back home that he could count 10 reasons the new health proposal should not reach the floor,” the New York Times reported back in September, “but that Republicans needed to press ahead regardless.”

When those bills met their righteous demise, elite GOP fundraising took a huge dive. Senate Republicans lost $2 million in planned contributions alone, The Hill noted this summer. Fundraising in those months fell some $5 million below where it had been in the spring.

So there it is, team: Follow the money. It’s no wonder Princeton researchers found a few years ago that rich people matter to Congress, but ordinary folks generally don’t. That’s probably why many of us prefer to tune it out entirely.

It’s also exactly why we do have to pay attention. Especially in those rare moments when members admit exactly what’s going on.

Via Otherwords.org

———

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Vox: “Republicans admit that ceos and donors really need the tax cut bill to pass — or else”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Militant Buddhism is on the march in South-East Asia; Why Now?

Sun, 2017-11-19 00:27

By Peter Lehr | (The Conversation) | – –

Even ten years on, the first mental image that comes to mind with regard to Theravāda Buddhism is that of Myanmar’s Saffron Revolution of August-September 2007: thousands of Buddhist monks peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Yangon, Mandalay, Pakokku, Sittwe and other towns against the ruling military junta. These peaceful monks still exist, although many of them went into hiding, or fled abroad. But the Burmese monks in the headlines today are preaching violence instead of peace, and “firm action” instead of meditation.

It’s not just in Myanmar that this militant Buddhism is on the rise: it’s also surfacing in the other two leading Theravādin countries: Sri Lanka and Thailand. In all three countries, Buddhists make up the vast majority of the population: 70% in Sri Lanka, 88% in Myanmar, and 93% in Thailand. One could be excused for thinking that there is nothing to worry about: with such towering demographic majorities, Buddhists are surely to some extent safe and secure in their respective countries.

This is not how the militant monks see things. They are convinced that Buddhism is under siege, and in grave danger of being wiped out. To explain this, they point out that while Muslims or Hindu Tamils (in the case of Sri Lanka) are in the minority in these countries, they enjoy significant support from beyond their national borders.

In Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the notion that a non-Buddhist minority is the vanguard of an imminent invasion is very strong indeed. It is believed that firm action has to be taken to prevent “them” from taking over Buddhist lands and eradicating Buddhism. Basically, the militant monks see their communities as targets of a relentless “holy war”, and see it as their duty, to respond in kind with their own variant of “holy war”.

Justifying violence

The conviction that Buddhism is under threat also allows these leaders to justify the use of violence. Militant monks usually start their argumentation by pointing out that even the Buddha himself showed some understanding for the wars conducted by his benefactor King Pasenadi instead of condemning them. He did still warn him that “killing, you gain your killer, conquering, you gain the one who will conquer you” – the message being that violence begets violence. Even for the Buddha, then, nonviolence was not necessarily an absolute value – a point seized on by many of today’s militant monks. Although they readily concede that an offensive use of violence should never be allowed, they point out that peaceful and nonviolent Buddhist communities still have the right to defend themselves, especially if and when the survival of the religion as such is at stake.

This point of view is dated. As soon as Buddhist-majority states came into being, the monkhood had to find ways to justify violence, including war, especially that perpetrated by their virtuous sovereign against an opponent. Indeed it was by the monarch’s benevolence, and under the law and order he created, that the monastic order was able to survive.

An early example of such a justification comes from the Sinhalese Mahāvamsa (the Great Chronicle): After a battle against a Hindu-Tamil army, Buddhist King Dutugāmunu felt remorse for all the deaths he had caused, and asked senior monks for advice. They basically told him not to worry since he had caused the deaths of only one and a half persons – one who had just converted to Buddhism, and another who had been a Buddhist lay follower. All the rest had just been “unbelievers and men of evil life […], not more to be esteemed than beasts”.

This notable verdict implies that killing is excusable as long as the intention behind it is in the defence of the religion. Not surprisingly, this quote still is used to condone the use of violence – most recently by the Sitagu Sayadaw, an esteemed Burmese monastic leader, in order to justify the current persecution of perceived enemies of both state and religion – in this case, the Rohingya.

Sanctioning the violent actions of one’s ruler or one’s government is one thing; actively inciting lay-followers to commit such acts in defence of the religion is something completely different. Compared to “preachers of hate” from Abrahamic religions, today’s militant monks have a difficult tightrope to walk, since incitement to murder constitutes one of Buddhism’s four disrobing offences (pārājikas) – offences resulting in the automatic expulsion from the monkhood. In September for example, a Thai monk was forced to disrobe because he had publicly demanded that for each monk killed in Thailand’s deep south, a mosque should be torched.

Most militant monks are therefore very careful in avoiding open calls to violence – instead, they attend mass rallies and demonstrations to stoke anti-Muslim sentiments and to preach “passive resistance” or “pro-Buddhist affirmative action”: not buying from Muslims, not selling to Muslims, not fraternising with Muslims, not allowing one’s children to marry Muslims. They leave it to their followers, especially those organised in pro-state vigilante groups or Buddhist militias, to draw the right conclusions.

Although there is anecdotal evidence of armed monks actively taking part in violence, the majority of militant monks shy away from directly becoming involved: again, this would be a grave violation of the monastic code. Ashin Wirathu, a monk and leader of the Burmese anti-Muslim movement, describes this passive role very eloquently: “I am only warning people about Muslims. Consider it like if you had a dog, that would bark at strangers coming to your house – it is to warn you. I am like that dog. I bark.”

The rise of this strain of militant Theravāda Buddhism can be explained in ethnic, social and economic terms, but from the perspective of the militant monks themselves, it’s about religion. It’s not about the control of resources or worldly goods, but a defensive “holy war” or “Dhamma Yudhaya” in response to a perceived aggressive “jihad” against Buddhism that has been waged for centuries, from the destruction of the Buddhist library in Nalanda/Bihar at the end of the 12th century, to the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001.

This somewhat simplistic reading of history, reminiscent of Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, reinforces the militant monks’ belief that now is the time not for peaceful meditation, but for firm action. The Buddha’s warning that violence begets violence seems to have fallen on deaf ears for the time being.

Peter Lehr, Lecturer in Terrorism Studies, University of St Andrews

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

———-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Sky News: “Special Report: The Rohingya refugee crisis”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Is Saudi King Salman about to be pushed aside by Son?

Sun, 2017-11-19 00:13

TeleSur | – –

Speculation has mounted that the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz, will step down and pass the throne to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman next week.

The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail quoted a source “close to the royal family” by saying that the 81-year-old King Salman plans to abdicate and hand power over to his son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, that has recently taken a de facto leadership role in Saudi Arabia.

The source claims that Salman plans to “continue only as a ceremonial figurehead” while “handing over official leadership of the country to his son.”

His son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly referred to as “MBS”, already holds key positions within the government and has promised to usher in sweeping changes such as granting more rights to women and returning to a “moderate Islam.”

The source continued to the Daily Mail: “Unless something dramatic happens, King Salman will announce the appointment of MBS as King of Saudi Arabia next week. King Salman will play the role of the queen of England. He will only keep the title ‘Custodian of the Holy Shrines.’”

According to reports, this comes as a reaction to recent events in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and recent turmoil in Lebanon.

“MBS is convinced that he has to hit Iran and Hezbollah,” the Daily Mail source said.

“MBS’s plan is to start the fire in Lebanon, but he’s hoping to count on Israeli military backing. He has already promised Israel billions of dollars in direct financial aid if they agree.”

“MBS cannot confront Hezbollah in Lebanon without Israel. Plan B is to fight Hezbollah in Syria,” said the source.

Analysts have suggested that Israel is not willing to engage in a costly war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, especially at the behest of Saudi Arabia.

The report by the Daily Mail hinted that King Salman may be suffering from dementia, which would explain a swift exchange in power while attempting to save face by keeping quiet on the matter.

These statements are unconfirmed and have not been corroborated by Saudi officials.

TeleSur

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

WION: “Report: Saudi King is planning to step down”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Lebanese PM Hariri arrives in or Escapes to France

Sat, 2017-11-18 02:13

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri arrived Saturday morning with his family in Paris, after a two-week stay in Saudi Arabia, where he is a dual citizen and has a mansion. Lebanese president Michel Aoun had charged that Saudi Arabia had taken Hariri hostage, but the latter denies the charge. The trip (or escape) to Paris was arranged by French president Emmanuel Macron on a trip to Riyadh earlier this week. France is the former colonial power in Lebanon and has excellent relations with Saudi Arabia because of security cooperation and substantial arms sales to the kingdom by Paris.

Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil had visited Moscow on Thursday and while there said that Hariri’s resignation was an attempt to force out President Aoun (a long-time ally of the Shiite Hizbullah). What is more likely is that Bin Salman is trying shape the outcome of the May, 2018, parliamentary elections.

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, resigned by telephone from his post from Saudi Arabia, but the resignation was not accepted by Christian President Aoun, on the grounds that it had to be submitted while the PM was actually in Lebanon. It is rumored that he was forced to resign by Saudi crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman because he declined to take a strong stance against Hizbullah, the Shiite party-militia allied with Iran. Since 2016 Hariri has served in a national unity government dominated by Hizbullah and its Christian allies. Given the current shape of Lebanese politics, however, any Sunni prime minister (the prime minister in Lebanon is always Sunni) would have to cooperate with Hizbullah to keep power. President Aoun, a Christian, became president through such cooperation.

It is also rumored that Saudi authorities are annoyed that Hariri appears to have run through the $4 bn family wealth he inherited from his father, Rafiq Hariri, a fortune gained in Saudi Arabia. That wealth had allowed the formation of Future (al-Mustaqbal) TV, which aims at bolstering Sunni and Saudi soft power in Lebanon. And perhaps it was intended to back the formation of a Sunni militia at one point, but those plans have failed. The Saudis may be tired of bankrolling the allegedly profligate Hariri. That is, Hariri may have gotten caught in the crown prince’s anti-corruption campaign, in the course of which he has detained several other wealthy Saudi citizens.

The Hariri affair is raising tensions inside Lebanon but also more generally. Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Germany to protest remarks of foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said that Lebanon must not become a Saudi plaything and implied that it was under Saudi influence.

On Thursday, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France was disturbed by the hegemonic temptation of Iran in the Middle East, drawing a sharp rebuked from Iran, which accused France of taking sides.

Hariri’s actions and decisions in the coming month will help analysts predict the economic health of Lebanon and the Middle East in the coming year or two.

———

Related video added by Juan Cole:

FR24 Eng. Hariri to visit France: “Lebanon is increasingly caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

US-Led Bombings in Iraq Killed 31 Times More Civilians Than Reported: NYT

Sat, 2017-11-18 00:35

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer| ( Commondreams.org ) | – –

New York Times reporters uncovered “consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate” in what “may be the least transparent war in recent American history”

An 18-month investigation by a pair of New York Times reporters reveals far more civilians are killed in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—particularly in the air war—than the U.S.-led coalition reports.

After visiting nearly 150 bombing sites in northern Iraq between April 2016 and June 2017, as well as the American base in Qatar where decisions are made about coalition air strikes, Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal “found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition.”

Since the U.S.-war against ISIS began in August 2014, the coalition has released monthly reports in which it claims tens of thousands of ISIS combatants and 466 civilians have been killed in Iraq. While the coalition claims civilians have died in only 89 of its more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq, Khan and Gopal’s on-the-ground reporting suggests the civilian death toll from coalition bombings in well into the thousands. U.K.-based Airwars estimates at least 3,000 civilians have been killed, but the group’s director told the reporters Airwars “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq” due to lack of reliable reporting.

In addition to touring and satellite mapping the destroyed sites, Khan and Gopal pored over local news reports, and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants, and local officials. At the air base in Qatar, they “were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers, and civilian-casualty assessment experts.” The also handed over data they collected on 103 air strikes from ISIS-controlled regions and examined analysts’ responses.

“Our reporting,” they write, “revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all,” concluding, “this may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”

In addition to poor record-keeping and neglecting investigations, the reporters point to civlians unexpectedly being near to an ISIS target and “flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants” as common reasons for civilian casualties.

The coalition and the U.S. Department of Defense post videos of bombings to their websites, which “are presented as evidence of a military campaign unlike any other—precise, transparent and unyielding,” Khan and Gopal write. A Central Command spokesperson insists that “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” and that the coalition is “conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history”—but one such clip previously featured on the sites is a bombing of two homes with a caption claiming they were operating an ISIS car-bomb factory.

The homes were in fact owned by Iraqi civilians—Basim Razzo and his brother. The reporters recount the killings of Razzo’s loved ones in vivid detail. Razzo is a 56-year-old who worked as account manager for a Chinese multinational telecommunications company; in the 1980s, while he studied engineering at Western Michigan University, his wife Mayada sold Avon products to their neighbors. A few days after the attack, the badly wounded Razzo wrote on Facebook: “In the middle of the night, coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother, and nephew.”

In response to Razzo’s effort to seek compensation and an apology, and the reporters’ investigation, Razzo was offered a “condolence payment” from the coalition several months after the attack—which he declined—but, through documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, he was able to learn a bit more about how their homes had been misidentified, surveilled, and destroyed.

“Despite everything, Basim could not bring himself to hate Americans,” Khan and Gopal write. “In fact, this experience was further evidence for a theory he had harbored for a while: that he, fellow Iraqis and even ordinary Americans were all bit players in a drama bigger than any of them.”

Because of his ties to the U.S, Razzo occasionally video conferences with university students about his experiences. “I have nothing against the regular American citizen. I lived among you guys for eight years,” he recently told a Penn State class of about 750 students. “This situation of war, big corporations are behind it.”

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

Via Commondreams.org

————

Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS Newshour: “Report finds disparities in civilian deaths from U.S.-led ISIS bombing campaign”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Despite Trump Pledge: Keystone Pipeline Spills 210,000 Gallons of Oil in Dakota

Sat, 2017-11-18 00:18

TeleSur | – –

Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the leak demonstrated that approval should not be given for another section of the 2,600-mile pipeline planned for Nebraska.

At least 210,000 gallons of oil have leaked from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota in the United States, just days before a crucial decision due on whether to grant a permit for a long-delayed sister pipeline.

The spill, which amounts to some 5,000 barrels, is the largest oil spill to date in South Dakota, said a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Crews immediately shut down the Marshall County pipeline on Thursday morning, and officials are now investigating the cause of the leak. So far, there have been no reports of damage to waterways or wildlife, CNN reports.

The pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said in a statement: “The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available.”

But environmental activist group Greenpeace said the leak demonstrated that approval should not be given for another section of the 2,600-mile pipeline, which delivers crude oil from Canada to Texas, to be built in Nebraska.

In March, President Donald Trump’s administration officially issued a permit that approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Environmentalists oppose the project because it would cut across the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground freshwater deposits. And Native American groups have argued the pipeline would cut across their sovereign lands.

“The Nebraska Public Service Commission needs to take a close look at this spill,” said Greenpeace spokesman Rachel Rye Butler. “A permit approval allowing Canadian oil company TransCanada to build Keystone XL is a thumbs-up to likely spills in the future.”

Jane Kleeb, head of the Nebraska Democratic Party and a longtime activist opposed to Keystone XL, told the Washington Post: “TransCanada cannot be trusted. I have full confidence that the Nebraska Public Service Commission is going to side with Nebraskans, not a foreign oil company.”

TransCanada said the latest leak occurred about 35 miles south of the Ludden pump station, which is in southeast North Dakota, and that it was “completely isolated” within 15 minutes.

The company said it has obtained permission from the landowner to assess the spill and plan the clean-up operation.

Via TeleSur

——-

Related Tweet added by Juan Cole:

Wow!

The genius of Trump the Brilliant!

"Keystone" "South Dakota" "TransCanada" pic.twitter.com/aUQBTB7FLH

— Paul Michael

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs