Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2016-12-07T10:01:37Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[More districts of East Aleppo fall to Regime & Militia Allies]]> 2016-12-07T10:01:37Z 2016-12-07T09:54:18Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Both regime sources and the Britain-based Syria Observatory said Tuesday that the Syrian Arab Army and its Shiite militia allies from Lebanon and Iraq had taken the district of Shaar in the East Aleppo pocket. In the past two weeks rebel forces have lost the northeast sections of the pocket and now the regime is penetrating toward the center of the Old City. Regime sources said they not only had all of Shaar but also had advanced into Karem al-Qaterji.


Dubai-based Alarabiya reported that some of the remaining rebel fighters, estimated at just two or three thousand, are now proposing an immediate 5-day humanitarian cessation of hostilities. In part, this step is aimed at allowing the some 500 wounded in the southeast Aleppo pocket to be evacuated (little medical care is available in East Aleppo). They also propose that trapped civilians who want to leave be allowed to transit to the area northeast of Aleppo, which is relatively safe. Probably on the order of 150,000 noncombatants are besieged along with the fighters. And, they urge that negotiations over the future of the city be opened.

A big problem is that Russia and Damascus are in control of the military situation and do not need to negotiate, since they are winning. They also appear to feel no compunctions about their ongoing endangerment of noncombatant lives in the pocket.

Russia is also intensively bombing positions of the Levantine Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front), Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, in the northern rural, largely Sunni Arab province of Idlib. These sorts of aerial bombardment are relatively useless except when done in conjunction with an advancing land force. Such air-infantry coordination is taking place in southeastern Aleppo. But in Aleppo the bombing is mostly for psychological effect, and also to keep the Levantine Conquest Front off balance. The remaining rebels in southeast Aleppo have made a united front with al-Qaeda to keep Russia from singling it out and dividing rebel ranks. Unfortunately that means they are formally allied with al-Qaeda, making it difficult for them to pick up outside support.

Since 2013, the Syrian rebels have turned increasingly fundamentalist and they have had one major goal– to cut Damascus off from resupply and so to take the capital, forcing the regime out of power. Their initial attempt to cut Damascus off focused on Homs and Qusayr, which the Nusra Front and other hard line militias took, and then used them to cut supplies to Damascus coming down by truck from the Mediterranean port of Latakia. But the spring 2013 intervention by Lebanon’s Hizbullah allowed the regime to recover Homs and Qusayr, and so to forestall a siege of Damascus.

Then in spring 2015, the Nusra Front and its allies took all of Idlib, and tried to use it as a springboard to take the port of Latakia to the east. This thrust would, again, have potentially cut off Damascus from resupply. If you take the capital of a country, usually you win the civil war.

But then Russia intervened by air to push Nusra/ al-Qaeda and its allies back from Latakia. That was the real reason the Turks were so angry that they shot down a Russian jet in November of 2015. The Russian intervention has allowed the regime to strengthen its defenses in Homs and in Latakia, and so to protect supply lines to Damascus. With Russian air cover, the regime was able to kill the leader of the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and to drive it back from the north of Damascus. The regime was able to extend control south and so frustrate the Jordan and US-backed guerrillas moving up from the south toward Damascus.

When East Aleppo falls, likely sometime in December, the regime will have control of all of the major urban areas of the country, some 80% of the population.

I keep seeing well informed Syria analysts allege that the rebels have 40 or 50% of Syria. This is not true. They have a lot of eastern desert sand. But I figure the rebels now control only 20% or so of the population, and that is about to go down to more like 15%.

Some analysts correctly say that the war will likely continue even after East Aleppo falls. But this point is only partly correct. Some groups will hold out in Idlib and in the Golan and on the Jordan border. But unlike with Homs 2013 or Idlib 2015, they no longer have a strategic path forward to strangling the regime. It is they who are being strangled.

So in that sense the war is over save for some shooting. The rebels don’t appear to have any prospect of actually winning. And that situation is hardly a platform for attracting new fighters. The rebellion is in the throes of a reverse snowball effect. Eventually it will peter out, though that day may not be near.

The crushing of the rebellion is a tragedy, since Syria has a seedy one-party state that tortures people to death and brooks no criticism. But the rebellion also did lose its soul on the whole, moving toward hard line fundamentalism and pledging to ethnically cleanse 2 million Alawite Shiites. It will take decades for Syria to recover from this moment of

contributors <![CDATA[Russia/Syria: War Crimes in Month of Bombing Aleppo]]> 2016-12-06T19:27:00Z 2016-12-07T05:12:05Z Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The Russian-Syrian coalition committed war crimes during a month-long aerial bombing campaign of opposition-controlled territory in Aleppo in September and October 2016.

The Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian civil monitoring organization, documented that the bombing campaign killed more than 440 civilians, including more than 90 children. Airstrikes often appeared to be recklessly indiscriminate, deliberately targeted at least one medical facility, and included the use of indiscriminate weapons such as cluster munitions and incendiary weapons. Satellite imagery that Human Rights Watch analyzed shows more than 950 new distinct impact sites consistent with the detonation of large high explosive bombs across the area during the month.
“Using that amount of firepower in an urban area with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of civilians predictably killed hundreds of civilians,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Those who ordered and carried out unlawful attacks should be tried for war crimes.”

Human Rights Watch: “Aleppo: Russia and Syria Kill 440 Civilians, 90 Children in a Month”

A global coalition of 223 nongovernmental organizations on December 1 called upon UN member states to request an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly to demand an end to all unlawful attacks on civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, and immediate and unhindered humanitarian access so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need. Member states should also explore possible avenues to bring those responsible for serious crimes under international law on all sides to justice, the organizations said.

The appeal comes in response to Russia’s October 8 veto of a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to all aerial bombardment of Aleppo, the fifth time Moscow has blocked council action since the conflict began in 2011. It was also the first-time China broke ranks with Russia on a Syria veto and abstained.

On September 19, the Syrian authorities called off a seven-day ceasefire, citing violations by armed opposition groups. Russian and Syrian aircraft subsequently launched an intense bombing campaign against opposition-controlled territory in eastern Aleppo, an area the size of Manhattan, which continued until Russia declared an end to aerial attacks on October 18. The Russian-Syrian coalition resumed aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo on November 17.

Local residents, media activists, and medical personnel told Human Rights Watch that the month-long bombardment was the most intense since the start of the conflict. One local journalist said: “Those were bloody days. It was a bloody month. Each day, Russian and Syrian airstrikes killed tens of people. It was the most terrible month since the beginning of the war.”

Those interviewed also said that the bombardment was particularly terrifying because of frequent use of bombs that they said they had not seen in the city of Aleppo before. Often referring to them as “bunker busting bombs,” local residents said that these weapons were capable of penetrating and demolishing entire multi-story concrete buildings, meaning it was no longer safe to hide in basements and underground shelters. Some of the attacks with the largest number of civilian casualties were from airstrikes that caused entire buildings to collapse.

The bombardment significantly affected several hospitals in eastern Aleppo. The Syrian-American Medical Society, which supports several hospitals in Aleppo, recorded 16 incidents of aerial bombardment affecting hospitals in the period. In some cases, aircraft dropped indiscriminate weapons such as incendiary weapons and cluster munitions near hospitals, causing them damage. In other cases, attacks struck the hospitals directly causing much greater damage.

The Russian-Syrian coalition committed war crimes during a month-long aerial bombing campaign of opposition-controlled territory in Aleppo in September and October 2016.

Between September 28 and October 14, aircraft attacked the al-Sakhour Medical Center, a well-known hospital in Aleppo that also existed before the war, on at least four separate occasions, sometimes with multiple munitions. Photographs, video footage, and satellite imagery corroborate accounts of these attacks from witnesses reached by phone. The repeated attacks are strong evidence that the hospital was deliberately targeted, Human Rights Watch said. The hospital went out of service on October 1, because of the extensive damage from the strikes.

In the same period, attacks also struck search and rescue teams, including four centers operated by the Syria Civil Defense, a search and rescue group working in opposition areas.

Stand with Aleppo

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During the month-long bombing campaign, Syrian military forces surrounded opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo. Although Syrian and Russian authorities declared that civilians and fighters could leave through designated corridors, very few did. Syrian and Russian authorities and armed opposition groups blamed each other for this. Whatever the reason, the Russian-Syrian coalition should have taken precautionary measures to avoid and minimize civilian casualties when attacking armed opposition groups, Human Rights Watch said.

The UN estimated that there were about 275,000 civilians and 8,000 fighters in eastern Aleppo at the time. Local residents said that most of these fighters were located near the frontlines and not in the residential areas in the interior of opposition-controlled territory.

On November 28, forces affiliated with the Syrian government advanced to take over key districts in east Aleppo held by armed opposition groups, including the neighborhood of al-Sakhour. Thousands of civilians have been forced to flee deeper into opposition-held territory, into government-controlled Aleppo, or into Kurdish-held areas like Sheikh Maqsoud.

Remnants from a RBK-500 cluster bomb with PTAB-1M submunitions found by al-Sakhour Medical Center after an attack on October 1, 2016,

Human Rights Watch has also documented armed opposition groups’ attacks against government-controlled western Aleppo.

Deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including hospitals, committed with criminal intent are war crimes. The laws of war require that parties to a conflict take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize the incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on September 28, that those using indiscriminate weapons in Aleppo “know they are committing war crimes.”

Seventy-three countries from all regions have endorsed a Canadian initiative seeking General Assembly action. The 223-member civil society coalition urged all UN member states to join the initiative.

“Inaction should not be an option,” the coalition said. “History will judge harshly those that fail to step up.”

The Bombing Campaign
Local residents, media activists, and medical personnel contacted by Human Rights Watch by phone described the month-long bombardment of Aleppo as the most intense since the start of the conflict. Using satellite imagery analysis, Human Rights Watch identified more than 950 new impact sites in Aleppo’s opposition-held neighborhoods between September 19 and October 18. The sites have damage signatures consistent with the detonation of large high explosive bombs. Damage sites were distributed across almost all neighborhoods under opposition control.

Al-Kallaseh Neighborhood
Al-Kallaseh Neighborhood
View All

Satellite imagery shows the neighborhood of al-Kallaseh in Aleppo, Syria, before and after airstrikes that took place on September 23, 2016, and al-Sakhour hospital in Aleppo, Syria, before and after airstrikes that took place between September 28 and October 14, 2016.

Before: © 2016 Human Rights Watch After: © 2016 Human Rights Watch

Russian and Syrian aircraft have used a variety of air-dropped, unguided munitions including blast, enhanced blast, fragmentation, and concrete-penetrating bombs, often of the 500-kilogram class – meaning that each can contain upwards of 200-kilograms of explosives. Cluster munitions and incendiary weapons have also been used in these airstrikes.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to conclusively identify the type of weapon used in attacks that collapsed entire buildings, often referred to by witnesses and in the media as “bunker busting bombs,” because of a lack of photographs and video footage of weapon remnants. However, witnesses citing tremors in the ground at the time of the attack and the extensive, but relatively contained, destruction of collapsed buildings are consistent with the use of concrete penetrating or demolition bombs with delayed-action fuzing like the BETAB or FAB-500-series unguided bombs.

The Russian-Syrian coalition has used both weapons in Syria. Russian military officials have said that they are using BETAB bombs against “terror” groups in Syria. Video footage published on YouTube show that the Syrian air force also used BETAB bombs before Russia joined the war. Video footage that Thiqa News Agency posted on YouTube on November 17, shows an unexploded FAB-500ShN demolition bomb that the news agency said was filmed in eastern Aleppo.

Civilian Casualties
The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a local monitoring group, documented the killing of 446 civilians, including 91 children, in aerial attacks in eastern Aleppo between September 19 and October 18. VDC collected the names of 221 of the victims.

In several cases, local sources told Human Rights Watch that the actual casualty number was higher than those VDC recorded. For example, VDC documented that airstrikes killed 39 civilians in the Bustan al-Qasr district on October 11 and 12, while the local revolutionary council in Bustan al-Qasr said that airstrikes had killed 51 people on those days.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Syrian monitoring group, said that aerial attacks killed 457 civilians, including 85 children, in the same period.

Al-Kallaseh, September 23
Two members of the local revolutionary council in al-Kallaseh and Bustan al-Qasr told Human Rights Watch in phone interviews that an airstrike destroyed a six-story residential building in al-Kallaseh neighborhood early in the morning of September 23.

Mohammed Nihad, one of the members, said that there were several aircraft in the sky that night, attacking several places:

I was asleep at home at the time. Perhaps 250 to 300 meters away from the place where the missile fell. I heard it fall and hit the ground. But the sound was unusual. It didn’t sound like a normal explosion. A small earthquake followed that even my relatives in Bustan al-Qasr felt. I arrived to the site of the attack 15 to 20 minutes later. We were surprised to see an entire building collapsed. Syria Civil Defense arrived but couldn’t find anyone wounded around the place. Everyone in the building died. We couldn’t rescue anyone. We felt helpless. The Syria Civil Defense kept working for eight days and managed to pull out many bodies.

Nihad said the bomb struck next to an adjacent gas station, burrowed into the ground, and exploded under the building, causing it to collapse shortly thereafter. Nihad also said that attacks struck the gas station itself and other residential buildings in the same period, but without civilian casualties.

Remnants of a RBK-500 cluster bomb with ShOAB-0.5 submunitions in a street in the Kallaseh district after an attack on September 24, 2016.

Read the whole thing at Human Rights Watch

Juan Cole <![CDATA[After Nov. 8: Countdown to Doomsday]]> 2016-12-06T19:11:25Z 2016-12-07T05:06:23Z By John Feffer | ( | – –

I didn’t vote in the pivotal American election of 2016. Thirty-five years ago, in that unseasonably warm month of November, I was in Antarctica’s Allan Hills taking ice core samples with a hand augur. The pictures I have from that time show my team drilling deep into the blue ice, but what we were actually doing was digging a million years into the planetary past to gaze upon the panorama of climate change. The election was a bad soap opera playing out far beyond my field of vision.

At the time, I lived in Washington, D.C. So my vote, I told myself for years afterward, wouldn’t have made any difference in that overwhelmingly Democratic city. And of course, I never had a doubt about the result, nor did my family and friends, nor did the pollsters, the media, and the entertainment industry, nor the members of the political and economic elite of both major parties. Ours was a confidence composed in equal parts of ignorance and arrogance. We underestimated the legitimate anger and despair of large sections of the country — as well as the other darker motivations much discussed in the years since.

“Remember, Rachel,” my ex-husband used to say, “Homo homini lupus: man is wolf to man.” I criticized him for slandering the poor wolf, but he was right. Beastliness has always lain just beneath the surface of our world.

My ex-husband, the author Julian West, is a man who cared little about ice or nature. We couldn’t have been more ill-suited in that regard. He was always focused on politics. At that moment, he was less worried about Donald Trump winning the presidency than a far slicker populist coming along to galvanize the same anti-establishment constituency four years after a Trump defeat. In 2016, Julian was still a relatively conventional political scientist. The election would change all that, setting in motion the events that ultimately inspired his seminal bestseller, Splinterlands, which, as you no doubt remember, was published in 2020 and predicted — with considerable accuracy — the broke-down, shattered world all of us now live in.

I used to think geologically, which transformed the grand sweep of human history into a mere sliver in the planet’s 4.6-billion-year timeline. The Earth had repeatedly warmed and cooled in a set of protracted mood swings that encompassed the epochs. Don’t imagine, though, that just because I thought in million-year intervals I was entirely above the fray. By examining those columns of ice we were extracting from Antarctica, I hoped to understand far more about our own era of global warming.

What I’d learned by 2016 was not encouraging.

In every previous cycle, the Earth had regulated itself. Then we humans came along and started fiddling with the global thermostat. The era of climate change that began in the nineteenth century with our concerted use of fossil fuels would prove unprecedented. Scientists began to speak of our 11,700-year epoch, the Holocene, as the Anthropocene, the first period in which the actions of a particular species, our very own anthropos, changed the planet. (I used to half-jokingly call our era the Anthro-obscene.)

Already by 2016, we were experiencing “the hottest summer on record” year after dismal year. By then, we’d raised the global temperature by one degree, and that fall the Arctic was an astonishing 36 degrees warmer than normal. In Antarctica, where our 12-person team was using a Badger-Eclipse drill and hand augurs to collect samples, the ground seemed to be turning liquid beneath us as we worked.

At that point, of course, the looming reality of global warming should have been obvious to everyone, not just scientists. But in that era of fake news and rampant conspiracy theories, climate change proved to be just one more “debatable” topic. In the past, at comparable moments, wisdom had eventually won out over wrongheadedness, whether the shape of the world or the position of Earth in the universe was in question. Alas, in the most important debate of them all, the one on which the very existence of human life on this planet depended, calmer heads did not prevail — not in time anyway.

As time itself began to telescope, many of us, in the United States in particular, simply closed our eyes and pretended that species death was not staring humanity (and many other species) in the face. Geologic time would, of course, go marching on, just not for us.

The four-year term of Donald Trump proved such a disaster that a chastened nation, instead of christening public buildings after the disgraced president, bestowed his name on the devastating, climate-change-energized hurricane that struck the country’s East Coast in 2022. Like its namesake, Hurricane Donald began as a squall, only later to develop into the destructive force that ruined the national capital and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Julian and I lost our home in Hurricane Donald. Having never liked Washington, I was, in the end, happy enough to leave the city to the floodwaters. I divorced my husband (no need to go into that story here), reverted to Rachel Leopold, the name I’d previously used only for my scientific publications, and retreated to Vermont.  There, in our community of Arcadia, I’ve cultivated my garden and watched the inexorable rise of the global thermometer ever since.

The good news: our citrus crop was excellent this year. The bad news: a significant coastal chunk of what was once the habitable world is now underwater.

How much of that is the responsibility of President Trump, how much his shortsighted predecessors’ and his blinkered successors’, I leave to scholars like my ex-husband to mull over. I can tell you only what I saw with my own eyes. I was pretty good with an augur back in the day, so let me drill down one last time through the crust of history.

The Trump Years

Since I take the long view, I know that time can march backward. Just ask the graptolites. Oh, sorry, actually you can’t.

Graptolites were tiny sea creatures that once lived in colonies huddled at the bottom of oceans or floating like ribbons of seaweed on the water’s surface. For nearly 200 million years, they prospered in their aquatic world. They probably thought — if they thought at all — that such longevity guaranteed them eternal life on this planet. Then came the Carboniferous Period and a brief but severe ice age. Poof, the graptolites were gone, along with 86% of all other species.

Before evolution culminated in its most glorious and destructive creation — and you know just who I mean — the planet experienced five mass extinctions. The most devastating came at the end of the Permian era, around 250 million years ago, when 96% of all species died out because a huge volcano exploding in present-day Siberia set off a chain reaction that raised the temperature of the seas radically. All of those long-gone creatures left behind no more than a few marks on stone or some petro-carbon pools beneath the Earth’s surface.

The essential law of evolution is the survival of the fittest. Many species die out thanks to some spectacular event or other: an asteroid crashing into the Earth, say, or a massive volcanic eruption. But no wrathful god or malevolent alien force proved necessary for human beings: we were quite capable of being our own worst cataclysm. In an instant of geologic time, we heedlessly burned through our natural resources, while creating weapons of mass destruction that could do in the world hundreds of times over. And then, in 2016, roughly half the voting population of the United States walked into the polls and pulled the lever for doomsday.

My ex-husband loved to regale me with comparable stories from history — of empires that rose and fell, great civilizations that left behind not much more than the poor graptolites had. He believed, however, that the Enlightenment had fundamentally changed human consciousness, that history thereafter was slated to move forward, with only a few stutter steps, into a radiant future. The election of 2016 changed him and his thinking on such subjects irrevocably.  

Definition of a pessimist: an optimist mugged by current events.

I, too, didn’t quite realize how quickly a country could move backward, dragging the world with it. I watched helplessly as the Trump administration toppled one scientific enterprise after another, like a sullen child kicking over the sand castles of other kids. As soon as he took office, the new president green-lighted every dirty energy project within reach. Over the objections of environmentalists, scientists, and anyone with a modicum of common sense, his administration boosted a dying coal industry, lifted regulations on carbon emissions, opened up federal land to drilling and fracking, and okayed pipelines that pumped out yet more oil and gas to turn into carbon emissions and further heat the planet. It was the equivalent of a second Industrial Revolution in Saudi America, at the very moment when the planet could ill afford another fossil fuel spree.

Worse yet was the new administration’s decidedly lukewarm attitude toward the Paris Accord on climate change. Even as the president revised his earlier contention that global warming was a Chinese hoax, the United States turned its back on its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in concert with the other industrialized powers. It also stopped all payments to other countries to help them reduce such emissions. In the space of months, years of patient negotiations unraveled.

The Trump energy stimulus — along with tax cuts for the wealthy, military budget increases, and a major, privatizing infrastructure program — provided a short-term boost to the American economy. It was like giving an exhausted worker a hit of meth. Even then, it hardly took an Einstein to know that what goes up must inevitably come down. The new president’s “plan” threw the American economy into even more serious debt, and the initial spike in employment it caused — the new jobs in mining, pumping, fracking, and building — proved unsustainable, even as an already yawning gap between rich and poor continued to widen. The global economy responded by sliding into stagnation (and then worse), while the positive effects of the short-term stimulus in the United States soon evaporated.

Perhaps if there had been more resistance to the Trump juggernaut, we wouldn’t find ourselves in the present situation. Most critics saw the new president as only a variation, however strange, on all-American themes. They acted as if the normal melody of politics was continuing to play. They ignored the growing cacophony in the country and the world.  They simply didn’t see the true nature of the threat.

They didn’t understand how fracked we all were.

Of course, we did finally stop fracking — the pumping of high-pressure liquid under the ground to extract otherwise hard-to-get hydrocarbons — once we fully understood more than two decades ago the devastating consequences it had for the environment and for us. But by then it was too late. Donald Trump had already fulfilled his promise to get at those hidden reserves of oil and gas. In doing so, he ensured that yet more rounds of carbon emissions would head into the atmosphere, unleashing a wave of destructive force that widened the existing cracks in American society.

It’s no surprise that the world began to splinter. But I don’t want to cover the ground my ex-husband has already explored. I have my own story to tell.

From Reconstruction to Deconstruction

Here in this Vermont community where I’ve lived for the past quarter century, I’ve had a lot of time to read. I no longer take ice core samples. There isn’t much point (or much ice left either). Instead, we survive as best we can, while bracing for yet another tempo shift that will force us to measure our lives not in decades but in years, or even days.

We have a good library here in Arcadia, assembled from the basements and attics of farmhouses in the area. No one reads books anymore, so we had our pick. In addition to taking charge of the greenhouses in our community, I teach science in our school. In the evenings, when I have the time, I also read history. For all those years we were together, I listened to my husband’s take on the world of the past. Now I’ve developed my own interpretation.

From my reading, I think I understand what happened to the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Donald. I think I know now why the country cracked into so many pieces. At the time, I believed it was because of the political divisions of the day, the disagreements over immigration and guns and trade. I didn’t realize that all of these disputes stemmed from a much older conflict built into the very foundations of this country.

Like most Americans, I assumed that our forefathers beat the British in the Revolutionary War and, in short order, created a new experiment in democracy. I’d forgotten — or never even knew — that a decentralized group of not-so-united states existed for six years between the end of that war and the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In those years, the 13 states that had agreed to the Articles of Confederation were quite interested in forming a more perfect union. They evidently liked their status and felt resistant to replacing an imperial overlord with a federal one. Only through a sleight of hand did the founding fathers conjure up an American federation. It was a brilliant piece of politics, but Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and the others never fully convinced those skeptical of federation.

Indeed, the Constitution papered over the problem by forging compromises between the one government and the many states that would prove increasingly vexing over the ensuing decades. Ultimately, it was brought to a head by the Civil War, thanks to the perennial disagreement about whether new states admitted to the Union would be “slave” or “free.” It wasn’t so much the North as the federal government that emerged victorious from that war and then tried to impose a solution on the rebellious states, which balked at constitutional amendments enfranchising freed slaves as equal citizens and — for the men at least — members of the political community. The post-war Reconstruction project remained unfinished until, a century later, the civil rights movement successfully challenged the refusal of the southern states to abide fully by those amendments.

Still, even that movement could not resolve the fundamental divide. In the 1990s and the first years of the new century, economic globalization took the top spot as the issue that split America into two parts — an A team of the economically successful and a B team of the left behind. At first blush, the election of Donald Trump seemed to represent a victory, at long last, for Team B. Certainly, economics did drive enough voters in the Rust Belt to abandon their traditional allegiance to the Democratic Party to lift him to victory in the electoral college.

As his administration got down to work, it became clear that economics only went so far in explaining his victory. Rather, it was again the old issue of whether the federal government had the mandate to implement policies for the entire nation. Those who supported Trump thought not. They didn’t want comprehensive national health care. They were not happy with the way the federal government permitted abortion and same-sex marriage and yet outlawed prayer in school and kept creationism out of the textbooks. They didn’t like the way the government taxed them, regulated them, and kept their cattle off public lands. They didn’t want the government resettling immigrants in their communities. They cared little for affirmative action, feminism, or transgender activism. And they were leery of any restrictions on their access to guns.

Trump supporters were not against elites, at least not all elites. After all, they’d just elected a celebrity billionaire who promptly filled his administration with his equally wealthy friends and colleagues. No, they were against the elites they associated with the imposition of federal authority.

America B didn’t want to secede territorially from the United States. Rather, it wanted to deconstruct federal power. As a result, the United States pushed the rewind button and, in some sense, went all the way back to 1781. The Trump administration began to undo the ties that bound the country together, and we very quickly became less than the sum of our parts. The so-called red states, unshackled from federal requirements, went their own way. Liberal East Coast and West Coast states, appalled by the hijacking of federal authority for the ultimate purpose of undermining federal authority, tried to hold onto constitutional values as they understood them. It didn’t take long — in fact, the pundits regularly commented on the blinding speed of the process — for the failure of the larger project of integration to become self-evident.  By 2022, the United States existed in name only (and an increasingly ironic one at that).

The Age of Diminished Expectations

Imagine that you are a 16-year-old girl, healthy and happy and looking forward to many decades of love and life. And then, one terrible day, you’re blindsided by a Stage Four cancer diagnosis. You had been measuring the future in decades. Suddenly, those decades disappear, leaving you with possibly only a few years to go. Your parents, once skeptical about vaccinating you as a child, now reject conventional cancer treatments. First they deny the diagnosis outright. Then they urge you to eat ground-up apricot pits, drink special teas, and go on a high-fat diet. Nothing works, and the years turn into months, and those months into days, as the world closes in.

Yes, it’s a real tearjerker, but substitute “human race” for “16-year-old girl” and “climate change” for “cancer” and you’ll see how accurate it is.  At the time, though, many people just looked away and shrugged. By that pivotal year of 2016, the world had already received a poor diagnosis. The election of Donald Trump was our way, as a country, of first denying that there was even a problem, then refusing medical treatment, and finally embracing one quack remedy after another.

In the aftermath of that election, I struggled with the contraction of time and space, as geologic time shifted into human time, as we all came to terms (or not) with the obvious planetary diagnosis. So, too, did the map of my world shrink. During the first part of my adult life, I imagined myself as part of an international community of scientists. Then I worked at a national level to save my country.

Here in Vermont, I’ve ended up confined to quite a small plot of land: our intentional community of Arcadia, which we’ve walled off from an increasingly dangerous and hostile world. Soon enough, I’ll find myself in an even smaller space: an urn in the community’s mausoleum.

We’re doing fine here in Arcadia. Climate change has turned northern Vermont into a farming paradise. No federal government interferes with our liberal community guidelines. We have enough guns to defend ourselves against outside aggressors. Everything that has killed the larger community beyond our walls has only made us stronger.

Perhaps, like the monasteries of the Middle Ages, communities like ours will preserve knowledge until the distant day when we exit this era of ignorance and pain. Or perhaps, like the graptolites, we’ll fade away and evolution will produce another species without the flawed operating system that doomed us.

The graptolites were mute. We humans can speak and write and film ourselves in glorious 3-D. These skills haven’t saved us, but our ability to document our times will perhaps save someone someday somewhere.  Everyone prefers a happy ending to a tearjerker. With these documents, these core samples of our era, perhaps we can still, somehow, save the future.

John Feffer is the author of the new dystopian novel, Splinterlands (a Dispatch Books original with Haymarket Books), which Publishers Weekly hails as “a chilling, thoughtful, and intuitive warning.” He is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and a TomDispatch regular.

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Copyright 2016 John Feffer



Juan Cole <![CDATA[White Terrorism in the White House? Did Trump’s Bannon, Breitbart inspire Pizzeria Shooter?]]> 2016-12-06T18:57:19Z 2016-12-06T05:23:11Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Imagine if they had been Muslims. What if a Muslim publication pushed a false conspiracy theory accusing high American officials and an ordinary American restaurant of being involved in child abuse? and then an unbalanced Muslim went into it and shot off a firearm on the premises? They’d all be in Gitmo before sundown the same day.

On Sunday, a Trump supporter walked into a pizzeria in DC Northwest and allegedly fired a gun inside. Patrons in the restaurant ran for their lives, little children bawling in terror. The alleged perpetrator said he was investigating a child trafficking ring run out of the restaurant, connected to John Podesta and Hillary Clinton (there is no such ring)., the American white nationalist version of Der Völkischer Beobachter, is run by its CEO, Steve Bannon. His predecessor, Andrew Breitbart, had started the meme that John Podesta and therefore Hillary Clinton were somehow linked to a pedophilia ring. Bannon had his magazine continue that line.

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This year, under Bannon’s editorship, the twitter account tweeted out a bizarre and patently false conspiracy theory that a neighborhood pizzeria in Washington, D.C., was the site of a child trafficking ring to which Hilary Clinton was connected.

The national news networks are letting Bannon skate on this.

Although it was rumored that incoming National Security Advisor Mike Flynn tweeted out the great Pizzeria Conspiracy, that allegation is apparently incorrect. But the truth is worse.

Flynn tweeted under the hashtag #spiritcooking, which refers to the elaborate conspiracy theory that falsely attempted to tie John Podesta and Hillary Clinton to a satanic ritual.


Here is an informed comment about this tweet:

In early November before election day, Breitbart did articles on people alleging spiritcooking as a satanic ritual in which Hillary Clinton was involved.

Let me repeat. Steve Bannon is the editor of Breitbart. He is responsible for this bilge.

Flynn frequently depends on, Bannon’s witches brew of fake news and Neonazism, for his information.

Flynn’s son took the position that the pizzeria dark fantasy is true until proven false.

Uh, I don’t think that’s how it works, that people say batshit crazy things and they’re true until conspiracy theorists admit they have been refuted.

Flynn Jr., by the way, is formally on the White House transition team. Yes. (Pence is denying this but Mr. Flynn has a transition email and has been seen at Trump tower per @blakehounshell of Politico.)

I would just like to remind everyone that Bannon and Flynn Sr. will be in the executive branch. Both will have de facto ability to call on the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency (both of which will likely also be headed by the Tinfoil Hat Brigade) to perform tasks they believe relate to national security. In COINTELPRO and more recent incidents, the White House used those agencies against domestic dissidents. There are going to be a hell of a lot of domestic dissidents, folks.

Ed Snowden warned us that the NSA can watch you typing your email messages in real time if it just knows your email address.

The idea that Bannon and Flynn will have that kind of power to spy on ordinary Americans is terrifying. I suggest the owner of that pizzeria get off line and throw away his smart phone. He should also sue the originators of the crazy conspiracy theory, and maybe anyone who defended it, for libel.

This crew of stark raving paranoids is bad enough when they just open their mouths. Worse is the implicit promotion of armed violence against the innocent victims of their conspiracy theories. This tactic is an old National Socialist one. After all, alleging that children are being trafficked by your political enemies is a way of making them appear to be monsters who must be stopped By Any Means Necessary. The firing of an assault rifle on those premises was foreseeable by a prudent person. I’d like to suggest that it is also foreseeable that the lives of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta are in similar peril.

So if Bannon had a decent bone in his body, he’d come out right now and apologize for pushing this kind of rank bullshit into the political cybersphere, and would resign beforehand from the White House on the grounds that no one with his wretched values should be allowed to darken the doorstep of so august an edifice.


Related video:

ABC News: “Fake News Prompts Shooting Inside DC Pizzeria”

contributors <![CDATA[Did Trump’s Son-In-Law Finance Israeli Extremists and Illegal Settlements?]]> 2016-12-06T04:32:14Z 2016-12-06T05:18:39Z TeleSur | – –

Trump has said that Kushner, who is a married to Ivanka Trump and is an Orthodox Jew, would be “very good” as his Middle East envoy.

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and confidant of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, is a director and board member at the Kushner Foundation which has given money to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as extremist Jewish groups connected to violent attacks against Palestinians, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Monday.

The findings are based on tax records from Kushner’s parents for the years 2010-2014, which show that the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation gave almost US$60,000 to settlement projects and organizations in Israel, which Washington deems publically as illegal, yet finds covert ways of funding.

Trump has said that Kushner, who is a married to Ivanka Trump and is an Orthodox Jew, would be “very good” as his Middle East envoy to broker a deal between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The Kushner Foundation gave US$20,000 to the group American Friends in Beit El Yeshive, an organization that supports projects in the ultra-conservative settlement of Beit El.

Beit El was built on private Palestinian land without Israeli government approval, according to Haaretz and human rights groups.

More shocking is that the president of that group is David Friedman, who advised Trump on foreign policy in Israel and Palestine and is his real estate lawyer who told AFP in October that in his view settlements are not illegal and that he believed Trump agrees with him.

To top it all off, the Kushner foundation has given money to one of the most extreme groups within the settler community. The foundation gave funds to the radical “Od Yosef Chai” group in the settlement of Yitzhar.

“This particular yeshiva has served as a base for launching violent attacks against nearby Palestinians villages and Israeli security forces, as well; as a result, it no longer receives funding from the Israeli government,” Haaretz reported Monday.

This settlement is also seen as the leader of the settler movement’s so-called “price tag” policy, which calls for attacks against Palestinians in retaliation for actions of the Israeli government against West Bank settlements.

The Washington Post, which confirmed the Haaretz report on Kushner’s foundation, said this year’s Republican platform’s position on Israel was changed to what Trump called the most pro-Israeli stance “of all time.” It does not explicitly call for a two-state solution and rejects the “false notion” that Israel is occupying the West Bank, the U.S. newspaper said.

Although the U.S. is the number one sponsor of Israel financially, militarily and politically, Trump’s staunch right-wing position will most likely translate into even more suffering and repression for the Palestinian people.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “How Kushner’s ‘secret’ operation led to Trump’s Victory”

contributors <![CDATA[John Kerry slams Israeli settlement expansion and proposed ‘formalization’ bill]]> 2016-12-06T04:18:20Z 2016-12-06T05:18:35Z Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — United States Secretary of State John Kerry delivered harsh criticism of the Israeli government’s settlement expansion policies at the Saban Forum in Washington D.C. on Sunday, saying “things are moving in the wrong direction” regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace.

An annual dialogue between American and Israeli leaders from across the political and social spectrum, the Saban Forum is organized by the Center for Middle East Policy — formerly the Saban Center — at the Brookings Institution in the US capitol.


The Saban Center launched in 2002 and was named after multi-billionaire American-Israeli film and television producer Haim Saban, who donated $13 million for the establishment of the center.

During a question and answer style talk, Kerry began by expressing his “genuine passion” for the state of Israel as a place where “people could be protected” and “an example to the world of democracy and freedom and rights and rule of law.”

However, Kerry harshly criticized Israel’s controversial “formalization” bill — that would see dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized and thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized. The bill was scheduled to be voted on by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, later on Monday.

During the Saban Forum on Friday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that the bill should be postponed until US President Barack Obama leaves office, expressing his hopes that President-Elect Donald Trump would play an “active role” in Middle Eastern politics.

Kerry continued in his talk to say that Israel “is ignoring all our warnings regarding settlements,” adding that “things were moving in the wrong direction.”

He said Israel’s right-wing government and ministers did not want and were not working towards a two-state solution, which the United States and other foreign peace brokers have been regarding for decades as the ideal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry called statement’s like that of Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, who said the “era of the Palestinian state is over” following the election of US President-Elect Donald Trump, “profoundly disturbing.”

“More than 50 percent of the ministers in the current (Israeli) government have publicly stated they are opposed to a Palestinian state and there will be no Palestinian state. So this is the predicament. This is where we find ourselves,” Kerry said.

Kerry highlighted that every sitting American president, both Democrat and Republican, has been opposed to settlement building.

“We issue a warning today when we see a new settlement announced. Nothing happens. It’s ignored (by the Israeli government), a new settlement goes up. New units, new sales.”

The continued expansion of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, has caused an “erosion” in the peace process in the past, and continues to “narrow and narrow the capacity for peace,” according to Kerry.

Kerry went on to highlight the destructive nature of settlement expansion on Palestinian livelihood, saying “there are currently about 11,000 demolition orders for Palestinian homes through the West Bank,” and that in 2014 and 2015, Israel issued only one permit to Palestinians to build in Area C, the area of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control.

Prior to Kerry’s talk at the forum, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the audience, saying he still believe that a two-state solution can be reached, but that Palestinians must first recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

Though Netanyahu suggested that a peace agreement with Palestinians could be advanced through regional talks with Arab nations, Kerry vehemently opposed such a proposition, saying that regional peace with Israel is contingent upon Palestinian peace, not the other way around.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right as many Knesset members have called for an escalation of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and with some having advocated for its complete annexation.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

Via Ma’an News Agency

Juan Cole <![CDATA[In the shadow of Trump, a DAPL Victory and Global Protests against Fossil Fuels]]> 2016-12-05T15:20:56Z 2016-12-05T06:39:02Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The surprise announcement Sunday by the Army Corps of Engineers that they will not permit the Dakota Access Pipeline to go under the Missouri River, thus ending the threat to Standing Rock Sioux land and lives, marked a signal success for the environmental protest movement and for the tribe. The protests began last April and have largely gone uncovered by corporate television. Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! was the major provider of journalism and images from the rallies, which were dealt with brutally by local police (who used tear gas, tear gas canisters, and water cannon in the midst of the frigid winter).

In the age of Trump, such peaceful protests will likely increasingly be branded a form of terrorism. (The British viewed Gandhi’s nonviolent noncooperation in the same light, and Southern white police saw Martin Luther King as a terrorist, too). Such desperate branding will not stop the activists. People care about the air they breathe and the water they and their children drink. Oil pipelines are notorious for dangerous leaks that destroy water quality.

Most analysts of coal, oil and natural gas believe that these fuels will still be being used for decades to come, though the likelihood of the phase-out of coal on a short timescale is beginning to be admitted even by energy companies. This end of coal is coming because it is extremely dirty and obviously damaging to health (causing lung disease, heart attacks and nerve poisoning via mercury). It is also owing to wind and solar now being competitive with it, as well as natural gas. (Natural gas is a less desirable substitute because it is also a toxic gas that causes climate change, and drilling for it releases large amounts of methane.)

But these energy analysts who only look at cost and public health are leaving out an extremely important element, which is protest. The reputational and security costs of continuing to burn fossil fuels are going to rise faster than anyone in government or industry imagines.

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There are some Antarctic glaciers so massive that if one of them plops into the ocean, it alone could raise sea levels several feet. If such a catastrophic event happens any time soon, before the transition to renewables is largely complete, it will almost certainly produce massive rioting against Big Carbon corporations and their planet-wrecking ways. The public is already very worried about this issue, and an incident that was conclusive would drive them over the edge.

There are already major protests going on against fossil fuels, about which you will not see reports on CNN or Fox or even NBC or ABC.

Thousands of people marched last week in Bangladesh to protest an idiotic plan to site a coal plant near the Sundarbans mangrove forest. They shouldn’t be building coal plants in Bangladesh! They even have to import the coal, increasing shipping in the delicate marshes. Why not get away from the Sundarbans and build a solar facility instead? Since the fuel is free, it would be cheaper over time.

Rampal protest rally in Dhaka

Then there are the Navajo protests against the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, which courts say they will allow to go on polluting for decades. (I’d bet against that one).

And there are the German villagers forming a human chain in an effort to protect Hambach Forest from being cut down so coal diggers can get at the coal deposits under it.

These sorts of protests against Big Carbon might not be effectual in themselves, and especially in the absence of an alternative. But what I am arguing is that renewable energy is now so inexpensive that it is actually crazy to burn coal. Where a plant already exists, there might be a temptation to keep running it. But on the whole, considerations other than the purely economic are now driving the coal industry. And if you combine the extra cost with the public anger, then utilities and governments are increasingly going to back down.

Given that President Obama’s plan to use the EPA to close down the remaining coal plants will now be ditched by Trump, environmentalists will have to pick up the mantle. Do you have a coal plant anywhere near you? Pressure the utility to close it. Pressure your congressperson to close it.
After we get rid of coal, it will be time to start in on gas plants, and on the petroleum industry. Otherwise your grandchildren will live in a very hot and very dangerous world.

contributors <![CDATA[All the President’s Men: The Warmongering Washington Blob is Back]]> 2016-12-05T04:20:42Z 2016-12-05T05:33:12Z By John Feffer | (Foreign Policy in Focus) | – –

Shortly after taking office in 1969, President Richard Nixon devised his “madman theory.” It was the height of the Vietnam War, and Nixon believed that he could end the conflict. It just required a bit of unpredictability.

“I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war,” Nixon told his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman. “We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communists. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button.’”

To convey this message that Nixon was a violent, obsessed leader, he and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, launched a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia. Many people in Southeast Asia — and in the United States — were convinced that Nixon was indeed a violent, unpredictable man. But the North Vietnamese didn’t back down, and the United States eventually had to negotiate a face-saving treaty and pull out.

Donald Trump has adopted his own “madman theory.” Throughout his campaign, he insisted that any potential negotiating partner — ally or adversary — must be left guessing. Toward that end, he refused to rule out the potential use of nuclear weapons, even in Europe. “We, as a nation, need to be more unpredictable,” he declared, and millions of people shuddered to think that his hand might one day on the nuclear button.

Trump tried to present this unpredictability as the philosophy that made him a successful businessman (bankruptcies aside). But the plain truth was that, when he didn’t know an answer to a question or have a ready plan of action, he covered his butt by pretending to possess a secret approach that would self-destruct if revealed. It sounded like a movie spoof. Mission Unpredictable: Trump’s Rogue Nation.

Unpredictability wasn’t just a pose. It was fundamental to Trump’s style. His late-night tweets, his bursts of anger during the presidential debates, his flip-flops on issues: these were all characteristic of a non-politician, indeed an anti-politician.

Pundits chided him for his lack of impulse control, his failure to self-censor, his impetuosity. But it was fundamental to his appeal, his very “authenticity.” His supporters didn’t know what a Trump presidency would look like exactly. But they were willing to take a chance. They voted in the same way that they might put a coin into a one-armed bandit. They knew the odds were stacked against them, but they were stilling hoping for a big payout.

In the aftermath of the election, itself an exemplar of unpredictability, Trump has again attempted to keep his audience guessing. He was “presidential” in his acceptance speech. He had a cordial sit-down with President Obama. He lay off the demonization of Hillary Clinton. He walked back some of his more extreme campaign pronouncements on climate change, the Iran deal, and waterboarding. He reached out to some unexpected candidates — Mitt Romney, Tulsi Gabbard — for cabinet positions.

Don’t be fooled by these latest manifestations of “unpredictability.” In fact, Trump has always been the most predictable of men.

He wants power. He is ruthless and vulgar. And he will do whatever it takes to win. It’s not difficult to predict the kind of foreign policy he will attempt once in office. Trump will try to grab the world by the crotch.

Unfortunately, there’s no law against sexual harassment of the planet.

The Company He Keeps

Nothing defines Trump’s predictability more than the choices for his foreign policy team. They are, without exception, members of the far right: aggressive, Islamophobic, and contemptuous of diplomacy. Trump emphasized these themes in his campaign, and his appointments so far are entirely consistent with his rhetoric. And yet some anti-war advocates are still trying to make the case that Trump is a net gain for world peace. Talk about a madman theory.

The United States, guided by its new foreign policy elite, will be a reflection of its chief executive: assaultive and unscrupulous. The best-case scenario is that Trump’s team will be incompetent, their reach exceeding their grasp. The worst-case scenarios are positively dystopian.

In the George W. Bush administration, the foreign policy team was dominated by the “Vulcans” who advised the neophyte president on how to look at the world. Within this elite circle, some moderating influences emerged — first Vulcan fellow traveler Colin Powell, then Vulcan insider Condoleezza Rice. They possessed a modicum of realism. Powell tried to persuade Bush not to invade Iraq (but then, like a loyal soldier, dutifully supported the invasion). Rice would be responsible for such initiatives as engaging North Korea through the Six Party Talks.

The overall failure of these somewhat wiser counsels to have any real impact on the Bush foreign policy speaks to the naiveté of those who favor cooperating with the Trump administration.

Taken collectively, Trump’s foreign policy picks are more martial even than the Vulcans. Mike Flynn, the potential national security advisor, wants to push regime change in Iran and is frankly delusional when it comes to Islam. Mike Pompeo, the potential head of the CIA, wants more surveillance, was sorry to see CIA “black sites” shuttered, and was the tip of the spear during the congressional attack on Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi affair (if you thought the politicization of intelligence was bad during the Bush years, wait until Pompeo is in charge).

John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Cotton: These potential picks are ideologues who will tear through the international community like a tank at a tea party. The best that can be said about any of the foreign policy appointees so far is that they know nothing: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, the potential ambassador to the UN, has zero foreign policy experience (unless, like some Trump supporters, you believe that the South is actually an independent state).

In place of the evil genius of Dick Cheney, there’s Steve Bannon, the administration’s chief strategist. From his perch at Breitbart News, Bannon has pushed a racist and anti-Semitic agenda — whether he himself is either of those things is irrelevant.

Among the many malign policies he will advance, the most disturbing will be the war on Islam. The Trump administration will not play favorites — it will go after both Sunni (Islamic State, Hamas) and Shia (Iran, Hezbollah) in waging a larger civilizational campaign.

The administration might link arms on a temporary basis with strong-arm leaders — Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, or the more conservative Sunni politicians of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — but those will just be tactical alliances to be discarded as Judgment Day approaches. They don’t want to be distracted by a cold war with Russia, for Putin is a potential Christian ally. Some on Team Trump, like Mike Flynn, even believe against all evidence and common sense that China and North Korea are aligned with the forces of Islam. This 21st-century crusade will serve as the ideological North Star for the Trump administration’s foreign policy much as anti-Communism functioned for its predecessors.

Mitt Romney as secretary of state? Tulsi Gabbard as secretary of defense? Dream on. Trump is merely gesturing in the direction of unpredictability. Romney is no moderate, while Gabbard would be merely ornamental. In the casino world of Donald Trump, the numbers are always predictable in the end, and they always favor the house. In this case, the house tilts to the extreme right.

Calm Down?

Tom Hanks, a gifted actor but anodyne political commentator, said after the elections: “We are going to be all right. America has been in worse places than we are at right now.”

We, white man?

Sure, well-paid Hollywood liberals don’t have to worry about the consequences of the elections. Many communities in the United States, however, are justifiably concerned about what will happen to them on January 21, 2017. People with medical coverage through the Affordable Care Act face an uncertain future. Immigrants, documented as well as undocumented, are worried about their status. Muslims, people of color, and the LGBT community are all terrified by the dramatic spike in hate crimes in the first 10 days after the election.

Then there’s the larger world, which will decidedly not be all right. Human rights activists are anxious about the deals Trump will make with autocrats. The EU is worried about all the future Brexits — Frexit, Czexit, Nexit — that Trump will encourage. There’s the unraveling of the nuclear deal with Iran and the détente with Cuba. There’s the possibility of war with China, starting with trade and moving on from there. And if that weren’t bad enough, the next four years will be critical ones for arresting climate change, except that Donald Trump will be trying to get every last bit of coal, oil, and natural gas out of the ground.

Yeah, sure, American has gone through difficult times in the past. Donald Trump is an unpredictable fellow. It’s only four years.

But it’s not Donald Trump’s unpredictability I’m worried about. It’s his very disturbing predictability. For Trump, the presidency will be business as usual. The past is prelude, so it’s really not that difficult to predict the arc of this story.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus. His latest book is the dystopian novel, Splinterlands.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Donald Trump’s cabinet takes shape”