Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2016-04-29T06:41:30Z http://www.juancole.com/feed/atom WordPress Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Syria: As fierce Fighting reignites, Aleppo on brink of ‘Humanitarian Disaster’]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161193 2016-04-29T06:41:30Z 2016-04-29T06:41:30Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Syria’s largest city, Aleppo has seen a worrying outbreak of violence in the past week that could fatally undermine the cessation of hostilities that had held between most Free Syrian Army units and the Syrian Arab Army.

The ceasefire did not extend to al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), however, and it appears to be al-Qaeda that led the renewed fighting south of the city and mortar strikes from the rebel-held east on the Government-held west.

Also, the Syrian Arab Army and Shiite militias advanced into rebel-held territory north of the city and continued an effort to surround and cut off the rebel-held Western neighborhoods.

The pro-regime BeirutPress reports that there have been repeated mortar and sniping attacks on the government-controlled West of the city from guerrillas in the east. These attacks have left 18 dead and 50 wounded since Tuesday.

At the same time, what appear to have been Syrian government air strikes with barrel bombs repeatedly hit a hospital supported by Doctors without Borders, killing at least 50 persons, including the city’s last pediatric surgeon. The Syrian government denied the strikes, but only the Syrian air force had been using aerial barrel bombs. Russia and the US also denied dropping bombs onto a hospital.

Some 60 fighters of al-Qaeda and its ally, the Freemen of Syria, were killed by the Kurdish People’s protection Units north of the city on Wednesday. Ordinarily the two might have been ranged against Daesh or the regime in a de facto battlefield alliance, but in this instance they both wanted the same territory.

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Related video:

Euronews: “Fatal airstrikes destroy hospital in the Syrian city of Aleppo”

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contributors <![CDATA[Chomsky: Sanders Mobilizes Force That Could Change the Country]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161189 2016-04-29T03:17:28Z 2016-04-29T04:24:24Z TeleSur | – –

During a public event on Tuesday, renowned professor Noam Chomsky took time to reflect on the political impact of the Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Internationally renowned professor Noam Chomsky discussed the political impact of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, saying that his policy proposals reflect “the positions of the majority of the American population.”

Chomsky said Sanders has “mobilized a large number of young people who are saying, ‘Look, we’re not going to consent anymore.’ If that turns into a continuing, organized, mobilized force, that could change the country—maybe not for this election, but in the longer term.”

“An interesting aspect of Sanders’s positions is that they’re quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time,” Chomsky stated during a live event hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library.

Chomsky went on to classify Sanders as more of a “New Deal Democrat” rather than a radical extremist, as some have described him, which he argued is indicative of “how far the (political) spectrum has shifted to the right” over the last several decades.

According to the revered academic, Sanders’ campaign platform would not have been considered controversial in previous moments of U.S. history, instead highlighting the fact that U.S. political sentiment “has moved so far to the right the contemporary Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans.”

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now: “Noam Chomsky: Young Bernie Sanders Supporters are a “Mobilized Force That Could Change the Country”

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contributors <![CDATA[Seven members of Israeli ‘terror cell’ indicted for dozens of attacks on Palestinian civilians & property]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161182 2016-04-29T02:02:08Z 2016-04-29T04:21:05Z By Celine Hagbard | (IMEMC) | – –

Updated.

On Monday, an Israeli court indicted seven Israelis, including two sons of a leading rabbi, a soldier, and two minor teens, for participating in dozens of attacks against Palestinian civilians in the Hebron area, in the southern part of the West Bank.

The Israeli court prosecutor asked that three of the suspects be held in prison, with the others held under house arrest. The men and boys involved in the ‘terror cell’ have confessed to numerous attacks, some dating back as far as 2008.

A group of six youths, three of whom are the sons of the head Rabbi in an illegal Israeli settlement, have admitted to a series of attacks against Palestinians dating from 2008 to the present.

The Israeli security service Shin Bet announced Wednesday that the six youth are being investigated for a number of attacks, but have not yet been charged with any crimes, despite their admissions of guilt.

No ‘harsh interrogation’ tactics or physical coercion were used against the six young men, according to the Shin Bet. Palestinian detainees of the same age range are subjected to torture and abuse in up to 90% of the cases, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Society.

The suspects have been identified as Pinchas Sandorfi, 22, Itamar Ben Aharon, 20, Michael Kaplan, 20, two boys aged 16 and 17, and an unnamed Israeli soldier. All of the suspects are from an Israeli settlement colony in the Binyamin bloc.

Lawyers for the six suspects complained to Israeli authorities that they had been prevented from meeting with their clients prior to their interrogations by Israeli authorities. One of the lawyers also complained that because most of their crimes did not end up hurting anyone, they should not face charges.

The Israeli terror cell has allegedly been carrying out attacks for years – these attacks included the beating attack of a Palestinian in July 2015, and an attack on a Palestinian home in December 2015 in which the perpetrators threw tear gas canisters into a home in which a family was sleeping.

The family, including a nine month old baby who was asleep in the home, were able to escape without injury.

The other attacks admitted by the group include firebombing vehicles and homes, writing graffiti and hate speech on Palestinian businesses and homes, and attempting to burn a Palestinian family alive (unsuccessfully) in Mazra’a al-Qibliya village this past November.

No charges have yet been levied against the men and teens involved in these attacks. Police say the suspects are still under investigation.

Via IMEMC

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

New China TV: “Jewish extremist convicted for killing palestinian teen”

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contributors <![CDATA[Boehner: Ted Cruz is Lucifer, most miserable SOB I’ve worked with]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161191 2016-04-29T03:59:41Z 2016-04-29T04:19:16Z New York Daily News | (Video News Report)

Ada Statler-Throckmorton of The Stanford Daily reported:

“When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“Lucifer in the flesh . . . I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

New York Daily News: “John Boehner calls Ted Cruz: ‘Lucifer in the flesh’

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contributors <![CDATA[The Collapse of the Old Oil Order]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161184 2016-04-29T03:18:08Z 2016-04-29T04:02:19Z By Michael T. Klare | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

Sunday, April 17th was the designated moment.  The world’s leading oil producers were expected to bring fresh discipline to the chaotic petroleum market and spark a return to high prices. Meeting in Doha, the glittering capital of petroleum-rich Qatar, the oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with such key non-OPEC producers as Russia and Mexico, were scheduled to ratify a draft agreement obliging them to freeze their oil output at current levels. In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Doha debacle. At the very least, it will perpetuate the low oil prices that have plagued the industry for the past two years, forcing smaller firms into bankruptcy and erasing hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in new production capacity. It may also have obliterated any future prospects for cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in regulating the market. Most of all, however, it demonstrated that the petroleum-fueled world we’ve known these last decades — with oil demand always thrusting ahead of supply, ensuring steady profits for all major producers — is no more.  Replacing it is an anemic, possibly even declining, demand for oil that is likely to force suppliers to fight one another for ever-diminishing market shares.

The Road to Doha

Before the Doha gathering, the leaders of the major producing countries expressed confidence that a production freeze would finally halt the devastating slump in oil prices that began in mid-2014. Most of them are heavily dependent on petroleum exports to finance their governments and keep restiveness among their populaces at bay.  Both Russia and Venezuela, for instance, rely on energy exports for approximately 50% of government income, while for Nigeria it’s more like 75%.  So the plunge in prices had already cut deep into government spending around the world, causing civil unrest and even in some cases political turmoil.

No one expected the April 17th meeting to result in an immediate, dramatic price upturn, but everyone hoped that it would lay the foundation for a steady rise in the coming months. The leaders of these countries were well aware of one thing: to achieve such progress, unity was crucial. Otherwise they were not likely to overcome the various factors that had caused the price collapse in the first place.  Some of these were structural and embedded deep in the way the industry had been organized; some were the product of their own feckless responses to the crisis.

On the structural side, global demand for energy had, in recent years, ceased to rise quickly enough to soak up all the crude oil pouring onto the market, thanks in part to new supplies from Iraq and especially from the expanding shale fields of the United States. This oversupply triggered the initial 2014 price drop when Brent crude — the international benchmark blend — went from a high of $115 on June 19th to $77 on November 26th, the day before a fateful OPEC meeting in Vienna. The next day, OPEC members, led by Saudi Arabia, failed to agree on either production cuts or a freeze, and the price of oil went into freefall.

The failure of that November meeting has been widely attributed to the Saudis’ desire to kill off new output elsewhere — especially shale production in the United States — and to restore their historic dominance of the global oil market. Many analysts were also convinced that Riyadh was seeking to punish regional rivals Iran and Russia for their support of the Assad regime in Syria (which the Saudis seek to topple).

The rejection, in other words, was meant to fulfill two tasks at the same time: blunt or wipe out the challenge posed by North American shale producers and undermine two economically shaky energy powers that opposed Saudi goals in the Middle East by depriving them of much needed oil revenues. Because Saudi Arabia could produce oil so much more cheaply than other countries — for as little as $3 per barrel — and because it could draw upon hundreds of billions of dollars in sovereign wealth funds to meet any budget shortfalls of its own, its leaders believed it more capable of weathering any price downturn than its rivals. Today, however, that rosy prediction is looking grimmer as the Saudi royals begin to feel the pinch of low oil prices, and find themselves cutting back on the benefits they had been passing on to an ever-growing, potentially restive population while still financing a costly, inconclusive, and increasingly disastrous war in Yemen.

Many energy analysts became convinced that Doha would prove the decisive moment when Riyadh would finally be amenable to a production freeze.  Just days before the conference, participants expressed growing confidence that such a plan would indeed be adopted. After all, preliminary negotiations between Russia, Venezuela, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia had produced a draft document that most participants assumed was essentially ready for signature. The only sticking point: the nature of Iran’s participation.

The Iranians were, in fact, agreeable to such a freeze, but only after they were allowed to raise their relatively modest daily output to levels achieved in 2012 before the West imposed sanctions in an effort to force Tehran to agree to dismantle its nuclear enrichment program.  Now that those sanctions were, in fact, being lifted as a result of the recently concluded nuclear deal, Tehran was determined to restore the status quo ante. On this, the Saudis balked, having no wish to see their arch-rival obtain added oil revenues.  Still, most observers assumed that, in the end, Riyadh would agree to a formula allowing Iran some increase before a freeze. “There are positive indications an agreement will be reached during this meeting… an initial agreement on freezing production,” said Nawal Al-Fuzaia, Kuwait’s OPEC representative, echoing the views of other Doha participants.

But then something happened. According to people familiar with the sequence of events, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and key oil strategist, Mohammed bin Salman, called the Saudi delegation in Doha at 3:00 a.m. on April 17th and instructed them to spurn a deal that provided leeway of any sort for Iran. When the Iranians — who chose not to attend the meeting — signaled that they had no intention of freezing their output to satisfy their rivals, the Saudis rejected the draft agreement it had helped negotiate and the assembly ended in disarray.

Geopolitics to the Fore

Most analysts have since suggested that the Saudi royals simply considered punishing Iran more important than raising oil prices.  No matter the cost to them, in other words, they could not bring themselves to help Iran pursue its geopolitical objectives, including giving yet more support to Shiite forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.  Already feeling pressured by Tehran and ever less confident of Washington’s support, they were ready to use any means available to weaken the Iranians, whatever the danger to themselves.

“The failure to reach an agreement in Doha is a reminder that Saudi Arabia is in no mood to do Iran any favors right now and that their ongoing geopolitical conflict cannot be discounted as an element of the current Saudi oil policy,” said Jason Bordoff of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Many analysts also pointed to the rising influence of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, entrusted with near-total control of the economy and the military by his aging father, King Salman. As Minister of Defense, the prince has spearheaded the Saudi drive to counter the Iranians in a regional struggle for dominance. Most significantly, he is the main force behind Saudi Arabia’s ongoing intervention in Yemen, aimed at defeating the Houthi rebels, a largely Shia group with loose ties to Iran, and restoring deposed former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. After a year of relentless U.S.-backed airstrikes (including the use of cluster bombs), the Saudi intervention has, in fact, failed to achieve its intended objectives, though it has produced thousands of civilian casualties, provoking fierce condemnation from U.N. officials, and created space for the rise of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Nevertheless, the prince seems determined to keep the conflict going and to counter Iranian influence across the region.

For Prince Mohammed, the oil market has evidently become just another arena for this ongoing struggle. “Under his guidance,” the Financial Times noted in April, “Saudi Arabia’s oil policy appears to be less driven by the price of crude than global politics, particularly Riyadh’s bitter rivalry with post-sanctions Tehran.” This seems to have been the backstory for Riyadh’s last-minute decision to scuttle the talks in Doha. On April 16th, for instance, Prince Mohammed couldn’t have been blunter to Bloomberg, even if he didn’t mention the Iranians by name: “If all major producers don’t freeze production, we will not freeze production.”

With the proposed agreement in tatters, Saudi Arabia is now expected to boost its own output, ensuring that prices will remain bargain-basement low and so deprive Iran of any windfall from its expected increase in exports. The kingdom, Prince Mohammed told Bloomberg, was prepared to immediately raise production from its current 10.2 million barrels per day to 11.5 million barrels and could add another million barrels “if we wanted to” in the next six to nine months. With Iranian and Iraqi oil heading for market in larger quantities, that’s the definition of oversupply.  It would certainly ensure Saudi Arabia’s continued dominance of the market, but it might also wound the kingdom in a major way, if not fatally.

A New Global Reality

No doubt geopolitics played a significant role in the Saudi decision, but that’s hardly the whole story. Overshadowing discussions about a possible production freeze was a new fact of life for the oil industry: the past would be no predictor of the future when it came to global oil demand.  Whatever the Saudis think of the Iranians or vice versa, their industry is being fundamentally transformed, altering relationships among the major producers and eroding their inclination to cooperate.

Until very recently, it was assumed that the demand for oil would continue to expand indefinitely, creating space for multiple producers to enter the market, and for ones already in it to increase their output. Even when supply outran demand and drove prices down, as has periodically occurred, producers could always take solace in the knowledge that, as in the past, demand would eventually rebound, jacking prices up again. Under such circumstances and at such a moment, it was just good sense for individual producers to cooperate in lowering output, knowing that everyone would benefit sooner or later from the inevitable price increase.

But what happens if confidence in the eventual resurgence of demand begins to wither? Then the incentives to cooperate begin to evaporate, too, and it’s every producer for itself in a mad scramble to protect market share. This new reality — a world in which “peak oil demand,” rather than “peak oil,” will shape the consciousness of major players — is what the Doha catastrophe foreshadowed.

At the beginning of this century, many energy analysts were convinced that we were at the edge of the arrival of “peak oil”; a peak, that is, in the output of petroleum in which planetary reserves would be exhausted long before the demand for oil disappeared, triggering a global economic crisis. As a result of advances in drilling technology, however, the supply of oil has continued to grow, while demand has unexpectedly begun to stall.  This can be traced both to slowing economic growth globally and to an accelerating “green revolution” in which the planet will be transitioning to non-carbon fuel sources. With most nations now committed to measures aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases under the just-signed Paris climate accord, the demand for oil is likely to experience significant declines in the years ahead. In other words, global oil demand will peak long before supplies begin to run low, creating a monumental challenge for the oil-producing countries.

This is no theoretical construct.  It’s reality itself.  Net consumption of oil in the advanced industrialized nations has already dropped from 50 million barrels per day in 2005 to 45 million barrels in 2014. Further declines are in store as strict fuel efficiency standards for the production of new vehicles and other climate-related measures take effect, the price of solar and wind power continues to fall, and other alternative energy sources come on line. While the demand for oil does continue to rise in the developing world, even there it’s not climbing at rates previously taken for granted. With such countries also beginning to impose tougher constraints on carbon emissions, global consumption is expected to reach a peak and begin an inexorable decline. According to experts Thijs Van de Graaf and Aviel Verbruggen, overall world peak demand could be reached as early as 2020.

In such a world, high-cost oil producers will be driven out of the market and the advantage — such as it is — will lie with the lowest-cost ones. Countries that depend on petroleum exports for a large share of their revenues will come under increasing pressure to move away from excessive reliance on oil. This may have been another consideration in the Saudi decision at Doha. In the months leading up to the April meeting, senior Saudi officials dropped hints that they were beginning to plan for a post-petroleum era and that Deputy Crown Prince bin Salman would play a key role in overseeing the transition.

On April 1st, the prince himself indicated that steps were underway to begin this process. As part of the effort, he announced, he was planning an initial public offering of shares in state-owned Saudi Aramco, the world’s number one oil producer, and would transfer the proceeds, an estimated $2 trillion, to its Public Investment Fund (PIF). “IPOing Aramco and transferring its shares to PIF will technically make investments the source of Saudi government revenue, not oil,” the prince pointed out. “What is left now is to diversify investments. So within 20 years, we will be an economy or state that doesn’t depend mainly on oil.”

For a country that more than any other has rested its claim to wealth and power on the production and sale of petroleum, this is a revolutionary statement. If Saudi Arabia says it is ready to begin a move away from reliance on petroleum, we are indeed entering a new world in which, among other things, the titans of oil production will no longer hold sway over our lives as they have in the past.

This, in fact, appears to be the outlook adopted by Prince Mohammed in the wake of the Doha debacle.  In announcing the kingdom’s new economic blueprint on April 25th, he vowed to liberate the country from its “addiction” to oil.”  This will not, of course, be easy to achieve, given the kingdom’s heavy reliance on oil revenues and lack of plausible alternatives.  The 30-year-old prince could also face opposition from within the royal family to his audacious moves (as well as his blundering ones in Yemen and possibly elsewhere).  Whatever the fate of the Saudi royals, however, if predictions of a future peak in world oil demand prove accurate, the debacle in Doha will be seen as marking the beginning of the end of the old oil order.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Michael T. Klare

Via Tomdispatch.com

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CCTV: “Discussion: Instability of oil market”

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Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Trump’s Foreign Policy is just GOP Boilerplate, only more Confused]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161174 2016-04-28T08:09:36Z 2016-04-28T07:55:15Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump tried his hand at foreign policy on Wednesday, and the results weren’t any prettier than his incessant forays into domestic policy. He does not know anything serious about either one, but of course his fund of ignorance is far deeper when it comes to the rest of the world. Nor was there much original, except for the way he mixed things up. For the most part, on issues like Iran, Israel and international commitments and obligations, Trump’s positions aren’t all that different from most other Republicans. His opposition to democratization policies is just the old James Baker/ George H. W. Bush realism, hearkening back to a time before the rise of the Neoconservatives in the regime of W.

Trump praised the US intervention during World War II to defeat fascism and to democratize Europe and Japan.

He then went on to denounce all subsequent attempts to defeat other fascisms and democratize anything else. And while George W. Bush-style muscular Wilsonianism is a failure, the US can nudge others toward more democratic practices and better human rights through aid and other indirect means (something Jimmy Carter started with regard to the colonels in Latin America); Trump isn’t interested in that kind of thing, either.

He wants less nation-building and more order. But as Farid Zakaria pointed out, less nation-building can produce less order.

He also showed himself in love with authoritarians abroad, perhaps seeing people like Vladimir Putin as soul mates.

His description of what has happened in the Middle East in the past five years is pure fiction:

“They just kept coming and coming. We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.

We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans and just killed be lives, lives, lives wasted. Horribly wasted. Many trillions of dollars were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill that void much to their really unjust enrichment.”

Trump manages to blame President Obama for the 2011 Arab uprisings (which Obama and Hillary Clinton did not support in Tunisia and Egypt until after they were inevitable). The idea that the US promoted “democratization” in those two countries is completely laughable. It promoted dictatorship for decades and then after people massed in the streets, Washington just acquiesced in whatever outcomes the people of the place could arrange. It’s giving military dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi arms just the way it did his predecessor.

Obama in the Middle East has for the most part (with the exception of Libya) been a defensive realist. He came into office trying to establish relations with the Syrian government, not trying to overthrow it. He sent an ambassador to Damascus. It was the Republicans who wanted to overthrow al-Assad.

Then, how was Obama opposing the gassing of Syrian civilians a bad thing? Is the use of poison gas by the al-Assad regime on its own people one of those strong institutions Trump feels shouldn’t be interfered with?

We already know that Trump believes Arabs should be ruled by dictators. The problem is that as of 2011, most people in the region refused to put up with the dictators, and the dictators were either overthrown or held on by genocidal means. The US didn’t intervene in any way that mattered in Syria or Yemen. Does Trump think Washington should have intervened on the side of the dictators? The rise of ISIL in eastern Syria had nothing whatsoever to do with Obama and there was nothing any American president could have done to forestall it. ISIL grew up in Iraq under American military occupation run by a Republican president, that is, under the nose of 160,000 US troops on patrol.

Trump also complained about the US not doing enough for the Christians of the Middle East. As if Donald Trump ever cared about Christianity in his whole life. But the exodus from Iraq of its ancient Chaldean community was caused by the US Republican Party’s occupation of that country. Not sure what Trump thinks the US did in Syria to cause some of its Christians to flee. Trump seems to support the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has been using heavy military equipment against its own people, and Christians have gotten caught in the crossfire.

Then Trump again went after NATO. His implication that the US pays an unfair share of direct costs for it is incorrect— member countries pay proportionally based on GDP. As for indirect costs of collective defense, Trump seems to be complaining that other countries don’t have the kind of bloated military budget that the US has (nor do they need it; Germany doesn’t have bases in Africa and Asia).

Then Trump went full AIPAC:

“Israel, our great friend and the one true democracy in the Middle East has been snubbed and criticized by an administration that lacks moral clarity. Just a few days ago, Vice President Biden again criticized Israel, a force for justice and peace, for acting as an impatient peace area in the region.”

Biden, who has spent his whole political career championing Israel, was criticizing the Likud government’s reckless colonization of the Palestinian West Bank as a way of preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state, thus creating a permanent Apartheid. This policy can only deeply harm Israel in the medium to long term, and Biden was expressing some tough love. Trump’s meaningless platitudes about Israel being a “friend” and a “democracy” are just boilerplate mouthed by most professional politicians. A country of 8 million that militarily occupies a further 4.5 million stateless people isn’t a democracy, it is an Apartheid regime. A regime like that of Netanyahu that constantly lobbies for the US to go to war (Netanyahu promised us the Iraq aggression was a good idea and wanted us to bomb Iran) isn’t acting in that way as a friend.

Even pillars of the American Jewish establishment, such as Seymour D. Reich, former chairman of the conference of major Jewish Organizations, are beginning to speak out about the increasingly undemocratic policies of the Likud in Israel. Coddling Netanyahu, as Trump suddenly wants to do after earlier talking about being even-handed, is doing no favors to Israel.

Contrary to the image Trump likes to project that his policy ideas take on the Republican Establishment, he isn’t saying anything new. Past Republicans were really devoted to Middle Eastern dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. GOP isolationism and resentment of US spending abroad has usually focused on the United Nations rather than on NATO, but the latter has been slammed when it is insufficiently docile. Former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld put down France and Germany for their opposition to the illegal war of aggression on Iraq, calling them “Old Europe,” praising instead the eastern European countries such as Poland that were eager to join the coalition of the willing.

Likewise, his attacks on the UN Security Council diplomatic deal with Iran to require that the latter’s nuclear enrichment program remains purely for civilian purposes is indistinguishable from that of all other GOP politicians. And it is just as wrong-headed, since the deal has excellent safeguards against weapons research and has already resulted in the mothballing of Iran’s planned heavy water reactor at Arak, which could have been used to produce fissile material.

Ironically, for a speech decrying the current posture of Washington in the world as a mishmash of incompatible goals, Trump’s speech exhibited the very flaws he discerned in American foreign policy.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: ” Trump’s foreign policy speech dissected”

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contributors <![CDATA[Egypt arrests Hundreds to Stop Protest, including Journalists, Lawyers]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161171 2016-04-28T06:36:20Z 2016-04-28T06:36:20Z Human Rights Watch | – –

(Beirut) – Egyptian security forces arrested at least 382 people in the days leading up to and during the dispersal of mostly peaceful protests on April 25, 2016. The protests followed a rare mass demonstration against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on April 15.

Police arrested lawyers and numerous activists, and temporarily held at least 33 journalists, according to witnesses and media reports, who also said that police stopped people riding public transportation or walking in the street, made warrantless inspections of their mobile phones, and arrested them if they found anti-government images.

“Egypt’s effective zero-tolerance policy for protests leaves people with no outlet to peacefully express their grievances, and protesting can mean years in prison,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “The authorities should release all those held solely for peaceful expression, and parliament should amend the repressive law on public assembly.”

Police arrested at least 286 people on April 25, according to the Front for the Defense of Egyptian Protesters, an independent group of lawyers and activists. The large majority of the arrests, which spanned seven governorates, occurred in the greater Cairo area, the group said.

Authorities did not allow those arrested to have defense lawyers present during questioning by agents of the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency in the Agouza and Dokki police stations, where many of those arrested in the capital were taken, said Freedom for the Brave, an activist group that documents cases alongside lawyers.

One lawyer who was at the Dokki Police Station told Human Rights Watch that police fired teargas at lawyers waiting outside the station at about 10 p.m. on April 25, after the station chief had yelled at them to leave.

Authorities transferred many of those arrested on April 25 to the Red Mountain Central Security Forces camp outside Cairo, the Front for the Defense of Egyptian Protesters said. One human rights lawyer said she believed 140 people were being held at the camp. Central Security Forces camps are not lawful places of detention, and witnesses have previously told Human Rights Watch that the authorities have used them for enforced disappearances and torture.
Journalists and activists protest against the restriction of press freedom and to demand the release of detained journalists, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt on April 26, 2016.
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Journalists and activists protest against the restriction of press freedom and to demand the release of detained journalists, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt on April 26, 2016.
© 2016 Reuters

The protests, which police dispersed in some cases with teargas, occurred despite a series of pre-emptive arrests that began during the night of April 21, when police detained at least 96 people, many at their homes or downtown Cairo cafés, according to the Front.

Prosecutors in multiple governorates, including Cairo and Alexandria, opened at least 11 investigations into whether to bring charges against those arrested in the pre-April 25 sweep, the Heliopolis Center for Political Development and Human Rights said. The investigations remain open.

The allegations against those arrested included incitement to use force to overturn the government, incitement to attack police stations, membership in a terrorist group, promoting terrorist crimes and thoughts through the Internet, publishing false news through social media to disturb stability and security, and incitement to demonstrate without permission.

Law 107 of 2013 on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations, passed following the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first freely elected president, effectively bans opposition protests and allows the Interior Ministry to disperse gatherings at will. Those convicted can face up to five years in prison for breaking the law. Since its passage, courts have sentenced hundreds of people for protesting illegally.

The recent events followed a rare anti-government demonstration on April 15, which protesters called the “Friday of Land.” Hundreds of people gathered at the national Journalists Syndicate headquarters in Cairo to protest abuses committed under President al-Sisi’s administration and al-Sisi’s recent decision to cede two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Though the security forces did not disperse the protest with force, police detained at least 25 people from the vicinity of the syndicate that day and opened investigations, according to the Front. The investigations remain open.

A friend of one of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were first held in windowless cells in Cairo’s Qasr al-Nil Police Station, where they had to rely on visitors to bring them food and water, since the police did not provide either, before the authorities transferred them to Tora Prison on April 22.

A week after the April 15 demonstration, amid public discussion of protests planned for April 25, the independent newspaper al-Shorouk reported that al-Sisi had held a meeting at which he stated he would not tolerate more protests. The presidency quickly denied the report.

But the day before the protests, the Interior Ministry warned that it would “confront with the utmost decisiveness and resolution any acts that could infringe public security. It will use all force to deal with any attempt to assault vital, important facilities or harm police facilities and utilities.”

On April 25, a national holiday marking the withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, security forces blocked roads leading to the Journalists Syndicate, refused to allow syndicate members inside, and permitted only pro-government demonstrators to enter the area to celebrate the holiday, multiple syndicate members said in accounts published on social media.

Mahmoud Kamel, a member of the syndicate’s board, described the April 25 events as a “black day for journalism and journalists,” according to al-Shorouk. Police detained at least 33 journalists throughout the day, eventually releasing all but two, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

At least six foreign journalists were among those detained, including four from France, one from Denmark, and one from Norway. Orla Guerin, a BBC correspondent, wrote on Twitter that supporters of al-Sisi beat a member of her crew as police watched and failed to intervene.

Elsewhere in Cairo, security forces stopped pedestrians, ordered them to open their mobile phones, and inspected their social media accounts, including Facebook, for “inciting pictures” or “anti-government publications,” witnesses told Masrawy, an independent website. Police arrested some of those they stopped, the witnesses said.

In addition to journalists, the authorities conducted apparently pre-emptive arrests of lawyers and human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch said.

At about 4 a.m. on April 25, police arrested Ahmed Abdullah, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, at his home in Fifth Settlement, a Cairo suburb. Most of the allegations against him were similar to those leveled against others arrested in the previous day’s sweep, according to a statement by the commission. Police also accused Abdullah of broadcasting false news likely to disturb general security and of distributing publications calling for the overthrow of the government and the changing of the constitution, the commission said.

On April 23, a prominent human rights lawyer, Malek Adly, wrote on Facebook that the Supreme State Security Prosecution had issued a warrant for his arrest. He later confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the warrant was issued for charges including establishing a group to overturn the government, calling for obstructing the president from performing his duties, inciting demonstrations and “leadership of Muslim Brotherhood elements.” Adly has not yet been arrested.

Police arrested one lawyer, Haitham Mohammedein, on April 21, and at least four lawyers on April 25 and the days preceding the demonstration. Mohammedein remains in custody. His brother told Human Rights Watch that he had been arrested on a warrant issued by the State Security Prosecution accusing him of belonging to a terrorist group. The authorities were holding Mohammedein and others in a Central Security Forces Camp in Giza governorate known as Camp 10.5 Kilometers, his brother said.

“Egyptian authorities are trying to stifle any public discussion of al-Sisi’s policies,” Houry said. “It seems that the only public demonstrations al-Sisi will allow are the ones that support him.”

Via Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AfricaNews: “Egypt: Police clamp down on anti-government protest”

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contributors <![CDATA[Big Money in Politics Doesn’t Just Drive Inequality. It Drives War.]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=161166 2016-04-28T05:06:55Z 2016-04-28T05:05:14Z By Rebecca Green | ( Otherwords.org) | – –

Military contractors have shelled out over $1 million to the 2016 presidential candidates — including over $200,000 to Hillary Clinton alone.

The 2016 presidential elections are proving historic, and not just because of the surprising success of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, the lively debate among feminists over whether to support Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump’s unorthodox candidacy.

The elections are also groundbreaking because they’re revealing more dramatically than ever the corrosive effect of big money on our decaying democracy.

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Following the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision and related rulings, corporations and the wealthiest Americans gained the legal right to raise and spend as much money as they want on political candidates.

The 2012 elections were consequently the most expensive in U.S. history. And this year’s races are predicted to cost even more. With the general election still six months away, donors have already sunk $1 billion into the presidential race — with $619 million raised by candidates and another $412 million by super PACs.

Big money in politics drives grave inequality in our country. It also drives war.

After all, war is a profitable industry. While millions of people all over the world are being killed and traumatized by violence, a small few make a killing from the never-ending war machine.

During the Iraq War, for example, weapons manufacturers and a cadre of other corporations made billions on federal contracts.

Most notoriously this included Halliburton, a military contractor previously led by Dick Cheney. The company made huge profits from George W. Bush’s decision to wage a costly, unjustified, and illegal war while Cheney served as his vice president.

Military-industrial corporations spend heavily on political campaigns. They’ve given over $1 million to this year’s presidential candidates so far — over $200,000 of which went to Hillary Clinton, who leads the pack in industry backing.

These corporations target House and Senate members who sit on the Armed Forces and Appropriations Committees, who control the purse strings for key defense line items. And cleverly, they’ve planted factories in most congressional districts. Even if they provide just a few dozen constituent jobs per district, that helps curry favor with each member of Congress.

Thanks to aggressive lobbying efforts, weapons manufacturers have secured the five largest contracts made by the federal government over the last seven years. In 2014, the U.S. government awarded over $90 billion worth of contracts to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman.

Military spending has been one of the top three biggest federal programs every year since 2000, and it’s far and away the largest discretionary portion. Year after year, elected officials spend several times more on the military than on education, energy, and the environment combined.

Lockheed Martin’s problematic F-35 jet illustrates this disturbingly disproportionate use of funds. The same $1.5 trillion Washington will spend on the jet, journalist Tom Cahill calculates, could have provided tuition-free public higher education for every student in the U.S. for the next 23 years. Instead, the Pentagon ordered a fighter plane that can’t even fire its own gun yet.

Given all of this, how can anyone justify war spending?

Some folks will say it’s to make us safer. Yet the aggressive U.S. military response following the 9/11 attacks — the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the NATO bombing of Libya, and drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen — has only destabilized the region. “Regime change” foreign policies have collapsed governments and opened the doors to Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS.

Others may say they support a robust Pentagon budget because of the jobs the military creates. But dollar for dollar, education spending creates nearly three times more jobs than military spending.

We need to stop letting politicians and corporations treat violence and death as “business opportunities.” Until politics become about people instead of profits, we’ll remain crushed in the death grip of the war machine.

And that is the real national security threat facing the United States today.

Rebecca Green is an intern with the women-led peace group CodePink.
Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org

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