Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 03 Dec 2020 06:35:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.16 Ten Foreign Policy Fiascos Biden Can Fix on Day One (and Should) https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/foreign-policy-fiascos.html Fri, 20 Nov 2020 05:02:26 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194515 ( Code Pink ) – Donald Trump loves executive orders as a tool of dictatorial power, avoiding the need to work through Congress. But that works both ways, making it relatively easy for President Biden to reverse many of Trump’s most disastrous decisions. Here are ten things Biden can do as soon as he takes office. Each one can set the stage for broader progressive foreign policy initiatives, which we have also outlined.

1) End the U.S. role in the Saudi-led war on Yemen and restore U.S. humanitarian aid to Yemen.

Congress already passed a War Powers Resolution to end the U.S. role in the Yemen war, but Trump vetoed it, prioritizing war machine profits and a cozy relationship with the horrific Saudi dictatorship. Biden should immediately issue an executive order to end every aspect of the U.S. role in the war, based on the resolution that Trump vetoed.

The U.S. should also accept its share of responsibility for what many have called the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, and provide Yemen with funding to feed its people, restore its healthcare system and eventually rebuild this devastated country. Biden should restore and expand USAID funding and recommit U.S. financial support to the UN, the WHO, and to World Food Program relief programs in Yemen.

2) Suspend all U.S. arms sales and transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Both countries are responsible for massacring civilians in Yemen, and the UAE is reportedly the largest arms supplier to General Haftar’s rebel forces in Libya. Congress passed bills to suspend arms sales to both of them, but Trump vetoed them too. Then he struck arms deals worth $24 billion with the UAE as part of an obscene military and commercial ménage à trois between the U.S., the UAE and Israel, which he absurdly tried to pass off as a peace agreement.

While mostly ignored at the behest of the weapons companies, there are actually U.S. laws that require the suspension of arms transfers to countries that use them to violate U.S. and international law. They include the Leahy Law that prohibits the U.S. from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that commit gross violations of human rights; and the Arms Export Control Act, which states that countries must use imported U.S. weapons only for legitimate self defense.

Once these suspensions are in place, the Biden administration should seriously review the legality of Trump’s arms sales to both countries, with a view to canceling them and banning future sales. Biden should commit to applying these laws consistently and uniformly to all U.S. military aid and arms sales, without making exceptions for Israel, Egypt or other U.S. allies.

3) Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA) and lift sanctions on Iran.

After reneging on the JCPOA, Trump slapped draconian sanctions on Iran, brought us to the brink of war by killing its top general, and is even trying to order up illegal, aggressive war plans in his last days as president. The Biden administration will face an uphill battle undoing this web of hostile actions and the deep mistrust they have caused, so Biden must act decisively to restore mutual trust: immediately rejoin the JCPOA, lift the sanctions, and stop blocking the $5 billion IMF loan that Iran desperately needs to deal with the COVID crisis.

In the longer term, the U.S. should give up the idea of regime change in Iran–this is for the people of Iran to decide–and instead restore diplomatic relations and start working with Iran to deescalate other Middle East conflicts, from Lebanon to Syria to Afghanistan, where cooperation with Iran is essential.

4) End U.S. threats and sanctions against officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nothing so brazenly embodies the U.S. government’s enduring, bipartisan disdain for international law as its failure to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). If President Biden is serious about recommitting the U.S. to the rule of law, he should submit the Rome Statute to the U.S. Senate for ratification to join 120 other countries as members of the ICC. The Biden administration should also accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which the U.S. rejected after the Court convicted the U.S. of aggression and ordered it to pay reparations to Nicaragua in 1986.

5) Back President Moon’s diplomacy for a “permanent peace regime” in Korea.

President-elect Biden has reportedly agreed to meet South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in soon after he is sworn in. Trump’s failure to provide sanctions relief and explicit security guarantees to North Korea doomed his diplomacy and became an obstacle to the diplomatic process under way between Korean presidents Moon and Kim.

The Biden administration must start negotiating a peace agreement to formally end the Korean war, and initiate confidence-building measures such as opening liaison offices, easing sanctions, facilitating reunions between Korean-American and North Korean families and halting U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Negotiations must involve concrete commitments to non-aggression from the U.S. side to pave the way for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and the reconciliation that so many Koreans desire–and deserve.

6) Renew New START with Russia and freeze the U.S.’s trillion-dollar new nuke plan.

Biden can end Trump’s dangerous game of brinksmanship on Day One and commit to renewing Obama’s New START Treaty with Russia, which freezes both countries’ nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads each. He can also freeze Obama and Trump’s plan to spend more than a trillion dollars on a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Biden should also adopt a long overdue “no first use” nuclear weapons policy, but most of the world is ready to go much further. In 2017, 122 countries voted for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) at the UN General Assembly. None of the current nuclear weapons states voted for or against the treaty, essentially pretending to ignore it. On October 24, 2020, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty, which will now go into effect on January 22, 2021.

So, here is a visionary challenge for President Biden for that day, his second full day in office: Invite the leaders of each of the other eight nuclear weapons states to a conference to negotiate how all nine nuclear weapons states will sign onto the TPNW, eliminate their nuclear weapons and remove this existential danger hanging over every human being on Earth.

7) Lift illegal unilateral U.S. sanctions against other countries.

Economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are generally considered legal under international law, and require action by the Security Council to impose or lift them. But unilateral economic sanctions that deprive ordinary people of necessities like food and medicine are illegal and cause grave harm to innocent citizens.

U.S. sanctions on countries like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria are a form of economic warfare. UN special rapporteurs have condemned them as crimes against humanity and compared them to medieval sieges. Since most of these sanctions were imposed by executive order, President Biden can lift them the same way on Day One.

In the longer term, unilateral sanctions that affect an entire population are a form of coercion, like military intervention, coups and covert operations, that have no place in a legitimate foreign policy based on diplomacy, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

8) Roll back Trump policies on Cuba and move to normalize relations

Over the past four years, the Trump administration overturned the progress towards normal relations made by President Obama, sanctioning Cuba’s tourism and energy industries, blocking coronavirus aid shipments, restricting remittances to family members and sabotaging Cuba’s international medical missions, which are a major source of income for its health system.

President Biden should start working with the Cuban government to allow the return of diplomats to their respective embassies, lift all restrictions on remittances, remove Cuba from the list of countries that are not U.S. partners against terrorism, cancel the portion of the Helms Burton Act (Title III) that allows Americans to sue companies that use property seized by the Cuban government 60 years ago, and collaborate with Cuban health professionals in the fight against COVID-19.

These measures would mark a down payment on a new era of diplomacy and cooperation, as long as they don’t fall victim to crass attempts to gain conservative Cuban-American votes in the next election, which Biden and politicians of both parties should commit to resisting.

9) Restore pre-2015 rules of engagement to spare civilian lives.

In the fall of 2015, as U.S. forces escalated their bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria to over 100 bomb and missile strikes per day, the Obama administration loosened military rules of engagement to let U.S. commanders in the Middle East order airstrikes that were expected to kill up to 10 civilians without prior approval from Washington. Trump reportedly loosened the rules even further, but details were not made public. Iraqi Kurdish intelligence reports counted 40,000 civilians killed in the assault on Mosul alone. Biden can reset these rules and start killing fewer civilians on Day One.

But we can avoid these tragic civilian deaths altogether by ending these wars. Democrats have been critical of Trump’s often ad hoc pronouncements about withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. President Biden now has the chance to truly end these wars. He should set a date, no later than the end of December 2021, by when all U.S. troops will come home from all these combat zones. This policy may not be popular among war profiteers, but it would certainly be popular among Americans across the ideological spectrum.

10) Freeze U.S. military spending, and launch a major initiative to reduce it.

At the end of the Cold War, former senior Pentagon officials told the Senate Budget Committee that U.S. military spending could safely be cut by half over the next ten years. That goal was never achieved, and the promised peace dividend gave way to a triumphalist “power dividend.”

The military-industrial complex exploited the crimes of September 11th to justify an extraordinary one-sided arms race in which the U.S. accounted for 45% of global military spending from 2003 to 2011, far outstripping its peak Cold War military spending. The military-industrial complex is counting on Biden to escalate a renewed Cold War with Russia and China as the only plausible pretext for continuing these record military budgets.

Biden must dial back the conflicts with China and Russia, and instead begin the critical task of moving money from the Pentagon to urgent domestic needs. He should start with the 10 percent cut supported this year by 93 representatives and 23 senators.

In the longer term, Biden should look for deeper cuts in Pentagon spending, as in Representative Barbara Lee’s bill to cut $350 billion per year from the U.S. military budget, approximating the 50% peace dividend we were promised after the Cold War and freeing up resources we sorely need to invest in healthcare, education, clean energy and modern infrastructure.

Via Code Pink

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

New China TV: “Yemeni children suffer malnutrition for lack of humanitarian aid amid war, blockade”

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Ending Regime Change – in Bolivia and the World https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/ending-regime-bolivia.html Thu, 29 Oct 2020 04:01:23 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194116 ( Code Pink) – Less than a year after the United States and the U.S.-backed Organization of American States (OAS) supported a violent military coup to overthrow the government of Bolivia, the Bolivian people have reelected the Movement for Socialism (MAS) and restored it to power.

In the long history of U.S.-backed “regime changes” in countries around the world, rarely have a people and a country so firmly and democratically repudiated U.S. efforts to dictate how they will be governed. Post-coup interim president Jeanine Añez has reportedly requested 350 U.S. visas for herself and others who may face prosecution in Bolivia for their roles in the coup.

The narrative of a rigged election in 2019 that the U.S. and the OAS peddled to support the coup in Bolivia has been thoroughly debunked. MAS’s support is mainly from indigenous Bolivians in the countryside, so it takes longer for their ballots to be collected and counted than those of the better-off city dwellers who support MAS’s right-wing, neoliberal opponents. As the votes come in from rural areas, there is a swing to MAS in the vote count. By pretending that this predictable and normal pattern in Bolivia’s election results was evidence of election fraud in 2019, the OAS bears responsibility for unleashing a wave of violence against indigenous MAS supporters that, in the end, has only delegitimized the OAS itself.

It is instructive that the failed U.S.-backed coup in Bolivia has led to a more democratic outcome than U.S. regime change operations that succeeded in removing a government from power. Domestic debates over U.S. foreign policy routinely presume that the U.S. has the right, or even an obligation, to deploy an arsenal of military, economic and political weapons to force political change in countries that resist its imperial dictates.

In practice, this means either full-scale war (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), a coup d’etat (as in Haiti in 2004, Honduras in 2009 and Ukraine in 2014), covert and proxy wars (as in Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen) or punitive economic sanctions (as against Cuba, Iran and Venezuela) – all of which violate the sovereignty of the targeted countries and are therefore illegal under international law.

No matter which instrument of regime change the U.S. has deployed, these U.S. interventions have not made life better for the people of any of those countries, nor countless others in the past. William Blum’s brilliant 1995 book, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, catalogues 55 U.S. regime change operations in 50 years between 1945 and 1995. As Blum’s detailed accounts make clear, most of these operations involved U.S. efforts to remove popularly elected governments from power, as in Bolivia, and often replaced them with U.S.-backed dictatorships: like the Shah of Iran; Mobutu in the Congo; Suharto in Indonesia; and General Pinochet in Chile.

Even when the targeted government is a violent, repressive one, U.S. intervention usually leads to even greater violence. Nineteen years after removing the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the United States has dropped 80,000 bombs and missiles on Afghan fighters and civilians, conducted tens of thousands of “kill or capture” night raids, and the war has killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

In December 2019, the Washington Post published a trove of Pentagon documents revealing that none of this violence is based on a real strategy to bring peace or stability to Afghanistan – it’s all just a brutal kind of “muddling along,” as U.S. General McChrystal put it. Now the U.S.-backed Afghan government is finally in peace talks with the Taliban on a political power-sharing plan to bring an end to this “endless” war, because only a political solution can provide Afghanistan and its people with the viable, peaceful future that decades of war have denied them.

In Libya, it has been nine years since the U.S. and its NATO and Arab monarchist allies launched a proxy war backed by a covert invasion and NATO bombing campaign that led to the horrific sodomy and assassination of Libya’s long time anti-colonial leader, Muammar Gaddafi. That plunged Libya into chaos and civil war between the various proxy forces that the U.S. and its allies armed, trained and worked with to overthrow Gaddafi.

A parliamentary inquiry in the U.K. found that, “a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change by military means,” which led to “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa.”

The various Libyan warring factions are now engaged in peace talks aimed at a permanent ceasefire and, according to the UN envoy “holding national elections in the shortest possible timeframe to restore Libya’s sovereignty”—the very sovereignty that the NATO intervention destroyed.

Senator Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy adviser Matthew Duss has called for the next U.S. administration to conduct a comprehensive review of the post-9/11 “War on Terror,” so that we can finally turn the page on this bloody chapter in our history.

Duss wants an independent commission to judge these two decades of war based on “the standards of international humanitarian law that the United States helped to establish after World War II,” which are spelled out in the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. He hopes that this review will “stimulate vigorous public debate about the conditions and legal authorities under which the United States uses military violence.”

Such a review is overdue and badly needed, but it must confront the reality that, from its very beginning, the “War on Terror” was designed to provide cover for a massive escalation of U.S. “regime change” operations against a diverse range of countries, most of which were governed by secular governments that had nothing to do with the rise of Al Qaeda or the crimes of September 11th.

Notes taken by senior policy official Stephen Cambone from a meeting in the still damaged and smoking Pentagon on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 summarized Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s orders to get “…best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time – not only UBL [Osama Bin Laden]… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

At the cost of horrific military violence and mass casualties, the resulting global reign of terror has installed quasi-governments in countries around the world that have proved more corrupt, less legitimate and less able to protect their territory and their people than the governments that U.S. actions removed. Instead of consolidating and expanding U.S. imperial power as intended, these illegal and destructive uses of military, diplomatic and financial coercion have had the opposite effect, leaving the U.S. ever more isolated and impotent in an evolving multipolar world.

Today, the U.S., China and the European Union are roughly equal in the size of their economies and international trade, but even their combined activity accounts for less than half of global economic activity and external trade. No single imperial power economically dominates today’s world as overconfident American leaders hoped to do at the end of the Cold War, nor is it divided by a binary struggle between rival empires as during the Cold War. This is the multipolar world we are already living in, not one that may emerge at some point in the future.

This multipolar world has been moving forward, forging new agreements on our most critical common problems, from nuclear and conventional weapons to the climate crisis to the rights of women and children. The United States’ systematic violations of international law and rejection of multilateral treaties have made it an outlier and a problem, certainly not a leader, as American politicians claim.

Joe Biden talks about restoring American international leadership if he is elected, but that will be easier said than done. The American empire rose to international leadership by harnessing its economic and military power to a rules-based international order in the first half of the 20th century, culminating in the post-World War II rules of international law. But the United States has gradually deteriorated through the Cold War and post-Cold War triumphalism to a flailing, decadent empire that now threatens the world with a doctrine of “might makes right” and “my way or the highway.”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, much of the world still saw Bush, Cheney and the “War on Terror” as exceptional, rather than a new normal in American policy. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize based on a few speeches and the world’s desperate hopes for a “peace president.” But eight years of Obama, Biden, Terror Tuesdays and Kill Lists followed by four years of Trump, Pence, children in cages and the New Cold War with China have confirmed the world’s worst fears that the dark side of American imperialism seen under Bush and Cheney was no aberration.

Amid America’s botched regime changes and lost wars, the most concrete evidence of its seemingly unshakeable commitment to aggression and militarism is that the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex is still outspending the ten next largest military powers in the world combined, clearly out of all proportion to America’s legitimate defense needs.

So the concrete things we must do if we want peace are to stop bombing and sanctioning our neighbors and trying to overthrow their governments; to withdraw most American troops and close military bases around the world; and to reduce our armed forces and our military budget to what we really need to defend our country, not to wage illegal wars of aggression half-way round the world.

For the sake of people around the world who are building mass movements to overthrow repressive regimes and struggling to construct new models of governing that are not replications of failed neoliberal regimes, we must stop our government–no matter who is in the White House–from trying to impose its will.

Bolivia’s triumph over U.S.-backed regime change is an affirmation of the emerging people-power of our new multipolar world, and the struggle to move the U.S. to a post-imperial future is in the interest of the American people as well. As the late Venezuela leader Hugo Chavez once told a visiting U.S. delegation, “If we work together with oppressed people inside the United States to overcome the empire, we will not only be liberating ourselves, but also the people of Martin Luther King.”

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection and Inside Iran: the Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK, and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Aljazeera English: “Luis Arce promises to ‘rebuild’ Bolivia after huge election win”

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Two years after Khashoggi’s murder, why is Trump’s America still an accomplice to MBS’s crimes? https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/khashoggis-america-accomplice.html Fri, 02 Oct 2020 04:02:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193595 ( Code Pink) – Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered on October 2, 2018 by agents of Saudi Arabia’s despotic government, and the CIA concluded they killed him on direct orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Eight Saudi men have been convicted of Khashoggi’s murder by a Saudi court in what the Washington Post characterized as sham trials with no transparency. The higher ups who ordered the murder, including MBS, continue to escape responsibility.

Khashoggi’s assassination and dismemberment was so horrific and cold-blooded that it sparked worldwide public outrage. President Trump, however, stood by MBS, bragging to journalist Bob Woodward that he saved the prince’s “ass” and got “Congress to leave him alone.”

MBS’s ascent to dictatorial power, soon after his elderly father King Salman became king in January 2015, was sold to the world as ushering in a new era of reform, but has in reality been characterized by violent, ruthless repression. The number of executions has doubled, from 423 executions between 2009 and 2014 to more than 800 since January 2015.

They include the mass execution of 37 people on April 23, 2019, mostly for taking part in peaceful Arab Spring protests in 2011-12. These protests took place in Shiite areas where people face systemic discrimination in the majority Sunni kingdom. At least three of those executed were minors when they were sentenced, and one was a student arrested at the airport on his way to attend Western Michigan University. Many of the victims’ families have said that they were convicted based on forced confessions extracted by torture, and two victims’ beheaded corpses were put on public display.

Under MBS, all dissent has been crushed. In the last two years, all of Saudi Arabia’s independent human rights defenders have been imprisoned, threatened into silence, or have fled the country. This includes women’s rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathoul, who opposed the ban on women drivers. Despite some openings for women under MBS, including the right to drive, Saudi women remain subject to discrimination in law and practice, with laws that ensure they are subordinate citizens to men, particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

The Trump administration has never challenged Saudi Arabia’s internal repression, and worse yet, it has played a vital role in the brutal Saudi-led war on neighboring Yemen. After Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi failed to leave office at the end of his two-year term as the head of a transitional government, or to fulfill his mandate to draw up a new constitution and hold a new election, the Houthi rebel movement invaded the capital, Sana’a, in 2014, placed him under house arrest and demanded that he do his job.

Hadi instead resigned, fled to Saudi Arabia and conspired with MBS and the Saudis to launch a war to try to restore him to power. The United States has provided in-air refueling, intelligence and planning for Saudi and Emirati air strikes and has raked in over 100 billion dollars in arms sales. While U.S. support for the Saudi war began under President Obama, Trump has provided unconditional support as the horrors of this war have shocked the entire world.

According to the Yemen Data Project, at least 30% of US-supported airstrikes on Yemen have hit civilian targets, including hospitals, health clinics, schools, marketplaces, civilian infrastructure, and a particularly horrific airstrike on a school bus that killed 40 children and 11 adults.

After five years, this brutal war has succeeded only in wreaking mass devastation and chaos, with dozens of children dying every day from starvation, malnutrition and preventable diseases, all now compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Belated Congressional efforts to end U.S. support for the war, including the passage of a War Powers bill in March 2019 and a bill to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia in July 2019, have been vetoed when they reached President Trump’s desk.

The U.S. alliance with the Saudis certainly predates Trump, going back to the discovery of oil in the 1930s. While it’s traditional role as an oil supplier is no longer vital to the U.S. economy, Saudi Arabia has become one of the largest purchasers of U.S. weapons, a major investor in U.S. businesses and an ally against Iran. After the failed U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. began grooming Saudi Arabia to play a leading geopolitical and military role, alongside Israel, in a new U.S.-led alliance to counter the growing influence of Iran, Russia and China in the Middle East.

The war on Yemen was the first test of Saudi Arabia’s role as a leading U.S. military ally, and it exposed both the practical and moral bankruptcy of this policy, unleashing another endless war and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest countries on Earth. MBS’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi came at a critical moment in the unraveling of this doomed strategy, laying bare the sheer insanity of basing America’s Middle East policy for the 21st century on an alliance with a neo-feudal monarchy sustained by murder and repression.

President Obama tried to change tack towards the end of his administration, putting a hold on the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia and signing a nuclear deal with Iran. Trump reversed both these policies, and continued to treat Saudi Arabia as a critical ally, even as the world recoiled in horror at Khashoggi’s assassination.

While Saudi abuses have not diminished the Trump administration’s unconditional support, they have ignited global opposition. In an exciting new development, exiled Saudi activists have formed a political party, the National Assembly Party or NAAS, calling for democracy and respect for human rights in the kingdom. In its inaugural statement, the party laid out a vision for Saudi Arabia in which all citizens are equal under the law and a fully elected parliament has legislative and oversight powers over the state’s executive institutions. The founding document was signed by several prominent Saudi activists in exile, including London-based professor Madawi al-Rasheed; Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi academic who is also the son of jailed Islamic scholar Salman al-Awda; and Shia activist Ahmed al-Mshikhs.

Another new initiative, timed for the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, is the launch of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an organization conceived by Jamal Khashoggi several months before his murder. DAWN will promote democracy and support political exiles across the Middle East, in keeping with the vision of its martyred founder.

Progressive groups in the United States continue to oppose U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war and to push USAID to restore direct humanitarian aid that has been slashed to Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. European activists have launched successful campaigns to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in several countries.

These past two years have also seen activists organizing boycotts of Saudi events. Pre-COVID, when the kingdom opened up to musical extravaganzas, groups such as CODEPINK and Human Rights Foundation pressured entertainers like Nicki Minaj to cancel appearances. Minaj put out a statement saying, “It is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression.” Meghan MacLaren, the U.K.’s top woman golfer, withdrew from a lucrative new golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, citing reports by Amnesty International and saying she cannot take part in “sportwashing” Saudi human rights abuses.

A new group called Freedom Forward, which seeks to sever the US-Saudi alliance, has focused on the upcoming G20 in Riyadh, which is taking place virtually in November, urging invitees to refuse to participate. The campaign has successfully lobbied the mayors of several major cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Paris and London, to boycott the event, along with notables invited to side events for women and global thinkers.

As we mark two years since Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, we may also soon be marking the end of the Trump administration. While it is hard to take Vice President Biden on his word that he would not sell more weapons to the Saudis and would make them “pay the price” for killing Khashoggi, it is good to hear a presidential candidate admit that there is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia” and call it a “pariah state.” Perhaps with enough pressure from below, a new administration could start the process of disentangling the U.S. from the deadly embrace of the Saudi dictatorship.

But as long as U.S. leaders continue to coddle the Saudis, it’s difficult not to ask who is more evil—the maniacal Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and the slaughter of more than a hundred thousand Yemenis, or the mendacious Western governments and businesspeople who continue to support and profit from his crimes?


Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Via Code Pink

Featured illustration: PBS screenshot modified by Juan Cole using Procreate for Ipad and Lunapic

Note added by Informed Comment: For more resources on Khashoggi and democracy in the Middle East see also Democracy for the Arab World Now

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Trump’s Cold War China Policy is Isolating the U.S., Not China https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/china-policy-isolate.html Wed, 05 Aug 2020 04:01:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192385 ( Codepink) –

Tensions between the United States and China are rising as the U.S. election nears, with tit-for-tat consulate closures, new U.S. sanctions and no less than three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups prowling the seas around China. But it is the United States that has initiated each new escalation in U.S.-China relations. China’s responses have been careful and proportionate, with Chinese officials such as Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly asking the U.S. to step back from its brinkmanship to find common ground for diplomacy.

Most of the U.S. complaints about China are long-standing, from the treatment of the Uighur minority and disputes over islands and maritime borders in the South China Sea to accusations of unfair trade practices and support for protests in Hong Kong. But the answer to the “Why now?” question seems obvious: the approaching U.S. election.

Danny Russel, who was Obama’s top East Asia expert in the National Security Council and then at the State Department, told the BBC that the new tensions with China are partly an effort to divert attention from Trump’s bungled response to the Covid-19 pandemic and his tanking poll numbers, and that this “has a wag the dog feel to it.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has been going toe-to-toe with Trump and Secretary Pompeo in a potentially dangerous “tough on China” contest, which could prove difficult for the winner to walk back after the election.

Elections aside, there are two underlying forces at play in the current escalation of tensions, one economic and the other military. China’s economic miracle has lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, and, until recently, Western corporations were glad to make the most of its huge pool of cheap labor, weak workplace and environmental protections, and growing consumer market. Western leaders welcomed China into their club of wealthy, powerful countries with little fuss about human and civil rights or China’s domestic politics.

So what has changed? U.S.high-tech companies like Apple, which were once only too glad to outsource American jobs and train Chinese contractors and engineers to manufacture their products, are finally confronting the reality that they have not just outsourced jobs, but also skills and technology. Chinese companies and highly skilled workers are now leading some of the world’s latest technological advances.

The global rollout of 5G cellular technology has become a flashpoint, not because the increase and higher frequency of EMF radiation it involves may be dangerous to human health, which is a real concern, but because Chinese firms like Huawei and ZTE have developed and patented much of the critical infrastructure involved, leaving Silicon Valley in the unfamiliar position of having to play catch-up.

Also, if the U.S.’s 5G infrastructure is built by Huawei and ZTE instead of AT&T and Verizon, the U.S. government will no longer be able to require “back doors” that the NSA can use to spy on us all, so it is instead stoking fears that China could insert its own back doors in Chinese equipment to spy on us instead. Left out of the discussion is the real solution: repeal the Patriot Act and make sure that all the technology we use in our daily lives is secure from the prying eyes of both the U.S. and foreign governments.

China is investing in infrastructure all over the world. As of March 2020, a staggering 138 countries have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive plan to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks. China’s international influence will only be enhanced by its success, and the U.S.’s failure, in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the military front, the Obama and Trump administrations have both tried to “pivot to Asia” to confront China, even as the U.S. military remains bogged down in the Middle East. With a war-weary public demanding an end to the endless wars that have served to justify record military spending for nearly 20 years, the U.S. military-industrial complex has to find more substantial enemies to justify its continued existence and budget-busting costs. Lockheed Martin is not ready to switch from building billion-dollar warplanes on cost-plus contracts to making wind turbines and solar panels.

The only targets the U.S. can find to justify a $740-billion military budget and 800 overseas military bases are its familiar old Cold War enemies: Russia and China. They both expanded their modest military budgets after 2011, when the U.S. and its allies hi-jacked the Arab Spring to launch covert and proxy wars in Libya, where China had substantial oil interests, and Syria, a long-term Russian ally. But their increases in military spending were only relative. In 2019, China’s military budget was only $261 billion compared to the U.S.’s $732 billion, according to SIPRI. The U.S. still spends more on its military than the ten next largest military powers combined, including Russia and China.

Russian and Chinese military forces are almost entirely defensive, with an emphasis on advanced and effective anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems. Neither Russia nor China has invested in carrier strike groups to sail the seven seas or U.S.-style expeditionary forces to attack or invade countries on the other side of the planet. But they do have the forces and weapons they need to defend themselves and their people from any U.S. attack and both are nuclear powers, making a major war against either of them a more serious prospect than the U.S. military has faced anywhere since the Second World War.

China and Russia are both deadly serious about defending themselves, but we should not misinterpret that as enthusiasm for a new arms race or a sign of aggressive intentions on their part. It is U.S. imperialism and militarism that are driving the escalating tensions. The sad truth is that 30 years after the supposed end of the Cold War, the U.S. military-industrial complex has failed to reimagine itself in anything but Cold War terms, and its “New” Cold War is just a revival of the old Cold War that it spent the last three decades telling us it already won.

“China Is Not an Enemy”

The U.S. and China do not have to be enemies. Just a year ago, a hundred U.S. business, political and military leaders signed a public letter to President Trump in the Washington Post entitled “China Is Not an Enemy.” They wrote that China is not “an economic enemy or an existential national security threat,” and U.S opposition “will not prevent the continued expansion of the Chinese economy, a greater global market share for Chinese companies and an increase in China’s role in world affairs.”

They concluded that, “U.S. efforts to treat China as an enemy and decouple it from the global economy will damage the United States’ international role and reputation and undermine the economic interests of all nations,” and that the U.S. “could end up isolating itself rather than Beijing.”

That is precisely what is happening. Governments all over the world are collaborating with China to stop the spread of coronavirus and share the solutions with all who need them. The U.S. must stop pursuing its counterproductive effort to undermine China, and instead work with all our neighbors on this small planet. Only by cooperating with other nations and international organizations can we stop the pandemic—and address the coronavirus-sparked economic meltdown gripping the world economy and the many challenges we must all face together if we are to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

DW News: “USA vs China: A new Cold War? | To the point”

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How Trump brought US Racist Policing and Racist Foreign Policy Together on D.C. Streets https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/brought-policing-together.html Wed, 10 Jun 2020 04:01:42 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191417 (Code Pink) –

On June 1, President Trump threatened to deploy active-duty U.S. military forces against peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in cities across America. Trump and state governors eventually deployed at least 17,000 National Guard troops across the country. In the nation’s capital, Trump deployed nine Blackhawk assault helicopters, thousands of National Guard troops from six states and at least 1,600 Military Police and active-duty combat troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, with written orders to pack bayonets.

After a week of conflicting orders during which Trump demanded 10,000 troops in the capital, the active-duty troops were finally ordered back to their bases in North Carolina and New York on June 5th, as the peaceful nature of the protests made the use of military force very obviously redundant, dangerous and irresponsible. But Americans were left shell-shocked by the heavily armed troops, the tear gas, the rubber bullets and the tanks that turned U.S. streets into war zones. They were also shocked to realize how easy it was for President Trump, single-handedly, to muster such a chilling array of force.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. We have allowed our corrupt ruling class to build the most destructive war machine in history and to place it in the hands of an erratic and unpredictable president. As protests against police brutality flooded our nation’s streets, Trump felt emboldened to turn this war machine against us—and may well be willing to do it again if there is a contested election in November.

Americans are getting a small taste of the fire and fury that the U.S. military and its allies inflict on people overseas on a regular basis from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen and Palestine, and the intimidation felt by the people of Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and other countries that have long lived under U.S. threats to bomb, attack or invade them.

For African-Americans, the latest round of fury unleashed by the police and military is only an escalation of the low-grade war that America’s rulers have waged against them for centuries. From the horrors of slavery to post-Civil War convict leasing to the apartheid Jim Crow system to today’s mass criminalization, mass incarceration and militarized policing, America has always treated African-Americans as a permanent underclass to be exploited and “kept in their place” with as much force and brutality as that takes.

Today, Black Americans are at least four times as likely to be shot by police as white Americans and six times as likely to be thrown in prison. Black drivers are three times more likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested during traffic stops, even though police have better luck finding contraband in white people’s cars. All of this adds up to a racist policing and prison system, with African-American men as its prime targets, even as U.S. police forces are increasingly militarized and armed by the Pentagon.

Racist persecution does not end when African-Americans walk out the prison gate. In 2010, a third of African-American men had a felony conviction on their record, closing doors to jobs, housing, student aid, safety net programs like SNAP and cash assistance, and in some states the right to vote. From the first “stop and frisk” or traffic stop, African-American men face a system designed to entrap them in permanent second-class citizenship and poverty.

Just as the people of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela suffer from poverty, hunger, preventable disease and death as the intended results of brutal U.S. economic sanctions, systemic racism has similar effects in the U.S., keeping African-Americans in exceptional poverty, with double the infant mortality rate of whites and schools that are as segregated and unequal as when segregation was legal. These underlying disparities in health and living standards appear to be the main reason why African-Americans are dying from Covid-19 at more than double the rate of White Americans.

Liberating a neocolonial world

While the U.S. war on the black population at home is now exposed for all of America–and the world–to see, the victims of U.S. wars abroad continue to be hidden. Trump has escalated the horrific wars he inherited from Obama, dropping more bombs and missiles in 3 years than either Bush II or Obama did in their first terms.

But Americans don’t see the terrifying fireballs of the bombs. They don’t see the dead and maimed bodies and rubble the bombs leave in their wake. American public discourse about war has revolved almost entirely around the experiences and sacrifices of U.S. troops, who are, after all, our family members and neighbors. Like the double standard between white and black lives in the U.S., there is a similar double standard between the lives of U.S. troops and the millions of casualties and ruined lives on the other side of the conflicts the U.S. armed forces and U.S. weapons unleash on other countries.

When retired generals speak out against Trump’s desire to deploy active-duty troops on America’s streets, we should understand that they are defending precisely this double standard. Despite draining the U.S. Treasury to wreak horrific violence against people in other countries, while failing to “win” wars even on its own confused terms, the U.S. military has maintained a surprisingly good reputation with the U.S. public. This has largely exempted the armed forces from growing public disgust with the systemic corruption of other American institutions.

Generals Mattis and Allen, who came out against Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops against peaceful protesters, understand very well that the fastest way to squander the military’s “teflon” public reputation would be to deploy it more widely and openly against Americans within the United States.

Just as we are exposing the rot in U.S. police forces and calling for defunding the police, so we must expose the rot in U.S. foreign policy and call for defunding the Pentagon. U.S. wars on people in other countries are driven by the same racism and ruling class economic interests as the war against African-Americans in our cities. For too long, we have let cynical politicians and business leaders divide and rule us, funding police and the Pentagon over real human needs, pitting us against each other at home and leading us off to wars against our neighbors abroad.

The double standard that sanctifies the lives of U.S. troops over those of the people whose countries they bomb and invade is as cynical and deadly as the one that values white lives over black ones in America. As we chant “Black Lives Matter,” we should include the lives of black and brown people dying every day from U.S. sanctions in Venezuela, the lives of black and brown people being blown up by U.S. bombs in Yemen and Afghanistan, the lives of people of color in Palestine who are tear-gassed, beaten and shot with Israeli weapons funded by U.S-taxpayers. We must be ready to show solidarity with people defending themselves against U.S.-sponsored violence whether in Minneapolis, New York and Los Angeles, or Afghanistan, Gaza and Iran.

This past week, our friends around the world have given us a magnificent example of what this kind of international solidarity looks like. From London, Copenhagen and Berlin to New Zealand, Canada and Nigeria, people have poured into the streets to show solidarity with African-Americans. They understand that the U.S. lies at the heart of a racist political and economic international order that still dominates the world 60 years after the formal end of Western colonialism. They understand that our struggle is their struggle, and we should understand that their future is also our future.

So as others stand with us, we must also stand with them. Together we must seize this moment to move from incremental reform to real systemic change, not just within the U.S. but throughout the racist, neocolonial world that is policed by the U.S. military.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

AP Archive: “Police disperse DC protesters as curfew starts”

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In Pandemic, Trump Must Choose Between a Global Ceasefire and America’s Long Lost Wars https://www.juancole.com/2020/05/between-ceasefire-americas.html Tue, 05 May 2020 04:02:30 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190702 As President Trump has complained, the U.S. does not win wars anymore. In fact, since 1945, the only 4 wars it has won were over the small neocolonial outposts of Grenada, Panama, Kuwait and Kosovo. Americans across the political spectrum refer to the wars the U.S. has launched since 2001 as “endless” or “unwinnable” wars. We know by now that there is no elusive victory around the corner that will redeem the criminal futility of the U.S.’s opportunistic decision to use military force more aggressively and illegally after the end of the Cold War and the horrific crimes of September 11th. But all wars have to end one day, so how will these wars end?

As President Trump nears the end of his first term, he knows that at least some Americans hold him responsible for his broken promises to bring U.S. troops home and wind down Bush’s and Obama’s wars. Trump’s own day-in-day-out war-making has gone largely unreported by the subservient, tweet-baited U.S. corporate media, but Trump has dropped at least 69,000 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, more than either Bush or Obama did in their first terms, including in Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Under cover of highly publicized redeployments of small numbers of troops from a few isolated bases in Syria and Iraq, Trump has actually expanded U.S. bases and deployed at least 14,000 more U.S. troops to the greater Middle East, even after the U.S. bombing and artillery campaigns that destroyed Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria ended in 2017. Under the U.S. agreement with the Taliban, Trump has finally agreed to withdraw 4,400 troops from Afghanistan by July, still leaving at least 8,600 behind to conduct airstrikes, “kill or capture” raids and an even more isolated and beleaguered military occupation.

Now a compelling call by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire during the Covid-19 pandemic has given Trump a chance to gracefully deescalate his unwinnable wars – if indeed he really wants to. Over 70 nations have expressed their support for the ceasefire. President Macron of France claimed on April 15th that he had persuaded Trump to join other world leaders supporting a UN Security Council resolution backing the Secretary General’s call. But within days it became clear that the U.S. was opposing the resolution, insisting that its own “counterterrorism” wars must go on, and that any resolution must condemn China as the source of the pandemic, a poison pill calculated to draw a swift Chinese veto.

So Trump has so far spurned this chance to make good on his promise to bring U.S. troops home, even as his lost wars and ill-defined global military occupation expose thousands of troops to the Covid-19 virus. The U.S. Navy has been plagued by the virus: as of mid-April 40 ships had confirmed cases, affecting 1,298 sailors.Training exercises, troop movements and travel have been cancelled for U.S.-based troops and their families. The military reported 7,145 cases as of May 1, with more falling sick every day.

The Pentagon has priority access to Covid testing, protective gear and other resources, so the catastrophic shortage of resources at civilian hospitals in New York and elsewhere are being exacerbated by shipping them all over the world to 800 military bases, many of which are already redundant, dangerous or counter-productive.

Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen were already suffering from the worst humanitarian crises and most compromised health systems in the world, making them exceptionally vulnerable to the pandemic. The U.S.’s defunding of the World Health Organization leaves them in even worse straits. Trump’s decision to keep U.S. troops fighting America’s long lost wars in Afghanistan and other war-zones only makes it more likely that his presidency may be tainted by indelible images of helicopters rescuing Americans from embassy rooftops. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was purposely and presciently built with a helipad on the ground to avoid duplicating the U.S.’s iconic humiliation in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City.

Meanwhile, nobody on Joe Biden’s staff seems to think the UN’s call for a global ceasefire is important enough to take a position on. While a credible accusation of sexual assault has sabotaged Biden’s main message that “I’m different from Trump,” his recent hawkish rhetoric on China likewise smacks of continuity, not contrast, with Trump’s attitudes and policies. So the UN’s call for a global ceasefire is a unique chance for Biden to gain the moral high ground and demonstrate the international leadership he likes to brag about but has yet to show off during this crisis.

For Trump or Biden, the choice between the UN ceasefire and forcing America’s virus-imperilled troops to keep fighting its long lost wars should be a no-brainer. After 18 years of war in Afghanistan, leaked documents have shown that the Pentagon never had a real plan to defeat the Taliban. The Iraqi parliament is trying to expel U.S. forces from Iraq for the second time in 10 years, as it resists getting dragged into a U.S. war on its neighbor Iran. The U.S.’s Saudi allies have begun UN-mediated peace negotiations with the Houthis in Yemen. The U.S. is no closer to defeating its enemies in Somalia than it was in 1992. Libya and Syria remain mired in civil war, 9 years after the U.S., along with its NATO and Arab monarchist allies, launched covert and proxy wars against them. The resulting chaos has spawned new wars in West Africa and a refugee crisis across three continents. And the U.S. still has no viable war plan to back up its illegal sanctions and threats against Iran or Venezuela.

The Pentagon’s latest plan to justify its obscene demands on our country’s resources is to recycle its Cold War against Russia and China. But the U.S.’s imperial or “expeditionary” military forces regularly lose their own simulated war games against formidable Russian or Chinese defense forces, while scientists warn that their new nuclear arms race has brought the world closer to Doomsday than at even the most terrifying moments of the Cold War.

Like a movie studio that’s run out of fresh ideas, the Pentagon has plumped for the politically safe option of a sequel to “The Cold War,” its last big money-spinner before “The War on Terror.” But there is nothing remotely safe about “Cold War II.” It could be the last movie this studio ever makes – but who will be left to hold it accountable?

Like his predecessors from Truman to Obama, Trump has been caught in the trap of America’s blind, deluded militarism. No president wants to be the one who “lost” Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or any other country that has been politically sanctified with the blood of young Americans, even when the whole world knows they should not have been there in the first place. In the parallel universe of American politics, the popular myths of American power and exceptionalism that sustain the military occupation of the American mind dictate continuity and deference to the military-industrial complex as the politically safe choice, even when the results are catastrophic in the real world.

While we recognize these perverse constraints on Trump’s decision-making, we think that the confluence of the UN ceasefire call, the pandemic, anti-war public opinion, the presidential election and Trump’s glib promises to bring U.S. troops home may actually align with doing the right thing in this case.

If Trump was smart, he would seize this moment to embrace the UN’s global ceasefire with open arms; support a UN Security Council resolution to back up the ceasefire; start socially distancing U.S. troops from people trying to kill them and places where they are not welcome; and bring them home to the families and friends who love them.

If this is the only correct choice Donald Trump ever makes as President, he will finally be able to claim that he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize more than Barack Obama did.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

United Nations: “Calling for immediate global ceasefire – UN chief on COVID-19”

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Will the Corruption of Trump’s America End on a Ventilator or in a Mushroom Cloud https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/corruption-ventilator-mushroom.html Wed, 22 Apr 2020 04:03:39 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190449 Little by little, Americans are understanding just how badly our government has let us down by its belated and disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and how thousands more people are dying as a result. But there are two other crises we face that our government is totally unprepared for and incapable of dealing with: the climate crisis and the danger of nuclear war.

Since 1947, a group of scientists with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have warned us about the danger of nuclear war—using their Doomsday Clock to symbolize just how close we are to destroying human civilization on Earth. Over the years, the minute hand on the clock has gone back and forth, measuring the rising and falling risks.

Unbeknownst to most Americans, in January 2020, just before the Covid-19 crisis broke, the Atomic Scientists, who include 13 Nobel Prize winners and dozens of scientists and other experts, sounded the alarm that the double risks of nuclear war and climate change have now brought us closer to self-destruction than at the most dangerous moments of the Cold War. For the first time ever, they moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock beyond the 2-minute mark to 100 seconds to midnight.

“The world is sleepwalking its way through a newly unstable nuclear landscape,” they wrote, highlighting the New Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, plans to “modernize” their nuclear arsenals and “lowered barriers to nuclear war” as a result of new “low-yield” nuclear weapons. Arms control treaties between the U.S. and Russia that took decades to negotiate are being abandoned, removing restraints that were carefully calibrated to prevent either side from upsetting the balance of terror that made it suicidal to use nuclear weapons. What is now to prevent a conventional war from escalating to the use of “low-yield” nuclear weapons, or a low yield nuclear war in turn escalating to Armageddon?

On the climate crisis, the annual UN Conference of Parties (COP) in Madrid in December 2019 failed to agree on any new steps to cut carbon emissions, despite record heat, unprecedented wildfires, faster melting of glacial ice, and a scientific consensus that the commitments countries made in Paris in 2015 are not sufficient to avert catastrophe. Most countries are falling short of even those insufficient pledges, while U.S. CO2 emissions actually rose by 2.6% in 2018, after falling by only 11% under the Obama administration. Obama’s policy of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” for U.S. power plants fueled a huge expansion in the fracking industry, and the U.S. is now producing more oil and more gas than ever before in our history.

Now the next COP in Glasgow has been postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to the pandemic, further delaying any chance of decisive action. Covid-19 is temporarily restraining our destruction of our own life support system. But this will be only a temporary respite unless we pivot from lockdowns to a COP in Glasgow that launches a global program to very quickly convert our energy systems from fossil fuels to green energy.

The Atomic Scientists wrote that both these existential dangers are severely compounded by political leaders who “denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats – international agreements with strong verification regimes – in favor of their own narrow interest and domestic political gain… these leaders have helped to create a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe sooner rather than later.”

It is the political leaders of the United States, not Russia or China, who have withdrawn from nuclear arms agreements, undermined the Kyoto Protocol (the only binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gases), rejected the jurisdiction of international courts, failed to ratify 46 multilateral treaties and systematically violated the UN Charter‘s prohibition against the threat or use of force.

The Republicans have been more aggressive in many of these policies, but Democratic leaders have also gone along with them, consolidating U.S. imperialism and disdain for international law as bipartisan U.S. policy. When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the BBC that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal under the UN Charter, Senator Joe Biden, then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dismissed that out of hand. “Nobody in the Senate agrees with that,” Biden sneered. “There is nothing to debate. He is dead, flat, unequivocally wrong.”

The Democratic Party has now closed ranks behind Joe Biden as its presidential candidate, presenting Americans with a choice between two leaders from the two administrations that have governed the U.S. since 2009 and therefore bear the greatest responsibility for the current state of the nation. Biden has based his candidacy on the premise that everything was just fine in America until Trump came along, just as Trump based his 2016 candidacy on the idea that everything was great until Obama came on the scene.

Most Americans understand that our problems are more entrenched and systemic than that, but we remain trapped in a closed political system that presents us with limited choices between leaders who have already proved unable to solve our problems, even when the solutions are well-known or obvious and have broad public support, like Medicare For All.

When it comes to war and peace, the American public wants to keep the U.S. out of wars, but leaders of both parties keep fueling the war machine and stoking dangerous tensions with other countries. The Russiagate fiasco failed to bring down Trump, but it succeeded in unleashing a propaganda blitz to convince millions of Americans, from MSNBC viewers to Members of Congress, that Russia is once again an irreconcilable enemy of the United States and a threat to everything Americans believe in. In the hall of mirrors that is American politics, Democrats now hate Russia more than China, while Republicans hate China more than Russia—although the Biden campaign is now vying with Trump to see who can be more hostile to China.

Bipartisan hostility to Russia and China is only helping to justify the Pentagon’s pivot from “counterterrorism” to its New Cold War with our nuclear-armed neighbors and trillions of dollars in spending on new weapons that make the world more dangerous for all of us.

With almost no public debate, Members of Congress from both parties quietly rubber-stamp every record military budget placed in front of them. Only 8 Senators (4D, 4R) and 48 House Members (41D, 6R, 1I) dared to vote against final passage of the outrageous $712 billion 2020 Pentagon budget. The Trump administration is fully committed to Obama’s plan to spend at least a trillion dollars to “modernize” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which the Atomic Scientists warn is taking us closer to nuclear catastrophe than ever. Of this year’s Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders is the only one who routinely votes against record military budgets, approving only 16% of military spending bills since 2013.

On this and many other issues, Sanders has dared to say what Americans know but no major party candidate would say before: that our neoliberal emperors sit stark naked on their thrones, tossing sacks of money to their friends as they rule over an obscene empire of corruption, inequality, war, poverty and racism.

In dogged defiance of American conventional wisdom, Sanders built a political movement based on real solutions to the structural problems of American society, directly challenging the powerful interests who control and profit from the corrupt status quo: the military-industrial complex; the prison-industrial complex; the medical-industrial complex; and the Wall Street financial complex at the heart of it all.

Sanders may have lost the Democratic nomination, but he successfully demonstrated that Americans don’t have to be passive in the face of a corrupt political system that is leading us down a path to self-destruction. We do not have to accept a dysfunctional for-profit healthcare system; ever-worsening inequality and poverty; structural racism and mass incarceration; an overheated, dying natural world; or a military-industrial complex that fears peace more than a nuclear apocalypse.

A political system that is structurally incapable of acting for the common good, even when millions of lives are at stake, is not just failing to solve our problems. It is the problem. Hopefully, as we struggle to emerge from today’s tragic pandemic, more and more Americans are understanding that healing our sick, corrupt political system is the vital key to a healthy and peaceful future.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher for CODEPINK, and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBSN: “President Trump’s proposed budget would slash social programs”

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US is Closed for Non-Essential Industries: Shouldn’t Trump’s Wars be Halted, Too? https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/essential-industries-shouldnt.html Mon, 13 Apr 2020 04:04:48 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190269 ( Pressenza ) – At least 70 countries have signed on to the March 23 call by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a worldwide ceasefire during the Covid-19 pandemic. Like non-essential business and spectator sports, war is a luxury that the Secretary General says we must manage without for a while. After U.S. leaders have told Americans for years that war is a necessary evil or even a solution to many of our problems, Mr. Guterres is reminding us that war is really the most non-essential evil and an indulgence that the world cannot afford—especially during a pandemic.

The UN Secretary General and the European Union have also both called for a suspension of the economic warfare that the U.S. wages against other countries through unilateral coercive sanctions. Countries under unilateral U.S. sanctions include Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe.

In his update on April 3rd, Guterres showed that he was taking his ceasefire call seriously, insisting on actual ceasefires, not just feel-good declarations. “…there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds,” Guterres said. His original plea to “put armed conflict on lockdown” explicitly called on warring parties everywhere to “silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the airstrikes,” not just to say that they would like to, or that they’ll consider it if their enemies do it first.

But 23 of the original 53 countries that signed on to the UN’s ceasefire declaration still have armed forces in Afghanistan as part of the NATO coalition fighting the Taliban. Have all 23 countries ceased firing now? To put some meat on the bones of the UN initiative, countries that are serious about this commitment should tell the world exactly what they are doing to live up to it.

In Afghanistan, peace negotiations between the U.S., the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban have been going on for two years. But the talks have not stopped the U.S. from bombing Afghanistan more than at any other time since the U.S. invasion in 2001. The U.S. has dropped at least 15,560 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan since January 2018, with predictable increases in already horrific levels of Afghan casualties.

There was no reduction in U.S. bombing in January or February 2020, and Mr. Guterres said in his April 3rd update that fighting in Afghanistan had only increased in March, despite the February 29th peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban.

Embed from Getty Images
Smoke rises after an air strike by US aircraft on positions during an ongoing an operation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Kot district of Nangarhar province on February 16, 2017. (Photo credit should read NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP via Getty Images).

Then, on April 8th, Taliban negotiators walked out of talks with the Afghan government over disagreements about the mutual prisoner release called for in the U.S.-Afghan agreement. So it remains to be seen whether either the peace agreement or Mr. Guterres’ call for a ceasefire will lead to a real suspension of U.S. airstrikes and other fighting in Afghanistan. Actual ceasefires by the 23 members of the NATO coalition who have rhetorically signed on to the UN ceasefire would be a big help.

The diplomatic response to Mr. Guterres’s ceasefire declaration from the United States, the world’s most prolific aggressor, has mainly been to ignore it. The U.S. National Security Council (NSC) did retweet a tweet from Mr. Guterres about the ceasefire, adding, “The United States hopes that all parties in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere will heed the call of @antonioguterres. Now is the time for peace and cooperation.”

But the NSC tweet did not say that the U.S. would take part in the ceasefire, essentially deflecting the UN’s call to all the other warring parties. The NSC made no reference to the UN or to Mr. Guterres position as UN Secretary General, as if he launched his initiative just as a well-meaning private individual instead of the head of the world’s foremost diplomatic body. Meanwhile, neither the State Department nor the Pentagon have made any public response to the UN’s ceasefire initiative.

So, unsurprisingly, the UN is making more progress with ceasefires in countries where the U.S. is not one of the leading combatants. The Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen has announced a unilateral two week ceasefire beginning on April 9th to set the stage for comprehensive peace talks. Both sides have publicly supported the UN ceasefire call, but the Houthi government in Yemen will not agree to a ceasefire until the Saudis actually halt their attacks on Yemen.

If the UN ceasefire takes hold in Yemen, it will prevent the pandemic from compounding a war and humanitarian crisis that have already killed hundreds of thousands of people. But how will the U.S. government react to peace moves in Yemen that threaten the U.S.’s most lucrative market for foreign arms sales in Saudi Arabia?

In Syria, the 103 civilians reported killed in March were the lowest monthly death toll in many years, as a ceasefire negotiated between Russia and Turkey in Idlib appears to be holding. Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy in Syria, is trying to expand this to a nationwide ceasefire between all the warring parties, including the United States.

In Libya, both the main warring parties, the UN-recognized government in Tripoli and the forces of rebel general Khalifa Haftar, publicly welcomed the UN’s call for a ceasefire, but the fighting only worsened in March.

In the Philippines, the government of Rodrigo Duterte and the Maoist New People’s Army, which is the armed wing of the Philippines Communist Party, have agreed to a ceasefire in their 50-year-old civil war. In another 50-year civil war, Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) has responded to the UN’s ceasefire call with a unilateral ceasefire for the month of April, which it said it hopes can lead to lasting peace talks with the government.

In Cameroon, where minority English-speaking separatists have been fighting for 3 years to form an independent state called Ambazonia, one rebel group, Socadef, has declared a two-week ceasefire, but neither the larger Ambazonia Defense Force (ADF) rebel group nor the government have joined the ceasefire yet.

The UN is working hard to persuade people and governments everywhere to take a break from war, humanity’s most non-essential and deadly activity. But if we can give up war during a pandemic, why can’t we just give it up altogether? In which devastated country would you like the U.S. to start fighting and killing again when the pandemic is over? Afghanistan? Yemen? Somalia? Or would you prefer a brand new U.S. war against Iran, Venezuela or Ambazonia?

We think we have a better idea. Let’s insist that the U.S. government call off its airstrikes, artillery and night raids in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and West Africa, and support ceasefires in Yemen, Libya and around the world. Then, when the pandemic is over, let’s insist that the U.S. honor the UN Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of force, which wise American leaders drafted and signed in 1945, and start living at peace with all our neighbors around the world. The U.S. has not tried that in a very long time, but maybe it’s an idea whose time has finally come.

Reprinted from Pressenza with the authors’ permission.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English from two weeks ago: “US deployment in Iraq: Troops to leave smaller bases after attack”

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