Juan Cole – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 21 Sep 2020 04:34:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 No, Iran is not near having a Nuke: Trump source tries Iraq Big Lie Playbook on Reuters, The Independent https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/playbook-reuters-independent.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/playbook-reuters-independent.html#respond Mon, 21 Sep 2020 04:20:10 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193384 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Trump administration is running the same scam on the public that George W. Bush & Co. ran on Iraq in 2002.

Some creepy Trump swamp creature emerged to whisper anonymously in the ear of Reuters, which should be ashamed of acting as its stenographer: “The unnamed official told Reuters news agency that Iran may have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year and that Tehran has resumed long-range missile cooperation with nuclear-armed North Korea. He did not provide detailed evidence regarding either assertion.”

Then the The Independent not only picked up the unsourced and ridiculous allegation from Reuters, but added the breathless headline “Iran ‘to have nuclear weapon by end of year,’ as more sanctions drawn up by US.” The headline was even worse than the original lie, since “may have” does not equal “to have.” The Independent story was then picked up with the idiotic headline by Yahoo News.

The Independent is 30% owned by a Saudi Arabian investor. Saudi Arabia wants to send US boys to fight in Iran and take down the ayatollahs for Saudi purposes. Washington elites have shown that they are perfectly willing to bend over and be used by wealthy and unscrupulous warmongers, domestic and foreign.

The reason the assertion is ridiculous is that having a nuclear weapon does not depend solely on how much uranium you have. There are lots of uranium deposits in mountains that anyone can mine and break into rocks. You could have a mountain of those rocks and they would never blow up because they are mostly U-238, which, well, doesn’t blow up.

In amongst the U-238 there is some U-235, which is the volatile one. In nature, it is less than one percentage point of natural uranium. Again, you can have masses of uranium rocks that have this fissile material in them, and you could never ever have a bomb. So “how much” fissile material Iran has is completely irrelevant.

The only way to make a bomb is to enrich the uranium so that U-235 makes up 95% of it, not less than 1%.

There is no evidence that Iran a) knows how to do that or b) wants to do that or c) has taken any practical steps to do that.

You can also enrich uranium to 3.5% U-235, which will fuel nuclear reactors.

Embed from Getty Images
The groundbreaking ceremony of Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, held in Bushehr, Iran on November 10, 2019. Construction works continue at the site. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images).

And, you can enrich it to 19.5% U-235, which will fuel medical reactors that make isotopes for treating cancer.

That is all Iran has been doing. The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or nuclear deal limited Iran to enriching to 3.5% for its nuclear power plant at Bushehr, which makes electricity by using uranium to boil water to turn turbines. Two more such plants are being built, and they will need fuel, so any stockpiles won’t go to waste.

Iran agreed to that limit in order to get sanctions relief from the UN Security Council and from the US.

The US never really did stop its sanctions on Iran, because the GOP Congress kept them on, and then in May, 2018, Trump breached the JCPOA, which the US had signed, and slapped the harshest sanctions on Iran ever applied by one country to another outside actual warfare.

So Iran gave up 80% of its civilian nuclear enrichment program and not only did not get the end of sanctions, it got hugely increased sanctions. Those are third party sanctions run by the Washington mafia. If a French firm did business with Iran (perfectly permitted in international law), the US Treasury Department would fine it billions and bankrupt it. Iran was screwed over big time.

So to put pressure on Europe to buck the arbitrary US sanctions (which were ordered by one man, Trump– not even Congress was involved), Iran has been acting out, violating the JCPOA rules in minor ways. For instance, it started enriching to 4.5%. It really is just a symbolic protest. You can’t do anything special with uranium enriched to 4.5%. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time around it, it could give you cancer. But it never in a million years would blow up.

And Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5% and 4.5% to 2,105.4 kilograms, when the JCPOA specifies no more than 202.4 kg. But that is, again, a symbolic protest. You can’t do anything with 2000 kilograms of inert uranium enriched to 4.5%.

You’d have to go another 90% to get to a bomb.

The knowledge of how to get to 95% and then to use the resulting material to make a bomb is highly specialized and Iran likely doesn’t have it. Moreover, Iran can’t enrich to 90% because it is still under regular United Nations Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

Enriched uranium signatures are powerful and if you produce them, you can’t hide them from inspectors by dusting a bit and spraying some air freshener.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said this week:

“My report on Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 covers our activities in the last few months in verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement.”

Embed from Getty Images
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), wears a face mask as he arrives for the Board of Governors of the IAEA at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on September 14, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images).

Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and hasn’t done any of those sorts of experiments since 2003. The IAEA confirms the lack of diversion to military purposes. Iran even let the IAEA inspect a site that wasn’t on the JCPOA list this month.

The countries always grousing about Iran using uranium to boil water at its electricity plants are themselves up to their necks in atomic bombs. Israel has several hundred. The US has thousands. Saudi Arabia funded the development of the Pakistani bomb. So making bombs doesn’t actually seem to be viewed as bad if you make them; it is only bad if they other guy does.

All this science fiction talk of an Iranian bomb by the end of the year, which is galactically laughable, reminds me, as I said, of the Bush propaganda machine on Iraq.

Then vice president Dick Cheney alleged that Iraq was two years away from having a nuclear bomb. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, said that we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. Bush told congressmen in October of 2002, in order to bamboozle them into letting him go to war, “If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.” This was not true and its premises were the height of absurdity. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a term aimed at conflating some old mustard gas canisters with the hydrogen bomb, “the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. . . We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”

All of these assertions were not only untrue but known by their speakers to be untrue. They lied to us.

Trump will run the same playbook, of the Big Lie. The Nazi propagandist Goebbels said that even a big lie, if repeated often enough, begins to be taken for the truth. Trump has refined the master, adding that an oft-told Big Lie can also be bolstered by 20,000 little lies. A whole alternative reality can be created for 43 percent of the public this way, if the slimy Rupert Murdoch will lend his Faux News to the task and if corrupt billionaires like Robert Mercer and Sheldon Adelson will fund it.

But back in the real world, I’d check with Rafael Grossi if I were Reuters or AP or The Independent.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “Washington claims all UN sanctions back in effect”

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Affirming Jim Crow, Israeli Parliament votes down Bill guaranteeing Equality for Palestinian-Israelis, 21% of Population https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/parliament-guaranteeing-palestinian.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/parliament-guaranteeing-palestinian.html#respond Sun, 20 Sep 2020 05:04:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193362 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The London pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi (Arab Jerusalem) reports that the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted down a proposed basic law introduced by Yousef Jabareen on behalf of the Joint List. It aimed at altering the constitutional basis of the Israeli state, requiring democratic principles, cultural pluralism and complete equality for all citizen on both civil and national levels.

What follows is a paraphrase of the article with a few comments by me. One comment by me to begin with: Israel has all along had a choice between being a democratic state for all its citizens or being an ethno-nationalist oligarchy with second-class citizens at home and Apartheid subjects in the West Bank. This is not the first Knesset vote to demonstrate forcefully that the Israeli majority wants the latter.

The bill aimed at providing existential and democratic human rights, especially complete equality and the recognition of the Palestinian-Israeli ethnic identity. Israelis of Palestinian heritage comprise about 21 percent of Israel’s citizen population.

The Knesset roundly rejected the bill, with both the Likud-led far right coalition of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Blue and White bloc of his foreign minister and sometime rival, Benny Gantz, voting against it.

The bill specified that “Israel shall be a democratic state, guaranteeing equality in rights, and concentrating on the principles of human dignity, liberty and equality, in accord with the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.” It further said, that “the state will provide equal legal protection to all its citizens, and will guarantee completely national, cultural, linguistic and religious privacy to the two national groups within it,the Jews and Arabs.”

The law specifies that “Arabic and Hebrew are the two official languages in the state, and the two languages have an equal position in all the functions and work of the legislative, executive and judicial branches.”

It sought to guarantee “to the aboriginal Palestinian Arab minority the just right to be represented and to be influential in all the branches of government in the state, in public institutions, in every setting where decisions are made,” and that “the Palestinian Arab minority in the state will have the right to establish its own institutions in the realms of education, culture and religion and will be authorized to manage these institutions via representative bodies chosen by Arab citizens.”

Jabareen, who has law degrees from Hebrew University and the American University and has taught law at Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa, noted that international laws and instruments specify the protection of these rights of aboriginal minorities and that some countries, such as Canada and Australia, also guarantee them.

Canada recognizes special rights for the First Nations (what US tribes tend to call Indians, a term disliked among Canadian tribes). These rights are generic and specific:

    “Generic rights are held by all Aboriginal peoples across Canada, and include:

    Rights to the land (Aboriginal title)
    Rights to subsistence resources and activities
    The right to self-determination and self-government
    The right to practice one’s own culture and customs including language and religion. Sometimes referred to as the right of “cultural integrity,”
    The right to enter into treaties.

    Specific rights, on the other hand are rights that are held by an individual Aboriginal group. These rights may be recognized in treaties, or have been defined as a result of a court case.”

Canada also recognizes special rights for the French minority (which settled before the English), and is an officially bilingual state.

According to al-Quds al-Arabi, Jabareen said that Israel has defined itself since it was established after the Catastrophe (nakbah) that befell the Palestinians as “a democratic Jewish state.”

Documents in the Israeli National Archives show that Zionist militias of the late British Mandate of Palestine admitted that they were responsible for 85% of the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population in 1947-48. Contrary to international law, Israel refused to allow the 720,000 Palestinians expelled to return to their homes, making their families permanent refugees. There are now 12 million Palestinians, with some 2 million Israeli citizens, 5 million living under Israeli military occupation and kept stateless, and the rest refugees scattered among many countries, especially Jordan and Lebanon.

Then in the summer of 2018, Israel legislated what is known as the “National Law,” which defines it as a state of the Jewish people, ignoring the Israelis of Palestinian heritage and making them guests in their own country.

The first article of the National Law speaks of “the land of Israel” being the historic homeland of the Jewish people, wherein the state of Israel was established. As for the fourth article, it says that “the Hebrew language is the official language of Israel,” effacing Arabic, which had long been the second official language.

This law, which some consider to be racist, says that “the state considers the development of Jewish settlements to be a national value, and works to encourage and support their establishment and maintenance.”

During the past year, the Knesset has shot down numerous proposals to amend the National Law to forbid discrimination against non-Jews.

The Joint List, which largely comprises Israelis of Palestinian heritage along with leftist Jews, announced that it is forestalled from voting to amend the National Law because its fundamental position is that the law must be repealed in its entirety, and the complete equality of Palestinian Arab citizens must be enshrined.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

i24 News from last March: “Success for the Arab Party in Israel’s Third Round of Elections”

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If McConnell Packs the Court on behalf of Minority Rule, Dems must Expand and Reform it https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/mcconnell-behalf-minority.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/mcconnell-behalf-minority.html#respond Sat, 19 Sep 2020 05:38:11 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193344 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was asked what he would do if there was a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2020. He smirked like a mischievous turtle, and said unhesitatingly, “We’ll fill it.” By “we” he meant not the American people but the unrepresentative Republicans in the Senate. Russell Wheeler at Brookings points out that “the senators who confirmed Justices Clarence Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh represented less than half the population.” They were also acting on behalf of a president, Trump, who lost the popular vote by a margin of 3 million.

The electoral college has given us minority rule in all three branches of government. It is likely one of the reasons we have so much unrest in our streets. McConnell deployed this dictatorship of the minority to block a vote on Obama appointee Merrick Garland, on the grounds that a new justice should not be confirmed in an election year.

McConnell will now break his own rule, which was arbitrary and idiosyncratic in any case, to advance a dictatorship of the minority.

Since I study global history, McConnell’s behavior reminds me of dictators in the global South. For instance, Pakistani general Pervez Musharraf provoked a crisis in his country in 2007 by summarily firing 50 judges, including the Chief Justice, because they would not let him run for president. (He had not been out of uniform for the required 2 years). He then packed the Supreme Court. But he was driven from office by massive public protests in the aftermath. The chief justice typically recommended justices and that was ratified by the president. Musharraf had made the law unstable by intervening for the dictatorship of the minority (himself). He was overthrown and has been in disgrace ever since, barely avoiding being sentenced to death for treason. I am not saying that Mitch McConnell should be treated like Musharraf was. I am saying that it is difficult to see the difference between what Musharraf did and what McConnell is doing.

As Wheeler notes, a lot of serious observers believe we need to go beyond restoring the will of the majority on the court and restructure it so that every vacancy is not a fight to the finish between the two parties. There has been a tendency to try to put young ideologues on, in hopes they’ll have a fifty-year reign. But that move deprives the court of the wisdom of older jurists and guarantees both inexperience and ideological blinkers on the court.

Pete Buttigieg picked up the suggestion from a law journal that the court be expanded to 15, with 5 from each party, but the final five to be elected by sitting judges forced thus to compromise with one another. That would suit me.

Another possibility is to put in term limits. The constitution guarantees judges tenure for as long as they are well behaved. But there is no guarantee that they would be on the Supreme Court for life. They could rotate out to another judgeship, if they wished, after a fixed period of time.

If the Democrats win both the presidency and the senate, they must do something about the dictatorship of the minority on the court, and they ought to come in prepared to introduce serious reform so that our laws reflect the will of our 330 million people rather than that of a few corrupt billionaires allied with hypocritical religious fundamentalists.

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Bonus Video:

“Should the Supreme Court Be Reformed? | Robert Reich”

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Trump doesn’t Understand History any more than he Understands Epidemics https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/understand-understands-epidemics.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/understand-understands-epidemics.html#respond Fri, 18 Sep 2020 05:23:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193323 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump has a long history of proclaiming that he understands things better than the people who are experts in those things. When Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control, testified to Congress that mask-wearing is even more effective against Covid-19 than a vaccine is likely to be. The next day Trump contradicted him.

Redfield is an eminent virologist with a doctorate of medicine from Georgetown University School of Medicine. Trump cheated on his SAT’s, paying someone to take them for him.

Masks are estimated to reduce transmission by 80%. Vaccines may be only 60% to 70% effective. I think we may conclude that Dr. Redfield has the better of this argument.

Having crashed the US economy and having polished off tens of thousands of Americans with his irrational policies based on magical thinking, Trump is now coming for American history.

Trump wants history to be taught as a celebration of the United States and its achievements, and wants it taught in such a way as to erase the achievements of popular movements, including unions and civil rights organizations. He singled out for condemnation Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Given that well over half of Americans can’t stand the sight of Donald Trump, his condemnation of Zinn’s work will certainly shoot it into the ranks of best-sellerdom. Couldn’t someone please tell Trump how pernicious my own books are and have him publicly denounce them? I’m sure he hates Napoleon’s Egypt, for instance, or The New Arabs, or Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires.

Professional historians are not interested in history as a celebration of anything. They are perfectly happy to praise a remarkable achievement where there has been one, mind you. But academic history is not about praise or blame or making people feel good about their national identity. Historians construct narratives of the past, and if people want to feel good about those narratives, there is nothing wrong with that. But it isn’t what the historians are going for.

What excites historians is explanation. Why did something happen when it did? Thousands of books have been written about the French Revolution, trying to explain why it unfolded as it did. Once you get hooked on a question like that, and if you are dissatisfied with the prevailing theories, you can’t rest until you get to the bottom of it. Historians are the kind of people who can’t understand how anyone could get bored, or want to commit suicide. The archives are there, the documents are available, but so many historical puzzles haven’t begun to be solved, and trying to solve them is fun and can give meaning to life. There are only about 12,000 members of the American Historical Association, mostly college professors. A decade ago there were 57,200 high school history teachers. We have 330 million Americans, so I conclude that not very many Americans pursue history as a profession. I personally think we’d all be much better off if there were more.

Historians attend to change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency.

We can illustrate these principles briefly with reference to Thomas Jefferson and slavery. Jefferson’s slave-owning had a context in the history of European slavery and in the trans-Atlantic trade in African slaves. His own ambivalence about the institution derived from Enlightenment ideals about human equality. He admitted that he ought to have freed his slaves. So why did he decline to manumit his slaves? Well, his Virginia estates were terrible farmland, and he tried to grow tobacco on them, which depletes the soil. They were so bad that he could barely stay in business. He instead setting up a manufactury for nails on his land, which he admitted only prospered because of the labor of his Black slave boys, who were beaten by the overseer. He was convinced that if he let his slaves go, he would go bankrupt. This is no excuse. He was untrue to his own ideals. So what if he couldn’t be a British-style gentleman? But in order to understand his moral failure, we have to understand his economic and social context. Contingency comes in here. What if Jefferson had been more entrepreneurial, and more principled, like ex-slave owner Ben Franklin? Or more principled, like George Washington, who did free his slaves? To be fair, only relatively late in life did Franklin take an anti-slavery stand. Or what if Jefferson had been rich and felt he could afford to pay farm hands instead of exploiting the labor of people he tried to own like property? Complexity means not analyzing Jefferson only with regard to his contributions to religious freedom or to the Declaration of Independence or indirectly (he was in France) to the Constitution. It means seeing him as a part of the “gentleman” class. One of his grievances against the British is that they did not view colonists like himself as equal gentlemen to those in Britain. Remaining a landed gentleman was so important to him that he betrayed his belief, expressed in the 1780s, that slaves should be freed. It means seeing him as a slave-owner who raped his slave Sally Hemings. I say raped because a slave cannot refuse sexual advances and the power dynamics of master-slave sex are always predatory. Note that Sally was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Complexity also implies a willingness to bring in a wide array of evidence. In this case, DNA studies prove that Jefferson had children with his slave, Sally Hemings.

And all of these tools allow us to pivot away from Jefferson. What if we instead wrote the biography of Sally Hemings, and told the history through her eyes and that of her six children by Jefferson? What if we traced her ancestry back to, say, Senegalese Muslims? I’m not saying we can, though DNA studies could help with the Senegal part. Would that make American history look different?

Actually, I would add to change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency, comparison and contrast as a key tool for historians. Comparing Jefferson, above, to Washington and Franklin and Sally Hemings seems to me to add something to the story. My friend Raymond Grew, who promoted comparative history, just died, so I’m making this point in his memory.

Historians apply these ways of thinking to what they call primary sources. If you are studying a person who lived in the 19th century, and you can find that person’s diary, you’ve hit the jackpot. The diary is a primary source. But it might not be the only one. Say the person was involved in a riot and wrote about it in the diary. But then you find a police report and the incident, and the person being studied, look completely different from the account in the diary. Then you have to weight the two primary sources against one another. Maybe the policeman was lazy or prejudiced. Or maybe the writer of the diary did something shameful and covered it up when writing about it. Part of what historians do is weight primary sources against one another. But if you have an account of that person written in 1920 long after she or he was dead, by someone who did not know the person, that would be a secondary source. It can be important, but cannot in itself solve most questions.

History-writing doesn’t stand still. In that regard, it is a little like science. If you want to know about the moon Titan that orbits around Saturn, you wouldn’t want to read a book about it written in 1942. You’d want to know the latest findings. But history isn’t exactly like science. There may be some insights in a book written in 1942 about the history of San Francisco that aren’t preserved in the most recent good book on the subject. Still, historians believe that as time has gone on, they have made advances in historical understanding.

Academic history began in late nineteenth-century Germany and Austria when historians developed a theory that if you wanted to study the Austrian diplomat Metternich, you would be best off looking at the memos he wrote. And in the late nineteenth century, governments started letting historians see closed government files, i.e. those from decades before, where the persons involved were dead and the issues were no longer salient. Closed, inactive government (and other) files of documents are called “archives.” Archives are to historians as a cow’s udder is to her calves.

The problem with the nineteenth century theory of history is that you get stuck studying government officials. Actually, Trump seems to want us stuck in that stage of history-writing, from a century and a half ago. From the late 1950s in particular, historians expanded their repertoire from kings and prime ministers and foreign ministers. E. P. Thompson studied the working class movements of nineteenth-century Britain.

Then came Second Wave feminism and historians turned to women’s history. Neither workers nor women had been big subjects in History departments, which had mostly been staffed by upper class men who graduated from Princeton and Harvard. Women did more doctorates and began to be hired. In 1972 the University of Michigan brought in carpenters and plumbers to put women’s bathrooms in the building that housed the History Department. Elizabeth Crosby had become the first woman full professor at Michigan in 1936, but she did not have that many female colleagues even in later decades. Princeton let in the first women students in 1969. Both women and men wrote gender history, but women brought new insights to it. History is like that. If you were a sailor before being a historian, you might be especially good at naval history. You bring to it your experiences, which help illumine the past.

Then historians became influenced by sociology and anthropology. They started writing the history of a city over, say, three decades. Or they might write the history of a religious movement, but not in the old way of only looking at the leaders. They’d try to find the diaries of the rank and file. They might look at what mainstream denominations thought of as heresies. And then they began looking at movements of minorities, under the influence of the Civil Rights Movement. African-Americans and Latinos/Latinas did more Ph.D.s in History and began being hired, and they wrote American history very differently than had the previous generation of diplomatic historians studying Warren Harding. The history of slavery became a big subject. Whereas white historians portrayed Jefferson’s form of slavery as benign, a new generation looked at it with gimlet eyes and found brutality and cupidity and concupiscence. The history of immigration from places other than Britain, France and Germany rose in the estimation of historians. Some regional history that had been relatively neglected, such as that of New Mexico where I was born, began attracting attention. It wasn’t all about Northeast WASPS any more.

Historians are wide-ranging. They have also taken an interest in the rise of the New Right under Ronald Reagan and his successors. The history of the white suburbs has been addressed. It isn’t all studies of Detroit auto workers, though they are important and are and should be studied.

In every case, historians weren’t just expanding their topics for the sake of diversity. They were trying to explain why history unfolded as it did, and they had become dissatisfied with the notion that it was because high government officials made particular decisions. While that is important, it is also important to look at the social movements that pushed the leaders in that direction. It wasn’t like Lyndon Johnson woke up one morning on 1964 and thought to himself, ‘By God we need a Voting Rights Act.’ He had a larger social context, which included Black young men sitting at a lunch counter in a department store where they were not allowed. The history of those young African-American men in places like Memphis is as important in its way as is a biography of Lyndon Johnson.

Trump and the people around him who wrote his speech, white nationalists like Stephen Miller, want to turn the clock back to a time when they imagine historians only wrote the history of white presidents and other elite actors, and when they did so with gushing praise. There never really was such a time. Professional historians have always been skeptical and the very tools of their profession are seditious, because history teaches us that things could have been different (contingency) and can still be different.

And that is what terrifies Trump and his white supremacist cronies.

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Bonus Video:

PBS NewsHour: “What Trump is saying about 1619 Project, teaching U.S. history”

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Wagging the Dog: As Trump and Iran square off on Venezuela Oil Shipments, will US Go full Pirate of the Gulf? https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/wagging-venezuela-shipments.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/wagging-venezuela-shipments.html#respond Thu, 17 Sep 2020 05:33:40 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193208 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trita Parsi writing at Responsible Statecraft wonders if the Trump administration is planning to widen its piracy against Iranian vessels on the high seas as part of an October surprise.

Trump had four Iranian oil tankers seized in August, alleging that they were heading for Venezuela. The problem? There is no basis in international law for the seizures, which are therefore mere piracy and outright grand larceny. The owners of the vessels have filed suit in a Washington, D.C. district court.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states, “All States enjoy the traditional freedoms of navigation, overflight, scientific research and fishing on the high seas; they are obliged to adopt, or cooperate with other States in adopting, measures to manage and conserve living resources.”

The Iranian vessels were on the high seas and enjoy the freedom of navigation. The UN Security Council had admittedly put sanctions on Iran 2007-2015, but these were lifted with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the “Iran nuclear deal” by Iran and by the five permanent members of the UNSC plus Germany.

Trump does not have a legal leg to stand on.

Iran has not been deterred from developing its ties with Venezuela, in a bid to undermine Trump’s economic war on that country.

Bloomberg reports that Iran secretly offloaded a large shipment of South Pars natural gas condensate at the port of Jose on Saturday. Venezuela has some oil that is heavy with sulphur or other impurities, but which can be made more attractive to buyers, and can more easily be refined into gasoline, if it is blended with condensates, which act as diluents. Venezuela does not produce its own natural gas condensates, and plans of Russia’s Rosneft to drill for natural gas offshore were halted by threats of US sanctions. Venezuela used to buy diluents from the US before Trump stopped that trade.

This Iranian tanker likely avoided Trump piracy by switching off its shipboard Automatic Identification System, or AIS, so that US signals intelligence could not easily locate it.*

In fact, Reuters reports that three more tankers are on their way from Iran to Venezuela, this time carrying refined gasoline. Venezuela is facing gasoline shortages, in part because of its inability to import US condensates. The Iranian vessels are avoiding US electronic espionage and piracy by going around the Cape of Good hope and keeping their AIS off.

Venezuela may be paying for some of this Iranian help with barter. It is shipping aluminum to Iran, for instance.

Not only is Iran confronting Trump over his blockade of Tehran and Caracas, but so is Turkey. Ankara is supposedly a NATO ally of the US, but President Tayyip Erdogan has a strong anti-imperialist rhetoric that often sounds a good deal like that of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

Parsi is afraid that Trump will begin trying to seize Iranian vessels in the Mideast Gulf itself, and that this piracy will be aimed at eliciting the sort of response from Iran that could justify US strikes on that country. The purpose would be to ramp up US patriotism ahead of the November election and attempt to get the US public on Trump’s side as a war president.

One thing you can say about the Trump crew, is that you can’t rule anything out.

*An earlier version of this post confused the AIS with GPS, which is passive.

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Bonus Video:

WION from last month: “U.S. says seized four Iranian oil tankers en route to Venezuela”

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Abraham Accords: The War Pact Among Jim Crow States of the Middle East https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/abraham-accords-states.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/abraham-accords-states.html#respond Wed, 16 Sep 2020 04:53:32 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193188 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Middle Eastern parties to the “Abraham Accords,” Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel, did not make peace by signing them. The small Arab Gulf principalities have long had behind-the-scenes relations with Israel and Israeli firms. They weren’t at war with the Israelis. As members of the Arab League, they did in public observe some elements of that organization’s embargo, such that they did not have diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv (that is where their embassies will be). But Egypt is a member of the Arab League (after having been expelled for a few years from 1979) despite having a peace treaty with Israel, and so is Jordan. So adherence to the embargo is not anyway universal or a requirement for membership.

Embed from Getty Images(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images).

The state-owned Dubai Ports company admitted as far back as 2006 that it dealt with Israeli firms.

The accords are in fact a war agreement among three heavily armed Middle East states characterized by a version of Jim Crow society.

The Israeli government is militarily Occupying five million stateless and rights-less Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The government of PM Binyamin Netanyahu is determined forever to keep them stateless, and every day encroaches further on their land, property and human rights.

The Emirates is a tiny country of about a million citizens and 8 million guest workers with no political rights. It is run as seven absolute monarchies with oil-rich Abu Dhabi primus inter pares, with its crown prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahayan in charge. Bin Zayed has developed ambitions of regional hegemony. He has pursued a brutal and ruinous war in Yemen, where his campaigns and those of his Saudi and other allies have displaced millions of poor Yemenis and driven much of the country to food insecurity and the brink of starvation. The United Nations has accused the UAE of war crimes in Yemen. The UAE also has wider ambitions throughout the Arabian Sea and Red Sea regions, in Eritrea even as far away as Libya.

I wrote last month,

    “Matthew Lee of AP reports, Trump broached the sale of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Stealth fighter jets to the UAE. Trump said, “They have the money and they would like to order quite a few F-35s. It’s the greatest fighter jet in the world, as you know, by stealth, totally stealth. … They’d like to buy F-35s, we’ll see what happens. It’s under review, but they made a great advance in peace in the Middle East . . . One F-35 retails for roughly $100 million. BBC Monitoring translates a report in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that alleges a high UAE official told its correspondent that “The aircraft are part of the deal.” That is, an arms deal was part of the agreement between the two countries, and that the US would sell Abu Dhabi F-35s was openly specified.’ So the United Arab Emirates made the treaty with Israel not to bring peace to the Middle East but to ensure that it is armed to the teeth.

Despite all the talk about allying against Iran, the ambitions of the UAE are for military expansionism to the west and south. It already has a US security umbrella against Iran.

Mohammed Bin Zayed, by the way, did not come for the signing, possibly because the FBI wants to question him about his suspected role in campaign interference on behalf of Trump in 2016 and his secret visit to Trump Tower in December of that year when Obama was still president.

Bahrain is also a small country, a set of islands, with a population of about 1.5 million. Roughly two-thirds are Shiites. The Sunni monarchy of Bahrain thusly rules over a Shiite majority that is systematically discriminated against and deprived of basic human rights. The government crushed the democracy movement of 2011 ruthlessly, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent in small troop contingents to help. The major vehicle of majority Shiite political aspiration, the Wefaq Party, has been dissolved and its leader sentenced to life imprisonment for thought crimes.

Embed from Getty Images
Anti-government protesters wave flags and demonstrate at the Pearl roundabout on February 20, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain. Protesters filled the square for another day, as the government and oppostion leaders engaged in talks to resolve the weeklong uprising. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Bahrain practices torture of political prisoners, something its secret police were trained in by the notorious British colonial official Ian Henderson, the “Butcher of Bahrain,” who had cut his teeth repressing the Mau Mau movement in Kenya, and then was posted to Bahrain, where stayed on after independence to impart the Empire’s specialized and exquisite knowledge of vulnerable anatomy.

Human Rights Watch wrote of its record last year,

    Bahrain’s human rights record worsened in 2019, as the government carried out executions, convicted critics for peaceful expression, and threatened social media activists, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

    The government executed three people in July, including two prisoners convicted in a mass trial marred by serious due process violations and allegations of torture. On December 31, 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld a five-year sentence for the human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, arising from his social media activity. The courts subsequently rejected motions filed by Rajab’s lawyer requesting that he serve a non-custodial sentence. The Court of Cassation upheld the life sentence against Shaikh Ali Salman, leader of Al-Wifaq, Bahrain’s largest but now-dissolved opposition political society, on January 28 on dubious “espionage” charges. Bahraini authorities have silenced, exiled, or imprisoned anyone who criticizes the government,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “To make matters worse, Bahrain’s allies are burying their heads in the sand and conducting business as usual instead of pressing Bahrain to release Nabeel Rajab and others jailed for speaking out.”

Ordinarily in diplomatic affairs some countries are afraid to get too close to Israel for fear of being tainted by its Jim Crow policies toward Palestinians. But in this case it is surely Israel that has taken the hit in its reputation for cozying up to these ruthless regimes.

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Arctic Heat Wave: Block of Ice Twice as Big as Manhattan breaks off Greenland’s largest Ice Shelf, goes into Ocean https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/manhattan-greenlands-largest.html Tue, 15 Sep 2020 05:39:28 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193175 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – A 42 square mile block of ice has just hived off from the Arctic’s largest ice shelf, in northeast Greenland, alarming climate scientists. That is the size of Santa Barbara, California. It is ginormous.

Danish scientists are speaking ominously of “glacier disintegration.”

The Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland reports,

    “Annual end-of-melt-season area changes for the Arctic’s largest ice shelf in Northeast Greenland are measured from optical satellite imagery, and it shows that the area losses for the past two years (year 2018/2019 and year 2019/2020) both exceeded 50 km2. In total an area nearly twice that of Manhattan Island, New York. In the survey period since 1999, the ice shelf has lost 160 km2.”

In the old days before human beings started burning so much coal, gasoline and natural gas, there were seasonal changes to the ice shelf. It would melt a bit in the summer but then grow back in the winter. Now it is just melting.

The Associated Press reports that last year, in 2019 alone, Greenland lost an unprecedented amount of ice, enough to cover all of California in over 4 feet of water. The average woman in the US is 5’5″ and the average man 5’10” so that would be up to their chests. The whole state.

The survey gives a graph where you can see how out of line 2020 has been with the average temperatures of the previous decade:

Average temperatures in Greenland have heated up by 5.4 degrees F. since 1980.

Speaking of the disintegration of glaciers, it is happening in Antarctica, too. There are two gargantuan glaciers, Pine Island and Thwaites, that are already responsible for 5% of sea level rise. They anchor the West Antarctic Ice Shelf. If they become unmoored, and the parts of the ice shelf that are not already in the water plop into the ocean, it would raise sea level by an average of 10 feet over time.

That would pretty much do in Miami and New Orleans, but also parts of lower Manhattan. It would be a catastrophe.

So the bad news? They are becoming unmoored.

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Bonus Video:

Euronews: “Greenland ice sheet nearly double the size of Manhattan breaks off into the ocean | #TheCube”

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Gullible Trump was manipulated by Netanyahu’s Deep Fake Video of Mahmoud Abbas to Cut off Palestinians https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/manipulated-netanyahus-palestinians.html Mon, 14 Sep 2020 04:53:57 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193159 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Haaretz reports that Rage, Bob Woodward’s new book due out tomorrow, reports that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu manipulated Donald Trump with fake video of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.

The episode points to the dangers of deep fake videos in our contemporary era, but points even more alarmingly to the danger of having an easily manipulated, not very informed or very bright president in the White House. We knew that Putin seems to be able to play him like a fiddle. But now it comes out that he is a captive audience to Netanyahu’s Likud follies.

Netanyahu is a notoriously obstreperous hard liner, and even Trump had noticed that he seemed to be the real obstacle to peace by May of 2017, Trump’s first year in office.

Aware that he was losing out in Trump’s eyes, Netanyahu allegedly resorted to dirty tricks.

He had a deep fake video manufactured of Mahmoud Abbas calling for the killing of children, and showed it to Trump on May 22 of that year, as Trump visited the Holy Land.

Then Trump saw Abbas in Bethlehem and allegedly shouted at him, loudly and red-faced. The Palestine News Network carried a report from an Israeli channel:

    “Alleged reports said that Trump told Abbas “You deceived me in Washington (earlier meeting in May), “You spoke to me about peace, but the Israelis showed me that you personally have a hand in incitement.”

Ironically, Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian police are the ones who keep some order in the Occupied West Bank, cooperating with the Israeli military, and therefore he is widely viewed among activists as a collaborator rather than a freedom fighter.

Trump appears to have made the decision to cut $5.5 billion in US AID funds to the Palestinians in part on the basis of his rage about Abbas allegedly being a baby-killer, which was a Netanyahu lie.

It seems likely that Netanyahu and Trump are responsible for the deaths of Palestinian children through this deprivation.

The ironies of Netanyahu painting the Palestine Authority as inciters of violence against children should not be lost on anyone who knows anything about the prime minister’s bloody reign of terror in the Occupied Territories.

According to the UN, Netanyahu went on to react to the Great March of Return peaceful demonstrations in Gaza in 2018-20 by having 214 Palestinians, including 46 children, killed, and inflicting injuries on over 36,100, including nearly 8,800 children. It adds,

    “One in five of those injured (over 8,000) were hit by live ammunition. Over 7,000 of the live ammunition injuries (some 88 per cent) were limb injuries, followed by injuries to the abdomen and pelvis. Hundred-fifty-six (156) of the limb injuries have resulted in amputations (126 lower limb and 30 upper limb). Out of these, at least 94 cases involved secondary amputations, due to subsequent bone infections . . . In 2020, an estimated 10,400 people will suffer severe mental health problems in connection to the GMR demonstrations, and nearly 42,000 people will have mild to moderate problems.[5] These figures include over 22,500 children.”

Many Palestinian minors who suffered leg wounds have had to have amputations or multiple operations. Israeli snipers whom Netanyahu ordered to target the innocent civilians repeatedly week after week told Haaretz that it would have been psychologically easier on them just to kill a few to discourage the weekly march:

    “After some time there, in a debriefing, I said: ‘Let me just once take down a kid of 16, even 14, but not with a bullet in the leg – let me blow his head open in front of his whole family and his whole village. Let him spurt blood. And then maybe for a month I won’t have to take off another 20 knees.’ “

This is the second deep fake video we know that Trump fell for. The other, according to the CIA and NSA was made by the United Arab Emirates, whose hackers broke into a video feed in Qatar and tried to make it look as though Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani had advocated terrorism. The emir is a secular-minded, Western-educated ruler and graduate from Britain’s Sandhurst military academy who hosts a US airbase at al-Udeid in Qatar that has been key to the US struggle against ISIL and other Muslim extremists.

Trump gullibly believed the UAE propaganda and tweeted his relief that the cause of terrorism in the Middle East had finally been identified, seeming to give support to the Saudi-UAE attempt on June 5, 2017, to overthrow the Qatar government by placing it under a blockade.

Featured Photo: Shealah Craighead – https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/47413884972 , from 25 March 2019.

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Even Lindsey Graham is Terrified Trump will drag us into War with Iran https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/lindsey-graham-soleimani.html Sun, 13 Sep 2020 05:10:48 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193146 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Hawkish Republican senator Lindsey Graham tried to talk Trump out of his assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani last winter, according to Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, to be published Tuesday. Sonam Sheth and John Haltiwanger at Business Insider have an advance copy and yesterday quoted some excerpts about Graham that almost certainly come from Graham himself.

The two were playing golf at Trump’s club in West Palm Beach, Florida in late December last year.

    Donald Trump: “I’m thinking of hitting Soleimani.”

    Graham: “Oh boy, that’s a giant step! . . . If they retaliate in some way, which they will, you’ve got to be willing to take out the oil refineries . . .
    this will be almost total war! You kill him, new game. You go from playing $10 blackjack to $10,000-a-hand blackjack.”

    Trump: “He deserves it. We have all these intercepts showing that Soleimani is planning attacks.”

    Graham: [He’s] “always been doing that . . . That risks major war.”

    Trump: “We’re not going to let them get away with this.” [Referred to killing of a US contractor in late December; Trump blamed Shiite militias run by Soleimani, but it is possible that ISIL carried out that attack.]

    Graham: “Mr. President, this is over the top. How about hitting someone a level below Soleimani, which would be much easier for everyone to absorb?”

    [Fade to West Wing:]

    White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to Graham: “You’ve got to find a way to stop this talk of hitting Soleimani . . . Perhaps he’ll listen to you.”

These exchanges pull the curtain away from how terrified the people around him are that Trump will just wake up in the morning and do something completely unhinged that could take the country to war.

Some 100 US troops suffered serious concussions, which can cause traumatic brain injuries, when Iran hit their bases in Iraq with missiles in retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination.

The Iraqi government says that Soleimani came to Baghdad on a commercial flight with a diplomatic passport to engage in behind the scenes talks Saudi Arabia that the Iraqi government was mediating. There is no evidence that he was, as Trump alleged, coming to kill Americans, and the Pentagon has refused to make that charge.

The furious Iraqi parliament voted to constrain the prime minister to find a way to move US troops out of Iraq in the aftermath, since Trump whacked Soleimani on Iraqi soil without bothering to tell that government. The prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has complied, arranging for the US gradually to leave. This month 2,000 of the some 5,000 US troops in Iraq will depart.

Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran had several aims:

1. to make them a negotiate an even more stringent nuclear deal;

2. to make Iran stop supporting the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon;

3. to make Iran withdraw from Syria;

4. to make Iran withdraw support from Shiite militias in Iraq

5. to make Iran stop supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen

Instead, Trump breached the 2015 nuclear agreement, leaving Tehran free to violate some of its provisions and to begin enriching uranium beyond the 3% limit set by the treaty. Iran only has a civilian nuclear enrichment program, but Trump has allowed them to pursue dual-use experiments that would have been forbidden and sanctionable under the 2015 treaty.

Trump’s erratic behavior has pushed Britain, France and Germany at the UN Security Council to join Russia and China in siding with Iran against Washington’s press to impose severe new international sanctions on Iran. The UNSC has also rejected Trump’s attempt to stop Iran from being able once again to purchase arms on the open market, as of October 18.

China is pondering a 25-year, $400 billion deal with Iran, which would rescue it from US sanctions.

Iran is as strong as ever in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Instead, it is the US that is forced to begin drawing down from Iraq.

So much winning.

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Bonus Video:

TRT World: “Is Iran Deliberately Defying the US?”

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