Reese Erlich – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 06 Mar 2021 05:04:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.16 How Biden is already being drawn into unwinnable Tit for Tat with Iraqi Militias https://www.juancole.com/2021/03/already-unwinnable-militias.html https://www.juancole.com/2021/03/already-unwinnable-militias.html#respond Sat, 06 Mar 2021 05:04:15 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=196489

The new president continues the failed policies of his predecessors.

( 48hills.org ) – For the first time, the Biden Administration ordered a cross-border military attack in the Middle East.

On February 26, seven US missiles slammed into a facility used by Iranian-backed militias in Syria. Washington was retaliating for the February 15 attack on a US base in northern Iraq.

Biden is siding with the Iran war hawks.

The Pentagon claims self-defense. “We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.

At the same time, the US “sends an unambiguous message,” according to the Pentagon. “President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel.”

Whoever was supposed to get the message didn’t. On March 3, missiles hit an Iraqi base occupied by troops from the US and its allies.

So let me get this straight: The recent fighting began when the Pentagon murdered Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last year. There have been several tit-for-tat airstrikes—all proving Tehran is the bad guy aggressor while Washington is the good guy acting in self-defense.

James A. Russell, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, tells me this policy of retaliation hadn’t worked for Obama or Trump, and Biden won’t do any better. (He stresses that his views are his own, not necessarily those of the Navy Postgraduate School.)

“What are we doing in Iraq in the first place?” he asks. “We lost the war.”

If the US hadn’t occupied Iraq in 2003, and Saddam Hussein was still in power, the Islamic State wouldn’t have grown as an opposition force and Iran wouldn’t have influence in Baghdad.

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“We have a record of disastrous policies across the Middle East,” Russell says.

Obama, despite his claims to be an anti-interventionist, expanded missile and drone attacks in the region. Trump left office with occupation troops remaining throughout the region.

“The Trump Administration didn’t even rise to the level of rank amateurism,” Russell says. “But the recent bombings show Biden has the same predilections as previous administrations. Somehow bombs are a substitute for picking up the phone to carry out diplomacy.”

Hypocrisy

While out of power, mainstream Democrats had no problem criticizing missile attacks carried out by Trump. In April 2017, the Trump Administration bombed Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

At the time Jen Psaki, now White House press spokesperson, tweeted, “What is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.”

Today Psaki declines to comment on her tweet but defends Biden’s military attack. Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has remained consistently opposed to military intervention.

“This is the same path we’ve been on for almost two decades,” Sanders says in a press statement. “For far too long, administrations of both parties have interpreted their authorities in an extremely expansive way to continue military interventions across the Middle East region and elsewhere. This must end.”

Some 2,500 US troops remain in Iraq and, to date, Biden has made no announcements about withdrawal.

Hawks v doves

During the 2020 presidential campaign, I wrote that certain Biden advisors were Iran hawks, ready to continue Trump’s disastrous policies of maximum pressure. They used their past connections to benefit corporations and foreign governments. Now those advisors are government officials.

Gareth Smyth, a journalist who covered the Middle East for 29 years, tells me from his home in County Mayo, Ireland, that some in the administration think “Biden can keep the Trump sanctions. They call it ‘leverage’ instead of ‘maximum pressure.’ ”

Beginning under the administration of George W. Bush, Washington devised a sophisticated, unilateral and illegal system to prevent Iran and other sanctioned countries from using the international banking system. When the Obama Administration applied these sanctions, it caused economic havoc in Iran.

Starting in 1979, with the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, Washington imposed many complicated sanctions on Iran. Today most international companies have stopped trade with Iran, fearing US economic and judicial retaliation. Over time certain groups in Washington developed a vested interest in maintaining those sanctions.

Specialized lawyers, lobbyists, and think tanks developed a “sanctions empire,” Smyth says. Some think tanks “pose as neutral academics but they have an agenda.”

For example, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan . . . research institute focusing on foreign policy and national security.” And it’s the go-to source for the media looking to bash Iran.

Future Negotiations

Biden’s attack on the Iraqi militias was intended to serve many purposes, including an effort to bolster the US position in nuclear talks. It had the opposite effect. A few days after the bombing, Iranian officials rejected efforts by European powers to facilitate new discussions.

Both sides could reach an agreement based on each others’ minimum demands. Iran wants Washington to rejoin the nuclear accord and stop sanctions. The US wants Iran to limit its nuclear power program so it can’t be used to build a nuclear weapon. Both sides should be able to agree; they did it in 2015.

But the US also demands that Iran stop supporting Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis, and Syria’s President Bashar al Assad.

Under the 2015 accord Iran agreed to abide by special provisions in the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty, which would make building a nuclear bomb even more difficult. Says analyst Russell: “The US should be satisfied to have Iran as a constructive member of the NPT community.”

According to journalist Smyth, Biden’s military attacks won’t succeed any more than previous Presidents. Decades of military pressure and sanctions haven’t changed Iran’s foreign policy.
“Logic says you should negotiate,” he says. “The cycle of revenge won’t work.”

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBS News: “Rockets strike Iraqi military base housing U.S. troops”

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Trump’s Coup and Burma’s Coup: What they have in Common https://www.juancole.com/2021/02/trumps-burmas-common.html Sat, 06 Feb 2021 05:01:37 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195983 The Asian country’s military overthrew its government over baseless claims of voter fraud. Sound familiar?

( 48hills.org) – This week, military officers in Myanmar (formerly Burma) overthrew that nation’s democratically elected government after the party it preferred lost the parliamentary elections. The military claimed voter fraud without presenting any proof. It tried to fill the streets with cheering supporters. It shut down some Internet access and all opposition media. People got their news from the government-owned TV stations spewing pro-military propaganda.

I’ve reported from Myanmar and seen the repression firsthand. This could have been the US, if President Donald Trump had had more support from the military for his attempt to stay in power despite losing the election. Both Trump and Myanmar generals share a similar view about democracy.

Michael Beer, executive director of Nonviolence International, tells me in an interview that the generals in Myanmar “see themselves as overlords” and “look down on democracy and the masses. They saw the dysfunction in the US as a verification of their own need to manage democracy.”

To understand the coup in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, it’s important to understand the country’s past.

US promotes heroin trade

After the 1949 revolution in China, Washington sponsored anti-communist groups in neighboring Burma to disrupt the new, revolutionary government. The Kuomintang, the nationalists who lost the civil war in China, financed its Burmese operations with heroin sales.

Later, the CIA-owned airline Air America shipped arms to anti-communist militias allied with Washington during the Vietnam War and, on the return trip, brought back heroin from Burma and Laos.

While the Burmese drug trade was controlled by ethnic groups in the north of the country, Burma’s military benefited from a system of payoffs and corruption, even offering protection to one of the country’s most infamous drug lords. Today, Myanmar is the second-largest producer of heroin in the world after Afghanistan.

First hand reporting

I reported from Myanmar in 1995. The military had been in power since 1962 and ran a repressive regime. Meeting with opposition leaders involved safe houses and circuitous routes to make sure I wasn’t followed.

“There is no freedom of association, no free press, no freedom of political activity of any kind,” an underground opposition leader told me for an article for the San Francisco Chronicle.

While I was in the country, the military released Aung San Suu Kyi after six years of house arrest. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was the country’s leading opposition figure. She enjoyed strong backing from London and Washington, and was already favoring neo-liberal, pro-US policies.

Subsequently, Suu Kyi was arrested and released many times. By 2015, she and her National League for Democracy (NLD) had won parliamentary elections. The military still exercised strong influence, however, holding a guaranteed 25 percent of parliament’s seats.

Once in power, Suu Kyi further revealed that she is a Burmese nationalist who opposes rights for the country’s ethnic minorities. She defended the military’s attacks on Rohingya villages, which forced more than 1 million to flee the country.

But she also fought to wrest power from the military. Sometimes the NLD and military cooperated; sometimes relations blew up. On February 1, troops loyal to General Min Aung Hlaing seized Suu Kyi, along with numerous NLD leaders, and government officials in early morning raids.

Hlaing was facing forced retirement this summer and all the corrupt riches that come with the job. “He’s accrued enormous wealth,” says peace activist Beer. “Family members get all kinds of special deals.”

For a time, the military was willing to share some power with wealthy business people and the NLD. Ultimately, however, their thirst for power and wealth led them to seize power and to jail their rivals.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Trump had the same motives. Luckily he did not succeed.

The coup that wasn’t

Nine days after the November 3 election, Trump’s lawyers told him he lost, and that no amount of electoral or legal challenges would change the results.

But Trump was determined to stay in power by any means necessary. So he accepted the views of other advisors who promulgate outlandish conspiracy theories. For example, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed a computerized vote counting system was programmed to switch Trump votes to Biden. It didn’t. The company that built the machines, Dominion Voting Systems, has sued Giuliani for $1.3 billion.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn proposed a series of blatantly illegal and unconstitutional tactics. He wanted Trump to “temporarily” suspend the Constitution, declare martial law, and have “the military oversee a national re-vote,” and “silence the destructive media.”

Those are the indications that Trump was prepared to toss out the Constitution to stay in power. Here’s my projection of how that could have happened:

Let’s say the Electoral College vote was narrow, with victory hinging on a few thousand votes in swing states. Trump calls on right-wing militias to “safeguard” the vote, which they do by becoming violent.

In response, millions of liberals, progressives and others supporting the Constitution march peacefully. Right wing militias attack the demonstrations and clash with Antifa.

Citing “chaos in the streets,” Trump declares a state of emergency and orders out the National Guard, local police, paramilitary border guards, and whatever other armed security forces that support him. Trump stays in the White House and promises fair elections in 2022.

Trump calls for large rallies of his supporters. Anti-Trumpers do the same. The immediate future of the US then hinges not on the hallowed institutions of “democracy” but on how the Pentagon and other armed forces react to the popular opposition to Trump.

As for Myanmar, there are some signs of resistance. Doctors at a government hospital have gone on strike; residents in some neighborhoods have been protesting the coup by banging on pots and pans. At this time, we don’t know if or how long the coup will last.

But I know this for sure: The people of Myanmar are no more interested in having a military dictatorship than the American people want one controlled by Trump.

48hills.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Reuters: “U.N. demands Myanmar coup leaders free Suu Kyi”

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Can Biden roll back Trump’s escalation and end catastrophic Yemen War? https://www.juancole.com/2021/01/trumps-escalation-catastrophic.html Sat, 23 Jan 2021 05:02:48 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195711 The Biden Administration has a chance to undo a disastrous label and open the door for peace.

( 48hills.org) – One day before the Inauguration, the Trump Administration added Yemen’s Houthi movement to a list of foreign terrorist organizations. It was just the latest, desperate attempt to hamstring President Joe Biden’s promise to end the war in Yemen.

While Trump proudly proclaims that he started no new wars, he also failed to end any of the existing ones while escalating others. The US sold $34 billion in weaponry and spare parts to Saudi Arabia from 2003-2019, and Trump also rushed through $290 million in bomb sales in December last year, despite documented Saudi use of US armaments to attack Yemeni civilians.


Source: Sana’a Institute for Strategic Studies.

The unilateral Trump Administration decree also punishes three Houthi leaders by freezing their US bank accounts and preventing their ability to travel to the US. It appears unlikely, however, that any Houthi leaders have JP Morgan bank accounts or scheduled vacations in Hawaii.

Laurent Lambert, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Policy at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, says that Houthi leaders don’t suffer much from US sanctions. His students returning from Yemen say “Houthi leaders have been able to capture the city’s most expensive flats that had been left by the other administration—and the most expensive cars.”

In contrast, Lambert tells me from Qatar, “everyday people suffer.”

US sanctions freeze international bank transfers and insurance needed to facilitate trade. Since the Houthis run the de facto government in northern Yemen, Laurent says these US actions make delivering aid even harder. A lack of food, medicine, and other basics has already created what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemen already faces “large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years,” according to Mark Lowcock, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.

Who are the Houthis?

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. It is strategically located along the straits linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, sitting astride oil and other key shipping lanes. The Ottoman, British, and now US empires have all ruled Yemen at different times in history. Two of those were forced out, and the last is in the process of losing the Yemen War.

The opposition to foreign domination was once led by Marxists and is now led by political Islamists. The Houthis, whose formal name is Ansar Allah (Supporters of God), are a political Islamic party drawing support from Shia Muslims in northern Yemen. It formed in the 1990s and had periodic military clashes with pro-US dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Houthis have killed civilians as part of military campaigns but aren’t terrorists like Al Qaeda. “They have a nationalistic agenda; they are an organization for Yemen,” Lambert says. Al Qaeda has “a global agenda, as does the so-called Islamic State’s Caliphate, which started in Iraq, expanded in Syria, and tries to conquer territories in Africa.”

Lambert compares the Houthis to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is both part of the government and an armed militia. Like Hezbollah, the Houthis have negotiated with the ruling regime. Al Qaeda would never negotiate to form a coalition government. “Their global agenda is to take over,” Lambert says.

The Trump Administration ramped up pressure on the Houthis as part of the maximum pressure campaign against Iran. Iran does provide political support to the Houthis. The Pentagon claims Iran also provides weapons.

Lawrence Korb, former assistant Secretary of Defense, says Iran does not control the Houthi movement. Iran certainly gives it political and financial support, Korb tells me. But, for example, “Iran did not start the uprising” that resulted in the Houthis controlling half of Yemen.

While the Houthis are not Iran-controlled terrorists, neither are they Boy Scouts. Human Rights Watch accuses the Houthis of war crimes for indiscriminately firing artillery and missiles, killing civilians. The Houthis detain and torture critics, according to the HRW 2020 World Report.

“Houthis continue to harass and prosecute without legal basis academics, students, politicians, journalists, and minority groups, including members of the Baha’i faith,” according to the report.

Arab Spring

In 2011, Yemenis rose up against the Saleh dictatorship, similar to the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Washington and Riyadh cooked up a deal to remove the unpopular Saleh and install Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. But Hadi lacked the military support and political skills of Saleh.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia backed the Hadi regime. The two countries carried out brutal bombing campaigns, killing not only Houthi fighters but many civilians. They predicted quick victory but things didn’t quite work out that way.

Hadi proved wildly unpopular and spent virtually all of his time living in Saudi Arabian luxury. Meanwhile, the Saudis and UAE made alliances with real terrorists, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a group best known for sending the “underwear bomber” on a Detroit-bound plane with the intention of killing hundreds of civilians. It has made common cause with the rulers of Saudi Arabia based on their shared, extremist interpretation of Islam and hatred of Shia Iran.

Meanwhile the UAE, unable to defeat the Houthis in the north, allied with the Southern Transitional Council, which calls for an independent Yemen in the south. As recently as April last year, the Council had taken control of the city of Aden, the seat of the Saudi-backed regime. A subsequent deal allowed the Saudi and Emerati-backed forces to retake control of the south.

In my opinion, the pro-US and pro-Saudi forces have lost the war politically because they’ve alienated many civilians with their indiscriminate bombings and support of a corrupt administration.

Yemen is yet another forever war that ultimately benefits purported enemies more than helping the people of the US. “The war on terror has completely failed over the past twenty years,” Lambert says.

The cumulative impact of wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan represent “probably the greatest strategic defeat of the US since the Vietnam War,” according to Lambert.

Peace Prospects

There is a narrow path to peace. If the US resumes participation in the nuclear deal with Iran, it could also open the door for peace talks in Yemen. Washington would have to apply strong pressure on Saudi Arabia. Tehran could then pressure the Houthis to start negotiations.

During his Senate confirmation hearings on January 19, Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, promised to “immediately” review the Houthi terrorism designation. He also restated Biden’s campaign promise to end US support for the Yemen War. He told the Senate, “The President-elect has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and I think we will work on that in very short order.”

I will have many disagreements with the new Secretary of State. But if he delivers in this instance, I must give an appreciative nod to Blinken.

Via 48hills.org

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After fascist Capitol Insurrection, German Liberals don’t want to be “Led” by the U.S.A. https://www.juancole.com/2021/01/fascist-insurrection-liberals.html Tue, 12 Jan 2021 05:01:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195492

Following last week’s white nationalist mob in Washington, D.C., journalists and activists overseas share what the world is thinking about us.

In the wake of the white nationalist mob takeover of the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s pending second impeachment, I contacted journalists and activists overseas to get an idea of how the rest of the world currently views us.

Among other questions, I asked what issue Americans should be aware of that U.S. politicians and mainstream media aren’t talking about.

Bettina Gaus, political analyst and correspondent in Berlin, notes that with the electoral defeat of Trump, liberals have returned to a familiar refrain. She’s sick and tired of hearing about how the United States is the most admired country on Earth and is “ready to lead again.”

“Thank you very much, so kind of you,” Gaus tells me, with just a touch of German sarcasm. “But would it not be nice if we could have at long last a relationship which is based on equal footing?”

Gaus wrote a column looking at how the Capitol attack will impact Biden’s presidency. She questions whether Democrats will be able achieve “national reconciliation” given the ultra-rightwing and racist views among many Trump supporters.

“These people do not care about applicable law or the constitution,” she writes. “All the talk about ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ votes is about one thing above all: denying the African American population and other minorities their right to vote.”

Russia
The fascist and racist nature of the pro-Trump mob was obvious to many Russians as well. They saw similar efforts in the former Soviet Republics. For years, Washington, D.C., supported “color revolutions” that put rightwing, anti-Russian oligarchs in power in Georgia and Ukraine.

Fred Weir, Moscow correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, says many Russians see the Capitol attack as “a kind of cosmic payback for spreading color revolutions around the world, preaching to everyone about democracy while failing to attend to their own fraying system.”

“When crowds of street protesters overthrow governments in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan—or the ongoing protests in Belarus—the U.S. media cheers it as pro-democracy activity,” Weir tells me. “But when it happens in their own capital, it’s the darkest sort of treason.”

Russians see U.S. actions in recent years as hypocritical, according to Weir. “Lectures about democracy and human rights have been increasingly ineffective with Russian audiences,” he says, “not just the political elite, but average people as well.”

A relatively small number of business people and intellectuals in Russia align themselves with the United States. Recent events have not helped their efforts.

In the estimation of many Russians, Vladimir Putin has done a better job than Trump. Russia has distributed its own coronavirus vaccine for months; the United States has barely started. The government in Washington, D.C., faces economic crisis with rising unemployment; Moscow keeps its economy afloat despite Western sanctions.

“This spectacle of disorder, government paralysis, and deep political polarization in the United States,” Weir says, “makes it extremely uncomfortable to be a pro-Western liberal in Russia right now.”

Mexicans also see that weakness, according to Nayeli Martinez Consuegra, a medical doctor in Mexico City.

“We’ve seen a setback in general policies since Trump started leading the country,” she tells me. “I think we are all opening our eyes to see the United States as vulnerable rather than as the hegemonic empire.”

Israel
Israeli rightwingers have engaged in numerous political attacks—from the mass murder of Palestinians in Hebron to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Nevertheless, many Israelis were shocked by the siege of the Capitol, according to Ronny Perlman, a peace and human rights activist in Tel Aviv.

“Many people stayed awake until 3 a.m. watching in horror,” Perlman tells me. She says that while the decline of the United States began before Trump came to power, his election accelerated the understanding “that the United States is not a country to look up to and admire as a free, democratic, open society. I think the pandemic reports affected many viewers in how big America mishandles this horror.”

On the other hand, the Black Lives Matter movement has had a positive effect on Israeli progressives. Perlman says the slogan “’I can’t breathe” was heard even at an anti-Netanyahu protest in Balfour Street in Jerusalem when the police brutally attacked the demonstrators.

Americans need to “know that the world doesn’t see them as the leaders of the free world any more. Even Biden will not make America great again. One should discard that obsolete concept,” Perlman says.

Democracy?

A recent editorial in The New York Times asks if Trump’s actions are an exception or part of a systemic problem. The editors expressed confidence that the system is sound.

“To friends and foes, and through triumphs and crises, the United States has stood as the standard of democracy and freedom since the last two world wars,” the editors wrote.

But many people around the world—and at home—reject that analysis. Systemic racism, occupation of foreign lands, more than 750 military bases around the world, and support for rightwing dictators hardly makes the United States a “standard of democracy.” And that’s just foreign policy.

Even some card-carrying members of the foreign policy elite recognize that last week’s events are a turning point in history.

“No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear, or depend on us in the same way again,” tweeted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “If the post-American era has a start date, it is almost certainly today.”

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Bonus Video added by Informed Cooment:

PBS NewsHour: “Insurrection at Capitol draws condemnation across the globe”

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Iran assassination is way for Netanyahu and Trump to hurt Biden https://www.juancole.com/2020/12/assassination-netanyahu-trump.html Sat, 05 Dec 2020 05:03:01 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194787 ( 48hills.org) – Israel and Trump are deliberately trying to provoke a crisis for the next President to inherit, Iran sources say

Imagine for a moment what would happen if unknown assassins murdered a high-ranking US scientist involved with chemical weapons. Let’s say officials in Iran quietly took responsibility, arguing that the US had violated international law because it continues to hold stockpiles of mustard gas and nerve agents VX and sarin, despite numerous commitments to destroy them starting in the late 1990s.

Iranians are angry at Israel’s assassination of a nuclear scientist. Here, Friday prayers in Tehran. Photo: Reese Erlich

Compare that fictional assassination with Israel’s actual assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a prominent Iranian scientist described as the “father of the Iranian bomb.” The fictional and real murders are analogous with an important exception: The US has had a chemical weapons program since 1917. Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

If the Iranian government assassinated a US military or scientific leader, professor Joshua Landis, director of the Farzaneh Family Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Oklahoma, tells me, “It would cause absolute outrage and very swift retribution.”

On November 27, Fakhrizadeh, a military leader and professor, was killed while on his way to visit relatives outside Tehran. The New York Times cites intelligence sources who identify Israel as responsible for the attack.

“People are angry,” professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi tells me from Tehran. He’s chair of the American Studies Department at the University of Tehran. “People expect retaliation, a lethal strike on Israeli targets,” he says.

While the nature of the military response is unclear, Marandi says, “There will be decreased cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency and increased enrichment of uranium.”

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On Dec. 2, the Iranian parliament voted to increase its uranium stockpiles to a higher level than needed for nuclear power generation, but still below the level to build a bomb. It also gave Washington until early February to lift economic sanctions or Iran would bar IAEA inspectors from entering Iran.

It seems obvious to me that in its waning days, the Trump Administration gave Israel the go ahead to provoke a crisis. Trump and Netanyahu hope to handcuff President-elect Joe Biden in future dealings with Iran.

Weapons of mass destruction?

I well remember the days leading up to the 2003 US occupation of Iraq, when I explained that Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and wasn’t a threat to the American people.

Now I’m doing it all over again with Iran, except Washington is waging covert, not overt, war against Iran. Based on reporting in Israel and Iran, I wrote in my book, The Iran Agenda Today, that US and Israeli officials know perfectly well that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program.

Don’t take my word for it. In two separate reports, the CIA and major US intelligence agencies found that Iran has had no nuclear weapons program since 2003. Iranian leaders say they never had a nuclear weapons program at all.

The Netanyahu regime in Tel Aviv never accepted the CIA position, arguing Tehran continued a secret program even after signing the nuclear accord. Netanyahu says that in 2018 Israel took documents from a Tehran warehouse proving Iran continued its weapons program and even mentioned Mohsen Fakhrizadeh by name.

Critics say the warehouse story doesn’t hold up, noting that the documents revealed so far don’t even have Iranian government markings. And no independent, Farsi-speaking experts have been allowed to conduct a forensic analysis of the original documents.

Israel, which secretly developed nuclear weapons in the 1960s, is hardly in a position to criticize Iran. Israel has an estimated 200 nuclear bombs capable of destroying Iran and any Arab country seen as the enemy du jour. Now Netanyahu seems determined to blow up the potential of relations between the US and Iran, and prevent resumption of the nuclear accord.

Who did it?

According to professor Marandi, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq is suspected of having actually killed Fakhrizadeh. “The MEK works with the US and Israel,” he says. “Teams from MEK have been involved in the past.”

From 2007-12, Israel used the MEK to carry out sophisticated assassinations of five nuclear scientists inside Iran, as reported in The Christian Science Monitor. The Israeli Mossad trained members of the MEK to carry out the hits.

The MEK began in the 1970s as a revolutionary group opposed to the Shah’s dictatorship. But it fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s troops during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, earning the permanent enmity of most Iranians.

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the MEK switched sides again and allied with Washington and Tel Aviv. It doesn’t allow its members to marry and keeps them isolated from the outside world.

“MEK is a cult and terrorist organization,” Marandi says.

Future US-Iran relations

The Trump Administration has squandered resources and wrecked alliances with the Europeans in its failed “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, says professor Landis.

“America needs a deal,” he continues. “US supremacy in the world has taken a nosedive. Other powers are successfully competing with the US. The US is bogged down in the Middle East and needs to avoid nuclear proliferation in the region without going to war with Iran.”

But both Republican and Democratic hawks want to squeeze more concessions from a weakened Iran by demanding a ban on certain conventional missiles and other issues previously rejected by Iran. Possible Iranian retaliation for the Fakhrizadeh assassination would complicate matters even further.

Marandi said he thinks the Biden Administration should rejoin the accord, regardless of what actions Iran may take in response to the assassination. “Responding to the terrorist attack and waiting for Biden to abide by the nuclear deal, these are two separate issues,” he says. “If Biden chooses to implement the deal, that’s fine with Iran.”

But hardliners in Iran argue that Washington can’t be trusted, and they oppose reopening talks. They advocate a “resistance economy,” combating the effect of US sanctions by producing more products at home, and forging closer alliances with Russia and China. Hardliners are known as principalists because they claim to uphold the Islamic principles of the Iranian Revolution.

“The principlists were defying the nuclear accord from day number one,” a highly placed Iranian journalist tells me from Tehran. Trump and Netanyahu were “a divine gift to them. The assassination of Fakhrizadeh gives them leverage against the moderates in Iran and makes problems for Biden.”

Marandi explains, “It’s widely believed in Iran that Biden won’t fully implement the deal and abide by US commitments. We’ll have to see.”

I think Washington can show good faith by lifting sanctions prior to opening negotiations. Then both sides could work out such details as destroying the excess enriched uranium and arranging frequent international inspections.

Iranians are waiting for Biden to make the first move after his Inauguration on January 20, 2021. Lifting unilateral US sanctions is the key to foiling Trump’s attempt to handcuff the new administration. We’ll see if Biden finds a good locksmith.

Via 48hills.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Iran nuclear scientist killed: “The idea is to leave as many loose ends as possible for Biden”

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Who will be vaccinated first — and in what country? The upcoming fights over COVID vaccine https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/vaccinated-country-upcoming.html Sat, 21 Nov 2020 05:01:45 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194530 ( 48hills.org) – In recent days, two US pharmaceutical companies announced that their COVID-19 vaccines could be available by December. US-based Pfizer, which partnered with the German-based BioNTech, said it has a 95 percent success rate during clinical trials. Biotechnology company Moderna also reported a vaccine with a 94.5 percent efficacy rate.


CDC image

Neither drug has undergone peer review by independent experts. The federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to use emergency procedures to allow rapid general distribution to selected groups such as medical workers.

Government officials greeted the announcements with uncontrolled enthusiasm. National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins reached back to Wild West mythology to share his joy, telling PBS NewsHour, “The cavalry is coming.”

Meanwhile, less noticed by the US government and major media, twelve other countries are also conducting large-scale tests, and six are already widely distributing their own vaccines.

Britain, various other European countries, Russia, China, and Cuba all have vaccines in the final stages of testing or have already started distribution. The creation of a safe and effective vaccine is not just a tremendous step for world health. It means massive profits for the developers and geopolitical advantage for their home country. It pits advocates of free enterprise against supporters of state intervention—although maybe not in the way you think.

Bob Schwartz, executive director of Global Health Partners, a progressive humanitarian aid organization, acknowledges the speed of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s rapid vaccine development.

“To turn this around in six months is unprecedented,” he tells me. “But who knows what’s going to happen to a patient six months or one year from now?”

It’s a good question.

US subsidizes big pharma

Soo-to-be ex-President Donald Trump bragged that Pfizer and Moderna’s success resulted from Operation Warp Speed, the $10 billion program that provided government subsidies to companies developing COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer notes that it took no US funds, although its partner BioNTech did get subsidies from the European Union and the German government. And Pfizer directly benefited from the US government’s agreement to pay $1.95 billion for 100 million doses, which comes out to $19.50/dose.

This may come as a shock, but there is no such thing as pure free enterprise at the upper echelons of capitalism. Companies require government support to make profits while loudly denouncing government regulations that benefit the public.

Moderna, The New York Times reports, received a direct US subsidy of $955 million. The company will charge the US government $24.80 per dose, while increasing the price to other governments to $32-37 per dose. Since each patient will require two doses, and Moderna already had a massive subsidy, the profits will flow quite nicely.

James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit working on medical technology, has investigated the Operation Warp Speed contracts. He says most of the deals allow the pharmaceutical companies to have exclusive patent rights, make healthy profits, and set prices with little government oversight.

Referring to the billions allocated, Love tells me, “The amount of money is way more than we’ve seen before, but government rights are far less.”

Knowledge Ecology International opposes monopoly or oligopoly control of COVID vaccines. Big pharma, the groups says, should not only make vaccines available worldwide at affordable prices but also share its technology and knowhow.

“Don’t just share the cake, share the recipe,” he says.

A different model: China

A combination of state and private companies in China are showing success in Phase 3 trials. The Military Academy of Sciences, part of the People’s Liberation Army, also plays a leading role in developing and testing vaccines. The drugs produced are regularly distributed for free inside China and sold at reduced prices in the developing world.

Chinese government-owned Sinovac will supply vaccines for distribution to Brazil and Indonesia. In addition, China will cooperate with other vaccine producing countries to promote equitable distribution through the World Health Organization initiative, COVAX.

China has come under strong criticism in the US for distributing its vaccines after completing only Phase 2 tests, which prove the safety of a drug but not its efficacy. China continues simultaneous wide-scale Phase 3 tests.

Schwartz says normally any new drug should go through Phase 3 tests before large-scale public use. But given the worldwide emergency, China’s actions are reasonable. “China has become a real biotech powerhouse,” he says. “China’s science is world-class.”Cuban biotech

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Cuban scientists are testing two COVID vaccines and have already developed an interferon drug they say mitigates certain kinds of COVID infections. The island nation of slightly more than 11 million people has a completely state-owned biotechnology industry that has developed sophisticated drugs for treatment of cancer and diabetes. Government-owned institutes cooperate in developing and testing drugs. There are no privately-owned biotechnology companies in Cuba.

If the vaccines pass rigorous testing, they will be distributed to all Cubans for free. Cuba has a track record of providing drugs free or at reduced prices to poor countries around the world..

Gail Reed, executive editor of MEDICC Review, a medical journal focusing on Cuba, says its state-owned pharmaceutical industry can produce and sell drugs at lower prices than Western corporations. “A public system is accountable to people’s health,” she tells me. “They’re not spending money on advertising, lobbying, or pushing their products through the doors of hospitals.”

Let a 100 vaccines bloom
All of the medical professionals I interviewed sincerely hope that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines—as well as those from other countries—prove to be safe and effective. The world needs vaccines and which country develops them is medically irrelevant. But all drug makers face the massive problems of manufacturing, distributing, and administering the vaccines.

“The logistics are immense,” Schwartz says. “I don’t think the private sector can do it.”

China’s vaccine was widely distributed to the People’s Liberation Army. In the US, the Army will handle shipping, distribution, and allocation of vaccines. The military provides humanitarian aid during wildfires and hurricanes, says Dr. Mark Rasenick, professor of physiology, biophysics, and psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

“I’d rather they shoot people in the arm with a vaccine than shoot them in the head with bullets,” he tells me.

The world, in modern times, has never faced a medical emergency like COVID-19. Who will get the vaccines first and in what countries? Will countries use vaccine distribution as a political weapon to advance their geopolitical interests?

The world is navigating unknown seas. I personally hope many effective vaccines are produced by many countries. The world doesn’t need the US, or anyone else, acting like a medical bully.

Reprinted with author’s permission from 48hills.org.

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If President Biden is Smart, He’ll End America’s Forever Wars and Pour the Money into Jobs at Home https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/president-americas-forever.html Sat, 07 Nov 2020 05:01:06 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194283 ( 48hills.org) – I’m pissed. I’m pissed at Donald Trump for trying to shut down the vote count early and at Republicans seeking to steal the election using conservative-appointed federal judges.

Will Biden end unpopular foreign wars?

But I’m also mad at Joe Biden and the Democratic Party big shots who got Biden elected but failed to win the Senate and lost House seats. It should have been a blowout. The country faces a deadly pandemic, a massive recession, history’s largest budget deficit, and a frequently exposed system of institutional racism. What more would it take to trounce Trump, a plague of locusts?

Biden’s campaign was supposed to be the moderate alternative to extremist Trump. Lunch Pail Joe was supposed to win back the support of white, blue-collar workers who had defected to the Republicans. Campaign organizers said he would energize Black and Latinx voters. But there wasn’t much of a shift among non-college educated men. And those folks who did go Democratic largely voted against Trump, not for Biden. It’s as if Biden had undergone an enthusiasm bypass.

Trump’s populist appeal has strong racist and misogynist elements, but also reflects a genuine anger at economic inequality and endless wars. If Biden simply returns to mainstream Democratic Party governance, it won’t satisfy the Democratic Party base nor those Trump supporters with legitimate complaints.

So what is to be done?

Biden will have his hands full reversing Trump’s disastrous domestic policies. But he can also make serious changes in US foreign policy.

Biden can implement progressive and popular policies during his first 100 days in office, in many cases, programs that he already promised and that don’t require Congressional approval. These include:

Stop the war in Yemen: This years-long conflict, which benefits no one but the oil-rich rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has killed more than 100,000 people and caused the preventable deaths of 113,000 children. Biden could immediately freeze weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, forcing them to stop bombing civilians and withdraw their troops. It would be one step toward ending unpopular, endless wars.

Earlier this year, Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans in the Senate voted to invoke the War Powers Act to stop funding the Yemen war. It was vetoed by Trump.

To his credit, Biden supported the war powers resolution. His campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates toldThe Washington Post, “Vice President Biden believes it is past time to end US support for the war in Yemen and cancel the blank check the Trump Administration has given Saudi Arabia for its conduct of that war.”

Rejoin the Paris climate agreement: Human-caused climate change is real. Lower temperatures are melting the polar ice caps and contributing to a host of disasters from intense hurricanes along the Gulf coast to wildfires in California. The Paris Agreement was ratified by nearly 200 countries in April 2016 with the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The agreement, which the US officially exited on November 4, has serious flaws. For example, all carbon emission reductions are voluntary. Rejoining the agreement will send a message to the world that Washington takes the issue seriously. The administration should develop immediate plans for a much stronger international climate accord.

Biden’s Clean Energy Plan states that he “will not only recommit the US to the Paris Agreement on climate change, but will lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.” The plan advocates “a 100 percent clean energy economy [in the US] and net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

Lift Trump’s unilateral oil blockade of Cuba and restore normal diplomatic relations: Trump has gone further to economically attack Cuba than any other President. He cut off much of Cuba’s oil supplies from Venezuela by applying sanctions against international shipping companies. This, combined with a halt in foreign tourism, has wrecked the Cuban economy. Public transport doesn’t have enough gasoline; trucks can’t bring produce from the countryside.

The people of Cuba pose no danger to the US. During the later part of Barack Obama’s presidency, people from the US freely visited Cuba, to the benefit of both countries.

During the campaign, Biden said, “As President, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

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With a stroke of the pen Biden could lift the oil embargo, re-open US visits to Cuba, and fully staff the Embassy in Havana, which is now operating with a skeleton crew.

Rejoin the Iran nuclear accord: Trump unilaterally withdrew from the internationally binding Iran nuclear accord and imposed harsh economic sanctions on the Iranian people. This policy of “maximum pressure” has failed to change Iranian domestic or foreign policy. Biden should immediately rejoin the accord and lift all sanctions related to nuclear issues.

In September, Biden wrote, “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the US would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” He added that the new administration would lift the “disgraceful” ban that prohibits Iranians and people from other Muslims nations from entering the US.

But Biden’s promises were couched in bellicose, Cold War rhetoric about Iran’s alleged threats to the US. Democratic and Republican hawks will certainly pressure Biden to take a hard line against Iran. But both countries would benefit from re-implementing the accord and lowering tensions.

End attacks on China: Trump initiated a trade war against China. He tried to ban Chinese technology from being used in the US and even sought the arrest of a top Chinese corporate executive. But, of course, China retaliated. Trump’s policy against China has been a massive failure, with the US losing nearly 300,000 jobs as of September 2019.

China poses no military threat to the people of the US. China has one military base outside its territory; the US has about 750. China now has also developed the world’s second largest economy and competes successfully with US corporations. The trade war is aimed at promoting US corporate profits at the expense of Chinese competitors.

With executive action, Biden could end the trade war quickly. Unfortunately, Biden has “drunk the Kool-Aid” when it comes to China. He said, “My focus will be on rallying our friends in both Asia and Europe in . . . joining us to get tough on China and its trade and technology abuses.”

Biden must shift policies on China as part of recognizing that the world has changed a lot in recent years.

Joe Biden is a mainstream Democrat who supported many of the foreign policy disasters of past presidencies. He backed the occupation of Afghanistan and the 2003 Iraq War, and he strongly supports Israel against the Palestinians.

But today, the US is considerably weaker, wracked by recession, and politically divided. People are fed up with endless wars. Regional powers such as Turkey, Russia, and Iran are exerting influence in areas formerly under US domination.

If he’s smart, Biden will recognize the new reality, stop US interventions, and use the money being spent on foreign wars to help our domestic economy. I’m confident he will make some promised changes but progressives will have to build grass roots pressure to make the changes we really need.

Via 48hills.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “Biden promises to end ‘forever wars’ if elected”

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Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/rightwing-populism-really.html Sun, 11 Oct 2020 04:02:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193788

The world’s worst outbreaks are occurring in nations with authoritarian leaders, like Trump.

(Foreign Correspondent) – The four countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in the world are all led by rightwing populists: the US, India, Brazil, and Russia. Throw in the United Kingdom, which has the largest infection rate in Europe, and you have a common pattern.

Leaders of these countries pose as men of the people battling the elites. In reality, they channel people’s darkest fears and prejudices into policies that benefit the ultra wealthy.

Rightwing populists initially downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, adopting dangerous public health policies that ultimately infected themselves, close supporters, and aides. These were not mistakes or bad luck, but rather the inevitable outcome of putting Dr. Frankenstein in charge of health policy and making Igor chief of implementation.

A virus has no politics

When the virus began to spread globally in March, it had no inherent politics. Public health officials worldwide agreed to use traditional anti-epidemic protocols: widespread testing, contact tracing, and quarantine. There were no leftwing masks or rightwing ventilators.

But as many countries failed to contain the pandemic, a battle broke out between medical officials who want to minimize public interaction and the big business class, which wants to keep companies open.

In general, union workers sided with medical experts in seeking to make workplaces safe. Corporate executives sought to open factories regardless of health costs, or at least receive massive government subsidies during the shutdown.

The administration of Donald Trump, wary of openly siding with its corporate bosses, instead played the populist card. Last May, in Michigan and some other states, a few hundred small business people and workers held demonstrations demanding that the government allow the economy to reopen.

Trump promoted the small protests as proof of a grassroots rebellion. A barbershop owner became the symbol of Americans demanding an end to pandemic shutdowns. Armed militia members stood guard as the barbershop’s owner, Karl Manke, reopened in defiance of a public health order. As one article reported, they were “wearing Trump sweatshirts and Trump cowboy hats and waving Trump flags.”

Mask: symbol of tyranny

In short order, the Trump Administration made refusal to wear a mask a symbol of American independence. The President’s followers eschewed wearing masks or keeping six feet apart at public events, or even while grocery shopping.

Few Americans have qualms about businesses protecting their operations by posting signs reading “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” But when the same businesses require customers to wear masks, it’s totalitarianism.

Trump became trapped by his own rhetoric and egotism. He rarely wears a mask at the White House and many of his staffers follow suit. The administration has held super spreader events, such as a September 26 Rose Garden celebration of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

This week, Trump advisor Stephen Miller became the thirty-fourth White House denizen to test positive for COVID-19. Nearly all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are quarantined after one high ranking officer tested positive.

But Trump was not alone in endangering his staff and the public.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson, who comes from an upper-middle-class family and studied at Oxford, portrays himself as a quirky man of the people. He and the Conservative Party won Britain’s last parliamentary election by calling for a quick withdrawal from the European Union, a long-time demand of the British left and popular with many workers.

During the pandemic, Johnson played the populist card by claiming to represent ordinary people who just wanted to return to work. Johnson claimed the United Kingdom could quickly develop herd immunity, which would immunize a majority of its residents, save lives, and produce a prosperous economy.

It didn’t work. The United Kingdom has faced several waves of contagion, and today it has one of the worst records in Europe: 544,000 confirmed cases and 42,500 deaths.

Johnson also made the mistake of believing his own propaganda by not taking precautions at 10 Downing Street. Starting in March, top U.K. leaders became infected, including Johnson, the health secretary, chief advisor to the prime minister, and the country’s chief medical officer.

While spouting platitudes about how well he was recovering at the time, Johnson later admitted he came close to death.

As with Trump, who celebrated his return from the hospital by ripping off his mask before walking into the White House, the experience has not made Johnson noticeably wiser. His pandemic policies still flounder and popularity plummets.

Disasters in common

The world’s major rightwing populist leaders share some disastrous policies in common. They downplay the significance of the pandemic, fail to follow the advice of medical experts, and fire advisors who insist on fact-based policies.

In August, Trump appointed Scott Atlas as a special advisor on the pandemic. He is not an epidemiologist or a public health expert. But he is a doctor who frequently appeared on Fox News and works at Stanford University’s rightwing Hoover Institution. One hundred-some of his Stanford colleagues wrote an open letter sharply criticizing Atlas’s pro-Trump views on the pandemic.

“Many of his opinions and statements run counter to established science and, by doing so, undermine public-health authorities,” they wrote.

Making Atlas a coronavirus advisor is like appointing Dr. Frankenstein to head the city morgue. He helped create a monster who stalks the streets of the US all the way to the White House.

Trump is now betting on the quick development of a vaccine, claiming it will be publically available later this year. Once again “America First” ignores developments elsewhere. Both China and Russia are already distributing vaccines. But it will take many more months to prove their efficacy and begin widespread inoculations.

Yet Trump says a US vaccine will be ready soon. Why shouldn’t we believe him? He’s done such a great job so far.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBC News: “Trump holds first public event since being diagnosed with COVID-19”

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It’s a Hawk! It’s a Dove! It’s Donald Trump, playing both sides against the Middle https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/donald-playing-against.html Sat, 12 Sep 2020 04:25:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193115 ( 48hills.org) – President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions.

Trump gets support from hardline interventionists for his efforts to overthrow governments in Iran and Venezuela, while backing the aggressive policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump confounds everyone with his foreign policy. Photo Antiwarcom

In a speech for the Republican National Convention that was recorded in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Americans “are more safe, and their freedoms more secure, because President Trump has put his America First vision into action. It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it has worked.”

On the other hand, libertarian Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, describes Trump as the first President in a generation “to seek to end war rather than start one.” Paul went on to tell the Republican National Convention that “We must not continue to leave our blood and treasure in Middle East quagmires.”

While Trump hasn’t halted any Middle East wars, he has ordered modest troop reductions in Syria and Iraq, and negotiated a fraught agreement in Afghanistan. However, on any given day, the US has 45,000-65,000 soldiers and sailors stationed in the Middle East, more than at the beginning of Trump’s term.

So Trump pursues interventionism in practice while claiming he’s against the forever wars. He purposely takes contradictory positions, according to Scott Horton, a libertarian Internet radio host and editorial director of AntiWar.com. [Disclosure: “Foreign Correspondent” is carried by AntiWar.com.]

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“He takes all sides of all issues, so there’s something for everyone,” Horton says in an interview. “Trump is seen as outside the political establishment. He’s a disruptor.”

In reality, Horton says, Trump’s foreign policy has been a disaster. He escalated the air war in Afghanistan and the war in Yemen. He escalated fighting in Somalia. NATO added new members from Eastern Europe and increased spending. As Horton dryly puts it, “He hasn’t started any new wars because we already at war with every country we could be at war with.”

Impulsive, transactional decisions

Trump doesn’t adhere to any particular ideology, according to Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. Rather he makes impulsive, transactional decisions.

“I don’t think Trump has a coherent foreign policy,” Zunes tells me. “The Trump Doctrine can be summed up as ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

Trump’s past attempts to break with some interventionist policies was met with strong opposition from the foreign policy establishment and ultimately floundered.

In 2018, Trump opened direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. By 2019, the administration indicated it could accept North Korea as a nuclear power, as part of negotiations toward a comprehensive peace accord.

Hawks in both parties attacked Trump for cozying up to a dictator. Trump’s advisors, such as uber-hawk former National Security Advisor John Bolton, opposed any agreement. Trump backed off when it became apparent his image was being tarnished.

Now Trump is having trouble making deals even with his own Pentagon brass. A recent scathing article in The Atlantic quotes military leaders and advisors who say Trump disparaged Marines buried at a World War I cemetery as “suckers” for getting killed.

That’s consistent with his public attacks on the late Senator John McCain as a “loser” because he was captured during the Vietnam War.

On Labor Day, Trump held a press conference that set a new low bar. The Commander in Chief denied making the disparaging remarks, then opened fire on Pentagon leaders.

Top military leaders, Trump said, “want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

Once again, Trump strikes a populist stance to attack others while ignoring his own, far worse record. The President regularly boasts of his success in promoting arms sales, notably to dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia. He has surrounded himself with military men tied to the arms industry, including current Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist.

Apparently you’re not part of the military-industrial complex until you disagree with Trump.

My guess is that some military brass are leaking stories about Trump to thwart his possible use of the Insurrection Act to mobilize regular troops after a Trump loss in the November election. If the election is close, and demonstrations break out, Trump could violate the Constitution and use the military to stay in power. The leaks are coming from those generals who won’t play ball.

Electoral rhetoric

Most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s why Trump is ramping up his anti-interventionist rhetoric, trying to outflank Joe Biden from the left. But many independents and even some Republicans recognize Trump’s rhetoric as phony.

Meanwhile, Trump has angered the foreign policy establishment—both Democratic and Republican—for questioning US participation in NATO and being “soft on Russia.” Seventy Republican national security officials signed an open letter criticizing Trump and declaring their intention to vote for Joe Biden.

“The power elite is terrified of him because he is not one of them,” says radio host Horton. “They’ve gone to war against him.”

But that doesn’t necessarily translate into votes for Biden. Professor Zunes says the foreign policy experts themselves are upper-middle-class, mainstream Protestants, who don’t have much mass influence.

“Biden may take a small chunk out of Trump’s Episcopalian vote,” says Zunes. “They don’t represent many actual votes in key states that Biden will have to win.”

Zunes, a strong critic of Biden’s interventionist foreign policy, says Biden is still better than Trump. Biden voted against the 1991 Gulf War, and opposed the wars in Libya and Yemen.

Most importantly, Zunes says, Biden is more malleable and subject to grassroots pressure.

“Biden may be forced to take more seriously the anti-war majority in the Democratic Party,” he says.

We’ll see.

48hills.org

—–

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al-Jazeera English: “Trump: US to demand restoration of UN sanctions on Iran”

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