Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2019-02-18T08:09:03Z https://www.juancole.com/feed/atom WordPress Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Top 5 Reasons Trump should not get the Nobel Peace Prize]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182325 2019-02-18T07:59:37Z 2019-02-18T07:59:37Z Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Rumors are swirling that the Trump administration, i.e. Donald Trump himself, requested from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe that he nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. Trump no doubt thinks to himself that Obama got this prize and it is completely unfair that Trump hasn’t been awarded it, especially since Trump is at least half American whereas Obama was Kenyan. (Yes, I know it doesn’t matter where you’re from, and also Obama is from Hawaii, I’m just trying to understand the squirrels running around in Trump’s brain case).

So here are some thoughts about why Trump does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize:

1. The 2018 winners, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Mura won “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” Trump, in contrast, boasted of grabbing women’s private parts.

2. In 2017,the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons”for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” In contrast, Trump has attempted to dismantle the 2015 joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, one of the more successful anti-proliferation treaties ever concluded. Moreover, Trump has urged Japan and South Korea to seek nuclear weapons. And he just rescinded the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia, likely kicking off a nuclear arms race.

3. In 2015, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet received the Peace Prize “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.” In contrast, Trump has steadfastly backed military strong men who are crushing democracy.

4. In 2007, Al Gore shared the Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.” In contrast, Trump is a climate crisis denialist who has favored burning *more* coal and generally adopted policies guaranteed to put extra billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

5. In 1993 Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk of South Africa won “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.” In contrast, Trump’s racist policies are dividing America and his racist border policies have divided families.

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Bonus video:

WION: “Donald Trump claims Shinzo Abe nominated him for Nobel peace prize

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Michael T. Klare https://www.hampshire.edu/faculty/michael-klare <![CDATA[Has the Coming Sino-American Conflict Already Begun?]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182322 2019-02-18T05:56:19Z 2019-02-18T05:56:19Z In his highly acclaimed 2017 book, Destined for War, Harvard professor Graham Allison assessed the likelihood that the United States and China would one day find themselves at war. Comparing the U.S.-Chinese relationship to great-power rivalries all the way back to the Peloponnesian War of the fifth century BC, he concluded that the future risk of a conflagration was substantial. Like much current analysis of U.S.-Chinese relations, however, he missed a crucial point: for all intents and purposes, the United States and China are already at war with one another. Even if their present slow-burn conflict may not produce the immediate devastation of a conventional hot war, its long-term consequences could prove no less dire.

To suggest this means reassessing our understanding of what constitutes war. From Allison’s perspective (and that of so many others in Washington and elsewhere), “peace” and “war” stand as polar opposites. One day, our soldiers are in their garrisons being trained and cleaning their weapons; the next, they are called into action and sent onto a battlefield. War, in this model, begins when the first shots are fired.

Well, think again in thisnew era of growing great-power struggle and competition. Today, war means so much more than military combat and can take place even as the leaders of the warring powers meet to negotiate and share dry-aged steak and whipped potatoes (as Donald Trump and Xi Jinping did at Mar-a-Lago in 2017). That is exactly where we are when it comes to Sino-American relations. Consider it war by another name, or perhaps, to bring back a long-retired term, a burning new version of a cold war.

Even before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, the U.S. military and other branches of government were already gearing up for a long-term quasi-war, involving both growing economic and diplomatic pressure on China and a buildup of military forces along that country’s periphery. Since his arrival, such initiatives have escalated into Cold War-style combat by another name, with his administration committed to defeating China in a struggle for global economic, technological, and military supremacy.

This includes the president’s much-publicized “trade war” with China, aimed at hobbling that country’s future growth; a techno-war designed to prevent it from overtaking the U.S. in key breakthrough areas of technology; a diplomatic war intended to isolate Beijing and frustrate its grandiose plans for global outreach; a cyber war (largely hidden from public scrutiny); and a range of military measures as well. This may not be war in the traditional sense of the term, but for leaders on both sides, it has the feel of one.

Why China?

The media and many politicians continue to focus on U.S.-Russian relations, in large part because of revelations of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 American presidential election and the ongoing Mueller investigation. Behind the scenes, however, most senior military and foreign policy officials in Washington view China, not Russia, as the country’s principal adversary. In eastern Ukraine, the Balkans, Syria, cyberspace, and in the area of nuclear weaponry, Russia does indeed pose a variety of threats to Washington’s goals and desires. Still, as an economically hobbled petro-state, it lacks the kind of might that would allow it to truly challenge this country’s status as the world’s dominant power. China is another story altogether. With its vast economy, growing technological prowess, intercontinental “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, and rapidly modernizing military, an emboldened China could someday match or even exceed U.S. power on a global scale, an outcome American elites are determined to prevent at any cost.

Washington’s fears of a rising China were on full display in January with the release of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a synthesis of the views of the Central Intelligence Agency and other members of that “community.” Its conclusion: “We assess that China’s leaders will try to extend the country’s global economic, political, and military reach while using China’s military capabilities and overseas infrastructure and energy investments under the Belt and Road Initiative to diminish U.S. influence.”

To counter such efforts, every branch of government is now expected to mobilize its capabilities to bolster American — and diminish Chinese — power. In Pentagon documents, this stance is summed up by the term “overmatch,” which translates asthe eternal preservation of American global superiority vis-à-vis China (and all other potential rivals). “The United States must retain overmatch,” the administration’s National Security Strategy insists, and preserve a “combination of capabilities in sufficient scale to prevent enemy success,” while continuing to “shape the international environment to protect our interests.”

In other words, there can never be parity between the two countries. The only acceptable status for China is as a distinctly lesser power. To ensure such an outcome, administration officials insist, the U.S. must take action on a daily basis to contain or impede its rise.

In previous epochs, as Allison makes clear in his book, this equation — a prevailing power seeking to retain its dominant status and a rising power seeking to overcome its subordinate one — has almost always resulted in conventional conflict. In today’s world, however, where great-power armed combat could possibly end in a nuclear exchange and mutual annihilation, direct military conflict is a distinctly unappealing option for all parties. Instead, governing elites have developed other means of warfare — economic, technological, and covert — to achieve such strategic objectives. Viewed this way, the United States is already in close to full combat mode with respect to China.

Trade War

When it comes to the economy, the language betrays the reality all too clearly. The Trump administration’s economic struggle with China is regularly described, openly and without qualification, as a “war.” And there’s no doubt that senior White House officials, beginning with the president and his chief trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, see it just that way: as a means of pulverizing the Chinese economy and so curtailing that country’s ability to compete with the United States in all other measures of power.

Ostensibly, the aim of President Trump’s May 2018 decision to impose $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports (increased in September to $200 billion) was to rectify a trade imbalance between the two countries, while protecting the American economy against what is described as China’s malign behavior. Its trade practices “plainly constitute a grave threat to the long-term health and prosperity of the United States economy,” as the president put it when announcing the second round of tariffs.

An examination of the demands submitted to Chinese negotiators by the U.S. trade delegation last May suggests, however, that Washington’s primary intent hasn’t been to rectify that trade imbalance but to impede China’s economic growth. Among the stipulations Beijing must acquiesce to before receiving tariff relief, according to leaked documents from U.S. negotiators that were spread on Chinese social media:

  • halting all government subsidies to advanced manufacturing industries in its Made in China 2025 program, an endeavor that covers 10 key economic sectors, including aircraft manufacturing, electric cars, robotics, computer microchips, and artificial intelligence;
  • accepting American restrictions on investments in sensitive technologies without retaliating;
  • opening up its service and agricultural sectors — areas where Chinese firms have an inherent advantage — to full American competition.

In fact, this should be considered a straightforward declaration of economic war. Acquiescing to such demands would mean accepting a permanent subordinate status vis-à-vis the United States in hopes of continuing a profitable trade relationship with this country. “The list reads like the terms for a surrender rather than a basis for negotiation,” was the way Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University, accurately described these developments.

Technological Warfare

As suggested by America’s trade demands, Washington’s intent is not only to hobble China’s economy today and tomorrow but for decades to come. This has led to an intense, far-ranging campaign to deprive it of access to advanced technologies and to cripple its leading technology firms.

Chinese leaders have long realized that, for their country to achieve economic and military parity with the United States, they must master the cutting-edge technologies that will dominate the twenty-first-century global economy, including artificial intelligence (AI), fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications, electric vehicles, and nanotechnology. Not surprisingly then, the government has invested in a major way in science and technology education, subsidized research in pathbreaking fields, and helped launch promising startups, among other such endeavors — all in the very fashion that the Internet and other American computer and aerospace innovations were originally financed and encouraged by the Department of Defense.

Chinese companies have also demanded technology transfers when investing in or forging industrial partnerships with foreign firms, a common practice in international development. India, to cite a recent example of this phenomenon, expects that significant technology transfers from American firms will be one outcome of its agreed-upon purchases of advanced American weaponry.

In addition, Chinese firms have been accused of stealing American technology through cybertheft, provoking widespread outrage in this country. Realistically speaking, it’s difficult for outside observers to determine to what degree China’s recent technological advances are the product of commonplace and legitimate investments in science and technology and to what degree they’re due to cyberespionage. Given Beijing’s massive investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at the graduate and post-graduate level, however, it’s safe to assume that most of that country’s advances are the result of domestic efforts.

Certainly, given what’s publicly known about Chinese cybertheft activities, it’s reasonable for American officials to apply pressure on Beijing to curb the practice. However, the Trump administration’s drive to blunt that country’s technological progress is also aimed at perfectly legitimate activities. For example, the White House seeks to ban Beijing’s government subsidies for progress on artificial intelligence at the same time that the Department of Defense is pouring billions of dollars into AI research at home. The administration is also acting to block the Chinese acquisition of U.S. technology firms and of exports of advanced components and know-how.

In an example of this technology war that’s made the headlines lately, Washington has been actively seeking to sabotage the efforts of Huawei, one of China’s most prominent telecom firms, to gain leadership in the global deployment of 5G wireless communications. Such wireless systems are important in part because they will transmit colossal amounts of electronic data at far faster rates than now conceivable, facilitating the introduction of self-driving cars, widespread roboticization, and the universalapplication of AI.

Second only to Apple as the world’s supplier of smartphones and a major producer of telecommunications equipment, Huawei has sought to take the lead in the race for 5G adaptation around the world. Fearing that this might give China an enormous advantage in the coming decades, the Trump administration has tried to prevent that. In what is widely described as a “tech Cold War,” it has put enormous pressure on both its Asian and European allies to bar the company from conducting business in their countries, even as it sought the arrest in Canada of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, and her extradition to the U.S. on charges of tricking American banks into aiding Iranian firms (in violation of Washington’s sanctions on that country). Other attacks on Huawei are in the works, including a potential ban on the sales of its products in this country. Such moves are regularly described as focused on boosting the security of both the United States and its allies by preventing the Chinese government from using Huawei’s telecom networks to steal military secrets. The real reason — barely disguised — is simply to block China from gaining technological parity with the United States.

Cyberwarfare

There would be much to write on this subject, if only it weren’t still hidden in the shadows of the growing conflict between the two countries. Not surprisingly, however, little information is available on U.S.-Chinese cyberwarfare. All that can be said with confidence is that an intense war is now being waged between the two countries in cyberspace. American officials accuse China of engaging in a broad-based cyber-assault on this country, involving both outright cyberespionage to obtain military as well as corporate secrets and widespread political meddling. “What the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing,” said Vice President Mike Pence last October in a speech at the Hudson Institute, though — typically on the subject — he provided not a shred of evidence for his claim.

Not disclosed is what this country is doing to combat China in cyberspace. All that can be known from available information is that this is a two-sided war in which the U.S. is conducting its own assaults. “­The United States will impose swift and costly consequences on foreign governments, criminals, and other actors who undertake significant malicious cyber activities,” the 2017 National Security Strategy affirmed. What form these “consequences” have taken has yet to be revealed, but there’s little doubt that America’s cyber warriors have been active in this domain.

Diplomatic and Military Coercion

Completing the picture of America’s ongoing war with China are the fierce pressures being exerted on the diplomatic and military fronts to frustrate Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions. To advance those aspirations, China’sleadership is relying heavily on a much-touted Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar plan to help fund and encourage the construction of a vast new network of road, rail, port, and pipeline infrastructure across Eurasia and into the Middle East and Africa. By financing — and, in many cases, actually building — such infrastructure, Beijing hopes to bind the economies of a host of far-flung nations ever closer to its own, while increasing its political influence across the Eurasian mainland and Africa. As Beijing’s leadership sees it, at least in terms of orienting the planet’s future economics, its role would be similar to that of the Marshall Plan that cemented U.S. influence in Europe after World War II.

And given exactly that possibility, Washington has begun to actively seek to undermine the Belt and Road wherever it can — discouraging allies from participating, while stirring up unease in countries like Malaysia and Uganda over the enormous debts to China they may end up with and the heavy-handed manner in which that country’s firms often carry out such overseas construction projects. (For example, they typically bring in Chinese laborers to do most of the work, rather than hiring and training locals.)

“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands,” National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed in a December speech on U.S. policy on that continent. “Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption,” he added, “and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as U.S. developmental programs.” Bolton promised that the Trump administration would provide a superior alternative for African nations seeking development funds, but — and this is something of a pattern as well — no such assistance has yet materialized.

In addition to diplomatic pushback, the administration has undertaken a series of initiatives intended to isolate China militarily and limit its strategic options. In South Asia, for example, Washington has abandoned its past position of maintaining rough parity in its relations with India and Pakistan. In recent years, it’s swung sharply towards a strategic alliance with New Dehli, attempting to enlist it fully in America’s efforts to contain China and, presumably, in the process punishing Pakistan for its increasingly enthusiastic role in the Belt and Road Initiative.

In the Western Pacific, the U.S. has stepped up its naval patrols and forged new basing arrangements with local powers — all with the aim of confining the Chinese military to areas close to the mainland. In response, Beijing has sought to escape the grip of American power by establishing miniature bases on Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea (or even constructing artificial islands to house bases there) — moves widely condemned by the hawks in Washington.

To demonstrate its ire at the effrontery of Beijing in the Pacific (once knownas an “American lake”), the White House has ordered an increased pace of so-called freedom-of-navigation operations (FRONOPs). Navy warships regularly sail within shooting range of those very island bases, suggesting a U.S. willingness to employ military force to resist future Chinese moves in the region (and also creating situations in which a misstep could lead to a military incident that could lead… well, anywhere).

In Washington, the warnings about Chinese military encroachment in the region are already reaching a fever pitch. For instance, Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, described the situation there in recent congressional testimony this way: “In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

A Long War of Attrition

As Admiral Davidson suggests, one possible outcome of the ongoing cold war with China could be armed conflict of the traditional sort. Such an encounter, in turn, could escalate to the nuclear level, resulting in mutual annihilation. A war involving only “conventional” forces would itself undoubtedly be devastating and lead to widespread suffering, not to mention the collapse of the global economy.

Even if a shooting war doesn’t erupt, however, a long-term geopolitical war of attrition between the U.S. and China will, in the end, have debilitating and possibly catastrophic consequences for both sides. Take the trade war, for example. If that’s not resolved soon in a positive manner, continuing high U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports will severely curb Chinese economic growth and so weaken the world economy as a whole, punishing every nation on Earth, including this one. High tariffs will also increase costs for American consumers and endanger the prosperity and survival of manyfirms that rely on Chinese raw materials and components.

This new brand of war will also ensure that already sky-high defense expenditures will continue to rise, diverting funds from vital needs like education, health, infrastructure, and the environment. Meanwhile, preparations for a future war with China have already become the number one priority at the Pentagon, crowding out all other considerations. “While we’re focused on ongoing operations,” acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan reportedly told his senior staff on his first day in office this January, “remember China, China, China.”

Perhaps the greatest victim of this ongoing conflict will be planet Earth itself and all the creatures, humans included, who inhabit it. As the world’s top two emitters of climate-altering greenhouse gases, the U.S. and China must work together to halt global warming or all of us are doomed to a hellish future. With a war under way, even a non-shooting one, the chance for such collaboration is essentially zero. The only way to save civilization is for the U.S. and China to declare peace and focus together on human salvation.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is the five-college professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and a senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. His most recent book is The Race for What’s Left. His next book, All Hell Breaking Loose: Climate Change, Global Chaos, and American National Security, will be published in 2019.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Michael T. Klare

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

“US-Chinese trade negotiations set to resume” | DW News

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Walter L. Hixson <![CDATA[Yes, Ilhan, there is an Israel Lobby – Despite the Phony Controversy]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182318 2019-02-18T08:09:03Z 2019-02-18T05:17:35Z In a country that has elected a born-rich, incompetent, petulant child as its president nothing should really surprise us any longer, but the absurdities of contemporary American political life just keep on coming.

Consider the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) flippant tweet, “It’s all about the Benjamins” alluding to the financial role of pro-Israel groups on unstinting US support for Israel. Widely condemned for invoking an anti-Semitic trope pertaining to Jewish money, Ilhan apologized for the remark but not for the essence of her larger point, which is unquestionably true, namely that money in politics plays a role in the lopsided pro-Israeli policy that the United States has pursued for decades. The absurdity is that everyone in Congress already knows this.

While reams of type and hype have spilled forth concerning the intrusions by the big, bad Russian bear (yes, he’s back after a post-Cold War hibernation) on American politics, we hear very little about Israel’s influence, which has profoundly shaped United States Middle East diplomacy since World War II. As I document in a forthcoming book, the Israel lobby goes much deeper historically than most people realize and has long exercised an outsized influence on Congress and presidential elections.

On February 15 the British Guardian did something American newspapers, magazines—and historians–rarely do: it published an analysis of pro-Israeli financing in American politics. “The data examined by the Guardian suggests that the pro-Israel lobby is highly active and spends heavily to influence US policy.” (“Pro-Israel Donors spent over $22 million in lobbying and contributions in 2018,” The Guardian online, US edition, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/15/pro-israel-donors-spent-over-22m-on-lobbying-and-contributions-in-2018) There’s more to the story than the Guardian grasps, namely individual campaign contributions that are made with the explicit or implicit understanding of unquestioned political support for Israel.

Fear of baseless charges of anti-Semitism must not prevent us from making relevant and scarcely disputable arguments about money and political influence. Let’s examine some basic facts: Israel, a tiny country of 8.5 million people, is the largest recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II (more than $100 billion), according to the Congressional Research Service. In 2016 President Barack Obama–despite being treated contemptuously by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu–signed a 10-year, $38 billion military assistance pact with Israel.

Well, you might say, Israel needs the money to defend itself from the hostile forces that surround and threaten to destroy it. This cliché misrepresents realities that have prevailed in the Middle East since the creation of Israel, namely that Israel more often than not has been the aggressor in the region, has won every war, and is more than capable of defending itself without receiving another dollar in US military assistance. Since 1967 the country has illegally occupied Palestinian territory and illegally sponsored settlements, which have been funded in part with American money, and has repeatedly engaged in indiscriminate warfare notably in Lebanon and the Gaza strip. Beyond dispute Israel has suffered from terror attacks but it is far from innocent and has killed many times more people than it has lost in the conflict. And now it is illegally absorbing, with Trump’s blessing, a historic holy city that under international law was meant to be shared by people of all faiths.

Even more absurd than over-hyping Russian influence on US elections while ignoring those of Israel, is the widespread condemnation of Iran for supposedly pursuing a nuclear weapon, while ignoring the history of Israel’s utter contempt for nuclear non-proliferation in defiance of the United States dating back to the Eisenhower administration. Israel has the bomb, scores of them, acquired secretly and mendaciously–that is, it was developed even as the American special ally was told Israel would not introduce such weapons to the Middle East. Turns out what Israel meant is that it would not hold a press conference and say, “Hey, we’ve got the bomb!” Meanwhile Netanyahu and the Israel lobby spare no effort to condemn Iran, which unlike Israel proved willing to negotiate a non-proliferation agreement, which it entered into with Obama in 2015. Netanyahu–joined by Trump, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and other assorted fanatics of the far right who are now in power—are lusting for an excuse to go to war with Iran.

In sum, beyond doubt Israel and its American supporters have assembled the most powerful lobby pursuing the interests of a foreign country in all American history. Certainly, there are cultural and historical affinities on the part of American Christians (think Mike Pence) as well as Jews that help explain broad-based and historical US support for Israel. But only a fool—or an apologist—would argue that pro-Israeli money and influence do not play a significant role in American politics.

I hope this gets into print while it is still legal to criticize a foreign country (other than Russia, China, Venezuela–and France and Canada when they don’t do what we tell them). In an effort to head off a growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, Israel and the lobby now have set their sights on curbing freedom of speech and expression in this country. The matter is before Congress.

The time is past due to speak truth to power about Israeli policies and the American Israel lobby.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now!: “Glenn Greenwald Defends Rep. Ilhan Omar: Criticizing Israeli Lobby & AIPAC Is Not Anti-Semitic”

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AFP <![CDATA[Outreach of Israel’s Netanyahu to Polish Right Roiled by Holocaust Assertion]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182315 2019-02-17T22:56:33Z 2019-02-18T05:11:52Z Warsaw (AFP) – Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has cancelled a visit to Israel for a high-level summit, a government spokesperson told AFP on Sunday, after uproar in Poland over reported comments by Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu about the Poles and the Holocaust.

Netanyahu — who was initially quoted in Haaretz newspaper as saying that “The Poles collaborated with the Nazis” — has been condemned in Poland for appearing to accuse all Polish people of cooperating with Germany during World War II.

Warsaw has long been at pains to point out that Poland, which was occupied by Nazi Germany, could not have and did not collaborate in the Holocaust although individual Poles may have done so.

The Israeli prime minister’s office has said Netanyahu did not implicate all Poles in the Holocaust.

It insisted that Netanyahu was “misquoted” in Haaretz and other publications that reported different versions of the quote.

“Netanyahu spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland,” a statement read.

Morawiecki will no longer attend the Visegrad Group summit, a diplomatic meeting of central European nations, in Jerusalem this week.

“Prime Minister Morawiecki told Prime Minister Netanyahu in a telephone call that Poland will be represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz,” government spokesperson Joanna Kopcinska said.

“Questions about the historical truth and sacrifice that Poland paid during the Second World War have a fundamental value for Poland,” she added.

Netanyahu was in Warsaw last week for a two-day summit on the Middle East, co-hosted by Poland and the United States, which focused on isolating Iran while building Arab-Israeli ties.

The fresh controversy in Polish-Israeli ties comes after last year’s row over a Polish law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes.

After protests from Israel and the US, Poland amended the law to remove the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.

Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II and lost six million citizens including three million Jews.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “FILE PHOTO: Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look on during the Middle East summit in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo.”

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AFP <![CDATA[Despite House Resolution, US Military Still Helping Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182312 2019-02-17T22:31:29Z 2019-02-18T05:09:31Z Abu Dhabi (AFP) – The US is still supporting the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, an American army general told AFP Sunday, days after lawmakers voted to end involvement in Riyadh’s war effort.

The US continues to “provide support to the coalition, in particular to help them… be discriminative in targeting and to minimise the risk of civilian causalities”, said Major General David C. Hill, deputy commander of US Army Central.

The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to direct President Donald Trump to end within 30 days all participation in hostilities “in or affecting Yemen”, where Washington supports the Saudi-led coalition against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

The US has been providing bombs and other weapons, as well as intelligence support, to the coalition, but announced in November it was ending refuelling of Saudi warplanes.

The World Health Organisation says some 10,000 people have been killed since the coalition intervened in 2015, but rights groups state the death toll could be five times as high.

The White House maintains close relations with Riyadh, but the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi’s Istanbul consulate in October has been followed by lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle increasingly pushing back.

Should the Senate pass the resolution on Yemen, it could force Trump to issue the first veto of his tenure.

In other comments to AFP on the sidelines of a military exhibition in Abu Dhabi, Hill said US Central Command remains focused on fighting Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in the Middle East.

“I believe that the end of the physical caliphate doesn’t mean the end of ISIS” he said, using an alternative acronym for IS.

“We will continue to work closely with our partners across the region here to do just that.”

The US is set to pull its soldiers out of Syria after allied Kurdish-led forces capture IS’ last holdout in the war-torn country, nearly five years after the jihadists proclaimed a “caliphate” across large swathes of the country and neighbouring Iraq.

In December Trump shocked allies when he announced he would withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria because IS had already been “beaten”.

The withdrawal plan is set to be accelerated after a victory announcement.

“We are conducting a withdrawal from Syria… but I am confident that we remain postured to continue fighting against ISIS,” Hill told AFP.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “A child carries corrugated metal from the site of a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in January (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED HUWAIS).”

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Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Leader of Free World Angela Merkel Rips Bark off Trump for humiliating German Auto Industry]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182304 2019-02-17T16:06:10Z 2019-02-17T08:32:12Z Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – In a
major speech on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed anxiety that the world’s ‘security architecture’ is unraveling.

“What we see as an overall architecture underpinning our world as we know it is a bit of a puzzle now; if you like, it has collapsed into many tiny parts . . . We have to think of integrated structures and interdependencies.”

She said of these multilateral institutions, “we must not just smash them.” She underlined the continued need for NATO as a vehicle for what she called “civility,” i.e. as a social lubricant among like-minded nations.

She recalled the Hillary Clinton- Putin START negotiations and expressed nostalgia for the days when Russia seemed to be coming in from the cold. She slammed Russia for annexing Crimea, and expressed regret that Trump cancelled the INF nuclear treaty, especially since he did it without consulting Europe at all.

Vice president Pence had called on Europe to support the US and implied that it was unwise to depend on Russian natural gas.

Merkel, in contrast, takes a pragmatic view of Putin and is aware that there is not a good alternative to Russian gas: “A Russian gas molecule remains a Russian gas molecule, whether it comes via the Ukraine or whether it comes across the Baltic Sea.”

In a heartfelt slam against Trump’s announced trade war, which will place tariffs on imported automobiles on the trumped up pretext of national security, Merkel expressed puzzlement as to why Trump would invoke national security against Germany automobiles. “We are proud of our cars and we can do that too. I think it would be good if we get into good conversation with each other.” She pointed out that the world’s largest BMW plant is in South Carolina, implying that it cannot actually be a security threat to the US.

Merkel also worried about Trump’s troop withdrawal from the Middle East, what the rise of a new generation of “Is it all right now for the Americanst o withdraw from Syria immediately and quickly, or is it not also a strengthening of opportunities for Iran and Russia to exert influence there? We must also talk about that.”

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bonus video:

DW News: “MSC 2019: Merkel full speech and analysis | DW News”

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John Feffer http://fpif.org/ <![CDATA[The Geopolitics of Walls: The Sense of Security is an Illusion]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182274 2019-02-14T22:55:57Z 2019-02-17T05:09:50Z (Foreign Policy in Focus) – Walls are cropping up all over the world. But as with guns, the sense of safety and security that comes from a wall is almost entirely illusory.

Geopolitics, like thermodynamics, has its laws of conservation. If a wall comes down in one place, you can bet that it will go up somewhere else.

It wasn’t long after the Berlin Wall fell that different kinds of walls went up in Eastern Europe. New borders separated the Czech Republic from Slovakia, and then, after much bloodshed, the new successor states of former Yugoslavia.

By the end of the 1990s, barriers were being established in small towns in the Czech Republic, in Slovakia, and in Romania to separate Roma and non-Roma populations. Germans on both sides of the former Berlin Wall were declaring that they were one people. But in other countries in the region, the majority population was insisting, rule of law notwithstanding, that the citizenry was not one people and a wall was necessary to emphasize the distinction.

These discriminatory walls anticipated the next round of walls in the region: to keep out immigrants. Hungary built a wall on its border with Serbia in 2015, and then a second one in 2017 just to be sure. Germany was letting in more than a million desperate people. Hungary and most of the rest of Eastern Europe, after making the earlier case that they belonged in the European Union, were shutting the door after themselves.

It’s not just Eastern Europe. The Brexit vote was basically an effort to build a big wall across the English Channel to separate the United Kingdom from Europe. Keeping out immigrants was a major motivating factor.

Walls are practically everywhere, alas. You can find a very sad set of walls separating Israel from the Occupied Territories. Spain has walled off its cities of Ceuta and Melilla from the rest of Morocco (yes, there are two Spanish towns in North Africa). There’s a wall between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. According to Elisabeth Vallet, a geography professor at the University of Quebec-Montreal, there were 15 border walls around the world in 1989. That has jumped to 77 today.

As with so many of his fixations, Donald Trump’s call for a wall is hardly original. And this wall, too, is a response to the collapse of walls elsewhere. Economic globalization was responsible, from the 1980s on, for gradually tearing down all manner of barriers: to trade, to finance, and to the movement of manufacturers. Trump and his economic populists have done as much as they can to put back some of those barriers, for instance by withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership and by slapping tariffs on products from allies and adversaries.

But Trump’s wall along the Mexico border is first and foremost about keeping people out. Economic globalization removed some barriers to the movement of people, but primarily those with highly sought-after skills. As for the truly desperate who were trying to climb over walls and breach borders, they were often motivated more by war and the violence of non-state actors.

These two types of “open borders” — one for money, the other for bodies — have often been confused in the public imagination. Or politicians have deliberately conflated the two, as Trump supporters did in the case of the infamous Hillary Clinton quote about “open borders.” She quite obviously meant economic globalization, not immigration, which was troubling in its own right, but for different reasons.

Trump is not a big fan of openness, in any of its manifestations. He loves the idea of exclusivity: private jets, elite parties, membership-only clubs like Mar-a-Lago. He prefers not to reveal his tax returns. He’d like to keep all of his financials well hidden. In Trump’s mind, walls define the parameters of privilege. Whenever he can wall off the press, his “low-intelligence” critics, the populations of “shit-hole” countries, he does so in a New York minute. He devises travel bans. He instructs his press secretary to dispense with the traditional daily press briefings. He stays within his Fox News enclosure. Even when he prances before the public in mass events, he wants to make sure that everyone in the crowd is on his side.

The Trump brand has always been about exclusivity, though of a rather tawdry variety: the appearance of prestige instead of the reality. As the writer Fran Lebowitz once remarked, Trump is “a poor person’s idea of a rich person.” It could also be said that he’s a non-political person’s idea of a president. He projects the appearance of a president — handshakes with other leaders, photo ops in the Oval Office — without any of the substance. All of his talk of “fake news” is just an indirect admission of his own doubts about his own authenticity as a president.

No surprise, then, that Trump is offering the appearance of security rather than the reality of security. A wall is largely a symbol. It means nothing when the United States refuses to address the true causes of insecurity, both at home and abroad. Nicholas Kristof did a nice column in The New York Times, drawn in part from my IPS colleagues’ National Priorities Project data, about all the sensible ways to spend $5.7 billion: on America’s children, on gun buybacks and drug treatment programs, on job training for prisoners, and on helping people overseas. That’s what a real president would support, not a “fake president.”

But let’s dig a little deeper. The wall addresses a core psychological insecurity. Trump supporters — and many others — feel as if their own privileges are evaporating. Those privileges are connected to race and gender (the angry white men who now swell the ranks of the Republican Party). But they are also connected to class (the blue-collar workers that once formed the backbone of the Democratic Party).

And don’t forget the oft-overlooked privilege of being American. U.S. citizens are feeling increasingly anxious as they watch the United States fail to achieve its objectives in one war after another — even as China expands its influence and Russia regains its great power status. Americans watch conflict, extremism, disease, and the other horsemen of the Apocalypse engulf other countries, and they feel as if America can no longer ride in on its white horse to save the day (the last time was perhaps World War II). Worse, they can hear the drumbeat of those hooves approaching the very shores of this country.

Trump and his supporters want that wall to prevent all these privileges — individual, communal, national — from leaking out. It’s the architectural equivalent of a gun. It’s for defense, a way for people to “stand their ground.” But it’s also compensation for powerlessness and lack of control. As with guns, the sense of safety and security is almost entirely illusory.

Liberals, unfortunately, don’t offer much of an alternative. They use more inclusive language when it comes to individual and communal privilege — though liberals are also guilty of constructing walls when they live in the ghettoes of the wealthy, send their children to private schools, or expunge any discordant viewpoints from their social media networks. These walls are largely invisible — just like the financial red lines that helped to create America’s urban wastelands — but they are no less powerful.

In terms of national privilege, liberals also believe in American supremacy, though they speak more in terms of restoring American leadership. America, in other words, has not really adjusted to a multipolar world, its more modest place within it, or the resulting anxieties that torment the souls of Americans.

The U.S. military, after all its failures around the world, no longer preserves American privilege. The U.S. dollar, weakened by U.S. debt and the strengthening of other national currencies, may soon lose its special glow. A wall is a fallback position, and a rather pathetic one at that. The United States desperately needs a leader — actually, a cadre of leaders — who can reconceive America’s relationship with the world, who can redefine U.S. privilege, who can see the importance of a shift from global power over to global power with. It would be a true privilege to elect such visionaries to leadership positions.

The world is waiting.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus
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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CBS This Morning: “Fact checking Trump’s claims about border wall in El Paso”

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David Korten <![CDATA[Capitalism vs. Socialism Is a False Choice: We need true democracy to Avoid self-extinction.]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182268 2019-02-14T22:56:57Z 2019-02-17T05:04:26Z ( Yes! Magazine) – Economic power is—and always has been—the foundation of political power. Those who control the peoples’ means of living rule.

In a democracy, however, each person must have a voice in the control and management of the means of their living. That requires more than a vote expressing a preference for which establishment-vetted candidate will be in power for the next few years.

. . . Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Constitution was written by representatives of the new nation’s wealthy class to keep people like themselves in power.

On Jan. 4, the newly elected Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced HR1, the For the People Act of 2019. Its aim is to make voting easier, reduce the influence of big money, and curtail gerrymandering. Even before it was introduced, the champions of having rich people rule were falsely characterizing it as an attack on the freedom of speech of ordinary Americans.

The provisions of HR1 represent an important step in a transition from the plutocracy we have to the democracy most Americans want. Unfortunately, political gridlock assures that HR1 has no chance of becoming law until at least after the 2020 election. Yet the popular yearning for democracy reflected in that bill makes this a propitious moment for a serious conversation about what a true democracy might look like and why it would be a good idea.

We stand at an epic choice point for our nation and for humanity. The plutocracy now in place has put us on a path to self-extinction—a future with no winners, rich or poor. We must now seek a path that restores the health of Earth’s regenerative systems while securing equity, material sufficiency, peace, and spiritual abundance for all—exactly the opposite of the plutocrats’ drive to secure the power, privilege, and material excess for themselves. This makes democracy far more than just a good idea; it is now an imperative.

The power of plutocracy depends on keeping the people divided against each other along gender, racial, religious, or other fault lines. The goal is to divert our attention from themselves so that they can maintain their power and continue to amass wealth.

Champions of plutocracy would also have us believe that we must choose between two options: capitalism (private ownership and management) or socialism (government ownership and management). They prefer we not notice that in their most familiar forms, both capitalism and socialism feature an undemocratic concentration of control over the means of living in the hands of the few. Democracy is essential for either to work effectively for the benefit of all.

Plutocrats generally favor capitalism, because in the extreme form we now experience, it supports virtually unlimited concentrations of wealth and power. Its practitioners are also drawn by capitalism’s ideological claim that unregulated markets will assure that the presumed benefits of a growing economy will be shared by everyone, and so the rich need not bear any personal responsibility beyond maximizing their personal financial gain.

The critical economic and political question for humanity is not whether our means of living will be controlled by corporations or government, but whether control will be concentrated for the benefit of the few or dispersed, with benefits shared by everyone.

Support for the needed economic transition can come from many places. Just as people are not necessarily racist because they are White or misogynistic because they are male, people do not necessarily become plutocrats just because they are rich. Many wealthy people work actively for economic and political democracy and support radical wealth redistribution, including through support of progressive taxation and significant taxing of inherited wealth.

The political and economic democracy we seek cannot be easily characterized as either capitalist or socialist. It is a system of substantially self-reliant local economies composed of locally owned enterprises and community-secured safety nets with responsibilities shared by families, charities, and governments. Such a system facilitates self-organizing to create healthy, happy, and productive communities.

In our complex and interconnected world, this system will require national and global institutions responsive to the people’s will and well-being to support cooperation and sharing among communities, but the real power will be dispersed locally. There would be ample room for competition among local communities to be the most beautiful, healthy, democratic, creative, and generous. There is no place for colonizing the resources of others or for predatory corporations.

These communities will most likely feature cooperative and family ownership of businesses. They will also recognize the rights of nature and their shared responsibility to care for the commons and to share its gifts.

The rules of plutocracy evolved over thousands of years. We have far less time to come up with suitable rules for democratic alternatives. That search must quickly become a centerpiece of public discussion.

Reprinted from Yes! Magazine with permission.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Majority Report with Sam Seder: “No, The Green New Deal Does NOT Give Money To People ‘Unwilling To Work'”

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The Conversation <![CDATA[40 Years after the Iranian Revolution, Can the Opposition Still Hope for Change?]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=182272 2019-02-14T22:39:07Z 2019-02-17T05:02:52Z By Naser Ghobadzadeh | –

Iran’s ruling clergy are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1979 revolution, during which Shi’ite Islamists, led by religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, toppled Mohammad Reza Shah’s secular monarchy.

The linchpin of the Islamic Republic’s political system is Ayatollah Khomeini’s doctrine of Wilayat-i Faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, which makes a Shia religious jurist the head of state. The jurist’s legitimacy to hold the most powerful position in the state is claimed to be based on divine sovereignty.

As its name suggests, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s current system combines theocratic and republican elements. The president and parliament are democratically elected, while the members of powerful institutions such as the Guardian Council and the judiciary are appointed by the Supreme Leader (Walī-yi Faqīh).

The Guardian Council oversees elections and the final approval of legislation. According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, all legislation, policies and programs must be consistent with the observance of Islamic principles.
The Guardian Council has a duty to monitor all legislative decisions and determine whether their implementation would cause a violation.

This unprecedented political system brought in four decades of internal conflict. The established Islamic Republic of Iran also ceased being a US ally and instead became an enemy. International sanctions, along with the clergy’s mismanagement and endemic corruption, have resulted in a dire economic situation. There is a strong fear the high unemployment and inflation rate will continue to rise.

Under these circumstances, there are now doubts the Islamic Republic can survive. And some wonder whether we may soon see another revolution. So, what is the situation in Iran 40 years after the Shah was overthrown and who is agitating for change?

Decades of unrest

After Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, a more conservative Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, came to power and strengthened the theocracy.

The reformist movement emerged in the mid-1990s to counter the newly established conservative regime. They had little chance of gaining power through theocratic institutions, so they focused on the electoral side. They campaigned for women’s rights, democratic rule and a civil-military divide.

Reformists gained power twice: from 1997 to 2005 and from 2013 – with the election of the relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani – until now. In these years, reformists controlled electoral institutions such as the presidency and the parliament.

For decades, reformers have struggled to limit the power of theocratic institutions – while still broadly complying by the laws of the clergy, and the principles set in place by Khomeini – and expand the power of republican institutions. However, they were no match for the Khamenei-led resistance, and theocratic institutions are more powerful today than they were in the mid-1990s.

Iran has also continually had tense relations with the international community. In addition to eight years of war with Iraq, Iran has been under sanctions for almost all of the past four decades. These have been imposed by the US, the EU, and the United Nations over claims Iran breached its nuclear obligations.

Today, the Donald Trump-led US government is pursuing an extremely hostile approach to Iran. Crucially, the US has withdrawn from a nuclear deal negotiated with the Obama administration – under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program. The US has reapplied previous sanctions (which were lifted under the deal) and imposed new ones. Iranians are also the most affected of the Muslim majority countries included in Trump’s travel ban.

Reformists have made some progress towards easing economic hardship, loosening social control, and initiating a temporary easing of tensions with the outside community. But the parlous nature of the political structure empowers the theocrats to manipulate the system and stymie any reform effort that promises a path to democratisation.

Reformists or pro-regime opposition

The protests that swept Iran between December 2017 and January 2018 showed that many Iranians don’t consider the reformists capable of bringing about meaningful change. Protestors expressed their anger over increasing economic hardship, as well as Iran’s support and funding for foreign conflicts, namely the civil wars in Yemen and Syria. They also chanted slogans calling for an end to the rule of clerics.

Rampant corruption, the failure of Rouhani to fulfil his promises – such as boosting the economy, extending individual and political freedoms, ensuring equality for women and men, and easing access to the internet – and the return of sanctions have combined to shatter hope of reform. This has been expressed in global protests by the Iranian diaspora calling for a change to the government.

It seems unlikely the reformists will be able to maintain their positions in the country’s electoral institutions. The sad reality is that even if they have another chance, the result will only compound their failures.

These circumstances have led to another stream of opposition – one agitating for a toppling of the Islamic Republic and regime change – gaining currency. Most members of this group are in exile, including Iran’s ex-prince and son of the Shah overthrown by the revolution, Reza Pahlavi.

But there is profound disagreement between the opposition groups in exile. Although they share a similar goal, they have consistently proven unable to agree on an overarching framework. The profound divisions among the groups has drained both their resources and intellectual capacity, which has rendered them incapable of contesting the country’s ruling clergy.

Those advocating for regime change have also been incapable of articulating a viable alternative to the Islamic Republic. All opposition groups overuse the abstract notion of “secular democracy” without clearly explaining what exactly they have in mind.

Pahlavi’s desire is reportedly not to put himself back on the throne, but to let the people decide what the political system would look like. He has said:

It’s not the form that matters, it’s the content; I believe Iran must be a secular, parliamentary democracy. The final form has to be decided by the people.

While this is a legitimate statement, figures like Pahlavi ought to offer viable alternatives that would help bring opposition groups together. Potential alternatives should also be structured to appeal to the masses, a considerable segment of whom have expressed disillusionment with the ideal of an Islamic state.

Opposition groups are absorbed in delegitimising the Islamic Republic, questioning the way the clergy run the country. In doing so, they forget the the people who have already expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the clergy.

The opposition needs to skilfully craft an alternative to the Islamic Republic and a comprehensive plan for the transition to democracy. Until an alternative political system is formulated and popularised, the opposition will remain impotent and unable to initiate a transformation in the country.

Of course, change is not impossible. A military confrontation with Israel or the US, the departure of 79-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei, or a spontaneous mass uprising could prove a game changer.The Conversation

Naser Ghobadzadeh, Senior lecturer, National School of Arts, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

EuroNews: “Forty years later, Iran’s youth are divided over the revolution’s legacy”

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