Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2017-06-29T04:27:54Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[Syria: Russians alarmed, Washington Befuddled, by White House threats]]> 2017-06-29T04:27:54Z 2017-06-29T04:27:54Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The unusual statement from the “White House” on Monday saying that there were indications that the Syrian regime was preparing to use poison gas has provoked much head-scratching both inside the Trump administration and around the world. Why would the “White House” say this? Is it preparing the way for another missile strike on a Syrian military target? Why? Who? It is sort of like a sordid murder in a pulp mystery novel. Who had means, motive and opportunity?

It should be said that the Russian pundits can be forgiven for being confused. Trump’s statement apparently came as a huge shock to the Department of Defense and senior officers in the military and also to the State Department.

Although the top, more political levels of the Department of Defense swung into action to support the White House charge, apparently the officers who would have known if the allegation had been true were taken by surprise.

Who at the White House put this meme out? It wasn’t Trump, since he would have tweeted, and he hasn’t said anything about it. Apparently Jared Kushner is in actual charge of foreign policy, so maybe it is he. Kushner is alleged to be behind Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their kerfuffle with Qatar, to the extreme annoyance of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Tillerson has about had it with the White House insiders who keep over-ruling him and frankly humiliating him, and is said to have exploded at them on Friday, with Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner in the room.

Then it was alleged yesterday that the late-Monday White House announcement had already deterred Syria from use of poison gas. . The ghost ended up haunting itself.

As for the Russian press, BBC Monitoring has a round up.

The popular Moskovsky Komsomolets suspects that Trump is gearing up for another missile strike on the al-Assad regime. It says that such interference by the US will just prolong the civil war in Syria. Hitting the regime, the paper says, would show that the US doesn’t actually care about terrorism, but is committed to regime change. Boris Dolgov is quoted with some further speculation. The US, he says, wants to get rid of al-Assad and thus deprive Russia of a key ally in the Middle East. The added bonus for Washington, he alleged, was that once the Syrian regime collapses, radical Muslim fundamentalists will sweep into power in Damascus and then pursue terrorism against Russia in the Caucasus, as among the Chechens.

The centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta said that Russian experts doubt that Trump is planning another strike on Syria. It worries, though, that Iran may encourage the al-Assad forces to use gas. This action would in turn result in a US strike, which would sour relations between Russia and Trump and so forestall a US-Russia rapprochement. Tehran, it implies, prefers that the superpowers be at odds with one another and is conniving at that outcome.

So there you have it. The whole thing is an American plot to hand Syria to al-Qaeda, expel Russia from the Middle East, and embroil the Russian Federation in massive and debilitating terrorist attacks by Muslim radicals encouraged behind the scenes by the USA. That’s dark.

Or, Trump is being successfully trolled by a Machiavellian Iran conniving to keep tensions high between Washington and Moscow, so that Iran remains a valuable asset to Russia.

Needless to say, none of these allegations is true. The main force backed by the US in Syria at the moment is leftist Kurds, not al-Qaeda in Syria (The “Syrian Conquest Front”). There is no reason to think the US wants radical extremists to take over Syria or wants them to destabilize Russia. Well, the Neocons might want that, but they are to say the least not in power.

Iran has a moral objection to the use of gas and is certainly not encouraging al-Assad in that direction (Iranian troops suffered from Saddam Hussein’s gas attacks in the 1980s). Indeed, the Iranian opposition blames the ruling ayatollahs for their shameful support of the secular, dictatorial Baath regime in Syria, in general, and many Iranians consider it a national humiliation, given the ideals of the 1979 revolution. On the other hand, it is true that Iran is afraid that Trump will steal Putin from them.

So, I conclude that nobody has the slightest idea what is going on here, but a lot of people are afraid it could lead to dire consequences.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS This Morning: “White House warns Syria will “pay a heavy price” for any new chemical attack”

contributors <![CDATA[Turkey abandons High Tech Future by Banning Teaching of Evolution]]> 2017-06-29T01:33:33Z 2017-06-29T04:17:17Z By James Williams | (The Conversation) | – –

In the US there have been many attempts to expunge evolution from the school curriculm or demand that creationism – the idea that all life was uniquely created by God – is given equal treatment in science textbooks. While all these have failed, the government in Turkey has now banned evolution from its national curriculum.

US creationists want both views to be presented, to let children decide what to believe. Bids to reject this are wrongly characterised as attempts to shut down debate or free speech – to promote a scientific, atheistic, secular, ideology over a more moral, ethical, commonsense religious worldview.

Turkey’s decision goes much further. This isn’t about claiming equal treatment, it’s an outright ban. The government justifies it by claiming evolution is “difficult to understand” and “controversial”. Any controversy however is one manufactured by ultra-religious communities seeking to undermine science. Many concepts in science are more difficult than evolution, yet they still get taught.

Creationist arguments

Evolution, creationists argue, is just a theory – it’s not proven and so up for debate. Evolutionary trees (especially for humans) are regularly re-drawn after new fossil discoveries, showing how poor the theory is. After all, if the theory was correct, this wouldn’t keep changing. Often, creationists will pose a challenge for science to prove how life started, knowing that there is not yet a firm, accepted theory. Finally, there’s the king of all arguments: if we all evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

These arguments are packed with factual inaccuracies and logical fallacies. Evolution doesn’t need an explanation of how life started. It simply describes how life develops and diversifies. Humans did not evolve from monkeys – we‘re great apes. Modern apes, including humans, evolved from now extinct pre-existing ape species. We’re related to, not descended from, modern apes.

Key creationist misconceptions

Creationists fail to understand that evolution itself is not a theory. Evolution happens. Life develops and diversifies, new species come into existence. We can see intermediate life forms right now, such as fish that are transitioning to living on land and land mammals that recently transitioned into aquatic life. The “theory of evolution” explains how evolution takes place. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace first described the mechanism that drives the change – natural selection – in 1858.

Creationists also fail to understand the difference between a theory and a law in science. This is something that even science graduates suffer from, as I’ve noted in my own research. Theories explain scientific concepts. They are evidenced and accepted by the scientific community. Theories are the pinnacle of scientific explanation, not just a hunch or a guess. Laws however have a different role, they describe natural phenomena. For example, Newton’s laws of gravity do not explain how gravity happens, they describe the effects gravity has on objects. There are laws and theories for gravity. In biology however, there are few laws, so there is no law of evolution. Theories do not, given sufficient proof, become laws. They are not hierarchical.

A third issue is the lack of understanding of the nature of science. Science aims not to find some objective truth, but to elicit an explanation of natural phenomena. All scientific explanations are provisional. When new evidence is found that contradicts what we think we know, we change our explanations, sometimes rejecting theories that were once thought to be correct. Science is always working to try and falsify ideas. The more those ideas pass our tests, the more robust they are and the greater our confidence is that they are correct. Evolution has been tested for nearly 160 years. It’s never been falsified. Science only deals with natural phenomena, it doesn’t deal with or seek to explain the supernatural.

Why the ban is dangerous

Banning good science undermines all science, especially considering evolution’s place underpinning modern biology, with plenty of evidence to support it. For mainstream scientists, the fact that evolution happens is neither seriously questioned nor controversial. Any controversy in discussions of evolution resides in the role natural selection has in driving diversity and change, or the pace of that change.

This ban on teaching evolution in Turkish schools opens up the possibility that alternative, unscientific ideas may enter science teaching, from those who believe in a flat earth to deniers of gravity.

How do we deal with the apparent schism between religious belief and scientific evidence?

My research and approach has been to distinguish between religion, a belief system, and science, which works on the acceptance of evidence. Beliefs, including but not limited to religious beliefs, are often held irrationally, without evidence, and are resistant to change. Science is rational, based on evidence and is open to change when faced with new evidence. In science, we accept the evidence, rather than “choose to believe”.

The ConversationTurkey’s move to ban the teaching of evolution contradicts scientific thinking, and tries to turn the scientific method into a belief system – as if it were a religion. It seeks to introduce supernatural explanations for natural phenomena, and to assert that some form of truth or explanation for nature exists beyond nature. The ban is unscientific, undemocratic and should be resisted.

James Williams, Lecturer in Science Education, Sussex School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Turkey Will No Longer Teach Evolution In High Schools”

contributors <![CDATA[Trump May Already Be Blundering into the Next Middle East War]]> 2017-06-29T01:48:53Z 2017-06-29T04:13:47Z By Jim Lobe & Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio | ( FPIF) | First published in Lobelog | – –

The possibilities for catastrophic miscalculation are skyrocketing in the Middle East, and this administration is proving singularly prone to miscalculation.

The Washington elite is waking up to the increasingly real possibility that the Trump administration may be moving the country into yet another Middle East war. And much more quickly than anyone had anticipated. And through sheer incompetence and incoherence rather than by design.

At the moment, attention is focused on the situation in eastern Syrian, the details of which are spelled out well in a growing number of accounts such as Mohamad Bazzi’s piece in the Atlantic as well as a recent action alert by the National Iranian American Council. In addition, the New Republic’s Jeet Heer posted an excellent piece that quotes former key Obama policymakers (Colin Kahl and Ilan Goldenberg), as well as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who have been well ahead of other national-security analysts in warning about the gathering storm clouds.

Eastern Syria is indeed the focus of the moment, particularly since a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane in Syrian territory and Iran launched a mid-range missile attack on an Islamic State (ISIS or IS) target. Russia subsequently warned that it will target U.S.-led coalition aircraft flying in Syrian territory west of the Euphrates. Then, on June 20, an Iranian-made drone was shot down close to the border with Iraq and Jordan where the various rival proxy forces are all converging to fill the vacuum in anticipation of the IS collapse.

No doubt the Pentagon is gaming out the various scenarios in which a wider war could soon break out, but it certainly sees Iran and its allies in the area as the main post-ISIS threat to Washington’s interests in and around Syria. See, for example, this little memo published recently by a senior policy adviser to the U.S. Central Command and, remarkably, a visiting fellow at the staunchly pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (hat tip to Barbara Slavin). Or this helpful new contribution by WINEP’s long-time counselor and “Israel’s lawyer,” Dennis Ross.

Although the fireworks in eastern Syrian have rightfully captured our immediate concern, they shouldn’t distract too much from the highly volatile situation in the Persian Gulf following both the stunning ISIS terrorist attack in Tehran on June 7 — which senior Iranian officials blamed on Saudi Arabia — and the weeks-old crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain on the one hand and Qatar (backed by Turkey and Iran) on the other. Although Tehran justified its unprecedented missile strike by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in eastern Syria as retaliation for the terrorist attacks, it was also widely interpreted as a shot across the bow of the most anti-Iranian GCC states to remind them of their own vulnerability if war breaks out either in the Gulf or elsewhere.

In this context, the recent announcement by Riyadh that its navy had seized an explosives-laden boat and three members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) allegedly planning to blow up a Saudi offshore oil drilling rig does not bode well. According to The New York Times, the incident occurred when Iran’s state media reported that Saudi border guards fired on boats belonging to “simple fishermen,” killing one of the occupants. The Saudis reported some details of the incident over that weekend, but only on the following Monday did it come out with its new and far more sensational account.

That incident may of course be relegated to less than a footnote in the region’s history. But it nonetheless suggests that things are not moving in a favorable direction and that whatever behind-the-scenes attempts at defusing tensions — whether between Saudi Arabia and Iran or, for that matter, Qatar — are not bearing much fruit. Of course, charges by Bahrain and the Saudis that Iran is constantly shipping weapons and terrorists to Yemen and other Gulf Arab destinations are nothing new. But, in the current atmosphere, the risks of an incident escalating out of control seem higher than ever.

Moreover — and this is the main point — the possibilities for catastrophic miscalculation are skyrocketing. It’s not just the proximity of rival armed forces in both eastern Syria and the Gulf. It’s also the lack of direct communication among key parties and the lack of clarity as to their actual policies.

That applies in spades to what passes for the Trump “administration.”

The Blockade

Take, for example, the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, which came just two weeks after the president’s visit to Riyadh — and which Trump not only applauded but initially appeared to claim credit for in his tweets.

Clearly, the Saudis, the Emiratis, and the Bahrainis had come to believe that Trump — even if he had not explicitly greenlighted such a drastic action during or after Riyadh summit — would support them against Doha. How shocked they must have been when the Pentagon and the State Department immediately voiced their reservations (not to say, their opposition)!

Almost as shocked as Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson and National Security Adviser McMaster must have been when they first heard about Trump’s tweets. Here’s what the State Department spokesperson — to the extent you believe she speaks for the “administration” — said about Riyadh’s and Abu Dhabi’s action:

Now that it has been more than two weeks since the embargo started, we are mystified that the Gulf States have not released to the public, nor to the Qataris, the details about the claims that they are making toward Qatar. The more that time goes by the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

At this point we are left with one simple question: were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism or were they about the long, simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries?

(Oh, snap.)

Assuming the State Department really speaks for the US government, this rather stunning statement begs a host of rather critical questions. How exactly did the Saudis and their allies come to think that Washington would support them? Who exactly gave them that impression and under what circumstances? Or are Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and UAE Crown Prince (and apparent MbS mentor) Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan (MbZ) so deluded or hubristic that they just assumed that Washington, including the Pentagon, was on board with this?

And, if so, how prone to miscalculation are they in this moment of sky-high regional tensions?

After all, MbS has risen in influence in Saudi Arabia largely because of his pet foreign policy project, the war in Yemen, which, according to the latest reports, hasn’t been going particularly well (unless his original idea was to completely destroy the Arab world’s poorest country). He now finds himself in a very difficult spot.

Moreover, the Saudi king just elevated the hyper-ambitious MbS to crown prince overnight, placing him next in line in the royal succession. Like Trump, the 31-year-old is falling upward more through sheer audacity than palpable successes. Unless in his new exalted position he can somehow still impose his will on Qatar — an increasingly doubtful prospect in the absence of U.S. and Western diplomatic support — MbS looks ever more like a two-time loser (in Trumpspeak), and an extremely reckless one at that. And that perception makes him even more dangerous under the circumstances.

Meanwhile in Iran

How is all this perceived in Tehran, where various competing factions may also be prone to miscalculation? What do they think U.S. policy is?

They know the Trump “administration” is united in its conviction that the Islamic Republic is irredeemably hostile to the U.S., but they also know there are degrees of difference among senior officials. Some White House officials reportedly favor “regime change” via covert action, and it was just a few days before the ISIS attack in Iran that it was disclosed that the CIA had picked Michael D’Andrea (aka The Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike), a particularly aggressive covert operator, to run the agency’s Iran program.

Tehran was also deeply offended by Trump’s shocking reaction to the June 7 terrorist attack and further taken aback by Tillerson’s statement of support for a “peaceful transition” of government in Iran one week later. These statements no doubt served to strengthen hardliners in Tehran who already believe the worst about U.S. intentions as well as those of its regional allies.

At the same time, Tehran knows that top officials — notably Mattis (who appears to have been granted virtually unprecedented discretion in military decision-making) and McMaster — are keenly aware of the risks of getting dragged into a war with Iran (or becoming bogged down in Syria) even as they believe Washington should “push back” against Tehran’s “malign” behavior in the region.

And then there’s the commander-in-chief’s own impulsiveness, ignorance, and macho pose. At a moment of crisis a half a world away, Trump may actually welcome some serious fireworks as a useful diversion from his deepening political and legal problems at home. After all, those missiles strikes in Syria back in April gave him something of a reprieve, at least for a few days.

Given the latest head-spinning twist in Washington’s reaction to the KSA/UAE-led Qatar quarantine, it seems quite reasonable to ask how key Iranian policymakers will know who’s running policy in the White House when it’s faced with an incident that escalates quickly, and the Saudis, Emiratis, and Sheldon Adelson are on the phone insisting that Trump’s manhood is on the line? The likelihood of miscalculation by one or more of the major players is virtually certain.

It’s a very scary — but increasingly imaginable — prospect.

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement. Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio is a rising senior at Williams College in Massachusetts. She has written and worked for the human rights NGO Cultural Survival in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is currently an intern for LobeLog at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus) | First published in Lobelog


Related video added by Juan Cole:

David Pakman: “Pentagon Confused by Trump’s Syria Threats”

contributors <![CDATA[How Saudi blackmailed the UN to avoid Yemen War Human Rights Slam]]> 2017-06-29T01:13:45Z 2017-06-29T04:06:05Z By Thalif Deen | (Inter Press Service) | – –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – When Saudi Arabia – which has been spearheading a coalition of Arab states in a devastating war against Yemen since 2015 – was accused of bombing civilians, and particularly children caught up in the conflict, the government in Riyadh threatened to cut off humanitarian funding to the world body.

As a result of the looming threat, Saudi Arabia was de-listed from the “offending” annex to a UN report last year, by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, largely in order to appease the Saudis.

But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, with close links to the Jordanian royal family, has cited a report that nine Arab states – the Saudi coalition fighting the Houthi/Saleh rebels in Yemen – made the “unprecedented threat of a withdrawal from the UN if they were listed as perpetrators in the annex of the Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict.”

The new revelation by Zeid– a former Jordanian Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a former Ambassador to the United States – has shed new light on a hitherto unknown threat by the Arab coalition, coordinated perhaps by the Saudis.

Besides Saudi Arabia, the nine-member Arab coalition includes Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait and Qatar (whose role in the coalition has been suspended since the emergence of a new crisis among Gulf nations early this month).

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS “this threat by Saudi Arabia and its allies may indeed be unprecedented. Personally, I say call their bluff.”

“It’s important to stick to principle, particularly in regard to international humanitarian law. The reason more countries haven’t actually withdrawn is that they recognize that being part of the United Nations is on balance to their advantage, so it would be their loss and they would eventually return,” declared Zunes.

He said that “countries have threatened, and at times actually pulled out of certain US committees and agencies in protest, but pulling out of the UN itself is almost unprecedented.”

He pointed out that Indonesia pulled out of the UN in January 1965 in protest of Malaysia being elected to the Security Council, but resumed participation after the coup later that year.

Technically, there are no provisions for withdrawal, so the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) simply referred to it as a “cessation of cooperation” and allowed for Indonesia’s return with little fanfare, said Zunes whose areas of specialization include the United Nations and the Security Council.

He said some right-wing elements in Israel and the United States have threatened to pull out over criticisms of Israel and there are periodic attempts by Republicans for a pullout (currently there is an “American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017” (H.R. 193) introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers, but won’t be going very far.)”

In a statement last year, Amnesty International (AI) said the credibility of the United Nations was on the line “after it shamefully caved in to pressure to remove the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition from the UN’s list of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in conflict.”

The statement followed an announcement by the spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the change to the list published as part of an annual report by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

“The move was a direct result of diplomatic pressure from Saudi Arabia, angry at the UN’s conclusion that coalition operations had led to the death and suffering of children in the armed conflict in Yemen”, AI said.

“It is unprecedented for the UN to bow to pressure to alter its own published report on children in armed conflict. It is unconscionable that this pressure was brought to bear by one of the very states listed in the report,” said Richard Bennett, Representative and Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office.

Speaking before the Law Society in London June 26, Zeid also said the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, the Southern African Development Court, and the International Criminal Court have also not been spared such threats.

“Fortunately, in almost all these cases, either the threat of withdrawal has fizzled out, or, even if one or two countries did withdraw, no chain reaction ensued. But the regularity of these threats means it is increasingly probable the haemorrhaging will occur someday – a walk-out which closes the book on some part of the system of international law,” he warned.

Martin S. Edwards, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, told IPS that even he had I’ve not heard of the threat, he would suspect that “this is going to get more common, not only with autocracies under duress, but with countries getting inspired by this White House’s maddening inconsistency with multilateralism.”

“I’m no expert on Saudi foreign policy, but I’d be surprised if it was actually couched in this way. After all, how can the Saudis speak for other countries? I’m sure the Saudi’s own threats to rethink any financial contributions would have been potent enough as it is,” said Edwards who monitors the politics of the United Nations.

Zeid also told the meeting in London that the US is weighing up the degree to which it will scale back its financial support to the UN and other multilateral institutions.

“It is still deciding whether it should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and there was even talk at one stage of it withdrawing from the core human rights instruments to which it is party,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Cholera cases in Yemen may rise up to 300,000 – UN”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Why it Matters that the World thinks US under Trump is Laughingstock]]> 2017-06-29T00:15:50Z 2017-06-28T05:17:35Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Pew Research Center has found that the confidence of the world public in the US willingness to do the right thing has plummeted in just the few months Trump has been at our helm. Last fall, 62 percent of people throughout the world said they trusted Obama to do the right thing, and 64 percent had a favorable view of the US. (US favorability ratings were even higher before Bush invaded Iraq; nobody likes aggressors).

Now, 22 percent trust Trump to do the right thing (which means a fifth of humankind are nincompoops).


And US favorability has fallen to 49%, though 58% still like Americans. That’s only fair of them. A relatively small proportion of us just made a fateful mistake.\

In fact, as much as Americans like a cold brew in the summer, a majority of them say they would give up alcohol if only Trump could be impeached! (See the full study here).

So the question all this raises is, does it matter if the rest of the world has a low opinion of the United States?

You betcha.

Despite the go it alone cowboy tough guy rhetoric that plays so well to the Republican base, the world system is not a frontier town and one sheriff can’t clean it up. 7.4 billion people are an incredibly complex puzzle to solve. The US can project influence and power only if it has powerful allies. It is only 5% of the world population, and while its GDP is 22% of the world’s, that still means that nearly 80% of the global economy is in the hands of others. The US has more high-tech weapons than others, but those haven’t done it much good; it hasn’t won a war since 1945.

Ironically, the recent president who perhaps best demonstrated the value of diplomacy was a Republican, George H. W. Bush, who orchestrated an enormous global coalition (it included Argentina, Syria and France) to kick Iraqi occupation troops back out of Kuwait in the Gulf War.

Exhibit A is what George W. Bush did to American prestige with his gotten-up war on Iraq, which involved a great deal of lying about intelligence findings to allies. Although the Bush crew often maintained that that the rest of their allies’ intelligence was the same as that of the US, this is not true. First, the French tried to tell them they were wrong and they would not listen. Second, it is a phony excuse because most allies of the US at least used to take their lead from US intelligence, so Washington was shaping the narrative of what was plausible, biasing e.g. German intelligence.

So Bush dragged Britain and Australia and Czechia into Iraq on false pretenses, and the British public really minded having been taken for a ride. British politics is somewhat less corrupt than that of the US, and many of their television journalists ask dogged questions of politicians with a tenacity and frankness that would get them fired at compliant corporate news channels in the US. The British public take their own soldiers’ atrocities ‘way more seriously than Americans typically do, and there were several embarrassing inquiries that hit the front pages. The British also seems less suggestible than Americans, who apparently will believe 24 impossible things before breakfast. This is not the fault of the American public. It appears to me that the wealthy and corporations have for decades deliberately been interfering in the quality of public education, in hopes of producing pliant dupes rather than citizens with a critical faculty. Betsy DeVos is a poster child for such ruination of good public education, and she now finally has a chance to screw over the entire country . The number of Americans who are unable to understand simple principles of science such as that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produces a greenhouse effect is deeply embarrassing to this country. But that is exactly the sort of ‘citizen’ Exxon-Mobil and Big Gas want you to be.

In any case, the British were duped by Bush into a long national nightmare.

So then, remember that President Barack Obama established a red line that the Syrian regime should not use chemical weapons? And then the regime allegedly did. It isn’t important to the story I am telling you whether they did or not. Obama believed they did and a UN investigation backed him.

So Obama was in the position, in 2013, of being forced by his own rhetoric to consider bombing Syria. But he did not want such an act to be seen as another rogue American policy. He wanted a partner.

So he went to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and asked for support. He didn’t know that Cameron was the worst British leader since Ethelred the Unready. Cameron wanted a vote in parliament before committing to bombing Syria, which was itself a side-effect of the Bush lies, since parliament had felt badly used by Tony Blair.

And parliament voted the proposal down.

Obama was left hanging out their alone. And then the Republicans in Congress made it quite clear to him that they wanted a vote on any Syria action, and that also they did not intend to authorize one.

Obama was rescued by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who pointed out that Russia could sequester Syria’s chemical weapons. They did not 100% follow through on that pledge, but they also did not do nothing. Obama took the deal, having been left in the lurch by the Mother of Parliaments and by the US Congress.

Obama has been attacked ever since by the very Republicans who told him they would not authorize a Syrian bombing campaign. They jumped up and down for joy when Trump acted alone over the Shuayrat base in Syria and the alleged launching of chem from it. But they would have impeached Obama for the same thing. Both Obama and Trump are presidents. Gee, I wonder what the difference is between them, that causes the GOP to adore the one and abhor the other?

Anyway, folks, for anyone who cares about the American security position in the world, the Pew findings should be terrifying. Because as long as Trump is there, there won’t be any major joint initiatives, and if we need our allies, it isn’t clear that they will show up, since they think we were idiots to put a bull in a China shop in charge of the world’s most powerful country.

contributors <![CDATA[N. American Scholars of Mideast react to SCOTUS Decision on Trump Muslim Ban]]> 2017-06-28T02:59:00Z 2017-06-28T04:23:20Z Middle East Studies Association of North America | – –

On Monday, June 26, 2017, the United States Supreme Court issued a limited stay in the case that MESA has joined as a plaintiff, IRAP v. Trump, partially reinstating the revised Executive Order (EO) from March 6, 2017 (for MESA’s statement on EO 13780 see here). The Supreme Court’s decision will allow the EO to go into effect except with respect to those individuals who have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States. The Supreme Court explained that a “bona fide relationship” includes anyone with family in the United States, or anyone who has a relationship with an entity in the United States. The Court also enumerated specific examples of who might qualify as having a relationship with an entity in the U.S., including a student who has been accepted at an American university, or someone who has accepted employment with an American company, or someone invited to give a lecture to an American audience.

For all others affected by the EO, the ban on entry will take effect in 72 hours after today’s order (on Thursday, June 29). This includes nationals of six countries—Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—and refugees who do not have a bona fide relationship with a U.S. person or entity. For nationals of the six countries the travel restriction will remain in place for 90 days; for refugees there will be a 120-day suspension of admission to the U.S.

The Supreme Court also announced that it will hear the full legal challenge to the exclusionary travel ban in the upcoming term that starts in October. MESA will continue to act as a plaintiff in that case represented by the ACLU.

The exception to the travel ban announced by the Court today should protect current students (including those admitted to begin their studies in Fall 2017), those already employed by American universities and colleges, and those already invited to give academic lectures in the United States. The government will likely issue guidance in the coming days regarding how it will assess whether individuals have qualifying ties to the United States. The remaining restrictions on entry into the United States and the enhanced screening mechanisms that have already gone into effect threaten the academic community’s ability to sustain critical engagement with colleagues from the affected countries. The countries singled out by the Executive Order are all within the Middle East as defined by MESA. Their citizens have suffered enormous violence and dispossession, and the Middle East Studies academic community has both a professional and an ethical responsibility to defend their rights.

MESA’s Task Force on Civil and Human Rights was established by the MESA Board in November 2016 to supplement the work of the MESA Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) by addressing threats to the civil rights, human rights and political freedoms of the Middle East Studies community broadly defined. We believe that the exclusions of people from six Muslim-majority countries is discriminatory and does damage to academic institutions in the United States. We continue to believe that the EO is at odds with fundamental principles upheld by MESA including the commitment to the free exchange of ideas. MESA will continue its role in the legal fight against the ban and the threat to academic freedom that it represents.

The Task Force is issuing this updated statement, which revises our earlier statements of January 29, 2017 and March 8, 2017 to alert the Middle East Studies community to the probable consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The current 90-day travel ban applies to foreign nationals from the designated countries who: do not have a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity, are outside of the U.S. on June 29, 2017, did not have a valid visa at 5pm EST on January 27, 2017 and do not have a valid visa on June 29, 2017. The new EO also suspends all travel into the United States of refugees who do not have a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity for 120 days beginning June 29, 2017.

The travel restrictions do not apply to green card holders (lawful permanent residents) or to dual nationals from one of the designated countries traveling on a passport from a non-designated country. The travel restrictions reinstated by the Supreme Court also do not apply to Iraqi nationals (the EO affecting Iraqi nationals was revoked on March 6, 2017).

The Supreme Court’s stay authorizes a foreign national admitted to school for study or hired for work in the U.S. or invited to serve as a lecturer before an American audience to seek a visa based on their “credible claim” to have a ““bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity. This carve-out should be applicable to many MESA members.

Beyond these exemptions, the Supreme Court’s partial reinstatement of the Executive Order has the following effects, among others, that may have consequences for those in the field of Middle East Studies:

· The restriction of entry to the United States for certain nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days. This restriction could bar students or scholars from these countries from travel to the U.S. for the next three months unless they hold an American passport or green card, are a dual national (with a second nationality from a non-designated country), have been admitted to study at a U.S. institution, hired to work for a U.S. institution or invited to lecture to an American audience, or otherwise have bona fide connections to a U.S. person or entity. Academic institutions should closely follow changes in the interpretation of the Order as legal challenges and agency interpretations begin to unfold.

  • Any nationals of the six listed countries (who are not also U.S. citizens, green card holders or dual nationals) currently present in the U.S. on valid visas should avoid foreign travel as they may face challenges to readmission to the United States. Because of the administrative uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the Executive Order, we recommend that nationals of these countries err on the side of caution. Academic institutions should prepare to support faculty, staff and students legally remaining in the United States until more is learned about the treatment of valid visa holders who seek readmission during the period of entry restriction.
  • Those nationals from the six listed countries (who are not also U.S. citizens, green card holders or dual nationals) currently present in the U.S. with valid visas may be affected by the Order when they seek to renew their visas. The Order refers to restriction of entry and travel of nationals from these countries (rather than suspension of visa processing) but there is no provision to suggest that nationals of these countries will be able to seek visa renewals during the period of restriction of entry. The Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the EO does not directly address this issue. Because the language of the Order is ambiguous, academic institutions should prepare to support affected faculty, staff and students legally in the United States who may be left unable to renew their visas.
  • Applications for admission to American universities at the undergraduate and graduate level may be disrupted by the Executive Order. We advise academic institutions to avoid compromising their admissions standards in anticipation of new immigration policies and to continue to solicit and process applications from the affected countries. We also advise academic institutions to maintain their hiring standards and consider qualified scholars and researchers from the affected countries as candidates in competitive application processes for faculty hiring and selection of post-doctoral scholars.
  • The suspension of refugee admissions to the United States for 120 days (except for those refugees who can make a “credible claim” of a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity) may undermine the ability of refugee students and refugee scholars to apply to American universities with which they do not already have a relationship during a period of four months (which may be further extended). This may also affect efforts by many academic institutions to assist scholars at risk through temporary academic appointments. We advise academic institutions to assist scholars and students fleeing dangerous conditions by continuing to admit refugee students and hire refugee scholars, anticipating that visa processing may be possible based on establishing these individuals’ “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity.
  • The impact of these travel restrictions on campuses across the country can be somewhat mitigated by university administrators who adopt measures to support affected faculty, staff and students. We advise university administrators to maintain a firm commitment to the privacy of personal records, including immigration information, of students and personnel. Under federal law, the enforcement of immigration law rests with federal immigration authorities. Accordingly, campus police may be directed not to participate in immigration enforcement and we advise universities to adopt guidelines to this effect. Finally, the Order may limit the ability of affected individuals to comply with campus procedures and deadlines as they grapple with visa status and entry obstacles. We advise university administrators to interpret all relevant requirements flexibly to maximize the ability of affected individuals to continue their studies and/or employment despite the implementation of the Order.

The MESA Task Force on Civil and Human Rights will closely follow the interpretation and enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decision of June 26th, 2017 partially reinstating Executive Order 13780 and provide updated information and guidance as they become available.

Task Force on Civil and Human Rights

Middle East Studies Association

3542 N Geronimo Ave

Tucson AZ 85705

520-333-2577 phone

520-207-3166 fax



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Washington Post: “Here’s what the Supreme Court ruling on Trump’s travel ban means”

contributors <![CDATA[If US Wars aren’t on TV, are all those 1000s really Dying?]]> 2017-06-28T03:15:08Z 2017-06-28T04:19:09Z Rebecca Gordon | ( | – –

The headlines arrive in my inbox day after day: “U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria killed hundreds of civilians, U.N. panel says.” “Pentagon wants to declare more parts of world as temporary battlefields.” “The U.S. was supposed to leave Afghanistan by 2017. Now it might take decades.” There are so many wars and rumors of war involving our country these days that it starts to feel a little unreal, even for the most devoted of news watchers. And for many Americans, it’s long been that way. For them, the meaning of war is closer to reality TV than it is to reality.

On a June day, you could, for instance, open the New York Times and read that “airstrikes by the American-led coalition against Islamic State targets have killed hundreds of civilians around Raqqa, the militant group’s last Syrian stronghold, and left 160,000 people displaced.” Or you could come across statistics two orders of magnitude larger in learning from a variety of sources that famine is stalking 17 million people in Yemen. That is the predictable result of a Saudi Arabian proxy war against Iran, a campaign supported by the U.S. with weaponry and logistical assistance, in which, according to Human Rights Watch, the U.S. may well be complicit in torture. You could contemplate the fact that in Iraq, a country the United States destabilized with its 2003 invasion and occupation, there are still at least three million internally displaced people, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees; or that more than 411,000 Iraqis remain displaced from their homes in Mosul alone since the Iraqi army launched a U.S.-backed offensive to drive ISIS out of that city last October.

Yes, it’s possible to click on those links or to catch so many other Internet or TV news reports about how such American or American-backed wars are damaging infrastructure, destroying entire health care systems, uprooting millions, and putting at risk the education of whole generations thousands of miles away. But none of it is real for most of us in this country.

How could it be real? Most of us no longer have any idea what war is like for the people who live through it. No major war has been fought on U.S. territory since the Civil War ended in 1865, and the last people who remembered that terrible time died decades before the turn of this century. There is no one around to give us a taste of that reality — except of course for the refugees that the Trump administration is now doing its best to keep out.

In addition, Americans who once were mobilized to support their country’s wars in distant lands (remember Victory Gardens or war bond drives?) are simply told to carry on with their lives as if it were peacetime. And the possibility of going to war in an army of citizen draftees has long been put to rest by America’s “all-volunteer” military.

As the U.S. battlefield expands, the need becomes ever greater for people in this country to understand the reality of war, especially now that we have a president from the world of “reality” TV. During the second half of the twentieth century, Congress repeatedly ceded its constitutional power to declare war to successive executive administrations. At the moment, however, we have in Donald Trump a president who appears to be bored with those purloined powers (and with the very idea of civilian control over the military). In fact, our feckless commander-in-chief seems to be handing over directly to that military all power to decide when and where this country sends its troops or launches its missiles from drones.

Now that our democratic connection to the wars fought in our name has receded yet one more step from our real lives and any civilian role in war (except praising and thanking “the warriors”) is fading into the history books, isn’t it about time to ask some questions about the very nature of reality and of those wars?

War From the Civilian Point of View

We think of wars, reasonably enough, as primarily affecting the soldiers engaged in them. The young men and women who fight — some as volunteers and some who choose military service over unemployment and poverty — do sometimes die in “our” wars. And even if they survive, as we now know, their bodies and psyches often bear the lifelong scars of the experience.

Indeed, I’ve met some of these former soldiers in the college philosophy classes I teach. There was the erstwhile Army sniper who sat in the very back of the classroom, his left leg constantly bouncing up and down. The explosion of a roadside bomb had broken his back and left him in constant pain, but the greatest source of his suffering, as he told me, was the constant anxiety that forced him on many days to walk out halfway through the class. Then there was the young man who’d served in Baghdad and assured me, “If anyone fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, and they say they came back whole, they’re either lying or they just haven’t realized yet what happened to them.”

And there were the young women who told the class that, in fear, they’d had to move out of their homes because their boyfriends came back from the wars as dangerous young men they no longer recognized. If we in this country know anything real about war, it’s from people like these — from members of the military or those close to them.

But we only get the most partial understanding of war from veterans and their families. In fact, most people affected by modern wars are not soldiers at all. Somewhere between 60 and 80 million people died during World War II, and more than 60% of them were civilians. They died as victims of the usual horrific acts of war, or outright war crimes, or crimes against humanity. A similar number succumbed to war-related disease and famine, including millions in places most Americans don’t even think of as major sites of that war’s horrors: China, India, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies. And, of course, close to six million Poles, most of them Jews, along with at least 16 million Soviet civilians died in the brutal Nazi invasion and attempted occupation of major parts of the Soviet Union.

And that hardly ends the tally of civilians devastated by that war. Another 60 million people became displaced or refugees in its wake, many forever torn from their homes.

So what is war like for the people who live where it happens? We can find out a reasonable amount about that if we want to. It’s not hard to dig up personal accounts of such experiences in past wars. But what can we know about the civilians living through our country’s current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen?  There, too, personal accounts are available, but you have to go searching. 

Certainly, it’s possible, for instance, to learn something about the deaths of 200 people in a school hit by a single U.S. airstrike in the Syrian city of Raqqa. But that can’t make us feel the unendurable, inescapable pain of a human body being crushed in the collapse of that one school. It can’t make us hear the screams at that moment or later smell the stench of the decomposing dead. You have to be there to know that reality.

Still, daily life in a country at war isn’t all screams and stench. A lot of the time it’s just ordinary existence, but experienced with a kind of double awareness.  On the one hand, you send your children to school, walk to the market to do your shopping, go out to your fields to plow or plant. On the other, you know that at any moment your ordinary life can be interrupted — ended, in fact — by forces over which you have no control.

That’s what it was like for me during the months I spent, as my partner likes to say, trying to get myself killed in somebody else’s country. In 1984, I worked for six months in the war zones of Nicaragua as a volunteer for Witness for Peace (WFP). In 1979, the Sandinista movement had led a national insurrection, overthrowing the U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza. In response, the U.S. had funded counterrevolutionaries, or “contras,” who, by the time I arrived, had launched a major military campaign against the Sandinistas. Under CIA direction, they had adopted a military strategy of sabotaging government services, including rural health clinics, schools, and phone lines, and terrorizing the civilian population with murders, kidnappings, torture, and mutilation.

My job was simple: to visit the towns and villages that they had attacked and record the testimony of the survivors. In the process, for instance, I talked to a man whose son had been hacked into so many pieces he had to bury him in the field where he had been left. I met the children of a 70-year-old man a week after the contras flayed him alive, slicing the skin off his face. I talked to the mayor of a town in northern Nicaragua, whose parents were kidnapped and tortured to death by the contras.  

The original dream of WFP was somewhat more grandiose than collecting horror stories. American volunteers were to provide a “shield of love” for Nicaraguans threatened by the U.S.-supported contras. The theory was that they might be less inclined to attack a town if they knew that U.S. citizens were in the area, lest they bite the hand that was (however clandestinely) feeding them. In reality, the Sandinistas were unwilling to put guests like me at risk that way, and — far from being a shield — in times of danger we were sometimes an extra liability. In fact, the night the contras surrounded Jalapa, where I was staying for a few weeks, the town’s mayor sent a couple of soldiers with guns to guard the house of “the American pacifists.”  So much for who was shielding whom. (On that particular night, the Nicaraguan army confronted the contras before they made it to Jalapa. We could hear a battle in the distance, but it never threatened the town itself.)

All that day, we’d been digging to help build Jalapa’s refugio, an underground shelter to protect children and old people in case of an aerial attack. Other town residents had been planting trees on the denuded hillsides where Somoza had allowed U.S. and Canadian lumber companies to clear-cut old-growth forest. This was dangerous work; tree planters were favorite contra targets. But most people in town were simply going about their ordinary lives — working in the market, washing clothes, fixing cars — while the loudspeakers on the edge of town blared news about the latest contra kidnappings.  

This is what living in a war zone can be like: you plant trees that might take 20 years to mature, knowing at the same time that you might not survive the night.

Keep in mind that my experience was limited. I wasn’t a Nicaraguan. I could leave whenever I chose. And after those six months, I did go home. The Nicaraguans were home. In addition, the scale of that war was modest compared to the present U.S. wars across the Greater Middle East. And Nicaraguans were fortunate to escape some of the worst effects of a conflict fought in an agricultural society. So often, war makes planting and harvesting too dangerous to undertake and when the agricultural cycle is interrupted people begin to starve. In addition, it was short enough that, although the contras intentionally targeted schools and teachers, an entire generation did not lose their educations, as is happening now in parts of the Greater Middle East.

Many rural Nicaraguans lacked electricity and running water, so there was no great harm done when “se fue la luz” — the electricity was cut off, as often happened when the contras attacked a power generator. Worse was when “se fue el agua the water in people’s homes or at communal pumps stopped running, often as a result of a contra attack on a pumping station or their destruction of water pipes. Still, for the most part, these were unpleasant inconveniences in a rural society where electricity and running water were not yet all that common, and where people knew how to make do without.

Imagine instead that you live (or lived) in a major Middle Eastern city — say, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, or Aleppo (all now partially or nearly totally reduced to rubble), or even a city like Baghdad that, despite constant suicide bombings, is still functioning.  Your life, of course, is organized around the modern infrastructure that brings light, power, and water into your home. In the United States, unless you live in Flint, Michigan, it’s hard to grasp what it might be like not to have potable water dependably spilling out of the faucet.

Suppose you got up one morning and your phone hadn’t charged overnight, the light switches had all stopped working, you couldn’t toast your Pop-Tarts, and there was no hope of a cup of coffee, because there was no water. No water all that day, or the next day, or the one after. What would you do after the bottled water was gone from the stores? What would you do as you watched your kids grow weak from thirst? Where would you go, when you knew you would die if you remained in the familiar place that had so long been your home?  What, in fact, would you do if opposing armed forces (as in most of the cities mentioned above) fought it out in your very neighborhood?

Reality or Reality TV?

I’ve been teaching college students for over a decade. I now face students who have lived their entire conscious lives in a country we are told is “at war.” They’ve never known anything else, since the moment in 2001 when George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror. But their experience of this war, like my own, is less reality, and more reality TV. Their iPhones work; the water and light in their homes are fine; their screens are on day and night. No one bombs their neighborhoods. They have no citizenly duty to go into the military. Their lives are no different due to the “war” (or rather wars) their country is fighting in their name in distant lands.

Theirs, then, is the strangest of “wars,” one without sacrifice. It lacks the ration books, the blackouts, the shortages my parents’ generation experienced during World War II. It lacks the fear that an enemy army will land on our coasts or descend from our skies. None of us fears that war will take away our food, electricity, water, or most precious of all, our Wi-Fi. For us, if we think about them at all, that set of distant conflicts is only an endless make-believe war, one that might as well be taking place on another planet in another universe.

Of course, in a sense, it’s inaccurate to say we’ve sacrificed nothing. The poorest among us have, in fact, sacrificed the most, living in a country willing to put almost any sum into the Pentagon and its wars, but “unable” to afford to provide the basic entitlements enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: life, food, clothing, housing, education, not to speak, these days, of infrastructure. What could a U.S. government do for the health, education, and general wellbeing of its people, if it weren’t devoting more than half the country’s discretionary spending to the military?

There’s something else we haven’t had to sacrifice, though: peace of mind. We don’t have to carry in our consciousness the effects of those wars on our soldiers, on our military adversaries, or on the millions of civilians whose bodies or lives have been mangled in them. Those effects have been largely airbrushed out of our mental portrait of a Pax Americana world. Our understanding of our country’s endless wars has been sanitized, manipulated, and packaged for our consumption the way producers manipulate and package the relationships of participants on reality TV shows like The Bachelor.

If Vietnam was the first televised war, then the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the first video-game-style war. Who could forget the haunting green images of explosions over Baghdad on that first night (even if they’ve forgotten the 50 “decapitation” strikes against the Iraqi leadership that killed not one of them but dozens of civilians)? Who could forget the live broadcasts streamed from video cameras attached to “smart” bombs — or the time two of them demolished what turned out to be a civilian air raid shelter, killing more than 200 people hiding inside? Who could forget those live reports from CNN that gave us the illusion that we were almost there ourselves and understood just what was seemingly unfolding before our eyes?

In fact, a University of Massachusetts study later found that “the more people watched TV during the Gulf crisis, the less they knew about the underlying issues, and the more likely they were to support the war.” And even if we did understand the “underlying issues,” did we understand what it’s like to find yourself trapped under the rubble of your own house?

During almost 16 years of war since the attacks of 9/11, the mystification on the “home front” has only grown, as attention has wandered and some of our ongoing wars (as in Afghanistan) have been largely forgotten. Our enemies change regularly. Who even remembers al-Qaeda in Iraq or that it became the Islamic State? Who remembers when we were fighting the al-Qaeda-inspired al-Nusra Front (or even that we were ever fighting them) instead of welcoming its militants into an alliance against Bashir al-Assad in Syria? The enemies may rotate, but the wars only continue and spread like so many metastasizing cancer cells.

Even as the number of our wars expands, however, they seem to grow less real to us here in the United States. So it becomes ever more important that we, in whose name those wars are being pursued, make the effort to grasp their grim reality. It’s important to remind ourselves that war is the worst possible way of settling human disagreements, focused as it is upon injuring human flesh (and ravaging the basics of human life) until one side can no longer withstand the pain. Worse yet, as those almost 16 years since 9/11 show, our wars have caused endless pain and settled no disagreements at all.

In this country, we don’t have to know that in American wars real people’s bodies are torn apart, real people die, and real cities are turned to rubble. We can watch interviews with survivors of the latest airstrikes on the nightly news and then catch the latest episode of ersatz suffering on Survivor. After a while, it becomes hard for many of us to tell (or even to care) which is real, and which is only reality TV.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Rebecca Gordon



Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Groups warn on high civilian toll in west Mosul”

contributors <![CDATA[Is Putin’s Russia the critical threat Americans believe it to be?]]> 2017-06-28T03:36:36Z 2017-06-28T04:18:09Z Ronald Suny | (The Conversation) | – –

U.S. intelligence agencies – 17 of them – agree that evidence shows the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee and waged a campaign to influence voters in 2016.

Although no evidence of collusion between U.S. citizens and Russia has been proven yet, President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempt to improve relations with Russia has been hobbled.

The cloud hanging over the White House seems to be growing, with Congress considering sanctions against Russia. A majority of Americans view Russia unfavorably and believe it represents a threat, according to Gallup. Russia is depicted daily as a major menace to the United States. The slightest concession by an American to a Russian overture has become suspicious and smells of capitulation.

As a historian who has watched and written about the rocky ride Russians have experienced since the collapse of the USSR, I offer a look at the broader context of U.S.-Russia relations.

While Russia has certainly caused mischief for Washington and Europe, I don’t believe we should consider negotiation and compromise with Putin as appeasement – as we did during the Cold War. Careful consideration of how Russia views its own vital interests may help us see past the noise.

How big a threat is Russia?

In reality, the most powerful country in history and on the globe at the moment, the United States, faces a considerably weaker adversary in Russia.

The Kremlin spends about 10 percent of what the United States spends on defense (US$600 billion). The United States spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined.

Putin slashed military spending a few months ago by 25.5 percent, just as Trump plans to increase American defense spending by more than $54 billion.

Russia’s economy pales in comparison to America, Europe, Japan and China. It has an economy roughly the size of Italy’s, but must provide for a larger population, territory and defense budget.

It’s true that a somewhat weaker power can annoy, pressure or even harm a stronger power. And while Russia has a huge nuclear arsenal and impressive cyber capabilities, it is seriously outmatched by the United States in terms of influence and power. Obama referred to Russia as “a regional power,” and Putin thinks of America as a “global hegemon.” There are important truths in both of their statements.

Both Putin and his predecessor, the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin, repeatedly complained about the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, and even into countries formerly part of the Soviet Union – the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Kremlin made its opposition clear in 2008 when it launched a devastating incursion into Georgia, a country that hoped to join NATO. In 2014, Russia, Europe and the United States maneuvered for dominance in Ukraine – this time Russia lost. Moscow exacted its revenge by annexing Crimea in March 2014, which only drove Ukraine deeper into the arms of the West.

Putin occasionally overreaches, as he did in Crimea. Yet the Russian president usually plays his comparatively weak hand rather shrewdly. In Syria, for example, Putin supports the Bashar al-Assad government, a truly vicious regime that is prepared to kill hundreds of thousands of its citizens to hold on to power. Here the United States tried regime change, but Putin and Iran’s backing of Damascus made that impossible. As both the Obama and Trump administrations struggled to formulate a policy in Syria, Putin effectively marginalized the United States by forging a common front with Turkey and Iran.

And while the United States and Russia might disagree about the Syrian regime, they do have some common ground. Both powers have decided that the first priority is to combat the Islamic State. Both countries have found reliable allies against IS in the Syrian Kurds, which my research suggests is a distinct nation prepared to fight for their autonomy or independence. Despite Russia’s first priority to defend Assad’s government, both the United States and Russia appear at the moment to be working together with the Syrian Kurds to contain IS, the most immediate danger to the Middle East and by extension much of the world.

The crises over Syria, Ukraine and Georgia, as well as Russia’s blustering threats against the Baltic republics, all are responses of a relatively vulnerable, less-than-superpower. Russians feel threatened, humiliated by the West’s military expansion eastward. American troops regularly exercise in what was once the Soviet Bloc. American rockets have been placed in the Czech Republic and Poland. Russian and American planes buzz each other near the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Although it is unable to reestablish the kind of dominance in Eastern Europe that it enjoyed during the Cold War, the Kremlin is determined to retain an influential position in the part of the world closest to its borders. What we are watching, in my view, is an uneven struggle between a real superpower and global hegemon, the United States, and a regional hegemon, Russia, that feels it has been backed into a corner.

Common interests

More than anything else, in my opinion, Russians wish to be taken seriously.

Putin still refers to the United States not as an adversary but as a partner, as he did repeatedly in interviews with film director Oliver Stone. At the same time, unwilling to accept American global dominance without challenge, he fails to face the effects his policies have on Western leaders and the broader public. He repeatedly declares he is perplexed by the hysteria in America that demonizes Russia.

While investigations into Russian hacking and Trump’s campaign ties must continue, the major hot spots mentioned above will continue to smolder and may suddenly flare up. The stakes are high and Russian and American interests coincide in many areas. There are few that can not be ameliorated, if not fully resolved, through negotiation.

The ConversationYet, the distance between the two countries grows wider by the day. Wrangling inside the Beltway – one of the signs of a healthy democracy – continues. But above the din, few voices can be heard calling for a more sober and farsighted evaluation of our strategic interests. In my years as a historian, I have found that it is precisely in such moments of heightened confrontation and deafness to the interests of others that unpredictable and destructive conflicts break out. As impossible as it seems at the moment to deescalate inflammatory rhetoric, I believe only discussion and negotiation offer a way forward.

Ronald Suny, Professor of History and Political Science, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “Tensions between Russia and US over Syria ratchet up”