Fascism in Charlottesville: Why it had a monopoly on violence & Intimidation

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In his unhinged news conference on Tuesday, Trump equated what he called the “alt-Left” (which is not a thing) with the alt-Right. He characterized the latter as good people who were just protesting removing a statue of the traitor Robert E. Lee and wondered if statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (not notably traitors to the United States of America) would be removed next.

At one point he asked who the alt-Right are.

The answer is only knowable by how they behave. The racist, violent throng in Charlottesville revealed themselves by their tactics to be fascists.

Trump as usual sidestepped all the really important issues. Charlottesville was not about ideas or statues. It was an attempt to demonstrate the political efficacy of acting unconstitutionally, as a menacing mass able to intimidate people. Fascism doesn’t have many ideas, and isn’t the same in each country. Mussolini, Franco and Hitler were all very different in policy and style, and all of them are different from Trump. That’s one reason why the easy resort to Hitler analogies is usually not very illuminating (though you have a sinking feeling that we may need to entertain more such analogies now).

People don’t come to mere rallies with Klan torches and bats and shields and brickbats and even guns. The Unite the Right mob invasion of Charlottesville was not a political protest. It was intended as a Kristallnacht, as the breaking of the windows of the shops of the liberal Jews and Blacks who the ‘Alt-Right’ believes runs the small college town of Charlottesville.

Aljazeera English: “US: Torch-wielding white supremacists protest Confederate statue’s removal”

The organizers of this mob action got enormous bang for their buck. A few hundred people, many of them armed and dangerous, were able to model for the whole country how it is possible to sidestep democratic institutions and go straight for the public jugular, with visceral hatred and identity politics and whipping up fear.

The ISIL-style vehicular terrorism that killed Heather Heyer and injured 19 others, sending bodies flying, was only one instance of wanton violence perpetrated by the Alt-Right. (And by the way, Trump’s impassioned defense of the creeps is still not matched by any praise for Heather.)

A white gang also beat DeAndre Harris to within an inch of his life.

ABC7: Photographing A White Supremacist Attack — Charlottesville

The fascists were emboldened to perform this demonstration project by the knowledge that the president is a right wing billionaire who is generally supportive of their goals. Fascists are mostly lower middle class but they want to get rich and join the billionaires, and so are willing to act as the shock troops of the anti-social section of the rich (i.e. Trump and the Kochs, not Warren Buffett). In return, they get to categorize themselves as in the same faction as Donald Trump, as though suddenly thereby their toilet seats will turn into gold, as well. They get to be better by simple mantras of racial exclusivism, than Jews, Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Muslims. They get to rise to the top of the heap, not because of hard work or special insights or striving for higher education, but just by being free to throw around racial slurs and stick their chests out and brandishing assault rifles they have courtesy the pro-Right NRA Lobby.

Here is how Alan Zimmerman described the situation at his synagogue in Charlottesville on Saturday morning:

“On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).

Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.”

Cornell West also reported of the white nationalist thugs,

“But what happened was, they held us hostage in the church. We could not leave after the service, because the torch march threatening the people who were there…”

… You had a number of the courageous students, of all colors, at the University of Virginia who were protesting against the neofascists themselves. The neofascists had their own ammunition. And this is very important to keep in mind, because the police, for the most part, pulled back. The next day, for example, those 20 of us who were standing, many of them clergy, we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the antifascists who approached, over 300, 350 antifascists. We just had 20. And we’re singing “This Little light of Mine,” you know what I mean? So that the—

AMY GOODMAN: “Antifa” meaning antifascist.

CORNEL WEST: The antifascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually.

If these individuals really were there to protest the removal of a statue in a democratic way, they had other choices. They could have joined in local politics, gone to city council meetings, walked neighborhoods, tried to elect a different city council. But how likely would they have been, you ask, to succeed in a liberal college town? One of the more essential elements in democratic practice is that the losers in a political contest accept defeat and go home. Where that doesn’t happen, as in Libya in 2014 and after, you get civil war. Democracy isn’t a guarantee of your views winning and being implemented. It is a guarantee that you get to make a reasoned, public appeal for them before people vote on them.

Trump, and Faux News’s phony equivalence of the fascist mobsters with the counter-protesters is easily refuted. How many people did the counter-protesters put in the hospital? What policy did they attempt to force illegitimately on the democratically elected leaders? How are they, like Trump and his corporate backers, trying to poison our water, spew toxic carbon dioxide into the air and take away people’s health insurance, for the sake of corporate profits?

Shouting Sieg Heil at a synagogue is not democratic process, it is thuggery. And ultimately, all fascism is is commonplace mass thuggery.

The novelist E. L. Doctorow wrote in Billy Bathgate that mobsters view death as a form of garbage. When a gangster loses his temper and kicks a man to death, he has to call cleaners to take out the trash. The criminality of fascism is likewise just a way of making a healthy society into sewage, with hobnail boots and brandishing of weapons and marching and torches and angry racial slurs. It is as banal as turds in a toilet. It builds nothing, makes nothing, invents nothing. It just swallows up everything that is good and turns it into shit.

That, Mr. President, is what your alt-Right is. And if it is what you identify with, then so are you.

Why don’t People think Trump’s Denunciation sincere? B/c he Ran on Racism

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump finally came out, two days late, to denounce explicitly and by name the hate groups who organized an invasion, hundreds-strong, of little Charlottesville, VA (pop. 46,000) on Saturday.

While the statement will take some of the political pressure off the president, it will be dismissed by most Americans as too little, too late and at worst insincere.

The difficulty Trump faces is that his initial reaction, on Saturday, in which he blamed “many sides” for the violence, was clearly spontaneous and represented his first gut reaction. He thinks that liberals, Blacks and Mexicans were as guilty as (or more so than) Steve Bannon’s Alt-Right, the Nazis, the KKK, the bikers, etc. I.e. the White Nationalists who have killed the majority of of those killed in domestic terrorist incidents during the past decade in this country.

Immediately after his pro forma, prepared statement (which carefully avoided mentioning the ‘Alt-Right’), Trump’s staff leaked his alleged plans to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona. Arpaio was notorious for his profiling-based unconstitutional round-ups of immigrants. When a court ordered him to desist, what with the fourth Amendment and all, he went on with his round-ups, and so was convicted of criminal contempt of court.

Pardoning Arpaio is the White Nationalist move.

Likewise, Trump has not backed off building his wall.

He hasn’t apologized for calling Mexican-Americans rapists and criminals.

He hasn’t apologized for his years-long public campaign to denigrate Barack Obama as not an American citizen.

He hasn’t backed off his bizarre Muslim visa ban.

In the end, there is one reason that Trump cannot heal the country, cannot properly eulogize Heather Heyer, who died for her anti-hate activism.

Because Trump, based on his public statements, would have been a perfectly plausible attendee of the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville last Saturday.


Related video:

The Oregonian: “Trump condemns KKK, neo-Nazis: ‘Racism is evil'”

Bannon must go, but after that, Protesters should listen to Bernie

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Steve Bannon ran, and is still likely pulling the strings at, Breitbart, the “Stormfront” in a business suit with a skinny tie. Bannon once characterized it as enabling what he called the “alt right,” by which he meant a slightly more presentable version of the skinheads, KKK, bikers, Neo-Nazis and other far right fringe supremacist groups that might appeal to today’s youth, including the educated.

Breitbart has been wildly successful, since conspiracy theories, race resentment, Islamophobia, misogyny and other base emotions have a visceral appeal.

I would argue that the success of the Neo-Neo-Nazis calling themselves “alt-” lies in an unconscious class dilemma that they displace onto race.

That is, not only must Trump dump Bannon, but so should the youth protesters who have been misled by Breitbart fake news. They should turn instead to a different challenger of the status quo, Bernie Sanders

Since the Reagan restructuring of the tax code in the 1980s and following on further such changes under Clinton and Bush, the United States is becoming. more and more unequal society. The top 1% owned 25 percent of the privately held wealth in the US in the 1950s. How much they own now is controversial but it is between 36% and 42%. The trend line is not in doubt. They take home 20% of the country’s income annually now, up from 10% in the 1960s.

These inequalities build up year after year. If 1% gets 20% this year and next year and the year after, after a while they will have it all.

This increasing economic inequality is bad for workers, lower middle class and middle class people but very good for the upper middle class and the wealthy.

The rich and government institutions in the US have for decades conspired to knock any realistic sense of class out of the American public. Workers making $21,000 a year, middle class families pulling down $40,000, and businessmen making a million dollars a year are all typically rolled up into “the middle class” in American political discourse. But the fact is that the top 10% or the top 1% or most importantly the top 0.1 percent benefit from a different set of policies than do working and middle class Americans.

Businessmen like few regulations and not having to pay fringe benefits, and very low taxes on business earnings and capital gains, so that even though they use the national infrastructure most intensively, the working and middle classes are made to pay for it.

If you want to understand why the Republican Party often sounds like it is on Mars, denying Climate Change, arguing that all problems can be solved by lower taxes, not wanting universal health insurance, etc., you have to understand that it represents the 1%, not the 99%. It lies to the 99% about standing up for the little guy, as Trump did. But look at their actual legislation to see whom they help and whom they hurt.

The move to greater income and wealth inequality destroys opportunity for upward mobility among working and middle class youth. Europe now has more opportunities for upward mobility than the United States!

So the angry young people protesting about being replaced or being made redundant aren’t wrong. They are victims of class oppression, and especially of Neoliberal policies that privatize public services like education and even water delivery and deregulate in favor of businesses and against consumers. They are wrong that this is being done to them by Jews or globalism or Mexicans. Most Jews are suffering from these policies along with everyone else, and the most articulate critic of inequality in our time is not Trump or Bannon but Bernie Sanders.

Bannon, a multi-millionaire, tells these young people that they should idolize wealthy businessmen like Donald Trump, and that the reason they are having trouble getting a job is not increasing inequality and concentration of wealth in a few hands, but because immigrants or Latinos or African Americans are taking their jobs and pushing them to the bottom of the pile. And Muslim terrorists are lording it over them.

In fact, studies show that immigrants don’t have good enough English to take jobs away from most white workers, and that they fill different niches in the economy. Immigrants actually expand the economy and would be helping white workers and middle classes do better except for one thing. The top 1% is capturing 20% of the annual income of the country, so the expansion of GDP made possible by the immigrants isn’t going proportionally to white workers.

Bannon and Breitbart are the purveyors of the ultimate false consciousness, the illusion of race oppression to hide from their dupes the reality, of class oppression. Of course, dividing people by race and national origin and religion is extremely convenient for the Rupert Murdochs and Koch Brothers and Scaifes and others. Why do you think respectable WASPs who yearn to be invited to white tie PBS donor parties fund an Islamophobia network to the tune of tens of millions of dollars? To give people some other target to hate than their increasing share of the national wealth.

Nobody needs to hate anyone. All we have to do is go back to the tax code as it existed under Republican president Dwight Eisenhower and make sure there are opportunities for energetic young people to move up.

Trump and Bannon are taking us in the other direction. The tax code they are cooking up with the GOP Congress will be like a firehose spewing money at the wealthiest and depriving everyone else. Trump’s Scott Pruitt is destroying the EPA so that corporations can poison us at will for a profit without facing any backlash.

So the corporations and the 1% benefit from Charlottesville. Who cares about some old Confederate general? Whether a statue to him stands somewhere won’t put money in anyone’s pocket. And if young white people want to be proud of something, they can be proud of America’s role in defeating Nazism or our Catholic president Jack Kennedy’s successful moonlanding project, or American science triumphs and Nobel prizes, often won by Jews and members of other minorities. Hanging your self-worth on the Confederacy having been glorious is a fool’s errand.

So if they were smart, and really wanted to take back their country, these young people would turn to Bernie Sanders and not a hot duplicitous mess like Bannon. They would join unions and support a substantial raise in the minimum wage and get behind a single payer health insurance program. These things would all benefit them in a way that the dust of Jefferson Davis cannot. It is true that they will also benefit African-Americans and Latinos and women. That’s called synergy, when something is bigger than the sum of its parts.

It won’t help Bannon, though. It will raise his taxes and it will drain the hatred that fuels his support base.

These youth are being trained like circus animals, to hate the Left, which is the only political force that can actually rescue them. They are being trained to hate Jews and African-Americans and Latinos and Muslim-Americans, when it is only by joining forces with them that they have a prayer of outwitting the billionaires on public policy. They are being taught to reach back to rickety nineteenth century plantations for their social ideal, when the future is Elon Musk and Tesla and the gigafactory– enterprises that they can take part in if they get the right training.

Of course Trump needs to fire Bannon, whose propaganda for the Far Right in the past decade led directly to the Vanilla ISIS car-killing in Charlottesville. But more importantly, the people with genuine grievances about lack of jobs and lack of opportunity and lack of dignity need to be taught how to get those things in a positive way.


Related video:

The Young Turks: “Steve Bannon Called Fired Jeff Lord In Racist Solidarity”

Top 5 Ways White Terrorism means never having to Say you’re Sorry

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I’ve argued for some time that US media treats white terrorists differently than others. And, I noted recently that the US press seems to have been astonished when the governor of Minnesota branded the bombing of a mosque “terrorism.” We have more evidence today to make my point.


The right wing in the United States has made hay by insisting on calling Muslim extremists “radical Islamic extremists.” This phrase is propaganda, since it is strident and redundant. Are there, like, any non-radical extremists? Moreover, “Islamic” refers to the ideals of the Muslim religion, just as Judaic refers to Jewish ethics and high culture. You can have a Jewish criminal. Bugsy Siegel comes to mind. And you can have a Muslim criminal. But you can’t have a Judaic criminal and you can’t have an Islamic one.

In contrast to this rhetorical overkill regarding the small Muslim fringe, American pundits do not insist that the KKK, white supremacists and alt-Neo-Nazis who descended on Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday be termed “radical white extremists.”

In fact, Trump refused to single these creeps out for condemnation at all:


Whenever a Muslim terrorist commits an attack, right wing television anchors bring on hapless ordinary Muslims and demand to know why they and their leaders have not denounced terrorism.

(Actually Muslim leaders from al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq have gone blue in the face denouncing al-Qaeda, ISIL, terrorism, etc. But Western pundits are so ignorant they don’t even know who the leaders of the Muslim faith are and so can’t hear the condemnations. Moreover, ISIL wasn’t defeated in the main by Westerners but by Muslim-heritage troops who took high casualties.)

Secular Talk: “‘Why Don’t Moderate Muslims Condemn Terrorism?’ – They Do.”

But when white terrorists strike, as with Dylann Roof or those pond scum in Charlottesville, no one demands that the leaders of the white people denounce white terrorism. I guess that would be Frank Church, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. As far as I can see, the only reason for the Southern Baptist church to exist is to provide a place where white Baptists can meet undisturbed by Black Baptists. So what with being so white and all, it should be asked to denounce the terrorism in Charlottesville. Or maybe Southern Baptists don’t speak out on this issue because they secretly harbor sympathies? (Sorry to do that to you, Baptists; I know you’re good people. it is just to demonstrate what it feels like to be a mainstream American Muslim.)


When Muslim terrorists commit vehicular homicide in order to terrorize people, as on the London Bridge last spring, that is called terrorism, or sometimes “lone wolf” terrorism.

But when a far right extremist white guy commits vehicular homicide in Charlottesville against normal people protesting Nazism and the Confederate legacy of slavery, I swear to God, CBS/AP called it “Driver in fatal Charlottesville wreck”


The article notes that not only did that hateful person allegedly kill a woman crossing the street, he badly injured a whole gaggle of people who are not being mentioned in the news:

“Five of the injured were listed in critical condition Saturday night. Four thers were in serious condition, sixwere in fair condition, and four others were in good condition, authorities said Saturday.”

I don’t know, I guess those ISIL guys from Libya in London could have been characterized as “Drivers in fatal London Bridge wreck.” I mean, it is not incorrect or anything. It is just effing pusillanimous.


The US government has a whole program for “combating violent extremism.” It initially worked against both Muslim and white supremacist extremism.

Trump last winter ordered that the program stop combating white supremacist extremism and focus only on Muslims. This despite the fact that you’re many times more likely to be harmed by a white supremacist than by a Muslim in the US.


Muslim extremists are often depicted as people who cannot adapt to the modern world and are stuck in the eighth century.

White extremists, despite their bizarre attachment to plantation slavery and National Socialist memorabilia from the 1930s, are not similarly branded as stuck in the past. In fact, what with their Alt media like the far, far, far, far Right Breitbart (Volkische Beobachter in the original German), they are often seen as cutting edge modernists.

‘Locked & Loaded’ Trump’s 1960s Cowboyism re: N. Korea & Venezuela

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

If you were away from news on Friday, you might like to know that in addition to hot wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen (and maybe Somalia and Libya), the Trump administration talks as though it is on the brink of opening new fronts in Venezuela and North Korea (is this what Anthony Scaramucci meant by front-stabbing?)

I wish I could reassure you that Trump is all talk and there isn’t any likelihood of his bluster actually leading to real-world action. But he is the president and things can spin out of control unexpectedly because of some hothead’s speech. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s bombast in spring of 1967 probably helped (along with Moshe Dayan’s itchy trigger finger) provoke the Six-Day War. Egypt was bogged down in Yemen and did not have the capacity actually to take on Israel at that point, besides which the Soviet Union, Egypt’s then Sugar Daddy, had sternly forbidden it. But Abdel Nasser’s rhetoric, helped along by Dayan’s opportunism, spun out into a brief, epochal war that destabilized the Middle East right to today. It was the defeat of secular Arab nationalism by Israel in 1967 that began the stampede to Muslim fundamentalism as an alternative.

Donald Trump never served in the military and it is not clear he has ever fired a gun.

His garish posturing about US weapons being “locked and loaded” with regard to North Korea and his repeated threats of hot war against Pyongyang if baby Dictator Kim Jong-un doesn’t stop trash talking the US just makes him and the country a cartoonish caricature.

Like W. before him, he is just mouthing things he saw in old John Wayne movies. In fact, the phrase “locked and loaded,” a favorite in 1950s Hollywood, refers to the Garand M1 rifle, which had a bolt that had to be pulled back and locked before the clip was inserted, then it would automatically spring forward after being loaded.

The Garand was used by US troops in WW II and the Korean War (ironically enough) but began being superseded in the mid-1960s and is no longer in use.

Let me just repeat that. There is no weapon in the US arsenal today that is locked before being loaded. The phrase is an anachronism, like Trump himself, with his 1960s Rat Pack self-image (for which he is too fat and too inarticulate).

Tom Engelhardt was among the first cultural critics to point to the importance of childhood 1950s games and fantasies like cowboys and Indians for America’s real world warmongering. Of course the great WW II movies of the post-war era were part of that imaginary.

I don’t know if younger readers even know who John Wayne was. He was a B movie actor with limited range who hated the left with a passion, who often pretended to be a cowboy.

In like 1866-1886 cattle used to be herded by “cowboy” ranch hands from Santa Fe over the open range up Kansas on the hoof for shipment to the slaughterhouses of Chicago, before the railways were extended and the cowboy way of life collapsed. It was just a 20 year period, and entailed a fair amount of lawlessness and unpleasantness, but it seems to have permanently afflicted our country, as a sort of polio of the mind, with morally crippled metaphors of unbound masculinity and seething menace.

The real cowboy era isn’t as important for today’s political purple prose as the Hollywood cowboy of the 1930s through the 1960s. It was like a seed bed for right wing politics. Ronald Reagan played in “Death Valley Days” (I remember watching him in it). Clint Eastwood piled up bodies in spaghetti Westerns long before he fell to addressing empty chairs on a political stage. George W. Bush announced his intention to disregard the Constitution and the rule of law when he said that alleged al-Qaeda members were “Wanted Dead or Alive” — a reference to the bills posted for bounty hunters in the Old West, which surely were unconstitutional if phrased that way since they amounted to a Bill of Attainder. A fugitive could be killed by law enforcement in self defense, but you can’t just shoot down someone because they are on a wanted list.

But let’s face it, this cowboy rhetoric is intended to cut through constitutional issues and deliberative government the way a hot knife cuts through whipped cream.

America needs a new self-image, and probably more to the point, a new conception of masculinity, that doesn’t involve whipping poor beasts and driving them haggard over a thousand miles while casually engaging in drunken gun play and injuring the rights of settled homesteaders and Native Americans. And as for the Korean War, the US public has never come to terms with the atrocities our side perpetrated during it, or the scale of the loss of life. This amnesia is why Americans cannot imagine what North Korea has against us.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Donald Trump Surprises By ‘Not Ruling Out’ Military Option In Venezuela | The Last Word | MSNBC

If an Iranian president talked like Trump we’d think them all nut cases

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Over the years the smug Western pundits have had a good deal of fun at the expense of unhinged Middle Eastern rulers. There was Daffy Gaddafi in Libya, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. One headline in the 1990s spoke of ‘the fruitcake ravings of Gaddafi.’ A book about Saddam was entitled “The Demonic Comedy.” Columbia University president Lee Bollinger ridiculed Ahmadinejad to his face.

All three of these leaders were indeed a piece of work and perhaps the ridicule was well deserved.

But it did not stop there. American politicians are fond of the phrase “the civilized world.” We (they mean northern European white people) belong to it. Countries with looney and authoritarian presidents do not.

Bollinger said to Ahmadinejad,

“And today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for.”

A lot of Iranians were revulsed by what Ahmadinejad stood for, too, and when the regime stuffed ballots for him in summer 2009 the country exploded in protest. But a lot of American observers saw Ahmadinejad as emblematic of Iran, and as a sign of its lack of civilization.

Ironic, since Elamites and then Persians were among the inventors of civilization. The Book of Isaiah praised Cyrus the Great as virtually a messiah for his emancipation of the Jews in exile in Babylon. It is odd that a lot of Americans are so illiterate about archeology and history. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was also often advertised as a civilizing mission, as though Mesopotamia had not given us so many of the basic elements of civilization, including the Code of Hamurabbi and astronomy.

Bush once said that Iraq would soon be able to take the training wheels off, as if the country he destroyed were a 3 year old and he was the adult. That bike crashed.

So you see where I am going with this. Now it is America’s turn to be ridiculed for having a madman as a president.

If Iran or the Sudan had a president who went around saying the things Trump says, we’d consider them a bunch of nut cases.

In just the past week, think of the erratic and fascist things Trump has said. He virtually threatened to nuke North Korea and refused to walk that back on Thursday. He gushed, thanking Russian president Vladimir Putin for expelling 755 US diplomats from Moscow. He had, he said, wanted to find a way to fire them anyway. “There’s no reason for them to go back there” he said. Just last week he let the alt-NeoNazi wing of the White House propose a “White America” immigration policy. He is signaling he wants to cancel US support for the Iran nuclear deal. He is toying with putting rogue mercenaries in charge of Afghanistan.

European diplomats and politicians consider Trump a “laughingstock”. About 80% of the European public say they have no confidence in him.

It isn’t just Europe. The Chinese Communist Party, which under Mao’s cultural revolution in the 1970s had some erratic moments itself, is privately worried about Trump’s lack of consistency.

And if you do not think the antics of the Orange One affect how Americans and the United States are seen around the world, you’re not reading very widely.

Being perceived as a country full of nut cases who voted for a nut case can have deadly downstream consequences. If the US abruptly needed allies in some struggle, as George H. W. Bush did in his quest to save Kuwait from Saddam, would any sign on?

The poor opinion of us generated by our election of Trump and by his continued freak show even has economic implications. Chinese consumers are not sure they want American goods any more.

The difference between the US and those Middle Eastern countries with unhinged dictators is that the latter usually came to power in a coup of some sort. Americans freely elected Trump, even after they knew the worst about him.

So those Congressmen who hold forth in stentorian tones about our leadership of the civilized world might want to tone it down a bit. Our club membership has been revoked and there may even be a charge for broken furniture.


Related video:

Charlie Sykes on Trump & North Korea: ‘Erratic Narcissists Playing Chicken’ | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

Kissinger pushes Iranophobia, fear of ‘radical empire’ as ISIL declines

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Henry Kissinger at 94 is still misinforming Washington about Iran. Now he is warning of an “Iranian radical empire” stretching from Tehran to Beirut if Iran is allowed to “fill the vacuum” as ISIL is rolled up– as Jack Moore at Newsweek points out.. Kissinger seems stuck in a Cold War mentality, and still addicted to domino theory, just substituting Khomeinism for Communism.

Kissinger said,

“The outside world’s war with Isis can serve as an illustration. Most non-Isis powers—including Shia Iran and the leading Sunni states—agree on the need to destroy it. But which entity is supposed to inherit its territory? A coalition of Sunnis? Or a sphere of influence dominated by Iran? The answer is elusive because Russia and the Nato countries support opposing factions. If the Isis territory is occupied by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or Shia forces trained and directed by it, the result could be a territorial belt reaching from Tehran to Beirut, which could mark the emergence of an Iranian radical empire.”

I presume Kissinger thinks the Iranian radicalism here is the ideology of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, or Khomeinism, which holds that clerics should rule society.

If Kissinger is suggesting that we go slow on rolling up ISIL because it is a check on Iran, that is a non-starter. ISIL blew up Paris and Brussels and Istanbul and Damascus and Baghdad, and it simply must be stopped.

As for the radical empire idea, first of all, that is ridiculous. Lebanon is a multicultural country where Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shiites and Druze shape politics. Even Hizbullah admits that it isn’t a plausible country for Khomeinism.

Most of Syria is dominated by the secular Baath Party. Its alliance with Iran is one of convenience, not ideology. Although the upper echelons of the Baath and the Syrian Arab Army are dominated by the Alwaite Shiite minority, Alawites are esoteric, New Age Shiites without Friday mosque prayers or a seminary-trained clerical establishment. In short, it is the least likely community to support Khomeinism you could imagine. The rest of Syria is Christians, Druze, Kurds and Sunni Muslims– also not likely to be tempted by Twelver Shiite clerical Khomeinism.

Although the majority of parliament in Iraq is Twelver Shiite, most Iraqis reject Khomeinism. They do not want clerical rule. Even the chief cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, rejects clerical rule in favor of parliamentary governance. And Shiites in Iraq are not all-powerful. They need the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. Kurds are Sunnis. So 40 percent of Iraq is Sunni or other non-Shiite minority.

So Iran cannot spread a ‘radical empire’ in these countries because their elites would never accept Khomeinist ideology.

As for alliances of convenience, those existed long before ISIL’s take-over of territory in 2014. They are based on national interest and domestic majorities, something a realist like Kissinger should understand.

Moreover, the US is not in a position to prevent Iranian alliances with Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad. Those alliances have been forged over the past decades, and were strengthened by the threat of ISIL.

Kissinger seems unaware of the possibility that al-Qaeda and other Salafi Jihadi groups could fill the vacuum, as it has in Syria’s Idlib province. Would Kissinger really prefer that outcome?

The former Secretary of State is overly reifying Iranian influence, which is at the level of foreign policy and elite self-preservation in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, all of them multicultural societies where Iranian ideology has no appeal.

Even in Iran, the number of people who still genuinely believes in Khomeinism is vanishingly small, though some hard liners use it for their purposes.

The Kissinger view of Iran and its allies of convenience as a monolith seems to just parrot the hard right Israeli line, of parties like the Likud.

The US did indeed de facto depend on Iran to roll up ISIL, and will need Iran’s help to make sure it does not come back to attack the West again. That cooperation is an opportunity, one that Kissinger wants to throw away.


Related video:

France24: “Iran open to dialogue with Saudis, says top diplomat”

“Fire & Fury” or “Shock and Awe”: it is always the start of a Quagmire

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

If we weren’t talking about two nuclear-armed states with unhinged leaders, the war of words between the US and North Korea would be hilarious. Trump’s threat Tuesday that “”North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” was empty rhetoric and the government of Kim Jung-un knows it, which is why they immediately teased Trump that they were going to hit Guam with a missile strike. The counter-threat was just as absurd as the initial one.

This sort of over-heated rhetoric is hardly unprecedented and always weakens the United States.

North Korea is a country with a $17 billion gross domestic product (nominal) and a population of 25 million. I’m sure it has its virtues, but military weight in world affairs isn’t one of them. It is in a league with Nepal, Gabon and Iceland economically. Population-wise it is in the same league as the Cameroons and Madagascar. The US has a population of 320 million and a GDP of $18.5 trillion.

When I heard the phrase “fire and fury,” I couldn’t help thinking of George W. Bush’s threat of “shock and awe” against Iraq in March of 2003.

The threat was intended to convince Saddam Hussein and other embers of the Iraqi elite to flee the country without preconditions.

It did not work. The US failed to find Saddam, and failed to decapitate the regime.

The American Air Force did rain down destruction on Baghdad, but Baghdad did not surrender.

The army was sent in, grunts on the ground having to fight Iraqi armor and other units. Increasingly the military realized it had been duped by W.’s rhetoric. As Iraqi soldiers discarded their uniforms the better to engage in a guerrilla war, one general got into trouble with the highly scripted White House when he admitted that this was not the war they had gamed for.

The shock and awe that was supposed to make Saddam surrender without a shot, and to cow the Iraqis into submission, Instead the US was drawn into an Iraqi quagmire that continues to this day.

When they start talking shock and awe in Washington, friends, it is time to hunker down for the long haul.


Related video:

AP: “Trump: NKorea Will Be Met with ‘Fire and Fury'”

Scientists Leak Study on Global Heating Impact b4 Trump can Suppress it

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A draft report on the current impact of global heating on the United States, produced by 13 Federal agencies, has been leaked to the New York Times. The scientists who leaked it are afraid that the anti-science Trump administration will suppress the findings to help its friends in Big Oil.

One of its central findings is that man-made climate change (driving your car, air-conditioning your house on fossil fuels so that you release toxic CO2) is already having an impact on the United States. For instance, the West is hotter, which exacerbates droughts.

One of the findings that alarmed me is that just in the next few decades average temperatures in the US will go up 2.5 degrees F. But by 2100, only 80 years from now, the average temperature will be 5 to 8.5 degrees F. higher! Remember, average surface temperature includes the cold Great Lakes and cold North Dakota. So in any particular place, say Savannah or Atlanta or Phoenix, the temperature could go up even higher than 8.5 degrees F. The scientists are saying that unusual record temperatures will become normal. Some whole cities (we’re looking at you, Tucson) could become uninhabitable in the old age of my grandchildren!

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The report says,

“The world has warmed (globally and annually averaged surface air temperature ) by about 1.6 °F (0.9°C) over the last 150 years (1865 – 2015), and the spatial and temporal non-uniformity of the warming has triggered many other changes to the Earth’s climate.

*Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.

*Thousands of studies conducted by tens of thousands of scientists around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures;

*melting glaciers;

*disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and an increase in atmospheric water vapor.

*Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate changes.

*The last few years have also seen record-breaking, climate-related, weather extremes,

*as well as the warmest years on record for the globe.

In the beginning of the Executive Summary, the government scientists have managed to refute all the talking points of their current ignoramus or venal bosses, Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt. And a simple little chart shows that the idea that there hasn’t been dramatic heating already (especially in the American West) is daft:


The report is good on regional differences. The US Northeast has had an unusual amount of heavy precipitation lately. These extreme rain events and the consequent danger of flooding will increase.

The West, in contrast, risks long-term drought and declining snow packs.

The oceans around the US are rising, warming and becoming more acidic. You take a Gulf coast fishing town and this is bad news. The town itself could be flooded out and disappear. Warmer Gulf waters mean more extreme hurricanes, so it could be leveled. And an acidic ocean will kill off a lot of the fish on which they depend.

The report is concrete, careful and scarier than any horror movie you’ve ever seen. It gives upper and lower estimates, depending on whether humankind gets its act together. Given the oil-drenched buffoons now in charge, you’d want to bet on the higher and more dangerous numbers in each case.


Let’s see if my coding abilities are up to embedding the report here:

Can a General ‘Unchaos’ the White House? – Juan Cole Interview

Warren Olney | KCRW. | (To the Point Radio Show) | – –

Can a general ‘unchaos’ the White House?

“With the President away, his White House Staff will play — unless former General John Kelly can establish rules of order in his new role as chief of a group he himself has called “dysfunctional.” We hear about his challenges and his record.”

Juan’s Interview on John Kelly at KCRW, Warren Olney’s To the Point:

(Click the arrow in the audio console below to listen):

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To the Point Logo: