Putin’s End Game in Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Syrian press is watching Oliver Stone’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin and likes what it sees. Syria’s al-Watan (The Nation) reports that Putin’s Syria policy is the complete restoration of central government authority over the entire country, in preparation for a pull-back of Russian military forces to the Humaymin Air Base and Tartus on the Mediterranean.

He doesn’t appear to envisage that the Syrian military is capable, however, of taking all the country’s territory back, no matter how much air support Russia gives. Instead he sees a negotiation process, helped along by outside players such as the United States, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey willing to negotiate at Astana, Kazakhstan. He says he is asking them for “constructive cooperation.”

Putin believes that all the major players can agree that terrorism must be stopped.

Putin admits the need for “dialogue” between the opposition and the regime, including the armed opposition. (If Putin is sincere about this, he should be aware that Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly refused to talk to armed rebels, dismissing them as terrorists.)

Asked if it is necessary to partition Syria to resolve its crisis, Putin strongly disagreed and argued for the necessity of maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria and attaining a resolution of the various conflicts going on in the country.

He points out that partitioning Syria might only result in the mini-states fighting wars with one another.

Putin said that Russia was willing to support those Sunni rebel groups that fought ISIL (Daesh, ISIS) and the Nusra Front (the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate). He revealed that al-Assad is OK with that.

The end game, Putin says, will be the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of new presidential elections under watchful international supervision, as soon as possible.

In the meantime, in his phoner with the press on Thursday, Putin gave some less noble reasons for his involvement in the Syrian war, according to BBC Monitoring:

“The experience that the Russian military have gained in Syria is priceless, President Vladimir Putin said, speaking at his annual phone-in as shown live on official state TV Rossiya 1 on 15 June.

“We can say that the experience of using our Armed Forces in combat while employing modern weapons is absolutely priceless, I am saying this without any exaggeration. You know, our forces have even gained an absolutely different quality,” Putin said.

Combat experience also gave a chance to military engineers to test and tune the weapons on site, he added.”

Source: Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 0903 gmt 15 Jun 17

That sounds about right. The Russian military-industrial complex isn’t less than anyone else’s.


Related video :

CGTN: “Putin: Russia aims to strengthen Syrian military”

In March for 1st Time, 10% of US Electricity came from Wind and Solar

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I’ve been a booster of renewable energy for years and years. I can remember when readers would taunt me that only one percent of US electricity came from non-hydro renewables.

So here we are in 2017 and this March for the first time wind and solar accounted for ten percent of US electricity production.

In Iowa, 37 percent of the electricity comes from wind alone all year around.

There are now over 800,000 jobs in green energy in the US.

Solar jobs are growing 17 times faster than the general economy in the US.

After Trump reneged on the Paris Climate Accord, dozens of US cities have pledged to go 100% green in their energy consumption, with Santa Barbara being only the latest.

The Federal government isn’t the only player here, and anyway, large parts of it, such as the Pentagon, continue to favor renewables.


Related video:

KCCI Investigates: Could wind energy power all of Iowa?

Trump to Send 4,000 More US Troops to Afghanistan as Mattis admits ‘Not Winning’

TeleSur | – –

The Trump adminstration plans to deploy 4,000 more troops, extending the nearly
The official says troops will train Afghan soldiers, and fight Taliban and Islamic State group forces.

The Pentagon is planning to send almost 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, an official said anonymously Thursday. There are already around 8,400 U.S. ground troops stationed in the country.

The decision could be officially announced next week. On Wednesday, President Trump authorized Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to adjust the deployment level to Afghanistan.

According to the official, most of the soldiers will be assigned to train and advise Afghan forces, with some also devoted to ongoing military operations against the Islamic State Group, and the Taliban.

“Thanks to the vigilance and skill of the U.S. military and our many allies and partners, horrors on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been repeated on our shores,” said a White House statement authorizing the adjustment of deployment levels.

“However, the danger continues to evolve and that danger requires a commitment to defeat terrorist organizations … we will achieve victory against the terrorists abroad, protect our borders at home, and keep America safe,” the statement continued.

The announcement comes shortly after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis admitted that things weren’t going well for U.S. operations in the country.

Describing the Taliban as “surging,” Mattis said “we are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The decision would be the largest military deployment of President Trump’s term so far.

U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan 16 years ago, on October 7, 2001, mere weeks after the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.

The U.S. operation in Afghanistan, originally called “Infinite Justice,” but later changed to “Enduring Freedom,” for fear that the former name was offensive, reached a peak in 2010, with the U.S. forces reaching around 100,000 after the administration of former President Barack Obama ordered a 33,000 troop deployment.

U.S. deployment levels in Afghanistan have steadily declined since 2012, and in 2014 Obama made plans for a complete military withdrawal. Troops have been at their current level since Obama left office.

The ongoing U.S. operation in Afghanistan has taken a heavy toll. It is estimated that at least 31,000 civilians have been violently killed in the country during the operation, according to the Watson Institute at Brown University.

The Institute acknowledges however, that civilian deaths are very often not reported by the U.S. military, making it difficult to arrive at a precise figure of the ongoing war’s death toll. The estimate also does not include those who have been affected by the exacerbated poverty, malnutrition, and lack of health care access that has resulted from the operations.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

VOA News: “Mattis: US ‘Not Winning’ in Afghanistan”

Putin offers Comey Asylum, likens him to Snowden

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

BBC Monitoring translates the remarks of Russian President Vladimir Putin broadcast on Rosiyya 1 TV on Thursday.

He responded to the remarks last week of former FBI director James Comey in his testimony before the senate, deploring Comey’s assertion, without offering any proof, of Russian interference in the US election.

Putin misrepresented the allegations against Russia as simply the broadcast of the Kremlin’s views, saying “We have our own opinion and we are expressing it openly. It’s not some underground undermining activity, but we are expressing our opinion.”

What is being alleged is that Russian government outlets such as RT and Sputnik deliberately spread largely false but damning stories about Hillary Clinton, which were picked up by fellow travelers such as Breitbart and other alt-Neonazi websites and then spread around to millions of unsuspecting voters via Facebook and Twitter, especially in states that might be close. The hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails and those of Clinton campaign director John Podesta was in service of generating these negative stories, and is alleged to have been coordinated with Russian intelligence if it wasn’t actually directed by it. There was, in short, a Russian government-directed disinformation campaign that aimed at voter suppression through discouraging Democrats from going to the polls.

It is a complex theory of disinformation cascade and may or may not be true. But it cannot be refuted by simply insisting on Russia’s right to broadcast the views of the Kremlin.

Putin then tried the typical propaganda trick of changing the subject, charging that the US is constantly doing propaganda abroad and funding non-governmental organizations. He said that in private conversations with world leaders, everyone complained about US interference in their politics.

The idea that the US funds non-governmental organizations to make revolutions is a conspiracy theory. The US AID and other funding agencies like NGOs because of the theory that emerged during and after the 1989 East Bloc revolutions that societies with numerous NGOs are more likely to turn and remain democratic. The local version of the Girl Scouts is not being funded in hopes they will make a coup.

Besides, Putin’s charge that the US interferes in other people’s elections (which is not untrue) does not address the questions of whether or how Putin interfered in the 2016 American election. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Putin said he found the idea that Comey wrote down his conversations with Trump and then found a way to leak them via a friend to the press “very strange. “What is the difference between the FBI head and Mr Snowden then? In this case, he is not the special services’ head, but a rights activist who defends a certain position.”

Putin then joked, “By the way, if he is persecuted in this relation, we will be ready to give him too political asylum in Russia. He should know this.”

Source: Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 0903 gmt 15 Jun 17

It is amusing to think of Comey, an information hardliner who called Ed Snowden a traitor, as himself a whistle blower. He tried to strong arm Apple into unencrypting all our phones, opening us to hackers. In this regard, Putin makes a fair point. But the rest of his remarks on this issue came across as sleazy.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

RFE/RL: “Putin Compares Comey To Snowden, Offers Asylum”

From Syria to Somalia: Where have all the Children Gone?

By Karen J. Greenberg | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

“This is a war against normal life.” So said CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward, describing the situation at this moment in Syria, as well as in other parts of the Middle East. It was one of those remarks that should wake you up to the fact that the regions the United States has, since September 2001, played such a role in destabilizing are indeed in crisis, and that this process isn’t just taking place at the level of failing states and bombed-out cities, but in the most personal way imaginable. It’s devastating for countless individuals — mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers — and above all for children.

Ward’s words caught a reality that grows harsher by the week, and not just in Syria, but in parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, among other places in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Death and destruction stalk whole populations in Syria and other crumbling countries and failed or failing states across the region.  In one of those statistics that should stagger the imagination, devastated Syria alone accounts for more than five million of the estimated 21 million refugees worldwide. And sadly, these numbers do not reflect an even harsher reality: you only become a “refugee” by crossing a border.  According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in 2015 there were another 44 million people uprooted from their homes who were, in essence, exiles in their own lands.  Add those numbers together and you have one out of every 113 people on the planet — and those figures, the worst since World War II, may only be growing.

Rawya Rageh, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, added troubling details to Ward’s storyline, among them that deteriorating conditions in war-torn Syria have made it nearly “impossible to find bread, baby formula, or diapers… leaving survivors at a loss for words” (and just about everything else). Meanwhile, across a vast region, families who survive as families continue to face the daily threat of death, hunger, and loss.  They often are forced to live in makeshift refugee camps in what amounts to a perpetual state of grief and fear, while the threat of rape, death by drone or suicide bomber, or by other forms of warfare and terror is for many just a normal part of existence, and parental despair is the definition of everyday life. 

Resignation Syndrome

When normal life disintegrates in this way, the most devastating impact falls on the children. The death toll among children in Syria alone reached at least 700 in 2016. For those who survive there and elsewhere, the prospect of homelessness and statelessness looms large. Approximately half of the refugee population consists of young people under the age of 18.  For them and for the internally displaced, food is often scarce, especially in a country like Yemen, in the midst of a Saudi-led, American-backed war in which civilians are commonly the targets of airstrikes, cholera is spreading, and a widespread famine is reportedly imminent.  In a Yemeni scenario in which 17 million people now are facing “severe food insecurity,” nearly two million children are already acutely malnourished. That number, like so many others emerging from the disaster that is the twenty-first-century Middle East, is overwhelming, but we shouldn’t let it numb us to the simple fact that each and every one of those two million young people is a child like any other child, except that he or she is being deprived of the chance to grow up undamaged.

And for those who do escape, who actually make it to safer countries beyond the immediate war zone, life still remains fragile at best with little expectation of a sustainable future.  More than half of the six million school-age children who are refugees, reports the UNHCR, have no schools to attend.  Primary schools are scarce for them and only 1% of refugee youth attend college (compared to a global average of 34%).  Startling numbers of such refugees are engaged in child labor under terrible working conditions.  Worse yet, a significant number of child refugees are traveling alone.  According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in 2015-2016… easy prey for traffickers and others who abuse and exploit them.”

Such children, mired in poverty and dislocation, are aptly described as growing up in a culture of deprivation and grief.  At least since the creation of UNICEF in 1946, an agency initially focused on the needs of the young in the devastated areas of post-World War II Europe, children at risk have posed a challenge to the world. In recent years, however, the traumas experienced by such young people have been rising to levels not seen since that long-gone era.

A heartbreaking story by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker catches the extremity of both the plight faced by child refugees and possible reactions to it.  She reports on a group of them in Sweden, largely from “former Soviet and Yugoslav states,” whose families had been denied asylum and were facing deportation.  A number of them suffered from a modern version of a syndrome once known as “voodoo death,” in which a child falls into a coma-like trance of severe apathy. Doctors have termed this state “resignation syndrome, an illness that is said to exist only in Sweden, and only among refugees.” Fearing ouster and threatened with being deprived of the ties they had already formed in that country, they simply turned off, physically as well as emotionally. 

While this is certainly not the first time grief has engulfed parts of the world, children have felt the brunt of its woes. By its nature, warfare breeds destruction, dislocation, and grief. But America’s never-ending war on terror, its “longest war,” has contributed to the instances of trauma suffered globally among children and continues to undermine their chances for recovery.

As psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in grief have found, it takes time as well as help to absorb and deal with such trauma and the grief for lives lost and worlds destroyed that follows in its wake. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who famously identified the five steps involved in reacting to grief, has underscored the time it takes to recover from such traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, for refugee children and those uprooted in their own lands, there is usually no time for such a recovery, no safe space in which to experience those five steps. Instead, year after year, the trauma, like the wars, simply persists and intensifies.

One thing seems guaranteed: children who suffer long-term trauma are likely to develop physiological and psychological symptoms that persist into adulthood, rendering it hard for them to parent in a healthy and supportive way. And in this fashion, the wounds of the wars of the present will be handed on to the future.  In the technical language of the experts, “Adverse childhood experiences increase the chance of social risk factors, mental health issues, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, and adult adoption of risky adult behaviors. All of these can affect parenting in a negative way,” and so perpetuate a cycle of dysfunction and trouble.

The Living Casualties of This New Age

There are many ways to think about this twinning of trauma and childhood, which is becoming such a signal part of our age. After the era of the concentration camps in Nazi Europe, psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, who had himself spent almost a year in one, studied the effects of trauma on those who survived exposure to extreme deprivation and the constant threat of death. Adults, he concluded, face the possibility of schizophrenia and the destruction of their personality structures, but children, he wrote, faced worse: the destruction of the self before the ego even came into being. Having been exposed to “extreme situations,” they ended up feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and “deprived of hope.” Many of them had also been forced to grow up without parents who might have helped them through the trauma. Worse yet, some of those he studied had actually seen their parents — or siblings — killed.

What he learned remains, unfortunately, applicable to children in our moment.  Isn’t it time to begin paying more attention to the cost of losing so many children to the forces of deprivation, soul-crushing devastation, and the culture of death at both a global and the most personal of levels?  Isn’t it time for the rest of us to begin to imagine just what millions of damaged children will mean both for our world and for the world they will inherit as adults? Some of them, of course, will rise above the damage done to them in their youth, but many will not and so will lead lives of loneliness, confusion, and pain, and will potentially pose a danger both to themselves and to others.

As Bettelheim’s work, which almost anticipated Sweden’s “resignation syndrome,” suggests, the early years of the twenty-first century are hardly the first age of grief, nor will they likely be the last.  They are, however, ours to deal with and their ravages are already evident not just in the Middle East, but in the rest of the world, too. In Europe and the United States, terrorist attacks tied ideologically to the war on (and of) terror and targeted against civilians, continue to undermine the sense of security to which the citizens of such countries were until recently accustomed. Children are not only part of this cycle of death and destruction, but in a recent instance — the suicide bombing in Manchester, England — were its target, as they also have been elsewhere, as in the abduction of hundreds of young girls by Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014. Meanwhile, teenage boys are being targeted as recruits for ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Strikingly, the United States has shown remarkably little concern for the children of the war-torn and violence-ridden areas of the Greater Middle East. Those young people could be thought of as the worst of the collateral damage from the years of invasions, occupations, raids, bombing runs, and drone strikes, including the children or youthful relatives of targeted, designated American enemies like Anwar al-Awlaki.

This lack of concern is strikingly reflected in the anti-refugee policies of the Trump era. Refugee children refused admission to the U.S. and other advanced countries and, forced to live in a state of limbo, are being harmed.  Such policies and “bans” are exactly the opposite of what’s needed to heal the world and move forward. Recently, as if to make just that point, an old photograph of a child has been appearing on Twitter over the caption “Denied refuge and murdered in Auschwitz: the human cost of refugee bans.” As a signal of what to expect from the U.S. in the age of Trump, consider his administration’s proposed budget, which calls for a cut of more than $130 million in funding for UNICEF, the signature agency providing relief and services to children in need globally.

The U.S. and its allies may one day defeat ISIS and other terror groups, but if what’s left in their wake is only bombed-out, unreconstructed landscapes and millions of uprooted children, what kind of victory will that be? What kind of future will that ensure?

There will be no “winning,” not truly, if the crisis of grief, the crisis of the children who are the living casualties of this new age, is not addressed sooner rather than later. For every dollar that goes toward a weapon or the immediate struggle against terror outfits, shouldn’t another go to the support of those children, to the struggle to stabilize their lives, to provide them with homes, education, and care of the sort that they so desperately need? For every short-term prediction about the possible harm refugees could bring to a country, shouldn’t there be some consideration of what the children who are taken care of will want to give their new homelands in return?  Shouldn’t some thought be given to the world that the rejected or deported young, if left in distress, will someday create?

In Sweden, where the problems of traumatized refugee children have now been studied for more than a decade, the recommendation of psychiatrists and other experts to that country’s policymakers was simple enough: “A permanent residency permit is considered by far the most effective ‘treatment.’”

The loss of childhood, the crippling effects of trauma, the narrative of grief, and the cruel removal of any sense of hope or of a secure future have been seeping into global discourse about children for many years now. Isn’t it time to begin to see their global crisis for what it is: one of the major threats to a stable future for the planet?

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. Her latest book is Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, out in paperback this May. She is also author of The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 DaysRose Sheela and CNS interns Anastasia Bez, Rohini Kurup, and Andrew Reisman contributed research for this article.

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 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

Posted in Children,War | No Responses | Print |

Mattis overrules Trump on Qatari “terrorism,” sells it $12 bn in F-15s

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis defied his boss Donald Trump on Wednesday and inked a deal with the Qatar government to sell it $12 billion in F-15 fighter jets. Qatar hosts a US air base, al-Udeid, where some 11,000 US military personnel are based, and from which the US flies sorties against the Taliban and ISIL. Qatari pilots have flown missions against ISIL in northern Iraq, in cooperation with the US Air Force, and Mattis indicated that he hoped the deal would increase US-Qatari cooperation in this regard.

What makes this arms sale unusual is that Trump twice called Qatar a supporter of terrorism in the past week! If that were really true, the US couldn’t sell it a hammer, much less all those F-15s.

While Trump took sides with Saudi Arabia in its anti-Qatar campaign, Secretary of State Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disagreed with his boss. He urged an early resolution of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, declining to take sides. Tillerson, amazingly, told the Senate on Wednesday that there was no daylight between him and Trump on Qatar.

Now Mattis is strongly supporting Qatar.

For a long time Steve Bannon seemed to be calling the shots in the White House so dexterously that people were calling him “President Bannon.” Since Trump is highly erratic, a single-minded ideologue like the alt-NeoNazi Bannon could influence him just by being consistent.

But on foreign policy perhaps we have to speak of President Mattis.

Qatar, of course, is not actually a terrorist-supporting state, and has in fact been a close ally of the US against al-Qaeda and ISIL. And if Saudi Arabia thinks it can come for it the way they came for Yemen, Riyadh has another think coming.

Because there is still an adult in the room on US foreign policy and he is Jim Mattis.


Related video:

Wochit Politics: “Pentagon Agrees to F-15 Fighter Arms Deal Worth $12 Billion with Qatar”

Why Saudi Extremism, Instability is an Argument for EVs, Wind and Solar Energy

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Saudi Arabia has gotten too big for its britches, and the oil-producing Middle East is turning even more unstable. Not to mention that global warming is getting worse and worse because of burning fossil fuels like petroleum.

And it is your fault. If you are an American, your country imports 1.1 million barrels of petroleum every day from Saudi Arabia. Every time you fill up at the pump, you are enriching the Saudi elite and making the world more unstable.

In the European Union, Statoil and Saudi Arabia account for 20% of imports of petroleum.

The obvious solution to this problem, of instability, extremism and climate change emanating from Riyadh, is electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. They should be adopted as quickly as humanly possible.

Cambridge Econometrics concluded that Europe could make its energy supplies secure by “decarbonization,” that is, getting off gasoline/ petrol, coal and natural gas. Transport & Environment, reporting on the study, added, “A shift to electric vehicles would lead to a 1% increase in EU GDP, create up to 2 million new jobs and reduce emissions from cars and vans 83% by 2050, according to the study.”

This plan is no pie in the sky. It is already happening. Solar and wind are already producing more electricity in the UK than dirty coal. All we have to do is finish of coal and natural gas with renewables, and then plug electric vehicles into the green grid.

Saudi Arabia is denying that it has blockaded Qatar, since it says it is allowing goods and people in and out. How kind. 90 percent of Qatar’s food came overland through Saudi Arabia, so cutting off that lifeline is certainly a blockade. Qatar can fly in or ship in food, but at a premium, and many guest workers may not be able to afford it at those prices. The Saudis are trying to cripple the Qatari civilian economy, which is a war crime.

Now it and its allies are pressuring the United States to close down al-Udeid air base, from which most sorties against ISIL and the Taliban are flown. This is rich, since back in the 1990s when the US leased a Saudi air base to fly sorties over Iraq, radical Saudis like Usama Bin Laden claimed that this lease was a form of American military occupation of the Muslim holy land. Bin Laden gave this US presence as one of the reasons for his strike at New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. So are the Saudis roping us back into this situation? Note that Saudi Arabia has flown almost no sorties against ISIL, and defeating the latter doesn’t seem to have been high on Riyadh’s to-do list. Qatar has been far more helpful in the anti-terror fight than has Saudi Arabia.

In addition, Saudi Arabia has since spring of 2015 conducted a campaign of indiscriminate bombing against Yemen civilians and key civilian infrastructure in Yemen, leaving millions hungry, hundreds of thousands displaced, thousands dead, and tens of thousands sick with cholera. The war is ostensibly against the Houthi militia, but it is in fact being waged against Yemenis, especially the northwestern Zaydi population, in hopes that a war of attrition can bring the whole country to its knees. (This is a war crime; but then the Saudis bought their way onto the UN human rights committee, so as to deflect international condemnation). The Saudi war on little Yemen will add to the refugee crisis, promote instability, and result in more terrorism.

All this is not to mention the sinister role that Saudi Arabia has played in spreading around its militantly fundamentalist version of Wahhabism, which delights in vigilante morals police and discourages friendly relations between Muslims and others. (Qatar is also a Wahhabi society but mostly has relatively liberal emphases). Tolerant, Sufi strains of Islam (which are appreciated by many in Qatar) are hated in the Saudi Wahhabi heartland of Najd. Riyadh has virtually waged war on Sufism in Pakistan and Indonesia, both of which had been much more open and tolerant before they started coming under Saudi influence.

Putting solar panels on our homes, where we own them and can afford to do so, and then running an electric car like a Chevy Bolt or other similar off of these panels, is the single most important thing most of us can do to combat not only catastrophic climate change but also the menace of Saudi bullying and extremism-promotion. Around the world, about 15 percent of the toxic carbon dioxide that causes global warming comes from burning petroleum in cars, trucks and other vehicles. If we solve this one, we only have 85% of the problem to go. (And a lot of the rest comes from burning coal and natural gas, which we should replace with wind and solar so as to run our electric cars and buses cleanly). But, defunding the Saudi hard line version of Wahhabism would make it all worthwhile, just by itself.


Related video:

Wochit News: “Oil Prices Dip On Fears Middle East Spat Could Harm OPEC Cuts”

Top 6 signs Trump Really doesn’t like being Investigated

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

1. Preet Bharara, former US attorney for Manhattan, says that after the election Trump called him several times and seemed to be attempting to cultivate him in an unorthodox way. Bharara had jurisdiction over Trump Tower and business deals in Manhattan. Although he was told by Trump he could keep his job, his resignation was demanded along with that of all the US district attorneys appointed in the Obama era. When Bharara declined, he was fired.

2. Sally Yates, acting Attorney General, flagged to White House counsel that then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had in fact interacted with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in ways that he denied, and that his public dishonesty on this issue opened him to being blackmailed by the Russians. She was fired after she declined to implement Trump’s Muslim ban, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, but many observers think that her focus on Flynn was part of the reason for her dismissal.

3. Trump asked James Comey, then the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn, his first National Security Adviser, who stands accused of not reporting money he took from Russia and Turkey.

4. When Comey did not drop the Flynn investigation, Trump fired Comey.

5. Trump is angry at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the US Election. Because Sessions recused himself, the decision of whether to appoint a special prosecutor fell to deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, a career civil servant rather than a Trump insider.

6. Now there is buzz that Trump wants to fire the special prosecutor appointed by Rosenstein, former FBI director Robert Mueller. Mueller’s charge is to investigate Russian tampering with the 2016 election. The wording of the congressional law on special prosecutors requires that Trump ask Rosenstein to do the firing.

Somehow these high-powered investigators who have looking into Trump part of their remit all seem to end up in the unemployment line…


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Franken On Mueller’s Possible Firing: Trump Isn’t Acting Like He Has Nothing To Hide

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 2.36.42 AM

Obama’s last Victory: Syrian Democratic Forces hold Parts of ISIL Capital

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
– T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Whatever the fate of the world, Eliot’s verse is appropriate to the phony “caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIL (ISIS, Daesh). Its last days as a territorial mini-state will play out through 2017, but even dramatic developments appear not to be generating much public interest.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced Saturday morning that they had established control over a northwestern neighborhood of Raqqa in Syria, the capital of Daesh. They also launched an attack on a military base north of the city.

There are reports that Daesh fighters in Raqqa are attempting to negotiate their departure from the city.

The SDF is mostly made up of the leftist Kurds of the YPG (People’s Protection Units). To it are attached a few northern Syrian Arab clans, though the number of Arabs in the SDF is likely greatly exaggerated. Rebranding the YPG as the SDF and trying to make it multi-cultural was the strategy of Barack Obama and his secretary of defense, Ash Carter. They embedded a few hundred US special operations troops with the YPG and began training and equipping them for an eventual assault on Raqqa. The leftist Kurds were happy to take on this task in alliance with the US because Daesh had been trying to take their territory and massacre them, as they had done to the Iraqi Kurds. As leftist Kurds they are the ideological opposite of the hyper-fundamentalist, largely Arab Daesh.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis studied the Obama/ Ash Carter strategy intensively. Likely Mattis got enormous pressure from Trump’s first National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, to drop the Kurds. (Flynn was secretly working for a billionaire close to Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and appears to have been in Ankara’s back pocket; and Ankara does not like Washington’s Kurdish strategy toward Daesh one little bit.). Still, in the end, Mattis decided to go forward with the strategy of his predecessors, with some minor tweaks, He increased the number of US Special Operations troops embedded with the Kurds somewhat, and he supplied the YPG with medium weaponry, over squawks from Turkey. And his Pentagon redoubled regional propaganda exaggerating the number of Arab tribal levies fighting alongside the Kurds in the “Syrian Democratic Forces.”

And now the SDF is bracing the “caliphate” in its own lair. That a key neighborhood of Raqqa has fallen is huge news. It is the second to be taken by the SDF, the first having been al-Sabahiya.

It is true that the Syrian province of Deir al-Zor remains to be taken even if Raqqa province falls. And that Daesh may hang on for a few more months in West Mosul. But given Daesh’s designation of Raqqa as a capital and given the fixation on north Syria as the site of a future apocalyptic battle (which it will now never be in a position to join), the morale implications of the Raqqa defeat for the minions of Daesh are enormous.

The SDF said that they had liberated the western neighborhood of al-Rumaniya in Raqqa after two days of fierce battles. Raqqa has been surrounded by the SDF for some time, but this is the first time the Kurds have announced the capture of a western neighborhood there.

The northern approaches of the city (most Kurdish YPG forces are north of Raqqa) are guarded by the “Division 17” army base, which was captured by Daesh in 2014. The Kurdish fighters are finding the assault on it slow going.

The SDF began its campaign in Raqqa province last November, gradually moving south and cutting off major supply routes to the Daesh capital.

The American public was so consumed in 2014 with Daesh and its sanguinary spectacles that it did an about-face and wanted then President Barack Obama to intervene in Iraq, despite their support for him in 2008 and 2012 having been premised in part on his opposition to . . . intervening in Iraq.

When Daesh took much of eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq in 2013-2014, it presented to then President Barack Obama perhaps his gravest foreign policy crisis. Despite how badly he wanted not to be bogged down in Middle East policy, he swung into action. He forced pugnacious Shiite nationalist Nouri al-Maliki out of office in Baghdad and helped usher in the more flexible Haydar al-Abadi. He rebuilt the Iraqi command in a bid to train up yet another Iraqi army to replace the one that collapsed and ran away from Daesh in June of 2014. He tacitly accepted the help of Iran and of pro-Iranian Shiite militias in the fight against Daesh in the meantime.

On the Syria side, he was rebuffed in his search for a regional land force that would take on Daesh in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, where it was ensconced. Turkey was much more interested in taking on the PKK Kurds. The Gulf Cooperation Council nations offered their air forces to do some bombing in northern Iraq, but I don’t think they ever helped out against Raqqa in Syria.

It is Obama’s policy toward Daesh that is now finally bearing fruit. That policy may have been slower than desirable (certainly for the sake of Paris and Brussels). But it was eminently practical, and is now finally being implemented.

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DW US-backed militias push into IS-held Raqqa | DW English

Sorry, Trump, Electric Car sales doubled last Year, dooming dirty Fossil fuels

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road doubled worldwide to 2 million in the past year with 40% of EVs being in China. If the number of EVs went on doubling annually, they’d take over the world in short order.

Moreover, all-electric automobiles outsold plug-in hybrids in Europe for the first time in six quarters last quarter.

Batteries for EVs only cost 1/5 of what they did a decade ago.

Electric cars are most environmentally friendly if they are run on the owner’s solar panels. But even without that key element, they are cleaner than gasoline cars for 97% of Americans.

6% of all new car sales in the Netherlands were EVs last year, as the northern European country of 17 million aims to have 50% of all car purchases be electric in 2025, only 8 years from now.

Meanwhile, India’s government is even more ambitious, saying it wants only electric cars to be sold in that country by 2030.. Some 3 million passenger vehicles are sold every year in India, a country of 1.3 billion.

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