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Double Standards

Where Were the Liberal Protestors During Obama’s Wars?

by Mike Whitney

CounterPunch (January 26 2017)

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

The election of Donald Trump has sent millions of people pouring out onto the streets to protest a man they think is a racist, misogynist, xenophobic bully who will destroy US democracy in his quest to establish himself as supreme fascist ruler of the country.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe Trump is a fascist who will destroy America. But where were these people when Obama was bombing wedding parties in Kandahar, or training jihadist militants to fight in Syria, or abetting Nato’s destructive onslaught on Libya, or plunging Ukraine into fratricidal warfare, or collecting the phone records of innocent Americans, or deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers, or force-feeding prisoners at Gitmo, or providing bombs and aircraft to the Saudis to continue their genocidal war against Yemen?

Where were they?

They were asleep, weren’t they? Because liberals always sleep when their man is in office, particularly if their man is a smooth-talking cosmopolitan snake-charmer like Obama who croons about personal freedom and democracy while unleashing the most unspeakable violence on civilians across the Middle East and Central Asia.

The United States has been at war for eight straight years under Obama, and during that time, there hasn’t been one sizable antiwar march, demonstration or protest. Nothing. No one seems to care when an articulate bi-racial mandarin kills mostly people of color, but when a brash and outspoken real estate magnate takes over the reigns of power, then “watch out” because here come the protestors, all three million of them!

Can we agree that there is at least the appearance of hypocrisy here?

Indeed. Analyst Jon Reynolds summed it up perfectly over at the Black Agenda Report. He said:

 

 

If Hillary had won, the drone strikes would have continued. The wars would have continued. The spying would continue. Whistleblowers would continue being prosecuted and hunted down. And minorities would continue bearing the brunt of these policies, both in the US and across the world. The difference is that in such a scenario, Democrats, if the last eight years are any indication, would remain silent – as they did under Obama – offering bare minimum concern and vilifying anyone attacking their beloved president as some sort of hater. Cities across the US would remain free of protests, and for another four to eight years, Democrats would continue doing absolutely nothing to end the same horrifying policies now promoted by a Republican. {1}

 

 

He’s right, isn’t he? How many of the 800,000 protesters who marched on Sunday would have flown to Washington to express their contempt for would-be President Hillary Clinton?

Zero, I’d wager, and yet it’s Hillary who wanted to implement the no-fly zones in Syria that would have put Washington in direct confrontation with Moscow, just like it was Hillary who wanted to teach Putin a-thing-or-two in Ukraine. But is that what the people want? Would people prefer to be led into World War Three by a bonefide champion of liberal values than concede the post to a brassy billionaire who wants to find common ground on fighting ISIS with his Russian counterpart?

It seems like a no-brainer to me. And it’s not like we don’t know who is responsible for the killing in Syria either. We do.

Barack Obama and his coterie of bloodthirsty friends in the political establishment are entirely responsible. These are the people who funded, armed and trained the Salafist maniacs that have decimated the country and created millions of refugees that are now tearing apart the EU. That’s right, the spillover from America’s not-so-covert operation is ripping the EU to shreds. It’s just another unfortunate side-effect of Obama’s bloody Syrian debacle. As journalist Margaret Kimberly says in a recent post at the Black Agenda Report: “All of the casualties, the sieges, the hunger and the frantic search for refuge can be placed at America’s feet”

Amen, to that. All the violence can be traced back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, home of Barack Hussein Obama, Nobel peace prize winner. What a joke. Here’s how analyst Solomon Comissiong sums it up in another article at the Black Agenda Report:

 

 

Supporters of Barack Obama, and liberals in general, are disingenuous frauds. They had no issues protesting the likes of the amoral warmongering George W Bush or the racist xenophobe, Donald J Trump, however when it comes to Barack Obama they can find no reason to protest his mass murdering escapades. Obama supporters were recently nostalgic and teary eyed after he gave his last major speech as president of the United States, yet can find little reason to shed tears over the masses of civilians who were destroyed directly as a result of Obama’s policies. Where were the emotions and tears when men, women and children were getting blown to bits by USA drone attacks, indiscriminate air strikes and bombs? … Those who protested the racist and xenophobic Trump, but not Obama or Clinton, are nothing more that disingenuous frauds and amoral cowards. {2}

 

 

Let’s be honest, Obama got a pass from his supporters strictly because of appearances; because he looked and sounded like a thoroughly reasonable bloke who only acted on the loftiest of principles. Obama was hailed as a moral giant, a political rock star, a leader among leaders. But it was all fake, all make-up and glitz behind which operated the vicious national security state extending its tentacles around the world, toppling regimes wherever it went, and leaving anarchy and destruction in its wake. Isn’t this Obama’s real legacy when you strip away the sweeping hand gestures and pompous rhetoric?

Of course it is. But Trump won’t have that advantage, will he? Trump is not a public relations invention upon which heartsick liberals pin their highest hopes. Trump is Trump warts and all, the proverbial bull in the china shop. That’s not to say Trump won’t be a lousy president. Judging by the Wall Street cutthroats and hard-edged military men he’s surrounded himself with, he probably will be. But the American people are no longer asleep, so there’s going to be limits to what he can hope to achieve.

So the question is: How should one approach the Trump presidency? Should we denounce him as a fascist before he ever sets foot in the Oval Office? Should we deny his “legitimacy” even though he was elected via a process we have honored for over 200 years? Should we launch impeachment proceedings before he’s done anything that would warrant his removal from office?

Veteran journalist Robert Parry answers this question in a recent piece at Consortium News. Here’s what he said:

 

 

The current danger for Democrats and progressives is that – by bashing everything that Trump says and does – they will further alienate the white working-class voters who became his base and will push away anti-war activists.

There is a risk that the Left will trade places with the Right on the question of war and peace, with Democrats and progressives associating themselves with Hillary Clinton’s support for “endless war” in the Middle East, the political machinations of the CIA, and a New Cold War with Russia, essentially moving into an alliance with the Military (and Intelligence) Industrial Complex.

Many populists already view the national Democrats as elitists disdainful of the working class, promoters of harmful “free trade” deals, and internationalists represented by the billionaires at the glitzy annual confab in Davos, Switzerland.

If – in a rush to demonize and impeach President Trump – Democrats and progressives solidify support for wars of choice in the Middle East, a New Cold War with Russia and a Davos-style elitism, they could further alienate many people who might otherwise be their allies.

In other words, selectivity in opposing and criticizing Trump – where he rightly deserves it – rather than opportunism in rejecting everything that Trump says might make more sense. A movement built entirely on destroying Trump could drop Democrats and progressives into some politically destructive traps. {3}

 

 

Right on, Bob. A very reasonable approach to a very thorny situation.

Bravo!

Links:

{1} http://www.blackagendareport.com/democrats_no_moral_ground

{2} http://www.blackagendareport.com/obama%27s_destructive_legacy

{3} https://consortiumnews.com/2017/01/21/selectivity-in-trashing-trump/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/26/double-standards-where-were-the-liberal-protestors-during-obamas-wars/

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The Demise of the Left

by Paul Craig Roberts

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org (January 25 2017)

On several occasions I have asked in my columns the rhetorical question: What became of the left? Today I answer my question.

The answer is that the European and American left, which traditionally stood for the working class and peace (bread and peace) no longer exists. The cause championed by those who pretend to be the “left” of today is identity politics. The “left” no longer champions the working class, which the “left” dismisses as “Trump deplorables”, consisting of “racist, misogynist, homophobic, gun nuts”. Instead, the “left” champions alleged victimized and marginalized groups – blacks, homosexuals, women and the transgendered. Tranny bathrooms, a cause unlikely to mobilize many Americans, are more important to the “left” than the working class

All white-skinned peoples except leftists, including apparently victimized women, are racist by definition. Racism and victimization are the explanations of everything, all of history, all institutions, even the US Constitution. This program of the left cuts the left off from the working class, who have been abandoned by both political parties, and has terminated the left’s connection to the people.

The collapse of the left as an effective and real political force followed the Soviet collapse. The underclass had resisted their exploitation before the publication of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in 1867. But Marx raised the exploitation of labor to a fighting cause on whose side was History. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia seemed to validate Marx with its overthrow of the existing order and proclamation of Soviet Communism.

Soviet practices deflated left-wing hopes and expectations, but nevertheless an alternative system which continued to speak against capitalist exploitation existed. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, neoconservatives and neoliberals declared that History had chosen capitalism over the working class, and Marx’s prediction of the triumph of the working class had been proven wrong.

The Soviet collapse caused communist China and socialist India to change their economic policy and to open their economies to foreign capital. With no rival, capitalism no longer had to restrain itself and allow widespread access to the growth of income and wealth. Capitalists began collecting it all for themselves. Many studies have concluded that the productivity gains which formerly went mainly to the work force are now monopolized by the mega-rich.

One avenue to the concentration of income and wealth is the financialization of the economy (emphasized by Michael Hudson and by Marx in the third volume of Capital). The financial sector has been able to divert the discretionary income of the working class into interest and fees to banks (mortgages, car loans, credit card debt, student loans).

The other avenue is the offshoring of American jobs to which Donald Trump is strongly opposed. Here is what happened:

 

 

Wall Street told US manufacturers to move their production to China in order to increase profits from lower labor and regulatory costs, or Wall Street would finance takeovers of the companies, and the new owners would raise the firms’ profitability by moving production offshore. Large retailers, such as Walmart, ordered suppliers “to meet the Chinese price”.

When the jobs were in the US, most of the gains in productivity went to labor. Therefore, real median family incomes rose through time, and the consumer purchasing power this income growth provided drove the US economy to success for ever more people.

When the jobs were moved to Asia, the growth in real median US family incomes stopped and declined. The large excess supplies of labor and lower cost of living in Asia meant that Asian workers did not have to be paid in wages the value of their contribution to output. The difference between the US wage and Asian wage was large and went into corporate profits, thus driving up executives’ “performance bonuses” and capital gains (rising stock prices from higher profits) for shareholders. In my book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism published in 2013, I was able to calculate that based on current information at that time, every 1,000 manufacturing jobs moved to China resulted in a labor cost saving for the US company of $32,000 per hour. These hourly savings did not translate into lower prices for US consumers of the offshored production. The labor cost savings translated directly into the incomes of the executives and shareholders.

Thus, jobs offshoring permitted the productivity gains to be monopolized by corporate owners and executives.

 

 

Instead of responding to Trump’s support of the working class and his actions in their behalf during the first week of his presidency – Trump’s termination of TPP and his demand to auto manufacturers to bring manufacturing back to America – the “left” has rallied around a victim group – illegal immigrants. The “left” even elevates non-US citizens above the US working class.

Trump was elected by the working class. If the left is defined historically as the champion of the working class, then Donald Trump is their champion and the “left” is their enemy.

Throughout the contest for the Republican presidential nomination and the contest for the presidency, the “left” was allied with the ruling establishment of mega-rich capitalist oligarchs and the warmonger military/security complex against Trump. As Trump’s presidency begins, it is the “left” that wants Trump impeached and delegitimized, precisely the goals of the war- mongers and the mega-rich and their presstitutes.

Even environmental groups, such as The Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”) of which I am a member, have joined the identity politics against Trump. Rhea Suh, NRDC’s president, has just sent me an email in which she declares NRDC, supposedly a champion of wildlife and the environment, to be standing with women in the Women’s March on Washington against Trump “in defense of our most basic rights as women”. “Women matter”, Rhea declares, and proceeds to blame Trump for Flint Michigan’s polluted water.

I am convinced that it is a mistake for Trump to emphasize jobs at the expense of the environment. Whether or not global warming is a hoax, environmental destruction is not. It is real, and the working class, as in Flint, are suffering from it as well as from the offshoring of their jobs.

The Democratic Party died during the Clinton regime when Clinton allied with the Democratic Leadership Council (“DLC”) founded in 1985 by Al From. I have often wondered who funded the DLC. It could just as well have been the Koch brothers as the DLC turned the Democratic Party into a second Republican Party.

The DLC convinced Democrats that the defeat of the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Walter Mondale proved that economic populism is not politically viable. Democrats had to turn away from the left and embrace “mainstream values” and “market-based solutions”. The DLC was a big supporter of Nafta. Reportedly, the DLC’s Will Marshall regarded pacifists and Iraq war protesters as anti-American and advised Democrats to keep their distance.

In short, the message was: compete with the Republicans for the big corporate and financial sector money. It certainly worked for the Clintons, but not for the Democratic Party.

As “market-based solutions” offshored US manufacturing jobs, the Democratic Party’s finances declined with union membership and power. Today Democrats and Republicans are dependent on the same interest groups for campaign funds. Thus ended the Democratic Party’s connection with the working class.

The question is: Can Trump stand for the working class when both political parties and the presstitute media, the think tanks, universities, environmental organizations, military/security complex, Wall Street, and courts stand against the working class?

Who is going to help Trump help the working class?

Copyright (c) 2016 PaulCraigRoberts.org. All rights reserved.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2017/01/25/demise-left-paul-craig-roberts/

Categories: Uncategorized

He is Risen …

… But for How Long?

by James Howard Kunstler

ClusterFuck Nation (January 23 2017)

If the first forty-eight hours are any measure of the alleged Trumptopia-to-come, the leading man in this national melodrama appears to be meshuga. A more charitable view might be that his behavior does not comport with the job description: president. If he keeps it up, I stick to my call that we will see him removed by extraordinary action within a few months. It might be a lawful continuity-of-government procedure according to the 25th Amendment – various high officials declaring him “incapacited” – or it might be a straight-up old school coup d’etat (“You’re fired”).

I believe the trigger for that may be an overwhelming financial crisis in the early second quarter of the year. In, the first case, under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, it works like this:

 

 

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempor of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

 

 

Or else, it will be an orchestrated cabal of military and intelligence officers – not necessarily evil men – who fear for the safety of the nation with the aforesaid meshuganer in the White House, who is summarily arrested, sequestered, and replaced by an “acting president”, pending a call for an extraordinary new election to replace him by democratic means. I’m not promoting this scenario as necessarily desirable, but that’s how I think it will go down. It will be a sad moment in this country’s history, worse than the shock of John Kennedy’s assassination, which happened against the background of an economically stable Republic. History is perverse and life is tragic. And shit happens.

Returning to the first forty-eight hours of the new regime, first the ceremony itself: there was, to my mind, the disturbing sight of Donald Trump, deep in the Capitol in the grim runway leading out onto the inaugural dais. He lumbered along, so conspicuously alone between the praetorian ranks front and back, overcoat open, that long red slash of necktie dangling ominously, with a mad gleam in his eyes like an old bull being led out to a sacrificial altar. His speech to the multitudes was not exactly what had once passed for presidential oratory. It was not an “address”. It was blunt, direct, unadorned, and simple, a warning to the assembled luminaries meant to prepare them for disempowerment. Surely it was received by many as a threat.

Indeed an awful lot of official behavior has to change if this country expects to carry on as a civilized polity, and Trump’s plain statement was at face value consistent with that idea. But the disassembly of such a vast matrix of rackets is unlikely to be managed without generating a lot of dangerous friction. Such a tall order would require, at least, some finesse. Virtually all the powers of the Deep State are arrayed against him, and he can’t resist taunting them, a dangerous game. Despite the show of an orderly transition, a state of war exists between them. Anyway, given Trump’s cabinet appointments, his “swamp draining” campaign looks like one set of rackets is due to be replaced by a new and perhaps worse set.

Trump was correct that the ruins of industry stand like tombstones on the landscape. The reality may be that an industrial economy is a one-shot deal. When it’s gone, it’s over. Even assuming the money exists to rebuild the factories of the twentieth century, how would things be produced in them? By robotics or by brawny men paid $15-an-hour? If it’s robotics, who will the customers be? If it’s low-wage workers, how are they going to pay for the cars and washing machines? If the brawny men are paid $40 an hour, how would we sell our cars and washing machines in foreign markets that pay their workers the equivalent of $1.50 an hour. How can American industry stay afloat with no export market? If we don’t let foreign products into the US, how will Americans buy cars that are far more costly to make here than the products we’ve been getting? There’s no indication that Trump and his people have thought through any of this.

Trump can pull out the stops (literally, the regulations) to promote oil production, but he can’t alter the declining energy return on investment that is bringing down the curtain on industrial society. In fact, pumping more oil now at all costs will only hasten the decline of affordable oil. His oft-stated wish to simply “take” the oil from Middle Eastern countries would probably lead to sabotage of their oil infrastructure and the cruel death of millions. He would do better to prepare Americans for the project of de-suburbanizing the nation, but I doubt that the concept has ever entered his mind.

The problems with Obamacare, and so-called health care generally, are burdened with so many layers of arrant racketeering that the system may only be fixable if it is destroyed in its current form – the overgrown centralized hospitals, the overpaid insurance and hospital executives, the sore-beset physicians carrying six-figure college-and-medical-school loans, the incomprehensible and extortionate pricing system for care, the cruel and insulting bureaucratic barriers to obtain care, the disgraceful behavior of the pharmaceutical companies, all add up to something no less than a colossal hostage racket, robbing and swindling people at their most vulnerable. So far, nobody has advanced a coherent plan for changing it. Loosing the Department of Justice to prosecute the medical racketeers directly would be a good start. Overcharging and defrauding sick people ought to be a criminal act. But don’t expect that to happen in a culture where anything goes and nothing matters. A financial crisis could be the trigger for ending the massive medical grift machine. Then what? Back to locally organized clinic-scale medicine … if we should be so lucky.

Saturday afternoon, Trump paid a call at CIA headquarters, ostensibly to begin mending fences with what may be his domestic arch-enemies. What did he do? He peeved and pouted about press reports of the lowish attendance at his swearing in. Maximum meshuga. I’m surprised that some veteran of The Company’s Suriname outpost didn’t take him out with a blowgun dart garnished with the toxic secretions of tree frogs.

Do you suppose Trump is going to improve? That was the hope after the election: that he’d take on some POTUS polish. No, what you see is what you get. I can only imagine that what’s going on behind the scenes in various halls of power would make a Matt Damon Bourne movie look like a sensitivity training session – grave professional men and women on all fours with their hair on fire howling into the acoustical ceiling tiles.

Don’t forget that it was the dismal failure of Democratic “progressive” politics that gave us Trump. His infantile lies and foolish tweets were made possible by a mendacious political culture that excuses illegal immigrants as “the undocumented”, refuses to identify radical Islamic terror by name, shuts down free speech on campus, made Michael Brown of Ferguson a secular saint, claims that there’s no biological basis for gender, and allowed Wall Street to pound the American middle class down a rat hole like so much sand.

You think this is the dark night of the national soul? The sun only went down a few minutes ago and it’s a long hard slog to daybreak.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Note: The blog is sponsored this month by David McAlvany’s firm, ICA. Find out why investors have used them since 1972 to acquire physical gold and silver, and request free information, by visiting: http://mcalvanyica.com/investorkit/

http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/he-is-risen-but-for-how-long/

Categories: Uncategorized

Will Trump Hop on an American Silk Road?

by Pepe Escobar

CounterPunch (January 24 2017)

Hysteria reigns supreme at the dawn of the Trump era, with the President rebranded across the whole ideological spectrum as an American Mao or even an American Hitler.

Let’s step away from this “American [media] carnage” to examine a few facts concerning the unofficial G2: US-China relations.

A case can be made that Beijing has already landed a 1-2-3 punch, pre-empting the possibility of a US-initiated trade war.

It started with Jack Ma’s by now notorious visit to Trump Tower, when he developed his idea of helping small American businesses sell their products in China and across Asia through Alibaba’s network, thus creating at least “one million jobs” (Ma’s number) in the US.

Then came President Xi Jinping’s masterclass at Davos, where he positioned himself as Ronald Xi Reagan selling “inclusive” globalization to the stalwarts of international turbo-capitalism.

Finally Ma again, also at Davos, came up with a crystal clear, cause-and-effect formulation on globalization and US economic distress.

Ma said, “In the past thirty years, companies like IBM, Cisco and Microsoft made tons of money”. The problem was how the US spent the wealth: “In the past thirty years, America has had thirteen wars at a cost of US$14.2 trillion”. So what if the US “had spent part of that money on building up their infrastructure, helping white-collar and blue-collar workers? You’re supposed to spend money on your own people. It’s not that other countries steal American jobs. It is your strategy – that you did not distribute the money in a proper way.”

In the meantime, something quite extraordinary happened at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, one day before Xi’s Davos speech. China Investment Corporation (“CIC”) chairman Ding Xuedong, referring to Trump’s much-vaunted US$1 trillion infrastructure building plan, said that created fabulous investment opportunities for China and his US$800 billion sovereign fund.

According to Ding, Washington will need at least an astonishing US$8 trillion to fund the infrastructure spectacular. Federal government and US private investors are not enough: “They have to rely on foreign investors”. And CIC is ready for it – focusing already on “alternative investments in the US”.

Assuming the Trump administration welcomes CIC, and that’s a major “if”, it will be a slow start. Only US$80 billion of CIC’s overseas investments are currently held in US government debt. A massive national security/antitrust controversy will be inevitable. And yet, if successful, the move could be a win-win towards an American Silk Road.

Time to Tweak Your Supply Chain

Now let’s take a look at the options. Trump’s campaign promises to declare China a currency manipulator and slap a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese imports are, in theory, still on the table.

Peter Navarro – author of Death by China (2011) and Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (2015) – will be directing the new National Trade Council at the White House, focusing on “China’s unfair subsidy behavior”.

At the same time, countless reports such as this one are focusing on US-China trade war scenarios. And they do not look good for making America great again.

To start with, Beijing is not manipulating the yuan. On the contrary, the People’s Bank of China wants a stable exchange rate, translating into stable trade.

In case of a major rift, Beijing would not be inclined to dump US Treasury bonds en masse; that’s not exactly a win-win for Chinese reserves.

The US has way more foreign direct investment in China than vice-versa, so it’s easy to see who would be on the losing end. At the same time, Chinese businesses could profit from more tax breaks and invest in upgrading their production lines. The break down: China’s enormous savings funding the next step of industrial investment – especially as seven million college graduates hit the market each year. Now that’s a win-win.

Any trade war projection leads to the same results: depressed US consumption, less economic growth, and more unemployment – particularly among the rust belt / “basket of deplorables” axis.

Then there’s the horror story for major US corporations such as Apple, whose exceptionally complex supply chains would take years to be tweaked. Boeing for its part relies on selling jets to China for 150,000 American jobs, and is already planning a giant new Chinese assembly plant.

The Trump administration will dump the Obama administration’s trade arm of the pivot to Asia, the TPP. No one in Asia is exactly shedding tears for it; at the same time no one knows whether Team Trump may be interested, further on down the road, in discussing a Free Trade Area in the Asia-Pacific.

What is absolutely certain is that, absent a trade war, the new US trade strategy will be perfect for Beijing, as China will accelerate the expansion of its New Silk Roads / One Belt, One Road project, especially across the Southeast Asian mainland, as in high-speed rail lines linking Yunnan province to Singapore via Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.

At Davos, Jin Liqun, president of the Chinese-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (“AIIB”), even opened the door, half in jest, to US participation. So all bets are off: imagine the “American Mao” joining AIIB to be part of the action across Eurasia while accepting CIC investment to build the American Silk Road. Would that be considered an “alternative fact”?

This piece first appeared at Asia Times.

_____

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (2009) and Obama does Globalistan (2009). His latest book is Empire of Chaos (2014). He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

More articles by Pepe Escobar: http://www.counterpunch.org/author/pepe-escobar/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/24/will-trump-hop-on-an-american-silk-road/

Categories: Uncategorized

The Long History …

… of US Meddling in Foreign Elections

Noam Chomsky interviewed

by C J Polychroniou

Truthout (January 19 2017)

Supporters watched as unfavorable returns came in during Hillary Clinton’s election night rally at the Javits Center in New York, on November 09 2016. Many of Clinton’s closest aides believe that Russian hacking and information leaks had a profound impact on the election, while conceding that other factors were also important. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times)

A wide range of politicians and media outlets have described the alleged Russian interference in the last US presidential election (by way of hacking) as representing a direct threat to American democracy and even to national security itself. Of course, the irony behind these concerns about the interference of foreign nations in the domestic political affairs of the United States is that the US has blatantly interfered in the elections of many other nations, with methods that include not only financial support to preferred parties and the circulation of propaganda but also assassinations and overthrows of even democratically elected regimes. Indeed, the US has a long criminal history of meddling into the political affairs of other nations – a history that spans at least a century and, since the end of World War Two, extends into all regions of the globe, including western parliamentary polities. This interview with Noam Chomsky reminds us that the United States is no stranger to election interference; in fact, it is an expert in this arena.

C J Polychroniou: Noam, the US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of interference in the US presidential election in order to boost Trump’s chances, and some leading Democrats have actually gone on record saying that the Kremlin’s canny operatives changed the election outcome. What’s your reaction to all this talk in Washington and among media pundits about Russian cyber and propaganda efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor?

Noam Chomsky: Much of the world must be astonished – if they are not collapsing in laughter – while watching the performances in high places and in media concerning Russian efforts to influence an American election, a familiar US government specialty as far back as we choose to trace the practice. There is, however, merit in the claim that this case is different in character: By US standards, the Russian efforts are so meager as to barely elicit notice.

Polychroniou: Let’s talk about the long history of US meddling in foreign political affairs, which has always been morally and politically justified as the spread of American style-democracy throughout the world.

Noam Chomsky: The history of US foreign policy, especially after World War Two, is pretty much defined by the subversion and overthrow of foreign regimes, including parliamentary regimes, and the resort to violence to destroy popular organizations that might offer the majority of the population an opportunity to enter the political arena.

Following the Second World War, the United States was committed to restoring the traditional conservative order. To achieve this aim, it was necessary to destroy the anti-fascist resistance, often in favor of Nazi and fascist collaborators, to weaken unions and other popular organizations, and to block the threat of radical democracy and social reform, which were live options under the conditions of the time. These policies were pursued worldwide: in Asia, including South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Indochina and crucially, Japan; in Europe, including Greece, Italy, France and crucially, Germany; in Latin America, including what the CIA took to be the most severe threats at the time, “radical nationalism” in Guatemala and Bolivia.

Sometimes the task required considerable brutality. In South Korea, about 100,000 people were killed in the late 1940s by security forces installed and directed by the United States. This was before the Korean war, which Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings describe as “in essence” a phase – marked by massive outside intervention – in “a civil war fought between two domestic forces: a revolutionary nationalist movement, which had its roots in tough anti-colonial struggle, and a conservative movement tied to the status quo, especially to an unequal land system”, restored to power under the US occupation. In Greece in the same years, hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, imprisoned or expelled in the course of a counterinsurgency operation, organized and directed by the United States, which restored traditional elites to power, including Nazi collaborators, and suppressed the peasant- and worker-based communist-led forces that had fought the Nazis. In the industrial societies, the same essential goals were realized, but by less violent means.

Polychroniou: Yet it is true that there have been cases where the US was directly involved in organizing coups even in advanced industrial democracies, such as in Australia and Italy in the mid-1970s. Correct?

Noam Chomsky: Yes, there is evidence of CIA involvement in a virtual coup that overturned the Whitlam Labor government in Australia in 1975, when it was feared that Whitlam might interfere with Washington’s military and intelligence bases in Australia. Large-scale CIA interference in Italian politics has been public knowledge since the congressional Pike Report was leaked in 1976, citing a figure of over $65 million to approved political parties and affiliates from 1948 through the early 1970s. In 1976, the Aldo Moro government fell in Italy after revelations that the CIA had spent $6 million to support anti-communist candidates. At the time, the European communist parties were moving towards independence of action with pluralistic and democratic tendencies (Eurocommunism), a development that in fact pleased neither Washington nor Moscow. For such reasons, both superpowers opposed the legalization of the Communist Party of Spain and the rising influence of the Communist Party in Italy, and both preferred center-right governments in France. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described the “major problem” in the Western alliance as “the domestic evolution in many European countries”, which might make Western communist parties more attractive to the public, nurturing moves towards independence and threatening the Nato alliance.

Polychroniou: US interventions in the political affairs of other nations have always been morally and politically justified as part of the faith in the doctrine of spreading American-style democracy, but the actual reason was of course the spread of capitalism and the dominance of business rule. Was faith in the spread of democracy ever tenable?

Noam Chomsky: No belief concerning US foreign policy is more deeply entrenched than the one regarding the spread of American-style democracy. The thesis is commonly not even expressed, merely presupposed as the basis for reasonable discourse on the US role in the world.

The faith in this doctrine may seem surprising. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which the conventional doctrine is tenable. If by “American-style democracy”, we mean a political system with regular elections but no serious challenge to business rule, then US policymakers doubtless yearn to see it established throughout the world. The doctrine is therefore not undermined by the fact that it is consistently violated under a different interpretation of the concept of democracy: as a system in which citizens may play some meaningful part in the management of public affairs.

Polychroniou: So, what lessons can be drawn from all this about the concept of democracy as understood by US policy planners in their effort to create a new world order?

Noam Chomsky: One problem that arose as areas were liberated from fascism [after World War Two] was that traditional elites had been discredited, while prestige and influence had been gained by the resistance movement, based largely on groups responsive to the working class and poor, and often committed to some version of radical democracy. The basic quandary was articulated by Churchill’s trusted adviser, South African Prime Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts, in 1943, with regard to southern Europe: “With politics let loose among those peoples”, he said, “we might have a wave of disorder and wholesale Communism”. Here the term “disorder” is understood as threat to the interests of the privileged, and “Communism”, in accordance with usual convention, refers to failure to interpret “democracy” as elite dominance, whatever the other commitments of the “Communists” may be. With politics let loose, we face a “crisis of democracy”, as privileged sectors have always understood.

In brief, at that moment in history, the United States faced the classic dilemma of Third World intervention in large parts of the industrial world as well. The US position was “politically weak” though militarily and economically strong. Tactical choices are determined by an assessment of strengths and weaknesses. The preference has, quite naturally, been for the arena of force and for measures of economic warfare and strangulation, where the US has ruled supreme.

Polychroniou: Wasn’t the Marshall Plan a tool for consolidating capitalism and spreading business rule throughout Europe after World War Two?

Noam Chomsky: Very much so. For example, the extension of Marshall Plan aid in countries like France and Italy was strictly contingent on exclusion of communists – including major elements of the anti-fascist resistance and labor – from the government; “democracy”, in the usual sense. US aid was critically important in early years for suffering people in Europe and was therefore a powerful lever of control, a matter of much significance for US business interests and longer term planning. The fear in Washington was that the communist left would emerge victorious in Italy and France without massive financial assistance.

On the eve of the announcement of the Marshall Plan, Ambassador to France Jefferson Caffery warned Secretary of State Marshall of grim consequences if the communists won the elections in France: “Soviet penetration of Western Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East would be greatly facilitated” (May 12 1947). The dominoes were ready to fall. During May, the US pressured political leaders in France and Italy to form coalition governments excluding the communists. It was made clear and explicit that aid was contingent on preventing an open political competition, in which left and labor might dominate. Through 1948, Secretary of State Marshall and others publicly emphasized that if communists were voted into power, US aid would be terminated; no small threat, given the state of Europe at the time.

In France, the postwar destitution was exploited to undermine the French labor movement, along with direct violence. Desperately needed food supplies were withheld to coerce obedience, and gangsters were organized to provide goon squads and strike breakers, a matter that is described with some pride in semi-official US labor histories, which praise the AFL [American Federation of Labor] for its achievements in helping to save Europe by splitting and weakening the labor movement (thus frustrating alleged Soviet designs) and safeguarding the flow of arms to Indochina for the French war of re-conquest, another prime goal of the US labor bureaucracy. The CIA reconstituted the mafia for these purposes, in one of its early operations. The quid pro quo was restoration of the heroin trade. The US government connection to the drug boom continued for many decades.

US policies toward Italy basically picked up where they had been broken off by World War Two. The United States had supported Mussolini’s Fascism from the 1922 takeover through the 1930s. Mussolini’s wartime alliance with Hitler terminated these friendly relations, but they were reconstituted as US forces liberated southern Italy in 1943, establishing the rule of Field Marshall [Pietro] Badoglio and the royal family that had collaborated with the Fascist government. As Allied forces drove towards the north, they dispersed the anti-fascist resistance along with local governing bodies it had formed in its attempt to establish a new democratic state in the zones it had liberated from Germany. Eventually, a center-right government was established with neo-fascist participation and the left soon excluded.

Here too, the plan was for the working classes and the poor to bear the burden of reconstruction, with lowered wages and extensive firing. Aid was contingent on removing communists and left socialists from office, because they defended workers’ interests and thus posed a barrier to the intended style of recovery, in the view of the State Department. The Communist Party was collaborationist; its position “fundamentally meant the subordination of all reforms to the liberation of Italy and effectively discouraged any attempt in northern areas to introduce irreversible political changes as well as changes in the ownership of the industrial companies … disavowing and discouraging those workers’ groups that wanted to expropriate some factories”, as Gianfranco Pasquino put it. But the Party did try to defend jobs, wages and living standards for the poor and thus “constituted a political and psychological barrier to a potential European recovery program”, historian John Harper comments, reviewing the insistence of Kennan and others that communists be excluded from government though agreeing that it would be “desirable” to include representatives of what Harper calls “the democratic working class”. The recovery, it was understood, was to be at the expense of the working class and the poor.

Because of its responsiveness to the needs of these social sectors, the Communist Party was labelled “extremist” and “undemocratic” by US propaganda, which also skillfully manipulated the alleged Soviet threat. Under US pressure, the Christian Democrats abandoned wartime promises about workplace democracy and the police, sometimes under the control of ex-fascists, were encouraged to suppress labor activities. The Vatican announced that anyone who voted for the communists in the 1948 election would be denied sacraments, and backed the conservative Christian Democrats under the slogan: “O con Cristo o contro Cristo” (“Either with Christ or against Christ”). A year later, Pope Pius excommunicated all Italian communists.

A combination of violence, manipulation of aid and other threats, and a huge propaganda campaign sufficed to determine the outcome of the critical 1948 election, essentially bought by US intervention and pressures.

The CIA operations to control the Italian elections, authorized by the National Security Council in December 1947, were the first major clandestine operation of the newly formed agency. CIA operations to subvert Italian democracy continued into the 1970s at a substantial scale.

In Italy, as well as elsewhere, US labor leaders, primarily from the AFL, played an active role in splitting and weakening the labor movement, and inducing workers to accept austerity measures while employers reaped rich profits. In France, the AFL had broken dock strikes by importing Italian scab labor paid by US businesses. The State Department called on the Federation’s leadership to exercise their talents in union-busting in Italy as well, and they were happy to oblige. The business sector, formerly discredited by its association with Italian fascism, undertook a vigorous class war with renewed confidence. The end result was the subordination of the working class and the poor to the traditional rulers.

Later commentators tend to see the US subversion of democracy in France and Italy as a defense of democracy. In a highly-regarded study of the CIA and American democracy, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones describes “the CIA’s Italian venture”, along with its similar efforts in France, as “a democracy-propping operation”, though he concedes that “the selection of Italy for special attention … was by no means a matter of democratic principle alone”: our passion for democracy was reinforced by the strategic importance of the country. But it was a commitment to “democratic principle” that inspired the US government to impose the social and political regimes of its choice, using the enormous power at its command and exploiting the privation and distress of the victims of the war, who must be taught not to raise their heads if we are to have true democracy.

A more nuanced position is taken by James Miller in his monograph on US policies towards Italy. Summarizing the record, he concludes that “in retrospect, American involvement in the stabilization of Italy was a significant, if troubling, achievement. American power assured Italians the right to choose their future form of government and also was employed to ensure that they chose democracy. In defense of that democracy against real but probably overestimated foreign and domestic threats, the United States used undemocratic tactics that tended to undermine the legitimacy of the Italian state.”

The “foreign threats”, as he had already discussed, were hardly real; the Soviet Union watched from a distance as the US subverted the 1948 election and restored the traditional conservative order, keeping to its wartime agreement with Churchill that left Italy in the Western zone. The “domestic threat” was the threat of democracy.

The idea that US intervention provided Italians with freedom of choice while ensuring that they chose “democracy” (in our special sense of the term) is reminiscent of the attitude of the extreme doves towards Latin America: that its people should choose freely and independently – as long as doing so did not impact US interests adversely.

The democratic ideal, at home and abroad, is simple and straightforward: You are free to do what you want, as long as it is what we want you to do.

_____

Note: Some of the material for this interview was adapted from excerpts from Deterring Democracy (1991).

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C J Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/39159-noam-chomsky-on-the-long-history-of-us-meddling-in-foreign-elections

Categories: Uncategorized

Escalation Watch

Four Looming Flashpoints Facing President Trump

by Michael T Klare

TomDispatch (January 17 2017)

Within months of taking office, President Donald Trump is likely to face one or more major international crises, possibly entailing a risk of nuclear escalation. Not since the end of the Cold War has a new chief executive been confronted with as many potential flashpoints involving such a risk of explosive conflict. This proliferation of crises has been brewing for some time, but the situation appears especially ominous now given Trump’s pledge to bring American military force swiftly to bear on any threats of foreign transgression. With so much at risk, it’s none too soon to go on a permanent escalation watch, monitoring the major global hotspots for any sign of imminent flare-ups, hoping that early warnings (and the outcry that goes with them) might help avert catastrophe.

Looking at the world today, four areas appear to pose an especially high risk of sudden crisis and conflict: North Korea, the South China Sea, the Baltic Sea region, and the Middle East. Each of them has been the past site of recurring clashes, and all are primed to explode early in the Trump presidency.

Why are we seeing so many potential crises now? Is this period really different from earlier presidential transitions?

It’s true that the changeover from one presidential administration to another can be a time of global uncertainty, given America’s pivotal importance in world affairs and the natural inclination of rival powers to test the mettle of the country’s new leader. There are, however, other factors that make this moment particularly worrisome, including the changing nature of the world order, the personalities of its key leaders, and an ominous shift in military doctrine.

Just as the United States is going through a major political transition, so is the planet at large. The sole-superpower system of the post-Cold War era is finally giving way to a multipolar, if not increasingly fragmented, world in which the United States must share the limelight with other major actors, including China, Russia, India, and Iran. Political scientists remind us that transitional periods can often prove disruptive, as status quo powers (in this case, the United States) resist challenges to their dominance from “revisionist” states seeking to alter the global power equation. Typically, this can entail proxy wars and other kinds of sparring over contested areas, as has recently been the case in Syria, the Baltic, and the South China Sea.

This is where the personalities of key leaders enter the equation. Though President Obama oversaw constant warfare, he was temperamentally disinclined to respond with force to every overseas crisis and provocation, fearing involvement in yet more foreign wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. His critics, including Donald Trump, complained bitterly that this stance only encouraged foreign adversaries to up their game, convinced that the US had lost its will to resist provocation. In a Trump administration, as The Donald indicated on the campaign trail last year, America’s adversaries should expect far tougher responses. Asked in September, for instance, about an incident in the Persian Gulf in which Iranian gunboats approached American warships in a threatening manner, he typically told reporters, “When they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and make gestures that … they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water”.

Although with Russia, unlike Iran, Trump has promised to improve relations, there’s no escaping the fact that Vladimir Putin’s urge to restore some of his country’s long-lost superpower glory could lead to confrontations with Nato powers that would put the new American president in a distinctly awkward position. Regarding Asia, Trump has often spoken of his intent to punish China for what he considers its predatory trade practices, a stance guaranteed to clash with President Xi Jinping’s goal of restoring his country’s greatness. This should, in turn, generate additional possibilities for confrontation, especially in the contested South China Sea. Both Putin and Xi, moreover, are facing economic difficulties at home and view foreign adventurism as a way of distracting public attention from disappointing domestic performances.

These factors alone would ensure that this was a moment of potential international crisis, but something else gives it a truly dangerous edge: a growing strategic reliance in Russia and elsewhere on the early use of nuclear weapons to overcome deficiencies in “conventional” firepower.

For the United States, with its overwhelming superiority in such firepower, nuclear weapons have lost all conceivable use except as a “deterrent” against a highly unlikely first-strike attack by an enemy power. For Russia, however, lacking the means to compete on equal terms with the West in conventional weaponry, this no longer seems reasonable. So Russian strategists, feeling threatened by the way Nato has moved ever closer to its borders, are now calling for the early use of “tactical” nuclear munitions to overpower stronger enemy forces. Under Russia’s latest military doctrine, major combat units are now to be trained and equipped to employ such weapons at the first sign of impending defeat, either to blackmail enemy countries into submission or annihilate them.

Following this doctrine, Russia has developed the nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missile (a successor to the infamous “Scud” missile used by Saddam Hussein in attacks on Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia) and forward deployed it to Kaliningrad, a small sliver of Russian territory sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. In response, Nato strategists are discussing ways to more forcefully demonstrate the West’s own capacity to use tactical nuclear arms in Europe, for example by including more nuclear-capable bombers in future Nato exercises. As a result, the “firebreak” between conventional and nuclear warfare – that theoretical barrier to escalation – seems to be narrowing, and you have a situation in which every crisis involving a nuclear state may potentially prove to be a nuclear crisis.

With that in mind, consider the four most dangerous potential flashpoints for the new Trump administration.

North Korea

North Korea’s stepped-up development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles may present the Trump administration with its first great international challenge. In recent years, the North Koreans appear to have made substantial progress in producing such missiles and designing small nuclear warheads to fit on them. In 2016, the country conducted two underground nuclear tests (its fourth and fifth since 2006), along with numerous tests of various missile systems. On September 20th, it also tested a powerful rocket engine that some observers believe could be used as the first stage of an intercontinental ballistic missile (“ICBM”) that might someday be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the western United States.

North Korea’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-un, has repeatedly spoken of his determination to acquire nuclear weapons and the ability to use them in attacks on his adversaries, including the US. Following a series of missile tests last spring, he insisted that his country should continue to bolster its nuclear force “both in quality and quantity”, stressing “the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired at any moment”. This could mean, he added, using these weapons “in a preemptive attack”. On January 1st, Kim reiterated his commitment to future preemptive nuclear action, adding that his country would soon test-fire an ICBM.

President Obama responded by imposing increasingly tough economic sanctions and attempting – with only limited success – to persuade China, Pyongyang’s crucial ally, to use its political and economic clout to usher Kim into nuclear disarmament talks. None of this seemed to make the slightest difference, which means President Trump will be faced with an increasingly well-armed North Korea that may be capable of fielding usable ICBMs within the coming years.

How will Trump respond to this peril? Three options seem available to him: somehow persuade China to compel Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear quest; negotiate a disarmament deal directly with Kim, possibly even on a face-to-face basis; or engage in (presumably nonnuclear) preemptive strikes aimed at destroying the North’s nuclear and missile-production capabilities.

Imposing yet more sanctions and talking with China would look suspiciously like the Obama approach, while obtaining China’s cooperation would undoubtedly mean compromising on trade or the South China Sea (either of which would undoubtedly involve humiliating concessions for a man like Trump). Even were he to recruit Chinese President Xi as a helpmate, it’s unclear that Pyongyang would be deterred. As for direct talks with Kim, Trump, unlike every previous president, has already indicated that he’s willing. “I would have no problem speaking to him”, he told Reuters last May. But what exactly would he offer the North in return for its nuclear arsenal? The withdrawal of US forces from South Korea? Any such solution would leave the president looking like a patsy (inconceivable for someone whose key slogan has been “Make America Great Again”).

That leaves a preemptive strike. Trump appears to have implicitly countenanced that option, too, in a recent tweet. (“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won’t happen!”) In other words, he is open to the military option, rejected in the past because of the high risk of triggering an unpredictable response from the North, including a cataclysmic invasion of South Korea (and potential attacks on US troops stationed there). Under the circumstances, the unpredictability not just of Kim Jong-un but also of Donald Trump leaves North Korea in the highest alert category of global crises as the new era begins.

The South China Sea

The next most dangerous flashpoint? The ongoing dispute over control of the South China Sea, an area bounded by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the island of Borneo. Citing ancient ties to islands in those waters, China now claims the entire region as part of its national maritime territory. Some of the same islands are, however, also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Although not claiming any territory in the region itself, the US has a defense treaty with the Philippines, relies on free passage through the area to move its warships from bases in the Pacific to war zones in the Middle East, and of course considers itself the preeminent Pacific power and plans to keep it that way.

In the past, China has clashed with local powers over possession of individual islands, but more recently has sought control over all of them. As part of that process, it has begun to convert low-lying islets and atolls under its control into military bases, equipping them with airstrips and missile defense systems. This has sparked protests from Vietnam and the Philippines, which claim some of those islets, and from the United States, which insists that such Chinese moves infringe on its Navy’s “freedom of navigation” through international waters.

President Obama responded to provocative Chinese moves in the South China Sea by ordering US warships to patrol in close proximity to the islands being militarized. For Trump, this has been far too minimal a response. “China’s toying with us”, he told David Sanger of The New York Times last March. “They are when they’re building in the South China Sea. They should not be doing that but they have no respect for our country and they have no respect for our president.” Asked if he was prepared to use military force in response to the Chinese buildup, he responded, “Maybe”.

The South China Sea may prove to be an early test of Trump’s promise to fight what he views as China’s predatory trade behavior and Beijing’s determination to resist bullying by Washington. Last month, Chinese sailors seized an American underwater surveillance drone near one of their atolls. Many observers interpreted the move as a response to Trump’s decision to take a phone call of congratulations from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, shortly after his election victory. That gesture, unique in recent American presidencies, was viewed in Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, as an insult to China. Any further moves by Trump to aggravate or punish China on the economic front could result in further provocations in the South China Sea, opening the possibility of a clash with US air and naval forces in the region.

All this is worrisome enough, but the prospects for a clash in the South China Sea increased significantly on January 11th, thanks to comments made by Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil and presumptive secretary of state, during his confirmation hearing in Washington. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed”. Since the Chinese are unlikely to abandon those islands – which they consider part of their sovereign territory – just because Trump and Tillerson order them to do so, the only kind of “signal” that might carry any weight would be military action.

What form would such a confrontation take and where might it lead? At this point, no one can be sure, but once such a conflict began, room for maneuver could prove limited indeed. A US effort to deny China access to the islands could involve anything from a naval blockade to air and missile attacks on the military installations built there to the sinking of Chinese warships. It’s hard to imagine that Beijing would refrain from taking retaliatory steps in response, and as one move tumbled onto the next, the two nuclear-armed countries might suddenly find themselves at the brink of full-scale war. So consider this our second global high alert.

The Baltic Sea Area

If Hillary Clinton had been elected, I would have placed the region adjoining the Baltic Sea at the top of my list of potential flashpoints, as it’s where Vladimir Putin would have been most likely to channel his hostility to her in particular and the West more generally. That’s because Nato forces have moved most deeply into the territory of the former Soviet Union in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Those countries are also believed to be especially vulnerable to the kind of “hybrid” warfare – involving covert operations, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, and the like – that Russia perfected in Crimea and Ukraine. With Donald Trump promising to improve relations with Moscow, it’s now far less likely that Putin would launch such attacks, though the Russians continue to strengthen their military assets (including their nuclear war-fighting capabilities) in the region, and so the risk of a future clash cannot be ruled out.

The danger there arises from geography, history, and policy. The three Baltic republics only became independent after the breakup of the USSR in 1991; today, they are members of both the European Union and Nato. Two of them, Estonia and Latvia, share borders with Russia proper, while Lithuania and nearby Poland surround the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Through their Nato membership, they provide a theoretical bridgehead for a hypothetical Western invasion of Russia. By the same token, the meager forces of the three republics could easily be overwhelmed by superior Russian ones, leaving the rest of Nato to decide whether and in what fashion to confront a Russian assault on member nations.

Following Russia’s intervention in eastern Ukraine, which demonstrated both Moscow’s willingness and ability to engage in hybrid warfare against a neighboring European state, the Nato powers decided to bolster the alliance’s forward presence in the Baltic region. At a summit meeting in Warsaw in June 2016, the alliance agreed to deploy four reinforced multinational battalions in Poland and the three Baltic republics. Russia views this with alarm as a dangerous violation of promises made to Moscow in the wake of the Cold War that no Nato forces would be permanently garrisoned on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Nato has tried to deflect Russian complaints by insisting that, since the four battalions will be rotated in and out of the region, they are somehow not “permanent”. Nevertheless, from Moscow’s perspective, the Nato move represents a serious threat to Russian security and so justifies a comparable buildup of Russian forces in adjacent areas.

Adding to the obvious dangers of such a mutual build-up, Nato and Russian forces have been conducting military “exercises”, often in close proximity to each other. Last summer, for example, Nato oversaw Anaconda 2016 in Poland and Lithuania, the largest such maneuvers in the region since the end of the Cold War. As part of the exercise, Nato forces crossed from Poland to Lithuania, making clear their ability to encircle Kaliningrad, which was bound to cause deep unease in Moscow. Not that the Russians have been passive. During related Nato naval exercises in the Baltic Sea, Russian planes flew within a few feet of an American warship, the USS Donald Cook, nearly provoking a shooting incident that could have triggered a far more dangerous confrontation.

Will Putin ease up on the pressure he’s been exerting on the Baltic states once Trump is in power? Will Trump agree to cancel or downsize the US and Nato deployments there in return for Russian acquiescence on other issues? Such questions will be on the minds of many in Eastern Europe in the coming months. It’s reasonable to predict a period of relative calm as Putin tests Trump’s willingness to forge a new relationship with Moscow, but the underlying stresses will remain as long as the Baltic states stay in Nato and Russia views that as a threat to its security. So chalk the region up as high alert three on a global scale.

The Middle East

The Middle East has long been a major flashpoint. President Obama, for instance, came to office hoping to end US involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet US troops are still fighting in both countries today. The question is: How might this picture change in the months ahead?

Given the convoluted history of the region and its demonstrated capacity for surprise, any predictions should be offered with caution. Trump has promised to intensify the war against ISIS, which will undoubtedly require the deployment of additional American air, sea, and ground forces in the region. As he put it during the election campaign, speaking of the Islamic State, “I would bomb the shit out of them”. So expect accelerated air strikes on ISIS-held locations, leading to more civilian casualties, desperate migrants, and heightened clashes between Shiites and Sunnis. As ISIS loses control of physical territory and returns to guerilla-style warfare, it will surely respond by increasing terrorist attacks on “soft” civilian targets in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey, as well as in more distant locations. No one knows how all this will play out, but don’t be surprised if terrorist violence only increases and Washington once again finds itself drawn more deeply into an endless quagmire in the Greater Middle East and northern Africa.

The overriding question, of course, is how Donald Trump will behave toward Iran. He has repeatedly affirmed his opposition to the nuclear deal signed by the United States, the European Union, Russia, and China and insisted that he would either scrap it or renegotiate it, but it’s hard to imagine how that might come to pass. All of the other signatories are satisfied with the deal and seek to do business with Iran, so any new negotiations would have to proceed without those parties. As many US strategists also see merit in the agreement, since it deprives Iran of a nuclear option for at least a decade or more, a decisive shift on the nuclear deal appears unlikely.

On the other hand, Trump could be pressured by his close associates – especially his pick for national security advisor, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a notoriously outspoken Iranophobe – to counter the Iranians on other fronts. This could take a variety of forms, including stepped-up sanctions, increased aid to Saudi Arabia in its war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, or attacks on Iranian proxies in the Middle East. Any of these would no doubt prompt countermoves by Tehran, and from there a cycle of escalation could lead in numerous directions, all dangerous, including military action by the US, Israel, or Saudi Arabia. So mark this one as flash point four and take a deep breath.

Going on Watch

Starting on January 20th, as Donald Trump takes office, the clock will already be ticking in each of these flashpoint regions. No one knows which will be the first to erupt, or what will happen when it does, but don’t count on our escaping at least one, and possibly more, major international crises in the not-too-distant future.

Given the stakes involved, it’s essential to keep a close watch on all of them for signs of anything that might trigger a major conflagration and for indications of a prematurely violent Trumpian response (the moment to raise a hue and cry). Keeping the spotlight shining on these four potential flashpoints may not be much, but it’s the least we can do to avert Armageddon.

____

Michael T Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left (2012). A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil (2005) is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands (2016), as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead (2016), and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (2014).

Copyright 2017 Michael T Klare

(c) 2017 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176231/

Categories: Uncategorized

The Most Dangerous Moment …

… in US-Russia Relations

https://failedevolution.blogspot.jp (January 21 2017)

Leading scholar on US-Russia relations addresses the claim being trumpeted by politicians and media on both sides of the political spectrum that Russia is now the “number one” threat to the United States. Given the proxy wars in Syria and Ukraine, Dr Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University and New York University, tells host of The Empire Files, Abby Martin, that the real alarming danger today is “a new, multi-front Cuban missile crisis”.

This business that, Russia is the number one existential threat has been unfolding this false drama at the expense of US national security, maybe for a decade, but it certainly intensified under the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, Russia was of course in the person of Putin, repeatedly, almost begging the US to join it in an alliance against terrorism, not only in Syria, but in a kind of global war. I don’t know if the global war against terrorism is possible as a separate issue, but Russia wanted to partner with the US. Obama was inclined very briefly in Sepember 2016, but that was killed by the US Department of Defence when they attacked those Syrian troops.

In the intelligence community, there are groups of different political impulses, different vested interests in these organizations, and often, they’ve been at war among themselves within, say the CIA. We’re seeing that now with the hacking allegations. And, all likelihood, later we will discover, this was a war within the CIA itself. The FBI tried not to get involved.

There are very different views, about Washington’s policy toward Russia, inside the intelligence community. This may be the single most dangerous moment in American-Russian relations.

The Cuban missile crisis is always said to have been the turning point in our awareness of how dangerous the Cold War was. And after that, after we avoided nuclear Armageddon, both sides became wise, and the Cold War continued, but there was a code of contact. Everybody understood where the danger lines were. There was a code of conduct between the Soviet Union and the United States. It doesn’t exist today. After the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the two sides began to develop interactive cooperation, student exchanges, scientific exchanges, hot lines, constant talks about nuclear weapons, nuclear reductions, trade agreements. That has come to an end along with communication.

There are now three fronts in the new Cold War that are fought with the possibility of actual war. There’s the Baltic region and Poland, where Nato is unwisely building up its military presence. There is, of course, Ukraine which could explode any moment, and, of course, there is Syria, where you’ve got Russian and American aircraft. So, you’ve got a multi-front potential Cuban missile crisis.

Meanwhile, in the United States, this hysterical reaction to alleged – because there is no proof been produced – that somehow Putin put Trump in the White House, this combination of demented public discourse, engraves danger abroad, at least comparable to the Cuban missile crisis.

It’s been said that the European Union offered Ukraine a very benign economic relationship. That wasn’t a benign agreement, about a thousand pages long. There is a section called “military security issues” and it’s very clear, that any country that signs this so-called eastern partnership agreement with the EU, is obliged to adhere to Nato security policies. By signing that, you become a de facto member of Nato. And this was just more of the attempt by Washington to get Ukraine in the Nato, if not openly, through the back door, and they’re still at it.

The decision to expand Nato, all the way [to Russia’s borders], including Ukraine and Georgia, has created a situation in which none of us is safe. And they call that “national security”?

Full interview:

 

https://failedevolution.blogspot.jp/2017/01/the-most-dangerous-moment-in-us-russia.html

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