Will China’s Moon Landing Launch a New Space Race?

Even if China’s rise heralds a new space race, not all consequences will be negative, writes Wendy Whitman Cobb.

File 20190103 32130 hjdxab.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What will China discover on the far side of the moon? (BeeBright/Shutterstock.com)

By Wendy Whitman Cobb, Cameron University
The Conversation

China became the third country to land a probe on the Moon on Jan. 2. But, more importantly, it became the first to do so on the far side of the moon, often called the dark side. The ability to land on the far side of the moon is a technical achievement in its own right, one that neither Russia nor the United States has pursued.

The probe, Chang’e 4, is symbolic of the growth of the Chinese space program and the capabilities it has amassed, significant for China and for relations among the great power across the world. The consequences extend to the United States as the Trump administration considers global competition in space as well as the future of space exploration.

One of the major drivers of U.S. space policy historically has been competition with Russia particularly in the context of the Cold War. If China’s successes continue to accumulate, could the United States find itself engaged in a new space race?

China’s Achievements

Like the U.S. and Russia, the People’s Republic of China first engaged in space activities during the development of ballistic missiles in the 1950s. While they did benefit from some assistance from the Soviet Union, China developed its space program largely on its own. Far from smooth sailing, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution disrupted this early programs.

The Chinese launched their first satellite in 1970. Following this, an early human spaceflight program was put on hold to focus on commercial satellite applications. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping articulated China’s space policy noting that, as a developing country, China would not take part in a space race. Instead, China’s space efforts have focused on both launch vehicles and satellites – including communications, remote sensing and meteorology.

This does not mean the Chinese were not concerned about the global power space efforts can generate. In 1992, they concluded that having a space station would be a major sign and source of prestige in the 21st century. As such, a human spaceflight program was re-established leading to the development of the Shenzhou spacecraft. The first Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, Yang Liwei, was launched in 2003. In total, six Shenzhou missions have carried 12 taikonauts into low earth orbit, including two to China’s first space station, Tiangong-1.

In addition to human spaceflight, the Chinese have also undertaken scientific missions like Chang’e 4. Its first lunar mission, Chang’e 1, orbited the moon in October 2007 and a rover landed on the moon in 2013. China’s future plans include a new space station, a lunar base and possible sample return missions from Mars.

New Space Race?

The most notable feature of the Chinese space program, especially compared to the early American and Russian programs, is its slow and steady pace. Because of the secrecy that surrounds many aspects of the Chinese space program, its exact capabilities are unknown. However, the program is likely on par with its counterparts.

In terms of military applications, China has also demonstrated significant skills. In 2007, it undertook an anti-satellite test, launching a ground-based missile to destroy a failed weather satellite. While successful, the test created a cloud of orbital debris that continues to threaten other satellites. The movie “Gravity” illustrated the dangers space debris poses to both satellites and humans. In its 2018 report on the Chinese military, the Department of Defense reported that China’s military space program “continues to mature rapidly.”

Despite its capabilities, the U.S., unlike other countries, has not engaged in any substantial cooperation with China because of national security concerns. In fact, a 2011 law bans official contact with Chinese space officials. Does this signal a new space race between the U.S. and China?

As a space policy researcher, I can say the answer is yes and no. Some U.S. officials, including Scott Pace, the executive secretary for the National Space Council, are cautiously optimistic about the potential for cooperation and do not see the beginning of a new space race. NASA Administrator Jim Brindenstine recently met with the head of the Chinese space program at the International Astronautical Conference in Germany and discussed areas where China and the U.S. can work together. However, increased military presence in space might spark increased competition. The Trump administration has used the threat posed by China and Russia to support its argument for a new independent military branch, a Space Force.

Regardless, China’s abilities in space are growing to the extent that is reflected in popular culture. In Andy Weir’s 2011 novel “The Martian” and its later film version, NASA turns to China to help rescue its stranded astronaut. While competition can lead to advances in technology, as the first space race demonstrated, a greater global capacity for space exploration can also be beneficial not only for saving stranded astronauts but increasing knowledge about the universe where we all live. Even if China’s rise heralds a new space race, not all consequences will be negative.The Conversation

Wendy Whitman Cobb, associateprofessor of Political Science, Cameron University

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




Israeli Politics Enter Grubby Realm of Reality TV

Netanyahu demands a TV showdown with his corruption accusers and Roseanne Barr prepares to address the Knesset. The poverty of public discourse has never been more apparent, writes Jonathan Cook.

By Jonathan Cook
Jonathan-Cook.net

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu commandeered the country’s airwaves last week in what many assumed would prove a moment of profound national import. They could not have been more wrong.

The context was his decision last month to move forward the general election to April, widely seen as a desperate effort to turn the vote into a referendum on his innocence as long-standing corruption investigations close in.

The police have recommended that he be charged over three separate allegations of bribery. By calling the election, Netanyahu has forced the attorney-general, Avichai Mendelblit, onto unfamiliar— and constitutionally tricky— terrain.

Mendelblit, an appointee of Netanyahu’s, has indicated that he will make a decision on whether to issue an indictment before the ballot, so that voters have the facts to make an informed choice.

But Netanyahu has said he won’t drop out or resign, even if indicted, and there is no decisive precedent to suggest he must.

Instead, he would prefer to bully the attorney-general into delaying a decision until after voters have spoken. That was the purpose of his unexpected live national TV address.

His supporters have already set the stage, claiming that an indictment mid-campaign would influence the outcome and usurp the will of the people.

Either way, Netanyahu hopes to benefit. If an indictment is served before the vote, it will rile up his base and bolster a carefully crafted narrative that he faces a campaign of persecution from state authorities.

If Mendelblit delays, Netanyahu will aim to exploit any electoral success to face down prosecutors, accusing them of seeking to reverse his popular mandate.

Netanyahu’s strategy was on full show last week when he took to the main TV channels. He used this moment of enforced national attention for nothing more serious than a self-serving gripe.

The investigators, led by a far-right police commander he personally approved, had supposedly joined a leftist plot to oust him. The proof was that they had denied him a chance to confront in person his accusers—former aides turned state witness—and challenge their testimony.

Demanding Showdown 

Claiming that he had been stripped of his legal rights, Netanyahu demanded a showdown be broadcast live—effectively trailblazing a new type of reality TV show for suspects in high-profile criminal cases.

Of course, Netanyahu understands only too well that such confrontations with witnesses are decided by the police, not the accused, and used only when evidence needs to be tested.

The police believe they already have the evidence required for a conviction, and hope to test it in a court of law, not in the type of TV spectacle in which Netanyahu excels.

Netanyahu’s move was intended to reinforce his claim that the “system”—one that has kept him and the ultra-nationalist right in uninterrupted power for a decade—is rigged against him.

There was a striking parallel with events last week in the United States, where President Donald Trump similarly addressed the nation to corner his opponents in Congress.

In his case, Trump sought to rally his base by fearmongering about a supposed “invasion” of immigrants, suggesting that the Democrats were subverting his efforts to block their entry with an Israeli-style wall.

But whereas many have described Netanyahu’s latest intervention as “Trumpian,” in truth the Israeli leader is as well-practiced as his American counterpart in the dark arts of media manipulation.

Two of the three bribery cases he faces relate directly to allegations that he offered favors—in one case captured on tape—to Israeli media moguls in return for better coverage in their publications.

Netanyahu has long demonstrated an obsession with controlling his image, and has proved an arch-manipulator of passions to mobilize support for his hawkish agenda.

It was at the last general election, in 2015, that he turned the tables on his right-wing rivals at the last moment. He rallied voters by claiming that Israel’s Palestinian citizens—a fifth of the population—were turning out in “droves” at polling booths. Only a vote for Netanyahu, he suggested, would save the Jewish state.

Not only did he imply that voting by Palestinian citizens was illegitimate, he claimed that the Israeli left was “bussing” them to the polls, citing this falsehood as proof of the left’s treachery.

Leftist Slur

Now Netanyahu is again deploying the “leftist” slur, this time to discredit the police and prosecution service.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Netanyahu’s Likud party is the only faction opposed to a plan by the Central Elections Committee to bar online propaganda in the campaign’s final two months.

Underscoring the way TV has increasingly become a tool in Israel not for clarifying issues but for inflaming emotions, the U.S. TV comedian Roseanne Barr has been invited to address the Israeli parliament at the end of the month.

She will use the opportunity to denounce as Jew haters activists in the international boycott movement who stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Only in Israel’s current degraded public discourse would Barr, who has a history of making offensive comments variously about Jews, Muslims and black people, be taken seriously as an arbiter of racism.

Analysts widely expect this election campaign to be the dirtiest in Israel’s history. But, although they worry about Netanyahu’s demagoguery, they still overlook its grubbiest aspect.

Palestinians under occupation have been effectively disappeared from the campaign. They will have no voice in choosing the Israeli politicians who have determined their fate for the past five decades.

In fact, not one of the Israeli Jewish parties is highlighting Palestinian rights or putting the occupation at the center of its platform. The vast majority of Israeli politicians want to entrench the occupation, not end it.

Israeli commentators noted that Netanyahu had another pressing reason– apart from legal threats—to bring forward the election. He feared that otherwise Trump might unveil his long-promised peace plan.

However bad that plan will be for Palestinians, Netanyahu does not want his unwillingness to make concessions exposed.

But Netanyahu is far from the gravest threat to Israel’s “democracy.” The most dangerous thing of all is the widespread refusal in Israel to recognize that the Palestinians are human beings too—and that they should be able to determine their own fate, just like Israelis.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/.




A Workers’ Struggle in India to ‘Make the Land Proud’ as Global Unrest Spreads

This has been one of the largest general strikes in the world, writes Vijay Prasad from Kerala, as social unrest grows in Morocco, Sudan, Nigeria and Los Angeles. 

Workers Around the World Greet
2019 With Wave of Demonstrations

By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute
for Social Research

Over two days—Jan. 8 and 9—more than 160 million workers went on strike in India. This has been one of the largest general strikes in the world. The workers, exhausted by almost three decades of neoliberal policies and by the attack on their rights, came onto the streets to make their case for better livelihoods and workplace democracy. Blockades on train tracks and on national highways closed down sections of the country.

In Bengaluru, information technology workers joined the strike. In Himachal Pradesh workers gathered to demand an end to precarious employment in government service. Workers from a broad range of sectors, from manufacturing to health care, joined the strike. There has been no response from the government. Please read my report on the strike. 

My report is written from Kerala, where almost the entire workforce went on strike. This strike comes after the powerful Women’s Wall that was built on Jan. 1. For a fuller sense of what brought 5.5 million women to form a wall along Kerala, see my report. The title for this newsletter comes from a well-known poem by the late radical poet Vayalar Ramavarma (1928-1975). When workers struggle, Vayalar wrote, “isn’t it something to make the land proud?”

Morocco, Sudan, Nigeria and Los Angeles

This two-day strike comes as workers around the world greeted 2019 with a wave of demonstrations—from the “month of anger” launched in Morocco by trade unions, to the protests in Sudan over rising prices; from teachers’ strike in Los Angeles, to the potential general strike in Nigeria over wages.

An International Trade Union Confederation report from last year showed that more countries are excluding workers from labor laws–65 percent of countries, at last count—excluding migrant workers and public sector employees and others from the rights afforded to them. There is every indication that the attack on workers’ rights and workplace democracy will continue despite the unrest amongst workers.

India

Brinda Karat, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), reflects—in our January Dossier—on the record of the current far-right government in India, the BJP, and on the challenges before the left to produce an alternative agenda to put before the people in the April 2019 general election. Karat offers a sharp assessment of the attacks on women and the denigration of the project of women’s emancipation in India:

“Over the past several decades, women have entered public spaces to work and to live. They have established their talents, their skills, and their capacities in numerous spheres. There has been a backlash against this increased assertion. The backlash is shaped by extreme misogyny – or a strong feeling in sections of our society that women have a specific place and anyone who crosses the boundary is liable to be punished. These cultural walls behind which women and girls are expected to live (with some exceptions for certain classes), are stronger than the high walls of a prison. When a woman is raped, she is blamed for entering public space, for being a free citizen, for the clothes she wears, for the person she speaks to, for the place and time where she was. It is the woman who is held responsible for the crime. That is the character of the misogyny.”

Karat’s interview goes into depth about the difficult situation under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For example, she makes the following points:

  • Because of India’s government policies, agrarian distress is acute: An average of 12,000 farmers committed suicide every year of this government’s rule. Unemployment is at its highest.
  • India stands out for its increased inequalities under Modi’s rule. Just 1 percent of the population holds 68 percent of all household wealth, an almost 20-point increase in the last five years. On the other hand, according to the government’s socio-economic survey, over 90 percent of India’s people have an income of less than 10,000 rupees, or $143, a year.

It is not axiomatic that high inequality and social distress lead to a progressive politics. In such a context, it is as likely that the culture of working-class solidarity erodes, and social violence grows, producing the seedbed of neo-fascist politics. To that end, Karat makes the case that the left in India—but also elsewhere—needs to engage with the rigidities of our culture.

Cultures promoted by capitalism and the market promote and glorify individualism and promote individualistic solutions. All these add to the depoliticization of a whole generation of young people. This is certainly a challenge: how to find the most effective ways of taking our message to the youth. Then again in India class exploitation is intensified through the caste system and vice versa. To build resistance struggles against the caste system and caste oppression and to link such struggles with the fight against capitalism in terms of struggles and goals is also a challenge. Trade unions and other class organizations certainly have to be more assertive and attentive to these aspects.

The left, Karat suggests, needs to enter fully into the struggle over how to define the terms of a culture. Questions of dignity as well as discrimination are fundamental to the development of a progressive politics. No emancipatory movement can turn its back on any form of social hierarchy. The democratic impulse must work its way into the most rigid of cultural forms.

Karat offers a clear-headed assessment of the challenges for the left in India’s upcoming elections.

Brazil

Meanwhile, from Brazil, João Pedro Stedile looks back at the Brazilian election that elected the neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency. Stedile’s interview, which you can read here, explains the current, ugly context in Brazil. Bolsonaro has rapidly proved correct all the concerns about his politics. Stedile believes that the only antidote to Bolsonaro is a vibrant working-class movement; rooted not only in the countryside but also in the urban periphery.

Meanwhile, our Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research team in São Paulo—André Cardoso, Cristiane Tiemi and Olivia Carolino – have a full assessment (in Portuguese) of the Brazilian economy for 2019. A new law drops the minimum wage while another set of decrees directly attacks Brazil’s indigenous communities. The department in charge of indigenous rights, or FUNAI, will lose its oversight to the ministry of agriculture, which is dominated by agricultural, logging and mining business interests. Bolsonaro’s Minister of Agriculture Tereza Cristina Dias was the leader of the agricultural business lobby in the Congress. Sonia Guajajara, the leader of the National Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, or APIB, said after Bolsonaro’s decisions: “We are the first to be attacked. We have to be the first to react.”

Palestine

We have to be the first to be react. This would have been a phrase familiar to the Palestinian communist Shadia Abu Ghazaleh, born in Nablus in 1949 and killed in 1968. In 1967, Abu Ghazaleh joined the newly formed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. She abandoned her studies in Cairo to the consternation of her family, who had lost their home in Palestine. “What good is a university degree,” Abu Ghazaleh questioned them, “if I have no wall at home to attach it to?”

Last year, 56 Palestinian children, most from Gaza, were killed by the Israeli military forces. Focus has turned to the elections in Israel, but there is little concentration on the Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians.

Adalah, the legal center for Palestine, notes in a new report that Israel has shown no willingness to conduct an inquiry or investigation into the killings at the Gaza perimeter. It calls for the intervention of the International Criminal Court. None will be forthcoming.

It will remain to brave people to follow the example of Shadia Abu Ghazaleh and act to force the opening of a new road towards peace in Palestine. Their struggles will be struggles to make their land proud.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, journalist, commentator and a Marxist intellectual. He is the Executive Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books.

Photographs in this article were by Rahul, an independent journalist based in Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh), whose work can be seen at the People’s Archive of Rural India.




Liberté, Égalité, Impérialisme! Vive la France in Black Africa!

“Hotel Rwanda” is a touchstone of interventionist ideology, writes Ann Garrison. Debunking that script helps show why the closure of the assassination case against Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame serves Western interests.

By Ann Garrison
Black Agenda Report

Most Westerners believe that the Rwandan Genocide was the simple story of good and evil told in the hugely successful film “Hotel Rwanda,” but there is barely a moment of “Hotel Rwanda” that is not carefully constructed propaganda. The film was produced to convince the world that demon Hutus murdered a million innocent Tutsis in 100 days in 1994, that the U.S. and its NATO allies failed to intervene, and that their failure obligates them to intervene “to stop genocide” anywhere in the world from hereon.

Obama’s foreign policy team—most prominently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Samantha Power, a national security advisor—invoked the Rwandan genocide over and over, as did the press, to justify destroying Libya and beginning the aerial bombing war that continues in Syria today. The propaganda has also been used to justify Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s invasions, occupation and resource plunder in the fabulously resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Western press and governments have portrayed him as Rwanda’s savior and characterized his invasions of DRC as the defense of Rwanda against “Hutu genocidaires” who fled into the DRC as he and his army advanced and seized power.

The late Edward S. Herman and his co-author David Petersen deconstructed these lies in “Enduring Lies: the Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later.” So did Robin Philpot in “Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, from Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction;” Marie-Beatrice Umutesi in “Surviving the Slaughter, the Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire;” Peter Erlinder in his compendium of primary source documents “The Accidental Genocide;” and most recently Judi Rever in “In Praise of Blood: Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.” But none of these books made bestseller lists, and none could come close to the influence of “Hotel Rwanda.”

Essential elements left out of the “Hotel Rwanda” construction include the 1990-1994 Rwandan War and massacres that concluded in the infamous hundred days. The tragedy happened over four years’ time, not 100 days, and both Hutus and Tutsis were massacred, Hutus by Kagame’s army.

Unsolved Crime

Another missing element is the unsolved crime that triggered the final bloodletting of the final 100 days: the assassination of Rwanda and Burundi’s Hutu presidents, when a surface-to-air missile downed their plane as it was approaching the airport in  Rwanda’s capital Kigali on April 6, 1994. No one has ever been convicted of the crime, and there is enormous Western pressure to make sure that no one ever is. Overwhelming evidence implicates Kagame, but he is a key U.S. ally and “military partner” in Africa, and the “Hotel Rwanda” story is a key touchstone of Western interventionist ideology.

Kagame has nevertheless been accused and his inner circle indicted in both French and Spanish courts, where French and Spanish citizens claim jurisdiction because their family members died in the plane shoot-down or the ensuing massacres, but both of those cases have been shut down.

Last month, geopolitics trumped international justice again—just in time for Christmas. On Dec. 21, a French court closed the long-running case against Kagame and his inner circle for assassinating Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both of whom were Hutus.

Nearly 25 years later, there are still no convictions for the assassinations that turned first Rwanda, then DRC, into a vast killing ground. Not in the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, where two investigations of Kagame were shut down, and where a judge told defense attorney Tiphaine Dickson, “We don’t investigate plane crashes [or Tutsis, only Hutus].” And not in the French or Spanish courts.

The Subtext: Imperial Competition

The subtext of the Rwandan War and the ensuing Congo Wars was competition between the U.S./U.K. and France. France, which was then the dominant power in the region, had been the patron of Habyarimana’s Hutu government; the U.S. and U.K. backed Kagame’s invading Tutsi army, which emerged victorious in 1994, declared that English would from thereon be Rwanda’s international business language, then invaded and occupied French-speaking Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) two years later.

France and Rwanda have engaged in a bitter argument off and on for all these years about who was responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Their embassies have often been closed in one another’s capitals, and France pulled out of the 20th anniversary commemoration in Kigali after Kagame once again accused France of participating in the killing.

One of the recurring points of contention is Opération Turquoise, France’s emergency relief response, which began on June 23, 1994, several weeks before Kagame, then a general, seized power in Kigali. Some French officials who were in office at the time, most notably former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, have maintained that Opération Turquoise created a humanitarian corridor for Rwandan Hutus fleeing into Zaire, for fear of being massacred by General Kagame’s advancing Tutsi army. Kagame’s government has claimed that France instead provided an escape route for Hutus guilty of genocide, although the vast majority flooding into Zaire were civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. According to the 2010 UN Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003, Kagame’s troops followed the refugees into Zaire and massacred as many as 250,000.

In “Dying to Live: A Rwandan Family’s Five-Year Flight Across the Congo,” Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga describes how he and his family and 300,000 more Rwandan Hutus fled Kagame’s advancing army all the way through the Congolese jungle, from east to west, as many more died of hardship or were massacred by Kagame’s troops along the way.

The authors of the UN Mapping Report said that the massacres in Congo would most likely be ruled a genocide if a case were brought to court, but none has been and none ever will be without a major geopolitical shift in power. In 2013, in one of his many cynical moments, former President Bill Clinton told BBC journalist Komla Dumor that he would not condemn his friend Paul Kagame for murdering the refugees because “it hasn’t been adjudicated.” (And because it happened on his watch, with his support, as did the 1998 Rwandan and Ugandan invasions of DRC, during which Kagame and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni became what another UN report called “the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the DRC.”)

France Wants Its Share

France of course wants its share, and French officials now in power have decided to close the case against Kagame in order to secure access to Congo’s riches, which he significantly controls. The court’s ruling came shortly after Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo became secretary-general of La Francophonie, an international organization similar to the British Commonwealth, in what was widely perceived to be another concession to smooth French-Rwandan relations and ease France’s imperial access in DRC.

Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former Rwandan general, chief of army staff, and chief of military intelligence, was also named as a defendant in the French indictment. Speaking to Jane Corbin in the BBC video “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” he said that Kagame most definitely ordered his troops to shoot down the plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents:

 

Jane Corbin:  Who do you believe was behind the shooting down of the plane?

Kayumba Nyamwasa:  Paul Kagame undoubtedly.

JC:  Paul Kagame?

KN:  Oh yes, oh yes.

JC:  You know that?

KN:  One hundred percent.

JC:  Were you at meetings where it was discussed?

KN:  Well, I know. I was in a position to know, and he knows I was in a position to know. And he knows that.

BBC interjection: General Nyamwasa has offered to cut a deal with the French judge to testify.

JC:  If you discuss these matters with the judge and it implicates you yourself, are you willing to do that?

KN:  Obviously. If it implicated me? Why not? Because I think that truth is what matters.

 

The French court said they were closing the case for lack of “credible” and “significant” evidence despite abundant such evidence. That does not mean, however, that they acquitted Kagame, Nyamwasa, or anyone else who was in Kagame’s inner circle at the time Habyarimana and Ntaryamira were assassinated. As Rwandan American legal scholar Charles Kambanda said, “This is a political decision which could well be superseded by another political decision to reopen the file when there is additional ‘credible’ and ‘significant’ evidence.” In other words, France has mollified Kagame for now, but it’s kept a knife behind its back.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. She can be reached at ann@anngarrison.com.




Why China Tiptoed onto the Far Side of the Moon

Xi Jinping’s state media was strangely quiet about its historic lunar landing, writes Patrick Lawrence in this look at the U.S. effort to maintain primacy over advanced technologies.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

When China landed a space probe on the far side of the moon last week, it was a first for humanity. The Chang’e 4 spacecraft touched down on Thursday and then sent a rover to explore and photograph lunar terrain we Earthlings had never before seen. This feat is up there with the U.S. moon landing in 1969. But while the scientists who designed the Chang’e 4 probe were properly proud, China’s state-controlled media buried the story beneath the day’s more mundane news. As one space analyst put it, the silence was deafening.

The New York Times reported: “Compared with previous missions, however, the reaction to Thursday’s milestones seemed strikingly restrained, both in the country’s state-run news outlets and on social media. On China’s most-watched TV news program early Thursday evening, the landing — declared a success by officials at mission control — was not even one of the four top stories.”  (CGTN, China’s state-owned English language TV broadcast geared towards the West, however, ran more than 15 stories about the moon landing between Wednesday, Jan. 2 and Friday, Jan. 4.)

Why would this be? Why would Xi Jinping’s hyper-ambitious China go relatively quiet after demonstrating that its swiftly developing technological capabilities are making the nation the global leader its president thinks it is destined to be?

Mike Pompeo suggested an answer the same day the Chang’e 4 touched down on lunar soil. President Donald Trump’s secretary of state chose last Thursday to warn the Iranians to drop their plans to launch three satellites into space over the next several months. Pompeo dismissed these projects as nothing more than a cover to test intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of bearing warheads.

These events are not unrelated.

Yes, the Trump administration has started a trade war with China. But Washington’s quarrels with Beijing are about far more than trade. The U.S. proposes to sanction Iran to kingdom come so as to limit its leverage as an emerging power in the Middle East. But the U.S. administration’s dangerously aggressive policies toward Tehran are about more than the Islamic Republic’s regional influence.

Larger Theme

There is a larger theme here that is not to be missed: Maintaining America’s lead in advanced technologies is now essential to preserving U.S. primacy. And China and Iran are among those middle-income nations whose scientific and technological advances will at some point challenge this lead.

In effect, Washington appears intent on imposing a development ceiling on any nation that resists its global hegemony. And of all the unpromising foreign policies the U.S. now pursues, this has to count among the least thought-out. Attempting to limit any nation’s aspirations to climb the development ladder is a straight-out loser. No one who understands world history since the decolonization era began in the 1950s can possibly conclude otherwise. 

Tensions between the U.S. and China have increased steadily since Beijing announced its Made in China 2025 Initiative several years ago, and it is hard to imagine this is mere coincidence. As one of Xi’s core strategies, Made in China 2025 designates 10 high-technology industries—robotics, pharmaceuticals, cutting-edge telecom networks, advanced machine tools, and the like—in which China proposes to make itself a global leader. All 10 of these industries are currently dominated by the U.S. and other Western nations.

Since Xi’s program began, Washington has made persistent efforts to limit its progress. Last year the State Department began a program intended to restrict the number of Chinese students permitted to study at U.S. universities.

In two much-noted cases, the Commerce Department has gone after leading Chinese high-tech companies, ZTE and, most recently, Huawei, charging both with violations of U.S. restrictions on exports to Iran and North Korea. Legislation now prohibits the federal government from purchasing products from either company.

Justice Department on a Tear

The Justice Department is also on a tear. In quick succession last autumn it indicted four Chinese companies—one of them state-controlled—on charges they stole trade secrets from U.S. manufacturers in a variety of industries. “Chinese economic espionage on the U.S. has been increasing, and it has been increasing rapidly,” Jeff Sessions, then serving as attorney general, asserted. “Enough is enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.” None of the four cases has yet been adjudicated. 

It is not difficult to detect a 21st Century version of the old “yellow peril” in all this. Last year the Council on Foreign Relations referred to Made in China 2025 as “a real existential threat to U.S. technological leadership.” In the long run this may prove to be so. The Chinese strategy has a lot in common with Japan’s designation of “strategic industries”—autos, shipbuilding, and electronics among them—in the postwar decades, and we know how those battles turned out. 

The U.S. has no more chance of restraining China’s development now than it did Japan’s in the 1970s and 1980s. The proper response to China’s emergence as a technological competitor is to seek opportunities in the advances of another nation. The alternative is to fight a technology war there is little chance of winning.

We now await concrete results of the trade truce Trump and Xi announced after they met at the Group of 20 session in Buenos Aires last November. Before talks began this week, there were already indications that Beijing may dilute its Made in China 2025 Initiative by allowing foreign companies to participate.

Chinese Modesty Aside

In this context, Beijing’s modesty after last week’s moon landing appears to be another effort to make as little as possible of China’s technological challenge to U.S. competitors. But it would be a mistake to interpret such developments as signs that China is willing to abandon its aspirations. There is zero chance that this is so.

The Iran case is a flimsy variant of the full-court press Washington has mounted against China. Pompeo, who formed an Iran Action Group after the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord last year, is skating on very thin ice in charging Tehran with pretending satellite launches are anything more than covers for a ballistic missile tests. Three are reasons: 

No. 1: Iran has been sending satellites into space since 2005. There is nothing singular about those it now plans.

No. 2: Even if the Iranians were testing ballistic missiles—and there is no self-evident reason to assume this is so—it would not be in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution governing such tests. Tehran has been as scrupulous in observing Resolution 2231, unanimously approved five days after the nuclear accord was made final, as it has been with the agreement itself. 

Finally, there is the matter of deterrence. Given that Washington now acknowledges—at last—that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal, Iran has an open-and-shut case for maintaining adequate defenses in the event of a hostile neighbor’s attack. Remember what all the old Cold Warriors used to tell us: Deterrence was the very key to averting a Soviet attack on the U.S. Is this reasoning no longer valid when it applies to a nation on Washington’s enemies list?

China, Iran, and let us not forget Russia: None of these three nations wants a war with the U.S., all three resolutely oppose Washington’s quest for global hegemony and they are all climbing quickly up the technological development ladder. America’s challenge is to learn to live with these three realities. No nation has ever succeeded in stopping history’s wheel from turning. 

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Local Forces Who Defeated ISIS in Syria Defend Their Territory

The outcry against Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria reveals an appetite for regional hegemony, writes As’ad AbuKhalil. It also minimizes the capacity of native militia to defend territory for which they fought and died.   

A Wise and Rare Decision

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw 2000 U.S. troops from Syria has caused great alarm in elite circles. The New York Times and The Washington Post both warned it would leave Israel “abandoned” and “isolated” and would embolden enemies of the U.S.  Martin Indyk, a former Mideast envoy for Democratic administrations, complained that Trump did not factor in the national security interests of Israel.

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who lost the presidency to Trump, tweeted: “Actions have consequences, and whether we’re in Syria or not, the people who want to harm us are there & at war. Isolationism is weakness. Empowering ISIS is dangerous. Playing into Russia & Iran’s hands is foolish. This President is putting our national security at grave risk.”

Hollywood celebrities have also jumped into the act.

The strong reaction to Trump’s decision (which fulfills a campaign promise to disengage militarily from the Middle East) highlights his gap with a mainstream media and foreign policy establishment that supports a more aggressive U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. The only time these detractors ever strongly supported Trump was when he ordered the bombing of Syria. Establishment spokesman Farid Zakaria, a favored CNN host and pundit, said Trump had finally become “presidential.” The only reservation was that the bombing should have been more  massive. 

The latest civilian death toll in Syria is over 107,000. The media has, by and large, disregarded the extent to which U.S. bombs have contributed to this enormous loss of life. When the history of the Syrian war is written, it is very likely that the destruction of Raqqa will be categorized as a U.S. war crime—to be added to the many war crimes committed by all sides in the protracted war.

Exaggerations of US Role  

The outcry against Trump’s withdrawal announcement include exaggerations of the role that 2000 U.S. troops played in defeating ISIS (which exclude personnel involved in covert actions).   

 In a Tweet, Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times oddly attributed the loss of 99 percent of ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq to the work of the U.S.-led “coalition” (so broadly defined to include Sweden and Bahrain among others).  This estimate typically ignores the contributions and sacrifices of native Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi fighters, many of whom are foes of the U.S.

While it can’t be determined mathematically the extent to which the U.S. and others contributed to the demise of ISIS, it is certain that the bulk of the fighting against ISIS—and the dying—was done by locals, the majority of whom opposed the U.S.

This was the case in Lebanon, where the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida, over the last two years, was carried out almost single-handedly by Hizbullah, which the U.S. State Department designates a terrorist organization. Similarly, Russia and its allies in Syria did most of the fighting against ISIS despite the contributions of pro-U.S. Kurdish militias and some rebel groups. 

The economic power of ISIS—in terms of the oil trade—was largely destroyed by Russian, not U.S., bombing.  In Iraq, the virtual collapse of the U.S.-trained Iraqi Army in June 2014, when Mosul was overrun, was a major factor in the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and beyond. 

In Iraq, the process of mobilization and recruitment against ISIS began with the formation of Hashd, or “mass,” militias formed at the behest of Ayatollah Sistani, the senior Iranian Shia cleric based in Iraq. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards became directly involved. While these natives fought back and destroyed ISIS in Iraq the U.S. provided air cover. Locals did the fighting and the dying.

Trump’s agenda poses a danger to the U.S. and the world. But the global agenda of the Democratic and Republican (establishment) is even more dangerous. It would expand wars in the Middle East and beyond. It would intensify U.S. enmities to places such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran and abort any attempts at reconciliation. It would prevent the U.S. from leaving a military occupation. It would challenge the enemies of the U.S. and Israel with direct U.S. military projection of force throughout the Middle East. 

Presidents Obey the Military 

Trump’s fault, in the eyes of those who criticize his decision to withdraw troops from Syria, is that he did not follow the advice of his military. The notion that a president must follow military orders is entirely undemocratic. But since Sept. 11, 2001, it has been established—especially by Democrats—that the commander in chief should do just that.Thus, President Barack Obama went against his own views and agreed to expand the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. 

Due to its strong popular support, the U.S. military often operates outside the reach of congressional supervision or public accountability. By occasionally challenging the generals, as with this decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, Trump has proven more politically courageous than Obama, who was afraid to defy the brass. (While Obama resisted his own foreign policy advisors’ pressures to intervene more deeply in Syria, the U.S. military at that time was less enthusiastic about intervention.)

Israel was clearly unhappy with Trump’s announcement of troop withdrawal from Syria, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the few world leaders briefed by Trump before announcing his decision. (Is there a matter of any significance over which the U.S. president—whether Bush or Obama or Trump—does not brief Netanyahu?)

To satisfy Israel, the U.S. must deploy troops in all Arab countries and to join Israel in its unending wars against the whole Arab world. (Paradoxically, Israel is loathed by the Arab people while cruel Arab despots in the Gulf—such as those leading Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar—race to establish relations with Israel and often try to ingratiate themselves with the U.S. president and Congress.) 

Israel, through its powerful lobby, has been agitating for the U.S. to wage war on Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and the Palestinian territories.  And Western media—no matter how much Israel accumulates by way of its massive arsenal of WMDs, and no matter how much Israeli gives itself the right to bomb at will in Syria and Palestine—still treats Israel as a vulnerable entity in need of permanent U.S. military protection.

All of this explains why Clinton is more popular than Trump. She had promised more military hegemony in the Middle East. And she was just as enthusiastic as Trump about propping up Middle East despots. For instance, as secretary of state, Clinton supported Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak at all costs. When Mubarak fell she wanted the head of the secret police, Omar Suleiman,  to be his successor. 

The underlying causes for U.S. withdrawals from Syria can’t be known and some wager it won’t pan out. But it is unlikely that it’s part of a large geo-strategic scheme on Trump’s part. Nor is the move likely to predict a U.S. strike on Iran. After two years in office, Trump is showing more self-confidence in his foreign policy decisions than when he started. It is likely that he will follow his original isolationist instincts.  Those instincts are at odds with the bipartisan consensus in D.C., which has heaped an avalanche of criticism upon one of the rare wise decisions of an often rash president.

ISIS is indeed on the run, and it has lost the bulk of its territorial base.  It retains some fighters in its remnants in Eastern Syria, but its ability to expand is drastically limited. The major enemies of ISIS—those who drove ISIS from most of its territory—remain on the ground in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. While overlooked by Western reporters and columnists, they are ready to go to war again to fight back an ISIS offensive.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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The Euro-Establishment’s Fear of Populism

French protesters are furious with EU champion Emmanuel Macron while Rome battles Brussels over its budget. Amid all this, Andrew Spannaus discusses why organized labor isn’t seizing the moment. 

Yellow Vests, Italian Budget
Battles & Silent Labor Unions

By Andrew Spannaus
in Milan
Special to Consortium News

From the European Union’s standpoint, the historic levels of social unrest confronting French President Emmanuel Macron, one of its leading champions, came at a delicate moment in its dealings with Italy.

Since mid-September, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has been battling with Italy over its budget. The populist government in Rome—led by the Five-Star Movement, orM5S, and the League—have decided to stimulate the economy by giving money to the poor, lowering taxes and increasing public investment.

With an assist from financial markets that are penalizing Italian government bonds, the Commission has been threatening an “excessive deficit procedure” if Italy doesn’t reduce spending and resume measures to balance its budget. In theory this austerity policy will make the country more stable and efficient. But the last 10 years have demonstrated that cutting the budget and raising taxes have depressed economic activity, with the effect of making people poorer. Italy’s new political leaders are determined to show they can break through the resistance to public stimulus of the economy.

The French Yellow Vest protests came just in time to alleviate some of the pressure on the Italians, allowing the M5S and League leaders to point out the hypocrisy of letting France run a budget deficit of over 3 percent while pushing Italy to go below 1.5 percent. “If the deficit/GDP rules apply to Italy, I expect they should apply to Macron as well,” Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Dec. 11, Reuters reports.

The response from pro-austerity factions within Italy and the European Commission is that Italy has a larger public debt and benefits from less market confidence.

EU Tries to Hold Line

Nonetheless, the European Commission showed a bit of flexibility this week, provisionally accepting a budget deficit of slightly over 2 percent. The Italians also ceded ground by reducing investments and the funds allocated to their signature projects to alleviate poverty and help pensioners. Thus the European Commission is still fighting to defend its line of budget orthodoxy, lest the floodgates open to uncontrollable rebellion.

Where are the unions?

In France, union membership is very low, but the unions there still have considerable power in collective bargaining and have demonstrated the ability to paralyze the country, at times more so than in Italy, where membership is much higher.  France’s unions, however, do not seem to be identifying in any major way with the discontent, although there have been some sightings. The SocialistWorker.org reports that “France’s biggest union coalition, the General Confederation of Workers, called for a day of general mobilization on December 14, and in some regions, like Ile-de-France, this garnered support from other unions and federations.” 

But given the EU’s embrace of austerity policies and “labor flexibility”— meaning the ability to fire people more easily and keep wages low—organized labor isn’t taking the central position against the effects of globalization that might be expected. Unions have been mostly absent from the spontaneous protests in France and the rising populist movements in Italy and elsewhere around Europe.

Protecting Institutions

The dilemma for some unions is that while they aim to defend workers by battling wage and benefit cuts that are justified by the need to compete on global markets they fear feeding populist movements that might challenge the legitimacy of European institutions and the politicians who back them.

An example of this contradiction comes from Italian labor leader Susanna Camusso, head of the Italian General Confederation of Labour, or CGIL, the country’s largest union, dating to 1906.

In an interview with foreign journalists in Milan on Nov. 19, Camusso focused on unstable working conditions that force workers to accept multiple short-term contracts that offer no job security. She also raised some broad demographic inequities; between young and old, men and women, and different geographic areas.

But when asked if organized labor was wrong to have supported the EU economic policies from the start—by not opposing the budget rules at the root of current demands for spending cuts—Camusso denied any culpability. “We are pro-European and continue to be convinced supporters of Europe,” she said. “Our country made sacrifices affecting workers, but joining the monetary union and the Euro was the right choice. Not only because we are a founding country, but because Europe has meant peace for many years.”

This is the type of argument that voters across the continent are increasingly rejecting; the notion that calling for a fundamental change in EU policies automatically means a return to the wars of past centuries.

Free-Market Europe

It is indisputable that cooperation has helped bring European nations together since the end of World War II, yet it is also clear that the neoliberal policies introduced in the 1990s, starting with massive budget cuts and the opening of numerous sectors to speculative capital through privatization and liberalization, changed the nature of Europe, cementing the power of the “free market,” pro-globalization consensus that has produced negative effects for so many.

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Camusso, who is also a candidate for secretary general of the World Federation of Trade Unions, does not shy away from criticizing the difficulties created by such policies. She attacks austerity policies that reduce pensions, cut funds for health care and erode public infrastructure. Yet by refusing to admit the neoliberal foundations of EU policies starting at least 25 years ago—policies based on monetary parameters, rather than the health of productive activities in the real economy—she ties the unions’ hands in fighting for more decisive change.

While organized labor restrains itself, both right- and left-wing populists take the helm on EU on economic issues, many claiming they are not anti-European as such, but merely determined to stop the austerity policies that have done so much harm to the population.

This was seen in the French presidential elections in 2017, when both Marine Le Pen, on the Right, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the Left, called for renegotiating the EU treaties to abandon the notion of “free trade” that has harmed the productive economy.

In the 2016 U.S. elections, a partisan shift in votes from union households was a critical factor in President Donald Trump’s victory in key battleground states such as Ohio and Michigan.

The underlying issues driving the populist revolt are economic and financial globalization and their effects on people’s living standards. Shying away from criticizing the neoliberal policies ingrained in Western institutions is merely a recipe for further unrest, with potentially dangerous consequences. 

When Macron came from seemingly nowhere to defeat Le Pen in the May 2017 run-off, he became the youngest president in French history. He was hailed as the savior of the European Union, a centrist who succeeded in beating back the populists. As such, he came to symbolize the idea that the EU defends peace and democracy against the racists and xenophobes. But the spontaneous insurgency of the anti-establishment Yellow Vest movement suggests the real threats to social stability are the sheer hardships—and loss of living standards—suffered by large numbers of people.

Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan. He was elected chairman of the Milan Foreign Press Association in March 2018. He has published the books “Perché vince Trump” (“Why Trump is Winning” – June 2016) and “La rivolta degli elettori” (“The Revolt of the Voters” – July 2017).

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The Great Saudi Muddle

Two U.S. Senate resolutions last week have resulted in a ball of confusion, one that tries to distance the U.S, from a murderous Saudi prince while at the same time demanding closer relations with the government he heads. 

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

Does the Senate want Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to own up to the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi?  Is it really seeking an end to Saudi Arabia’s war of aggression against Yemen?  The answer to both questions is: kind of, sort of, not really. 

That’s the takeaway from a couple of resolutions the chamber approved amid great fanfare last week. The first, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders, calls on Trump “to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen” by, among other things, putting an end to in-flight refueling of Saudi and the United Arab Emirate war planes. The resolution, which passed 56 to 41, was a small step toward ending a war of aggression that has claimed as many as 80,000 lives – although it would have been stronger and less self-serving if it had also called for cutting off arms sales that have allowed US weapons manufacturers to reap vast profits off human misery.

But the second resolution, which passed on a unanimous voice vote, was a muddle that shows just how self-defeating US policy has become.  Sponsored by Republican Senator Bob Corker, it began by holding the crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder in an Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2, an act, it said, that has “undermined trust and confidence in the longstanding friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

This generated excited headlines to the effect that the U.S. might at last be breaking with MbS, as Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is universally known. But news outlets failed to mention what the resolution said next.  It declared, for instance, that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is “an essential element of regional security.”  While saying nothing about arms shipments to Saudi allies, it condemned Iran for supplying rebel forces with “advanced lethal weapons.”  It blamed the Houthis “for egregious human rights abuses, including torture, use of human shields, and interference with, and diversion of, humanitarian aid shipments” – this while remaining silent about Saudi-UAE atrocities, which reportedly include a string of torture chambers in which political opponents are roasted over open fires, among other horrors.

Most bizarrely of all, the resolution warned the Saudis that “increasing purchases of military equipment from, and cooperation with, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China challenges the strength and integrity of the long-standing military-to-military relationship” between Washington and Riyadh.  The Senate is thus angry with MBS not only because he sent a seventeen-member hit squad to knock off a US resident in the middle of a European capital, but because he’s consorting with America’s business rivals.  The resolution further warns that such purchases “may introduce significant national security and economic risks to both parties,” language that is every bit as threatening as it sounds. 

The result is a ball of confusion, one that tries to distance the US from a murderous Saudi prince while at the same time demanding closer relations with the government he heads.  It calls on the Saudis to behave more nicely to their neighbors, wind down the war in Yemen, and cease murdering people in broad daylight so that the clock can be turned back a few years and the process starts all over again.  To quote Giuseppe de Lampedusa’s famous line in his novel, The Leopard, it wants everything to change so that everything can remain the same.

Incoherence

This is as incoherent as anything Trump has come up with, including his notorious Nov. 20 statement with regard to MbS’s guilt or innocence that “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”  Trump can’t let go of his Saudi ties.  But, then, the Senate can’t let go and not let go at the same time.

No one knows what to do, which is why the resolution tried to play both sides of the net.  In describing MbS as “a wrecking ball,” one whom it is “very difficult to be able to do business” with, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was essentially calling on the crown prince to step down.  

He could be replaced, under U.S. pressure, perhaps with the former crown prince he replaced, Muhammad bin Nayef, said to be favored by the CIA, which publicly blamed MbS for Khashoggi’s murder.

But it could also mean a destabilizing factional feud within the ruling clan leading to a messy regime change, which, as Washington foreign-policy experts have learned all too painfully since the Arab Spring, could well lead to chaos.

To be sure, there is always the hope that a senior member of the Al-Saud will step in once MbS is removed and re-establish order. Indeed, Saudi experts already have a candidate for the job in mind: King Salman’s younger brother Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, who, while living in self-imposed exile in London, startled Saudi watchers by telling a small group of hecklers not to blame the Al-Saud for the Yemen war, only the king and crown prince.  “They are responsible for crimes in Yemen,” he said. “Tell Mohammed bin Salman to stop the war.”

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Since public criticism of this sort is unprecedented, it was assumed that when Prince Ahmed flew back to Riyadh a few weeks after the Khashoggi murder under a US-UK promise of protection, it was with the goal of putting the Al-Saud on a new footing.

But no one knows what might bubble up if he were to try.  Things might return to normal after a royal shake-up – assuming one is in the works – or they may not.  After all, it was assumed that Libya would return to normal once a former prime minister named Ali Zeidan took over from deposed strongman Muammar Gaddafi.  When that didn’t work out, it was hoped that an ex-academic named Omar al-Hassi would have better luck.  But when he fell too, it was clear that only anarchy would reign.  

Hence the fear in Saudi Arabia is that something similar might occur post-MbS – that, as a source told The New Yorker’s Robin Wright, “[s]omeone from outside the system could make it collapse,” whereupon the kingdom would succumb to “instability like elsewhere in the region.”

Homemade in Washington

If so, it’s a problem entirely of Washington’s own making.  Democratic and Republican administrations alike have continued to build up Saudi Arabia despite repeated warnings that it was creating a monster.

In 1945, FDR granted Saudi King Ibn Saud a blanket security guarantee in return for unrestricted oil access.  A few years later, Truman used the newly-established Marshall Fund to finance massive Saudi oil shipments to war-torn western Europe, thereby establishing the kingdom as the world’s leading exporter.  Following the epic price increases and Oil Embargo of the 1973, Washington hit upon yet another deal, this time to recycle excess petrodollars by exchanging Saudi oil profits for U.S. weaponry.  A regional military colossus was thus born, one that felt free to attack whomever it pleased thanks to colossal oil wealth, vast quantities of high-tech arms, and an unlimited U.S. security guarantee and political cover.

Aggression and repression were the inevitable result. Unwilling to upset a vital strategic partner, the Obama administration said nothing when Riyadh sent troops into neighboring Bahrain to bloodily suppress democratic protests; when it flooded Syria with bloodthirsty Sunni jihadis, and when, in March 2015, it declared war on Yemen, its neighbor to the south.  Indeed, the administration felt it had no choice but to help out.

Thus, a top general signaled his assent even while admitting that he had only been given a few hours’ notice while a State Department spokesman added forlornly: “We don’t want this to be an open-ended military campaign.” Nearly four years later, with as many as 13 million people teetering on the brink of starvation, that’s exactly what it’s turned out to be.

Joined at the hip with the Saudis, the U.S. appears to have no idea how to go about severing an increasingly toxic relationship, as last week’s incoherent Senate resolutions make clear.

The U.S. was happy to build Saudi Arabia up, but it’s clueless now that Saudi Arabia is dragging it down.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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George H.W. Bush’s Bitter Legacy in the Middle East

The avalanche of funeral hagiography drowned any possible discussion of what Bush did to the Middle East. As’ad AbuKhalil writes that he rallied despots against Iraq and established a new, tyrannical security order in the region.  

Sequel to ‘British Betrayal’ of WWI

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Any sober assessment of late President George H.W. Bush’s political legacy was drowned last week by the avalanche of hagiography by the mainstream media. This served, in part, the role of catharsis. The more loudly the members of the media praised Bush, whose family has testy relations with President Donald Trump, the more it helped them vent their animosity towards the current president.  

Lost in this anti-historical, fact-free binge was any possible discussion of Bush’s most important legacies, one of which is certainly his great fake-out of Arab interests in the Middle East. Almost every U.S. president since Harry S. Truman has been more pro-Israel than his predecessor. The sole exception to this was George H.W. Bush. But via the war against Iraq, his administration wound up embracing Israeli interests and regional hegemony to such a degree that it left lasting damage to peace and stability in the region. 

H.W. Bush was adept at changing ideologies to suit the venue. The man who emerged from the “moderate” wing of the East Coast Republican Party became the political heir of President Ronald Reagan, who wooed the Religious Right and made abortion a litmus test for all Supreme Court nominees. 

While Bush did not leave a presidential memoir, (he is the first since Franklin D. Roosevelt not to do so), he did coauthor a book with Brent Scowcroft, his national security advisor, “A World Transformed.”  This offers evidence of Bush’s close ties with Arab Gulf despots and the deposed Egyptian strongman Husni Mubarak, who served as his chief advisor on the region. 

Bush was obviously impressed by the fabulous wealth and hospitality of Arab potentates.  At one point in the book, during a stay in one of King Fahd’s marble guest palaces, he marvels at the chandeliers, the air conditioning and goes on at length about a lavish state dinner. “I had never seen so much—and of nearly every conceivable type of food.” 

Wealthy Arab Friends 

Bush’s ties with wealthy Arabs served him well. Lebanese businessman Najad Isam Faris and Syrian businessman Jamale Daniel helped the business career of Bush’s son, Neil. With his network of Gulf associates, Bush served as a prized advisor to the Carlyle Group, the global, private equity firm based in Washington, D.C., with a specialty of investing in companies that depend on government contracts.

Bush’s footprints in the region begin with his oil-business years in Texas. At that point, in the 1950s, oil companies often served as a chief lobbying force for Gulf regimes against the Israeli lobby. This was not due to any humanitarian concern for the plight of the Palestinian people. It was due to the usual financial motivation. The Israel lobby opposed closer ties between the U.S. and all Arab countries, which compelled oil businesses to defend their Gulf suppliers. Since the Israeli lobby opposed U.S. arms sales to Middle East regimes, it had other big-business opponents as well.

Later in his life, Bush also dealt with the Middle East as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as director of the CIA. (The deputy chief of Saudi intelligence during Bush’s time at the CIA, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, was one of the few foreign dignitaries invited to attend the funeral). 

When the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid tribute last week to Bush  he concealed a long history of Israeli detestation for the man. 

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As Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Bush—along with James Baker, the White House chief of staff, and Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense—had the coolest attitudes towards Israel of any in the administration, which was otherwise loaded with ardent Zionists. Bush was vilified for his 1991 remark that he was a “one lonely guy” battling “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.”

Nonetheless Bush toed the pro-Israeli line and championed the cause of Soviet Jewish dissidents and the sponsorship of the emigration of Jews from Ethiopia, Syria and the former Soviet Union to Israel.  He also recruited ardent Zionists (Jack Kemp, Condoleezza Rice and Dennis Ross) for his administration.

As president, Bush was branded an anti-Semite in 1991 for “deferring” for 120 days $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel. He did this to prevent Israel from putting the money toward settlements in the occupied lands of 1967. Bush was also trying to persuade Israel to join the U.S.-sponsored peace process. 

Serious About Settlements

This was the only time the U.S. government treated the settlements and the Israeli role in the peace process as a serious matter. The Obama administration did voice mild protestations about the settlements, which violate international law. But after Bush, the settlements never again caused any serious irritation to U.S.-Israeli relations.

The Bush administration also, at one point, banned Ariel Sharon, the Israeli militarist and politician, from entering U.S. government buildings due to his statements against the U.S. role in the peace process. (When Jack Kemp, housing secretary at the time, wanted to meet with Sharon, James Baker instructed him to meet outside government offices). 

But in Iraq, the Bush administration began the process of removing a regime that the Israel government had been complaining about for years. This was before Israel discovered the Iranian danger. It was also many years after Israel rid itself of the Egyptian danger thanks to the Camp David Accords between the despotic Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Israeli government under the auspices of the American human rights president, Jimmy Carter. Going forward, the U.S. bombed everything on Israel’s bombing wish list in Iraq.

Bush was intent on going to war against Iraq in 1990. He sent Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, and Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to Riyadh to persuade the king that U.S. troops were needed on the ground in Saudi Arabia to protect the kingdom from an Iraqi invasion (U.S. ships had moved before Cheney stepped foot on Saudi soil). 

Rallying Against Iraq 

The H.W.Bush administration rallied Arab despots against Iraq and established a regional tyrannical order. Even the Syrian regime rose above its previous conflicts with the U.S. and got on board. Together, they denied Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s president, the one condition that he sought for withdrawal. As Bush admits in the book he coauthored, that sole condition was access to the Persian Gulf.

From 1991 on, most members of the U.S. armed forces—especially the Air Force—began to train over (or on) Arab lands.  Today that means bases and military activities in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Syria (illegally), not to mention other places where the U.S. maintains secret military and intelligence bases (it was leaked to the press a few years ago that Dubai hosts one of the largest CIA bases in the world). 

Bush exploited the Gulf War to impose a security regime where the U.S.—and not the local despotic clients—called the shots.  Furthermore, Bush introduced the misuse of the U.N. as “an added cloak of political cover for U.S. wars and actions,” as is described on page 416 of the book he coauthored.

In targeting Iraq, Bush begin to eliminate the biggest (albeit exaggerated) Arab military power. He also pushed Arab governments to sit face-to-face with Israel in Madrid without securing any concessions from Israel at all. 

The “peace process” under Bush was just as it had been under his predecessors and successors. It amounted to empty promises of U.S. rewards for Arab participation in the war on Iraq. It was a repeat of the “British betrayal” of World War I, when, in exchange for help fighting against the Ottoman Empire, Arabs thought they would earn  independence.

 As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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Mexico’s Solution to the Border Crisis

López Obrador’s $20 billion development plan gives Washington a chance to help rectify the historic damage it’s done to the living conditions of people in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, writes Patrick Lawrence.

A Latin American Marshall Plan, at a Discount 

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

With President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatening to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his wall, it’s good that someone in a position of authority actually has a workable solution to the migrant crisis festering on the Mexican border with the U.S.

The day after Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office as Mexico’s president on Dec. 1, his foreign minister flew to Washington to propose a $20 billion development plan to make Central America a place for people to stay rather than flee. Three-quarters of the money would help create jobs and fight poverty. The rest would pay for border control and law enforcement.

The plan would be funded by Mexico, the U.S. and the three Central American that produce the most refugees and migrants, according to the size of their economies. The  U.S. would pay most, which seems just given the decades of support—including millions in military assistance and police training—that Washington offered corrupt, anti-democratic dictators who oversaw the impoverishment of Central America. In addition, the U.S. backed the 2009 coup in Honduras that has directly led to an influx of refugees streaming towards the U.S. border.

At last there is a plan that addresses the causes, and not just the symptoms of Central America’s migrant and refugee crisis: poverty, unemployment, drug trafficking, gang violence, police corruption, the world’s highest murder rates.  At last an implicit assertion that the U.S. bears some responsibility—and arguably the largest share—for the unlivable conditions of many Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans appears to be at hand. 

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s new foreign minister, met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Dec. 1 as thousands of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were marooned in Tijuana and other locations on the Mexican side of the border. Ebrard compared Mexico’s proposal with the Marshall Plan, the 1948–51 program to rebuild Europe. In this case, however, the U.S. would spend far less.  In today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation, the U.S. contributed nearly $100 billion to the Marshall Plan (an investment in both reconstruction and the advancement of U.S. business interests in Europe).

The State Department said little in its official response, merely acknowledging the two nations’ “shared commitment to address our common challenges and opportunities.” Ebrard said only, “I thank him [Pompeo] for his attitude and respect toward the new administration of President López Obrador.”

Translation: Ebrard seems to have gotten nowhere. No surprise since the Trump administration has threatened to cut aid to Central American nations that don’t stop the flow of migrants northward. But that flow won’t stop until the conditions causing it are alleviated.  But Central American nations need help to do that. 

Signal Test

This is a test for Trump, the right-wing populist, who said he could work with López Obrador, the left-wing populist. 

López Obrador’s commitment to alleviating poverty, crime and underdevelopment in Central America was the theme that won him the presidency last year. On his inauguration day he signed a comprehensive Central American development plan with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Their document earned U.N. backing.

The U.S. entertained a similar development program not long ago.

In 2000, Vicente Fox proposed an infrastructure development plan  for Central America soon after he was elected Mexican president. George W. Bush listened: When he was inaugurated a few months later, Bush declared Mexico Washington’s highest foreign policy and national security priority.

Then came  Sept. 11, 2001.  The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria followed at a cost of $5.6 trillion, according to a recent study by the Watson Institute at Brown University. That is 280 times the amount Marcelo Ebrard put on the table with Pompeo.

Would there be caravans of migrants heading north from Central America today had Washington partnered with Mexico to make relatively modest investments in regional development programs a couple of decades ago?

There is indeed a history to U.S. development aid to Latin America, and like the Marshall Plan, past efforts were centered on promoting U.S. business interests.  President John F. Kennedy launched the Alliance for Progress, which was criticized as being intended mostly to help U.S. business interests, including in this 1968 NBC News report (at 14:37).

Like the Marshall plan and the Alliance for Progress, any U.S. development deal today for Central America to keep Central Americans in Central America will likely have to provide an advantage for U.S. business interests there. With a businessman in the White House, it would be hard not to assume that Trump would use his leverage with Obrabor to push for this in any deal, if he engages Obrador’s proposal at all. 

Global Context

The Mexico proposal has a global context, given that continental Europe and the U.S. share variants of the same problem. Both face unmanageable waves of migrants and refugeesfrom their underdeveloped and war-tornperipheries. Regrettably, both also focus on walls, fences, and other kinds of border security to the neglect of root causes.

U.S.–led interventions in Libya and Syria have driven Europe’s refugee crisis.  Continuing Western exploitation of African resources also contributes to the migrant crisis.

At a four-sided summit in Istanbul last month, the leaders of Germany, France, Turkey and Russia presented blueprints to restore Syria to a livable nation to which refugees and migrants could return. The U.S, the major foreign contributor to the Syrian tragedy, did not attend. 

For those nations that did, the Istanbul gathering can be counted as no more than a first step. But it suggests how developed Western nations should respond to crises in underdeveloped and non–Western nations that they helped create and now amount to a global security problem. Climate change, which Trump denies, and two decades of neoliberal economic policies, are also among the reasons caravans of Central Americans stream northward.

The West’s role in creating many of the planet’s migration and refugee crises—maybe  the majority—needs to be acknowledged and policies should reflect this responsibility. The attendance by France and Germany at the Istanbul gathering gives the U.S. an example to follow towards Mexico and Central America.  

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work viwww.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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