Ten Minutes to War

Donald Trump pulled back from igniting a potentially disastrous war in the Persian Gulf on Thursday night with just 10 minutes to spare, but the super-hawks he surrounded himself with will probably try again, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The commander-in-chief acted like one, if only briefly, on Thursday night when he said he called off air strikes on Iran—and potentially a devastating war in the Persian Gulf—with just ten minutes to spare, because he says a general told him to expect around 150 Iranian civilian deaths.

Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning:

 “On Monday (sic) they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not……..proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!” 

It seems unlikely that a president would have to ask at the last minute about potential civilian casualties, unless the Pentagon has become so callous as to not have figured that into its war planning.  A more likely scenario is that Donald Trump was in an epic struggle with his most hawkish national security advisers—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton—and with himself, and that he could not decide what to do until literally the last ten minutes, using the excuse of civilian deaths to pull back.

Trump’s inner struggle on Iran has played out in public, mostly on Twitter. He has been sending seriously mixed signals to Iran: on the one hand he has told Iran he wants to negotiate with them to replace the nuclear deal he unwisely pulled out of last year and on the other hand he’s gone as far as threatening what amounts to genocide.

If Trump is engaged in a good-cop, bad-cop strategy with Iran, with Pompeo and Bolton playing very convincing bad cops, then Trump is a disaster as a good cop. He has been essentially playing good-cop, bad-cop with himself.  We’ve got three bad cops here, Pompeo, Bolton and half of Trump, and one good cop, the other half of Trump.

If he were really committed to the anti-interventionist rhetoric of his campaign, which many of his followers still believe in, he would not have appointed Pompeo and Bolton to begin with, unless under extreme pressure from someone like Sheldon Adelson, the fanatically pro-Israel casino magnet and major Republican donor who once suggested the U.S. drop a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert as a warning.  Pompeo, and especially Bolton, have demonstrated that they are trying to run U.S. policy on Iran on their own, managing, manipulating or attempting an end run around Trump. 

At the top of Bolton’s agenda has been his stated aim for years: to bomb and topple the Iranian government.

Thus Bolton was the driving force to get a carrier strike force sent to the Persian Gulf and, according to The New York Times, on May 14it was he who “ordered” a Pentagon plan to prepare 120,000 U.S. troops for the Gulf. These were to be deployed “if Iran attacked American forces or accelerated its work on nuclear weapons.”

Two months after Bolton was appointed national security adviser, in June 2018, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the six-nation deal that has seen Teheran curtail its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for relaxation of U.S. and international sanctions.

At the time of Bolton’s appointment in April 2018, Tom Countryman, who had been undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, as had Bolton, predicted to The Intercept that if Iran increased enrichment after the U.S. left the deal, it “would be the kind of excuse that a person like Bolton would look to to create a military provocation or direct attack on Iran.”

In response to ever tightening sanctions, Iran said on May 5 (May 6 in Teheran) that it would indeed increase nuclear enrichment. On the same day, Bolton announced the carrier strike group was headed to the Gulf.  On June 10, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran had made good on its threat to accelerate enrichment. 

This has been followed by several suspicious attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf, the most serious occurring last week on Japanese tankers while the Japanese prime minister was sitting with Iranian officials in Teheran trying to defuse the situation.  The incident that ultimately led to Thursday’s close call with disaster was sparked by Iran shooting down a U.S. RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone. Iran says it was in Iranian airspace. The U.S. says it was over international waters.  A U.S. air strike on Iran would almost surely invite retaliation by Teheran, risking the spread of a catastrophic war engulfing the Arab states on the opposite shores of the Gulf.

This would not be Saddam Hussein’s troops running away from advancing U.S. forces. The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards warned Friday that U.S. military bases and the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier were within range of Iranian missiles.

In the Delegate’s Lounge at United Nations headquarters in New York several years ago I had a one-on-one conversation with Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, who was then Teheran’s ambassador to the UN. I confided in him that I thought the U.S. was being the aggressor but I asked him, for the sake of his country and the region and to avoid a devastating conflict, whether Iran might make the very difficult decision to give in to Washington.

“We would rather fight and die than give in,” Zarif told me.

Instead of standing up to Bolton and Pompeo, who this week tried to peddle the ludicrous tale that Shi’ite Iran supports Sunni extremist al-Qaeda (while fighting it in Syria and just as the Bush administration tried to falsely tie al-Qaeda to Saddam), Trump instead runs to Fox News to whisper to the interviewer, as if they were alone, about the “military-industrial complex” being real and how much his advisers, presumably Pompeo and Bolton, “like war.” 

He needs to tell them that. Last minute excuses about civilian deaths probably won’t work next time Pompeo and Bolton set Trump up for disaster. 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .




Congress Angered by ‘Escalated’ Ballistic Missile Program Amid Concern of a Saudi Nuke

Rather than preventing ballistic missile proliferation in the region, the U.S. seems more intent on seeing Saudi Arabia strengthen its military muscle against Iran, explains Giorgio Cafiero.

By Giorgio Cafiero
Special to Consortium News

The U.S. has obtained intelligence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “significantly escalated” its ballistic missile program with Chinese help, CNN reported on Wednesday. Beijing has enabled the Saudis to expand their missile infrastructure and technology at a time of escalating tension in the Persian Gulf, CNN said, with both the Saudis and Iranians perceiving a growing threat from each other.

The previously unreported classified intelligence has led U.S. lawmakers to express concern about undermining decades-old efforts to limit the proliferation of missiles in the Middle East.

The CNN report cited two former senior U.S. intelligence officials who said it is “likely” that President Trump received this intelligence in a Presidential Daily Briefing, given the close monitoring of ballistic missile developments and flows of material worldwide by U.S. intelligence.

Yet the Senate Foreign Relations Committee only acquired this intelligence from a committee staff member who learned about the ballistic missile activity in Saudi Arabia from a “foreign counterpart” while on “an unrelated trip to the Middle East.”

The news increased anger in Washington about a perceived lack of congressional oversight on foreign policy matters in the Trump era.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez, (D-NJ)  reprimanded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and blamed the administration for its “unacceptable” failure to initially provide the committee with the classified information. Menendez declared that the State Department must “do a better job of engaging with us.”

Such outcry comes against the backdrop of mounting bipartisan criticism over the administration’s support for the Saudi/Emirati-led campaign in Yemen and the cover that Trump provided Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) following the CIA’s conclusion that he ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.

Most recently, the administration’s decision to sell  $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while overriding congressional opposition by citing a national security emergency, highlighted how Saudi-related issues are creating partisan flashpoints between lawmakers, and conflict between Congress and the White House.

The Trump administration likely avoided disclosing the intelligence because of its tacit approval of the Kingdom’s ballistic missile activity. Based on the logic that if Saudi Arabia strengthens militarily Iran will come under greater pressure, the Trump administration may view China providing ballistic missile technology to the Saudis as a positive. The 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime restricts the U.S. and other countries from providing Saudi Arabia with such technology. Notably, China is not a party to this multi-country pact.

Next Step: A Nuclear Warhead?

News of this recent intelligence must also be read within the context of U.S. -Saudi nuclear cooperation, which is another Saudi-related flashpoint pitting lawmakers against the White House. Members of Congress have been accusing the administration of recklessly authorizing U.S. firms to provide sensitive nuclear power information to Riyadh, and in an insufficiently transparent manner in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing.

Some analysts worry that such information transfers could help the Kingdom develop a nuclear weapon at a later point if the Saudi government makes that decision.

Saudi Arabia’s ballistic missile production thus raises important questions about a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East. As MbS articulated in March 2018, Saudi Arabia will develop nuclear weapons if Iran pursues that path. 

China’s Foreign Ministry responded defensively, maintaining that such cooperation between “comprehensive strategic partners” is no violation of international law, nor a threat to efforts to thwart the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Not everyone was soothed by Beijing’s words.

There are concerns that the technology that China has provided Saudi Arabia could enable the Kingdom to possess ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the future if the Saudis become a nuclear weapons state.

Such a move would indicate Riyadh’s declining trust in Washington’s ability and willingness to continue serving as Saudi Arabia’s security guarantor. Apparently, Saudi Arabia believes it most prudent to hedge against a perceived Iranian threat by investing in the missile program with help from Beijing. It is not clear, of course, what the Saudi end-game is.

With the U.S. no longer a signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and Iran in reaction scaling back on its commitments under the nuclear accord, there are sharp increases in tensions between the U.S. , Saudi Arabia, and the UAE on one side and Iran on the other. Concerns about a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East are valid.

To prevent such an escalation, the U.S. and China could use their leverage to pressure Riyadh and Tehran to hold talks and engage directly in bilateral discussions. It appears instead that China is keener to exploit the lack of Saudi trust in the U.S. and Riyadh’s perceptions of a rising Iranian threat to capitalize on a new client, while making Beijing of greater strategic value to the Kingdom.

Rather than preventing ballistic missile proliferation in the Middle East, the Trump administration meanwhile seems more interested in seeing Saudi Arabia strengthen its military muscle as Tehran refuses to capitulate to U.S. demands under “maximum pressure.”

Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy.

 

 




Intrigues in the Gulf Following Summits in Mecca

Saudi and UAE pressure on Qatar to embrace a tougher stance against Iran have left the Arab Gulf states divided as the U.S. builds tension with Teheran, writes Giorgio Cafiero.

By Giorgio Cafiero
Special to Consortium News

Expectedly, no major diplomatic breakthrough in the two-year Qatar crisis was achieved at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab League summits held late last month in Mecca. Yet it was widely seen as significant that Qatar sent its prime minister, who shook hands with King Salman.

Indeed, that the Saudi monarch extended an invitation to the Emir of Qatar notwithstanding the deterioration in Riyadh-Doha relations since mid-2017 highlighted the extent to which the Saudi leadership would like to shore up Arab/Islamic unity in the face a perceived Iranian threat.

Nonetheless, shortly after the summits in Mecca it became clear just how far Saudi Arabia and Qatar are from being on the same page with respect to Iran and the state of regional affairs more broadly. On June 2, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, expressed major “reservations” about the anti-Iranian statements made at the summits. He told Al Jazeera that the declarations failed to “refer to a moderate policy to speak with Tehran” while embracing the Trump administration’s stance against the Islamic Republic without taking regional states’ interests into consideration.

Additionally, Qatar’s chief diplomat said that the GCC and Arab League summits ignored important Arab issues from Palestine to Libya and Yemen, while the statements made ran contrary to Doha’s interests and were made without consulting Qatar.

As illustrated by this rejection of the declarations, it is difficult to argue that much has changed in the Middle East since the summits. Unquestionably, the dynamics that fueled the crisis in Qatar’s relations with its immediate neighbors remain in play. Put simply, neither side of the row appears any closer to making concessions to the other. It was unrealistic to expect photo-ops and communiques alone to alter such realities.

Healthy Qatar-Iran Ties

If the anti-Qatar bloc continues its siege, Doha will not want to fundamentally alter its highly pragmatic relationship with Tehran. Over the past two years, Iran has played a pivotal role in terms of enabling Qatar to circumvent the blockade. Across a host of domains such as food security, aviation, tourism, logistics, and energy exports, the Iranians provided stepped up cooperation when the crisis erupted in 2017 that contributed to Qatar’s resilience.

To be sure, as Qatar and Iran share ownership of the world’s largest natural gas reserve, officials in Doha and Tehran have long figured out how to maintain healthy relations despite having different positions on scores of regional issues such as the Syrian civil war and the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. Ever since the late 1980s and early 1990s, this has basically always been the case despite Qatar’s membership in the mostly anti-Iranian GCC.

Yet the new geopolitical realities of the past two years and Doha and Tehran’s increasingly shared perception of the Riyadh-Abu Dhabi axis as a grave threat have elevated Qatari-Iranian relations to new heights. Qatar now sees a far graver threat from Saudi Arabia and the UAE than from its Persian neighbor.

The leadership in Doha, which wholeheartedly and genuinely welcomed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)’s watershed passage in 2015, have been unsettled by the Trump administration’s increasingly hawkish agenda vis-à-vis Tehran.

Much like their counterparts in Kuwait, Iraq, and Oman, officials in Qatar are alarmed by the growing room for misunderstanding to boil into a war between the US and Iran as a result of the sharp increase in tension between Washington and Tehran over the past several weeks.

Doubtlessly, given Qatar’s increased reliance on Iran amid the blockade, devising strategies for maintaining good relations with Tehran while the White House intensifies its “maximum pressure” campaign is extremely difficult. Qatari officials understand that the stakes are high as the leadership in Doha also seeks to continue strengthening its ties with Washington.

It is a safe bet that the rejection of the Mecca summits on Qatar’s part will feed into the blockading states’ narratives about Doha having sided with Tehran against its traditional Arab allies. Of course, Qatar’s cordial relationship with Iran—along with Doha’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and the emirate’s broadcasting of Al Jazeera—was a reason for the blockade as outlined by the 13 sweeping demands for reconciliation put forth by the Saudi/Emirati-led bloc.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi will point to Doha’s rejection of the communiques from last month’s meetings as supposed evidence of Qatar’s refusal to support regional action against Tehran in the aftermath of recent sabotage off the UAE’s east coast, for which National Security Advisor John Bolton blames Iran, and Houthi drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s East-West pipeline.

At a time in which tensions are escalating in the region with the US flexing its muscles, the GCC is divided between those member-states supporting Trump’s approach to Iranian behavior and those which were far more welcoming of Barack Obama’s push for a partial-thaw in Washington-Tehran relations. Increasingly clear is that two years into the Qatar crisis the Saudi leadership simply lacks the means to unite the Arab world against Tehran.

Yet it is Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s own policies aimed at pressuring Doha into ending its support for “terrorism” and embracing a tougher stance against the Islamic Republic that have heavily contributed to these new dynamics whereby the GCC is anything but a solid bloc.

Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy.




Ending Abdullah Öcalan’s Isolation

Giorgio Cafiero explores Ankara’s various reasons for granting the imprisoned leader of the PKK access to his lawyers for the first time since 2011. 

By Giorgio Cafiero
Special to Consortium News

Since his capture in Kenya 20 years ago, Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, leader, has been imprisoned in a small Turkish island in the Sea of Marmara called Imrali. Following Öcalan’s extradition to Turkey, he received a death sentence that was commuted following Turkey’s abolishment of capital punishment in 2002. Now Öcalan’s serving a life sentence on terrorism and treason charges. Despite having been locked up since 1999, he retains much influence and still has many followers.

Across Turkey, however, he is widely hated and blamed for leading a terrorist organization, which most Turkish sources claim has killed over 40,000 people. Today many are behind bars in Turkey for sharing videos, memes and posts that glorify him and/or the PKK on social media. When Kurdish activists and exiles in Western countries display their solidarity with Öcalan at public rallies, it angers and offends Turkey to a significant degree.

Ocalan Meets His Lawyers

On May 2, for the first time since 2011, Öcalan was granted access to his lawyers, who relayed his messages four days later. He demanded that the U.S.-backed, PKK-affiliated People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which is the dominant force within the Syrian Democratic Forces, respect Turkey’s legitimate interests. He stressed the need for Syrian Kurds to support a unified, democratic Syrian nation-state, calling on the YPG to negotiate with Damascus. Also, with roughly 3,000 people in Turkey reportedly on hunger strikes in 90 prisons across the country demanding that Öcalan be granted family and legal visits, the PKK leader told all his loyalists to end self-harmful activities.

Why did the Turkish authorities decide to end Öcalan’s eight-year isolation?

Obviously, in the short-term, one goal they achieved by granting Öcalan access to his lawyers was getting him to call on Kurdish politicians and activists to end their hunger strikes. But clearly the decision was based on factors extending beyond concerns about the ramifications of hunger strikes in Turkish prisons. From a cynical standpoint, certain observers attributed the move to a potential plan for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to secure more votes from Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

Peace with PKK Linked to Syria Deal

Sensitive domestic political considerations aside, Ankara’s grander regional concerns were the driving factors. It seems that Turkey’s assessment is that resolving the conflict with the PKK internally in Turkey would need to be done through a grander deal that simultaneously settles the difficult YPG-related questions in northern Syria.

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Officials in Ankara recognize the influence that Öcalan maintains over his loyalists — both those north and south of the Turkish-Syrian border — and the Turkish leadership is possibly seeking to leverage that influence in potential future talks with the PKK/YPG. In fact, officials from Turkey’s state intelligence agency reportedly recently met with Syrian Democratic Forces commander Mazlum Kobane, who is close to Öcalan, in northern Syria. Moreover, Öcalan’s calls for a unified Syria suggest that he could influence the YPG into abandoning aspirations for establishing an independent Kurdish state in northern Syria.

Turkish concerns about the YPG fighting to carve up Syria could ease if there is a deal between Ankara and Damascus following the YPG’s potential integration into the Syrian Arab Army. Such diplomatic breakthroughs could keep Ankara from believing it is necessary to launch a third Turkish military campaign against the YPG, following Operation Olive Branch last year and Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016.

Nonetheless, realistically there are major hurdles that will undermine prospects for progress on this front. Bridging the gulf between demands from both Turkey and the YPG could prove extremely challenging.

While Turkey wants to maintain a military presence for 25 miles into northern Syria, the YPG is demanding a full Turkish military withdrawal from the town of Afrin. It is not guaranteed that demands from both Ankara and the YPG could be met simultaneously.

At the same time, it is unclear what would happen to the Turkish-backed armed Sunni Arab groups in Afrin if Ankara and the YPG end their hostilities, and what role(s) they would play in “post-conflict” Syria, if any at all.

Gulf States Enter Equation

Certain regional factors in play may hinder efforts to resolve the extremely hostile standoff between Turkey and the YPG. As the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia step up their anti-Turkey efforts in Syria, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have sought to counter the expansion of Turkey’s influence in Syria while becoming key stakeholders in the outcome of this eight-year civil war.

Turkish media outlets have accused both Gulf states of supporting the YPG, fueling anti-Saudi and anti-Emirati sentiments in Turkey. In the aftermath of the Qatar crisis’ eruption in 2017, Turkey’s pro-AKP newspaper, Yeni Safak, published a photo of Emirati, Saudi, and Egyptian officials meeting with their YPG counterparts in an office with a portrait of Öcalan on the wall.

In recent years a host of multifaceted regional issues have contributed to major tension in Ankara’s relations with both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. These sources of friction include the Libyan civil war, the Qatar crisis, the Jamal Khashoggi murder case, the failed coup plot against Turkey’s government in 2016, the Egyptian coup of 2013, and the recent case of suspected UAE spies in Turkey.

As both the Emirati and Saudi leaders view Turkey as representing a “neo-Ottoman” threat and a sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood (banned as a terror group in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia) amid a period of growing geopolitical competition in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea, Ankara’s foreign policy appears on a collision course with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

Within this context, it appears that both the UAE and Saudi Arabia will likely view the YPG as a useful partner in their efforts to simultaneously challenge both Turkey and Iran’s positions in “post-conflict” Syria. Doubtless, peace between the YPG and Ankara would remove this lever that the Emiratis and Saudis have reportedly been using in northern Syria in order to step up their efforts against Turkey.

From Ankara’s perspective, the UAE’s exploitation of Turkey’s vulnerabilities vis-à-vis the YPG in northern Syria is a threat to Ankara’s core interests in Syria and the greater region. Turkey could deny the UAE an opportunity to use the Kurdish nationalist cause in northern Syria to undermine Ankara if Turkey and the PKK/YPG reach a deal that peacefully resolves Turkey’s decades-old conflict with Öcalan’s group, and more recently its offshoot in Syria.

Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy.

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Bolton Leading Trump on Reckless War Agenda

The president’s advisers are orchestrating policies that have quickly destabilized the world and jeopardized the security of the United States, says Colonel Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright
Special to Consortium News

For a person who claims to be a deal maker and business guru, President Donald Trump is getting rolled by John Bolton and Bolton’s long-standing regime change and war agenda, which run in opposition to what Trump may have envisioned when he appointed Bolton as his national security advisor. 

For decades, Bolton has railed against Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and now Venezuela.  He was a major voice for the disastrous invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush One administration.

Now Bolton has become the voice of Trump on very important and dangerous issues.  Bolton, not Trump, is seen more and more on international networks on issues of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. 

Most recently, Bolton preempted Trump on announcing that the U.S. was sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf “to defend U.S. interests and its allies.”  Trump might wish to double check Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statements on the threat coming from Iran’s actions against interests of the U.S. and its allies.  Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hooks on CNN on May 9 said that “the U.S. defensive actions of deploying an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf area is for actions of Iran from 2009 to 2016.” When challenged by the CNN anchor, Becky Anderson, Hooks was unable to name any threats from Iran for the past three years from 2016-2019. Instead he repeated Bolton’s talking points for the day that there were “threats that U.S. must defend itself against.”  

However, should the U.S. or its proxy Israel attack Iran, the U.S. installations in Iran’s region that Iran could target in retaliation are many: 

-Twenty major U.S. military installations and a large U.S. embassy compound in neighboring Afghanistan; 

-The enormous Green Zone that contains the largest U.S. embassy complex in the world in neighboring Iraq; 

-17 U.S. military installations in the northern part of neighboring Syria.  

There are U.S. targets for Iran in every country along the Persian Gulf: 

-the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command located in Qatar: 

-homeport of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain; 

-U.S. contractors and U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia;

-U.S. military installations in Djibouti, the UAE and Somalia.

Bolton, Pompeo and Trump should be reminded that various groups in the region have retaliated against U.S. policies in the past: 

In April 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, was blown up and 63 embassy staff were killed. Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah claimed responsibility.

-In June 1996, 19 Americans were killed when the U.S. Air Force Khobar Towers barracks were blown up in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.  The U.S. government said Iran was responsible and Iran said that al-Qaeda was responsible. In 2006, a U.S. District Court held that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible although Iran had no representation at the trial. 

 – In 2000 the USS Cole was blown up in Aden, Yemen, with 17 U.S. sailors killed.  Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Bolton was one of the advisers to President George W. Bush who orchestrated the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002-2003 and the lies that Saddam Hussein’s army in Iraq had thrown babies out of their incubators during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait that triggered Bush One to bomb Iraqi cities and send an armored force into Iraq in 1991 in Gulf War One.

Bolton and his gang demanded that President Bill Clinton impose land and air blockades on Iraq.  The U.S. blockade caused over 500,000 Iraqi children to die and the 400,000 air strikes on Iraq in the next eight years targeted every important military installation. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, provided Bolton and his Neocon gang the opportunity to push President Bush Two to invade and occupy Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq two years later in 2003.  

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Bolton is part of the swamp that I think Trump thought he was draining, yet Trump has allowed himself to be taken in by advisers who wanted Bolton, the swamp monster, into power again to wreak havoc on the world.

I resigned 16 years ago from the Bush W. administration in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq.  Tragically another administration led by the same swamp monsters are propelling the U.S. into an unnecessary and horrific military confrontation with Iran.

Trump probably does not know that Iran is a country of 80 million people that has withstood 40 years of sanctions from the U.S. after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and it has a military that has as much battle experience in Syria as the U.S..  Iran is a country that battled a U.S. sponsored war from Iraq from 1980-1988 and Trump probably doesn’t remember that Donald Rumsfeld handed chemical weapons to Saddam to use on Iran.Iran suffered over 1 million deaths from that war.  

Trump probably does not know that Iran is a large country, definitely not on the small scale of countries that the U.S. normally attacks, invades and occupies. 

Iran is no Grenada that had 96,000 persons when the U.S. invaded in 1983 

Iran is no Somalia that had a population of 6 million in 1993 when the U.S. invaded.

Iran is no Panama that had 2.5 million inhabitants in 1989 when the U.S. invaded.

Iran is no Afghanistan that had 20 million in 2001 when the U.S. invaded.

Iran is no Iraq that had 20.6 million persons in 2003 when the U.S. invaded. 

Iran is no Libya with 6.2 million citizens when the U.S. and NATO bombed it in 2011  

Iran is no Syria with 20.5 million citizens in 2011 when the U.S. began its war on the Assad government.

Looking at the Western Hemisphere, Trump’s advisers have put him in a situation with Venezuela, a country with a population of 32.7 million in 2019, that should remind him of the disaster that President John F. Kennedy caused when his advisors told him in 1961 that the invasion of Cuba with a population of  7.2 million in 1961   would be a “cakewalk” to borrow a phrase from Bush One’s advisers on the invasion of Iraq sixteen years ago.

Trump probably does not realize that the country of Cuba that seems to be a massive threat to the U.S. (or to the wealthy, influential Cuban-American exiles in Miami and South Florida) has a population in 2019 of only 11.3 million  and a land area 89 times smaller than the U.S., about the size of Florida, and has been under the most severe sanctions and blockade the U.S. has put on any country, for almost 60 years. 

Trump’s advisers, headed by John Bolton, are taking over and orchestrating his policies that have quickly destabilized the world and has jeopardized the security of the United States.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel.   She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. She is co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

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PEPE ESCOBAR: Iran Squeezed Between Imperial Psychos and European Cowards

Berlin, Paris and London assumed Tehran could not afford to leave the JCPOA even if it was not receiving any of the promised economic rewards.  Now the EU3 are facing the hour of truth, writes Pepe Escobar.

By Pepe Escobar
in Bangkok
Special to Consortium News

The Trump administration unilaterally cheated on the 2015 multinational, UN-endorsed JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal. It has imposed an illegal, worldwide financial and energy blockade on all forms of trade with Iran — from oil and gas to exports of iron, steel, aluminum and copper. For all practical purposes, and in any geopolitical scenario, this is a declaration of war.

Successive U.S. governments have ripped international law to shreds; ditching the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is only the latest instance. It doesn’t matter that Tehran has fulfilled all its commitments to the deal — according to UN inspectors. Once the leadership in Tehran concluded that the U.S. sanctions tsunami is fiercer than ever, it decided to begin partially withdrawing from the deal.

President Hassan Rouhani was adamant: Iran has not left the JCPOA — yet. Tehran’s measures are legal under the framework of articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA — and European officials were informed in advance. But it’s clear the EU3 (Germany, France, Britain), who have always insisted on their vocal support for the JCPOA, must work seriously to alleviate the U.S.-provoked economic disaster to Iran if Tehran has any incentive to continue to abide by the agreement.

Russia and China — the pillars of Eurasia integration, to which Iran adheres — support Tehran’s position. This was discussed extensively in Moscow by Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s Javad Zarif, perhaps the world’s top two foreign ministers.

At the same time, it’s politically naïve to believe the Europeans will suddenly grow a backbone.

The comfortable assumption in Berlin, Paris and London was that Tehran could not afford to leave the JCPOA even if it was not receiving any of the economic rewards promised in 2015. Yet now the EU3 are facing the hour of truth.

It’s hard to expect anything meaningful coming from an enfeebled Chancellor Angela Merkel, with Berlin already targeted by Washington’s trade ire; a Brexit-paralyzed Britain; and a massively unpopular President Emmanuel Macron in France already threatening to impose his own sanctions if Tehran does not agree to limit its ballistic missile program. Tehran will never allow inspections over its thriving missile industry – and this was never part of the JCPOA to begin with.

As it stands, the EU3 are not buying Iranian oil. They are meekly abiding by the U.S. banking and oil/gas sanctions — which are now extended to manufacturing sectors — and doing nothing to protect Iran from its nasty effects. The implementation of INSTEX, the SWIFT alternative for trade with Iran, is languishing. Besides expressing lame “regrets” about the U.S. sanctions, the EU3 are de facto playing the game on the side of U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates; and by extension against Russia, China and Iran.

Rise of the Imperial Psychos

As Tehran de facto kicked the ball to the European court, both EU3 options are dire. To meaningfully defend the JCPOA will invite a ballistic reaction from the Trump administration. To behave like poodles — the most probable course of action — means emboldening even more the psychopaths doubling as imperial functionaries bent on a hot war against Iran at all costs; Koch brothers Big Oil asset and enraptured evangelist, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and paid Mujahideen-e Khalq asset and notorious intel manipulator, National Security Advisor John Bolton.

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The Pompeo-Bolton gangster maneuver is hardly Bismarck’s Realpolitik. It consists of relentlessly pushing Tehran to make a mistake, any mistake, in terms of “violating” its obligations under the JCPOA, so that this may be sold to gullible American public opinion as the proverbial “threat” to the “rules-based order” doubling as a casus belli.

There’s one thing the no-holds-barred U.S. economic war against Iran has managed to achieve: internal unity in the Islamic Republic. Team Rouhani’s initial aim for the JCPOA was to open up to Western trade (trade with Asia was always on) and somewhat curtail the power of the IRGC, or Revolutionary Guards, which control vast sectors of the Iranian economy.

Washington’s economic war proved instead the IRGC was right all along, echoing the finely-tuned geopolitical sentiment of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who always emphasized the Americans cannot be trusted, ever.

And as much as Washington has branded the IRGC a “terrorist organization,” Tehran replied in kind, branding CENTCOM the same.

Independent Persian Gulf oil traders dismiss the notion that the kleptocrat House of Saud — de facto run by Jared “of Arabia” Kushner’s Whatsapp pal Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the Saudi  crown prince – holds up to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day in spare capacity capable of replacing Iran’s 2 million barrels of exports (out of 3.45 million of total daily production). The House of Saud seems more interested in hiking oil prices for Asian customers.

Faulty Blockade

Washington’s energy trade blockade of Iran is bound to fail.

China will continue to buy its 650,000 barrels a day – and may even buy more. Multiple Chinese companies trade technology and industrial services for Iranian oil.

Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey — all bordering Iran — will continue to buy Iranian high-quality light crude by every method of payment (including gold) and transportation available, formal or informal. Baghdad’s trade relationship with Tehran will continue to thrive.

As economic suffocation won’t suffice, Plan B is — what else — the threat of a hot war.

It’s by now established that the info, in fact rumors, about alleged Iranian maneuvers to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf was relayed to Bolton by the Mossad, at the White House, with Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat personally briefing Bolton.

Everyone is aware of the corollary: a “reposition of assets” (in Pentagonese) — from the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group deployment to four B-52 bombers landing in Al Udeid Air base in Qatar, all part of a “warning” to Iran.

A pre-war roaring crescendo now engulfs the Lebanese front as well as the Iranian front.

Reasons for Psychotic Rage

Iran’s GDP is similar to Thailand’s, and its military budget is similar to Singapore’s. Bullying Iran is a geopolitical and geo-economic absurdity. Iran may be an emerging Global South actor — it could easily be a member of the G20 — but can never be construed as a “threat” to the U.S.

Yet Iran provokes psychopathic imperial functionaries to a paroxysm of rage for three serious reasons. Neocons never mind that trying to destroy Iraq cost over $6 trillion — and it was a major war crime, a political disaster, and an economic abyss all rolled into one. Trying to destroy Iran will cost untold trillions more.

The most glaring reason for the irrational hatred is the fact the Islamic Republic is one of the very few nations on the planet consistently defying the hegemon — for four decades now.

The second reason is that Iran, just like Venezuela — and this is a combined war front — have committed the supreme anathema; trading on energy bypassing the petrodollar, the foundation stone of U.S. hegemony.

The third (invisible) reason is that to attack Iran is to disable emerging Eurasia integration, just like using NSA spying to ultimately put Brazil in the bag was an attack on Latin American integration.

The non-stop hysteria over whether President Donald Trump is being maneuvered into war on Iran by his pet psychopaths – well, he actually directed Iran to Call me — eludes the Big Picture. As shown before, a possible shut down of the Strait of Hormuz, whatever the reasons, would be like a major meteor impact on the global economy. And that would inevitably translate as no Trump reelection in 2020.

The Strait of Hormuz would never need to be blocked if all the oil Iran is able to export is bought by China, other Asian clients and even Russia — which could relabel it. But Tehran wouldn’t blink on blocking Hormuz if faced with total economic strangulation.

According to a dissident U.S. intel expert, “the United States is at a clear disadvantage in that if the Strait of Hormuz is shut the U.S. collapses. But if the U.S. can divert Russia from defending Iran, then Iran can be attacked and Russia will have accomplished nothing, as the neocons do not want detente with Russia and China. Trump does want detente but the Deep State does not intend to permit it.”

Assuming this scenario is correct, the usual suspects in the United States government are trying to divert Putin from the Strait of Hormuz question while keeping Trump weakened, as the neocons proceed 24/7 on the business of strangling Iran. It’s hard to see Putin falling for this not exactly elaborate trap.

Not Bluffing

So what happens next? Professor Mohammad Marandi at the Faculty of World Studies of the University of Tehran offers quite a sobering perspective: “After 60 days Iran will push things even further. I don’t think the Iranians are bluffing. They will also be pushing back at the Saudis and the Emiratis by different means.”

Marandi, ominously, sees “further escalation” ahead:

“Iranians have been preparing for war with the Unites States ever since the Iraq invasion in 2003. After what they’ve seen in Libya, in Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, they know that the Americans and Europeans are utterly brutal. The whole shore of the Persian Gulf on the Iranian side and the Gulf of Oman is full of tunnels and underground high-tech missiles. The Persian Gulf is full of ships equipped with highly developed sea-to-sea missiles. If there is real war, all the oil and gas facilities in the region will be destroyed, all the tankers will be destroyed.”

And if that show comes to pass, Marandi regards the Strait of Hormuz as the “sideshow”:

“The Americans will be driven out of Iraq. Iraq exports 4 million barrels of oil a day; that would probably come to an end, through strikes and other means. It would be catastrophic for the Americans. It would be catastrophic for the world – and for Iran as well. But the Americans would simply not win.”

So as Marandi explains it — and Iranian public opinion now largely agrees — the Islamic Republic has leverage because they know “the Americans can’t afford to go to war. Crazies like Pompeo and Bolton may want it, but many in the establishment don’t.”

Tehran may have developed a modified MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) framework as leverage, mostly to push Trump ally MbS to cool down. “Assuming,” adds Marandi, “the madmen don’t get the upper hand, and if they do, then it’s war. But for the time being, I thinks that’s highly unlikely.”

All Options on the Table?

In Cold War 2.0 terms, from Central Asia to the Eastern Mediterranean and from the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea, Tehran is able to count on quite a set of formal and informal alliances. That not only centers on the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran-Herat axis, but also includes Turkey and Qatar. And most important of all, the top actors on the Eurasian integration chessboard: the Russia and China in strategic partnership.

When Zarif met Lavrov last week in Moscow, they discussed virtually everything: Syria (they negotiate together in the Astana, now Nur-Sultan process), the Caspian, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of which Iran will become a member), the JCPOA and Venezuela.

The Trump administration was dragged kicking and screamoing to meet Kim Jong-Un at the same table because of the DPRK’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests. And then Kim ordered extra missile tests because, in his own words, as quoted by KCNA, “genuine peace and security of the country are guaranteed only by the strong physical force capable of defending its sovereignty.”

Global South Watching

The overwhelming majority of Global South nations are watching the U.S. neocon offensive to ultimately strangle “the Iranian people”, aware more than ever that Iran may be bullied to extinction because it does not posses a nuclear deterrent. The IRGC has reached the same conclusion.

That would mean the death of the JCPOA – and the Return of the Living Dead of “all options on the table.”

But then, there’ll be twists and turns in the Art of the (Demented) Deal. So what if, and it’s a major “if”, Donald Trump is being held hostage by his pet psychopaths?

Let The Dealer speak:

“We hope we don’t have to do anything with regard to the use of military force…We can make a deal, a fair deal. … We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. Not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape. They’re in bad shape right now. I look forward to the day where we can actually help Iran. We’re not looking to hurt Iran. I want them to be strong and great and have a great economy… We have no secrets. And they can be very, very strong, financially. They have great potential.”

Then again, Ayatollah Khamenei said: the Americans cannot be trusted, ever.

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

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In Upcoming Elections EU Parliament Faces a Long List of Enemies

Attilio Moro explains why the EU’s only directly elected legislative body is mounting such an energetic voter-turnout campaign. 

By Attilio Moro 
in Brussels
Special to Consortium News

As the EU approaches what are considered to be the most important elections in the history of its parliament — between May 22 and 26 — the EU has never had so many enemies.

The list starts with U.S. President Donald Trump and extends to the Brexiters in the UK. It goes from Andrze Duda, the Polish premier, to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban; from the Czech Republic’s Prime Minster Andrej Babis to the Romanian government.

Italy also makes the list. Its unofficial prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has been advocating, until he took office, the exit from the euro and possibly from the EU altogether. Other anti-EU leaders include Austrian Prime Minister Norbert Hofer, who assumed office on an anti-European platform, and France’s Marine Le Pen.

There is also the AFD Party in Germany and a score of sizable anti-EU minorities in almost all European countries.

The most aggressive of all has been Donald Trump, who went well beyond his “American First” slogan in calling EU countries the trade “enemy” of the U.S. Under his watch, EU-U.S. relations have never been so bad.

Divisions with EU

The Trump administration’s divisions with the EU seem to involve everything, from NATO (Europeans have to pay more, Trump keeps saying) to Iran (Washington trying to block Europe from dealing with Teheran); from trade (too many German cars in the U.S.) to the environment (Trump backed out of the collective reduction of Co2, as internationally agreed in Paris).

Trump has given confidence and strength to Brexiteers and every possible type of EU dissident, to the point that Poland’s Duda has openly defied the EU Commission’s demand to abolish the illiberal law allowing his government to appoint the justices of the Supreme Court.

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Hungary’s Orban could defy the European immigration policy by refusing to take in one single migrant (Trump is building a wall, after all). And, contrary to the “European spirit of openness” (and against the wishes of many of George Soros’s friends in Brussels) — Orban in 2018 managed to force most of operations of the private university in Budapest funded by the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist to move to Vienna.

The Czech Republic’s Babis, the richest man in the country, continues to flout warnings from Brussels about his violations of press freedom and the independence of the judiciary.

Romania is displaying the most conspicuous insubordination in the case of Laura Kovesi, its former chief prosecutor, who oversaw the convictions of thousands of politicians, officials and businesspeople. Now Bucharest, which is holding the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of June, is trying to prevent Kovesi from leading the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which will begin functioning in 2020. Romania’s justice minister has been smearing her in letters to his EU counterparts and the government briefly subjected her to a travel ban. The only government that opposes her nomination is her own.

Sovereignism

The ideology that unifies most of the European “enemies” of the EU is sovereignism, the idea that national interests should come before those of Europe and that sharing wealth doesn’t imply sharing policies and values.

In line with Trump, Sovereignists don’t believe that the problems of the modern world can be dealt with through a multilateral approach. They will win, according to most estimates, a sizeable share of the seats in the EU Parliament later this month.

They will be supported by a substantial share of the European public opinion (mainly right-wing) which is at odds with what they consider to be an EU immigration policy that is too permissive.

They will also be supported by plenty who feel that the EU institutions, including the EU Parliament, are bureaucratic and remote from ordinary people, while too close to the lobbies. They have a point. Around 15 thousand lobbyists are active in Brussels. It is not a mystery that they are very influential in the EU Parliament.

Recently, it turned out that the EU’s liberal party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, or ALDE, received hundreds of thousands of  euros in donations from Google, Bayer, Microsoft, Uber, Syngenta and Deloitte.

The leftists of the GUE/NGL and the Greens both fiercely oppose corporate lobbying. But with those two exceptions, there is good reason to believe that all the other major political groups have received this much money and more.

One of the most striking cases of EU corporate influence is that of Bayer-Monsanto, which managed last year to renew its European license for the weed killer, Roundup, which has been defined by leading research institutions as an endocrine disrupter with links to cancer.

In addition to corporate corruption, anti-EU sentiment includes those opposed to the neoliberal economic policies (privatizations of public companies, cuts in social spending, deregulation) imposed in the last 20 years by the EU institutions, which not only failed to revive the economy but brought southern European countries to the brink of bankruptcy.

Despite the widespread frustrations, most European citizens consider the EU as vital in the era of globalization. And a reasonable percentage of the European constituency will turn out to elect their delegates to Brussels.

But the EU Parliament senses the threat it is facing and is running an unprecedented voter turnout campaign. In every European airport now, huge (and very expensive) billboards inform travelers of what the EU has done for their country.

Had parliamentarians arranged more transparency in the way they do business, or had they passed a proposal that has been languishing for decades for passage – which would oblige lobbies to register — that might have been more effective than billboards.

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently, he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

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Venezuela: Failed Coup Argues for New Approach

The Trump administration should set aside its disinformation campaign and start looking at reality, says Fulton Armstrong.

By Fulton Armstrong
Special to Consortium News

The Trump administration’s approach to Venezuela have both policy and intelligence failure written all over them. But its spokesmen continue to think that louder condemnations of President Nicolás Maduro and macho threats will somehow work. They can huff and puff as furiously as they want, but some houses – even houses run by less-than-competent authoritarian leaders – aren’t so easily blown down.

Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó’s coup attempt on Tuesday was doomed from the start.  Whether he and his Washington backers were simply deluding themselves, or whether Maduro’s guys masterfully tricked them, they naively thought the military high command would hoist Guaidó on their shoulders and carry him to Miraflores Palace as president. 

What happened instead was a huge – potentially fatal in political terms – embarrassment for Guaidó and the U.S. government. 

For Guaidó’s Venezuelan mentor, Leopoldo López – founder of the “Popular Will” party – the escapade ended with an ignominious run into the Chilean Embassy (and later to the Spanish embassy) with his wife and daughter, after having been freed from house arrest by Guaidó’s forces.  López is young and still has many political lives ahead of him but, for the man who has directed the violent protests to oust Maduro beginning in 2013, dinner conversation Tuesday night could not have been pleasant.

This is yet another U.S. intelligence failure.  Secretary of State (and former CIA Director) Mike Pompeo’s statements to the media that, “We had the most senior leader come across yesterday and leave Maduro” and “We had dozens of others, military, depart Maduro’s forces” – appears to confirm that the coup was, as many suspect, a U.S. operation.

But the analytical foundation of this covert action was so shaky that even Pompeo’s defectors couldn’t make a whit of difference.  Was the U.S. intelligence community enthralled by the putschists, or was this a case, yet again, such as in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, of the agencies contorting its “analysis” to please the policymakers?  Instead of telling “truth to power,” as intel types claim they do, did they just capitulate again?

Cuban Capers

The administration’s intelligence on Cuba’s role in Venezuela also appears to be deeply flawed.  Senior officials make wild allegations about the number and role of Cuban advisors in the country without a shred of evidence.  It’s difficult to hide 25,000 Cuban military “goons” in a freewheeling country like Venezuela for 20 years, as the administration claims. 

I was U.S. national intelligence officer for Latin America when all (repeat: all) 15 intelligence agencies resisted the efforts of John Bolton, now U.S. national security advisor, to manipulate intelligence on Cuba with allegations (still unfounded 17 years later) that the island had a biological weapons program.  I’ve witnessed Bolton’s ire. I fear for those Venezuelans who’ve frustrated his grand schemes for their country.

After failing to overthrow the Venezuelan government in “Operación Libertad,” as they named this coup attempt, Pompeo did at least succeed in overthrowing some of the truth.  He alleged that Maduro tried to leave the country and had to be persuaded by Russia to stay, which Maduro denied. Maybe this sort of disinformation worked for him at CIA. But Pompeo sullied the office of secretary of state with it  – even for a department that brands senior Venezuelan officials with such middle-school epithets as “lackeys” and “thugs.”  Vice President Mike Pence’s ending to his Tweet endorsing the coup – “Vayan con Diós”– seems based on bad intelligence about Venezuela’s mindset as well.  Saying “Go with God” doesn’t exactly work with people who’re suffering from, among other things, U.S. sanctions.

Is the Intelligence Community the Enabler?

Serious analysts surely know that the failed coup comes on the heels of a long string of failed attempts to provoke Maduro into doing something so horrific that either the military ousts him or the administration gets its pretext for its oft-threatened military action.  The U.S. dared Maduro to harm U.S. diplomats and, after he didn’t, the State Department withdrew the potential martyrs from Caracas.  The administration dared him to attack a humanitarian shipment entering from Colombia in February, but again he let the U.S. down.  (The only danger resulted from a Molotov cocktail, thrown by “opposition” gangs that set a truck full of food on fire.) Washington dared Maduro to arrest Guaidó after he returned from that debacle, but he didn’t. 

But the Trump administration’s red-line is the survival itself of  the “ex-Maduro Regime” (as the administration calls it).  For a White House that made a huge deal over President Barack Obama’s failure to act when his red-line in Syria was crossed, Maduro remaining in power is infuriating (and embarrassing).  That fury is compounded by the administration’s inability to retaliate against China, Russia, North Korea, and others for supporting Maduro. These are countries that can fight back. 

Whether the U.S. decides to launch military attacks of any nature against Venezuela is the big question.  Based on the administration’s frustration and bad intelligence it appears to be going down that road. If U.S. officials were to let precedent (such as the thousands of innocent people killed in Panama in 1989 to remove one drug-dealer, Manuel Noriega) and common sense guide them (instead of installing an untested oppositionist with a checkered past like Guaidó to replace Maduro), they’d focus instead on diplomatic efforts to start a negotiation aimed at finding a peaceful outcome. 

But the Trump administration has worked hard to block negotiations. It has directed Guaidó to reject any form of talks, and it has discouraged U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America from supporting them.  It added Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to a sanctions list usually reserved for narco-traffickers, serial human rights violators, and truly odious types because, it seems, he was making progress channeling energies toward a diplomatic, negotiated solution.

The U.S. military can destroy the “ex-Maduro regime” with its high-tech weaponry, and the Venezuelan High Command would come out with its hands up. Many people would rush toward U.S. vehicles full of food and goodies.  But no gun is going to resolve the Venezuelan mess. 

An Internal Matter

Venezuela has a Venezuelan problem, of which former President Hugo Chávez and Maduro are symptoms.  Their predecessors were not the democrats that the Trump team would have us believe they were – another intelligence failure – and Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López are not the moral equivalents of our Founding Fathers as the Trump people claim. 

Unfortunately, there are no white hats in Venezuela, just varying shades of dark gray.  That’s why the U.S. position should focus on process – negotiations, compromise, institution-building – rather than foregone results such as the installation of someone like Guaidó.

For analysts a tenet of faith is that good analysis will contribute to good policy.  The Trump administration should set aside its disinformation campaign and start looking at reality, even if the intelligence community is no longer free to do so. 

Negotiations are absolutely essential to achieving an outcome less catastrophic than U.S. policy is currently taking us toward.

Fulton Armstrong is a former U.S. national intelligence officer for Latin America, and a former staff member of the National Security Council and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.




PATRICK LAWRENCE: The US Moves on Iran’s Oil Market as an Expression of an Irrational Foreign Policy

Patrick Lawrence gauges the backfiring potential of Pompeo’s withdrawal on Thursday of U.S. sanction waivers from eight major importers. 

A Decisive Defeat in Long-Running
Battle with Foreign Policy Minders

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement last week that no importer of Iranian oil will henceforth be exempt from U.S. sanctions is as risky as it is misguided. The withdrawal of waivers as of this Thursday effectively gives eight importers dependent on Iranian crude — India, Japan, South Korea, China, Turkey, Taiwan, Italy, and Greece — 10 days’ notice to adjust their petroleum purchases. This is now a full-court press: The intent is to cut off Iran’s access to any oil market anywhere as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. “We are going to zero,” Pompeo said as he disclosed the new policy.

Nobody is going to zero. The administration’s move will further damage the Iranian economy, certainly, but few outside the administration think it is possible to isolate Iran as comprehensively as Pompeo seems to expect. Turkey immediately rejected “unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbors,” as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu put it in a Twitter message. China could do the same, if less bluntly. Other oil importers are likely to consider barter deals, local-currency transactions, and similar “workarounds.” In the immediate neighborhood, Iraq is so far ignoring U.S. demands that it cease purchasing natural gas and electricity from Iran.

Insights on Overreach

There are a couple of insights to be gleaned from this unusually aggressive case of policy overreach.

First, the new turn in the administration’s Iran policy appears to mark a decisive defeat for President Donald Trump in his long-running battle with his foreign policy minders. It is now very unlikely Trump will achieve any of his policy objectives, a number of which represent useful alternatives to the stunningly shambolic strategies advanced by Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and other zealots in the administration.

Weakened by relentless “Russia-gate” investigations, for instance, the president has little chance now of improving ties with Moscow or negotiating with adversaries such as Iran and North Korea, as he has long advocated.

In a Face the Nation interview Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran would be open to bilateral talks under the right conditions. It was the second time in a week that Zarif made this point. But those around Trump, not least Bolton and Pompeo, are sure to block any such prospect—or sabotage talks if they do take place, as they did Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, in late February.  

Second, this administration’s foreign policy has steadily assumed an irrational character that may be unprecedented in U.S. history. This is perilous. The administration’s near-paranoiac hostility toward Pyongyang and Moscow are cases in point. So is its evident indifference to alienating longstanding allies across the Atlantic and in Asia. As of this week, however, Pompeo’s  “down to zero” policy makes Iran the most immediate danger.

Persian Gulf Chokepoint

Iranian officials, including Zarif, now threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, chokepoint of the Persian Gulf, if Iranian tankers are prevented from passing through it. This is an indirect warning that the Iranian military could confront the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which operates in the Gulf and adjacent waters.

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A sharp spike in oil prices is another danger with which the administration now lands itself. Taken together, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran are intended to take roughly 2 million barrels of oil a day out of the market.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to make up the lost supply, but many analysts question its ability to sustain an increase in output given the advancing depletion of its long-productive Ghawar field. Spare capacity among producers is already wafer-thin. Do we need to risk another oil crisis, given the flagging global economy? 

Trump’s foreign policy minders also risk alienating allies — South Korea, Japan, India, the Europeans — whose cooperation the U.S. needs on numerous other policy questions. In the case of China, the administration puts progress on a nearly complete trade deal and Beijing’s leverage with North Korea in jeopardy.

There are other cases demonstrating the Trump administration’s apparently thorough indifference to collateral damage and the animosity of allies. Since the U.S. abandoned the Paris climate pact and the 2015 accord governing Iran’s nuclear program, the Europeans have hardly contained their anger; they are openly furious now about the tightened sanctions against Iran. The South Koreans, frustrated with Washington’sintransigent stance toward Pyongyang, now search for ways to engage the North despite many layers of UN and U.S–imposed sanctions.

The question is why this administration’s foreign policies are so amateurish and discombobulated. Corollary question: Why is the president surrounded by policy advisers so thoroughly at odds with those of his objectives that are worthwhile?

Trump arrived in Washington an outsider: This is where answers to these questions begin. This limited the New York dealmaker to a shallow pool from which to build his administration. His never-ending Russia-gate problem further handicaps him. This administration is among the most opaque in recent history, so certainties as to its internal workings are hard to come by. But Trump may not have chosen his foreign policy team so much as its members have been imposed upon him.

However his advisers arrived in the administration, they are a toxic combination of neoconservatives, many drawn from the Heritage Foundation, and evangelical Christians. Bolton is emblematic of the former, Pompeo of the latter. This is the current complexion of American foreign policy.

Zealots and Crusaders

Both camps are populated with zealots and crusaders; both cultivate irrational world views rooted in extremist ideology and sentiment. Bolton’s obsession is the restoration of unchallenged U.S. supremacy. Pompeo is said to view adversaries such as North Korea and Iran as George W. Bush did: The U.S. is in an “end times” war with Gog and Magog, biblical manifestations of the evil abroad in the world.

To be clear, there is more wrong than right in the president’s foreign policy thinking. He was self-evidently behind the decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the announcement in March that Washington recognizes Israeli jurisdiction over the Golan Heights.

“This is very important strategically for victory, heights, because you’re up high, very important,” Trump said over the weekend. “Fifty-two years ago this started [when Israel captured Golan from Syria in the 1967 war] and I did it quickly. Done. It’s all done.”

It is unlikely anything is all done in connection with the embassy move and the Golan Heights decision. Both run diametrically counter to international law and both have significantly damaged U.S. credibility in the Middle East. Trump, in short, makes his own miscalculations, and they are as grave as any made by the Pompeo–Bolton axis. There are few wise heads in this administration.

At the same time, Trump’s desire to negotiate with adversaries — Russia, Iran, North Korea — is entirely defensible. But the “down to zero” Iran policy to take effect this week can be read as a signal of the president’s failure to counter the foreign policy Manicheans who surround him.

There may be skirmishes to come, but the battle is over. We must now watch as extremist ideologues accelerate America’s already evident decline as a global power — along with its increasing isolation.

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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THE ANGRY ARAB: Deal of the Century? Which Century?

As’ad AbuKhalil explains why Palestinians will see through the latest U.S. illusion of a Middle East “peace process.”  

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

There is great speculation about the “Deal of the Century” for the Middle East, about which very little is known. What is known is that the Trump administration formulated the plan basically through bilateral talks with the Israeli government, as the Palestinian Authority has refused to talk to the Trump administration since the relocation of the U.S. embassy from occupied Jaffa (Tel Aviv) to occupied Jerusalem. 

The release of the plan has been delayed: first until after the Israeli election and now until sometime in the summer. None of the individuals tasked with formulating the plan have expertise in the Middle East, although in Washington, D.C., strong advocacy on behalf of the Israeli occupation often counts as a substitute.

This plan will be the latest attempt by a U.S. administration to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict — once and for all.  There was the Nixon administration’s famous Rogers’ Plan (named after Secretary of State William Rogers, who later resigned after complaining about National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s usurpation of his authority).

Before the Nixon administration, President John F. Kennedy also tried to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict only to be rebuffed by strong Zionist figures within the Democratic Party.

The origins of U.S. intervention were initially clear: that the U.S. would push for a deal based on UN Security Council Resolution  242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from “territories” it occupied in the 1967 war in return for Arab recognition and acceptance of the Israeli occupation state within the 1948 occupation. But Kissinger attached a secret appendix to the Sinai II agreement in 1975 (between Egypt and Israel) in which he pledged to boycott and ostracize the PLO, which all Arabs accepted as the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people.  This exclusion of Palestinian political representation was consistent with UNSC 242, which did not mention the word “Palestinian” once, although it made a passing reference to the “refugee problem.”

Zionist Influence

And while the management of the American-led “peace process” was, during the early decades, handled by Middle East experts (known then as “Arabists,”) strong Zionist influences in successive U.S. administrations and houses of Congress marginalized their influence and slowed down the progress of the “process” — in terms of U.S. pressure on Israel.

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But the American-led “peace process” lived on for decades, not as a testimony of U.S. interest in peace in the Middle East, nor as evidence of American interest in solving the Palestinian problem, but as a way to provide Israeli occupation and aggression with a cloak of international legitimacy and to give Palestinians the illusion of “progress.”

With the Reagan administration a change occurred in the management of the “peace process;” it was taken from the Arabists and given to ardent Zionists who had no background in the Middle East. (Dennis Ross, for example, never studied the Middle East and was in fact a Soviet expert in the 1980s, before he was put in charge of the “peace process.”)

The “peace process” underwent major transformations over the years, largely to accommodate Israeli needs and preferences.  The Rogers’ Plan started as a response to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s emphasis on a “comprehensive and just” peace, which clearly precluded separate deals between Israel and any Arab state. It was this which prevented King Hussein of Jordan from reaching a separate deal with Israel. 

Nevertheless, President Jimmy Carter brokered the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel (which basically committed the U.S. to provide the Egyptian despot, President Anwar Sadat and his successors, with an annual large bribe to maintain peace with Israel despite the disapproval of the Egyptian people).  With Camp David, the “peace process” was splintered into separate “peace” deals.

The U.S. official ban on contact with the PLO was removed in the Reagan administration when Yasser Arafat agreed to read a statement faxed to him — word-for-word — by the U.S. Department of State.  The PLO was allowed into the “peace process” but only on conditions set by Israel: that the agenda would be set by U.S. and Israel and not by any Arab party. 

Initially, the U.S. worked for decades to sidestep PLO participation by anointing the Jordanian king (who is remembered by the Palestinians for the massacres of Black September in 1970) as the representative of both Jordan and the Palestinian people. But the Intifada in 1987 finally convinced the U.S. that the Palestinians are determined to insist on their self-determination.  And during the George W. Bush administration the idea of a Palestinian state was finally formally advocated by the U.S. but only within boundaries set by Israel.

No Mystery 

The new “Deal of the Century” is not a mystery.  We can read the writing on the wall and on the ground in Palestine.  The U.S. is working on a formula that does not necessarily operate on the assumption that the creation of a Palestinian state is a prerequisite for peace.  Furthermore, the U.S. plans to reduce the size of the Palestinian territory which would be theoretically managed by the Palestinian people.  The Palestinians have historically insisted on liberating 100 percent of their homeland, i.e. historic Palestine in which the Palestinians have enjoyed a majority for many centuries, and in which the Jews — as a small minority — were considered part of the local native population.

But the Zionist forces — through terrorism and through Western indulgences — persuaded Western powers that Palestinian rights to 1948 Palestine (what became declared by force as “Israel” in 1948) should never be acknowledged. 

With that principle, Western powers worked to convince Palestinians to confine their national aspirations to no more than 45 percent (in the UN Partition plan of 1947) and then to no more than 22 percent since 1967. With the U.S. entry into direct negotiations with Palestinian representatives since the Madrid Conference of 1991 (disguised as non-PLO), the Palestinians were told that they can have a homeland over most —but not all — the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem. But the American stance was not categorical because it always left it to Israel to decide on how much of the 22 percent of Palestine should the Palestinians have control over, and under which juridical conditions.

President Bill Clinton, in the famous Camp David negotiations, wanted the Palestinians to accept 91 percent of the 22 percent of Palestine, while sovereignty over the “holy sanctuary” would be shared between Israelis and Palestinians, with the Israelis having control over the land and what is underneath it (which Palestinians consider a threat to the very foundations of Al-Aqsa).  Camp David fell and Clinton — typical of him — blamed the Palestinians after having promised Yasser Arafat that he would not blame the Palestinians if the talks did not bear fruits.

What will emerge out of the “Deal of the Century” is even less than what the Palestinians have been offered before — and which they rejected.  The Palestinians will probably be promised Gaza and Area A (under the Oslo agreement, which basically covers areas that the Palestinians — only in theory—control), and East Jerusalem will be part of a united capital for Israel while the Palestinians will be allowed to name areas outside of Jerusalem as their own “East Jerusalem.”

The Israelis will continue, of course, to maintain control of air, land and sea over all Palestinian areas, and the Israeli occupation army will continue to decide who can enter and who can exit Palestinian areas.  And Israeli settlements will be untouched by any of the terms of the “deal.”

Sovereignty over those small Palestinian areas won’t be considered as the U.S. and Israel both have recently reneged on previous promises of statehood. Instead, the plan will revert to what Israel’s Menachem Begin called “autonomy” (under the Camp David negotiations), according to which the Palestinians will exercise limited municipal management of their areas (trash collection, postal service, sewage, etc). 

But it is quite clear that the Palestinians who had rejected such plans in a previous century won’t agree to them now, especially that the octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas (who is already despised and detested by his people for his corruption and fealty to the occupation) won’t dare agree to what Arafat before him had rejected. 

But Trump and his team assume that an infusion of foreign aid and new business in Palestinian areas would serve as a compensation to the Palestinians for the loss of their homeland.   But that assumption is based on a false premise: that people live by bread alone.

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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