WILLIAM BLUM: Sucking Liberals into a New Cold War

Out of fury against President Trump, many liberals have enlisted in the ranks of the New Cold War against Russia, seeming to have forgotten the costs to rationality and lives from the first Cold War, warned the late William Blum.

memorial service was held on Sunday in Washington for William Blum, a former State Department official whose disillusionment  with the Vietnam War turned him into a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy. In books such as Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II; Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, as well as on his blog, The Anti-Empire ReportBlum educated a generation of Americans about the rapacious aims of the U.S. abroad, debunking the myth of Washington’s good intentions for the peoples of the world. Blum died on December 9, 2018. He was a contributor to Consortium News and we reprint one of his last articles that appeared here. Originally published on Dec. 6, 2017.

By William Blum

Cold War Number One: 70 years of daily national stupidity. Cold War Number Two: Still in its youth, but just as stupid.

“He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” – President Trump re Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Vietnam. [Washington Post, Nov.e 12, 2017]

Putin later added that he knew “absolutely nothing” about Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials. “They can do what they want, looking for some sensation. But there are no sensations.”

Numerous U.S. intelligence agencies have said otherwise. Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, responded to Trump’s remarks by declaring: “The president was given clear and indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the election.”

As we’ll see below, there isn’t too much of the “clear and indisputable” stuff. And this of course is the same James Clapper who made an admittedly false statement to Congress in March 2013, when he responded, “No, sir” and “not wittingly” to a question about whether the National Security Agency was collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans. Lies don’t usually come in any size larger than that.

Virtually every member of Congress who has publicly stated a position on the issue has criticized Russia for interfering in the 2016 American presidential election. And it would be very difficult to find a member of the mainstream media who has questioned this thesis.

What is the poor consumer of news to make of these gross contradictions? Here are some things to keep in mind:

How do we know that the tweets and advertisements “sent by Russians” -– those presented as attempts to sway the vote -– were actually sent by Russians? The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), composed of National Security Agency and CIA veterans, recently declared that the CIA knows how to disguise the origin of emails and tweets. The Washington Post has as well reported that Twitter “makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.” [Washington Post, Oct. 10, 2017]

Russians! Russians! Russians!

Even if these communications were actually sent from Russia, how do we know that they came from the Russian government, and not from any of the other 144.3 million residents of Russia?

Even if they were sent by the Russian government, we have to ask: Why would they do that? Do the Russians think the United States is a Third World, under-developed, backward Banana Republic easily influenced and moved by a bunch of simple condemnations of the plight of blacks in America and the Clinton “dynasty”? Or clichéd statements about other controversial issues, such as gun rights and immigration? If so, many Democratic and Republican officials would love to know the secret of the Russians’ method. Consider also that Facebook has stated that 90 percent of the alleged-Russian-bought content that ran on its network did not even mention Trump or Clinton. [Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2017]

On top of all this is the complete absence of even the charge, much less with any supporting evidence, of Russian interference in the actual voting or counting of votes.

After his remark suggesting he believed Putin’s assertion that there had been no Russian meddling in the election, Trump – of course, as usual – attempted to backtrack and distance himself from his words after drawing criticism at home; while James Clapper declared: “The fact the president of the United States would take Putin at his word over that of the intelligence community is quite simply unconscionable.” [Reuters, Nov. 12, 2017]

Given Clapper’s large-size lie referred to above, can Trump be faulted for being skeptical of the intelligence community’s Holy Writ? Purposeful lies of the intelligence community during the first Cold War were legendary, many hailed as brilliant tactics when later revealed. The CIA, for example, had phony articles and editorials planted in foreign newspapers (real Fake News), made sex films of target subjects caught in flagrante delicto who had been lured to Agency safe houses by female agents, had Communist embassy personnel expelled because of phony CIA documents, and much more.

The Post recently published an article entitled “How did Russian trolls get into your Facebook feed? Silicon Valley made it easy.” In the midst of this “exposé,” The Post stated: “There’s no way to tell if you personally saw a Russian post or tweet.” [Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2017]

A Case or Not?

So … Do the Cold Warriors have a case to make or do they not? Or do they just want us to remember that the Russkis are bad? So it goes.

An organization in Czechoslovakia with the self-appointed name of European Values has produced a lengthy report entitled “The Kremlin’s Platform for ‘Useful Idiots’ in the West: An Overview of RT’s Editorial Strategy and Evidence of Impact.” It includes a long list of people who have appeared on the Russian-owned TV station RT (formerly Russia Today), which can be seen in the U.S., the U.K. and other countries. Those who’ve been guests on RT are the “idiots” useful to Moscow. (The list is not complete. I’ve been on RT about five times, but I’m not listed. Where is my Idiot Badge?)

RT’s YouTube channel has more than two million followers and claims to be the “most-watched news network” on the video site. Its Facebook page has more than 4 million likes and followers. Can this explain why the powers-that-be forget about a thing called freedom-of-speech and treat the station like an enemy? The U.S. government recently forced RT America to register as a foreign agent and has cut off the station’s Congressional press credentials.

The Cold War strategist, George Kennan, wrote prophetically: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”

Writer John Wight has described the new Cold War as being “in response to Russia’s recovery from the demise of the Soviet Union and the failed attempt to turn the country into a wholly owned subsidiary of Washington via the imposition of free market economic shock treatment thereafter.”

So let’s see what other brilliance the New Cold War brings us. … Ah yes, another headline in the Post (Nov. 18, 2017): “British alarm rising over possible Russian meddling in Brexit.” Of course, why else would the British people have voted to leave the European Union? But wait a moment, again, one of the British researchers behind the report “said that the accounts they analyzed – which claimed Russian as their language when they were set up but tweeted in English – posted a mixture of pro-‘leave’ and pro-‘remain’ messages regarding Brexit. Commentators have said that the goal may simply have been to sow discord and division in society.”

Was there ever a time when the Post would have been embarrassed to be so openly, amateurishly biased about Russia? Perhaps during the few years between the two Cold Wars.

In case you don’t remember how stupid Cold War Number One was …

  • 1948: The Pittsburgh Press published the names, addresses, and places of employment of about 1,000 citizens who had signed presidential-nominating petitions for former Vice President Henry Wallace, running under the Progressive Party. This, and a number of other lists of “communists,” published in the mainstream media, resulted in people losing their jobs, being expelled from unions, having their children abused, being denied state welfare benefits, and suffering various other punishments.
  • Around 1950: The House Committee on Un-American Activities published a pamphlet, “100 Things You Should Know About Communism in the U.S.A.” This included information about what a communist takeover of the United States would mean: ?Q: What would happen to my insurance?? A: It would go to the Communists.? Q: Would communism give me something better than I have now?? A: Not unless you are in a penitentiary serving a life sentence at hard labor.
  • 1950s: Mrs. Ada White, member of the Indiana State Textbook Commission, believed that Robin Hood was a Communist and urged that books that told the Robin Hood story be banned from Indiana schools.
  • As evidence that anti-communist mania was not limited to the lunatic fringe or conservative newspaper publishers, here is Clark Kerr, president of the University of California at Berkeley in a 1959 speech: “Perhaps 2 or even 20 million people have been killed in China by the new [communist] regime.” One person wrote to Kerr: “I am wondering how you would judge a person who estimates the age of a passerby on the street as being ‘perhaps 2 or even 20 years old.’ Or what would you think of a physician who tells you to take ‘perhaps 2 or even twenty teaspoonsful of a remedy’?”
  • Throughout the cold war, traffic in phony Lenin quotes was brisk, each one passed around from one publication or speaker to another for years. Here’s S. News and World Report in 1958 demonstrating communist duplicity by quoting Lenin: “Promises are like pie crusts, made to be broken.” Secretary of State John Foster Dulles used it in a speech shortly afterward, one of many to do so during the cold war. Lenin actually did use a very similar line, but he explicitly stated that he was quoting an English proverb (it comes from Jonathan Swift) and his purpose was to show the unreliability of the bourgeoisie, not of communists. ?“First we will take Eastern Europe, then the masses of Asia, then we will encircle the United States, which will be the last bastion of capitalism. We will not have to attack. It will fall like an overripe fruit into our hands.” This Lenin “quotation” had the usual wide circulation, even winding up in the Congressional Record in 1962. This was not simply a careless attribution; this was an out-and-out fabrication; an extensive search, including by the Library of Congress and the United States Information Agency failed to find its origin.
  • A favorite theme of the anti-communists was that a principal force behind drug trafficking was a communist plot to demoralize the United States. Here’s a small sample:? Don Keller, District Attorney for San Diego County, California in 1953: “We know that more heroin is being produced south of the border than ever before and we are beginning to hear stories of financial backing by big shot Communists operating out of Mexico City.”? Henry Giordano, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1964, interviewed in the American Legion Magazine: Interviewer: “I’ve been told that the communists are trying to flood our country with narcotics to weaken our moral and physical stamina. Is that true?”? Giordano: “As far as the drugs are concerned, it’s true. There’s a terrific flow of drugs coming out of Yunnan Province of China. … There’s no question that in that particular area this is the aim of the Red Chinese. It should be apparent that if you could addict a population you would degrade a nation’s moral fiber.”? Fulton Lewis, Jr., prominent conservative radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist, 1965: “Narcotics of Cuban origin – marijuana, cocaine, opium, and heroin – are now peddled in big cities and tiny hamlets throughout this country. Several Cubans arrested by the Los Angeles police have boasted they are communists.”? We were also told that along with drugs another tool of the commies to undermine America’s spirit was fluoridation of the water.
  • Mickey Spillane was one of the most successful writers of the 1950s, selling millions of his anti-communist thriller mysteries. Here is his hero, Mike Hammer, in “One Lonely Night,” boasting of his delight in the grisly murders he commits, all in the name of destroying a communist plot to steal atomic secrets. After a night of carnage, the triumphant Hammer gloats, “I shot them in cold blood and enjoyed every minute of it. I pumped slugs into the nastiest bunch of bastards you ever saw. … They were Commies. … Pretty soon what’s left of Russia and the slime that breeds there won’t be worth mentioning and I’m glad because I had a part in the killing. God, but it was fun!”
  • 1952: A campaign against the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because it was tainted with “atheism and communism,” and was “subversive” because it preached internationalism. Any attempt to introduce an international point of view in the schools was seen as undermining patriotism and loyalty to the United States. A bill in the U.S. Senate, clearly aimed at UNESCO, called for a ban on the funding of “any international agency that directly or indirectly promoted one-world government or world citizenship.” There was also opposition to UNESCO’s association with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that it was trying to replace the American Bill of Rights with a less liberty-giving covenant of human rights.
  • 1955: A U.S. Army 6-page pamphlet, “How to Spot a Communist,” informed us that a communist could be spotted by his predisposition to discuss civil rights, racial and religious discrimination, the immigration laws, anti-subversive legislation, curbs on unions, and peace. Good Americans were advised to keep their ears stretched for such give-away terms as “chauvinism,” “book-burning,” “colonialism,” “demagogy,” “witch hunt,” “reactionary,” “progressive,” and “exploitation.” Another “distinguishing mark” of “Communist language” was a “preference for long sentences.” After some ridicule, the Army rescinded the pamphlet.
  • 1958: The noted sportscaster Bill Stern (one of the heroes of my innocent youth) observed on the radio that the lack of interest in “big time” football at New York University, City College of New York, Chicago, and Harvard “is due to the widespread acceptance of Communism at the universities.”
  • 1960: U.S. General Thomas Power speaking about nuclear war or a first strike by the U.S.: “The whole idea is to kill the bastards! At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!” The response from one of those present was: “Well, you’d better make sure that they’re a man and a woman.”
  • 1966: The Boys Club of America is of course wholesome and patriotic. Imagine their horror when they were confused with the Dubois Clubs. (W.E.B. Du Bois had been a very prominent civil rights activist.) When the Justice Department required the DuBois Clubs to register as a Communist front group, good loyal Americans knew what to do. They called up the Boys Club to announce that they would no longer contribute any money, or to threaten violence against them; and sure enough an explosion damaged the national headquarters of the youth group in San Francisco. Then former Vice President Richard Nixon, who was national board chairman of the Boys Club, declared: “This is an almost classic example of Communist deception and duplicity. The ‘DuBois Clubs’ are not unaware of the confusion they are causing among our supporters and among many other good citizens.”
  • 1966: “Rhythm, Riots and Revolution: An Analysis of the Communist Use of Music, The Communist Master Music Plan,” by David A. Noebel, published by Christian Crusade Publications, (expanded version of 1965 pamphlet: “Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles”). Some chapters: Communist Use of Mind Warfare … Nature of Red Record Companies … Destructive Nature of Beatle Music … Communist Subversion of Folk Music … Folk Music and the Negro Revolution … Folk Music and the College Revolution
  • 1968: William Calley, U.S. Army Lieutenant, charged with overseeing the massacre of more than 100 Vietnamese civilians in My Lai in 1968, said some years later: “In all my years in the Army I was never taught that communists were human beings. We were there to kill ideology carried by – I don’t know – pawns, blobs, pieces of flesh. I was there to destroy communism. We never conceived of old people, men, women, children, babies.”
  • 1977: Scientists theorized that the earth’s protective ozone layer was being damaged by synthetic chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons. The manufacturers and users of CFCs were not happy. They made life difficult for the lead scientist. The president of one aerosol manufacturing firm suggested that criticism of CFCs was “orchestrated by the Ministry of Disinformation of the KGB.”
  • 1978: Life inside a California youth camp of the ultra anti-communist John Birch Society: Five hours each day of lectures on communism, Americanism and “The Conspiracy”; campers learned that the Soviet government had created a famine and spread a virus to kill a large number of citizens and make the rest of them more manageable; the famine led starving adults to eat their children; communist guerrillas in Southeast Asia jammed chopsticks into children’s ears, piercing their eardrums; American movies are all under the control of the Communists; the theme is always that capitalism is no better than communism; you can’t find a dictionary now that isn’t under communist influence; the communists are also taking over the Bibles.
  • The Reagan administration declared that the Russians were spraying toxic chemicals over Laos, Cambodia and Afghanistan – the so-called “yellow rain” – and had caused more than ten thousand deaths by 1982 alone, (including, in Afghanistan, 3,042 deaths attributed to 47 separate incidents between the summer of 1979 and the summer of 1981, so precise was the information). Secretary of State Alexander Haig was a prime dispenser of such stories, and President Reagan himself denounced the Soviet Union thusly more than 15 times in documents and speeches. The “yellow rain,” it turned out, was pollen-laden feces dropped by huge swarms of honeybees flying far overhead.
  • 1982: In commenting about sexual harassment in the Army, General John Crosby stated that the Army doesn’t care about soldiers’ social lives – “The basic purpose of the United States Army is to kill Russians,” he said.
  • 1983: The U.S. invasion of Grenada, the home of the Cuban ambassador is damaged and looted by American soldiers; on one wall is written “AA,” symbol of the 82nd Airborne Division; beside it the message: “Eat shit, commie faggot.” … “I want to fuck communism out of this little island,” says a marine, “and fuck it right back to Moscow.”
  • 1984: During a sound check just before his weekly broadcast, President Reagan spoke these words into the microphone: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I have signed legislation to outlaw Russia, forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” His words were picked up by at least two radio networks.
  • 1985: October 29 BBC interview with Ronald Reagan: asked about the differences he saw between the U.S. and Russia, the President replied: “I’m no linguist, but I’ve been told that in the Russian language there isn’t even a word for freedom.” (The word is “svoboda.”)
  • 1986: Soviet artists and cultural officials criticized Rambo-like American films as an expression of “anti-Russian phobia even more pathological than in the days of McCarthyism.” Russian filmmaker Stanislav Rostofsky claimed that on one visit to an American school “a young girl trembled with fury when she heard I was from the Soviet Union, and said she hated Russians.”
  • 1986: Roy Cohn, who achieved considerable fame and notoriety in the 1950s as an assistant to the communist-witch-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy, died, reportedly of AIDS. Cohn, though homosexual, had denied that he was and had denounced such rumors as communist smears.
  • 1986: After American journalist Nicholas Daniloff was arrested in Moscow for “spying” and held in custody for two weeks, New York Mayor Edward Koch sent a group of 10 visiting Soviet students storming out of City Hall in fury. “The Soviet government is the pits,” said Koch, visibly shocking the students, ranging in age from 10 to 18 years. One 14-year-old student was so outraged he declared: “I don’t want to stay in this house. I want to go to the bus and go far away from this place. The mayor is very rude. We never had a worse welcome anywhere.” As matters turned out, it appeared that Daniloff had not been completely pure when it came to his newsgathering.
  • 1989: After the infamous Chinese crackdown on dissenters in Tiananmen Square in June, the U.S. news media was replete with reports that the governments of Nicaragua, Vietnam and Cuba had expressed their support of the Chinese leadership. Said the Wall Street Journal: “Nicaragua, with Cuba and Vietnam, constituted the only countries in the world to approve the Chinese Communists’ slaughter of the students in Tiananmen Square.” But it was all someone’s fabrication; no such support had been expressed by any of the three governments. At that time, as now, there were few, if any, organizations other than the CIA which could manipulate major Western media in such a manner. [Sources for almost all of this section can be found in William Blum, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2005), chapter 12; or the author can be queried at bblum6@aol.com ]

NOTE: It should be remembered that the worst consequences of anti-communism were not those discussed above. The worst consequences, the ultra-criminal consequences, were the abominable death, destruction, and violation of human rights that we know under various names: Vietnam, Chile, Korea, Guatemala, Cambodia, Indonesia, Brazil, Greece, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and many others.

William Blum (1933-2018) was an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report, https://williamblum.org/ .]




VIDEO: Pro and Anti-Venezuela Coup Protestors Face Off in Front of White House

UPDATED: Demonstrators for and against regime change in Venezuela converged on the White House on Saturday and there were some angry scenes as D.C. mounted police took their positions in Lafayette Park.

Updated to include video of the entire anti-coup rally below.

By Joe Lauria
in Washington
Special to Consortium News

Rising tensions in Venezuela boiled over in front of the White House on Saturday as a protest rally against U.S. intervention to overthrow the elected government in Caracas was met by counter-demonstrators who asked Donald Trump, at home in the president’s mansion, for help in overthrowing the government of Nicolas Maduro.  

Washington’s open support for self-declared president Juan Gauidó has so far failed to dislodge Maduro from office as the Venezuelan military digs in and U.S. officials strongly hint that American military intervention could be next. After a week of nation-wide power failures blamed by the Venezuelan government on U.S. cyber attacks, American Airlines abruptly cancelled all flights into and out of the country.

Among the speakers denouncing Washington’s attempted coup were activists Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin, Lee Camp and Brian Becker, who called the Trump administration’s moves a naked grab for the world’s largest oil reserves in Venezuela.  The anti-coup protestors, numbering about 2,000, later marched through the streets of the capital, stopping in front of the Trump International Hotel, where Becker denounced the billionaire president for serving billionaires’ interests while ignoring those of the Venezuelan and American people.

“This is what Trump really wants: the triumph of wealth over people,” Becker said. “Donald Trump: that is a fantasy. The coup is rejected by the people of Venezuela. “

The protestors then marched to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church where they were addressed via Skype by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Dan Ellsberg and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, as well as by activist groups who traveled to Washington from around the country. 

The following 17-minute video by Consortium News Editor Joe Lauria shows confrontations by protestors from both sides and then moves from the counter-demonstration to the anti-coup rally, which is addressed by journalist Max Blumenthal. 

Watch the entire anti-coup rally here (1 hour, 38 minutes):

Watch the anti-coup protestors converge on the Trump International Hotel (3 min.):




School Shooters and Drones

Allegra Harpootlian links gun violence at home to U.S. wars abroad.

By Allegra Harpootlian
TomDispatch.com

In the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members, a teacher said the school looked “like a war zone.” And to many young Americans, that’s exactly what it felt like. But this shooting was different. Refusing to be victims, Parkland survivors disrupted the thoughts and prayers cycle by immediately rallying student activists and adults across the country, mobilizing them around such tragedies and the weapons of war that often facilitate them.

Recent history suggested that such a movement, sure to be unable to keep the public’s attention or exert significant pressure on lawmakers, would collapse almost instantly. Yet, miraculously enough, the same fear — of their school being next — that had kept young Americans paralyzed for almost 20 years was what drove these newly impassioned activists not to back down.

Let me say that, much as I admire them, I look at their remarkable movement from an odd perspective. You see, I grew up in the “school-shooting era” and now work for a non-profit called ReThink Media tracking coverage of the American drone war that has been going on for 17 years.

To me, the U.S. military and CIA drones that hover constantly over eight countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and regularly terrorize, maim, and kill civilians, including children, are the equivalents of the disturbed shooters in American schools. But that story is hard to find anywhere in this country. What reports Americans do read about those drone strikes usually focus on successes (a major terrorist taken out in a distant land), not the “collateral damage.”

With that in mind, let me return to those teenage activists against gun violence who quickly grasped three crucial things. The first was that such violence can’t be dealt with by focusing on gun control alone. You also have to confront the other endemic problems exacerbating the gun violence epidemic, including inadequate mental health resources, systemic racism and police brutality, and the depth of economic inequality. As Parkland teen organizer Edna Chavez explained, “Instead of police officers we should have a department specializing in restorative justice. We need to tackle the root causes of the issues we face and come to an understanding of how to resolve them.”

The second was that, no matter how much you shouted, you had to be aware of the privilege of being heard. In other words, when you shouted, you had to do so not just for yourself but for all those voices so regularly drowned out in this country. After all, black Americans represent the majority of gun homicide victims. Black children are 10 times as likely to die by gun and yet their activism on the subject has been largely demonized or overlooked even as support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students rolled in.

The third was that apathy is the enemy of progress, which means that to make change you have to give people a sense of engagement and empowerment. As one of the Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez, put it: “What matters is that the majority of American people have become complacent in a senseless injustice that occurs all around them.”

Washington’s Expanding Drone Wars

Here’s the irony, though: while those teenagers continue to talk about the repeated killing of innocents in this country, their broader message could easily be applied to another type of violence that, in all these years, Americans have paid next to no attention to: the U.S. drone war.

Unlike school shootings, drone strikes killing civilians in distant lands rarely make the news here, much less the headlines. Most of us at least now know what it means to live in a country where school shootings are an almost weekly news story. Drones are another matter entirely, and beyond the innocents they so regularly slaughter, there are long-term effects on the communities they are attacking.

As Veterans for Peace put it, “Here at home, deaths of students and others killed in mass shootings and gun violence, including suicide gun deaths, are said to be the price of freedom to bear arms. Civilian casualties in war are written off as ‘collateral damage,’ the price of freedom and U.S. security.”

And yet, after 17 years, three presidents, and little transparency, America’s drone wars have never truly made it into the national conversation. Regularly marketed over those years as “precise” and “surgical,” drones have always been seen by lawmakers as a sexy,” casualty-free solution to fighting the bad guys, while protecting American blood and treasure.

According to reports, President Donald Trump actually expanded the U.S. global drone war, while removing the last shreds of transparency about what those drones are doing — and even who’s launching them. One of his first orders on entering the Oval Office was to secretly reinstate the CIA’s ability to launch drone strikes that are, in most cases, not even officially acknowledged. And since then, it’s only gotten worse. Just last week, he revoked an Obama-era executive order that required the director of national intelligence to release an annual report on civilian and combatant casualties caused by CIA drones and other lethal operations. Now, not only are the rules of engagement — whom you can strike and under what circumstances— secret, but the Pentagon no longer even reveals when drones have been used, no less when civilians die from them. Because of this purposeful opaqueness, even an estimate of the drone death toll no longer exists.

Still, in the data available on all U.S. airstrikes since Trump was elected, an alarming trend is discernible: there are more of them, more casualties from them, and ever less accountability about them. In Iraq and Syria alone, the monitoring group Airwars believes that the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is responsible for between 7,468 and 11,841 civilian deaths, around 2,000 of whom were children. (The U.S.-led coalition, however, only admits to killing 1,139 civilians.)

In Afghanistan, the U.N. recently found that U.S. airstrikes (including drone strikes) had killed approximately the same number of Afghan civilians in 2018 as in the previous three years put together. In response to this report, the U.S.-led NATO mission there claimed that “all feasible precautions” were being taken to limit civilian casualties and that it investigates all allegations of their occurrence. According to such NATO investigations, airstrikes by foreign forces caused 117 civilian casualties last year, including 62 deaths — about a fifth of the U.N. tally.

And those are only the numbers for places where Washington is officially at war. In Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Libya, even less information is available on the number of civilians the U.S. has killed. Experts who track drone strikes in such gray areas of conflict, however, place that number in the thousands, though there is no way to confirm them, as even our military acknowledges. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, put it this way last year: “As far as how do we know how many civilians were killed, I am just being honest, no one will ever know. Anyone who claims they will know is lying, and there’s no possible way.”

After a U.S. strike killed or injured an entire Afghan family, the trauma surgeon treating a 4-year-old survivor told NBC, “I am sad. A young boy with such big injuries. No eyes, brain out. What will be his future?”

In other words, while America’s teenagers fight in the most public way possible for their right to live, a world away Afghanistan’s teenagers are marching for the same thing — except instead of gun control, in that heavily armed land, they want peace.

Trauma Is Trauma Is Trauma

Gun violence — and school shootings in particular — have become the preeminent fear of American teenagers. A Pew poll taken last year found that 57 percent of teens are worried about a shooting at their school (1-in-4 are “very worried.”) This is even truer of nonwhite teens, with roughly two-thirds of them expressing such fear.

As one student told Teen Vogue: “How could you not feel a little bit terrified knowing that it happens so randomly and so often?” And she’s not exaggerating. More than 150,000 students in the U.S have experienced a shooting on campus since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, considered the first modern mass school shooting.

And in such anticipatory anxiety, American students have much in common with victims of drone warfare. Speaking to researchers from Stanford University, Haroon Quddoos, a Pakistani taxi driver who survived two U.S. drone strikes, explained it this way:

“No matter what we are doing, that fear is always inculcated in us. Because whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting home playing… cards — no matter what we are doing, we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.”

Similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress, trauma, and anxiety are commonplace emotions in countries where U.S. drones are active, just as in American communities like Parkland that have lived through a mass shooting. Visiting communities in Yemen that experienced drone strikes, forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld found that 92 percent of their inhabitants were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with children the most significantly affected. Psychologists have come up with similar figures when studying both survivors of school shootings and children who have been psychologically affected by school-lockdown drills, by the media’s focus on violence, and by the culture of fear that has developed in response to mass shootings.

Voices Left Out

The Parkland students have created a coherent movement that brings together an incredibly diverse group united around a common goal and a belief that all gun violence victims, not just those who have experienced a mass shooting, need to be heard. As one Parkland survivor and leader of the March For Our Lives movement, David Hogg, put it, the goal isn’t to talk for different communities, but to let them “speak for themselves and ask them how we can help.”

The Parkland survivors have essentially created an echo chamber, amplifying the previously unheard voices of young African-Americans and Latinos in particular. At last year’s March For Our Lives, for instance, 11-year-old Naomi Wadler started her speech this way: “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news.”

In 2016, there were nearly 39,000 gun deaths, more than 14,000 of them homicides and almost 23,000 suicides. Such routine gun violence disproportionately affects black Americans. Mass shootings accounted for only about 1.2 percent of all gun deaths that year. Yet the Parkland students made headlines and gained praise for their activism —  Oprah Winfrey even donated $500,000 to the movement — while black communities that had been fighting gun violence for years never received anything similar.

As someone who spends a lot of her time engrossed in the undercovered news of drone strikes, I can’t help but notice the parallels. Stories about U.S. drone strikes taking out dangerous terrorists proliferate, while reports on U.S.-caused civilian casualties disappear into the void. For example, in January, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command claimed that a precision drone strike finally killed Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi, the alleged mastermind behind the deadly October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. Within a day, more than 24 media outlets had covered the story.

Few, however, focused on the fact that the U.S. command only claimed al-Badawi’s death was “likely,” despite similar reports about such terrorists that have repeatedly been proven wrong. The British human rights group Reprieve found back in 2014 that even when drone operators end up successfully targeting specific individuals like al-Badawi, they regularly kill vastly more people than their chosen targets. Attempts to kill 41 terror figures, Reprieve reported, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people. That was five years ago, but there’s no reason to believe anything has changed.

By contrast, when a U.S. airstrike — it’s not clear whether it was a drone or a manned aircraft — killed at least 20 civilians in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in December 2018, only four American media outlets (Reutersthe Associated PressVoice of America, and The New York Times) covered the story and none followed up with a report on those civilians and their families. That has largely been the norm since the war on terror began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In the Trump years so far, while headlines scream about mass school shootings and other slaughters of civilians here, the civilian casualties of America’s wars and the drone strikes that often go with them are, if anything, even more strikingly missing in action in the media.

When Safa al-Ahmad, a journalist for PBS’s Frontline, was asked why she thought it was important to hear from Yemenis experiencing American drone strikes, she responded:

“I think if you’re going to talk about people, you should go talk to them. It’s just basic respect for other human beings. It really bothered me that everyone was just talking about the Americans… The other civilians, they weren’t given any names, they weren’t given any details. It was like an aside to the story… This is part of the struggle when you construct stories on foreign countries, when it comes to the American public. I think we’ve done [Americans] a disservice, by not doing more of this… We impact the world, we should understand it. An informed public is the only way there can be a functioning democracy. That is our duty as a democracy, to be informed.”

This one-sided view of America’s never-ending air wars fails everyone, from the people being asked to carry out Washington’s decisions in those lands to ordinary Americans who have little idea what’s being done in their name to the many people living under those drones. Americans should know that, to them, it’s we who seem like the school shooters of the planet.

Waking Up an Apathetic Nation

For the better part of two decades, young Americans have been trapped in a cycle of violence at home and abroad with little way to speak out. Gun violence in this country was a headline-grabbing given. School shootings, like so many other mass killings here, were deemed “tragic” and worthy of thoughts, prayers, and much fervid media attention, but little else.

Until Parkland.

What changed? Well, a new cohort, Generation Z, came on the scene and, unlike their millennial predecessors, many of them are refusing to accept the status quo, especially when it comes to issues like gun violence.

Every time there was a mass shooting, millennials would hold their breath, wondering if today would be the day the country finally woke up. After Newtown. After San Bernadino. After Las Vegas. And each time, it wasn’t. Parkland could have been the same, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. Having witnessed the dangers of apathy, Gen-Z seems increasingly to be about movement and action. In fact, in a Vice youth survey, 71 percent of respondents reported feeling “capable” of enacting change around global warming and 85 percent felt the same about social problems. And that’s new.

For so long, gun violence seemed like an unstoppable, incurable plague. Fed up with the “adults in the room,” however, these young activists have begun to take matters into their own hands, giving those particularly at risk of gun violence, children, a sense of newfound power — the power to determine their own futures. Whether it’s testifying in front of Congress in the first hearing on gun violence since 2011, protesting at the stores and offices of gun manufacturers, or participating in die-ins,” these kids are making their voices heard.

Since the Parkland massacre, there has been actual movement on gun control, something that America has not seen for a long time. Under pressure, the Justice Department moved to ban the bump stocks that can make semi-automatic weapons fire almost like machine guns, Florida signed a $400 million bill to tighten the state’s gun laws, companies began to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and public support grew for stricter gun control laws.

Although the new Gen Z activists have focused on issues close to home, sooner or later they may start to look beyond the water’s edge and find themselves in touch with their counterparts across the globe, who are showing every day how dedicated they are to changing the world they live in, with or without anyone’s help. And if they do, they will find that, in its endless wars, America has been the true school shooter on this planet, terrorizing the global classroom with a remarkable lack of consequences.

In March 2018, according to Human Rights Watch, American planes bombed a school that housed displaced people in Syria, killing dozens of them, including children. Similarly, in Yemen that August, a Saudi plane, using a Pentagon-supplied laser-guided bomb, blew away a school bus, killing 40 schoolchildren. Just as at home, it’s not only about the weaponry like those planes or drones. Activists will find that they have to focus their attention as well on the root causes of such violence and the scars they leave behind in the communities of survivors.

More tolerant, more diverse, less trustful of major institutions and less inclined to believe in American exceptionalism than any generation before them, Generation Z may be primed to care about what their country is doing in their name from Afghanistan to Syria, Yemen to Libya. But first they have to know it’s happening.

Allegra Harpootlian is a media associate at ReThink Media, where she works with leading experts and organizations at the intersection of national security, politics, and the media. She principally focuses on U.S. drone policies and related use-of-force issues. She is also a political partner with the Truman National Security Project. Find her on Twitter @ally_harp.




Trump’s Backward Move on Drone Civilian Casualties

This executive order disregards some valuable historical lessons, writes Daniel R. Brunstetter.

File 20190312 86710 8qpzlz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over southern Afghanistan.
(AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

By Daniel R. Brunstetter,
University of California, Irvine

The Conversation

When it comes to drones and warfare, the U.S. seems to have forgotten some valuable historical lessons.

On March 6, President Trump signed an executive order that revoked the requirement, formulated under the Obama administration, that U.S. intelligence officials must publicly report the number of civilians killed in CIA drone strikes outside declared war zones.

In this decision, Trump is bringing the U.S. back to where it once was: the state of non-transparency that defined Obama’s first term.

As a researcher who has studied the ethics of war and written extensively on drones, I recognize that the U.S. has returned to a time when the CIA drone program was not governed by ethics, but shrouded in mystery, a time when it discounted the importance of civilian casualties.

One of the U.S. founding fathers understood the importance of civilian casualties.

In 1782, Benjamin Franklin, then U.S. ambassador to France, circulated a copy of a Boston newspaper with an article that detailed British atrocities against American civilians in the ongoing Revolutionary War. Franklin intended to have the article reprinted by British newspapers, which would get the story out to the British public and turn popular opinion against the government in power.

The catch: The story was completely fabricated. Franklin made it up based on anecdotes he had heard, counting on the supposition that the British public had little access to actual statistics on civilian casualties to ascertain its truth.

Recounted with pride today on the CIA’s website, Franklin’s antics touched off a public uproar in 18th-century Britain. The article was used by opposition Whig politicians to challenge continued British participation in the war.

This quaint historical anecdote reveals valuable moral lessons for today. On the one hand, it shows how civilian casualties are a tool of propaganda. On the other, it shows the role that the suffering of enemy civilians plays in establishing an eventual peace.

Obama Era

During Obama’s first term, there were hundreds of strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan that the U.S. did not publicly acknowledge, with wildly divergent reports of civilian casualties.

During Obama’s tenure, there was warranted backlash from the international human rights community and congressional hearings at home. In the security realm, enemies of the U.S. such as al-Qaida and the Taliban used exaggerated reports of civilian deaths as propaganda to recruit new members.

In discussions about how to end what some experts were calling the forever war, a more disciplined and restrained use of drones was seen as part of the solution.

This opposition led to Obama’s ethical turn, defending drones by way of the just war doctrine. This centuries-old body of thought addresses the rights and wrongs of warfare: when a state can go to war and what it can do in war.

When it came to drones, Obama was swayed by the principle of noncombatant immunity: the moral necessity of sparing civilians from the horrors of war whenever possible. He limited drone strikes to scenarios with near certainty that there would be no civilian casualties.

Obama also decided to provide greater transparency to the American public by reporting civilian casualties. This had a strategic purpose. According to one expert who served under Obama, former intelligence officer Ned Price, reporting allowed the U.S. to “counter with facts and figures the misinformation and disinformation that terrorist groups and others issued to undermine our counter-terrorism operations around the globe.”

Step Backward

Obama’s ethical turn was a step forward. It emerged from his moral reckoning with the act of killing and the tragedy of civilians getting caught in the crossfire.

The Trump administration’s reversal on reporting civilian casualties is a step backward. It says a lot about the value – or lack thereof – placed on the lives of those living under drones. Trump’s executive order insulates the U.S. public from the tragedy of civilian deaths. Removing civilian deaths from the public view dehumanizes them, and in the process, eliminates the common threads of humanity that make peace possible.

Without public accountability, I worry that the Trump administration is paving the way for a more robust use of drones. Perhaps it will be similar to or even more permissive than Obama’s policy during his first term, when the U.S. carried out signature strikes, which targeted unidentified militants based on their behavior patterns and personal networks rather than the threat they posed. Trump has already taken steps to remove targeting constraints that had been codified under Obama.

Does discounting civilian casualties make the U.S. more secure in the long run? It’s an open question. The White House called the requirement “superfluous” and claimed that it distracts “intelligence professionals from their primary mission,” which is presumably protecting American security interests.

Despite the White House claims to the contrary, research shows that such reporting is important for preventing civilian casualties. A lack of transparency leads to the disproportionate use of drones. Such a policy risks causing more civilian casualties, and has the potential to make more enemies than friends, diminish cooperation with allies in the global struggle against terrorist groups, and put the drone controversy back in the news in a negative way.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Franklin’s ruse demonstrates the power of using the tragedy of civilian casualties as propaganda. There is little doubt that U.S. enemies will use exaggerated reports of civilian casualties for propaganda purposes. Public transparency is a means to combat this propaganda, and perhaps more importantly, it provides a measure of checks and balance on the CIA.

More poignantly, Franklin abhorred the ease with which men kill and gloat about it. “Men,” he wrote later in 1782, “I find to be a Sort of Being very badly constructed, as they are generally more easily provok’d than reconcil’d, more disposed to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation … without a Blush they assemble in great armies at NoonDay to destroy, and when they have kill’d as many as they can, they exaggerate the Number to augment the fancied Glory.”

Amidst this exaggerated killing, Franklin saw a common connection shared between enemies: the suffering of civilians. This made, in his mind, peace between enemies a genuine possibility.

With Trump’s executive order, the American public risks being lulled into ignorance about the plight of civilians living under drones, and does so at the peril of perpetual war with future enemies of America’s own making.The Conversation

Daniel R. Brunstetter, associate professor of political science, University of California, Irvine

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




US and Iranian Hardliners Continue the Suffering

Ann Wright reports on a citizen peace delegation’s recent trip to Iran, which included a meeting with the country’s foreign minister.

By Ann Wright
Special to Consortium News

We knew that a CODEPINK: Women for Peace delegation to Iran would wind up in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.  While he was campaigning, Donald Trump made his animosity toward Iran very clear by referring to the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran as the “worst deal ever.”

Despite the International Atomic Energy Agency’s evidence that Tehran was complying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, one of Trump’s first actions upon becoming president was pulling the U.S. out of the treaty and imposing brutal sanctions on the people of Iran.

These sanctions have resulted in the slashing of purchasing power of the national currency by two-thirds. We knew that U.S citizens going to Iran to talk with Iranians about the impact of the sanctions would not be popular with the Trump administration.

Despite the visas that Tehran issued to our delegation, we knew our  delegation would also be under Iranian scrutiny while we were there.  American journalists, IT professionals, retired UN officials and retired and former U.S. government officials have been imprisoned.

Despite such considerations, our group still takes these trips. We endure the suspicions of governments to travel as citizen diplomats to areas of the world where our government does not want us to see the effects of U.S. policies on the lives of people in targeted countries.

As citizen diplomats, we have been labeled as “naïve tools of repressive governments” when we visited Iran, North Korea, Gaza, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, countries where U.S. interference, invasion, occupation or support for other countries’ wars, have made life miserable and dangerous for their citizens.  We encounter ordinary citizens who are concerned about the future of their children, their health and education because of military conflict or sanctions touted as a humane substitute for military conflict. We return with their stories, determined to resolve whatever political disagreement is occurring between the U.S. and the particular country.

The Knives Were Out

The knives of journalists and pundits were out for Women Cross the DMZ in 2015 when we — 30 women from 15 countries, including two Nobel Peace Laureates — returned from North Korea after holding a peace conference with 250 North Korean women and peace marches with 5,000 women in Pyongyang and 2,000 women in Kaesong.

The anti-Semitism label was thrown at us when we visited Israeli-blockaded Gaza and witnessed the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and dared to speak and write about them.  We were called the tool of the Pakistani Taliban when we talked with families of civilians assassinated by U.S. drones in the border area of Pakistan-Afghanistan.

Our delegation’s meeting with the foreign minister of Iran has already provoked harsh words from U.S. and Israeli media of collaborating with the Iranian government and FBI warning us about being agents of a foreign government.

In the nine days we were in Iran, from Feb. 26 to March 6, we talked with Iranians in schools, bazaars and markets, on squares and in mosques.  Many people in Iran speak English. English is taught from elementary school.  Young students ran up to us to practice their English.  The Trump administration’s travel ban on Iranians means that students who have been accepted to U.S. universities cannot get student visas to study in the U.S. Families with members in the U.S. cannot visit them. Iranians are turning to Europe and Asia.  The U.S. travel ban on Iran and the six other countries may have been intended to isolate Iran, but instead America is isolating itself.

A surprising number of people, particularly outside of Tehran, the capital, spoke openly about their disagreements with their own government. 

‘We Like You, Not Your Government’

At a museum in Isfahan we talked with other visitors who were Iranian. Spotting small banners pinned to our backs that read “Peace with Iran” in English and Farsi, people came up to us, invariably beginning with, “We like Americans, but we don’t like your government.” Many of them added, “and we don’t like our government either.”  The reasons that we heard for disliking their own government included graft, corruption, those in power living the high life, too much money spent on other countries which should be used at home, mistakenly trusting the United States to lessen or end the sanctions after signing the nuclear agreement.

Iranians we met were open about the effect of the latest stringent U.S. sanctions on their daily life.  The U.S- sponsored closure of Iran’s access to the international financial system means that ordinary businesses have less access to funds to purchase goods.   Apps on mobile phones for paying bills or arranging for car-share rides no longer function. Marriages are postponed as families lack money for the obligatory dowries and wedding celebrations. Purchases of big-ticket items of everything from refrigerators to cars are delayed due to the hyper-inflation of the rial, Iranian currency.

From the foreign minister to the ordinary Iranians we met, all reminded us with great pride of the 2,500-year history of their country.  Many spoke of the pressures from neighboring countries and destructive wars waged by neighbors and by countries from afar: the United States, Britain and Russia.

Seven countries are direct neighbors: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Armenia.  Seven more are within 100 miles: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. Three more are within 300 miles: Georgia, Russia and Uzbekistan.

By contrast, only Canada and Mexico directly border the U.S. and its possessions and only a few countries are within 100 miles: the Bahamas, Cuba and Russia across the Bering Sea, as Alaska geography expert Sarah Palin famously reminded us with her “I can see Russia from here” comment.

In the past 25 years, from the 1991 Gulf War onwards, the U.S. has been involved in military conflict in six of the countries surrounding Iran: Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Hundreds of thousands have died from U.S. military wars in the region. Two million Iraqis and 3 million Syrians have fled U.S.-sponsored violence and are now refugees in other countries in the region.

From 1980 to 1988, the U.S. supported Iraq with intelligence and chemical weapons in its horrific eight-year war on Iran, which began one year after the Iranian revolution overthrew the U.S. backed government of the Shah of Iran.  The Shah had come to power as a result of the American-Anglo orchestrated overthrow of the elected president of Iran in 1953.

Massive Cemetery

On the way from Tehran to Isfahan, we were asked to visit the massive cemetery outside of Tehran with the graves of tens of thousands of Iranians killed during the Iraqi war on Iran. It is estimated that one million Iranians died defending their country from the Iraqi attacks and that between 250,000-500,000 Iraqis died. The road leading to the cemetery has flower stands along the route for visitors to arrive with flowers to place on the graves. Thousands of Iranians visit the cemetery each day.  We spoke with one older woman who said she comes to the cemetery each day as all of her sons are buried here.  The entire country including very young kids were mobilized to stop the Iraqi invasion of Iran.

The cemetery is the equivalent of Arlington National cemetery outside of Washington, D.C., where many international guests visit to see the history of the United States through the graves of those who were killed in many U.S. wars.

The  U.S. military bases surrounding Iran are a constant reminder of the U.S. military threat. U.S. combat aircraft and drones fly daily from U.S. air bases in the region.  Not shown on the map are the fleet of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that since the 1970s have had a permanent presence in the waters off the coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf.

One incident weighs on the minds of Iranians, much as the events of 9/11 do on Americans. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, a U.S. guided-missile cruiser, used two radar-guided missiles to shoot down an Iranian civilian passenger aircraft, Iran Air flight 655, that had taken off from the coastal city of Bandar Abbas, Iran.  The flight was still climbing on its regularly scheduled flight to Dubai when it was blown to pieces.  Iran Air flight 655 was still in Iranian airspace, on its prescribed routine daily flight route on established air lanes, emitting by radio the standard commercial identifying data when the missiles struck. Two hundred and ninety passengers and crew, including 66 children, were killed.

Earlier in the day on July 3, 1988, the captain of the USS Vincennes, Will Rogers III, had sunk in Iranian waters, two Iranian gunboats and damaged a third. Captain David Carlson of the U.S. Navy frigate “Sides” that was also on patrol in the Persian Gulf, later told investigators that the destruction of the airliner by the missiles of the USS Vincennes “marked the horrifying climax to Rogers’ aggressiveness.” Incredibly, in 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit decoration “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer … from April 1987 to May 1989.” The citation made no mention of the shoot-down of Iran Air 655.

‘Never Apologize’

As vice president, George H.W. Bush argued at the United Nations that the U.S. attack on Iranian Airbus flight 655 had been a wartime incident and that the crew had acted appropriately to the situation at the time. He famously and tragically said: “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” It was not until 1996 that the U.S. agreed to a $132 million out-of-court settlement in a case brought by Iran in 1989 against the U.S. in the International Court of Justice. The U.S. paid additional compensation for the 38 non-Iranian deaths.

While the vice president of the United States would not make an apology to the people of Iran, our delegation did.

Barbara Briggs-Letson, a member of our delegation, created a beautiful book expressing our heartfelt remorse. It contains several poems and the name of each person on the flight written in Farsi.  We showed the book to Foreign Minister Zarif during our meeting with him and he was very moved by our gesture.  A few days later, we gave the book to the Tehran Peace Museum where it will be on permanent display.

The effect of U.S. sanctions on Iran, particularly in the medical field, were brought home to us vividly by people who told us of family members who have died because they were unable to get proper treatment with the most efficient drugs due to sanctions.

Sanctions Block Medical Equipment

Dialysis patients who could be helped by state-of-the-art equipment from Europe or the U.S. are denied that equipment by the sanctions.  The financial sanctions block purchase of medicines and medical equipment.   Insurance companies in the U.S. and Europe are blocked from paying directly to hospitals medical bills of citizens who need emergency medical care.

While in Iran, a member of our own delegation had chest pains and was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with heart artery blockage.  His family in the U.S., the medical doctor in Iran and a medical doctor on our delegation recommended that he not try to return to the U.S. without determining the extent of blockage and that he have an angioplasty procedure in Iran.  The angioplasty showed dangerous blockage of three arteries. Stents made in the United States were placed in his arteries during the angioplasty procedure to open up the arteries.  He would not have been able to travel safely back to the U.S. without the stents.

When the family and the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy contacted the patient’s insurance carrier, Kaiser Permanente, they were told that due to the sanctions, the insurance company could not pay the Iranian hospital directly, but the patient could be reimbursed after his return to the United States.  The U.S. Embassy in Switzerland made a loan through the U.S. Interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to pay for the medical procedure, which the patient will repay.

Sanctions were a topic of discussion when we had the opportunity to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  In a 90-minute talk on our first morning in Tehran, Zarif reminded us that that Iran’s 80 million people have lived for the past 40 years under some level of U.S. sanctions.  U.S. sanctions on Iran began soon after the 1979 revolution and the student seizure of the U.S. Embassy and holding of 52 U.S. diplomats for 444 days.

Zarif told our delegation: “…the U.S. difficulty with Iran is not because of the region, not because of human rights, not because of weapons, not because of the nuclear issue – it’s just because we decided to be independent – that’s it – that’s our biggest crime.  Iranians are resilient people who will resist the arbitrary actions of the Trump administration in dumping the nuclear agreement and intimidating European partners from honoring the commitments of the agreement to loosening sanctions.”

Zarif said that Iran had worked with the United States in the days after 9/11 to provide information on the Taliban, al Qaeda and other groups in Afghanistan.  Iranian cooperation was “rewarded” three months later by the Bush administration, no doubt led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, with placement on Bush’s Axis of Evil list: Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

In an overview of military budgets and spending, he said Saudi Arabia spends $67 billion buying weapons from the U.S.  “Last year, the West sold $100 billion of weaponry to GCC countries – these small emirates in the Persian Gulf.  The entire population of these countries, I don’t think would reach 40 million.   A hundred billion dollars in weapons.  I don’t, I don’t believe with all due respect they know how to use them. Because they have not been able to defeat basically defenseless people in Yemen. For four years.  The war in Yemen, this April, will be 4-years-old.”

Yemen Ceasefire Efforts

Zarif also spoke of his efforts with the U.S. in 2015 to broker a ceasefire to stop the brutal Saudi bombing and blockade on Yemen. The Saudis, after first agreeing to a ceasefire, backed out of the agreement and then the United States, he said, blamed Iran, not Saudi Arabia.

“When the war started, I was involved in the most difficult stage of the negotiations on the nuclear case.  Because if you remember in 2015, Congress set a deadline that unless we had a framework agreement on the nuclear issue by April first, Congress would impose sanctions that the U.S. administration would not be able to waive.  We were running against a deadline in Lausanne (Switzerland) when we had that stage of negotiations. And yet, John Kerry and I spent two days from that precious time talking about how to end the war in Yemen although that was not my mandate, but I thought the war in Yemen was so disastrous that we should bring it to an end.”

Zarif continued, “John Kerry and I reached an understanding that we need to end this war. At that time the current minister of state of Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir, was U.S. ambassador—Saudi ambassador to the U.S.  After we reached an agreement on April second or third, John Kerry went back to Washington and talked to Adel al-Jubeir. He went back to Saudi Arabia and got an OK for a ceasefire in Yemen. And he informed me that we can have a ceasefire.  I immediately contacted the Houthis and got them to agree to a ceasefire. This is April 2015.  In a few days it will be four years.”

He added, “Then I was boarding a plane to Indonesia…I told my deputy – wait for a call from Secretary Kerry, he’ll tell you that the final agreement has arrived.  We arrived in Indonesia eight hours later, I called Secretary Kerry and said what happened?  He said, ‘Saudis reneged, because they believed they could have a military victory in three weeks.’  I told him they won’t be able to have a military victory, not in three weeks, not in three months, not in three years. But he said, ‘what can I do?  I’m fed up with them, they won’t budge.” I said, ‘Fine, we tried.’ ”

Zarif shook his head and said, “The next day, the very next day, President Obama, of all people, made a public statement accusing Iran of interfering in Yemen.  The very next day.  I told them, OK – you couldn’t get it (the ceasefire) from your allies, why are you blaming us?  You don’t want to blame your allies, fine – but, why are you blaming us?”

Much to our surprise, Zarif resigned as foreign minister only a few hours after speaking to our delegation.  Reportedly, he resigned after his exclusion from a meeting held with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad the previous day. Other senior regime officials, including President Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani had met with the Syrian dictator Assad in Tehran without Zarif being present.

Less than 24 hours later, Rouhani rejected Zarif’s resignation, saying that it would be “against national interests” to accept it.

In an Instagram posting announcing his resignation to the public, Zarif wrote that the Iranian people were displeased with the results of his work on the nuclear framework, giving up thousands of centrifuges and allowing inspections of its nuclear facilities in exchange for lifting of sanctions and a return to normal business around the world.  But the U.S. had broken the agreement and had placed heavier sanctions on Iran and extreme pressure and sanctions on any government or financial entity doing business with Iran. Zarif felt he had let the Iranian people down.

Hardliners in both the Iranian and the U.S. governments make the opportunity for dialogue and negotiations very difficult resulting in the people of Iran continuing to suffer the burden of both Iranian and American ideologies and politicians that have returned international relations to a standstill.

In a move by the hardliners of Iran, on March 12, 2019, Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to at least seven years’ imprisonment and perhaps up to 33 years and 148 lashes.

Sotoudeh won the Sakharov Prize in 2012 and was convicted following a trial held in absentia. Her husband Reza Khandan was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in January 2019. The European Union has stated that the right to protest peacefully, as well as the right to express opinion in a non-violent manner, are cornerstones of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.

Ann Wright was in the U.S.Army/Army Reserves for 29 years 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 Bush’s war on Iraq.

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US Regime Change Blueprint Proposed Venezuelan Electricity Blackouts as ‘Watershed Event’

The group that trained Juan Guaidó and his allies laid out plans for galvanizing public unrest in a 2010 memo, Max Blumenthal reports for Grayzone.

By Max Blumenthal
Grayzone

A September 2010 memo by a U.S.-funded soft power organization that helped train Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó and his allies identifies the potential collapse of the country’s electrical sector as “a watershed event” that “would likely have the impact of galvanizing public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate.”

The memo has special relevance today as Guaidó moves to exploit nationwide blackouts caused by a major failure at the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant at Guri dam – a crisis that Venezuela’s government blames on U.S. sabotage.

It was authored by Srdja Popovic of the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a Belgrade-based “democracy promotion” organization funded by the U.S. that has trained thousands of U.S.-aligned youth activists in countries where the West seeks regime change. 

This group reportedly hosted Guaidó and the key leaders of his Popular Will party for a series of training sessions, fashioning them into a “Generation 2007” determined to foment resistance to then-President Hugo Chavez and sabotage his plans to implement “21st century socialism” in Venezuela.

In the 2010 memo, published by WikiLeaks, CANVAS’s Popovic declared, “A key to Chavez’s current weakness is the decline in the electricity sector.” Popovic explicitly identified the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant as a friction point, emphasizing that “water levels at the Guri dam are dropping, and Chavez has been unable to reduce consumption sufficiently to compensate for the deteriorating industry.” 

Speculating on a “grave possibility that some 70 percent of the country’s electricity grid could go dark as soon as April 2010,” the CANVAS leader stated that “an opposition group would be best served to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez and towards their needs.”

Flash forward to March 2019, and the scenario outlined by Popovic is playing out almost exactly as he had imagined. 

On March 7, just days after Guaidó return from Colombia, where he participated in the failed and demonstrably violent Feb. 23 attempt to ram a shipment of U.S. aid across the Venezuelan border, the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant experienced a major and still unexplained collapse

Days later, electricity remains sporadic across the country. Meanwhile, Guaidó has done everything he can “to take advantage of the situation and spin it” against President Nicolas Maduro – just as his allies were urged to do over eight years before by CANVAS.

Rubio Vows ‘Period of Suffering’

Venezuela has placed the blame squarely on Washington, accusing it of sabotage through a cyber-attack on its electrical infrastructure. Key players in the U.S.-directed coup attempt have done little to dispel the accusation. 

In a tweet on March 8, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo framed the electricity outage as a pivotal stage in U.S. plans for regime change:

At noon on March 7, during a hearing on Venezuela at the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, Sen. Marco Rubio explicitly called for the U.S. to stir “widespread unrest,” declaring that it “needs to happen” in order to achieve regime change. 

“Venezuela is going to enter a period of suffering no nation in our hemisphere has confronted in modern history,” Rubio proclaimed.

Around 5 p.m., the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant experienced a total and still unexplained collapse. Residents of Caracas and throughout Venezuela were immediately plunged into darkness. 

At 5:18 p.m., a clearly excited Rubio took to Twitter to announce the blackout and claim that “backup generators have failed.” It was unclear how Rubio had obtained such specific information so soon after the outage occurred. According to Jorge Rodriguez, the communications minister of Venezuela, local authorities did not know if backup generators had failed at the time of Rubio’s tweet. 

Back in Caracas, Guaidó immediately set out to exploit the situation, just as his CANVAS trainers had advised over eight years before. Taking to Twitter just over an hour after Rubio, Guaidó declared, “the light will return when the usurpation [of Maduro] ends.” Like Pompeo, the self-declared president framed the blackouts as part of a regime change strategy, not an accident or error.

Two days later, Guaidó was at the center of an opposition rally he convened in affluent eastern Caracas, bellowing into a megaphone: “Article 187 when the time comes. We need to be in the streets, mobilized. It depends on us, not on anybody else.”

Article 187 establishes the right of the National Assembly “to authorize the use of Venezuelan military missions abroad or foreign in the country.” 

Upon his mention of the constitutional article, Guaidó’s supporters responded, “Intervention! Intervention!”

Exploiting Crisis

As Dan Cohen and I reported here at the Grayzone, Guaidó’s rise to prominence – and the coup plot that he has been appointed to oversee – is the product of a decade-long project overseen by the Belgrade-based CANVAS outfit.

CANVAS is a spinoff of Otpor, a Serbian protest group founded by Srdja Popovic in 1998 at the University of Belgrade. Otpor, which means “resistance” in Serbian, was the student group that worked alongside U.S. soft power organizations to mobilize the protests that eventually toppled the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

CANVAS has been funded largely through the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA cut-out that functions as the U.S. government’s main arm of promoting regime change.  According to leaked internal emails from Stratfor, an intelligence firm known as the shadow CIA,” CANVAS “may have also received CIA funding and training during the 1999/2000 anti-Milosevic struggle.”

leaked email from a Stratfor staffer noted that after they ousted Milosevic, “the kids who ran OTPOR grew up, got suits and designed CANVAS… or in other words an ‘export-a-revolution’ group that sowed the seeds for a NUMBER of color revolutions. They are still hooked into U.S. funding and basically go around the world trying to topple dictators and autocratic governments (ones that U.S. does not like ;).”

Stratfor subsequently revealed that CANVAS “turned its attention to Venezuela” in 2005, after training opposition movements that led pro-NATO regime change operations across Eastern Europe.

In September 2010, as Venezuela headed for a parliamentary election, CANVAS produced a series of memos outlining the plans they had hatched with “non-formal actors” like Guaidó and his cadre of student activists to bring down Chavez. “This is the first opportunity for the opposition to get back into a position of power,” Popovic wrote at the time. 

In his memo on electricity outages, Popovic highlighted the importance of the Venezuelan military in achieving regime change. “Alliances with the military could be critical because in such a situation of massive public unrest and rejection of the presidency,” the CANVAS founder wrote, “malcontent sectors of the military will likely decide to intervene, but only if they believe they have sufficient support.”

While the scenario Popovic envisioned failed to materialize in 2010, it perfectly describes the situation gripping Venezuela today as an opposition leader cultivated by CANVAS seeks to spin the crisis against Maduro while calling on the military to break ranks.

Since the Grayzone exposed the deep ties between CANVAS and Guaidó’s Popular Will party, Popovic has attempted to publicly distance himself from his record of training Venezuela’s opposition. 

Today, however, Popovic’s 2010 memo on exploiting electricity outages reads like a blueprint for the strategy that Guaidó and his patrons in Washington have actively implemented. Whether or not the blackout is the result of external sabotage, it represents the “watershed event” that CANVAS has prepared its Venezuelan cadres for.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah,” Goliath,” The Fifty One Day War and The Management of Savagery,” which will be published in March 2019 by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Killing Gaza and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.” Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.




THE ANGRY ARAB: Why Ilhan Omar is a Dangerous Woman for the US

Washington doesn’t like its Muslims or Arabs to take pride in their heritage or oppose the Israeli occupation, writes As’ad AbuKhalil.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Washington was not expecting the arrival of Reps. Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib.  The nation’s capital has seen Arabs and Muslims before but they were not like these two new assertive and defiant members of Congress. 

The White House, under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, hosted Iftar dinners for Ramadan and invited a variety of Muslims (including of course the Israeli ambassador because he is wildly popular among the world’s Muslims), but they were of a different brand.  The Bush administration even employed Muslim Arabs or Muslim-born Americans who preached Bush’s doctrine to anyone who would listen in the Middle East. 

But those were different Arabs. They were the “non-threatening” Arabs who made Westerners feel comfortable in their racism and bigotry.  The Arabs who are welcomed in the halls of Congress are usually mimics of the late president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, and the current king of Jordan. They are the type of Arabs who praise Western wars and downplay Arab anger at the long record of Israeli occupation and aggression.

Some of those Arabs in D.C. are employed as correspondents for Gulf-regime media. Some had even received their training at the research arm of the Israeli lobby, while others work for racist Congress people.  They are the kind of Arabs who are paraded before Western audiences to show them that there are Muslim Arabs who are exceptions: the ones who are willing to insult other Arabs and Muslims, and who tell tales about how they were saved from the terrorism of the religion or the culture of the region.

But Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib are different. The Muslims whom Washington has been used to receiving from Lebanon or from Gulf embassies are Muslims who are embarrassed about their religion and about their culture. They are the Muslims who apologize day and night for the terrorism of Muslims, as if all Muslims are responsible for the crimes of the few. (The blaming of all Jews for the crimes of Israel is certainly anti-Semitic—just as the blaming of all Muslims for the crimes of the few Muslims is  Islamophobic.)  

Ilhan Omar, from the second she entered Congress, has made her audience feel uncomfortable, and the press has had a hard time dealing with her.

Acceptable Extremism

Acceptable and subservient Muslims or Arabs are allowed to hold extremist views and to express hatred and hostility to Jewish people as long as they don’t offend Israel or Western governments.  Anwar Sadat’s background as an anti-Semitic Nazi was never an issue for Israel or Western Zionists. In fact, Stuart Eizenstat, Jimmy Carter’s domestic policy advisor, downplays the Nazi sympathy of Sadat and attributes it dismissively to anti-British sentiments, in his recent book, “President Carter.”

And when Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine, agreed after the assassination of Yasser Arafat to serve Israeli occupation interests, his anti-Semitic past (his PhD dissertation in Moscow contained Holocaust denial) was also forgiven. The Saudi regime, the largest—by far—purveyor of anti-Semitic propaganda among Muslims in the last century is also forgiven.

It is not about anti-Semitism, as evidenced by Israeli alliances with evangelical Christians and European far-right groups. Zionists object to anti-Semitism—real or concocted as is the case with Omar—when there is criticism of Israel and calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel, or BDS. 

Ilhan Omar also doesn’t look the part. Westerners prefer whiskey-drinking Muslims who are willing to mock fellow Muslims, and who are willing to denigrate Palestinian political aspirations for the amusement of the Zionist think-tank crowd in D.C.

And what is rarely mentioned about Ilhan Omar is that she wears the veil.  At least in France, where Islamophobia has become the national secular religion of the republic, the hostility to the veil has become unmasked at all points of the political spectrum, left, right and center.

Hostility to the veil has been less vocally expressed in D.C. (veiled Muslim women have numerous stories of harassment and abuse to tell). But Congress had to change its rules to allow Omar to wear the veil under its roof, even though exceptions to the longstanding hat ban had reportedly been made for the wearing of yarmulkes.

It would have been less irksome for Omar’s haters if she did not wear the veil.  Westerners prefer Muslims to be atheists or non-practicing Muslims. (In the second teaching position I held at Tufts University, the most senior member of the department of political science once rushed to my office and asked me hurriedly: “You are not Muslim, are you?” I said: “Well, I am from a Muslim family but I am personally an atheist.” He said: “Oh, that is good,” and left.) 

Unacceptable Candor

And Omar speaks in a refreshingly candid language that does not stick to the rhetorical clichés of D.C. politicians. 

By contrast, New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has learned to censor herself. Ever since she was attacked for previous remarks she had made about Palestinians, Ocasio-Cortez has resorted to speaking in the vague generalities that U.S. diplomats also use to avoid the wrath of Israel and its supporters.  She no longer seems to even utter the word Palestine. She has become too aware of the price to be paid. 

Omar and Rashida Tlaib have also supported BDS, which is the biggest sin, as far as Israel and AIPAC are concerned.  The U.S. has made it very clear that BDS has emerged as the second danger to Israel after the threat of military resistance to Israeli occupation and aggression. 

The endorsement of BDS by two members of Congress bestows official legitimacy on a movement that Israel has been desperately trying to paint as an anti-Semitic reincarnation of Nazism.  But this has been the history of Israeli propaganda: all enemies of Israel, communists, Arab nationalists, Palestinian nationalists, rightists, leftists, have been labeled as anti-Semitic. Even the secular Arab nationalist leader, the late Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, was accused of anti-Semitism by Israel when none of his speeches ever contained an anti-Semitic word.

And now, the U.S. Congress, which sat silent about the wave of Islamophobia unleashed during and after the Trump campaign, suddenly sees the need to issue a proclamation against religious bigotry and racism. 

It is a bitter irony that the U.S. Congress has, for the first time, condemned Islamophobia in a statement widely understood to be an attempt to discipline the first Muslim American female member of Congress.  The resolution had nothing to do with ostensible congressional outrage against Islamophobia. (Since Sept. 11, many members of Congress have become vocal anti-Islam bigots, as is U.S. President Donald Trump, who advocated a ban on all Muslim visitors to the country). The reference to Islamophobia was added to appease those new progressive members of Congress and the African American members who protested against a very selective standard of outrage.

Weeks after Omar’s election to Congress, the Zionist lobby succeeded in turning her into a caricature. They inserted the word “Jewish” every time she spoke against support for Israel (she did not once refer to Jews in her discourse about Israel and its supporters).  

The word “trope” is now a convenient tool to turn someone’s criticisms of Israel into grotesque anti-Semitic hatred.  Even the progressive Michele Goldberg, one of the few refreshingly courageous columnists in The New York Times, insisted that Omar resorted to anti-Semitic “tropes.” 

The Israeli lobby and the government want to send a clear message through the mistreatment and abuse of Ilhan Omar: that progressive members of Congress, especially if they are Muslim Arab women of color, won’t be allowed to express their views on Israel without mobilizing the entire AIPAC machinery in Congress against them.

Ilhan Omar is indeed dangerous. She has broken taboos, along with her colleague Rashida Tlaib.  She is dangerous to the hegemony imposed on the nation’s capital by the supporters of Israel (and evangelical Christian, not Jews, are now the most fanatical Zionists in U.S. politics).  Because Omar is seen as dangerous, the abuse  won’t end. It has just started.

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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Is War With Iran on the Horizon?

Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war, says Bob Dreyfuss for TomDispatch.

The Trump Administration is Reckless Enough to Turn the Cold War With Iran Into a Hot One

By Bob Dreyfuss
TomDispatch.com

Here’s the foreign policy question of questions in 2019: Are President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, all severely weakened at home and with few allies abroad, reckless enough to set off a war with Iran?

Could military actions designed to be limited — say, a heightening of the Israeli bombing of Iranian forces inside Syria, or possible U.S. cross-border attacks from Iraq, or a clash between American and Iranian naval ships in the Persian Gulf — trigger a wider war?

Worryingly, the answers are: yes and yes. Even though Western Europe has lined up in opposition to any future conflict with Iran, even though Russia and China would rail against it, even though most Washington foreign policy experts would be horrified by the outbreak of such a war, it could happen.

Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war. Years of politically charged anti-Iranian vituperation might blow up in the faces of President Trump and his two most hawkish aides, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, setting off a conflict with potentially catastrophic implications.

Such a war could quickly spread across much of the Middle East, not just to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the region’s two major anti-Iranian powers, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the various Persian Gulf states. It might indeed be, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested last year (unconsciously echoing Iran’s former enemy, Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein) the “mother of all wars.”

With Bolton and Pompeo, both well-known Iranophobes, in the driver’s seat, few restraints remain on President Trump when it comes to that country. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, President Trump’s former favorite generals who had urged caution, are no longer around. And though the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution last month calling for the United States to return to the nuclear agreement that President Obama signed, there are still a significant number of congressional Democrats who believe that Iran is a major threat to U.S. interests in the region.

During the Obama years, it was de rigueur for Democrats to support the president’s conclusion that Iran was a prime state sponsor of terrorism and should be treated accordingly. And the congressional Democrats now leading the party on foreign policy — Eliot Engel, who currently chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin, the two ranking Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — were opponents of the 2015 nuclear accord (though all three now claim to have changed their minds).

Deadly Flashpoints for a Future War

On the roller coaster ride that is Donald Trump’s foreign policy, it’s hard to discern what’s real and what isn’t, what’s rhetoric and what’s not. When it comes to Iran, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo aren’t planning an updated version of the unilateral invasion of Iraq that President George W. Bush launched in the spring of 2003.

Yet by openly calling for the toppling of the government in Tehran, by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposing onerous sanctions to cripple that country’s economy, by encouraging Iranians to rise up in revolt, by overtly supporting various exile groups (and perhaps covertly even terrorists), and by joining with Israel and Saudi Arabia in an informal anti-Iranian alliance, the three of them are clearly attempting to force the collapse of the Iranian regime, which just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

There are three potential flashpoints where limited skirmishes, were they to break out, could quickly escalate into a major shooting war.

The first is in Syria and Lebanon. Iran is deeply involved in defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who only recently returned from a visit to Tehran) and closely allied with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political party with a potent paramilitary arm. Weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu openly boasted that his country’s air force had successfully taken out Iranian targets in Syria. In fact, little noticed here, dozens of such strikes have taken place for more than a year, with mounting Iranian casualties.

Until now, the Iranian leadership has avoided a direct response that would heighten the confrontation with Israel, just as it has avoided unleashing Hezbollah, a well-armed, battle-tested proxy force.  That could, however, change if the hardliners in Iran decided to retaliate. Should this simmering conflict explode, does anyone doubt that President Trump would soon join the fray on Israel’s side or that congressional Democrats would quickly succumb to the administration’s calls to back the Jewish state?

Next, consider Iraq as a possible flashpoint for conflict. In February, a blustery Trump told CBS’s Face the Nation that he intends to keep U.S. forces in Iraq “because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is the real problem.” His comments did not exactly go over well with the Iraqi political class, since many of that country’s parties and militias are backed by Iran.

Trump’s declaration followed a Wall Street Journal report late last year that Bolton had asked the Pentagon — over the opposition of various generals and then-Secretary of Defense Mattis — to prepare options for “retaliatory strikes” against Iran. This roughly coincided with a couple of small rocket attacks against Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and the airport in Basra, Iraq’s Persian Gulf port city, neither of which caused any casualties.  

Writing in Foreign Affairs, however, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, which he called “life-threatening,” adding, “Iran did not stop these attacks, which were carried out by proxies it has supported with funding, training, and weapons.” No “retaliatory strikes” were launched, but plans do undoubtedly now exist for them and it’s not hard to imagine Bolton and Pompeo persuading Trump to go ahead and use them — with incalculable consequences.

Finally, there’s the Persian Gulf itself. Ever since the George W. Bush years, the U.S. Navy has worried about possible clashes with Iran’s naval forces in those waters and there have been a number of high-profile incidents. The Obama administration tried (but failed) to establish a hotline of sorts that would have linked U.S. and Iranian naval commanders and so make it easier to defuse any such incident, an initiative championed by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, a longtime opponent of war with Iran.

Under Trump, however, all bets are off. Last year, he requested that Mattis prepare plans to blow up Iran’s “fast boats,” small gunboats in the Gulf, reportedly asking, “Why don’t we sink them?” He’s already reinforced the U.S. naval presence there, getting Iran’s attention. Not surprisingly, the Iranian leadership has responded in kind. Earlier this year, President Hassan Rouhani announced that his country had developed submarines capable of launching cruise missiles against naval targets.  The Iranians also began a series of Persian Gulf war games and, in late February, test fired one of those sub-launched missiles.

Add in one more thing: in an eerie replay of a key argument George Bush and Dick Cheney used for going to war with Iraq in 2003, in mid-February the right-wing media outlet Washington Times ran an “exclusive” report with this headline: “Iran-Al Qaeda Alliance may provide legal rationale for U.S. military strikes.”

Back in 2002, the Office of Special Plans at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, under the supervision of neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, spent months trying to prove that al-Qaeda and Iraq were in league. The Washington Times piece, citing Trump administration sources, made a similar claim — that Iran is now aiding and abetting al-Qaeda with a “clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money, and weapons across the Middle East.” 

It added that the administration is seeking to use this information to establish “a potential legal justification for military strikes against Iran or its proxies.” Needless to say, few are the terrorism experts or Iran specialists who would agree that Iran has anything like an active relationship with al-Qaeda.

Will the Hardliners Triumph in Iran as in Washington?

The Trump administration is, in fact, experiencing increasing difficulty finding allies ready to join a new Coalition of the Willing to confront Iran. The only two charter members so far, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are, however, enthusiastic indeed. Last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu was heard remarking that Israel and its Arab allies want war with Iran.

At a less-than-successful mid-February summit meeting Washington organized in Warsaw, Poland, to recruit world leaders for a future crusade against Iran, Netanyahu was heard to say in Hebrew: “This is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.” (He later insisted that the correct translation should have been “combating Iran,” but the damage had already been done.)

That Warsaw summit was explicitly designed to build an anti-Iranian coalition, but many of America’s allies, staunchly opposing Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord, would have nothing to do with it. In an effort to mollify the Europeans in particular, the United States and Poland awkwardly renamed it: “The Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.”

The name change, however, fooled no one. As a result, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo were embarrassed by a series of no-shows: the French, the Germans, and the European Union, among others, flatly declined to send ministerial-level representatives, letting their ambassadors in Warsaw stand in for them.  The many Arab nations not in thrall to Saudi Arabia similarly sent only low-level delegations. Turkey and Russia boycotted altogether, convening a summit of their own in which Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Iran’s Rouhani.

Never the smoothest diplomat, Pence condemned, insulted, and vilified the Europeans for refusing to go along with Washington’s wrecking-ball approach. He began his speech to the conference by saying: “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.” He then launched a direct attack on Europe’s efforts to preserve that accord by seeking a way around the sanctions Washington had re-imposed: “Sadly, some of our leading European partners… have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions. We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

That blast at the European allies should certainly have brought to mind Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s disparaging comments in early 2003 about Germany and France, in particular, being leaders of the “old Europe.” Few allies then backed Washington’s invasion plans, which, of course, didn’t prevent war. Europe’s reluctance now isn’t likely to prove much of a deterrent either.

But Pence is right that the Europeans have taken steps to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In particular, they’ve created a “special purpose vehicle” known as INSTEX (Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges) designed “to support legitimate trade with Iran,” according to a statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Great Britain. It’s potentially a big deal and, as Pence noted, explicitly designed to circumvent the sanctions Washington imposed on Iran after Trump’s break with the JCPOA.

INSTEX has a political purpose, too. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA was a body blow to President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and other centrists in Tehran who had taken credit for, and pride in, the deal between Iran and the six world powers (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China) that signed the agreement. That deal had been welcomed in Iran in part because it seemed to ensure that country’s ability to expand its trade to the rest of the world, including its oil exports, free of sanctions.

Even before Trump abandoned the deal, however, Iran was already finding U.S. pressure overwhelming and, for the average Iranian, things hadn’t improved in any significant way. Worse yet, in the past year the economy had taken a nosedive, the currency had plungedinflation was running rampant, and strikes and street demonstrations had broken out, challenging the government and its clerical leadership. Chants of “Death to the Dictator!” — not heard since the Green Movement’s revolt against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009 — once again resounded in street demonstrations.

At the end of February, it seemed as if Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo had scored a dangerous victory when Zarif, Iran’s well-known, Western-oriented foreign minister, announced his resignation. Moderates who supported the JCPOA, including Rouhani and Zarif, have been under attack from the country’s hardliners since Trump’s pullout.  As a result, Zarif’s decision was widely assumed to be a worrisome sign that those hardliners had claimed their first victim.

There was even unfounded speculation that, without Zarif, who had worked tirelessly with the Europeans to preserve what was left of the nuclear pact, Iran itself might abandon the accord and resume its nuclear program. And there’s no question that the actions and statements of Bolton, Pompeo, and crew have undermined Iran’s moderates, while emboldening its hardliners, who are making I-told-you-so arguments to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

Despite the internal pressure on Zarif, however, his resignation proved short-lived indeed: Rouhani rejected it, and there was an upsurge of support for him in Iran’s parliament. Even General Qassem Soleimani, a major figure in that country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the commander of the Quds Force, backed him.

As it happens, the Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC, is responsible for Iran’s paramilitary and foreign intelligence operations throughout the region, but especially in Iraq and Syria. That role has allowed Soleimani to assume responsibility for much of Iran’s foreign policy in the region, making him a formidable rival to Zarif — a tension that undoubtedly contributed to his brief resignation and it isn’t likely to dissipate anytime soon.

According to analysts and commentators, it appears to have been a ploy by Zarif (and perhaps Rouhani, too) to win a vote of political confidence and it appears to have strengthened their hand for the time being.

Still, the Zarif resignation crisis threw into stark relief the deep tensions within Iranian politics and raised a key question: As the Trump administration accelerates its efforts to seek a confrontation, will they find an echo among Iranian hardliners who’d like nothing more than a face-off with the United States?

Maybe that’s exactly what Bolton and Pompeo want.  If so, prepare yourself: another American war unlikely to work out the way anyone in Washington dreams is on the horizon.

Copyright 2019 Bob Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss, an investigative journalist and TomDispatch regular, is the founder of TheDreyfussReport.com. He is a contributing editor at The Nationand he has written for Rolling StoneMother JonesThe American Prospect, The New Republicand many other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

 

 




PATRICK LAWRENCE: It Was Kim That Walked Away

There are two sides to the story about why the second North Korea peace summit fell apart last week, writes Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The abrupt and unexpected failure of the second Trump–Kim summit last week raises many questions. Let’s get one out of the way before addressing the others: No, the collapse of talks between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, does not scuttle the most promising chance for peace on the Korean Peninsula since the 1953 signing of the armistice ending the Korean War. There is more to come. This was plain within hours of the summit’s end.

At this point it’s still difficult to discern even what transpired between the two leaders. The U.S. and North Korean accounts of the proceedings in Hanoi are widely at variance on key points. With history in view, it is very likely that the North Korean version comes closer to the truth than what the Trump administration is putting out and what the U.S. press is dutifully reporting.

By Trump’s account, Kim agreed to dismantle his most important nuclear production facility, at Yongbyon, roughly 60 miles north of Pyongyang. In exchange, Kim asked for all sanctions now in force against North Korea—some passed at the UN, others imposed by Washington alone—to be lifted.

Here is Trump talking to correspondents after the bust-up Thursday morning:

 “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that. They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all the sanctions for that…. They wanted sanctions lifted but they weren’t willing to do an area we wanted.”

The “large portion” Trump mentioned is Yongbyon: There is no dispute about this. Pyongyang has shut down the reactor at Yongbyon twice in the past, in 1994 and in 2007. In 2008 Kim Jong-il, the reigning Kim’s father, ordered the cooling tower at Yongbyon demolished—a televised event many readers will remember. The site was reactivated in succeeding years following a series of multi-sided talks that went nowhere. 

Kangson Facility

The “area we wanted” appears to refer to an alleged nuclear facility  at Kangson, also near the North Korean capital. What the North actually does at Kangson has never been verified, but it was one of a number of sites the U.S. side also insisted Pyongyang close.

Translation of the U.S. version of events in Hanoi: Kim offered us only one item on our list while demanding we give him everything he wanted. Who could possibly agree to such a deal?

North Korean officials tell a different story. After Trump offered his post-summit description of events, the North’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, gave his own press conference; a rarity among North Korean officials. Kim had agreed to shutter the North’s main nuclear facility, by Ri’s account, if the U.S. consented to lift only the five sets of sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council in 2016 and 2017.

Unlike restrictions on weapons and nuclear-related equipment, these covered entire export sectors, including minerals, metals, coal, agriculture and seafood. These, Ri said, were the measures that directly hurt the lives and livelihoods of ordinary North Koreans. Layer upon layer of other sanctions would remain in effect.  

What’s Wrong? 

Translation of the North Korean position in Hanoi: We will take a considerable step toward denuclearization providing you take one of corresponding magnitude. Now the question changes: What exactly is wrong with such a deal?

You have to go back to Trump’s early months in office to understand what appears to have transpired in Hanoi. The administration’s initial position was simple but ridiculous: The North had to completely disarm before Washington would even begin talks.

Only when the absurdity of this maximalist demand became too obvious to sustain—”give us everything we will negotiate before we negotiate”—did the Trump administration alter its demands, if reluctantly and slightly.

Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, countered this as soon as Trump agreed last year to meet Kim, as they did in Singapore last June. The way ahead was “action for action,” in Moon’s phrase. Pyongyang’s term for the same thing is “corresponding measures.” Elsewhere the concept is called “sequencing.” Whatever one calls it, a gradual, step-by-step process is the only logical way forward after nearly seven decades of mutual distrust.

Trump’s Refusal

In effect, Kim proposed a sequenced approach when he met Trump last week. And in effect, Trump refused it. It is no wonder John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and the administration’s hyper-hawk on North Korea, has been assuring like-minded colleagues not to fret about the Trump-Kim summits because they are guaranteed to fail.

“This kind of opportunity may never come again,” Ri, the North’s foreign minister, said at his late-night press conference. This is not where the odds lie. 

First, Moon Jae-in pledged to help mediate between the North and the U.S. as soon as the Hanoi summit collapsed. And it has been clear since Moon was elected South Korea’s president in May 2017 that control of the agenda on the Korean Peninsula has gradually passed from the U.S. to Seoul and those working with it, notably China and Russia.

Second, Moon enjoys a trustful rapport with Kim. And the latter is unquestionably serious about shifting the North’s priorities from nuclear capability to economic development. Kim wants a deal, in short.

The primary danger to future advances toward a lasting settlement in Northeast Asia lies in Washington. It has been the spoiler on the Korean question before, let us not forget. In the early 2000s, the U.S. never delivered two light-water reactors it had promised the North in exchange for its cessation of its nuclear program. After Yongbyon was shuttered in 2007, the U.S. failed to supply promised shipments of heating fuel, citing “an understanding between the parties” about which neither China nor Russia, who were also signatories to the agreement, had ever heard.

This time around, there is little question that Bolton and other hawks in the Trump administration intend to block progress as long as they can. They have just succeeded in scuttling Moon’s long-gestating plans to develop a series of cross-border economic projects. The South Korean leader had hoped that a planned communiqué to be issued at the summit’s end in Hanoi would have opened the way for these ventures to proceed. Trump and Kim never signed it.

 “We had to walk away,” Trump said at his press conference in the Vietnamese capital. It is more likely that Kim is the one who walked away first.

“It occurs to us that there may not be a need to continue,” Choe Son-hui, Kim’s vice-foreign minister, said later. “We’re doing a lot of thinking.” It is difficult to blame Pyongyang for this, given the outcome in Hanoi. 

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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