Archive | February 17th, 2017

China and Trumpism: The Political Contradictions of Global Capitalism

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  • Combination of photos showing Chinese newspaper, stacked 100 yuan banknotes and US$100 bills.
    Combination of photos showing Chinese newspaper, stacked 100 yuan banknotes and US$100 bills. | Photo: Reuters / teleSUR
As U.S. hegemony declines and Chinese hegemony possibly rises, it is clear that the political scaffolding of world capitalism is hopelessly outdated.

When China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, warned last December that a U.S. trade war against China would result in disaster for the United States, it was no idle threat. Trump scores political points with his social base each time he rails at Beijing, yet the U.S. and the global economy would grind to a halt if it were not for China’s preponderant role in shoring up global capitalism at this moment of acute crisis.

RELATED:  Trump Backtracks on ‘One China’ Stance With Xi

The simplistic notion that Trumpism represents a return to protectionism and national trade rivalries conceals the real inner contradictions of global capitalism that are bringing the 21st-century world order to the breaking point. The system faces a structural crisis of extreme inequality and overaccumulation, as well as a political crisis of legitimacy and an ecological crisis of sustainability.

But there is another dimension to the crisis that is escalating international tensions and, depending on the turn of events, could well spark world conflagration. The disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state system of political authority threatens to undermine the system’s ability to manage the crisis and helps explain Trump’s reckless anti-China posturing.

Global Capitalism No Longer Has a Hegemonic Center

There has historically been a succession of hegemonic powers, from Spain in the 16th century, to the Netherlands in the 17th, England in the 18th and 19th, and finally the United States in the 20.th. As each “hegemon” rose to dominance it organized the political institutions and economic rules of the world capitalist system. While academics now debate the decline of U.S. hegemony and the possible rise of the Chinese, what is certain is that the global economy is increasingly Sino-centered and the existing political scaffolding of world capitalism is hopelessly outdated.

OPINION: The Battle Against Trumpism and Specter of 21st Century Fascism

Simply put, China’s international political clout does not match its expanding economic role in the global economy. The current world political order dates to the creation in 1944 of the Bretton Woods institutions by the Western victors in World War II and includes the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations System. The rich Western states also established their NATO military alliance and numerous political forums for their collective rule, among them, the Bilderberg Club and the Trilateral Commission. The United States, along with Western Europe, dominates decision-making in these institutions, while the status of the dollar as the international currency makes the U.S. Treasury the world’s central bank.

However, as globalization has brought into being a Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC) and a global production and financial system into which all nations have been integrated, the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – and other countries in the Global South have emerged as major players in the global economy. The leading capitalist groups from these countries have joined the ranks of the emerging TCC and have acquired a stake in the stability and well-being of global capitalism. But all this has occurred within the framework of an increasingly arcane international political order.

Global capitalism is particularly dependent on China, given vast worldwide chains of subcontracting and outsourcing and the central role China plays in those chains. China provides a market for transnational corporations and until recently a sink for surplus accumulated capital, along with a vast supply of cheap labor controlled by a repressive state. China became in the past three decades the new “workshop of the world.” Moreover, China leads the way in what is a surge in outward foreign direct investment from countries in the Global South to other parts of the South and to the North. Between 1991 and 2003, China’s foreign direct investment increased tenfold and then increased 13.7 times from 2004 to 2013, from US$45 billion to US$613 billion.

The more enlightened among transnational elites have been clamoring for more effective transnational state apparatuses to resolve this disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. They have been seeking transnational mechanisms of governance – such as the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 and the establishment of the G20 in 1999 – that would allow the global ruling class to stabilize the system in the interests of saving global capitalism from itself and from radical challenges from below.

OPINION: John Pilger: The Coming War on China

The World Economic Forum or WEF, which holds its famed annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, has called for new forms of global corporate rule, including a proposal to remake the United Nations system into a hybrid corporate-government entity run by TNC executives in “partnership” with governments. “The weakening of multiple systems has eroded confidence at the national, regional, and global levels,” warned the call to the 2017 Davos meeting, held this past January 17-20. “In the absence of innovative and credible steps towards their renewal, the likelihood increases of a downward spiral to the global economy.”

Trump vs. Xi Jinping

While Trump was spouting his right-wing populism and protectionist threats in the run-up to his January 20 inauguration, Chinese President Xi Jinping took center stage at the January WEF conclave, delivering an inaugural speech that called for an open global economy and a new international political order. The TCC welcomed the Chinese president’s Davos debut on the world political stage and is pleased to see China take the reins of global leadership. The irony should be lost on no one that the two richest men in China, Wang Jianlin, and Jack Ma, the latter the founder of Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company, accompanied Xi.

RELATED: No Winner in a China-US Conflict: Chinese Foreign Minister

The U.S. and Chinese economies are inextricably interwoven. They are less autonomous national economies than two key constituent parts of an integrated global economy. Trump has accused China of manipulating its currency, threatened to levy a 45 percent tariff on certain Chinese goods, and suggested he would use the “one China” policy as a bargaining tool in trade negotiations. Yet the simple fact is the TCC in both China and the United States are dependent on their expanding economic ties.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) between the United States and China has surged over the past two decades, according to a 2016 report by two industry groups, Rhodium and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. In 2015, more than 1,300 U.S.-based companies had investments of $228 billion in China, while Chinese companies invested US$64 billion in the United States, up from close to zero just ten years earlier, and held US$153 billion in assets.

Notwithstanding Trump’s ranting about a U.S. trade deficit with China, Chinese exports to the United States are transnational capitalist exports. And for that matter, an overvalued Chinese currency actually benefits transnational corporations that export from China to the U.S. and the global markets. Indeed, as Trump himself has insinuated, his anti-China rhetoric and threats are aimed at creating an environment in which he can twist the Chinese state into making greater concessions to global capital (the same can be said for his anti-Mexico discourse).

Moreover, according to the U.S. Treasury, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt is China, which owns more than US$1.24 trillion in bills, notes, and bonds or about 30 percent of the over US$4 trillion in Treasury bills, notes, and bonds held by foreign countries. In total, China owns about 10 percent of publicly held U.S. debt. In turn, deficit spending and debt-driven consumption have made the United States in recent decades the “market of last resort,” helping to stave off greater stagnation and even collapse of the global economy by absorbing Chinese and world economic output.

It was not, hence, a mere idle threat when China’s lead multibillionaire, Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda Group recently acquired the AMC cinema chain, warned the Trump regime that he would withdraw $10 billion in investments in the film and real estate industries in the United States. “ More than 20,000 employees wouldn’t have anything to eat should things be handled poorly,” he said. “The growth of English films depends on the Chinese market.”

Crisis of Global Capitalism

Trumpism encapsulates the conflicting economic and political pressures on the U.S. state. The crisis of global capitalism has become more acute in the face of economic stagnation and the rise of anti-globalization populism on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Trumpism does not represent a break with capitalist globalization as much as a conflictive recomposition of political forces and ideological discourse as the crisis deepens and as international tensions reach new depths.

The U.S. military-security apparatus finds it difficult to adapt to new global realities and U.S. rulers rely on imperial bluster for its legitimacy among a chauvinistic base of the U.S. workers experiencing downward mobility and disaffection with the establishment elite. U.S. provocations in the South China Sea, its “Asia pivot” and anti-China bravado are escalating tensions even as they threaten to aggravate the crisis of global capitalism. A recent U.S. intelligence report warned of war between the U.S. and China, and one senior Chinese military official quoted on January 27 in the South China Morning Post warned that war with the U.S. under Trump is “not just a slogan” but threatens to become a “practical reality.”

RELATED:  China Just Made a Karl Marx Hip Hop Tune to ‘Educate’ Its Youth

What does rising Chinese global leadership mean for the global working class? The Chinese state is a capitalist state. The rise of a powerful TCC in China and of the super-rich and a high-consumption middle class alongside the rising exploitation of hundreds of millions of Chinese workers, now at the cutting edge of labor struggle worldwide, is well known. Yet Chinese capitalism has not followed the neoliberal route to global capitalist integration. The state retains a key role in the financial system, in regulating private capital, and in planning. This allows it to develop 21st-century infrastructure and to guide capital accumulation into aims broader than that of immediate profit making, something that the Western capitalist states cannot accomplish due to the rollback of public sectors, privatization, and deregulation.

A set of more balanced transnational state institutions that reflect the new realities of a multipolar and interdependent global capitalist system could de-escalate mounting international tensions and the threat of war. We should harbor no illusions that a new global political architecture can either humanize capitalism or resolve the crisis absent mass struggle for a redistribution of wealth and power downward. The return to an interventionist capitalist state around the world, however, may make more effective the demands placed on states by popular and leftist struggles from below.

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US Democracy: Making the Rich Richer

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  •  Demonstrators in the Fight for $15 wage protest are joined by social-justice activists at a rally in downtown San Diego, California, Nov. 29, 2016.
    Demonstrators in the Fight for $15 wage protest are joined by social-justice activists at a rally in downtown San Diego, California, Nov. 29, 2016. | Photo: Reuters.
Global wealth inequality has hit historic proportions as the eight richest people have more wealth than the poorest half of the world.

It is a conceit of democracy that opposing parties, after months of trying to convince the public the other would be a disaster for the country, should after the election cooperate for the good of the whole.

OPINION: Back to US War Mongering

In fact, with rare exception, what happens was postulated by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto over a century ago. Power is contested between competing elites, each wooing the general public, and to the winner the spoils, distributing enough crumbs to maintain an orderly society.

The last U.S. president was a multi-millionaire. His party’s 2016 candidate, Hillary Clinton, was even wealthier, contesting of course a billionaire rival. A majority of U.S. members of Congress are millionaires and the median net worth of senators is US$2.7 million.

Since the election of Donald Trump, the stock market has been booming. He promises huge tax cuts for corporations and Wall Street is salivating. This is all nothing new. Tax cuts for corporations is supposed to increase their retained profits allowing them a chance to invest more and create jobs. It has all been tried before. Asset holders get richer and income and asset inequality rises. The corporations of course continue to invest where shareholder gains are maximized.

In the past decades since Ronald Reagan, when the trickle-down theory (often accompanied by a loosening of financial regulations) has been applied, there has been a Savings and Loan institutions disaster — checks on their behavior were loosened — followed by an identical scenario for large commercial banks in 2008.Meanwhile, the U.S. Gini coefficient, measuring income inequality, is near the bottom among developed countries, and is even worse than India. As could be expected, Scandinavian countries score well.

The courts have reversed the Trump anti-immigration order and deregulation is going to require congressional approval; governing is turning out to be not quite the same as running a business.

OPINION: War and Consequences: A Mass Shooting Again

What’s more, when bombast hits reality, Mr. Trump reverses policy. Following a brief flirtation with Taiwan and the questioning of a “one-China” policy, the new news is that the president affirmed his support for a “one-China” in a telephone conversation with Mr. Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.

Bombast also turned to whimper with the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. No more talk about the Japanese getting a free ride on the defense of their country and the U.S. nuclear umbrella.  Mr. Trump promised to defend Japan and its territories without reservation.

The truth of the matter is great powers are not in the charity business. Their actions are motivated by self-interest. The U.S. needs alliances with Japan, South Korea, Philippines to meet the rising power of China, a country also capable of projecting power globally. There is a good reason for the hub-and-spoke plan used in the east as opposed to a unified alliance, NATO, in the West. The countries involved in the East differ enormously in their economic development from the advanced industrial democracy in Japan to a third world Philippines.

As a postscript on the rule of elite consider the recent “demonetization” — a misleading term — in India. Supposedly designed to flush out black (untaxed) money, it withdrew the five hundred and thousand rupee notes causing economic chaos and hardship for the poor, who do not have bank accounts.  Required to exchange the money for new notes, the latter had to choose between standing in long lines at banks or working to feed themselves. Of course, it pushed the middle classes towards banks and credit cards, a huge bonus for the providers.

In the end, about Rs 15 trillion out of the Rs 15.4 trillion removed from circulation was retrieved. Wherever the black money was hidden — possibly in gold and real estate — it was not in currency. Another pointless sock-in-the-eye to the poor in the world’s largest economy.

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‘More and More Influential’: Frederick Douglass and Donald Trump

  • Frederick Douglass
    Frederick Douglass | Photo: Creative Commons
For Douglass, the U.S. was destined to be the site of a diverse democracy with a non-white majority because of its republican principles and commitment to religious freedom.

As President Trump recently said on the occasion of Black History Month, Frederick Douglass “is being recognized by more and more people.” From the grammar of their remarks, it is not clear whether the president or his spokesperson, Sean Spicer, understand that Douglass lived (and died) in the 19th century.

OPINION: Sanctuary Cities Have Historical Roots in Slavery-Era US

While Trump may not be familiar with the extraordinary biography of the fugitive ex-slave, abolitionist leader, and brilliant African-American orator, it is highly ironic that he should cite Douglass given the contrast between his views on immigration and the recent executive orders urging construction of a border wall with Mexico and banning Muslim immigrants.

Trump’s gaffe has been seen as indicative of his ill-informed and distorted view of the condition of African-Americans, and as evidence of the need for all U.S. citizens to be better educated in black history. Still more important are the ways in which Douglass’s ideas on immigration could improve and deepen the contemporary political conversation.

In the 1870s, during Reconstruction, Douglass sketched a vision of the U.S. as a multiracial democracy that would be welcoming of immigrants from all corners of the globe. In an 1869 lecture on the United States’s emerging “Composite Nationality,” he explicitly argued against the kind of white nationalism that would reserve the United States only for European settlers and their descendants. He wrote:

“I want a home here not only for the (N)egro … and the Latin races, but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States … both for his sake and ours.”

For Douglass, the U.S. was destined to be the site of a diverse democracy with a non-white majority because of its republican principles and commitment to religious freedom. He had a cosmopolitan vision of the United States in which racial and ethnic diversity were “a blessing rather than a misfortune.”

OPINION: To Oppose Trump, Jews Must Join the Fight Against Fascism and Zionism

Douglass believed in a human right to migration. His ideas are thus completely at odds with the building of border walls and the banning of refugees. The U.S., he argued, could overcome the wrongs of slavery and expulsion of Native Americans by fully integrating them and welcoming non-white immigrants from Latin America and Asia, who would all together help create a more equal society.

Unfortunately, many are unfamiliar with this facet of Douglass’s thinking about U.S. politics, because of the tendency to overlook his writings on Latin America, where many of these ideas appear. As I show in my forthcoming book, however, approaching Douglass as a hemispheric thinker yields important insights that are very relevant to contemporary debates about immigration and the impact of demographic changes on U.S. democracy.

To be sure, Douglass’s embrace of immigration was not without its contradictions. He supported the proposed annexation of what is now the Dominican Republic by the United States in the 1870s, for example. His advocacy for the (voluntary) incorporation of Latin American nations into the U.S. would thus have set aside their sovereignty in order to create “a black sister to Massachusetts” within the union.

Nevertheless, Douglass’ vision of an equal, multiracial United States welcoming of immigrants is an important corrective to the xenophobia and isolationism that a significant portion of the U.S. electorate appears to be embracing today. One can only hope, then, that Frederick Douglass’s ideas about immigration will indeed become “more and more influential.” In fact, to genuinely honor Frederick Douglass and Black History Month the Trump administration should read Douglass carefully and seriously consider his views on immigration.

This article was originally published by Black Perspectives on Feb. 8, 2017.

Juliet Hooker is Associate Professor of Government and African and African Diaspora Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. Her most recent book is “Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos. 

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Nazi regime Legalizes Settlement Options as a Prelude to the Naziyahu Visit to Trumpland

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Israel’s Legalizes Settlement Options as a Prelude to the Netanyahu Visit to Trumpland

Image result for Netanyahu TRUMP CARTOON

Responses to four questions posed by Rodrigo Craveiro, a journalist from the Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense

 

1- How do you see the decision of the Knesset taken last night about legalizing settlement outposts and what are the likely consequences of this legislative initiative? 

It is one more act of defiance by Israel that is both a repudiation of international law relating to settlements in Occupied Palestine and of the UNSC, which in December passed Resolution 2334 condemning settlement expansion and reaffirming their illegality. Whether Israel experiences adverse consequences depends especially on the reaction of European governments and of civil society. Israel expects that Trump’s presidency will insulate the country from any show of real pressure at the UN or via sanctions, but there are mixed signals as usual emanating from the White House. The Knesset’s provocative move of legalizing the 50 or so settlement ‘outposts’ that were previously illegal even under Israeli law, an internationally controversial move that may in due course be nullified by Israel’s judiciary. Actually, the move was not so radical as the Israel state had long accommodated the outposts by providing them with subsidies and security, and overlooking their formally unlawful status in domestic law.

 

2– Do you believe Israel is interested in annexing West Bank? Why?

Israel’s leadership and public seems split on this. The most vocal leaders of the settler movement and the extreme right in Israel favor annexation, and always have and always will. Netanyahu and the Israeli center right prefer to keep their true intentions ambiguous, that is, proceeding with de facto annexation while continuing to maintain an international diplomatic posture that claims a willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions implying an eventual willingness to accept at some point the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Some in Israel favor annexation for historical/biblical reasons associated with their convictions that Israel should embrace the whole of ancient Palestine, with the West Bank known as Samaria and Judea. Other Israelis favor annexation as the fulfillment of the project of secular Zionism, and also contend that a greater Israel will enhance the security of the state of Israel. The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has long favored annexation of the entire West Bank to complete the Zionist project, and couples this forthright rejection of a two-state solution with a controversial commitment to treat Palestinians as fully equal citizens in such an expanded Jewish state, accepting even the possibility that Palestinians become at some point a demographic majority, and manage to achieve an electoral mandate for  a Palestinian political party to govern the country.

 

3– In what ways do you believe Netanyahu is taking advantage of the fact that Trump is in the presidency of US for taking polemical measures?

It would appear that Netanyahu is proceeding on the basis that whatever Israel chooses to do, even if in the Obama years it might have produced disapproval, will in the Trump presidency be fully supported. Netanyahu may be testing how far he can go with such an approach without generating a costly diplomatic backlash by Arab neighbors, a new cycle of violent resistance by Palestinians, and an escalation of global civil society pressures taking the form of a more robust Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign. In my view, Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game, and for the sake of Israeli expansionism and one-statism, maybe overstepping prudent limits. Perhaps, the biggest and most dangerous test of all is Netanyahu apparent desire to heighten tensions with Iran, leading possibly to the repudiation of P5 + 1 Nuclear Agreement negotiated by Obama presidency in 2014 and to a military confrontation. Trump called for the repudiation of the agreement during his campaign, but has been urged not to carry out the pledge by many, including senior former Israeli security experts and government officials. It will be of the greatest importance that this agreement with Iran maintained, and not undermined by any ratcheting up sanctions and an increased confrontational diplomacy.

 

4– Do you believe Trump could be seen as a source of influence in favor of Israel, due to his adherence to conservative positions that are the same as those favored by Netanyahu?

 There appears to be a natural affinity between these two leaders based both on their autocratic approach toward governance and reactionary substantive positions. I would not call their ideological outlook genuinely ‘conservative’ as it seeks to create ruptures with prior political, social, and cultural values. Although both leaders are demagogues and ideologues, they also act in opportunistic and impetuous ways. Both are swayed by considerations of expediency, and so their apparent marriage of convenience to one another could easily be broken. Perhaps, after their meeting this week, it will be clearer as to whether their personal chemistry is sufficiently positive to sustain their relationship over time. For the sake of peace and justice, I would hope that tension rather than harmony develops as they come to know each other better. It is certainly time for the US Government to realize how much damage its ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia have contributed to the tensions and turmoil that currently beset the region.

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Intelligence Agencies Clash with Trump Over Russia Allegations

Donald Trump

Only one month into his administration, and two days after the ouster of his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump faces the growing prospect of congressional investigations into alleged ties to Moscow. Powerful sections of the American ruling class are seeking to put the US on a war footing against Russia in a campaign orchestrated by the major intelligence agencies, acting through their preferred media conduits, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The crisis deepened on Wednesday, with the Post and Times claiming new revelations based on unnamed current and former intelligence sources, and leading Senate Republicans joining Democrats in calling for a congressional investigation into Trump’s alleged connections to Russian intelligence agencies, both prior to and after the November election.

Meanwhile, figures in and around the Democratic Party began to allude to impeachment, drawing comparisons to the Watergate scandal—the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee—that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Trump responded Wednesday by publicly attacking the intelligence agencies he nominally directs, declaring the leaks to the Times and Post “illegal” and “criminal” at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He made similar comments earlier in the day in a Twitter post, raising the prospect that the White House could attempt to organize a purge of the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency (NSA).

“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked,” Trump said at the White House appearance with Netanyahu. “It’s a criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time before me, but now it’s really going on.”

The litany of unsubstantiated allegations of Russian control over Trump continued. The lead Times report Wednesday cited “four current and former American officials” in claiming “that Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election,” while Wednesday’s lead Post article cited a seemingly endless list of unnamed sources, including officials “who spoke on the condition of anonymity;” “current and former US officials;” “officials inside the National Security Council;” “several… senior officials… who discussed the sensitive matter on the condition of anonymity;” as well as unnamed “Senior Obama administration officials.”

In neither the Times nor the Post is a single source named. No statement is independently corroborated. No further evidence is presented beyond the anonymous statements themselves—along with broad accusations over “Russian interference” in the US elections, which are presented as fact.

It is now well established that Flynn’s December 29 phone call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak—in which the incoming national security adviser reportedly indicated that sanctions targeting Russia would be reviewed by the Trump administration—was secretly recorded by the NSA.

There would be nothing illegal in such a discussion, and numerous historical precedents exist, some of them far more egregious than the claims being made about Flynn’s call—including the notorious instance of Reagan campaign officials intervening to prevent the release of US hostages in Iran until after the November 1980 election.

Instead, the intelligence agencies seized on the conversation to drive out Flynn, who advocated a temporary understanding with Russia so that the US could quickly move against Iran, and potentially China.

The NSA shared the transcript of the Flynn call with the FBI. At some point, multiple unnamed intelligence agents then shared the transcript with the media, as well as politicians and government officials. By last weekend, the transcript, which the White House refused to allow Flynn to review, was circulating widely in Washington. Flynn tendered his resignation on Monday evening. A concession from the Trump administration to the anti-Russia campaign, Flynn’s ouster only emboldened it.

The intervention of the intelligence apparatus against Trump has become so heavy-handed that on Wednesday it brought a warning from conservative writer Eli Lake, who supported Hillary Clinton in the general election.

“Normally intercepts of US officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets,” Lake wrote on Bloomberg. “This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.”

The warfare within the ruling class is being waged along a front that extends from the intelligence agencies through the Republican Party and into the Trump White House itself—as evidenced by the number of leaks coming from “current administration officials.” It is notable that Vice President Mike Pence, who would assume the presidency if Trump were to be impeached or resign, has been kept above the fray by all sides in the conflict.

Tuesday brought an ominous signal that the military brass may become involved. In a breach of democratic norms, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, commander of US Special Operations forces—including the Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets—commented on the controversy that day.

“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil,” said Thomas, in evident reference to the departure of Flynn, while speaking at a public event in Maryland. “I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war.” Later when given an opportunity to clarify his comment, Thomas instead reiterated it. “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible,” he said.

Two leading Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have indicated support for the formation of a special committee to investigate the alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In an appearance on Good Morning America, Graham announced his support for a full investigation into the Trump administration, carried out by an extraordinary “joint select committee.”

“If it is true, it is very, very disturbing to me, and Russia needs to pay a price when it comes to interfering in our democracy and other democracies,” Graham said. “And any Trump person who was working with the Russians in an unacceptable way also needs to pay a price.”

Graham came to the political essence of the controversy when host George Stephanopoulos, quoting Thomas Friedman of the Times, asked the senator, “What is going on between Donald Trump and the Republicans?”

“Trump is an outlier when it comes to the Russians,” Graham responded. “I do not know one Republican senator who believes Russia is anything but an enemy… I can’t explain Donald Trump’s view of Russia.”

Graham’s views were echoed by Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who told MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, “Let’s get everything out as quickly as possible on this Russia issue … maybe there’s a problem that obviously goes much deeper than what we now suspect.” Corker also questioned whether or not “the White House [is] going to have the ability to stabilize itself.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan have both accepted as fact alleged Russian “interference” in the US election. They have called for investigations by the regular congressional committees, while stopping short of acceding to demands for the formation of a special investigative committee.

Democrats, meanwhile, have begun to raise the possibility of impeachment.

“This is already bigger than Watergate,” said Democratic National Committee senior adviser Zac Petkanas, in a statement. “The sanctity of our democracy demands an immediate, independent, transparent investigation into the connections between Donald Trump, his staff, and the Russian government.”

There are many problems with this fallacious comparison. But there is one fundamental difference. In 1972 Richard Nixon used illegal methods to harass and discredit political opponents, at a moment when leading sections of the Democratic Party, adapting to mass popular anger, had presented themselves as opponents of the war in Vietnam. Responding to this mood, the Washington Post and the New York Times investigated Nixon’s abuses, uncovering the Watergate scandal that lead to the resignation of Nixon, and ultimately, the end of the Vietnam War.

Forty-five years later, the Times and the Post, serving as mouthpieces of the CIA, are leading the charge against Trump from the right, not to accommodate mass popular antiwar sentiment, but for the opposite purpose, to help prepare the political conditions for war with Russia.

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Canada without the NAFTA Straightjacket? Free at Last!?

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nafta_flags

Donald Trump has said he intends to renegotiate or cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This would be good news if we take the opportunity to get out of the NAFTA straitjacket and begin using Canadian resources for the benefit of Canadians. Under the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – chapters 4 and 9 and NAFTA chapter 6 – Canada gave the US the right to take the same proportion of any good, including all forms of energy, that it was taking over the previous three years, even if Canada itself goes short.

The US is now taking about 60% of our oil production and with the prospect of large new pipelines to the US, which cripples the idea of an east-west pan-Canadian line because we have a finite supply of oil, that percentage will rise. Under (NA)FTA, the US has the right to continue taking this 60%, and more, of our total supply, in perpetuity. Further, Canada has agreed to never charge the US more for any good, including all forms of energy, than it charges Canadians.

Meanwhile, in addition to charging some of the world’s lowest royalty rates, we are selling our oil to the US at far less than the world price – a subsidy from Canada to the US of roughly $30 billion per year – while Canada pays some $10 billion a year to import foreign oil, mostly from Saudi Arabia and the US, into eastern Canada at world price. Does that make sense?

No self-respecting country would, as Canada did under Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, sign away its resources, its sovereignty and its future in this way and most Canadians are still unaware our country has done so. (Mexico refused to sign these energy sections in NAFTA and exempted itself from their terms.)

Eighty percent of the world’s oil resources are held by state-controlled oil companies. Yet, in the 1990s, Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments privatized and sold our national oil company, Petro-Canada, which in a few years had grown to become one of Canada’s largest companies. Norway, which has less oil than Canada, voted to stay out of the EU and today has a trillion dollar (and growing) surplus. It has used its oil and its national oil company, Statoil, to make Norwegians the richest people on Earth with free childcare, free dental care for everyone under18, free university education and generous old age pensions. There is zero government debt and homelessness is virtually non-existent.

By contrast, Canada, a far richer country than Norway, has massive provincial and federal debt, totalling some $1.2 trillion, after decades of pouring increasing amounts of oil, gas and other resources across the border. The provinces are desperately offering to sell off profitable crown corporations to pay their bills, while also implementing huge budget cuts. Canada has miserly old age pensions, high university tuition and no national free pharmacare, childcare or dental care.

If we continue in this way, the resources will be gone. Norway will hand its savings to its grandchildren, but what will we say to our generations to come?

Algeria used its oil to build Sonatrach into the largest company in Africa. Mexico’s publicly owned national oil company, Pemex, is Latin America’s second largest company, producing 40% of Mexico’s federal government revenue. Italy’s state controlled oil and gas giant, ENI, brings in $150 billion a year. Brazil’s publicly controlled Petrobras has grown into a world leader of advanced technology, the southern hemisphere’s largest company; its power kept Brazil’s stock market steady during the 2008 whiplash. Libya, until it was subjected to a horrific US-led NATO attack in 2013, in which Canada played a significant role, used its oil revenue to move its citizens from the poorest in the world in 1960 to the highest standard of living in Africa.

NAFTA’s Chapter 11 contains a dispute settlement provision allowing US and Mexican corporations to sue Canada for any law or regulation, which they think causes them “loss or damage” and which they feel breaches the spirit of NAFTA.

These disputes are not heard by Canadian judges in Canadian courts, but by special tribunals operating behind closed doors, using not Canadian law, but NAFTA rules. There is no right of appeal. Since 1994, Canada has been sued 35 times by US corporations under NAFTA, reversed several of its laws, paid out $200 million in NAFTA fines and faces claims of $6 billion more. The US has not lost a single case.

(NA)FTA gave US corporations sweeping rights to buy up most of the Canadian economy. Called “national treatment,” it prohibits Canada from restricting or screening new US investment in Canada and grants American investors, citizens and corporations the right to be treated as if they were Canadian citizens. With a low dollar and low interest rates, the wholesale take-over of Canadian companies is proceeding in a torrent. Our standard of living and real wages have declined, jobs and factories have disappeared and almost a million Canadians now use food banks.

Freed from (NA)FTA, Canada could go on to use its natural resources to create Canadian owned and controlled industries, with all the benefits and security that could mean for Canadians. Instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign machinery, electronics, ships, aircraft and jet fighters, we could build our own. We once created the world’s most advanced jet fighter, the Avro Arrow, so we know it can be done. Canada is a huge market for foreign automobiles. Countries from Korea to Italy and Sweden, far smaller than Canada, with a fraction of our resources, have built their own auto industries. So could we.

Our founding fathers would be outraged at the giveaway of our raw resources and the casual sale of our railways and iconic corporations: from Hudson’s Bay to Stelco, the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, built by western farmers and given away for a song, and Nortel, Canada’s giant, high tech powerhouse, allowed to go down, its parts picked up by Google and its other foreign competitors.

For 150 years, great Canadian leaders have warned that, without an economic border, Canada would not long have a political border with the US. John A. Macdonald called free trade with the US “veiled treason.” A century later, Pierre Elliott Trudeau called the FTA a “monstrous swindle.”

Both John A. Macdonald and Georges-Étienne Cartier were determined to build Canada into “a northern power,” a competitor to the US, not a resource colony. We can see their vision in the magnificent Parliament buildings they left us, the world class railways they built to bind the country together and one of the world’s longest lasting and most admired constitutions.

The idea that Canada would sign away its precious non-renewable resources to another country, our greatest competitor, and that it would allow itself, at the whim of foreign corporations, to be sued for following its own goals, would have been unthinkable to our founders. Let’s take this chance to get out of these destructive agreements, the FTA and NAFTA, stand on our own two feet and make Canada an independent power on the world stage.

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“Saving Syria’s Children”: The Worst Case Of Fake News? ‘Video’

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Mike Robinson, Patrick Henningsen and campaigner Robert Stuart take a look at what is quite possibly the worst example of mainstream media fake news in history – the BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children.

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30 Tons of Venezuelan Bolivar Bills Found Hoarded in Paraguay

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A stack of 100 bolivar notes

  • A stack of 100 bolivar notes | Photo: Reuters

While hoarding typically happens in Colombia, a massive pile of bolivars has been found in Paraguay.

A massive hoard of 50 and 100 Venezuelan bolivar Bills, amounting to 30 tons in weight, was uncovered in a house in Paraguay on the Brazilian border, Associated Press reported Monday.

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The private house located in Salto del Guaira, northeast of the capital Asuncion, belongs to Leandro Da Costa, a Paraguayan that made no declaration on the haul. According to Prosecutor Julio Yegros, the haul amounts to 30 tons of bills, but its total value will have to be determined by experts and the documents detailing its entry to the country need to be verified.

The massive find is the latest example of the ongoing of hoarding Venezuela’s larger notes as part of the so-called currency war. What the government calls “financial mafias” — including organized crime groups, speculators and right-wing business owners — have been speculating and hoarding huge amounts of 100 bolivar bills.

Most commonly, bolivars are hoarded in Colombia as well as Brazil, and the situation has severely affected the value of Venezuela’s currency. Hoarding and the large flow of bolivars out of the country, combined with soaring inflation, has seen Venezuelan ATMs running out of cash and being forced to deliver only bills of smaller denominations of bolivars to users, causing major inconveniences for locals.

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To combat the widespread hoarding, the Venezuelan government announced plans late last year to take the 100 bolivar bill out of circulation and introduce a new 500 bolivar bill, as well as higher denomination bills, which will be introduced gradually. Venezuela has also closed its border with Colombia to help control hoarding and smuggling.

The Venezuelan government says cross-border smugglers take advantage of price controls and subsidized exchange rates where goods are taken out of Venezuela to sell for higher profits elsewhere, contributing to shortages throughout the country.

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Philippine Environment Minister Continues Mining Crackdown

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  • Philippine Environment Secretary Regina Lopez during a press briefing in Manila, Philippines February 9, 2017.
    Philippine Environment Secretary Regina Lopez during a press briefing in Manila, Philippines February 9, 2017. | Photo: Reuters
Environment minister Lopez said it was within her discretion “to decide on the resources of the country.”

The Philippines’ environment minister stepped up a crackdown on mining on Tuesday, cancelling almost a third of the country’s contracts for undeveloped mines and rejecting any challenges to earlier orders to shut more than half of all operating pits.

The move turns up the heat in her battle with the mining sector after she ordered the closure of 23 of the country’s 41 mines earlier this month on environmental grounds, causing an outcry from the industry and threats of legal action.

The latest 75 contracts, which cover projects in the exploration stage or otherwise not yet in production, are all in watershed zones and would threaten water supply if they went ahead, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez said.

“You kill the watershed, you kill life,” Lopez told a media briefing.

A long-time environmentalist, Lopez ordered the closure of the 23 mines on Feb. 2 for damaging watersheds and for siltation of coastal waters and farmlands. Five more mines were suspended. The industry says the orders will affect 1.2 million people.

The contracts canceled on Tuesday, known as mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs), include the $1.2 billion copper-gold project of Philex Mining Corp, one of the country’s biggest miners, in southern Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he would not stand in the way of Lopez’s decision to shut several mines in southern Philippines, the second time he has thrown his support behind the minister he appointed last June.

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US-North Korean Relations in a Time of Change

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By Gregory Elich 

The months ahead may reveal the direction that U.S.-North Korean relations will take under the Trump administration. After eight years of ‘strategic patience’ and the Rebalance to Asia, those relations now stand at their lowest point in decades. Many foreign policy elites are expressing frustration over Washington’s failure to impose its will on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). There are increasing calls for a change in policy, but what kind of change do they have in mind? We may be at the point of a major transition.

President Trump has given mixed signals on North Korea, ranging from saying he is open to dialogue, to insisting that North Korea cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons and that he could solve the dispute with a single call to China. It is fair to say that any change in policy direction is possible, although deeply entrenched interests can be counted on to resist any positive movement.

Other than his frequently expressed hard line on China, Trump has not otherwise demonstrated much interest in Asian-Pacific affairs. That may mean an increased likelihood that he will defer to his advisors, and conventional wisdom may prevail. The more influence Trump’s advisors have on North Korea policy, the more dangerous the prospects.

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn could be a key figure. Back in November, he told a South Korean delegation that the North Korean nuclear issue would be a top priority for the Trump administration. [1] At around the same time, he told a Japanese newspaper that the North Korean government should not be allowed to last very long, and he has no intention of negotiating an agreement. [2]

Flynn has written that North Korea, Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela are in a global alliance with radical Islam, a loopy concept if ever there was one. [3] It is a disturbing thought that a man so disconnected from reality is helping to shape policy.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo believes that Iran and North Korea cooperate in what he calls “an evil partnership.” [4] He has also called for the mobilization of economic and military powers against the DPRK. [5]

Establishment think tanks have churned out a number of policy papers, filled with recommendations for the new administration. Their advice is likely to fall on receptive ears among Trump’s advisors. How much influence they will have on Trump’s decision-making is another question, but he is hearing a single message from those around him and from the Washington establishment.

A common theme running through these think tank policy papers is the demand to punish China for its relations with the DPRK.

The most moderate set of proposals offered the Trump administration is the one produced by Joel Wit for the U.S.-Korea Institute, in that it at least calls for an initial stage that Wit terms “phased coercive diplomacy.” Initial diplomatic contacts would “explore whether agreements that serve U.S. interests are possible while at the same time” the U.S. would lay the groundwork for “increasing pressure” on North Korea. A modest scaling back of the annual U.S. war games could be offered as an incentive to North Korea, along with negotiations on a peace treaty, as long as the U.S. feels it can gain more from North Korean concessions.

At the same time, Wit calls for the new administration to “communicate toughness” and implement a “long-term deterrence campaign.” This would include the rotation of B-1 and B-52 bombers into South Korea on a regular basis, along with stationing nuclear weapons-armed submarines off the Korean coast.

While negotiations are underway, Wit wants the U.S. to direct a propaganda war against the DPRK, by increasing radio broadcasts and infiltrating portable storage devices containing information designed to destabilize the government. What he does not say is that such hostile measures can only have the effect of derailing diplomacy.

If North Korea proves less than compliant to U.S. demands, or if it prepares to test an ICBM, then Wit advises Washington to impose a total “energy and non-food embargo” on North Korea. Wit argues that China must accede to U.S. demands in the UN Security Council for what amounts to economic warfare on North Korea, or else the United States should impose “crippling sanctions” on the DPRK and secondary sanctions on China. By attacking the Chinese economy in this manner, Wit says this would send a message “that the United States would be prepared to face a serious crisis with China over North Korean behavior.” The arrogance is stunning. If China does not agree to American demands in the United Nations, then it is to be punished through U.S. sanctions. [6]

This is what passes as the “moderate” approach among Washington’s foreign policy establishment.

Wit is not alone in his eagerness to punish China. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute believes that “the next round of penalties will probably have to be ones which have some sort of collateral fallout for China…Sanctions are fine, more sanctions are better,” he says. “Increasing the cost for China, I think, is the way to go.” [7]

Eberstadt argues that U.S. North Korea policy should “consist mainly, though not entirely, of military measures.” “It is time for Beijing to pay a penalty for all its support” for North Korea, he declares. “We can begin by exacting it in diplomatic venues all around the world.” [8] Displaying the presumption all too typical of Washington elites, he has nothing to say about how China might react to his hostile policy prescriptions. The assumption is that China should just take the punishment without complaint. That will not happen.

U.S. Navy Commander ‘Skip’ Vincenzo prepared a set of recommendations that proved so popular that it was jointly published by four think tanks. Vincenzo is looking ahead and planning for how the United States and South Korea could attack the DPRK without suffering great losses. He urges the Trump administration to conduct an information war to undermine North Korea from within. The aim would be “convincing regime elites that their best options” in a conflict “would be to support ROK-U.S. alliance efforts.” He adds that “easily understood themes such as ‘stay in your garrisons and you will get paid’ should target the military rank and file.” North Korean military commanders should be told they would be “financially rewarded” for avoiding combat. “The objective is to get them to act independently when the time comes with the expectation that they will benefit later.” [9]

Interesting phrase, ‘when the time comes.’ Vincenzo anticipates that military intervention in North Korea is only a matter of time. He clearly envisions a scenario like the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when many Iraqi units melted away rather than fight. The fantasy that the U.S. could repeat the Iraqi experience in the DPRK is based on a misjudgment of the Korean national character. Nor does it take into account that what followed the invasion of Iraq could hardly be construed as a peaceful development.

The Brookings Institute, despite its centrist reputation, encourages Trump to take actions that are savage and reckless. “The new president,” the Institute says, “should adopt an approach that focuses on North Korea’s main goal: regime survival… The United States and its allies and partners should make North Korea choose between nuclear weapons and survival.”

The Brookings Institute calls for all-out economic warfare on the North Korean people. “A more robust approach,” it advises, “should go after “the financial lifeblood of the North Korean regime in new ways: starving the regime of foreign currency, cutting Pyongyang off from the international financial and trading system, squeezing its trading networks, interdicting its commerce, and using covert and overt means to take advantage of the regime’s many vulnerabilities. A strong foundation of military measures must underline this approach.”

In a major understatement, the Institute admits that “such an approach carries risks.” Indeed it does, and it is the Korean people who would bear that cost, while Washington’s elites would face none of the consequences of their actions. What the Brookings Institute is calling for is the economic strangulation of North Korea, which would bring about the collapse of people’s livelihoods and mass starvation.

Like other think tanks, the Brookings Institute advocates targeting China, calling for the imposition of secondary sanctions on “Chinese firms, banks, and state-owned enterprises” that do business with North Korea. [10] The aim would be to cut North Korea off from all trade with China.

Walter Sharp, a former commander of U.S. Forces Korea, says that the United States should launch a preemptive strike if North Korea prepares to launch a satellite or test a ballistic missile. “The missile should be destroyed,” he declares. It is easy to imagine the violent response by the United States, were a foreign nation to attack one of its missiles on the launch pad. It is delusional to expect that North Korea not only wouldn’t respond in some manner but would have no right to do so. But Sharp advocates “overwhelming force” if North Korea retaliates, because, as he puts it, Kim Jong-un should know “that there is a lot more coming his way, something he will fear.” [11] If this sounds like a prescription for war, that is because it is.

It is a measure of how decades of militarized foreign policy have degraded public discourse in this country to such an extent that these lunatic notions are not only taken seriously, but advocates are sought out for advice and treated with respect.

With suggestions like that, it is not surprising that Walter Sharp was invited to join the task force that produced a set of recommendations on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations. The task force calls for the early stages of negotiations to focus on a nuclear freeze, limitations on North Korean conventional forces and missile development, and inspection of nuclear facilities. Obligations on North Korea would be front-loaded, with absolutely nothing offered in return. The promise of a peace treaty and gradual normalization of relations would be back-loaded, contingent on full disarmament, an improvement on human rights, and allowing U.S. and South Korean media to saturate the DPRK. Certainly, that last demand would be a non-starter, as it is impossible to imagine that North Korea would agree to allow its media space to be dominated by hostile foreign entities.

Such a one-sided approach has no chance of achieving a diplomatic settlement. As a solution, the Council recommends that the United States continually escalate sanctions during the negotiating process.

The Council on Foreign Relations calls for the U.S., South Korea, and Japan to build up the capability to intercept North Korean missile launches, “whether they are declared to be ballistic missile tests or civil space launch vehicles.” If negotiations falter, it advises the three allies to shoot down North Korean missiles as soon as they are launched. That would be an act of war. And how does the Council on Foreign Relations imagine North Korea would respond to having a satellite launch shot down? It does not say.

Further development of North Korea’s nuclear program, the Council suggests, would require “more assertive diplomatic and military steps, including some that directly threaten the regime’s nuclear and missile programs and, therefore, the regime itself.”

“The United States should support enhanced information operations” against North Korea, the Council adds, to undermine the government and “strengthen emerging market forces.” Predictably enough, it advocates “severe economic pressure” on North Korea, as well as encouraging private companies to bring legal suits against nations and companies that do business with North Korea. [12]

It is not diplomacy that the Council on Foreign Relations seeks, but regime change, and its policy paper is filled with the language of the bully.

Bruce Bennett is a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation. He warns that North Korea’s desire for a peace treaty is a ruse. “In reality,” he says, “by insisting on a peace treaty, North Korea is probably not seeking peace, but war.” He goes on to claim that a peace treaty might lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces, after which the North could be counted on to invade South Korea. Calls for a peace treaty, he adds, “should be regarded as nothing but a deceitful scam that could lead to the devastation of South Korea, a U.S. ally.” [13] This is an argument that other analysts also make, and is clearly delusional. But it serves as a good illustration of how in the blinkered mindset of Washington’s policy analysts, unsupported assertion takes the place of any sense of reality.

The Center for a New American Security has planted deep roots in the U.S. establishment. Ashton Carter, secretary of defense in the Obama administration, expressed the level of respect and influence that CNAS holds in Washington. “For almost a decade now,” Carter said, “CNAS has been an engine for the ideas and talent that have shaped American foreign policy and defense policy.” Carter added that “in meeting after meeting, on issue after issue,” he worked with CNAS members. [14] His comments reveal that this is an organization that has constant access to the halls of power.

The Center for a New American Security has produced a set of policy documents intended to influence the Trump administration. Not surprisingly, it favors the Rebalance to Asia that was initiated by President Obama, and advocates a further expansion of U.S. military forces in Asia. [15] It also wants to see greater involvement by NATO in the Asia-Pacific in support of the U.S. military. [16]

Patrick Cronin is senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at CNAS, and as such, he wields considerable influence on U.S. policy. Cronin asserts that “Trump will want to enact harsh sanctions and undertake a serious crackdown” on North Korean financial operations, but these steps should be of secondary importance. Trump should “double down” on the U.S. military buildup in the region, he says, and alliance strategy should send the message to Kim Jong-un that nuclear weapons would threaten his survival. There it is again: the the proposal to threaten North Korea’s survival if it does not abandon its nuclear program.

Regardless of diplomatic progress, Cronin believes the U.S. and its allies should conduct an information war against North Korea “at both elite and grassroots’ levels.” [17]

China is not to be ignored, and Cronin feels Trump will need to integrate “tougher diplomacy” with economic sanctions against China. [18]

It remains to be seen to what extent Trump will heed such advice. But the entire foreign policy establishment and mainstream media are united in staunch opposition to any genuinely diplomatic resolution of the dispute. Trump has expressed a healthy skepticism concerning CIA intelligence briefings. Whether that skepticism will be extended to the advice coming from Washington think tanks is an open question.

If the aim of these proposals is to bring about denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, then they are recipes for failure. But if the intent is to impose economic hardship on the North Korean people, while capitalizing on the nuclear issue as a pretext to dominate the region, then these think tanks know what they are doing. As always, human considerations mean nothing when it comes to serving corporate and imperial interests, and if they fully have their way, it will be no surprise if they succeed in bringing to the Korean Peninsula the same chaos and destruction that they gave to the Middle East. One can only hope that more reasonable voices will prevail during policy formulation.

What none of the policy papers address is the role that South Korea has to play. It is simply assumed that the status quo will continue, and South Korea will go along with any action the U.S. chooses to take, no matter how harsh or dangerous. In the mind of the Washington establishment, this is a master-servant relationship and nothing more.

That Koreans, north and south, may have their own goals and interests is not considered. The truly astonishing mass protests against South Korean President Park Geun-hye, which led to her impeachment, have opened up a world of possibilities. Whatever happens in the months ahead, it won’t be business as usual. U.S. policymakers are in a panic at the prospect of a more progressive and independent-minded government taking power after the next election in South Korea, and this is what lies behind plans to rush the deployment of a THAAD battery ahead of schedule. But in a sense, it may already be too late. Park Geun-hye, and by implication her policies, have been thoroughly discredited. It may well be that the harsher the measures Washington wants to impose on the DPRK, the less it can count on cooperation from South Korea. And it could be this that prevents the United States from recklessly plunging the Korean Peninsula into chaos or even war.

Let us imagine a more progressive government taking power in South Korea, engaging in dialogue with its neighbor to the north and signing agreements on economic cooperation. Were the U.S. so inclined, it could work together with such a government in South Korea to reduce tensions and develop economic ties with the DPRK. Rail and gas links could cross North Korea, connecting the south with China and Russia, and provide an economic boost to the entire region. North and South Korea could shift resources from military to civilian needs and start to dismantle national security state structures. The nuclear issue would cease to matter. All of those things could be done, but it would take a change in mentality in Washington and a willingness to defy the entire establishment.

Alas, it is far more likely that tensions will continue to be ratcheted up. Longstanding confrontation with Russia and China has been the keynote of U.S. policy, leading to the encirclement of those nations by a ring of military bases and anti-ballistic missile systems. The Rebalance to Asia aims to reinforce military power around China. North Korea, in this context, serves as a convenient justification for the U.S. military and economic domination of the Asia-Pacific.

Why is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program regarded as an unacceptable threat, whereas those of other nations are not? Why do we not see the United States imposing sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear program, or conducting war games in the Indian Ocean, practicing the invasion of India? Why do we not hear calls for regime change in Israel over its nuclear program?

Instead, Pakistan is the fifth largest recipient of U.S. aid, slated to receive $742 million this year. India receives one-tenth of that amount, and the United States recently signed an agreement with it on military cooperation. [19] As for Israel, the United States has pledged to provide it with $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years. [20]

What is it about its nuclear weapons program that causes North Korea to be sanctioned and threatened, whereas the U.S. warmly embraces the others? Pakistan, India, and Israel have nuclear programs that are far more advanced than North Korea’s, with sizeable arsenals and well-tested ballistic missiles. The other major difference is that North Korea is the only one of the four nations facing an existential threat from the United States, and therefore has the greatest need of a nuclear deterrent.

There is no threat of North Korea attacking the United States. It has yet to test a re-entry vehicle, and so cannot be said to have the means of delivering a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, the nation will never have more than a small arsenal relative to the size of that owned by the U.S., so its nuclear weapons can only play a deterrent role.

The “threat” that North Korea’s nuclear program presents is twofold. Once North Korea succeeds in completing development of its program, the United States will lose any realistic possibility of attacking it. Whether the U.S. would choose to exercise that capability or not, it wants to retain that option.

The other aspect of the “threat” is that if the DPRK succeeds in establishing an effective nuclear weapons program, then other small nations facing U.S. hostility may feel emboldened to develop nuclear programs, thereby reducing the ability of the U.S. to impose its will on others.

It’s difficult to see why North Korea would ever give up its nuclear program. For one thing, according to U.S. State Department estimates, North Korea is spending anywhere from 15 to 24 percent of its GDP on the military. [21] This is unsustainable for an economy in recovery, and nuclear weapons are cheap in comparison to the expense of conventional armed forces. The DPRK is placing great emphasis on economic development, and a nuclear weapons program allows it to shift more resources to the civilian economy. [22]

Recent history has also shown that a small nation relying on conventional military forces has no chance of defending itself against attack by the United States. For a nation like North Korea, nuclear weapons present the only reliable means of defense.

North Korea attaches great importance to the signing of a peace treaty. After more than six decades since the Korean War, a peace treaty is long overdue and a worthy goal. But if the DPRK imagines that a peace treaty would provide a measure of security, I think it is mistaken. The U.S. was officially at peace with each of the nations it attacked or undermined.

What kind of guarantees could the United States possibly give North Korea to ensure its security in exchange for disarmament? An agreement could be signed, and promises made, and mean nothing. Libya, it should be recalled, signed a nuclear disarmament agreement with one U.S. administration, only to be bombed by the next. No verbal or written promise could provide any measure of security.

The one-sided record of U.S. negotiators is hardly an encouragement for North Korea to disarm either.

For example, shortly after the United States signed the September 2005 Joint Agreement with North Korea, U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill sought to reassure Congress that the United States was not about to begin to normalize relations, even though that is precisely what the agreement obligated it to do.

Normalization of relations, he explained to Congress, would be “subject to resolution of our longstanding concerns. By this, I meant that as a necessary part of the process leading to normalization, we must discuss important issues, including human rights, biological and chemical weapons, ballistic missile programs, proliferation of conventional weapons, terrorism, and other illicit activities.” North Korea “would have to commit to international standards across the board, and then prove its intentions.” Christopher Hill’s point was clear. Even if North Korea were to denuclearize fully, relations would still not move toward normalization. North Korea would only be faced with a host of additional demands. [23]

Indeed, far from beginning to normalize relations, within days of the signing of the September 2005 agreement, the Treasury Department designated Macao-based Banco Delta Asia as a “primary money-laundering concern,” despite a lack of any evidence to back that claim. U.S. financial firms were ordered to sever relations with the bank, which led to a wave of withdrawals by panicked customers, and the bank’s closure. The aim of the Treasury Department was to shut off one of the key institutions North Korea used to conduct regular international trade. That action killed the agreement.

The Libyan nuclear agreement provides the model that Washington expects North Korea to follow. That agreement compelled Libya to dismantle its nuclear program as a precondition for receiving any rewards, and it was only after that process was complete that many of the sanctions on Libya were lifted. It took another two years to remove Libya from the list of sponsors of terrorism and restore diplomatic relations.

Upon closer examination, these ‘rewards’ look more like a reduction in punishment. Can it be said that a reduction in sanctions is a reward? If someone is beating you, and then promises to cut back on the number of beatings, is he rewarding you?

It did not seem so to the Libyans, who often complained that U.S. officials had not rewarded them for their compliance. [24]

What the U.S. did have to offer Libya, though, were more demands. Early on, Undersecretary of State John Bolton told Libyan officials that they had to halt military cooperation with Iran in order to complete the denuclearization agreement.[25]  And on at least one occasion, a U.S. official pressured Libya to cut off military trade with North Korea, Iran, and Syria. [26]

American officials demanded that Libya recognize the unilateral independence of Kosovo, a position which Libya had consistently opposed. [27] This was followed by a U.S. diplomatic note to Libya, ordering it to vote against the Serbian government’s resolution at the United Nations, which asked for a ruling by the International Court of Justice on Kosovo independence. [28]

Under the circumstances, Libya preferred to absent itself from the vote, rather than join the United States and three other nations in opposing the measure.

The U.S. did succeed, however, in obtaining Libya’s vote for UN sanctions against Iran. [29] In response to U.S. directives, Libya repeatedly advised North Korea to follow its example and denuclearize. Under U.S. pressure, Libya also launched a privatization program and opened opportunities for U.S. businesses.

U.S. officials often urged the North Koreans to take note of the Libyan deal and learn from its example. These days, that example looks rather different, given the bombing of Libya by U.S. warplanes and missiles. Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was rewarded for his cooperation with the United States by being beaten, impaled on a bayonet, and shot several times. There is a lesson here, all right, and the North Koreans have taken due note of it.

It is time to challenge the standard Western narrative.

Under international space law, every nation has the right to launch a satellite into orbit, yet North Korea alone is singled out for condemnation and denied that right. The United States, with over one thousand nuclear tests, [30] reacts with outrage to North Korea’s five.

To quote political analyst Tim Beal, “The construction of North Korea as an international pariah is an expression of American power rather than, as is usually claimed, a result of the infringement of international law. In fact, the discriminatory charges against North Korea are themselves a violation of the norms of international law and the equal sovereignty of states.” [31]

Since 1953, North Korea has never been at war.

During that same period, to list only a sampling of interventions, the U.S. overthrew the government of Guatemala, sent a proxy army to invade Cuba, and bombed and invaded Vietnam, at the cost of two million lives. It bombed Cambodia and Laos, sent troops into the Dominican Republic, backed a military coup in Indonesia, in which half a million people were killed, organized a military coup in Chile, backed Islamic extremists in their efforts to topple a secular government in Afghanistan. The U.S. invaded Grenada, mined harbors and armed anti-government forces in Nicaragua, armed right-wing guerrillas in Angola and Mozambique, armed and trained Croatian forces and supplied air cover as they expelled 200,000 people from their homes in Krajina, bombed half of Bosnia, armed and trained the Kosovo Liberation Army, attacked Yugoslavia, invaded Iraq, backed the overthrow of governments in Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Georgia, Honduras, and many other nations, bombed Libya, and armed and trained jihadists in Syria.

And yet, we are told that it is North Korea that is the threat to international peace.

2017 could be a pivotal year for the Korean Peninsula. An energized population is bringing change to South Korea. We should join them and demand change here in the United States, as well. It is time to resist continued calls for a reckless and militarized foreign policy.

 

Notes

[1] Jesse Johnson, “Trump National Security Pick Tells South Koreans that North’s Nuke Program will be Priority,” The Japan Times, November 19, 2016.

[2] Chang Jae-soon, “Trump Names Former DIA Chief Mike Flynn as his National Security Advisor,” Yonhap, November 19, 2016.

[3] Edward Wong, “Michael Flynn, a Top Trump Adviser, Ties China and North Korea to Jihadists,” New York Times, November 30, 2016.

[4] Press Release, “Pompeo on North Korea’s Nuclear Test,” U.S. Congressman Mike Pompeo, January 16, 2016.

[5] Chang Jae-soon, “Trump’s Foreign Policy Lineup Expected to be Supportive of Alliance with Seoul, Tough on N.K.,” December 13, 2016.

[6] Joel S. Wit, “The Way Ahead: North Korea Policy Recommendations for the Trump Administration,” U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), December 2016.

[7] FPI Conference Call: North Korea’s Dangerous Nuclear Escalation,” The Foreign Policy Initiative, September 15, 2016.

[8] Nicholas Eberstadt, “Wishful Thinking has Prevented Effective Threat Reduction in North Korea,” National Review, February 29, 2016.

[9] Commander Frederick ‘Skip’ Vincenzo, “An Information Based Strategy to Reduce North Korea’s Increasing Threat: Recommendations for ROK & U.S. Policy Makers,” Center for a New American Security, U.S.-Korea Institute, National Defense University, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Center for Security Studies,” October 2016.

[10] Evans J.R. Revere, “Dealing with a Nuclear-Armed North Korea: Rising Danger, Narrowing Options, Hard Choices,” Brookings Institute, October 4, 2016.

[11] Richard Sisk, “Former US General Calls for Pre-emptive Strike on North Korea,” Defense Tech, December 1, 2016.

[12] Mike Mullen and Sam Nunn, chairs, and Adam Mount, project director, “A Sharper Choice on North Korea: Engaging China for a Stable Northeast Asia,” Independent Task Force Report No. 74, Council on Foreign Relations, 2016.

[13] Bruce W. Bennett, “Kim Jong-un is Trolling America Again,” The National Interest, May 17, 2016.

[14] Ashton Carter, “Networking Defense in the 21st Century”, Remarks at CNAS, Washington, DC, Defense.gov, June 20, 2016.

[15] Mira Rapp-Hooper, Patrick M. Cronin, Harry Krejsa, Hannah Suh, “Counterbalance: Red Teaming the Rebalance in the Asia-Pacific,” Center for a New American Security, November 2016.

[16] Julianne Smith, Erik Brattberg, and Rachel Rizzo, “Translatlantic Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific,” Center for a New American Security, October 2016.

[17] Patrick M. Cronin, “4 Ways Trump Can Avoid a North Korea Disaster,” The Diplomat, December 13, 2016.

[18] Patrick M. Cronin and Marcel Angliviel de la Beaumelle, “How the Next US President Should Handle the South China Sea,” The Diplomat. May 2, 2016.

[19] “Foreign Assistance in Pakistan,” foreignassistance.gov

Rama Lakshmi, “India and U.S. Deepen Defense Ties with Landmark Agreement,” Washington Post, August 30, 2016.

[20] “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” everycrsreport.com, December 22, 2016.

[21] U.S. Department of State, “World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 2016,” December 2016.

[22] Bradley O. Babson, “After the Party Congress: What to Make of North Korea’s Commitment to Economic Development?” 38 North, May 19, 2016.Elizabeth Shim, “Kim Jong Un’s Economic Plan Targets Foreign Investment,” UPI, May 19, 2015.

[23] “The Six-Party Talks and the North Korean Nuclear Issue: Old Wine in New Bottles?” Hearing Before the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, October 6, 2005.

[24] “Libya Nuclear Chronology,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, February 2011.

[25] U.S. Department of State cable, “U/S Bolton’s July 10 Meeting with Libyan Officials, August 11, 2004.

[26] William Tobey, “A Message from Tripoli, Part 4: How Libya Gave Up its WMD,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 7, 2014.

[27] U.S. Embassy Tripoli cable, “Libya/UNSC: 1267, Iran and Kosovo, July 1, 2008.

[28] U.S. Embassy Tripoli cable, “Kosovo ICJ Resolution at UNGA — Libya,” October 6, 2008.

[29] “Libya Nuclear Chronology,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, February 2011.

[30] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_weapons_tests_of_the_United_States

[31] Tim Beal, “The Korean Peninsula within the Framework of US Global Hegemony,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, November 15, 2016.

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