Archive | May 19th, 2019

A Novel We Can All Relate To: “The Other Americans”


America is still discovering itself. The rise of Donald Trump alerted those citizens who held that they alone defined our culture and values to the existence of a significant population holding very different views– and the will to back a candidate who might speak for them. (Thus, the most unlikely candidate entered the White House.) Political pundits, sociologists and media analysts had been wrong. Liberalism was flawed; it meant little to too many Americans.

A bewildered media rushed to embrace that awakened alien America. Hillbilly Elegy was welcomed as a sobering portrait of people viewed as marginal. Strangers in Their Own Land was next. First published in 1995, then reissued with a new forward in 2016; its author, Berkeley sociologist Artie Russell Hochschild, emerged as the new interpreter of those forgotten and angry ‘others’.

With a new right wing administration installed in Washington, liberals and college educated who’d believed that they represented the nation and that they framed the debate dispatched reporters and camera crews to the hinterland to gather further testimonies from what is now identified as Trump’s base.

Laila Lalami’s novel The Other Americans  is very unlike Vance’s memoir or Hochschild’s ethnography of Louisiana’s bayou country. As good creative writing often does, The Other Americans offers a more revelatory slice of contemporary America. Lalami invites us into a fragile, complex web of social and political relations in rural California. Here, everyone is worthy and decent, although all harbor grievances; everyone feels slighted or mistreated at some level, yet all need fulfillment; everyone quietly bears scars yet seeks outlets for frustrations and dreams.

If there were any doubts about Lalami’s remarkable storytelling skills, this, her fourth novel, settles the matter. (The Other Americans also affirms Lalami’s grasp of a range of literary genres, coming after her stunning historical novel The Moor’s Account, an imagined memoir of a 16th Century Moroccan slave– the first black explorer of America.)

The Other Americans on its surface is a crime investigation. But in Lalami’s hands it’s an absorbing exploration of daily social interactions underpinned by seemingly inconsequential yet persistent racial tensions.

The setting is Mojave, a desert town in California, where on a quiet summer night a man is struck and killed by a vehicle which then speeds away. The story moves through a number of short chapters, each one narrated in the first person by one of ten characters, all local residents. The protagonist is Nora, youngest and favorite daughter of Driss. She is determined to find the truth about her father’s death, believing it was no accident.

A community of characters is brought into play, while the search for the culprit moves slowly forward.

Driss, Nora’s mother Maryam and her sister Salma each play essential but small parts in the story. They help narrate the family’s move from Morocco to the U.S. thirty-five years earlier and how they’ve become an ordinary American family, their lives characterized not by hardship or fear but by modest ambitions, sibling tension and marital compromise. Maryam and Driss, an educated couple– Arabs in this case– left behind middleclass lives and became unassuming shopkeepers in small-town USA, their dreams of success transferred to their children. (Nora aspires to be a musician and composer; Salma became a dentist.)

There’s little sentiment for the missing culture of North Africa, no yearning for Moroccan cuisine. Although, Arab/Muslim values seep into the story in barely perceptible allusions which only an immigrant writer like Lalami can so subtly articulate. Arab readers – perhaps any Asian or African immigrant too– may identify those fleeting references; but Lalami doesn’t allow us to dwell on them.

As for being immigrants, if Nora and her family had been objects of prejudice, they hardly recognize it. Whatever disrespect they might experience is matched by the five townspeople who fill out the plot:–the Black detective Coleman trying to earn the love of her stepson; Efrain, a reticent Hispanic (possibly undocumented) resident who witnessed the death; Jeremy, a novice policeman who after combat in Iraq returns to the town, then falls in love with Nora; Anderson and his troubled son A.J. who are protective of parking space for their bowling alley next to Driss’ restaurant. Bullying, insecurity, racial slurs and financial worries are familiar to them all.

How this manifests in each character is expertly arranged in the book’s structure, with each chapter narrated in the first person by one of these characters.

Author Lalami adroitly moves the story forward; one chapter and one voice continue in the subsequent chapter with another character. The entire story becomes a single dialog, with Lalami adopting a style of narration for each character that itself constructs their personality. Skillfully woven into this are images from the setting but also past memories. Flashbacks from each life show us everyone’s motives, pains, grievances.

The relationship Lalami most thoroughly explores is not that between Driss and the man who killed him; it’s between Nora and Jeremy, her former classmate, around his experience as a marine in Iraq. After they become lovers, she’s aware of lingering violence from his war experience:– his love of guns, his casual attitude of what he did in combat, and the violence he unleashes towards his friend, a fellow veteran. In his narrative, Jeremy recalls ugly, murderous encounters he was part of, the racial epithets he freely used. And although he bears physical scars and is troubled by sleeplessness, he feels no melancholy or remorse. Indeed he fails to understand how being a marine troubles Nora, who in the end rejects him.

Lalami makes this uncomfortable dialog between Nora and Jeremy the core of the story and, I suspect, this is a dynamic she really wants to explore. Doubtless the author is aware over two million Americans, veterans from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, live among us today. We all have to deal with them in their new roles– as our policemen, classmates, neighbors and as our lovers.

Rajia Hassib’s 2015 novel, In the Language of Miracles , is another well crafted moving account of an American Muslim family, this time it’s estrangement from their community following a personal tragedy.

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Who Am I?


If I am to be defined by what I do, then define me as a supporter of civilization, a supporter of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, a supporter of the right to choose, a supporter of secular government and democracy.

Define me as pushing against the wind, because Western governments oppose these things. Our governments oppose democracy in Syria and beyond. They oppose secular governance. They support anti-democratic fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia law, they support terrorism.

Our governments support al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates. Our governments willfully destroy countries, create chaos, sectarianism and commit mass murder so they can control, loot, and plunder prey countries. I oppose this. Define me by my opposition to this and I won’t object.

Our governments no longer represent decent people. How could they? Our governments and their agencies demonstrate time and again that they are vassals to NATO and to globalizing trajectories that are anti-Life, anti- democracy, anti- you and me. Define me in my opposition to NATO and to the dictatorship of publicly bailed-out “neoliberalism” and I won’t object.

A fabricated groupthink has poisoned and corrupted us all. I oppose the messaging that makes us cogs in a mindless war machine. Define me by my opposition to the overseas holocaust that our governments create and sustain, and I won’t mind.

But it isn’t just me. We are all being swept across a stormy frothing sea, rudderless, despairing. Not one of us is alone.

When we find a common language of truth and peace, we will find salvation.

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Syria: The White Helmets Are Terrorist Auxiliaries


First published on October 30, 2019

Canada’s decision to welcome White Helmets terrorists evacuated from Syria is consistent with Canada’s overall strategy throughout the course of this criminal “Regime Change” war against Syria, a founding member of the United Nations, according to Mark Taliano, the Canadian political analyst and Research Associate at Global research.

Taliano told the Syriatimes e-newspaper that the strategy consists of pretending that the war of aggression using terrorist proxies is “humanitarian” while at the same time supporting all of the terrorists in coordination with a “coalition” that consists of NATO and its allies.

“Some refer to the strategy as a “double game”… Will the consequences of this “double game” imperil Canadians? It is impossible to foresee the future, but these terrorists are “intelligence assets”, and the government will no doubt provide them with adequate remuneration for “services rendered”, he added, raising the question: “ Why would the terrorists bite the hand that feeds them?

The “White Helmets” fit the storyline — eerily evocative of the colonial supremacist euphemism “White Man’s Burden” — perfectly. They are presented as the “good guys” in white rescuing humanity from the mythical “brutal dictator”, Taliano asserted.

He referred to the fact that evidence-based reality contradicts this narrative completely.

“At the very least, the White Helmets are terrorist auxiliaries. More likely, as recently admitted by a White Helmet operative to investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley, they are (sectarian) terrorists themselves. Additionally, 50% of the evacuees are said to be terrorist leaders and ISIS.”

The final destinations of those ‘good guys’ are kept secret

 “Interestingly, whereas the Canadian government and the colonial media present the White Helmets as heroes, at the same time, they are keeping their arrival and their final destinations secret. Not much of a hero’s welcome,” Taliano said.

He made it clear that if the government were to disclose the truth about these terrorists, then presumably “Anti-Terror” legislation and public juridicial proceedings would follow.

“This is unlikely to happen, however, since public criminal court proceedings would necessarily disclose the Canadian government’s guilt in supporting the very same terrorists that it claims to be combatting,” concluded the analyst and the author of “Voices from Syria”.

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Iran and Why It Would be Insane for America to Go to War There


Is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard the only sane voice in both Houses of the US Congress?

She says “War with Iran would make the Iraq War look like a cakewalk.”

Russian roulette is a game of chance where players spin the cylinder of a revolver with a single bullet in turns, put the muzzle against their head and pull the trigger. The player has 16.67% chances of firing a bullet into his head if there is one bullet in the 6-chamber revolver. Each player starts by spinning the cylinder, thus each player has an equal chance of being killed by the bullet.

If there can be a lethal game of Russian roulette in international politics, this is it; what just began on May 8, the first anniversary of the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal of July 2015.

Iran exercised “strategic patience” for one full year, as President Hassan Rouhani noted, upon the request from the five remaining signatories of the nuclear deal – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. That period has run out.

Not only have the five powers failed to persuade the Trump administration to retract from its decision, but Washington has gone on a warpath of sanctions and deployment of a formidable strike group to the Persian Gulf.

On the other hand, the five big powers couldn’t ensure that Iran got the full benefits out of the nuclear deal as envisaged under the nuclear deal, despite its full compliance with the terms of the deal, which has been acknowledged repeatedly by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Only Russia and China observed the commitments given to Iran as signatories, while the three European powers merely paid lip service.

Against this backdrop, Rouhani announced on Wednesday that if the remaining signatories fail to provide Iran with the merits stated under the deal in the next 60 days, Tehran will stop complying with its nuclear undertakings in consequent phases. For a start, Iran will cease to observe the capping on the volume of enriched uranium and heavy water reserves that it is permitted to hold.

After 60 days, if Iran’s grievances are not still addressed, it will no longer observe the restrictions on the 3.6 percent level of uranium enrichment and will resume work on its heavy water reactor at Arak. Iran has underlined that it is not withdrawing from the nuclear deal but is only taking reciprocal measures as provided under articles 26 and 32 of the agreement regarding the eventuality of one or more of the six powers failing to observe the treaty. Rouhani has specified Iran’s concerns particularly in the oil industry and the banking sector, which Washington has targeted with sanctions.

Rouhani said that after 120 days from now, even if Iran starts enriching uranium beyond the 3.6 level and resumes work in Arak, it will give yet another 60 days for negotiations before taking additional unspecified action (which could be by the yearend). Meanwhile, Iran will react strongly against any move by the western powers to approach the UN Security Council for reimposition of the old UN sanctions.

It’s an insane game that US President Trump started on May 8 last year. With Iran’s response by way of reciprocal measures, round two is complete.

The two immediate measures Iran has announced — non-observance of the capping on the volume of enriched uranium (300 kg limit) and heavy water reserves that it is permitted to hold — is not a unilateral step. It is a fait accompli that the Trump administration created last week by sanctioning other countries against holding Iran’s excess volume of enriched uranium or trading in heavy water reserves.

Trump MUST stop listening to the lies from Israel with their claims that Iran is a strategic and imminent threat to America and Trump MUST sack all NEOCONS in his Administration before June 2019, it’s that simple.

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Trump Regime “War of Words” on Iran


John Bolton wants war on all nations the US doesn’t control. His longstanding hostility toward Iran is well known. 

Reportedly he’s been pushing Trump for war on Iran since becoming national security advisor. His notorious 2015 NYT op-ed headlined “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.” 

Iran has no “bomb,” doesn’t want one, and called or a nuclear-free Middle East numerous times — Israel the only nuclear armed and dangerous nation in the region, its nuke development aided and supported by the US.

Pompeo reportedly favors war on Iran by other means, wanting its economy crushed, falsely believing its authorities will cave to US demands.

Trump reportedly told Joint Chiefs chairman General Joseph Dunford he’s against attacking the country militarily.

I believe part of what’s behind his two summits with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, along with saying Kim “wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters…and then we fell in love” is his craving for a Nobel Peace Prize — either by cutting a deal with the DPRK or pulling off his no-peace/peace plan “deal of the century” with the Palestinians.

Although the likelihood of achieving either objective is virtually nil, if he attacks Iran or Venezuela militarily, assuring bloody protracted wars perhaps to last years without resolution, there goes his coveted peace prize, even though warriors win them time and again.

Nobel dreams are reason enough for him not to go this far, besides the madness of war on nations able to hit back hard — in Iran’s case, against US regional facilities, forces and Israel.

Days earlier, Ayatollah Khamenei said

“(t)he Iranian nation’s definite option will be resistance in the face of the US, and in this confrontation, the US would be forced into a retreat. Neither we nor they (want) war.”

He called confrontation with the US “a clash of wills.” On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said

“(t)here will be no war because neither we want a war, nor has anyone the idea or illusion that it can confront Iran in the region.”

At the same time, Bolton and other Trump regime hardliners Zarif called its “B Team” seek “pretexts” for war on Iran. The danger they pose can’t be dismissed.

Senior Iranian military official Rasoul Sanai-Rad said

“(t)he actions of American leaders…speaking of talks is like holding a gun at someone and asking for friendship and negotiations.”

US policy toward Iran has been all about war by other means, hostile rhetoric, and saber-rattling, short of military intervention, the Trump regime following the same script.

War plans were drawn to attack Iran long ago but never implemented. The threat remains, especially with the most extremist  ever US regime in power.

It’s waging inherited wars in multiple theaters, showing no signs of ending down, along with war on Iran and Venezuela by other means, short of naked aggression — so far.

It’s possible ahead but unlikely in my judgment because both countries can hit back hard, a reality cool heads in Washington understand, including by Pentagon joint chiefs.

A Nobel prize Trump likely craves aside, he’s mostly concerned about getting reelected in 2020.

Waging new wars on top of existing ones could weaken his prospect if Dems and establishment media use the issue against him.

Senators Markey, Merkley, Sanders, and Van Hollen wrote Trump, saying: “We are Deeply Concerned by Your Administration’s Growing Confrontation with Iran,” expressing opposition to war on the country.

At the same time, they falsely claimed Iran poses a “nuclear threat.” In its annual assessments of global threats, the US intelligence community states otherwise, saying no evidence suggests the Islamic Republic seeks nuclear weapons.

Since implementation of the JCPOA nuclear deal in January 2016, the nuclear watchdog IAEA repeatedly said Iran is in full compliance with its provisions.

Senators Tom Udall, Richard Durbin, and Rand Paul introduced the Prevention of Unconstitutional War With Iran Act of 2019 — saying war on the country without congressional approval is illegal under the Constitution and War Powers Act.

Other congressional members, including Speaker Pelosi, also oppose war on Iran without congressional approval. On Thursday, she said “I like what I hear from the president — that he has no appetite on this,” adding:

“(T)he responsibility in the Constitution is for the Congress to declare war, so I hope the president’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way.”

She ignored how all US post-WW II wars began preemptively. The last time Congress declared war was on December 8, 1941 in response to imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor — never again so far.

All US wars since then violated international, constitutional, and US statute laws pertaining to war.

Iran and Venezuela threaten no other countries. The world community opposes war on these nations.

Attacking them would greatly destabilize both regions if the Trump regime goes this far — perhaps alone with no coalition partners.

Attacking either or both countries would be madness, assuring two more wars the US can’t win.

For sure, Pentagon forces can cause mass casualties and vast destruction — short of conquering either country and declaring victory.

Attacking the Islamic Republic especially would be harebrained. If terror-bombed by Pentagon warplanes and ships, jeopardizing its survival, it’ll hit back hard with all its might against US and Israeli targets, making both countries pay dearly for their actions, the Saudis along with them most likely, including their oil fields.

According to Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, if the Trump regime attacks Iran, the country “will not be alone in the confrontation, because the fate of our region is tied to the Islamic Republic.”

Hezbollah is part of the region’s anti-imperial “axis of resistance.” It has tens of thousands of fighters and missiles able to rein hellfire on US and Israeli strategic targets if Iran and/or its forces are attacked militarily.

In 2006, its fighters defeated IDF ground forces, giving them a bloody nose, their most embarrassing ever defeat.

Hezbollah is much stronger militarily now than then. The same goes for Iran, why Pentagon commanders want war avoided.

It’s why Israel won’t go it alone against the Islamic Republic, perhaps not even against Hezbollah without US help.

Despite all of the above, will the Trump regime attack Iran and/or Venezuela militarily? While I believe not, it’s foolhardy to believe there’s no chance for US war on these countries.

Hardliners in Washington aren’t known for restraint. The US permanent war agenda makes anything possible, including unthinkable war on Russia or China, a doomsday scenario if things go this far.

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The U.S. Ultimatum on Huawei Is Backfiring


The U.S. is putting pressure on its many partners across the world to follow its lead and ban Huawei from their national telecommunications networks, with the Trump Administration channeling the Bush one in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by strongly implying that they are “either with us or against us.”

Unlike back then, however, few countries are going along with the U.S. pressure; probably because they understand the huge difference between joining an anti-terrorist military coalition and an anti-Chinese trading one.

Building off of that observation, Huawei’s services are inexpensive and high-quality, which is the exact opposite of what the competition is providing, whether American or otherwise, and it makes sense for countries to purchase its technology in order to help them modernize their telecommunications infrastructure in preparation for the global 5G revolution.

Be that as it may, the U.S. isn’t the one to give up its campaigns of pressure so easily, which is why it’s threatened to stop sharing intelligence with the countries who partner with Huawei on the false pretext that doing so would be tantamount to giving this information to China as well.

This is a startling ultimatum because it suggests that the U.S. is willing to sit back and allow terrorists to strike its partners as punishment for them refusing to toe the line on trade, which isn’t just extremely unethical, but also counterproductively contradicts the spirit behind the Bush Administration’s immediate post-9/11 ultimatum.

Playing games with people’s lives unless their governments go along with their “partner’s” economic demands is a new tactical low in President Trump’s much-touted international deal-making approach and belies strategic desperation to do whatever is needed in order to get other countries to submit to him.

To their credit, most European countries are resisting the U.S.’ security blackmail and bravely going forward with their Huawei partnership plans in parallel with intensifying their military cooperation through the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative that Washington has recently complained about once again.

In fact, it can be said that the more that the U.S. puts pressure on its European partners through this unethical deal-making tactic and others, the more likely it is that they’ll push back and respond by strengthening their cooperation with one another.

This isn’t just a blind reaction either, but part of the bloc’s new policy to adapt to new international conditions, which was just recently elaborated upon by German Chancellor Merkel when the de-facto EU leader proclaimed that “the old certainties of the postwar order no longer apply” and that “Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world.”

The bloc was already moving in this direction prior to the U.S.’ anti-Chinese pressure campaign, but President Trump’s strategy of security blackmail will only accelerate this process. Moreover, it looks likely to widen the existing transatlantic divide on other issues too.

U.S. trade war tactics aren’t just being applied against China, but against the EU as well, and talks on the Obama-era Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have frozen. In response to U.S. economic protectionist policies, EU countries have looked towards China as the new heir of globalization and strengthened their trade ties with it instead, with some influential states such as G7 member Italy recently joining China’s Belt & Road Initiative.

It, therefore, appears as though the U.S. has forgotten that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” and that the policy of pressure that it is putting on its partners to separate them from China is obviously backfiring.

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Unlawful Arrests of Venezuelan DC Embassy Protectors Symbolic of US Decadence


Activist embassy protectors were invited into Venezuela’s Washington diplomatic facility by its legitimate ruling authorities in Caracas.

According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the premises of embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic facilities are inviolable territory — no one permitted inside without head of mission permission.

The illegal seizure of Venezuela’s DC embassy and arrest of activist protectors were unprecedented acts of US diplomatic piracy.

The Bolivarian Republic’s Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Ron denounced what happened, calling the Trump regime’s action a flagrant international law violation, adding:

“We do not authorize any of the coup leaders to enter our embassy in Washington DC. We call on the US government to respect the Vienna Conventions and sign a Protecting Power Agreement with us that would ensure the integrity of both our embassy in Washington, DC and the US Embassy in Caracas.”

Activists David Paul, Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, and Professor of Anthropology Adrienne Pinewere unlawfully arrested and charged with “trespassing and interfering with the US Department of State’s protective functions (sic),” adding:

“The individuals were arrested on a criminal complaint charging them with a violation of 18 USC § 118, Interference with Protective Functions of the Department of State (sic), for knowingly and willingly obstructing, resisting, or interfering with a federal law enforcement agent engaged, within the United States (sic)…”

Activists charged face possible imprisonment for up to one year and a $1,000 fine — for lawfully defending the diplomatic property of the Bolivarian Republic, living in the embassy at great personal risk from April 10 until unlawfully arrested on May 16.

President Maduro, Foreign Minister Arreaza, and other Venezuelan officials thanked them for courageously supporting the rule of law the US repeatedly flouts.

On Friday, the four activists appeared before Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Conditionally released, their next court date is scheduled for June 12.

US attorney Danielle Rosborough is prosecuting the case for the Trump regime. Zeese said he and fellow activists intend “mak(ing) the case that there is a legitimate government, that the Vienna convention was violated, that this was an inappropriate and unlawful arrest,” expressing confidence of exoneration.

In Police State America, due process and equal justice under law don’t apply when US ruling authorities want their way enforced.

Still, Trump regime hardliners may not want the unlawful embassy takeover and arrests to become a rallying cry for greater activism against their anti-Bolivarian actions.

They may not want the incident to get greater publicity than already, perhaps agreeing to drop charges, subject to conditions imposed.

On Thursday in court, they were ordered to stay away from 10 Venezuelan diplomatic missions controlled by imposter Guaido’s US representatives.

This and other restrictions may be the price for avoiding imprisonment and a fine when prosecutorial proceedings begin.

Though given Trump regime toughness against Chelsea Manning, nothing is certain when the activists return to court in June.

Manning was reimprisoned last week for again invoking her constitutional right to remain silent, refusing to give grand jury testimony, saying she “cannot be coerced,” stressing:

“The government cannot build a prison bad enough, cannot create a system worse than the idea that I would ever change my principles,” adding she’d “rather starve to death” than violate them.

In response to the arrest of Venezuelan embassy protectors, Pine said the following:

“As a scholar and educator, there are times when standard tools of teaching, publishing, and public speaking aren’t enough. There are times when we need to put our bodies on the line” for justice, adding:

“A successful coup in Venezuela would have even broader consequences than those I have witnessed in Honduras. It would lead to civil war, and would most likely quickly escalate to a global conflict.”

“If, by trying to protect the Venezuela embassy, I can help my government from leading the world into this nightmare scenario, it will be well worth the potential damage to my career.”

Pine is a Honduran expert. Under US installed fascist rule, she witnessed firsthand what she called “invisible genocide” in the country.

She called the Honduran “militarized capitalism/neoliberal fascis(t)” model devastating for the rights, welfare, and dignity of its long-suffering people.

A state of siege exists in the country. Human and civil rights violations are horrific. Killings, beatings, disappearances, intimidation, and torture are commonplace.

Human rights workers, trade unionists, independent journalists, environmental activists, and other regime opponents are targeted for elimination.

What’s happening in Honduras and other nations run by US installed despots is coming to Venezuela if the Trump regime’s coup plot succeeds.

The same fate awaits Iran and other nations on the US target list, wanting tyranny replacing the sovereign rights of their people — what the scourge of imperialism is all about.

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Analysis: There Is Little Hope that Europe Will Stand in the Way of a US War with Iran


The United States will go to war with Iran if nothing is done to prevent it. This is the assumption that the world’s geopolitical actors have worked off for the better part of two decades, and there has been precious little evidence to the contrary.

In the early 2000s, once it became clear that the War on Terror was, for all intents and purposes, a war without end, Iran loomed in the background of the nightmares that engulfed Afghanistan and Iraq and persist to this day. The fact that this original member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ escaped the heyday of post-9/11 imperial adventurism has stuck in the craw of the United States’ sulking, unrepentant neoconservatives ever since.

The near-incalculable consequences of a potential American military intervention against this defiant, well-resourced, well-defended nation did not bother the late John McCain – a serial loser of both wars and elections – who pulled off the difficult trick of warmongering and insulting the Beach Boys simultaneously in a 2008 call for action. Once again, the monstrous dream was deferred, but would not be denied.

The possibility has endured for so long that complacent observers could almost be forgiven for failing to treat recent developments with sufficient seriousness. That Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton seeks a war of regime change with Iran is not revelatory; it can be filed alongside breaking news concerning the colour of the sky and the wetness of water. Yet the past two weeks give every indication of being the culmination of a bloodthirsty project many years in the making.

As of yesterday [May 15], the US state department ordered the departure of all “non-emergency employees” from Iraq, while Germany and the Netherlands suspended their assistance programs to the Iraq military. The previous day, the US military announced that the threat level for the Middle East had been raised, in response to usefully non-specific ‘intelligence’ concerns over Iran. US air and naval forces – including warships and bombers – have been dispatched to the region, following as-yet-unsubstantiated allegations of sabotage against oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and a drone attack by Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.

If the escalation appears rapid – not to mention finely orchestrated – that is because the groundwork has been laid for some time, and particularly since Bolton – a moustache with a maniac hanging off it – became Trump’s point man on foreign policy in April 2018. Within a month of taking up his new appointment, Bolton easily guided Trump into withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal which had by most accounts successfully stalled any ambitions had towards an independent nuclear program. Irritatingly for Bolton and all others who once dreamed of a New American Century, the absence of even the possibility of Iranian weapons of mass destruction removed the pretext for military intervention that had been so handy in the case of Iraq.

Since Trump – always happy to abandon legacies of the Obama administration without examining the fine print – ended the Iran deal over the objections of almost the entire world barring Israel, the US has pursued a campaign of sanctions – a cheap and brutally efficient means of warfare – combined with increasingly provocative military manoeuvres.

Speaking to CommonSpace, foreign policy writer Robert Somynne commented: “The recent escalation can be seen as a battle within the White House administration between different national security interests. The push from outside forces such as Saudi Arabia and Israel has led to the emboldening of John Bolton and his cadre. Trump and his defence team would rather send a signal of support to regional Sunni allies by strangling Iran’s population and economy. His instincts are still more anti-intervention than the mainstream American hawk; the question is whether Iranians who have been facing sanctions and war-like conditions feel as if they have nothing to lose. In the backdrop of the fight is the talk of a small summer war between Hezbollah and Israel in Lebanon.”

The nature and intent of the escalation became soberingly clear with Bolton’s statement last week, which – in addition to reiterating the United States’ standing policy that it will respond to any alleged attack by Iranian forces, or indeed anyone else who can halfway-convincingly be portrayed as Iran’s proxies – added that it would send “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime than any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

In other words, should a skirmish occur with the Israeli military or – just a thought –a couple of Saudi oil tankers are trifled with, then Freedonia’s going to war.

Amidst all this, a superficial point of distinction between the present crisis and the drums of war beaten in the early 2000s is a lack of Western consensus. Europe was virtually united in its support for the Iran nuclear deal, and has little appetite for military involvement in further Middle East conflict.

Meanwhile, the UK Government – regardless of the ever-farcical ‘special relationship’ – is still bruised and wary after the failure of its attempts to sell the necessity of intervention in Syria to both parliament and the British public. Though there is no limit to her capacity for self-sabotage, Theresa May likely has little inclination to back a far grander and bloodier endeavour in Iran, particularly when a British general has just announced that – contrary to always trustworthy US intelligence sources – there is no “increased threat” in the region.

Nevertheless, an expectation that Europe or the UK will throw up serious roadblocks to the dark designs of Bolton and the other would-be architects of Iranian regime change has little basis in reality. While war with Iraq was once the defining crisis of the age, turning even the likes of Jacques Chirac into opponents of US intervention, Angela Merkel is today more concerned with building a Western consensus in opposition to Chinese and Russian aspirations, and the EU as a whole has done little to effectively frustrate – or even rhetorically oppose – the US drive to war with Iran.

“The UK and EU have failed categorically to put pressure or stop the US from violating the interests of the international agreement, the JCPOA,” says Somynne. “We have disinisragenuous actors like France and the UK who claim a united Europe position but are in security deals with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. European policy is adrift like flotsam.”

Amidst all this, dissent does exist within the American body politic. Opposition to any war with Iran has already been voiced by the Democratic congresswoman and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard and her fellow 2020 contender Sen Bernie Sanders, who has warned that conflict with Iran would commit the US to a war “for decade after decade, which will cost us thousands of lives for our troops, as well as God knows what happens in terms of how many people die in the region.”

Sanders has said that he is “working hard” to remind Trump that it is the US Congress, not the president, who decides whether or not to go to war. Bolton – perhaps based on prior experience with Congress – does not appear particularly worried.

The United States will go to war with Iran if nothing is done to prevent it. The question is: what can be done?

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US ‘Bid to Destroy Venezuela’ Threatens the Foundations of International Law, Ambassador Warns


Washington’s bid to “destroy Venezuela” is wrecking the international laws governing relations between all states, Venezuela’s ambassador to Britain Rocio Maneiro warned today.

“Nobody really understands the danger” of the precedent set by the decision by some countries to recognise would-be usurper Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s leader in contravention of all international norms, she warned.

At a press conference in central London, Ms Maneiro said her country was “under siege,” noting that a blockade designed to “break the nation” had already cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives and that “if the nation resists the US military stands ready to act.”

Ms Maneiro detailed the “net” cast by the US to trap Venezuela, including by oil sanctions that cost the country an estimated $6 billion (£4.7bn) in revenues in the first year from August 2017.

There are even harsher measures on state oil firm PDVSA and its US subsidiary Citgo that have cost $11bn (£8.6bn) in expected revenues.

Sovereign assets have been retained, frozen or confiscated abroad amounting to $5.4bn (£4.2bn) held in 50 banks in 22 countries.

There has also been a mammoth $30bn (£23.5bn) in estimated losses from the financial isolation imposed by the closure of Venezuelan accounts in dollars and euros.

Ms Maneiro documented the history of Washington’s anti-Venezuelan measures from December 2014’s decision to sanction its Central Bank through the decision announced this week to ban flights from or to Venezuela from landing in the US.

The Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research published a study in April detailing the impact of these measures on Venezuela’s ability to import needed goods, especially medicines, and estimated that 40,000 Venezuelans have died as a result of the US blockade.

Access to vaccines for children has also been severely restricted, though Ms Maneiro noted Chinese medicine shipments continued to arrive.

The stranglehold had not begun with President Donald Trump but with “that great Democrat Nobel Prize-winner Barack Obama” as the US tried to re-establish the subservient Latin America it had known “before Chavez, before Fidel, before Sandino,” but that it would fail.

“The Venezuelan people do not accept threats. History shows our response to threats has never been submission.”

She appealed to media organisations and solidarity campaigns present to help tell the truth about the situation, noting that “the great media is spreading stories the superpower wants it to spread. We don’t have the muscle to fight that.”

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The Truth-Teller: From the Pentagon Papers to the Doomsday Machine

The growth of the military-industrial complex poses an existential threat to humanity. Daniel Ellsberg, peace activist and Vietnam War whistleblower discusses with Tellus Senior Fellow Allen White the continuing existential threat posed by the military-industrial complex—and what needs to be done about it.


Allen White: You became a pivotal figure in the anti-Vietnam War movement when you released the Pentagon Papers, a large batch of classified documents that revealed a quarter century of official deception and aggression. What inspired you to take such a risky action?

Daniel Ellsberg: After graduating from Harvard with an economics degree and completing service in the US Marines, I worked as a military analyst at the RAND Corporation. In 1961, in that role, I went to Vietnam as part of a Department of Defense task force and saw that our prospects there were extremely dim. It was clear to me that military intervention was a losing proposition.

Three years later, I moved from RAND to the Department of Defense. On my first day, I was assigned to a team tasked with devising a response to the alleged attack on the US naval warship USS Maddoxin the Gulf of Tonkin by the North Vietnamese. This completely fabricated incident became the excuse for bombing North Vietnam, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had wanted to do for some months.

That night, I saw President Lyndon Johnson and my boss, Secretary McNamara, knowingly lie to the public that North Vietnam had without provocation attacked the US ship. In fact, the US had covertly attacked North Vietnam the night before and on previous nights. Johnson and McNamara’s claim that the US did not seek to widen the war was the exact opposite of reality. In short, the Gulf of Tonkin crisis was based on lies. I was not yet moved to leave government, though I had come to view US military action as ineffective, illegitimate, and deadly, without rationale or endgame.

By 1969, as the war progressed under Richard Nixon, I saw such evil in government deceit that I asked myself, “What can I do to shorten a war that I know from an insider’s vantage point is going to continue and expand?” When the Pentagon Papers were released in 1971, the extent of government lies shocked the public. The retaliatory crimes Nixon committed against me out of fear that I would expose his own continuing threats––including nuclear threats—ultimately helped to bring him down and shorten the Vietnam War. This outcome had seemed impossible after his landslide reelection in 1972.

Today, similar revelations do not occasion equal shock because in the current administration in Washington, lying is routine rather than exceptional. Whether we are headed for a turning point toward bringing liars to justice will become clear when the investigations of President Donald Trump’s administration are concluded.

Allen White: Since then, you have been a vocal critic of both US military interventions and the continued embrace of nuclear weapons, an issue with which you had first-hand familiarity through your work at RAND and the Pentagon. How did your experience with nuclear policy contribute to your disillusionment with US foreign policy writ large?

Daniel Ellsberg: At RAND, Cold War presuppositions dominated all our work. We were certain that the US was behind in the arms race and that the Soviet Union, in pursuit of world domination, would exploit its lead by achieving a capacity to disarm the United States entirely of its nuclear retaliatory force. We were convinced that we were facing a Hitler with nuclear weapons.

However, in 1961, I learned about a highly classified new estimate of Soviet weapons: four intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). At the time, the US had forty ICBMs, as well as thousands of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Italy, Britain, and Turkey (compared to the Soviet Union’s total of zero). General Thomas Power, head of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), believed that the Russians had 1000 ICBMs. He was wrong by a factor of 250. This early mistaken belief signaled to me that something was very wrong with our perception of the world and, more specifically, with how we perceived the threat posed by the nation viewed as our most formidable adversary.

At the time, I regarded the erroneous “missile gap” as a misunderstanding or cognitive error of some kind. But, in fact, it was very much a motivated error—motivated in particular by the desires of the Air Force and SAC to justify their budget requests for huge increases in the numbers of US bombers and missiles. But why did we at RAND uncritically accept the wildly inflated Air Force Intelligence estimates, rather than the contrary estimates by Army and Navy Intelligence that the Soviets had produced only “a few” ICBMs? Again, a motivated error. Through self-deception, we viewed ourselves as independent thinkers focused exclusively on national security, assuming that our role as contractors on the Air Force payroll had no influence on our analysis.

In retrospect, it is clear that our focus and our recommendations would have been very different had we been working for the Navy. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” It was very important to us not to understand that our work was above all serving to justify the exaggerated budget demands by the Air Force.

My distrust of the wisdom of Pentagon planners was also aroused by JCS estimates of the death toll resulting from deployment of our nuclear weapons. I had heard that the JCS avoided calculating this figure because they didn’t want to know how many people they would be killing. To confront them, I drafted a question that appeared in a letter from the White House Deputy for National Security, Robert Komer, transmitted in the name of President Kennedy: “If your war plans were carried out as written and were successful, how many people would be killed in the Soviet Union and China?”

Within a week, I held in my hand a top secret, eyes-only-for-the-president document with an estimate of 325 million fatalities in the first six months. A week later, a second communication added an estimated 100 million deaths in Eastern Europe and another 100 million in our allied nations of Western Europe, depending upon the wind patterns in the aftermath of the strike. Additional deaths in Japan, India, Afghanistan, and other countries brought the total to 600 million.

That killings of this magnitude—100 times the toll of Jewish victims of the Holocaust—were willingly contemplated by our military transcended prevailing notions of crimes against humanity. We had no words—indeed, there are no words—for such devastation. These data confronted me with not only the question of whom I was working with and for, but also the fundamental question of how such human depravity was possible.

Allen White: Your recent book, The Doomsday Machine, describes “a very expensive system of men, machines, electronics, communications, institutions, plans, training, discipline, practices and doctrine designed to obliterate the Soviet Union under various circumstances, with most of the rest of humanity as collateral damage.” How did this system come about?

Daniel Ellsberg: World War II created a highly profitable aerospace sector upon which the US military relied for strategic bombing of cities, thereby setting the stage for the idea of bombers as a delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons. As orders precipitously declined by the end of the war, the industry was in dire financial straits, facing bankruptcy within a year or two. Accustomed to the guaranteed profits of the war years, they found themselves unable to compete with corporations experienced in building non-military products for the market, and demand for civilian aircraft on the part of commercial airlines was insufficient to replace the wartime military business.

The Air Force grew concerned that the industry would be unable to survive on a scale adequate to deliver military superiority in future conflicts. In the eyes of the government—and industry lobbyists—the only solution was a large peacetime (Cold War) Air Force with wartime-level sales to keep the industry afloat.

Thus emerged the military-industrial complex. Mobilization to confront a Hitler-like external enemy—a role filled by the Soviet Union—was viewed as indispensable to national security. Government military planning followed, essentially socialism for the whole armaments industry, including but not limited to aircraft production. With the benefit of hindsight, I now see the Cold War as, in part, a marketing campaign for the continual, massive subsidies to the aerospace industry. That’s what it became after the war, and that’s what we are seeing again today. The contemporary analog is the idea of China as an existential enemy, which, I believe, is the dream and expectation of the US Defense Department.

Allen White: The threat of nuclear conflict persists as a near-term existential threat yet remains muted in political discourse and largely absent in public consciousness. How do you explain this glaring inconsistency?

Daniel Ellsberg: Contemporary US media focuses on contradictions and conflicts between the two major parties. On the issue of nuclear weapons, little difference exists between them. They support the same programs and both receive donations from Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, among others. They both favor more aircraft than the Pentagon requests, itself an amazing situation given the existing level of spending. Right now, the F35, the largest military project in history, may end up costing $1.5 trillion (an incredible sum even by historical standards of lavish Pentagon spending), yet still unable to achieve the promised performance. This kind of massive pork program is used by senators and representatives to secure political advantage—a “jobs” program that often is a euphemism for a “profits” program.

Allen White: Nuclear weapons and climate change are two quintessential planetary threats requiring a coordinated global response. Do you see potential for alignment and cooperation between the anti-nuclear movement and the climate justice movement?

Daniel Ellsberg: We, as a society, are conscious of the risk of the devastating impacts that could come from climate disruption. In contrast to the absence of public discourse around nuclear conflict since the end of the Cold War, climate has been a subject of intense public debate. Although the danger of the nuclear threat remains undiminished, the proposed $1.7 trillion nuclear modernization program in the US is not a matter of serious debate.

It is difficult to compare climate and nuclear threats. The climate catastrophe toward which we are moving, while uncertain in terms of timing and outcomes, is indisputable. We have survived the nuclear danger for seventy years, although we have come close to conflict more frequently than the public realizes. I am not talking about just the Cuban Missile Crisis; in 1983, for example, we were also at the brink of a nuclear exchange, and there have been other instances. The risk of conflagration remains continuous and potentially catastrophic.

It is true that climate change may totally disrupt civilization as we know it, but how many lives would it cost? Whatever the number, some form of civilization would probably survive. By contrast, a nuclear winter, which has a non-zero possibility of occurring, would occasion near extinction.

That being said, both climate and nuclear threats are existential in nature, even as the degree and type of destruction differ. And both share another critical feature: the role of corporate interests and influence in sustaining the threat. As we speak, a pristine Arctic snowfield is under threat of oil drilling. Will Exxon and the other corporations be content to leave their known oil reserves in the ground, as needs to be done? I think that’s as unlikely as Boeing eschewing military contracts.

To the question of alignment of the nuclear and climate movements, in my view, we cannot deal with the climate problem, globally or nationally, without massive government spending to speed up the production and lower the cost of renewables, and thereby accelerate the transition from a fossil-fuel economy to a renewable energy one. This will also require subsidies to the underdeveloped countries to ease their transitions. In short, we need a new super-sized Marshall Plan combined with government regulation to constrain the most damaging impulses of the fossil-based market economy embraced by Reagan, Thatcher, and other market fundamentalists. We need a national mobilization akin to that achieved during World War II. We confronted Hitler then as a civilizational threat. Climate disruption demands an equivalent response.

And here’s where the climate-nuclear nexus comes into play again. We cannot afford the wasteful and dangerous development of new nuclear weapons that “modernize” the Doomsday Machine at the same time that we need to apply vast sums to reduce the threat of climate disruption. In the face of imminent climate catastrophe, the $700-plus-billion military budget is both untenable and irresponsible. We must convert the military economy to a climate economy. We cannot have both. To do so, we must recognize that the risks posed by the military-industrial complex far exceed those posed by Russia.

Allen White: The Great Transition envisions a fundamental shift in societal values and norms. To what extent does eliminating the nuclear threat ultimately depend on such a shift?

Daniel Ellsberg: Few would disagree that to activate plans for deployment of nuclear weapons leading to a nuclear winter—and thereby killing nearly everyone on Earth—is immoral to a degree that words cannot convey. It is a crime that transcends any human conception or language. But what about the threat of deployment? For many, propagating the threat of an immoral act is itself immoral. But in the nuclear era, the nuclear states have not accepted that as a norm. Our entire nuclear posture, and that of our NATO allies, is based on deterrence of a nuclear war and, if it occurs, responding with our nuclear arsenal.

Revisiting this norm is very difficult. It is deeply embedded in the mindset of the US, Russia, and other nuclear-armed states and reinforced by the interests of powerful corporations. When Reagan and Gorbachev agreed that nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought, they did not say that it cannot be threatened or risked. Both nations continued such preparations and do so to this day. We have been taught that nuclear weapons are a necessary evil. Without a shift in norms and values, this situation will not change.

Allen White: The Great Transition depicts a hopeful future rooted in solidarity, well-being, and ecological resilience. Given the dystopian scenarios you outline in The Doomsday Machine and your other work, where do you see the basis for hope?

Daniel Ellsberg: My intention in addressing the threat of nuclear annihilation is that it will at least open up the possibility of change. While such a shift in values and norms would be almost miraculous, miracles can happen, and have happened in my lifetime. In 1985, the falling of the Berlin wall a mere four years later would have seemed improbable, if not impossible, given decades of nuclear tensions and near conflicts. But then it happened. And Nelson Mandela coming to power in South Africa, without a violent revolution, was impossible. But it happened.

So, unpredictable changes like these can happen, and their possibility inspires my commitment to continue my peace activities against long odds. My activity is based on the belief that small probabilities can be enlarged and that, however remote success may be, it is worthwhile pursuing because so much is at stake.

My experience with the Pentagon Papers showed that an act of truth-telling, of exposing the realities about which the public had been misled, can indeed help end an unnecessary, deadly conflict. This example is a lesson applicable to both the nuclear and climate crises we face. When everything is at stake, it is worth risking one’s life or sacrificing one’s freedom in order to help bring about radical change.

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