All posts by Gary Leupp

Trump is Alienating Europe: This Is a Good Thing

Thesis: the main achievement of the Trump administration to date has been to alienate European allies, in particular Germany, France and Britain, thus weakening the Atlantic Alliance. Originally concerned by candidate Trump’s questioning of NATO’s continuing relevance, they have been satisfied by Trump’s re-commitment to the alliance (even as he moans about the member countries’ general failure to shell out the 2% for “defense” the pact theoretically entails). But they’ve been dismayed by the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord on climate, its pullout from the Iran nuclear deal (threatening sanctions on European companies that in accordance with the deal want to trade with Iran), its abandonment of coordinated policy on Israel, its imposition of tariffs on European steel and aluminum, and its general barking tone.

These days Angela Merkel is feeling more in common with Vladimir Putin than Donald Trump. Putin speaks to her in fluent German, treats her with respect, and is generally predictable, unlike the erratic Trump.

He tells her: let’s make more energy deals for mutual benefit, whatever the Americans think. And please don’t support the expansion of NATO; enough already. We are a formidable power, but our military budget is tiny compared to NATO’s and we are not about—and have no reason to—invade you. We just don’t want your military alliance to completely encircle us. We understand that, as a U.S. ally, you had to echo Washington’s condemnation of our annexation of Crimea and apply sanctions to us. But you know as well as I do that if Ukraine had been brought into NATO as the U.S. planned after the 2014 coup, our Crimea naval bases would have been transferred to NATO and we could never accept that. If you make the lifting of sanctions contingent on Russian withdrawal from Crimea, sorry, we will just have to accept them while applying counter-sanctions. Let us work together on the issues that unite us, like combating climate change and implementing the Iran agreement and protecting these agreements against U.S. obstruction.

This is potentially a key moment in which finally the unholy alliance based on a Faustian bargain between the U.S. and European anticommunists in the late 1940s fractures. What is the greater threat to Europe? The Russian state, which has gone through the agonizing process of full-scale capitalist restoration and a period of total chaos in the 1990s giving way to recovery under Putin, and which currently spends about 14% of what the U.S. devotes to military expenses every year? Or the U.S., which (still) wants to dictate European policy, even as its GDP dips relative to Europe’s? The EU GDP is now 90% of the U.S.’s.

Putin told Emmanuel Macron at the recent St. Petersburg economic conference: “Europe depends on U.S. in the realm of security. But you don’t need to worry about that; we’ll help. We’ll provide security.” I don’t think it was a joke.

Imagine a Europe not dominated by German banks deeply invested in support for U.S. imperialism using EU architecture to hold nations hostage to imposed austerity programs. Imagine a Europe of independent countries seeking rational equidistance between Washington and Moscow.

Putin has envisioned a free trade union including the EU extending from Vladivostok to Lisbon. It would be facilitated by China’s “new Silk Road” infrastructure projects, which may indeed unite Eurasia as never before, even as the U.S. recedes into the Grey Havens.

Russia will keep Crimea, as it has for most of the last three centuries; Ukraine will have to accord autonomy to the Russian-speaking Donbas region; Europe will lift its Russia sanctions gradually, because they are not in Europe’s interest (and punish Europe for the U.S.’s sake); contempt for the U.S. will mount so long as Trump is president, and could even deepen if he’s succeeded by Pence. The EU will continue to split on issues of immigration, austerity, Russian ties and other issues and the splits will deepen. The understaffed and clueless State Department will continue to urge trans-Atlantic unity. But having violated that unity repeatedly the U.S. has no moral authority to demand its continuation.

Meanwhile Putin plans a meeting with Japan’s Abe Shinzo to resolve the Northern Islands question. Probably a swap of islands, Russia returning two to Japanese sovereignty. This would end the formal state of war between the two countries and pave the way to huge Japanese investments in Russia. And given the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Japan will likely be drawn more into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization dominated by China and Russia.

India under Modi is basking in a period of U.S.-Indian friendship. Having (without clear explanation) forgiven India for its robust nuclear weapons program the U.S. seeks more cooperation with India versus China. But the U.S. alienates New Delhi over Iran sanctions. India buys Iranian oil and will continue to do so.

Xi Jinping in China enjoys a good relationship with Trump, having cleverly flattered him and Ivanka. But he is not pleased with Trump’s trade war threats and challenge to Chinese construction on the South China Sea atolls. The Chinese economy grows by leaps and bounds, and China’s military strengthens inevitably. China is the main rival to the U.S. geopolitically, and it is strategically aligned not only with Russia but with Central Asian countries, former Soviet republics, in general.

The U.S. could at least once boast of hegemony over Latin America, where military dictatorships once comfortably secured U.S. interests. Now these are gone.  Latin America in general militates in different ways against U.S. imperialism. The spectacle of a U.S. president demanding the construction of a wall to keep out Mexican illegal immigrants and demanding that Mexico pay for it appears to hundreds of millions of people as a perverse, sadistic move. Reports of kids separated at the border from their parents and disappearing in their hundreds doesn’t help.

The U.S. is alienating Canada, for god’s sake, by steel tariffs. Good good good good good. Let’s break the whole thing, Donald!

The emergence of a multilateral world—in which the U.S. cannot oblige its allies (as it did in the case of the Iraq War) to embrace its own lies, and share in the ramifications of their acceptance—is on the horizon. The world sees a moron in the White House, handles him carefully, its leaders probably trading notes on his disturbing and unstable personality. Leaders assess the U.S. as a declining power with a horrifying arsenal and more horrifying willingness to invade countries for no good reason but diminishing geopolitical clout. The flurry of exchanges between European and Iranian leaders after the U.S. announcement on the Iran deal and stated determination of the Europeans to beat U.S. secondary sanctions, and strong EU statements of indignation at the US. decision, may signal a sea-change in relations.

European Council President Donald Tusk (a former Polish prime minister) last week criticized “the capricious assertiveness of the American administration” over issues including Iran, Gaza, trade tariffs and North Korea. adding: “Looking at the latest decisions of Donald Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies? But, frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful by President Trump. Because, thanks to him, we got rid of all the illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

You realize what this means?

These are significant words, under-reported by the U.S. media, that appears to simply assume the continuation of the existing U.S. hegemonic order in the world, is addicted to the cult of promoting military “service” as a good in itself, and—while wanting to bring down Trump for various reasons—cannot challenge capitalism and imperialism or make astute analyses of present conditions because they are paid by corporations that have vested interests in promoting the CNN and NYT concept of reality. The fact is, the post-war U.S.-dominated world is collapsing, as it should. As empires do.

The fact that this collapse is aided by a colorful idiot in the White House merely adds dramatic appeal to the historical narrative. He will grandiloquently preside over some sort of Korean agreement to satisfy his ego, then perhaps attack Iran with zero European backing but frenzied Israeli and Saudi support, inaugurating a major if not world war. This would not further endear this country to the planet in general.

Disrespecting Allies: A Presidential Tradition

Both North and South Korean government officials were reportedly shocked by Trump’s sudden cancellation of the Singapore summit. The South Korean president was taken by surprise. It makes me recall this historical incident.

In July 1971 Richard Nixon announced that he would visit the People’s Republic of China the following year, signalling a major shift in U.S. foreign policy. Japanese Prime Minister Sato Eisaku was not pleased; he’d been informed only hours before the announcement. Japan had been the U.S.’s closest ally in Asia since 1945, hosting tens of thousands of U.S. troops and supporting virtually every U.S. action on the world stage. It had offered material support to the U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam; indeed the payments for “special procurements” were significantly responsible for Japan’s postwar recovery. This was a very special bond. That Sato had not been consulted about the sudden U.S. move was surprising if not insulting,

In February 1972 Nixon visited China, opening a process that would result in the opening of diplomatic relations only seven years before. Meanwhile in September the Japanese new Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei visited China in September, just seven months after Nixon, and immediately reestablished diplomatic relations with China. It was one of the rare instances of a Japanese initiative at variance with U.S. policy (which was to still recognize Taiwan as the “legitimate” government of China). It was also a statement to the U.S. that where East Asia is concerned, Japan has its own interests. Japanese corporations immediately began to invest in China’s restored capitalism, years before U.S. companies.

(The only other significant policy divergence I can think of in the postwar period is Japan’s continuing purchase of Iranian oil.)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in reportedly learned on TV of Trump’s decision. After all the effort the South Koreans had put into the preparations! And given the fact that South Korea like Japan hosts tens of thousands of U.S. troops. You’d think it would be shown more respect from the U.S. president.

Trump’s terrifying threats had already driven the Koreas together, producing an extraordinary statement ending the state of war between them. Trump’s erratic behavior will likely draw the Koreas further together, in self-defense, and bring both closer to China. The North’s proposal for a confederation of two states is looking increasingly feasible.

Nixon was a mass-murderer with a keen strategic mind. Trump is an impetuous narcissistic man-child with no strategy. Nixon surely factored in Tokyo’s hurt feelings at his abrupt announcement of the China opening, but felt them of minor significance. Trump quite likely did not even think about Seoul’s reaction to his letter cancelling the summit.

The decision to cancel the summit was one thing, the failure to consult with ally Seoul is another. It’s another expression of U.S. imperialist arrogance and the facile assumption that U.S. satrapies will meekly accept Washington’s decisions. But it seems to have produced an immediate coordinated effort by Pyongyang and Seoul to keep summit plans on track, the possible alternative being war.  Trump was pleased by a message to him last night praising him for his boldness in engaging with Pyongyang so far. So we learn from Trump today (Friday) that well, maybe it will happen, and maybe even on June 12.

The Koreans (like Xi, Abe, Prince Muhammed bin Salmon, Macron) know how to stoke Trump’s ego in efforts to sway him from what they perceive as disastrous decisions. But so far they’ve had mixed success. He’s acquired a record of shocking allies by sudden announcements, so many that he risks significantly weakening the Atlantic Alliance, and ties with Japan and Korea. By all means let him continue to alienate allies, in his clueless way, producing if inadvertently a more multilateral world. If he doesn’t destroy it the world might praise him for this feat and award him the Nobel Peace Prize for diminishing U.S. power and influence in the world.

Pompeo’s Iran Speech

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced to a Heritage Foundation audience Monday a set of 12 demands (‘basic requirements”) to induce the U.S. to rejoin a new, improved JCPOA agreement and to avoid being “crushed” by the U.S. A Washington Post op-ed by Jason Reizaian described the speech was “silly,” and it was criticized by most of the media as at least unrealistic.

I’m reminded of the Twenty-One Demands Japan submitted to China on January 8, 1914. Months earlier Japanese forces had attacked the German concession (colony) in Shandong and occupied the territory. The attack on the Germans was justified by the fact that Germany was a war with Britain, and Japan was a British military ally doing its part in the First World War. Tokyo demanded that China acknowledge its acquisition of German rights in Shandong, open up more ports to Japanese, transfer control of a mining enterprise, avoid giving more concessions to foreign powers (other than Japan), and generally place Japanese advisors at every level of government. It was so blatantly unreasonable that Britain and the U.S. were shocked and took action to block the most egregious provisions. (The Anglo-Japanese Naval Treaty of 1902 ended in 1921, in part due to mounting British distaste with their ally’s behavior.)

The Japanese imperialist state’s arrogance and cruelty had been made plain to world opinion. Today the U.S. bares its similar qualities not through a diplomatic note but a televised speech in which Iran was told to be afraid, and to obey. It put the rest of the world including key U.S. allies on notice that Washington will use its tools to thwart the trade and investment promised in an agreement it itself helped craft and signed three years ago.

Practically all U.S. allies would like to block these demands that the Trump administration is heaping on Iran. Because they also impose demands on them, to back out on big deals already signed or face secondary sanctions. In 1914 most of the world sympathized with China, the victim. Now most of the world sympathizes with Iran. From at least 2003 and the invasion of Iraq justified on a bogus nuclear threat the U.S. has acquired the reputation of a bully. It already had one, of course; the U.S. war in Vietnam horrified much of the world, as the bombing of Baghdad did in 1999. Even so, global respect for the U.S. was higher while Nixon bombed Hanoi dikes than it is now while Trump merely threatens countries’ annihilation. If there was an upswing for awhile during the Obama era, U.S. prestige and popularity has plummeted under Trump.

Recent polls show more Germans see Putin as more trustworthy than Trump, and Russia more reliable than Washington. The reputation of the U.S. has crumbled while cities crumble under U.S. bombs. Now alongside the U.S.-inflicted tragedies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya there is the potential for a major regional war, virtually provoked by the U.S., involving allied bullies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Would that there might be a global intervention to prevent the U.S. from sabotaging the deal the rest of the world not only supports but sees as a break on the manifested U.S. penchant for war. Let nations say: if you sanction us for following through on legal contracts, we will sanction you back, in the interests of maintaining our own sovereignty. Let them say: You’re not the boss now. EU GDP equals yours. Iran is a huge promising market in which Europeans especially Germans have long been invested. You’re telling us that to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons (which the IAEA says it’s not and lacks the capacity to do so) we can’t sell civilian passenger airlines to people who badly need new, safe planes? That’s absurd.

Note that Pompeo has recently visited Pyongyang twice to meet Kim Jung-un. It looks possible that there will be a serious Trump-Kim summit leading to welcome results. That is Pompeo in his diplomatic mode. In his Heritage Foundation speech he adopts the role of a super-bully, shocking not so much the Iranians (accustomed to U.S. duplicity) as the Europeans. The president of the EU Donald Tusk had asked days before Pompeo’s speech, “Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, some could even think: ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?” European leaders including British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson say they will do all they can to protect their investments.

Their resentment of being denied their rights—by a government led by a boorish, smug, condescending, bullying, demanding, wholly uninformed, malignant dunce–might be a factor itself in the decline of the U.S. empire. Engels wrote in a letter in 1894:

Men make their history themselves but not as yet with a collective will according to a collective plan or even a definite, delimited given society. Their aspirations clash, and for that very reason all such societies are governed by necessity, the complement and form of appearance of which is accident. The necessity which here asserts itself athwart all accident is again ultimately economic necessity. This is where the so-called great men come in for treatment. That such and such a man and precisely that man arises at a particular time in a particular country is, of course, pure chance. But cut him out and there will be a demand for such a substitute, and this substitute will be found, good or bad, but in the long run he will be found. …That Napoleon, just that particular Corsican, should have been the military dictator whom the French Republic, exhausted by its own warfare, had rendered necessary, was chance; but that, if a Napoleon had been lacking, another would have filled the place, is proved by the fact that the man was always found as soon as he became necessary: Caesar, Augustus, Cromwell, etc.

No, the role of personality is not so important in history. Economic necessity is operative now, surely. But are Trump’s arbitrary, inconsistent policies simply or even fundamentally driven by that? Perhaps Wall Street thinks so, until it panics at the threat of a trade war. Is it necessary for trans-Atlantic inter-capitalist competition and contention to strain the Atlantic Alliance? Or provoke conflict with Canada and Mexico without giving thought to how doing so arouses more disdain even among close allies? Trump reportedly went from being anti-NAFTA to pro-NAFTA in one day, confusing the press. He reveals the inconsistency of someone with no coherent ideology, as many have observed. He will pay too much attention to Bolton’s Wormtongue counsel, but then maybe not. With Trump you don’t know.

As a historical force his personality so far has resulted in multiple successful attempts of foreign leaders to flatter him (even the Saudis on his first foreign visit after his election) into agreements and cordial relations. He is understood (obviously) to want and need praise. The South Korean president brilliantly handled him by serving as the intermediary for North Korea in urging a summit with the North Korean leader (to avoid war on their peninsula), praising him for having made this offer happen by his pressure on the DPRK. No doubt both Moon and Xi Jinping have shared notes with Kim Jong-un about how to exploit this clown’s egoism.

His personality has also resulted in a drop in U.S. power to influence global events. Angela Merkel has been insulted by him and apparently detests him; she’s declared that “Europe must take its fate into its own hands.” In part, by partnering more with Russia.

Trump’s vacillations and vague statements, impulsive decisions and explosive threats, concern the whole world.

His personality has long since convinced the majority is this country that he’s what Hillary Clinton in her restrained name-calling called “unfit.” While his supporters hail the economic statistics thinking he is making America great again, he has produced enormous anxiety and depression and especially lacks support from youth. The prestige of the presidency has rarely been lower, even if Trump’s support remains around 40%. (He has what you call a “polarizing personality.”)

It’s hard to understand, given the multiple appointment picks and contradictory, changing policies and lack of clarity in pronouncements, what Trump’s role is in the global class struggle. He seems determined to revive the World War I world, of competing capitalist-imperialist blocs of exploiters commonly oppressing the toiling people, while always whipping up their patriotism and nationalism as preparation for war. He just might not be able to do it.

The references to him as “Leader of the Free World” are surely fake news, not only because there is no real “Free World” but because its supposed other leaders can’t accept his leadership. He’s an exposed Wizard of Oz. I thought this was true of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush too; very ignorant men posturing as astute (although neither very articulate in unscripted comments because neither knew what they were talking about) but Trump is much worse. His passion for confrontation with Iran is not based so much on economic calculation (although he may have solicited or received some outside money from Iran’s staunch enemies) as much as a campaign promise and perhaps the influence of his son-in-law.

Trump actually seems to work against the U.S. economy long-term by inviting not just limited trade wars, which are normal, but inviting such personal contempt and reducing the desire of Europeans and others to even buy U.S. products. (Not that it’s directly relevant, but the 21 Demands generated a massive Chinese boycott on Japanese imports that hurt the Japanese conglomerates for a time.) Personality is important here. But I agree to Engels that had he not been elected it would have been someone else (like Ted Cruz). The economic necessity may be the re-division of the world to satisfy the needs of psychopaths.

Europe and the U.S.: An Era of Mutual Indignation

On December 21, 2017 the United Nations General Assembly rejected the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by a 128-9 vote. The only countries to side with Israel and the U.S. were Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and for good balance, Togo. (The West African country’s President Gnassingbe benefiting from Israeli aid gushes about “Israel coming back to Africa, and Africa coming back to Israel.”)

Recall that the UNGA resolution that was passed in 1947, proposing the partition of Palestine, which (with a lot of terror) led to the establishment of the state of Israel, posited Jerusalem as a corpus separatum. Not just the status of East Jerusalem but that of the whole city remains in dispute. The city is the third holiest in the Islamic worldview, behind Mecca and Medina. The Prophet supposedly in a miraculous night visit on a sacred horse, alighted the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in what is now the occupied Old City. (I don’t believe that, any more than I believe the Old Testament myth about God causing the sun to remain stationary in the sky to give Joshua more time to conquer Jerusalem from the evil Canaanites–as depicted in Joshua 10:12. But myths are powerful.)

In any case, from the second century to the twentieth the city was overwhelming Christian or Muslim, a large percentage of its inhabitants probably descendants of pre-diaspora Judeans who over time converted to these religions. The proposition that Jerusalem is the “eternal Jewish capital” is a religious, literary and romantic one unjustified by actual history. It was emphatically not the Jewish capital between 70 CE, when Titus destroyed the city (reconstructing it as a pagan one with amphitheaters and baths); or after the Roman emperor Hadrian expelled Judeans from the city in 115; not until 1948 when west Jerusalem was taken by force. It was the headquarters of a Jewish monarch of some sort, often under foreign (Assyrian, Persian, Hellenistic) influence, for at best a thousand years before it became a pagan city, then a Christian city, then a mixed Muslim-Christian city with a small Jewish minority as of the early twentieth century.

Virtually all European allies of the U.S. voted for the resolution condemning Washington for its decision. The stance of major NATO allies UK, France, and Germany was particularly painful.

An injured UN ambassador Nikki Haley declaimed in front of the assembly: “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

What a total disconnect. She’s saying: We pay you to support us, no matter what we do, even if it’s something as inflammatory as moving our embassy to territory the UN considers disputed. (That goes for both the western part occupied in 1948 and the eastern part occupied since 1967.) We have the right to place our embassy wherever we want even if no other country agrees with us, except maybe a few small ones we’ve bought. And if you don’t like it we’ll remember your dislike the next time you need us for something.

She’s saying this not to the Third World so much as to Europe. Those ungrateful allies.

This ignorant, haughty, undiplomatic woman is the perfect Trump representative in the UN. She blames Hamas for the deaths of 92 people in Gaza, and depicts their deaths as an expression of Israel’s right to “defend itself” against peaceful demonstrators and some guys with sling-shots, like David used (see 1 Samuel 17:40).

“I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council,”  Haley declaimed on May 15, “Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.” (What? When did Danish border guards last kill 92 unarmed people?) This is like saying that the Trump inaugural was the largest in history Or that he’s the healthiest man who’s ever been president, or has the finest genes. It’s more than a lie; it’s a laughable, ridiculous lie in the face of the world, delivered by a political lightweight with no knowledge of history or experience in foreign affairs.

Europe in general doesn’t buy these lies. Nor does it accept the demand from Secretary of State (Minister of War?) Mike Pompeo that it abandon its growing Iran ties at U.S. diktat in order to facilitate the next cataclysmic war—in a zone 3000 km from Italy but 10,000 km from Washington. The Italians have accepted tens of thousands of Syrian and Libyan refugees and are probably not anxious to greet Iranian ones too. They’ve seen the results of U.S.-sponsored regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and attempted regime changes in Syria and Yemen.

An alliance of the Five Star Movement and Northern League in Italy may be taking power. Beppe Grillo, head of the former, is married to a Muslim Iranian woman. The Northern League calls U.S. accusations of Syrian use of WMD “fake news.” Both parties want closer Russian ties. Last year only 57% of Italians polled had a favorable view of NATO (higher than Spain’s 45% or Greece’s 33% but historically low).

Last January Italy and Iran signed a credit agreement worth 5.0 billion euros whereby Rome will help Italian companies invest in Iran. It was signed by Invitalia Global Investment and two Iranian banks. Is Pompeo going to stop that? In order to better “crush” Iran? Can the U.S. still so cow its traditionally closest allies?

The appointments of John Bolton and Pompeo to key positions around the unhinged, impulsive commander-in-chief mean that the policy gap between Washington and Brussels grows, as a matter of sheer idiocy (John Kelly) versus pragmatic capitalism. As appropriate disdain swells in Europe, may the U.S. recede, or hit its imperial peak then shrivel like the Spanish empire did two centuries ago. And may new silk roads link Persia and Europe as they once did, untroubled by banditry or bombs

Europe’s Response to Secondary Sanctions Threats

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire, in response to U.S. threats to apply secondary sanctions to European companies trading with Iran, asks: Est-ce que nous acceptons que les USA soient le gendarme économique de la planète ? La réponse européenne doit être clairement non.

“Do we need to accept the USA as the economic policeman of the planet? The European response clearly must be no.”

Mais bien sur. The U.S. stands in violation of an agreement not just confirmed by Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany but by the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. is now the international outlaw, demanding that others abandon their legitimate trade arrangements with Iran in order to indicate their continued submission to U.S. imperial fiat.

The abrasiveness and inconsistency of Trump himself. The contradictions within his staff and their multiple announcements on foreign policy. The manifest deference of the U.S. president to a very backward support base and the Israel Lobby.  These have little appeal in European capitals where leaders generally want peace in the Middle East, no more refugee floods, and adherence to a modicum of consultation within the Atlantic Alliance before Washington does something crazy.

Trump responds: Screw you free-loaders, avoiding your 2% NATO expenditures! We like the Saudis and Israelis more than you, and they both want confrontation with Iran. Who cares about your auto manufacturing deals or airline deliveries? You’re supposed to be on our side for god’s sake. We liberated you from the Nazis or somebody, once. Now we want you on board as we restart the pointless conflict with Iran. Why can’t you just cooperate, Angela and Emmanuel and Bruno?

The tone of dissent intensifies. Europeans are saying: Who are you, at this point, at your level of relative decline, when our EU GDP exceeds yours, when we have healthier more peaceful societies should we take your lead on Iran relations? Or back off from our lucrative deals because you object, and stupidly want war with Iran?

Maybe this will be the tipping-point. May inter-imperialist contradictions intensify, not to produce war as usual but to discourage it. A common European front against U.S. bullying on Iran, along with the rise of populist and nationalist parties in Europe and mounting discontent with the Russia sanctions demanded by the U.S. after the Ukraine coup in 2014, and growing anxiety about the madness of U.S. policy (as in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital) could weaken NATO.

Think of it this way. The U.S. effort from 1999 to expand NATO culminated in a failed effort to draw in Ukraine and the (arguably defensive and premptive) Russian reassertion of sovereignty over Crimea and support to Russian-speaking separatists in the Donbas region. U.S. leaders treated this as a crime comparable to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and demanded that Europe join it in applying sanctions on Russia. (The irony here is that Victoria Nuland, the odious State Department official who helped engineer the coup, told the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine just before the coup, “Fuck the EU!” because of differences over Ukraine’s political future. Europe has been expected to bear the pain of sanctions and counter-sanctions on their continent, demanded by the power across the ocean experiencing minimal pain from them. This is despite the fact that many Europeans sympathize with the Russian position; former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder has, for example, expressed understanding and objected to the sanctions.)

That 2014 moment, following the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia (arguably, provoked by Georgia’s crazy president Saakashvili dreaming of NATO back-up), resulted in the depiction of Russia as an “adversary.” Not because it threatens the U.S. in any way other than by sometimes trying to thwart U.S. imperial expansion.

The bullying of Europe in connection with Russia relations is joined with the bullying of Europe to accept the millions of refugees generated by USA wars.  And the bullying of Europe to spit up 2% of GDP annually on military expenditures, regardless of legislators’ views about budget priorities, in order to satisfy Washington. Even though the last thing on their minds or even imaginable to intelligent people is a Russian invasion or Iranian missile attack. The bullying of Europe to cut Iran ties under threat of secondary sanctions could be the last straw. Not so much because of the money involved. It’s the arrogance, ignorance, and strong-arming by people who don’t realize the U.S. has declined a lot from the 1950s and can no longer control its allies, much less the whole world. Europe’s a very old place with lots of proud people. So is Iran. The two are bound by an international agreement signed by the European Union itself as well as by the UK, France and Germany. The U.S. is in violation. Why should it be able to sabotage the deal?

It’s all about freedom, surely. U.S. freedom to use its market access as an intimidating tool to prevent other nations’ free trade with one another.

Secretary of State Pompeo is going today to announce the administration’s plans for “the strongest sanctions in history” on Iran (to “crush” it). He seems to assume European cooperation. May they say Fick dich! to Pompeo. May they say a loud NO! and enjoy the advantages of national independence and independent multilateral ties in what should be a multilateral world.

The Europe That Can Say No?

EU president and Polish politician Donald Tusk says the U.S. acts with “capricious assertiveness.” With friends like this who needs enemies?” he asked the other day, adding, “If you need a helping hand you will find one at the end of your arm.”

EU vice-president Federica Mogherini met with European and Iranian representatives after the U.S. decision to leave the Iran nuclear agreement. She committed Europe to the following:

  • Maintaining and deepening economic relations with Iran;
  • The continued sale of Iran’s oil and gas condensate petroleum products and petrochemicals and related transfers;
  • Effective banking transactions with Iran;
  • Continued sea, land, air and rail transportation relations with Iran;
  • The further provision of export credit and development of special purpose vehicles in financial banking, insurance and trade areas, with the aim of facilitating economic and financial cooperation, including by offering practical support for trade and investment;
  • The further development and implementation of Memoranda of Understanding and contracts between European companies and Iranian counterparts;
  • Further investments in Iran;
  • The protection of European Union economic operators and ensuring legal certainty:
  • And last but not least, the further development of a transparent, rules-based business environment in Iran.

Meanwhile U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton asks rhetorically on ABC: “Why would any business, why would the shareholders of any business, want to do business with the world’s central banker of international terrorism?” He threatens secondary sanctions on nations that, adhering to the agreement, expand trade with Iran.

Some including RT commentators predict Europe will buckle to U.S. pressure and cancel contracts. But maybe not this time. Maybe Europe will become the Europe That Can Say No.

“We are working on finding a practical solution … in a short delay of time,” Mogherini says. “We are talking about solutions to keep the deal alive. We have a quite clear list of issues to address. We are operating in a very difficult context … I cannot talk about legal or economic guarantees but I can talk about serious, determined, immediate work from the European side.”

Immediate work to diminish the damage done to world peace and stability by Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

According to EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulus, the EU is preparing legislation to block U.S. sanctions targeting Iran. Its members know that if Iran reaps no sanctions relief from the agreement it will also withdraw, charging betrayal. France’s Total S.A. and Germany’s Siemens have indicated they may back out of contracts with Iran due to fears of U.S. secondary sanctions. The U.S. strives to use access to its marketplace to shape others’ investment options, in this case options that can lead to war. No matter that this violates the sacred bourgeois principle of Free Trade.

There are all kinds of good reasons for Iran and the rest of the world to expand trade ties. (French cooks would like access to Iranian pistachios—the world’s best—and saffron.) And there’s no reason for other governments to embrace Bolton’s view that the Iranian government is the central banker of international terrorism. (Surely that is Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading supporter of Salafist Sunni Islamism, which supports the Syrian Liberation Front, the Army of Conquest, and Ahrar al-Sham. The Saudi monarchy, presiding over a society far more oppressive than Iranian or Syrian society—but spared media outrage—pursues its unholy alliance with Israel to bring down the regime in Tehran, preparing for the coming confrontation by invading Bahrain, isolating Qatar, pulverizing Yemen and bombing Syria at U.S. behest and kidnapped the Lebanese prime minister in order to influence Lebanese politics and diminish the role of Hizbollah.)

And there are all kinds of reasons for Europe to stand up to the U.S. and say, “Your sanctions are not our sanctions.” And maybe add: Your intentions for further regime change in the Middle East are not popular in Europe, which fears more waves of refugees. And also add: The sanctions you’ve demanded we impose on Russia following the February 2014 coup in Ukraine and consequent Russian reassertion of sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula are hurting Europe and should be lifted.

There should be a multilateral world. It already exists, actually, but the U.S. ruling class, wedded as it is to “full-spectrum dominance” and notions of U.S. “exceptionalism” resists acknowledging it. Bolton’s remarks are telling.

“I think the Europeans will see that’s in their interest ultimately to go along with this,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper over the weekend. Asked if the U.S. would apply sanctions to European firms, he said vaguely, “It’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.” He notes legal devices available to the U.S. such as the denial of licenses. He threatens to pull out all the stops to impede the world’s effort to conciliate Iran. He wants to coordinate Saudi, Israeli, U.S. and MEK efforts to effect regime change in Tehran; as he told an MEK audience in July 2017, he expects this by 2019!

This is the U.S. National Security Advisor, serving an unusually unbalanced, ignorant U.S. president. (The British demanded his withdrawal from the Libya talks in 2004 because he was overbearing, indeed acting like a madman.) He is saying, confidently, Europe will go along “when they see it’s in their interest.” Maybe he and Trump miscalculate. The EU even without Britain rivals the U.S. in population and GDP. If it once needed to obey, it might not need to (or want to) now. The U.S. these days does not smell of freedom, democracy, liberal values, calm reason, tolerated dissent. It reeks of white nationalism, racist exclusion, institutional police violence and murder, and seemingly irrevocable tendency towards the concentration of wealth in the .01%. It is a fundamentally unfair, unjust, unadmirable society that tortures its youth by offering them low-paying jobs and endless student debt if they were lucky enough to go to college. It denies its people the normal standard of public health care and charges them twice the Canadian fees.

It is a basically a fucked-up country. That it, after its (ongoing) disasters in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon and elsewhere, it has no moral leg to stand on in lecturing Europe to maintain sanctions on Iran. After siding 100% with Israel, on everything imaginable, it has lost any credibility as an honest broker in international relations.

The EU comprises various imperialist countries who, of course, exploit workers throughout the world, competing in the process with the U.S. They are not morally different from the U.S. But their governments increasingly chafe under U.S. hegemony, and this particular nut-case hegemon, Donald Trump.

Angela Merkel said last week that Europe can no longer count on the United States to protect it. “It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us,” she declared, “but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands. That’s the task of the future,” she said during a speech honoring French President Emmanuel Macron, who said European nations should not allow “other major powers, including allies” to “put themselves in a situation to decide our diplomacy [and] security for us.” Trump was all over this guy in his last visit but the bromance ends here. You do not order proud France to cease trade ties with Iran just because you’re looking for another war. Europeans are tired of that. Tired of being taken for granted as slavish allies when the U.S. decides to attack somebody. The Truman Doctrine is dead, the Cold War over, Europe despite Brexit increasingly united in its ability to collectively respond to U.S. pressure.

Let there be an intensification of inter-imperialist contradictions! Let Germany say, yes, brothers and sisters, let us manufacture Mercedez-Benz sedans in Tehran! Let us sell you Airbus passenger airliners! Let us buy your walnuts and pomegranates and carpets. And let us tell the Americans the “American century” is not gonna happen. Because it shouldn’t happen.

Hizbollah’s Victory and the US-Iran Conflict

Among the things that the Iran deal critics demand is a broader, better deal that curbs ballistic missile construction and prevents Iran from supporting “terrorists.” The media never questions the proposition that Iran in fact supports such people. Who are these terrorists? Hizbollah in Lebanon tops the list. (Hamas is usually next, and then the Houthis of Yemen, the Shiite militias in Iraq, the Syrian Arab Army, etc. Even the Revolutionary Guards a division of the Iranian military, is listed by the State Department as a “terrorist organization.”)

The elections in Lebanon last Sunday gave Hizbollah and its allies (mostly Maronite Christians, actually) a majority in Parliament. They won 67 out of 128 seats. Israeli politician and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett declares that now “Lebanon equals Hizbollah.”  (Since Israel has invaded its northern neighbor in 1982 and 2006, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths, including at least 400 in the Shatila-Sabra massacre of Palestinians in West Beirut in two days in September 1982, such talk must worry most Lebanese.)

Hizbollah is little known to people in this country. Maybe some have seen that Anthony Bourdain “Parts Unknown” episode from Lebanon in 2015. Bourdain spent some time with a Maronite Christian family in Beirut who had a Hizbollah poster on the wall; the host praised their role in resisting Israeli attacks. (Bourdain  in his typical way was nonjudgmental. It’s unfortunate that some of the best, most objective commentaries on some countries are provided by this professional cook on CNN.) Maybe some question the routine designation, by the State Department echoed by the media, of the organization as “terrorist.” I myself do. But we doubters are surely few. Few organizations have been more systematically vilified.

Why has Hizbollah been designated a “terrorist” organization by Israel and the US, followed (somewhat reluctantly) by the EU in 2013 under US pressure? Germany continues to refuse to designate Hizbollah “in its entirety” as terrorist; like the EU in general it distinguishes between the “military wing” and the political party. Neither Russia nor China see it as terrorist. They realize that Hizbollah is a large political movement based in the Shiite community but enjoying an alliance with Christian and other minorities. It maintains a robust militia, more powerful than the Lebanese Army. It also maintains radio and TV stations, charities, hospitals. It has a genuine social base in Lebanon; that, rather than Iranian aid, is the key to its success. But instead of examining it in its specificities, successive US administrations have simply condemned it while emphasizing its Iranian ties.

Just like the current administration smears Houthis in Yemen as Iranian proxies. Or the Alawi-led government of Syria as a pawn of an Iran striving for regional dominance. Anyone paying attention knows that while the Houthis practice a form of Shiism it is very different from that of Iran; that a Shiite imamate ruled Yemen for 1000 years; and that there is little evidence for Iranian arms support for the Yemeni rebels. They know too that the Damascus government is led by the secular Baathist Party, which is ideologically at odds with Iran’s Islamic republicanism; the alliance is based on mutual security in the face of ongoing imperialist encroachment. But the Saudi-promoted specter of a “Shiite crescent” extending from Iran through Iraq (the only majority-Shiite Arab nation) into Syria and Lebanon, threatening to absorb Yemen and perhaps Bahrain, ruled by the Iranian ayatollahs, guides the minds of the benighted US policy makers.

Trump apparently demands a new deal with Iran that curbs its ballistic missile program and ends its support for (whatever the boss calls) “terrorism.” The principle recipients of this aid, always mentioned, are Hizbollah and Hamas. Hamas of course is the Palestinian party that governs the vast concentration camp of Gaza. It swept the Palestinian legislative election, the first and only free Palestinian election, in 2006. It has responded to Israeli occupation with violence on occasion; this itself, for the Israelis and US, constitutes terrorism. Iran-backed terrorism.

Why would Iran withdraw support from Hizbollah, even as it rises in electoral popularity and strength? Even as it successfully assists the Syrian Arab Army in fighting al-Qaeda and ISIL forces challenging the Assad government in Syria? It is an unreasonable imperialist demand. The demand of the Syrians and Iranians that the 2000 US Special Forces illegally in Syria withdraw is eminently reasonable, but US efforts to remold the Middle East through military intervention are outrageous. The US demand to determine who the world views as terrorist is similarly outrageous.

By demanding that Iran renegotiate the nuclear deal to include the irrelevant question of Tehran’s ties to different political groups in the region, Trump does what the US has done time and time again with those targeted for regime change: he sets the bar too high, and paves the way for war.

In 2002 the French and Germans made clear that they did not accept the US justification for the impending war on Iraq. But the Brits were on board, reliably, and some other NATO allies. US prestige took a blow in the court of world public opinion as the savage attack and occupation produced civil war, half a million died, and the US engaged in the types of torture revealed in the Abu Ghraib torture photos. In 2011 Germany opposed NATO airstrikes on Libya, but France and Britain strongly advocated it, and drew in Hillary Clinton who convinced a hesitant Obama.

This time, however, all the US’s top three European allies (with the 4th, 5th and 7th largest GDPs in the world), join China (2nd) and Russia (12th) in firmly opposing the US action against Iran. (Japan–3rd–is opposed but will not speak up. All major powers think Trump is crazy to try to sabotage a deal that’s good for them, Iran and the world. The only ones applauding are the Israelis (who fantasize that Iran is an “existential threat”) and the Saudis (who see Tehran as the headquarters of Shiite heresy, and in their republicanism threatening to Sunni monarchies throughout the Gulf).

Many must marvel at how the absolutely clueless Trump has been influenced by the snake oil salesman Netanyahu, who tried so hard to dissuade Obama from signing the deal–from a US Senate podium at that, and railed against it at the UN, and lectured Trump in English with a power point presentation a couple days before the announcement. And by the Saudi King Salman and Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who flattered him during his sword-dance visit last year. These are not the most reputable or trusted people in Europe or the world in general. Trump is choosing his friends on the basis who flatters him best.

Meanwhile Hizbollah, a big Iran ally, expands its control and hence Iran’s influence over Lebanon–through peaceful electoral means. And Bashar al-Assad, another big ally, militarily defeats his opponents with Russian, Iranian, Hizbollah and Iraqi Shiite militia assistance. The (Shiite, allegedly ) Houthis of Yemen hold out against the savage (Sunni) Saudi assault. These forces are not mere Iranian proxies but agents acting in their own right, with varying degrees of Iranian support.

Hizbollah was founded in 1982 as a response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The group was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini. But to see it as a mere proxy is to deny agency to the Lebanese people who support it, for reasons that have nothing to do with Iran but everything to do with resistance to Israeli aggression.

To demand that Iran, in addition to the major concessions it has already made on its nuclear program, withdraw support from the various groups it supports (to some extent; sometimes the extent is exaggerated) in the region, is to demand it concede the field to the US, Israelis and Gulf Arabs and their own favored terrorist proxies. It’s a demand that the whole world accept the US State Department’s evolving list of “terrorist organizations” as universally definitive. Enough already.

The Iranian organization Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), founded in the 1960s to violently oppose the Shah’s regime, was considered a terrorist organization by the US until 2012. Why did the designation change? Hint: It had nothing to do with any change of behavior, but had something to do with ongoing ties to US and Israeli intelligence in relation to producing regime change in Iran.

MEK famously sided with Saddam’s Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. It has allegedly killed US citizens. But now it’s cool, while Hizbollah is not. While the US embraces MEK Iran is supposed to abandon Hizbollah, because the US demands it, threatening to destroy a UNSC-approved treaty if Tehran persists in supporting this group which–did I mention?–just with its bloc swept the Lebanese elections. The arbitrary reasoning is obvious, and unjustifiable.

The US under Trump has truly lost reason. Europe should now say, “It was a fun 70 years together. But now, it’s just not working. You’ve become offensive, unreasonable. You may overestimate your power. We will for our part resist your efforts to curb our trade with Iran or any other country where we have the right to operate

House of Cards: Trump’s Accumulating Worries

The White House is more and more looking like a house of cards. After 16 months the staff is demoralized, in disarray and divided, some prone to leak embarrassing news to the press. (Trump in January banned personal cell phones in the West Wing, indicating that he mistrusts everyone around him.) While Trump is reported to dislike firing people (in real life as opposed to his reality show The Apprentice), over 12 top officials have left so far, among them the secretary of state, who called him a moron. The high rate of staff turnover suggests that Trump lacks judgment; he picks people on the grounds and physical appearance, personal rapport, and expectations of loyalty winding up with a contentious cabinet that can’t act as a team. Trump in his narcissism demands to be the decision-maker. Having multiple views around him, he says, is good. Not that he necessarily listens to advice.

His son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner is in apparent legal troubles concerning his business dealings, and like Don Jr. is under investigation by the Mueller probe for Russia contacts during the campaign. His lawyer Michael Cohen has been indicted, and may well turn against the president if charged with crimes carrying lengthy prison terms. He has small children.

Scandals involving sexual harassment and assault have plagued this White House, while Trump has generally supported those on his staff or in his circle accused of such offenses. He has himself been accused of, and indeed in the “Access Hollywood” tape virtually boasted of, sexual assault. His base may have brushed off criticisms of his private life up to this point, but now he’s had to confess to his hush payments to Stormy Daniels — after denying (April 4) that he had any knowledge of them. And while he implausibly claims he didn’t know about the payments until after April 24, The Hill reports that he did know at this time that he had been paying Daniels (through Cohen) and had known it for months. So he lied on Air Force One. Not a big surprise to the people, but a humiliating experience for Trump.

His tweeting habit causes him to rave and rant spontaneously with minimal thought and analysis, causing most of us to cringe. His lawyers and advisors cringe. Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly (who has reportedly called him an “idiot”) states that he doesn’t bother to read the tweets. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has declared that (former) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Kelly are “those people that help separate our country from chaos.” Babysitters. trying to control a tantrum-prone child.

Trump’s former physician Harold Bornstein, dismayed by the Trump team’s raid on his office to steal his medical records shortly after the inauguration, now announces that his hyperbolic short letter concerning Trump’s health released by the Trump campaign in November 2015, was dictated by Trump himself. “His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary,” he wrote. “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It was just another instance of Trump’s manipulative self-promotion.

Trump surely assumes that having seized Cohen’s documents the FBI has acquired intimate knowledge of his true wealth and its sources. And The Donald has to worry about developments in the Daniels’ case, especially if the identity of the man who allegedly threatened her can be found and traced to Cohen or Trump himself. He has to worry about the Russia probe and charges of obstruction if not collusion. He has to worry about the fact the special investigations tend to broaden out; the Whitewater investigation under Kenneth Starr in the 1990s wound up with Bill Clinton’s impeachment for the unrelated issue of office sex.

He has to worry about associates and even family members flipping on him. I imagine he has to worry about Melania’s reactions to all this stuff. He must wonder what’s on that disk that Daniels’ lawyer threatens to reveal, and whether the (alleged) Moscow hotel episode was captured on film. A marital separation would be embarrassing.

Meanwhile he must be frustrated by the fact that the men he calls “my generals” including an extraordinary number of cabinet members, continue to block his intentions. On April 4 he announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing its 2000 (?) troops from Syria. Put the Pentagon soon convinced him that the troops need to stay for the time being, as they lobby Congress for $300 million in arms for the Syrian opposition and continue to imagine that they can organize 65,000 Syrian militants for use (ostensibly) to destroy what’s left of ISIL  He perhaps knows that his generals, the more they get to know him, hold his intelligence in contempt. He may be frustrated at how they keep challenging his grasp of foreign policy issues.

He has to worry too about the fact that even if he retains a 40% support base, it might not necessarily help him if he moves against Mueller. A lot of Republicans have warned Trump against such action. If he does he could well get impeached or removed by Art. 25 of the Constitution.  So he has to choose. Let the investigation run its course, confidant that it will find no “Russian collusion” or obstruction of justice. Or try to shut it down and produce a constitutional crisis and likely impeachment. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Chemical Weapons (Once Again) in Syria

Monday morning. Joe Scarborough (on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” which I watch with embarrassing habitualness) seems absolutely certain that the Syrian military backed by Russia and Iran has “again” used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. He thus agitates for an appropriate U.S. reaction, even though the provenance of the material used in the Damascus suburb of Douma has not been investigated and determined. (Any more than the last episode in April 2017, after which Trump ordered a missile hit on a Syrian air force base, never ascertaining or caring about the facts.)

Al-Nusra is reported by some sources to have used chemical weapons in the past, and Turkey has probably exploited instances of chemical weapons use to egg on the U.S. to bomb Syria.

Scarborough acknowledges that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 has produced nothing but misery. Everybody know that. (It was a “mistake.”) Still, the former Florida Republican Congressman retains the idea that the U.S. represents freedom, democracy and human rights, and declares that by its failure to “do something” to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people it is abrogating its inherent moral role.

How does he organize his mind? How can he live with himself?

“How are historians going to explain our lack of involvement?” asks grief-stricken Joe, rolling his bespectacled eyes. Adm. James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher school at Tufts University, replies, “Historians will look back and unload a lot if shame on all of us.”

Oh? As though historians 10 years from now will have a consensus on the Syrian situation in the 2010s, agreeing that the U.S. should have bombed Syria more, and established no-fly zones, and engaged the Russian air force, and more fully used al-Nusra aligned forces…

No, that’s not how it works. “Historians” rarely agree on anything, including the attribution of shame. We do not get together in conclusive conclaves to establish the “truth” of what happened in the past. We debate what happened, and the causal relationships producing what happened. (French historians commemorating the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989 were divided in their interpretations of the event; as Zhou Enlai once remarked about the justice of that revolution, “It’s too soon to tell.”) Historians will likely long debate the current Syrian situation and disagree on what has happened and is happening.

Don’t ever say “Historians will say…”  This is incredibly disrespectful to historians. It’s a form of what’s called “essentialization.”

The shame here is that Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State went from praising Bashar Assad as a reformer and maintaining diplomatic relations (while NATO ally Turkey became increasingly close to Damascus) up to 2011, when she (and Erdogan) turned on him. Even after the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, fueled by foreign jihadis, she told Chris Wallace: “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe [Assad is] a reformer.” The shame is that instead of working with the reformer she decided to try to give him the Gaddafi treatment.

In 2011 the Arab Spring seemed to promise regime change throughout the Middle East. The U.S. found a pretext to close down its embassy and cut diplomatic ties. Obama ordered Assad to step down. Washington virtually pledged itself to the overthrow of Assad. (We know that the U.S. embassy was already in contact with regime opponents and hoping to encourage regime change. But Assad had been cooperative on terrorism, even hoisting torture facilities for U.S.-apprehended militants. On the other hand, Israel wanted him toppled, and as you may have noticed, Israel has clout in Washington.)

Then ISIL emerged, winning lightning victories from northern Syria to the gates of Baghdad in 2014. The U.S. was startled at this bad fruit of its occupation of Iraq. It was embarrassing. So the U.S. intervened in Syria, to suppress the manifest evil of the Islamic State but also to undermine the Assad regime, using Kurdish pawns in that effort. Both the CIA and Pentagon funded and trained groups who—anyone paying attention now knows—were and are necessarily allied to al-Nusra (renamed Fateh al-Sham), an al-Qaeda affiliate). The violence of both ISIL and al-Sham, directed at the Syrian state, non-Sunni religious minorities, and secular institutions, facilitated by Gulf state donors, has practically destroyed the country.

The famous souk of Aleppo, the world’s largest covered market for centuries, has been incinerated, the monuments of Palmyra blown up. The 6800-year-old Assyrian gateway lion sculpture in Raqqa was bulldozed. George W. Bush is indirectly responsible. This is what happens when you destroy societies and create a ferocious backlash.

Had the U.S. not destabilized the region, generating Abu Musad al-Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which morphed into ISIL, which seized part of Syria; and had it not decided to overthrow Assad in 2011, in league with al-Nusra allies, Syria would likely be today what it was in 2010. A stable country of Sunnis, Alawites and other Shiites, Christians, Druze, Yezidis, atheists etc going about their normal lives. A country with no dress code, where middle class women wore Italian fashions; a beer-producing country with orchestras and good schools. A highly repressive country, as is the regional norm, but not one whose people would prefer an Iraq-style U.S. occupation and inevitable accompanying violent resistance to the status quo.

John Bolton once referred to Syria (which he wanted to bomb, to produce regime change, as early as 2003) as “low-hanging fruit,” meaning it was ripe for plucking. He has waited so long to get his way. He will use this claim of a chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma to demand that his boss bomb Syria. He is an intelligent if wholly evil person; “human scum” as the North Koreans put it when he proved himself to behave civilly in diplomatic negotiations. He may see his heroic role at present to steer his impressionable and unbalanced employer to shift to his own intensely confrontational foreign policy preferences, and particularly to get Trump to challenge Russia and Iran over Syria. His own priority—it is no secret—is the overthrow of the Iranian Islamic State through coordination with Saudi Arabia and Israel. It’s insane.

MSNBC anchors keep indignantly repeating the statistics on Syrian deaths and displacements. How can the U.S. do nothing?!  How can it leave Syria to Russia and Iran?! How can we say a gas attack produces no consequences?! One commentator is soberly urging the U.S. “take out the Syrian Air Force.” Like it’s that simple. Like the Russians and Iranians and Iraqi Shiites and Lebanese (Hizbollah) are going to accept this as the moral duty of the United States to end the Syrian people’s suffering. Because the U.S. as we’ve seen in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya is really good at alleviating suffering after it bombs.

Like a shift by Trump from resisting Hillary’s Syria war plan to embracing it would be a return to global responsibility. Like attacking Assad—when his loyal, overwhelmingly Sunni professional army regains control over the country, wiping out people who can validly be defined as “terrorists”—thus preventing the restoration of peace, is a good, rational thing.

The prevalence of this view is astonishing. Is historical memory so shallow? It’s like someone once had this hypothesis that you could use gasoline to douse fire. It didn’t work the first couple times but he’s eager to try again. Joe wants “us” to do something.To help these suffering people, just as, in fact, their suffering is abating through the defeat of their worst enemies.

It’s due to that very success—of the professional Syrian Arab Army forces, the Russian military, the Iranians and others—that Syria may be overcoming its national nightmare. Or at least entering a period of low-intensity warfare in Kurdish areas along the Turkish border and protracted mopping-up operations against militants in Idlib Province. There are conflicts playing out here, particularly between Turks, Arabs and Kurds, that the State Department and Pentagon are not even staffed nor equipped to understand.

U.S. officials always see these historical nuances and issues between peoples as bothersome details in the way of their cowboy agendas. So apparently does Joe Scarborough, a pompous fool who while hating Trump admires Pompeo and Mattis as stalwarts of foreign policy respectability.

Isn’t it great that the brass during a heated meeting got Trump to back off on his pledge to withdraw “soon” from Syria, thus showing him who’s boss? (Trump loves his generals. Isn’t it great to know that they’re really calling the shots?) Isn’t it great to know that this reported chemical attack, to which he responded with an immediate knee-jerk denunciation of Russia and Putin—to all the cable anchors’ applause—might change his mind about Syrian withdrawal and cause him to more heed, say, the bellicose advice of his new national security advisor?

It’s been announced that Trump will make an announcement about Syria within 48 hours. Oh no. One can only hope Putin gets on the phone and talks some reason to him.

The U.S. cannot control everything anymore. Indeed, it never could, but it came close after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the generation-long humiliation of its peoples as the U.S. shattered the once prosperous state of Yugoslavia, bombing a European capital (Belgrade) for the first time in 1999 in (of all thing) a NATO operation and relentlessly expanded the hostile anti-Russian NATO bloc. But since the Iraqi debacle from 2003 U.S. influence has appropriately declined.

The U.S. has sought to bully its European allies into mounting confrontation with Russia, not for their interests, but for Washington’s. Spanish and Polish farmers supplying Russian markets are not for trade sanctions. Neither indeed are most European trade ministers. They obey for geopolitical reasons, so far at least. But one has the sense that not only are the Russians losing patience with U.S. intimidation but close allies are also concluding that the U.S. is so messed up under Trump that they have to seek a new path with Russia and the emerging global multilateral order. Good, good. May the stupid United Front against Russia, based on an insistence on NATO expansion and the depiction of any Russian counter-actions as unpardonable aggressions and provocations of the U.S.A., crumble even as the Trump administration collapses.


Tuesday morning. It’s widely reported that Trump will order military strikes on Syria. Cable news does not report that the Syrian Red Crescent says it has no evidence for a chemical attack on Douma. This is not important information Or that Syria, Russia and Iran strongly deny accusations of responsibility and call this an obvious effort to produce a pretext for further military aggression. They don’t entertain for a moment the thought that al-Sham might have done something to invite U.S. intervention which could only aid the terror group’s own future in the short term. (Nothing would better build its local base than a hardy U.S. invasion.) The idea that some people around Trump want a pretext to get back into the game in Syria, and indeed drive out the Russians, either doesn’t occur to them or they’re forbidden by their news directors from openly articulating the thought on air.

Trump sat there in the White House yesterday, surrounded by bemedaled generals and the evil Bolton at his side, planning to discuss Syria and the supposedly necessary U.S. “response” (as though the U.S. were responsible for conditions in Syria, where, in fact, just to point out what should be obvious, its presence is generally unwelcome and illegal).

He began, after condemning the alleged Syrian chemical attack, by whining about the FBI search of his personal lawyer’s home and hotel room. MSNBC asks how his state of mind might affect his decisions on Syria. Michael Isikoff, “investigative journalist” committed to the view that Russia is at war with America, opines that Trump is surrounded by military officers who have already (by forcing him to back down on his promise to withdraw “soon’ from Syria) proven to positively influence his judgment. (So no worries. He’ll do the right thing and bomb Syria.)

Mika asks George Will: “How can we be sure the right decision will be be made on Syria?” given Trump’s preoccupations. Will replies matter-of-factly that Trump might go to war to “cause a distraction.” She wants a strike to show Russia that the U.S. has not conceded regional hegemony to Moscow. He doesn’t want one because he thinks it would be unconstitutional. Anyway it looks like it will happen.

Makes me remember Country Joe in 1967:
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam [or Syria,or Ukraine];
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.

Lots of talk of Trump’s “tweet rant” about the Cohen search and the real possibility of high-level firings.  I have the feeling that Trump is willing to provoke a constitutional crisis and/or do something very dangerously irrational with his military that will produce his removal from office. He may indeed long for impeachment so as to rebuild his real estate career, projecting the persona of an unfairly hounded, victimized martyr who tried but failed to make America first and great again (because of liberal Democrats’ implacable hatred). His spontaneous tirade against the “witch hunt” last night, in that military context, and his pointed refusal to rule out firing Mueller, suggest he’s truly frazzled; he is, in any case, unpredictable like a baby. And there’s Bolton there at his side, a new baby-sitter, along with the generals. Open up the pearly gates.

Ending the Park Era for Good

Park Geun-hye, the former South Korean president, just got sentenced to 24 years in prison for corruption. This is good.

Some perspective. Following the imposition of the U.S. Occupation on (southern) Korea in September 1945, the U.S. handpicked the Korean nationalist Syngman Rhee (Lee Seungman) to head the emerging South Korean colony. (The Koreans were still viewed by the U.S. forces as hostile, if only because Korea had been part of the Japanese Empire and Koreans had fought in the Japanese Army.  Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge, who headed the occupation administration, explicitly described the Koreans as “enemies,” refused to recognized the newly-formed Korean People’s Republic—which had been recognized by the defeated Japanese—actively suppressed its “people’s committees” throughout the south, and initially ordered Japanese colonial administrators to remain in their posts to serve the U.S. in its occupation goals.)

Rhee had been living in the U.S. since 1904, receiving degrees from George Washington University, Harvard and Princeton and making a name for himself as an advocate for Korean independence. A Christian convert from his youth, married to an Austrian woman, Rhee was little known in Korea. (Kim Gu, who had been based in China, had the greater revolutionary nationalist credentials.) He had spent two years (1910-12) in China and Korea, but otherwise lived in Hawaiian exile. As it was the U.S. imposed him as dictator in the south, while actively preventing national reunification.

Syngman Rhee brutalized his people. An ardent anti-communist, of course, he arrested thousands of opponents, killing some (including his rival Kim Gu). He jailed some 30,000 accused communists, many of whom were tortured in prison. He crushed uprisings with brutal force; in the communist-led revolt on Cheju Island (which is as far removed from the North Korean border as one can be and still be in Korea; that is, the revolt was not directed by Pyongyang) state forces killed about 14,000 rebels. Park’s repeated provocations along the 38th parallel worried some Congressmen who felt Rhee might drag the U.S. into war.

When Kim Il-sung’s forces stormed over the border on June 25, 1950, in order to reunite the artificially divided peninsula, inaugurating the Korean War, they met with general support from the southern population. (This is the key point about the Korean War that is inadequately known or discussed. The fact is, the people wanted reunification, Rhee was unpopular, there was little incentive to resist the “invasion” by patriotic brothers. Had the U.S. not intervened to maintain the division, Korea would be one today.)

Within six weeks, the northern forces gained control of almost the entire peninsula; only the region around Puson remained under the control of the south Korean state. The U.S. summoned the Security Council to approve an international mission to repel North Korean “aggression” Had the Soviet ambassador been in attendance he would have vetoed the resolution approving the mission. But he was absent protesting the failure of the UNSC to confer the China seat on the UNSC to the Beijing government, leaving it instead in the hands of the U.S. puppet regime of Chiang Kaishek on Taiwan. (The PRC did indeed acquire the UNSC seat, twenty-one years later in 1971.)

Posing as UN-approved forces defending international law etc., U.S.-led forces pushed the Northern forces back to the 38th parallel and beyond, threatening to reunite the peninsula on U.S.-dictated terms. As U.S. troops approached the Yalu River, the Chinese felt obliged to intervene big-time. The U.S. forces were defeated in the north, and driven back, despite unprecedentedly savage bombing and Gen. MacArthur’s threat to use nuclear weapons.

The war that took about four million lives ended in a stalemate after thirty-seven months. Nothing had been accomplished, except for massive death and the leveling of the country. The 38th parallel border was reaffirmed; Rhee remained in power. (He attempted to derail the armistice agreement by releasing from prison 25,000 North Korean “anti-communist” prisoners in the south, instead of repatriating them by agreement to their homes.) In 1960 student protests against his manifest corruption and the rigging of a recent election drove him out of the country. The U.S. realizing he was too discredited by now for further use skirted him away to a comfortable Hawai’i retirement in exile (as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were later to enjoy.)

After a brief politically tumultuous interim, Park Chung-hee (Geun-hye’s father) rose to the helm in a military coup in 1963, remaining president up to his assassination in 1979. Another murderous scoundrel—a career officer in the Japanese Imperial Army, by the way, right up to 1945 (Thus while Kim Il-sung was fighting Japanese in Manchuria, Park Chung-hee was fighting with them against the Allies.)

Among Park’s crimes: the abduction of political opponent Kim Dae-jung from his Tokyo hotel, with the intent to murder him, in 1973; the Kwangju Massacre of 1980, in which South Korean military forces deployed with U.S. consent to suppress demonstrations, resulting in over 200 dead; his comment to his KCIA chief that he didn’t care if it cost 30,000 lives to suppress riots in the country. His secret nuclear weapons program from 1972 to 1978 (aborted by Jimmy Carter, who considered withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea but was blocked in his plans to do so by the brass).

Revisionist scholars in South Korea are rediscovering Park as a wise economic planner responsible for South Korea’s rise in the world. But he was a swine and it’s not surprising his own intelligence chief shot him to death in 1979, complaining he’d surrounded himself with insects.

Park was followed by Chun Doo-hwan (1980-88) who was sentenced to a long prison term for corruption.  Then Roh Tae-woo, a general implicated in the Kwangju Massacre, was president 1988-93. After leaving office he was sentenced to 17 years in prison for corruption but the sentence suspended.

We can say that from 1945 to 1988 (43 years) South Korea was ruled by a dictator, and that a kind of bourgeois democracy has pertained since.

Kim Yong-sam (1993-98)—finally—was a civilian, liberal reformer who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform. Kim Dae-jung (president 1998-2003) is the more noteworthy figure; Park Chung-hee had so feared him that he wanted him dead. But he embarked on a “sunshine policy” towards Pyongyang that Washington during the Bush/Cheney era actively sabotaged.

After him came Roh Moon-hyun (president 2003-08), a human rights activist who performed badly on the economy, taking responsibility with his suicide in 2009. Then Hyundai CEO and anti-north hardliner Kim Myung-bak governed from 2008-2013. Then this clown Park Geun-hye.

Thirty-four years after her father’s death, Park became the South Korean president. This itself seemed to represent a validation of her father’s dictatorship. In 2013 and 2014 Forbes declared her the most powerful woman in Asia. She’s the one who was disgraced and removed last year, and just got sentenced to 24 years in prison for corruption. In particular she lavished favors on Choi Tae-min, the ex-wife of her onetime Chief of Staff who’s the daughter of a religious cult leader and seems to have wielded inordinate psychological influence over Kim. The South Korean press has compared her to Rasputin. The two extorted some $72 million from Samsung and seventeen other conglomerates to, among other things, finance Choi’s daughter’s equestrian lessons. Her anti-labor policies, a new law requiring schools to use only government-approved history texts, and imposition of censorship produced large-scale protests.

(She does have her supporters. About 1000 protestors with U.S. and South Korean flags and posters reading “Rule of Law is Dead, Stop Deadly Trials Against President Park Geun-hye” rallied outside the courtroom when she was sentenced. But her popularity had been down to 4% when she was removed from office.)  Considered a hard-liner on North Korea, she had support in Washington, whereas current President Moon Jae-in, who favors rapprochement and will meet with Kim Jong-un soon, can be less assured of that.

Park, while not as bad as her dad, was bad enough. She earned the contempt of her people and instant karma got her. Good riddance.

South Korea has been very poorly served by its leaders for 73 years. For 48 of them dictators ruled, naturally with U.S. support. For 25 bourgeois democracy has prevailed—alongside ongoing chaebol-related corruption, ongoing tensions with Japan and the DPRK, occasional crises such as the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis that caused the closure of one-third of South Korean banks. Geun-hye’s embarrassing presidency was the appropriate footnote to her father’s savage, ill-fated one. Her disgrace in a society where family identity is key, disgraces again her vicious father and the whole post-war South Korean polity—marked as it is from birth by Cold War confusion and submission to imperialists’ sadistic infliction of violence on its subjects.

Moon is the anti-Park. A former student activist, human rights campaigner, and secretary to Roh Moon-hyun, he has responded to the DPRK’s expanding nuclear weapons program (and Trump’s irresponsible sabre-rattling) by outreach, friendship and negotiation. He’s done so no thanks to Trump (unless he’s to be thanked for terrifying them both). The Koreas jointly participated in the PyeongChang Olympics, renewed cultural exchanges after many years, and planned a summit in the near future; a revival of Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy that was sabotaged by Dick Cheney and his minions in 2001.

Quite likely the two sides are exchanging notes about mutual concern that the U.S. will visit “fire and fury” on their peninsula (again). Moon and the Supreme Leader in Pyongyang may regard one another as more reliable and sane than the U.S. president; they know his former Secretary of State called him a “moron” (which is highly unusual in the modern world). There are reasons for everyone to worry. On the other hand, it is possible that Trump actually understands that an attack on the north to force it to dismantle its nuclear program on John Bolton’s terms, with no U.S. concessions, in order to show abject deference to the U.S. and power of its terrorist threats, is untenable. (Lindsey Graham was saying last December that Trump could very well attack North Korea, and anyway, all the fighting afterwards would be “over there.”) He may agree to diplomatic and trade relations, and a reduction in U.S.-ROK military drills, in response to a schedule for denuclearization, in coordination with the south. This would be a joint Korean victory, both in a general sense (over the U.S. which has driven Seoul’s relations with the north since 1945 and actively opposed reunification), and in the particular sense of  victory over Trump’s unstable personality.

He went from saying he’d be honored to meet Kim Jong-un (May 2017) to calling him “Little Rocketman” (November 2017). In August he tweeted a warning to rain down “fire and fury”  on North Korea if they make more threats to the U.S.  In September he actually spoke before the United Nations General Assembly, declaring to the astonished assemblage of “world leaders”: “If the United States] is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” Imagine how Korea, both Koreas, responded to this savage, racist, idiotic rant from an obviously unbalanced old fool knowing nothing about history and not interested in learning.

Fast forward. On March 28 the president opined that there’s a good chance the North Korean leader “will do what’s right.” In the interim, on March 8, a South Korean delegation had come to Washington to brief the White House on recent talks between Seoul and Pyongyang. They delivered to Trump an invitation from Kim Jong-un for a summit by May, and Trump accepted immediately, without even consulting with advisors. Linger on this point.

The South Koreans had held (very cordial) talks with the North Koreans. The North Koreans (while conducting “secret” negotiations with the U.S. in New York and Sweden and maybe elsewhere) decided to make the invitation through their southern compatriots to indicate that everybody involved supports this. The delegation publicly and privately praised Trump for his leadership in helping to relax tensions on the peninsula.

(I suspect the point was not, in fact, to say, “Thank you for your help” as to say, “We’re talking now and would like to solve our own problems. No Korean wants you to conduct a missile strike on the Yongbyong nuclear complex, whatever Bolton has to say about it. We are all concerned about the wild rhetoric and apparent unconcern about the Korean people. Please accept this face-saving alternative of a summit with Kim to more threats.”)

Two days later (March 30) in a speech in Ohio about something or other Trump strangely stated the following, concerning a new trade agreement with Seoul: “I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea, does everybody understand that? You know why? Because it’s a very strong card. South Korea has been wonderful, but we’ll probably hold that deal up for a little while, see how it plays out.”

Who knows what this means? Is Trump telling Moon that he’s going to use the prospect of a peace agreement on the peninsula, and his ability to approve or prevent it, to beat Seoul into restricting steel exports? Can he possibly be hinting, “We might treat you the way we’re treating China, provoking a trade war, while investing in the north?”

Trump’s popularity rating in South Korea was according to Gallup 24% in March. Kim Jong-un’s figure was 10%. There have been points over the last year when Trump was at 9%. As mentioned, Park Geun-hye was at 4% when she fell from power. The era of fascist repression and Cold War bloc contention seems past. North Korea rose from the ashes of the Korean war (in which it lost one-third of its civilian population to U.S. bombing) to a greater height of prosperity by the 1970s than the south. Things went very badly thereafter, as we know. But the state survived and now has obtained a new degree of international respect, having so dramatically augmented its defenses.

Seoul, I think, understands this. Moon may secretly admire how deftly the Dear Leader has played his hand. The Kim-Trump summit itself, if it happens, is a coup for DPRK diplomacy, but also South Korean diplomacy. The offer was made from Pyongyang via Seoul. It’s appropriate that these developments unfold as Park Geun-hye begins her jail term. Let the sun shine in.