Category Archives: Mike Pence

Repudiating the Global Commons: Trump’s Militarisation of Space

In international law, a category regarded by certain legal philosophers as non-existent (there being no overarching sovereign to police it), aspirations reign like obstinate fantasies. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is one such example, decorated by such expressions as outer space being the “province of all mankind” (Art. 1), with the “common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes” being its animating principle.

Mightily presumptuous: the whole realm of the celestial heavens a province for all mankind; that it be explored and be exploited, garnished by such utopian hopes as “peaceful purposes”.  But humankind was still bloodied from the savages of a world conflict that had taken the lives of tens of millions. It was popular, even in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, to dream.

Space was envisaged as a world where humans could play out various imaginaries.  Unconquered as such, it supplied cultural, political and social rationales to human existence even as it promised a vicious competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.  “It is believed,” opined the space author Vladimir Kopal in January 1967, “that the Treaty will contribute, at least to a certain degree, to diminishing the danger of a major armed conflict which would be waged in and through outer space.”

It is such fantasies that govern the workings of citizen-astronaut Namira Salim, whose work at United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs is focused on efforts to have the first Peace Summit in outer space by 2030. Delightfully optimistic, the attention seeking Salim anticipates peace before conflict, a pre-emption that might prove premature.  Nonetheless, she is all booked up as a future space tourist on Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s own contribution to the celestial cause.

Legal documents such as the Outer Space Treaty tend to intrigue far more than they should.  Such a term as “peaceful purposes” should hold no mysteries, but manipulated readings were bound to happen.  Legal eagles soared to find new meanings, with Edward R. Finch, Jr. suggesting that such purposes, while decidedly pointing in the direction of “nonaggressive”, might involve “the use of military personnel for outer space exploration”.

Such deductions were natural, but suggestive of an imminent tendency: that any civilian space program, while chest thumpingly noble, could just as easily creep over into the language of conflict and the military.  Space, suggested Ashton B. Carter, as associate director of the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, “should be regarded merely as another medium for national security activities.”

It could hardly have creased any brow to hear of US President Donald Trump’s desire for his country to steal a lead in the space stakes with promises of a space force that would constitute the sixth branch of the US military.  Human exploration is characterised by conquest and rivalries.  Notions of space as the “global commons” are sweetly noble, but fall flat before national security obsessives.

The previous year, the intention of US legislators towards outer space was made clear with the introduction of the draft bill entitled the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, an instrument written to regulate the newly emerging space mining industry.  In April, the House approved the bill on a voice vote, with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee delighted that space exploration had been given a “booster rocket”.

The Act overturns the utopian sentiment of much space law, effectively repudiating the global commons and returning the discussion back to conventional modes of appropriation.  The instrument does nothing to encourage companies to show they are compliant with international law. What matters is an adherence to the treaty obligations of the United States, thereby giving commercial companies, in Loren Grush’s words, “a lot of wiggle room to do what they want in space.”

Abiding by this new zeitgeist of exploitation, Trump expressed his wish on June 18 that a suitable military force be created to “ensure American dominance in space.”  In August, he supplied a date: such a force would be created by 2020.  His re-election campaign duly emailed supporters inviting votes as to which Space Force logo they would prefer.  On planet earth, Trump the businessman, senses a promotion, a line of merchandise.

The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by US Vice-President Mike Pence, who was decidedly bellicose: “The next generation of Americans to confront the emerging threats in the boundless expanse of space will be wearing the uniform of the United States of America.”  Where there are US commercial interests, the military is usually not far behind, the willing insurers of imperial power and US business.  The “next great chapter in the history of our armed forces,” claimed Pence, was to be written; the US had to prepare for “the next battlefield”.

The enemies of Freedomland might have been extra-terrestrial, but Pence had his eyes closer to home, focusing on aggressive Russia and inscrutable China, both having used “weapons to jam, blind and disable our navigation and communication satellites via electronic attacks from the ground.”  Such “adversaries have transformed space into a war fighting domain already, and the United States will not shrink from this challenge.”

Trump’s announcement sent shivers through those associated with the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, but the logic was relentless and irresistible to agents of the National Security State: the imperative of state power is finally coming out of the closet in characteristically odious form, and space will not be spared.

Is Russia an Adversary?

The question is finally being asked, by the president himself: what’s wrong with collusion? Or at least his lawyer asks the question, while Trumps tweets:

Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion.

The problem, of course, is that of collusion with an alleged adversary. Russia, we are constantly informed, is one such adversary, indeed the main state adversary, with Putin is its head.

Adversary is a very strong term. The Hebrew word for adversary is Satan. Satan is the ultimate symbol of evil in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Satan tempted Eve at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, causing her to eat the fruit, and so evil entered the world.

Just like some want you to think that evil entered the (good, pristine) U.S. electoral process due to this Russian adversary in 2016.

(Sometimes listening to TV pundits vilifying Putin I find Luther’s famous hymn floating through my head:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

Luther’s referring to Satan, of course. But the current mythology around Putin — as someone who still, like Lenin and Stalin before him, and the tsars of old, wishes us harm; is an unbridled dictator with a powerful great nuclear arsenal; is the wealthiest man on earth; and hates democracy — resembles the mythology around the Adversary in the Bible.)

But let us problematize this vilification. When did Russia become a U.S. adversary? Some might say 1917 when in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution Moscow became the center of the global communist movement. But surely that period ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR.

Throughout the 1990s the U.S. cultivated Boris Yeltsin’s Russia as a friend and even aided the drunken buffoon in winning the 1996 election. Bill Clinton and Yeltsin signed the Start II treaty. Harvard professors advised Moscow on economic reform.

The Russians were not pleased by U.S.-NATO involvements in the former Yugoslavia, a traditional Russian ally, in 1995 and 1999, and the expansion of NATO in the latter year (to include Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) in violation of the agreement between Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 that in return for Russia’s acceptance of German reunification NATO would not spread “one inch” towards Russia. They protested meekly. But Russia was not an adversary then.

Nor was it an adversary when, in 2001, under its new president Vladimir Putin, it offered NATO a route through Russia to provision forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. The real change only came in 2004, when NATO suddenly expanded to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. This brought alliances forces right to the Russian border.

It was a clear statement by the U.S. to a friendly country: We are your adversary. But, of course, the Pentagon and State Department always pooh-poohed Russian concerns, denying that NATO targeted any particular country.

Four years later (2008) NATO announced intentions to draw Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance. Meanwhile the U.S. recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Kosovo, the historical heart of Serbian civilization, had been wrenched from Serbia in 1999 under the pretext of a “humanitarian” intervention that included the first bombing (by NATO) of a European capital city since 1945. The province had been converted into a vast NATO base.

Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, emboldened by the prospect of NATO membership and western backing, attacked the capital of the separatist republic of South Ossetia, provoking (as the Russians explain it) a proper punitive response: the Russo-Georgian War of August 7-16. After this Moscow recognized South Ossetia and a second breakaway republic, Abkhazia, in a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s recognition of Kosovo.

Now Russia was labelled an aggressive power—by the power that had carved up Yugoslavia, and invaded and occupied Iraq on the basis of lies and killed half a million in the process. Plans to include Georgia in NATO had to be put on hold, in large part due to European allies’ opposition (why provoke Russia?) but the U.S. intensified efforts to draw in Ukraine. That meant toppling the anti-NATO elected president Viktor Yanukovych.

The U.S. State Department devoted enormous resources to the Maidan coup in Kiev on February 23, 2014. Its agents helped topple the government, ostensibly for its failure to negotiate an agreement for Ukrainian associate membership in the EU, but really to bring pro-NATO forces to power and expel the Russian Fleet from the Crimean Peninsula where it has been based since 1783. Moscow’s limited support for the Donbass ethnic-Russian separatists and re-annexation of Crimea were, of course, depicted by the U.S. as more aggression, more mischievous opposition to “U.S. global interests.”

But from Moscow’s point of view these moves have surely been defensive. The main problem is (obviously) NATO and its dangerous, unnecessary and provocative expansion. Throughout his presidential campaign Trump questioned the continued “relevance” of NATO. Characteristically he focused on budget issues and allies’ failure to meet the goal figure of 2% if GDP for military expenses (misleadingly depicting investment shortfalls as a betrayal and rip-off of the victimized U.S.). But he did—to the alarm of many, and probably to Moscow’s delight—express little enthusiasm for the alliance’s historical purpose.

The most rational proposition Trump voiced before his election that the U.S. should “get along” with Russia. That is, get along with the so-called adversary. Trump as we all know had been in Russia on business, hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, and maintains interest in building a Trump Tower in the city. He has met and befriended Russian oligarchs. He quite possibly sees Russia as just another country, like Germany or France.

If “the French” had had dirt on Hillary, would it have been okay to “collude” with them to influence the election result? France is, of course, a NATO ally. Would that make it different? Now that the president and his layers are openly questioning whether “collusion”, per se, is even illegal, the specific nature of the colluder becomes more relevant.

Russia is an adversary.

Russia is an adversary.

Putin in Helsinki acknowledged to a reporter that he had hoped Trump could win, because he had expressed hope for better relations. He might have added that he dreaded the prospect of a Hillary victory because of her warmongering and characterization of him as a Hitler. Naturally the Russian media favored Trump over Clinton at a certain point when he emerged as a credible candidate. So when Trump on July 27, 2016 called on Russia to release Hillary’s missing emails (“if you’ve got ’em”) the Russians probably felt invited to make contact through channels. And when informed that they had dirt, Don Jr. wrote: “If that’s what you say, I love it.” (Who can blame him?)

Let’s say there was some collusion after the June 6 Trump Tower meeting. Trump has suddenly acknowledged that the meeting with the Russians was indeed to “seek political dirt.” He adds that this is “totally legal,” and this may be true. Some are now saying that Don Jr. may have violated a federal statute (52 USC 30121, 36 USC 5210) forbidding any foreign person to  “make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.’ and for anyone to knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by [this law].” But the language is vague. If a Canadian speechwriter works gratis for a U.S. political candidate, in order to help him or her win, is this not “a thing of value” intended to affect an election?

If Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner had met with Canadian agents in Trump Tower I doubt there would have been any controversy. The fact is, Trump won the election and many of those stunned by that wish to undermine him using revived Cold War-type Russophobia. They insist:  He worked with our adversary to undermine our election. And now they hope they’ve got him on this charge.

*****

Five years ago a young man named Edward Snowden (now living in forced exile in Russia) revealed to the world the extent of the U.S.’s global surveillance. He showed us how the NSA wiretaps EU meetings, popes’ conversations, Angela Merkel’s cell phone and maintains metadata on virtually all U.S. residents. He showed us what the contemporary advanced state can do in this respect. We should suppose that Moscow has, if not similar capacity, at least enough expertise to hack into the DNC emails or John Podesta’s g-mail account. Is that surprising?

What none of the TV anchors is allowed to say needs to be said again: The U.S. interferes in foreign elections all the time, including Russian ones. It should surprise no one if Russian intelligence responds in kind. The point is not the provenance of the leaked emails but their content.

Those horrified by the leaked material complain that their release was designed to “undermine faith in our democratic system.” Really? Don’t the workings of the system itself undermine one’s faith in it, once they are exposed? Was it adversarial of the leaker to inform us that the DNC had no intention of allowing Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination, and thus that the process was rigged? Was it unfriendly to reveal that Podesta was hoping the media would hype Trump, as an easy target for his candidate?

The question that will no doubt be debated in the coming days is whether seeking dirt on a political opponent from any foreigner is indeed illegal, or whether there are specific legal ramifications of meeting with someone from an “adversary” country. But it seems to me that Russia has not been defined as such officially. So we may have a discussion less about legality than the politics of Russophobia.

I am happy to see Trump besieged, rattled, possibly facing impeachment. But to bring him down on the basis of “Russian collusion,” on the assumption that Russia is an adversary, would only advantage the warmongers who want no-fly zones over Syria and military support for the Kiev regime against the Donbas separatists. Vice President Pence I believe favors both.

Trump has said that he cannot host Putin in Washington this year, or until the Russian Hoax witch hunt is over. But Putin has invited him to Moscow. One senses he wants some agreements with Trump before he is ousted by his gathering adversaries, including the press, courts, Democrats, select Republicans, turncoat aides and he himself sometimes in his unguarded tweets.

Democrats Against Assange: Influencing US-Ecuador Relations

Such a historical twist, but one that deserves its iniquitous slot in the history books.  No secret has been made about US policy towards Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which continues its trajectory to seek his apprehension and shutter the organisation.  Despite its cables being used for political effect by interested parties; despite the exposures of corruption within the ranks of US politics, Assange is to be thanked with punishment.

This is the sentiment expressed by Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with nine other Democratic senators, in a letter to US Vice President Mike Pence.  The senators had been losing sleep after getting wind of what was said, or rather not said, in a June 4 phone call between Pence and Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno. One glaring omission troubled them: the absence of any discussion about Assange’s asylum status and stay in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Ahead of Pence’s meeting with Moreno this week, the senators wished to press the matter:

As the United States is still seeking clarity about the full extent of Russian intervention in our elections and Russian interference in elections across the world, it is imperative that you raise US concerns with President Moreno about Ecuador’s continued support for Mr. Assange at a time when WikiLeaks continues its efforts to undermine democratic processes globally.

This is a fine take, if dizzyingly inaccurate: WikiLeaks as the great undermining force of democratic states, worrying politicians in the United States who have enthusiastically backed the imperial project of overthrowing democratically elected governments. But slotting Assange, Putin and electoral interference in the same line is bound to have its emotive effect on politicians obsessed with government secrecy.

The charges tend to muddle the broader political landscape, but the intention in the letter is to paint Assange as an architect of discord, comfortably wading in the politics of other states.  That such muck racking is often no more than releasing documents casting a different light on traditional politics is beside the point; Assange interfered in revealing the hidden whispers and clandestine reflections.  Other scenes of engagement are also noted: the French presidential election, and the Spanish referendum on Catalan independence.

What the letter omits to say is that the current US president has expressed his delight at various nuggets he has received from the WikiLeaks trove.

I simply state what he states, it is for the people… to make up their own minds as to the truth.  The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!

The specific reading advanced by the Democrats builds upon the stance that Assange as a radical transparency vigilante must be potted.  It regurgitates, in uncritical form, the designation by former CIA director Mike Pompeo that WikiLeaks was a “non-hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”  It makes the facile link between WikiLeaks and Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in suggesting that the publishing outfit was used “to release hacked information in order to influence… the 2016 US Presidential election.” (Use here is conflated with manipulation, collusion, and conspiracy.)

The content, and veracity of such material, is deemed irrelevant.  And rather than being content with his arbitrary detention in Ecuador’s embassy compound in London, as found by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, there is a desire to take the next step.

As for the meeting with Ecuador’s Moreno, the White House was short if vaguely ominous:

The Vice President raised the issue of Mr Assange.  It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.

The Senators’ letter also made the observation that US-Ecuador relations for the last decade had been “marked by unfortunate tensions.  However, under President Lenín Moreno’s leadership, there is a unique opportunity to reverse this trend.”  A change presented itself now to “forge a new chapter in longstanding relations with the United States and Ecuador built on shared values, and address remaining challenges between our countries.”

Too much bad blood exists within the Democratic camp about Assange, who has become a proxy hate figure for a party that bungled the US presidential elections in 2016.  A steadfast refusal to accept the result, not to mention the inadequacies of their candidate where it most mattered permeates through the Mueller investigation and Russia Gate, all tied together by a bow of grievance.

A note from Harry Cheadle writing for Vice in the lead up to the 2016 election is instructive in painting the picture that emerged from the DNC-Podesta trove released by WikiLeaks. The emails portrayed an “organization that is contemptuous of opposition, often obsessed with how an issue is perceived, and yet sometimes prone to decisions that seem self-defeating and dance on the knife edge of political disaster.”  The chickens, notably of the socialist variety, are vengefully coming back to roost.

Scratching for ideas and options in ambushing President Donald Trump, it is clear that the senators have latched on to the next best thing: revoking the political status of a man with no internet access who will be arrested the moment he steps out of the embassy door. How fittingly democratic of them.

Under Trump, the Israel Lobby is a Hydra with Many Heads

The Trump administration’s recent steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should surely lay to rest any doubts about the enormous, and dangerous, power of the Israel lobby in Washington.

Under Trump, the lobby has shown it can wield unprecedented influence – even by its usual standards – in flagrant disregard for all apparent US interests.

First, there was the move this month of the US embassy to Jerusalem, not quietly but on the 70th anniversary of the most sensitive day in the Palestinian calendar, Nakba Day. That is when Palestinians commemorate their mass expulsion from their homeland in 1948.

By relocating the embassy, Trump gave official US blessing to tearing up the 25-year-old peace process – and in choosing Nakba Day for the move, he rubbed the noses of Palestinians, and by extension the Arab world, in their defeat.

Then, the White House compounded the offence by lauding Israeli snipers who massacred dozens of unarmed Palestinians protesting at the perimeter fence around Gaza the same day. A series of statements issued by the White House could have been written by Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, himself.

At the United Nations, the US blocked a Security Council resolution calling for the massacre to be investigated, while Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN envoy, observed to fellow delegates: “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

None of these moves served any obvious US national interest, nor did Trump’s decision the previous week to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that has long been reviled by the Israeli government.

In fact, quite the contrary: These actions risk inflaming tensions to the point of a regional war that could quickly drag in the major powers, or provoke terror attacks on US soil.

Wall of silence

It should be recalled that two decades ago, it was impossible even to mention the existence of an Israel lobby in Washington without being labelled an anti-Semite.

Paradoxically, Israel’s supporters exercised the very power they denied existed, bullying critics into submission by insisting that any talk of an Israel lobby relied on anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power.

The wall of silence was broken only with the publication in 2006 of a seminal essay – later turned into a book – by two prominent US academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

But in a sign of the immense weight of the lobby even as it was being dragged into the light, the pair were unable to find a publisher in the US. Instead, the essay found a home across the Atlantic in the prestigious, if obscure, London Review of Books. One of the pair, Stephen Walt, has publicly admitted that his career suffered as a result.

Since then, a little leeway has opened up on the subject. Even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a staunch advocate for Israel, has conceded the lobby’s existence.

In 2011, he explained a well-established, if astounding, ritual of US politics: that the Congress greets every visiting Israeli prime minister more rapturously than the American president himself.

Friedman observed: “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Intimidating Congress

Friedman was alluding to the network of Jewish leadership organisations and political action committees in the US, all of them hawkishly pro-Israel, that at election time can channel large sums of money for or against Congressional candidates.

It is not that these pro-Israel organisations control the Congress. It is that they have mastered the techniques of political intimidation. They understand and exploit a flawed American system that has allowed lobbies and their money to dictate the agendas of most US lawmakers. Congresspeople are vulnerable as individuals – not only to the loss of donations, but to a generously funded opponent.

In Trump’s case, the follow-the-money principle could not have been clearer. In the early stages of his battle to become the Republican party candidate for president, when most assumed he stood no chance and he was funding the campaign himself, he was relatively critical of Israel.

Hard as it is to believe now, he promised to be “neutral” on the Israel-Palestine issue; expressed doubts about whether it made sense to hand Israel billions of dollars annually in military aid; backed a two-state solution; and refused to commit to recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

All of that got ditched the moment he needed big funders for his presidential bid. The kingmaker in the Republican party is Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire and champion of the kind of Israeli ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab politics in which Netanyahu excels. Adelson likes Netanyahu so much he even bought him a newspaper, Israel Hayom, which Adelson has grown into the largest-circulation daily in Israel.

In the end, Adelson backed Trump’s election campaign to the tune of $35m. It was the need for Adelson’s support that ensured Trump appointed David Friedman, a long-time benefactor of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in the supposedly non-partisan position of US ambassador to Israel. And it was Adelson who was among the honoured guests at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem this month.

The anti-Semitism canard

Those who accuse anyone raising the issue of the Israel lobby of anti-Semitism either misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent what is being claimed.

No one apart from easily identifiable Jew haters is updating the century-old Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery by supporters of the Russian czar supposedly proving that “the Jews” sought world domination through control of the banks and the media.

For starters, the argument for the existence of an Israel lobby does not refer to Jews at all. It is about a country, Israel, and its outsize influence over the policies of the US.

Other countries or groups of US citizens try to exercise such influence, either through similar lobbies or through subterfuge.

No one would deny there is a Cuba lobby that helped influence US policy in seeking to oust revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. And most US lawmakers are currently frothing at the mouth about what they see as covert Russian efforts to influence US politics to Moscow’s advantage.

Why would we expect Israel to be any different? The question isn’t whether the lobby exists, but why the US political system is doing nothing to protect itself from its interference.

If Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s supposed hidden hand in the US is such a threat, why isn’t Israel’s?

Five lobbies in one

Rather than exposing and confronting the Israel lobby, however, US presidents have more typically bent to its will. That was only too obvious, for example, when Barack Obama folded in his early battle with Netanyahu to limit the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But under Trump, the Israel lobby has come to exercise unrivalled power, because it is now far more than just one lobby. It is a five-headed Hydra worthy of Greek mythology, and only one of its heads relates directly to Israel or organised American Jewry.

In fact, the lobby’s power now derives not chiefly from Israel. Since Trump’s election, the Israel lobby has managed to absorb and mobilise an additional four powerful lobbies – and to a degree not seen before. They are: the Christian evangelicals, the alt-right, the military-industrial complex, and the Saudi Arabia lobby.

Domestically, Trump’s election victory depended on his ability to rally to his side two groups that are profoundly committed to Israel, even though they are largely indifferent, or actively hostile, to the Jews who live there.

Leaders of the US alt-right – a loose coalition of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups – are infatuated with Israel but typically dislike Jews. That sentiment has been encapsulated by alt-right leader Richard Spencer, who describes himself as a “white Zionist”.

In short, the alt-right treasures Israel because it has preserved a long-discredited model of a fortress-like, belligerent racial homeland. They want the US reserved exclusively for an imagined “white” community, just as Israel defines itself as representing an exclusive Jewish community.

Trump’s reliance on the alt-right vote was highlighted by the early appointment to his administration of several leading figures associated with the movement, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Michael Flynn, Julia Hahn and Sebastian Gorka.

Fulfilling God’s prophecy

But more significant still has been the role of evangelicals. That is why Mike Pence, a devout Christian, was chosen as Trump’s running mate. Trump’s team understood that the votes of tens of millions of Americans were assured if Trump pandered to their prejudices.

And happily for Netanyahu, their keenest prejudice is fanatical support for Israel – and not just for Israel inside its internationally recognised borders, but also for Greater Israel, which includes many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land.

The Christian Zionists believe that Jews must be corralled into their biblical homeland to fulfill divine prophecy and bring about the Second Coming of the Messiah.

It was primarily for the sake of these Christian Zionists that Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. And it was why two evangelical pastors with a history of anti-Semitic remarks, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, were called on to offer their blessings at the opening ceremony.

Trump’s indebtedness to the evangelicals is one reason to be worried about his policies in the region. The Christian Zionists have no interest in fairness, justice or international law. Rather, they are prepared to inflame tensions in the Middle East – and even trigger Armageddon itself – if they think it might benefit Israel and further God’s prophecy.

Eisenhower’s warning

The military-industrial complex has enjoyed a much longer, if more veiled, influence on US politics. A former US army general who became president, Dwight Eisenhower, warned of the looming threat posed by an increasingly dominant corporate sector dependent on war profits back in 1961.

Since then, the power of these corporations has accreted and expanded in precisely the ways Eisenhower feared. And that has only helped Israel.

In the early 1980s, Noam Chomsky, the dissident US intellectual, observed in his book The Fateful Triangle that Israel and the US had different conceptions of the Middle East.

The US was then what Chomsky termed a “status quo power” that was mostly interested in preserving the existing regional order. Israel, on the other hand, was committed to destabilisation of the region – its Balkanisation – as a strategy to extend its hegemony over feuding, internally divided neighbouring states.

Today, it is not hard to see which vision of the Middle East prevailed. The US-headquartered war industries lobbied for – and have profited enormously from – an endless, global “war on terror” that needs their expensive killing toys. The West has even been able to market its wars of aggression against other sovereign states as “humanitarian” in nature.

The benefits to the military industries can be gauged by examining the ever-surging profits of large US arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon over the past decade.

Cultivation of fear

Israel has not only benefited from the sanctioning and dismemberment of regional rivals, such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, but it has exploited the opportunity to make itself indispensable to these war-profiting industries.

It has, for example, been the linchpin in developing and refining new ways to exploit the cultivation of fear – most significantly, the ever-expanding “homeland security” industry.

Using the occupied Palestinian territories for experimentation, Israel has specialised in developing surveillance and biometric technologies, lethal and non-lethal crowd control methods, complex incarceration systems, psychological profiling of subjugated populations, and highly dubious redefinitions of international law to lift existing restraints on war crimes and wars of aggression.

That has proved invaluable to the military industries that have sought to profit from new wars and occupations across the Middle East. But it has also meant Israel’s expertise is much sought-after by US political and security elites who wish to pacify and control restless domestic populations.

Israel’s encouragement of the Middle East’s destabilisation has raised new threats in the US – of protest, immigration and terrorism – for which Israel has then supplied readymade solutions.

Israel has helped to rationalise the militarisation of police forces in the US and elsewhere, and provided the training. It has also gradually introduced to the US and other Western countries the kind of racial and political profiling that has long been standard in Israel.

That is the reason why Israeli academic Jeff Halper has warned of the danger that the “war on terror” could ultimately turn all of us into Palestinians.

Alliance with Saudi Arabia

But perhaps the most significant additional boost to Israel’s power in Washington has been its newfound and barely concealed alliance with Saudi Arabia.

For decades, the oil lobby in the US was seen as a counterweight to the Israel lobby. That was why Israel’s supporters traditionally reviled the US State Department, which was viewed as an Arabist outpost.

No longer. Trump, ever the businessman, has cultivated even stronger ties to the Saudis, hoping that arms and technology sales will revive the US economy and his political fortunes.

During a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the US in March, Trump noted: “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”

But Washington’s close ties to the Saudis are increasingly a boon to Israel rather than an impediment. The two have found common cause in their feverish opposition to Iran, and its Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon, and their determination to prevent them from gaining more power in the region.

Israel wants a military hegemony over the Middle East that Iran could undermine, while Riyadh needs an ideological and financial hegemony that Iran might be able to disrupt.

And the Palestinians – the only issue that continues formally to divide Israel and Saudi Arabia – are increasingly viewed by bin Salman as a chess piece he is ready to sacrifice in exchange for Iran’s destruction.

Trump tore up the nuclear accord agreed by Obama with Iran with such incendiary abandon this month because his two Middle East allies jointly demanded he do so.

And the indications are that he may do worse – even attacking Iran – if the pressure from Israel and the Saudis reaches a critical mass.

Time for a little humility

All of these various lobbies have long wielded significant power in Washington, but remained largely separate. In recent years, their interests have come to overlap considerably, making Israel ever more unassailable in US politics.

Under Trump, their agendas have aligned so completely that this multi-headed lobby has as good as collectively captured the presidency on matters that concern it most.

That is not to say that the Israel lobby will not face future challenges. Other pressures are emerging in reaction to the unaccountable power of the Israel lobby, including progressive voices in US politics that are, for the first time, breaking with the long-standing bipartisan nature of the debate about Israel.

Bernie Sanders’s unexpected surge in the Democratic nomination race for the presidency, the rise of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the growing alienation of young US Jews from Israel, and the US public’s ever-greater exposure on social media to Israel’s crimes are signs of trends it will be difficult for Israel to counter or reverse.

Israel is getting its way at the moment. But hubris is a fault we have been warned about since the time of the ancient Greeks. Israel may yet come to learn a little humility – the hard way.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Pompeo Challenged at Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Newly appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had every reason to expect that his first official appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be the usual slam-dunk as mostly obedient, respectful Senators aligned with his testimony.

Instead of the typically gratuitous compliments and undeserved deference, there was a display (albeit a minority) of some moral courage with a rare slice of truth on Capitol Hill, epitomizing the real-time requirements of a Senator’s job: to be skeptical, provide oversight and demand accountability from every Federal government witness, no matter the rank – once referred to as ‘grilling the witness.”

Besides fraternizing with America’s most privileged citizens, endless rounds of lavish Capitol Hill receptions, wide ranging international travel opportunities (aka junkets), a liberal vacation  policy and exorbitant benefits out of step for the minimal accomplishments actually achieved, the current Senate paradigm has allowed too many Members to degenerate into a protuberance of greedy, sniveling, weak-minded buffoons with no genuine regard for their constituents or what was once the greatest democracy on the planet.

Days earlier, as the nation’s top diplomat, Pompeo delivered the Trump Administration’s controversial “After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy” in a decidedly undiplomatic speech to a less than enthusiastic audience at the Heritage Foundation.  That aggressive strategy included a dozen doomed-to-fail, untenable demands that were little more than a precursor for military intervention and regime change.

Before the hearing began, Pompeo unexpectedly read a crude letter from President Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cancelling the June 12th summit citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” and concluded with the moronic “If you change your mind …, please do not hesitate to call or write me.”  To date, Trump has softened his stance against a meeting and hints the June summit may occur on schedule.

As the hearing began, most Senators expended their allotted time by steadfastly avoiding the massive foreign policy blunder that had just been dropped in their laps.  The following excerpts focus on two Members, Sen. Rand Paul (R-SC) (1:58) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) (2:19/3:27) since they had the most extensive dialogue with Pompeo and because they gave Pompeo the most grief.  Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Or) (3:34) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) (3:15) questioned implications of the upcoming Authority for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

Sen. Paul launched into a rapid-fire critique exposing the inadequacies of Pompeo’s Iran Plan with a much needed dose of reality as he methodically decimated the strategy, beginning with the requirement that Iran reveal the ‘military dimensions’ of its nuclear program:

Let’s substitute Israel for Iran. Does anyone believe that Israel is going to reveal the military dimensions of their nuclear program? ” Paul inquired whether the Saudi’s would be willing to discuss “anything they’ve done to develop nuclear weapons or reveal the military dimensions of their nuclear program. So really what you’re asking for is something they (Iranians) are never going to agree to.”

Regarding the requirement that Iran end its proliferation of ballistic missiles, Paul explained that:

… when we supply weapons, the Saudis buy weapons, the Saudis have a ballistic weapon program, they (Iran) respond to that. The Saudis and their allies …spend more than eight times Iran so when you tell Iran that you have to give up your ballistic missile program but you don’t say anything to the Saudis, you think they are ever going to sign?

If you leave Saudi Arabia and Israel out of it and look at Iran in isolation, that’s not how they (Iran) perceive it. We want Iran to do things that we’re not willing to ask anybody else to do and that we would never do.

Regarding Pompeo’s demand to end military support for the Houthi rebels:

Once again, you’re asking them to end it but you’re not asking the Saudis to end their bombardment of Yemen.  If you look at the humanitarian disaster that is Yemen, it is squarely on the shoulders of the Saudis.

Paul then drew attention to the demand for Iran to withdraw all its forces from Syria noting that:

ISIS is getting weapons from Qatar and Saudi Arabia and that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are ten times the problem. The people who attacked us came from Saudi Arabia. We ignore all that and lavish them with bombs.

It was naïve to pull out of the Iran Agreement and in the end, we’ll be worse off for it.

Pompeo was Stunned and the Silence was Deafening.  Pompeo had absolutely no reaction to Paul’s devastating analysis of US foreign policy in the Middle East, offering no explanation, no excuse, no correction or thoughtful response; nor did any other Senator present dare step into the swamp.

Next up was Sen. Markey citing Trump’s reference to North Korea’s ‘tremendous anger and open hostility” and inquiring:

How did you expect North Korea to react to comparisons between Libya and North Korea, between the fates of Kim Jong Un and Qaddafi? Why would you expect anything other than anger and hostility in reaction to these comparisons?

Markey was referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s  comment that “Kim Jong Un will end up like Qaddafi if he does not make a deal” and National Security Advisor John Bolton’s  “we have very much in mind the Libya model of 2003-2004.”

As background, in 2003 Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi relinquished his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons allowing inspectors to oversee and verify the process.  By 2011, with US and NATO instigation, Libya experienced a violent overthrow of its government with Qaddafi brutally murdered.  And who can ever forget former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s macabre glee “we came, we saw, he died“.

Pompeo expressed “misunderstanding taking place with this idea of a Libya model” and that he “hadn’t done the work to find out what that was…when Libyans chose to give up their nuclear weapons in 2003.  That’s the Libya model.”

Markey explained:

The Libya model, as Kim Jong Un has been interpreting it, is that the leader of the country surrenders their nuclear capability only to then be overthrown and killed.  Why would you not think that Kim would not interpret it that way as it continued to escalate with Bolton and Vice President talking about the Qaddafi model? .…why would you think there would be any other interpretation at what happened to Qaddafi at the end of his denuclearization which is that he wound up dead?  Why would that not elicit hostility from a negotiating partner three weeks prior to sitting down..

From there Markey and Pompeo bantered back and forth with Pompeo consistently failing to grasp the connection between Qaddafi’s 2003 disarmament agreement and US military interference in Libya in 2011 that resulted in Qaddafi’s death as sufficient reason for North Korea to feel threatened.  No matter how precise the clarification, Pompeo continued to respond as a dense, one-dimensional thinker unable to wrap his mind around logic that challenged his view of a simulated reality, as if looking at the same object through a different lens.

Committee chair Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) agreed with Markey.

I opposed so strongly what the Obama administration did in Libya was exactly the argument you are laying out right now…to have someone like Qaddafi who gave up their nuclear weapons and then go kill him to me sent exactly the signal that you are laying out right now.

Corker then announced that he ‘just had discussion with Secretary’s staff and he is now 15 minutes late for a meeting.  I’m going to allow a couple of comments but going to stop it in five minutes.”

Markey immediately inquired:

Who is the meeting with Mr. Secretary.. if you are not going to stay here and answer questions from us.. can you not push that meeting back another 15 minutes…

Corker:

This is getting a little bit, this type of discourse, I’m sorry, I’m the one doing this. I’ve been very generous.

Markey:

…but we agreed to two seven- minute question periods and it is being ended here for two members..

Markey continued until Sen. Corker gavelled his time had expired.

As the Foreign Relations Committee contemplates an upcoming markup and vote on a Forever AUMF next week, it will be a time for other Committee Senators to step outside the Matrix and dig deep to find their own moral fortitude.

Trump, North Korea and Post-Olympic Angst

With the icicles still glinting with the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic games, US President Donald Trump, like any disgruntled child, wanted to reassert his relevance.  Little Rocket Man had assumed diplomatic pose, or at the very least adopted a stance of considered caution towards his South Korean counterparts.  While the US seemed stubborn and sulky, South Korea seemed encouraged, taking Pyongyang’s gestures to heart.

This could hardly have been easy for a playtime president. He had been, to some extent, shaded by the spectacle of two Koreas marching and competing together, and murmurings of a possible summit between Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in.

The sentiment had been conveyed via an invitation from Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, that the two leaders meet.  “I hope President Moon will,” claimed Kim’s sibling envoy with historical purpose, “take the leading role to open a new chapter for unification and accomplish a legacy that will be remembered for long.”

During the Olympics, US Vice-President Mike Pence decided to damn such efforts with faint praise.

For all that President Moon has done in outreach and discussions around the Olympics and inter-Korean talks, there is no daylight between the United States and the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Pence affirmed the stance by insisting that, whatever openness might be felt for talks between Washington and Pyongyang, North Korea remained, essentially, a power to be isolated in its refusal to take steps towards nuclear dismantlement.  Sanctions, for instance, would continue their biting way.  What Pence was essentially pushing for was a diplomatic option – at least for Pyongyang – with fewer bargaining chips and a less crowded deck.

This fumbling has become a policy that resists clarity with stubborn conviction.  Sanctions must be used, because they are supposedly eating into the nuclear weapons program.  This point is hard to ascertain with any certainty, given that the North Korean Army will always have first dibs at any rationed pie. “There’s no guarantee,” advances former deputy assistant secretary of State for sanctions and counter threat finance Andrew Keller, “that [Friday’s] action will ultimately be effective in preventing the illicit trade in coal and fuel with Pyongyang. As ever, showmanship is Trump’s boastful bread and butter.

On Friday, another round made their dreary appearance.  Trump deemed these the “heaviest sanctions ever” delved by a US administration.  Debate naturally ensued about the accuracy of the term, though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was pleased to note that the United States had some 450 sanctions against the DPRK.  The Friday bonanza featured some 27 shipping and trade companies, 28 vessels and an individual, all supposedly engaged in illicit trade with Pyongyang.

Whatever the effect of such muscling, it is certainly one that the President wishes to own as his own, even if it risks impairing the roads to diplomatic engagement.  On Monday, Trump assailed, in customary fashion, his predecessors on the broader issue of North Korea.  Such is the nature of a period he has come to identify as singular, unprecedented, remarkable.

“The Bush administration did nothing.  The Obama administration wanted to do something.  He told me it’s the single biggest problem.  They didn’t do anything.  It would have been much easier in those days than it is now.”

Such are the travails of an aggressive superpower’s ill-considered actions.  Maximum pressure on the North remains both dulling mantra and dirty deed, and Trump’s insistence on holding this line in public has a damp lettuce feel to it.

Wearily, he keeps insisting that talks are certainly possible with Pyongyang, only to then frame it as a matter of strict conditionality.  For good measure, he also suggests that North Korea’s refusal to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs will lead to massive “loss of lives, numbers that nobody’s ever contemplated, never thought of”.

North Korea, in turn, wants South Korea and the US to halt massive military drills that can be only construed as having one purpose: a rehearsed invasion of the North.  But military exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are scheduled to go ahead, though after the Winter Paralympics. As the Korean Central News Agency ill-temperedly retorted, “The Trump group’s racket for resuming the war exercises is a wild act of ruthlessly tramping even a small sprout of peace that has been now seen on the Korean Peninsula.”

In the meantime, the stalemate between the powers will continue to yield room for the Kim nuclear option, while also adding thrills to the sanctions lobby.  It seems that little else gets done on the Hill these days on foreign policy other than pushing the next sanctions agenda.  Ultimately, Washington is asking the impossible at first instance: a North Korea which promises, in advance, to remove its most sacred pillar in favour of talks it has yet to experience.  Sensibility may well have to come from the South Korean side in what promises to be a continuing scrap.

Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…

Since the FBI never inspected the DNC’s computers first-hand, the only evidence comes from an Irvine, California, cyber-security firm known as CrowdStrike whose chief technical officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, a well-known Putin-phobe, is a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank that is also vehemently anti-Russian as well as a close Hillary Clinton ally.
— Daniel Lazare, Consortium News

The masses did not mistakenly choose fascism. Rather, there is a more fundamental nonidentity between class consciousness and mass movements. Fascism was not a Falschkauf (mistaken purchase) followed by buyer’s remorse. The people fought for it, fiercely and stubbornly—though this desire for fascism is also a desire for suppression, a “fight for servitude,” if you will, or an “escape from freedom,” as Erich Fromm put it in the title of his 1941 book.
— Ana Teixeira Pinto, E-Flux

This week an angry dead end kid named Nikolas Cruz took his legally purchased AR 15 and walked into a school and opened fire. The FBI knew about Cruz because he had been reported to them. Cruz had been reported to the school, too. But nobody followed up. Cruz himself is one of those unpleasant looking young men that are visibly angry, and who exhibit, even in photographs, a quality of emotional disturbance. But nobody followed up. The FBI is too busy writing narrative fiction about Russia. The FBI is more concerned with constructing terrorist threats and then busting various patsies and making a big show of their success. This same week the US has continued to bomb Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia. This same week Mike Pence stomped around the site of the Winter Olympics and managed to insult most every foreign leader in attendance, but most acutely the hosts of this event. But then Pence is a vulgar rube from the hinterlands of Indiana. A fundamentalist Christian whose knowledge of the world is even smaller than his boss, the President.

The Hill reported….“Approval of the FBI has increased among Democrats and decreased among Republicans since President Trump took office, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.” So, uh, Dems and liberals are fawning over the FBI because, presumably, Mueller is after Satan-in-Chief The Donald, while Republicans are pouting because, presumably, the FBI isn’t dropping the fictitious investigation of Russian collusion. Meanwhile, the FBI, famed for various cluster fucks like Waco and Ruby Ridge, not to mention COINTELPRO and countless undercover surveillances on journalists and dissidents of all kinds, is being embraced by liberal America. (COINTELPRO, as a reminder, attacked the Black Panther party, and among its victims were Fred Hampton, Geronimo Pratt, and Mumia Abu Jamal. And it was J.Edgar Hoover who wrote letters that described Hampton as the ‘new black messiah’ — one that needed to be dealt with). That is your virtuous FBI.

Now part of this is just the desire among liberals for the status quo. At all costs. It is liberals far more than Republicans who want a Norman Rockwell America. The arch conservative wants something closer to gated communities of whiteness and armed privatized security roaming the streets keeping their property safe. It is the liberal Democratic voter who WANTS TO BELIEVE in the goodness of America. Who wants to believe in all that progress in civil rights and gender equality. But both will in the end default to authoritarian political control. They always have.

Joseph Kishore over at WSWS wrote back in 2016 already:

… the Times’ article set the tone for a wave of war-mongering commentary in the American media. Lipton was interviewed on the cable news channels and the Public Broadcasting System’s evening news program. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin declared on MSNBC that the US had been “attacked by Russia.” He called for an independent commission, citing the bipartisan panel set up after 9/11. CNN commentator Jake Tapper referred to Russia as the “enemy” and openly wondered, in the course of interviewing former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, whether President-elect Trump was “siding with the enemy.

But most Democrats believe in Russian evil doing. They believe Putin is a tyrant. They WANT TO BELIEVE. Now, the logic of Crowdstrike and all those US security experts on cyber warfare is that only the most sophisticated hackers could have penetrated the protections of the U.S. government, while at the same time only the most unsophisticated cyber hackers, revealing their amateurish clumsiness by leaving a variety of Russian language clues in the meta data, could have done such a thing. It is the same logic that posits Taliban or ISIS commanders, cunning…evil geniuses..who plot the overthrow of western civilization..but who are also simultaneously primitives living in caves. The Russians are also evil geniuses but also primitives.

On one level the U.S. loves the uneducated. America has never trusted intelligence or education. But they have to at the same time be the best. The best at everything. The best killers. The most violent soldiers. Etc. But not the most educated. Trump’s approval ratings climb as he cuts funding to libraries and the arts. Such actions have always been an electoral winner in the USA.

Edward Luce had a cogent piece at Financial Times of all places. He wrote

America’s elites have stored more wealth than they can consume. This creates three problems for everyone else. First, elites invest their surpluses in replicating their advantages. Kids raised in poorer neighbourhoods with mediocre schools stand little chance. Their parents cannot match the social capital of their wealthier peers. The drawbridge is rising. The gap between the self image of meritocratic openness and reality is wide. Psychologists call this “self-discrepancy”. Economists call it barriers to entry.

This is an important observation. He also added:

…Social capital is about knowing what to say to whom and when, which is a sophisticated skill. Technical learning is for others. Children of the elites are learning how to raise money for philanthropic causes. Economists define this as a positional good. Sociologists call it virtue signalling. Mr Trump calls it political correctness.

And finally, Luce points out that the new bourgeoisie (not his word) are suffering from a loss of even the appearance of a meritocracy. Too few jobs for what are now the over-educated (well, over degreed). And Luce concludes with a particularly astute insight. The bourgeoisie are finding they need Trump. Without him there is no distraction. And then he poses the question for these aspiring classes; do they really love the highly educated as they claim? Do they deserve admiration because of their degrees?

And here we touch upon the core issues at work socially in the Trump phenomenon. Trump is easy and even enjoyable to make fun of. He IS a distraction. But Trump also serves a very clear purpose for the 1%. Those who reign above the haute bourgeoisie. For Trump is still implementing the same policies that Hillary Clinton would have. The same wars, by and large. The same military build up. All the right people are still making money. The difference is in Trump’s less important appointments. The difference is Jeff Sessions for one. And the various minor cabinet hacks and flunkies he has installed in positions of limited but not insignificant power. He is normalizing in a way unprecedented, the weaponized ignorance of the Christian right.

And this includes, of course, the open racism and xenophobia on display and perhaps crystalized in Mike Pence’s boorish crassness at the Olympics. Pence suffers no doubts. The new Christians of televangilism never do. These are creationists and believers in the rapture. That they are barking mad has been known for a while now, but never before have they entered the corridors of power. The 1% carry on as before. So does the Pentagon and CIA — though the infilitration of the Christian extremists in the Air Force is well documented. Remember, all Presidents must have prayer breakfasts for fuck sake. They must go to Church. They get a dog, and they put on leather bomber jackets for photo ops. And they have a spiritual advisor. There is a whole laundry list of must do’s. What is different now is that stupidity is being not just normalized but accepted as, perhaps, a virtue. Beevis and Butthead go to Washington. Bill & Ted’s excellent adventure on Capital Hill. How different, really, was George W. Bush? (the newly rehabilitated GWB, in a curious charm make over…but I digress…).

So, no, the aspiring haute bourgeoisie do not REALLY love education. The hard work of studying is for proles. For Asian kids and social climbers and those quota scholarship kids. The idea of learning having some inherent value is now fully gone from the public imagination. Socrates who? He played *soccer* for Brazil, no? Literally nobody reads. I mean book stores are closing en mass. The Gutenberg era is over. I wrote recently on my blog about Hugh Kenner. I used to sneak into his lectures at UCSB in the early 70s. There are no Hugh Kenners anymore. Erudition is to become an obsolete word.

The state of Minnesota is taking Huckleberry Finn off high school reading lists. Harper Lee is being taken off, too. No doubt others will follow. Hurtful. Twain’s epic novel is, apparently, “hurtful”. I am coming, I have to admit, to just not care about who has hurt feelings.

All those social correctives that looked to rid the culture of racist images and language are now appropriated for other purposes. For narcissistic vehicles for anger. For America is as angry a society as the world may have ever seen. All that I see now, the new McCarthyism, the Russophobic propaganda that is swallowed wholesale, and not just swallowed but used as a kind of narcotic — is carried along and draws energy from a deep reservoir of rage. The old Puritan consciousness that wants nothing more than to chastise and shun is alive in the U.S. today. All these hurt feelings are expressions of the narcissistic desire to believe in our own uniqueness and specialness. And such subjective manufacture helps distract from the increasing sadism of American society overall.

The real violence of a system based on inequality is buried. It is obscured. The violence of capital, of wage slavery is mystified. All relations under capitalism are coercive. And when the early Capitalist class collaborated with the Church to burn a few hundred thousand women as witches in the early 1700s, across Europe, they were setting a structural dynamic in motion. The Inquisition and witch burning were not the result of magic, but of the need for scapegoats and for ridding the system of autonomous women and small craftspeople. It set up a class war, essentially, one mediated in that case by a deep hatred of women. And fear. The destruction of various celebrities (mostly) for sexual *misconduct* has already been appropriated by NATO and CAA and even Paul Kagame got in the act (see Emma Watson and the Rwandian war criminal share a dais…all to *help* women in war torn areas, or something. I mean who knows. But its mind numbing how quickly such things are activated). Angelina Jolie, who never saw a country she didn’t want to bomb or quarantine (see marriage and honeymoon in Namibia) is also is out stumping for NATO aggressions under cover of protecting women in war zones. No mention of stopping war zones from being created, of course. MeToo became, as quick as you can write hashtag, a vehicle for the exact opposite of that for which it began. And this was predictable.

Today the system has other scapegoats and other needs than it did during the witch trials in Europe. But the violence of capital is alive throughout the carceral system, alive in black communities where cops operate as anti insurgency soldiers bent on pacification. Fallujah or Baltimore, there is not a lot of difference. And the violence of Nikolas Cruz will cause great oceans of tears and hand wringing. Get rid of guns. Okay, how about those in the hands of cops — or those in the army or marine corps? Those are OK, because they don’t shoot up schools. Well, not *our* schools, anyway. There is a sort of pattern recognition in the public now. Shoot up a school is a certain class of irrational violence. People will posit notions about anti depressants or whatever. And it might have some truth to it. Maybe a lot, but I can guarantee that few will read anything about the beliefs of these *sick* shooters. That they all, like Anders Breivik, adhere to classic fascistic values and ideology. They do not fall out of the sky. They are the product of a vast number of forces, but they also kill not just because they suffer humiliation and are frustrated and emotionally disfigured. Or, rather, that emotional disfigurement creates the fascist sensibility. They do not think it is wrong, what they do. Cruz had a history of aggressive behaviour toward women. He was a member of ROTC and posted constantly on social media with various guns and weapons. Those who knew him said he was obsessed with guns. The chilling photos of cops in SWAT attire arresting a kid who wanted to be just like them. There is a strange closed loop of morbid mimetic activity on display.

The U.S. today creates enemies. It often seems the primary activity of America, the manufacturing of global enemies and threats. Of late it is Putin and Kim Jong Il. But they are only the latest in a long line. U.S. police departments, heavily militarized, and increasingly trained in Israel for counter insurgency, are no longer in the policing business but rather in the soldiering business. They are militia, not peace officers. The dysfunctional extreme for what this produces is Nikolas Cruz. But how far is Cruz from the Florida cop who murdered a begging man, on his knees, on video? How far from George Zimmerman? One suspects those three might enjoy a beer together and share many of the same values. I am always struck when reading about these alleged lone wolf shooters how NOT alone they are. Klaus Thewelit’s seminal work Male Fantasies should be required reading.

But if male-female relations of production under patriarchy are relations of oppression, it is appropriate to understand the sexuality created by, and active within, those relations as a sexuality of the oppressor and the oppressed. If the social nature of such “gender-distinctions” isn’t expressly emphasized, it seems grievously wrong to distinguish these sexualities according to the categories “male” and “female.” The sexuality of the patriarch is less “male” than it is deadly, just as that of the subjected women is not so much “female” as suppressed, devivified.
— Klaus Thewelit

Theweleit didn’t see genocide as the thwarted expression of inhibited sexual energies. His point was rather that the production of gender and sexuality are intimately tied to the content of anti-Semitism and overt racism—both before, during, and after the fall of the Weimar Republic. Fascist sexuality is not so much repressed as it is ideological: it idealizes virility and fertility as political imperatives.
— Ana Teixeira Pinto

The cultural post-modernism of today, at least in the U.S., is technologically sophisticated and socially hyper conservative. The neoliberal system might marginalize white nationalists but they cultivate their symbolism and much of their rhetoric. A Nikolas Cruz desired completion as the captain of capitalist manhood. His failures, his lack of productive labor, his relative poverty, escalated his hatred of those he saw as responsible — and at the head of that list one would guess would be women. But the indoctrination of men like Cruz, or boys, begins earlier. As Theweleit writes: “No man is forced to turn political fascist for reasons of economic devaluation or degradation. His fascism develops much earlier, from his feelings; he is a fascist from the inside.”

The violence of the U.S. military, globally, inflicted on the most defenseless nations and people cannot be separated from cops in Chicago or Baltimore or Los Angeles, nor from Fallujuh and Libya and Syria. I mean, the U.S. has occupied Afghanistan for sixteen years. The U.S. military metaphorically rapes these countries. And it is a kind of re-colonializing. Sylvia Federici called the World Bank and IMF “the new Conquistadors”. Nor can it be separated, finally, from Harvey Weinstein or James Toback. Nor from the lynch mob hysteria that has coopted the entire #metoo* phenomenon.

Nikolas Cruz sensed he was broken, and his longing for restoration was reflected back at him by those men who would later capture him. Kevlar and weaponry, helmeted faceless phallic superbodies. He could only merge with his fantasy through mimetic approximation. Cruz may be seen as insane, but he was not *only* insane.

The anti-Russian propaganda that is spewed out daily by mainstream media is an insidious and destructive force that also cannot really be separated from the tidal swell of violence on the streets and in the institutions of U.S. society. Manufacturing contempt for North Korea or Yemen or Libya is not *only* propaganda. It has consequences to the psyches of the people that must absorb that inculcating assault.

(Go back and read Ben Judah’s bizarre and lurid anti Putin piece at Newsweek,July 2014 — the one with Putin in shades on the cover, his eyes reflecting a burning …we presume…America. Read it now and just try to digest that this is what passes for *real* news as opposed to fake news).

In March of last year Brian Cloughly began an article on this massive anti Russian propaganda this way…

On January 30 NBC News reported that “On a snowy Polish plain dominated by Russian forces for decades, American tanks and troops sent a message to Moscow and demonstrated the firepower of the NATO alliance. Amid concerns that President Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO is wavering, the tanks fired salvos that declared the 28-nation alliance a vital deterrent in a dangerous new world.

One intriguing aspect of this slanted account are the phrases “dominated by Russian forces for decades” and “vital deterrent” which are used by NBC to imply that Russia yearns, for some unspecified reason, to invade Poland. As is common in the Western media there is no justification or evidence to substantiate the suggestion that Russia is hell-bent on domination, and the fact that US troops are far from home, operating along the Russian border, is regarded as normal behaviour on the part of the world’s “indispensable nation”.

This is just one example of out of literally hundreds and hundreds. One could find the same against Maduro and Venezuela and against the DPRK. It hardly needs pointing out that Hollywood produces endless paeans of love for militarism and male destructiveness. Capitalism produces economic inequality and as such cannot exist without political and social oppression. The contradictions of Hollywood’s endless fascist product and its equally endless hand wringing over sexual harassment or gun control should be obvious. The sexual harassment in Hollywood goes back to Shirley Temple. It is built into a system in which all parties are there to monetize themselves. It is also true that men with power must punish those beneath them. They cannot exist without subordinates. What Theweleit wrote of the *soldier male* (his term for the prototype ur fascist) that the most urgent task facing him…“is to pursue, to dam in, and to subdue any force that threatens to transform him back into the horribly disorganized jumble of flesh, hair, skin, bones, intestines, and feelings that calls itself human.” Hollywood produces narratives that make the non human heroic. The first Terminator was a watershed moment in that respect. A film whose message was that an android…no, a ‘killer’ android…made a better parent that the human version.

Propaganda that creates phantom enemies is justified because Trump is now the perfect villain. And as such, is a tool of the ruling class. He is the justification for the abandonment of all notions of integrity and honesty, compassion or honour. One case of harassment I know of included a woman who had signed a non disclosure agreement and took payment of tens of thousands of dollars. She disclosed anyway and was applauded as heroic. It is not heroic to break your word. To take a payoff and then snitch anyway. But punishment is its own justification. Trump’s vulgarity is a kind of pride in ignorance trope. He intentionally chooses to be crude, because that is what his base desires. They may not admit it, those suburban small businessmen and managerial white class — but they do. A sense of shunning the soft and sensitive. Stories about escorts and golden showers only adds to his appeal. Those guys wish they could afford escorts. Trump is the grandson of a whore house owner, after all. He never sold himself as Adlai Stevenson.

So, Mark Twain is hurtful. Libraries are being shuttered across the country. Book stores are closing. The U.S. poverty levels have exceeded those of many developing countries. The compulsive hatred of Putin by many who have almost zero idea about Putin or Russian history is disproportionate to any rational analysis, but not surprising. Trump and Putin are like weird doppelgangers in the liberal imagination.

For the propagandists of the exceptional and indispensable nation the by-product of their creative activities is Nikolas Cruz. Trump shares with the far right parties growing across Europe the open disdain for democracy and free speech. Cruz was wearing a Trump cap in one of his Instagram photos. He wasn’t wearing a Che t-shirt. He wanted to kill antifa. He was not an isolated mentally disturbed killer. He was a fascist killer. He wanted to be made whole and inviolate. The way all fascists want to be whole, but cannot.

Korean Olympic Diplomacy Moves Forward Despite U.S. Intransigence

By many accounts, the Koreans – North and South – have prevailed over the disruptive desires of the United States, coming together in a series of very public actions, clearly meant to turn down the political heat generated by President Donald Trump and the U.S. pressure for military action. This pressure can be seen as a continuation of President Barack Obama’s “Asia Pivot,” a policy that called for full U.S. dominance in the region, including by containing China and the new emerging regional powers through a set of expansive, coordinated, and aggressive military alliances with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong as they watch a concert by Pyongyang’s Samjiyon Orchestra at a national theater in Seoul on February 11, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

The high-profile actions taken by the North and the South – both acting independently of Washington – left U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pouting and twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines during some very effective international diplomacy. In this regard, there does indeed seem to be a new and genuine desire on the part of the president of South Korea to forge a more peaceful and cooperative relationship with the North, even though U.S. officials and commentators seem to be dead set against it, portraying the warming relations between North and South as an attempt by the North to subvert the long and close relationship with the South.

In congressional hearings this week, the moves toward North-South de-escalation were dismissed by a leading Republican, Sen. James Risch of Idaho, as a “smile campaign.”

“The South Korean people seem to have been charmed to some degree, some of them seem to have been captivated by it,” Risch fretted.

Meanwhile, on the media front, CBS reported that its rival network NBC “was forced to fire one of its Olympic analysts after he inexplicably said Koreans are grateful for Japan’s role in their economic development – while ignoring the one-time imperial power’s brutalization of the peninsula.”

I spoke to writer and regional expert, K.J. Noh, about the Olympics and the big-power politics swirling around the Olympic Games in Seoul. Noh is a special correspondent for Flashpoints show on Pacifica Radio.

Dennis Bernstein: Welcome back, K.J. Noh. We want to get to some of the bigger political issues but let’s start with a media story. We’ve heard that NBC fired one of its analysts because it turned out he didn’t have a clue about Korean history and ended up insulting Koreans while trying to somehow curry favor with Japan.

K.J. Noh: This commentator, Joshua Cooper Ramo, is the Co-CEO of Kissinger Associates and a supposed expert on the geopolitics and culture of Asia.  The history is that Korea was brutally colonized and subjugated by Japan for three and a half decades.  As the Japanese athletes were coming in, Ramo said “Now representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945.  But every Korean will tell you,” he went on to say, “that as a technical, cultural and economic example, Japan has been so important to the transformation of Korea.”

This didn’t go over well with Koreans.  As one Korean put it, “After decades of human rights violations, exploiting our resources and attempting to destroy our heritage, Japan is not in a position to expect our gratitude.”  This is just one example of the extraordinary ignorance surrounding Korea, by so-called “experts.”

DB: What do you think was the significance in terms of diplomacy between the North and the South?  You have the United States swearing up and down that this is a ploy by the North to get in the way of our tight relationship with the South Koreans.

KJN: As you know, the Winter Olympics are usually not as well attended as the summer games and not as much a source of interest for the general global audience.  But these Olympics, held in the South Korean county of PyeongChang, have reached out to the North Koreans.  And the North Koreans have responded.

In fact, they responded very rapidly, sending over 500 of their citizens, including a cheerleading squad, an orchestra, a Taekwondo demo team, the head of the North Korean assembly, 22 athletes, and most surprisingly, Kim Yo Jong.  Kim Yo Jong is a  high-ranking Politburo member, and Kim Jong Un’s younger sister.  Just the fact of the North Koreans defying expectations and showing up was a propaganda coup.

The allegation was that the North Koreans were going to use the Olympics as a propaganda offensive. Actually, that battle was lost before it even started, because so much of the Western media has gone overboard to portray the North Koreans as brainwashed zombies or belligerent monsters.  So when these representatives of North Korea show up and they are not cowed zombies or desperate monsters, but rather vivacious, congenial, and self-possessed women, that shattered a lot of received stereotypes.

DB: It does seem that there is a strong spiritual push by the new leadership in the south to bring the two countries together.  There have been some pretty warm words, haven’t there?

KJN: Absolutely. To give some more background, although technically North Korea and the US are still at war, North Korea and South Korea signed a Treaty of Reconciliation, Cooperation, and Non-aggression in 1992.  The letter of that agreement has not always been observed and, especially during conservative administrations, the hostilities have escalated.  But the current president of South Korea, Moon Jae In, was the chief of staff of Roh Moo Hyun, who headed a progressive administration and worked very actively toward reconciliation with the North in a program known as the “Sunshine Policy.”

To a certain extent, this small break in the clouds is an attempt to return to that policy of reconciliation.  What is notable is the congeniality with which the hand was extended toward North Korea.  For example, when the North Korean and South Korean athletes entered the stadium as one team, under a single flag, a standing ovation erupted as 35,000 people rose to their feet in a celebration of this very powerful coming together.

DB: Just watching on my TV, I was totally moved.

KJN: The other thing that was notable was that Vice President Pence was the only person who did not stand up. Here’s a man who criticized African American football players for “taking the knee” and has said that sports should not be politicized.  The Korean Times described Pence’s gesture as “mean-spirited and stupid arrogance, making America look bad in the eyes of the world.”  Professor Alexis Dudden at the University of Connecticut, called it “a new low in American bullying.”

DB: These Olympics come in the context of some pretty crazy policy on the part of the United States government.  The permanent war government wants this kind of policy because it helps the weapons industry.  Can these meetings at the Olympics mean anything in this context?

KJN: It’s hard to say right now.  There seems to have been a bit of an about-face on the part of Pence, some have said because the enormous criticism he has received.  He has now said that he is willing to meet and talk with the North Koreans without preconditions. At the same time, he has said that he intends to maintain maximal pressure and that there are even more extreme sanctions in the pipeline.  Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon met with the sister of Kim Jong Un on four separate occasions over three days, including a performance by the North Korean Orchestra. During a state luncheon, Kim Yo Jong extended an invitation to President Moon from Kim Jong Un to visit North Korea for a summit meeting “at the earliest date possible.”

In the visitor’s book, she wrote:  “I hope Pyongyang and Seoul get closer in people’s hearts and move forward for the future of a mutually prosperous unification.”

• First published in Consortium News.com

Fearing Peace: Olympic Diplomacy in Action

Mike Pence was a man with a mission.  At stages through the opening parts of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, he looked like a man on a mission.  With diplomatic gestures flowering all around with weedy vigour in Pyeonchang, he was intent on fighting them.  The gardener of empire had his implements at the ready.

The US Vice-President had a brief: ignore, stall, and frustrate.  Most of all, be wary of being wooed.  “We’ll continue,” he warned on Thursday, “to seize every opportunity to ensure that North Korea does not use the powerful imagery and backdrop of the Olympics to paper over an appalling record of human rights and a pattern of developing weapons and conducting the kind of missile launches that are threatening our nation and threatening neighbours across the region.”

He proceeded to meet four North Korean defectors.  He had been in Japan announcing “the toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against Pyongyang yet, exhorting troops at Yokota Air Base to guard against “the rogue regime in North Korea”.  At the opening ceremony, he refused to engage with his North Korean counterparts.  That ice, at least for the moment, would remain in place.

The fact that progress is being made by both Koreas in a multi-decade conflict goes against the grain of US foreign policy. (Admittedly, this grain varies depending on mood, timing and person.)  Rather than expressing sighs of relief that the two Koreas, who ultimately are the only ones who matter in any final accord, are speaking, larger powers are poking around the corner.  They are the potential spoilers.

President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, could not resist noting the moment of symbolic unity.  The effect of both Koreas marching into the stadium under one flag hit the mark.  “All the athletes around me, all the spectators here in the stadium, and all Olympic fans watching around the world… we are all touched by this wonderful gesture.”

High jinks of sort would have been hard to avoid.  The North Korean cheer leaders, for instance, greeted athletes with a flag sporting the disputed islands of Dokdo.  (For Japan, these are known as Takeshima.)  This ribbing was cheekier given South Korea’s continued insistence on ownership. “This issue,” according to Dong-Joon Park and Danielle Chubb, “brings together all Koreans, no matter what their political inclination – a rare occurrence in a country that is itself deeply ideologically and politically divided.”

For all that, the most important niggler was that of division.  Soft power would be used to prise apart and isolate.  Would Seoul and Washington be separated, their warm, strategic relationship cooled by the seductive advances of Pyongyang?  And what of a persistently prickly Japan, locked, by virtue of security and circumstance, in an at times awkward alliance with South Korea and the United States?

Pyongyang has certainly been stocking up on its soft power inventories, disseminating them in short sharp bursts. Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, supplied an ample “spear” in the “charm offensive” by attending the opening ceremony.

North Korean pop singer Hyon Song-wol of Excellent Horse-like Lady fame had also been doing the rounds in the South to inspect the venue where the DPRK Samjiyon Orchestra would perform, prompting concerns that she might be a good disguise as a Trojan Horse.

Rather than seeing this as opportunity, some of the paladins in Washington fear a near hypnotic control being exerted by Pyongyang.  The DPRK agenda here is to retain a nuclear capability while also seeking closer ties with South Korea, all the time attempting to isolate the US. “North Korea,” suggested former South Korean vice foreign minister Kim Sung-han, “appears to be winning gold.”

In such an assessment, the DPRK “delegation and athletes are getting all the spotlight, and Kim Jong-un’s sister is showing elegant smiles before the South Korean public and the world.  Even for the moment, it appears to be a normal state.”

The Olympic moment was something of an intoxicated binge, a high point that could, in time, dissipate into depressed normality.  Former senior US diplomat Douglas Paal suggested how “tough” it was “not to get caught up in the emotions of an Olympics event”.

Another ally to be discomforted in this moment of diplomacy is Japan.  The fact that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, decided to grace Friday’s opening ceremony with his troubling presence raised the spectre of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals.  (Some 470 abductions are said to have taken place between the 1960s and 1980s.)  He also proceeded to irritate his South Korean hosts by insisting that joint military drills with the US would resume immediately after the Olympics.

South Korea has, in turn, been attacked by various Japanese figures for being soft and sympathetic to their North Korean brethren. “South Korean President Moon Jae-in,” stressed Kazuhiro Araki, head of the Unidentified Persons Investigation Committee at the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, “is pro-Pyongyang and he has used the Winter Olympics to protect North Korea from the pressure that was being applied by Japan and the US.”

The Korea Central News Agency was certainly attuned to the efforts of Japanese politicians to muddy waters.  “If Japan runs amok, defying our warnings,” went a release on January 26, “the Korean people will surely force Japan to pay a very high price for its crimes with their strong fists.”

As for Pence, North Korean soft power, at least behind the scenes, may have had its seductive effect.  From icy standoffishness at the ceremony, he would say aboard Air Force Two on Sunday that the United States would be open, despite the ongoing “maximum pressure” campaign, to talks without preconditions with Pyongyang.

There was the natural caveat, the now genetically programmed refrain. “The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step towards denuclearization.” Conditions, without preconditions, a muddled state of affairs that will not necessarily trouble the negotiating wing of the DPRK.

US Misses Opportunity For Peace Progress At Olympics

The unified Korean team marches in the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. Credit James Hill for The New York Times.

Despite President Moon’s Efforts to Encourage Diplomacy, Childish Anti-Diplomatic Behavior of Vice President Pence Undermines Opportunity for Peace Diplomacy

President Moon said at a carefully planned dinner to honor Kim Yong Nam, the North Korean president’s sister and Vice President Mike Pence that he hoped the Winter Olympics would be remembered as the “day peace began.” But, Vice President Mike Pence did his best to make sure that did not happen. He missed the opportunity to further peace on the Olympic peninsula created by Moon. The historic opening created by North and South Korea at the Olympics was an opportunity but Pence handled the situation like a childish teenager.

At a dinner dinner reception where President Moon sought an opportunity for dialogue between the US and North Korea, Pence went through great lengths to avoid talking to the North Koreans. According to Reuters, when Pence arrived late to the reception he told Moon he planned to leave directly after a photo session but Moon asked him to “come and say hello to friends.” Moon was trying to create a dialogue to advance peace but Pence went around the table and shook hands with everyone except Kim Yong Nam of North Korea.

Reuters reports that Moon said “There are some who would not want to be in the same room together if it wasn’t for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. But what is more important than anything is that we are together.” That seemed to be a statement that described the behavior of Pence. The mainstream political media outlet Politico described it as a close call for Pence:

Vice President Mike Pence’s Olympic visit to Pyeongchang, South Korea, began Friday with a close call with the North Korean officials, whom the vice president appeared to avoid at a diplomatic reception before the opening ceremonies.

Since Pence arrived at the dinner late the seating plan was shuffled, Pence again missing an opportunity created by Moon. Originally, the seating plan showed Pence, with his wife to the left and Moon to his right, seated across the round table from Kim, who was nestled between U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and International Olympics Committee President Thomas Bach’s wife. Kim’s visit is significant as she is the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to enter South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Who knows what kind of conversation could have occurred that furthered the peace process, but Pence avoided the opportunity. Pence left the event after five minutes.

Reuters reports that Pence missed the symbolic desert called “A Plate of Hope,” a “dark chocolate tempered in the shape of barbed wire lay over a map of the Korean peninsula rendered in thin blue chocolate, a representation of the heavily militarized border that separates Games host South Korea and its old enemy in the North.”

Reuters reports the diplomatic response of the Moon administration’s reaction to the avoidance antics of Pence: “A source in the Moon administration said Pence’s absence at the reception was a ‘mere bump’ in an otherwise successful diplomatic event.”

At the stadium Pence sat one row in front of the North Koreans. While Kim Jong Yo was so close to her he never even tried to speak to her.  The pool report for the media was that Pence had “no interaction” with Kim Jong Yo. New York Magazine described it as Pence “avoiding eye contact” with the Korean leader.  Another missed opportunty for peace.

Vice President Pence, so close and yet so far from North Korea’s Kim Jong Yo. The two never even made eye contact.

Vice president Mike Pence, second from bottom right, sits between second lady Karen Pence, third from from bottom left, and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Behind Pence is Kim Jong Yo of North Korea. To the left is President Moon of South Korea and his wife.

While Pence was present, South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo Jong, creating a historic moment and a photograph that gave hopes to many for peace between North and South Korea and movement toward unification and an end of hostilities.

Another show of unity was when two members of the Unified Korean Hockey Team, one from the north and one from the south, carried the Olympic torch up the final flight of stairs in the opening ceremonies. They handed the torch over to figure skater Yuna Kim, a South Korean who won the gold medal in 2010 and the silver medal in 2014 who lit the Olympic cauldron.

A historic moment of unity, two women who play on the unified Korean ice hockey team carried the Olympic torch for the last leg of its journey at the opening ceremony for the 2018 PyeongChang Games. Park Jong-ah of South Korea and Jong Su-hyon of North Korea carried the flame together across the stage and up a steep flight of stairs to the base of the Olympic cauldron.

We recognize that these images of North and South Korea shaking hands and being friendly toward each other as well as of South and North Korean athletes walking into the Olympic stadium together do not ensure peace on the Korean peninsula. It is a long hard road to peace, much needs to be negotiated. Peace is made more difficult with the US threatening a ‘bloody nose’, teenage bully talk for a military first strike, against North Korea. Pence exemplified the worst of US foreign policy with his childish behavior at the Olympics.

North Korean Olympic delegation athletes holding flag of unification before entering Olympic stadium.