Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

Blood in Our Eyes

As the business grew, Sturm Ruger CEO Michael Fifer lobbied personally against a Connecticut ban on high-capacity magazines, commonly used with the company’s semi-automatic rifles. “The regulation of magazine capacity will not deter crime, but will instead put law-abiding citizens at risk of harm,” Fifer wrote to state lawmakers in early 2011. The legislation died in committee that April. At the NRA’s annual Corporate Executives Luncheon the next year, Fifer presented a check to the group for more than $1.25 million—$1 for every Sturm Ruger gun purchased the prior year. Eight months later, 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a semi-auto­matic rifle and a 30-round magazine to gun down 20 children and six adults at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, located just 27 miles from Sturm Ruger’s headquarters. In the year following the shooting, Sturm Ruger’s profits increased 56 percent.
— Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones, June 2016

Researchers at the University of Leeds used two bodies of transcribed, informal conversations among members of the public, comprising five million words in the 1990s and 12 million words in the 2010s. In the earlier conversations, 100 per cent of references to a ‘field’ concerned grass or farmland. That has fallen to 70 per cent, with modern conversation taking in the metaphorical fields of work, gravity or energy. Researchers also found that the following nature words have decreased in relative frequency among young people between the 1990s and 2010s: lawn, twig, blackbird, picnic, fishing, paddle, sand, welly, desert, paw, snow, grass, jungle, sky, path, bridge, bush, land, hill, fish, pond, mountain, soil, branch, stick, park, ground, wheel, tree, stream, rock, bird, road, garden, shell.
— Anita Singh, The Telegraph, July 2019

Magnum Research Desert Eagle: These large-caliber handguns, designed for hunting, have appeared in dozens of films, including RoboCop, The Matrix, Snatch, and Borat. “Here’s a gun that has very little practical usage,” the owner of a prop company told the Baltimore Sun. “The success of that particular weapon owes almost everything to the movies.”
— Dave Gilson, Mother Jones, May/June 2016 issue

It is interesting that amid the fall out from the El Paso and Dayton shootings one hears very little about the gun industry. The Firearms Industry Trade Association writes:

Companies in the United States that manufacture, distribute, and sell firearms, ammunition, and hunting equipment employ as many as 49,146 people in the country and generate an additional 162,845 jobs in supplier and ancillary industries. These include jobs in supplying goods and services to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, and those that depend on sales to workers in the firearms and ammunition industry.

Ninety-one percent of guns manufactured in the U.S. are sold to citizens of the U.S. But this is nothing compared to the U.S. defense industry. Defense News wrote…

Combined weapon sales from American companies for fiscal 2018 were up 13 percent over fiscal 2017 figures, netting American firms $192.3 billion, according to new numbers released Thursday by the State Department. The department previously announced that FY18 brought in $55.66 billion in foreign military sales, an uptick of 33 percent over FY (fiscal year) 17’s $41.93 billion. Through the Foreign Military Sales process, the U.S. government serves as a go-between for foreign partners and American industry.

What had not been released until now is the total direct commercial sales, the process through which foreign customers can directly buy systems from industry. Those figures topped $136.6 billion for FY18, a 6.6 percent increase from FY17’s $128.1 billion.

But this is hardly accurate given that two arms sales packages to Saudi Arabia equaled 287 BILLION all by themselves. It should be noted that the U.K. sold even more arms to Saudi Arabia. But I digress.

Shimon Arad (at War on the Rocks) writes…

The defense and aerospace industry is America’s second-largest gross exporter. The industry contributes approximately $1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy and employs around 2,500,000 people. On average, 30 percent of the industry’s annual revenue is through arms exports…

So, it’s sorta all about how you count. The point is that the U.S. is a machine that makes and sells weapons. We are history’s number one death merchant. Now, arms sales globally have increased over 40% since 2002 (according the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Britain and France are among those showing the largest growth. The Saudi market includes 31 billion dollars just in armoured vehicle purchases. And it’s growing. (Although because under Obama there were so many fighter jets sold to the Saudis and other gulf state monarchies that sales figures are likely to dip in the near future due to saturation).

The government is essentially a branch of the death industry. Peter Castagno wrote just this year at Truthout:

After the resignation of Gen. James Mattis, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan filled the post as interim head of the Defense Department. Before joining the Trump administration, Shanahan spent three decades working for Boeing — a blatant conflict of interest for the person responsible for overseeing federal contracts with private defense contractors. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, called Shanahan “a living, breathing product of the military-industrial complex,” and asserted that “this revolving door keeps the national security elite very small, and very wealthy, and increasing its wealth as it goes up the chain.” One egregious example of that revolving door is Heather Wilson, who has been secretary of the Air Force since 2017. In 2015, Lockheed Martin paid a $4.7 million settlement to the Department of Justice after the revelation it had used taxpayer funds to hire lobbyists for a $2.4 billion contract. One of the lobbyists was former New Mexico Representative Wilson, ranked as one of the “most corrupt members of Congress” by the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Wilson was later confirmed as Air Force secretary in the Senate by a 76-22 vote. Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army, worked as vice president of government relations for Raytheon before joining the Trump administration in 2017. The Hill recognized Esper as one of Washington’s most powerful corporate lobbyists in 2015 and 2016, where he fought to influence acquisition policy and other areas of defense bills. Esper’s undersecretary, Ryan McCarthy, is a former Lockheed executive.

So, back to El Paso and Dayton. First thing to note is that the narrative (as always) emphasizes the ‘lone wolf’ gunmen idea, mentally unstable, a loner teased by classmates, bad haircut, etc. They might add he takes anti depressants (and often, or hell, almost always, they do) but rarely is the writing or the social connections and influences that shaped these young men investigated. In Norway, the Breivik story still tends to minimize the fascist connections that mass killer had throughout Europe. Whatever the truth of these shootings (as in, some witnesses saw three men dressed in black, etc) the one certainty is that the state will follow a clear story-line and hit home certain key points. The second thing that will happen for certain is more calls for “gun control” — you know, that three trillion dollar industry in death led by the United States. Remember here that some seventy thousand plus civilians have died in Yemen since the Saudi/U.S. assault on that nearly defenseless nation. The poorest in the Arab world. Remember the millions upon millions who have been murdered across Africa in wars and conflicts often directly orchestrated by the U.S. And using American made weapons.

US military aid to the rebels channeled (unofficially) through the illicit market, is routine and ongoing. In December 2015, a major US sponsored shipment of a staggering 995 tons of weapons was conducted in blatant violation of the ceasefire. According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, the U.S. … “is providing [the weapons] to Syrian rebel groups as part of a programme that continues despite the widely respected ceasefire in that country [in December 2015].
— Michael Chossudovsky, Global Research, 2019

One of the secondary effects (I suspect intentional) of the government and law enforcement narrative on mass shooting incidents (sic) is one that emphasizes a need to control the mentally unstable (a fluid definition that likely will include you and me at some point). Since the Philip K. Dickian idea of *future crime* is now relatively mainstream the focus on mass state quarantines of those who serve as potential threats is clearly implied in the master narratives on these shootings. The bourgeoisie respond to the death of white people (and OK, a few hispanics, too) with exaggerated horror. They do not show such horror at the atrocities in Yemen or Syria or Libya, committed by US/NATO. But then the lone gunman story is containable and easily grasped by their truncated moral GPS. The white liberal does not scream gun control when cops execute another unarmed young black man (or woman). Just as gun makers are ignored in the gun control logic, so are cops. The anti gun lobby seems okay with the idea that only steroid crazed racist policemen can carry guns. I have to tell you, I’m not so OK with that.

The familiarity of the rhetoric that surrounds these shootings has come to have a numbing effect. Still, it is important to note that as Adorno and Horkheimer observed that anti semitism grew in the U.S. after the defeat of the Nazis. So the love of guns and death seems to grow after each of these mass shootings. But the rise in gun related deaths contains another less advertised fact:

While much of the public attention is on the intense tragedies of gun massacres in the US – 2017 saw the deadliest mass shooting by an individual to take place in the country in modern history, when 58 people died in the 1 October rampage on the Las Vegas Strip – in fact most suffering takes place in isolated and lonely incidents that receive scant media coverage. Of those, suicide is by far the greatest killer, accounting for about 60% of all gun deaths.”
— Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, 2018

Gabor Mate, after the attack at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, wrote that the shooter’s “anger [that] has got nothing to do with what they think they are angry about. They are just angry because of what life has done to them as children and then they find external targets.” And this is what Fascism does too, of course. It provides an explanation, and a direction for the inarticulate rage. The U.S. is a stunningly sick society. I have grown weary of writing this fact because one finds oneself repeatedly in situations where this obvious truth must be stated..again. That sixty percent of gun deaths are suicide is a stunning statistic. The irrational hatred of the ‘other’ is always equally a self hatred. And you have to see these narrative themes cropping up again and again in only indirectly related issues. I’ve noted the racist eugenics backdrop to the overpopulation fear, a backdrop that finds partial expression in the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in Africa — where the theme is sterilization. The west then, regards Africa, arms conflicts they — the U.S. — start, and at the same time work to stop reproduction on the continent. Eradication of the dark-skinned other is a theme that cuts across all these white psycho shooters and it cuts across the story of western capital. Jews, blacks, Arabs, Hispanics — this is the legacy of colonialism and Manifest Destiny and European whiteness. American exceptionalism.

The very good Belen Fernandez (Al Jazeera, 2019) wrote:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conducted a test of Rekognition, Amazon’s facial recognition software, which compared images of all the members of the US Congress with a database of mugshots. The results, according to Rekognition: 28 US Congresspeople were identified as criminals. And what do you know: the false matches pertained disproportionately to people of colour. Now imagine the complications that might arise when you have such technology in the hands of US law enforcement officials who have already proven themselves predisposed to shooting black people for no reason. In addition to marketing its product to officials from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other notoriously abusive entities, Amazon has also pushed for Rekognition’s use in police body cameras – which would presumably only increase the chances of pre-emptive misidentification by trigger-happy forces of law and order. The arms industry comes to mind, which has helped to eradicate countless lives from Iraq to Yemen and beyond. And as Raja stresses, it is important to remember in the US context that “what happens abroad matters and vice-versa”. Case in point: “Technology is often tested on the bodies of Black and Brown people, perfected and then applied locally.” As it turns out, the US is also one of a group of countries opposing a UN-proposed ban on the development of so-called “killer robots”: lethal autonomous weapons systems that use artificial intelligence – think facial recognition-equipped swarms of drones.

The reality is that the violence of Dylann Roof or Jared Lee Loughner or James Holmes is one with the violence of Fallujah or Afghanistan. The US occupies several countries as I write this, and has military bases spread across the world. Surrounding each base one will find spikes in public intoxication, fights, domestic abuse, rape and drug abuse. Nobody in those places want the U.S. military there. For the military is not only the expression of historical American violence and racism, but it also horribly pollutes the areas in which it is located. For this is only another aspect of the violence. A psychic pollution, an emotional toxicity that is embedded in the uniform and the various repressions that entails. The military is the violence of the ruling elite made operative.

I am reminded of two quotes of George Jackson’s…

I’m convinced that it is the psychopathic personality that searches out a uniform. There’s little doubt of what’s going on in that man’s head who will voluntarily don any uniform.
Soledad: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, October 1, 1970

and

Intellectuals still argue whether Amerika is a fascist country. This concern is typical of the Amerikan left’s flight from reality. … This is actually a manifestation of the authoritarian process seeping into its own psyche.
Blood in My Eye, Black Classic Press, 1971

Suggesting mental illness as the cause of these shooters’ violence is to distract from the institutional and class violence that exists all around them. In which each grew up. To focus disproportionately on their isolation or loneliness is almost ironic given they live in a society of acute crippling loneliness and in which suicide is rampant. A society in which isolation is manufactured by the state as only another strategy of control. Collectively breeds radicalization.  If people start to talk to each other, they might start to dissent from these master narratives. Best to stop all institutions of the collective. Best to deride any political form of collectivity…like, oh, communism. Best to refer to socialism as something practiced by war monger Bernie Sanders or pseudo progressive Alexandria Ocasio Cortez… that way the real socialism of a, say, Antonio Gramsci or Rosa Luxemburg will not be investigated. Best to encourage stories of individualism and triumph over social adversity. Not stories of tearing down systems of oppression.

Why is history being re-written? Vietnam, Korea, World War 2. Ask yourselves that rather simple question. Or the history of the Soviet Union, or Cuba, or Mao or Ho Chi Minh?

Treat global pollution and climate change as if it were a Hollywood disaster movie. Stigmatize asking questions, ridicule dissenting voices, shame those who will not submit to the official narrative. And the question here in the shadow of El Paso is not the truth or falsity of the narrative but the insistence on a submission to it. This is the same logic you would find at Jonestown if you went back in time. The very same. Or Synanon, or Heaven’s Gate. People are actually volunteering to stop having children. To stop flying. Voluntarily. Here is a clue, the U.S. military hasn’t stopped flying. And whenever the ruling class is talking to you — you should distrust what they say. Full stop.

And to underscore the racism so incrusted in American society and the climate discourse….

The populace today is encouraged to trust in consensus. Trust in popularity. If a movie is popular, well, it must be good. If everyone says something is true, well, it must be. As Norman Mailer said years ago, Americans are incapable “of confronting a book unless it is successful.” Lonely mentally ill young white men who shoot up public spaces do so because they can buy guns. And are mentally ill. In a society in which the economy is built upon mass violence and the manufacturing of guns, weapons, and ammunition. In which most new technology comes out of Pentagon research projects.

Are the police who beat or abuse or kill blacks and hispanics and native Americans…are they lonely and mentally ill? I mean, I’d say yeah, but that’s not the official narrative. And how many of those murderous policemen were veterans of the American military? The U.S. teaches violence. It glorifies it and romanticizes it and sexualizes it. Of course, people are going to shoot each other. As daily life becomes more unreal, and more intolerable, the suffering will find an outlet. And the one that is met with least resistance is the buying of guns. Young men are trained to think in martial terms. And this is where Trump can be seen as the perfect foil for the ruling class and why he will be re-elected. When Trump starts to tweet his concerns about public safety he will (I predict) also begin a normalizing of martial law and internment camps. I mean, camps are already mostly in use, albeit in small ways still. But martial law has been tested already with the Boston marathon shooting and subsequent hunt for the bombers. An entire city was shut down with almost unanimous public approval.

Barry Grey, World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on April 2013, wrote:

The events in Boston have laid bare the modus operandi for the establishment of dictatorial forms of rule in the US. One or another violent act carried out by disoriented or disaffected individuals, perhaps with the help of elements within the state, is declared a terrorist event. A state of siege is imposed suspending democratic rights and establishing military-police control.

And it occurred after Hurricane Katrina when the governor declared an ‘state of emergency’ — evacuations were ordered and people were forced out of their homes and many businesses were closed. People were, in fact, removed to FEMA camps. Trump would meet with only symbolic objections by the Democratic Party. Some hand wringing and measured words of concern from Pelosi or Shurmer or Biden…and no doubt support from ex cop Harris and crypto-fascist Warren. It’s for your own good, after all. In fact, it’s for the good of those put in these camps. This is a nation, remember, where the government already flies surveillance drones to spy on its own citizens, and helicopters patrol areas targeted as potentially high crime (black and poor mostly) and SWAT teams increasingly are called out for routine offences — and where even small towns and some Universities have military surplus armoured fighting vehicles at their disposal.

On September 29, 2006, President Bush signed the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The law expanded Presidential authority to declare Martial Law under revisions to the Insurrection Act. The law was rolled back slightly in 2008 but Obama then signed a new version of NDAA that would allow the arrest and detention of U.S. citizens without due process. Obama also oversaw a federal policing report (in 2012) that suggested use of the military to supplement domestic police departments in times of social unrest. The creation of NORTHCOM (Northern Command) was really to draw up plans for civil unrest throughout north America. As Patrick Martin wrote in World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) back in 2005:

While Northcom was established only in October 2002, its headquarters staff of 640 is already larger than that of the Southern Command, which overseas US military operations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The reality is that the military brass is intensely interested in monitoring political dissent because its domestic operations will be directed not against a relative handful of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists—who have not carried out a single operation inside the United States since September 11, 2001—but against the democratic rights of the American people.

The ‘lone wolf’ shooter is now a domestic terrorist. Liberals are way out front on this designation, too. The terrorist tag opens the way to the further removal of all due process. So both a mentally ill misfit AND a domestic terrorist. Much as Osama bin Laden was an evil mastermind AND a cave dwelling primitive.

If martial law comes, it won’t be called martial law. It will be called Emergency Protective Sanctuary or some other Madison Avenue opaque and Orwellian term. Israel has rather perfected this stuff, though they seem today to barely care about global opinion. The climate crises plays into this, too, of course. It is useful to take the time to find the source of whatever dire warnings you are being told. Much of it has direct connections to the U.S. military in all its branches. Mike Pompeo even said the melting arctic presents a great business opportunity.

Trump is not an aberration or anomaly. He is the logical outcome of three hundred years of white supremacist values, arrogance, and class oppression. One need look back no further than Ronald Reagan to see the origins of much of what Trump is about. The Democrats are to the right of Trump on most of his foreign policy, and they will increasingly attack him from the right throughout this coming electoral season. Meanwhile the last shreds of civil liberties and due process are being removed. Fear is a great distraction. It’s the government’s three card monte game — and liberals and democrats are completely behind anything that is labeled green or about safety. Well, the safety of white people, mostly. And that doesn’t mean the homeless, of course. They are, in fact, another health and hygiene threat that needs to be dealt with. For their own good, naturally.

Guardianship System Eased, but Saudi Arabia Still Oppresses Women

The Saudi government announced it will be eliminating part of the male guardianship system, finally granting women the right to obtain passports and travel (if 21 years of age or over), and obtain family identification cards without the need for male authorization.

The change comes in the context of the bad publicity that Saudi Arabia has been receiving about “runaway girls,” a growing number of Saudi women who have been fleeing the country to seek asylum abroad. Several of these high-profile cases of women claiming intense gender-based repression and receiving asylum in countries like Canada have placed global scrutiny on the male guardianship system.

The latest decrees also come in the context of intense criticism of the government’s appalling treatment of women’s rights activists. In 2018, when the government announced it was lifting the ban on women drivers, it then went on to arrest the very women who had campaigned for that right. Some of these women are released pending trial; others are still languishing in prison, enduring terribly abusive conditions. When making the announcement about the easing of the guardianship system, the government made no mention of the plight of these women activists.

While the easing of the guardianship system is indeed welcome news, Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s most repressive societies for women.

  • Key aspects of the guardianship system are still in place. One particularly onerous restriction is that women need the permission of a male guardian to marry or divorce.
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the only Muslim-majority countries that legally imposes a dress code. By law, in public places women must cover their everyday clothing with an abaya– a long cloak – and a head scarf.
  •  When it comes to family issues such as child custody, child support and divorce laws, they all favor men over women. Women can easily lose access to their own children when they separate from their husbands.
  • In certain types of court cases, female testimony is worth half as much as male testimony.
  • While Saudi women have made great gains in education, they still make up only 23% of the labor force, and they are mainly employed “women’s jobs” such as education and public health. Women are discriminated against in the hiring process, and then must endure gender segregation in the workplace.
  • Saudi Arabia is the most gender-segregated society in the world. The majority of public buildings have separate entrances for men and women; some even ban women from entering. Most workplaces are segregated, so are schools. The separation in restaurants has been somewhat easing, but most eating areas are still separated to keep unrelated men and women apart–with one section for “singles,” meaning men, and one for “families,” meaning women, children, and close male relatives like husbands.
  • Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws setting a minimum age for marriage. Child brides are still acceptable, especially among poor, rural families where girls may be married off to richer, older men.
  • Regarding representation, there are no women elected at the national and provincial level, because there are no national or provincial elections. It was only in 2015 that women were granted the right to vote and to run in municipal councils, but in 2019 women still represent just 1 percent of those local seats (19 women elected and 15 appointed).
  • As of 2013, women were granted 20% of the seats on the Shura Council–an appointed 150-member body that advises the king. In July 2019, women on the Shura Council introduced a proposal to have 30% women on the municipal councils, but the proposal was rejected. By law, the proposal cannot be brought up again for two years.

Saudi women have a long way to go to achieve equality. Onerous laws remain in place and conservative traditions that give men control over women will be hard to transform. The best way to do this, however, is to grant Saudi women the freedom to openly advocate for their rights. Now, these rights are “bestowed upon them” by male rulers while women who fight for their rights are jailed, tortured, fired from their jobs, and in other ways silenced. The Saudi rulers must free the women activists languishing in prison and open the system so that women can freely advocate for the society they want to live in.

It is not the Non-existent Iranian Bomb; it is the Other Existing Bombs

United States (US) demands that Iran promise to halt pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile developments distract from the real intent of the US actions. Knowing that the Islamic Republic is not pursuing nuclear weapons and will react aggressively to sanctions, the US ploy deters other nations from establishing more friendly relations with Iran and from changing their perspectives on the causes of the Middle East crises.

Adherence by all nations to the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had potential to stimulate extensive political, economic, and social engagements of the international community with Iran, Investments leading to long lasting attachments, friendships, and alliances would initiate a revitalized, prosperous, and stronger Iran. A new perspective of Iran could yield a revised perspective of a violent, unstable, and disturbed Middle East. Israel and Saudi Arabia would finally receive attention as participants in bringing chaos to the Arab region. Economies committed to Iran’s progress and allied with its interests could bring pressure on Israel and Saudi Arabia to change their destructive behaviors.

Because the demands on Iran can be approached in a less provocative and insinuating manner, the demands are meant to provoke and insinuate. Assuredly, the US wants Iran to eschew nuclear and ballistic weapons, but the provocative approach indicates other purposes — completely alienate Iran, destroy its military capability, and bring Tehran to collapse and submission. Accomplishing the far-reaching goals will not affect the average American, lessen US defense needs, or diminish the continuous battering of the helpless faces of the Middle East. The strategy mostly pleases Israel and Saudi Arabia, who have engineered it, share major responsibillty for the Middle East turmoil, and are using mighty America to subdue the princpal antagonist to their malicious activities. During the 2016 presidential campaign, contender Donald Trump said, Many nations, including allies, ripped off the US.” President Donald Trump has verified that statement.

Noting the history of US promises to leaders of other nations – give up your aggressive attitudes and you will benefit ─ the US promises make the Ayatollah skeptical. The US reneged on the JPOAC, sent Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to the World Court and eventual death (although his compromises allowed the Dayton Accords that ended the Yugoslavian conflict), directly assisted NATO in the overthrow of subdued Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, pulverized Iraq after sanctions could not drive that nation to total ruin, rejected Iranian pledge of  $560 million worth of assistance to Afghanistan at the Tokyo donors’ conference in January 2002, and, according to the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Dobbins, disregarded Iran’s “decisive role in persuading the Northern Alliance delegation to compromise its demands of wanting 60 percent of the portfolios in an interim government.”

Tehran senses it is in a lose-lose situation.  Regardless of its decisions and directions,the centuries old Persian lands will be pulverized.

If the US honestly wants to have Iran promise never to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile weapons, it would approach the issues with a question, “What will it take for you (Iran) never to pursue these weapons?” Assuredly, the response would include provisions that require the US to no longer assist the despotic Saudi Kingdom in its oppression of minorities and opposition, in its export of terrorists, and in its slaughter of the Houthis, and the response would propose that the US eliminate financial, military and cooperative support to Israel’s theft of Palestinian lands, oppressive conditions imposed on Palestinians, and daily killings of Palestinian people, and combat Israel’s expansionist plans.

The correct question soliciting a formative response and leading to decisive US actions resolves two situations and benefits the US — fear of Iran developing weapons of mass destruction is relieved and the Middle East is pointed in a direction that achieves justice, peace, and stability for its peoples.

Despite the August 2018 report from the U.S. Department of State’s Iran Action group, which “chronicle  iran’s destructive activities,” and consists of everything from most minor to most major, from unsubstantiated to retaliatory, from the present time to before the discovery of dirt, (July 22, 1980 – Bethesda, MD, United States: An Iranian operative assassinated a former Iranian diplomat-in-exile, Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a vocal critic of then-Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.) Iranians will not rebel in sufficient numbers against their own repressive state until they note the end of hypocritical support by western powers of other repressive states. Halting international terrorism, ameliorating the Middle East violence, and preventing any one nation from establishing hegemony in the Arab world starts with President Trump sending Secretary Pompeo to confront Israel and Saudi Arabia, two nations whose records of injustice, aggression, oppression, and violation of human rights exceed that of the oppressive Iran regime.

Otherwise, it will occur on a Sunday morning; always occurs in the early hours on the day of rest. It will come with a roar greater than the sum of all shrieks and screams ever uttered by humankind, rip across fields and cities and burn through the flesh of a part of the world’s population.

An “Emergency” to Send Billions in Weapons to the Saudis

So Trump has declared an “emergency” to circumvent Congressional oversight of arms shipments to other countries. By law Congress by law is given 30 days advance before before such sales are completed, and it can obstruct them. But a loophole in the Arms Control Act allows the president to authorize sales in an emergency.

One must ask what emergency causes the president to allow sale of $ 8 billion in arms manufactured by Boeing, Lockhead, Raytheon, and GE to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. (Britain’s BAE and Europe’s Airbus will also profit handsomely from this decision.)

What emergency confronts any of these recipient countries? The murderous regime of Jared Kushner pal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, savagely murders journalists who criticize it, crushes dissent in neighboring Bahrain, kidnaps the Lebanese prime minister, applies the strictest interpretations of Sharia law within the kingdom and wages war on Yemen, killing tens of thousands of civilians with U.S. support. Where’s the problem? Is the criminal Saudi effort in Yemen failing so badly the Saudis need more arms to kill more Yemenis to stave off defeat?

What is the emergency in the UAE? They are allied with the Saudis in the effort to crush the Houthis of Yemen, who because of their Shiite Islam in a generally Sunni region are both despised for religious reasons by Gulf monarchs, and consequently smeared with Iranian associations, not because substantial political and military ties exist between Iran and the Houthis (as they do between Lebanon’s Hizbollah and Iran) but because they hate Shiites in general. Perhaps in this emergency situation they need more U.S. bombs to drop the Arab world’s poorest, most miserable country?

What emergency does the Kingdom of Jordan face?

Presumably the State Department and Pentagon will suggest that “recent Iranian threats” to U.S. forces in the Middle East–which were justified as the Pentagon indicated that 120,000 troops would be sent, adjusted down to 10,000, then 1,200-1,500 for some reason (I suspect because the Pentagon balked at the larger figures, noting that there was in fact no new real Iranian threat to U.S. forces in the region)–constitute an “emergency” justifying the sales. (The British and Germans perceive no elevated threat from Iran and have pooh-poohed U.S. saber-rattling.) Fake news is being deployed to rationalize sending more forces to the region, thus ratcheting up tensions with an Iran that has in fact been cautiously defensive.

Trump himself may rationalize it as he always has: arms sales to Saudi Arabia create jobs! (Trump has repeatedly said that the $ 110 billion in arms deals he’s signed with Saudi Arabia means “500,000 jobs.” This is more Fake News; the number is a tiny fraction of that. But clearly Trump is a prime example of Marx’s dictum that “The soul of the capitalist is capital.” It’s not so much about creating jobs anyway but creating obscene profits from arms sales for the captains of the military-industrial complex.)

We can’t allow the hack-saw murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Istanbul consulate to affect our strong ties to the Saudi arms market! U.S. national security is at stake!

Kushner reportedly told MbS that this crisis about the Khashoggi murder in Oct. 2018 would “blow over.” (The prince has told intimates that he has Jared “in my pocket.” It appears that Jared supplied him with the names of Saudi dissidents, subsequently detained, in return for something.) Indeed, the cordial U.S.-Saudi relationship seems unaffected by the murder.

Meanwhile UNCHR, the UN Refugee Agency, has proclaimed a “Yemen Emergency”—which is to say, a real emergency in the real world. This is due principally to the U.S./U.K.-backed Saudi-led campaign to subdue Yemen and turn it into a Saudi satrapy. The civilian casualties, the refugee figures, the deaths from war-related famine alone are horrific. And the Saudis block aid.

We have an emergency in this country, this imperialist country–an urgent need to stop Trump, Pompeo and Bolton from starting another war-based-on-lies egged on by the beastly SbM and the murderous Binyamin Netanyahu, family friend of the Kushners. (Surely you know he once borrowed Jared’s bed in a sleepover at the Kusher home? They’re that close. Google search it. And then realize that the 38-year-old Kushner is Trump’s “senior advisor” on the Israel-Palestinian problem, facilitator of the corrupt Israeli-Saudi anti-Iranian alignment.)

*****

Final thought: One real offense that should be truly impeachable is authorizing the sale of fighter jets and bombs used to kill children to a regime led by a prince U.S. intelligence services hold responsible for a journalist’s murder, sidelining Congress in doing so.

Saudi’Israeli’a

Only a few years ago this geo-political portmanteau would have seemed fanciful to farcical.  Saudi Arabia, that theocratic monarchy, and Israel, a Western-styled democracy?  But times have changed, and all signs point to a confluence of interest between these two ideologically opposed, Middle Eastern states.  Moreover, this curious confluence flows through the Mesopotomac swamp of Washington, D.C.

As a sign of things to kingdom come, President Trump’s first foreign foray was to Riyadh (not Moscow), for some symbolic sword-dancing and weird orb-touching.  From there, Trump dutifully flew to Tel Aviv. Trump’s trip was a tip of the hat to what his regime’s foreign policy would be:  Saudi’Israeli’a First.

Since then, the Trump Folks have gone rogue by declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, in accordance with Israeli wishes, and, most recently, recognizing Israel’s illegal 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights.  Besides such signs of fealty to a foreign power, as there was no public American call for these moves in defiance of international consensus, the Trump Team is quite recently on record defending atrocities by both its Saudi and Israeli partners.

Indeed, on the very day that the United States “recognized” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (May 14, 2018), Israeli Defense Forces shot up and massacred 60 Palestinians protesting in Gaza, leaving over 2,000 others bullet-wounded.  Bizarrely, Nikki Haley, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, responded to this mass murder by indignantly accusing the Palestinians themselves of provoking Israel’s right to self-defense against the stone-throwing; or, what’s a Goliath to do against so many Davids?  Shoot to kill, apparently.  The U.S. Press won’t ask too many questions later; neither will the Saudis, for that matter.

Speaking of the Saudis: in the case of Jamal Khashoggi (or, What the Bone Saw?!), Trump’s handlers have provided exceptional cover for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s exhibition of gangsterism. Despite some pushback from Congress (even Saudi loyalist Senator Lindsey Graham cried “Heavens to Betsy Ross!” while washing Khasoggi’s blood off his face in a huff…), the Trump regime has used the assassination to re-affirm its supporting role in Saudi Arabia’s illegal war against Yemen.  In the Death Star eyes of Team Trump, the lives of Palestinians and Yemenis are equally irrelevant, evidently.

Of course, the ongoing Guernica in Yemen has been framed as a proxy war against Iran.  For reasons known only to Jared Kushner and that weird orb, perhaps, the Trump, Saudi, and Israeli regimes are all being confluenced by some otherworldly threat from the Islamic Republic.  This state of affairs naturally poses the real-world question: What threat, Iran?  None, as far as any reasonable eye can far see.

In terms of military spending alone, the Iranian juggernaut is dwarfed by the expenditures of its “regional superpower” rivals. Moreover, while the United States heavily subsidizes the Saudi’Israelians, it sanctions Iran, further enhancing this Middle Eastern imbalance of power.  It is also notable that Saudi Arabia currently spends more on its military than any country except for China and the USA, while Israel is the only Middle Eastern state with the complete suite of WMD–a fact rarely mentioned. In this context, the very real irony emerges that Iranian defense spending is literally for the defense of Iran.

So, Iran is back in the cross-hairs of the Regime Changelings.  There’s a new “Axis” in Southwest Eurasia, as Uncle Samson strains to maintain the Twin Pillars of American Middle Eastern policy–Saudi Arabia and Israel–while hurling hoary epithets toward Iran at the behest of these two “client states”.  Things go “Bump!” in the Arabian night, but does anyone seriously believe there’s an Iranian devil in the woodpile?  In Riyadh, Tel Aviv, and Wahhabington. D.C., the answer is an emphatic, fundamentalist, “Yes!”

This USA-KSA-Israel “Axis of Roguery” certainly presents a peculiar spectacle on the world stage.  The petrodollar system–or financialization of Oil–underpins the U.S.-Saudi relationship, while an irrational enmity toward Iran binds Israel and the Kingdom, despite the fact they don’t even have official relations.  Enter the con-man Trump, who fronts for neocon-men, to grease this unlikely–and possibly rickety–wheel.  As Trump unkosherly hogs the spotlight (Wart of the Deal?), the Saudi’Israelian true believers weave new war in the shadows of Trump’s tweets.

In the neologistical case of “Saudi’Israeli’a?”, then, I think we can safely drop the question mark.  However, we should keep in mind that this geo-political symbiosis is as inherently unstable as it is real–and really whipping the U.S. War Chariot into a renewed Crusade against the recycled villain du jour, Iran.

Canada Gets Cozy with Repressive Middle East Monarchies

While Justin Trudeau’s government embraces repressive Middle East monarchies, they want us to believe their campaign to oust Venezuela’s government is motivated by support for democracy and human rights.

On a tour of the Middle East last week Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan met his United Arab Emirates counterpart Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi in Abu Dhabi. According to Emirates News Agency, Canadian and UAE officials discussed “cooperation in the military and defence sectors” at a time when the oil rich nation plays a key role in the horrendous violence in Yemen.

The Trudeau government is promoting arm sales to the UAE and other regional monarchies. With support from “15 trade commissioners and representatives from the Government of Ontario, National Defence, Global Affairs Canada, and the Canadian Commercial Corporation”, 50 Canadian arms companies flogged their wares at the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in February. To help the arms companies move their wares, Commander of the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150, Commodore Darren Garnier, led a Canadian military delegation to IDEX.

During his recent tour Sajjan met King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in Jordan. He discussed military cooperation with a monarch known for prosecuting individuals for “extending one’s tongue” (having a big mouth) against the King. At the end of March, Trudeau phoned King Abdullah II.

On April 9 the Canadian and Jordanian armed forces broke ground on a road project along the Jordanian-Syrian border. During a ceremony for the Canadian-funded initiative Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, Lieutenant General Michael Rouleau, said: “this important road rehabilitation project is a tangible example of the close relationship between Jordan and Canada. It will help keep the people of Jordan safe by allowing the Jordanian armed forces to deter, monitor and interdict incursions along the northern border with Syria, which will help to enhance security in Jordan and in the region.”

On his Middle East tour Sajjan also met Kuwait’s Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who is part of a family that has ruled for 250 years. According to the Kuwait News Agency, Canada’s defence minister “stressed deep relations between Kuwait and Canada and pointed out mutual willingness to bolster and consolidate bilateral ties.”

Earlier in the month finance minister Bill Morneau and Parliamentary Secretary Omar Alghabra participated in the inaugural Kuwait and Canada Investment Forum. At the time Alghabra wrote, “let’s celebrate and continue our efforts to grow the relationship between Canada and Kuwait in investments, trade and defence.”

Military ties with Kuwait are important because the Canadian forces have a small base there. In December the Canadian Navy took command of Combined Task Force 150 from their Saudi counterparts. Canada also has a small number of troops in the monarchies of Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar.

Last month Canada’s Ambassador to Qatar Stefanie McCollum boasted of growing relations between the countries, claiming “our values structures are very similar.” In an interview with Al Bawaba the Canadian diplomat also said Ottawa is seeking to deepen business ties with the natural gas rich monarchy and that the two countries are in the final stage of signing a defence cooperation agreement.

Notwithstanding the diplomatic spat last summer, the Trudeau government has mostly continued business as usual with the most powerful and repressive monarchy in the region. Recently foreign minister Chrystia Freeland looked the other way when Saudi student Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi fled Canada — presumably with help from the embassy — to avoid sexual assault charges in Cape Breton. While Freeland told reporters that Global Affairs was investigating the matter, Halifax Chronicle Herald journalist Aaron Beswick’s Access to Information request suggests they didn’t even bother contacting the Saudi embassy concerning the matter.

According to an access request by PhD researcher Anthony Fenton, Freeland phoned new Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf in January. In briefing notes for the (unannounced) discussion Freeland was encouraged to tell her counterpart (under the headline “points to register” regarding Yemen): “Appreciate the hard work and heavy lifting by the Saudis and encourage ongoing efforts in this regard.”

Despite their devastating war in Yemen and dismembering of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia continues to receive large shipments of Canadian weaponry. 2018 was a record year for Canadian rifle and armoured vehicle sales to the Saudis. $17.64 million in rifles were exported to the kingdom last year and another $1.896 million worth of guns were delivered in February. In the first month of this year Canada exported $367 million worth of “tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to the Saudis.

As Fenton has documented in detail on his highly informative Twitter handle, armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have been repeatedly videoed in Yemen. Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers – Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics – was found with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition used Canadian-made rifles as well.

On Tuesday the Saudis beheaded 37 mostly minority Shiites. Ottawa waited 48 hours — after many other countries criticized the mass execution — to release a “muted” statement. The Trudeau government has stayed mum on the Saudi’s recent effort to derail pro-democracy demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria as well as Riyadh’s funding for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s bid to seize Tripoli by force.

The close and friendly relationships between the Trudeau government and repressive Middle East monarchies demonstrates how little the Liberals care about democracy abroad and illustrates the hypocrisy of Canada’s claims that its efforts to oust Venezuela’s government is all about supporting democracy.

“Every War Is a War Against Children”

We, in the United States, have yet to realize both the futility and immense consequences of war even as we develop, store, sell, and use hideous weapons. The number of children killed is rising.

At 9:30 in the morning of March 26, the entrance to a rural hospital in northwest Yemen, supported by Save the Children, was teeming as patients waited to be seen and employees arrived at work. Suddenly, missiles from an airstrike hit the hospital, killing seven people, four of them children.

Jason Lee of Save the Children, told The New York Times that the Saudi-led coalition, now in its fifth year of waging war in Yemen, knew the coordinates of the hospital and should have been able to avoid the strike. He called what happened “a gross violation of humanitarian law.”

The day before, Save the Children reported that air raids carried out by the Saudi-led coalition have killed at least 226 Yemeni children and injured 217 more in just the last twelve months. “Of these children,” the report noted, “210 were inside or close to a house when their lives were torn apart by bombs that had been sold to the coalition by foreign governments.”

Last year, an analysis issued by Save the Children estimated that 85,000 children under age five have likely died from starvation or disease since the Saudi-led coalition’s 2015 escalation of the war in Yemen.

“Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop,” said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Country Director in Yemen. “Their immune systems are so weak they are more prone to infections with some too frail to even cry. Parents are having to witness their children wasting away, unable to do anything about it.” Kirolos and others who have continuously reported on the war in Yemen believe these deaths are entirely preventable. They are demanding an immediate suspension of arms sales to all warring parties, an end to blockades preventing distribution of food, fuel and humanitarian aid and the application of full diplomatic pressure to end the war.

The United States, a major supporter of the Saudi-led coalition, has itself been guilty of killing innocent patients and hospital workers by bombing a hospital. On October 3, 2015, U.S. airstrikes destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing forty-two people. “Patients burned in their beds,” MSF reported, “medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot from the air while they fled the burning building.”

More recently, on March 23, 2019, eight children were among fourteen Afghan civilians killed by a U.S. airstrike also near Kunduz.

Atrocities of war accumulate, horrifically. We in the United States have yet to realize both the futility and immense consequences of war. We continue to develop, store, sell, and use hideous weapons. We rob ourselves and others of resources needed to meet human needs, including grappling with the terrifying realities of climate change.

We should heed the words and actions of Eglantyne Jebb, who founded Save the Children a century ago. Responding to the British post-war blockade of Germany and Eastern Europe, Jebb participated in a group attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to children who were starving.

In London’s Trafalgar Square, she distributed a leaflet showing the emaciated children and declaring: “Our blockade has caused this, – millions of children are starving to death.” She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined. But the judge in the case was moved by her commitment to children and paid her fine. His generosity was Save the Children’s first donation.

“Every war,” said Jebb, “is a war against children.”

• This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive Magazine.

Reining in the Yemen Conflict: The US Congress and War Making Powers

We keep hearing it.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is firm on the view that the Yemen conflict should conclude. “We all want this conflict to end,” he never tires of saying. “We all want to improve the dire humanitarian situation.”  Then comes the nub, poking, irritating and undeniable: “But the Trump administration fundamentally disagrees that curbing assistance to the Saudi-led coalition is the way to achieve these goals.”

The Yemenis might be suffering and heading to oblivion, but the issue of resolving the conflict was not to handicap the Saudi-led coalition.  Certain allies need succour and encouragement.  To that end, the US would continue to give “the Saudi-led coalition the support needed to defeat Iranian backed rebels and ensure a just peace.”  Such an attitude sits poorly in the humanitarian stakes, given that US assistance to the Saudi and Emirati aerial campaign has been indispensable in targeting civilian objects (schools, funerals, weddings, water treatment plants and medical clinics).  An enforced coalition naval blockade has also sparked a broader crisis of starvation and disease, a famine that may prove to be one of the worst in living memory.  These are not exaggerations.

A further absurdity also arises.  Not only does continued US backing of Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s travails fail to pass the test of national interest, an argument can be made that it is distinctly against it.  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has profited from the conflict, receiving sponsorship from Coalition forces.  In short, a sworn enemy of US influence is being subsidised by Washington’s dizzyingly daft policy on the subject, one supposedly designed to combat those very same foes.

The blood-soaked logic of Pompeo and company has not done so well in Congress.  Of late, enthusiasm has waned for the US sponsored effort which has remained, as many before, unauthorised by legislators.  US lawmakers, who tend to pass their time in hibernation on the subject of controlling executive power, have generally been all too indifferent in making referrals to the War Powers Act of 1973.

In recent times, a certain change has taken place.  The House and Senate have been going through the process of passing respective resolutions that, when finalised, may well see a halt in US funding to the war effort in Yemen.  It is, in truth, ordinary rather than audacious, but in President Donald Trump’s America, the ordinary is now proving remarkable.

Moves began with the passage of H.J. Res. 37 on February 13 directing President Donald Trump “to remove US Armed forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless Congress authorizes a later withdrawal date, issues a declaration of war, or specifically authorizes the use of the Armed forces.”  The resolution does not affect continued operations against Al Qaeda, but expressly prohibits the provision of inflight fuelling for non-US aircraft that perform any functions related to the conflict.

The Senate resolution, S.J. Res. 7, is of similar wording.  As Senator Bernie Sanders, who co-sponsored the resolution in the Senate along with Utah Republican Mike Lee, explained to fellow members, “The bottom line is that the United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime with an irresponsible foreign policy.”

What is different about the approaches this time around is the availing of procedures by Congress that were added to the War Powers Resolution in 1983.  In the Senate, the provision enables resolution sponsors to neutralise filibusters, force votes and remove obstruction.  All this, despite opposition from the leadership in Congress or individual senators.

The resolutions in question have also been amended to permit the US president to continue sharing intelligence if deemed in the national interest.  This provision, in of itself, permits Trump a back door to continue supporting the Saudi coalition.  The Defense Department has also put forth the view that US support in the conflict hardly falls within the definition of “hostilities” pursuant to the War Powers Resolution.  The joint resolutions, to that end, would have no legal consequence, and would, as the General Counsel of the DoD iterated in February, also “undermine our ability to foster long-term relationships, increase interoperability, promote burden sharing, and build strong security architectures throughout the world.”  Such torturous words are fittingly confessional, demonstrating the sheer depth of the US commitment to the conflict even as officials seek to deny it.

The scene is now set for President Trump to consider a veto.  This he has made clear, with the White House claiming that the premise of H.J. Res 37 is flawed.  The statement issued in rebuking supporters of the resolution insist that US support to the Saudi-led coalition is minimal at best.  “The provision of this support has not caused United States forces to be introduced into hostilities.”  Ever slippery, though, the statement goes on to acknowledge that “support is provided pursuant to licenses and approvals under the Arms Export Control Act, statutory authorities for Department of Defense to provide logistics support to foreign countries, and the President’s constitutional powers.”

As ever, when the executive fears a curb on its broad powers, the threat of constitutional instability is thrown about.  Given that US support for Saudi Arabia and allied countries in the Yemen conflict is premised on the use of executive constitutional powers, the resolution “would raise serious constitutional concerns to the extent it seeks to override the President’s determination as Commander in Chief.”  More to the point, it is time for Congress to step up to the plate and be counted in matters of war.

Idlib: Reportage from the Last Front in Syria

For a while, all the guns have fallen silent.

I am near Idlib, the last stronghold of the terrorists in Syria. The area where the deadliest anti-government fighters, most of them injected into Syria from Turkey, with Saudi, Qatari and Western ‘help’, are literally holed up, ready for the final showdown.

Just yesterday, mortars were falling on villages near the invisible frontline, separating government troops and the terrorist forces of Al Nusra Front. The day before yesterday, two explosions rocked the earth, only a couple of meters from where we are now standing.

They call it a ceasefire. But it’s not. It is one-sided. To be more precise: the Syrian army is waiting, patiently. Its cannons are pointing towards the positions of the enemy, but the orders from Damascus are clear: do not fire.

The enemy has no scruples. It provokes, endlessly. It fires and bombs, indiscriminately. It kills. Along the frontline, thousands of houses are already ruined. Nothing gets spared: residential districts, sport gymnasiums, even bakeries. There is an established routine: assaults by the terrorists, rescue operations organized by Syrian armed forces (SAA – Syrian Arab Army) and Syrian National Defense Forces, then immediate rebuilding of the damage.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian people have lost their lives in this war. Millions had to leave their homeland. Millions have been internally displaced. For many, the conflict became a routine. Rescue operations became routine. Rebuilding tasks became routine, too.

Now, it is clear that the final victory is near. Syria survived the worse. It is still bleeding, but most of its territories are beginning to heal. People are slowly returning home, from Lebanon and Turkey, from Germany and elsewhere. They go through rubble – their former homes. They sit down and cry. Then, they get up and start rebuilding. That’s in other parts of the country: Duma, Homs, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zur.

But in the villages and towns north of Hama and towards Idlib, the war is far from being over.

In the town of Squalbiah, Commander Nabel Al-Abdallah of the National Defense Forces (NDF) explained to me:

SAA could easily use force and win militarily; it could take Idlib. But the SAA operates under command of President Assad, who believes in negotiations. If we take the city now, there would be huge casualties.

*****

The situation is not as simple, as we would like it to be. Victory may be near, but the West is not giving up, nor is Turkey. There are still pockets that are held by the US and French troops, and around Idlib (including Manbij), a large area is still controlled by the terrorists, who were transported here from all corners of Syria, under the Russian-sponsored agreement.

And there is more to it: My sources in Syria shared the latest:

Some 4 months ago, the ’new ISIS’ appeared in the south of Idlib, not far from where we are right now. They were injected into Syria by the Turks. They were wearing brand new uniforms, white long dresses. Before, they were recognizable by black or gray outfits – ‘Afghan-style’. They now call themselves ‘Hurras Aldeen’, or ‘The Guardians of Religion’. Why? In order for the United States, and the West in general, to continue to support them. The ISIS are officially on the list of the terrorist organizations’, but this new ‘brand’ is not.

I ask Commander Nabel Al-Abdallah, what the West really wants? He replies, immediately:

The West wants terrorism to spread to Russia and China. Many terrorists work and fight directly for the interests of the United States.

We need to take care of the innocent civilians. But we also have to find the solution, very quickly. If we fail, terrorism will spread all around the world.

We sit in the Commander’s provisory headquarters, having a quick cup of tea, before moving to the frontline.

He wants to say something. He thinks, how. It is not easy. Nothing is easy under the circumstances, but he tries, and what he utters makes sense:

If we don’t have solution, soon, terrorists will damage the world. Our problems are not just the ISIS, but above all, the ideology that they represent. They use Islam, they say that they fight in the name of Islam, but they are backed by the United States. And here, the SAA, our military and our defense forces, are fighting for the world, not just for Syria.

We embrace and I go. His men drive me in a military vehicle to the outskirts of As Suqaylabiyah (also known as Squalbiah). From there, I photograph a hospital and the positions of Al Nusra Front. They are there, right in front of me, just a couple of hundreds of meters.

Territory held by Al Nusrah Front including their military hospital (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

I am told that I am like a sitting duck, exposed. I work fast. Luckily, today the terrorists are not in the mood for shooting.

Before returning to the vehicle, I try to imagine how life must be there, under Al Nusra Front or the ISIS occupation.

From the hill where I stand, the entire area looks green, fertile and immensely beautiful. But I know, I clearly understand that it is hell on earth for those who live in those houses down below; in the villages and towns controlled by some of the most brutal terrorists on earth.

I also know that these terrorist monsters are here on foreign orders, trying to destroy Syria, simply because its government and people have been refusing to succumb to the Western imperialist dictates.

Here, it is not only about theory. The lives of millions have been already destroyed. Here it is all concrete and practical – it is reality.

We can hear explosions in a distance. The war may be over in Damascus, but not here. Not here, yet.

*****

My friend Yamen is from the city of Salamiyah, some 50 kilometers from Hama. Only recently the area around his home town was liberated from the extremist groups.

Twenty kilometers west from Salamiyah lies the predominantly Ismaili village of Al Kafat, which used to be surrounded by both Al-Nusra Front and the ISIS.

Mr. Abdullah, President of local Ismaili Council, recalls the horrors which his fellow citizens had to endure:

In the past, we had two car bomb explosions here. In January 2014, 19 people were killed, 40 houses totally destroyed and 300 damaged. Fighting was only 200 meters away from here. Both Al-Nusra Front and ISIS surrounded the village, and were cooperating. We are very close to one of the main roads, so for the terrorists, it was an extremely important strategic position. This entire area was finally liberated only in January 2018.

Whom do they blame?

Mr. Abdullah does not hesitate:

Saudis, Turks, the USA, Europe, Qatar…

We walk through the village. Some homes are still lying in ruins, but most of them have at least been partially restored. On the walls and above several shops, I can see the portrait of a beautiful young woman, who was killed during one of the terrorist assaults. 65 villagers were slaughtered, in total. Before the war, the population of the village was 3,500, but traumatized and impoverished by war, many decided to leave and now only 2,500 inhabitants live here, cultivating olive trees, herding sheep and cows.

Before my visit here, I was told that education played an extremely important role in defending this place, and in keeping morale high during the darkest days of combat and crises. Mr. Abdullah readily confirmed it:

The human brain has the capacity to solve problems, and to defuse crises. During a war like this, education is extremely important. Or more precisely, it is mainly about learning, not only about education. Al-Nusra and ISIS – they are synonymous with ignorance. If your brain is strong, it easily defeats ignorance. I think we succeeded here. And look now: this poor village has at this moment 103 students attending universities, all over Syria.

As we drive on, east, large portraits of a brother of my friend Yamen decorate many military posts. He was one of the legendary commanders here, but was killed in 2017.

Then I see a castle: monstrous, more than two millennia old, overlooking the city of Salamiyah. There are green fields all around, so much beauty, in all the corners of Syria.

“Come back and visit all these marvels when the war is over,” someone around me jokes.

I don’t see it as a joke.

“I will,” I think. “I definitely will”. But we have to win, and win very soon, as soon as possible! To make sure that nothing else goes up in flames.

*****

I drop my bag in at a local inn in Salamiyah, and ask my comrades to drive me on, further east. I want to see, to feel how life was under ISIS, and how it is now.

There are ruins, all around us. I saw plenty of terrible urban ruins during my previous visit: all around Homs and the outskirts of Damascus.

Here I see rural ruins, in their own way as horrifying as those scarring all the major cities of Syria.

This entire area had recently been a frontline. Or it was screaming in the hands of the terrorist groups, mainly ISIS.

Now it is a minefield. The road is cleared, but not the fields; not the remains of the villages.

I photograph a tank that used to belong to the ISIS; burned and badly damaged. It is an old Soviet tank, which used to belong to the Syrian army. It was captured by the ISIS, and then destroyed by either the SAA or a Russian airplane. Next to the tank – a chicken farm burned to the ground.

The Lieutenant, who is accompanying me, goes on, monotonously, with his grizzly account:

Today, outside Salamiyeh, 8 people were killed by the landmines.

We leave the vehicle, and walk slowly down the road, which is full of craters.

Suddenly, the Lieutenant stops without any warning:

And here, my cousin was killed by another mine.

*****

We reach Hardaneh Village, but almost no one is left here. There are ruins everywhere. Before – 500 people lived here, now only 30. This is where heavy fighting against the ISIS took place. 13 local people were killed, 21 soldiers ‘martyred’. Other civilians were forced to leave.

Mr. Mohammad Ahmad Jobur is the local administrator (el muchtar), 80 years old:

First, we fought ISIS, but they overwhelmed us. Most of us had to leave. Now some of us returned, but only few…Yes, now we have electricity; at least 3 hours a day, and our children can go to school. The old school was destroyed by the ISIS, so kids are now collected and taken to a bigger town for education. Every villager wants to come back, but most of the families have no money to rebuild their houses and farms. The government made a list of the people whose dwellings were destroyed. They will get help, but help will be distributed gradually, stage by stage.

Naturally: almost the entire country lies in ruins.

Are villagers optimistic about the future?

“Yes, very optimistic,” declares the village chief. “If we get help, if we can rebuild, we will all come back.”

But then, they show me the water wells, destroyed by the ISIS.

It is all smiles through tears. So far only 30 have come back. How many will come home this year?

I asked the chief what the main aim of the ISIS was?

No aim, no logic. ISIS was created by the West. They tried to destroy everything, this village, this area, this entire country. They made no sense… they do not think like us… they only brought destruction.

*****

Soha, a village even further east, a place where men, women and children were forced to live under the ISIS.

These women survived life under ISIS (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

I am invited into a traditional house. People sit in a circle. Several younger women are hiding their faces, not wanting to be photographed. I can only guess why. Others don’t care. What happened here; what horrors took place? Nobody will pronounce it all.

This is a traditional village inhabited by a local tribe; very conservative.

Testimonies begin to flow:

First, they banned us from smoking, and shaving. Women had to cover their faces and feet; they had to wear black… Strict rules were imposed… education was banned. The ISIS created terrible prisons… They were often beating us with rubber hoses, in public. Some people were beheaded. Severed heads were exhibited above the main square.

When ISIS arrived, they brought with them their slaves – kidnapped people from Raqqah. Some women got stoned in public, alive. Other women were thrown to their death from the roofs and from other high places. They were amputating hands… Various women were forced to marry ISIS fighters…

An uncomfortable silence followed, before the topic got changed.

They killed 2 men from this village…

Some say more, many more.

Several youngsters joined the ISIS. 3 or 4… ISIS would pay $200 to each new combatant who subscribed. And, of course, they were promising heaven…

ISIS cage for infidels and sinners (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

In one of the villages, I am shown a big rusty cage for ‘infidels’ and “sinners”. People were locked in there like wild animals, and kept exposed, in the open.

I see the destroyed ‘police’ building of the ISIS. At one point I am offered some papers – documents – which are just scattered all over the floor. I don’t want to take any with me, not even as a ‘souvenir’.

Testimonies continue to flow:

They were beheading people for being in possession of mobile phones… Local villagers were disappearing… they were kidnapped…

At some point, I have to halt this flow of testimonies. I can hardly process all that is being said. People are shouting over each other. One day, someone should take it all down, to record it, to file it. I do what I can, but I realize that it is not enough. It is never enough. The scale of the tragedy is too great.

By now it is getting dark… and then it is dark. I have to return to Salamiyeh, to rest a bit; to sleep for a few hours, and then to return to the frontline, where both the Syrian and Russian soldiers are bravely facing the enemy. Where they are doing all that is humanly possible to prevent those gangsters sponsored by the West and their allies, from returning to the already liberated areas of the country.

She saw decapitations by ISIS (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

But before I fall asleep, I recall; I am haunted by the image of a little girl who survived the occupation of her village by the ISIS. She stood resting her back against the wall. She looked at me for a while, then lifted her hands and moved her fingers quickly across her throat.

*****

The next day, the Commander of the National Defense Forces in Muhradah, Simon Al Wakel, drives me all around the city and the outskirts, Kalashnikov resting next to his seat. It is a quick and matter-of-fact ‘tour’:

This is where the mortars landed two days ago, there is a power plant which was liberated from the terrorists, and this is a huge gymnasium attacked by the terrorists simply because they hate that our girls excel in volleyball and basketball.

We talk to locals. Commander Simon gets stopped in the middle of the streets, embraced by total strangers, kissed on both cheeks.

Driving to the front with Commander Simon (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

“I have been targeted more than 60 times,” he tells me. One of his former cars is rotting at a remote parking lot, after it was hit and burned by the terrorists.

He shrugs his shoulders:

Russians and Turks negotiated the ceasefire, but obviously, terrorists do not respect any agreements.

We return to the frontline. I am shown the Syrian cannons pointing towards the positions of Al Nusra Front. The local headquarters of the terrorists is clearly visible, not too far from the magnificent ruins of the Sheizar Citadel.

First, I see the Syrian soldiers, operating slightly outdated Soviet as well as newer Russian equipment: armed vehicles, tanks, “Katyushas”. Then I spot several Russian boys settling down in two houses with a commanding view of the valley and the enemy territory.

Both the Syrian and Russian armies, shoulder to shoulder, are now facing the last enclave of the terrorists.

I wave at the Russians, and they wave back at me.

Everyone seems to be in a good mood. We are winning. We are ‘almost there’.

We all also know that it is still too early to celebrate. Terrorists from all over the world are hoarded in the area in and around the city of Idlib. The US, UK and French “Special Forces” are operating in several parts of the country. The Turkish military keeps holding big chunk of the Syrian land.

The weather is clear. The green fields are fertile and beautiful. The nearby citadel is imposing. Just a little bit more of determination and endurance, and this wonderful country will be fully liberated.

Our artillery facing Al Nusdrah Front (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

We all realize it, but no one is celebrating, yet. Nobody is smiling. The facial expressions of the Syrian and Russian comrades are serious. Men are looking down towards the valley, weapons ready. They are fully concentrated. Anything may happen; anytime.

I know why there are no smiles; we all know: Soon, we may defeat the enemy. Soon, the war may end. But hundreds of thousands of Syrian people have already died.

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Can We Divest from Weapons Dealers?

Impoverished people living in numerous countries today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products.

Family Visit in Kabul (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

About three decades ago, I taught writing at one of Chicago’s alternative high schools. It’s easy to recall some of their stories—fast-paced, dramatic, sometimes tender. I would beg my students to three-hole-punch each essay or poem and leave it in a binder on our classroom shelf, anxious not to lose the documentation of their talents and ideas.

Some of the youngsters I taught told me they were members of gangs. Looking down from the window of my second-floor classroom, I sometimes wondered if I was watching them selling drugs in broad daylight as they embraced one another on the street below.

Tragically, in the two years that I taught at Prologue High School, three students were killed. Colleagues told me that they generally buried three students per year. They died, primarily, from gunshot wounds. I think they could have survived their teenage years if weapons and ammunition hadn’t been available.

Similarly, I believe impoverished populations of numerous countries at war today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products. It would also help if the people living in countries that export deadly weapons were well-informed about the consequences these businesses bring.

Consider this: The 2018 U.S. Census Report tallies U.S. exports of bullets to other countries. Topping the list is $123 million-worth of bullets to Afghanistan—an eight-fold rise over the number of bullets sold in 2017 and far more than the number of bullets sold to any other country.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I heard many people voice intense fear of what would happen if civil war breaks out. It seems to me that those who manufacture bullets are doing all they can to hasten the likelihood and deadly outcome of an armed struggle.

But rather than help people here in the United States understand conditions in countries where the U.S. conducts airstrikes, President Donald Trump is hiding the facts.

On March 6, 2019, Trump revoked portions of a 2016 executive order imposed by President Barack Obama requiring annual reports on the number of strikes taken and an assessment of combatant and civilian deaths. Trump has removed the section of the mandate specifically covering civilian casualties caused by CIA airstrikes, and whether they were caused by drones or “manned” warplanes.

A U.S. State Department email message said the reporting requirements are “superfluous” because the Department of Defense already must file a full report of all civilian casualties caused by military strikes. However, the report required from the Pentagon doesn’t cover airstrikes conducted by the CIA.

And last year, the White House simply ignored the reporting requirement.

Democracy is based on information. You can’t have democracy if people have no information about crucial issues. Uninformed about military practices and foreign policy, U.S. citizens become disinterested.

I lived alongside civilians in Iraq during the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. In the hospital emergency rooms I heard survivors asking, through screams and tears, why they were being attacked. Since that time, in multiple visits to Kabul, I have heard the same agonized question.

The majority of Afghanistan’s population consists of women and children. When civilians in that country die because of U.S. attacks—whether within or beyond “areas of active hostilities”; whether conducted by the CIA or the Department of Defense; whether using manned or unmanned warplanes—the attack is almost certain to cause overwhelming grief. Often the survivors feel rage and may want revenge. But many feel despair and find their only option is to flee.

Imagine a home in your neighborhood suddenly demolished by a secret attack; you have no idea why this family was targeted, or why women and children in this family were killed. If another such attack happened, wouldn’t you consider moving?

Reporting for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal recently interviewed a farmer from Afghanistan’s Helmand province displaced by fighting and now unable to feed his family. “About 13.5 million people are surviving on one meal or less a day,” Mashal writes, “and 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of a $1 a day.”

Last week, an international crisis sharply escalated in a “dogfight” between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states. The crisis has been somewhat defused. Media reports quickly focused on the relative military strength of both countries—observing, for example, that the dilapidated state of India’s jet fighters could be a “win” for U.S. weapons manufacturers.

“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”

A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited heads of state in Pakistan and India. Photos showed warm embraces and respectful receptions.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, also embraces the Saudi government. She serves on the boards of trustees of two Saudi technological universities, and presides over a company that has been awarded “a nine-figure down payment on a $15 billion missile-defense system for Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis will acquire new state-of-the-art weapons even as they continue bludgeoning civilians in Yemen during a war orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the Saudis will build military alliances with nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

With both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, every effort should be made to stop the flow of weapons into the region. But major weapon making companies bluntly assert that the bottom line in the decision is their profit.

Attending funerals for young people in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, at the time one of the poorest in Chicago, I felt deep dismay over the profits that motivated gun runners who sold weapons to students, some of whom would be soon fatally wounded. In the ensuing decades, larger, more ambitious weapon peddlers have engendered and prolonged fighting between warlords, within and beyond the United States.

Boys and girls at Street Kids School, Kabul, March 2019 (Photo by Maya Evans)

How different our world could be if efforts were instead directed toward education, health care, and community welfare.

This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive