Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

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

Peace for Syria and a New Kurdistan as Regional Stabilizing Factor?

The US will withdraw her troops from Syria. Will they really?  Let’s take Trump at his word, just for argument’s sake. Though in the meantime, RT reports that the withdrawal may be slower than anticipated, to allow Erdogan making his own “strategic arrangements”, while US troops depart. During his flash visit to the US troops in Iraq on Christmas Day, Mr. Trump already indicated that any US intervention – if necessary – would be launched from Iraq. Of course.

The US will not let go of such a strategic country with access to Four Seas, as promoted by President Bashar al-Assad, linking the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf into an energy network. Washington had the full dominion of Syria in mind as the pivotal country in the Middle East, already when Washington first attempted to “negotiate” with Bashar’s dad, Háfez al-Ásad, in the late 1990s, and then after his death in 2000, the secret gnomes of Washington continued the process of coercion with Háfez’s son and heir, Bashar. To no avail, as we know.

Therefore, the question, “Will Syria ever Become a “Normal” Country Again?” sounds almost rhetorical. Syria is one of those predestined countries to “fall”, decided by the empire, long before the ascension to the throne by Mr. Trump. Others include and are well outlined in the PNAC (Plan for a New American Century) – Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon and Iran. As we see, the plan is progressing nicely – and letting go of any of the ‘milestones’ within this plan – is simply not in the cards. Deviations are not tolerated. That’s presumably why James “Mad Dog” Mattis resigned as Secretary of Defense upon Trump’s announcement to withdraw from Syria. The Pentagon has its mandate, given by the Military Industrial Complex.

So, war or peace (and war it is) has become full spectrum Pentagon territory, not to be meddled with. It has nothing to do with terrorism, or saving the world from terrorism. It is pure and simple ´calcule’ for profit from the war machine, from stolen and confiscated oil and gas and, ultimately but not lastly, for full power dominance of the world. The Middle East is one of those focal points of the empire that needs to be plunged into eternal chaos. Peace is never an option. Unless empire falls. But until then, the Middle East is a multi-purpose ‘gold mine’, in terms of resources, a test ground for the East-West arms race, a terrain for almost endless destruction – and reconstruction – and a bottomless source of a continuous and destabilizing flow of refugees to Europe. It’s all planned. No human suffering is able to halt this project, and we can but hope that Russia and China see clear on this, that they won’t fall for promises of peace, for make-believe withdrawals, for lies and deceit.

Will Syria ever become a ‘normal’ country again? I opt for yes. But empire must fall. And fall it will. It’s a question of time and maybe strategy? For hundreds of years, the Kurds are an ethnicity of between 25 and 35 million people. They inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and a tiny bit of Armenia. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. Wouldn’t this rearrangement of power in Syria due to the apparent US troop withdrawals be an opportunity to find a solution for the century old Kurdish “problem”?

President Assad might seize the opportunity to accept the Kurds ‘invitation’ to enter the city of Manbij, the current Kurdish stronghold in Syria. And this despite the fact that the Kurds have often fought against the Syrian military, either alongside the US / NATO forces or alongside ISIS. It’s time to rethink geopolitics in the Middle East, beginning with Syria. After all, Manbij is Syrian territory, and Turkey has no legitimate claim on any land within Syria. Except in the case of a possible land swap.

On these grounds Syria might want to initiate negotiations with Turkey, Iraq and Iran to finally establish within the borders of Syria and Iraq (and Iran, as it were), some kind of a Kurdish territory which might over time become a fully autonomous Kurdish Homeland, what today is already called, Kurdistan. Much like Israel was carved out of Palestine, except that Israel was an artificial creation, commanded by outside forces, with the specific purpose already 70 years ago to destabilize the region. Whereas Kurdistan would be a stabilizing factor, a natural process facilitated by the countries within the region.

There are, of course, other players with high stakes in this peace process, like Russia, Turkey and Iraq – and the two rogue nations, paradoxically bound together, Israel and Saudia Arabia. Two nations that have no right whatsoever to even come close to Syria. But they continue having US support, even with the apparent US withdrawal from Syria, or because of it, as they will now play the role of US proxies in fighting Mr. Assad’s legitimate regime.

Russia would most likely prefer no Turkish interference in Syria, for example, the occupation of Manbij, but would rather see Syrian control of Syrian territory with negotiated land swap deals with neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iraq, to bring eventually the Kurdish question to a solution. That is, of course, just the beginning. The easy part.

The current semi-offical Kurdistan is one of the oil richest territories of the region. At present these oil resources are divided more or less along the border divisions of Kurdistan; i.e., Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. For these countries hydrocarbon is a key factor in their economy. Therefore, the creation of an autonomous region within Syria, Iraq and Iran, called Kurdistan, might require not only an honest process and equitable division of the Black Gold, but also a withdrawal of Trukey from Kurdistan; i.e., through a land swap. The development towards a sovereign Kurdistan – no time frame might at this point be suggested – would require Kurdish concessions. In other words, peace and homeland have a price. However, this price will never even come close to the benefits of independence and peace.

At present, Kurdistan’s oil reserves are estimated at 45 billion gallon, almost a third of Iraq’s total untapped 150 billion gallons of petrol. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with her capital, Erbil in Iraq (pop. about 900,000), would, of course, prefer becoming an independent state. But that is just not going to happen out of the blue. Therefore, peace in the region and a Kurdish Homeland is worth a negotiated land and petrol concession. And when would be a better moment for such thoughts and negotiations than NOW?

There are other signs that Syria is in the process of becoming a “normal” country again. The re-opening of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Syria may be considered a major public step to welcoming Bashar al-Assad back into the fold of the Arab League, from which Syria was banned at the beginning of the 2011 CIA induced war on Mr. Assad’s government. Bahrain has also announced it will shortly reopen diplomatic relations with Damascus. Is this move by the UAE and Bahrain the first step of a new “Arab solidarity”?  In any case, it signals a new recognition of Syria under President Assad.

With Syria becoming a fully autonomous and sovereign country again, where diplomatic missions are being re-established and where refugees return to help rebuild their nation, and where a new Kurdistan, may just be the dot bringing peace and stability to the region. Though that may succeed only without any Atlantist interference being handled only as a regional project.

A last thought for those who are shaking their heads in disbelief, because of the political and economic volatility of Kurdistan, due to her exorbitant oil riches which are currently spread among four countries – listen! peak oil is a thing of the past. Hydrocarbons are rather rapidly being replaced as the key energy provider by alternative sources of energy, of which the Middle East also has plenty, but which cannot be stolen – solar energy. The East, foremost China, is rapidly developing new and more efficient ways of transferring sun light into electricity, with the appropriate storage technology that may make it possible to largely phase out hydrocarbons within the next generation.

Hence, the momentum is NOW – US troop withdrawals – to create a stabilizing Kurdistan and make Syria a “normal country again.

A Shift: Repudiating War on Yemen

Twenty years ago, a small delegation organized by Voices in the Wilderness lived in Baghdad while U.S. cruise missiles attacked more than 100 targets in Iraq. Following four days of bombing, known as “Operation Desert Fox,” our group visited various Iraqis who had survived direct hits. One young girl handed me a large missile fragment, saying “Merry Christmas.”

An engineer, Gasim Risun, cradled his two-week old baby as he sat in his hospital bed. Gasim had suffered multiple wounds, but he was the only one in his family well enough to care for the infant, after an unexploded missile destroyed his house. In Baghdad, a bomb demolished a former military defense headquarters, and the shock waves shattered the windows in the hospital next door. Doctors said the explosions terrified women in the maternity ward, causing some to spontaneously abort their babies while others went into premature labor.

In December 1998, U.S. news media steadily focused on only one person living in Iraq: Saddam Hussein. With the notable exception of Stephen Kinzer of The New York Times, no mainstream media focused on U.N. reports about the consequences of U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. One of Kinzer’s articles was headlined: “Iraq a Pediatrician’s Hell: No Way to Stop the Dying.”

The hellish conditions continued, even as U.N. officials sounded the alarm and explained how economic sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children under age five.

Now a horror story of similar proportions is playing out in Yemen.

In November 2018, The Guardian reported that up to 85,000 Yemeni children under age five  have died from starvation and disease during the last three years. Mainstream media and even governments of large and wealthy countries are finally beginning to acknowledge the anguish suffered by Yemeni children and their families.

Stark and compelling photos show listless, skeletal children who are minutes or days away from death. Reports also show how war plans have deliberately targeted Yemen’s infrastructure, leading to horrifying disease and starvation. Journalists who have met with people targeted as Houthi fighters, many of them farmers and fishermen, describe how people can’t escape the sophisticated U.S. manufactured weapons fired at them from massive warplanes.

One recent Associated Press photo, on page one of The New York Times for December 14, shows a line of tribespeople loyal to the Houthis. The youngest child is the only one not balancing a rifle upright on the ground in front of him. The tribespeople bear arms, but they are poorly equipped, especially compared to the U.S.-armed Saudis.

Since 2010, according to The New York Times, the United States has sold the Saudis thirty F-15 multirole jet fighters, eighty-four combat helicopters, 110 air-to-surface cruise missiles, and 20,000 precision guided bombs. Last year, the United States also sold the Saudis ten maritime helicopters in a $1.9 billion deal. An American defense contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, “earned tens of millions of dollars training the Saudi Navy during the past decade.”

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—along with his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed—seemed untouchable. He was feted and regaled by former Presidents, Oprah, Hollywood show biz magnates, and constant media hype.

Now, the U.S. Senate has passed a resolution holding him accountable for the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Several U.S. Senators have said they no longer want to be responsible for bloodshed he has caused in Yemen. U.N. negotiators have managed to broker a fragile ceasefire, now in effect, which will hopefully stop the fighting that has raged in the vital port city of Hodeidah. One message which may have prompted the Saudis to negotiate came in the form of a Senate vote threatening to curtail the support of U.S. armed forces for the Saudi-led Coalition’s war on Yemen.

I doubt these actions will bring solace or comfort to parents who cradle their listless and dying children. People on the brink of famine cannot wait days, weeks, or months while powerful groups slowly move through negotiations.

And yet, a shift in public perception regarding war on Yemen could liberate others from the terrible spectre of early death.

Writing during another war, while he was exiled from Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh imagined the birth of a “Peace Child.” He ends his poem by calling on people to give both their hands for the chance to “protect the seeds of life bursting on the cradle’s rim.”

I think of Iraqi mothers who lost their babies as bombs exploded just outside their maternity ward. The shift in public perception is painfully too late for innumerable people traumatized and bereaved by war. Nevertheless, the chance to press with all our might for a continuing and growing shift, repudiating war, could point us in a new direction.

The war in Yemen is horrific and ought to be ended immediately. It makes eminent good sense to give both our hands and all the energies we can possibly summon, to end the war in Yemen and vow the abolition of all war.

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

Climate Crisis Made Worse By Presidential Mis-Leadership Throughout This Century

Barack Obama, speaking to the Baker Institute, made sure the audience of wealthy Texans, many in the oil business, gave him credit for making the United States a world leader for oil and gas production. He said, “American energy production . . .went up every year I was president. And . . . suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer, that was me, people,” eliciting cheers.

Throughout this century, even though the climate science was clear, presidential leadership has escalated the dependence on oil and gas, built infrastructure for pipelines and compressor stations, encouraged fracking in the US and around the world and prevented a global response to reducing carbon gas emissions.

This dereliction of consistent misleadership has put the planet on a dangerous path of climate crisis. In a just world, the political and corporate leadership of the United States would be held accountable. As it is, leadership for confronting the climate crisis must come from the people, not from political leaders.

Obama’s Sordid History of Undermining the Climate

Obama’s legacy confuses some people because, unlike President Trump, he did not deny climate change and, unlike President Bush, he did not come from the oil industry. But in reality, Obama watered down global climate agreements and grew oil and gas output and infrastructure in the United States.

As a newly elected president, Obama came to the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 with the goal of weakening the agreement so there would be no internationally enforced reductions of climate gases. Ban Ki-moon, the UN general secretary, warned leaders that they held in their hands “the future of this entire humanity.”

NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed that the US monitored communications between countries before the summit, and planned to spy on the negotiations during the conference. The NSA knew of China’s efforts to line up its negotiating position with India. Chinese negotiators entered the talks willing to undertake mandatory emissions cuts, but needed other major countries in the the developing world to agree. The US developed a strategy to stop China, indeed to make them the villain.

As the Copenhagen meeting was progressing, Obama, who had already “won” a Nobel Peace prize and was a political star as the first black president, flew to the meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. Obama and Clinton crashed a meeting of Chinese, Indian, South African and Brazilian leaders who were trying to agree on enforceable standards. The US made sure their agreement would not threaten US oil interests.

As a result of Obama’s intervention, the accord set no target for concluding a binding international treaty, leaving the implementation of its provisions uncertain and fueling criticism that it was more of a sham than a breakthrough. US intervention stopped a collective agreement among nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050, which was included in earlier drafts. Obama also successfully prevented adequate US funding for climate justice policies for poorer countries and scuttled the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed on in 1992.

Obama undermined the UN climate process and became known as “the man who killed Copenhagen,” said Greenpeace US head Phil Radford.

Bill McKibbon said:

The president has wrecked the UN and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming. It may get Obama a reputation as a tough American leader, but it’s at the expense of everything progressives have held dear.

At the time, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that world emissions need to peak by 2015 to give any chance of avoiding a 2ºC rise.

Obama declared a phony negotiating victory for the climate in Copenhagen and went on to make sure the Paris Accords also contained no enforceable standards, making it an inadequate treaty for the climate crisis. Climate scientist James Hansen called the Paris agreement a “fraud” of “worthless words.”

Domestically, after running against “drill baby drill” Republicans, Obama governed in the era where fracking became widespread, off-shore drilling increased and massive oil and gas infrastructure were put in place. In 2012, Obama said, “We’ve opened up new areas for exploration. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.” Obama fast-tracked the approval process for oil and gas infrastructure at a time when scientists were saying we should build no more carbon-polluting infrastructure. While he delayed portions of the high profile Trans-Canada pipeline, his administration approved the equivalent of ten Keystone pipelines.

Under Obama, while there was a decline of 37% in coal production, gas production vastly increased by 34% due to fracking. Obama presided over the highest gas production in history and crude oil production rose by 88%, the fastest rate in the 150-year history of the U.S. oil industry. On the positive side, his tenure was also timed with big increases in solar and wind energy. Obama also deserves credit for putting in place fuel economy and emissions standards for cars.

Obama’s bragging about increasing US oil and gas production at the Baker Institute came shortly after the dire October IPCC report, which warned the world has 12 years to put in place a radical transformation of the energy economy to prevent climate catastrophe, and the November 23rd release of the 4th National Climate Assessment, which warned of the serious impacts of the climate crisis in the United States. In this environment, Obama took credit for this crisis situation that will kill hundreds of thousands, cause mass migration and trillions of dollars in damage.

From Pinterest

Bush-Cheney Climate Deniers Of The Oil Industry

Despite the above, Obama’s presidency looks good in comparison to the George W. Bush administration, which denied climate science. and was marinated in oil with deep oil connections. Climate scientists were kept out of meetings to develop energy policy while the oil and gas industry worked closely with the administration.

President Bush was in the oil industry for more than two decades and came from an oil family. His investors included the bin Laden family and other members of Saudi Arabia’s oil-wealthy elite. Bush called the Saudi ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, “Bandar Bush” because he was so close to the Bush family.

Vice President Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest providers of products and services to the oil industry. Cheney developed energy policy in secret meetings with the oil industry. He fought to the Supreme Court to keep information about those meetings secret from the public.

National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice was a director of Chevron and Secretary of Commerce Don Evans was head of an independent oil company in Colorado. Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was George W. Bush’s most generous campaign contributor. Bush received more campaign contributions from oil companies than any other administration in history.

The Bush administration ignored climate change for eight years, wasting precious time. Bush invaded and occupied Iraq in what was a disastrous war for oil domination. In 2008, President Bush’s last year in office, the US produced 1.06 billion metric tons of coal — an all-time high.

From Change.org

Trump Takes Climate Denialism and Climate Destruction To New Levels

As bad as previous presidents have been, President Trump’s climate denial policies have reached a new low for presidential misleadership.

When the recent National Climate Assessment revealed that global warming is causing ongoing and lasting economic damage, President Trump denied the findings of the 13 federal agencies who wrote it. Trump said, “I don’t believe it,” while noting he has “very high levels of intelligence,” and had his political appointees and press secretary attack the report.

Trump appointed the former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State and appointed other industry supporters; e.g., Rick Perry at the Department of Energy, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, now replaced by industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler. Trumps’s policy is “Energy dominance,” the expansion of coal and oil production as well as the weakening of environmental regulations, including those that address climate change.

Trump pulled out of the climate agreement, boosted oil and gas drilling on public lands, opened sensitive areas to oil drilling, leased nearly 80 million acres of federal waters off the Gulf of Mexico for drilling, repealed Obama’s fuel economy and emissions standards for cars and repealed rules, saving polluting industries billions of dollars in regulatory costs.

From People’s Climate March,in April 2017 from Orlando Rising.

Climate Justice From the Bottom Up

The science on climate has been known since 1990 when the first international agreements to combat climate change were negotiated. Since then, the science has only become stronger. We must not produce any more gas-fueled cars or build any new power plants or buildings of any kind unless they are replacing old ones or are carbon-neutral. When we build a factory, power plant, house, automobile or anything else that uses energy, we are committing to using energy through that structure for up to 40 years, depending on its lifespan.

This century has shown that facing up to the challenges of climate change will not come from the top of the US political system, which is polluted by the oil and gas industry as well as investors who profit from carbon pollution. Change is going to come from the bottom up.

Recently, we have seen how activity from below can impact political reality. The Green New Deal, developed in 2007 by Green Party activists, is now being taken on by Democrats. Establishment Democrats and Republicans will fight it, but it is making its way onto the agenda and will become reality if people keep mobilizing for it.

The Extinction Rebellion, started in the United Kingdom, is growing around the world. And there is now a call to build towards a general strike in September with actions throughout the year, beginning on January 15. Follow #EarthStrike.