Caleb Maupin is a widely acclaimed speaker, writer, journalist, and political analyst. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and in Latin America. He was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement from its early planning stages, and has been involved many struggles for social justice. He is an outspoken advocate of international friendship and cooperation, as well 21st Century Socialism.
Vijay Prashad challenges the media reality that Iran attacked the oil tankers, calling for a real investigation to uncover the truth.
Japan used to be the number one foreign consumer of Iranian oil, slipping to number two as China increased its purchases. Now, obliged to defer to the U.S., Japan purchases none. Germany has been Iran’s largest European trade partner, and was hoping for major deals following the conclusion of the Iran Deal in 2015. These plans have been sabotaged by the U.S. using its control over the international banking system, one of its main weapons to use against free market principles and free trade, to inflict pain on people who do not submit, and to (try to) assert its global hegemony.
Both Japan and Germany (whom you recall were the U.S. two greatest adversaries in World War II and who emerged soon after the war as close U.S. allies, the third and fourth largest economies, after the U.S. and USSR. Both not coincidentally were occupied by tens of thousands of U.S. troops from their defeat in 1945, politically controlled by the U.S. and incorporated into its military alliance network, as they remain 74 years later.
(Notice by the way how the Soviets, who defeated the Nazis on the all-important Eastern Front, losing as many as 30 million in that effort, and who occupied what had been Nazi-occupied parts of eastern Europe, withdrew from Finland and Austria while the U.S. consolidated its grip on postwar western Europe, while shaping the emergence of pro-Soviet client states in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany (after the U.S. unilaterally declared West Germany an independent state), and Bulgaria. Other ostensibly socialist states (Albania, Yugoslavia, Romania) always retained a high degree of independence vis-à-vis the Soviets. The U.S. meanwhile pronounced the Truman Doctrine (justifying any means necessary to defeat communism, from electoral interference to assassination to coups and wars) and in 1949 created NATO as a ferocious anti-Soviet military alliance. The Soviets responded seven years later with their own much smaller Warsaw Pact alliance that, of course, was dissolved in 1991, when NATO should have been. The U.S. remains tied by expensive military alliances with the now-reunited Germany and Japan, and continues to station more soldiers in those two countries than anywhere else. They are followed by South Korea (part of the Japanese Empire during the Second World War) and Italy, showing that the U.S. is still in a perverse deluded way fighting that war.
Both Japan and Germany—the third and fourth largest economies in the world, whose combined GDPs equal about half the U.S. figure—oppose the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from, and seek to destroy, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed with Iran four years ago. They want normal ties with Iran. They fear the real prospect that crazies around the U.S. president—known, rapid war-mongering, fanatically Zionist, pathological liars, bible-toting nutcases, smug psychos and wild-eyed brutes like Jared Kushner, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo—will arrange a war to bring on the apocalypse they so crave.
They are surely indignant that a man as obviously as moronic as Tillerson intimated is ordering them, in their maturity, and their nations, in their dignity, to obey U.S. orders to isolate and provoke Iran. And worried about the possible consequences of Trump’s madness and vulnerability to the arguments of evil advisors. They will surely be trying through flattery and patient argument to promote talks with the Iranians.
Trump says he doesn’t want war. He says he wants to talk, but leaves it to the Iranians to call him, to show their respect. He says he doesn’t want regime change (although Bolton surely does and says so continuously). He says President Rouhani is probably a “lovely man.” He just doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons.
The Germans and Japanese know Trump likes others to come to him. So they will get on the phone and urge Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to stoke Trump’s ego and call him. And they will say, just repeat what you have many times, guarantee him that Iran does not want and will not build nuclear weapons. Give him a way to back down, like the Mexicans just did. Let him claim a better deal, if that allows trade to get going…
Trump is a profoundly ignorant if not stupid human. He genuinely might not know that U.S. intelligence services have been saying since 2003 that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. The IAEA has ascertained this. The Iranian supreme leader has issued a fatwa banning the production or use of nuclear weapons. The leading western authority on Iran’s nuclear program, Gareth Porter, has exhaustively documented the fact that Iran has never had a serious program to produce nuclear weapons, at least not since the Islamic Revolution.
Anyway, by suggesting that his only demand is that Iran not acquire nukes, Trump allows the Iranians to say, “Fine. We agree. What more assurances do you want?” And then, if his advisors are in the room, Trump will say, actually, we want more than no nukes, we need to you to obey us in all these other areas Pompeo has announced. You have to stop missile tests, and end aid to Hizbollah, Hamas, Iraqi Shiite militias, Houthis and the Syrian government. Only then will we let Japan, Germany and all the countries we indirectly control trade with you.
The German foreign minister Heiko Maas has visited Tehran to meet with his dignified, level-headed counterpart. Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is heading to Iran Wednesday to attempt to mediate between his U.S. bosses and the Iranian leadership. He is perhaps in a good position to do so. Abe has been Japanese prime minister since 2012—a very long time for a Japanese leader. He is an extremely reactionary figure, proud grandson of an accused war criminal who also served as prime minister (1957-60), advocate of constitutional revision (to legalize the huge Japanese military), promoter of a view of history in which Japan once led Asia in sloughing off colonialism. He has deliberately provoked the Koreas and China by statements, actions and threats involving contested claims over islands. His tax hikes and austerity measures have produced much pain for the Japanese. I have no fondness for the man.
But I would like to suggest what he might, speaking from his own point of view perhaps, say to the Iranian president.
He could begin by pointing out that Japan, as a close U.S. ally due to its post-war fate, must follow its leadership on foreign policy. However, he might add that for years Japan was Iran’s number one oil purchaser nation, before it was overtaken by China. Now it buys no oil from Iran; it is not allowed to, due to U.S. secondary sanctions. But for a time Japan, which has towed the U.S. line on virtually all global matters from the time of the Occupation to the present, did have a strong trade relationship with Iran, receiving special permission from the boss-nation to do so due to its complete dependence on foreign oil. (South Korea received this too.) So there is precedent for Japan playing a slightly independent role.
Moreover, there are reports that in the current situation Abe wants to play less the role of messenger than mediator, which makes sense from the point of view of his nationalist agenda.
Abe could further note that Japan and Iran (Persia) have had a trading relationship (since at least the eighth century CE, actually); have until recently enjoyed scholarly exchanges (such as Japanese archeologists’ work with their Iranian counterparts in exploring likely ancient Buddhist sites); and share a history of avoiding western colonization. Both cultures value etiquette, patience, calm and reason.
Abe and Rouhani no doubt share a common contempt for Trump as an ignorant, rude, unpredictable, dangerous, posturing buffoon. This would be how most world leaders see him. But they also no doubt grasp that his vanity can be used to defuse him. So Abe will say, as friend to friend, why not call him? Say that you are contacting him in response to his public invitation and whatever private communications there have surely been, because you have made statements that suggest you want to ease the “tensions” the U.S. claims have gotten higher recently. These statements include a perhaps facetious statement that you, Rouhani, are a “lovely man;” that he is not calling for regime change in Iran; that he wants to make a deal with the present government; even that he wants Iran to thrive under the present regime. All he wants, he insists, is that Iran not get nuclear weapons.
Call him and call his bluff. Remind him that the Iran Deal virtually prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons any time soon, and that the IAEA knows that, and the UN knows that, and the signatory nations except for Trump’s know that. Offer him even more iron clad assurances; he won’t know what you’re talking about. Dangle before him the prospect of the Nobel Peace Prize. Let him announce that trust has been achieved and the U.S. now looks forward to investing in Iran, which like North Korea, has awesome prospects.
The current head of the IAEA happens to be a Japanese flunky of the U.S. (He was elected in July 2009 to succeed the Egyptian, Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in part due to his refusal to bow to U.S. disinformation about Iran’s nuclear program provided by the likes of Bolton. There were six rounds of voting, the U.S. each time opposing the favored South African candidate. Amano was more suitable because a diplomatic cable released by the invaluable Wikileaks indicated that Amano “was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”)
The other day as he opened a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors, Amano stated blandly, “I… hope that ways can be found to reduce current tensions through dialogue.” In other words, he faults both sides for such “tensions” and is probably saying: “Meet with Trump, President Rouhani, to reduce these tensions!” May the Iranians respond to Trump’s clueless provocations with a mix of calculated taqiyya and principled insistence on established international law, putting the bullying Wizard of Oz in his place, daring him to please Natanyahu, Jared and MbS by provoking war. And may Trump back down, agreeing on some formula allowing him to claim some victory that had eluded Obama.
Last week members of Quebec Movement for Peace disrupted a speech by Irwin Cotler on “Canada as a Human Rights leader” (at the last-minute ‘deputy’ foreign minister, Rob Oliphant, canceled his participation). With “Free Palestine” signs in hand, filmmaker Malcolm Guy and I took the stage to denounce Cotler’s anti-Palestinian positions and support for intervention in Venezuela and Iran. After we were ushered off the stage lawyer Dimitri Lascaris rose to interrogate the supposed human rights activist for refusing to criticize injustices inflicted upon Palestinians. Part of the way through Lascaris’ grilling a handful of us at the back of the room began chanting “Cotler, Cotler, you will see Palestine will be free”, as one can hear in this video viewed over 10,000 times.
The Electronic Intifada, Media Coop, Algemeiner and Canadian Jewish News (twice) reported on the intervention (CPAC was purportedly live streaming the event). Prominent anti-Palestinian activists such as Gerald Steinberg, Hillel Neuer, Avi Benlolo and Bernie Farber decried our challenge of their hero. Head of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG), Michael Levitt created the Twitter hashtag StandWithCotler and called on other MPs to support it, which was duly followed by his CIIG colleagues, including disgraceful NDP MP Randall Garrison. In the House of Commons CIIG Vice-Chair David Sweet asked the government to condemn our disruption of Cotler. The Conservative MP noted, “on Monday he was disrupted and berated during a speech at Concordia University in an attempt by protesters to shut him down.” (After 10 minutes we voluntarily left the room and Cotler spoke extensively.) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Oliphant, who was scheduled to speak alongside Cotler, expressed the government’s solidarity with the former Liberal party justice minister.
Cotler is a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes “enemy” states while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US. In “Canadian apologist for Israeli war crimes nominated for Peace Prize” I detail Cotler’s long-standing devotion to Israeli violence and recent promotion of war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela. But, since that story was published in March more details have emerged about Cotler’s ethno-centrism and promotion of violence. In recent days Cotler has been widely quoted criticizing the use of the term “genocide” in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
According to an Israel National News story, Cotler supports relocating Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem. During “Keep Jerusalem” leader Chaim Silberstein’s visit to Canada last month, Cotler reportedly “expressed enthusiasm” for moving the Canadian embassy and “promised to help promote” the idea within the Liberal party.
In response to our action activist Ron Saba shared a photo of Cotler at last year’s Jewish National Fund fundraiser in Toronto. The explicitly racist JNF excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. In 2017 the Canada Revenue Agency initiated an (ongoing) audit of the JNF for supporting the Israeli military in contravention of Canadian charitable law.
For his part, Masud Sheikh responded to our action by uploading a video — apparently scrubbed from the Internet after previously reaching a Canadian audience — of the Nobel Peace Prize nominee advising Israel on planning a war. Just after Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese in the summer of 2006 Cotler spoke to a conference of top Israeli military officials on the importance of managing the message in modern war.
He did something similar after an earlier Israeli invasion of its northern neighbour. In an April article retired Guelph professor Michael Keefer wrote: “In the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in the course of which some 15,000 civilians were killed and several thousand Palestinians massacred in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Cotler participated in a 1984 Jerusalem conference on Hasbara: Israel’s Public Image. Alluding to two of the lesser PR disasters of the war—the IDF’s violation of the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon’s diplomatic immunity, and a Canadian Red Cross doctor’s allegations of Israeli atrocities—Cotler recommended, not that Israel change its behaviour, but rather that it ‘make Hasbara a priority’ and enhance its capacity to offer ‘an authoritative rebuttal’ to such stories.”
In that article Keefer points out that Antony Lerman, founding editor of Antisemitism World Report, called Cotler “one of the key figures” promoting the idea of a “new antisemitism”. Since the 1970s he’s been arguing that criticism of Israel is the “new antisemitism”.
In a remarkable 2002 essay titled “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness” Cotler lays out his thinking, suggesting a confrontation between the “secular religion” of human rights and Jewish “civil religion” of Zionism. He argues that criticizing Israeli human rights violations is “the contemporary analogue to the medieval indictment of the Jew as the ‘poisoner of the wells.’ In other words, in a world in which human rights has emerged as the new secular religion of our time, the portrayal of Israel as the metaphor for a human rights violator is an indictment of Israel as the ‘new anti-Christ’ — as the ‘poisoner of the international wells’ encompassing all the ‘teaching of contempt’ for the ‘Jew among the Nations,’ this new antisemitism implies.”
Cotler further argues that antisemitism has retained its consistent essence as “an assault upon whatever is the core of Jewish self-definition at any moment in time—be it the Jewish religion at the time of classical antisemitism, or the State of Israel as the ‘civil religion’ of the Jewish people under this new anti-Jewishness.” So, because most Jews identify with Israel criticizing that country’s violence or dispossession of Palestinians is anti-Semitic.
Challenging Cotler is important. All high-profile anti-Palestinians should be asked tough questions and hopefully our intervention inspires others to take similar actions. But, it’s also about de-mystifying an individual who retains a progressive gloss. Last month NDP MP Hélène Laverdière and Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a press conference organized by Cotler calling on Canada to impose sanctions on Iranian officials and list the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. New NDP foreign critic Guy Caron participated in a subsequent event on Iran and NDP MP Murray Rankin and May regularly attend events led by Cotler. May and Rankin are also part of the Cotler-led Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights.
The Cotler ‘brand’ should be toxic on the Left. Politicians need to know that many Canadians — as Lascaris put it in his concluding statement to Cotler — consider him “a fraud when it comes to human rights.”
Europe, an “old” colonialist continent, is decaying, and in some places even collapsing. It senses how bad things are going. But it never thinks that it is its own fault.
North America is decaying as well, but there, people are not even used to comparing. They only “feel that things are not going well”. If everything else fails, they simply try to get some second or third job, and just survive, somehow.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the establishment is in panic. Their world is in crises, and the ‘crises’ arrived mainly because several great countries, including China, Russia, Iran, but also South Africa, Turkey, Venezuela, DPRK and the Philippines, are openly refusing to play in accordance with the script drawn in Washington, London and Paris. In these nations, there is suddenly no appetite for sacrificing their own people on the altar of well-being of Western citizens. Several countries, including Venezuela and Syria, are even willing to fight for their independence.
Despite insane and sadistic embargos and sanctions imposed on them by the West; China, Russia and Iran are now flourishing, in many fields doing much better than Europe and North America.
If they are really pushed any further, China, Russia and their allies combined, could easily collapse the economy of the United States; an economy which is built on clay and unserviceable debt. It is also becoming clear that militarily, the Pentagon could never defeat Beijing, Moscow, even Teheran.
After terrorizing the world for ages, the West is now almost finished: morally, economically, socially, and even militarily. It still plunders, but it has no plan to improve the state of the world. It cannot even think in such terms.
It hates China, and every other country that does have progressive, internationalist plans. It smears President Xi Jinping and his brainchild, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but there is nothing new and exciting that the West is able to offer to the world. Yes, of course, those regime changes, coups, military interventions and theft of natural resources, but anything else? No, silence!
During my two weeks long working visit to Europe, in the Czech Republic (now renamed to Czechia), a country that enjoys a higher HDI (Human Development Index defined by UNDP) than Italy or Spain, I saw several young, decently dressed men, picking through garbage bins, right in front of my hotel, looking for food.
I saw young Europeans kneeling and begging in Stuttgart, the second richest city in Germany (where both Mercedes and Porsche cars are produced).
What I observed in all seven countries of the EU that I visited, was confusion, but also indifference, extreme selfishness and almost grotesque idleness. In great contrast to Asia, everybody in Europe was obsessed with their ‘rights’ and privileges, while no one gave a slightest damn about responsibilities.
When my plane from Copenhagen landed in Stuttgart, it began to rain. It was not heavy rain; just rain. The Canadair jet operated by SAS is a small aircraft, and it did not get a gate. It parked a few meters from the terminal and the captain announced that ground staff refused to bring a bus, due to lightning and the downpour. And so, we stayed inside the plane, for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour. The lightning ended. The drizzle continued. 40 minutes, no bus. One hour later, a bus appeared. A man from the ground staff emerged leisurely, totally wrapped in plastic, protected hermetically from rain. Passengers, on the other hand, were not even offered umbrellas.
“I love myself”, I later read graffiti in the center of the city.
The graffiti was not far from the central train station, which is being refurbished at the cost of several billion euros, and against the will of the citizens. The monstrous project is marching on at an insanely lazy pace, with only 5-6 construction workers detectable at a time, down in the tremendous excavations.
Stuttgart is unbelievably filthy. Escalators often do not work, drunkards are all over, and so are beggars. It is as if for decades, no one did any face-lift to the city. Once free museums are charging hefty entrance fees, and most of the public benches have disappeared from parks and avenues.
The decay is omnipresent. The German rail system (DB) has virtually collapsed. Almost all trains are late, from the ‘regional’; to the once glorified ICE (these German ‘bullet trains’ are actually moving slower, on average, even in comparison to some Indonesian inter-city expresses).
The services provided everywhere in Europe, from Finland to Italy, are grotesquely bad. Convenience stores, cafes, hotels – all are understaffed, badly run and mostly arrogant. Humans are often replaced by dysfunctional machines. Tension is everywhere, the bad mood omnipresent. Demanding anything is unthinkable; one risks being snapped at, insulted, sent to hell.
I still remember how Western propaganda used to glorify services in the capitalist countries, when we were growing up in the Communist East: “The customer is always treated like a god”. Yes, right! How laughable.
For centuries, “European workers” were ‘subsidized’ by colonialist and neo-colonialist plunder, perpetrated in all non-white corners of the world. They ended up being spoiled, showered with benefits, and unproductive. That was fine for the elites: as long as the masses kept voting for the imperialist regime of the West.
“The Proletariat” eventually became right-wing, imperialist, even hedonistic.
I saw a lot this time, and soon I will write much more about it.
What I did not witness, was hope, or enthusiasm. There was no optimism. No healthy and productive exchange of ideas, or profound debate; something I am so used to in China, Russia or Venezuela, just confusion, apathy and decay everywhere.
And hate for those countries that are better, more human, more advanced, and full of socialist enthusiasm.
Italy felt slightly different. Again, I met great left-wing thinkers there; philosophers, professors, filmmakers, journalists. I spoke at Sapienza University, the biggest university in Europe. I lectured about Venezuela and Western imperialism. I worked with the Venezuelan embassy in Rome. All of that was fantastic and enlightening, but was this really Italy?
A day after I left Rome for Beirut, Italians went to the polls. And they withdrew their supports from my friends of the 5-Star-Movement, leaving them with just over 17%, while doubling the backing for the extreme right-wing Northern League.
This virtually happened all over Europe. UK Labor lost, while right-wing Brexit forces gained significantly. Extreme right-wing, even near-fascist parties, reached unexpected heights.
It was all “me, me, me” politics. An orgy of “political selfies”. Me had enough of immigrants. Me wants better benefits. Me wants better medical care, shorter working hours. And so on.
Who pays for it, no one in Europe seems to care. Not once did I hear any European politicians lamenting about the plundering of West Papua or Borneo, about Amazonia or the Middle East, let alone Africa.
And immigration? Did we hear anything about that nuisance of European refugees, millions of them, many illegal, that have descended in the last decades on Southeast Asia, East Africa, Latin America, and even Sub Continent? They are escaping, in hordes, from meaninglessness, depressions, existential emptiness. In the process, they are stripping the locals of land, real estate, beaches, everything.
“Immigrants out”? Fine; then European immigrants out from the rest of the world, too! Enough of the one-sidedness!
The recent EU elections clearly showed that Europe has not evolved. For countless dark centuries, it used to live only for its pleasure, murdering millions in order to support its high life.
Right now, it is trying to reshuffle its political and administrative system, so it can continue doing the same. More efficiently!
On top of it, absurdly, the world is expected to pity that overpaid and badly performing, mainly right-wing and lethargic European proletariat, and sacrifice further tens of millions of people, just in order to further increase its standard of living.
All this should not be allowed to happen. Never again! It has to be stopped.
What Europe has achieved so far, at the expense of billions of lives of “the others”, is definitely not worthy of dying for.
Beware of Europe and its people! Study its history. Study imperialism, colonialism and the genocides it has been spreading all over the world.
Let them vote in their fascists. But keep them away. Prevent them from spreading their poison all over the world.
They want to put the interests of their countries first? Wonderful! Let us do exactly the same: The people of Russia first, too! China first! And, Asia, Africa, Latin America first!
• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook
• All photos by Andre Vltchek
By any reckoning, the claim made this week by al-Qaeda-linked fighters that they were targeted with chemical weapons by the Syrian government in Idlib province – their final holdout in Syria – should have been treated by the western media with a high degree of scepticism.
That the US and other western governments enthusiastically picked up those claims should not have made them any more credible.
Scepticism was all the more warranted from the media given that no physical evidence has yet been produced to corroborate the jihadists’ claims. And the media should have been warier still given that the Syrian government was already poised to defeat these al-Qaeda groups without resort to chemical weapons – and without provoking the predictable ire (yet again) of the west.
But most of all scepticism was required because these latest claims arrive just as we have learnt that the last supposed major chemical attack – which took place in April 2018 and was, as ever, blamed by all western sources on Syria’s president, Bashar Assad – was very possibly staged, a false-flag operation by those very al-Qaeda groups now claiming the Syrian government has attacked them once again.
Addicted to incompetence
Most astounding in this week’s coverage of the claims made by al-Qaeda groups is the fact that the western media continues to refuse to learn any lessons, develop any critical distance from the sources it relies on, even as those sources are shown to have repeatedly deceived it.
This was true after the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and it is now even more true after the the international community’s monitoring body on chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was exposed this month as deeply dishonest.
It is bad enough that our governments and our expert institutions deceive and lie to us. But it is even worse that we have a corporate media addicted – at the most charitable interpretation – to its own incompetence. The evidence demonstrating that grows stronger by the day.
In March the OPCW produced a report into a chemical weapons attack the Syrian government allegedly carried out in Douma in April last year. Several dozen civilians, many of them children, died apparently as a result of that attack.
The OPCW report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” for believing a toxic form of chlorine had been used as a chemical weapon in Douma, and that the most likely method of delivery were two cylinders dropped from the air.
This as good as confirmed claims made by al-Qaeda groups, backed by western states, that the cylinders had been dropped by the Syrian military. Using dry technical language, the OPCW joined the US and Europe in pointing the finger squarely at Assad.
It was vitally important that the OPCW reached that conclusion not only because of the west’s overarching regime-change ambitions in Syria.
In response to the alleged Douma attack a year ago, the US fired a volley of Cruise missiles at Syrian army and government positions before there had been any investigation of who was responsible.
Those missiles were already a war crime – an unprovoked attack on another sovereign country. But without the OPCW’s implicit blessing, the US would have been deprived of even its flimsy, humanitarian pretext for launching the missiles.
Undoubtedly the OPCW was under huge political pressure to arrive at the “right” conclusion. But as a scientific body carrying out a forensic investigation surely it would not simply doctor the data.
Nonetheless, it seems that may well be precisely what it did. This month the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – a group of academics who have grown increasingly sceptical of the western narratives told about Syria – published an internal, leaked OPCW document.
A few days later the OPCW reluctantly confirmed that the document was genuine, and that it would identify and deal with those responsible for the leak.
The document was an assessment overseen by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW expert, of the engineering data gathered by the OPCW’s fact-finding mission that attended the scene of the Douma attack. Its findings fly in the face of the OPCW’s published report.
Erased from the record
The leaked document is deeply troubling for two reasons.
First, the assessment, based on the available technical data, contradicts the conclusion of the final OPCW report that the two chemical cylinders were dropped from the air and crashed through building roofs. It argues instead that the cylinders were more likely placed at the locations they were found.
If that is right, the most probable explanation is that the cylinders were put there by al-Qaeda groups – presumably in a last desperate effort to persuade the west to intervene and to prevent the jihadists being driven out of Douma.
But even more shocking is the fact that the expert assessment based on the data collected by the OPCW team is entirely unaddressed in the OPCW’s final report.
It is not that the final report discounts or rebuts the findings of its own experts. It simply ignores those findings; it pretends they don’t exist. The report blacks them out, erases them from the official record. In short, it perpetrates a massive deception.
All of this would be headline news if we had a responsible media that cared about the truth and about keeping its readers informed.
We now know both that the US attacked Syria on entirely bogus grounds, and that the OPCW – one of the international community’s most respected and authoritative bodies – has been caught redhanded in an outrageous deception with grave geopolitical implications. (In fact, it is not the first time the OPCW has been caught doing this, as I have previously explained here.)
The fact that the OPCW ignored its own expert and its own team’s technical findings when they proved politically indigestible casts a dark shadow over all the OPCW’s work in Syria, and beyond. If it was prepared to perpetrate a deception on this occasion, why should we assume it did not do so on other occasions when it proved politically expedient?
The OPCW’s reports into other possible chemical attacks – assisting western efforts to implicate Assad – are now equally tainted. That is especially so given that in those other cases the OPCW violated its own procedures by drawing prejudicial conclusions without its experts being on the ground, at the site of the alleged attacks. Instead it received samples and photos via al-Qaeda groups, who could easily have tampered with the evidence.
And yet there has been not a peep from the corporate media about this exposure of the OPCW’s dishonesty, apart from commentary pieces from the only two maverick mainstream journalists in the UK – Peter Hitchens, a conservative but independent-minded columnist for the Mail on Sunday, and veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the little-read Independent newspaper (more on his special involvement in Douma in a moment).
Just as the OPCW blanked the findings of its technical experts to avoid political discomfort, the media have chosen to stay silent on this new, politically sensitive information.
They have preferred to prop up the discredited narrative that our governments have been acting to protect the human rights of ordinary Syrians rather than the reality that they have been active combatants in the war, helping to destabilise a country in ways that have caused huge suffering and death in Syria.
This isn’t a one-off failure. It’s part of a series of failures by the corporate media in its coverage of Douma.
They ignored very obvious grounds for caution at the time of the alleged attack. Award-winning reporter Robert Fisk was among the first journalists to enter Douma shortly after those events. He and a few independent reporters communicated eye-witness testimony that flatly contradicted the joint narrative promoted by al-Qaeda groups and western governments that Assad had bombed Douma with chemical weapons.
The corporate media also mocked a subsequent press conference at which many of the supposed victims of that alleged chemical attack made appearances to show that they were unharmed and spoke of how they had been coerced into play-acting their roles.
And now the western media has compounded that failure – revealing its systematic nature – by ignoring the leaked OPCW document too.
But it gets worse, far worse.
This week the same al-Qaeda groups that were present in Douma – and may have staged that lethal attack – claimed that the Syrian government had again launched chemical weapons against them, this time on their final holdout in Idlib.
A responsible media, a media interested in the facts, in evidence, in truth-telling, in holding the powerful to account, would be duty bound to frame this latest, unsubstantiated claim in the context of the new doubts raised about the OPCW report into last year’s chemical attack blamed on Assad.
Given that the technical data suggest that al-Qaeda groups, and the White Helmets who work closely with them, were responsible for staging the attack – even possibly of murdering civilians to make the attack look more persuasive – the corporate media had a professional and moral obligation to raise the matter of the leaked document.
It is vital context as anyone tries to weigh up whether the latest al-Qaeda claims are likely to be true. To deprive readers of this information, this essential context would be to take a side, to propagandise on behalf not only of western governments but of al-Qaeda too.
And that is exactly what the corporate media have just done. All of them.
Media worthy of Stalin
It is clear how grave their dereliction of the most basic journalistic duty is if we consider the Guardian’s uncritical coverage of jihadist claims about the latest alleged chemical attack.
Like most other media, the Guardian article included two strange allusions – one by France, the other by the US – to the deception perpetrated by the OPCW in its recent Douma report. The Guardian reported these allusions even though it has never before uttered a word anywhere in its pages about that deception.
In other words, the corporate media are so committed to propagandising on behalf of the western powers that they have reported the denials of official wrongdoing even though they have never reported the actual wrongdoing. It is hard to imagine the Soviet media under Stalin behaving in such a craven and dishonest fashion.
The corporate media have given France and the US a platform to reject accusations against the OPCW that the media themselves have never publicly raised.
Doubts about OPCW
The following is a brief statement (unintelligible without the forgoing context) from France, reported by the Guardian in relation to the latest claim that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons this week: “We have full confidence in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”
But no one, except bloggers and academics ignored by the media and state authorities, has ever raised doubts about the OPCW. Why would the Guardian think these French comments worthy of reporting unless there were reasons to doubt the OPCW? And if there are such reasons for doubt, why has the Guardian not thought to make them public, to report them to its readers?
The US state department similarly came to the aid of the OPCW. In the same Guardian report, a US official was quoted saying that the OPCW was facing “a continuing disinformation campaign” from Syria and Russia, and that the campaign was designed “to create the false narrative that others [rather than Assad] are to blame for chemical weapons attacks”.
So Washington too was rejecting accusations against the OPCW that have never been reported by the state-corporate media.
Interestingly, in the case of US officials, they claim that Syria and Russia are behind the “disinformation campaign” against the OPCW, even though the OPCW has admitted that the leaked document discrediting its work is genuine and written by one of its experts.
The OPCW is discredited, of course, only because it sought to conceal evidence contained in the leaked document that might have exonerated Assad of last year’s chemical attack. It is hard to see how Syria or Russia can be blamed for this.
Colluding in deception
But more astounding still, while US and French officials have at least acknowledged that there are doubts about the OPCW’s role in Syria, even if they unjustifiably reject such doubts, the corporate media have simply ignored those doubts as though they don’t exist.
The continuing media blackout on the leaked OPCW document cannot be viewed as accidental. It has been systematic across the media.
That blackout has remained resolutely in place even after the OPCW admitted the leaked document discrediting it was genuine and even after western countries began alluding to the leaked document themselves.
The corporate media is actively colluding both in the original deception perpetrated by al-Qaeda groups and the western powers, and in the subsequent dishonesty of the OPCW. They have worked together to deceive western publics.
The question is, why are the media so obviously incompetent? Why are they so eager to keep themselves and their readers in the dark? Why are they so willing to advance credulous narratives on behalf of western governments that have been repeatedly shown to have lied to them?
Iran the real target
The reason is that the corporate media are not what they claim. They are not a watchdog on power, or a fourth estate.
The media are actually the public relations wing of a handful of giant corporations – and states – that are pursuing two key goals in the Middle East.
First, they want to control its oil. Helping al-Qaeda in Syria – including in its propaganda war – against the Assad government serves a broader western agenda. The US and NATO bloc are ultimately gunning for the leadership of Iran, the one major oil producer in the region not under the US imperial thumb.
Powerful Shia groups in the region – Assad in Syria, Hezbullah in Lebanon, and Iraqi leaders elevated by our invasion of that country in 2003 – are allies or potential allies of Iran. If they are in play, the US empire’s room for manoeuvre in taking on Iran is limited. Remove these smaller players and Iran stands isolated and vulnerable.
That is why Russia stepped in several years ago to save Assad, in a bid to stop the dominoes falling and the US engineering a third world war centred on the Middle East.
Second, with the Middle East awash with oil money, western corporations have a chance to sell more of the lucrative weapons that get used in overt and covert wars like the one raging in Syria for the past eight years.
What better profit-generator for these corporations than wasteful and pointless wars against manufactured bogeymen like Assad?
Like a death cult
From the outside, this looks and sounds like a conspiracy. But actually it is something worse – and far more difficult to overcome.
The corporations that run our media and our governments have simply conflated in their own minds – and ours – the idea that their narrow corporate interests are synonymous with “western interests”.
The false narratives they generate are there to serve a system of power, as I have explained in previous blogs. That system’s worldview and values are enforced by a charmed circle that includes politicians, military generals, scientists, journalists and others operating as if brainwashed by some kind of death cult. They see the world through a single prism: the system’s need to hold on to power. Everything else – truth, evidence, justice, human rights, love, compassion – must take a back seat.
It is this same system that paradoxically is determined to preserve itself even if it means destroying the planet, ravaging our economies, and starting and maintaining endlessly destructive wars. It is a system that will drag us all into the abyss, unless we stop it.
President Donald Trump’s use of the most vicious aspects of economic warfare prompt another examination of the politics of starvation.
After George W. Bush’s administration, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump lessened Bush’s aggressive war policies and leaned to economic warfare. Sounds harmless when compared to exploding bombs, but it is not — economic warfare can crush an adversary without firing a shot. Gone to its extreme, economic warfare has the force of a neutron bomb; it disables the nation’s infrastructure and debilitates its population. Isolation from the international financial system, material embargos, and other sanctions reduce living standards and bring populations close to starvation The most serious aspects of economic warfare are major crimes and a form of terrorism.
Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and Iraq endured the most punishing sanctions from the United States. Results of sanctions against these countries, models for the effects of sanctions, show that sanctions have rarely accomplished their stated purposes and their intentions may be for other reasons — stalling economic progress, weakening challenges to antagonistic actions, advancing dominance, and promoting regime change.
Disturbed with the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and infuriated by the hostage taking of 52 of U.S. embassy personnel by extreme Islamic students and militants, President Jimmy Carter froze several billions of dollars in Iranian bank deposits, gold and other properties, and followed with a 1980 embargo on trade with and travel to Iran. These punitive actions accomplished nothing for the United States, strengthened the Ayatollah’s Authority and hardened the student demands for releasing the captured embassy officials.
President Reagan, who partially owed his climb into the executive office to the hostage crisis, showed contempt for Iran’s resolution of the problem. Driven by the unproven assertion that Iran was involved in the 1983 bombing of a marine barracks in Beirut, and favoring Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, the U.S. president imposed additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic. and, in 1987, banned all imports from Iran.
Duriing the Clinton administration, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) penalized all foreign companies that provided investments over $20 million for the development of petroleum resources.
Iran’s entrance into the atomic age provoked a series of new sanctions. Economic warfare soon reached full scale by subduing Iran’s earnings from its most precious resource and export – oil. The U.S. Congress passed unilateral sanctions that targeted Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Sanctions did not halt Iran’s nuclear activities, or prevent it from signing contracts with foreign firms to develop its energy resources. Exports slowly grew to an estimated $82 billion in 2012, with liberated Iraq and independent China filling the gap as trading partners.
Nevertheless, economic warfare affected Iran’s industries and welfare. In October 2012, Iran’s currency, the rial, fell to a record low against the US dollar, losing about 80 per cent of its value in one year. Lack of spare parts and inability to replace planes affected aviation safety. Real growth rate in GDP, at a steady six per cent a year during the first decade of the twenty first century, fell to two per cent in 2011-2012. One report, citing officials from the U.S. Departments of State and Energy, concluded that gasoline imports in the Shah’s former kingdom declined from 130,000 barrels a day in 2009 to 50,000 barrels a day in 2011. Machinery wears, and the costs and time for repairs rapidly increased. A nation of educated professionals, who depended upon access to foreign technology and scientific cooperation, had their access to knowledge severely curtailed.
In a October 5, 2012 report to the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summarized effects of sanctions on Iran’s population.
The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine,
The embargoes have also hampered humanitarian operations, as the imposed restrictions on Iran’s banking system have halted the imports of medicines needed for treating diseases like cancer and heart and respiratory conditions.
The Obama administration eventually eased restrictions on the sale of medicines to Iran, and, after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in which Iran halted and downsized its uranium enrichment, the UN lifted sanctions. In a following year, Iran GDP increased 15 percent.
On May 8, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. and U.S. sanctions came into effect again in November 2018. President Trump articulated his plan for renewed sanctions as, “to bring Iran’s oil exports to ‘zero’ and remove a main source of revenue for the regime.” Trump imposed the ultimate harm afforded by economic warfare — starve the people and have them revolt against the regime.
That has not happened nor is predicted to occur. World Bank statistics indicate a severe slowing of the economy and steady rise of inflation.
As shown in the charts, oil production, and GDP growth dropped monotonically and severely. Currency value suffered an initial shock and had some recovery. Inflation was up 40%, especially in food (up 60%) — a suffering economy, a suffering people, and no political gain for the U.S.
Immediately after the 1960 Cuban revolution, the United States imposed an embargo against Cuba. Fifty plus years of sanctions have not succeeded in accomplishing the purposes for which the United States proposed the sanctions — compensation to U.S. firms nationalized by Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro regime. The only result of the embargo has been deprivation of the Cuban people.
Although the United Nations General Assembly on November 2, 1995, voted 117 to 3 to recommend an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, President Clinton, on March 12, 1996, signed into law the misnamed Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. This Act imposed penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba, permitted U.S. citizens to sue foreign investors who make use of American-owned property seized by the Cuban government, and denied foreign investors in Cuba’s industry to enter the U.S.
The World Health Organization (WHO) complimented pre-90’s Cuba for its public health system, which had been credited with eliminating hunger and malnutrition and wiping out infectious diseases. A tightened embargo reinforced Cuba’s suffering after Russia withdrew subsidies. and, soon, Cuba of the mid-90’s portrayed another image. The American Association for World Health and the American Public Health Association ascertained that the embargo caused significant deterioration in Cuba’s food production and health care:
- Cuba was banned from purchasing nearly 1/2 of new drugs on the market.
- Physicians had access to only 890 medications, down from 1,300 in 1989.
- Deterioration of water supply increased water borne diseases.
- Daily caloric intake dropped by 33% between 1989 and 1993.
In 2000, the Clinton administration finally allowed Cuba to have some relief from an aggressive economic warfare. The administration allowed the sale of agriculture and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian purposes. According to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba reached $380 million in 2004. However, after hitting a peak of $710 million in 2008, U.S. food sales to Cuba declined over 50 percent by the year 2011. Reasons for the decline were largely economic – lack of foreign currency and better financial terms being offered by other countries.
Representatives of a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, signed a letter in December urging Barack Obama to scrap the embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year. The CPF’s estimates are much higher: up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports. The Cuban government estimates the loss to Cuba at about $685 million annually. Thus the blockade costs the United States up to $4.155 billion more a year than it costs Cuba.1
After a period of harsh policy toward Cuba under President George W. Bush, President Obama announced in late 2014 that Washington and Havana would begin normalizing relations. To that end, the Obama administration achieved three pillars of normalization: 1) the removal of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which allowed Cuba to access international finance; 2) the reestablishment of diplomatic relations; and 3) relaxed restrictions on travel and trade through executive action. The embargo remained in place.
In 2017, the Trump administration reversed some of the changes made under President Obama, but the vast majority remained U.S. policy. Despite some tighter trade sanctions and limitations on authorized travel, there are still legal pathways for Americans to export and travel to Cuba. On the list of new sanctions is allowing Americans to sue foreign companies in Cuba that are profiting from or using properties that were seized during the Cuban revolution.
Havana — The Cuban government announced Friday it is launching widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic products in the face of a grave economic crisis. Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz Velazquez told the state-run Cuban News Agency that various forms of rationing would be employed in order to deal with shortages of staple foods.
Díaz blamed the hardening of the U.S. trade embargo by the Trump administration. Economists give equal or greater blame to a plunge in aid from Venezuela, where the collapse of the state-run oil company has led to a nearly two-thirds cut in shipments of subsidized fuel that Cuba used for power and to earn hard currency on the open market.2
Another suffering economy, suffering people, and no political gain for the U.S.
The proud and impoverished nation of North Korea has been continually subjected to sanctions, threats of economic sanctions, and hastily withdrawn sanctions. The media is peppered with the words: “U.S. Lifts sanctions,” “U.S. recommends sanctions,” “South Korea wary of sanctions.” It’s difficult to know if North Korea is being sanctioned or being forced into being sanctioned. After its 2006 claim of conducting a nuclear test, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic Korea) leaders responded to intended sanctions by labeling them as “a declaration of war.”
The DPRK has,suffered from economic warfare, which includes restrictions on trade and financial transactions. Export of sensitive dual-use items (items that have both military and non-military uses) have, at times, been prohibited. During March 2012, the politics of starvation entered the situation; angered by an intended North Korea missile test, the U.S. suspended food aid to the “hermit kingdom.”
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has suspended planned food aid to North Korea as Pyongyang vows to push ahead with a plan to launch a long-range missile in defiance of international warnings, U.S. military officials said on Wednesday.
Under President Obama, sanctions increased as a policy of “strategic patience;” the US waited for North Korea to change its bad behavior before engaging with the state. As a result, trade between North Korea and China increased and sanctions did not encourage Kim Jong-An to discuss de-nuclearization.
On September 21, 2017, President Donald Trump, as part of his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, allowed severing from its financial system and/or freezing assets of companies, businesses, organizations, and individuals who traded in goods, services, or technology with North Korea.
U.S. negotiations with North Korea have a built-in error; they request de-nuclearization in exchange for improved relations and reduction in sanctions. Not considered is that North Korea’s development of a nuclear arsenal was a response to its regard of U.S. actions in the Korean peninsula as a direct threat to its regime and the developments had no relation to sanctions. Therefore, the DPRK will not trade de-nuclearization for relief of sanctions, and that approach is a non-starter.
Sanctions, intended to collapse the North Korea regime, have not halted its development of nuclear weapons and guided missile delivery systems. They have collapsed the economy and harmed the North Korean people; starvation during droughts have occurred. Although some international assistance has been provided to North Korea, the intensive economic warfare waged against the “hermit kingdom” has exacerbated its problems, without any apparent benefit to its principal antagonist, the United States.
If Iraq were Pompeii, then the US would be Mt. Vesuvius.
The sanctions against Iraq began August 6, 1990, four days after Hussein invaded Kuwait, and featured a near-total financial and trade embargo. Resultant suffering has been outlined in a UN Report on the Current Humanitarian Situation in Iraq, submitted to the Security Council, March 1999. Due to the length of the report, only significant features are mentioned.
Before the Iraq War
- before 1991 Iraq’s social and economic indicators were generally above the regional and developing country averages.
- Up to 1990, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) cited Iraq as having one of the highest per capita food availability indicators in the region.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prior to 1991, health care reached approximately 97% of the urban population and 78% of rural residents. A major reduction of young child mortality took place from 1960 to 1990; with the infant mortality rate at 65 per 1,000 live births in 1989 (1991 Human Development Report average for developing countries was 76 per 1,000 live births). UNICEF indicates that a national welfare system assisted orphans and children with disabilities and supported the poorest families.
- Before 1991, southern and central Iraq had well developed water and sanitation systems, composed with two hundred water treatment plants (“wtp’s”) for urban areas and 1200 compact wtp’s to serve rural areas, as well as an extensive distribution network. WHO estimates that 90% of the population had access to an abundant quantity of safe drinking water.
From Sanctions After the Gulf War
- Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that Iraqi GDP may have fallen by nearly 67% in 1991, and the nation had “experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty” and had infant mortality rates that were “among the highest in the world.”
- The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated the maternal mortality rate increased from 50/100,000 live births in 1989 to 117/100,000 in 1997. The under-five child mortality rate increased from 30.2/1000 live births to 97.2/1000 during the same period. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) calculates that the infant mortality rate rose from 64/1000 births in 1990 to 129/1000 in 1995 (the Human Development Report set the average infant mortality rate for Least Developed Countries at 109/1000). Low birth weight babies (less than 2.5 kg) rose from 4% in 1990 to around a quarter of registered births in 1997, due mainly to maternal malnutrition.
- Calorie intake fell from a pre-war 3120 to 1093 calories per capita/per day in 1994-95. The prevalence of malnutrition in Iraqi children under five almost doubled from 1991 to 1996 (from 12% to 23%). Acute malnutrition in Center/South rose from 3% to 11% for the same age bracket.
- The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that access to potable water decreased to 50% of the 1990 level in urban areas and 33% in rural areas.
- School enrollment for all ages (6-23) declined to 53%. According to a field survey conducted in 1993, as quoted by UNESCO, in Central and Southern governorates, 83% of school buildings needed rehabilitation, with 8613 out of 10,334 schools having suffered serious damages. The same source indicated that some schools with a planned capacity of 700 pupils actually have 4500 enrolled in them. Substantive progress in reducing adult and female illiteracy ceased and regressed to mid-1980 levels. More families are forced to rely on children to secure household incomes. Figures provided by UNESCO indicate that drop-outs in elementary schools increased from 95,692 in 1990 to 131,658 in 1999.
Sanctions, and its toll on the Iraqi people, continued until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Excerpts from Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, Joy Gordon. Harvard University Press, 2010, describe the extent of irrational economic warfare conducted by the United states against a defenseless Iraq.
While the United States consistently justified its policies in terms of preventing Iraq from developing weapons or threatening its neighbors, the U.S. policy went well beyond any rational concern with security. There was an elaborate architecture of policies that found a dozen other ways to simply do gratuitous harm that had not the least relation to the threat Iraq might have posed to its neighbors or to anyone else.
For thirteen years the United States unilaterally prevented Iraq from importing nearly everything related to electricity, telecommunications, and transportation, blocked much of what was needed for agriculture and housing construction, and even prohibited some equipment and materials necessary for health care and food preparation.
As the criticism grew, there is no sign that anyone in the U.S. administration, and only a tiny handful within Congress, actually took it to heart– actually questioned the sanity and legality of reducing an entire civilization to a preindustrial state, of bankrupting an entire nation for the purpose of containing one tyrannical man.
On May 12, 1996, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on the CBS program 60 Minutes. Commentator Lesley Stahl asked, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?” Madeleine Albright replied, “we think the price is worth it.” Is that an expected response from a normal human being?
The U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq accomplished what sanctions failed to accomplish — push Iraq to total ruin. A question, “Why war, if had sanctions, or why sanctions if need to go to war?”
As shown, sanctions never accomplished their stated purposes and gravely harmed populations. The economic warfare had equivalents to military war. The country that took the offensive became the aggressor, as in any war, and the destruction to the defending state was equally brutal. In the one-sided engagement, the civilian population of the defending nation suffered greatly and the aggressor country suffered few losses. The economic wars never achieved the results that the offended party desired, and no peace treaties were signed. The struggles remained an open issue.
A limited form of economic warfare may, at times, have a legitimate purpose. A complete economic war, that invades all aspects of a country’s life and continues until it debilitates the population, cannot be accepted. In a military campaign, atrocities and human rights violations are often committed. Although no shots are fired and battlefields are not identifiable, economic warfare cannot camouflage its atrocities and disguise its human rights violations.
- Dollars and Sense, 2009, The Costs of the Embargo, by Margot Pepper
- From CBS News, May 11, 2019.
As Patrick Cockburn has observed in a recent Counterpunch column, “At the end of the day, the US Treasury is a more powerful instrument of foreign policy than the Pentagon for all its aircraft carriers and drones.” He refers, of course, to the success of U.S. sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions on any corporations conducting trade with Iran. These have cut Iranian oil exports in half. They are, in fact, a form of undeclared warfare designed to inflict pain on the Iranian people, such that they rise up against the mullahs and topple the regime.
Cockburn notes that the European Union, while earnestly striving to sustain the Iran Deal by developing normal trade relations with Japan, has been thwarted by the U.S. Treasury Department. The U.S. is demanding in effect that all nations including China and Russia join with it in torturing Iran until it capitulates to U.S. demands and U.S.-Israeli-Saudi plans for a reconfigured Middle East.
The arrogance of Trump, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton as they bark their demands, not only to the Iranians but to everyone, disgusts the world. It invites angry protests, from the European Commission to the Chinese foreign ministry. It is a clear violation of the principles of free trade and the sovereign rights of nations. It is the ultimate U.S. attack, because its target is the entire world.
If you are a foe and you trade with Iran, we punish you.
If you are a friend and you trade with Iran, we punish you.
All must obey the U.S.A. as it strives to hurt Iran. All must become complicit in the deliberate destruction of the Iranian economy, while the U.S. openly advertises plans to send 120,000 troops to the region to intimidate Iran.
Trump’s almost equally moronic presidential predecessor George W. Bush once declared, “You’re either for us, or against us.” He referred to the original War on Terror as waged mostly in Afghanistan, which received general approval from governments world-wide. (The Iraq War was another matter; even key allies were not “for” the U.S. and were briefly vilified as “enemies.”)
The current administration says, “You’re either on board our project of regime change in Iran, and willing to forgo lucrative investment opportunities in that country, or you’re against us. And if you’re against us, we will not allow you to operate in the U.S. marketplace or finance your operations using U.S. banks.”
In the history of U.S. arrogance, this is a peak. I struggle to find any historical parallel, in which a country not only announced its intention to destroy a regime—by organizing an international economic boycott enforced through its banks—but demanded universal compliance in its efforts.
It is not only damaging economically. It is insulting. As the world becomes increasingly multipolar, and the U.S. position in it steadily declines, it throws down the gauntlet. Pompeo’s gate-crashing appearance at the last EU meet (on Iran) says it all. The uninvited and un-respected U.S. Secretary of State barged uninvited into a meeting to demand from an unsympathetic audience cooperation in its regime-change effort. All he achieved apparently was to convince the Europeans that the U.S. is pushing to another Iraq-style war based on lies. (Surely any European diplomat is aware of the character of John Bolton, and is appalled that the moron-president would choose such a thug as his national security advisor.)
The mustachioed monster lusts for war on Iran, with probable backing from Apocalypse Mike, the bible-toting secretary of state, and Boeing exec turned acting war secretary Patrick Shanahan. Can Trump, despite his declared opposition to overseas military adventures, resist their arguments for war?
The media is widely reporting that statements from top-ranking British officers in Iraq and elsewhere that there has been no acceleration of a threat from Iran, contradicting Bolton’s sensationalistic claims. Their “unusual” statements contradicting U.S. State Department bullshit indicate a high level of tension even between the U.S. and U.K. on the Iran question. This suggests the threat of a U.S. strike is receding; you wouldn’t think they’d proceed without even London’s support. But on the other hand the U.S. is evacuating non-essential personnel from Iraq, suggesting it wants to whisk them out of harm’s way before some immanent action in that country.
There is a madman in power, who controls both the Pentagon and the Treasury Department. He is pressing less for war than for capitulation under economic torture. But he does not understand the Shiite passion for self-sacrifice. The Iranian people are not so stupid as to think that, whatever pocketbook misery the U.S. inflicts on their country, they are better off submitting (again) to U.S. imperialism. The Iranian people have positive feelings for the people of this country, in part due to the history of academic exchanges: the Iranian Foreign Minister studied at San Francisco State University and University of Denver. But they view the U.S. government with contempt (as we all should).
So as Trump tightens the screws, and the Europeans prove incapable of holding up their end of the deal due to U.S. sabotage, the Iranians will stubbornly hold out, praying for regime change in the U.S. while the murderous Netanyahu and Prince MsB trade high-fives about how swimmingly this is all going.
As of May 10, Mr. Trump has arbitrarily increased tariffs on Chinese goods imported into the US, worth about 200 billion dollars, from 10% to 25%. It is an action without any foundation. An action that makes no sense at all, as China can and will retaliate – and retaliate much stronger than what the impact of the US’s new “sanctions” may bear – because these arbitrary tariffs are nothing else but sanctions. Illegality of such foreign interference aside, there is hardly any serious economist in this world who would favor tariffs in international trade among “adults” anywhere and for any reason, and, of course, least as a punishment for a nation. All that such sanctions do is pushing a partner away. In this case it’s not just any partner; China is a key trading partner of the United States.
The new tariffs will hardly harm the American consumer. There are huge profit margins by US middlemen and importers of Chinese goods. They are competing with each other within the US and the consumer may not even notice a thing. However, the US economy will likely suffer, especially from Chinese retaliatory actions.
A spoiled child, what Trump is, doesn’t get his way – and goes into a tantrum, not quite knowing what he is doing, and knowing even less what he may expect in return. Mr. Trump, himself, has not only reached a level of incompetence and ignorance which is scary – but he has also surrounded himself with inept, preposterous people, like, Pence, Bolton, Pompeo – who, it appears, have no other means left than running around the world amok, dishing out threats left and right and spending billions on moving aircraft carriers around the globe to make sure people are afraid of the great-great United States of America.
Back to trading with China. China has a million ways (almost) to retaliate. China can devalue her currency vis-à-vis the dollar, or China can dump some of their almost 3 trillion dollars-worth of reserves on the money market – just take a wild guess about what that would do to the hegemony of the dollar which is already in dire straits – with ever more countries departing from the use of dollars for international trade.
And just hypothetically, China could stop altogether exporting all that Walmart junk that American consumers love so much just for a while. Or China could stop making iPhones for the US market. Guess what kind of an uproar that would trigger in the US? Or China could, of course, levy herself high tariffs on US imports, or stop US imports altogether. China being part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – actually the co-founder of it – has many alternatives to cover her demand. No need to depend on the west.
Let’s not forget, the SCO which also counts as its members, Russia, India, Pakistan, most of Central Asia, and Iran poised to become a full-fledged member, covers about half of the world population and a third of the world’s economic output, or GDP. No need to look to the west for ‘survival’ – those times are long gone.
But more importantly, what all this looks like to me is the desperate thrashing around of a dying beast, or in this case a dying empire.
We have the US and Venezuela – threats after threats after threats – Maduro must go, or more sanctions. Indeed, according to a study by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), these horrifying, totally illegal sanctions or blockages of imports, most of them already paid for by Venezuela, have killed some 40,000 people in Venezuela. Of course, Washington doesn’t care about legality and killing, also typical for a fading mighty power – no respect for law and order, no respect for human rights and human lives. One only has to see what type of psychopaths are occupying the tasks of “Foreign Minister” and of “National Security Advisor” or of Vice President, for that matter – they are all sick, but very sick and dangerous people.
Well, in Venezuela “regime change” didn’t work out – so far. Pompeo has been clearly told off by Mr. Lavrov during their recent get-together in Helsinki, and China is in the same line of supporting the government of Nicolas Maduro.
Next – Iran. Attacking Iran has been a dream of Bolton’s ever since the US 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq. Bolton and Pompeo are of the same revolting kind: They want wars, conflicts, or if they don’t get wars, they want to sow fear, they enjoy seeing people scared. They want suffering. Now they didn’t succeed – at least so far – with Venezuela, let’s try Iran. Pompeo – “Iran has done irregular things” – not saying what in particular he means – so Iran has to be punished, with yet more sanctions. And any argument is good.
The entire world knows, including the Vienna-based UN Economic Energy Commission, and has acknowledged umpteen times that Iran has fully adhered to the conditions of the Nuclear Deal from which the US exited a year ago. Of course, no secret here either, this at the demand of Trump’s Big Friend Bibi Netanyahu. The European Union vassals may actually turn for their own business interests, not for political ethics, but pure and simple self-interest – towards respecting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Nuclear Deal. China and Russia are already holding on to the Deal, and they are not impressed by Washington’s threats. So, there is very little Trump and his minions can do, other than saber rattling.
Therefore, the nefarious Pence-Pompeo-Bolton trio must invent another warning: Iran or any proxy of Iran shall attack an ally of the US, and Iran will be devastated. In fact, they consider the Houthis in Yemen who fight for their sheer survival against the US-UK-France – and NATO supported Saudis, as a proxy for Iran. So, the US could start bombing Iran already today. Why don’t they?
Maybe they are afraid – afraid Iran could lock down the Strait of Hormuz, where 60% of US oil imports have to sail through. What a disaster that would be, not just for the US but also for the rest of the world. Oil prices could skyrocket. Would Washington want to risk a war over their irrationality? Maybe, Mr. Halfwit Trump might, but I doubt that his deep-dark state handlers would. They know what’s at stake for them and the world. But they let Trump play his games a bit longer.
Moving the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, loaded with war planes, close to Iranian waters costs hundreds of millions or billions. Just to enhance a threat. A show-off. Bolton and Pompeo will entertain their sadism, enjoying seeing scared people. But the cost of war doesn’t matter – it’s just more debt, and as we know, the US never, but never pays back its debt.
Next, or simultaneously, is China. The trade war with China that started last year, then had a respite to the point of the recent joint negotiations and suddenly the Trumpians are veering off again. They must smash China, wanting to appear superior. But why? The world knows that the US is no longer superior by a long shot, and haven’t been for the last couple of years, when China surpassed the US in economic strength, measured by PPP – Purchasing Power Parity – which is the only parity or exchange rate that has any real meaning.
Guess what! All these three cases have one common denominator: The dollar as a chief instrument for world hegemony. Venezuela and Iran have stopped using the dollar for their hydrocarbon and other international trading, already some years ago. And so did China and Russia. China’s strong currency, the Yuan, is rapidly taking over the US-dollar’s reserve position in the world. Sanctioning China with insane tariffs is supposed to weaken the Yuan; but it won’t.
All of these three countries, China, Iran and Venezuela are threatening the US dollar’s world hegemony and without that the US economy is dead, literally. The dollar is based on thin air, and on fraud. The dollar system used around the globe is nothing but a huge, a very big and monstrous Ponzi-scheme, that one day must be coming crashing down.
That’s what’s at stake. New FED Board member, Herman Cain, for example, is pledging for a new gold standard. But none of these last resort US measure will work, not a new gold standard, not a trade and tariff war, and not threats of wars and destruction and “regime change”. The nations around the world know what’s going on, they know the US is in her last breath; though they don’t quite dare saying so, but they know it, and are waiting for the downfall to continue. The world is waiting for the grand fiesta, dancing in the streets, when the empire disappears or becomes utterly irrelevant.
• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)
Hegemons are never going to sound too sensible when they lock horns or joust in spats of childish anger. Power corrupts, not merely in terms of perspective but language, and making sense about the next move, the next statement, is bound to be challenging. Otherwise justified behaviour can be read as provocative; retaliatory moves duly rattle and disturb.
The Iran-US standoff is finding a surge of increments, provocations and howlers. Since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) last year, Tehran has gnawed and scratched at the arrangements. Threats to close the Strait of Hormuz as a retaliation for frustrating Iranian oil sales have been made. President Hassan Rouhani last week made it clear that the Islamic republic would scale back on certain JCPOA commitments. Limits on building up stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water would be abandoned. A 60-day period has been stipulated in the hope that the E3 (Britain, France and Germany), China and Russia provide relief for the Iranian oil and banking sector. More suspensions of compliance orders threaten to follow if the powers do not muck in.
Despite not being part of the JCPOA anymore, the Trump administration persists in sticking its oar in the matter. In May 3, the State Department explicitly warned it would sanction individuals and entities involved in swapping permitted uranium (enriched or natural) with Iran. Nor would excess heavy water limits be permitted.
With such moves to strangle Iran’s economic feelers, it is little wonder that Rouhani has called on “surgery” to be performed on the JCPOA, one far more effectual than “the painkiller pills of the last year”. Such a process, he promised, was “for saving the deal, not destroying it.”
News this week that Saudi Arabian oil tankers had been sabotaged near the Strait of Hormuz had its effect, even if the Trump administration has yet to pin its colours to the claim that Iran is responsible. Give it time, and not much at that. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack”.
To reporters in the Oval Office, Trump was keen to make his usual remarks about happiness, or its absence, if things turned out to be darker than he thought. “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that.” What, pressed reporters, did the president mean by a “bad problem”? “You can figure it out for yourself. They know what I mean by it.”
Brian Hook, the US State Department’s special envoy on Iran, has been doing the circuit in Europe with Washington’s allies, hoping to stir some action against the meddling mullahs in a campaign of “maximum pressure”. “Everything we are doing,” Hook tried to reason with the Sunday Times, “is defensive.” Secretary of State Mark Pompeo also journeyed to Brussels to stir the matter. According to Hook, “The secretary shared information and intelligence with allies and discussed the multiple plot vectors emerging from Iran.” What a boon Iran is proving to be for the parched hawks, an endless well of threat, much of it imaginary, to draw upon in the hope of actual military engagement.
National Security Advisor John Bolton is making do with the situation, creating much mischief, turning the furniture and belongings of the entire diplomatic stable inside out like a brat in search of attention. He blames Iran, naturally, for “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”. As is the manner with all chicken hawks, he craves the blood of others and is not shy pushing it. The problem with this attitude is that having a playmate such as Iran is bound to get you, and your fellow playmates, hurt on the way. The school mistress should intervene, but her sense, and sensibility, is yet to be found.
Washington is certainly keen to make it a bad problem, a habit it has fallen into during stretches of its violent and imperial history. At Bolton’s instigation, an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers are being deployed to the Persian Gulf on the supposedly clear grounds that Iran and its proxies are readying themselves for a strike on US forces in the region, bringing to mind similar provocations sought to stoke a potential conflict.
The planning of Operation Prairie Fire was one such ignominious example, designed to provoke Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya into a military incident in 1986. In what seemed to be a true overegging of the pudding, US Navy Task Force 60 involved three aircraft carriers operating in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. They were involved in exercises falling within that most stretched of terms: freedom-of-navigation. Prairie Fire turned out to be a bellicose affair, with Task Force 60 put on essentially a wartime footing. Military exercises were duly conducted to stir the beast; patrols along the coast were conducted. The beast responded with some six surface-to-air missiles. A Libyan patrol boat was duly obliterated with some satisfaction, along with two more naval vessels and a missile site in Sirte. “We now consider all approaching Libyan forces,” claimed the White House note with some smugness, “to have hostile intent.”
US-Iran encounters in the Strait of Hormuz are also not new: the Iran-Iraq War, one which saw the US throw in its lot with Saddam Hussein’s invading armies against the Iranian Republic, featured a fair share of attacks on merchant shipping. The importance of the Strait to shipping and international traffic is again coming into play.
Trump has remained inflexible and obstinate regarding Iran. (In his wheeler-dealer world, every crook with a silver lining must be matched by a Lucifer who will be given no quarter.) In these calculations, the silver lining of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un shines far brighter than any the Islamic Republic of Iran might have. But by any referee’s estimate of recent conduct by Trump and company, Washington must be seen as responsible for the most aggravating fouls.