Tag Archives: Iran

Foreign Troops: What is too Close for Comfort?

Tensions in the skies. RT presented a news story of the United States intercepting a fleet of Russian bombers off the Alaskan coast. Four Russian Tu-95 bombers, accompanied by Su-35 and MiG-31 fighters jets, flew from Siberia toward Alaska where they were shadowed by US F-22 fighters. The US and NORAD admitted that the Russian planes stayed in international airspace and did not enter American sovereign airspace.

Siberia and Alaska are close. At its narrowest point the Bering Strait separates Russia and the US by only 88.5 km (55 mi), so it wouldn’t take long upon leaving one coastline to approach the other country’s coastline.

As for the tensions, they were attributed to the Russian bombers and fighter jets being “too close for comfort.”

Siberia and Alaska are very close, but the South China Sea is quite distant from the continental US and US Pacific territories. Nonetheless, the US sends its warships into the South China Sea — this to the consternation of China.

If China were to send its warships through the Straits of Florida would the US reaction be muted?

The provocations have their impetus in former president Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia, which has been an abysmal failure, as it has failed to prevent the rise of China.

Another failed US foreign policy objective was to prevent the Democratic Republic of Korea from becoming a nuclear state. US belligerence toward the government in the north of the Korean peninsula has not been effective in causing the North Koreans to cower. While US president Donald Trump has taken steps to engage North Korea, it has been mixed with hyperbolic threats and bombast.

The US, with South Korea, practices decapitation exercises targeting the leadership of the nearby DPRK — a country that is also distant from the continental US.

The examples of the US being too close for the comfort of other nations are myriad.

Russia is one country indignant at America provocations near its borders. Back during the Ronald Reagan administration, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev received a promise that NATO would not advance “one inch to the East.” The US reneged on its promise and has expanded ever closer to Russia, placing missiles and basing soldiers nearby.

Presently, in Syria the US is not just nearby; it is physically ensconced on the sovereign territory of Syria. There the uninvited and unwelcome US troops are helping to plunder Syrian oil.

US troops are also unwelcome in Iraq, which told the US troops to leave the country. Trump responded by threatening to impose sanctions against Iraq. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and resistance to the US troop presence has caused the evacuation of some US bases in Iraq.

Following 9-11, the US invaded Afghanistan when it failed to turn over the accused mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Taliban said they would consider surrendering bin Laden to the US if the US provided evidence of bin Laden’s guilt. However, the US refused to provide evidence, and subsequently the US finds itself militarily mired in Afghanistan approaching 20 years onward, and at a cost approaching $1 trillion dollars.

From Asia to Africa. The US meddling in the backyards of other countries is spread far and wide. No matter that Africa is another continent across the Atlantic from the US. US forces are involved in the fighting in Somalia, Kenya, Niger, and other African countries.

From Africa to South America. Trump has deployed US warships to the waters near Venezuela. Then, in early May of this year, there was a bizarre attempt to overthrow the elected government in Venezuela and capture president Nicolás Maduro. The coup attempt ended in utter ignominy for the would-be coupists, which included two former US special forces soldiers. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, a self-confessed and proud liar, stated, “There was no US government direct involvement in this operation.” [italics added] Makes one wonder exactly what the indirect US government involvement was.

Later in May, Trump warned Iran and Venezuela to not engage in trade with each other. Nonetheless, both countries, already under US sanctions, ignored the threats and Iran dispatched five tankers loaded with gasoline to help Venezuela. Despite the thousands of kilometers that Iran is from the US, it still has to contend with the presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf.

In Closing

Hypocrisy is defined as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.”

Given the fact that the US reacts aggressively to the presence of foreign militaries that it considers too close for comfort, how ought one view the juxtaposition of the US military to countries that do not appreciate the presence of the US military?

Foreign Troops: What is too Close for Comfort?

Tensions in the skies. RT presented a news story of the United States intercepting a fleet of Russian bombers off the Alaskan coast. Four Russian Tu-95 bombers, accompanied by Su-35 and MiG-31 fighters jets, flew from Siberia toward Alaska where they were shadowed by US F-22 fighters. The US and NORAD admitted that the Russian planes stayed in international airspace and did not enter American sovereign airspace.

Siberia and Alaska are close. At its narrowest point the Bering Strait separates Russia and the US by only 88.5 km (55 mi), so it wouldn’t take long upon leaving one coastline to approach the other country’s coastline.

As for the tensions, they were attributed to the Russian bombers and fighter jets being “too close for comfort.”

Siberia and Alaska are very close, but the South China Sea is quite distant from the continental US and US Pacific territories. Nonetheless, the US sends its warships into the South China Sea — this to the consternation of China.

If China were to send its warships through the Straits of Florida would the US reaction be muted?

The provocations have their impetus in former president Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia, which has been an abysmal failure, as it has failed to prevent the rise of China.

Another failed US foreign policy objective was to prevent the Democratic Republic of Korea from becoming a nuclear state. US belligerence toward the government in the north of the Korean peninsula has not been effective in causing the North Koreans to cower. While US president Donald Trump has taken steps to engage North Korea, it has been mixed with hyperbolic threats and bombast.

The US, with South Korea, practices decapitation exercises targeting the leadership of the nearby DPRK — a country that is also distant from the continental US.

The examples of the US being too close for the comfort of other nations are myriad.

Russia is one country indignant at America provocations near its borders. Back during the Ronald Reagan administration, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev received a promise that NATO would not advance “one inch to the East.” The US reneged on its promise and has expanded ever closer to Russia, placing missiles and basing soldiers nearby.

Presently, in Syria the US is not just nearby; it is physically ensconced on the sovereign territory of Syria. There the uninvited and unwelcome US troops are helping to plunder Syrian oil.

US troops are also unwelcome in Iraq, which told the US troops to leave the country. Trump responded by threatening to impose sanctions against Iraq. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and resistance to the US troop presence has caused the evacuation of some US bases in Iraq.

Following 9-11, the US invaded Afghanistan when it failed to turn over the accused mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Taliban said they would consider surrendering bin Laden to the US if the US provided evidence of bin Laden’s guilt. However, the US refused to provide evidence, and subsequently the US finds itself militarily mired in Afghanistan approaching 20 years onward, and at a cost approaching $1 trillion dollars.

From Asia to Africa. The US meddling in the backyards of other countries is spread far and wide. No matter that Africa is another continent across the Atlantic from the US. US forces are involved in the fighting in Somalia, Kenya, Niger, and other African countries.

From Africa to South America. Trump has deployed US warships to the waters near Venezuela. Then, in early May of this year, there was a bizarre attempt to overthrow the elected government in Venezuela and capture president Nicolás Maduro. The coup attempt ended in utter ignominy for the would-be coupists, which included two former US special forces soldiers. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, a self-confessed and proud liar, stated, “There was no US government direct involvement in this operation.” [italics added] Makes one wonder exactly what the indirect US government involvement was.

Later in May, Trump warned Iran and Venezuela to not engage in trade with each other. Nonetheless, both countries, already under US sanctions, ignored the threats and Iran dispatched five tankers loaded with gasoline to help Venezuela. Despite the thousands of kilometers that Iran is from the US, it still has to contend with the presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf.

In Closing

Hypocrisy is defined as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.”

Given the fact that the US reacts aggressively to the presence of foreign militaries that it considers too close for comfort, how ought one view the juxtaposition of the US military to countries that do not appreciate the presence of the US military?

Jakarta: Force and Fraud at Home and Abroad. What’s Next?

I’m guessing that “Jakarta Is Coming” or “Plan Jakarta” won’t elicit immediate recognition from most of you and until very recently that was also true for me. But before defining it, here’s a bit of necessary background:

In 1965-66, the United States engineered a systematic mass murder in Indonesia that killed more than one million civilians and an additional one million were herded into concentration camps. I’ve been following this case for years but reliable information has been hard to come by. Recently, thanks to determined scholars and courageous Indonesian activists, previously classified documents have become available in Washington, DC. The entire sordid tale is exposed in Vincent Bevins just released book, The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murders That Shaped Our World.  (Public Affairs, 2020).

Bevins details how democracy in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world at 270 million, was snuffed out when the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), a totally legal, non-violent, mass-based party of the poor was decimated. The C.I.A. provided money, training, propaganda tools and arms to elements within the Indonesian military and most importantly, supplied “kill lists” of PKI members, ranging from the higher echelons of the party to local cadres in the smallest rural villages. The lists also included anyone thought to have the slightest leftist inklings and U.S. managers of Indonesian rubber plantations added the names of suspect union organizers. Those on the list were checked off as they were captured, tortured and killed.

President Sukarno, a highly vocal anti-imperialist who had led the struggle against the Dutch colonialists and founded the non-aligned movement, was deposed and replaced with the vicious right-wing dictator Maj. Gen. Suharto who had been an ally of the Japanese fascists in the Second World War. Previous reforms were rescinded, the capitalist model of development was fully adopted and foreign investors descended on Indonesia like vultures.

Inside the beltway liberals in the U.S. were either silent or, as James Reston, the NYT’s leading op-ed writer (an archetypical liberal) quipped, “This is a gleam of light in Asia.” Although claiming its actions were about preventing the spread of the “Red Menace,” Washington was solely motivated by the need to violently liquidate the “threat of a good example,” to offer a harsh lesson to anyone who might challenge the new U.S. world order by trying to obtain control of their country’s resources and use them for the general welfare.

Bevins tells us that “Jakarta” became a code word for “anti-communist mass murder and the state-organized extermination of civilians who opposed the construction of authoritarian regimes loyal to the United States.” Indeed, a compelling case can be made that “Indonesia 1965” was the crucial victory for Washington during the so-called Cold War. And whereas easily accessible material is available on U.S. covert operations to overthrow democratic regimes in places like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973), the Indonesian case remains virtually unknown in the United States. I want to believe that Americans would not only be horrified to learn about it but willing to reconsider some of their deepest beliefs about American exceptionalism.

I’ve highlighted Bevin’s new book because it appears at a serendipitous moment. In the rush of current events we don’t always pause to connect some important dots, in this case the indivisible string of dots between American domestic and foreign policy. That is, the same class warfare practiced by highly class-conscious U.S. elites and their junior partners in Indonesia in 1965 is now playing out in response to Racism 2020 and COVID-19, albeit with different methods.

Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and someone for whom I have enormous respect, observes that “The mentality that crushes a brother’s neck — as in the case of George Floyd — is the same mentality that sends black, brown, poor and low-income workers of all colors into the lethal path of the COVID-19 pandemic without needed protections, health care and economic resources.” Barber doesn’t say so and I don’t know if he believes it, but it’s my sense that the same mentality and dynamic of predatory capitalism that rips off the labor and land of those around the empire also operates here.

Domestically, the U.S. oligarchy has never hesitated to deploy deadly force, periodic severe repression against perceived internal threats and to rely on mass incarceration but the clear preference is for what Noam Chomsky terms “fraud and deception.” Why? Because they’re more efficient and sustain the necessary illusion that we live in a self-governing, albeit sometimes flawed democracy. This method results in citizens policing themselves but only after absorbing a lifetime of capitalist ideology. In short, in a society like the United States, “control of thought is more important.”1

Workers and peasants in Indonesia and elsewhere throughout the American empire harbor no illusions about who rules. Based on first-hand experience, they know their masters demand absolute obedience under penalty of torture and death. People have internalized the expectation that even demands for mild reforms will be met with state terrorism. They’ve learned to keep their thoughts to themselves.

In the United States, the abysmally low level of working class consciousness permits our rulers a much wider latitude of options to insure, in Bertrand Russell’s phrase, “the habit of submission.” We, “the ignorant masses,” participate in formal mechanisms like political parties and voting but these only ratify decisions made by our “betters. The option of radically changing society will neither appear on the ballot nor even be imagined in the public mind. Put another way, “Democracy is permissible as long as the control of business is off-limits to popular deliberation or changes; i.e., so long as it isn’t democracy.”2

How does all this relate to our present situation? I don’t have definitive answers, but I will suggest that the critical questions before us include: Has the official response to COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and the pandemics of racism, greed, poverty, imperialism, inequality, ecocide and exploitation finally sundered the aforementioned “habit of submission?” Does a sizable, multicultural swath of our citizens now view the political and economic system as illegitimate? Do enough people now grasp that the two parties and their corporate sponsors have nothing to offer? Do enough people understand that those on top not only want more from us but want everything? Is the multiplying convergence of aggrieved people sufficient to move from righteous insurrection in the streets to a revolutionary project that can totally reconstruct our society? If not, how can we move more of our fellow citizens in that direction? Are we prepared for the inevitable future efforts to co-opt dissenters? Finally, if fascism is capitalism with the gloves off, is it hyperbolic to suggest that the capitalist state and its enablers will entertain Jakarta-like options in the near future?

  1. Noam Chomsky, “Force and Opinion,” Z Magazine, July-August, 1991.
  2. Robert W. McChesney, “Noam Chomsky on the Struggle Against Neoliberalism,” Monthly Review, April 1, 1999.

Who Are the Secret Puppet-Masters Behind Trump’s War on Iran?

On May 6th, President Trump vetoed a war powers bill specifying that he must ask Congress for authorization to use military force against Iran. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of deadly sanctions and threats of war against Iran has seen no let-up, even as the U.S., Iran and the whole world desperately need to set aside our conflicts to face down the common danger of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So what is it about Iran that makes it such a target of hostility for Trump and the neocons? There are many repressive regimes in the world, and many of them are close U.S. allies, so this policy is clearly not based on an objective assessment that Iran is more repressive than Egypt, Saudi Arabia or other monarchies in the Persian Gulf.

The Trump administration claims that its “maximum pressure” sanctions and threats of war against Iran are based on the danger that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. But after decades of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and despite the U.S.’s politicization of the IAEA, the Agency has repeatedly confirmed that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program.

If Iran ever did any preliminary research on nuclear weapons, it was probably during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, when the U.S. and its allies helped Iraq to make and use chemical weapons that killed up to 100,000 Iranians. A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the IAEA’s 2015 “Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues” and decades of IAEA inspections have examined and resolved every scrap of false evidence of a nuclear weapons program presented or fabricated by the CIA and its allies.

If, despite all the evidence, U.S. policymakers still fear that Iran could develop nuclear weapons, then adhering to the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), keeping Iran inside the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and ensuring ongoing access by IAEA inspectors would provide greater security than abandoning the deal.

As with Bush’s false WMD claims about Iraq in 2003, Trump’s real goal is not nuclear non-proliferation but regime change. After 40 years of failed sanctions and hostility, Trump and a cabal of U.S. warhawks still cling to the vain hope that a tanking economy and widespread suffering in Iran will lead to a popular uprising or make it vulnerable to another U.S.-backed coup or invasion.

United Against a Nuclear Iran and the Counter Extremism Project

One of the key organizations promoting and pushing hostility towards Iran is a shadowy group called United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI). Founded in 2008, it was expanded and reorganized in 2014 under the umbrella of the Counter Extremism Project United (CEPU) to broaden its attacks on Iran and divert U.S. policymakers’ attention away from the role of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other U.S. allies in spreading violence, extremism and chaos in the greater Middle East.

UANI acts as a private enforcer of U.S. sanctions by keeping a “business registry” of hundreds of companies all over the world—from Adidas to Zurich Financial Services—that trade with or are considering trading with Iran. UANI hounds these companies by naming and shaming them, issuing reports for the media, and urging the Office of Foreign Assets Control to impose fines and sanctions. It also keeps a checklist of companies that have signed a declaration certifying they do not conduct business in or with Iran.

Proving how little they care about the Iranian people, UANI even targets pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical-device corporations—including Bayer, Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Abbott Laboratories—that have been granted special U.S. humanitarian aid licenses.

Where does UANI get its funds? 

UANI was founded by three former U.S. officials, Dennis Ross, Richard Holbrooke and Mark Wallace. In 2013, it still had a modest budget of $1.7 million, nearly 80% coming from two Jewish-American billionaires with strong ties to Israel and the Republican Party: $843,000 from precious metals investor Thomas Kaplan and $500,000 from casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Wallace and other UANI staff have also worked for Kaplan’s investment firms, and he remains a key funder and advocate for UANI and its affiliated groups.

In 2014, UANI split into two entities: the original UANI and the Green Light Project, which does business as the Counter Extremism Project. Both entities are under the umbrella of and funded by a third, Counter Extremism Project United (CEPU). This permits the organization to brand its fundraising as being for the Counter Extremism Project, even though it still regrants a third of its funds to UANI.

CEO Mark Wallace, Executive Director David Ibsen and other staff work for all three groups in their shared offices in Grand Central Tower in New York. In 2018, Wallace drew a combined salary of $750,000 from all three entities, while Ibsen’s combined salary was $512,126.

In recent years, the revenues for the umbrella group, CEPU, have mushroomed, reaching $22 million in 2017. CEPU is secretive about the sources of this money. But investigative journalist Eli Clifton, who started looking into UANI in 2014 when it was sued for defamation by a Greek ship owner it accused of violating sanctions on Iran, has found evidence suggesting financial ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

That is certainly what hacked emails between CEPU staff, an Emirati official and a Saudi lobbyist imply. In September 2014, CEPU’s president Frances Townsend emailed the UAE Ambassador to the U.S. to solicit the UAE’s support and propose that it host and fund a CEPU forum in Abu Dhabi.

Four months later, Townsend emailed again to thank him, writing, “And many thanks for your and Richard Mintz’ (UAE lobbyist) ongoing support of the CEP effort!” UANI fundraiser Thomas Kaplan has formed a close relationship with Emirati ruler Bin Zayed, and visited the UAE at least 24 times. In 2019, he gushed to an interviewer that the UAE and its despotic rulers “are my closest partners in more parts of my life than anyone else other than my wife.”

Another email from Saudi lobbyist and former Senator Norm Coleman to the Emirati Ambassador about CEPU’s tax status implied that the Saudis and Emiratis were both involved in its funding, which would mean that CEPU may be violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by failing to register as a Saudi or Emirati agent in the U.S.

Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy has documented the dangerously unaccountable and covert expansion of the influence of foreign governments and military-industrial interests over U.S. foreign policy in recent years, in which registered lobbyists are only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to foreign influence. Eli Clifton calls UANI, “a fantastic case study and maybe a microcosm of the ways in which American foreign policy is actually influenced and implemented.”

CEPU and UANI’s staff and advisory boards are stocked with Republicans, neoconservatives and war hawks, many of whom earn lavish salaries and consulting fees. In the two years before President Trump appointed John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, CEPU paid Bolton $240,000 in consulting fees. Bolton, who openly advocates war with Iran, was instrumental in getting the Trump administration to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

UANI also enlists Democrats to try to give the group broader, bipartisan credibility. The chair of UANI’s board is former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, who was known as the most pro-Zionist member of the Senate. A more moderate Democrat on UANI’s board is former New Mexico governor and UN ambassador Bill Richardson.

Norman Roule, a CIA veteran who was the National Intelligence Manager for Iran throughout the Obama administration was paid $366,000 in consulting fees by CEPU in 2018. Soon after the brutal Saudi assassination of journalist Jamal Khassoghi, Roule and UANI fundraiser Thomas Kaplan met with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, and Roule then played a leading role in articles and on the talk-show circuit whitewashing Bin Salman’s repression and talking up his superficial “reforms” of Saudi society.

More recently, amid a growing outcry from Congress, the UN and the European Union to ease U.S. sanctions on Iran during the pandemic, UANI chairman Joe Lieberman, CEPU president Frances Townsend and CEO Mark Wallace signed a letter to Trump that falsely claimed, “U.S. sanctions neither prevent nor target the supply of food, medicine or medical devices to Iran,” and begged him not to relax his murderous sanctions because of COVID-19. This was too much for Norman Roule, who tossed out his UANI script and told the Nation, “the international community should do everything it can to enable the Iranian people to obtain access to medical supplies and equipment.”

Two Israeli shell companies to whom CEPU and UANI have paid millions of dollars in “consulting fees” raise even more troubling questions. CEPU has paid over $500,000 to Darlink, located near Tel Aviv, while UANI paid at least $1.5 million to Grove Business Consulting in Hod Hasharon, about 10% of its revenues from 2016 to 2018. Neither firm seems to really exist, but Grove’s address on UANI’s IRS filings appears in the Panama Papers as that of Dr. Gideon Ginossar, an officer of an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands that defaulted on its creditors in 2010.

Selling a Corrupted Picture to U.S. Policymakers

UANI’s parent group, Counter Extremism Project United, presents itself as dedicated to countering all forms of extremism. But in practice, it is predictably selective in its targets, demonizing Iran and its allies while turning a blind eye to other countries with more credible links to extremism and terrorism.

UANI supports accusations by Trump and U.S. war hawks that Iran is “the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism,” based mainly on its support for the Lebanese Shiite political party Hezbollah, whose militia defends southern Lebanon against Israel and fights in Syria as an ally of the government.

But Iran placed UANI on its own list of terrorist groups in 2019 after Mark Wallace and UANI hosted a meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York that was mainly attended by supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Kalqh (MEK). The MEK is a group that the U.S. government itself listed as a terrorist organization until 2012 and which is still committed to the violent overthrow of the government in Iran – preferably by persuading the U.S. and its allies to do it for them. UANI tried to distance itself from the meeting after the fact, but the published program listed UANI as the event organizer.

On the other hand, there are two countries where CEPU and UANI seem strangely unable to find any links to extremism or terrorism at all, and they are the very countries that appear to be funding their operations, lavish salaries and shadowy “consulting fees”: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Many Americans are still demanding a public investigation into Saudi Arabia’s role in the crimes of September 11th. In a court case against Saudi Arabia brought by 9/11 victims’ families, the FBI recently revealed that a Saudi Embassy official, Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah, provided crucial support to two of the hijackers. Brett Eagleson, a spokesman for the families whose father was killed on September 11th, told Yahoo News, “(This) demonstrates there was a hierarchy of command that’s coming from the Saudi Embassy to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs [in Los Angeles] to the hijackers.”

The global spread of the Wahhabi version of Islam that unleashed and fueled Al Qaeda, ISIS and other violent Muslim extremist groups has been driven primarily by Saudi Arabia, which has built and funded Wahhabi schools and mosques all over the world. That includes the King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles that the two 9/11 hijackers attended.

It is also well documented that Saudi Arabia has been the largest funder and arms supplier for the Al Qaeda-led forces that have destroyed Syria since 2011, including CIA-brokered shipments of thousands of tons of weapons from Benghazi in Libya and at least eight countries in Eastern Europe. The UAE also supplied arms funding to Al Qaeda-allied rebels in Syria between 2012 and 2016, and the Saudi and UAE roles have now been reversed in Libya, where the UAE is the main supplier of thousands of tons of weapons to General Haftar’s rebel forces. In Yemen, both the Saudis and Emiratis have committed war crimes. The Saudi and Emirati air forces have bombed schools, clinics, weddings and school buses, while the Emiratis tortured detainees in 18 secret prisons in Yemen.

But United Against a Nuclear Iran and Counter Extremism Project have redacted all of this from the one-sided worldview they offer to U.S. policymakers and the American corporate media. While they demonize Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood as extremists and terrorists, they depict Saudi Arabia and the UAE exclusively as victims of terrorism and allies in U.S.-led “counterterrorism” campaigns, never as sponsors of extremism and terrorism or perpetrators of war crimes.

The message of these groups dedicated to “countering extremism” is clear and none too subtle: Saudi Arabia and the UAE are always U.S. allies and victims of extremism, never a problem or a source of danger, violence or chaos. The country we should all be worrying about is – you guessed it – Iran. You couldn’t pay for propaganda like this! But on the other hand, if you’re Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates and you have greedy, corrupt Americans knocking on your door eager to sell their loyalty, maybe you can.

Venezuela And Iran Show Solidarity Can Overcome US Empire

Commemorating 100,000 COVID-19 Deaths

The official milestone of 100,000 dead in the United States from COVID-19 is near. This figure is certainly an undercount as thousands of deaths from COVID-19 are not being recorded. Before our weekly news analysis, we pause to commemorate those deaths.

The US, with 4 percent of the world’s population, has 28 percent of the COVID19 deaths, disproportionately impacting black and brown people. Why is the US doing so poorly? President Trump surely deserves a great deal of blame. He continues to make major errors and critical mistakes were made in the first few months when Trump said on January 22: “It’s just one person coming in from China. We have it totally under control” and, on February 26: “When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days will be down to zero.” The Trump Death Clock reports 58,614 deaths could have been prevented if the US had acted more quickly.

But the problems are deeper than Trump. The US healthcare system is the most expensive in the world yet it is out of reach for tens of millions of people. The nation has never adequately invested in public health and does not have a community-based healthcare system that would have allowed immediate tracking of the virus. No state has met the requirements for reopening its economy, yet many are doing so. The nation has not put in place the testing and tracing needed to monitor and eliminate the virus.

This weekend, images of people at beaches and in malls without taking safety precautions compound the errors. In the next month, the impact of this recklessness will be widespread illness and death. We see nothing in US public policy coming from either party that will prevent that likely reality. Rather than fixing obvious errors in policy, the bipartisans are compounding them. We need to keep pushing for more. Our next General Strike call is May 28 at 7 pm EST. Our speaker is Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson and People’s Strike. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting.

Iranian oil tanker, Fortune, arrives in Venezuelan waters and is escorted by  the Venezuelan navy (photo from TELSUR)

A Victory For Sovereignty, Independence, And Peace

This week, Venezuela and Iran faced up to threats made by the United States and defied the illegal US sanctions by sending five oil tankers from Iran to Venezuela. The US’ long term unilateral coercive measures have prevented the two countries with the largest oil reserves from selling their oil. This economic terrorism has caused tens of thousands of deaths in each country. Despite this economic warfare and constant threats of military attack, the two nations joined together in solidarity and broke through the US blockade to deliver much-needed oil and supplies to Venezuela.

This was a victory for sovereignty, independence, and peace. It was an act of dignity for both countries to take this successful stand against the United States. They have shown the world that illegal US economic sanctions, which impact 39 countries and one-third of the world’s population, can be defeated. They set an example that other nations can refuse the US’ unlawful demands. Acting together, the world can end the abusive unilateral coercive measures, end dollar domination, and create a multi-polar world where nations large and small have sovereignty and independence from hegemony.

US navy ships in the Caribbean (photo from Military.com)

US Threats And Show Of Force Dissipate

Last week, President Trump told a conservative audience that the US has Venezuela surrounded. Earlier this year, Trump ordered a US armada to the Caribbean to target Venezuela, including destroyers, littoral combat ships, Poseidon maritime planes, AWAC surveillance aircraft, and on-ground special forces units. This is the largest US military presence in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama.

Anonymous White House officials told Reuters the US has been “looking at measures that can be taken” to stop the “unwelcome”  impending delivery. The Washington Post quoted an unnamed high-level Trump official saying the administration “would not abide” Iran’s support of Maduro and “The president has made clear the United States will not tolerate continued meddling by supporters of an illegitimate regime.”

These threats are occurring just weeks after the failed May 3-4 mercenary invasion of Venezuela organized and led by ex-US special forces troops. The Bay of Pigs-like attempt to enter Venezuela by sea with 80 mercenaries was stopped by the Venezuelan government with the assistance of fishermen in the civilian militia. Two former US special forces and some Venezuelan military defectors are under arrest. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has promised to use all means at the disposal of the United States to free the US citizens.

This week, US courts allowed the seizure of Venezuela’s largest foreign asset, CITGO, worth an estimated $8 billion. A federal judge approved the sale of the  CITGO refineries after the US Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling. Foreign Minister Arreaza denounced the sale as an act of piracy and said, “There are 12 children waiting for a bone marrow transplant” that was going to be paid for by CITGO profits.  On May 14, Venezuela filed suit in a London commercial court that seeks to force the UK Central Bank to return an estimated US $1 billion worth of Venezuelan gold. Venezuela plans to use the gold to buy food, medicines, and healthcare equipment to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic reports Reuters.

The ultimate corporate media source, the Wall Street Journal, urged military action to halt the Iranian tankers, warning of the “risk to U.S. interests in doing nothing.” They claimed “President Trump has the legal power to declare an emergency and interdict the tankers.”  It warned the US needs to be prepared to respond to Iran in the Persian Gulf if they do so.

Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity published a memorandum to the President warning that taking action would result in serious blowback from the world against the US. Further, such an action would be illegal and an act of war that would have unpredictable consequences, not just in Latin America but in the Middle East where there are many US targets. They urged the administration to stop “saber-rattling” as “huffing and puffing hasn’t blown Maduro’s house down.”

The five supertankers – Fortune, Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel – carrying around 1.5 million barrels of fuel have to pass the belligerent US armada. Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said, “They will be escorted by Bolivarian National Armed Forces boats and planes to welcome them in and thank the Iranian people for their solidarity and cooperation.”

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi accused the US of threatening piracy and vowed a decisive response.”  Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami warned the United States “Iran will not tolerate obstacles [to its oil ships]. Both the United States and other countries know that we will not hesitate. If the obstacles continue or increase, Iran’s response will be forceful.”

Both Iran and Venezuela warned the United Nations that any action by the United States to stop the oil tankers would be illegal. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif wrote UN Secretary Antonio Guterres. Venezuela’s UN ambassador, Samuel Moncada, alerted the agency to the “threat of imminent use of military force by the United States.” The letter warned: “Ships with British, Dutch, French and American flags are bordering the coasts of our country, with a hostile and aggressive attitude . . . threatening the imposition illegal of a naval blockade.” He urged the UN Security Council to take immediate action to end the “warmongering and criminal policies,” of the US, which threaten the peace, security, and stability of the region.

Earlier in the week, the US blocked the Security Council resolution denouncing the attempted mercenary invasion of Venezuela. Ambassador Moncada thanked the countries that stood up for international law in the Security Council. Maduro said, “We have had a great victory in the UN Security Council” by exposing the US to criticism from the world.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro shake hands at Wyndham Concorde hotel in Magarita, Venezeula, on September 16, 2016 (from Reuters)

The First Iranian Supertanker Enters Venezuelan Waters

While the world waited for military conflict, on Saturday night after 7 pm local time, the first supertanker entered Venezuelan waters and is currently being escorted by the Bolivarian Republics’ military to port. The US did not intercept the tanker. Hopefully, this will continue for the remaining four tankers and the US will end the economic war against Iran, Venezuela, and other countries.

The arrival of these tankers from Iran marks a historic milestone as it is the first time that the Middle Eastern country exported fuel to Latin America. This is one example of many of US sanctions bringing nations together in solidarity against the United States. The US is caught in a paradox — the more it exercises force, the more power it loses as nations unite against US domination.

Venezuela’s strategic ties to Iran date back almost two decades, when President Hugo Chávez, the founder of its socialist state, struck a flurry of economic and financial deals with the president of Iran. The two nation’s were co-founders of OPEC in 1960. In 2008, Venezuela shipped gasoline to Iran when US sanctions were crippling its industry. Maduro has continued to build bilateral relations with Iran resulting in economic and other trade deals as well as through OPEC and the Non-Aligned Movement.

On Friday night, a group of Venezuelan youths raised the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran in front of the mountain barracks where Commander Hugo Chavez rests as a token of appreciation for the shipment of fuels. People in both Venezuela and Iran celebrated the victory over the US blockade.

Now is the time to build on that success to grow the movement against the US’ illegal coercive measures. The Sanctions Kill coalition is holding a series of webinars to educate and organize toward that goal. The first was on May 9 and featured representatives from six countries. Speakers included Ana Silvia Rodriguez Abascal, Charge des Affaires of the Cuban Mission to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Francisco O Campbell, Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Bashar Ja’afari, Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations and Carlos J. Ron Martinez, Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The next webinar will be on Sunday, May 31 at 1:00 pm EST and will feature representatives from Gaza, Venezuela, and other nations. It is taking place during an international week of action against imperialism from May 25 to 31.

The Non-Aligned Movement, a decades-old coalition of 120 nations representing 55 percent of the world’s population, has become reactivated. They met in Azerbaijan in October 2019 and in Venezuela in August 2019.  Both meetings denounced US sanctions and US military threats around the world. Nations are starting to provide assistance to sanctioned countries. In April, Britain, France and Germany used a new trade mechanism that bypasses US sanctions called Instex to send medical aid to Iran. These are positive signs.

While the victory of Iran and Venezuela is significant, it does not end the US economic war against the two countries. The US is persistent in its foreign policy goals and both countries need to be prepared for US escalation as a result of the Iranian supertankers going to Venezuela. Both countries cherish their independence and sovereignty. They will not give in. And they are building international solidarity. We in the US must demand that our government cease its hostilities and become a cooperative member of that global community.

Iran:  Socialist, Internationalist, Powerful and Determined

I refuse to describe Iran as a victim. It is not. It is one of the most influential and strong-minded nations on Earth.

When facing mortal danger, its people unite, harden themselves and get ready to face invaders, no matter how threatening they might be.

Iran determined despite attacks

Iran is home to one of the oldest and deepest cultures in the world, and it’s precisely this culture that helps Iranian people to survive the most frightening moments.

And one such moment is sadly right now.

*****

U.S. battleships are sailing right next to the Iranian territorial waters. One mistake, one false move, and war could erupt, engulfing the entire region in flames. Iran is a proud nation, and it takes its independence extremely seriously.

Right now, the country is facing one of the most unjust embargos in human history. It is being punished for nothing; or more precisely, for sticking to all the points of the agreement called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as The Iran Nuclear Deal, which it signed in 2015 with China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany, and which the United States abandoned, without providing any logical explanation. While not particularly happy about the U.S. withdrawal; Germany, France and U.K. are doing all they can not to anger their senior partner, and its leaders in Washington.

Add COVID-19, and inability of the country, due to sanctions, to buy medical equipment, at least in the West, and you have the perfect scenario for a national calamity and even for imminent collapse.

Or more precisely, anywhere else this would be the case, but not in Iran!

After receiving terrible blows from the West, one after another, Iran has never fallen to its knees. It has never abandoned its internationalist and socialist course (socialist, with Iranian characteristics), and it has preserved its dignity.

What it has managed to achieve is amazing, nothing short of heroic, given the circumstances.

*****

If you look at the latest, 2019 HDI (Human Development Index, compiled and published by the UNDP), Iran is in the High Human Development bracket, and only 3 steps from the Highest Human Development group of countries. Which is thoroughly amazing, given the above-mentioned sanctions, embargos and constant military intimidations.

In Tehran, monument to nuclear scientists murdered from abroad

Whenever I visit Iran, I am astonished by its public spaces, cultural institutions, public transportation, fountains, comfortable trains… The country is functioning well, showing incredible grace under pressure. Its television channel – PressTV – is one of the most important anti-imperialist news outlets in the world. I don’t see extreme misery, or homelessness, there. Iranians are polite, well-educated and proud. They have to deal with complex exchange rates, which I do not understand. Whenever I pay in a café or taxi, I simply extend my hand full of local currency, and I never get cheated. Things are solid and reassuring there; I feel it and really appreciate it.

Iran is an internationalist country. Not unlike Cuba or Venezuela, who are its long-term allies. Even when injured, itself, it helps others, those who need solidarity even more. This can never be forgotten, particularly in places like Latin America, or Syria.

Hezbollah, Iran’s close ally in the Middle East, is fighting the most dangerous terrorist groups in Syria; those groups that have been injected there by the West, but also by Washington’s allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But Hezbollah is also essentially the only social net for the poor in Syria’s neighbor – Lebanon. And not only for the Shi’a Muslims, but also for the disadvantaged Sunni citizens, for the Christians, and non-believers. Whoever is destitute in Lebanon comes to Hezbollah for assistance. I was based in Beirut for five years, and I know what I am talking about. All this, while the Lebanese elites are burning money in Paris, in Nice, in the nightclubs of Beirut, driving their lavish cars through the slums. And the more Iran and Hezbollah help the region, the more frustrated, outraged and aggressive the West gets.

Look at Palestine. When it comes to the liberation of the Palestinian people from the long and brutal Israeli occupation, the Gulf countries just talk and talk. In the end, some of them side with the West and Israel. The closest, the most determined allies of the long-suffering Palestinian people in the region, are, without doubt, Iran and Syria. That, everybody in the Middle East, knows, and it is only “a secret” to Westerners.

In Afghanistan, particularly in Herat, I witnessed long lines of Afghan people in front of the Iranian consulate. Devastated by the NATO occupation, Afghanistan is in despair, rated as a country with the shortest life expectancy in Asia, and the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) on the Asian continent. Tens of thousands of the Afghan people have been travelling to Iran in search of jobs. Without Iran, Herat would most likely starve to death. And now, Iran is searching for ways, (together with China and Russia), how to help Afghanistan to find a political solution, and send the NATO forces packing.

For years, all the Socialist countries of Latin America could always rely on Iran. Be it Bolivia, before the legitimate government of Evo Morales was overthrown, or Cuba and especially Venezuela. Iran has been building social housing, it was helping with oil technology, and with many other social essentials.

Iraq and Iran, two great nations, in the past brutally pitched against each other by Washington, are once again cooperating, working together. The Western occupation has already thoroughly ruined Iraq (as it has ruined Afghanistan), historically one of the richest countries in the region. However, more positively Iran gets involved in neighboring Iraq, the more aggressively the West behaves. It now habitually crosses all the lines of acceptable behavior. In January 2020, a U.S. drone strike murdered Iran’s national hero, General Quasem Soleimani, while he was travelling right near the Baghdad International Airport.

For years now, Iran has been standing shoulder to shoulder with Russia, China, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba; the nations which are openly and bravely deterring the aggression and brutality of Western imperialism.

Iranian cinema, world famous. Filming on the streets

It seems that no matter what the West tries to do, Iran cannot be broken. Despite the embargos and sanctions, it demonstrates that it is capable of producing and shooting satellites into space, or of producing its own medical equipment to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. While the nation creates its great scientific and technological achievements, Iranian filmmakers keep producing their cinematic masterpieces. What a nation!

Unfortunately, all this is hidden from the eyes and ears of the public, both in the West and in the client states. There, Iran is portrayed as a “threat”.

*****

Look at this irony. On April 30, 2020, Reuters released a report about the German move to ban Hezbollah:

Last December, Germany’s parliament approved a motion urging Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to ban all activities by Hezbollah on German soil, citing its “terrorist activities” especially in Syria.

On a trip to Berlin last year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped Germany would follow Britain in banning Hezbollah. Britain introduced legislation in February of last year that classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

When the West says “Terrorist activities, especially in Syria”, what it really means is “fighting the terrorism injected by the West and its allies, into Syria”. Everything is twisted, perverted and turned upside-down by the propaganda outlets operating out of the United States, Europe, Israel and the Gulf.

“Terrorist activities” outside Syria, also means supporting the Palestinian struggle for independence, as well as at least moral support for Syria in its attempts to regain the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, an occupation which has never been recognized, even by the United Nations. It also means helping Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Latin American countries, which are brutalized (or should we say ‘terrorized’) relentlessly by Washington and its allies.

This is precisely the logic and lexicon which was used by German propagandists during WWII to describe resistance forces in its colonies. Freedom fighters and partisans were labeled as terrorists in France, Yugoslavia, Ukraine.

*****

Even the otherwise mainstream newspaper – The Independent – published on May 1, 2020 a report critical of the bizarre U.S. scheming against Iran:

The United States is pushing ahead with a scheme to extend a United Nations arms embargo on Iran that is due to be lifted in October as part of the nuclear deal that Washington abandoned two years ago.

To force the extension, Washington will attempt to lobby the Security Council to continue the arms embargo, which bars weapons sales to or from Iran.

But it also is making what legal experts and diplomats describe as a convoluted argument that it is still part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action it left, and hence able to use one of its provisions to “snapback” the embargo.

This weird political somersault has been, according to The Independent, criticized even by one of Washington’s allies, the French President Emmanuel Macron:

China and Russia have already vowed to use any means to block the US plan. France’s Emmanuel Macron has been working behind the scenes to sabotage the Trump scheme because of what it sees as an attempt by the White House to destroy international legal norms, said a well-placed European diplomat.

France, the U.K., Germany and other EU countries are not necessarily happy with Washington’s foreign policy towards Iran, but their outrage is far from being moral indignation. Iran is big and it is far from being poor. European companies are losing billions of euros in trade because of the sanctions. For instance, in the recent past, two Iranian airlines were ready to purchase large numbers of brand-new Airbus aircraft, in order to compete with Qatar Airways and the Emirates. Such plans collapsed because of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, and the almost immediate imposition of new, senseless but brutal sanctions against Teheran. Now even Mahan Air, a civilian airline, is facing sanctions, allegedly because of its flights to Venezuela, and to several Middle Eastern destinations.

*****

Now, many are perhaps wondering what triggered in the West such hate towards Iran?

There is a well-hidden (again, in the West) secret regarding Iran: “It is a Socialist country. Socialist with Iranian characteristics.”

In his latest and by all means ground-breaking book about Iran (“Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism”), which our publishing house Badak Merah will be publishing later in May 2020, an Iranian author and the PressTV Paris chief correspondent, Ramin Mazaheri, passionately defends the Iranian socialist concept:

I think that if open-minded leftists would simply become aware of the facts and… modern socialist interpretations of Iran’s policies – many of which I’m sure are being presented in English for the first time – I’m sure that they would not be waiting breathlessly for the collapse of the Middle East’s greatest bulwark against imperialism and capitalism.

It is urgent that Western leftists understand that the reversal of Iran’s popular, democratic revolution would have incredibly negative ramifications for the anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East, and thus the global anti-imperialist movement, and it certainly would be the cruelest loss for Islamic Socialism, which is taken quite seriously in the Muslim world even if atheistic Trotskyism cannot even discuss the concept without resorting to insults.

And, of course, a counter-revolution in Iran would be a major blow for global democracy, as there is no doubt that the Iranian People support their revolution, constitution and unique system in a democratic majority.

Like Russia and China in Euro Asia and in Asia, like Venezuela, Cuba and before the coup, Bolivia, Iran is spreading hope and revolutionary optimism in its entire part of the world. And it is an extremely wounded part of the world where hope is absent but desperately needed.

Spreading hope – that is never forgiven by the Western empire which, like some gigantic and sadistic prison warden, constantly demands submission while spreading depression and fear.

In the entirety of modern history, Iran has never invaded, never attacked anyone. Iran is a peaceful nation. But at the same time, it is a powerful, brave and proud country.

The United States and its turbo-capitalist regime understand brutal force, only. They do not comprehend, do not appreciate cultural nuances, let alone depth. Pity! There is so much to learn from Iran and its culture.

Iran will not attack anyone. That is clear as is proven by history. But if physically confronted, it will defend itself, and its people. It will fight, well and bravely.

The West should know: if it triggers a war with Iran, the entire Middle East will be consumed by terrible fire.

*****

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook,  a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Why is Mike Pompeo risking a One-day Trip to Israel Amid the Pandemic?

As part of its battle against Covid-19, Israel has closed it borders to foreigners and imposed a two-week quarantine on anyone entering the country. There are also strict requirements to wear masks in public places.

Israel, however, has thrown the rules – and caution – to the wind in approving the arrival on Wednesday of the one of the world’s most powerful statesmen.

It seems strange timing – with the world hunkered down – for the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to be making an urgent, lightning visit to a tiny country in the Middle East. But then Israel-US relations have never been normal.

Pompeo’s arrival has been preceded by assurances that no one will be put in danger. The one-day visit would be “highly choreographed” to ensure it was “very, very safe”, a senior medical adviser told the media on the weekend.

One might wonder why – given the need for a medical team, for screening beforehand of the flight crew and state department staff, and for Israel’s intricate arrangements to ensure social distancing – it is so important right now for Pompeo to meet in person the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Could they not have just chatted on a secure phone line and avoided all the hullabaloo?

It may not be entirely coincidental that Pompeo’s visit comes the day before Netanyahu’s fourth consecutive government will be sworn in after a year of inconclusive Israeli elections.

Pompeo will be able to congratulate him in person, as well as Netanyahu’s adversary-turned-coalition partner Benny Gantz, a former general who will serve as defence minister. Gantz is expected to become prime minister in 18 months’ time under a rotation agreement approved by Israel’s Supreme Court last week.

Now with a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu is keen to forge ahead with his long-delayed political priorities while Donald Trump is still in the White House and offering a near-blank cheque.

Trump, meanwhile, wants Israel in lockstep with his own priorities as he takes on the presumed Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, in November’s presidential election.

With his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic coming in for increasingly tough criticism, Trump will need all his electoral bases shored up. Keeping Netanyahu happy will be key to bringing out the fervently pro-Israel, Christian evangelical vote that helped him win in 2016.

Top of the pair’s official agenda are discussions about the pandemic and Iran’s influence on the region. But Israeli media have been full of reports that even more prominent will be talks about annexation of the West Bank.

Regarding Iran, both wish to see its influence diminished, and are determined to prevent a stringent sanctions regime being eased on humanitarian grounds, as Tehran struggles against a mounting death toll from the virus. Both are also gearing up for a campaign to renew an arms embargo on Iran when it expires in October.

But things get trickier in relation to Syria, Israel’s northern neighbour, where Iran is in a contest with Russia for influence over Damascus.

The US has been supportive of Israel stepping up attacks on Iranian positions in Syria, with at least six airstrikes alone in the past two weeks. Both would like to see Tehran denied any say in the post-war rebuilding of Syria.

But their agreement is less clear-cut about Russia filling any vacuum left by Iran’s departure.

The US state department is still in thrall to a Cold War agenda of containing Russia and treating it chiefly as a military threat.

Israel’s approach is more ambivalent. Reportedly on good terms with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu cannot afford to antagonise a great power on his doorstep.

He also needs to weigh Moscow’s influence over 1.2 million Russian speakers who immigrated to Israel in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago and usually support his right wing bloc.

Fault lines with Washington could quickly open over Syria, where Russia is angling to turn Bashar Al Assad’s government into a client state, guiding and controlling economic and military reconstruction.

Moscow wants Iran out of Syria nearly as badly as Israel and the US, and has been turning a blind eye to Israel’s attacks. For that reason, a Russian-controlled Syria may prove the least of all bad options for Israel.

For the US, on the other hand, it would allow Putin an escape hatch from the box into which Washington has been progressively corralling Russia over the past 30 years. Should Moscow make a success of rebuilding Syria, its influence might grow in the region’s other war-ravaged areas – from Iraq to Libya and Yemen.

Discussions are likely to be less contested on the issue of annexing swaths of the West Bank, as envisioned by Trump’s Middle East “peace plan”.

Last month, shortly before Netanyahu finalised his new coalition, Pompeo stated of annexation that “the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions” – apparently unconcerned by how the Palestinians might view their land, and a future Palestinian state, being stolen from them.

The coalition agreement allows Netanyahu to advance annexation any time from July – well ahead of the US elections. But Trump will expect close coordination in order to maximise the benefits in the final stages of his re-election campaign.

The fly in the ointment could be Gantz. He has not opposed annexation but has said it must happen with US approval and in ways that maintain regional stability and do not jeopardise Israel’s peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt.

Most likely, Pompeo will use his visit to sound out Gantz more closely now he is inside the government and, if needs be, gently lean on him – on Netanyahu’s behalf – to ensure he doesn’t publicly waver on annexation from within the coalition.

With Gantz as defence minister, and his colleague Gabi Ashkenazi, another former general, as foreign minister, any dissension could embarrass the US administration just as it is trying to sell annexation as a peace move in skeptical foreign capitals.

Pompeo and Netanyahu – whether masked or not – may prefer to give away little beyond platitudes about their discussions, but events on the ground may soon tell the full story.

• First published in The National

Cold War of Trump/Navarro v. China: More Dangerous than COVID-19

It is getting ugly, extremely ugly.

It is increasingly looking like a war – at least a new ‘cold’, ideological war.

But in the shadow of COVID-19, it goes almost unnoticed.

The blind horseman, who hates China intuitively, without knowing hardly anything about it, is leading the pack, pushing his president into a confrontation with the most populous country on Earth. His name is Peter Navarro.

Not that the president is ‘innocent’. Under him, the White House has become a haven of bigotry, of anti-Chinese racist sentiments. Here, not only China, but also Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and Russia are hated. It was already converted into the global headquarters of the combat against the much more logical and humane, socialist, systems.

Red warning lights are blinking. All indicators are pointing downwards; economic ones, social ones, as well as medical. More disastrous is domestic policy of the Empire, more aggressively it behaves towards the world. U.S. warships are repeatedly being deployed near Taiwan and the South China Sea. They are right near the territorial waters of Iran and Venezuela.

And the insults, terrible insults, are flying.

Trump and Navarro are abusing China publicly, with no shame. There is no diplomacy and no restraints. Nation which just a few months ago stood alone, facing an unknown enemy, battling and at great cost but rapidly defeated the pandemic all over its vast territory, is now smeared day after day.

All this is being done shamelessly and arrogantly.

The world is watching. Part of it in disbelief and outrage, and the other part lethargically and submissively as always.

On April 19, 2020, the New York Post reported:

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Sunday called on China to prove that a Wuhan laboratory played no role in the coronavirus pandemic — and accused the nation of hoarding personal protective equipment and profiting off the outbreak.

Navarro took aim at China on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” accusing the country of taking several actions that worsened the ongoing crisis and “led to the deaths of many people worldwide.”

First of all, the virus was spawned in China. Second of all, they hid the virus behind the shield of the World Health Organization. The third thing they did was basically hoard personal protective equipment and now they’re profiteering from it,” Navarro said.

U.S. President Trump, perhaps taking Navarro’s advice, has already cut all funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), something until recently unimaginable, considering that the Planet is in the middle of a war with the virus, and the WHO is at the frontline of it. But the WHO is being accused of “colluding with Communist China”, which this administration increasingly sees as its greatest enemy.

One day later, on 20th April, 2020, Reuters carried a report about Peter Navarro’s accusation of China for withholding data on COVID-19:

One of the reasons that they may not have let us in and given us the data on this virus early, is they’re racing to get a vaccine and they think this is just a competitive business race, it’s a business proposition so that they can sell the vaccines to the world,” Navarro told Fox Business Network.

But we’re going to beat them. We’re going to beat them because of President Trump’s leadership. We’re going to beat them because HHS has already got a five-company horse race,” said Navarro, referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The attacks against China are bordering on hysteria. Trump and his advisors appear to be thoroughly desperate.

And this extreme desperation, this fear of losing a grip on power, all over the world, is extremely dangerous for the survival of humanity.

China, but also Russia, have been extremely patient. They use diplomacy, instead of threats and insults. They are observing the behavior of the U.S. leaders with certain amusement, as if it was the behavior of a spoiled child who is throwing a tantrum. But their patience has boundaries. Once the U.S. attitude begins harming the lives of Chinese or Russian citizens, two big and independent countries will be forced to act. And the U.S. is pushing, as if, paradoxically, the confrontation was the only chance for its survival.

It is pushing, provoking, on all fronts: from the South China Sea and Taiwan to Hong Kong, from Venezuela to Iran, from insulting China and Russia, to a bizarre battle already being fought on the COVID-19 front.

One scratch, one tiny error in the Iranian territorial waters, or in the South China Sea, and the fragile peace may go up in flames. Nerves are stretched.

The world had been tolerating, uneasily but tolerating, the aggressive behavior of Washington, for years and decades. But now, with the COVID-19 confusion, and with the imminent global economic and financial collapse, almost all countries are extremely edgy. This is not the same world as we knew it to be just a year ago. Trump, Navarro and the others in their ‘camp’ should pay close attention, if they want to avoid a global tragedy.

Unfortunately, they do not seem to be trying to avoid a conflict. They are trying to provoke one, by all means!

*****

This has to be repeated, again and again: You cannot call China, a country which was first attacked by the coronavirus, and which defeated it, alone and with great determination and sacrifice, “a country which infected the world”, or “a country which is profiteering from the crisis”. That would be insane, incorrect, and thoroughly vulgar.

If anything, China has helped almost the entire world to fight this pandemic. It also quickly shared expertise, and helped those nations which have been hit the most, with both advice and invaluable medical equipment.

Statements such as those of the White House trade adviser Peter Navarro calling on China to prove that a Wuhan laboratory played no role in the coronavirus pandemic, are extremely irresponsible and dangerous, and could easily lead to dire consequences.

Many experts worldwide, actually believe that it was the U.S. that brought the virus to China. Earlier, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted one of the theories, which says that it was the US military that brought the new coronavirus to the central city of Wuhan.

But in the end, the Chinese officials decided not to point fingers in the direction of Washington, at least for now, as these are extremely explosive topics and exceptionally volatile times.

The United States, however, has misread these wise and conciliatory moves of the Chinese government and the Communist Party, as weakness. It has turned the tables around, and began the lowest imaginable set of ideological attacks, obviously convinced of its invincibility.

Eventually, Washington crossed all the lines. And now it has become almost certain that its propaganda salvos will not go unanswered.

*****

The attacks against China are unjust and racist.

They smell of cultural supremacy and of a superiority complex.

The Western world in general, and the United States in particular, have brought death and destruction to hundreds of millions of human beings, all over the world. Washington has no moral mandate to lecture any country on our planet, particularly not China, which has no history of imperialism or harming humanity.

“Hiding facts”, or using chemical and biological warfare is something that is in line with Washington and its ‘foreign policy’. China has no chronicle of such behavior.

One should just recall Indochina, Iraq, Cuba and many other places, to see what Washington is capable of.

Both Trump and Navarro are thoroughly ignorant about China. Navarro’s lack of knowledge about the country he keeps smearing and provoking, has been exposed even by countless members of the (otherwise obedient) U.S. academia.

For both Trump and Navarro, China is the most convenient political and economic punch bag. It is governed by the Communist Party, it is greatly successful, both economically and socially. And it owes its success to the enthusiasm and hard work of its people, not to colonialism or imperialism, not to the plundering of other nations. Therefore, it is offering a totally new alternative model to our planet. And alternatives are not allowed, by Washington, London and Paris.

In summary: to the neocons and Western supremacists, China is the greatest nightmare. It clearly shows that different world is possible.

*****

The old fundamentalist ideological theology of the West reads: “If you cannot compete with it, smear it; destroy it!”

By now, it is all way beyond even pretending there is something like fairness and ‘objectivity’. How Washington behaves, has nothing to do with the concern for our world, and for the people inhabiting it.

It is all raw, brutal and bad-mannered. It is all about dominance; about not losing that dominance.

Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, Navarro, Bannon… many others. They are present-day crusaders. Fighters for the white race, and the Western “culture” of expansionism. Their deeds are not often defined in this manner. But there is hardly any more honest way to describe what these individuals are trying to achieve.

*****

And the present pandemic? What is happening around us is predominantly not about saving lives. The fight against COVID-19 has become an ideological war, a murky economic war, not a war for the survival of millions of human beings.

Again, and again, China, Russia as well as Cuba have clearly demonstrated where they stand. Their airplanes brought hope and desperately needed help. Grateful Italians sung the Chinese national anthem. Many in the U.S. began paying attention to Russian humanitarian airlifts. Cuba sent its legendary medical brigades to some of the hardest hit areas of the world.

The response from the West? Ungrateful, repulsive cynicism. Even some Italian reporters opted for writing sarcastic pieces questioning the Russian and Chinese altruism.

U.S. politicians were quick to begin disputing the fact that Russian aid to New York was fully free, or at least half free, in some cases.

While Trump was snatching the deliveries of Chinese medical equipment bound for Germany and other countries, from transit airports in Thailand and elsewhere; while he was trying to literally bribe a German pharmaceutical company, so it would produce COVID-19 vaccine exclusively for the United States, while the EU showed no solidarity with Italy and other members when the solidarity was most needed, China, Russia and Cuba displayed grace under pressure, behaving like human beings, like responsible members of the international community.

That, precisely that; this tremendous contrast between two world systems, during the hour of great global crises, had to be covered up by Washington, so, god forbid, the world would not notice that there is something essentially wrong with the North American and European imperialist regime, and its extreme, fundamentalist capitalism.

People like Mr. Navarro or Mr. Trump cannot see the world in any other way, anymore; only through the paradigm of profits, control and supremacy. Instead of cleaning their own house, and improving their regime, they rather smear and attack those who are building a much better world.

*****

We are still not sure what real danger COVID-19 represents. We cannot precisely calculate the mortality rate, or spread of the pandemic. We can only guess how many millions of lives will be ruined by the global economic downfall.

But we know what a confrontation between U.S. and China or between U.S. and Russia would bring.

We also know what Washington’s novel Cold War combatants are counting on: that Beijing and Moscow (but also Teheran, and others) will accept anything; that in order to save the planet, they will always back up, trying to de-escalate tensions with the West. After all, it has been like that, up to now.

But lines are being crossed.

The recent statements, insults uttered by Trump and Navarro, accusing China of spreading the virus, or even manufacturing it in its labs, are pushing Beijing too far. It is like defying logic, and then spitting in the faces of the true victims, and those heroes who fought and died at the frontline in Wuhan, for their city, their country, and the world.

Such lies, such insults can never be forgiven.

What next? Washington may now impose more of the insane sanctions, then bring its NAVY to the South China Sea, or near Taiwan, and keep funding rioters in Hong Kong, as well as Uyghur terrorists in Syria… It is actually precisely what it is doing right now.

But watch out! Trump and his people are playing with fire. They are not almighty, not anymore. A few weeks more of this, and they may inherit the storm, such a terrible storm, that it could make even COVID-19 look like a gentle breeze.

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook,  a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The Endless Cruelty of US Sanctions: The US Interception of Chinese Medical Supply to Cuba

Enhanced transcript on an interview with PressTV

Background

Cuba complained recently that a shipment of test kits, masks and respirators, donated by the Chinese Alibaba group, didn’t arrive because the American company tasked with transportation feared breaching U-S sanction rules. Washington imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1962 after the island nation nationalized its oil industry. The measures have been denounced by the United Nations 28 years in a row.

PressTV:  What are your views on this?

Peter Koenig:  First, there are no words to describe the cruelty of this and many other similar acts by the United States, to utilize this pandemic to tighten the screws even more on sanctioned countries like Cuba and Venezuela and Iran, and many others, by blocking vital medical supplies from reaching these countries’ medical staff and hospitals to treat patents. The blockage of this medical supply may cause even more deaths from a virus that most likely originated in the US.

But did you know that this worldwide pandemic was planned for years, and its last step before it was launched was Event 201, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (created and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation), by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Economic Forum, the club of the ultra-oligarchs that meet every January in Davos, Switzerland.

The event took place on October 18, 2019, in New York City and produced a number of pandemic simulations, exactly with a corona virus which, for the simulation strangely and coincidentally, was called 2019-nCoV. Later the name was changed by WHO into COVID-19. The result of the simulation produced 65 million deaths in 18 months, a stock market collapse of more than 30% and an insane number of unemployment and bankruptcies. What we are living now is exactly that; in fact, we are seeing just the tiny top of the iceberg.

This was a planned worldwide destruction of the socioeconomic fabric and all that depends on it. It was an attempt of the few powerful on top of the pyramid — the Dark Deep State — to plunge the bulk of the world population into a never before seen misery, and, of course, as always, it will affect poor countries more than the rich.

Having said this, the illegal US blockage of Cuba for almost 60 years, which we all know is inhuman and cruel and against all international laws and standards.

The UN has voted against this illegitimate blockade against Cuba for almost 30 years in a row. Of the 193 UN members, 191 voted against the continuation of the blockade. The exceptions were the US and Israel.

This entire world body voting against the US sanctions represents more than 99% of the world population. Yet, it does nothing against the US and its sanctions and embargos on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia, North Korea – and many more. Currently about 30% of the world population are affected in one way or another by US sanctions. Why doesn’t the entire world collectively sanction the US?

I know, this is a pipe dream. But it’s a possibility. Especially now that the world economy is about to collapse because of the draconian measures almost every government of the globe has taken to fight the corona virus. We have literally created “planet lockdown”. Now that we may enter into an entire new socioeconomic paradigm, is the time for the 99.9% of the population, to apply the shock doctrine in reverse. It would be the moment for the 191 countries of the UN body to take control and start sanctioning the US, until the ruthless empire becomes a normal respectable nation.

PressTV Question:  In December 2014 Obama initiated the “Cuban Thaw” and in July 2015 reestablished diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana. What happened after that?

PK:  First, I think we have to see this new “overture” by Obama like many other initiatives he took — a dishonest move. It foremost was to put officially US spies and US propaganda agents into the newly reopened US Embassy, because the loosening of the embargo was never part of the deal. There was not even a plan when that might happen.

Then came Trump, a ferocious anti-socialist, anti-everything-that-is-not capitalist fanatic. He also immensely dislikes Obama and wanted to undo as much as possible of what Obama managed in his eight years at the helm in Washington. So, instead of talking about the next steps of loosening the embargo, as the Cubans rightly expected, Trump tightened the screws on the sanctions invoking the strengthening of the Helms-Burton act. This US federal law is a mere strengthening of the sanctions and embargo against Cuba.

Then under a ridiculous pretext that Cuba poisoned US embassy staff with an unidentifiable hearing disease, Washington withdrew almost all staff from the Embassy. But the official Cuban Washington relation is still on the records, and the Embassies nominally in place.

Since then, Trump and his various advisors and spokespeople have repeatedly declared that President Trump will not tolerate any socialism in the world, and especially not in “his” Hemisphere; that he will eradicate Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as we know them. That has so far not happened. We’ll see. These countries’ resistance is much stronger than the Trump ideologues are capable of imagining.  So much for the Obama “opening” to Cuba.

Solidarity in a Time of Pandemic, while the US capitalizes on Disaster

Like most everyone else, I don’t get out much lately due to shelter-in-place. But when I walk around my community, I am heartened by neighbors asking if there is anything we might need. I suspect this scenario is taking place everywhere.

Around the world amidst the pandemic, people step out at a mutually designated evening hour to make noise in a collective show of gratitude for heroic frontline healthcare workers. In New York City and Rome, they bang pots and pans. They’re cheering from rooftops in London and Vancouver. Elsewhere they sing in harmony. Here in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, we emerge at dusk to howl like coyotes.

What we are seeing is not social distancing but people coming together…while maintaining the prescribed 6-foot physical distancing. Our enforced physical isolation has paradoxically awakened a deeper appreciation of our commonality and mutual dependence, echoed by the response of nations other than the US.

International solidarity

Cuba has sent over 700 health professionals all over the world to fight COVID-19. The antiviral recombinant Interferon alfa-2b, developed in Cuba, has been successfully used in China to treat the virus in its early stages and is being exported widely. The Cuban approach is: “we don’t just give what we have left over but share what we have.” In a word, solidarity.

The Venezuelan air force mobilized to carry Cuban medical brigades to Caribbean counties fighting COVID-19. Venezuelan soldiers mustered not to their guns but to sewing machines to stitch surgical masks for civilians to protect them from the virus. This is being done in the context of ever-tightening sanctions on Venezuela by the US, blockading Venezuela at a cost of over 100,000 lives.

China, having contained its own outbreak in an effort the World Health Organization (WHO) praised as unprecedented, sent critically needed respirators and other medical equipment to 35 other countries and regions. Responding to shortages in the US, China flew in tons of medical equipment to New York,  Illinois, Ohio, and other US states. Russia airlifted 60 tons of needed ventilators, masks, and respirators to the US and has aided other countries in the global effort to contain the pandemic.

In the same spirit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire: “There should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against COVID-19…[to] end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.” Over 70 nations have endorsed the ceasefire, as did Pope Francis and religious leaders of diverse faiths, but not the US.

“The war on this virus can only be successful if all nations can win this war together, and no affected nation is left behind,” wrote Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an open letter to the American people. “This is the other side of the globalization coin; a signal that happiness and calamity are both globalized.”

Washington has seen the pandemic as an opportunity

The virus does not discriminate, attacking oppressed and oppressor alike. Unfortunately, the US government does more than discriminate. Washington has seen the pandemic as an opportunity.

The US government is exploiting the pandemic as an opportunity to increase misery in Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Syria and other countries the world’s hegemon doesn’t care for. And these besieged states are not alone. One-third of humanity is under ever increasing US sanctions. These unilateral coercive measures, illegal under international and domestic law, are explicitly designed to cause the targeted people to suffer so much they will reject their leaders for those chosen for them by the US.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone and human rights law professor Dan Kovalik describe the US conduct as “weaponizing the virus” against targeted countries. As the US Peace Council reports, the countries targeted by the US “are finding it prohibitively difficult to protect and save the lives of their citizens in the face of the ongoing global emergency. These sanctions constitute crimes against humanity.” In short, sanctions kill.

The US has blocked medical aid to targeted countries. A shipment of test kits, masks, and respirators donated by the Chinese Alibaba group to Cuba had to be aborted, when the US transport company refused to deliver, fearing breaking the US blockade. Correspondingly the US has waged a campaign to force recipient countries to refuse Cuban medical assistance.

Venezuela, with COVID-19 already threatening, applied for an emergency $5 billion loan to combat the virus from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Under US pressure, the IMF denied the request.

Trump threatened to suspend the US contribution to the WHO, the main international body fighting the pandemic. WHO had appealed to the US to lift its sanctions preventing Iran from purchasing drugs and medical equipment. But the US had already rejected the binding but unenforceable ruling of the International Court of Justice (aka World Court) to lift sanctions on medical and humanitarian aid to Iran.

Likewise, the appeal by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for the US to suspend sanctions amidst the pandemic, because the “impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” fell on deaf ears.

The punitive policies of the US government are having the effect of spreading the coronavirus. In response, even close US allies such as the UK, France, and Germany have used the alternative trading tool, INSTEX, to circumvent the US sanctions and deliver humanitarian medical supplies.

At a time when resources are supposedly inadequate to respond to the health crisis in the US, the US Navy is being sent off the Venezuelan coast in the largest regional US military deployment in 30 years. Washington’s bogus claim, that Venezuela is conspiring to “flood the United States with cocaine,” is contradicted by the government’s own statistics that prove that the illicit drugs are coming overwhelmingly out of US client state Colombia, which has received over $10 billion of US aid.

The positioning of the US armada of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, among the world’s most expensive, is overkill for drug interdiction. But the warships, each armed with 56 Tomahawk cruise missiles, land-attack missiles, and anti-ship missiles, along with the deployment of ground Special Forces would be appropriate for threatening an invasion of Venezuela.

US officials claim that this spare-no-expense military exercise is necessary to “send a message” to Venezuelan President Maduro. But given Trump’s undeniable skills in the area, wouldn’t it be far more parsimonious to tweet him? Apparently not, because the US is also using the pandemic as a morbid backdrop for offensive actions in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Yemen, to name a few of the more prominent flashpoints engaging the US military. Besides tweeting might not work so well. Twitter, in service of the empire, has suspended the accounts of the minister of health and other top Venezuelan officials.

Gone viral is now a description of the human condition

The critical difference between an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and a ventilator used to treat COVID-19 is that there is no shortage of warships. This will remain the case so long as our bi-partisan foreign policy persists. Working people will be neglected, come pandemics, economic collapse, or both.

The larger question for our times, when “gone viral” is more than a figure of speech but is a description of the human condition, is posed by the New York Times: “Everything is awful. So why is the stock market booming?” The wealthiest member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and its chair, Jerome Powell, is similarly bullish: “There is nothing fundamentally wrong.”

Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute looked at precisely the same indicators as did Powell, but from the perspective of the other 99% of humanity, and exclaimed: “I don’t usually look at data releases and just start shaking…This is a portrait of disaster…It represents just incredible amounts of grief and suffering.”

The answer to the Times’ query is that the US empire, as leader of the capitalist world, finds ways to exploit disasters while failing to meet human needs.