During a press conference about US President Donald Trump’s recent trip to the Middle East, AFP journalist Dave Clark asked a department official why the US criticizes the Iranian elections and its record on democracy, but not Saudi Arabia.
The Manchester tragedy effected much more the future of Libya in so many ways than people realise. Western governments are forced to ask their intelligence agencies to refocus on Libya, a subject that had dropped in priority in both UK & US. Now due to the linkage particularly between Libyan former Al Qaeda fighters LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) and the Manchester suicide bomber who it has now been established was part of a cell(s), Libya has gone to the top of the priority list.
To put it into context, the power vacuum left by Gaddafi's regime’s fall subjected Libya to a power struggle among foreign state actors.
On one side, Qatar and Turkey, essentially meaning the Muslim Brotherhood Sect, have sponsored many Islamist militias, some of which are loyal to the internationally recognized albeit fragile Government of National Accord (GNA) also referred to as the Presidential Council (PC) in Tripoli. On the other side, Egypt, France, Jordan, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have backed the Libyan National Army (LNA), which Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar leads and fights for the Tobruk-based elected government, the House of Representatives (HoR).
The UAE designated the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) a terrorist organization in 2014, and the MB’s ascendancy in Libya and several MENA countries unsettled the UAE, Egypt and Saudi especially. These three countries would prefer MENA to be an MB-free environment.
Since mid-2014, the UAE has been a vital ally of Haftar’s. Not only has Abu Dhabi and Egypt provided Haftar’s forces with military supplies but the UAE and Egyptian Armed Forces have also carried out military strikes, land and air, against some of the LNA’s Islamist enemies. At the same time, by giving billions of dollars to Egypt’s government since 2013, cooperating with Cairo on defense issues, and working with the Kremlin to arm the LNA, Abu Dhabi has been the main coordinator with the Tobruk-based government’s foreign backers to strengthen Haftar's LNA.
Russia has played the greatest role in Libyan affairs covertly agreeing to all of Egypt's and UAE's support to Haftar, much more than the West appreciate and that influence continues to grow.
On May 2, Fayez al-Serraj, the GNA/PC head, met face-to-face with Haftar in Abu Dhabi for the two rival leaders’ second meeting following Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), the UN-mediated deal that established (and appointed its members) the GNA/PC in December 2015. All hailed the meeting of May 2nd as a milestone in Libya’s path toward resolving its civil war. Yet on the GNA/PC side, there were concerns that Serraj’s talks with Haftar could weaken the LPA instead of fix it. The two agreed to meet again the following week in Cairo under the coordination of the other very important player, President Sisi. Though Haftar turned up, Serraj did not. It is rumoured he recieved death threats from his own militias so Serraj went to bide his time by going to Guinea!
To be sure, the attack carried out by a GNA-aligned "third force" militia, backed according to some sources by Qatar, that massacred 141 LNA forces on May 18 underscored how the talks in Abu Dhabi represented a a slap in the face to Abu Dhabi as well as Haftar by the extremists.
The vindictiveness with which the Islamist, mainly Misratan, "third force" militia attacked the Brak al-Shat airbase, executing brutally one by one of the LNA recruits returning from the third anniversary of Operation Dignity, was for many the last straw.
The weak GNA/PC has no real control over large swathes of Libyan territory outside Tripoli, and even in that city routine clashes between different militias underscore the internationally recognized government’s weakness. Its ability to control powerful militias is doubtful given that the GNA/PC presides only notionally over Tripoli’s governmental structures, which are themselves in fact actually divided among numerous armed militias. Should the GNA/PC leadership in Tripoli agree to share power with Haftar, some militias loosely aligned with the GNA/PC could "switch" and support and even join Haftar's LNA.
The trigger for the very recent escalation in the civil war was no doubt the Le Brak massacre and therefore ultimately Libya may soon plunge into deeper violence and chaotic turmoil if diplomatic initiatives fail. In that event Haftar’s forces will attempt to seize control of Tripoli, even Misrata.
Haftar may cleverly choose to be less uncompromising. Time will tell. On one point Haftar will not compromise. And that is Qatar's support through its MB Libyan "agents." For him that is intolerable.
There is a window of opportunity in the near future for Libya’s warring sides to make room for each other and explore diplomatic avenues that would require concessions on the part of all involved actors. Hafter remains the best solution in many Libyans opinion but I believe he is more flexible than the West appreciates. This Ramadan period could be when that turning point occurs both militarily and diplomatically.
The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this. The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy.
Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review”.
The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years.
The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organisation which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida”.
The “smoking gun” is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaffi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.
Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on 22 May?
These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the 22 May attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology.
The Manchester atrocity lifts the rock of British foreign policy to reveal its Faustian alliance with extreme Islam, especially the sect known as Wahhabism or Salafism, whose principal custodian and banker is the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Britain’s biggest weapons customer.
This imperial marriage reaches back to the Second World War and the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The aim of British policy was to stop pan-Arabism: Arab states developing a modern secularism, asserting their independence from the imperial west and controlling their resources. The creation of a rapacious Israel was meant to expedite this. Pan-Arabism has since been crushed; the goal now is division and conquest.
In 2011, according to Middle East Eye, the LIFG in Manchester were known as the “Manchester boys”. Implacably opposed to Mu’ammar Gadaffi, they were considered high risk and a number were under Home Office control orders – house arrest – when anti-Gadaffi demonstrations broke out in Libya, a country forged from myriad tribal enmities.
Suddenly the control orders were lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one LIFG member. MI5 returned their passports and counter-terrorism police at Heathrow airport were told to let them board their flights.
The overthrow of Gaddafi, who controlled Africa’s largest oil reserves, had been long been planned in Washington and London. According to French intelligence, the LIFG made several assassination attempts on Gadaffi in the 1990s – bank-rolled by British intelligence. In March 2011, France, Britain and the US seized the opportunity of a “humanitarian intervention” and attacked Libya. They were joined by Nato under cover of a UN resolution to “protect civilians”.
Last September, a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry concluded that then Prime Minister David Cameron had taken the country to war against Gaddafi on a series of “erroneous assumptions” and that the attack “had led to the rise of Islamic State in North Africa”. The Commons committee quoted what it called Barack Obama’s “pithy” description of Cameron’s role in Libya as a “shit show”.
In fact, Obama was a leading actor in the “shit show”, urged on by his warmongering Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and a media accusing Gaddafi of planning “genocide” against his own people. “We knew… that if we waited one more day,” said Obama, “Benghazi, a city the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”
The massacre story was fabricated by Salafist militias facing defeat by Libyan government forces. They told Reuters there would be “a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda”. The Commons committee reported, “The proposition that Mu’ammarGaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence”.
Britain, France and the United States effectively destroyed Libya as a modern state. According to its own records, Nato launched 9,700 “strike sorties”, of which more than a third hit civilian targets. They included fragmentation bombs and missiles with uranium warheads. The cities of Misurata and Sirte were carpet-bombed. Unicef, the UN children’s organisation, reported a high proportion of the children killed “were under the age of ten”.
More than “giving rise” to Islamic State — ISIS had already taken root in the ruins of Iraq following the Blair and Bush invasion in 2003 — these ultimate medievalists now had all of north Africa as a base. The attack also triggered a stampede of refugees fleeing to Europe.
Cameron was celebrated in Tripoli as a “liberator”, or imagined he was. The crowds cheering him included those secretly supplied and trained by Britain’s SAS and inspired by Islamic State, such as the “Manchester boys”.
To the Americans and British, Gadaffi’s true crime was his iconoclastic independence and his plan to abandon the petrodollar, a pillar of American imperial power. He had audaciously planned to underwrite a common African currency backed by gold, establish an all-Africa bank and promote economic union among poor countries with prized resources. Whether or not this would have happened, the very notion was intolerable to the US as it prepared to “enter” Africa and bribe African governments with military “partnerships”.
The fallen dictator fled for his life. A Royal Air Force plane spotted his convoy, and in the rubble of Sirte, he was sodomised with a knife by a fanatic described in the news as “a rebel”.
Having plundered Libya’s $30 billion arsenal, the “rebels” advanced south, terrorising towns and villages. Crossing into sub-Saharan Mali, they destroyed that country’s fragile stability. The ever-eager French sent planes and troops to their former colony “to fight al-Qaida”, or the menace they had helped create.
On 14 October, 2011, President Obama announced he was sending special forces troops to Uganda to join the civil war there. In the next few months, US combat troops were sent to South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic. With Libya secured, an American invasion of the African continent was under way, largely unreported.
In London, one of the world’s biggest arms fairs was staged by the British government. The buzz in the stands was the “demonstration effect in Libya”. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry held a preview entitled “Middle East: A vast market for UK defence and security companies”. The host was the Royal Bank of Scotland, a major investor in cluster bombs, which were used extensively against civilian targets in Libya. The blurb for the bank’s arms party lauded the “unprecedented opportunities for UK defence and security companies.”
Last month, Prime Minister Theresa May was in Saudi Arabia, selling more of the £3 billion worth of British arms which the Saudis have used against Yemen. Based in control rooms in Riyadh, British military advisers assist the Saudi bombing raids, which have killed more than 10,000 civilians. There are now clear signs of famine. A Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes from preventable disease, says Unicef.
The Manchester atrocity on 22 May was the product of such unrelenting state violence in faraway places, much of it British sponsored. The lives and names of the victims are almost never known to us.
This truth struggles to be heard, just as it struggled to be heard when the London Underground was bombed on July 7, 2005. Occasionally, a member of the public would break the silence, such as the east Londoner who walked in front of a CNN camera crew and reporter in mid-platitude. “Iraq!” he said. “We invaded Iraq. What did we expect? Go on, say it.”
At a large media gathering I attended, many of the important guests uttered “Iraq” and “Blair” as a kind of catharsis for that which they dared not say professionally and publicly.
Yet, before he invaded Iraq, Blair was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that “the threat from al-Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq … The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly”.
Just as Blair brought home to Britain the violence of his and George W Bush’s blood-soaked “shit show”, so David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, compounded his crime in Libya and its horrific aftermath, including those killed and maimed in Manchester Arena on 22 May.
The spin is back, not surprisingly. Salman Abedi acted alone. He was a petty criminal, no more. The extensive network revealed last week by the American leak has vanished. But the questions have not.
Why was Abedi able to travel freely through Europe to Libya and back to Manchester only days before he committed his terrible crime? Was Theresa May told by MI5 that the FBI had tracked him as part of an Islamic cell planning to attack a “political target” in Britain?
In the current election campaign, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a guarded reference to a “war on terror that has failed”. As he knows, it was never a war on terror but a war of conquest and subjugation. Palestine. Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Iran is said to be next. Before there is another Manchester, who will have the courage to say that?
A decision by Donald Trump this Thursday could prove fateful for the immediate future of Jerusalem, the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region.
He must decide whether to renew a presidential waiver, signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, that expires on June 1. The six-month waiver delays implementing a law passed by Congress in 1995 that requires the US to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy there from Tel Aviv.
It is a law every president for the past 22 years has baulked at. It would pre-empt the Oslo accords and negate Washington’s assumed role as “honest broker”. Carrying out Congress’s wish would deny the Palestinians East Jerusalem, the only credible capital of a future Palestinian state.
But equally significantly, the law would recognise Israel’s efforts to claim sovereignty over the Old City’s holy places, especially the incendiary site of Al Aqsa mosque. That could provoke a conflagration both locally, among Palestinians, and more generally in the Middle East.
Trump’s key advisers are reported to be bitterly divided. Some, such as secretary of state Rex Tillerson, warn that, if the president fails to approve the deferral, his claims to be crafting the “ultimate deal” to bring peace to the region will be doomed from the outset.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies, including in the US Congress, are doing their best to pressure Trump in the opposite direction.
On Sunday, Netanyahu staged a provocative stunt, holding his weekly cabinet meeting in a tunnel under Al Aqsa mosque compound to announce measures to bring millions more Jewish visitors to the occupied Old City, including a new cable car to the edge of the mosque.
It was Netanyahu’s decision to open the Western Wall Tunnel in 1996, when he first became prime minister, that brought the Oslo process into almost terminal crisis at an early stage. Three days of clashes killed more than 100 Palestinians and 17 Israeli soldiers.
Next Tuesday, meanwhile, the US Congress and Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem are due to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Israel’s illegal occupation of the city in a ceremony conducted via video link.
The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that either Trump or vice-president Mike Pence are due to participate, in what could be interpreted as the first tacit recognition by the White House of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
That would be a continuation of Trump’s break with official US policy towards Jerusalem during his visit to the region last week. He became the first sitting president to visit the Jewish prayer plaza at the Western Wall, below Al Aqsa. It was unclear whether his advisers had explained that where he stood had been a Palestinian neighbourhood 50 years ago, before it was ethnically cleansed.
Trump stuffed a note into the wall, in what observers hoped was a plea for divine help in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the Western Wall visit was more probably an effort to placate his core supporters. Christian evangelicals paid for dozens of billboards across Jerusalem reminding Trump that he won the election only because of their votes – and that they expect the US embassy to be moved to Jerusalem.
The day after Trump’s departure, Netanyahu exploited the president’s attendance at the wall to further damage prospects for peacemaking. He made a provocative speech to mark “Jerusalem Day”, Israel’s annual show of strength in East Jerusalem.
He claimed that Trump had disproved the “lies” promoted by the United Nations cultural body, Unesco, when it voted this month to re-state that Jerusalem is occupied.
In truth, it was Netanyahu who indulged in gross mendacity, claiming that East Jerusalem had been “desolate” and “neglected” before its occupation. Israel had “redeemed” the city, he said, while Al Aqsa mosque would “always remain under Israeli sovereignty”.
His supporters tried to give that claim concrete expression by staging the largest-ever march through the Old City on Jerusalem Day. Palestinians were forced into hiding or fled early as police allowed 60,000 Jewish ultra-nationalists to besiege the heart of East Jerusalem.
In a sign of the power balance in Israel, a small group of 50 left-wing Jews – many from the US – linked arms to try to block the march at the Old City’s entrance. Footage showed police brutally arresting them, grabbing them in chokeholds and breaking one woman’s arm.
Jerusalem is the most intractable of the final-status issues set out in the Oslo process. Those expecting miracles of Trump are going to be disappointed. His commitment to pressuring Netanyahu is weak, while the Israeli prime minister’s commitment to making concessions is non-existent.
Whether Trump signs the waiver or not on Thursday, all indications are that the US president – faced with domestic pressures and an intransigent Israeli government – is going nowhere with his “ultimate deal”.
The only real question to be decided on Thursday is whether Trump prefers to take the fast or protracted route to failure.
A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.
It is a frightening historical moment, fraught with dangers and possibilities.
The big picture, in my view: the U.S. ruling class (in general) screwed up badly last year, and in the last (rigged as always) presidential election, mishandled this particular rigged election. It bungled the normal rigging process. So the candidate backed by the corporate media, academia, and Wall Street, the candidate who got the majority of votes, lost. The buffoon that had been offered as foil to the “most experienced” candidate—a woman finally poised to break that glass ceiling, fated to do so—actually won.
This is when many, in that tiny stratum comprising the U.S. ruling class, started recalling this old Bee Gees number around Nov. 9:
The bourgeois media immediately responded with shock and horror (what the hell just happened?). Increasingly, news anchors ridicule Donald Trump who keeps shooting himself in the foot through his 4:00 am tweets. The antics of daughter Ivanka and Jared Kushner have been criticized, and now Kushner is central to the “investigation into Russian ties.”
On this Russia thing: in fact, the January 6 report from the Director of National Intelligence, indicating evidence for Russian interference in the U.S. election, was entirely unconvincing. (It rested on the claim that the DNC and Podesta Wikileaks came via Vladimir Putin, and that their content—basically, the revelation that the Democratic primary process had been rigged against Sanders, and that the Dems had wanted the media to promote Trump, who’d be an easy opponent for Hillary). But watch the unfolding story of the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, who Wikileaks has implied was the origin of the leak…
But I think the report indicated an intention, by some forces within the “Deep State,” the injured and enraged Democratic Party leadership, the mainstream media and elements of the Republican Party to bring down the newly elected president on charges of illegal or inappropriate Russia ties. (Since these ties can include those of friends, campaign staffers or former staffers, with Russian businessmen or even “officials” who may or may not have some security ties. The net is wide.) The point seems to be to so intimidate Trump with accusations that he hesitates to deliver on his pledge to improve U.S.-Russia ties.
The entire political establishment is pledged to the Atlantic Alliance (NATO) and anxious about Trump’s occasional declarations that the alliance—which is surely in essence an anti-Russian alliance—is “obsolete.” His growling demand that NATO do more in the joint fight against terrorism, and his failure to publicly pledge support for Article 5 of the NATO agreement, surely troubles both U.S. and European establishments.
The new U.S. president has alienated key European allies, not so much because of his policies (which remain unclear and subject to sudden change), but due to his rudeness and unhinged personality. After the G7 summit Angela Merkel said Europe “can no longer rely” on the U.S.—specifically on the topic of climate change but by implication in general.
Relations between the EU and U.S., weakened by the UK’s withdrawal from the union (in which it advocated for Washington on such matters as Russia sanctions), will likely fray further while Europe seeks better ties with Russia. That much is good.
Having pledged during the campaign to avoid foreign wars, and having repeatedly advocated cooperation with Russia against ISIL in Syria, Trump established his presidential manhood April 7 with a missile attack on a Syrian government base. Fareed Zakaria said “he became president” by doing so. Brian Williams cheered the attack (probably based on another lie), citing (unforgivably) Leonard Cohen’s lyric about being “guided by the beauty of our weapons.” As though: Thank God, the man’s finally seeing reason and doing what presidents are supposed to do.
Trump’s first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia, where he avoided any criticism of human rights, told his hosts what they wanted to hear, and negotiated a $110 billion arms deal (which will, of course, provide jobs in the U.S.). But Congress may well fight the deal, particularly as it affects the murderous Saudi aggression in Yemen. Meanwhile I imagine some Trump supporters are scratching their heads about his Saudi trip. And about that visit with Chinese president Xi Jinping, and Trump’s announcement that China isn’t manipulating currency as he’d charged throughout the campaign.
The new regime, so young, has suffered embarrassing setbacks on the “Muslim ban” issue and obtained a reputation as a house in disorder. So many chief figures seem cartoonish. Ridicule is a powerful political force, and the Trump administration is being savagely ridiculed in popular culture. But then, the 35% still with Trump might not watch Saturday Night Live.
Trump does not have the intellect and discipline to head up a “fascist” regime. He has no coherent ideology other than the deep conviction that the universe revolves around his ego and the world longs to hear his wise tweets. He does not have a united party behind him. He does not openly advocate military conquests, as Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese military leaders did in the 1930s. He has a military dominated but divided cabinet. He is strangely dependent on his daughter Ivanka (35) and her husband Jared (36), whom he keeps by as comfort blankets during his meetings with foreign leaders. But these are Kim Jung-Uns: young, dumb and dangerous.
One can only imagine what Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Marcon talked about in Paris Monday. I imagine there was some discussion of the nature of the new U.S. leadership. Maybe even some traded thoughts on how the very weirdness and unpredictability of Trump force Europe to deal more independently with Russia. And what happens when Xi and Putin talk, or Putin and Shinzo Abe? They know the world is changing. The U.S. GDP as a proportion of the world’s total continues to decline. China’s GDP will soon exceed that of the U.S.; within decades the per capita income could exceed that of this country (as Japanese per capita income exceeded the U.S. figure ca. 1990). Chinese-Russian infrastructure cooperation will produce a Eurasian common market within the foreseeable future, and Washington can do little to stop this.
Trump presides (I think, briefly) over a period of general U.S. ruling-class confusion and decline, in which its inability to resolve the contradictions of capitalism—stop job flight, revive manufacturing, and give any hope to a generation condemned to low-paying service jobs while paying off school debt and living with their parents, etc.—plus its inability to shape the world as it was able to do for a brief period following the Cold War (boasting of the “end of history,” the final triumph of capitalism over socialism, the attainment of “full spectrum dominance”) given the rise of competitive powers, most notably China.
He can “make deals” with any number of foreign officials that can be triumphantly announced as U.S. job creation. But he won’t get China to stop South China Sea island construction, or Russia to withdraw from Crimea. He certainly won’t get Mexico to pay for any wall. I doubt that h’ell will be able to, or know how to, impede the expansion of Eurasian trade relations.
He is thrashing around, wondering how to give all these speeches, annoyed by his schedule, upset by his own staff, suspicious of cabinet members for disloyalty in leaking their details about a White House in disarray, worried about what may come of this “fake news” Russia investigation now focusing on his beloved and invaluable son-in-law.
My bet is that, while the Russia connections will prove to be quite insubstantial (to the normal person not predisposed to Cold War Russophobia), investigations of them will one way or the other lead to Trump’s impeachment or resignation and replacement with Pence (an even worse prospect). Pence, an homophobic, evolution-denying evangelical surrounded by all those generals, is more frightening than Trump. But whomever in the White House will have to deal with a world and alliances more divided than in decades, and despite the size of the its juggernaut, the U.S. is probably a shrinking paper tiger.
On the other hand, Trump is president, and if he feels cornered politically, could do something crazy to change the subject. He may crave Fareed Zakaria’s praise once again, and do something truly “presidential” by showing off the “beauty of our weapons” on the Korean peninsula. Therapists’ schedules are overloaded since the election.
With the Trump administration poised to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, a climate bill cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders and known as the “100 by ’50 Act” is sure to be back in the news. In April, Sanders called the bill, S.987, an important step in the fight against greenhouse warming. The leading climate advocacy group 350.org sees it as a Washington record-breaker, “the most ambitious piece of climate legislation Congress has ever seen.”
Well, maybe it does actually clear that decidedly low bar. But it is also far too little, too late to prevent climate catastrophe.
Worse, it would enshrine in federal legislation the false notion that by taking baby steps over a period of decades, our country and the world can avoid runaway greenhouse warming. That easygoing strategy is far too weak to handle the emergency we face. Only by pushing greenhouse emissions down to zero within a decade and at the same time building a fair society that can function well without fossil fuels can we keep the Earth livable.
The chance that S.987 will become law is of course vanishingly remote as long as we are stuck with the current Congress and White House. Indeed, with its lax provisions and leisurely timetable for cutting emissions, this bill seems to be designed around the assumption that we can afford to wait around for years or decades until there’s a more friendly political climate before taking dramatic action. We can’t. S.987’s passage would be a purely symbolic victory, whether it passes tomorrow or in 2019, 2021, or any other postelection year.
Consider one crucial source of emissions: electricity generation. The Merkley-Sanders bill would phase out fossil-fuel-fired power plants—but much, much more slowly than the Earth’s ice is melting. Coal and gas generation would decline from 70 percent of total electricity sales in 2022 to 12.5 percent in 2045, but total consumption would not be capped. Under the generous assumption that consumption stays steady despite population growth, the bill could permit an additional 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere between now and 2045. That’s approximately 33 billion more tons than we can afford under our already-exhausted carbon budget.
S.987 would reduce sales of fossil-fueled vehicles as a percentage of all sales, but without restricting the total number of vehicles sold. And the reduction would start only in 2030; the bill thereby foresees carbon-belching internal-combustion engines plying our streets and highways until well after 2050. It envisions keeping the personal car and truck at the center of our transportation system, the only change being an “electrification” of the vast national fleet. That will greatly increase the burden on power plants and push farther and farther into the future the day when we can meet all demand with 100% renewable electricity.
Merkley and Sanders deserve credit for laudable provisions in the bill that would support and protect low-income households during an energy transition; however, we need a much more thorough economic upending that puts the full burden on America’s most affluent 33 percent if climate justice is to be ensured. Otherwise, all S.987 offers other than its dawdling rules on power plants and vehicles are mostly toothless emissions “fees” and tax credits or subsidies for renewable energy or efficient technologies.
None of those provisions take into account the growing pile of evidence for why fossil-fuel burning must be driven down to zero throughout society on an emergency schedule through explicit regulation of production—of what is produced and how, as we did the wartime 1940s—and not just through guidelines, taxes, and incentives, none of which can guarantee reductions. Nor do they address the broader ecological destruction that must be reversed if climate chaos is to be avoided.
S.987 would do no more than America’s soon-to-be-defunct commitments under the Paris deal—a treaty that would have allowed catastrophic warming of more than three degrees Celsius even if America had stayed in. Both Paris and S.987 fly in the face of strong evidence that to maintain safe atmospheric carbon concentrations, emissions must be cut to near zero by 2030. Ironically, 2030 happens to be the year in which Merkley and Sanders would still be allowing 50% of new vehicles and electrical generation to be fossil fueled.
I can’t read the mind of anyone, especially a U.S. senator, but S.987 looks like it’s meant to be a compromise banner around which liberals and moderates can rally in these dark political times, and then to serve as a launching pad for action when action is possible down the road.
In fact, the bill makes for a lousy launchpad and looks more like a very efficient patch of quicksand. If something like the 100 by ’50 Act becomes law, it will be only after a protracted, politically bloody struggle that will make the battle over health care look like a Sunday School picnic. Then once it finally passes, greenhouse warming will hurtle on past acceptable limits anyway.
If we the people are willing to struggle long and hard to keep the Earth livable, we had better fight for a radical transformation that actually has a chance of hitting that goal. Otherwise, by the time any fight for half-measures succeeds in the halls of Congress, it will have already failed in the real world. By then, the buzzer will have sounded; there will be no time for a follow-up shot.
Stan Cox (@CoxStan) is an editor at Green Social Thought, where this article was first published. He is author most recently, with Paul Cox, of ‘How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, From the Caribbean to Siberia.’
I was 14 when I first saw the impossible white spine of the Northern Rockies. Nothing in my life up to that point had prepared me for their immensity, having been raised in tidy, fenced farm country of southeastern Pennsylvania. I was drawn into these strange and magical mountains as a hound tracks fresh scent. I did not ask why, I just went.
I would eventually traverse all 21 mountain ranges in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, some numerous times, particularly its most massive: Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Indeed, the spell of the wilderness has not been broken for me in nearly half a century.
The idea that these were public lands, that all citizens own and have responsibility for them, didn’t mean much at first. I was simply consumed by feelings – of freedom, of adventure, of being in touch with part of myself I did not know existed, of breaking the strict codes that came with a Quaker upbringing. And, of course, there were the wild animals like bison and grizzlies that had long since been killed off in the East, mostly in the name of “progress” and to protect private property.
Freedom was at the center of my family’s tradition, but it was of a different species, mostly focused on speech and religion, and the freedom of people from slavery. But the Quakers were all about owning property. We had a small farm. Caring for it – pulling weeds, picking rocks – was a regular chore. Indeed all the land I had known till I went West was owned and controlled by somebody.
At first, I did not fully grasp the distinction between public and private lands. That difference clarified for me when the oil and gas industry set its sights on one of my sacred wild places in the heart of the Absaroka Mountains – which I found out was only the beginning of a corporate slash and burn campaign that would reach across Montana and Wyoming during the late 70s. This was my land too, and I carried a responsibility to protect it – but not alone. I would learn that it takes a team — some with political savvy, or legal or scientific knowledge – but all on fire with love for the big Wild and outrage over the corrupt system that profited by wrecking it.
This battle against big oil and the successful ones that followed were fought on multiple fronts, using multiple angles. I do not recall one hero ever winning the day. It took many of us — mostly a rag tag assemblage of folks who lived nearby or who cared from afar. Even when I became a “professional” conservationist, I never ceased to be amazed at the power of ordinary people working collectively to stop even the largest multinational corporation in its tracks.
While the banner we fought under was “protecting the public lands,” for me and for others the real motivation was a deeply emotional connection rooted in lived experience in a wild place and, most often, in the company of wild animals. The most effective interns I trained over the years – and there were many — were often the ones with longest spiritual tap roots in a particular place, often with a particular animal. My animal was – and still is – the grizzly bear.
There were light moments, but most of the campaigns I was involved in during the last three decades were deadly serious, because the stakes were so high. We know how to destroy wilderness. We’ve succeeded in 99% of the country. We haven’t yet learned how to repair it. For me, the places we have lost to development, like parts of Wyoming’s upper Green River country, still feel like open wounds.
I have gone grey and bear the scars of decades battling for our public lands—our collective emotional space. Never did I imagine that anyone would be talking about selling them off to the highest bidder—as are the rabid ideologues who currently control Congress. There is no returning if we go down that path. The wild places that I love—that so many of us love—in Montana would be tamed and degraded forever.
The memory of a particular object, a red chert hand-axe, keeps me going sometimes. I found it high in the Bighorn Mountains, under an ancient whitebark pine, in the shadow of Cloud Peak. It fit perfectly in my right hand, as it must have in the person who made this hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago.
The Bighorns were the favorite haunts of Crazy Horse, the Lakota warrior who led the campaign that brought down Custer and the US Cavalry for a time. Native peoples had no concept of private vs public lands. The Earth was quite simply their mother. The connection to her was spiritual, which helps explain why they fought so hard to resist the European conquest.
The fight for the wild is now, as then, a fight for the human spirit and our freedom. Winning will take all of us.
This piece appeared as part of a beefy newspaper insert in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and other Montana papers last Sunday. “We Take Our Stand: Montana Writers Protecting Public Lands.
Macron “scooped the pool and decamped” in the second round of the French presidential elections, scoring an easy victory over Marine Le Pen. Her performance was in any case so bad in the last week of the pre-election campaign that it led some commentators to the conclusion that the National Front did not want to be required to govern.
We have to wait and see if Macron consolidates his victory in the parliamentary elections also. But already both the Socialist Party and the Right, the two traditional parties of power in the country, project a picture of total disintegration and decay, with their cadres leaping into the water like rodents from a sinking ship and heading for the safety of Macron.
Consummating the humiliation of France’s political class, former “socialist” Prime Minister Manuel Valls pronounced the Socialist Party dead and affirmed his transposition to the party of Macron, for which he said he intended to be a parliamentary candidate. Only to receive the public answer from the party of his former Minister that he must submit his application through the Internet, following the procedures applicable for everyone. Finally they told him that his services are not required.
But even if in the parliamentary elections he achieves the institutional omnipotence that is his dream, Macron and his ideas remain isolated and espoused by a minority in French society, as indicated by analysis of the results of the first and second round of the presidential elections. The capture of the GS & M factory by its workers, who threaten to blow it up as these lines are being written, is a reminder that the tasks the new President has been set, or has set himself, will not be in any way easy.
A man of the “Markets” and of “Finance”
Nobody should have any doubts about the determination of this former Rothschild banker to carry out his mission, which is none other than to be the Margaret Thatcher of France. In any case, if he was chosen for this role, it is precisely because he has been trained for decades in the most absolute discipline and because he does not seem to have any particular emotional ties with his own country. It is not a professional politician but a man of “the markets” and of Finance who has come to govern France. If there is anyone who is determined to display as much harshness as is necessary and to take as many risks as are necessary, that person is Macron.
His hagiographers are now proliferating in the French press at the speed of mushrooms in the forest after rain. Many would like to liken him to Napoleon. Aware, though, that they would run the risk of being ridiculed, they confine themselves to reminders that since the Emperor the country has never had such a young ruler.
But this Napoleon does not plan to start any war with the monarchs of Europe, who linked themselves together, funded – it is said – by Rothschild, to strangle revolutionary France. His campaigns will be on the domestic front, like those of Thiers. Recall also that the Paris Commune emerged from the refusal of the people of France to accept their country’s capitulation to Germany.
Macron’s appearance, the day that he won the election, was flawless. Even his arrogance evidently served as a reminder to the French that he came from the class that is destined to govern. His speech was a series of generalities, which could have been delivered a century in the past or a century in the future. Except at one point: where he skewered via the terms “extremisms” the Left and the far Right, serving notice that his aim was war against them.
The only half-way human spontaneous element of M. Macron on his day of victory was at the end of celebrations, his embarrassed laugh when he was the only one in the group not to sing the Marseillaise. Either he did not know the words or he could not sing them.
If there is one song that the ruling class of France hates it is the country’s national anthem, summoning the citizenry “to arms”. And the same applies for the national rallying emblem “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
The banker-President has come to disencumber the country of all of this type of thing. His amazing success: entering politics and becoming President of France within three years, is a reflection of the massive power, influence and potential of finance capital, the Empire of Davos, in our era.
At the international level, Macron’s victory discontinues, at least temporarily, the string of successes of the most radical wing of the Western establishment which, persuaded that Fukuyama-type “benign globalization” is not making much progress, decided to place its bets on the “Huntington model” of the war of civilizations.
This is probably Finance Capital’s “Plan B”. But after the election of Trump and the Brexit there came the Dutch, and now the French, elections, to curb (temporarily?) its impetus.
Macron’s victory gives the EU a reprieve, staving off the likelihood of a sudden death, even though it would be a mistake for anyone to assume that its crisis has been overcome.
And how could it overcome it when the predominant political forces on the continent, Berlin and the Commission, persist with insouciance of a Marie Antoinette, in the same policies of administering to the patient the medicine that is killing him.
A minority president
The new president was elected by a minority of French voters in absolute terms and many who voted for him did not endorse his program but wanted to block Le Pen.
* In contrast to Chirac, who won 82% of the vote against Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, Macron obtained only 65%.
* For the first time since 1969 participation in the second round smaller (by 3%) than in the first.
* Τhe 12% figure for spoiled or blank ballots was an absolute record for the Fifth Republic (in 2012 it was 5.8%)
* 42% of those with the right to vote supported Macron and of those, according to public opinion polls, only 55% agreed with his ideas.
The results of the first round are genuinely representative of the political preferences of the French, half of whom voted for political forces opposed to the European Union in its present form.
If we factor in the votes for “La France Insoumise”, Mélenchon, the left-wing Socialist Hamon and the two Trotskyist candidates, we see that they account for 27% of the votes in the first round, slightly more than the proportion of votes that went to the far right and the anti-systemic Right Gaullists of Dupon-Aignan. Even if we do not count Hamon, we are still speaking of more than 50% “anti-systemic” votes, in a European country of central importance.
Hamon, remember, supported policies which, if implemented, would have led to clashes with Brussels. The reason that we include him in an intermediate category is that he was clearly unwilling to proceed to a break with the EU for the sake of imposing them.
In other words 50-55% of voters favor “antisystemic” parties, whether of the Left, the Right or the extreme Right.
55% was also the percentage of the French who voted against the draft European Constitutional Treaty (in essence the Maastricht structure) in the 2005 referendum. But at that time there were no political subjects in France to articulate this “No”. And the deep structural economic crisis of 2008 had not yet broken.
France became the second country in the EU, after Greece, where the majority of citizens voted for parties declaring themselves to be “antisystemic”. Confirming that we are in a situation of profound and intensifying structural, not cyclical, crisis of Western capitalism and its political system, of a depth, though not of an intensity, comparable to that of the 1929 crisis.
As occurred in the 1930s, the crisis tends to generate radical political subjects on the left and the far right, particularly in relatively stronger countries such as France, Britain and the United States, which can more easily imagine relying on their own forces. In weaker countries radicalization has manifested itself mainly on the Left, as with SYRIZA and PODEMOS.
A geopolitical Weimar
Not only are there significant structural similarities between the socio-political crisis of today’s Europe and that of the Weimar Republic (1919-33) in interwar Germany. Geopolitically today Europe is also reminiscent of the 1930s and early 1940s. By all indications it is under German hegemony, with only two countries at the opposite extremes challenging the desiderata of Berlin: Putin’s Russia to the east, obliged almost against its will to resist the West. And to the west Britain, whose ruling class dreams of a more powerful role for London, for the benefit always of the rising “Empire of Finance” and the USA.
Italy comes over as the perennial opportunist and vacillator, as in the time of Mussolini, prior to his final decision to side with Hitler. Poland reminds us in some ways of Pilsudski’s heyday. Spain seems to have withdrawn into its own peninsula, as it did then. A special case on the European periphery is Turkey, which is bargaining for its international position, not to mention another non-European country, which did not exist in the interwar period, Israel, but exerts massive influence over European, and even more so Mediterranean, developments.
Of course “German hegemony” over Europe always remains under the supervision of Finance, of the IMF, of the USA and NATO, which take care from time to time to remind Berlin of the limits of the permissible, and to impose them.
France has for some time positioned itself in a stance of submission and subordination to Germany, somewhat reminiscent – naturally with all due allowances for the very different conditions – of the Vichy regime of General Petain.
France is now, mutandis mutandis, in the position Germany was towards the victors of the First World War. This is why there is a potential for developing both a leftist radical and a far right answer, as happened with Germany in the intrawar period, when it vacillated between the Left and Hitler, ending with the Nazis, given the incompetence and betrayal of both German Social Democrats and Communists.
France, Germany and the EU
In Berlin signs of relief greeted the election of Macron in preference to Le Pen. They were soon followed, however, by warnings both from Germany and from the Brussels Commission to the newly elected President not to expect relaxation of “fiscal discipline”.
Macron has the support of the “International of Finance”, of which he is any case a representative. But despite the fact that Berlin allied itself with this “International” to impose its priorities on Europe, the German Right has no desire to expend the German surpluses on assisting its allies or the revival of the European and international economy, despite the fact that Mr. Gabriel (but not Mr. Schulz) and certain Green politicians are beginning to flirt with the idea, judging that the maintenance of German hegemony requires somewhat greater flexibility.
It remains to be seen what Macron is going to do, given that he must on the one hand confront a very real, albeit dissimulated, “civilized” German nationalism and on the other prepare to proceed with the demolition of labour law in his own country.
The resurrection of the Left
France is a country that has made ten revolutions in two centuries. From the Popular Front to the post-war predominance of the Communist Party, from the Trotskyists’ struggle for the Algerian Revolution up to May 1968 and the Socialist Party’s electoral victory in 1981, the Left has set its seal on the country’s history.
Many believed that this tradition has died, along with the distinction between Left and Right, with the total capitulation of the Socialist Party to neoliberalism, in conditions of progressive cultural decline and “Americanization”. The traditional socialist culture of the popular classes survived, but in a state of perennial defensiveness, without ideological-political representatives or a presence in the media. What remained of social revolt began to emigrate to the far right, the National Front of Marine Le Pen.
Until the underlying social demand for a true, authentic left met up with the political drive of Mélenchon and a miracle, a resurrection, occurred, a Left was born that has some connection with its name.
Mélenchon’s result in the first round must be seen as historic. It brings to a close the era of Socialist Party hegemony that opened with the Epinay congress in 1971, a development analogous to SYRIZA’s eclipse of PASOK.
There is nothing accidental about this result for Mélenchon. It reflects the enormous demand in all of the Western world for an authentic Left wing. A recent poll showed that 45% of American youth would vote socialist and 21% communist, although socialists and communists are almost non-existent in the US (or perhaps also because they are non-existent!). A few days ago a majority of British people opted in opinion polls for the Leftist electoral program of the Labour Party, which provides for renationalization of the railways, the Post Office and water, with corresponding measures to that effect.
It appears to have been pre-planned from the outset that the electoral game in France would go the way it went, with a match between Macron and Le Pen. Only against Le Pen was Macron assured of victory. Only against the Macron-Rothschild and deploying every dissident element in her arsenal could Le Pen have any hope of attaining credibility.
Mélenchon’s performance, challenging Le Pen’s monopoly over expression of social dissent and revolt, changed the situational data. And we cannot know what would have happened if the terrorist attack had not taken place on the eve of the first round, strengthening Macron, stabilizing Fillon and assisting with exclusion of Mélenchon.
“La France Insoumise” won more than three times as many votes as the Socialist candidate. Its rise has been as spectacular as that of SYRIZA, Corbyn and Sanders. Of course getting off to a very good start by no means ensures that the sequel will be as propitious. Problems frequently arise in the next stage as the tragic experience of the Greek betrayal and disaster has already amply proven.
In the case of France the problems emerged immediately with the sectarianism and the inability of the French Left as a whole to coalesce for the parliamentary elections. Given France’s super-majoritarian, two-round, profoundly undemocratic electoral system, this failure may have adverse consequences when it comes to the final number of left-wing members in parliament.
In the final analysis Macron probably won because France did not trust (this time) a lady of the far right, which seemed dangerous to it, but also because it felt the Left is not yet ready. This delay in the manifestation of the crisis will most probably contribute to its revealing itself more powerfully at a certain point.
This is ensured in any case by today’s European elites, who are more than ever dependent on, and guided by Finance and so persist in precisely the policies that caused the crisis, the discontent and the rebellion.
On any given Monday morning, at approximately 7:30 a.m. a car carrying highly trained archeologists and two Palmyra National Museum security guards, on weekly rotation, departs the Homs, Syria HQ of Syria’s Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) along the previously dangerous 160 km Homs-Palmyra road east to Palmyra (Tadmor), the site of wanton destruction the past few years. Caused in the main by Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists who insist that non-Islamic archeological sites offend God who apparently abhors any possible idolatry-if indeed that is what preserving our global culture heritage for those who follow us amounts to. “It’s both propagandistic and sincere,” says Columbia University historian Christopher Jones, who has chronicled the damage on his blog. “They see themselves as recapitulating the early history of Islam.” Simultaneously, ISIS uses looting as fundraisers for military operations.
Since 2015, DGAM archeologists’ travel to Palmyra has sometimes been curtailed and the route closed by the Syrian army given that the area just to the north and south of the highway harbored jihadists camped deep under the vast desert in tunnels as well as dug into nearby hillsides with heavy weapons. On 5/23/2017 the Syrian army informed this observer that ISIS forces have now been pushed back some 50 km into the desert northeast of Palmyra and no longer pose a threat to those visiting the ruins area. The Syrian army two days ago (5/24/2017) announced that they had captured areas to the south of Palmyra and to the east of Qaryatayn in southeastern Homs province. Moreover, this past month Syrian troops, seeking to expand a buffer zone north of the Homs-Palmyra highway have advanced on ISIS positions in the same area with intermittent clashes between the Syrian Army (SAA) and ISIS units ongoing.
Consequently, an invitation from DGAM for this observer to join the group and again visit Palmyra, one of 300 of Syria’s 10,000 archeological sites damaged and/or looted since the spring of 2011, was most welcomed.
Syria’s current work at Palmyra includes conducting updated assessments of damage by ISIS during their second occupation of the ancient city which lasted for ten weeks between December 11, 2016 and March 2, 2017. Fortunately, this month’s Syrian government assessment shows that ISIS damage at Palmyra is limited to the central part of the facade of the Second Century theater and to the columns of the Tetrapylon, with no new damage to the Tomb of the Three Brothers, Temple of Bel, Temple of Nebo, Camp of Diocletian, the Straight Street, Agora and other monuments. Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director of antiquities, who had already arranged the transport of some 800 of the ancient statues and artifacts in Palmyra’s museum to Damascus and elsewhere for safe-keeping explained: “This time, they don’t seem to have damaged Palmyra as badly as we feared.”
Photo: fplamb 5/23/2017. ISIS substantially leveled most of the Tetrapylon a group of raised pillars signaling a crossroads, with only four of 16 columns still standing and leaving the stone platform now covered in rubble. But again, ISIS failed to remove or pulverize the chunks of the columns such that the Tetrapylon will be relatively easily restored. ISIS also left behind most of the rubble at other sites during its first occupation. This means that approximately 80% of Palmyra’s antiquities are in fairly good condition and 15% of those more heavily damaged also can and will be restored.
Photo: fplamb 5/23/2017. As noted above, ISIS also destroyed the carved facade of the ancient Palmyra theatre, where the jihadi group forced locals to watch as it murdered 25 soldiers during the first occupation. If one focuses on the third column from the right, a broken rope is still visible, one of dozens ISIS used to hang prisoners in 2016. This theater was also where musicians from St Petersburg’s Mariinsky orchestra had performed at a “victory concert” after the area was recaptured from ISIS the first time.
Photo: fplamb 5/23/2017. Not reported in the media following ISIS’ 2nd occupation of Palmyra were 14 excavation holes counted by this observer. These struck me as odd given their random locations and absence of evidence that anything was excavated in contrast to other excavation areas around Syria where one sees hundreds of dug holes approximating rows. My tentative assessment is that during their second coming the original 4000 fighters quickly moved south to fight regime forces and try to capture the T4 Airport which is a critical security installation, providing regime forces with close air support. ISIS jihadists were able to storm into the base after seizing security checkpoints in the nearby Mashtal and Qasr al-Hir Districts. Given this priority, ISIS left behind among the ruins of Palmyra only a relatively modest number of forces during this period and these fact likely accounts for the limited ISIS damage to the ruins.
The ISIS success in seizing Palmyra the second time after being forced out of the city in March 2016 underlines the limits of airpower against the group and after four days of Russian airstrike and regime shelling Isis was firmly in control of Palmyra. During December 2016, Isis forces swept into Palmyra as the Syrian army and its allies focused on defeating rebels in Aleppo. ISIS remained in control the second time for ten weeks. Privately Syrian army friend’s blame their heavy troop loses on the Russians for letting their guard down at Palmyra. Simultaneously Russian friends in Syria blame the Syrian forces (in private). But publicly they both blame the Americans, without providing cogent detail, for allowing ISIS reinforcements from Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in northern Syria, as well as not stopping ISIS from coming to Palmyra from the nearby eastern province of Deir Ezzor to move to Palmyra. Key to regime forces and their allies in expelling ISIS the second time was their success attacking from three sides the ISIS forces based in the Citadel on a hill overlooking the ruins. In any event Palmyra is today better guarded than it was last year—by both Russian, Syria and Iranian forces.
Concrete plans to restore Palmyra are largely completed as a result of many months of Syrian consultations with the global community, UNESCO, and UN Specialized Agencies as well as with dozens of archeological associations, Museums, and the Syrian public.
What is now needed is specialized equipment, specialized restoration craftsmen prepared to come to Syria and funding. All are largely available today but most partners, especially from the West want to wait for the violence to end to ensure the safety of their associates who would be working here and also to ensure that restoration work projects will not likely be attacked again.
Thanks to Syrian citizens and officials working in this 3000 year old town, given all the jihadist attacks it has sustained, Palmyra, like many antiquities sites around Syria in is reasonable condition and ready to be restored. More urgent, as Part II of the Update addresses, is the archeological crisis in Aleppo which requires immediate attention. Government cooperation with the local citizenry is needed so that invaluable damaged artifacts and pieces of treasures scattered around are not confiscated and removed as part of the current urgency citizens feel about returning to their smashed homes and start rebuilding with whatever material they can fine.