Relations with Iran have challenged every U.S. administration since the 1979 revolution, and all U.S. presidents since Jimmy Carter have had to address the regime’s attempts to export its Islamist revolution abroad, its fierce opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process,
and its dogged nuclear quest. As President Barack Obama begins a second term in office, it would serve the president and those advising him well to truly understand the mindset of the revolutionary regime in order to avoid repeating past mistakes.
The task of untangling that history, facilitated by such books as Kenneth Pollack’s The Persian Puzzle and Patrick Clawson and Michael Rubin’s Eternal Iran, has now received a major boost with David Crist’s excellent new title The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Years Conflict with Iran. Based on twenty years of archival research and four hundred interviews, it is a serious contribution to our understanding of the turbulent relations between Washington and Tehran during the past three decades. Crist highlights both the immaturity of the revolutionary regime in Tehran and errors in judgment by Washington that have led to numerous missed opportunities to normalize relations over the years.
The book’s most important shortcoming, however, is its lack of primary source material in the Persian language. In most cases, this material would have reinforced Crist’s arguments, yet in a few important instances, this deficiency leads to questionable conclusions. In particular, his judgments about the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88)—the formative experience shaping the minds of the current crop of Iranian decision makers—would have greatly benefited from the use of such sources. Its proper understanding offers insights into the Islamic Republic’s strategy today that might help avert looming catastrophes.
The Iraqi Invasion
According to official Islamic Republic historiography, the war with Iraq began on August 22, 1980, when Iraqi forces conducted a surprise invasion of Iranian territory. Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself made a point of stressing the element of surprise when addressing ambassadors of Islamic countries in October 1980: “The usurping government of Saddam attacked Iran from the sea, air, and on the ground without any excuse acceptable to the governments of the world and without prior information or warning of conquest.”
Notwithstanding Khomeini’s public pronouncement, he had been warned of an imminent Iraqi invasion well in advance. Crist perceptively cites a meeting on October 1979 between CIA officer George Cave and then-foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi, in which such a warning was given. Cave also instructed Yazdi to reactivate a signals intelligence collection station in Ilam to “find out what Iraq is up to,” but Yazdi dismissed the advice saying: “They wouldn’t dare!”
Persian language primary source material reveals other early warnings ignored by the supreme leader. In a September 22, 1991 interview with the weekly Payam-e Enghelab, Ahmad Khomeini, son of the grand ayatollah, disclosed that Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of the shah, had reached out to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris through his chief of staff. When denied an audience with Khomeini, Bakhtiar’s chief of staff met with Ahmad and warned him of suspicious movements by Iraqi forces detected by Iran’s military intelligence. Ayatollah Khomeini dismissed Bakhtiar’s warnings as a scare tactic.
On June 15, 1980, Iran’s first post-revolutionary president, Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, sent a letter to Khomeini warning of suspicious movements of Iraqi forces. A September 19, 1980 letter from the president is even more revealing:
I don’t know what happened at your residence last night and what the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] discussed with you. But I find it necessary to report this: … One month ago I sent you the exact same commanders who passed you information about today’s conspiracy. Afterward you told me that you didn’t believe in such intelligence. Today the intelligence has been proven right, and there is a strong possibility of an extensive battle from the Turkish border to Pakistan.
Why did Yazdi dismiss the CIA’s alert? Why did Khomeini ignore Bakhtiar’s, Bani-Sadr’s, and the army commanders’ reports on developments on the Iraqi side of the border? And why did the grand ayatollah isolate Iran diplomatically by continually threatening its neighbors with “export of the revolution” at a time when he was perfectly aware of the Iraqi threat?
Crist correctly concludes that the Iraqi invasion provided Khomeini with an opportunity to consolidate his rule. This is further confirmed by a 2008 interview in Persian between political scientist Sadeq Zibakalam and former Iranian president Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In the course of the conversation, Zibakalam told Rafsanjani: “My conclusion is that deep down, the imam [Khomeini] was happy about the war. He never said so directly, but deep down he thought that it was not us who wanted to attack the Baath regime of Iraq, but now that they have attacked us, we will pursue it [the war] to the very end.” To which Rafsanjani responded: “I agree with your view. But it is not true that it was deep in his [Khomeini’s] heart. He would also say that aloud. He did not hide it. … The war gave us a path to solve the regional problems and build our nation. We all said this, and the imam too was of this belief.”
Thanks to the Iraqi invasion of Iran, Khomeini was able to rally a fragmented nation around the revolutionary leadership and hoped to use the war to overthrow the Baath regime in Baghdad. The revolutionary leadership also used the war instrumentally, to keep the remnants of the shah’s army busy at the front and effectively out of politics. Finally, the invasion gave the Islamist regime the necessary excuse for suppressing popular demands for political freedoms by imposing a state of emergency. The war, indeed, proved a “divine blessing” for the regime—one actively sought and called for by Khomeini.
Why the War Continued after 1982
On April 3, 1982, Saddam Hussein offered a cease-fire, which was dismissed by Tehran. Not long thereafter, on May 24, Iranian forces liberated the border city of Khorramshahr, ending Iraqi occupation of Iranian territory. Why then did the war continue?
According to Crist, a “divided Iranian leadership” debated its next steps in the war, but “[n]o one advocated accepting the cease-fire.” He claims that Ahmad Khomeini pressed for continuing the war on Iraqi soil, but then-president Ali Khamene’i, foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati, and Rafsanjani (then parliamentary speaker) were “less sanguine about invading Iraq proper.” Most importantly, he suggests that to some degree, Khomeini himself opposed an invasion of Iraq.
Access to Persian language documents corroborates this. In his September 22, 1991 interview with Payam-e Enghelab, Ahmad Khomeini revealed,
The imam believed that it was better to end the war, but those responsible for the war said that we had to move toward Shatt al-Arab so that we could demand war reparations from Iraq. The imam did not agree with this line at all and used to say that if … one didn’t prevail in the war now, this war couldn’t be ended at all. We must continue this war to a certain point. Now that Khorramshahr had been liberated, it was the best time to end the war.
Rafsanjani’s memoirs also stress Khomeini’s opposition, conveyed through his son on March 26, 1982, and at a meeting with military commanders on June 10, 1982. According to Rafsanjani, three days after the liberation of Khorramshahr, the grand ayatollah argued against invasion before the Supreme Defense Council, stating that
(1) After invading Iraq, the Arab countries will support Baghdad more overtly and will display Arab extremism.
(2) The people of Iraq have not supported Saddam until now because he was on our soil. But should we invade Iraq, they will support him; we should strive not to drive the Iraqi people to oppose us.
(3) Should we invade Iraq, the Iraqi people will be harmed. Thus far, those Iraqis who have not fought have not been harmed.
(4) The world will present us as invaders and will subject us to propaganda pressure.
If Grand Ayatollah Khomeini was so adamantly opposed to an invasion of Iraq, how and why did the war drag on for another six years? Who were the supporters of the continuation of the war?
Persian language primary source material shows that it was the Revolutionary Guards’ leaders who managed to persuade an unwilling grand ayatollah to continue the war. And in contrast to Crist’s view, they were supported in this position by Rafsanjani himself.
In his April 18, 1982 diary entry, Ayatollah Rafsanjani writes:
The country’s warlike atmosphere and the high expectations of the people, especially the combatants, are such that they ridicule such propositions [of peace negotiations] and do not consider immediate but conditional withdrawal enough and criticize those responsible for the war effort … [as to] why they don’t immediately enter Iraqi soil.
Further, Khomeini withdrew his opposition since the “armed forces made solid military and technical arguments, and the imam, in a limited and conditional way, capitulated to their view.”
In his memoirs and interviews, Rafsanjani has deftly avoided clarifying his own position concerning the continuation of the war after Khorramshahr, but Mohsen Rezaei, then-commander of the Revolutionary Guards, shed light on this in his own war memoirs:
Following the liberation of Khorramshahr, the imam said: “You stay at the border and fight here” … [but] Rafsanjani said that we should move beyond the international borders. Should we desire to end the war, we need to have something we can use in the [cease-fire] negotiations.
Rezaei also claimed that Rafsanjani had urged the military to occupy Basra, to be used as a bargaining chip.
Different proponents of continuing the war had their own motives for doing so, but the Revolutionary Guards had the strongest. When Rezaei was appointed commander on August 24, 1981, there were only “20 to 30,000 members of the Guards and the Basij [its closely allied paramilitary force].” That number increased to a quarter of a million members by 1988 with the lion’s share of Iran’s military budget allocated to it. This development would not have been possible had it not been for the continuation of the war. The IRGC essentially sacrificed Iran’s national interest and hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives for the sake of its corporate and organizational expansion.
Apart from this, Khomeini’s acquiescence in the IRGC’s demands for continuing the war after Khorramshahr’s liberation illustrates the clerics’ dependence on the IRGC to suppress domestic opposition. Beyond its historical relevance, this mechanism may also in part explain Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i’s position on the nuclear crisis today.
Why the War Ended
In The Twilight War, Crist echoes the widely held belief that the accidental and tragic July 3, 1988 downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes convinced the Iranian leadership to end the war with Iraq. Yet while Khomeini’s July 20, 1988 acceptance of the cease-fire agreement happened in the immediate wake of the civilian airliner tragedy, Persian primary source material reveals that the decision had been maturing for quite some time prior to the incident.
On June 3, 1988, Rafsanjani was appointed commander-in-chief. In his account, Ayatollah Abd al-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, the judiciary’s chief, President Khamene’i, Ahmad Khomeini, and Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi had all concluded by June 1988 that “they [the West in general and the United States in particular] will not allow us to win in the war.” A number of Revolutionary Guards commanders endorsed this view, and on June 10, 1988, Ali Shamkhani, then-Revolutionary Guards ground forces commander, urged Rafsanjani to end the war.
On June 16, Rafsanjani met with Khamene’i, Mousavi, and Ahmad Khomeini and concluded that Iran would either have to mobilize all the resources of the state for the war effort or end the conflict. Despite their passing this on to the grand ayatollah, Khomeini still opted for total war. However, barely a month later, on July 14—eleven days after the downing of the Iranian airliner—Khomeini decided to end the war. Yet rather than being impelled by the civilian disaster, this decision was based on a letter Khomeini had received from Rezaei in which the Revolutionary Guards commander confessed there would be no victory in the next five years unless almost unlimited resources were to be directed to the IRGC and the military and unless Tehran developed a nuclear bomb and managed to force the United States to leave the Persian Gulf. Since none of these options seemed realistic, Khomeini chose to drink from the poisoned chalice and end the war with Iraq. Thus, the IRGC had the final say in both continuation of the war after 1982 and its end in 1988.
Iranian archives remain closed to scholars, and few individuals involved in the shaping or execution of Tehran’s policies are willing to risk their lives giving interviews. Outside of Western intelligence experts with access to classified documents, there is little that academics or nongovernment analysts can rely on for accurate information. In spite of the lack of Persian source material, Crist’s Twilight War is among the best works we have.
What is most sobering is that twenty-four years after the end of the war with Iraq, the leadership of the Islamic Republic faces many of the same challenges seen during that conflict. The regime in Tehran combines an incredible degree of unpreparedness for conflict with the greatest degree of provocation against regional countries and great powers alike. Threats to annihilate Israel, rivalry with Sunni Arab states, systematic provocations against the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with its clandestine nuclear program, have left Tehran largely isolated and friendless in a dangerous world. The regime hopes to rally a fragmented nation around the flag by maintaining Iran in a permanent state of crisis, just as it did during the Iran-Iraq war. Yet in the midst of the crisis, political factions, in particular the Revolutionary Guards, sacrifice the welfare of the Iranian nation on the altar of their own narrow interests, following the exact path as in the 1980s.
In the meantime, the Iranian regime’s occasional offers of rapprochement, such as the much debated May 4, 2003 fax to the U.S. State Department, carry little weight in reality. Civilian leaders may have sounded out Washington at a time when the U.S. military surrounded Iran, but were the officers of the Revolutionary Guards on the same page? Even if they were, would Tehran have honored its obligations once the vulnerabilities of the U.S. positions in Afghanistan and Iraq had become apparent? On the whole, one cannot help but think that the fundamental obstacle between the two states is the nature of the regime in Tehran. Absent external enemies, how else can Iranian leaders legitimize their repression of internal opposition?
The balance between bellicosity and faux rapprochement is delicate. One day Tehran will cross the red lines of Washington and its allies thereby igniting a disastrous war, which is likely to prove another poisoned chalice waiting for Iranian leaders to drink.
Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
 Random House, 2005.
 Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
 New York, Penguin, 2012.
 “Aghaz-e Jang-e Tahmili-ye Eragh Alayh-e Iran Va Hafteh-ye Defa’-e Moghaddas,” Markaz-e Asnad-e Enghelab-e Eslami website, Tehran, accessed Sept. 13, 2010.
 Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, CD-ROM, Tehran, vol. 13, p. 276.
 “Toward an International History of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988: A Critical Oral History Workshop,” Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., July 19, 2004; David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Years Conflict with Iran (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 87.
 Crist, The Twilight War, p. 87.
 Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Emam Khomeini, Majmou-eh-ye Asar-e Yadegar-e Emam—Hojjat al-Eslam va Al-Moslemin Hajj Seyyed Ahmad Khomeini (N.P., 1996), p. 715.
 Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, Nameh-ha Az Agha-ye Bani-Sadr Be Agha-ye Khomeini va Digaran (Frankfurt Am Main: Enghelab-e Eslami Zeitung, 2006), p. 55.
 Ibid., p. 156.
 See Khomeini’s Dec. 17, 1979 interview quoted in Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 11, p. 290; idem, Dec. 19, 1979 interview quoted in Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 11, p. 336; idem, Jan. 5, 1980 interview with Time quoted in Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 12, p. 37; idem, Mar. 21, 1980 new year address quoted in Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 12, p. 202.
 Crist, The Twilight War, p. 89.
 Sadeq Zibakalam and Fereshteh Sadat Ettefaghfar, Hashemi Bedoun-e Routoush (Tehran: Rowzaneh, 2008), p. 277.
 Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Eslami, Gozari Bar Do Sal Jang (N.P.: Daftar-e Siasi-ye Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Eslami, n.d.), p. 21.
 Crist, The Twilight War, p. 94.
 Khomeini, Majmou-eh-ye Asar-e Yadegar-e Emam, pp. 716-17. The same claim was also made in the memoirs of Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Khaterat-e Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri (Los Angeles: Ketab Corp., 2001), p. 330.
 Fatemeh Hashemi, ed., Pas Az Bohran. Karnameh va Khaterat-e Hashemi Rafsanjani Sal-e 61, (Tehran: Daftar-e Nashr-e Ma’aref-e Enghelab, 2000), pp. 40, 137.
 Zibakalam and Ettefaghfar, Hashemi Bedoun-e Routoush, pp. 285-6.
 Hashemi, Pas Az Bohran. Karnameh, pp. 68-9.
 Zibakalam and Sadat Ettefaghfar, Hashemi Bedoun-e Routoush, p. 286.
 Mohsen Rezaei Mir-Qaed, Jang Be Revayat-e Farmandeh, Pezhman Pourjabbari, ed. (Tehran: Bonyad-e Hefz-e Asar va Nashr-e Arzesh-ha-ye Defae-e Moqaddas, 2012), pp. 140-1.
 Ibid., p. 42.
 Crist, The Twilight War, pp. 370-1.
 Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 21, p. 95.
 Rezaei, Jang Be Revayat-e Farmandeh, p. 289.
 Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Payan-e Defae—Aghaz-e Bazsazi, Ali-Reza Hashemi, ed. (Tehran: Daftar-e Nashr-e Maaref-e Enqelab, 2012), p. 163.
 Ibid., pp. 171-2, 210.
 Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Khaterat-e Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, pp. 571-2.
 Crist, The Twilight War, p. 476.
Can Anyone Beat Trump?
Donald Trump may make fun of Elizabeth Warren and dub her Pocahontas but he better watch it. She may be gunning for him in November.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or as he prefers to be called, ‘Mike’, spent $400 million of his $60 billion fortune on ads, raising himself to third place among candidates as a can-do ‘Mighty Mike’. It bought him a place at the Democratic debate last Wednesday. But that $400 million, a colossal fortune for any of us, and in lottery terms what would count as one of the biggest wins ever, was blown away in a few minutes by Warren as she went after him on his racially-charged stop-and-frisk policy to fight crime in New York City. That his efforts worked was made irrelevant by his clearly limited ability to debate. Yet with $59.6 billion still in his kitty, probably growing at several billion a year, who can write him off in this age of TV ads?
Then there were his non-disclosure agreements with numerous women — though asked repeatedly he never gave a number. His lame defense that these were voluntary, seemed to assume the audience were dupes. Everyone knows the persons charging him with unwarranted advances received money as settlements and in exchange signed the agreements.
The Bloomberg charge thwarted, Bernie Sanders could be counted the real winner for leaving the debate unscathed. He leads nationally by double digits with Biden second.
A botoxed Biden with whitewashed teeth tried to put a spring in his step with purchased ‘youth’. He talked of present and past presidents of Mexico, and of other countries, he was acquainted with and how personal connections get things done — a mindset reminiscent of the Burisma job in Ukraine son Hunter was given when his father was Vice President with a major policy role in the Ukraine. As board member of Burisma, Hunter Biden was paid up to $50,000 per month. His function was to advise on corporate governance and legal issues yet never found it necessary to attend a board meeting or visit the company in Ukraine. The company’s owner has been recently charged with corruption in obtaining licenses and tax fraud over the period of Hunter Biden’s tenure at his firm.
It’s all in a day’s work. Personal connections, that’s how things get done. Imagine the labels Trump will attach to him should he win the nomination.
A normally chirpy Pete Buttigieg was skewered by Amy Klobuchar and appeared chastened. Not too well prepared, he ascribed an astronomical $25 trillion cost to Bernie Sanders’ health plan. Sanders responded the plan would save $400 billion and had the figures to prove it. Not a successful outing for Pete.
But then Senator Klobuchar appeared to lose her cool when pressed on a case during her job as prosecutor, before she became a senator. Visibly angry, she continued to press her claim as being highly electable but Sanders and Warren are elected senators too, and Sanders for much longer. Senator Klobuchar also has the highest turnover of staff (36 percent) of any senator, and a rumored reputation of being abusive towards them. Not the kind of quickly angered temperament one would choose to have in the White House, or for a person with a finger on the dreaded nuclear button.
Seems the best option we have is Sanders and Warren but political demographics preclude two liberals from the northeast on a ticket. Born in 1941, Sanders will be almost 80 when he takes office, an age when Warren would have left the White House were she to win and serve two terms. Bernie is eminently likeable and a staunch fighter but it seems like Hillary Clinton stole his best shot at the presidency.
The Overriding Strategic Threat: Donald Trump, American “Mass” And Nuclear War
“The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.”-Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957)
More than anywhere else, Donald Trump take his decisional cues from the American “mass.” In present circumstances, this term references a succession of viscerally compliant private citizens and a seemingly endless chorus of similarly deferential public officials. If there should still arise any further doubts about such a worrisome assessment, one need only consider Trump’s rancor-filled “rallies” or the undiminished Republican Senate support for his always-accumulating leadership derogations.
What is to be done? Most concerning among these ample derogations are those actions that would impact a US presidential authorization of military force. In an evidently worst case scenario, these impacts could include an actual use of nuclear weapons, either by the American side or by a pertinent adversarial state (e.g., North Korea).
Such risks and dangers did not arise ex nihilo, out of nothing. Rather, Donald Trump’s very conspicuous derelictions – both in the past, and still-impending – are rooted in a population that disavows two complementary obligations. These obligations are the reinforcing imperatives of serious analysis and true learning. “I love the poorly educated,” exclaimed the successful US presidential candidate in 2016. “Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Third Reich Chief of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at his own Nazi rallies, back in 1935 and 1936.
Truth, however inconvenient or embarrassing, is always exculpatory. Any differences between the purposely dissembling statements of President Trump and those of Minister Goebbels are minor at best. Reciprocally, the evident commonalities are distressingly plain and compelling. Both Donald Trump and his de facto German philosophical mentor represent champions of public disinformation or anti-thought.
Both seek or sought results without even a scintilla of human empathy or hint of compassionate intention.
At first, these comparisons may seem scandalous, even outrageous, but upon further reflection, they are not at all un reasonable or unfair. Indeed, what would be more manifestly unfair or dishonest is for such tangible and information-based comparisons to be blithely dismissed or casually overlooked. This is because any such whimsical disregard could lead, ineluctably, to catastrophic war.
It’s not a mysterious connection. No sensible US war avoidance policies can be expected to emerge from a society that is being steadily weakened by a compliant and obsequious mass culture. In any such anti-science context, there exists a widespread American indifference to intellect or “mind.” .
More precisely, within the demeaning interstices of United States mass culture, any such brazen indifference could result in irremediable misfortunes. These hard-to-imagine outcomes could arrive more-or-less immediately, or eventually, that is, in various foreseeable and unforeseeable increments.
Among these especially portentous prospects, the most worrisome would be nuclear attack and/or nuclear war.
There is more. Though not readily apparent in America’s current national politics, nuclear violence in variously assorted forms represents the greatest possible risk posed. No such dire prediction could be expressed as a true mathematical probability (because any nuclear war would necessarily represent a unique event), but the broader connections between generalized American anti-intellectualism and American national security are recognizably evident.
There has never been any specific or general American outcry about an American president who proudly reads nothing, literally nothing at all. At his first Republican presidential convention, an early Trump-selected “speaker” was Duck Dynasty.
Need anything more be said?
Still, there are always core lessons to be learned. Americans should look much more carefully behind the news. Everything that we/they most genuinely need to know is not on television or on the internet. More generally, “The crowd,” noted the 19th-century Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, “is untruth.”
In present-day United States, no single characterization could be more obvious or less contestable.
In this mass or crowd-based society, a continuing Trump presidency – the most patently injurious result of America’s demeaning orientation to mass- could (sooner or later) become intolerable. “The best lack all conviction,” warned the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in The Second Coming, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” For now at least for bewildered or beleaguered Americans, this existential warning remains confined to cerebral poetry.
But the stanza deserves a far wider audience,
Let all relevant assessments be forthright and candid. For the United States and certain of its allies, a nuclear war is never really out of the question. At the moment, the most plausible site for any such unprecedented conflagration would be northeast Asia (US versus North Korea). Still, in light of a resurrecting “Cold War” with Russia (“Cold War II”), preliminary and contagious “sparks” could ignite virtually anywhere on earth. Most problematic, in this regard, would be southwest Asia (India/Pakistan)
There is more. I have lectured and published widely on these issues since chairing Project Daniel for Israeli Prime Minister Arik Sharon back in 2003.
Substantial nuclear conflict dangers will obtain in the Middle East even if Iran should somehow remain non-nuclear. This is the case, inter alia, because Israel could sometime need to rely upon nuclear deterrence or actual nuclear weapons use in response to certain non-nuclear forms of unconventional aggression (i.e., biological attack) and/or “only” massive conventional aggressions.
More than likely, this second category of risk would involve assorted “hybrid” aggressions launched (plausibly, in some definitive concert with Iran) by Hezbollah.
Already, the size and military capacity of this formidable Shiite militia exceeds that of many area armies.
Let us look more closely at these strategic issues. What discernible linkages exist between mass society and nuclear war? Though mass thinking or “crowd” thinking (Kierkegaard) is always “untruth,” Donald Trump is not the most genuinely root cause of America’s expanding atomic war perils. He is rather, an “outcome,” a mere result, though a prospectively devastating result, of larger and far more deeply insidious national pathologies. More formally, knowledgeable scientists and philosophers (not this president’s mass “base”) would identify Trump’s incessantly demeaning incumbency as “epiphenomenal.”
But this does not make them any less dangerous.
There is more.Some complementary or corollary concerns aremore expressly legal than military or strategic.In these similarly urgent matters of US foreign policy making, President Donald Trump, leading a major world power that remains party to both the Geneva Convention (1949) and the Genocide Convention (1948), has no defensible legal right to call openly for international aggression. But this is exactly what Trump demanded when he first threatened “total destruction” of North Korea in the earliest days of his presidency.
While the American president intermittently claims (with evident pride) that he and Kim Jung Un are “in love,” this allegedly deep affection remains an unreliable basis for nuclear war avoidance. Moreover, looking ahead dispassionately, the more visible and credible source of verbal belligerence between Washington and Pyongyang is the White House.
In law, there is no legitimate American right of tu quoque (Latin for “you too”). Among other historical instances, this legal defense was rejected at the original Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946, and also at the later Tokyo Trials. A significant portion of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless legal derogations lies in his sweeping unfamiliarity with all normally recognizable instances of history and jurisprudence.
Even now, Donald Trump appears unaware of the basics. International law remains an integral part of U.S. domestic (municipal) law. To date, at least, this president has been unable to nullify Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”) or any of the several major Supreme Court decisions detailing binding sources for “incorporation.” Among seminally core case judgments linking valid international rules to United States obligations, the most plainly important are the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (1984).
Does anyone reasonably expect that US President Trump or his personal lawyers would have even a tiny substantive notion about these landmark American decisions?
It’s a silly question.
This sort of essential information is discussed only by the Constitutional lawyers. Now, unassailably, our vaunted American democracy rests unsteadily on the retrograde sovereignty of wholly unqualified persons. Even now, in the Senate leadership of his own party, only a pitiful few are prepared to say emphatically and unambiguously: “This emperor is naked, irremediably naked. He has no clothes.”
In metaphoric candor, Donald Trump’s refractory authority has “slipped back,” to use the illuminating images of twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, and on to the age-old stage of civilization.” This ancient “stage” remains shabby, shaky and profoundly anti-democratic. Cumulatively, it does not bode well for a secure American life at any level.
At the conceptual heart of our America’s “crowd” or “mass” problem, the current US president remains a malignant and determinative “symptom.” Any further American “slippage” into the presidentially-augmented mass will have discernible and distinctly palpable consequences. There are certain obvious and unstoppable reasons for this. Reasonably, no country so openly fearful of independent thought – no country so fervidly torn between its loud public proclamations of “exceptionalism” and the silent estrangements of its grievously unhappy people – can hope to overcome its screaming declensions.
We may continue this nuclear war background analysis. No blustering affirmations of “America First” can supplant authentic thought.
Such painfully shallow affirmations, now repeated daily, as if they were some sort of religious incantation, can only deflect America’s attention from what remains vitally important. Most urgently, Trump must better ensure that his seat-of-the-pants strategic posture toward North Korea (a posture drawn directly from the commercial worlds of real estate branding and casino gambling) does not sometime explode uncontrollably. Significantly, such an obviously unacceptable outcome may at first seem less likely or worrisome than is actually the case.
“Do not seek the higher man in the marketplace” warned Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra.As usual, the philosopher’s underscored wisdom was timeless.
Should North Korea and the United States enter into any outright hostilities or even an unintentional nuclear war, the horrors of the earlier Vietnam conflict will be magnified many-fold. Before anything decent could ever be born from the rubble of such a conflict, an army of gravediggers would need to wield the “forceps.”
Once upon a time in America, virtually every barely-attentive adult could recite some intuitively Spenglerian theory of decline. Today, at a very different historical moment – at an especially acquiescent national juncture where the riddle of human destiny has been reduced by American public life to vulgar and degrading entertainments – almost no one can recognize The Decline of the West. “Logically,” this far-reaching lack of recognition should be expected whether we are speaking of a classic historical text written by a once-obscure German professor or some actual and precipitous historical declension.
What else should one now expect of a nation where the 2016 keynote presidential convention speaker of the victorious political party was Duck Dynasty.
In some respects, it is a very old story. Both frightened and repelled by any plausible expectations of genuine learning, expanding masses of Americans proceed blindly and in reassuring lockstep with crowds of similarly-fearful marchers. Consciously, this Trumpian “mass,” these obliging “crowds,” keep a desperate pace with all those other homogenized men and women who similarly loathe serious thought. Always, identifiably sizable segments of this submissive crowd coalesce energetically around a delusionary “pied-piper.”
In the present American case, Trump reflects a president who promises multiple accessible scapegoats in compensation for citizens’ most stubborn fears and personal failures. For the all-too-many listeners, these seductive promises are convenient, but untrue.
In the real American past, which has been “great” only selectively, certain circumstances have never been quite as degrading or ominous as today. In the words of Nixon-era White House advisor John Dean, speaking on CNN in March 2018, “Donald Trump is Richard Nixon on steroids and stilts.” That’s quite a telling (and accurate) metaphor.
Worldwide, this is hardly the first time in the past hundred years that a dissembling political wizard has promised self-blinding followers some sort of lascivious “redemption” in exchange for their total political obedience. In an easily best remembered example, the ultimate costs inflicted by Third Reich wizardry included the destruction of an entire continent and over100 million souls. The lesson for those Americans still willing to read and think? It is that there is always a great and unforgivable price to be paid by societies that wittingly abjure intellect, history and capable thought.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” At the very moment when an American president should be focusing systematically and analytically on prospective nuclear war dangers from North Korea, China, Russia, and elsewhere, Donald Trump prefers to lead his chanting crowds in strange and futile directions. Now, more than ever, these incoherent refrains are not “only” inane and irrelevant. More portentously, they will drown out the still-surviving vestiges of any residually sensible American thought.
In every presidential election, the American mass more-or-less indefatigably patronizes itself. The difference in 2016 was that these results were effectively sui generis; that is, they were darkly unique in the most regrettable and forseeably sinister ways. Over time, as we have seen, the palpable consequences could include nuclear/existential harms.
The remedy? Above all, it must be founded upon a meaningfully prior understanding: No society, including allegedly “exceptional” ones, can coexist together with mindlessly chanting crowds that masquerade as democracy.Unless we can finally display some sincere willingness to oppose the shrill and yelling American mass – a crowd that increasingly becomes a corrosive solvent of social conformance and intellectual mediocrity – Americans will continue to find too little air to breathe. Inevitably, at some point in the declining Trump years, there will be no air to breathe at all.
Asphyxiation, Americans would only then discover, is a bad way to die.
Every mass society, not just the United States, loves to chant deliriously and in some form of stupefied chorus. “We the people” continue to seek comforting resonances of “exceptionalism” in pitifully shallow slogans, raw commerce and blatantly vacuous political promises. Oddly enough, this elusive search for happiness, amid its convulsive shrieking and imitation, would be less perilous if it did not issue from a depressingly terminal ailment.
What, more precisely, is the underlying malady? If Donald Trump is “merely” a symptom, what is the country’s true national pathology? The correct answer has much to do with understanding current war threats from North Korea or even Russia. This answer is logically antecedent to discovering hopeful solutions to still-growing existential threats.
At the most sorely critical “illness” levels of national despair, politics and government have become pretty much beside the point. In America’s battered landscape of clichéd wisdom, mass shootings, copycat violence and dreary profanity, there remains, at bottom, a recalcitrant and metastasizing sickness of the soul. Ironically, America’s national debility of personal surrender to crowds lurks mainly undisguised. Conspicuously, it is most easily detectable in Donald Trump’s proudly flaunted hatreds of intellect, individualism and real learning.
“Alas,” observed T.S. Eliot,in a still-unheeded warning, “Our dried voices, when we whisper together, Are quiet and meaningless.”
At their very deepest levels, American politics and government remain determinably extraneous to whatever is genuinely important. The bewildered nation’s expanding ocean of personal addictions, now too vast for remediation by any normal reformist strategies, is already deep enough to drown entire libraries of a once-sacred poetry.
In an earlier and foundational American national history, both liberals and conservatives read Lucretius, Cicero, Grotius, Vattel, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and (later) Blackstone. Excluding the eighteenth-century English jurist, whose refined thoughts were to become the starting point of all American jurisprudence, Thomas Jefferson read them all.
What does US President Donald Trump read or write?
Prima facie, this is a silly question.
Until just a few years ago, I had been a university professor for almost 50 years. For the most part, my students were less interested in exhibiting any high-thinking than in acquiring high net worth. Given a presumptive opportunity to earn impressive incomes without continuing their formal education, an overwhelming majority would have unhesitatingly grabbed at the “offer.” How do I know this?
Because, as an “experiment,” I occasionally asked them.
From year to year, the grimly anti-intellectual results never changed.
In our once still-ascendant American intellectual history, some time shortly after the literary ascendancies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of accomplishment earned commendably high marks . Then, more often than now, young people strove to rise originally, not by incessantly craving expensive and unnecessary goods, but as the still-confident proprietors of an exemplary American Self. Though Emerson and his fellow New England Transcendentalists had taught the flip side of “high thinking” must be “plain living,” current US citizenry generally seeks private wealth above any other barely competing objectives.
Nothing could possibly be more obvious.
This is true, at least in principle, for the poor and disregarded as well as for the very rich.
In America, the truly telling question is implicit. Why bother to read or study literature? It has no cash value. Furthermore, as the current president can readily attest, it has no believable place in the acquisition of personal political power. Indeed, Americans now live in a land where visible intellectual deficits have become an unimpeachable political asset.
In the end, US President Donald Trump – however destructive his presidency eventually becomes – must remain a symptom. On its face, with precious few exceptions, wealth is always taken as America’s final and quintessential form of personal validation. Many years back, economist Adam Smith concluded that wealth is most eagerly sought not because of any intrinsic purchasing power, but on account of its incomparable capacity to elicit envy. Later, Emerson expressed a very similar idea when he incautiously advised that any “foolish reliance upon property” is the inevitable result of “a want of self-reliance.”
In the end, the transient warmth of an American mass or crowd promises each US citizen a concocted but still-comforting defense against loneliness. This reassuringly seductive mass quickly and expansively defiles whatever is pleasingly wondrous, gracious and generous in American society. Already anticipating this lamentable development, Charles Dickens had observed, back in 1842: “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country (USA), in the failure of its example to the earth.”
Dickens was “spot on.” Americans have protected their political freedom from the most visible and invidious kinds of oppression, though even this key protection is now subject to reasonable doubt. At the same time, they have wittingly sacrificed the coequal obligation to become authentically fulfilled persons. More openly deploring a life of some greater meaning and purpose than this one of calculated imitation and sterile accumulation, Americans now routinely substitute reality shows for real literature and a reality show “wizard” for capable national leadership.
What should they expect?
Is it any wonder that America already stands on the precarious brink of irremediable nuclear confrontations?
In America’s sorely blemished democracy, a declining system of governance driven by what political “elite” theorists had long called the “iron law of oligarchy,” those individual Americans who would still choose disciplined thought over fitting-into the crowd must accept related kinds of “punishment.” Usually, these sanctions are delivered as some form or other of social or professional ostracism, but sometimes they are meted out in corollary examples of “aloneness.” “The most radical division,” observed Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…”
In reality, American democracy and its closely corresponding presidential elections represent an inelegant and simultaneously lethal masquerade. Again and again, they seek to cover-up and legitimize what has been constituted and consecrated by a backward-looking mass. Now, at long last, it is high time for such perilous camouflage in the inert American mass to yield tosomething better.
Now, in America, even after such a patently catastrophic presidential selection in 2016, the people may have been granted one graspable last chance for being-challenged-in-the-world.
In the end, creating proper American governance is not all that complicated: Only those few individuals who would dare to reject an insistently demeaning amusement society can offer this imperiled nation any enduring hope.What next?
To proceed, there are pertinent corollaries. The strength and courage of America’s desperately-needed “inner-directedness” can never lie only in holding an advanced degree, in engaging with others during periodic electoral contests or in advancing various intentional contrivances of language. In America, the indispensable qualities of individual authenticity must be sought, instead, in the potentially complementary powers of intellectual independence, social justice and spontaneous empathy.
This last power cannot be taught. Nonetheless, it can be encouraged by stepping back from a declining American culture that values endlessly crude consumption over intelligent erudition and independent thought.
Adam Smith, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), saw in capitalism not just an admirably rising productivity, but also a required foundation for political liberty. He also understood that a system of “perfect liberty” – one that we might presently call an ideal democracy – could never be based upon smug and facile encouragements of needless consumption. The inexorable laws of the marketplace, he had reasoned, demanded a suitable disdain for all vanity-driven buying.
For Adam Smith, the main problem of any dangerously orchestrated hyper-consumption was neither economic nor political, but psychological.
It was, in other words, a problem of unresisted absorption into the mass or crowd.
For Adam Smith, contrary to very widespread misunderstandings of his complex thought, “conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would later be used more explicitly and engagingly by sociologist Thorsten Veblen, must never be taken as evidence of economic or political progress. It follows that while the crowd call of American democracy may remain loud, crass or even alluringly persuasive, We the people must still keep up the struggle against the suffocating mass, purposefully, and, above all else, asgenuine individuals.
Then Americans could finally lay bare the essential ingredients of a democracy that would offer more than the sum total of individual souls fleeing desperately from themselves.
Then, perhaps, Americans could avoid re-electing a president who stands in chaotic opposition to sensible foreign policies of nuclear war avoidance, and who substitutes ad hominem attacks for any minimally intelligent diplomacy. Then, determinedly, the American nation could choose its presidents from among candidates who can understand that the United States is part of a much wider world. This means from those aspirants who could acknowledge that “America First” represents a potentially irreversible triumph of mass.
In the end,
if ever the American constitutional State should succumb to what Swiss
psychologist Carl G. Jung euphemistically called a “fit of
weakness,” such triumph could hasten
the nation’s most utterly lethal declensions. A nuclear war would resemble any
other terminal illness in at least one overarching respect. This is that the
only “cure” would lie in prevention.
 “The mass-man,” we learn from Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”
 On the terrible possible outcomes of “mass,” see especially: C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957); Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1932); and Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Of course, all three share as core intellectual mentor Friedrich Nietzsche, especially the 19th-centiry German philosopher’s still-incomparable classic, Zarathustra (1883).
 “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remains minors all their lives….” says Immanuel Kant in his classic essay: What is Enlightenment (1784).
 We learn, again, from Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment, that submission to deleterious mass is “self-imposed.” The core problem we read from the German philosopher, lies ultimately in a “lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance.”
 See especially: Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society (1935); Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (1939); and Robert Michels, The Iron Law of Oligarchy (1949).
Trump Plans to Keep U.S. Troops Permanently in Iraq
A reliable and exceptionally knowledgeable source, who doesn’t wish to be publicly identified, has confidentially informed me that an agreement has been reached in which U.S. troops will remain permanently in Iraq but under exclusively NATO command, no longer under the command of CentCom (US Central Command in the Middle East).
On February 12th, NATO’s defense ministers agreed to increase operations in Iraq. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has been working ever since Fall of 2019 to prepare this plan (Trump had been pushing for it even before that), and Stoltenberg has consulted in Jordan with King Abdullah, and also in Brussels with Sabri Bachtabji, Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, because Tunisia is a key part of Trump’s plan, to use other NATO nations as America’s proxies controlling the Middle East.
On February 1st, pro-Muslim-Brotherhood Turkey agreed to the plan, and will be transferring jihadists (al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, plus some ISIS) from Syria’s jihadist-filled Idlib Province, into Libya, via Tunisia, so as to boost the forces of Fayez al-Sarraj (former monarchist now backed by U.S., EU, and Turkey) to defeat the forces of Khalifa Haftar (former Gaddafi-supporter, now in the Libyan civil war claiming as his objective the defeat of all jihadists there). Whereas U.S., EU, and Turkey, back al-Sarraj, Russia isn’t involved in the war, except trying to negotiate peace there, but al-Sarraj rejects any involvement by Russia. Turkey’s interest in Libya is to win Libya’s backing so as to be in a stronger position to win turf in the emerging competition for rights to oil and gas under nearby parts of the Mediterranean Sea. To have Libya beholden to Turkey would be to increase the likelihood of Turkey’s getting that offshore oil.
America’s position regarding the jihadists that Turkey has been protecting in Syria’s Idlib province is that they can be useful as proxy boots-on-the-ground to defeat Haftar, whom America too opposes, favoring al-Sarraj, whom Turkey likewise backs; so, Turkey and U.S. are cooperating on this effort in Libya.
America’s interest is in overthrowing Syria’s secular Government and replacing it with one that would be acceptable to the fundamentalist-Sunni Saud family who own Saudi Arabia. In order to do this, America will therefore need to keep its forces in Iraq. Otherwise, Russia and Iran, both of which America and the Sauds hope ultimately to conquer, would have stronger influence in the Middle East, which neither America nor the Sauds want. America invaded Iraq not only directly for its international corporations to profit, but also in order to have its hundreds of bases there from which to control the entire Middle East — bases that are supplied out of the world’s largest Embassy building (from which even other U.S. embassies are supplied), which building was constructed in Baghdad after the 2003 invasion. Trump’s plan now is to bring in NATO allies, so that they will help out in the Middle East, more than in the past. Trump wants America’s vassal-nations to absorb some of the financial burdens of imposing empire, so that America’s taxpayers won’t need to fund the full cost of it, for the benefit of the billionaire owners of international corporations that are based in the United States and in its allied (or vassal) (including other NATO) countries. This is why Stoltenberg has been working, for months, to effectuate Trump’s plan.
On February 1st, the veteran Middle Eastern reporter David Hearst headlined at his Middle East Eye site, “EXCLUSIVE: US military offers Iraq a partial pullback”, and he reported that,
A representative of the US military told the Iraqis present that the United States was prepared to leave positions in or near Shia-majority areas, such as Balad Air Base, which is located 80km north of Baghdad and houses US trainers and contractors.
Washington, the Iraqis were told, could even consider reducing its presence in Baghdad.
“We are prepared to leave some of the Shia-majority areas, like the base in Balad. Maybe we could reduce our presence in Baghdad,” the military representative told his Iraqi counterparts, who understood from this that the US presence in the Iraqi capital would be reduced to guarding its embassy and the airport.
However, the US side categorically ruled out withdrawing from their biggest air base in Iraq, and indeed the whole Middle East, Ain al-Assad. …
For the US side, Ain al-Assad was its “red line”.
The representative said: “We cannot even start talking about withdrawing [from that base]. Withdrawal is out of the question.”
Such was the sensitivity of these discussions that they were held well away from Iraq. The meeting took place in the private residence of the Canadian ambassador to Jordan in Amman, Middle East Eye was told.
Present at the meeting was a representative of the US military, a Nato official and a senior Iraqi security adviser.
America needs the vast Ain al-Assad base in order ultimately to overthrow Bashar al-Assad (no relation), Syria’s secular President, who is allied with Russia and with Iran. NATO will increasingly be taking over this function of assisting the war for regime-change in Syria.
On February 15th, Middle East Monitor bannered “Iraq: Washington to strengthen presence of NATO to disengage militarily from Baghdad” and reported that America’s allies will take over there but “This will only work if the NATO mission includes a strong US component.” So: America’s withdrawal will be only nominal. This will help NATO by assuring that Trump won’t abandon NATO if he wins a second term, and it will also help Trump to win a second term by Trump’s claiming to be withdrawing from the Middle East even without actually doing any such thing.
The aim of this is to fool the public everywhere. In international affairs, this is the way to win: first, fool your own public; then, get your allies to fool theirs. That builds a “coalition.” Donald Trump is doing precisely this.
Trump is continuing Barack Obama’s wars, just like Barack Obama continued George W. Bush’s wars. The plan for America to control the Middle East remains on course, now, ever since 2001. As Obama often said, “America is the one indispensable nation.” (All others are therefore “dispensable.”) It is certainly the leading nation. And America’s aristocracy possess patience. They know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In order to be the leading nation and the biggest international aggressor (so that “America is the one indispensable nation”), what is essential is to treat every other nation as being “dispensable” (make them fear you), so that either they will do as the leading nation wants, or else they will be dispensed with — they will become added to the list of target-nations to be conquered. They are dispensable; they are disposable. A disposable nation is aware of its subordinate position. On February 15th, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that
the US dedicated a significantly higher proportion of its defence budget to procurement and R&D than its NATO allies. European countries are increasing their defence investments as a share of their total spending – for those countries with available data, funds rose from 19.8% in 2018 to 23.1% in 2019 – but the equivalent category reached 29% in the US. The United States’ defence investments were thus worth around four times as much as European states’ combined.
A nation which spends 29% of its GDP on “defence” might be weak in other ways, but everyone in the world will fear it, and all other nations will know that they are “dispensable,” because the country which spends that high a percentage (and there is only one which does) also happens to have the world’s largest economy. Any other country, which isn’t one of its vassals, will be viewed by it (or by its aristocracy) as being an “enemy” — a nation that is targeted for “regime-change,” instead of for being a market. And being a targeted nation is very different than being a target market. It is to be only a target — a target of sanctions, a target of coups, and, if those fail, then a target of invasion and military occupation, like Iraq is.
(However, actually, the U.S. spends only around 7% — $1.5 trillion divided by $22 trillion — of its economy toward the Pentagon and the rest of America’s military. Still, it might be the highest percentage on Earth. Because around $1 trillion yearly in U.S. military spending is off-the-books, that ‘defence’ figure could actually be closer to 10%. But it’s not 29%. Right now, around 20% of U.S. GDP goes to buy healthcare, which is the very largest percentage for healthcare of any country on the planet. America’s quality of healthcare is at or near the lowest of all industrialized nations; so, the wastage in its healthcare is even larger than in its military.)
Iraq and Iran and Syria — and every other nation that is friendly toward Russia — all of them, are targets of the U.S. regime. That’s why Trump plans to keep U.S. forces in Iraq: Iraq was conquered in 2003, and he wants it to stay that way.
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