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Wag the Dog

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he past few days have been full of so-called coincidences in the Middle East that can’t help but to raise eyebrows in the post-Iraq War era. On Tuesday, “a suspected chemical attack by government forces” took place in Idlib, one of the few major cities still under rebel control in President Assad’s Syrian Arab Republic. Two days later, the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a government air base near Homs, right as President Trump was in the middle of a delicate dinner conversation with his nemesis (and Assad ally) Chinese Premier Xi.

All of this tumult is occurring right as regional strongman President Erdogan of Turkey is making his final pitch for an April 16th referendum to vastly expand his executive powers…

Now, why would Trump, who warned against attacking Syria 45 times & who ran on a largely non-interventionist platform, suddenly go against one of his few consistently stated policy creeds? Especially seeing as Trump said that he’d focus military efforts on fighting ISIS, Assad’s strongest opposition force? According to Trump , it’s because, “Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children… Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.” A bleeding-heart statement from a man who has twice tried to bar all Syrian refugees fleeing such violence & who recently said on live TV that, “when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

The real reason has everything to do with politics. The attack occurred right as Trump was in the middle of a “very difficult” meeting with China’s leader, Xi Jinping. Trump’s disdain for China has gone back many years… He has accused the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter of creating climate change as a hoax to undermine US manufacturing, condemned China repeatedly as a currency manipulator, & warned that, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.”   Just last year, Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon guaranteed that the US would be going to war with China within a decade.   What better way to try to create leverage with your rival than by announcing a sneak attack on one of his allies to his face, right as he’s digging into a Big Mac at Mar-a-Lago?

Trump ally President Erdogan has his own reasons to want a conflagration in the region. Turkey is Syria’s super wealthy northern neighbor and, incidentally, one of the key players in Syria’s war. Almost all of ISIS’ foreign recruits (and supplies) come to Syria through the Turkey-Syria border; so much so, that the US begged Turkey to secure its border. Turkish officials, most notably Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, have been implicated as being complicit in the smuggling of ISIS oil through Turkey. At one point, ISIS was making $50M a month from this illicit source of income. Erdogan is holding a referendum on April 16 that could vastly increase the scope of his already authoritarian powers; a yes vote could allow him to lock up even more journalists & purge even more academics.   Nothing coalesces support for strongmen like fear. With an airstrike and maybe much more to come to neighboring Syria from Uncle Sam, Erdogan will be able to play the role of Protector, vowing to guard the Motherland from terrorists and US invaders alike.

Who was the biggest winner of the “alleged chemical attack” that Rep. Ron Paul derided as making no military or political sense for a regime that had solidified control of the country months back after seizing Aleppo & that had received a de facto truce with Western powers previously been eager to focus on ISIS? Trump. Prior to Friday’s missile strike, the whole world was enraptured by constant stream of reports of the Trump presidential campaign’s ties to Russia. The political spectacle had an ever-growing cast of characters: Manafort, Flynn, Nunes, Kushner, etc. Trump’s approval rating dropped to just over a third of the country.   The word “impeachment” was on the lips of many people throughout Washington, the media and water coolers. Now, Congress, the media & the international community (besides Canadian PM Justin Truadeau) are blindly praising him for his decisive attack in response to one alleged Assad atrocity out of the countless confirmed atrocities he’s committed over the past 6 years. Even Democrats in Congress have almost unanimously supported the missile strike; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was only unhappy that Trump “didn’t consult with Congress before implementing it.”   Best of all for Trump, he can use his attack on Russia’s close ally as evidence that he couldn’t possibly have been colluding with Putin (though a Trump-as-Russian-mole conspiracy theorist could argue that the attack was jointly choreographed by Trump and Putin to throw people off Trump’s trail).

We’ve seen this kind of chemical-weapons-in-the-Middle-East-flavored “manufacturing consent”, as Noam Chomsky puts it, just 14 years ago. Almost everyone in the Establishment, including Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and the NYT, blindly accepted the Bush Administration’s bizarre conspiracy theory about staunch secularist Saddam Hussein supporting al-Qaeda & harboring a secret stash of WMDs and that the only logical solution was to topple the dictatorship of Ronald Reagan   & Karl Rumsfeld’s buddy in the 1980s. Prior to that, we had the completely unfounded bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory on Aug 20, 1998. The attack on the Sudanese “chemical weapons facility” occurred literally one day after the Monica Lewinsky scandal started blowing up. Or who could forget when “Nayirah”, the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador, was hired by the PR firm Hill & Knowlton to fabricate before Congress horror stories about witnessing soldiers of Saddam Hussein (remember him) killing babies in incubators? Clearly, the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter would have no incentive to draw the US military into repelling Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait…

If the US and its allies sign onto another ground war in the Middle East due to some presumptive and poorly fact-checked reports on an alleged chemical attack in the world’s most complex warzone, where there are no outside journalists or doctors to examine the victims firsthand, then everyone may end up feeling duped… again.

Americas

Venezuelan refugee crisis and how it is altering the surrounding regions

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Venezuela’s migration crisis has been in the news lately and recent UN polls show that nearly 2.3 million have already migrated from their homeland over the past few years. However, other estimates show a figure closer to four million Venezuelan immigrants.

This crisis is rapidly sinking its claws in the neighbouring countries and if the amount of people migrating keeps increasing, it might become the worst man-made disasters since the First and Second World Wars after the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian crisis gave birth to more than six million refugees, and although the number here is still around half of that toll, the Venezuelan crisis doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The inflation over there is nearly a million percent – a number so absurd that the common people around the world are not able to even grasp the sheer magnitude of the situations developing every day in this country. The minimum monthly wage is a few American dollars, putting essentials like food – particularly rations like chicken – into the category of luxurious items. The economy has shrunk by half in five years. To explain the extent of this downfall, Girish Gupta – founder of Data Drum and former investigative, multimedia journalist in Venezuela/LatAm – tweeted: If you’d bought a million dollars in Venezuela’s local currency when President Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013, it’d now be worth $3.40. Diseases that were once overcome – like measles and diphtheria – are making a comeback. Infant mortality rates are going up while approximately 1.3 million refugees who have already escaped Venezuela were suffering from malnourishment (according to UN officials).

However, these are not the last of the Venezuelans’ problems; the nations to whom the refugees sought to escape to are closing their doors on their faces – literally. Sunday saw Ecuador closing border crossings with Colombia to people who don’t have passports. This was seen as a certain way to reduce the bulk of refugees from entering other countries as passports are fairly difficult to obtain amidst the economical and political chaos. Jonnayker Lien, a migrant standing outside the Peruvian border with his entire family said, “Imagine people like us who have sold everything, down to our beds, to come here, and they close the door on us. We don’t know where to sleep, and we don’t have money to go back.” Crisis broke out in the town of Pacaraima, north Brazil, after local throngs started struggling against the refugees and pushed them back to the border. Already a penurious town, the locals resent sharing their remaining resources with these migrants. However, even a strong military force could not stop these migrants from coming into Brazil. Peru had twenty thousand migrants arriving in the past week.

An emergency regional summit has been called by officials from Ecuador where Venezuela and its neighbours could deal with the crisis. Yukiko Iriyama, a representative in Colombia for the U.N. refugee agency said, “The capacity of the region is overwhelmed. The magnitude of the situation really requires a regional comprehensive approach.” The recently implemented passport checks by Peru and Ecuador aimed to reduce the flow of refugees into the countries. However, all it did was reduce the legal way of entering into these nations and increased the illegal border crossings.  To deal with this disaster and the refugee predicament, representatives from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week. Christian Kruger, the head of Colombia’s migration authoritysaid in a statement, “The exodus of Venezuelan citizens is not a problem exclusive to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador or a single country. This is a regional problem and as such we must address it. Demanding passports from a nation that does not have them and whose government does not facilitate the issuance of this document is to encourage irregularity.” Peru is also calling a meeting at an individual level of the permanent council of the Organization of American States to discuss the migration.

The toll of migrants entering Colombia is around a million in fifteen months but nations like Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru are also receiving these refugees. Low skilled Venezuelans have flooded some Latin American job markets to find work and send money back home. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo that he will set up a UN team that will respond to the crisis. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres “told him that he would put together an internal coordination mechanism to make sure that the UN regional response is well coordinated.” “This is something that is not uncommon in these types of crises,” he added. Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution suggested declaring this as a refugee crisis in order to seek help, saying, “It is up to the United Nations, together with the Organization of American States, to step up and recognize this problem as a refugee crisis so that the world can turn the proper attention to it and provide solutions.” He also added that none of the nations in the regionhave taken the initiative to provide a sustainable solution to the problem.

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Trump: The Symbol of America’s Isolation in the World

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The president of the United States, who came to power in 2016 with the slogan of “Reviving Washington’s Power”, has become the messenger of failure and defeat of his country in the West Asian region and in the international system. The U.S. numerous military and political defeats in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon were so outstanding that there’s no way Trump can brag about his achievements in the region.

On the other hand, many Democrats in the United States, and even the traditional Republicans, have been criticizing the President’s costly and barren foreign policy in West Asia. In such a situation, Trump attempts to attribute this failure to the country’s previous administrations and condemn them over what is happening in today’s world, especially in the West Asian region, and he blames Obama for Washington’s constant and extensive failures in this area.

Besides, Trump’s other projections about the hard conditions of the U.S. in West Asia are noteworthy. In his recent remarks, Donald Trump said that if he wasn’t at top of the U.S. political and executive equations, Iran would capture the Middle East (West Asia)! This is while Islamic Republic of Iran created stability in the West Asian region, and besides, has stood against the long-term, medium-term, and short-term and destructive goals of the United States and its allies in the region.

Trump’s strategic weakness in the West Asia is an important issue which can’t be easily overlooked. Of course this strategic weakness did exist during Obama’s presidency, but the truth is that it reached its peak during Trump’s presidency. And in the future, this weakness will bring severe blows to the United States.

The fact is that the strategic calculations of the United States in the West Asia region have all failed. And many of the pre-assumptions that Washington called them “strategic propositions”, have never turned into reality for some reasons, including the vigilance of the Resistance movement in the region. This is the reason why America is so confused in confronting the equations of West Asia.

Under such circumstances, the only way before the President of the United States is to leave the region and confess to his defeat; an issue that many American analysts and strategists have noted. It shouldn’t be forgotten that in spite of his campaign slogans for stopping the military intervention in the region, the current president of the United States has intensified conflicts and created constant security crises in West Asia.

The direct, perfect, and comprehensive support of Donald Trump for takfiri terrorists reflects this fact. Trump started his support for ISIL since the beginning of his presence at the White House in early 2017, and he stood for the terrorists until the fall of ISIL in Syria. Even now, Trump is attempting to revive terrorist and takfiri groups in Iraq and Syria.

Despite passing half of his presidency, Trump has claimed that the defeat in Yemen, Syria and Iraq was Obama’s legacy. There is no doubt that Obama and his two secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, played a major role in creating terrorist and takfiri groups (especially ISIL), and committed bloodshed in Syria and Iraq.

There is also little ambiguity in the strategic, operational and even tactical defeat of the Obama administration in the battlefields of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. However, Trump can’t deny his share in this defeat, and pretend as if he’s the messenger of the victory of the United States in these scenes! The fact is that Trump completed the military and political defeats of the United States in the West Asia region. Today, the United States is defeated in the battlefield, and can well see that its pieces had failed in these wars.

On the other hand, the White House has lost the political arena of the region. The failure of the United States in the Lebanese and Iraqi elections, on the one hand, and the popular support for the resistance groups in Yemen and Syria, has left Trump and his companions disappointed in the region. In such a situation, attributing the recent and ongoing defeats of the United States to the Obama administration is completely expectable, and at the same time, unacceptable!

Finally, we can see that just like Obama, George W Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan and Carter, Trump is stuck in this strategic miscalculation in the West Asian region. Undoubtedly, in his last days in power, Trump will also understand that there’s no way he can overcome this strategic weakness through Saudi and Emirati petrodollars.

However, it seems that the scope of Trump’s defeat in West Asia would be wider than the previous presidents of the United States. Undoubtedly, in the near future, Trump, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley will become the symbols of failure in the US foreign policy, especially in the West Asia. In other words, the president of the United States and his companions at the White House will have to admit to defeat in the West Asian region at a great expense, and this is exactly what frightens the American authorities.

first published in our partner Tehran Times

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Weather and White House Turmoil as Elections Loom

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc as it traversed the Florida panhandle.  The first Category 5 hurricane to hit the area since 1881 when records began, its 155 mph winds (only 5 mph short of Category 6) felled massive trees, blew away houses, collapsed buildings and left devastation in its wake.  Relatively fast moving at 14 mph, it was soon gone continuing as a Category 3 into neighboring Georgia and then further up its northeasterly path.  It seemed to signify a stamp of approval for the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on holding earth to a 1.5 degree Celsius warming issued a couple of days earlier.  We are at one degree now so storms can only be expected to get worse.

In northeastern Turkey, a 300-year old stone bridge disappeared overnight.  Villagers convinced it had been stolen called in the police.  Further investigation concluded it had been washed away by a flash flood caused by a sudden summer thunderstorm further upstream — clearly far more intense than in the previous three centuries.

Ever more powerful hurricanes, monsoons and forest fires point to a proliferation of extreme weather events that experts relate to global warming.  Yet President Donald Trump and his administration remain obdurate in climate change denial.

Thins are certainly warming up in the White House.  Nikki Haley announced her resignation in an amicable meeting with the president.  A staunch defender of many of Mr. Trump’s most egregious foreign policy changes, the UN Representative will be leaving at the end of the year to pursue opportunities in the private sector.  So said the announcement.  An astute and ambitious politician she has probably reassessed the costs versus benefits of remaining in a Trump administration.  Some tout her as a future presidential candidate.  Should she be successful she will be the first woman president, who also happens to be of Indian and Sikh ancestry.

The rap singer Kanye West visited the president in the Oval office.  A ten-minute rant/rap praising him was followed by a hug for which Mr. West ran round the wide desk that had been seemingly cleared of all paraphernalia for the performance.  He is one of the eight percent of blacks voting Republican.  Sporting the Trump trademark, Make-America-Great-Again red hat, he claimed it made him Superman, his favorite superhero.  And some suggested it was all further proof the place had gone insane.

A little over three weeks remain to the U.S. midterm elections on November 6th.  Their proximity is evidenced not by rallies or debates rather by the barrage of negative TV ads blasting opponents with accusations of shenanigans almost unworthy of a felon.  A couple of months of this and you lose any enthusiasm for voting.  Perhaps it is one reason why nearly half the electorate stays home.  Given such a backdrop, the furor over ‘Russian meddling’ in elections appears to be a trifle misplaced.  Others call the whole business a ‘witch hunt’ and state flatly the U.S. does the same.

The old idiom, ‘put your own house in order’ is particularly apt when we realize the beginning of this affair  was a Democratic National Committee email leak showing ‘the party’s leadership had worked to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign’.  It resulted in the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Always fair, aboveboard elections?  Not bloody likely, as the British would say.  Given the rewards, it’s against human nature.

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