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How American Presidential Contenders Talk About Russia

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Can American politicians talk sensibly about Russia? Major statements in the last year by leading contenders for the next presidential election in 2020 are not encouraging: they have presented severely distorted views of Russia and grossly exaggerated threats from the Kremlin. However, some influential politicians in the United States do have more realistic and balanced perspectives on Russia. Observers who wish for improved American-Russian relations should therefore be patient and not abandon all hope.

A year ago former Vice President Joe Biden published one of the longest statements, an article in Foreign Affairs that outlined “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin.” To his credit, Biden was relatively level-headed about Russian interference in the 2016 election: in contrast to those who hyperbolically likened it to the Pearl Harbor or 9/11 attacks, he treated Russian efforts to influence foreign elections as a problem to be managed, not an existential threat. However, Biden also presented a nightmarish view of “tyranny” in a Russia allegedly facing drastic demographic and economic decline. Popular support for Putin’s “kleptocracy” is so shallow, Biden claimed, that it would quickly disappear if the regime did not maintain “a chokehold on society.”

That kind of caricature, which encourages notions that Washington does not need to think seriously about how to engage with Russia, was soon challenged by a high turnout election in March 2018, when more than 70 percent of voters marked their ballots for President Vladimir Putin. Many American commentators dismissed the election as a sham because of the Kremlin’s domination of television coverage and its exclusion of some potential challengers. But the election result basically reflected genuine popular approval of Putin (ranging between 60 and 80 percent), which is rooted in beliefs that he is a strong leader who restored stability after the chaos of the 1990s and revived Russian national pride. The stereotypical notion of Russia as a backward land of totalitarian repression was also contradicted in June, when more than 80,000 Americans who visited for the World Cup saw for themselves Russian cities that are clean, modern, friendly, and lively. Many American politicians, including Biden, have wished for years that Putin was not the leader of Russia. But the reality US policymakers must face is that he will be President until 2024.

What to do? Biden’s recommendation boils down to long-term containment, deterrence, and vigilance. Although he recognizes a need to “keep talking to Moscow,” the sole purpose he indicates is to avoid dangerous miscalculations. Thus, Biden’s grim vision offers little hope for any improvement in the future from the present tense stalemate.

Much like Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders envisions standing up to and telling off Putin. In Where We Go from Here, published in November 2018, Sanders combined a pacific vision of the future with a militant policy in the present. He is rightly critical of how “the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons of destruction” and he dreams of a world in which swords will be beaten into plowshares. At the same time, Sanders vows “to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy around the globe, including in Russia,” and in an aggressively Wilsonian vein he declares that “in the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win.”

The trouble with that combative stance is that it disregards how crusades under the banner of democracy against autocracy have led to catastrophic wars from Iraq to Libya and have had counterproductive effects in Russia. As former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s vivid recent memoir, From Cold War to Hot Peace, amply shows, his confrontational championing of democracy failed: while antagonizing Putin, it made it easier for the Kremlin to depict the small minority of Russian liberals as clients of America and led some prominent Russian democrats to distance themselves from the emotional and ideological ambassador. (During McFaul’s 2012-2014 ambassadorship the percentage of Russians with positive views of America fell from 52 to 23.)

The flourishing democracy McFaul and Sanders would like to see in Russia is not likely to spring up in the harsh glare of foreign denunciation and exhortation; it is more likely to grow in the softer light of reduced international tension. Mikhail Gorbachev’s democratization of the USSR began after summit meetings with Ronald Reagan eased Soviet fears and warmed superpower relations. Aware of that precedent, McFaul recognized at the start of the Obama administration in 2009 that “a more benign international environment for the Russian government would create better conditions for democratic change internally.” Unfortunately, McFaul later forgot his insight that “confrontation with the Kremlin would impede democratization.”

The most effective way to advance democracy around the world is not to grandstand about support for democrats in countries where the US has very little credibility but to make American democracy at home truly a model others will want to emulate. That will require facing problems such as racism, inequality, police brutality, and paralyzing partisanship that plagued America long before the 2016 election. Pugnacious preoccupation with Putin is a distraction from that goal, not a way to pursue it.

Although Sanders recognizes that “the global war on terror has been a disaster for the American people and for American leadership,” he champions a different kind of war, a global battle against “oligarchy and authoritarianism.” To mobilize support for that fight, Sanders makes Putin a symbol of all the “demagogues” and “kleptocrats” who “use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.” While Kremlin officials and loyalists have indeed indulged in self-aggrandizement, that began in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin, whom Americans lionized as a great democratic reformer while tycoons pillaged the economy. Loudly calling for a worldwide struggle against oligarchy and making Putin the locus of that evil, as Sanders does, will make it much more difficult to engage in quiet and effective diplomacy – a lesson Ronald Reagan learned in the 1980s. It also will complicate the quest to turn spears into pruning hooks that Sanders extolls.

One of Sanders’ major rivals on the left wing of the Democratic Party is Senator Elizabeth Warren, who formally announced her candidacy in February. Warren set out her vision of “A Foreign Policy for All” in the January/February 2019 issue of Foreign Affairs. While her sharp criticism of how American post-Cold War foreign policy has served the interests of large corporations is bold and vigorous, her alarmist depiction of Russia is ill informed and unwise.

According to Warren, “Russia became belligerent and resurgent” in response to the US promotion of rapid privatization and a wild form of capitalism in the 1990s. That inaccurate statement disregards how, in his first years as President of Russia at the start of the 21st century, Vladimir Putin eagerly pursued a strategic and economic partnership with the United States as he sought to revive Russia after the deep depression of the 1990s. When terrorists attacked America on September 11, 2001, Putin was the first foreign leader to call the White House to offer support. He then ordered the Russian military and intelligence services to provide important assistance to the American war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. When the George W. Bush administration announced withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2001 and then encouraged NATO expansion into the Baltic states that had been part of the former Soviet Union, Putin expressed only mild opposition because he still prioritized a partnership with Washington.

Politicians and journalists who vilify Putin ignore that history because it contradicts their claims that he is innately anti-American and aggressive. The truth is that Russia gradually reacted to U.S. policies that repeatedly threatened its interests and security, including the war against Iraq in 2003, the drive to incorporate Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, and the placement of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. If Warren and other prospective presidential candidates are to develop a sound strategy toward Russia they must first have an accurate understanding of the origins of contemporary Russian foreign policies and attitudes toward the United States, which have been strongly affected by US military interventions from Kosovo and Iraq to Syria and Libya.

Warren’s foreign policy vision is disappointing in several other ways. Although her desire to reduce defense spending to “sustainable levels” will be welcomed by many progressive Americans, she does not appear to have thought through how she will be able to do that after stoking fears of “a revanchist Russia that threatens Europe” (a view that disregards how key European leaders have continued to see Russia as a partner in dealing with issues such as the maintenance of the nuclear agreement with Iran). Warren declares that Washington should “impose strong, targeted penalties on Russia” as if that had not already been done, repeatedly, with no positive effect. She categorizes Putin as one of the dictators who remain in power “because they hold unwilling populations under brutal control” – disregarding how surveys of Russian public opinion have shown persistent high support for Putin and conveying a terribly distorted view of Russia as if it were one of the “captive nations” of the Cold War.

The Senator from Massachusetts invokes the memory of President John F. Kennedy in connection with her vision of how to “project American strength and values throughout the world,” but she appears to have forgotten Kennedy’s speech at American University in June 1963. In that courageous address, delivered less than eight months after the Cuban missile crisis brought the United States and the USSR to the edge of nuclear war, Kennedy urged Americans to reexamine their attitudes toward the Communist Soviet Union. Making a dramatic shift from his earlier posture as a militant Cold Warrior, Kennedy implored Americans “not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side” and he reminded them that “history teaches us that enmities between nations … do not last forever.” Instead of demonizing the Soviets, Kennedy argued, Americans should focus on promoting a gradual evolution toward peaceful relations and problem solving. Kennedy’s farsighted speech helped to clear the way for a limited test ban treaty that he hoped would help to “check the spiraling arms race.” By the fall of 1963, when Kennedy authorized the sale of wheat to the Soviet Union, US relations with the USSR were more hopeful than almost anyone could have anticipated a year earlier. Warren and other prospective presidential candidates should remember Kennedy’s wise leadership on relations with Russia in the last months of his life as a model of the kind of thoughtful, articulate president we need in the third decade of the twenty-first century.

In contrast to Kennedy, Biden, Sanders, and Warren have portrayed Russia as a perpetual enemy, distorted its people’s attitudes, and exaggerated the threats it poses. They also have failed to consider how constructive dialogue with Russian leaders could promote common interests such as curbing costly spending on the modernization of nuclear arsenals, countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and combating Islamist terrorism. While Kennedy envisioned the possibility of moving beyond Cold War confrontation, the three senior prospective Democratic candidates have embraced establishment perspectives that are holdovers from the Cold War.

Even some of the younger presidential aspirants have been unable to resist the temptation to attack President Donald Trump by linking him to Russia. When Senator Kamala Harris of California announced her campaign for the presidency at the beginning of February, she claimed that foreign powers are “infecting the White House like malware.” She also asserted that in 2016 Russia not only interfered in the presidential election but also attacked “our very American identity.”

An even younger Democratic candidate, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who has sharply criticized US interventions for “regime change” around the world, is likely to face intense criticism of any statements that can be construed as “soft” on Russia. On February 1, NBC News claimed that social media experts had detected “stirrings of a possible campaign of support” for Gabbard by online accounts associated with Russia. An NBC reporter went so far as to assert that “The Kremlin already has a crush on Tulsi Gabbard.”

Although it will therefore be difficult for presidential candidates to talk reasonably about Russia, some prominent American politicians do realize the need for better relations between the two countries. For example, California Governor Jerry Brown recognized that common interests, such as avoiding nuclear war, addressing climate change and promoting mutually beneficial economic development, are much more important for the long term than the political conflicts that have marred relations in the last few years. Other politicians with sober and thoughtful perspectives on Russia include Democratic Representative Ro Khanna of California and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

If major incidents that inflame hostilities can be avoided in the next two years, there is reason to hope that eventually more American political leaders will recognize the need to move beyond the recent futile efforts to isolate, punish, and demonize Russia. During the McCarthyist hysteria of the early 1950s, when Republicans accused Democratic officials of being soft on communism or even of being traitorous agents of the Kremlin, respectful dialogue between Washington and Moscow was almost unthinkable. Yet by the summer of 1955 the McCarthyist fever broke and Eisenhower and Khrushchev met at Geneva. The resumption of discussions between top American and Soviet leaders would culminate – after some unfortunate and dangerous interruptions – in the test ban treaty and the partial détente of 1963. If leaders in Moscow and Washington show patience and restraint in the coming years, it is possible to hope for a similar improvement in relations, particularly after the presidential election in November 2020.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

David Foglesong is a professor of history at Rutgers University. He is the author of “ The American Mission and the “Evil Empire": The Crusade for a "Free Russia" Since 1881 (Cambridge University Press); and “America's Secret War Against Bolshevism”: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920 (The University of North Carolina Press).

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Reality-Denial Among America’s Democratic Party Faithful

Eric Zuesse

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I used to be a Democrat, until the majority of Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted in 2002 for George W. Bush’s 2003 catastrophic invasion of Iraq, even though everything that Bush and his Administration were alleging the invasion to be based on were mere lies, by him and his Administration. A Senator or Representative is supposed to represent the interests of the American public, not of the billionaires who control Lockheed Martin and ExxonMobil and Halliburton, etc., but those Democrats (and virtually all Republicans also) represented those billionaires, and certainly NOT the American public. Among the 29 Democratic Senators who, on that fateful day of 11 October 2002, voted to authorize Bush to invade Iraq, were the Party’s 2004 Presidential nominee John Kerry, and its 2016 Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and its likely 2020 nominee Joe Biden. (Barack Obama wasn’t yet a member of Congress in 2002.) In other words: the Senators who did, included the ones whom Democrats chose (and still are expected to choose) as their Presidential nominees. There is no apology for such treachery as those Senators (and 68% of the House, too) perpetrated by authorizing that criminal invasion, other than to say “I made a mistake,” but if I could see, even at that time, that it was all mere lies, then were they, our most successful Senators (and Representatives), really such nitwits that they could not — they, who are surrounded by lobbyists and not actually by the people they are supposed to represent? They joined in with George W. Bush’s lies, because they chose to be surrounded by such lobbyists, even though all of Bush’s efforts to get the U.N. to endorse an invasion of Iraq turned out to be fruitless. And, then, on 17 March 2003, he, our American President, suddenly warned the U.N. weapons-inspectors to leave Iraq immediately so Bush could invade that country, which had never invaded, nor even threatened to invade, the United States. This was a clear case of international aggression, just like what Justice Robert Jackson who headed the U.S. prosecution team at the Nuremberg Tribunal after WW II charged Hitler’s top henchmen for having done, and for which those men became executed. Why not Bush, now, for Iraq; why not Obama, now, for Libya; why not Obama, now, for Syria; why not Trump, now, for Syria; why not Trump, also, for Venezuela, if he also invades there? Fascists, all of them, but in today’s America, the public are unconcerned about that, and respond only as political partisans, supporting Democratic Party billionaires’ candidates against Republican Party billionaires’ candidates, or vice-versa, and not even giving a damn about the millions of senselessly slaughtered in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere, for which America’s top responsible officials should therefore be internationally prosecuted, and perhaps hung (like at Nuremberg). So, the only reason, now, to have any loyalty to either of America’s Parties is a mixture of stupidity and psychopathy. And that describes today’s Democrats, just as much as it does today’s Republicans.

The leading political news-site for Democratic-Party operatives and loyal followers is politicalwire.com, and their reader-comments display starkly the mentality that — on this Party’s side — guides the Party’s electorate. Those reader-comments display a Party that’s a dream for the Democratic Party’s billionaires, because the mentality they display is slavish — not physically slavish, but mentally slavish, the slavery of people who hug their prejudices, and who hate anyone (even fellow-Democrats) that challenges their prejudices (tries to help free them from their mental slavery). So: Democratic Party voters’ prejudices have become locked-in, and those people refuse to allow any way out of their existing prejudices. These operatives and voters insist upon retaining their prejudices, exactly as they are. For the Democratic Party’s billionaires’ lobbyists, and media, and think tanks, to have their way with those people, is so easy — it’s like dealing with a slave who says, “Whip me again, Mas’r.” It’s a pathetic political form of self-flagellation, which views the master as being rightfully superior to one’s self — to one’s own mental faculties — handing the whip to that ‘superior’ or master. Is this what American politics has now come down to? It’s what has caused the Democratic Party to be as neoconservative — American imperialist — as is the Republican Party.

On August 8th, Political Wire headlined “Russian Interference Likely Did Not Affect 2016 Result”, and summarized, and linked to, an extremely careful and well-planned and executed, thoroughly scientific, study, which concluded that, “I find no evidence that Russian attempts to target voters in key swing states had any effect on the election results in those states. Instead, the results were almost totally predictable based on the political and demographic characteristics of those states, especially their past voting tendencies, ideological leanings, and demographics.” He found absolutely “no evidence” that it “had any effect” upon the electoral outcome. Anyone who would have clicked through there to the actual study itself would have seen that it was definitive on its subject, and that there is no reasonable basis for accepting Hillary Clinton’s distorting insinuations that she had lost the election because of Russian interference. This study’s author accepted unquestioningly the Mueller Report in its allegation (on its page 19) that Russia’s Government “sought to influence [American] public opinion through online media and forums … as early as 2014.” However, even the Mueller Report doesn’t anywhere allege that Russia “tried to” or “attempted to” cause America’s voters to prefer one candidate over another candidate in the election. Even an allegation like that  would have been devoid of even that Report’s own shabby evidentiary standard to become cited. In other words: even the Mueller Report doesn’t play so fast-and-loose with truth for it to allege anything that is at all contradictory to anything in this scientific analysis and conclusion about the matter: that Hillary Cinton’s defeat cannot rationally be even hypothetically blamed on ‘Russian interference’. If there was such interference, no one has yet nailed it. Insinuations have replaced it. Anyone who believes such an allegation is a willing mental slave. How common are such slaves, actually?

A good indication of how common they are is the Disqus thread (the reader-comments) to that Political Wire summary of the scientific study’s findings:

As was earlier noted, readers at that site are Democratic Party operatives, and extremely loyal Democratic Party voters. Overwhelmingly, those readers are sloughing off that scientific study and analysis of the data. Some do so by attacking its author, as being just “one person with one opinion,” and referring (mainly) to the extremely partisan Democratic Party propaganda-organ the New Yorker, and its rabidly partisan Jane Mayer’s 24 July 2018 “How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump”, which summarizes Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s book, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President — What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know, which book was effectively and accurately destroyed in a two-star review of it at Amazon, by a “B. Wilson,” titled, appropriately, “Little if any real proof is established that the Russians swung the election. A top 10 list.” Looking at the Jamieson book itself, one sees no consideration whatsoever of the data and issues which were dealt with — quantitatively, and on the basis of high quality empirical facts — in the scientific study. Instead, Jamieson’s work is a non-quantitative ‘analysis’ that’s actually loaded with, and built upon, hedged assertions, such as “We can surmise the probable although not certain impact Russian shenanigans had on the balance of messages between the two major party campaigns” — and no data, and no counts, but pure hypothesization, without clear derivation from specific instances of anything. Her book is even less trustworthy than the Mueller Report that it cites so frequently. In short: it’s trash. But that’s good enough to override science, in the minds of believing partisans — mental slaves: people who ignore proven truth, in order to sustain their existing prejudices.

Jane Mayer said of Jamieson’s book, “In two hundred and twenty-four pages of extremely dry prose, with four appendixes of charts and graphs and fifty-four pages of footnotes, Jamieson makes a strong case that, in 2016, ‘Russian masterminds’ pulled off a technological and political coup. Moreover, she concludes, the American media ‘inadvertently helped them achieve their goals.’” Anyone who thinks that American media were predominantly slanted for Trump instead of for Hillary is beyond all reason and evidence — but there they are at Political Wire, as readers, commenting upon a squib, which summarizes this scientific study (the first and only one on the subject).

Of course, such closed-mindedness is good for sustaining any political party, but it can destroy any democracy.

NOTE: Incidentally, while I consider that scientific study to be definitive on its topic, I strongly disagree with its author’s analysis, in his 2018 book, The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump, to the effect that “elites and activists” haven’t shaped “the American social and cultural landscape” of our time. As a historian (which he certainly is not — he’s a political scientist), I believe that, specifically (and ever since at least the time of FDR’s death in 1945) the wealthiest Americans (and not merely ambiguous “elites and activists”) did shape it, to become, as it now is: fascist. That’s why both Parties now are fascist — one liberal fascist, and the other conservative fascist. Liberalism is not  progressivism. And fascism (extreme conservatism) is the opposite of progressivism. By contrast, liberalism mixes together those two opposites.  (Fascism is the modern form of feudalism, and derives from that. Progressivism is the anti-fascism.) Furthermore, by now, there exists massive empirical evidence that the U.S. Government, at least ever since 1981, is no democracy, at all, but is instead ruled only by its very wealthiest and well-connected citizens, so that, as the first of these studies phrased this matter: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” (A superb 6-minute video summary of that landmark study is here.) Consequently, that book is bad even within its own field of political science. The book’s author, furthermore, displays there a strong prejudice favoring the Democratic Party. Fortunately, however, his scientific analysis of the 2016 election was unafflicted by that, or any other, prejudice. It was straight science. Furthermore, any ad-hominem attack (such as is common in the Political Wire reader-comments) is entirely unscientific regarding any study, including that author’s. Virtually all of the reader-comments at that Political Wire article reflect mental slaves. Instead of their being grateful to the study’s author for freeing them from lies which afflict them, they insult that messenger of science.

Furthermore: on 14 June 2016 (just 17 days after Trump won the Republican nomination) Dylan Matthews at Vox had headlined “One of the best election models predicts a Trump victory. Its creator doesn’t believe it.” Matthews opened: “One of the most respected and accurate forecasting models in political sciences says that Donald Trump will win the 2016 presidential election, and by a fairly comfortable margin at that. There’s just one problem: Its creator doesn’t believe his own forecast.” That author, Professor Alan I. Abramowitz’s, formula for predicting U.S. electoral outcomes will probably now become standard. (Trump had actually won by slightly less than Abromowitz’s model predicted, and this is what Abromowitz’s 8 August 2019 article was now documenting. He points out there that especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — the three states which decided the election’s outcome — Trump’s victory-margin was, in fact, lower than Abromowitz’s model had predicted it would be. So, when that Political Wire commenter attacked this author, as being just “one person with one opinion,” he was attacking the one person who had actually predicted accurately not just the 2016 Presidential election’s outcome, but the reasons why Trump was heading for victory. He was attacking the only person who had publicly figured these things out, in advance of the outcome.)

To be a mental slave is to be a believer in lies. This type of slavery was first documented anecdotally in Charles Mackay’s 1841, 500+page, classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds. How is democracy possible with so many willing mental slaves voting — regardless of what the particular Party is? Is democracy impossible? Is the political situation actually hopeless? Shouldn’t overcoming prejudice — anti-scientific thinking (a tendency to believeonly what one wants to believe) — be actually the chief purpose of all publicly financed education?

Author’s note: first posted at strategic-culture.org

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Beijing’s expanding power over Washington

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The President of the United States continues to feel weak and helpless against China. At the beginning of 2017, Donald Trump tried to contain Beijing by restrictive economic policies.

At the time, Trump stated that the $ 346 billion US trade deficit was due to trade with China. We are now in year 2019 and this trade deficit has reached $ 419 billion! This shows well that Trump’s economic policies toward Beijing have failed. This will undoubtedly have an impact on the presidential election of the year. Many US citizens thought that Trump could reach a deal with Beijing by the end of the2017  (in the interests of US economic interests), but the White House has practically failed to confront China.

China’s stoppage of US agricultural products and Beijing’s imposition of reciprocal tariffs on American products indicate that this Asian power does not intend to surrender to the United States. In such circumstances, there will be no opportunity for President Donald Trump and his companions to maneuver.

Many US economic and policy analysts believe that in year2020, China will be one of the actors that will hurt Trump in the presidential race. However, China has now become a symbol of America’s economic and political failure in the world.The popularity of Trump has dropped in recent polls in the United States. Donald Trump’s calculations have been incorrect in many cases! This has exacerbated Republican concerns over next year’s presidential elections. An overview of the results of recent polls in the United States shows that Trump has a difficult path to re-election.

As The Hill reported, More than 50 percent of respondents in a new survey say they will not vote for President Trump when he seeks reelection in 2020. The ABC News–Washington Post poll released Monday found that 55 percent of respondents said they will not vote for Trump next year, with only 39 percent approving of his work since taking office .Of respondents who were asked if they would vote from Trump in 2020, 14 percent said they would consider it and 28 percent said they definitely would vote for him to have a second term in the White House.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Adding Context to ‘News’ about Venezuela

Eric Zuesse

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On Tuesday, August 6th, the Trump Administration helped to lead a meeting In Lima Peru, of representatives from around 60 governments that have joined U.S. President Trump’s efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s Government. Below is a report about this meeting, by Agence France-Presse, a typical U.S.-allied ‘news’-medium. The italicized additions in brackets in and near the article’s end are essential historical context; it’s taken from Wikipedia’s article “International sanctions during the Venezuelan crisis”, and thus also isn’t from me. This way, the reader will be able to see what the ‘news’-report here leaves out, which is essential in order for readers to know the reality that stands behind this particular ‘news’ report. The minor typos in the original report are also left unchanged; the entire article is unchanged, except that I boldface the passages toward the end, which passages are subsequently contextualized immediately below them. Afterward, I shall add my own comments, in order to provide a fuller context:

US warns off Venezuela’s supporters as Lima meeting opens

Date created: Tuesday 6 August 2019,  06/08/2019 – 20:07

AFP, Lima (AFP): Washington warned third parties on Tuesday to avoid doing business with the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro, as delegates from some 60 countries met in Lima to discuss ways of ending the crisis in South American nation.

The warning came one day after President Donald Trump ordered a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the United States and barred transactions with its authorities.

“We are sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution,” said Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking in Lima.

“There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.”

The Trump administration is determined to force Maduro from power and support opposition leader Juan Guaido’s plans to form a transitional government and set up new elections.

The sanctions drew an angry response from Caracas, which denounced the US move as “another serious aggression by the Trump administration through arbitrary economic terrorism against the Venezuelan people.”

Crisis-wracked Venezuela has been mired in a political impasse since January when Guaido, speaker of the Natinal Assembly, proclaimed himself acting president, quickly receiving the support of more than 50 countries.

Tuesday’s meeting was called by the Lima Group, which includes a dozen Latin American countries and Canada, most of which support Guaido.

The Lima meeting comes as representatives of Maduro and Guaido are involved in “continuous” negotiations mediated by Norway.

The first round of talks were in Oslo in May, and three further rounds have taken place in Barbados.

Caracas claims the US sanctions show that Washington and its allies are “committed to the failure of the political dialogue” because “they fear the results and benefits.”

Bolton, who is in the US delegation alongside Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said Maduro was “not serious” about talks.

He said Trump’s move “authorizes the US government to identify, target and impose sanctions on any persons who continue to provide support” Maduro’s “illegitimate regime.”

He said it would “deny Maduro access to the global financial system and to further isolate him internationally.”

Venezuela’s opposition considers Maduro a usurper over his re-election last year in a poll widely viewed as rigged.

They want him to stand down so new elections can be held — but Maduro, with support from the country’s powerful military, refuses to go.

Maduro says the talks must lead to “democratic coexistence” and an end to what he describes as an attempted US-orchestrated “coup.”

But on Tuesday the White House was emphatic: the “dictatorship must end for Venezuela to have a stable, democratic, and prosperous future.”

The United States would “use every appropriate tool to end Maduro’s hold on Venezuela,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Oil-rich but cash-poor Venezuela has been in a deep recession for five years. 

[“President Barack Obama signed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, a U.S. Act imposing sanctions on Venezuelan individuals held responsible by the United States for human rights violations during the 2014 Venezuelan protests, in December of that year.[13][14] It “requires the President to impose sanctions” on those “responsible for significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses associated with February 2014 protests or, more broadly, against anyone who has directed or ordered the arrest or prosecution of a person primarily because of the person’s legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly”.[8]”]

Food and medicine shortages are routine, and public services are progressively failing.

[“As the humanitarian crisis deepened and expanded, the Trump administration levied more serious economic sanctions against Venezuela on 28 Januaryst [2019], and “Maduro accused the US of plunging Venezuelan citizens further into economic crisis.”[3] Rafael Uzcátegui, director of PROVEA, added that “sanctions against PDVSA are likely to yield stronger and more direct economic consequences, and that “[w]e should remember that 70 to 80 percent of Venezuela’s food is imported, and there’s barely any medicine production in the country.”[3]”

MY COMMENTS: The U.S. regime’s sanctions against Venezuelans were aimed at producing such distress amongst the population so as to cause them not to vote for Maduro. It didn’t work. The sanctions had the intended effect of distressing Venezuelans, but this deprivation drove so many of the most anti-Maduro Venezuelans to leave the country so that the sanctions failed to force the expected “regime change.” It drove too many of his enemies out. The U.S. regime is therefore trying even-stronger measures to grab the country. Trump is dictating to Venezuela that “the dictatorship must end.” He has even chosen the person, Guaido, who is to replace the current nationally elected President, whom the U.S. regime has long been trying to oust. Guaido has never even been a candidate in any national Venezuelan election, but he was trained in the U.S., and has always cooperated with the U.S. Government’s repeated efforts to take control over Venezuela. Venezuela has never invaded nor even threatened the United States. This coup-attempt is purely an effort for imperialistic conquest of Venezuela, but it is cloaked in ‘democratic’ and ‘humanitarian’ lies, for fools, like America’s invasions and coups typically are. Only idiots can’t see what the U.S. pattern is here, especially after the lies that had suckered Americans in 2003 to support “regime-change in Iraq.” Trump is continuing Barack Obama’s policy, which continued that of George W. Bush. Whatever changes in personnel occur within the U.S. regime, the regime itself remains basically the same, though its theatrics change, and that’s enough change to satisfy most Americans that we live in a democracy. Virtually all of the U.S. Congress supports these efforts to conquer Venezuela, and this fascism includes all of the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidates. Therefore, none of the candidates are being challenged about their votes supporting this (or any other) attempted conquest by the U.S. regime. The neoconservative policy is bipartisan in America, though the personnel do change, from the representatives of one group of billionaires, to the representatives of another group of billionaires. And the vast majority of Americans think that it’s good, or at least okay — even after all of the lies have been exposed, they still approve. Of course, most Italians, Japanese, and Germans, thought favorably about their Government’s imperialistic conquests, during WW II; but Americans became opposed to that when we were hit by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war against us. This time around, we are the Japanese, and the Germans, and the Italians. Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way, but it has happened. The U.S. is today the world’s leading fascist nation. And very few Americans recognize that it’s the way that things did turn out. Very few Americans know that we live in a fascist nation — today’s leading fascist nation.

UPDATE

The next day, August 7th, Venezuela’s Telesur headlined “EU Opposes Recent US Total Blockade Against Venezuela” and reported that Trump had failed to get the EU — his biggest hope for destroying Venezuela short of militarily invading it — to accept his proposal. The EU said “We oppose the extraterritorial application of unilateral measures.” The EU couldn’t muster enough fascists to go along with the U.S. regime. At this point, Trump isn’t far from the moment when he will need either to abandon his effort to grab Venezuela in this round, or else spring a blitz invasion without allies. Even if he calls off the effort, that would only be temporary. Perhaps if and when he is re-elected, he will feel freer just to send in thousands of troops, tanks, and missiles, to get the job done. However, if Russia stands firm, then such an invasion could spark WW III. He would have to decide whether grabbing the world’s largest oil reserves is worth that risk. Meanwhile, he will almost certainly continue to try to make life as difficult as possible for the Venezuelan people, all the while blaming Maduro for their misery. This has been the basic American plan, since well before Trump occupied the White House. 

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