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Iran and Venezuela: One story of two Revolutions

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Authors: Irina Tsukerman & Hos Loftus*

The presence of Islamist militant groups in Latin America has a long and dark history. The brutal terrorist attacks on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992, and the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in 1994, collectively left hundreds dead and injured. Argentina, as a country, is still dealing with the aftermath. The AMIA incident was the deadliest attack against a Jewish community anywhere in the world since WWII.

The Twin Revolutions: “Islamic” and “Bolivarian”

In the 1990s Islamist militants in Latin America lacked a base of operations. That began to change when democracy in Venezuela was replaced, first, by a strong man-led system, and subsequently, all-out dictatorship. That was the gift of the former socialist president Hugo Chavez for the country, one that he sold as his “Bolivarian Revolution”. In order to see how this played into the hands of unlikely beneficiaries—Islamic radicals from half a world away—we have to trace the story to its earliest preludes.

The sad story of the closing chapters of the democratic era in Venezuela’s history was chronicled shortly after Chavez came to power by Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian author and future Nobel Laureate in literature. In a scathing piece, published in Spain’s El País in August 1998, Vargas Llosa used harsh, but prescient words to warn of dark days ahead. The title, “the Suicide of a Nation”, in itself, spoke volumes.

Vargas Llosa offered a perspective of what was a repeating pattern in much of Latin America: as democracy fails to live up to expectations and often leads to a decline in living standards, public opinion shifts in favor of “strong men”, who would then take advantage of their popularity to cement authoritarianism. (It has to be emphasized, though, that the new authoritarian need not have come to power through elections; leading a revolution against a despised tyrant would work just as well.) This had been tried successfully before Chavez by such luminaries as Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Juan Perón in Argentina, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and, not least, Chavez’s own mentor, Fidel Castro in Cuba. Chavez came as a populist response to democratic claims, not as a violent usurper—at least, once he had learned his lesson.

In this sordid tale, the roots of dictatorship in Venezuela went back to the 1970s and 80s.

The early days of skyrocketing oil prices came during and after the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War of 1973. An unheard of influx of petrol-dollars inevitably led to massive corruption. “Inevitably”, according to Vargas Llosa, due to the economic policies that ruled Venezuela, long before Chavez. In Vargas Llosa’s view: the Venezuelan state was gigantic and interventionist. Economic success passed not through the market and winning over consumers, but nepotism, privileges, and monopolies handed out by the biggest player in the nation’s economic life: the politician in power. In other words, Venezuela was always a socialist-style, government-run command and control economy, never dynamic, property rights-based and free-market oriented.

What was left in the public coffers was spent on subsidizing everything, down to air and water. Gas was subsidized to the point that its cost didn’t even cover its transport to fueling stations! Few nations in the world epitomize the phrase “nanny state” so literally.

In this environment, an attempted coup in 1992 by a little-known Lieutenant Colonel named Hugo Chavez generated little enthusiasm, and was put down without much drama, its leader put in jail. Less than 2 years later, however, he was pardoned by the government. While this was supposed to be a conciliatory gesture, it was dismissed by Vargas Llosa in that piece as not only “suicidally irresponsible”, but also a betrayal to the nation, at that time still supportive of democracy (not to mention the majority of the military, who refused to side with the coup plotters, some losing their lives in the process). But the oil market collapse of the late 1990s lead to just as much anguish as the euphoria the price rallies had brought, and that ultimately paved the way for Chavez to successfully grab the power in the end—this time, at the ballot box. Not just that, but it gave him sufficient majorities in elected bodies to introduce and ratify a new constitution—all in the name of rooting out corruption—that conveniently also guaranteed his own permanence in power.

Which brings us to the events on the other side of the globe: Iran’s Islamist Revolution lead by Ayatollah Khomeini nearly two decades earlier. Iran and Venezuela are distant nations geographically with different languages and cultures. Still, there are important similarities between the two: oil exporting nations relying on petroleum almost exclusively as the source of hard currency. To be sure, revolutions in Iran and Venezuela were not exact replicas. Iran’s Islamist Revolution came with a violent uprising, unlike Venezuela. Nonetheless, there were numerous similarities. Both were explicitly ideological (“Islamic” in Iran and “Bolivarian” in Venezuela), rather than simply intending to establish democratic rule. They both prioritized short-sighted economic gains for the masses: the Ayatollah claimed explicitly that there would be free water and electricity for Iranians, while at the same time also promising, like Chavez, to root out the corruption that had been allowed to grow out of control in the system he wanted to overthrow. The inherent contradiction between these two goals, just discussed, apparently was missed on everyone.

As time would prove, there were yet more similarities to surface between the two revolutions. Enmity against US “imperialism” was among the founding principles of both. And they would go on trying to bolster governments and non-government players in neighboring countries that would help them put this hostility into action. As Iran founded Hezbollah in 1980s Lebanon and sought to colonize the country, Venezuela in the 2000s openly backed politicians it considered ideological allies in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere to create a socialist bloc. Somehow the irony of such empire-building in the name of anti-“imperialism” was missed.

In time the shared goals and shared rhetoric would bring the two revolutionary governments closer together, which might seem counterintuitive. At first glance, the Shia-based Islamist revolutionary ideology had little in common with the Soviet-backed atheist revolution that had settled in Cuba and made its way through Latin America. In reality, the “red” left has made a comfortable alliance with the “green” revolutionaries on a number of political, security, and ideological levels.  Khomeini, for instance, popularized Sunni Muslim Brotherhood texts, which themselves borrowed heavily from the Bolshevik ouevre from the 1920s and their historic predecessors, the Jacobins. The zenith of ties between the two regimes, without a doubt, came during the “presidency” of the Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, who found a brother in Chavez.

When They Failed to Deliver…

Of course none of the Ayatollah’s economic promises ever materialized. Mass arrests and summary executions that followed the establishment of the Islamist regime, the compulsory dress codes, and anti-Western xenophobia that culminated in “conquering” (to use the official language) the American embassy and hostage taking of US diplomats scared foreign and domestic investors, to say nothing of destroying diplomatic relations. Flight of capital, combined with a ruinous war with Iraq, transformed what was once one of the richest countries into a pauper nation. Undaunted, the Ayatollah shrugged off any mention of his forgotten promises in later years: “ask not what the revolution has done for you, ask what you have done for the revolution”. That this, too, was a paraphrase from an assassinated leader of the country he condemned as “the Great Satan” also passed with no sense of irony, and neither was he ever called out for his plagiarism.

Economic realities were no kinder to the revolutionary leaders in Venezuela than their counterparts in Iran. Venezuela has more crude oil than any other country in the world and it heavily depends on the commodity to power its economy. Crude oil makes up about 95% of Venezuela’s exports. Yet the government-owned oil company, PDVSA, has pumped less and less oil for the last few years because of corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and a massive debt crisis. According to its report to OPEC, Venezuela’s production was 1.62 million barrels per day (b/d) in December 2017, a decline of 649 thousand b/d (or 29%) in just one year, and more than 1.1 million b/d in five years. The current troubles of the oil industry are rooted in the oil policies implemented by Hugo Chavez (deceased in 2013, only to be replaced by the even more thuggish Nicolas Maduro). He fired about half of the workforce of the PDVSA during an oil strike in 2003, including the vast majority of top executives and technical staff, as retaliation for their participation in industrial action against him.

He forcefully renegotiated joint-ventures and operational contracts with foreign companies and partially nationalized them in 2007; on his watch, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips withdrew from the country as a result. Investment in oil development and production declined, even during the oil price boom. The nationalization backfired on Venezuela even more in April 2018 when the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled in a lawsuit filed by ConocoPhillips that this company was owed over $2 billion by Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA because of the 2007 nationalization. ConocoPhillips then moved to seize PDVSA’s assets in the Caribbean, considered logistically key to Venezuela’s ability to export oil, further disrupting the country’s oil sales.

This ruling set the stage for similar suits not just against PDVSA, but also its American subsidiary, CITGO. The future of these claims is not known as of this writing, but they could not have come at a worse time for Venezuela’s already devastated economy.  The regime blames this all on US sanctions, but the timeline of events clearly shows that the decline in Venezuela’s oil production preceded US sanctions on the country’s oil sector by many years. Iran’s economy would similarly be a basket-case without sanctions due to the regime’s decades of prioritizing revolution over its people. As Ayatollah Khomeini said, the neaver-ending revolution’s death and destruction was not for “cheap melons.” Venezuela also followed the Islamic Republic’s lead in political hostage taking, by abducting Texas and Louisiana CITGO employees, who remain in Maduro’s custody after fourteen months.

The once wealthiest economy in South America, after decades of socialist rule, is now dominating the headlines as a paragon of tyranny, rampant crime, chaos, misery, and starvation. Millions of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, Panama, and elsewhere in South America, threatening to destabilize the continent. But opening its doors to Islamic militancy means that Venezuela could be a destabilizing threat in more ways than one.

They Collaborated in the Use of Violence

Faced with mass popular discontent, the twin revolutions turned to violence against their people as the only way to guarantee their survival. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guard was established  as a counterweight to the official army, which in the beginning was seen as still having elements loyal to the last regime. This military body subsequently gave birth to branches, one of which was Quds (Arabic for Jerusalem) Force, an expeditionary force acting beyond the country’s borders. The other was the Basij, or volunteer army, which played an important part during the Iran-Iraq War, and later turned against dissidents and protesters, showing its highest level of cruelty following the fraudulent presidential elections of 2009, when street protests followed the confirmation of Ahmadinejad.

Crackdowns on public discontent in Venezuela have followed a similar pattern. Cuba helped establish the loyalist groups called “colectivos” that act similar to the Basij militias in Iran, intimidating protesters and journalists, and at times acting no different than street gangs. Iran has also pitched-in. The Quds Force has worked with the Cuban intelligence (which had previously trained Chavez) to help Maduro consolidate power; and Hezbollah enjoys a comfortable presence in Venezuela at the highest levels.

Human rights violations in both states have made them largely unwelcome on the world stage; however, dependency on cheap, if poorly processed or poor quality, oil retained clientele for both states. Later, other autocratic states, such as China and Russia, took advantage of their outcast status to expand their own base of influence, strengthen economic partnerships, make cheap investments, and to create local problems for the United States.

These ties actually go back more than a decade. They include joint training between Iranian and Venezuelan operatives. Finding safe haven in Venezuela, Hezbollah’s presence across Latin America has increased. Both Iran and Hezbollah are known to have provided the Chavez and Maduro regimes with “strategic advice”. The person in Venezuela’s Bolivarian ruling class with the most personal ties to terror groups is Tareck El Aissami, a Venezuelan of Syrian/Lebanese ancestry, who was indicted in the US earlier this year.  A 2015 report by the Obama Administration’s United States Department of State stated “[t]here were credible reports that Venezuela maintained a permissive environment that allowed for support of activities that benefited known terrorist groups”. New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau stated that while El Aissami was head of ONIDEX, Venezuela’s passport and naturalization agency, he provided official documents to Hamas and Hezbollah members. He also stated that it was possible that El Aissami was recruiting Arab Venezuelans to train under Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. In February 2017, CNN reported (“Venezuelan Passports, in the Wrong Hands?”) on the sale of Venezuelan passports to individuals in the Middle East, specifically Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Pakistanis.

According to Misael López Soto, a former employee at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq who was also a lawyer and CICPC officer, the Bolivarian government would sell authentic passports to individuals from the Middle East, with the Venezuelan passport (at the time) able to access 130 countries throughout the world without a visa requirement. López provided CNN documents showing how his superiors attempted to cover up the sale of passports, which were being sold for from $5,000 to $15,000 per passport. A confidential intelligence report obtained by CNN linked El Aissami to 173 passports and ID’s given between 2008 and 2015 to individuals from the Middle East, some of whom were purportedly associated with Hezbollah. The Venezuelan government did not investigate the allegations made by López and instead initiated an investigation against him for his act of leaking confidential documents and stated that he had abandoned his duty. Following the release of the CNN report, President Maduro demanded that CNN leave Venezuela, stating that the network had sought to “manipulate” Venezuelans.

AMIA: The Venezuelan connection

Argentina has had no closure as the actual plotters behind the AMIA bombing have never been brought to justice. Worse, the investigation itself has been plagued by accusations of incompetence, corruption, and nepotism. And that has been, in no small part, due to family relations and geopolitical interests of Argentinian presidents.

A Brazilian publication, Veja, first broke the story, in 2015, of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sending a  message to Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner via a shared friend, Chavez of Venezuela. According to the publication, in 2007, Ahmadinejad proposed to Kirchner that in exchange for funding the presidential campaign of his wife, Cristina Frenandez de Kirchner, Kirchner’s Argentina would (among other things) drop its arrest warrant through the Interpol against Iranians implicated in the AMIA attack. This came about the time that arrest warrants were issued against 6 Iranian citizens for their involvement in the attack.

Kirchner would not, in the beginning,  concede to the demands made through Chavez. Nonetheless, there was a debt to pay: since 2003, a lot of Argentinian sovereign debt had been underwritten by Venezuela, and by the end of 2008, Venezuela was in possession of 6 billion dollars of Argentinian bonds. Back in those days, the free flow of Venezuelan oil and prices of above $100 per barrel afforded Venezuela such extravagances. On top of this, for both Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina, who succeeded him as president, being among Chavez’s inner circle of friends was a high priority. To them, it would mean membership in the Leftist heads of state club chaired by none other than Fidel Castro. Which came with perks: they would be  shielded against accusations of corruption, which would be dismissed,  by club members in unison, as “slander by American imperialism and their local lackeys”. Other club members included Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and even Brazil as it was led by president Lula da Silva (who would later be convicted of corruption). Chavez operated as a middleman between Ahmadinejad and much of Latin America.

Iran entered commercial agreements with many of these countries. For a country facing international isolation due to its human rights record,  its denial of the Holocaust, and its nuclear weapons development activities, this was nothing short of a coup. Chavez traveled 9 times to Iran while Ahmadinejad traveled 5 times to Venezuela. When Chavez died, Ahmadinejad caused a mini-scandal among his country’s fundamentalist hardliners by stating Chavez would rise from the dead together with the divine prophet—which would be heretical according to Islamic orthodoxy—and by hugging his mother (those same hardliners would consider any physical contact between two unrelated individuals of opposite sex forbidden). None of this, of course, spoke of Ahmadinejad’s presumed “moderation”, but of deep, personal grief that came to dominate his own beliefs. There was no greater reward for Ahmadinejad in this friendship than getting Argentina to abandon the pursuit of justice for AMIA.

In January 2013, on the watch of Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, respectively, Argentina and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Rather than extradition of AMIA suspects, the Memorandum would arrange for joint hearings in which the suspects would give evidence-facing no penalty regardless of what they said. Argentina’s Jewish community condemned the Memorandum and sued to stop it.

In May of that year, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused the regime of Iran of plotting the AMIA attack. In January 2015, Nisman accused President Fernandez de Kirchner of “organizing impunity” for the suspects with the goal of whitewashing the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the attack. One day before Nisman was to officially present his findings to parliament, he died, having been shot by a handgun. The mystery of his death was never solved, further complicating Argentina’s unhealed 30 year old wound. Before his death, Nisman had put together an arrest warrant against President Fernandez de Kirchner. Despite lack of proof, Fernandez de Kirchner was never able to clear suspicions that she was behind Nisman’s death, given that, obviously, no one had a stronger motive to see Nisman dead. And all of this is part of Chavez’s legacy for Argentina.  Fernandez de Kirchner was eventually put on trial for her attempted cover-up of the bombing.

While these charges against her were dismissed, she was later retried for treason. In her defense, Fernandez de Kirchner claimed that a former Obama officialhad asked her to supply Iran with nuclear fuel. Gary Samone visited Argentina in his capacity as White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass destruction. Argentina had provided Iran with fuel for its “Teheran” reactor in 1987. However, this collaboration was over by the time the nuclear negotiations that would lead to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action began between Iran, the United States, and others.  The Iranian nuclear negotiators would not move forward without getting fuel for the reactor.

The United States then turned to Argentina for help. Fernandez de Kirchner asked Samone to put his request in writing, but he was not heard from again. But by implicating the Obama administration in this scenario, de Kirchner was sending a message that the Obama administration was fully aware of historical ties between Argentina and Iran, and would not press Argentina on the cover-up of the bombing to ensure the smooth transition of the nuclear deal. The same pattern of letting bad actors off the hook was later admitted by Ben Rhodes with regards to the lack of follow through on the “Red Line in Syria”, and Obama’s tacit support for the Morsi regime in Egypt despite its open ties with the Iranian regime. The Obama administration needed Argentina’s help for the nuclear fuel issue, and thus stayed mum. Iranian terrorists also tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States at the time, while backing an attempted coup in Bahrain the same year, and likewise benefiting from the turmoil of the Arab Spring all over the Sunni Muslim world. Iran’s role in all of these calamities was ignored by the Obama administration in favor of proceeding with the deal.

But the Kirchners were not the only Argentinian presidents to be accused of sabotaging the investigation. The sitting president at the time of the attack, Carlos Menem, who was of Syrian descent, was accused of covering-up involvement by regime of Syria (the ayatollahs’ partner in sponsoring Hezbollah) in the attack, for the purpose of protecting his family connections. Allegedly, Menem’s family friend and fellow Syrian-Argentinian, Alberto Kanoore Edul, had been in contact before the attack with the person who lent the truck used in the AMIA attack to the Hezbollah-related suicide bomber, Ibrahim Hussein Berro (named by Nisman in 2005).

Iran and terrorism in Latin America

Edul was also a suspect because he owned an address book that included the phone number of Moshen Rabbani, at the time the cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires; Rabbani was the accused mastermind of the attack and one of the indicted Iranians.  This would not be the first nor the last time Iran would use diplomatic cover for planning terrorist attacks. In 2018, Morocco severed diplomatic relations with Iran over its use of its Algiers embassy to facilitate Hezbullah supply of the formerly Soviet-backed and Cuban-trained Polisario separatists with weapons and additional training. The same year, Iranian dissidents uncovered that the Vienna embassy was the center for pollting terrorist activity, which included a planned attack on the Iranian opposition in Paris. Other prospective attacks involving Iranian intelligence resulted in a foiled assassination against Ahwazi Arab opposition leaders in Denmark. Other “diplomats”, who were later expelled,  planned attacks against the PMOI leaders in Albania. In 2019, a German intelligence report noted that the Berlin embassy was at the heart of a planned attack against the PMOI/MEK in Germany.

But the investigation of Edul had been halted on the orders of Menem due to their family ties, according to the charges. Carlos Menem would stand trial for the cover-up over 30 years after his alleged crime  and ultimately be cleared of the charge, much to the dismay of victims’ families. By this time, of course, Edul was long dead. Would the outcome be different if there had not been so much delay in putting him to trial, before the main witness died? We likely will never know.

The attacker Hussein Berro slipped into Argentina through the “triple border” area between Argentina,  Paraguay and Brazil, where Hezbollah sympathies are heavy among the Lebanese immigrant community. The main city in the area, Ciudad del Este (Paraguay’s second largest city after the capital Asunción), has long been (allegedly) a financing center for Hezbollah. While Ciudad del Este is home to criminals specializing in all the branches of the “profession” (from drug and human trafficking to money laundering and bootlegging of copyright material), the only activity in the area that has been disputed, unsurprisingly by Aljazeera, is funding Islamic terrorism, which it calls “hysteria against Muslims”. But there have been convictions for channeling of proceeds from illegal activities to Hezbollah.

And according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Hezbollah smuggles hundreds of tons of cocaine from the Andean Region of South America into Venezuela and from there onto ships destined for European markets via West and North Africa. The DEA had long planned a crackdown on this activity, code named Operation Cassandra, which was ultimately scuttled by the Obama Administration as part of the effort to keep nuclear negotiations with Iran on track. Aljazeera might point to the absence of Hezbollah training camps in Ciudad del Este, but it is hard to imagine such vast criminal activity in South  America without having a local network of sympathizers.

Hence to say that the crime infested Ciudad del Este, also having the largest Lebanese population anywhere in South America, does not play an important part in Hezbollah’s illicit financing, is quite a stretch. The area was used as a base by Hezbollah to smuggle the AMIA attacker Hussein Berro into Argentina-what this act took was having a network of sympathizers in a lawless area. Absence of Hezbollah training camps or their paramilitary parades did nothing to hinder the plan. Belatedly in July 2019, Argentina would recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. But the damage may have already been done. Realistically it is quite unlikely that victims families, or Argentina as a whole, will ever see justice served, and the wound will never heal.

Moreover, Iran-backed Hezbollah remains active in Venezuela, backing the Maduro regime and enriching itself through illegal gold mining. US Secretary of State Pompeo pointed to intelligence reports concerning the presence of active Hezbollah cells within Venezuela as additional evidence substantiating the allegations of the close links of the Maduro regime with the terrorist organization. There are concerns that with the help from Iran, Russia, and Cuba, Venezuela is not only a tacit supporter for Iranian terrorism, but is itself turning into a hub of international terrorism.  Many of the terrorists benefited from the frozen funds released in cash pallets to Tehran by the Obama administration as part of the JCPOA. The gold mining is but a tip of the iceberg. Other evidence traces the roots of illegal gold smuggling from Venezuela through Morocco to Russia and Iran. Hezbollah’s gold smuggling activities in Africa are also well established; close collaboration between various corrupt regimes and Venezuela, on drug as well as gold trafficking should attract greater scrutiny.

Is the Opposition Any Better?

Meanwhile, back in Venezuela, the only opposition to Maduro’s brutal socialist autocracy has been another socialist, Juan Guiado, who has thus far failed to recruit away enough support from the military to provide a viable alternative to the regime. Guiado is being lauded as a savior of Venezuela, simply because he is not Maduro and is promising to respect the popular will and the democratic process. But would he be able to withstand scrutiny on his own merits?

The Venezuelan opposition to the Chavez and Maduro regimes and the country’s striking economic downturn after accelerating its progress on the socialist path has been leftist. In other words, oppositionists complain about personalities and policy, not necessarily ideology. Guiado’s promise lay largely in a return to the rule of law, a break with Iran, Russia, and Cuba, and restoration of positive relations with the United States as well as European Union and Organization of American States members. By backing somewhat more moderate leftist opposition to the current regime, Venezuelans are signaling that they have lost their trust in dictators, but not in the system that breeds them. Will the economic situation in Venezuela improve if a less corrupt and autocratic version of Maduro comes to power?

It remains to be seen, but as we saw, long before Chavez, Venezuela’s economy had been constrained by the trappings of socialism—and this ironically helped Chavez come to power.  In the meantime, ordinary Venezuelans are living through a nightmare of starvation, corruption, and violent crime, which is forcing them to flee in their millions—the largest population displacement not related to war in decades. Inflation has reached the point that even criminal gangs do not see their activities as profitable due to high price of firearms on the black market (!). Maduro, of course, blames everything on the US, and now, he has allies inside the US government parroting his talking points.

Anti-Americanism Inside the American Government

That is because the Venezuelan calamity has become a golden opportunity for politicians and pundits to make political hay. The best example is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), who, echoing Maduro, claimed: “A lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela, and we’ve sort of set the stage for where we’re arriving today”. When dismissed as “not knowing what she is talking about” by Vice President Pence, Omar responded:  “Women of color have heard this before.”

But those following the crisis in Venezuela for some time remember clearly that it did not start as a racial issue; in fact,  some of the earliest and most clear-headed warnings about where Venezuela was headed came from the so called “people of color,” such as world-renowned author Mario Vargas Llosa.

Omar in fact “doesn’t know what she is talking about” (charitably speaking), and hiding behind her gender and ethnicity doesn’t change that.

The so-called democratic socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently tried to distance himself from an editorial on his senatorial website praising the “American dream” in Chaez’s Venezuela. However, he still opposes all efforts to help liberate Venezuela from the Maduro regime, and more recently claimed that Soviet Union and Venezuela don’t count as examples of “failed socialism”.

Many of the same members of Congress and former Obama administration officials, who have now joined the foreign policy commentators for various publications, who have opposed intervention in Venezuela also prepared or delivered talking points that the only way to avoid war with Iran was to go forward with the deal. The reasons for not pressuring any of Iran’s proxies, fellow travelers, and allies in the Middle East and Latin America were couched  in similar language.  Iranian and Venezuelan propaganda machines have managed to create the impression that the regimes in these countries, despite rampant fraud and intimidation of the opposition, are legitimate and democratically elected, and therefore interventionism would be illegal and contrary to the popular will of their citizens.

Policy Recommendations

U.S. policy towards Iran and Venezuela has been polarized and uneven, which sends mixed messages to allies and adversaries alike. Seeing the largely partisan split on whether to pressure the Iran regimes and whether to follow the Monroe Doctrine, which allows forceful intervention against foreign forces in Latin America, tells both Tehran and Caracas that these vulnerabilities can be exploited ad infinitum. While the President and Congress, or Republicans and Democrats, are fighting over what to do and how to do it, the regimes can continue implementing their agenda with the single-minded focus only authoritarian governments can enjoy.

Furthermore, the vacillations over policy within the same administration signals weakness. US allies, on the other hand, are getting the message that the US is not a stalwart or reliable “friend in need” and may in the future lean further on Russia and China—the two states looking to edge US influence out of the Middle East and Latin America—for partnership and assistance. The US has failed to follow through on many promises regarding “maximum pressure” against Iran,  nor has it fully supported Guiado, leaving him out in the cold when he appeared to be on the verge of securing military support for the overthrow of Maduro. The resolve of the US in conducting effective foreign policy and securing its own interest, much less standing guard against exportation of revolutions and instability around the world, is currently very much in question.

Whether the Trump administration can redirect its energy to a focused effort or whether it will continue to be torn between keeping isolationist election promises and having to respond to real-time needs with serious long-term consequences remains to be seen. However, there are several commonsense ideas and principles they should adopt as a guide for figuring out the next steps to prevent further deterioration of the security situation that ultimately threatens US borders and the security of its bases and allies:

Acting from a Position of Strength

-Maduro’s regime is ultimately weak and hinges on the willingness of the military apparatus to support his claims. The military will hold out for its own interest in access to mines and so forth. Guiado, in negotiations, may need to cut temporary deals with the military to get their backing. It is up to the United States to ensure that if he does ultimately succeed in this endeavor, these deals do not become so entrenched as to lead to another crisis.

-Maduro is heavily dependent on foreign actors. Without infusions of bailout cash, credit, military, and intelligence support from Iran, Russia, Cuba, and China, he would hardly be expected to last. Interrupting the flow of this support should be the top priority for the administration, especially if it is reluctant to engage in direct military intervention. That also means cracking down on illegal schemes, but most importantly going after—and very personally—the individual actors within each state’s government involved in overseeing these infusions and schemes.  Sanctions should be imposed against these individuals preventing them from traveling to the US and freezing their assets. Interpol “red notices” should be used to advance the possibility of arresting these officials, undoubtedly profiteering from the support for these actions. Avoiding sanctions and intervening with Venezuela or other countries should be made costly and unpleasant for the apparatchiks of the patron regimes.

-Hezbollah assets have been frozen in Argentina, but money is fungible and they can ultimately shift their activity to more friendly states, such as Bolivia. If Colombia is sufficiently destabilized by the flow of refugees from Venezuela, it can crack and end-up adopting a socialist system of governance. The exporters of revolution can take advantage of the refugee crisis to destabilize existing pro-American governments. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, all corrupt states, with varying degrees of weakness, are ripe for exploitation. Cartel activity in Mexico makes it an ideal counterpart for Iran’s Hezbollah in particular. The US should take measures to prevent proliferation of terrorists and ideological outreach in these and other states. Iran has established numerous “cultural centers” to mask Hezbollah activity and indoctrination all over Latin America. How soon until the trainees there are responsible for more than just enrichment schemes and plot more terrorist attacks, perhaps eventually reaching the US or making travel and business in Latin America undesirable for anyone except Iranians, Russians, and Chinese?

-Bankrupting Iran, forcing out Russia, and providing a suitable and practical alternative to China’s self-serving and corrupt projects in Latin America should be the pillars of US policy. Iran, even with all its illicit activities, nor Russia afford costly technical development races and the type of investments that US can. Russia cannot afford systematic investment in anything but defense agreements. For this reason, most of Russia’s foreign policy is focused on destabilization at the expense of someone else.

-China’s economy, too, is weakening; even with its Confusius Institutes, the mission of which is to whitewash China’s image, it is coming to a reckoning with the fact that it has simply failed to deliver on many of its promises and investments, and that most of its projects benefit Beijing to the exclusion of client countries, their local labor forces, and general populations. This is where the US has an opportunity to reengage in building people to people relationships, and optimizing business, educational, and humanitarian opportunity in line with its own policies and interests, and as a contrast to China’s corrupt deals with local officials.

-The US, for its part, should not make promises it does not have the political will to keep.  Its allies would rather see consistent, limited support than grandiose statements backed up by nothing at the moment they become dependent on expectations stemming from those promises. That said, if threats to bad actors are issued in public, there should be an immediate and well thought out follow through even if it is unpopular. That will ultimately do more to deter these actors than weeks of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

II. Beware of Limitations of Pragmatic “Reformism”

A faction of the “reformists” in Iran gained popularity as a political decoy by the regime to create an impression of a struggle between “hard-liners” and “moderates”. Iran used politicians who appeared willing to engage in diplomatic discussions with the West (always on their terms) in order to secure concessions, and ultimately, to push through the financially and politically beneficial nuclear deal with Western countries. Ultimately, the number of political arrests and executions soared under the “reformist” President Rouhani, showing that he was just as much of a puppet of the ayatollahs in charge as the tough-talking former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

These dichotomies—that if the West does not back the “moderates”, the scary “hard-liners’ will triumph—were ultimately a propaganda fiction dispersed by the regime itself. Elections in Iran are effectually meaningless given the supreme rule of the Ayatollah. Not to take any chances with the powerless parliament, all major elections in Iraq are fraught with fraud to ensure that no real reformist could ever be elected. The “reformist” narrative is deployed merely to fool willfully naïve Westerners or provide the less credulous with a public excuse for their lucrative political or business deal with Tehran. The “reformist” narrative may well have largely outlived itself, but similar such moves are likely to try to secure a new nuclear deal or other political concessions in the future. No doubt the regime will use this stick-and-carrot tactic of its own invention to push back against new sanctions, waiting to drag the US and Europeans back to the negotiating table until such time as the administrations change and those willing to go along with Iran’s agenda come to power.

Iran’s success in that regard may very well have carried over elsewhere. If Guiado is nothing more than a Venezuelan version of a “Reformist” who says just enough of the right things to the Western ear to manipulate the politicians and the public, he may be no less dangerous than the Maduro regime. If the Venezuelan government is a puppet of foreign powers, likely so is the opposition, at least one that is well known and has an open following.  In Russia, opposition leaders who openly ran against Vladimir Putin, such as Boris Nemtsov, met an untimely end, or like Alexey Navalny, spend half their time behind bars in “temporary” custody.

The fact that Guiado is so openly out and about and was even able to engage with the military in power negotiations shows that the Maduro regime is fairly secure in itself and can afford to use one known opposition leader as propaganda for its alleged limitations or willingness to cater to the popular will and provide the appearance of democracy on some limited level. The West should not look on Guiado as a savior, but rather as a tool serving a particular purpose at the moment while working to educate the population about the fallacies of following anything even remotely associated with the current system, as well as seeking to build up future leaders who have not been produced by the same circumstances as Maduro. Tempting as it may seem to consider Guiado as a “pragmatic choice” at the moment, because he is the lesser of two evils, it is not in fact clear that because he is willing to pander to Western democracies today, he will not become an equal or even greater evil when in power.

III. Don’t let Iran, Cuba, Russia, China, and Venezuela get away with political hostage taking

All of these countries have engaged in taking Americans and other Westerns, as well as dual nationals, as hostages for the purpose of gaining political legitimacy through negotiations over their release, securing concessions, or in some case, as during the nuclear deal with Iran, receiving financial ransoms in a hidden form. The US has been able to secure the release of some but not all through high costs to its own credibility; many others remain imprisoned, charged with espionage, treason, and other national security crimes as a way to pressure the US and other Western governments.

So far, all of these countries have been able to get away with these actions with impunity, and have even been rewarded with attention, money, and other benefits. They should be severely punished instead. In 2018, Senators Rubio, then-Senator Nelson, Menendez, and Cornyn introduced a bill that would hold Iran accountable for hostage taking and other human rights abuses. Similar measure passed in the House in 2018, with the idea of criminal and civil penalties for foreign officials, not just sanctions. The penalties would include denying access to American education to their families, confiscation of assets, and possible imprisonment for those responsible traveling to the United States. The bill never reached the vote in the Senate, but should be reconsidered in light of recent developments and Iran’s rising aggression and persistent continuation of this policy.

Similar versions of the bill should be individually crafted to apply to other countries that have engaged in these unlawful practices. Without feeling the pain for engaging in such abuses, there is no reason for these policies to stop.

IV. Responding to Gold Smuggling and Money Laundering

Senator Ted Cruz recently reintroduced a measure designed to stop Iranian and Venezuelan smuggling of gold and other precious metals. This is but one of a host of illegal activities which keep both regimes financially afloat. Congress should bring this measure to a vote as soon as possible; there is no reason to let two illegitimate regimes unjustly enrich themselves while stealing natural resources. The VERDAD actresponding to Venezuelan money laundering and gold passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2018. It is important to expedite the passage for this bill into law, and to work on securing consistent implementation afterwards. The same applies for similar measures against the Iranian regime.

V. Accountability for the AMIA bombing

US senators are pushing for a resolution that would assist Argentina in its probe to uncover the full truth behind the 1994 Jewish Center bombing. The resolution should receive not only full support from Congress, but also the backing of the White House. Furthermore, the Venezuelan angle should be explored and exposed, and the role the Obama administration played in any assistance or silence in the cover-up by the Kirchners should likewise be aired. The White House can play an important role in directing its intelligence agencies to release and share any relevant information, and perhaps to be further involved in an investigative capacity. However, that role should not be relegated to the security apparatus: any investigative journalists or other experts who have leads or information that could be of assistance to this issue should likewise be involved.

VI. Securing US borders

The history of Hezbollah drug smuggling and presence in the United States shows that further measures need to be taken to secure borders from infiltration by criminals, contrabandists, terrorists, and spies.  The security involved is a complex combination of border fencing or walls, better human security implementation, satellite overwatch of human movements, immigration reform, and electronic measures of control. At the end of the day, however, spies and saboteurs can also enter legally under various covers, so better training and close cooperation with other intelligence agencies is paramount to preventing fraudulent entries into the US. 

The spread of destabilizing activity in the US can also spread through existing Iranian communities, mosques, “cultural centers”, existing regime propagandists imbedded in universities and think tanks, as well as assorted businessmen and women who travel back and forth. Being vigilant and training community members and institutions to be aware of common activities that can be harmful to US security should play an important role in the national defense.

VII. Chaos and instability help export revolutions

The Arab Spring movements did not bring real liberalism nor create Jeffersonian democracies. Instead, they created a chaotic cycle of upheavals, crackdowns, and the formation of unstable and unsecured democracies in such places as Tunisia. The biggest beneficiary was Iran, who exploited the power vacuums or friendly regimes (as in Morsi’s Egypt) to further its influence and subversion campaigns.

Western states were openly backing these movements even as Iran exploited them aggressively on the ground. The best way to guard against Iran’s exportation of revolutionary, violent, and anti-Western ideas to the Arab world and elsewhere is by working with governments across the region to implement reforms needed to educate and empower the young people to build and strengthen local communities to address local needs rather than turning to meddling foreign powers for ideological engagement and the kind of “help” that has brought nothing but misery for all involved.

The same principle applies to Latin America, where Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia are seeking to spread their repressive revolutions and socialist systems by various means to more prosperous and stable countries.  The outcome of the “resistance” culture, of those who use populism to create upheavals to real or imaginary grievances, is societal wreckage of Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. America and the West needs to assert its leadership based on principles and proactive policies that promote peace and prosperity.

*Hos Loftus, MD, formerly Seyed Hossein Lotfizadeh, was born in Iran. He lived through the Islamic Revolution at a young age. He is a neurologist living on Long Island with his family. He offers an Iranian-American’s perspective on Middle East politics

Irina Tsukerman is a human rights and national security attorney and analyst based in New York. She has written extensively about geopolitics, foreign policy, and security issues for a variety of domestic and international issues and her writing has been translated into Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Indonesian.

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Americas

A U.S.-ASEAN summit—a face or a farce

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Photo credit: The White House

Inherited from the classic diplomacy of Europe, summit is a globally recognized instrument of highest-level meeting for common interests among nations. It has been practiced from time to time until now. Ad hoc summit principally aims to promote symbolic purpose rather than specific negotiations, therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that though controversial over its essential functions, summit is better suited to the promotion of friendly relations with an emphasis on ceremonial functions. Due to this, the U.S.-ASEAN summit held on May 12-13 is no exception.

At the end of the summit, the United States and ASEAN member states reiterated in the joint vision statement the importance of adhering to key principles, shared values and norms enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the ASEAN Charter, the Declaration on Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ). In addition, they committed to strengthen and build more comprehensive ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue Relations, which have been seen indispensable to bilateral ties as well as the broader region and the international community.

It is clear that the U.S. officials had entertained the design to make the case that Russia’s invasion demonstrated the fragility of the international system while China’s tacit support for the invasion equally made a contrast with the United States’ principled stance. Yet, ASEAN members in general kept their heads down and avoided the issue rather than getting in the middle of a dispute between major powers. Rather than clearly denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the U.S. has acted globally, the joint vision statement called on an immediate cessation of hostilities and creating an enabling environment for peaceful resolution, and genuine respect for sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity in line with the U.N. Charter and international law. As a result, it is inevitable that the geostrategic hawks in Washington were disappointed their unsuccessful persuasion of ten Asian countries to take side with the United States and its allies and partners. Because of this, the U.S. aid package to the ASEAN was seen as a joke because it agreed to offer $150,000,000 for peace in a sharp contrast to the multiple-billions dollars for supporting a long war to weaken its geopolitical rival Russia, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said.

ASEAN is a regional economic community founded in 1967, yet it has been seen as the most dynamic economic powerhouse in the 21st century. With its hugely rich natural resources and technological innovation capacities, ASEAN has committed to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone and free of all other weapons of mass destruction, as enshrined in the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ Treaty). Therefore, ASEAN vow to fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, taking into account the international community’s call for diplomacy as the instrument to maintain peace and security in the region.

It is understandable that amid the Ukraine war, Washington was highly motivated to hold this special summit to demonstrate its leading role in the world affairs including Asia. As the Biden administration has said that it was the high time to show its enduring commitment to ASEAN and that the Indo-Pacific region is a U.S. national security priority. Yet, although China’s power projection in Southeast Asia figures prominently into the summit, the two-day meeting did not touch the question openly and collectively. Instead, the summit primarily discussed a host of other critical issues — from COVID to climate change to the uncertain scenario in Myanmar. Actually, as Brian Harding explained prior to the summit that considering the Biden administration’s geostrategic design, Washington as the host was sure to address how ASEAN factors into Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and how the nations showed their supports to Ukraine during the ongoing war with Russia. Essentially, while competition with China is at the heart of the United States’ regional strategy, support for a cohesive and resilient ASEAN is one of the critical means for success in advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific alongside modernized alliances like the Quad (i.e., the U.S., Australia, India and Japan). However, it is not easy to achieve since ASEAN is an extremely diverse group of 10 countries that operates by consensus, meaning it is rarely nimble nor bold, even on its best day.

It is self-evident that ASEAN countries are highly alert to the fact that relations between the United States and China have important implications for themselves. Accordingly, they all want an engaged and present multiple players including United States, China, Japan, India, Australia and the EU member states to be involved into the regional equilibrium. As former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has called it more positively, a dynamic equilibrium. Yet, what they do not want is to be forced to choose between the United States and China.

China and ASEAN approved the comprehensive strategic partnership in 2021, and now it stands ready to strengthen coordination and collaboration with ASEAN countries to update the action plan and to deepen cooperation in fields such as digital connectivity, green economy, public health, and industrial and supply chains. More sensible is that China hopes that the consultations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea will maintain the positive momentum and reach a consensus since Beijing has openly declared that the South China Sea is common asset of all the countries in the region.

From a geostrategic perspective, China opines that the ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture has formed in East Asia, which is the key to maintaining peace and stability in the region. Consider that the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy moves toward against the common and long-term interests of regional countries, China has to react against the U.S. to advocate the Cold War mentality and the relevant approaches such as establishing QUAD, a typical of bloc confrontation in the region, and promoting AUKUS which is essentially provoking an arms race in the region. Although China welcomes any countries outside the region to play a constructive role in the peace and development in the region, but it does not accept any actions that undermine peace, stability, solidarity and cooperation in the region. In brief, no matter what regional strategy is proposed by one country, the purpose should be mutual benefit and win-win results rather than a zero-sum game.

Despite all these arguments, there is no reasons for the world to underestimate the close and comprehensive cooperation between the United States and ASEAN. This summit agenda were primarily focused on apolitical areas cooperation, such as clean energy, health security, the digital economy and the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. President Biden was aware of the wisdom of not making his ASEAN guests to be as frustrated with the situation as himself since there was deep divisions among ASEAN member states on the issues and challenges they have to face. Accordingly, it is fair to say that the U.S.-ASEAN summit recently held in Washington was good enough in public relations but insufficient in tackling the real global issues from poverty, climate change and illegal change of regime by “color revolution”.

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Peace and Punishment: “Saving” Ukraine or Embarrassing Putin?

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

As we near 100 days of the special military operation in Ukraine it would be good to take a strategic-analytical step back and see where the current situation is in real terms. Unfortunately, despite all sides and all parties giving extensive and continuous rhetoric to the interests of peace and the cessation of violence, the reality is the Ukraine conflict does not seem to be close to ending and instead seems more poised to hunker down into an old-fashioned military quagmire. Unlike quagmires of the past, where historians and political scientists tend to examine missed opportunities and strategic missteps that made said conflicts almost inevitable devolutions into non-progressive stalemates, the Ukraine conflict today does not seem to structurally mimic those previous lessons. As such, the question that needs to be asked is not whether this is about striving for peace and peace alone as much as it might be about how one side is striving for peace AND punishment.

On May 9, President Biden signed a new Lend-Lease Act which would facilitate the easier transfer of weapons systems and other military aid to Ukraine in its defense against Russia. The US Senate passed the bill unanimously, a rare act of unity given the current state of domestic politics in America. Unfortunately, this bipartisanship is no signal of new-found friendship across both aisles between Republicans and Democrats. They still mistrust each other as much as they ever did. But, interestingly, the bipartisan unanimity of the bill does show that despite their differences and animosity for each other, the desire to “send a message” to President Vladimir Putin and the overall desire to continue to cause problems for the Russian military within Ukraine is a “single-issue unification” factor for the United States Senate. No matter what President Biden says publicly on the microphone, this military aid and the delivery of major weapons systems is not aimed at solely achieving peace. At least, not a constructive peace in which both sides are able to walk away with a semblance of dignity and self-respect (which is truly the only way this conflict will end and stay ended). Aid like the Lease-Lend Act is quite literally the opposite of the wiser intention of trying to create a “Gentleman’s Exit” that would be enticing for Putin. Rather, the peace Biden is really talking about with this measure (but never explicitly explained to the American people) is a peace in which Putin is first embarrassed and Russia is humiliated. THIS is the real goal. So, in this way, the so-called peace measure instead adds fuel to the fire because President Putin is neither naïve nor blind. It will not be difficult for him to see the real essence of the maneuver. Consequently, it will quite possibly force a reaction in which there is no capitulation but instead a ratcheting up of conflict.

Why else would all of these declarations of new military aid take place on “Victory Day” in Russia? Do not forget the Lend-Lease bill is reviving a form of military aid from WWII, where the US was helping the UK fight Germany more readily. Thus, in a humorlessly ironic way, the US is sending a signal that Putin is the Hitler-like figure, exactly on the day when Russia celebrates its own victory against actual Nazis in WWII. It is without doubt a vicious message. The West says it had to be sent because they were more worried Putin would officially declare a formal war against Ukraine on this day. But one must ask: logically speaking, does it make sense to say America is worried about Putin going deeper into war with Ukraine so therefore it must send even more weapons and deadly munitions into Ukraine? In other words, more weapons will make it “less” of a war??? It is almost laughable if not so tragic.

If one is relying on the acute intuition of the American people to see through these contradictions and put a stop to such counter-intuitive “peace” initiatives, then frustration can be expected. Unfortunately, the American public attention span has held true to form in that most people are no longer really paying that much attention to Ukraine. Unquestionably, they still generally support Ukraine as Americans always love supporting and rooting for the underdog. Especially when cheering for the underdog in this case not only comes without any physical risk to American soldiers but also adds on the benefit of getting to humiliate your rival while assisting the lesser power. That is a “win-win” in American public eyes.

But the fevered following of the news and exhaustive social media blasts garnering endorsement for Ukraine’s efforts do not, to me, seem as intense or as comprehensive as they did just two months ago. Thus, the frustration: this lack of attention to conflict details means no one can expect any kind of pressure from the American people seeking an end to the conflict. They will simply follow, sheep-like, the narratives being provided. Ergo, providing more weapons is the way to “peace.” Embarrassing Putin is the only way to “save Ukraine.” Humiliating the Russian military is what brings “greater security.” If there was even a modicum of greater introspection by the American people, there would be more questions about whether or not this is really the most efficient and best way to achieve peace. You would think after America’s own travails this century in Afghanistan, it would understand that quagmires benefit no one except the military-industrial complex and the many powerful corporations that feed into it. While not trying to be overly cynical, this is really the only side that truly and most obviously benefits from an extended and protracted military stalemate in Ukraine.

As for reports and rumors that the United States was actually considering the Lend-Lease Act back in January, that is, before the actual Russian declaration of a special military operation, I would not put too much conspiracy theory into the idea that this proves the United States was already intending to foment violence itself in Ukraine with Russia. The reality is tension between the US and Russia has existed over Ukraine for quite a long time and the United States Intelligence Community is extremely good at its job, ie, acquiring data and collecting information that gives it insights into the future maneuvers of other countries. I have no doubt the USIC had an inkling of suspicion that the special military operation was coming or at least quite likely. And as soon as this suspicion emerged, it would have instantly begun preparing responses and counteractions to undermine said operation. More importantly, this isn’t even the right question to focus on for the global community. The right question is this: are we truly convinced these American initiatives are aimed only at achieving the quickest and most efficient end to the conflict and establishing peace or is it aimed more than anything at using Ukraine as a field of play to ensure that Russia is damaged and weakened for decades after the conflict is finished?

The US and UK have made it rather clear that peace alone is not enough. Tranquility in Ukraine is not the only goal. Peace AND punishment is. Which is without a doubt the most depressing and dangerous aspect to the whole affair. The United States currently is trying to deftly balance itself on a knife edge of military and psychological speculation: how far can it go in helping Ukraine inflict damage on Russian military units? How much weakening of Russian power can occur before the situation becomes desperately untenable and the Russian side might be inclined to enact “more reckless” initiatives? It is not coincidence that American mainstream media pushes out daily reports about the worries and concerns NATO and the West have about Putin intending to utilize chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons as the conflict in Ukraine gets ever murkier and more unclear for his side. What the media leaves out, however, in this lament is the fact that it is not Ukraine creating the murkiness: it is the weapons systems being pumped into Ukraine and the Western “advisors” on the ground and embedded within Ukrainian units, teaching them how to use the systems with deadly efficiency, that potentially push Russia toward a so-called reckless edge. In short, the Americans declare concerns over dilemmas that are their own creation. And that, again, is because what is transpiring today in Ukraine has nothing to do with peace exclusively. The West does not want peace as soon as possible and by any means necessary. It wants peace with a lesson attached, with a weakening of power that places Russia back into a docile and less assertive state.

In which case, if true, perhaps everyone in this conflict is focusing on the wrong Germany. On both sides, the imagery constantly being invoked is of Nazi Germany, the Germany of WWII. In reality, the country everyone should be worried about is WWI Germany, the one that simply had to be humiliated and laid low for its hubris and aggression. The country that everyone had to make sure would never be in a position to threaten the world again. It was that Germany that directly led to the insanity and atrocity of WWII. We would be well-warned to remember the lessons of one hundred years ago when pride in the punishment was a higher priority than peace itself. When security was thought better established through humiliation and emasculation rather than through diplomacy and enhanced collaborative communication. Hopefully, the West remembers eventually that even an imperfect peace is preferable to peace through punishment. The former allows for development and evolution. The latter brings only destruction and devolution.

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U.S. & EU Set to Spend Hundreds of Billions of Dollars on Ukraine

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Image: US Army

On 9 May 2022, Reuters headlined “U.S. Congress plans nearly $40 bln more for Ukraine, COVID aid to wait” and reported that “U.S. congressional Democrats agreed to rush $39.8 billion in additional aid for Ukraine,” and:

The House of Representatives could pass the plan, which exceeds President Joe Biden’s request last month for $33 billion, as soon as Tuesday, and Senate leaders said they were also prepared to move quickly.

A proposal for additional COVID-19-related funding, which some Democrats had wanted to combine with the emergency Ukraine funding, will now be considered separately.

Biden on April 28 asked Congress for $33 billion to support Ukraine, including more than $20 billion in military assistance. That proposal was a dramatic escalation of U.S. funding for the war with Russia.

The U.S. Government, with virtual unanimity, view the war in Ukraine to be not so much Ukraine’s war with Russia, but actually as America’s war with Russia, and therefore as being the first direct battleground of World War III, which America will win at all costs. The plan is for America ultimately to become enabled to place its nuclear missiles on Ukraine’s border with Russia, just a five-minute flying-time away from blitz-nuking Moscow and thereby greatly weakening Russia’s command-and-control by eliminating Russia’s central command faster than Russia will be able to launch its retaliatory missiles (if any of those survive America’s initial attack). In 2006, America quietly and unilaterally (though never officially, because the policy-change was gradual and secret) abandoned the meta-strategy that had guided both Russia and the United States ever since the end of World War II, which was called “M.A.D.” or “Mutually Assured Destruction” (the use of nuclear weapons only in order to prevent a WW III) to, instead, “Nuclear Primacy” by America (the use of nuclear weapons to win a nuclear war). Even some top American nuclear scientists have spoken publicly against that plan. But with the participation now of over 98% of the members of the U.S. Congress who constantly are voting for it, and of all U.S. Presidents ever since the time of George W. Bush, that plan (“Nuclear Primacy”) is the plan, and it aims for America to conquer, actually, in the final analysis, the entire world. Ukraine has become central to this plan because Ukraine’s border is closer to Moscow (and the Kremlin) than any other is. (Therefore, Finland’s would be the second-best, from the U.S. Government’s point of view, the “Nuclear Primacy” view.) The EU, under Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, is almost entirely united behind it, and, like France’s Emmanuel Macron, hopes to change the EU’s Constitution so as to eliminate the ability of each individual EU member nation to veto any foreign-affairs proposal such as for the EU to immediately admit Ukraine into its membership (thereby, vetoing for America to become enabled to get Ukraine into its military alliance against Russia, NATO). As Macron said on May 9th, it will take ‘several decades’ for Ukraine to join the EU, and therefore the EU’s founding documents need to be changed in order to prevent this sort of roadblock from ever happening again. So: America and EU both are in agreement that Russia must not be allowed to win this war, which is called Ukraine’s war but is really the U.S.-and-allied war to conquer Russia. (Any stragglers will then easily be able to be taken care of.) They are pulling out all the stops they can, to win this, to win in the first real battleground of WW III, which is Ukraine, on Russia’s border.

Also on May 9th, Bart M. J. Szewczyk, a nonresident senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (which was set up to memoralize the Marshall Plan, which U.S. President Truman had set up in order to bribe European countries with billions of dollars of U.S. reconstruction money if they would join with America against the Soviet Union), headlined in America’s Foreign Policy magazine, “Ukraine Faces an Economic Abyss”, and wrote that “Ukraine may need $600 billion for postwar reconstruction — and more the longer the war drags on.” 

Washington’s instructions to Ukraine’s President Volodmyr Zelensky are to continue the war for as long as possible so as to enable as much weapons from Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and other U.S. ‘Defense’ contractors, to pour into the country and maybe wear out Russia and force Russia to capitulate to Ukraine (i.e., to America) in this, the first round of WW III. That $600 billion, or so, would, of course, come from U.S. and EU not during the war, but AFTER the perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars will already have been spent during the war, in order to buy, from those firms, the weapons that Ukrainians will, by then, have used, in order to achieve Russia’s defeat in this non-nuclear opening round of what clearly now will be a long war to conquer Russia. Szewczyk went on to say that

The trans-Atlantic division of labor over the past eight years — roughly speaking, about 80 percent of economic aid for Ukraine from Europe and 80 percent of military aid from the United States — suggests likely future trends. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen argued this week, Europe has a “special responsibility” toward Ukraine and must allocate “massive investment” to sustain it. In particular, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development — which has invested more than $150 billion across Central and Eastern Europe since its founding in 1991 — will be a key player in galvanizing this effort. The bank has already facilitated over $16 billion of investment in Ukraine and recently announced a new $2 billion package. Its annual meeting next week will already be dominated by the topic of Ukraine.

Of course, U.S. and EU taxpayers have already spent lots of money in order to get this war started, up till the point when, on 24 February 2022, Russia finally invaded. Szewczyk wrote that “the European Union and European financial institutions — Ukraine’s main backers — provided around $18 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine between 2014 and the start of Russia’s latest invasion on Feb. 24.” He ignored there the billions that America had spent, even prior to Barack Obama’s successful coup which had brought to power in Ukraine a rabidly anti-Russian regime there to replace the neutralist government that Ukraine had had prior to that U.S. coup, which undeniably did occur, and which had been in the planning stages of the Obama Administration ever since 2011 at the very latest.

Furthermore, Szewczyk wrote, 

An even deeper collapse of Ukraine’s wartime economy could send millions more refugees to Europe.

There are ample resources across the West to finance Ukraine’s wartime economy through grants, loans, and trade concessions. Getting Ukraine up and running is in the West’s — and above all, Europe’s — own interest. Not only does the EU need a functioning bulwark against an imperialist Russia, but the EU is also Ukraine’s main trade partner.

So, all of these estimates are far likelier to increase, instead of decrease, during the coming decade.

Szewczyk is the author of the 2021 book, Europe’s Grand Strategy: Navigating a New World Order, which his publisher introduces by saying of it, “This book proposes that the European Union should craft a grand strategy to navigate the new world order based on a four-pronged approach. First, European decision-makers (both in Brussels and across EU capitals) should take a broader view of their existential interests at stake and devote greater time and resources to serving them within the wider cause of the liberal order.” The description of him provided there is “Bart M.J. Szewczyk served as Member of the Policy Planning Staff at the US State Department and Adviser on Global Affairs at the European Commission’s think-tank.”

So: when Reuters headlined on May 9th that “U.S. Congress plans nearly $40 bln more for Ukraine, COVID aid to wait”, it was clearly a harbinger for “belt-tightening” by U.S.-and-EU publics on everything else than what is said by their respective governments to be “existential” matters, which means conquering the entire rest of the world, before such issues as “COVID” can be overcome. U.S.-and-allied ‘national security’ interests “against an imperialist Russia” (as Szewczyk put it) must come first, in these ‘democracies’. War must come first. That is clearly the policy now, because of the “existential” threat, not to Russia, but from Russia.

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