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.
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
The third Fox News shock to Trump
New Fox News polls showed once again that US President Donald Trump is not doing well in state and state polls. Accordingly, the likelihood of Trump’s defeat in next year’s presidential election has increased dramatically. Unless the trend continues, Trump will no longer be at the forefront of US political and executive equations. Trump has twice accused the Fox News network of posting false and untrue polls. However, many US analysts believe that recent Fox News polls are based on current US facts. American citizens’ dissatisfaction with Trump’s foreign policy, as well as some economic discontent in some states, has contributed to Trump’s decline in popularity.
Although Trump has not yet responded to a Fox News poll, he is likely to accuse the US president of announcing false results in the near future! Donald Trump accuses not only Fox News but other media outlets and polls that predict his defeat in next year’s presidential election.
On the other hand, the competition between Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris has intensified. If either of these candidates reach the final stage of next year’s presidential race, they will have a greater chance of defeating Trump. However, there is still much time left for the Democratic primary. The election will be held primarily in the crucial state of Iowa. If any Democrat candidate can win in this small and important state, he can also win other Democratic intra-party election contests. Here’s a look at some news and analysis on the U.S. presidential election:
Fox News poll shows Trump losing to Biden, Warren, Sanders and Harris
A Fox News poll released Thursday showed President Trump losing head-to-head matchups against four of the top Democratic presidential primary contenders. The poll found Trump with 39 percent support among registered voters in head-to-head matchups against Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The poll found Sanders beating Trump with 48 percent, Warren winning over Trump with 45 percent and Harris winning with 46 percent support.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, beat Trump in the theoretical matchup with 50 percent support among those surveyed, compared to Trump’s 38 percent. Among Democratic primary contenders, Warren saw the largest gain in support in the poll — an 8 percent jump from last month’s survey. Warren, according to the poll, took second place behind Biden with the support of 20 percent of Democratic primary voters.
Sanders dropped to third, now at 10 percent in the poll and the only other candidate aside from Warren and Biden scoring double digit support among voters. Biden dropped slightly in the poll from a previous Fox News poll in July, from 33 percent to 31 percent, but remains the clear front-runner in the race according to the survey. The Fox News poll was taken between Aug. 11-13 and contacted 1,013 registered voters on landlines and cellphones. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent for all registered voters, and 4.5 percent for Democratic primary voters.
2 troubling signs for Trump in this new Fox News poll
As Washington Post reported, Trump fails to crack 40 percent in any matchup with a potential 2020 opponent in a new Fox News poll. And that may not be the worst of it for him.
The new Fox poll is arguably Trump’s worst of the early polls testing potential general-election matchups. He trails Joe Biden by 12 percentage points (50 percent to 38 percent), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) by nine points (48 to 39), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) by seven (46 to 39) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) by six (45 to 39). That’s tied for his biggest deficit to date against Warren, according to RealClearPolitics, and it’s close to his biggest deficits against the others, too.
It’s just one poll of course, and even high-quality polls have margins of error. It’s possible Trump’s support percentage is really in the 40s, just like in most other polls. But if you drill down, there are a couple of other problematic pieces of this poll for Trump.
The first is his vote share versus his approval rating. There has been plenty of talk about Trump’s consistently low approval rating and how it sets him up for reelection. But in this poll, he doesn’t even completely lockdown that vote. While he gets 38 to 39 percent in all four matchups, his approval rating is actually 43 percent. That means roughly 4 percent of registered voters say they approve of Trump but they’re not ready to vote for him. And as Josh Jordan noted, this isn’t the first poll to show that. I looked back on three other high-quality national polls and found a drop-off in all three — albeit not as big as in Fox’s poll.
Reelection bids are generally viewed as referendums on the incumbent in which, in a close race, you’d expect the president to at least get the percentage of voters who approve of him. For Trump, it appears there is a small percentage of people who like the job he’s done but for whatever reason — concern about his tendency to fly off the handle, perhaps, or the fact that they also like the Democrats — aren’t yet on board with his reelection. It’s one thing to run for reelection with a low approval rating; it’s another to not even be able to count on that level of support.
An alternative reading, of course, is that these voters are ripe for Trump to bring back into the fold and increase his vote share as the race moves forward. But even then, he’s not in great shape.
The second problematic number comes from Fox News’s write-up of its poll:
Voters who have a negative view of both Biden and Trump back Biden by a 43-10 percent margin in the head-to-head matchup, although many would vote for someone else (27 percent), wouldn’t vote (12 percent) or are undecided (8 percent).
This is an admittedly small subsample, with a very large margin of error. Given Biden is relatively popular (50 percent favorable versus 42 percent unfavorable), the universe of voters who dislike both him and Trump is likely to be a very small share of the roughly 1,000 people surveyed. (I asked Fox about the sample size but haven’t heard back yet.)
But even accounting for that, this is ominous for Trump. That’s because these voters — those who disliked both him and Clinton — made the difference for him in 2016. As Philip Bump wrote last month:
Nationally, Trump had a 17-point edge with those voters, according to exit polls. In the three states that handed him the presidency — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — he won those voters by 21, 25 and 37 points, respectively. In each state, those voters made up about a fifth of the electorate.
It was one-fifth of the electorate because only about 40 percent of voters liked both Trump and Clinton. It’s a smaller universe today, because Trump’s image is slightly better and Biden’s is significantly better than Clinton’s. But it’s also true that this universe of voters probably comes more from the right side of the electorate, given Biden’s superior image rating. And yet Trump barely gets any support here.
For now, let’s set aside the numbers in the head-to-head matchups. The fact is that Trump can win reelection with an approval rating in the low-to-mid 40s, which is where it’s been throughout his presidency. But he can’t do it if he’s not locking down basically everyone who approves of him and is getting beaten among those who dislike both him and his Democratic opponent. If those findings are accurate, then focusing on his low approval rating might actually oversell his reelection chances.
Poll: Warren jumps over Sanders for second place behind Biden
As Politico reported, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has leapfrogged Sen. Bernie Sanders for second place nationally in the Democratic presidential primary, according to a new poll out Thursday.
The new Fox News poll of registered voters who say they plan to participate in the Democratic primary or caucus in their state shows that although Warren still trails former Vice President Joe Biden, pulling in 20 percentage points to his 31, she posted an 8-point gain over the previous survey conducted last month. Sanders dropped 5 points in the poll, good for third place with 10 percent support.
The poll shows remarkable growth for Warren over the last five months — she has gained 16 points since March — while Biden has remained somewhat steady over the same period. Sanders’ second-place lead has diminished steadily over the same period, with Thursday’s survey the first in which he dropped into third place. He has dropped 13 points since May. Sen. Kamala Harris is not far behind him in fourth place, with 8 percent.
Thursday’s poll has no bearing on next month’s debate in Houston since every candidate polling above 2 percent has already reached the polling threshold for the debate stage.
The Fox poll shows that any of the top four Democratic contenders would best President Donald Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup. Biden opens up the widest lead against Trump, beating him 50-38, while Harris would have the closest contest — though still outside the margin of sampling error — beating Trump 45-39.
The poll also shows a nearly even split in what Democratic primary voters are looking for in a presidential candidate. Forty-eight percent of voters said they’d like a Democratic nominee to build upon the legacy of former President Barack Obama, while 47 percent said they’d prefer a new approach.
The survey was conducted Aug. 11-13 among a random national sample of 1,013 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage for all registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for the 483 Democratic primary voters surveyed.
Voters Care About Biden’s Age — Not About His Gaffes
Also, Fivethirtyeight Reported that After a week’s worth of media focuses on a series of gaffes and misstatements by former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic voters are reacting by … apparently not giving much of a damn.
Granted, there hasn’t been a ton of polling this week. But what data we have looked just fine for Biden. His position in Morning Consult’s weekly tracking poll — first place with 33 percent of the vote — is unchanged. In HarrisX’s tracking poll for ScottRasmussen.com, he’s at 28 percent, which is up 3 percentage points from a week ago. He’s down 1 point in YouGov’s weekly poll, and he did get some middling numbers in New Hampshire this week. But Biden also got a good poll in South Carolina.
Not that you should necessarily have expected any differently. Biden has survived more serious problems — a rough first debate, a group of allegations about inappropriately touching women — only to see his numbers rebound from any decline (if they were even affected in the first place). So it probably would have been optimistic for Biden’s rivals to expect a handful of verbal gaffes to move his polls, especially given that Biden already came into the campaign with a reputation for being gaffe-prone. Some influential Democrats are focusing on those gaffes for another reason, though: They see them as a sign of Biden’s advancing age. (Biden is 76 and would be 78 upon assuming the presidency.) Whether those Democrats are genuinely concerned about Biden’s age insofar as it might affect his performance against President Trump, or whether they’re using it as an excuse to promote the candidacies of younger Democrats who they happen to like better anyway, undoubtedly varies from case to case.
A lot of rank-and-file voters do have concerns about Biden’s age. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in February found that 62 percent of voters had reservations about voting for someone aged 75 or older. Other polls have also shown advanced age to be a concern among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
But there hasn’t been much discussion of age from the other candidates. Eric Swalwell brought it up explicitly in the first presidential debate when he urged voters to “pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.” Rather than echo Swalwell’s argument, however, Kamala Harris tried to defuse the situation by suggesting that discussions of age and generational change were tantamount to schoolyard insults. “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table,” she said.
Maybe anti-Biden Democrats — and the other candidates — think they’re being coy by using Biden’s gaffes as a proxy for concerns about his age. No reason to get tarred with allegations of ageism, they figure, or to risk offending older voters who turn out in big numbers in the primaries. (Also, if the candidate they prefer to Biden is Bernie Sanders, they have the further problem that Sanders is a year older than Biden at 77.)1 Show rather than tell, as the maxim goes: Plant a few seeds and let voters build a narrative about Biden’s age on their own, without having to give them the hard sell. This strategy might even work! It’s still fairly early, and Biden’s age is perhaps his biggest risk factor — bigger, in my view than his policy positions, which are often more in line with the views of the average Democrat than those of the more liberal candidates.
But especially in the era of Trump — who, of course, has already begun to question Biden’s mental fitness — there might also be something to be said for saying the quiet part out loud. In a poll conducted shortly after the first debate, some Democratic voters explicitly used Swalwell’s “pass the torch” language when asked an open-ended question about why they didn’t want to vote for Biden. And they were much more likely to explicitly mention Biden’s age than to use vaguer responses, such as that he was “out of touch.”
There’s also a risk to anti-Biden Democrats in drawing voters’ attention to gaffes or other incidents that voters view as relatively minor. Biden remains an extremely well-liked figure among Democratic voters; 75 percent of them have a favorable view of him, according to Morning Consult’s latest polling. So three-quarters of the electorate is going to start with a predilection against sympathizing with critiques of Biden. If those critiques aren’t really bringing the goods and instead seem like petty grievances, those Democrats may conclude that the case against Biden is a lot of hot air.
Meanwhile, if the false alarms continue — as in, Democrats on Twitter or on podcasts predict Biden’s demise and the polls are unmoved — the media may come to view Biden as a Trump-like “Teflon” candidate who isn’t greatly affected by gaffes and scandals. That could reduce their appetite for covering them in the future — even if more serious ones occur than what’s taken place to date.
From our partner Tehran Times
U.S.-North Korea Nuclear War: Assessing Plausible Risks
“Military strategy, whether we like it or not, has become the diplomacy of violence.”-Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (1966)
US President Donald Trump says he doesn’t know if North Korea is building additional nuclear weapons, but he adds: “We’ll see, I hope not.” This is hardly a logical, thoughtful or prudential stance, especially because time in such military-diplomacy matters is always of urgent importance. While Mr. Trump continues to believe that the North Korean dictator is most apt to be motivated by American promises of enhanced economic assistance, this incentive is a distinctly secondary one.
In Pyongyang, for Kim Jung Un, it pales beside the more viscerally felt benefits of compelling personal power.
Accordingly, to best serve US national security interests rather than his own purely personal preferences, Trump must begin to change his North Korea strategy. In particular, this means a strategy that is more expressly analytic and history-based. Still more precisely, he should begin to think more systematically and realistically along the lines of achieving long-term nuclear deterrence with North Korea.
Such thinking is needed even with an adversary so openly “beloved.” There are, after all, no conceivable circumstances wherein it could make sense for North Korea to surrender any portion of its nuclear weapons or of its corresponding strategic ambitions. These reassuringly tangible assets remain that Asian country’s most conspicuous foundation of global influence and power.
There is more. During any still-upcoming negotiations, Trump must take scrupulous care not to exaggerate or overstate America’s military risk-taking calculus. Any such recommended diplomatic caution would derive in large measure from the absence of comparable crises. In essence, because there has never been a nuclear war, there could be no reliable way for this president (or anyone else) to ascertain the mathematical probability of a US-North Korea nuclear conflict.
None at all.
For Donald Trump, who is routinely accustomed to making unwarranted extrapolations from commercial real estate bargaining to high-stakes nuclear diplomacy, this observation could seem overly stark. But it is nonetheless true, and truth is always incontestable and “exculpatory.” Specifically, in any truly scientific assessment, meaningful probabilities must be drawn from one quantifiable calculus only; that is the determinable frequency of pertinent past events.
This does not mean that Trump’s senior strategists and counselors should consciously steer away from clear-eyed assessments regarding nuclear costs and risks, but only that such assessments must inevitably be drawn from constantly shifting and hard to decipher geopolitical trends.
And certain attendant problems are even more complicated. For one, world security processes must be approached as a totality; that is, as a more-or-less coherent system. What is happening now in such far-flung places as India-Kashmir, China, Russia, Iran and perhaps even Hong Kong could have significant “spillover effects” somewhere in the northeast Asian theatre. Rather than ignore such complex effects altogether – largely because they would appear too intellectually demanding – this American president will have to accord them a more appropriate position of policy-making primacy.
Mr. Trump’s utterly disjointed statements about “love letters” with Kim Jung Un notwithstanding, the military threats from an already- nuclear North Korea remain genuine, substantive and fully “robust.”
There is more. President Trump needs to bear in mind that many or all of northeast Asia’s continuously transforming developments will be impacted by “Cold War II,” an oppositional stance with Russia and (more or less derivatively) China. Similarly important will be this US leader’s willingness to acknowledge and factor-in certain consequential limits of “expert” military advice. These generally unseen limits are based not upon any presumed intellectual inadequacies of America’s generals, but rather on the knowledge that no person has fought in a nuclear war.
This bit of knowledge is indisputable.
By definition – and going forward with all inherently time-urgent considerations of US – North Korea policy formation – relevant US strategic calculations will be fraught with variously daunting uncertainties. Still, it will be necessary that Donald Trump and his counselors remain able to offer best determinable war-related estimations. Among prospectively causal factors – some of them overlapping, interdependent or even “synergistic” – the presumptive risks of a nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang will depend upon whether such a conflict would be intentional, unintentional or accidental.
In principle, at least, this tripartite distinction could prove vitally important to any hoped for success in US nuclear war prediction and prevention processes.
In facing future North Korean negotiations, it will be necessary that competent US policy analysts systematically examine and measure all foreseeableconfigurations of pertinent nuclear risk. Expressed in the game-theoretic parlance of formal military planning, these shifting configurations could present themselves singly or one-at-a-time (the expectedly best case for Washington), but they might also arise suddenly, unexpectedly, with apparent “diffusiveness” or in multiple and overlapping “cascades” of strategic complexity.
What is to be done? To properly understand such bewildering cascades will require carefully-honed, well-developed and formidable analytic skills. This will likely not be a suitable task for the presidential political appointee or the otherwise intellectually faint-hearted. On the contrary, it will require sharply refined combinations of historical acquaintance, traditional erudition and a demonstrated capacity for advanced dialectical thinking.
There is more. This challenging task will require American strategic thinkers who are as comfortable with classical prescriptions of Plato and Descartes as with the more narrowly technical elements of modern military theory and military hardware.
It is conceivable that neither Washington nor Pyongyang is currently paying sufficient attention to the specific and residual risks of an unintentional nuclear war. To this point in their prospectively ongoing summitry, each president would seem to assume the other’s complete decisional rationality. If, after all, there were no such mutual assumption, it could make no determinable sense for either side to negotiate any further security accommodations with the other.
None at all.
Viable nuclear deterrence (not denuclearization) must become the overriding US strategic goal with North Korea. But this complex objective is contingent upon certain basic assumptions concerning enemy rationality. Are such assumptions realistically valid in the particular case of a potential war between two already-nuclear powers? If President Donald Trump, despite “falling in love” with Kim Jung-Un, should sometime begin to fear enemy irrationalityin Pyongyang, issuing new threats of US retaliation might make diminishing diplomatic sense.
At that unprecedented stage, American national security could come to depend upon some residually optimal combinations of ballistic missile defense and defensive first strikes. Again by definition, determining such bewildering combinations would necessarily lack any decisional input or counsel from concrete and/or quantifiable historical data.
In the conceivably worst case, the offensive military element could entail a situational or comprehensive preemption – a defensive first strike – but at that manifestly late stage all previous hopes for bilateral reconciliation would already have become moot. There could then obtain no “ordinary” circumstances wherein a preemptive strike against a nuclear adversary such as North Korea would still be rational.
None of these difficult strategic decisions could be reached casually or easily. With the steadily expanding development of “hypersonic” nuclear weapons, figuring out optimal US policy combinations from one crisis to another could very quickly become overwhelming. Also, though counterintuitive amid such complications, the evident fact that one “player” (the US) is recognizably “more powerful” than the other (North Korea) could quickly prove irrelevant.
In all such foreseeable circumstances, there would be certain overlapping issues of law and strategy. Under international law, which remains an integral part of US law, the option of a selective or comprehensive defensive first-strike might sometime be correctly characterized as “anticipatory self-defense.” But this would be the case only if the American side could argue coherently and persuasively that the “danger posed” by North Korea was “imminent in point of time.”
Such discernible “imminence” is specifically required by the authoritative standards of international law; that is, by the formal criteria established after an 1837 naval incident famously called “The Caroline.”
Now, moreover, in the nuclear age, offering aptly precise characterizations of “imminence” could prove sorely abstract and densely problematic.
For the moment, it seems reasonable that Kim Jung Un would value his own personal life and that of his nation above literally every other imaginable preference or combination of preferences. In any corresponding scenario, Kim is visibly and technically rational, and must remain subject to US nuclear deterrence. Nonetheless, it could still become important for a negotiating American president to distinguish between authentic instances of enemy irrationality and pretended irrationality.
Is US President Donald Trump – a self-declared “very stable genius” – actually up to such a challenging task?
This is not a silly question.
In the past, Trump has praised pretended irrationality as a potentially useful US national security strategy. Apropos of this revealing praise, his earlier “fire and fury” warnings (issued before he “fell in love” with Kim Jung Un) might have reflected a prospective “rationality of pretended irrationality” posture for the United States. Ultimately, such a posture could be adopted by either one or both sides.
This particular prospect adds yet another layer of complexity to the subject at hand, one that could sometime include certain force-multiplying synergies. These would be interactive outcomes where the “whole” was effectively greater than the mere sum of its apparent “parts.”
Although neither side would likely seek a shooting war, either or both heads of state could still commit assorted errors in the course of their strategic calculations. Such potentially grievous errors would represent an unintended consequence of jointly competitive searches for “escalation dominance.” Arguably, these errors are more apt to occur in those particular circumstances where one or both presidents had first chosen to reignite hyperbolic verbal rhetoric.
Even when the two leaders are reportedly “in love.”
Portentously, even in reassuringly calm periods of polite and congenial diplomatic discourse, major miscalculations, accidents or “cyber-confusions” could rapidly accumulate.
In certain expectedly worst case scenarios, negotiations gone wrong could result in a nuclear war.
There is more. An inadvertent nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang could take place not only as the result of various misunderstandings or miscalculations between rational national leaders, but also as the unintended consequence (singly or synergistically) of mechanical, electrical, computer malfunctions, or of certain “hacking”-type interventions. Going forward, these interventions could include the clandestine intrusions of “cyber-mercenaries.”
In any still-impending crisis between Washington and Pyongyang, each side will strive to maximize two critical goals simultaneously. These goals are (1) to dominate the dynamic and largely unpredictable process of nuclear crisis escalation; and (2) to achieve desired “escalation dominance” without sacrificing any vital national security obligations. In the final analysis, this second objective means preventing one’s own state and society from ever suffering any catastrophic or existential harms.
This brings up a prior point concerning all obligatory assessments of relative military power. When President Trump, in an earlier verbal competition with Kim Jung Un, stated that the North Korean president may have his own nuclear “button,” but that his American “button” was impressively “bigger,” the US leader revealed a major military misunderstanding. It is that today, in the still advancing nuclear age, atomic superiority is potentially per se insignificant and could sometime lead the presumptively stronger nuclear adversary toward lethal expressions of overconfidence.
As Donald Trump should now more fully understand, even an enemy with a smaller “nuclear button” could inflict unimaginably grave harms upon the “stronger” United States and/or its close allies in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere. It follows that to take comfort from the fact that North Korea has been testing “only” shorter-range ballistic missiles is to miss the point. Entirely.
North Korea’s 2017 nuclear test had a yield 16X larger than the Hiroshima bomb. That 14KT WW II bomb produced almost 100,000 immediate fatalities.
Such vital understanding about nuclear “button size” must obtain as long as Kim Jung Un’s “inferior” nuclear arms are seemingly invulnerable to any American preemptions and also seemingly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses deployed in the United States, Japan or South Korea. Because of the extraordinary harms generated by even low-yield nuclear weapons, a small percentage or tiny fraction of Kim’s “inferior” nuclear arsenal could and should appear unacceptably destructive in Washington, Tokyo or Seoul. Worth noting, too, is that in all of these critical dimensions of strategic judgment, the only reality that would figure in ongoing adversarial calculations would be perceived reality.
The bottom line of all such informed assessments concerning a still-possible US – North Korea nuclear war is that the underlying issues of contention and calculation are enormously complicated. Faced with such staggering measures of complexity, both operational and legal, each side must proceed warily, in a fashion that is both purposeful and risk-averse. Although such prudent counsel may first seem to run counter to assorted inter-linking obligations of achieving “escalation dominance,” any still-upcoming Trump-Kim negotiations would involve very deep and uncharted “waters.”
Looking ahead, aggressive over-confidence by President Trump or President Kim will have to be avoided. Although everything at an upcoming summit could at first appear simple and calculable, history strongly supports Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s oft-cited observations about “friction.” This quality represents “the difference between war on paper, and war as it actually is.”
In certain cases, this crucial difference could amount to total war.
To avoid any such intolerable outcome between the United States and North Korea, a necessary “diplomacy of violence” must be practiced less with clichés and empty witticisms than with intellect and cultivated erudition. Much earlier, the ancient Greeks and Macedonians had already understood that war planning must be a disciplined matter of “mind over mind,” rather than just “mind over matter.” Today, in more specific regard to US-North Korea nuclear negotiations and rivalry, a similar understanding should obtain immediately in Washington.
better for the United States to suitably cultivate the “diplomacy of
violence” than to stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea.
 One should be reminded of a warning speech by Pericles (432 BCE), as noted by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies, is our own mistakes.” See: Thucydides: The Speeches of Pericles, H.G. Edinger, tr., New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1979, p. 17.
 The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, too, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.
 In essence, hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.
 See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School: Louis René Beres, https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/ See also, by this writer, at West Point: Louis René Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/
 See especially art. 6 of the US Constitution (“The Supremacy Clause”) and the Pacquete Habana (1900). In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination. For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.” See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900). See also: The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).
 See Beth Polebau, National Self-Defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age, 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline case transformed the right to Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine).
 Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).
 Expressions of decisional irrationality in US dealings with North Korea could take different and overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).
 There is now a substantial literature that deals with the expected consequences of a nuclear war. For earlier works by this author, see, for example: APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); MIMICKING SISYPHUS: AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1983); REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1984); and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1986).
 See: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), p. 63.
Reality-Denial Among America’s Democratic Party Faithful
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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