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Iran and Venezuela: One story of two Revolutions

Irina Tsukerman

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Authors: Irina Tsukerman & Hos Loftus*

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

The Twin Revolutions: “Islamic” and “Bolivarian”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When They Failed to Deliver…

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

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

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

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

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

They Collaborated in the Use of Violence

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

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

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

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

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

AMIA: The Venezuelan connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran and terrorism in Latin America

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Opposition Any Better?

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

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

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

Anti-Americanism Inside the American Government

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

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

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

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

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

Policy Recommendations

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

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

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

Acting from a Position of Strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Beware of Limitations of Pragmatic “Reformism”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Responding to Gold Smuggling and Money Laundering

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

V. Accountability for the AMIA bombing

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

VI. Securing US borders

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

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

VII. Chaos and instability help export revolutions

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

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

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

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

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

Americas

Trump Plans to Keep U.S. Troops Permanently in Iraq

Eric Zuesse

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A reliable and exceptionally knowledgeable source, who doesn’t wish to be publicly identified, has confidentially informed me that an agreement has been reached in which U.S. troops will remain permanently in Iraq but under exclusively NATO command, no longer under the command of CentCom (US Central Command in the Middle East).

On February 12th, NATO’s defense ministers agreed to increase operations in Iraq. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has been working ever since Fall of 2019 to prepare this plan (Trump had been pushing for it even before that), and Stoltenberg has consulted in Jordan with King Abdullah, and also in Brussels with Sabri Bachtabji, Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, because Tunisia is a key part of Trump’s plan, to use other NATO nations as America’s proxies controlling the Middle East.

On February 1st, pro-Muslim-Brotherhood Turkey agreed to the plan, and will be transferring jihadists (al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, plus some ISIS) from Syria’s jihadist-filled Idlib Province, into Libya, via Tunisia, so as to boost the forces of Fayez al-Sarraj (former monarchist now backed by U.S., EU, and Turkey) to defeat the forces of Khalifa Haftar (former Gaddafi-supporter, now in the Libyan civil war claiming as his objective the defeat of all jihadists there). Whereas U.S., EU, and Turkey, back al-Sarraj, Russia isn’t involved in the war, except trying to negotiate peace there, but al-Sarraj rejects any involvement by Russia. Turkey’s interest in Libya is to win Libya’s backing so as to be in a stronger position to win turf in the emerging competition for rights to oil and gas under nearby parts of the Mediterranean Sea. To have Libya beholden to Turkey would be to increase the likelihood of Turkey’s getting that offshore oil.

America’s position regarding the jihadists that Turkey has been protecting in Syria’s Idlib province is that they can be useful as proxy boots-on-the-ground to defeat Haftar, whom America too opposes, favoring al-Sarraj, whom Turkey likewise backs; so, Turkey and U.S. are cooperating on this effort in Libya.

America’s interest is in overthrowing Syria’s secular Government and replacing it with one that would be acceptable to the fundamentalist-Sunni Saud family who own Saudi Arabia. In order to do this, America will therefore need to keep its forces in Iraq. Otherwise, Russia and Iran, both of which America and the Sauds hope ultimately to conquer, would have stronger influence in the Middle East, which neither America nor the Sauds want. America invaded Iraq not only directly for its international corporations to profit, but also in order to have its hundreds of bases there from which to control the entire Middle East — bases that are supplied out of the world’s largest Embassy building (from which even other U.S. embassies are supplied), which building was constructed in Baghdad after the 2003 invasion. Trump’s plan now is to bring in NATO allies, so that they will help out in the Middle East, more than in the past. Trump wants America’s vassal-nations to absorb some of the financial burdens of imposing empire, so that America’s taxpayers won’t need to fund the full cost of it, for the benefit of the billionaire owners of international corporations that are based in the United States and in its allied (or vassal) (including other NATO) countries. This is why Stoltenberg has been working, for months, to effectuate Trump’s plan.

On February 1st, the veteran Middle Eastern reporter David Hearst headlined at his Middle East Eye site, “EXCLUSIVE: US military offers Iraq a partial pullback”, and he reported that,

A representative of the US military told the Iraqis present that the United States was prepared to leave positions in or near Shia-majority areas, such as Balad Air Base, which is located 80km north of Baghdad and houses US trainers and contractors.

Washington, the Iraqis were told, could even consider reducing its presence in Baghdad.

“We are prepared to leave some of the Shia-majority areas, like the base in Balad. Maybe we could reduce our presence in Baghdad,” the military representative told his Iraqi counterparts, who understood from this that the US presence in the Iraqi capital would be reduced to guarding its embassy and the airport.

However, the US side categorically ruled out withdrawing from their biggest air base in Iraq, and indeed the whole Middle East, Ain al-Assad. …

For the US side, Ain al-Assad was its “red line”.

The representative said: “We cannot even start talking about withdrawing [from that base]. Withdrawal is out of the question.”

Such was the sensitivity of these discussions that they were held well away from Iraq. The meeting took place in the private residence of the Canadian ambassador to Jordan in Amman, Middle East Eye was told.

Present at the meeting was a representative of the US military, a Nato official and a senior Iraqi security adviser.

America needs the vast Ain al-Assad base in order ultimately to overthrow Bashar al-Assad (no relation), Syria’s secular President, who is allied with Russia and with Iran. NATO will increasingly be taking over this function of assisting the war for regime-change in Syria.

On February 15th, Middle East Monitor bannered “Iraq: Washington to strengthen presence of NATO to disengage militarily from Baghdad” and reported that America’s allies will take over there but “This will only work if the NATO mission includes a strong US component.” So: America’s withdrawal will be only nominal. This will help NATO by assuring that Trump won’t abandon NATO if he wins a second term, and it will also help Trump to win a second term by Trump’s claiming to be withdrawing from the Middle East even without actually doing any such thing.

The aim of this is to fool the public everywhere. In international affairs, this is the way to win: first, fool your own public; then, get your allies to fool theirs. That builds a “coalition.” Donald Trump is doing precisely this.

Trump is continuing Barack Obama’s wars, just like Barack Obama continued George W. Bush’s wars. The plan for America to control the Middle East remains on course, now, ever since 2001. As Obama often said, “America is the one indispensable nation.” (All others are therefore “dispensable.”) It is certainly the leading nation. And America’s aristocracy possess patience. They know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In order to be the leading nation and the biggest international aggressor (so that “America is the one indispensable nation”), what is essential is to treat every other nation as being “dispensable” (make them fear you), so that either they will do as the leading nation wants, or else they will be dispensed with — they will become added to the list of target-nations to be conquered. They are dispensable; they are disposable. A disposable nation is aware of its subordinate position. On February 15th, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that 

the US dedicated a significantly higher proportion of its defence budget to procurement and R&D than its NATO allies. European countries are increasing their defence investments as a share of their total spending – for those countries with available data, funds rose from 19.8% in 2018 to 23.1% in 2019 – but the equivalent category reached 29% in the US. The United States’ defence investments were thus worth around four times as much as European states’ combined.

A nation which spends 29% of its GDP on “defence” might be weak in other ways, but everyone in the world will fear it, and all other nations will know that they are “dispensable,” because the country which spends that high a percentage (and there is only one which does) also happens to have the world’s largest economy. Any other country, which isn’t one of its vassals, will be viewed by it (or by its aristocracy) as being an “enemy” — a nation that is targeted for “regime-change,” instead of for being a market. And being a targeted nation is very different than being a target market. It is to be only a target — a target of sanctions, a target of coups, and, if those fail, then a target of invasion and military occupation, like Iraq is.

(However, actually, the U.S. spends only around 7% — $1.5 trillion divided by $22 trillion — of its economy toward the Pentagon and the rest of America’s military. Still, it might be the highest percentage on Earth. Because around $1 trillion yearly in U.S. military spending is off-the-books, that ‘defence’ figure could actually be closer to 10%. But it’s not 29%. Right now, around 20% of U.S. GDP goes to buy healthcare, which is the very largest percentage for healthcare of any country on the planet. America’s quality of healthcare is at or near the lowest of all industrialized nations; so, the wastage in its healthcare is even larger than in its military.)  

Iraq and Iran and Syria — and every other nation that is friendly toward Russia — all of them, are targets of the U.S. regime. That’s why Trump plans to keep U.S. forces in Iraq: Iraq was conquered in 2003, and he wants it to stay that way.

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Americas

Trump impeachment failure: What is in store for America and the world?

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On February 5, the US Senate found President Donald Trump not guilty of actions which could be classified as requiring his removal from office. All Republican Senators, who have a majority in the house, except Mitt Romney, turned down both charges against the president which accused him of “abuse of office” and ” obstructing Congress work.”

That impeachment is not the option was obvious to any Washington insider from the very beginning. To remove Trump from office it was necessary to enlist the support of two thirds in the Senate, which is unrealistic at the moment. The more moderate opponents of the head of the White House could, if they wanted, remind themselves and others that until the very last they were calling for considering all the pros and cons of an attempt to remove the president from office. A number of experts believed that “a threat of the impeachment procedure, without specific measures to this effect, would be a much safer way to ensure the defeat of Donald Trump in the next year’s presidential election.”The hearings as such would demonstrate the “incompetence” of the current head of state. Even Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who ultimately came to lead the Democratic attack against Trump, warned in March last year that “impeachment divides the country in such a bad way that … we should not follow this path”. Last December, The Washington Post pointed out that in America, “there is extremism, there is no political clairvoyance, while the voices of reason are drowned in hyper-party cacophony.”

Over the past years, Washington has indeed seen a continuing buildup of fierce political battles. The political layout which came into place after the mid-term elections in 2018 – the Democrats control the lower house and the Republicans have majority in the upper – has resulted in a situation in which battles are waged not just for every yard, but for every inch of political space.

Success in the lower house midterm elections, that is, getting the largest number of seats since 1974, has clearly encouraged the Democrats. Given the situation, an attempt to impeach the president was seen by their leadership as a good opportunity to return anti-Trump inquiries to the political agenda. In addition, the expectations of Democratic Party supporters regarding the launch of impeachment procedure were so high that a refusal of the party leadership to try to remove Trump from office could cost Democrats votes this year. We should not forget that we are talking not only about the presidential election, but also about the next congressional election campaign.

The confrontational scenario of the 2020 election campaign appears almost inevitable. Critics of the president do understand this, so their statements after the failure of the impeachment move are predictably radical – now Trump is unbound. They believe that he will now move with renewed vigor towards the implementation of his “anti-American fantasies.” Trump’s supporters are so dazed by ideological confrontation with the opponents that they are ready to accept and defend “any lie from his mouth.” As for the American democracy, it is vulnerable “as never before.”

Trump, in turn, makes it clear that he craves political revenge. He has already fired several officials who testified against him during the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives. Most likely, Trump will continue to rely on “American nationalism” and “white identity”, so hated by Democrats. He has also got more grounds to blame the obstruction-creating Democrats for all his failures during the election campaign. Moreover, what with all the achievements in the midterm elections two years ago, the Democrats were defeated, or could not sufficiently build up their positions in a number of states which are considered to play a key role in the upcoming presidential election. And the recent primaries in Iowa where the calculation of the results dragged on for several days demonstrated that the Democratic Party is still experiencing chaos and confusion.

According to a generalized view of domestic political processes in the United States, the executive branch’s futile attempts to push through the Congress projects of significant legislative changes have long become a “tradition” in American domestic politics. This process originated a long time ago – after the end of the Cold War, when the need for coming to a bipartisan consensus lost the status of a national security issue. As a result, discussions of almost every important point of the presidential election campaign are accompanied by  emotions, which prevail over facts and over attempts to propose a reasonable and comprehensive solution.

This trend is consistent under Trump. On the one hand, the Republican president has a good reason to criticize the legacy of his predecessors. He would also be right to appeal to the importance of launching “at last” the practical implementation of reforms, the need for which has been acknowledged by all administrations since the mid-1990s. On the other hand, the presence of a political will faces the realities of the political process, the participants of which, as before, appeal not so much to national interests as to the moods of the public. Demand gives rise to supply – Trump prefers to focus on issues that find the strongest emotional response in society. In response, the opponents accuse Trump of pursuing a “chaotic” policy on almost any issue. However, in the long run, what is taking place is a split that is running through the entire spectrum of American political system, and this split, as impeachment battles have demonstrated, has been deepened by the efforts from both parties, which are ready to contribute to its worsening with “unprecedented” vigor.

Aggravation of internal political struggle in the USA, as historical experience shows, often pushes American presidents into abrupt, often ill-conceived foreign policy measures. A similar situation happened in the days of Nixon and Clinton. It could be the impeachment threat that prompted Trump to take two steps that could “blow up” the Middle East – the assassination of Iran’s IRGC leader Kassem Sulejmani and an ostentatiously one-sided plan for a Middle East “settlement” that has already been rejected by the Palestinians and a number of Islamic states.

Yet, even after the failure of the impeachment move the international community is unlikely to be able to breathe a sigh of relief. In the context of an easily predictable clash with Democrats in the House of Representatives, which is fraught with a dead end in promoting the legislative agenda, the most natural way for Trump to demonstrate effectiveness in the eyes of voters is foreign policy. From a legal point of view, it is in the field of foreign policy that the US president is least bound by the need to coordinate his steps with the Congress.

And hardly can we talk about the USA easing confrontation with China or Russia. Moreover, Washington has a bipartisan consensus on the need to tighten policies in relation to the two countries. On February 5, Trump’s National Security adviser Robert O’Brien said in Washington: “Look, our challenge and the challenge of our generation is China’s growth and the role that Russia continues to play on the world scene”.

After the failure of impeachment, the Democrats may well try to use their majority in the lower house to resume attempts to get the issue  of “Trump’s relations with Moscow” and “Kremlin interference” in US domestic politics back into the spotlight. The tightening of parliamentary pressure on the White House will create new obstacles to prevent contacts between Washington and Moscow. Meanwhile, there are grounds to fear that Washington will see a new round of fight for the title of the most irreconcilable opponent of Russia.

Optimists among Russian experts believe that the main focus of the White House, like all of American politics, is finally shifting to domestic issues. This may give Russia a certain freedom of maneuver in international affairs. Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center argues, “the risk of Congress introducing new sanctions against Russia will dwindle in the very near future.” Especially, if the Republicans consider them a potential threat to the image of Trump and his administration. On the other hand, … “Republicans may agree to approve the sanctions to once again dissociate themselves from” toxic “Russia,” – the expert said.

According to pessimists, for both Washington parties, relations with Russia remain “one of the main grounds of confrontation.” “Fairly soon, Americans may opt for a new strike on Nord Stream-2, the German Handelsblatt believes.” If Russia tries to complete the construction of the missing kilometers of the pipeline through the Baltic Sea, the House of Representatives and the Senate are ready to initiate another sanctions law, Washington’s diplomatic circles say. ”This bill could include sanctions against project investors from Europe, or companies that plan to buy Russian gas through the pipeline.“ As reported, a move to this effect  could be taken in in the very near future, possibly in February or March. ”

In general, the failure of impeachment is likely to further increase the degree of uncertainty in US policy. The realities of the political process remain the same – its participants will continue to appeal not so much to national interests as to public opinion, which is experiencing an ever deepening split. A certain political stabilization of America can be expected only after one of the parties regains control over both the executive and legislative branches of government.

From the point of view of an outside observer, what happened on Capitol Hill is all but a political formality. In essence, the US foreign policy will remain intact. 

From our partner International Affairs

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Impeachment & Intervention: Where American Foreign Policy Goes Wrong

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To any ordinary American citizen, it’s well known that government spending is spiraling out of control. The U.S. budget deficit now exceeds $23 trillion — with $1.109 trillion being added to the deficit in the fiscal year of 2019, and another $1.103 trillion projected to be added in 2020. Recently, on December 20th of last year, President Donald Trump signed into existence the huge 2,300-page general bill that includes two spending packages that approximate to $1.4 trillion. The bill received mostly bipartisan support and was lauded as a compromise on both sides.

Senator Ted Cruz, who is an open critic of the bill, said, “This is why Washington is corrupt. This is an example of a government of the lobbyists, by the lobbyists, and for the lobbyists.” This is the unfortunate reality Americans are faced with when it comes to the spending of taxpayer dollars, at home and abroad. In an age where every topic is politicized and party lines are drawn, there is little resistance to multiplying the national debt. While there is mostly bipartisan agreement in Congress for enlarging the deficit, it’s quite the contrary when it comes to impeachment.

The hyper-partisan impeachment of President Trump is an ongoing matter. Both, the right and left have eagerly worked to spin the story to fit their narrative. Republicans say that it’s just another attempt by the left at overturning the 2016 election and/or undermining the upcoming 2020 election; Democrats allege that the President abused his power and tried to use foreign aid as leverage to coerce the newly elected Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate corruption linked to the Biden family. Whether you like Trump’s politics or not, what’s notable is that Democrats “have failed to allege a violation of established law, i.e. a ‘crime’ or ‘misdemeanor.’ Such an allegation has been present in every other impeachment in history, but not here.”

Nonetheless, foreign aid to Ukraine is at the core of the issue. Specifically, the aid amounted to $391 million of military and medical equipment to assist in their deadlocked civil war that started in 2014 with pro-Russian separatists. Since that time, the U.S. has handed over $1.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine overall. Instead of funding war, the U.S. should be actively promoting diplomacy. To what advantage, to the U.S. or its citizens, is sending billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine to help fight yet another proxy war? Absolutely none. Career politicians and academics on the left and right will say otherwise. In reference to the conflict, Stanford Professor Pamela Karlan told the House Intelligence Committee during impeachment hearings that intervening in Ukraine was vital, “so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.” Karlan’s logic is not only absurd, it’s dangerous with consideration to what she is suggesting. There is absolutely no evidence to back up her claim that implies Russia would eventually invade the U.S. if they didn’t arm the Ukrainians. This is the new era of McCarthyism. An era in which everything that has gone wrong or could possibly go wrong is blamed on Russia. And, if you disagree — well, you’re a Russian asset and do Putin’s bidding. This kind of manipulative narrative not only validates but fuels American interventionist foreign policy around the world. The U.S. involvement in Ukraine is just a small sample size of this truth. If you want to see the true ramifications of this type of foreign policy initiative, and the rabbit hole it sends the American taxpayer down, look no further than the Middle East.

Within the aforementioned omnibus bill, $4.2 billion is appropriated for the Afghan Security Forces Fund. That’s correct. The U.S. is sending $4.2 billion to Afghanistan to continue its seemingly endless endeavor in the Middle East. In recent years, there have been serious concerns regarding U.S. foreign aid to Afghanistan. Furthermore, this news is shocking bearing in mind the release of the Afghanistan Papers, which lay out in detail how senior U.S. officials knowingly misled the public to make it seem as if reasonable progress was being made in the region. The report bluntly states that over the years they “failed to tell the truth about the war,” “making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.” Critical statements from Ret. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn provoked the extensive investigation that uncovered what many feared to be true. This is not the first time the American public has been fed lies from its government, abetted by the mainstream media, in order to mask the true intent of the war on terror. What is the real reason the U.S. is still to this day in Afghanistan? No one can be sure, but remarkably, opium production has skyrocketed since the U.S. arrived. What is now the longest armed conflict in U.S. history, spanning almost 19 years, there is still no end in sight. How much money has to be spent, and how many lives have to be lost before it’s all said and done with? The U.S. military occupation in Afghanistan is the prime example of foreign policy interventionism gone terribly wrong.

The American government should continue to stand strong with its allies and be an advocate of human rights, but they need to reevaluate the ways in which they do that. The U.S. needs to look at and approach international issues from a cost-benefit perspective. It’s time for a change in the establishment. There are valid questions to be asked about how, where, and why foreign aid is appropriated. These are questions of accountability. The status quo in the American government has gone on long enough, unimpeded, serving foreign interests with little benefit to the American public. The U.S. involvement in Ukraine and Afghanistan are just two instances at different scales that demonstrate this reality seen around the world. President Trump needs to critically assess foreign aid distribution, orient and repurpose the aid to specific points of interest that directly help the U.S.; imagine how much could be accomplished with respect to healthcare, education, and infrastructure if the U.S. started investing in itself more. Moreover, the U.S. would be better equipped to address more pertinent national security problems such as securing the border. President Trump would be addressing policy issues for the left, right, and everybody in between by confronting topics that are owned by his political opponents running for the Democratic nomination. If Trump wants to help solidify his chances at reelection, he should take a firmer stance in his “America First” policy and start putting America first.

From our partner RIAC

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