An Iran hawk who advocated killing general Qassim Soleimani, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ordered his diplomats to limit contacts with militant Iranian exile and opposition groups that support either regime change or greater rights for ethnic groups like Kurds and Arabs.
Coming on the back of the Soleimani killing, Mr. Pompeo’s directive appears to put an end to the Trump administration’s hinting that it covertly supports insurgent efforts to at the very least destabilize the Iranian government if not topple it.
A litmus test of the directive by Mr. Pompeo, known to have a close relationship with Donald J. Trump, is likely to be whether the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, distances himself from the controversial National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an offshoot of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a group that was taken off the US Treasury’s list of designated terrorists several years ago.
Mr. Giuliani is a frequent, well-paid speaker at gatherings of the group that has built a significant network among Western political elites. The council and the Mujahedeen openly call for regime change in Iran.
The Mujahedeen were moved with US assistance from their exile base in Iraq to a reportedly Saudi-funded secretive facility in Albania.
A New Jersey-based lobbying firm hired by the NCRI, Rosemont Associates, reported last year in its filing as a foreign agent frequent email and telephone contact on behalf of its client with the US embassy in the Albanian capital of Tirana as well as Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, and Gabriel Noronha, an aide to Mr. Hook.
In his directive, Mr. Pompeo said that “direct US government engagement with these groups could prove counterproductive to our policy goal of seeking a comprehensive deal with the Iranian regime that addresses its destabilizing behaviour.”
The secretary went on to say that Iranian opposition groups “try to engage US officials regularly to gain at least the appearance of tacit support and enhance their visibility and clout.”
Mr. Pompeo’s cable, while keeping a potential negotiated deal with Iran on the table, does not stop other US government agencies from covertly supporting the various groups, that also include Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz (AMLA), the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI).
Iran, which has long believed that the United States, alongside Saudi Arabia and Israel, supported the Mujahedeen as well as ethnic militants that intermittently launch attacks inside Iran, is likely to take a wait-and see-attitude towards Mr. Pompeo’s directive that could be seen as a signal that the Trump administration is not seeking regime change.
The timing of the directive is significant. Iran responded to the killing of Mr. Soleimani with carefully calibrated missile attacks on US facilities in Iraq in a bid to create an environment in which backchanneling potentially could steer the United States and Iran back to the negotiating table.
While it was uncertain that one round of escalated tensions would do the trick, potential efforts were not helped by the death of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, a key interlocutor who has repeatedly helped resolve US-Iranian problems and initiated contacts that ultimately led to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
In his directive, Mr. Pompeo, referring to Komala, acknowledged that “Iran’s regime appears to assess that the United States and/or Israel support this group of militant Kurds.”
Iranian perceptions were reinforced not only by calls for regime change by senior figures like Mr. Giuliani and Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of the kingdom’s intelligence service and ex-ambassador to Britain and the United States, but also the appointment in 2018 of Steven Fagin as counsel general in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Shortly before moving to Erbil, Mr. Fagin met In Washington as head of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, with Mustafa Hijri, leader of the KDPI as it stepped up its attacks in Iranian Kurdistan.
Iranian perceptions were further informed by the appointment of John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s since departed national security advisor and like Mr. Giuliani a frequent speaker at NCRI events, who publicly advocates support of ethnic insurgencies in Iran in a bid to change the regime.
As Mr. Trump’s first director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. Pompeo named Michael D’Andrea, a hard-charging, chain-smoking covert operations officer, alternatively nicknamed the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, whose track record includes overseeing the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, as head of the CIA’s Iran operations.
The appointment was followed by publication by a Riyadh-based think tank believed to be close to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of a study for Saudi support for a low-level Baloch insurgency in Iran. Prince Mohammed vowed around the same time that “we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”
Pakistani militants have claimed that Saudi Arabia had stepped up funding of militant madrassas or religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan that allegedly serve as havens for anti-Iranian fighters.
The New York Times reported this week that aides to Prince Mohammed had in the past discussed with private businessmen the assassination of Mr. Soleimani, an architect of Iran’s regional network of proxies, and other Iranians as well as ways of sabotaging the country’s economy.
Mr. Pompeo’s directive is unlikely to persuade Iran that Washington has had a change of heart. Indeed, it hasn’t. Mr. Trump maintains his campaign of maximum pressure and this week imposed additional sanctions on Iran.
Nonetheless, potentially taking regime change off the table facilitates backchanneling that aims at getting the two nations to talk again.
The ideology of top candidates for US presidency
According to US media reports, the incumbent President Donald Trump has secured enough Republican Party support to launch a re-election campaign. Meanwhile, unexpectedly for observers, former Vice President Joe Biden has in recent weeks achieved impressive results in the race for being nominated the Democratic candidate. Although the campaign within the Democratic Party is not over yet, the chances of the former vice president are becoming more tangible. What are the views of the most likely contenders for the presidency?
According to the results of the Democratic Party primaries on March 17, Biden is running nearly 300 votes ahead of his only remaining rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, CNN reported. Thus, the final part of the presidential race will be held between the two “old timers” that represent the outgoing generation of American leaders. All three – Biden, Trump and Sanders – formed as politicians in the “neoliberal era.” Biden, according to most commentators, represents its mainstream, whereas Trump attacks neoliberalism “from the right”, Sanders – “from the left”, accordingly. Should Biden reach the final race, then, similarly to 2016, the fight will be between a representative of the establishment and an “outsider”.
In domestic politics, the focus will fall on “American values,” and, most importantly, on the young people of the United States. Trump, who describes himself as an American “nationalist”, attracts supporters with slogans about the nation’s many commitments and “dues” to its citizens. In addition, in all the years he has been in office Trump has clearly preferred to focus his attention on issues that find a ready emotional response among potential voters. However, acting in this manner, Trump has all but added to the split in American society.
Now, with just a few months to go before November, the current head of the White House will have to prove that his policy is more than a fight against the legacy of the Democratic administration. And he will also have to prove whether he is able, having broken the existing model, to offer an equally effective alternative. Meanwhile, the reaction of the Trump administration at the early stage of the coronavirus epidemic seemed somewhat slow. The trillion infusion into the economy may not be enough to prevent the devastating recession that threatens the country because of the pandemic.
Biden, in turn, pledges to revive America’s “spirit”, expand social welfare programs, primarily for the most socially vulnerable sections of society, and take measures to restore trust within the country’s major political forces. According to some experts, this makes Biden similar to European Christian Democrats at the peak of their popularity. The most likely candidate from the Democratic Party is seeking to create a broad coalition of forces, including elite groups, the urban middle class and the rural poor in order to confront the “radicals.” This political “range” makes him the most compromising figure of the candidates participating in the presidential race, thereby increasing the chances for stabilizing the US political system.
On the other hand, Biden’s main, if not only, advantage may turn out to be the support of the establishment which is opposed to Trump. The election ideology of the former vice president runs the risk of being reduced to “anti-trumpism” in all imaginable spheres of political and socio-economic life. Biden’s victory in the race for the White House could thus become a most treasured and valuable asset for his supporters. As a result, his hypothetical presidency may turn out to be “weak and short of purpose” and will not provide the solutions to the many internal and external problems that America faces.
In foreign policy, few observers venture out making predictions about Trump’s policy in the event of re-election. On the one hand, as far back as in December 2017, in his version of the National Security Strategy, Trump said that the world has turned into a stage of global competition. Now that literally every day there appears new evidence of the West’s dependence on supplies from China in “practically everything”, few in America and Europe have doubts about the need to re-evaluate the foreign policy strategies of past decades. The current epidemic that has swept the world provides a good opportunity to legitimize the philosophy of world order based on “egoism and protectionism”, which can now be presented to the public as “defense of national interests”.
On the other hand, the course for America’s unconditional supremacy that has become common in the past three years has cast doubt on the feasibility of the entire “West-centric” development paradigm. However, most of the American establishment, even within the Republican Party, are still preoccupied with maintaining the country’s top position in the international system. And to achieve this, as the years of Trump’s presidency have shown, America cannot “limit itself to the benefits of bilateral trade relations, ignoring participation in international trade agreements. Practice has shown that such agreements can be created and can function without the United States. ” The policy of sanctions and financial and economic pressure adopted by Washington in recent years encourages discussions about the prospects of creating a financial and economic system or systems independent from the USA. New political coalitions are springing up in Eurasia, Asia, and Africa.
Nevertheless, Trump’s supporters insist that he is “not an arsonist of war, neither is he an isolationist.” His strategy is to exert ever more pressure on opponents with a view to secure “de-escalation on favorable terms.” Trump always wants to be prepared for any possible threats. Thus, he demonstrates to the “other party” that America has interests and is determined to protect them. If the opponent recognizes the interests of the United States, then, if the opportunity presents itself, “a deal is struck”. The “Trump Formula” combines well-considered, cautious (often aggressive – author) pressure with an invitation to hold a dialogue, for cooperation. … Thus, although Trump’s rhetoric smacks of populism, his foreign policy is consistent with the “traditional conservative” paradigm.
The chances of the candidate that represents the left wing of the Democratic Party, Senator Bernie Sanders, are seen by the overwhelming majority of observers as “purely mathematical.” Nevertheless, we know little about Sanders’ foreign policy views. “Sanders is a big unknown. What exactly his foreign policy could be is unknown ”. Sanders’ official website announces his intention to “work together with other countries to protect democracy around the world from “forces of intolerance, corruption and authoritarianism. ” In public speeches, Sanders more than once “named Russia an authoritarian regime”, supported American sanctions against Russia “for Crimea and Donbass”.
However, most experts believe that Biden’s views on foreign policy are “well known.” The ex-vice president is set to restore “US leadership on the world stage.” Biden is seen by supporters as the only candidate whose foreign policy philosophy “has proved its efficiency.” It combines a “realistic view of the world” and “commitment to principles.” Speaking of countries that “behave badly,” Biden emphasizes that even if America can do nothing, it must openly express its discontent. Biden expects to bring America back to a time when it “saw farther than others” due to its superiority.
However, skeptics are sure that the world will not dance to the wishes of the Democratic candidate. The next president will have to deal not only with the challenges of the 21st century, but also with geopolitical issues. The American critics of Biden relentlessly repeat that he always supported the current model of globalization, in which the United States was critically dependent on the supplies of a number of strategically important goods from China. As a result, “China is about to oust America”. The policy of the Obama administration, of which Biden was one of the main architects, has not had the slightest impact on Beijing’s behavior.
In relation to Russia, the failure of the inquiry into allegations of Trump’s conspiracy with Moscow during the 2016 presidential election theoretically “unties Trump’s hands.” However, further dialogue may be obstructed by the numerous sanctions against Russia initiated by the Congress during Trump’s first term. American “realists” give it to understand that “from the … practical, political viewpoint, the Russia policy of the Trump administration is tougher and more consistent than that of any other American government since the end of the Cold War.” “Not a single American government invested more in Europe to contain Russia or moved troops and military equipment to Eastern Europe”.
Biden has a tough, if not “hawkish,” position regarding Russia. The years of vice presidency in the Obama administration, many observers believe, left Biden feeling disappointed about prospects for developing ties with Moscow. Nevertheless, Biden has made a number of statements that demonstrate a potential willingness to hold a dialogue with Russia. For example, on strategic stability, regarding the extension of the START III Treaty. German experts expect Biden to return to the classic foreign policy model: to keep “Russia and China at a distance” while maintaining cooperation with these countries on a number of issues. Also, they expect Washington to return to the policy of developing partnership relations with “countries that share US values”. Finally, the American establishment has long come to the stable bipartisan consensus about the need to go any lengths to contain China.
Overall, it seems that as long as it is under way the presidential race will most likely create new obstacles to contacts between Washington and Moscow. There are grounds to believe that the United States will begin another round of competition for the title of Russia’s most irreconcilable adversary. Considering all this, it is not difficult to assume that the coronavirus epidemic, as well as the resulting economic recession, which is becoming increasingly visible in the United States, will top the agenda of the future head of the White House, no matter who wins. Given the situation, the approach of the Washington establishment to Russia may not go beyond the bounds of its functional role in its internal struggle.
Both Trump, and his most likely contender in the upcoming elections, Biden, seem to be unprepared to admit that the world will no longer adapt to America. On the contrary, the United States will have to adapt to a new, more decentralized and largely chaotic world – to the “post-American dominance world”. Are the two “grey-haired candidates” able to accept the new reality? This is the main question of the current American presidential race.
From our partner International Affairs
Can these 6 worldwide Google search trends predict the 2020 US presidential election?
Whilst international observers are commonly deployed in fragile or new democracies in the developing world, elections in the developed world are viewed from outside, partially out of a sense of stake-holding in the outcome by the rest of the world (due to the preponderance of the West in the affairs of these countries) and partially out of curiosity, and therefore are consumed as a piece of popular culture. Out of these, the US electoral cycle is perhaps the most closely watched the world over. This is no coincidence as in each successive year previous records are shattered in terms of expenditures on advertising by the various campaigns. The digital sphere has become the main arena in which the various campaigns reach out to potential voters. By one 2019 Forbes estimate, the current electoral cycle has seen “an increase of 59% from the 2016 election year when an estimated $6.3 billion was spent,” which represents nearly 16.5% of total local broadcast TV advertising revenue for this year, whilst digital media is forecast for 21% of political ads, whilst cable TV and radio both claim 14% and 5% respectively.
This disproportional share for digital spending is indicative of what scholars have termed as the rise of “computational politics, ”defined by one study as “the application of digital targeted-marketing technologies to election campaigns.” With this increase arises the question of which candidate will come out victorious, and whether expenditure is a predictor for which will win. In the last (2016) election, this proved not to be the case, as the Democrats, at $1.191 billion, raised nearly twice as much in dollar terms than the Republicans (at $646.8 million) but still lost. More recently, we’ve seen Michael Bloomberg being forced to drop out of the campaign, despite spending as much as $936.2 million, whilst Sanders and Biden, the last two Democratic contenders, had spent $162.3 million and $84.7 million, respectively. In fact, US elections are notoriously difficult to predict with a fair degree of certainty. Be that as it may, looking at some data in the previous sixteen years (i.e., four electoral cycles) makes for some insightful analysis, and potential projections.
Briefly, I trace over the 2004-2016 period Google queries for American presidential frontrunners and eventual winners and incumbents in the world. All data utilised in this article is obtained from Google Trends, a publicly available dataset of worldwide Google searches since 1 January 2004. All charts were generated by the author from sorted data. The Google Trends scores are values that are calculated on an index that places scores from 0 to 100, where, according to Google,“100 is the location with the most popularity as a fraction of total searches in that location, a value of 50 indicates a location which is half as popular.” The four following charts below show the growth for searches for each candidate between 2004 and 2012.
The undeniable trend from all four charts is that the candidate who gets the most searches goes on to win the election, despite both candidates getting an uptick the most amount of searches in November, the month of the election (with the eventual winner experiencing the most amount of searches). Given the results from the four election cycles, it is worth peaking assessing the amount of searches for the two Democratic frontrunners against Donald Trump.
Despite the field only being in a phase of narrowing down, past results show that the eventual winner starts getting the most amount of searches as early as January of the election year.
The only exception was the 4th of March, the day after Super Tuesday, when Joe Biden got the most amount of searches, gaining 40% of the searches, whilst Sanders got 31% and Donald Trump got 29% (see pie chart above). Following the 4thof March, however, the ranking reverted to Trump being more searched than both Democrats, whilst among the Democrats themselves, Vice-President Biden began being more searched than Sanders, which continues to be the case at the time of writing.
For the majority of the first quarter of 2020, therefore, has Trump having 77% of the searches, whilst the two Democrats only have 23% of the searches, split between Bernie Sanders (14%) and Biden (9%). If global Google search trends are any proxy for name recognition, therefore, we can reasonably expect Trump to be re-elected as President in November, regardless of which Democrat is eventually nominated. Indeed, any different outcome would go against the grain of the last four elections.
The Post-Coronavirus World Will Be Far Worse than the Pre-Coronavirus World
Signs, especially in the United States, are that the post-coronavirus-plagued world will have even more inequality of wealth, within each nation, than existed prior to the plague. Billionaires are demanding to be included in the bailouts by their governments; and, because billionaires financed the careers of the successful politicians who won seats in their country’s legislature, those demands are almost certain to be complied with. Only the least-corrupt nations will be able to recover fully from the current plague.
In the United States, one Party, the Republicans, doesn’t even pretend to be concerned about the sharp growth of wealth-inequality that has occurred after 1980; but the other Party, the Democrats, do make that pretense; and so a deal is being worked out in the U.S. Congress that both Parties tout as being a ‘balanced’ bailout bill, because it will bail out both the megacorporations that the billionaires own and control, and the public — their workers (especially the ones that those billionaires are now laying off). Because of the enormous give-aways to the billionaires, deficit-spending by the government will be soaring out of control, and ultimately paper money will plunge in value, which will bring on a global depression that will be even worse than 1929. Some governments will find ways to nationalize the wealth of billionaires and perhaps also of centi-millionaires in order to fund the continuing needs of the public, and there will be a scramble by many of those super-rich to relocate to countries where they still will be able to bribe enough government officials so as to provide safe haven for their accumulated wealth. Graduated exit-taxes will be instituted by any of the industrialized countries that aren’t totally corrupt, but the most extremely corrupt industrialized countries will experience massive capital-flight and a future as a “third world” nation, under extended martial law.
On March 22nd, Zero Hedge headlined “‘Stop The Coronavirus Corporate Coup’: Here Is A List Of Everyone Demanding A Bail Out” and Matt Stoller listed the many different categories of mega-corporate lobbyists who were urging the Senators and Representatives, whose campaigns they fund, to bail out their respective industries. The few other news-sites that republished or linked to that list were other alternative-news sites, not any of the mainstream ones. This was a major news-report, which deserved to become a top topic of public conversation, but that didn’t happen; and here is an example of what it said (and which the rest of the press were hiding):
Mitch McConnell wants big business to rule, so he’s playing a trick. He is refusing aid to workers. Democrats are negotiating with him to try to get unemployment assistance and social welfare. McConnell knows Dems won’t pay attention to corporate bailouts if he takes the public hostage, and Democrats know that they can hand out favors to big business if they just talk about how they got larger checks for workers.
So McConnell will put a bill down in front of Nancy Pelosi, with some good stuff like unemployment insurance, but also the really ugly stuff to hand over America to big business. The corporatists in the Democratic Party will tell her “Pass the corporate coup bill, after all we have to do something right now!” And because she doesn’t have the votes from within her own caucus because of these corporatists, and because she doesn’t particularly care if America is sold off to big business, she will do that.
It’s a song-and-dance routine, performed by the two “good cop, bad cop” political Parties (both being fascist), in order to satisfy not only the audience (the voters) but the producers (the billionaires).
On March 21st, I headlined “Triage Starts in Government Bailouts: Who will get the money?” at Strategic Culture, and submitted that news-report to all U.S. major news-media and most of the minor ones. 24 hours later, it was picked-up by only a few minor, very courageous, ones: The 21st Century, The Duran, Free World Economic Report, The Russophile, and Verity Weekly. The corruption is so pervasive that all of the news-media that 99.99% of the public rely upon for their ‘news’ were filtering out the news of the impending massive public subsidies to America’s billionaires by America’s ‘public representatives’ — shoveling the public’s money to the billionaires as bailouts.
Stoller was obviously correct that the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, “is refusing aid to workers” and (though Stoller — being himself a Democrat — didn’t use nearly such direct language to say) the Democratic Party’s leader in the House was trying to wrangle enough of the desperately needed funds for the American public (all sorts of workers, and, here, especially the most important ones, such as nurses, police, etc.) so that congressional Democrats would be able to give the billionaires what they demand, while still getting enough aid out to everybody else in order for congressional Democrats to be able to hold their congressional seats after November 3rd. (In America, keeping the poor away from the voting-booths, and undercounting the votes that they do cast, are usually insufficient in themselves so as to prevent a Republican landslide, and so as to supply the bumper-sticker benefits to non-billionaires that will be needed if Congress isn’t to become 100% Republican.)
In a profoundly corrupt country, over 99% of the press will filter-out such basic details of the true extent of the corruption, because, otherwise, the revolution that results will be against the aristocracy, instead of against the public itself (and producing martial law), and a revolution like that could produce actual democracy, which the few people who fund politicians’ careers fear the most. They much prefer, if a revolution is coming, that it be clearly against the public (and result in martial law, which will protect only themselves), not against themselves. In fact, such a country has a government almost solely in order to protect the aristocrats from the public, and almost not at all in order to protect the public from the aristocracy.
Interestingly, the very next day, on March 22nd, my headlined news-report was “Coronavirus Cases Soaring Much Faster in U.S. Than in Other Countries” and even that report had no takers in America’s major ‘news’ media, despite its being merely a presentation of the statistical data, which discredited the U.S. Government in comparison with almost all of the other governments in the world. (Only Turkey and Luxembourg had even worse figures at that time, but they were just beginning to count their coronavirus cases.)
On March 25th, I headlined “Coronavirus: Why Russians Are Lucky to Be Led by Putin”, and wrote that “within just three more days, America will have the world’s largest total number of cases, if Italy won’t. And after yet another day, the U.S. will almost certainly have the world’s largest total number of cases.” Both statements came to pass. On March 26th, America’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation published their projection of the rise and subsiding of the coronavirus-19 in the U.S., and predicted that this country would end up with 460,000 cases and 81,114 deaths from the disease, and that America’s epidemic would virtually end by July 1st. I headlined about that, on March 28th, “Projection: U.S. Coronavirus Deaths to = China’s Total Coronavirus Cases”.
Though all of these news-reports are major, and deal with the news-event that is currently obsessing all of the world’s news-media — which is the coronavirus plague — the news-media that are owned or otherwise controlled by America’s billionaires rejected them all and are doing everything else that they possibly can to delay, if not to block entirely, the crucial information from reaching America’s voters, and this is happening during an election year. The Jeff-Bezos-owned liberal neoconservative Washington Post reliably reported on March 28th that “in private discussions, the president has been driven much more by economic concerns, according to people involved in internal debates or briefed on them. Trump has long viewed the stock market as a barometer for his own reelection hopes.” Safety of the American people is a secondary concern for him. That was being reported by a Democratic Party billionaire against Republican Party billionaires, but what it actually indicates is America’s being controlled by its billionaires, of both Parties. The public, here, actually don’t count.
Under conditions such as this, one can easily understand — with this type of information, which is being hidden from the public — only politicians who satisfy the wants of the nation’s billionaires stand even so much as a chance to win seats in Congress or other high elective office. The public are so misinformed that they are like horses with blinders on and which are being driven by a master to whom they are expendable and replaceable, not objects of authentic and caring concern for their welfare. Everything has a price to such a master, who will grab at any chance to replace any of the public by a cheaper alternative, so long as “the job gets done” — to satisfy their own unlimited greed. The deception of the public is so extreme that America’s Establishment are so brazen as to blame China and Russia for the “disinformation” about the cornoavirus-19 pandemic. The U.S. regime is utterly shameless.
These bailouts of billionaires will destroy what little was left of a democratic future for America — and for any other nation that happens to be nearly as corrupt.
Is this to be the long-term impact of coronavirus-19? Is there an alternative likely scenario? Perhaps the coronavirus plague won’t spread as uncontrollably as is feared, but even if that is the case, what justification exists for bailing out any of the super-rich, in response to an emergency that is causing widespread suffering? And yet, America is doing that.
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