Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 16, 2017

"Grown-ups" Versus "Ideologues"? The Media Narrative of the White House May Be All Wrong

The Democrats and the media love the Pentagon generals in the White House. They are the "grown ups":

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., had words of praise for Donald Trump's new pick for national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster — calling the respected military officer a "certified, card-carrying grown-up,"

According to the main-stream narrative the "grown ups" are opposed by "ideologues" around Trump's senior advisor Steve Bannon. Bannon is even infectious, according to Jeet Heer, as he is Turning Trump Into an Ethno-Nationalist Ideologue. A recent short interview with Bannon dispels that narrative.

Who is really the sane person on, say, North Korea?

The "grown-up" General McMaster, Trump's National Security Advisor, is not one of them. He claims North Korea is not deterrable from doing something insane.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But your predecessor Susan Rice wrote this week that the U.S. could tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea the same way we tolerated nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union far more during the Cold War. Is she right?

MCMASTER: No, she’s not right. And I think the reason she’s not right is that the classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea? A regime that engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people? A regime that poses a continuous threat to the its neighbors in the region and now may pose a threat, direct threat, to the United States with weapons of mass destruction?

McMaster's was spewing nonsense. The same was said about the Soviet Union and China when they became nuclear weapons states. North Korea just became one. Conventional deterrence of both sides has worked with North Korea for decades. Nuclear deterrence with North Korea will work just as well as it did with the Soviet and Chinese communists. If North Korea were really not deterrable the U.S. should have nuked it yesterday to minimize the overall risk and damage. It is the McMaster position that is ideological and not rational or "grown up" at all.

Compare that to Steve Bannon's take on the issue:

“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

It was indeed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea which "got" the United States and stopped the U.S. escalation game. It is wrong to think that North Korea "backed off" in the recent upheaval about a missile test targeted next to Guam. It was the U.S. that pulled back from threatening behavior.

Since the end of May the U.S. military trained extensively for decapitation and "preemptive" strikes on North Korea:

Two senior military officials — and two senior retired officers — told NBC News that key to the plan would be a B-1B heavy bomber attack originating from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
...
Of the 11 B-1 practice runs since the end of May, four have also involved practice bombing at military ranges in South Korea and Australia.

In response to the B-1B flights North Korea published plans to launch a missile salvo next to the U.S. island of Guam from where those planes started. The announcement included a hidden offer to stop the test if the U.S. would refrain from further B-1B flights. A deal was made during secret negotiations. Since then no more B-1B flights took place and North Korea suspended its Guam test plans. McMaster lost and the sane people, including Steve Bannon, won.

But what about Bannon's "ethno-nationalist" ideology? Isn't he responsible for the right-wing nutters of Charlottesville conflict? Isn't he one of them?

He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism—it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.

Bannon sees China as an economic enemy and wants to escalate an economic conflict with it. He is said to be against the nuclear deal with Iran. The generals in Trump's cabinet are all anti-Iran hawks. As Bannon now turns out to be a realist on North Korea, I am not sure what real position on Iran is.

Domestically Bannon is pulling the Democrats into the very trap I had several times warned against:

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

This worked well during the presidential election and might continue to work for Trump. As long as the Democrats do not come up with, and fight for, sane economic polices they will continue to lose elections. The people are not interested in LGBT access to this or that bathroom. They are interested in universal healthcare, in personal and economic security. They are unlikely to get such under Bannon and Trump.  But, unlike the Democrats, the current White House crew at least claim to have plans to achieve it.

Posted by b at 11:51 PM | Comments (13)

Smashing Statues, Seeding Strife

In the aftermath of competing protests in Charlottesville a wave of dismantling of Confederate statues is on the rise. Overnight Baltimore took down four Confederate statues. One of these honored Confederate soldiers and sailors, another one Confederate women. Elsewhere statues were toppled or defiled.

The Charlottesville conflict itself was about the intent to dismantle a statue of General Robert E. Lee, a commander of the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The activist part of the political right protested against the take down, the activist part of the political left protested against those protests. According to a number of witnesses quoted in the LA Times sub-groups on both sides came prepared for and readily engaged in violence.

In 2003 a U.S. military tank pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein on Firdos Square in Baghdad. Narrowly shot TV picture made it look as if a group of Iraqis were doing this. But they were mere actors within a U.S. propaganda show. Pulling down the statue demonstrated a lack of respect towards those who had fought under, worked for or somewhat supported Saddam Hussein. It helped to incite the resistance against the U.S. occupation.

The right-wing nutters who, under U.S. direction, forcefully toppled the legitimate government of Ukraine pulled down hundreds of the remaining Lenin statues in the country. Veterans who fought under the Soviets in the second world war took this as a sign of disrespect. Others saw this as an attack on their fond memories of better times and protected them. The forceful erasement of history further split the country:

“It’s not like if you go east they want Lenin but if you go west they want to destroy him,” Mr. Gobert said. “These differences don’t only go through geography, they go through generations, through social criteria and economic criteria, through the urban and the rural.”

Statues standing in cities and places are much more than veneration of one person or group. They are symbols, landmarks and fragments of personal memories:

“One guy said he didn’t really care about Lenin, but the statue was at the center of the village and it was the place he kissed his wife for the first time,” Mr. Gobert said. “When the statue went down it was part of his personal history that went away.”

(People had better sex under socialism. Does not Lenin deserves statues if only for helping that along?)

Robert Lee was a brutal man who fought for racism and slavery. But there are few historic figures without fail. Did not George Washington "own" slaves? Did not Lyndon B. Johnson lie about the Gulf of Tonkin incident and launched an unjust huge war against non-white people under false pretense? At least some people will think of that when they see their statues. Should those also be taken down?

As time passes the meaning of a monument changes. While it may have been erected with a certain ideology or concept in mind, the view on it will change over time:

[The Charlottesville statue] was unveiled by Lee’s great-granddaughter at a ceremony in May 1924. As was the custom on these occasions it was accompanied by a parade and speeches. In the dedication address, Lee was celebrated as a hero, who embodied “the moral greatness of the Old South”, and as a proponent of reconciliation between the two sections. The war itself was remembered as a conflict between “interpretations of our Constitution” and between “ideals of democracy.”

The white racists who came to "protect" the statue in Charlottesville will hardly have done so in the name of reconciliation. Nor will those who had come to violently oppose them. Lee was a racist. Those who came to "defend" the statue were mostly "white supremacy" racists. I am all for protesting against them.

But the issue here is bigger. We must not forget that statues have multiple meanings and messages. Lee was also the man who wrote:

What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.

That Lee was a racist does not mean that his statue should be taken down. The park in Charlottesville, in which the statue stands, was recently renamed from Lee Park into Emancipation Park. It makes sense to keep the statue there to reflect on the contrast between it and the new park name. 

Old monuments and statues must not (only) be seen as glorifications within their time. They are reminders of history. With a bit of education they can become valuable occasions of reflection.

George Orwell wrote in his book 1984: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” People do not want to be destroyed. They will fight against attempts to do so. Taking down monuments or statues without a very wide consent will split a society. A large part of the U.S. people voted for Trump. One gets the impression that the current wave of statue take downs is seen as well deserved "punishment" for those who voted wrongly - i.e. not for Hillary Clinton. While many Trump voters will dislike statues of Robert Lee, they will understand that dislike the campaign to take them down even more. 

That may be the intend of some people behind the current quarrel. The radicalization on opposing sides may have a purpose. The Trump camp can use it to cover up its plans to further disenfranchise they people. The fake Clintonian "resistance" needs these cultural disputes to cover for its lack of political resistance to Trump's plans.

Anyone who wants to stoke the fires with this issue should be careful what they wish for.

Posted by b at 12:16 PM | Comments (115)

August 14, 2017

Hyping North Korea To Relaunch Reagan's Star Wars?

Since Trump issued "fire and fury" threats against North Korea (the DPRK), sanity has taken over among serious people. The talk of preventive strikes on North Korea within the expert community has largely ended. It was never a seriously possibility. North Korea has many options to retaliate to any strike and all would come with catastrophic damage to South Korea and Japan and thereby to U.S. interests in Asia.

North Korea can be successfully deterred in the same way that all other nuclear weapon states are deterred from using their weapons. Unfortunately the National Security Advisor McMaster has not yet received that message:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But your predecessor Susan Rice wrote this week that the U.S. could tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea the same way we tolerated nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union far more during the Cold War. Is she right?

MCMASTER: No, she’s not right. And I think the reason she’s not right is that the classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea? A regime that engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people? A regime that poses a continuous threat to the its neighbors in the region and now may pose a threat, direct threat, to the United States with weapons of mass destruction? A regime that imprisons and murders anyone who seems to oppose that regime, including members of his own family, using sarin nerve gase (sic) -- gas in a public airport?

Classical deterrence worked against the Soviet Union as well as against Mao's China. (Vice versa it also worked against the United States.) Both were arguably, like North Korea, brutal against internal dissidents, threatening to their neighbors and military opponents of the United States. If they could be deterred than North Korea can also be deterred.

To set the Trump crew straight. China re-issued its guarantee for North Korea's security. The Global Times, a party owned but unofficial mouthpiece, wrote in an editorial:

"China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral," [..].

"If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so."

Any unprovoked war against North Korea would thereby escalate into a war with China and no one is seriously interested in that adventure. The only reasonable course is to negotiate some new level of balance between North Korean and U.S. interests.

The U.S. continues to run large scale maneuver together in South Korea and to fly nuclear capable strategic bombers near the North Korean borders. These actions necessitate that North Korea's military stays in expensive high alert against potential surprises. One aim of North Korea's nuclear armament is to lessen the necessity for such conventional preparedness.

North Korea has offered several times to stop all missile and nuclear testing if the U.S. stops its large maneuvers near its borders. The Trump administration rejected that offer but North Korea increased the pressure with its recent tests.

Last week North Korea again offered to decrease its own actions if the U.S. stops some of its provocations. It announced a possible test of four missiles targeted into the vicinity of the U.S. base on Guam. The strategic U.S. bombers flying near North Korea usually take off from Guam. Few noticed that the announcement was conditional and came with an offer:

Cont. reading: Hyping North Korea To Relaunch Reagan's Star Wars?

Posted by b at 01:51 PM | Comments (87)

August 13, 2017

Charlottesville: What You Wish Upon Others, You Wish Upon Yourself

U.S. "liberals" cuddle fascists and right-wing religious extremists in Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and elsewhere.

But when similar movements appear on their own streets they are outraged.

The person in the center on the above picture drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville killing one and wounding several.

Politicians and media hail such persons when they appear, often hired by the CIA, to overthrow the government of some foreign country. They condemn the same mindset and actions at home. But glorification of right-wing violence elsewhere hands justification to right-wing groups at home.

Cont. reading: Charlottesville: What You Wish Upon Others, You Wish Upon Yourself

Posted by b at 02:02 PM | Comments (193)

August 12, 2017

Shireen Al-Adeimi - Has The War In Yemen Become A Spectator Sport?

Shireen Al-Adeimi (@shireen818) was born in Aden, south Yemen. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The text below was copied from Shireen Al-Adeimi's Twitter thread published on August 11 2017.


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Has the war in Yemen become a spectator sport?

My thread may be long, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read it.

The war on Yemen rages, yet, Yemenis' plight is STILL not receiving the attention it deserves - not from the media, nor from politicians. When Yemen's not totally ignored, facts are obscured because confronting our countries' active participation in destroying Yemen is inconvenient. While rich Arab states bombard Yemen with fancy (Western-purchased) weapons and hire mercenaries as ground troops, many are afraid to confront the Saudis and face financial consequences (e.g. the UN) or are themselves implicated and/or profiteering (e.g. the U.S./UK). So United Nations offers "concerns” and UK expresses its desire to "find a political solution" while they fill their pockets at the expense of Yemeni lives. And while citizens are often oblivious to their governments' crimes, many know about #Yemen but are not doing enough with this knowledge.

Has Yemen become a spectator sport? For two and a half years, Yemeni children’s dead or emaciated bodies have been splattered all across our screens. Some shed tears, others donate, few hold politicians accountable, but most just turn away. Is it helplessness or indifference? I can't tell. Yemenis are not knocking on Europe’s door because we are trapped by a land/air/sea blockade. Are we 'out of sight out of mind'? I can’t tell. Someone once told me Yemeni children are not ‘photogenic’ enough to draw emphatic responses. Is racism/discrimination at play? I can’t tell. Or are Yemeni wallets not heavy enough to purchase or at least demand international attention, condemnation, and action? I also can’t tell.

What I can tell is that the world is watching. They watch our kids die of curable diseases like cholera because they have no access clean water. They watch our children die of hunger in a time of immense global wealth because their parents can not afford what little food is available. They watch as our children, women and men are killed by U.S.-supported, Saudi airstrikes that target homes, schools, and hospitals alike. When people are asked to engage with elected officials (even by simply signing a petition like: Save Yemen) only a few engage. Even when we ask for our stories to be shared with wider audiences, we're ignored (I was told that readership on Yemen news is in the tens).

I and other Yemenis not only have our families in mind, but millions who ca not access the most basic of needs: safety, shelter, food, and water. I feel totally and utterly helpless. I struggle with sharing stories of dying Yemeni children when I know that no one will come to their rescue. I cry, from the depths of my soul, for a nation that suffers in silence all the while exemplifying the true meaning of faith and resistance. I mourn the children whose little bodies gave up fighting in the time it took you to read this thread. And I pray for Yemen.

---

Earlier Moon of Alabama coverage of Yemen:

Posted by b at 12:13 PM | Comments (50)

August 11, 2017

Open Thread 2017-31

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:54 PM | Comments (110)

August 10, 2017

NYT - Russia Wants Innovation, But It’s Arresting Its Fraudsters

Russia is BAD we are told on a daily base. It is hacking U.S. elections it is claimed, even when the evidence says it did not do so. The public is only mildly convinced by the anti-Russian propaganda campaign.

The attempt of the borg to reignite a cold war and to vilify Russia is hampered by that fact that Russia is no longer an ideological enemy of the "west". Russia is no longer communist and there are no soviets ruling it. Today's Russia is indeed capitalist and even neo-liberal.

The new way to vilify Russia must then proceed on a different route. "Yes, Russia is capitalist, but it is capitalist in a bad way." Thus we get this NYT headline and story: Russia Wants Innovation, but It’s Arresting Its Innovators:

AKADEMGORODOK, Russia — Dmitri Trubitsyn is a young physicist-entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation, seen in this part of Siberia as an exemplar of the talents, dedication and enterprise that President Vladimir V. Putin has hailed as vital for Russia’s future economic health.

Yet Mr. Trubitsyn faces up to eight years in jail after a recent raid on his home and office here in Akademgorodok, a Soviet-era sanctuary of scientific research that was supposed to showcase how Mr. Putin’s Russia can harness its abundance of talent to create a modern economy.

A court last Thursday extended Mr. Trubitsyn’s house arrest until at least October, which bars him from leaving his apartment or communicating with anyone other than his immediate family.

Noticed how bad Putin is? How very authoritarian his government thugs are? They even arrest an "entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation"!

But why is the man in front of a court?

Mr. Trubitsyn, 36, whose company, Tion, manufactures high-tech air-purification systems for homes and hospitals, is accused of risking the lives of hospital patients, and trying to lift profits, by upgrading the purifiers so they would consume less electricity.

Most important, he is accused of doing this without state regulators certifying the changes.

"Upgrading" something so "it consumes less electricity" is of course good. We all know this.

Ten paragraphs follow to further convince us that the guy is really on the good side and that Putin led Russia is bad, bad, bad.

Only then do we learn what Trubitsyn's company really did:

[Chief technical officer] Amelkin said the company was approached by the regulatory agency and said that it had changed its design and removed a supplementary filtering device that laboratory tests had shown was redundant and wasted electricity. The company then amended its registration documents and thought the matter was over, Mr. Amelkin said.

So here is what really happened. The company produces licensed medical filter equipment. It eliminated one stage of the expensive filters and sold the degraded equipment without telling anyone about the change.

Yes, the modified equipment does "consume less electricity". It does so because it filters less than it is supposed to do. The degraded and cheaper produced medical product was sold without a valid license. Finally some of the companies competitors noticed this and informed the regulators about the dangerous fraud. The "Innovator" CEO of the company was arrested for fraud and will have to go to jail.

That all seems very normal to me and the way product regulation should work. When some German car manufacturers cheated with diesel emission tests their U.S. competitors complained and the regulator put some company officials to jail. That was lauded, even in the NYT, as good regulation. But when Russia does the very same it is defamed as stifling innovation.

Propaganda works. The author of the NYT piece managed to convince his readers. Of the current 29 "Reader recommended" comments 28 are negative towards Russia. Only one commentator, from Vancouver, points out that the system worked as it is supposed to work everywhere. That the company was penalized for a fraudulent product and the responsible manager punished.

One wonders how the author of the piece, and his Russia bashing readers, would feel about insufficiently filtered air when they lie in intensive care.

Posted by b at 03:02 PM | Comments (60)

August 09, 2017

Stop The Bluster - North Korea Is A Nuclear Weapon State

The Washington Post headlined today:  Trump threatens ‘fire and fury’ in response to North Korean threats

Just another Trump bluster, I thought. Such are mo longer a reason to read a story. But what are those "North Korean threats" he "responded" to? I had not seen any of those. Diving into the story I found :

President Trump used his harshest language yet to warn North Korea on Tuesday that it will be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” if it does not stop threatening the United States.
...
It was not immediately clear what Trump was responding to.

The Washington Post needs to fire its headline writer. Why assert that Trump responded to "threats" when there were none? Why assert a reason when you have no fucking clue why he did what he did?

A different shabby site claims that the base for Trump's played-up nonsense was a WaPo piece published the day before:

The president was responding to a report in the Washington Post that, according to a confidential U.S. intelligence assessment presented late last month, the North Korean regime has “successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.”

That report was again just bluster. The DPRK (North Korea) had announced a miniaturized nuclear device in March 2016. It even published pictures of it.

On July 4th the DPRK launched its first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. A second test was successfully launched on July 29 under realistic operational conditions. The DPRK successfully tested nuclear devices at least five times - including a hydrogen device with potentially megatons of explosive power. It has enough nuclear material for some 40-60 weapons. All DPRK claims about progress in its missile and nuke programs have, sooner or later, been proven as truthful. There was and is no reason to doubt its March 2016 assertion.

North Korea is for all practical purposes a nuclear weapon state with the ability to deliver nukes onto the continental United States.

This is not news. Talk about "fire and fury" or an ultimatum to North Korea or of preemptive strikes is all nonsense. Nothing the U.S. can do to North Korea can prevent a response that would nuke and destroy Washington DC or some other U.S. city.

North Korea has good reasons to want nukes and the U.S. missed all chances to remove those reasons. It is way too late to lament about that.

Posted by b at 02:02 PM | Comments (113)

August 08, 2017

Equality Or Diversity? - An 'Outrageous' Memo Questions Google

A Google engineer, James Damore, recently wrote an internal memo about "Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber - How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion":

At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story. On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
- ...
- ...

Google company policy is in favor of "equal representation" of both genders. As the existing representation in tech jobs is unequal that policy has led to hiring preferences, priority status and special treatment for the underrepresented category, in this case women.

The author says that this policy is based on ideology and not on rationality. It is the wrong way to go, he says. Basic differences, not bias, are (to some extend) responsible for different representations in tech jobs. If the (natural) different representation is "cured" by preferring the underrepresented, the optimal configuration can not be achieved.

The author cites scientific studies which find that men and women (as categories, not as specific persons) are - independent of cultural bias - unequal in several social perspectives. These might be life planning, willingness to work more for a higher status, or social behavior. The differences evolve from the natural biological differences between men and women. A gender preference for specific occupations and positions is to be expected, Cultural bias alone can not explain it. It therefore does not make sense to strive for equal group representation in all occupations.


From James Damore's memo

From there he points to the implementation of Google's policy and concludes:

Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Google fired the engineer. Its 'Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance' stated:

We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company. [..] Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

(Translation: "You are welcome to discuss your alternative policy views - unless we disagree with them.")

The current public discussion of the case evolves around "conservative" versus "progressive", "left" versus "right" categories. That misses the point the author makes: Google's policy is based on unfounded ideology, not on sciences.

The (legal) "principle of equality" does not imply that everyone and everything must be handled equally. It rather means that in proportion with its equality the same shall be treated equally, and in proportion with its inequality the different shall be treated unequally.

The author asks: Are men and women different? Do these differences result in personal occupation preferences? He quotes the relevant science and answers these questions with "yes" and "yes". From that follows a third question: What is the purpose of compelled equal representation in occupations when the inherent (natural gender) differences are not in line with such an outcome?

Several scientist in the relevant fields have stated that the author's scientific reasoning is largely correct. The biological differences between men and women do result in observable social and psychological differences which are independent of culture and its biases. It is to be expected that these difference lead to different preferences of occupations.

Moreover: If men and women are inherently equal (in their tech job capabilities) why does Google need to say that "diversity and inclusion are critical to our success"? Equality and diversity are in this extend contradictory. (Why, by the way, is Google selling advertising-space with "male" and "female" as targeting criteria?)

If women and men are not equal, we should, in line with the principle of equality, differentiate accordingly. We then should not insist on or strive for equal gender representation in all occupations but accept a certain "gender gap" as the expression of natural differences.

It is sad that Google and the general society avoid to discuss the questions that the author of the memo has asked. That Google fires him only confirms his claim that Google's policy is not based on science and rationality but on a non-discussible ideology.

Posted by b at 01:41 PM | Comments (163)

August 06, 2017

New Sanctions Against Russia - A Failure Of U.S. Strategy

Recently the U.S. congress legislated sanctions against the Russian Federation over alleged, but completely unproven, interference in the U.S. presidential elections. The vote was nearly unanimous.

President Trump signed these sanctions into law. This was a huge and stupid mistake. He should have vetoed them, even as a veto would likely be overturned. With his signing of the law Trump gave up the ability to stay on somewhat neutral grounds towards Russia. This for no gain to him at all.

Sanctions by Congress are quasi eternal. The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment restricted trade with the then "Communist block". It was supposed to press for Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union to Israel. But even after the Soviet Union broke down in the early 1990s, after the "communist block" had disappeared and long after any limits on emigrations had been lifted, the law and its economic sanctions stayed in place. It was only lifted in 2012 and only to be immediately replaced by the ludicrous Magnitsky act which immediately established a new set of sanctions against the Russian Federation and its interests.

The new additional sanctions, like the Jackson-Vanik amendment and the Magnitsky act, were shaped by domestic U.S. policy issues. There is nothing Russia could have done to avoid them and there is nothing it can do to have them lifted.

The new U.S. sanctions are not only directed against Russia but against any company and nation that cooperates with Russia over energy. This a little disguised attempt to press European countries into buying expensive U.S. liquefied natural gas instead of cheap Russian gas delivered by pipelines. The immediate target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany which passes through the Baltic Sea to avoid potential conflict points in east Europe. The sanctions are a threat to an independent German energy policy. (Additional partners in the pipeline are Austria, France and the Netherlands.)  Consequently 35% of Germans name the U.S. as a "major threat to the country". Russia is seen as such by only 33%. This view is consistent with the global perception.

These sanctions will shape U.S.-Russian relation for the next 30 plus years. On August 2 the Russian Prime Minister Medvedev pointed to the weakness of President Trump as the main reason for these sanctions:

The US President's signing of the package of new sanctions against Russia will have a few consequences. First, it ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration. Second, it is a declaration of a full-fledged economic war on Russia. Third, the Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way. This changes the power balance in US political circles.

What does it mean for them? The US establishment fully outwitted Trump; the President is not happy about the new sanctions, yet he could not but sign the bill. The issue of new sanctions came about, primarily, as another way to knock Trump down a peg. New steps are to come, and they will ultimately aim to remove him from power. A non-systemic player has to be removed. Meanwhile, the interests of the US business community are all but ignored, with politics chosen over a pragmatic approach. Anti-Russian hysteria has become a key part of both US foreign policy (which has occurred many times) and domestic policy (which is a novelty).
...

Remember that Medvedev as Russian leader was, for a long time, the "hope" of the U.S. establishment. He was perceived as more amenable than the Russian President Putin. Medvedev may well become president again. But no U.S. media except the New York Post took notice of his statement. That in itself is astonishing and frightening. Can no one in the U.S. see where this will lead to? Medvedev predicts:

The sanctions regime has been codified and will remain in effect for decades unless a miracle happens. [...] [R]elations between Russia and the United States are going to be extremely tense regardless of Congress’ makeup and regardless of who is president. Lengthy arguments in international bodies and courts are ahead, as well as rising international tensions and refusal to settle major international issues.

Economically and politically Russia can and will cope with these sanctions, says Medvedev. But can the U.S.?

The supreme global role of the U.S. depends on preventing a Euro-Asian alliance between, mainly, Russia and China. In his latest "grand chessboard" piece Toward a Global Realignment the U.S. strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski - ruthless, amoral and capable - asserts:

[I]t behooves the United States to fashion a policy in which at least one of the two potentially threatening states becomes a partner in the quest for regional and then wider global stability, and thus in containing the least predictable but potentially the most likely rival to overreach. Currently, the more likely to overreach is Russia, but in the longer run it could be China.

The U.S. foreign policy establishment has declared war on Russia. The confrontational position towards China, which was en vogue under Obama, has noticeably changed. The Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama "pivot to Asia" was cancelled. The anti-Chinese Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement has been called off. Military provocations of China in the South Chinese Sea have been reduced and replaced by continuous provocations against Russia in eastern Europe. These steps follow the strategy Brzezinski laid out.

Russia has historically proven to be resourceful in its policies. It is extremely resistant to pressure. With the U.S. in a less hostile position against China, the behemoth will relentlessly press its own advantage. Russia will soon be one of China's main sources of fossil energy and other commodities. There is no major reason for China and Russia to disagree with each other. Under these circumstances the hoped for Russian-Chinese split will not happen. Core European countries will resist pressures that endanger their economies.

The Brzezinski strategy is clouded by a personal hate against Russia. (He is descendant of minor noble Galician-Polish family.) It is flawed as it enables China to establish its primacy. Even under Brzezinski's framework a Russian-European-U.S. alliance against Chinese pursuit of hegemony would have been the more logical way to go.

Hillary Clinton's strategy to blame Russia for her lack of likability and her failure in the election now results in a major failure of U.S. grand strategy. An organized White House policy could have prevented that but there is no such thing (yet) under Trump.

I fail to see how the current strategy, now enshrined by congressional sanctions, could ever end up in an overall advantage for the United States.

Posted by b at 10:25 AM | Comments (137)

August 04, 2017

Michael Brenner - The Linear Mindset In U.S. Foreign Policy

by Michael Brenner

In the reproof of Chance
Lies the true proof of men

William Shakespeare (or, David Petraeus)

O to be self-balanced for contingencies,
To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do
Walt Whitman (or Barack Obama)

CONTINGENCY is part of the natural order of life. Things happen that we have no control over – or, at least, cannot determine. Things happen that are unexpected – that catch us unawares. It’s one reason why "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley." If your projects are something less than well planned, then you are in even bigger trouble. And if you were flying by the seat of your pants in the first place, then the risks and costs mount. That is what has been occurring to American foreign policy in the Middle East. The phenomenon pre-dates the arrival of the inchoate Trump administration. Barack Obama’s amateurish foreign policy team had its own feckless tendencies. Its Bush predecessor at least knew what they wanted to do but lacked a feasible scheme to reach its dubious goals.

There are features of how the United States makes and executes foreign policy that help to explain why Washington is repeatedly thrown into confusion by unforeseen developments. Most significant is a certain linearity of thinking and action. It takes literally the proposition that since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the most efficient approach to getting from where we are now to where we want to go is to set our bearings accordingly. What lies between points A and B will yield to American know-how, ingenuity and force of will. That’s how we fought World War II in Europe. It was close to being a lock-step operation – especially after the Battle of the Bulge when Eisenhower ordered that the allied armies should proceed along an even front lest the Germans exploit geographical discontinuities. We tried to follow a linear battle plan in Vietnam (or as close to one as circumstances permitted) and paid the price for it. Even in Gulf War I, Schwarzkopf’s initial plan called for a “bull rush” to Kuwait City.

Our interventions in the Greater Middle East over the past 15 years exhibit similar patterns.

In AFGHANISTAN, we set ourselves the audacious objective of cleansing the country of all Taliban presence or influence. In 2002 that is close to what happened – but not due mainly to what we did. The Taliban simply melted away as members returned to their towns and villages taking with them only such weapons as were considered ordinary household accoutrements. Only a few leaders took refuge across the border harboring vague hopes of doing something or other down the road – as all forlorn exiles always do.

Neither Central Command nor the civilian holy warriors fully appreciated the gift they were being given. It wasn’t recognized, in part, because it did not fit their conventional notion of how you defeat an enemy and the state he is in once defeated. Linear thinking could not grasp the nature of the Taliban or the nature of Afghan society. And they really did not want to. That required too much imagination and intellectual adjustment. Moreover, we wanted vengeance for 9/11 – that was the driving force then and in everything that we’ve done subsequently. So we set about resurrecting the Taliban: by draconian assault on whomever we vaguely suspected of having been the bad guys (most often based on faulty, planted Intelligence we had no means to winnow); a lot of breaking into compounds; the backing of warlords – big and small, old and new – who wormed their way into the good graces of the Americans nominally in charge; by making deals with heroin bosses like Haji Bashar in Kandahar who financed both Afghan sides in the war; and by recasting the mission as one of transforming Afghanistan into the “good society” which never again would spawn violent jihadis who hated America. This last fell within the mental grasp of policy-makers and public alike since it jived with American idealism and our successes 60 years earlier in Japan and Germany.

In an odd sense, Washington needed a revived Taliban and the Taliban leaders needed the Americans.

Cont. reading: Michael Brenner - The Linear Mindset In U.S. Foreign Policy

Posted by b at 10:58 AM | Comments (109)

August 03, 2017

Why Petraeus, Obama And Brennan Should Face 5,000 Years In Prison

California CEO Allegedly Smuggled Rifle Scopes to Syria - Daily Beast, August 1 2017

Rasheed Al Jijakli,[the CEO of a check-cashing business who lives in Walnut,] along with three co-conspirators, allegedly transported day and night vision rifle scopes, laser boresighters used to adjust sights on firearms for accuracy when firing, flashlights, radios, a bulletproof vest, and other tactical equipment to Syrian fighters.
...
If Jijakli is found guilty, he could face 50 years in prison. Jijakli’s case is being prosecuted by counterintelligence and Terrorism and Export Crimes Section attorneys. An FBI investigation, in coordination with other agencies, is ongoing.
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Under Trump, a Hollowed-Out Force in Syria Quickly Lost C.I.A. Backing - NY Times*, August 2, 2017

C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, recommended to President Trump that he shut down a four-year-old effort to arm and train Syrian rebels.
...
Critics in Congress had complained for years about the costs [...] and reports that some of the C.I.A.-supplied weapons had ended up in the hands of a rebel group tied to Al Qaeda
...
In the summer of 2012, David H. Petraeus, who was then C.I.A. director, first proposed a covert program of arming and training rebels
...
[Mr. Obama signed] a presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to covertly arm and train small groups of rebels
-...
John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s last C.I.A. director, remained a vigorous defender of the program ...

When will the FBI investigate Messrs Petraeus, Obama and Brennan? Where are the counterintelligence and Terrorism and Export Crimes Section attorneys prosecuting them? Those three men engaged in the exactly same trade as Mr. Jijakil did, but on a much larger scale. They should be punished on an equally larger scale.

 

* Note: The NYT story is largely a whitewash. It claims that the CIA paid "moderate" FSA rebels stormed Idleb governate in 2015. In fact al-Qaeda and Ahrar al Sham were leading the assault. It says that costs of the CIA program was "more than $1 billion over the life of the program" when CIA documents show that it was over $1 billion per year and likely much more than $5 billion in total. The story says that the program started in 2013 while the CIA has been providing arms to the Wahhabi rebels since at least fall 2011.

Posted by b at 05:15 AM | Comments (54)

August 01, 2017

Reuters Suggests But Can Not Find "Iran's new route to Yemen"

The Trump administration is filled with people who, for whatever reason, hate Iran. These people are attempting to break the "nuclear deal" with Iran and other powers. Their propaganda accuses Iran of every "evil" in this world. Their position is fully in line with the Israeli-Saudi anti-Iran axis.

Since the U.S., the UK and the Saudis wage war against Yemen they claim that Iran is allied with the Zaydi people of northern Yemen who, together with the Yemeni army, resist the Saudi invasion. Iran is regularly accused of smuggling weapons to them even as no evidence for this has ever been shown.

Reuters jumps into the breach with this fantastic fake-news item: Exclusive: Iran Revolutionary Guards find new route to arm Yemen rebels:

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards have started using a new route across the Gulf to funnel covert arms shipments to their Houthi allies in Yemen's civil war, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
...
For the last six months the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun using waters further up the Gulf between Kuwait and Iran as it looks for new ways to beat an embargo on arms shipments to fellow Shi'ites in the Houthi movement, Western and Iranian sources say.

Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transhipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said.

"Parts of missiles, launchers and drugs are smuggled into Yemen via Kuwaiti waters," said a senior Iranian official. "The route sometimes is used for transferring cash as well."

The writer of that Reuters piece is one Jonathan Saul. Other most recent piece on his Reuters page are: European banks struggle to solve toxic shipping debt problem, Global shipping feels fallout from Maersk cyber attack and Lenders to ramp up pressure on holders of toxic shipping debt - survey. Older stories by Saul have similar headlines. Saul writes from London about the global shipping industry. That surely qualifies him as an expert on Yemen.

But even an expert can err. The Houthi are not Shia in the sense that Iran is predominantly Shia. They are Zaidi and follow the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. They pray in same mosques as Sunni believers do. Using the term Shia for the Zaidi side of the Yemen conflict is a lazy repeat of unfounded Saudi claims which try to set any local conflict in the Middle East into a "Sunni-Shia" frame even when that is completely inappropriate. As the Carnegie Endowment states:

Claims of Iran’s influence over the Houthis have been overblown. While the Houthis do receive some support from Iran, it is mostly political, with minimal financial and military assistance. However, since the Houthis took control of Sanaa, the group has increasingly been portrayed as “Iran-backed” or “Shia,” often suggesting a sectarian relationship with the Islamic Republic. Yet until after the 2011 upheavals, the term “Shia” was not used in the Yemeni public to refer to any Yemeni groups or individuals.

The Reuters piece comes with this rather unhelpful map.

 

While that map (bigger, original link) is headlined "Iran's new route to Yemen" it shows no route at all.

Cont. reading: Reuters Suggests But Can Not Find "Iran's new route to Yemen"

Posted by b at 02:24 PM | Comments (102)

July 30, 2017

Venezuela Coup "Could Blow Up Huge In Many Nations Of The Region"

by Debs is Dead
lifted from a comment

I see somebody has been blathering about the lack of 'democracy' in Venezuela as if it was the Chavezists who were to blame.

The president was elected by the people in a fair election and Chavezists also won the majority in the parliament/constituent assembly, the moment that happened the elitists financed opposition coups pushed out propaganda that was no more than libelous lies and began a programe of overt subversion.

They have continued this for the last 19 years and the irony is of course that if they hadn't done so and instead conducted themselves democratically they may have had a look in at government or coalition by now, but they chose what they thought was the easy way to gutting Venezuela's economy.

The result of the corporate capitalists activities has been the same as it always is when they push illegal acts of insurrection to try and force a reactive oppression - people lose and get hurt.

It is interesting to note that when the coalitions of street kids angry at everything and the sons and daughters of the once protected bourgeoisie hit the streets in their tiny bands to throw rocks and Molotov cocktails the police are very muted in their response - police in Venezuela don't normally carry sidearms but the riot police carry weapons that can only fire anti riot projectiles that are designed to hurt but not main or kill, they also have plastic shields but their actions have been much less violent than those of say the amerikan police - especially when you consider that more than 20 police have been killed in these riots.

I didn't get this info from RT news or any other oppositional news service I got it from the BBC who were desperate to find a shock horror story. They found a kid who had been arrested for throwing bricks at the police and he said that while he was locked up his interrogators demanded that he tell them the leadership or they would rape him "Did you tell them?" says Mr Beeb, "No" says the kid "so did they rape you?" asks Mr Beeb "NO but one of my cellmates had a black eye!" the kid responds.

Yeah right horrible oppression by those commies eh! The fact the beeb were in there trying on this story and running it on englander TV last night suggests that b may be correct when he says amerika is about to try and kick something off. The shots of protesters were all filmed up close - no wide views lest viewers see how few people were protesting, the entire piece could be regarded as a farce except that there is an undercurrent of amerikan violence.

As for the military - yes Cubans were brought in to train the army at the start of the Bolivaran revolution because the army was recruited from the ordinary people - not the usual younger sons of the bourgeoisie so outsiders were needed to train them. Some Cubans liked it so much they elected to stay on but the vast majority of Venezuelan military are local and if they seriously wanted to stage a coup it would be trivial to round up Cubans in a night and go in hard, but the military don't have any such intention, they are loyal to the head of state they swore an oath to.

I really hope that Trump and co don't decide that Venezuela be the victim of his need to divert attention away from his own travails - the result will be much worse even than the bloodthirsty contras of Nicaragua. The war will be long and bloody and it is highly doubtful that amerika could win without terrible violence. Even though the current governments in Central and South America are more 'sympathetic' to amerikan imperialism than those of a decade ago, it is highly unlikely that many if any will openly assist amerika because their own populations will go ape-shit if they do.

This (amerikan interference) could blow up huge and destroy the fragile agreements in place in many nations of the region.

For what? So that rich arse-holes can get richer?

Posted by b at 06:39 AM | Comments (154)

July 28, 2017

Countdown To War On Venezuela

On Sunday Venezuela will hold an general election of participants of a constitutional assembly. Half of the representatives will be elected from regular electoral districts. The other half will be elected from and by eight special constituencies like "workers", "farmers", "employers", etc. The second part may be unusual but is no less democratic than the U.S. system which gives voters in rural states more weight than city dwellers.

The new assembly will formulate changes to the current constitution. Those changes will be decided on in another general vote. It is likely that the outcome will reinforce the favorite policies of a great majority of the people and of the social-democratic government under President Manduro.

The more wealthy part of the population as well as the foreign lobbies and governments have tried to prevent or sabotage the upcoming election. The U.S. has used various economic pressure points against the Venezuelan government including economic warfare with ever increasing sanctions. The opposition has held violent street rallies, attacked government institutions and supporters and called for general strikes.

But the NYT propaganda pictures of opposition rallies in the capitol Caracas show only small crowds of dozens to a few hundred of often violent youth. The opposition calls for general strikes have had little resonance as even the feverish anti-Maduro Washington Post has to concede:

In the wealthier eastern half of the city, most businesses closed to support the strike called by the opposition, which is boycotting the vote and calling for its cancellation.

The main highways of the capital city were largely closed down in the early morning, and reports surfaced of national police lobbing tear gas at strikers in the center. In the poorer neighborhoods in the west, the strike appeared less pronounced, with more businesses open and more people on the streets.

(Translation of the WaPo propagandese: "Not even the rich opposition neighborhoods of the city closed down completely. Attempts by the opposition to block central roads were prevented by the police. In the poorer parts of the city the opposition call for a strike was simply ignored.") The opposition is only active within the richer strata of the population and only in a few big cities. The poor rural areas have gained under the social-democratic governments and continue to favor it.

In an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times the "regime change" lobby of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) laid out the steps towards an upcoming war in Venezuela:

Since the plebiscite, Venezuela’s opposition has taken steps toward establishing a parallel government. This might remain a symbolic initiative. But if the opposition continues down this road, it will soon be looking for international recognition and funding, and will at least implicitly be asserting the parallel government’s claim to the legitimate monopoly on the use of force. After that it will seek what every government wants: weapons to defend itself. If it succeeds, Venezuela could plunge into a civil war that will make the current conflict seem like high school fisticuffs.

(The WOLA was also involved in Hillary Clinton's coup in Honduras.)

The CIA is quite open about the plans:

In one of the clearest clues yet about Washington’s latest meddling in the politics of Latin America, CIA director Mike Pompeo said he was “hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there”.

He added: “I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue, trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.”

The piece notes:

In Venezuela, [the U.S. government] has sought to weaken the elected governments of both Mr Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, who was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup. Some of the effort has been in distributing funds to opposition groups through organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, while some has been in the form of simple propaganda.

In May 2016 unidentified US officials told reporters in a background briefing that Venezuela was descending into a deepening “crisis” that could end in violence.

We can conclude that the upcoming violence in Venezuela is not a spontaneous action of the opposition but the implementation of a plan that has been around since at least May 2016. It is likely to follow the color revolution by force script the U.S. developed and implemented in several countries over the last decade. Weapon supply and mercenary support for the opposition will come in from and through the neighboring countries the CIA head visited.

The vote to the constitutional assembly will proceed as planned. The opposition will attempt to sabotage it or, if that fails, proceed with violence. Weapons and tactical advice and support have likely already been provided through CIA channels.

The Venezuelan government is supported by a far larger constituency than the U.S. aligned right-wing opposition. The military has shown no sign of disloyalty to the government. Unless there is some unforeseeable event any attempt to overthrow the government will fail.

The U.S. can further hurt Venezuela by closing down oil imports from the country. But this will likely increase U.S. gas prices. It would create a some short term inconvenience for Venezuela, but oil is fungible and other customers will be available.

To overthrow the Venezuelan government has been tried since the first election of a somewhat socialist government in 1999. The U.S. instigated coup in 2002 failed when the people and the military stood up against the blatant interference. The "regime change" methods have since changed with the added support of a militant "democratic opposition" fed from the outside. The use of that tool had negative outcomes in Libya and Ukraine and it failed in Syria. I am confident that the government of Venezuela has analyzed those cases and prepared its own plans to counter a similar attempt.

The U.S. just ordered the relatives of its embassy employees out of the country. Such is only done when imminent action is expected.

Posted by b at 05:52 AM | Comments (136)

July 25, 2017

Open Thread 2017-30

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:21 PM | Comments (203)

July 24, 2017

Yemeni Forces Create Heat Wave In Saudi Arabia

The rich U.S. military has long dreamed of and tried to influence the weather. No practical results have been achieved.

Now the Yemen Armed Forces, under constant bombardment due to the U.S-Saudi war on Yemen and with meager resources, have accomplished the feat. They created a night-time heat wave in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi refinery operations not affected by transformer fire

Reuters, Khobar Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Saudi Aramco Mobile Refinery (SAMREF) at Yanbu is operating normally after a fire hit a power transformer at the gate of the facility on Saturday, a spokesman for a Saudi government body was quoted as saying on the state news agency.
Operations are ongoing and have not been affected by the incident, which happened due to hot weather, Abdulrahman Al-Abdulqader, the spokesman for the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, which manages and operates industrial cities in Saudi Arabia. The fire broke out at 21:22 local time, according to the spokesman.

Here is (vid) how the Yemeni forces created the "hot weather" .

@BaFana3 - 7:21 PM - 22 Jul 2017

Now by #Yemen armed forces: "New ballistic missile "Burkan 2H" launched. Target : #Saudi Aramco Yanbu oil refinery. Range : ≈1,300km."

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By Ahmed Jahaf - bigger


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@Lee_Saks - 9:00 PM - 22 Jul 2017

#SaudiArabia | transformer fire at Yanbu refinery due to hot weather. [Houthi rebels claimed to hit refinery with ballistic missile]. #OOTT

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The Yemeni weather service predicts that another heat wave will soon reach the United Arab Emirates.

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@BaFana3 - 9:59 PM - 23 Jul 2017

#Yemen army spox: "Ballistic missile Burkan-H2 hit #Saudi oil refinery in Yanbu. This missile has the range to hit Dubai."

Posted by b at 04:02 PM | Comments (50)

July 23, 2017

Syria Summary - Consolidating The West - Marching East

There were no major changes  in the situation in Syria since our last post. Several smaller steps have further consolidated the position of the government of Syria and its allies while the positions of its enemies continue to deteriorate.


Source: Fabrice Balanche/WINEP - bigger (with legend)

In the north-west Idleb governate and the city of Idleb saw new infighting between Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda in Syria under its current moniker Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Ahrar, historically also an al-Qaeda offspring, was supported by Qatar and Turkey while al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al Nusra aka HTS) was said to have support from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Rudiments of local CIA paid Free Syrian Army gangs are intermixed with these. Their primary task was to collect supplies from the CIA in Turkey and to distribute those to their friends in al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham. Each of these groups received support in the range of at least $1 billion per year. 

The spat between Qatar and Saudi Arabia mostly ended their interest in their proxies in Syria. The Trump administration decided to end the CIA support program for its FSA proxies in the north-west (but not for others elsewhere). This was a significant change of the situation for each group.

Cont. reading: Syria Summary - Consolidating The West - Marching East

Posted by b at 12:28 PM | Comments (103)

 
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