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May 19, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-28

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

See also: Rob Slane at The Blogmire - The Sinking Credibility of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

John Bolton created the crisis by claiming that Iran put some imaginary missiles on a boat. When Trump told him to stop the campaign, at least for now, the imaginary missile had to be removed. The NYT willingly stenographed the "news": U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Removed Missile Threat From Some Boats

I don't expect that Bolton will let the issue go. He will find or create an incident sufficient to convince Trump to go to war with Iran.

My hunch is that China will -in the end- win through the trade war. Others disagree.
Christopher Whalen at the American Conservative: China Has Already Lost the Trade War

Other issues:

The movies Hollywood produced are often telling psychological conflicts as the central story. Each character has a certain fixed attitude and the interacting of the characters create the story. It does not matter if the setting is in antic times or in the far future. In the end there are always the bad and the good guy slamming it out in a fistfight.

The historic Chinese drama which I currently favor are based on sociological storytelling. As they develop the stories form their characters. Their attitudes change over time because the developing exterior circumstances push them into certain directions. Good becomes bad and again good. The persons change because they must, not because the are genetically defined. I find these kind of movies more interesting.

This Scientific American piece about Game of Thrones (of which I have seen only half an episode) touches on the differences.

The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones
It's not just bad storytelling—it’s because the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on May 19, 2019 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (160)

Why The Takedown Of Heinz-Christian Strache Will Strengthen The Right

During the last days a right wing politician in Austria was taken down by using an elaborate sting. Until Friday Heinz-Christian Strache was leader of the far right (but not fascist) Freedom Party of Austria (FPOe) and the Vice Chancellor of the country. On Friday morning two German papers, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel published (German) reports (English) about an old video that was made to take Strache down.

The FPOe has good connections with United Russia, the party of the Russian President Putin, and to other right-wing parties in east Europe. It's pro-Russian position has led to verbal attacks on and defamation of the party from NATO supporting and neoliberal circles.

In July 2017 Strache and his right hand man Johann Gudenus, who is also the big number in the FPOe, get invited for dinner to a rented villa on Ibiza, the Spanish tourist island in the Mediterranean. They are told that the daughter of a Russian billionaire plans large investments in Austria. It was said that she would like to help his party. The alleged daughter of the Russian billionaire, who is actually also Austrian, and her "friend" serve an expensive dinner. Alcohol flows freely. The pair offers a large party donation but asks for returns in form of mark ups on public contracts.

Unknown to Strache the villa is professionally bugged with many hidden cameras and microphones.

A scene from the video. Source: Der Falter (vid, German)

During the six hour long party several schemes get proposed by the "Russian" and are discussed. Strache rejects most of them. He insists several times that everything they plan or do must be legal and conform to the law. He says that a large donation could probably be funneled through an endowment that would then support his party. It is a gray area under Austrian party financing laws. They also discuss if the "Russian" could buy the Kronen Zeitung, Austria's powerful tabloid, and use it to prop up his party.

The evening goes on with several bottles of vodka on the table. Starche gets a bit drunk and boosts in front of the "oligarch daughter" about all his connections to rich and powerful people. He does not actually have these.

Strache says that, in exchange for help for his party, the "Russian" could get public contracts for highway building and repair. Currently most of such contracts in Austria go to the large Austrian company, STRABAG, that is owned by a neoliberal billionaire who opposes the FPOe. At that time Strache was not yet in the government and had no way to decide about such contracts.

At one point Strache seems to understand that the whole thing is a setup. But his right hand man calms him down and vouches for the "Russian". The sting ends with Strache and his companion leaving the place. The never again see the "Russian" and her co-plotter. Nothing they talked about will ever come to fruition.

Three month later Strache and his party win more than 20% in the Austrian election and form a coalition government with the conservative party OeVP led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Even while the FPOe controls several ministries, it does not achieve much politically. It lacks a real program and the government's policies are mostly run by the conservatives.

Nearly two years after the evening on Ibiza, ten days before the European parliament election in which Strache's party is predicted to achieve good results, a video of the evening on Ibiza is handed to two German papers which are known to be have strong transatlanticist leanings and have previously been used for other shady 'leaks'. The papers do not hesitate to take part in the plot and publish extensive reports about the video.

After the reports appeared Strache immediately stepped down and the conservatives ended the coalition with his party. Austria will now have new elections.

On Bloomberg Leonid Bershidsky opines on the case:

Strache’s discussion with the Russian oligarch’s fake niece shows a propensity for dirty dealing that has nothing to do with idealistic nationalism. Nationalist populists often agitate against entrenched, corrupt elites and pledge to drain various swamps. In the videos, however, Strache and Gudenus behave like true swamp creatures, savoring rumors of drug and sex scandals in Austrian politics and discussing how to create an authoritarian media machine like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s.

I do not believe that the people who voted for the FPOe (and similar parties in other countries) will subscribe to that view. The politics of the main stream parties in Austria have for decades been notoriously corrupt. Compared to them Strache and his party are astonishingly clean. In the video he insists several times that everything must stay within the legal realm. Whenever the "Russian" puts forward a likely illegal scheme, Starche emphatically rejects it.

Bershidsky continues:

Strache, as one of the few nationalist populists in government in the European Union’s wealthier member states, was an important member of the movement Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been trying to cobble together ahead of the European Parliament election that will take place next week. On Saturday, he was supposed to attend a Salvini-led rally in Milan with other like-minded politicians from across Europe. Instead, he was in Vienna apologizing to his wife and to Kurz and protesting pitifully that he’d been the victim of a “political assassination” — a poisonous rain on the Italian right-winger’s parade.
This leaves the European far right in disarray and plays into the hands of centrist and leftist forces ahead of next week’s election. Salvini’s unifying effort has been thoroughly undermined, ...

This is also a misreading of the case. The right-wing parties will use the case to boost their legitimacy.

Strache was obviously set up by some intelligence services, probably a German one with a British assist. The original aim was likely to blackmail him. But during the meeting on Ibiza Strache promised and did nothing illegal. Looking for potential support for his party is not a sin. Neither is discussing investments in Austria with a "daughter of a Russian oligarch." Some boosting while drunk is hardly a reason to go to jail. When the incident provided too little material to claim that Strache is corrupt, the video was held back until the right moment to politically assassinate him with the largest potential damage to his party. That moment was thought to be now.

But that Strache stepped down after the sudden media assault only makes him more convincing. The right-wing all over Europe will see him as a martyr who was politically assassinated because he worked for their cause. The issue will increase the right-wingers hate against the 'liberal' establishment. It will further motivate them: "They attack us because we are right and winning." The new far-right block Natteo Salvini will setup in the European Parliament will likely receive a record share of votes.

Establishment writers notoriously misinterpret the new right wing parties and their followers. This stand-offish sentence in the Spiegel story about Strache's party demonstrates the problem:

In the last election, the party drew significant support from the working class, in part because of his ability to simplify even the most complicated of issues and play the common man, even in his role as vice chancellor.

The implicit thesis, that the working class is too dumb to understand the "most complicated of issues", is not only incredibly snobbish but utterly false. The working class understands very well what the establishment parties have done to it and continue to do. The increasing vote share of the far-right is a direct consequence of the behavior of the neoliberal center and of the lack of real left alternatives.

Last week, before the Strache video appeared, Craig Murray put his finger on the wound:

The massive economic shock following the banking collapse of 2007–8 is the direct cause of the crisis of confidence which is affecting almost all the institutions of western representative democracy. The banking collapse was not a natural event, like a tsunami. It was a direct result of man-made systems and artifices which permitted wealth to be generated and hoarded primarily through multiple financial transactions rather than by the actual production and sale of concrete goods, and which then disproportionately funnelled wealth to those engaged in the mechanics of the transactions.
The rejection of the political class manifests itself in different ways and has been diverted down a number of entirely blind alleys giving unfulfilled promise of a fresh start – Brexit, Trump, Macron. As the vote share of the established political parties – and public engagement with established political institutions – falls everywhere, the chattering classes deride the political symptoms of status quo rejection by the people as “populism”. It is not populism to make sophisticated arguments that undermine the received political wisdom and take on the entire weight of established media opinion.

If one wants to take down the far right one has to do so with arguments and good politics for the working class. Most people, especially working class people, have a strong sense for justice. The political assassination of Christian Strache is unjust. What was done during the 2007-8 banking crisis was utterly corrupt and also unjust. Instead of going to jail the bankers were rewarded with extreme amounts of money for their assault on the well being of the people. The public was then told that it must starve through austerity to make up for the loss of money.

While I consider myself to be a strong leftist who opposes the right wherever possible, I believe to understand why people vote for Strache's FBOe and similar parties. When one talks to these people issues of injustice and inequality always come up. The new 'populist' parties at least claim to fight against the injustice done to the common men. Unlike most of the establishment parties they seem to be still mostly clean and not yet corrupted.

In the early 1990s Strache actually flirted with violent fascists but he rejected their way. While he has far-right opinions, he and his like are no danger to our societies. If we can not accept that Strache and his followers have some legitimate causes, we will soon find us confronted with way more extreme people. The neoliberal establishment seems to do its best to achieve that.

Posted by b on May 19, 2019 at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (67)

May 18, 2019

Open Thread 2019-27

News & views ...

Posted by b on May 18, 2019 at 01:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (155)

May 17, 2019

Propaganda Intensifies Trade War With China

The dwindling empires' main propaganda outlet, the New York Times, continues its anti-China campaign. It is now by blaming China's president for the failure of trade negotiations with the United States.

    How Xi’s Last-Minute Switch on U.S.-China Trade Deal Upended It:

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, seemed confident three weeks ago that a yearlong trade war with the United States could soon subside, handing him a potent political victory.

He even made a speech saying China would protect intellectual property, encourage foreign investment, and buy more goods and services from abroad — all changes the United States had been demanding as the countries tried to negotiate a deal.

But just a week after that speech, Chinese negotiators sent the Americans a substantially rewritten draft agreement, prompting President Trump to accuse Beijing of reneging on terms that had been settled.

As typical for U.S. propaganda the piece goes on to personifying the decision China made when confronted with overreaching U.S. demands. It is Xi personally, says the Times, who is to blame:

In China’s top-down political system, where President Xi has amassed formidable power, ...

... it is clear that Mr. Xi misjudged ...

Now Mr. Xi risks being backed into a corner, ...

For Mr. Xi, such a move could be seen ...

Mr. Xi’s frenetic schedule and highly centralized style of policymaking ...

“No doubt Xi has tightened the overall policy atmosphere ...

U.S. propaganda is always pointing to one person that solely cases everything and therefore deserves all the hate. It once was Saddam, Saddam , Saddam. Then Ghadaffi, Ghadaffi, Ghadaffi, Assad, Assad, Assad, Putin, Putin, Putin. Now it is Xi, Xi, Xi.

In the real word hardly any person leading a state has as much power as such villainizing propaganda tries to make one believe. Countries have interests that define their policies through processes that are often incomprehensible to the cursory observer. Whatever face is at the top is only representing the layers below. It should be the task of the press to untangle and explain the processes instead of demonizing their representing face. 

So what really happened?

The U.S. started a trade war with China by suddenly putting up high tariffs on Chinese products. China countered with tariffs on U.S. products, but was ready to negotiate  a fair deal. The negotiations about an agreement were held in English in the United States. The U.S. provided a written draft.

When that draft reached China and was translated to Chinese the relevant party and government institutions were aghast. The U.S. demanded that China changes several of its domestics laws. It essentially demanded a complete change of China's trade policies and, most infuriating, was unwilling to go back to the old tariff rates, even if China would comply. It wasn't Xi who rejected the uneven deal, it was the whole Chinese government.

The draft agreement was corrected and sent back to the United States. Trump responded to China's unwillingness to his capitulation demand by further increasing tariffs and by threatening to increase them even more. The trade war will escalate from here and metastasize in other relations.

Deep into the NYT piece, where the propaganda weakens and journalism sneaks in, we can learn all of this:

Several sources said the changes were discussed with other Communist Party leaders, which brought into focus worries that the proposed deal could make Mr. Xi and the party look as if they were bowing to pressure.
Mr. Xi may have belatedly concluded that changes to Chinese laws demanded by the United States would be an affront to national honor. Some said Mr. Xi might have felt he had to act after the clauses drew criticism from party leaders who had not been briefed earlier.
[T]he administration sought changes to cybersecurity laws that China’s national security establishment saw as interference.

These changes would require authorization from China’s national legislature.

“These conditions that the Americans raised for an agreement, at least from the political point of view, are extremely difficult to accept,” said Cui Liru, a former president of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a prominent state research group. “It is almost asking the change of China’s political system.
“It is very hard to think China will cave in or surrender to these pressures,” said Wang Yong, the director of the Center for International Political Economy at Peking University. “Public opinion definitely matters.”

So it is not Xi, Xi, Xi. China is not a "top-down political system" and Xi has not "amassed formidable power". China's president Xi is not an absolute king. It isn't he who can make such far-reaching decisions. There is the party, the security establishment and the government apparatus. There are industry interests that need to be taken care of. There is last not least the national public opinion the system has to take into account.

China does not want a trade war with the United States. But, unlike Trump and the NYT assume, it is likely China that will lose less from it than the U.S. will.

As Ambassador Chas Freeman lays out at length, Trump's (anti-)China policy has no strategy. It is one of chaos and will have echos in many other fields:

President Trump’s trade war with China has quickly metastasized into every other domain of Sino-American relations. Washington is now trying to dismantle China’s interdependence with the American economy, curb its role in global governance, counter its foreign investments, cripple its companies, block its technological advance, punish its many deviations from liberal ideology, contest its borders, map its defenses, and sustain the ability to penetrate those defenses at will.

The message of hostility to China these efforts send is consistent and apparently comprehensive. Most Chinese believe it reflects an integrated U.S. view or strategy. It does not.

There is no longer an orderly policy process in Washington to coordinate, moderate, or control policy formulation or implementation. Instead, a populist president has effectively declared open season on China.

Currently each and every arm of U.S. policy is beating up China in any field it can. This hostility will soon become irreversible. China will response in kind and asymmetrically. It now restarts to buy oil from Iran. Ambassador Freeman sees no way how the U.S. could win the game.

China has long prepared for this conflict. Consider Trump's recent move against the Chinese manufacturer Huawei:

The White House issued an executive order Wednesday apparently aimed at banning Huawei’s equipment from U.S. telecom networks and information infrastructure. It then announced a more potent and immediate sanction that subjects the Chinese company to strict export controls.

The order took effect Thursday and requires U.S. government approval for all purchases of U.S. microchips, software and other components globally by Huawei and 68 affiliated businesses. Huawei says that amounted to $11 billion in goods last year.

Huawei currently uses U.S. made chips in many of its smartphones and networking products. But it has long expected the U.S. move and diligently prepared for it:

Huawei's chipset subsidiary HiSilicon said on Friday it will use backup chips it has independently developed for years to cope with the ban from the United States.

He Tingbo, president of HiSilicon, said in an internal letter to staff that Huawei has been preparing for a scenario of survival in extreme conditions when all the advanced chips and technology from the United States become unobtainable.
"Today, a historic choice has to be made. Our backup plan will be put into official use," according to the letter.

Soon U.S. chip companies will have lost all their sales to the second largest smartphone producer of the world. That loss will not be just temporarily, it will become permanent. At the same time Trump's tariffs on products from China will further hurt the U.S. economy. The voters already fear that:

By an 11-point margin, voters think increased tariffs on Chinese imports will do more to hurt the economy than help it.

The voters' hunch will soon be confirmed as Walmart and others announce that they will have to increase their prices. Economists also expect that the U.S. consumers will feel significant pain:

“[T]he cost to an American family of three would be about $2,200 if Trump’s full package of 25% tariffs on $500 billion of merchandise imports from China is implemented.

“In the case of the latest 15% additional tariffs on $200 billion, from 10% to 25%, that go into effect by the end of May … the direct cost is $30 billion and the likely indirect cost, through higher US producer prices, will be another $30 billion. Together, that’s $60 billion … about $550 per family.” China will absorb “no more than 5%” of the tariffs.

Few other countries will join Trump's anti-China campaign. It will further isolate the United States. That is quite an achievement for the MAGA man.

Some aspects of China's trade behavior can and should be criticized. But overall China sticks to the rules of the game, while the U.S. is now breaking these. It was not China that moved U.S. factories to its country. U.S. managers did that because the U.S. economic system is based on greed and not on the welfare of its citizens.

There are much better ways to get China to change its trade behavior than by bullying and ever increasing tariffs and sanctions. Ambassador Freeman's recommendable essay provides some of these.

Posted by b on May 17, 2019 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (155)

May 16, 2019

Trump Administration Withholds Information That Could Debunk Russian Interference Claims

On Tuesday Russia's President Putin again rejected U.S. claims that his country interfered in the 2016 elections in the United States. Additional statements by Foreign Minister Lavrov provide that there is more information available about alleged Russian cyber issue during the election. He pointed to exchanges between the Russian and U.S. governments that Russia wants published but which the U.S. is withholding.

On Tuesday May 14 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Sochi to meet with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov and with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. It was Pompeo's first official visit to Russia. Pompeo's meeting with Lavrov was followed by a joined news conference. The statements from both sides touched on the election issue.

The State Department published a full transcript and video of the press conference in English language. The Russian Foreign Ministry provided an official English translation of only Lavrov's part.  Both translations differ only slightly.

Here are the relevant excerpts from the opening statements with regard to cyber issues.


We agreed on the importance of restoring communications channels that have been suspended lately, which was due in no small part to the groundless accusations against Russia of trying to meddle in the US election. These allegations went as far as to suggest that we colluded in some way with high-ranking officials from the current US administration. It is clear that allegations of this kind are completely false. [...] I think that there is a fundamental understanding on this matter as discussed by our presidents during their meeting last year in Helsinki, as well as during a number of telephone conversations. So far these understandings have not been fully implemented.


[W]e spoke, too, about the question of interference in our domestic affairs. I conveyed that there are things that Russia can do to demonstrate that these types of activities are a thing of the past and I hope that Russia will take advantage of those opportunities.

During the Q & A Shaun Tanron of AFP asked Pompeo about the election issue:

[I]f I could follow up on your statement about the election, you said that there are things that Russia could do to show that election interference is a thing of the past. What are those things? What do – what would you like Russia to do? Thank you very much.

Lavrov responded first to the question. He said that there is no evidence that shows any Russian interference in the U.S. elections. He continued:

Speaking about the most recent US presidential campaign in particular, we have had in place an information exchange channel about potential unintended risks arising in cyberspace since 2013. From October 2016 (when the US Democratic Administration first raised this issue) until January 2017 (before Donald Trump's inauguration), this channel was used to handle requests and responses. Not so long ago, when the attacks on Russia in connection with the alleged interference in the elections reached their high point, we proposed publishing this exchange of messages between these two entities, which engage in staving off cyberspace incidents. I reminded Mr Pompeo about this today. The administration, now led by President Trump, refused to do so. I’m not sure who was behind this decision, but the idea to publish this data was blocked by the United States. However, we believe that publishing it would remove many currently circulating fabrications. Of course, we will not unilaterally make these exchanges public, but I would still like to make this fact known.

The communication channel about cyber issues did indeed exist. In June 2013 the Presidents of the United States and Russia issued a Joint Statement about "Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs)". The parties agreed to establishing communication channels between each other computer emergency response teams, to use the direct communication link of the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers for cyber issue exchanges, and to have direct communication links between high-level officials in the White House and Kremlin for such matter. A Fact Sheet published by the Obama White House detailed the implementation of these three channels.

One inference from Lavrov's statement is that the "fundamental understanding on this matter"  between the two presidents that has "not been fully implemented" is the release of the communications about cyberspace incidents. The Russians clearly think that a release of the communications with the Obama administration would exculpate them. That would also exculpate Trump from any further collusion allegations. Why then does the Trump administration reject the release? Who is blocking it?

Pompeo did not respond to Lavrov's points. His next meeting that day was with President Putin.

Putin let him wait for three hours. Both sides issued short opening statements. The English translations of what Putin said differ. In the version provided by Russia Putin explicitely denies the alleged election interference:

For our part, we have said many times that we would also like to restore relations on a full scale. I hope that the necessary conditions for this are being created now since, despite the exotic character of Mr Mueller’s work, he should be given credit for conducting what is generally an objective inquiry. He reaffirmed the lack of any trace or collusion between Russia and the current administration, which we described as sheer nonsense from the very start. There was no, nor could there be any interference on our part in the US election at the government level. Nevertheless, regrettably, these allegations have served as a reason for the deterioration of our interstate ties.

The State Department version does not include the Russian denial of election interference but doubles the rejection of the collusion claim:

On our behalf, we have said it multiple times that we also would like to rebuild fully fledged relations, and I hope that right now a conducive environment is being built for that, because, though, however exotic the work of Special Counsel Mueller was, I have to say that on the whole he had a very objective investigation and he confirmed that there are no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incumbent administration, which we’ve said was absolutely fake. As we’ve said before, there was no collusion from our government officials and it could not be there. Still, that was – that was one of the reasons certainly breaking our (inaudible) ties.

An English language live translation of that paragraph (vid) by the Russian sponsored Ruptly does not include the word 'election' in the highlighted sentence, nor does a live translation (vid) by PBS.

It seem that the Kremlin later inserted the explicit denial of election interference into Putin's statement. It is quite possible that Putin, who did not read from a prepared paper, mangled the talking point that Lavrov had already made.

After the meeting Putin, Pompeo held a short press availability with the U.S. journalists accompanying him. There is no mentioning of Lavrov's point.

There were secret communications between the Obama administration and the Russian government about the alleged election interference and 'hacks' of the DNC and of Clinton's campaign manager Podesta. They are not mentioned in the Mueller report nor in any other open source. As Russia wants these communications released it might be possible to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to press for their publication. The Trump administration response to such a FOIA request could at least reveal the reasons why it is withholding them.

The allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections are partly based on the fact that a commercial Russian enterprise used fake characters on Facebook to sell advertisement. A review of the themes and ideological positions those fake characters provided demonstrates that they were not designed to influence the U.S. elections.

In contrast to those Russian fakes other fake characters on Facebook, provided by an Israeli company and revealed today, were clearly designed to influence elections:

Facebook said Thursday it banned an Israeli company that ran an influence campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various countries and has canceled dozens of accounts engaged in spreading disinformation.
Many were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that boasts of its social media skills and ability to "change reality."
On its website, Archimedes presents itself as a consulting firm involved in campaigns for presidential elections.

Little information is available beyond its slogan, which is "winning campaigns worldwide," and a vague blurb about the group's "mass social media management" software, which it said enabled the operation of an "unlimited" number of online accounts.

Don't expect any protest from Washington DC about such obvious election interference in other countries.

Hat tip to Aaron Maté for pointing out Lavrov's statement

Posted by b on May 16, 2019 at 02:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (135)

May 15, 2019

The Lunacy Of Waging A War On Iran From Which China And Russia Will Win

The scare mongering about an attack on Iran continues. Bolton must be laughing his ass off how easy he can play the issue based on nothing. He simply counters any debunking of the alleged 'thread from Iran' by upping the ante. Yesterday a British general in Iraq denied that any such threat exists in the area of his responsibility:

“No – there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the coalition responsible for counter-terrorist operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, said in a video briefing, according to the Guardian.

Today Bolton countered that by again raising the noise level around the imaginary threat:

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq says the State Department has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.

The alert, published on the embassy's website on Wednesday, comes after Washington last week said it had detected new and urgent threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans and American interests.

Bolton is for now achieving the results he wants. He systematically fills the public space with talk about the non-existing 'threat from Iran'. If that threat is established in the public mind by its constant repetition, it will be used for the usual false flag incident to justify to launch a war on Iran.

Bolton's power might change though. The knifes are out against him and there are rumors that he might get fired:

Two sources familiar with the matter tell me President Donald Trump’s rumbustious National Security Council chief is headed for the exits, having flown too close to the sun on his regime change efforts for Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. “Hearing that Trump wants him out,” a former senior administration official told me.

Bolton (and maybe Trump too) want a war on Iran because Bibi Netanyahoo asked for one, because the anti-Iranian MEK cult and Zionists paid him to wage one, and because he thinks he can do so without damaging the United States.

by Ted Rall (used with permission) - bigger

It is the last point where he is completely wrong. The war on Iraq destroyed the position of the U.S. as the 'sole superpower'. Russia used the aftermath to come back into the Middle East while China gained time to fortify its position in Asia. The once sole superpower is now only a primus inter pares with China and Russia. A U.S. war on Iran would further diminish its position. China and Russia would both end up with an increased standing in the world while the U.S. would lose out.

Here is why.

Yesterday the New York Times promoted the options the Pentagon gave to the White House for a war on Iran. It led with the 120,000 troops option which made no sense:

The number is too high for an attack by air and on sea and too low for an attack on land, i.e. an invasion of Iran.

Newsweek now says that the 120,000 troop option is only the prelude for an invasion of Iran:

Pentagon officials told Newsweek that if deployed, the role of the 120,000 U.S. forces would center on logistical support and developing infrastructure to preposition U.S. forces for the option of a ground invasion. The original 120,000 would integrate into an additional surge of U.S. forces sent into the region.

These "Pentagon officials" are not "military officials", i.e. not soldiers. They seem to have no idea what they are speaking about. An invasion and occupation of the mountainous Iran would require over half a million soldiers just for the start. Even an invasion of only the oil rich areas on Iran's west coast and on its border with Iraq would require a force of some 300,000 men. Without a draft the U.S. military is unable to sustain such a large operation for more than two or three months.

And invade from where please? Iraq would certainly not allow U.S. forces to attack its neighbor from its grounds. An invasion by sea is prohibited by the confined water of the Persian Gulf, the lack of minesweepers, and of other maritime assets.

The people who talk up such a war have a serious case of delusion:

A Pentagon source told Newsweek if anything is likely to happen involving the preliminary Iran options, it would involve a heavy guided missile strike campaign in an attempt to lead Tehran to the negotiation table with Washington.

"It depends on the escalation of force. But no matter the bravado from Iran’s side, when you get hit it with 500 missiles every day, it degrades you, which is the objective. When your opponent is weak, you get more out of any negotiation," said one official with knowledge of the Iran plans.

Once upon a time one Saddam Hussein, egged on by the U.S. and Arab Gulf dictators, had similar ideas. When he attacked Iran in 1980 he thought that he could seize Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan Province within a month or two. After the 1979 Islamic revolution the Iranian military was in disarray. Many officers had been dismissed or had left. Iran was under a global weapon embargo while Iraq had support from all large powers. The war did not take too month. It took eight years, the use of chemical weapons against Iranian cities, a large U.S. operation against the Iranian navy, and over a million death on both sides before Iran was willing to accept a ceasefire. In the end the border was restored to its prewar state. Iraq nearly went bankrupt due to the war which is the reason why it later seized Kuwait and had to endure the consequences.

In light of that history it is hilarious to believe that one would "get more out of negotiations" with Iran by each day launching 500 missiles at it.

And what about Iran's retaliation capabilities? Iran has a large missile force and drone fleet of its own. It has well equipped proxy force in Lebanon and elsewhere. Each cruise missile hit on Tehran can and will be countered by one on Tel Aviv. Iran would also have support from China and from Russia which can provide all kind of weapons it needs through the Caspian Sea, while the U.S. would lack capable allies.

Iran's missiles can hit any country in the Middle East that hosts U.S. forces. It can target Saudi desalination plants, UAE refineries and various oil shipping ports. Energy prices would go through the roof. The recent incidents near the UAE port Fujairah and the attack on the Saudi east-west pipelines were likely not caused by Iran. But they give a minor taste of what Iran's asymmetric capabilities could achieve.

The 'Pentagon officials' should reread their briefings on the Millennium Challenge exercise which simulated a U.S. (blue) attack on Iran (red):

At the start of MC ’02, to fulfill the forced-entry requirement, blue issued red an eight-point ultimatum, of which the final point was surrender. Red team leader Van Riper knew his country’s political leadership could not accept this, which he believed would lead the blue forces to directly intervene. Since the George W. Bush administration had recently announced the “preemption doctrine,” Van Riper decided that as soon as a U.S. Navy carrier battle group steamed into the Gulf, he would “preempt the preemptors” and strike first. Once U.S. forces were within range, Van Riper’s forces unleashed a barrage of missiles from ground-based launchers, commercial ships, and planes flying low and without radio communications to reduce their radar signature. Simultaneously, swarms of speedboats loaded with explosives launched kamikaze attacks. The carrier battle group’s Aegis radar system — which tracks and attempts to intercept incoming missiles — was quickly overwhelmed, and 19 U.S. ships were sunk, including the carrier, several cruisers, and five amphibious ships. “The whole thing was over in five, maybe ten minutes,” Van Riper said.

The war hawks' inability to learn from history is quite remarkable:

Firing Line with Margaret Hoover - @FiringLineShow- 20:14 utc - 14 May 2019

Senator @TomCottonAR tells Firing Line if it comes to war with Iran, he is confident the United States would win, and would win swiftly. “Two strikes, the first strike and the last strike,” says the Senator. (video)

We have heard such talk before:

"I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk."
    Ken Adelmann, February 13 2002, Washington Post
"The idea that it's going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990. Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."
    Donald Rumsfeld, November 15 2002, CBSNews
"This is going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war."
    Bill Kristol, March 29 2003, CSPAN

The war on Iraq would be a short simple affair, said the Tom Cotton like nutters. It was also said to cost next to nothing. Sixteen years later, after a million dead, $2 trillion spent and after enduring a huge economic crisis, the U.S. is still fighting in Iraq.

There are no short or cheap wars. War is by its very nature unpredictable, costly, and hardly ever ends as desired.

John Bolton has long argued for a war on Iran. Should he get his will and push the U.S. into launching a war, both sides of it will lose out. There will also be a lot of collateral damages in several other countries in the Middle East, and other severe consequences we can not yet foresee.

What is assured though is that the biggest winners of such a war, and maybe the sole ones, will be Russia and China.

The Democratic opposition in the U.S. seems to have little time to argue against another war in the Middle East. It is still busy subpoenaing the remnants of the Russiagate investigations. But isn't it evident that Putin is -right now- using the infamous pee-tape to push Trump into a war on Iran from which Russia's standing in the world will profit? What are they doing to prevent that?

Posted by b on May 15, 2019 at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (176)

May 14, 2019

U.S. Increases Risk Of War On Iran Without A Path To De-escalation

Is the U.S. military, which lost its powerful positions in the White House, trying to get National Security Advisor John 'Stache' Bolton fired? 

A 'leak' to the New York Times accuses Bolton of preparing for war on Iran:

At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. It does not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.

The development reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.

If asked for 'options' the military typically lays out three scenarios. The first is very minor action unlikely to have any effect. The second is what the military sees as reasonable or wants. The third option is fantastically exaggerated. The 120,000 troop deployment is the third option. The number is too high for an attack by air and on sea and too low for an attack on land, i.e. an invasion of Iran. Releasing the third option number is likely designed to rally against such a move.

More than a half-dozen American national security officials who have been briefed on details of the updated plans agreed to discuss them with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.
Among those attending Thursday’s meeting were Mr. Shanahan; Mr. Bolton; General Dunford; Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director; and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.

In a possible quit pro quo the delivery of 'options' by the Defense Department happened on the same day that acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan was finally nominated for the permanent position. The previous Secretary of Defense James Mattis had ignored similar options requests from the White House. Trump fired Mattis at the end of last year.

An alternative view is that Bolton himself leaked the briefing to shore up the Trump administration's propagandistic threat against Iran.

Still, it is obvious that that some of those present at the meeting disagree with whatever Bolton's plans are.

In another sign of disagreement within the Trump administration the State Department just fired a Bolton ally:

A top U.S. arms control official and prominent Iran hawk has resigned from the State Department after serving just over a year in the position, said U.S. officials and congressional aides familiar with the decision.

The State Department on Monday did not offer a statement explaining the planned departure of Yleem Poblete, the assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance.
In April, Reuters reported that some U.S. officials were concerned that the compliance report politicized and slanted assessments about Iran, which the Trump administration has singled out as the country’s principal foe.
Poblete was a favorite among hard-line anti-Iran groups such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which hosted her for a speech in July 2018 in which Poblete praised the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal.

The news comes after mysterious reports of damage on allegedly four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian vessel, anchored near the United Arab Emirates oil port Fujairah. The incident is said to have happened on Sunday morning but the official report came only some 36 hours later. Only one of the ships was pictured with damage that seems to have resulted from a collision and not from explosives:

The owner of the Norwegian vessel, Thome Ship Management, said the vessel was “struck by an unknown object”. Footage seen by Reuters showed a hole in the hull at the waterline with the metal torn open inwards.


Fujairah lies east of the Strait of Hormuz. The UAE built a pipeline from its oilfields on its west coast to Fujariah to avoid that its oil exports have to pass through the Strait which Iran can control. The attack near Fujairah will be interpreted as a warning from Iran that no oil export from the Gulf is safe unless Iran can export too.


But it is far from assured that Iran was involved in the incident:

It was a similar situation when a Japanese tanker, the M. Star, was damaged by a bomb in 2010 about 14 miles (22 kilometers) off the U.A.E. coast near Fujairah. The Brigades of Abdullah Azzam, a Sunni militant jihadist group, claimed responsibility.

The UAE is actively involved in a the war against the Houthi in Yemen and against Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya. It has hostile relations with Turkey and Qatar. There are many who would like to send it such a message.

That the damage appeared to have come from a collision points to another possible culprit. U.S. submarines are known to move submerged in and around the Strait of Hormuz . There are two known incidents, in 2007 and in 2009, in which submerged U.S. submarines collided with other ships in the area.

Curiously the news of the damaged ships came after false reports of fire in the UAE appeared in Iran friendly media:

Earlier, the UAE was the subject of false accounts of an attack after news outlets with links to the Kremlin, Hezbollah and Iran spread claims that a series of explosions had occurred on land at Fujairah’s port.

Reports that between seven and 10 oil tankers anchored at the port were in flames were shared widely on social media accounts on Sunday.

Some reports said that American and French warplanes had been flying over the port at the time of the incident.
The reports of fire and explosions that emerged on Sunday morning apparently originated in Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese broadcaster and news outlet regarded as pro-Hezbollah.

Burning ships near Fujairah would be widely seen from land, sea and air. No pictures of any such fire appeared on social media.

The Al Mayadeen report may have been part of a warning from Iran. Or it may have been a preemptive move to undermine a false flag incident that was to be blamed on Iran. Iran seemed to deny any involvement in the incident:

In a statement issued early Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Moussavi described the incident as "lamentable" and "worrying" and called for thorough investigations.

He also warned Persian Gulf neighbors to stay vigilant in the face of plots by "ill-wishers" to undermine maritime security.

On May 10 the U.S. warned that Iran might target commercial vessels. That, together with the lack of information and of visible damage on other ships, points to a false flag incident initiated to slander Iran. A U.S. official blamed Iran but provided no evidence:

A U.S. official in Washington, without offering any evidence, told The Associated Press that an American military team’s initial assessment indicated Iran or Iranian allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships ...

An attempt on Monday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to rally European countries against Iran failed:

While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have been hoping that a hastily arranged stop in Brussels today would allow for photos and headlines showing American and European unity and joint resolve in the face of rising tensions with Iran, European allies did not seem interested in playing along.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini did little to hide her irritation that the Americans had abruptly decided to make a show of consulting the Europeans on rising Iran tensions.
“We were told during the night that [Pompeo] was planning to change his travel plans and to have a stopover here in Brussels,” Mogherini told journalists ahead of the EU foreign ministers meeting. “We will be here all day with a busy agenda so we will see during the day how and if we manage to arrange a meeting. He is always welcome, obviously, but there are no precise plans for the moment.”

“Any escalation should be avoided,” she said.

El Pais reports (Spanish) that Spain withdrew its frigate 'Méndez Núñez' from the US carrier strike group that is moving towards the Persian Gulf.

To counter the increased war talk emanating from the White House, Iran put some of its military on alert:

Iran has deployed its ballistic and cruise missiles, some in positions visible to US satellites and drones. They are ready for any confrontation with the US military apparatus, in case the US administration decides on war. Iran is responding to President Donald Trump’s belligerent declaration that he is gathering more naval forces in the Persian Gulf as a possible preparation for war. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a full readiness of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the army for the worst-case scenario. According to Iranian officials, “Iran will consider itself at war with every country in the Middle East that allows the US to use it as a base for its military campaign against Iran, the day Trump decides to go to war”.

It is difficult to judge if the rhetoric and moves against Iran, amplified by gullible media, are just propaganda aimed at pushing Iran towards negotiations, or if they are a build up of a realistic military threat against that country. What is assured though is that the current situation increased the chance of an incident - caused willfully or by accident by Iran, the U.S., or interested third parties - that could lead up to a war or at least some intense military exchanges. The all-out economic war the U.S. wages against the people of Iran increases this instability. There are no communications between the U.S. and Iran and the Trump administration seems to have no de-escaltion strategy:

“This administration’s maximum pressure campaign, and Pompeo’s 12 demands from Tehran, leaves little room for Iran to conduct face-saving negotiations,” Geranmayeh said, echoing the concerns of many who fear that Washington has left no room for Iran to walk back its threats and come to the table.

Posted by b on May 14, 2019 at 04:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (175)

May 13, 2019

Syria - OPCW Engineering Assessment: The Douma 'Chemical Weapon Attack' Was Staged

On April 7 2018 Syrian 'rebels' claimed that the Syrian government used chlorine gas and Sarin in an attack on the besieged Douma suburb near the Syrian capital Damascus. They published a series of videos which showed dead bodies of mainly women and children.

The claim of the 'chemical attack' was made shortly after U.S. President Trump had announced that he wanted U.S. troops to leave Syria. It was designed to "pull him back in" which it indeed did. In an illegal 'retaliation' the U.S., Britain and France launched a number of cruise missiles against Syria. Most of them failed to reach their targets.

Moon of Alabama published a number of pieces on the issue which are listed below.

It seemed obvious from the very first claims of the 'gas attack' that it did not happen at all. The Syrian government had no motive to use any chemical weapon or an irritant like chlorine in Douma. It had already won the battle. The incident was obviously staged, like others before it, to drag the U.S. into a new attack on Syria.

Of special interest on the incident scene were two gas cylinders which were photo- and video-graphed near to where the dead bodies were found. It was claimed that the cylinders were dropped from Syrian army helicopters and crashed through concrete roofs. One cylinder allegedly 'bumped' after completely penetrating the roof and came to rest on a bed. The other cylinder allegedly broke a roof open and came to rest on a balcony.

To anyone with a bit of 'feel' for material behavior of concrete and metal on impact, it was obvious that the damages caused on the concrete and on the cylinders were incompatible with each other. The concrete, reinforced with steel, was thoroughly penetrated while the cylinders showed only minimal damage. The roofs were most likely penetrated by artillery impact while the cylinders were most likely put there by hand.





Shortly after the incident the NATO aligned propaganda group Bellingcat asserted that the cylinders were dropped from helicopters. In June 2018 the New York Times published a rather laughable virtual crime scene analysis of the Douma incident. Neither included an engineering assessment of the impact forces and the related damages on the cylinders and roofs. Neither had visited the scene. From observing superficial visual markings both falsely concluded that the gas cylinders were dropped from helicopters.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which sent a Fact Finding Mission to the scene to investigate the case, made a detailed engineering analysis of the impact and damage. But the results of the engineering assessment were left out of its mealy-mouthed and inconclusive final report (pdf).

Now the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media obtained a copy of the 15 pages long OPCW Engineering assessment of two cylinders observed at the Douma incident - 27 February 2019 (pdf).

[UPDATE May 16]:

The OPCW confirmed to Peter Hitchens of Mail Online that the obtained Engineering assessment is genuine. It provided no additional information.

[End Update]

After testing various hypotheses through experiments, simulations and finite element analysis the engineering sub-group of the OPCW investigation concluded (emphasis added):

32. At this stage the FFM engineering sub-team cannot be certain that the cylinders at either location arrived there as a result of being dropped from an aircraft. The dimensions, characteristics and appearances of the cylinders and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder having been delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.

33. In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

The engineering assessment confirms our earlier conclusion. The whole scene as depicted by 'rebels' and propaganda organs was staged. The more than 34 dead on the scene were murdered elsewhere under unknown circumstances.

In its discussion of the OPCW engineering assessment and its suppression by the OPCW management, the Working Group states:

The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder.

Earlier coverage of the Douma incident published by Moon of Alabama:

April 8 - Syria - Timelines Of 'Gas Attacks' Follow A Similar Scheme (Update II)
April 9 - Syria - Any U.S. Strike Will Lead to Escalation
April 11 - Syria - A U.S. Attack Would Be Futile - But Serve A Purpose - by M. K. Bhadrakumar
April 11 - Trump Asks Russia To Roll Over - It Won't
April 12 - Syria - Threat Of Large War Recedes But May Come Back
April 13 - Syria - Manipulated Videos Fail To Launch World War III - Updated
April 14 - F.U.K.U.S. Strikes Syria - Who Won?
April 16 - Syria - Pentagon Hides Attack Failure - 70+ Cruise Missiles Shot Down
April 19 - Syria - Who Is Stalling The OPCW Investigation In Douma?
April 20 - Syria Sitrep - Cleanup Around Damascus - WMD Rumors Prepare For New U.S. Attack
July 6 - Syria - OPCW Issues First Report Of 'Chemical Weapon Attack' in Douma
July 7 - Syria - Mainstream Media Lie About Watchdog Report On The 'Chemical Attack' In Douma


Posted by b on May 13, 2019 at 07:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (92)

May 12, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-26

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

Turkey called on Russia to end the Syrian operation but to no avail. The Syrian Army continues to make some progress. This will be slow and long fight with many interruptions.

See also Whitney Webb: Another Whistleblower Bites the Dust as The Intercept Adds a Third Notch to Its Burn Belt

See also Gareth Porter: Bolton Is Spinning Israeli ‘Intelligence’ to Push for War Against Iran

Other issues:

On Friday the Marco Rubio clownish puppet in Venezuela called for more demonstrations:

Guaido called for a national demonstration on Saturday to reject measures taken by the Supreme Court against opposition lawmakers.
"We're not going to stop, we're going to stay in the streets. This is a process that will end with Venezuela's liberty."

On Saturday the Random Guyaidó spoke to demonstrators in Caracas. This was in the richer part of the city, the oppositions stronghold.

The AP's report first version:

A modest crowd of Venezuelans has taken to the streets to show support for the opposition-led congress which has come under increasing pressure from the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
Guaidó on Saturday addressed roughly 1,000 supporters gathered in Caracas, reflecting both fear and demoralization among supporters after the attempted military rebellion.

AP later published a revised version:

Meanwhile, noticeably diminished crowds at opposition protests reflected a growing fear and demoralization that has permeated Guaidó's ranks of supporters after he led a failed military uprising on April 30. In previous months, thousands of demonstrators heeded his calls to protest.

On Saturday, a modest crowd of several hundred Venezuelans gathered in the capital of Caracas.

Guaidó wants foreign military support:

He announced Saturday a forthcoming meeting with U.S. military officials and said that new actions taken by the opposition will seek to "achieve the necessary pressure" to put an end to the Bolivarian revolution launched 20 years ago by the late socialist President Hugo Chávez.

Guaidó has said that as Venezuela's rightful leader he reserves the right to invite foreign military actions in the same way independence hero Simon Bolivar hired 5,000 British mercenaries to liberate South America from Spain. He says any such help should be considered "cooperation," instead of intervention, something he has accused Maduro of allowing in the form of military and intelligence support from allies Cuba and Russia.


Pompous snowflakes:

Macron driven along the Champs Elysee in a large convoy, smiling and waving to the crowd lining the street. The crowd? (vid)

BBC - Andrew Neil and Ben Shapiro on abortion, Obama and Middle East (vid, start at ~10min); When diligently questioned, Shapiro gives up and ends the interview.

New Yorker - Michael Oren Cuts Short a Conversation About Israel;

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on May 12, 2019 at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (257)

May 11, 2019

Media Amplify Iran War Propaganda - Play Up Intelligence Lies

The Trump campaign launched a propaganda campaign to prepare the public for a war on Iran. The campaign is similar to the one the Bush administration ran in 2002 and 2003 preparation for the war on Iraq.

Anonymous officials make claims about alleged 'intelligence' that is said to show 'Iranian threats' against U.S. 'interests'. Iran, it is claimed, has this or that malign motive to do such. Routine military rotations to the Middle East are then declared to be 'in response' to the claimed 'threats'.

The media, either played like a fiddle by the administration or willing accomplices, repeat each and any such nugget thrown at them without any second thought. Anti-Iranian lobbyist are presented as 'experts' to reinforce the messaging.

Here are some examples of the above methods.

NBC News headlines:

Trump's top intelligence and military advisers held unusual meeting at CIA on Iran, officials say
Current and former officials said it is extremely rare for senior White House officials or Cabinet members to attend a meeting at CIA headquarters.

In a highly unusual move, national security adviser John Bolton convened a meeting at CIA headquarters last week with the Trump administration's top intelligence, diplomatic and military advisers to discuss Iran, according to six current U.S. officials.

The meeting was held at 7 a.m. on Monday, April 29, and included CIA Director Gina Haspel, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, five of the officials said.

National security meetings are typically held in the White House Situation Room. The six current officials, as well as multiple former officials, said it is extremely rare for senior White House officials or Cabinet members to attend a meeting at CIA headquarters.
The U.S. has a very specific intelligence gathering capability on Iran that is only able to be reviewed at CIA headquarters, two former officials said.

It is highly likely that the "very specific intelligence gathering capability on Iran", that can only be reviewed at the CIA headquarter is the same "very specific intelligence gathering capability on Iraq" that officials used in the run up to war on that country. In 2002 then Vice-President Dick Cheney visited the CIA several times to press its analysts to come up with intelligence that 'proved' that Iraq was doing something nefarious and had ill intentions.

Moon of Alabama consulted its own sources about the 'specific intelligence capabilities'. We are told that a very rare book, of which one copy is held in the CIA directors personal safe, constitutes those capabilities. Six officials confirmed the book's existence. Multiple former officials and a  military official said that the extremely rare book contains one thousand and one 'narratives' that constitute the raw intelligence from which the CIA analysts derive their conclusions. The specific capability can only be used at nighttime. No more than one narrative can be extracted per night. That raw data is then immediately processed as sunlight is said to delude its veracity. This might explain the early morning gathering mentioned in the NBC News report.

A former CIA analyst involved in the creation of intelligence on Iraq in 2002 revealed that one of the narratives in the book mentioned special metallic tubes, while another narrative told of a biological process carried out on the back of a carriage. The former CIA analyst said that many of the conclusion drawn from the book turned out to be correct, but that - unfortunately -  the conclusion drawn from those two narratives were later proven to be wrong.

The CIA's Iran operations are run by Mike D'Andrea, also known as the CIA's undertaker for his prominent role in so called 'signature strikes' and the CIA's torture program. He played a role in enabling the 9/11 incident:

He was one of the agency's officials who failed to keep track of Nawaf Al-Hamzi, one of the 9/11 hijackers, after he entered the United States. As The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote in her book The Dark Side, the CIA knew Al-Hamzi was in the United States. An FBI officer named Doug Miller who was attached to the agency's Osama bin Laden–tracking unit typed up a memo about Hamzi, hoping to share the tip with the FBI so they could locate the suspected terrorist. “But his boss, a CIA desk officer in the Bin Laden unit of the Counterterrorist Center who is identified by the 9/11 commission only as ‘Mike’ told Miller to hold off on sending the memo,” Mayer wrote. “After the second try, Miller dropped the matter.” Three hours after “Mike” gave that order, he inexplicably told his CIA superiors that the tip had, in fact, been passed to the FBI. “The CIA assumed from then on that it was,” adds Mayer. “But it wasn’t.”

One of the authors of the NBC News story is Ken Dilanian, the CIA's Mop-up man, known for letting the CIA edit his reports before they get published.

The U.S. public must surely trust these people and whatever nonsense they come up with.

Just like in 2002 it is the New York Times that plays a prominent role in the current propaganda campaign:

The Pentagon will deploy a Patriot antimissile battery to the Middle East to shore up defenses against Iranian threats, part of a series of carefully calibrated deployments intended to deter attacks by Iranian forces or their proxies, Pentagon officials said on Friday.
The new steps are meant to be measured and limited, in part because a new intelligence analysis by American and allied spy services has concluded that the Iranian government, declining in popularity amid economic woes, is trying to provoke the United States into a military overreaction to cement its hold on power, according to American and allied intelligence officials.

This obviously lacks logic. If Iran would really want to 'provoke the United States into a military overreaction', sending more military capabilities towards the Persian Gulf region would only show that the U.S. is falling for it.

The NYT also publishes a crude op-ed by Ariana Tabatabai, a so called 'political scientist' residing in a Pentagon stink tank:

Mr. Rouhani is sending Europe a clear signal: If Iran doesn’t get any benefits from its participation in the agreement, neither will Europe. That’s why he announced Iran will hold on to its excess enriched uranium and heavy water — both of which could potentially be used in building nuclear weapons — rather than sell them to other countries, as is required by the agreement. He is also giving the Europeans 60 days to take steps to help Iran’s economy, which has been crippled by the American sanctions. If he doesn’t get those things, he says, his country will take additional steps that violate the deal and eventually pull out altogether.

Iran announced that it will hold its 'excess' enriched Uranium and heavy water BECAUSE THE U.S. NOW SANCTIONS ANY EXPORT OF THESE PRODUCTS, not because Rouhani wants to 'send a signal'.

Nicholas Wadhams @nwadhams - 17:41 utc - 3 May 2019

The U.S. is revoking two sets of waivers that allowed Iran to ship excess heavy water to Oman and swap enriched uranium in exchange for yellowcake.

Nowhere are these specific sanctions mention in the 'expert' op-ed, nor are these mentions in the NYT's original reporting on Iran's recent steps. The NYT and other media systematically avoid to mention that these sanctions caused Iran's steps but then go on to construe and assign 'motives' to Iran for which have they have neither evidence nor a logical factual basis.

It is by the way impossible to use heavy water "in building nuclear weapons". Heavy water is a moderator in some nuclear reactor types. The central vessel of the only reactor of such type that Iran build but never operated was destroyed. To build a new one would take years. Iran continues to produce heavy water because it has the facilities to do so and because it is a valuable product. But such basic knowledge seems to be beyond the capabilities of the 'political scientist'.

The U.S. is rotating some of its military forces in the Middle East as it has done continuously since at least 2001. A recent carrier arrival in the region was announced in April. In September four Patriot batteries were pulled out of the Middle East, now one is send back. All together there are more than 50 Patriot batteries in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all own Patriot systems. One more or less in the region does not change a thing. These rotations are normal moves that occur regularly. Now the Trump administration is playing these up to propagandize an 'Iran threat' and the press is falling for it.

This BBC report is another example:

The US is sending a Patriot missile-defence system to the Middle East amid escalating tensions with Iran.

A warship, USS Arlington, with amphibious vehicles and aircraft on board, will also join the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group in the Gulf.
The Pentagon says US forces are responding to a possible threat to US forces, but did not offer any specifics regarding those threats.

The Pentagon simply lies as it often does and it should be the task of the media to point that out. If the Pentagon would send the USS Arlington "in response to a possible threat" why is it ordering the USS Fort McHenry landing dock ship to return from the region. Those two ships have similar technical functions and tactical tasks. They rotate through deployments in various areas on long determined schedules:

[T]he Arlington is being moved into the region in “a one-for-one swap” with a similar ship, the USS Fort McHenry, which is leaving, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

There simply is no basis for assigning any of those recent military moves to anything that Iran has said or done. The 'intelligence' the 'officials' present to reporters is obviously derived from mere fairy tales. The 'experts' have either no idea of what they are taking about or are willfully manipulating the public.

It is the job of the media to point that out. Instead it is amplifying the war propaganda the administration plays at it.

Posted by b on May 11, 2019 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (123)

May 10, 2019

Botched Post Days

Those days one spends hours on a post only to find that it is dull and lacks logic.

(No, I won't let you read it.)

Posted by b on May 10, 2019 at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (81)

May 09, 2019

Whom Not To Trust - U.S. Government Indicts Another Intercept Source

Another source that provided government secrets to The Intercept has been uncovered and indicted by the U.S. government.

The Intercept was created to privatize the National Security Agency documents leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The online magazine is financed by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of Ebay, who's is known for many shady connection to Obama administration and for promoting various regime change efforts.

In June 2017 we wrote about the first case in which an Intercept source got burned:

Yesterday The Intercept published a leaked five page NSA analysis about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Its reporting outed the leaker of the NSA documents. That person, R.L. Winner, has now been arrested and is likely to be jailed for years if not for the rest of her life.
FBI search (pdf) and arrest warrant (pdf) applications unveil irresponsible behavior by the Intercept's reporters and editors which neglected all operational security trade-craft that might have prevented the revealing of the source. It leaves one scratching one's head if this was intentional or just sheer incompetence. Either way - the incident confirms what skeptics had long determined: The Intercept is not a trustworthy outlet for leaking state secrets of public interests.

Our mistrust towards The Intercept get reinforced by the arrest of another of The Intercept's sources.

Today the Justice Department arrested and charged a former U.S. Airforce soldier, Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, Tennessee, who had worked at the National Security Agency (NSA), as an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan, and at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA). The Justice Department alleges that Hale leaked several secret and top secret powerpoint presentations and papers to an online outlet:

According to allegations in the indictment, beginning in April 2013, while enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and assigned to the NSA, Hale began communicating with a reporter. Hale met with the reporter in person on multiple occasions, and, at times, communicated with the reporter via an encrypted messaging platform. Then, in February 2014, while working as a cleared defense contractor at NGA, Hale printed six classified documents unrelated to his work at NGA and soon after exchanged a series of messages with the reporter. Each of the six documents printed were later published by the reporter’s news outlet.

According to allegations in the indictment, while employed as a cleared defense contractor for NGA, Hale printed from his Top Secret computer 36 documents, including 23 documents unrelated to his work at NGA. Of the 23 documents unrelated to his work at NGA, Hale provided at least 17 to the reporter and/or the reporter’s online news outlet, which published the documents in whole or in part. Eleven of the published documents were classified as Top Secret or Secret and marked as such.

The indictment (pdf), filed on March 7 under seal, includes a list of the meetings and communications that Hale had with the reporter. The first one took place during the reporter's book tour in April 2013 in Washington DC. During that time frame Jeremy Scahill, one of the Intercept's founding editors, was on a national book tour promoting his book about Blackwater. Several stories written by Scalhill based on secret documents were published in the time frames given in the indictment.

The Associated Press notes of the case:

Court papers do not identify by name the reporter who allegedly received the leaks, but details in the indictment make clear that Jeremy Scahill, a founding editor of The Intercept, is the reporter who received the leaks.

The indictment states that many of the classified documents were disclosed in an October 2015 news article.

On October 15, 2015, Scahill published an article on The Intercept titled "The Assassination Complex" that relies on "a cache of secret slides that provides a window into the inner workings of the U.S. military's kill/capture operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars."

There are more documents that Scahill published about that fit the time frame and the descriptions in the indictment.

In July 23 2014 The Intercept published Blacklisted - The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The piece was written by Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux.

In August 2014 The Intercept published the Watch Commander - Barack Obama’s Secret Terrorist-Tracking System, by the Numbers written by the same reporters:

Nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group, according to classified government documents obtained by The Intercept.

On April 17 2015 Scahill wrote a story about the use of a U.S. military base in Germany for drone strikes.

TOP-SECRET U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program.
The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.

All the above stories, and more, seem to fit to the descriptions in the indictment of the items Hale printed or copied while he worked for U.S. agencies.

The indictment says that documents Hale obtained and handed to a reporter were later published in a book by the same writer.

In 2016 Scahill coauthored the book The Assassination Complex : Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program

The indictment does not say how the government found out that Hale provided the documents to Scahill. But the two seem to have at times communicated openly via phone, email and through text messages. That should have been a no-no. The government recovered at least parts of those communications. Hale attended several of Scahill's book tour events. Beyond that Hale openly communicated with 'a confident' about his contacts with Scahill. Later Scahill and Hale used the encrypted chat tool Jabber. Hale also used Tails, a software package The Intercept recommends for leaking documents to it.

It is quite possible that the Justice Department will also file charges against Jeremy Scahill. The first contacts with Hale and the first leaks by Hale were in the first half of 2013, when Hale was still enlisted and worked at the NSA. In July Hale emailed a resume to Scahill which he wanted to use to find a job with a defense contractor who leases people with security clearances to other U.S. agencies. They seem to have discussed the resume by phone. Hale was later hired by such a contractor and worked at the NGIA. There he copied the secret and top secret documents and presentations that seem to be the objects of Scahill's later reporting.

That Scahill discussed Hale's resume with him could be construed as active help to gain access to secrets that would then be leaked to The Intercept. The U.S. currently seeks the extradition of Julian Assange from Britain under the allegation that Assange actively helped Chelsea Manning to escape scrutiny by using her access to secret documents under a different account than her own. Assange is the editor of Wikileaks.

While it is not known how the government found out that Hale leaked the documents in questions, its knowledge of phone and text contacts show that all open communication with any Intercept reporter will likely be intercepted by the relevant agencies.

It is laudable that Hale leaked the secret information about Obama's drone wars and assassination campaigns. It is laudable that The Intercept published those stories.

But that its founder made lots of money from government contracts while The Intercept reported on less than 5% of the Snowden papers and recently shut down access to the them leaves a very bad taste.

That R.L. Winner went to jail because an Intercept reporter, who was known to not be trustworthy, 'mishandled' the leak is terrible. That a second source is now under arrest after lengthy open communication with another Intercept writer only reinforces our recommendation:

Do not trust The Intercept.


Posted by b on May 9, 2019 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (95)

May 08, 2019

Will the U.S. And Israel Wage A "Summer War"?

J. Swift comments at the end of the Iran JCPOA thread (emphasis added):

After sleeping on all the increasingly shrill statements being issued by Bolton & friends designed to amp up pressure and generally beating the war drums against Iran, I woke up with a strange thought this morning. For some time there have been indications that Nuttyahoo is angling toward a summer attack on Lebanon/Hezbollah. The US has been seeing its own influence in Lebanon waning, and of course Bolton wants an excuse for a heavy but "limited" strike on Iran. I say "limited" because I'm sure the actual military planners have been pretty blunt about what an actual full blown war with Iran would look like, and it wouldn't be good. But just as with Venezuela, the neocons tend to believe their own propaganda, and believe that all of their enemies are at the tipping point because of all of their economic warfare, such that military strikes on critical civilian infrastructure is all it would take to induce the population to "throw off the yoke of oppression."

I understand the US already has a tripwire presence in Lebanon, and with all the odd, vague warnings about Iranian proxies and impending attacks, and rumblings of Israeli designs on Lebanon, and the "intel" being overtly Israeli supplied, what if it's all connected? What if the Israelis have convinced the US neocons that they are willing to "take out" Hezbollah, to secure themselves some of that peace and security, and all the US has to do is a lot of the dirty work (provide air support, etc.). Since Hezbollah is probably the most famous "Iranian proxy," the implied threat would be that if Hezbollah in any way tries to defend itself or especially strike back at Israel (which of course they will), Bolton will declare that Iran must be punished for its aggression against beloved Israel, and a massive air and missile strike will be unleashed on Iran, in hopes that it will then just roll over. If Iran tries to close the Straits, then Venezuela will be struck in like manner. Yes, I know it's all demented, but since that pretty much describes every US war plan for the last 20 years, it makes one wonder....

First: I am not aware of a U.S. "tripwire presence in Lebanon". There are, on and off, a few U.S. special forces training the Lebanese army but that is it.

There are indeed strong rumors of an attack on Lebanon during this summer. There have been discussions within Hizbullah about an expected summer war were leaked to Elijah Magnier and Abdel Bari Atwan. Hizbullah denied the reports but both are serious journalist with the necessary connections.

In his May 2 speech Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbullah leader, talked about a threat of war against Lebanon. According to him the threat of war was not communicated from Israel, but by the Trump administration:

US Diplomats pressuring Lebanese state to give part of our territorial waters to Israel for it's possible oil and gas resources, but we will not even give them a cup of water.
US Diplomats threaten Lebanese government with war against Israel if they do not get rid of Hezbollah's ballistic [missiles] capabilities.
Israeli strategists warn of deadly weak points in IDF, despite affirming it's strong points, And I warn them of Lebanon's deadly strong points, despite it's seeming weak points.
The Axis of Resistance, in spite of sanctions, is stronger than ever.
Everyone in Israel agrees that any future war with Lebanon must be brief, decisive, and ending with a clear Israeli Victory; but who can do that now? These days are gone.
Israel that fears war with blockaded and surrounded Gaza can never hope to set foot in Lebanon.
We promise all Israeli units thinking of crossing Lebanon that they will be destroyed and humiliated on Live TV.

Current U.S. relations with the government of Lebanon are bad. The U.S. would certainly give Israel a green light should it want to wage a war. It may even entice it to attack Lebanon. The purported aim of such a war would be to destroy Hizbullah's long range missiles. Another aim would be to bring the Lebanese government under control of a USrael friendly leadership.

Both aims are delusional.

Much of Israel's vulnerable economic points would be hit before even a small share of Hizbullah's missiles would be found and eliminated. The recent short war with Gaza has again shown that Israel is not willing to sustain much damage in a fight and tried to stop it as soon as possible.

Lebanon has been through a long civil war and found a modus of understanding that underwrites the current government. That can only be changed through another civil war which no one in Lebanon is willing to fight.

Hoping that a war on Lebanon would solve any of Israel's problems is unrealistic and can only be believed in Washington DC. Israel's Bibi Netanyahoo knows of the danger and he is not a risk taker. Moreover Hizbullah's retaliation capability is only one of many reasons why a war seems unlikely.

Then again - the Islamic Jihad, a group that fights next to Hamas in the Gaza Strip but is financed by Iran, also speaks of a summer war.

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 5:05 utc - 8 May 2019

#Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary general Ziyad al-Nakhla to @AlMayadeenNews : "I expect a large war this summer with #Israel".

The partners of the 'Axis of Resistance', Hizbullah in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Shia militia in Iraq, announced several times that they would support each other in a war against Israel. It is thus likely that any attack on Lebanon (or Syria, or Iran) would see a response from another country. Hassan Nasrallah, for example, is on the record that he would "do his duty" should Iran be attacked. Any war could thus escalate in unpredictable ways.

While some hawks in the U.S. would probably welcome such an escalation, neither Israel nor its silent allies in Saudi Arabia and UAE would escape from receiving significant damage. They know this and will act accordingly.

The most important reason why a summer war is unlikely is Donald Trump. He wants to win a reelection. A months long, unpredictable war that might cause serious damage to Israel and other U.S. allies in the region could be catastrophic for him.

Some of his advisors, most obviously John 'Stache' Bolton, but others too, may well try to instigate a war. But the ultimate 'decider' is Donald Trump and I, for now, see no reason for him to wage one.

Posted by b on May 8, 2019 at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (130)

May 06, 2019

How The U.S. Is Pressing Iran To Breach The Nuclear Deal

363 days ago the U.S. left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 'nuclear deal' with Iran, and reintroduced sanctions against trade with Iran.

When the U.S. reintroduced sanctions on Iran it provided sanction 'wavers' for some customers of Iranian oil. Two weeks ago the extremists in the Trump administration won out and the those waivers were eliminated. Some of Iran's customers, Iraq, Turkey and China, will continue to buy Iranian oil and will face U.S. sanctions.

The declared aim of the Trump administration's 'maximum pressure campaign' is to bring all trade with Iran to zero and the country to its knees.

On Wednesday May 8, one years after the U.S. breached the deal, it will announce additional sanctions against the country:

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that new sanctions would target petrochemical sales. I'm told the administration will likely impose those sanctions soon, but the new sanctions planned for this week will target a different sector of the Iranian economy.

The only European response to the new announcements was a lame statement. The EU should fight for the JCPOA deal as it is in its interest. But instead it is slow-walking its badly designed INSTEX mechanism that would allow for only very limited sanction free trade with Iran.

Iran will use the anniversary of the U.S. breach of the deal to announce that it will no longer stick to some of the restrictions of the JCPOA.

The U.S. is not only sanctioning Iranian trade that was promised to be opened under the JCPOA deal, it is also trying to eliminate all other beneficial elements of the deal.

The Trump administration wants to force Iran to come into breach of the deal to then use that as an excuse for further action against the country.

The U.S. provided waivers for several nuclear trades that were part of the JCPOA deal. Some of these were now eliminated, others were put under time restrictions.

Iran is allowed to enrich Uranium under the deal, but it is not allowed to hold large amounts of ready enriched Uranium. Enriched Uranium is valuable and Iran found a customer who bought it. Iran also produces heavy water, needed to cool some types of reactors, and exports it. These trades were previously provided with waivers. The Trump administration did not renew those wavers and the export of those products will end. Iran will have to either stop all enrichment and heavy water production or it will have to store what it produces and thereby come into breach of the JCPOA agreement.

Another nuclear trade was about the revamping of the Arak heavy water reactor. Running that reactor in its original form would have produced some plutonium as a byproduct. After the JCPOA agreement Iran contracted a Russian company to convert the Arak reactor into a type that could produce isotopes for medical purposes. The U.S. waiver for that deal has now been time restricted to 90 days. The Russian company is now under a 90 day threat of U.S. sanctions for a project that takes years of design and construction.

Iran is starting to counter the U.S. moves. On Wednesday the Iranian president Rouhani will announce that Iran will take measures based on paragraphs 26 and 37 of the nuclear deal (pdf). Paragraph 26 says that the the EU and the U.S. will lift all nuclear related sanctions and will refrain from re-introducing any. It continues:

Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions specified in Annex II, or such an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.

Paragraph 37 is part of the "Dispute Resolution Mechanism" which ends with an involvement of the UN Security Council where the U.S. can block the process. It therefore includes at its end:

Iran has stated that if sanctions are reinstated in whole or in part, Iran will treat that as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.

Iran will use these clauses to 'breach' some of the provisions of the deal while keeping the deal intact. It will continue to allow the IAEA free access to all elements of its nuclear facilities. Iran will not cease enrichment. It will begin to store enriched uranium above the level that is above the one allowed under an intact JCPOA. The same will  apply to the heavy water Iran produces. It will probably also announce the construction of a new self developed reactor that is designed to produce radioactive isotopes for medical purposes.

The EU, Russia and China have been unofficially informed about the steps Iran is going to take. Tomorrow there will be expert level talks over JCPOA between Iran, Germany, UK, France, Russia and China in Brussels.

That Iran is forced to temporarily accumulate products above the level allowed in the deal is solely caused by the U.S. breach of that deal, i.e. its new sanctions. It is unlikely that the other JCPOA signers will regard Iran's as being in breach of the JCPOA. The U.S. will of course scream bloody murder and will continue to do what it would have done anyway - ratchet the tensions further up

Yesterday National Security Advisor John 'Stache' Bolton announced that an aircraft carrier and U.S. long range bombers would be send to Gulf to counter and imminent threat from Iran. That was empty bluster.

Micah Zenko @MicahZenko - 1:07 utc - 6 May 2019

Bolton framing a routine deployment of the Lincoln to CENTCOM AOR as an attempt to frighten Iran is an especially weak and hollow threat.

The carrier deployment to the Gulf is routine. It had been announced on April 8. The U.S. has bombers on rotation in the Middle East since 2001. Moreover - a carrier in the Persian Gulf is a sure sign that the U.S. will not attack Iran. Within the restricted waters of the Persian Gulf a carrier is a too easy target.

The idea though may be to provide for an 'accident' as Iran's Foreign Minister described it in a recent CBS interview:

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I don't think military confrontation will happen. I think people have more prudence than allowing a military confrontation to happen. But, I think the U.S. administration is putting things in place for accidents to happen. And there has to be extreme vigilance, so that people who are planning this type of accident would not have their way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean? What kind of accident are you talking about?

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I'm talking about people who have- who are designing confrontation, whose interest--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who's doing that?


MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean 'B' team?

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I call the group 'B' team who have always tried to create tension, whose continued existence depends on tension. Ambassador Bolton, one 'B,' Bibi Netanyahu, second 'B,' Bin Zayed, third 'B,' Bin Salman, fourth 'B.' And I'm not just making accusations. ...

The Trump administration is hoping that its new sanctions will not raise the oil price. That is unlikely to hold as the oil market is stretched:

Trying to take out Venezuela and Iran simultaneously tightens the oil market. Additional upsets in Libya or a less expected area such as Algeria or Nigeria could exceed available spare capacity. The US production will expand with higher prices but cannot switch on and off at command like a true strategic producer.

Its predominantly very light crude is not a good replacement for diesel-rich medium-heavy barrels, like those from these two countries. This issue may become more acute at the end of this year when as much as 1 million barrels of diesel may be required worldwide to meet new shipping fuel regulations.

The lighter U.S. and Arab variants of oil can not replace the heavy types. One can crack the long hydrocarbon chains of heavy oil into lighter types but one can not easily make long chains from short ones.

Rising oil prices may be the only factor that could press Trump to change his confrontational strategy towards Iran. But the big danger now is that the extremists in his administration will ratchet up the various conflicts in the Middle East until they explode and make it impossible to change course.

They are only waiting for the 'accidents' to happen.

Posted by b on May 6, 2019 at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (170)

Syria - Russian And Syrian Airforce Prepare The Ground For An Attack On Idlib Province

Throughout the last months the military situation in west Syria was more or less stable. That is about to change.

While this map is from August 2018 it is still mostly accurate. Idleb province, and parts of north Hama, are under control of 'rebel' forces led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Al-Qaeda aligned terrorist group.


A September 2018 agreement between Russia and Turkey stipulated that Turkey would bring the 'rebels' in Idleb under control. A 20 kilometer wide demilitarized zone was to be established along the demarcation line. All heavy weapons were to be removed from the zone. The M4 and M5 highways were to be opened for traffic.

None of it happened. Turkey established observation post along the demarcation line but these had no effect. Instead HTS assimilated more and more of the 'Free Syrian Army' groups that Turkey supported. The organization acquired new arms and equipment and intensified its training.

During the last months they became more active. Mortar and missiles were fired into Aleppo city. Command units crossed the demarcation line, attacked Syrian army guard posts and caused a number of casualties. Drones were flown from Idleb against the Russian base at Hmeimim. Missile volleys were launched against the base.

The Syrian government long demanded to finally attack in Idleb, but Russia held it back. There was a risk that Turkey would use an attack on Idleb to switch back to the U.S. side. That risk is now much lower as the U.S. became more hostile to its NATO ally.

Two weeks ago, after HTS shot the latest missile volley at Hmeimim, Russian jets started to pound HTS positions in Idleb governorate with hundreds of bomb attacks. Additionally Russian intelligence reported that HTS was preparing to launch a large attack against Hama city further south. Russia flew in new fighter jets and bombers to up its engagement capabilities. The Syrian air force and its artillery also chimed in. It soon became obvious that these attacks were not just revenge acts but the preparations for a larger campaign.

Turkey recognized that it can no longer do anything to prevent an attack on Idleb. In a Hail Mary move it tried to at least fulfill one of its old aims: to capture the town Tal Rifaat and Menagh Air Base north of Aleppo. These are in the Kurdish area (yell0w) at the top of the map. But the defenders were prepared. When Turkish aligned 'rebels' under the command of Turkish officers attacked their positions they retreated. The Turks advanced and suddenly found themselves in a minefield and under artillery attack. They had been trapped. After several were killed and wounded the Turkish forces had to retreat and the Syrian army and the Kurdish units could retake their old positions. In parallel Syrian artillery fired on one of the Turkish outposts in Idleb governorate. Four Turkish soldiers were wounded and evacuated.

Today the Syrian army launched an attack in the south of the pocket and captured several 'rebel' positions. There are signs that another attack will soon start west of Aleppo to remove any threats to the city. Another attack axis is likely to be formed on the western side of the pocket with the aim of pushing the terrorist further away from Hmeimim.

These attacks are not (yet) the big campaign to liberate all of Idleb governorate. It seems more likely that this will be done piecemeal with one bite at a time followed by a pause. One intermediate aim is to regain full control over the M5 and M4 highways in Idelb governorate. That would allow for direct traffic between Latakia to Aleppo and from Hama to Aleppo and could help to revive the devastated economy.


Is the U.S. will do anything to stop the Syrian operations. That now seems unlikely:

"Idlib is essentially the largest collection of al-Qaida affiliates in the world right now," Michael Mulroy, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said this week during remarks at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

"We have very limited insights as to what's going on," he added.

That this is (again) publicly recognized, likely  means that Syria is now allowed to clean up the mess. Back in 2017 and 2018, when Syria was ready to retake Idleb, the U.S. threatened to stop any attack. At that time it still cared for its ally Turkey which would be swamped with new refugee wave should the HTS terrorists and their families have to retreat from Idelb. The U.S. no longer cares about Turkey. Any new difficulty for the wannabe Sultan Erdogan will likely be welcome.

The terrorist haven in Idelb is only one of the many problems Syria still has to cope with.

The worst is currently a shortage of gasoline as U.S. sanctions block Iranian oil deliveries to Syria. Iranian tankers with the destination of Syria are held up at the Suez canal. Requesting gasoline from Russia would have a political price that Syria seems not ready to pay. The Syrian oilfields, which could produce enough to keep the country running, are under control of the U.S. proxy forces. The U.S. prohibited to sell that oil to the Syrian government.

Posted by b on May 6, 2019 at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (63)

May 05, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-25

In today's WaPo: Guaidó says opposition overestimated military support for uprising No kidding!

Caitlin Johnstone - Venezuela: Establishment Talking Points Translation Key

Other stuff:

Tim Shorrock on the North Korean embassy raid:

Did the CIA Orchestrate an Attack on the North Korean Embassy in Spain? - The Nation

A mostly good roundup on the 737 MAX by The VergeRedline - The many human errors that brought down the Boeing 737 MAX. But is this really a 'human error'?

The episode underscores what The Seattle Times found after a review of documents and interviews with more than a dozen current and former Boeing engineers who have been involved in airplane certification in recent years, including on the 737 MAX: Many engineers, employed by Boeing while officially designated to be the FAA’s eyes and ears, faced heavy pressure from Boeing managers to limit safety analysis and testing so the company could meet its schedule and keep down costs.

That pressure increased when the FAA stopped dealing directly with those designated employees — called “Authorized Representatives” or ARs — and let Boeing managers determine what was presented to the regulatory agency.

Who could have known? Capt. Sullenberger: "in this ultra-cost-competitive global aviation industry, when it comes to costs, nothing is more costly than an accident. Nothing."

Bloomberg has a rage against Chinese made computer equipment. A 2018 story, The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies, was denied by everyone involved, including Apple and Amazon who use the Chinese made computers. Recently Bloomberg made claims about a "backdoor" in Huawei equipment: The West Finally Has Its Huawei Smoking Gun. The "backdoor" turned out to be a diagnostics Telnet port on the non-public (LAN) side of some 3G access equipment. A non-issue that was found and fixed in 2011/2012. The always snarky Register responds: Sinister secret backdoor found in networking gear perfect for government espionage: The Chinese are – oh no, wait, it's Cisco again - Better ban this gear from non-US core networks, right?

NASA did not renew its contract for rides on the Russian Soyuz missiles to the International Space Station:  Russia to End U.S. Space Station Rides in April, Pressuring NASA. It was not concerned as SpaceX and Boeing were under contract to build new vehicles to transport U.S. astronauts. But now both projects are late and SpaceX just destroyed its crew capsule during a ground test. That will cause more delays. Will the 50% U.S. made space stations no longer have U.S. astronauts?


“The younger generation now tells me how tough things are, give me a break ... I have no empathy” - Joe Biden (video)

Excellent campaign slogan Joe. Excellent:


Use as open thread ...


Posted by b on May 5, 2019 at 01:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (106)

Israel Again Bombs Gaza - But Is It "In Response"?

Since Friday noon a fire exchange between besieged Palestinians in the Gaza strip and Israel escalated into heavy bombing and missile fire.

The reporting thereof in U.S. media again proves that these are unable to fairly cover on the conflict.

Jeff Bezos' blog headlines:

More than 200 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza; Israel responds, killing 3

The first graph:

Militants in Gaza fired more than 250 rockets into southern Israel on Saturday, and Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire, ending weeks of relative calm and threatening efforts to forge a long-term truce.

Most readers do not read further than the headline and maybe the first paragraph. Their impression will understandably be that "militants in Gaza" started the fight and that the Zionists "responded". But that is far from the truth.

One has to read down to the fifteenth paragraph to learn that those 'facts' are probably false:

The Israeli military reported on Friday that two soldiers were lightly wounded in a shooting incident along its border with Gaza. In response, Israel struck sites belonging to the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, killing two fighters.

Also on Friday, two Palestinian protesters were killed taking part in ongoing weekly demonstrations at the border fence with Israel, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Note the sequencing. The exchange is again described as a "response" by Israel. The two murdered demonstrators, who were unarmed and posed no threat to Israel, are mentioned as an aside.

But is was their murder, by Israeli snipers, that actually started the escalating violence:

“It’s a reply to the Israeli targeting of peaceful civilians yesterday by Israeli snipers during the 58th Friday of Great March of Return,” said Basem Naim, a member of Hamas’s bureau for international relations, referring to the weekly protests staged in Gaza since last year. “Also, to the procrastination policies of the occupation toward lifting the siege on Gaza.”

A second story at Bezos' blog, filed later, follows the same scheme though its first paragraph is slightly more neutral. It is headlined:

Death toll rises as Gaza militants fire more than 400 rockets into Israel and Israel responds with airstrikes

An escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza over the weekend also brought with it a growing death toll Sunday, with reports that six Palestinians, including a pregnant mother and a baby, had been killed by Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian enclave and one Israeli man killed as more than 450 rockets and projectiles were fired into southern Israel from Gaza.

In the following paragraphs there are eight statements attributed to the Israeli side and one from Palestinians. The Friday murder of two Palestinian civilians is only mentioned in paragraph sixteen.

The New York Times is equally partisan with the headline also falsely claiming that Israeli "responds":

Gaza Militants Fire 250 Rockets, and Israel Responds With Airstrikes

Palestinian militants launched about 250 rockets and mortars into southern Israel from Gaza on Saturday, and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes and tank fire against targets across the Palestinian territory, as tensions along the volatile border boiled over and a fragile cease-fire faltered again.

The piece also gives ample room to Israeli military claims. The murder of the two Palestinians on Friday, the immediate cause of the exchange, is mentioned as an aside in the fifteenth paragraph:

Saturday’s escalation in violence came a day after two Israeli soldiers were wounded by a Gaza sniper and four Palestinians were killed. Two were shot by Israeli forces during Friday’s weekly protest along the fence dividing the Palestinian coastal territory from Israel, according to Gaza health officials.

This fake reporting saying that Israel "responds" is nothing new. As Louis Allday wrote in 2011:

If one consults only mainstream media for information on the conflict in Palestine, what is immediately striking is that Israel appears to be in a permanent state of “retaliation” — a phrase which immediately confers at least a modicum of legitimacy or justification upon the act to which it refers. Israel is never presented as the aggressor and however much its actions are condemned — which they are by some mainstream sources — they are invariably portrayed as a reaction to some form of provocation. Conversely, missiles launched from the Gaza Strip or southern Lebanon are habitually portrayed as “attacks” — never “retaliations,” even if Israel has launched a devastating missile strike immediately prior to the event — as so often is the case.
The public is subliminally conditioned to understand that Israel is a permanent victim that on occasion is forced to lash out in response to the ostensibly irrational and unruly aggression of illegitimate non-state actors that encircle it.

This warped and cursory reporting by U.S. media of the conflicts launched by Israel is contrasted by reporting in Israeli itself. This Haaretz writeup of this weekend's escalation, while also partisan, is way more informative than any reporting from the U.S. side. It explains the political background of the struggle:

Hamas Twists Israel's Arm Right Before the Eurovision and Independence Day
Killing of Hamas operatives, delay in Qatari money transfer spurred a significant escalation

The escalation between Israel and the Gaza factions over the weekend – more than 400 rockets fired at Israel, a broad bombing of Gaza by the air force, seven Palestinians killed and six Israelis wounded – reflects an attempt by Hamas to address its economic woes by putting military pressure on Israel at a sensitive time.
To understand what’s happening, it’s crucial to revisit events from before the April 9 election. In recent months, Egyptian intelligence officials have been mediating between Israel and Hamas in an attempt to reach long-term agreements. The Palestinians would put a complete stop to airborne firebombs and rockets, while Israel would ease movement through border crossings, allow large sums of Qatari money into the Gaza Strip and take steps to accommodate large-scale, internationally-financed projects in Gaza to improve the crumbling infrastructure. At a later stage, talks over a prisoner swap would be renewed.

Ahead of the election, and in light of the promises by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in the hopes of avoiding a conflict as Israelis voted, Hamas held its fire. But the payoff didn’t arrive at a pace that satisfied the Palestinians. Israel wasn’t quick to meet its commitments. The concessions at the border crossings were anything but swift, the number of trucks bringing goods into Gaza every day was modest, and efforts to increase the electricity supply hadn’t yet begun.

An unfortunately paywalled Haaretz opinion piece draws the correct historic comparison: The Gaza Ghetto Uprising

In this case it is undoubtedly the Palestinian side that is responding to Israeli violence. But even if Palestinians would fire missiles without an immediate cause it would be within the full rights of the Palestinian people. In its 1982 Resolution 37/43 the General Assembly of the United Nations reaffirmed:

the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle;

The UN GA resolution is standing international law. The Palestinian people have the right to resist against the occupation force.

In practice as well as legally Israel is a colonial entity that occupies Palestinian land, especially in Gaza and the West Bank. Any armed struggle by Palestinians against the occupation, provoked or not, is thus morally and legally justified.

But do not expect that any 'western' mainstream media will ever point that out.

Posted by b on May 5, 2019 at 08:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (80)

May 03, 2019

Venezuela - Forensics Of A Clownish Coup - (Updated)

Tuesdays clownish coup attempt in Venezuela failed. The Trump administration got snookered. It will have to either change its tactic or leave the issue alone. National Security Advisor John Bolton is pressing for a war on Venezuela.

While the Pentagon and the countries neighboring Venezuela are against the use of military force, it is Bolton who has President Trump's ear. The planning for a war seems to progress fast.

Lucas Tomlinson @LucasFoxNews - 00:18 utc- 3 May 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton just left Pentagon following meeting with acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan in secure conference room known as ‘The Tank’ to discuss military options for Venezuela, per senior defense official

A similar meeting took place on Wednesday May 1 in the White House.

The head of U.S. Southern Command admits that plans are ready but plays down the chance for a war:

Admiral Craig Faller insisted that the U.S. wanted a peaceful transfer of power but declared that his Southern Command was ready for any scenario. He said his military staff had made 'Day Now' plans to prepare for an immediate change of power as opposition leader Juan Guaido tries to topple Maduro.

'We call it Day Now because there is going to be a day when the legitimate government takes over, and it's going to come when we least expect it - and it could be right now,' Faller said. But Faller, the head of the Southern Command in Latin America, insisted: 'Our leadership's been clear: It has to be, should be, primarily a democratic transition.'

UPDATE (May 5):

In a very unusual move U.S. Southern Command put out a press statement about the Pentagon meeting:

Yesterday the commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) was asked by Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick M. Shanahan, to remain in Washington D.C. to provide a current assessment on the situation in Venezuela and the status on planning for military options
U.S. Southern Command stands with the people of Venezuela who are suffering at the hand of the illegitimate Maduro regime and remains prepared to support all options, when requested by senior leadership.

That U.S. Southcom was told to release this, lets me believe that it is part of scare tactic, not of serious war planning. Then again - the last sentence is somewhat confusing. Which "senior leadership" is meant here. The U.S. one or the wannabe leaders Guaidó/López? As Guaidó is recognized as 'interim President' by the U.S. could he ask the U.S. military to help him to 'restore democracy', i.e. request an invasion? Would that be a way for Trump to avoid a Congress vote?

Politico seems to confirm that the current talk of military planning is a head fake:

Two U.S. officials told POLITICO these actions are designed more to rattle Maduro — and Venezuelan military leaders who have been a key source of support for him — than to foreshadow an American military effort in Venezuela.

One can not "rattle Maduro" by tough talk. He hails from a tough neighborhood and has a working class and trade union background. Even the threat of an aircraft carrier offshore of Caracas, as the insane Senator Lindsay Graham demands, would not rattle him.

But even if the current tough talk and military planning is just for show, what happens when the White House recognizes that it does not have any effect? What will be the the next step after that?

End Update

Venezuela is not an easy target. Colonel (ret.) Larry Wilkerson, the former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, writes:

I know the Venezuelan military; I’ve trained some of them.
The majority of them, if the U.S. military arrives in Venezuela, will take to the hills – very formidable hills, with jungle-like backdrops – and they will harass, kill, take prisoner from time to time, and generally hold out forever or until the “gringos” leave. We might remember how the North Vietnamese and the Taliban accomplished this; well, so will the Venezuelans.

The opposition is wary of a U.S. intervention:

Many believe U.S. troops could ignite internal conflicts within the military, irregular forces linked to Maduro and criminal cartels. Intervention would also undermine Guaidó’s claim to be a grass roots Venezuelan leader by seeming to confirm that he’s exactly what Maduro has claimed: A puppet of the United States.

A U.S. military intervention would “bring more problems than solutions,” said Carlos Valero, a Guaidó supporter in the National Assembly.
Political analyst Felix Seijas, director of the Delphos polling agency in Caracas, says fewer than a fifth of the Venezuelans he has surveyed this year support a military intervention. The numbers have gone up only slightly since the beginning of the year.

There were more warnings from Russia during a Trump-Putin phone call today:

While exchanging views on the situation around Venezuela, the President of Russia underscored that only the Venezuelans themselves have the right to determine the future of their country, whereas outside interference in the country’s internal affairs and attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.

The planning and decision making for the next phase of the U.S. attack on Venezuela will take time.

Meanwhile we can continue to analyze why the U.S. coup plan failed so devastatingly.

To arrange for the coup attempt the administration and its Venezuelan proxies, Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López, talked with many senior Venezuelan officials and officers. They made offers and threats and tried to arrange deals. There was even a written 15 point paper. Most the officials and officers seem to have agreed to cooperate, only to turn around to inform their higher ups.

By talking to so many people the coup plotters made way too much noise. The Venezuelan government seems to have been well informed about the whole plot. It likely was convinced that a coup would fail and let it run its course to embarrass the people behind it. Allowing the coup attempt to happen would also reveal turncoats and spies within the government structures.

Of the many people the coup plotters thought they had convinced to come to their side only one man followed through. It was Manuel Christopher Figuera, the director of the national intelligence service SEBIN, who ordered the release of opposition leader Leopoldo López who was under guard of SEBIN agents.

From a new forensic piece by Bloomberg:

The Trump administration and Guaido’s team are still trying to figure out what went wrong.
Lopez’s clandestine release from house arrest by the feared Sebin intelligence agency was but one step in a complex transition negotiated with top aides to Maduro, not all of whom were speaking to one another, according to people in Washington and Caracas familiar with the negotiations and who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

And within hours, the deal between the opposition and the Maduro camp was dead. Lopez ultimately sought refuge in the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas, emerging briefly Thursday to talk to reporters. U.S. officials expressed fury at the Venezuelans close to Maduro who they believe double-crossed them.

Those singled out by National Security Adviser John Bolton -- the defense minister, the supreme court president and the head of the presidential guard -- were central players in a large cast discussing how to abandon Maduro and recognize Guaido as the interim president, according to the people familiar with the negotiations.

Lopez was released because the Sebin intelligence chief, General Manuel Christopher Figuera, was fully on board, the people said. As part of the arrangement, Figuera’s wife flew to safety in the U.S. on Sunday. On Tuesday night, after Figuera released a letter explaining his decision, Maduro replaced him as intelligence chief. Figuera has left Venezuela, according to two opposition officials, though they said they don’t where he has gone.

It was also Figuera, the head of SEBIN, who arranged for additional soldiers to augment the 25 or so mercenaries Guaidó had at hand:

Some of Guaidó’s soldiers took the first opportunity to defect, claiming they had been tricked. One of them explained how officers had given them weapons at the Helicoide, the SEBIN headquarters, and told they were going to put down a mass jailbreak.

The Jim Dore Show has video of the soldier explaining how he and his comrades were tricked.

Figuera might also be the source for a "secret dossier" that was peddled to the New York Times. It claims without evidence that Tareck El Aissami, a former vice-president and now industry minister of Venezuela, arranged passports for the Lebanese Hizbullah and was involved in drug dealing. Tareck El Aissami is of Syrian descent:

The dossier, provided to The New York Times by a former top Venezuelan intelligence official and confirmed independently by a second one, recounts testimony from informants accusing Mr. El Aissami and his father of recruiting Hezbollah members to help expand spying and drug trafficking networks in the region.

The quality of the dossier is likely as good as the one the former MI6 agent Christopher Steele created about Donald Trump.

Back to the Bloomberg piece:

Many of us thought, as the weeks went by, that it was astonishing Maduro hadn’t discovered it already but that may be because so many on the inside wanted it to succeed,” one person familiar with the matter said. “They believe Maduro began to get an understanding of what was happening on the 29th and they had to move on the 30th or it would all collapse.”
Other speculation falls on Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez who, according to one person close to the situation, was engaged in the negotiations while informing Maduro and his Russian and Cuban allies of the talks. The defense minister was with Maduro when the president gave a speech at the military academy in Caracas Thursday.
But it may be that many more balked. There was confusion over who would make the first move, according to a person close to the situation. It could be that there were so many participants that one hand often didn’t know what the other was doing.
Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special envoy for Venezuela, told a Venezuelan television station Wednesday that “a majority of the high command were talking with the Supreme Court and Juan Guaido about a change in government with the departure of Maduro and with guarantees for the military.”

He said the negotiations had created a 15-point document that included a “dignified exit” for Maduro and recognition by the high court of Guaido as interim president with elections within a year. It had been widely assumed that Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor of a wealthy district in Caracas, would be a leading candidate.

The whole arrangement sounds extremely amateurish. Why talk to so many people? Why not concentrate on the few that really matter? Why not get some guarantees from them? The SEBIN chief who supported the coup had no other choice left as his wife was already in the U.S. and could have been used as hostage. Why were there not similar arrangements for other officials?

Back in March the U.S. withdrew all its staff from its embassy in Caracas. That must have weakened the CIA's capabilities on the ground. It also seems that much of the coordination was done by Elliot Abrams and others in the White House. They were obviously guided by wishful thinking and not by a realistic analysis of Venezuela and of the people leading it.

To believe that a Leopoldo López could win in fair presidential elections in Venezuela is pretty absurd. He has treid to overthrow the government six times. He led the brutal protests in 2014 and is known as an ruthless rightwing operator. His party, Voluntad Popular, describes itself as progressive social-democratic but is at best hard right if not fascists. It holds only 14 of the 163 seats in the National Assembly.

López is for now out of jail but isolated:

On Thursday, a Caracas court issued a warrant for Lopez, revoking his house arrest and ordering him to spend the remaining eight years of his 13-year sentence in Ramo Verde military prison; he was convicted of charges including arson and instigating violence after spearheading anti-government protests. The Spanish foreign ministry said on its website that Lopez would “under no circumstances” be handed over to Venezuelan authorities.

López can stay in the embassy. But as long as he is there Spain will not allow him a political role:

Spain will not permit its embassy to be converted in to a center of political activity by Mr Lopez, or anyone else,” [Spain's acting Foreign Minister Josep] Borrell said on the sidelines of a conference in Beirut.
“Lopez has not asked for political asylum because, according to our legislation, for that you must request it while on Spanish territory,” Borrell said adding that while he was at the embassy, there would be a limit to his political activity.

The delusion of the coup plotters in the White House can be seen in their newest spin:

The U.S. is pointing to the breadth of the failed plot as evidence that, no matter how badly it went, Maduro’s days are numbered with the country having plunged into dysfunction and the economy in a shambles. “This was just the tip of the iceberg,” said a senior administration official who asked not to be named. Many close to Maduro were in on the endgame, the official said, and their eagerness to send him packing shows how isolated he is.

The logic makes little sense: "Many people told us they would take our side but stood with Maduro. That shows us that Maduro has lost them and that we will win."

Unfortunately U.S. mainstream media deliver similar stupid analysis:

Talks between opposition leaders and senior Maduro officials that have come to light this week suggest deception in [Maduro's] inner circle. And despite Guaidó’s actions, neither prosecutors nor the pro-Maduro Supreme Court have issued an arrest warrant for him — a sign, his allies say, of just how weak Maduro is.

There was a lot of deception within Maduro's inner circle. But it was the opposition and its backers who were deceived, not Nicolas Maduro.

Putting Guaidó into jail would only make him a martyr. The U.S. would use it to for further bashing. Guaidó running continues to turn himself into a clown.

An energy-balance bracelet wearing model doing soft-erotic photo shootings for GQ (vid) will hardly be taken seriously when it calls for a general strike.

Posted by b on May 3, 2019 at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (274)

May 02, 2019

Venezuela - Coup Failure Necessitates A New Policy - Bolton The Stache Is Pushing For War

After the failed coup attempt in Venezuela at least some people recognize the reality that its government has significant support. The coups failure necessitates a new policy. Unfortunately John Bolton is the man in charge of it. He is likely to push for a war.

U.S. media, especially cable TV, is clearly working in favor of 'regime change' in Venezuela. They even avoid to call the intended coup a coup.

Many U.S. journalist who regularly write on South America are extremely biased and have no qualms to lie. Consider this by Anthony Faiola and Mariana Zuñiga in today's Washington Post:

A pro-government rally on Wednesday next to Miraflores, the presidential palace, drew about 500 people, far fewer than the multiple rallies of thousands of people supporting Guaidó.


Now watch this drone clip of the described rally.


One can also compare the WaPo take to the (similar biased) NYT account which at least gets some facts straight:

Across town in central Caracas, thousands of Mr. Maduro’s supporters dressed in red marched along the main highway toward the presidential palace. Most appeared to be retirees or public sector workers. Many were brought in from across the country by public buses that stretched for miles on the side of the highway.

It was one of the biggest pro-government demonstrations in Caracas in months, underlining the government’s desire to portray strength and tenacity after the failed uprising.

To get a good picture of the situation in Venezuela and the upcoming new policies one has to combine many sources. Some media and reporters are simply much better than others. A few point how embarrassingly Tuesday's coup attempt and the crazy White House plans failed. 

Bloomberg writes:

It was a ploy that from its outset felt like a long shot. Before dawn Tuesday, Juan Guaido, flanked by his political mentor Leopoldo Lopez and a handful of soldiers who had broken ranks, issued a message to Venezuela and the world: The time to topple Nicolas Maduro’s authoritarian regime was right now.
The whole episode was so bizarre -- with Guaido seemingly lacking the military might to have any chance at all -- that it was hard to understand the day’s events.

The Associated Press' Matt Lee and Ben Fox have a similar fair take:

For the third time this year, the big moment in Venezuela has turned into a bust.

Trump administration officials had expected that Wednesday might turn out to be the beginning of the end for President Nicolas Maduro with senior government figures withdrawing support and the opposition launching a mass uprising with military backing.

Or at least that’s what the administration had been led to believe.

But the promised defections didn’t happen, the military uprising never materialized and Maduro still appeared to be firmly in command of the South American nation. Trump officials were back to complaining about the support Venezuela receives from Cuba and Russia while issuing vague warnings of military action.

The Trump administration and its Venezuelan puppets clearly got snookered by the Maduro government. Senior Venezuelan officials pretended they were ready to hand over power to Guaidó to push him towards some embarrassing action. The Trump gang fell for it (Spanish, machine translation) and the Venezuelan officials surely had a good laugh:

Chavez senior officials negotiating with the opposition the departure of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, have "turned off their cell phones" and do not respond, revealed in an interview with Efe the US envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams.

"I've found that many of them have turned off their cell phones," Abrams acknowledged.

The larger Latin America strategy behind the 'regime change' attempt in Venezuela necessitates an escalation:

The removal of Maduro was supposed to be the precursor of a domino effect that would later tumble the dictatorships in Cuba and Nicaragua.

Current and former officials acknowledge that a failed uprising would cripple the opposition and undermine the administration’s top priority in the hemisphere.

“It’s now or never,” a senior administration official said. “Everyone realizes it both on the U.S. side and the Venezuela side. How ugly this gets remains to be seen. But everyone sees this as the final frontier to bring down Maduro.”

The plan to use economic pressure, loud bluster and a hapless crony to unseat the Venezuelan government can no longer be valid:

“The entire episode should lead to a round of reflection within the opposition and their supporters in the U.S. government regarding how to address this crisis,” [David Smilde, a Tulane University professor and expert on Venezuela,] said. “It is clear the pressure-collapse scenario they have been working with has run its course.

With the situation on the ground still uncertain, Trump’s top national security aides, including Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who canceled a trip to Europe to work on Venezuela, huddled at the White House to discuss possible options.

The administration is somewhat split about which direction to take. The neoconservative hawks - Bolton, Pompeo, Abrams and Rubio - are looking for war, while their boss and the Pentagon are against launching one. Trump wants the votes of the millions of Cuba hawks in Florida, but he has no interest in launching a long war. The Pentagon knows that an invasion of Venezuela would lead to another decades long struggle:

Trump has shown little willingness to plunge into Venezuela, according to current and former aides, ...

The president has occasionally mused to others that Bolton wants to get him into wars. Two advisers who have discussed Venezuela with him said Trump often brings up Florida politics, and his golf club in Doral, when talking about the subject. Both said Trump was unlikely to authorize any sort of long-term military action there.

At the same time, however, aides said he has given Bolton wide purview over Venezuela.

Giving Bolton purview over anything is a mistake. He is a vicious and ruthless bureaucrat who knows how to get his way. Bolton is pressing the Pentagon for military options:

As he has pushed for a more aggressive policy, Bolton has angered some within and outside the White House. Even before Tuesday’s events, his staff clashed with Gen. Paul Selva, Dunford’s vice chairman, during a meeting to address the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, according to several officials with knowledge of the exchange.

The soft-spoken Air Force general was giving an update last week on the Pentagon’s view and making the case against a risky escalation by the United States when Bolton aides, including Mauricio Claver-Carone, Western Hemisphere director at the National Security Council, repeatedly interrupted and asked for military options, according to the officials.
A senior administration official said Bolton’s staff was dissatisfied with Selva, who they felt had not presented sufficient military options for Venezuela as expected. Selva, according to people familiar with the interaction, believed the confrontational style of Bolton’s staff was out of line.

Claver-Carone is part of the anti-Cuban gang within the Trump administration.

It is not the first time that Bolton and the Pentagon clash. A recent New Yorker portrait of Bolton, sympathetic to him and falling for some of his spin, reports of a similar situation in April 2018 after the fake 'chemical attack' in Syria :

[W]hen Bolton asked the Pentagon for options, Mattis gave only one, a limited strike with cruise missiles. Bolton was furious, a person familiar with his thinking told me: “Mattis is an obstructionist. He seemed to forget that it was the President who was elected.” After some modifications, Trump authorized the attack. But Bolton wanted more; he believed that the U.S. needed a more enduring military presence in Syria.

The portrait includes other takes that are relevant here. Bolton has a history of disregarding or exaggerating intelligence when the reality contradicts his spin:

In May, 2002, he spoke at the Heritage Foundation, where he accused the Cuban government of developing an ambitious biological-weapons program and of collaborating with such pariah states as Libya and Iran. As he prepared to give similar testimony to Congress, Christian Westermann, an analyst at the State Department’s internal intelligence bureau, told him that the bureau’s information did not support such a view. (Westermann declined to comment for this story.) Bolton, according to several officials, threatened to fire him. “He got very red in the face and shaking his finger at me, and explained to me that I was acting way beyond my position for someone who worked for him,” Westermann later testified. “I told him I didn’t work for him.” Bolton began excluding Westermann’s supervisor from daily briefings and, after an unsuccessful attempt to fire him, tried to transfer him to another office.
In 2003, as he prepared testimony for an appearance before Congress, he described Syria’s efforts to produce nuclear and biological weapons as an urgent threat—an assessment that intelligence agencies thought was exaggerated. A bitter internal debate ensued; the accusations endangered the Syrian government’s cooperation in hunting suspected terrorists. “We were getting some of our best, if not our best, intelligence on Al Qaeda from Damascus,” Lawrence Wilkerson told me. Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, took Bolton aside and “told him to shut up,” Wilkerson said.
Tony Blinken, who [in 2005] was the staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me that the members began to reconsider as they examined Bolton’s work in the State Department. “We saw a pattern of Mr. Bolton trying to manipulate intelligence to justify his views,” Blinken told me. “If it had happened once, maybe. But it came up multiple times, and always it was the same underlying issue: he would stake out a position, and then, if the intelligence didn’t support it, he would try to exaggerate the intelligence and marginalize the officials who had produced it.”

Now Bolton is again selling kool aid:

[H]e argued that Venezuela was dangerous, because it was allowing Russia to gain a foothold in the region. He said that there were twenty thousand Cubans in Venezuela who served as “surrogates for the Russians.” There were also at least a hundred Russian soldiers and mercenaries on the ground, helping Maduro stay in power. “To get the Russians out, you have to change the regime,” he said.

What Bolton says about the Cubans contradicts the intelligence he receives:

One area where the White House has been at odds with the C.I.A. is the agency’s assessment of Cuban participation and support for the Maduro government.

Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo have consistently criticized Cuba for its support for the Venezuelan government. But the C.I.A. has concluded that Cuba is far less involved and its support has been far less important than senior officials in the administration believe, according to a former official.

Unfortunately Bolton is now in a position where he has much control over Trump:

Aides have found that detailed briefings provoke [Trump's] impatience; graphics and bullet points work better, and relatable photographs better still. “Bolton gets to the point very fast,” a senior Administration official told me. “He’s very brief, and the President appreciates that.” Groombridge, the former aide, said, “John is thinking, To the extent I can modify or mollify the President’s actions, I will. He is truly a patriot. But I wonder how he goes into work every day, because deep in his heart he believes the President is a moron.
With Trump’s national-security team depleted—no permanent Secretary of Defense, no Secretary of Homeland Security, no Ambassador to the United Nations—Bolton would have extraordinary latitude in a crisis. “John understands that you have to get the elected leader the approval of the audience that matters,” Hundt said. “As long as Trump’s base is still applauding, then Bolton can do whatever he wants.”
For Bolton, it is ultimately a question of sovereignty. “The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well,” he said. “It’s our hemisphere.” The doctrine, he noted, was a prohibition against outside powers interceding in Latin America. “That doesn’t mean armed force,” he said. “That’s the Roosevelt Corollary. I haven’t invoked that—yet.” But, he argued, as he has innumerable times in the past thirty years, “all options are on the table.”

The long abandoned Theodore Roosevelt Corollary was an addition to the equally abandoned Monroe Doctrine:

Roosevelt stated that in keeping with the Monroe Doctrine, the United States was justified in exercising "international police power" to put an end to chronic unrest or wrongdoing in the Western Hemisphere. While the Monroe Doctrine had sought to prevent European intervention, the Roosevelt Corollary was used to justify US intervention throughout the hemisphere.

It seems clear that John Bolton, the Stache as Pat Lang christened him, will wage war on Venezuela if he sees no other way to get the Chavistas out of the way and its oil under U.S. control.

Trump already recognizes that Bolton is pushing him into that direction. Tuesday's failed coup episode hopefully taught him that the plans, promises and claims Bolton makes, are prone to fail and to lead to embarrassment.

The American people do not want another war. All Latin-American countries are against launching one. There will be resistance in both parties against waging war. Unlike Joe Biden some Democrats are - at least for now - against an intervention:

Those options should not include the U.S. military, said Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was briefed by Pompeo and Bolton on the situation.

Engel, who recently visited Venezuelan refugees on the Colombia border and believes Maduro should go, said Congress has too often gone along with military adventures abroad. “I think the days when the United States can intervene and send in the Marines are over and should be over,” he said.

Engel is not alone:

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the senior Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged caution and said events Tuesday suggested the desired outcome might not be achievable in the short term. He warned military intervention could be counterproductive, an opinion shared by regional allies.

“It would be a huge mistake for the Trump administration to miscalculate and undermine this burgeoning democratic movement with a military intervention involving U.S. troops.”

Trump's best option is to simply put the issue aside. There are enough other issues he can bluster about. But he must also order his aides, and the CIA, to leave Venezuela alone. He might otherwise wake up and be told that Venezuela sunk the Maine or that Maduro attacked U.S. war ships in the Caribbean Sea. Bolton will have no qualms about creating such a stunt.

He is a dangerous man and should be fired.


Posted by b on May 2, 2019 at 02:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (96)

May 01, 2019

Venezuela - Guaidó Got Snookered - White House Starts Beating War Drums

Yesterday's failed coup attempt in Venezuela significantly hurt the Trump administration's international standing. It delegitimized its Venezuelan clients Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López. After recognizing that their original 'regime change' plan failed (again) the White House starts to beat the war drums.

That wasn't the plan:

The Trump administration, which has backed Mr. Guaidó since he first challenged Mr. Maduro’s authority more than three months ago, clearly thought the day would unfold differently.

There is no official explanation why the Trump administration believed that the comical coup attempt by Juan Guaidó and his master Leopolo López would work.

There are signs though that the government of President Nicolas Maduro set a trap. Several people in the top echelon of the Venezuelan government gave false promises that they would join the U.S. proxy side. They snookered Guaidó into launching his coup to let him fail.

Juan Guaidó - bigger

A Washington Post wrap-up says that everyone expected important people to change sides:

The chaos in Caracas indicated that, while a plan had been in motion, it may not have unfolded as anticipated.
Announcements by senior Maduro officials that they were changing sides did not materialize, and the administration appeared increasingly concerned as it debated next steps.
Earlier Tuesday, Bolton had told reporters that Trump is watching political developments in Venezuela “minute by minute.” Bolton also put unusual public pressure on individual Venezuela government officials to renounce Maduro and embrace the political opposition.
“It’s a very delicate moment,” Bolton said. “The president wants to see a peaceful transfer of power,” which he added would be possible if enough military and government figures switch allegiances.
In an apparent attempt to divide Maduro’s government, Bolton said senior officials, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, had been in secret talks with Guaidó, and he called on them to “make good on their commitments” to help oust Maduro.
Bolton called by name for three officials in Venezuela — the defense minister, the chief judge of the Supreme Court, and the commander of the presidential guard — to support Guaidó taking power.
A senior Latin American official said opposition talks had been going on with Padrino and the other two for “the last several weeks,” and that the three had been promised retention in their current positions if they came out publicly in support of “constitutional order” that would allow Guaidó to take power. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the fast-moving and confusing situation, said those involved in the negotiations had no initial explanation for what went wrong, ...
Elliott Abrams, the administration’s special envoy for Venezuela, told reporters Tuesday that the United States had expected Padrino, along with the head of the Maduro-appointed Supreme Court and the head of the national guard, to declare their support for the Venezuelan constitution, if not necessarily for Guaidó himself.
He said that opposition figures had held discussions with the three influential officials in Maduro’s government ahead of those planned demonstrations.
Carlos Vecchio, Guaidó’s ambassador to the United States, also said Monday that the opposition leadership had had “conversations with part of the inner circle of Maduro” and that “they know that Maduro is not going anywhere. That Maduro is the past . . . and that’s why they want to look for a different future for Venezuela.”

Everyone in Washington believed that significant figures in the Venezuelan government would change sides. They did not do so. Vladimir Padrino rejected the coup within an hour after Guaidó announced it. It seems that the Guaidó side got played by the Venezuelan Defense Minister and several other officials and officers. They seem to have promised to support Guaidó only to bait him into taking steps that would embarrass him.

A McClatchy piece headlined "What went wrong?" seems to confirm this interpretation:

Shortly after Guaidó gave his predawn speech at the Carlota Air Force Base in Caracas, rumors spread that Armed Forces Chief of Staff Jose Ornelias and powerful commander Jesús Suárez Chourio were behind the military uprising. But just as quickly both men joined a growing list of officials swearing loyalty to Maduro.
That military officials who owe their careers and livelihood to Maduro and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela didn’t abandon him shouldn’t have come as a surprise, said a former U.S. diplomat in Washington, who would only talk on background.

He said he’d known about Guaidós plans to call for an uprising for at least 10 days.

“If I knew it, then everyone knew it,” he said. “The [Maduro] regime saw it coming and was prepared. The regime probably even knew that people in the government were talking to the opposition and probably even approved of it.

The total failure of the coup is obvious when one looks at what happened to Leopoldo López, the mentor of Juan Guaidó. He was under house arrest for leading the violent demonstrations and deadly riots in 2014. Yesterday morning the guards let him go. While the circumstances are not clear, the police chief responsible for the guards has been fired. López promised his followers that he would go to the Miraflores Presidential Palace. But he wasn't even able to leave eastern Caracas. Yesterday evening López, with his wife and daughter, fled into the Chilean embassy. They seem to have disliked the accommodations. Two hours later they moved into the Spanish embassy. While the embassy food may be good, it will be a quite different life than in their own comfortable mansion. A few of the soldiers who supported Guaidó took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Guaidó is still free.

McClatchy also looked at the consequences of the failing coup:

" .. Guaidó’s move is also a highly precarious bet,” [Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst with the Eurasia Group,] wrote. “If Maduro can successfully put down the rebellion, it will be a strong signal that he still enjoys a high degree of military support, which in turn will probably deflate the opposition.
Guaidó took a risk announcing the military support, [Venezuela security expert Brian Fonseca, a former Marine and U.S. Southern Command intelligence analyst who now serves as the director of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University] said, and if the Army does not back him, it could be crippling. “If today’s movement falls flat — what does that mean for credibility of the Guaidó movement?”

Guaidó and his backers in the Trump administration were made to believe that some significant elements of the Maduro government and of the army would turn on Maduro. They launched a coup attempt that fell apart within a few hours as no one changed sides. All their blustering has now been deflated. Guaidó has lost his credibility. Washington may still support him but in Caracas there is likely no one left who believes in him.

Bolton, Pompeo, Abrams and of course Donald Trump have been exposed as buffoons who, despite their powerful positions, can not even organize a simple coup. They publicly supported through dozens of tweets and interviews what turned out be a bad amateur theater play. The diplomatic corps will joke about this episode for the next decade.

As the Saker remarks:

The Empire only appears to be strong. In reality it is weak, confused, clueless and, most importantly, run by a sad gang of incompetent thugs who think that they can scare everybody into submission in spite of not having won a single significant war since 1945. The inability to break the will of the people of Venezuela is only the latest symptom of this mind-boggling weakness.

When it became obvious that the coup attempt failed, the White House started to blame others. It claimed that Russia dissuaded Maduro from fleeing the country. It said that Cuba, which has 20,000 doctors but no soldiers in Venezuela, controlled the Venezuelan military and prevented its uprising. It is now starting to beat the war drums.

Having lost face the Trump administration today upped its rhetoric:

Washington is open for “military action” in dealing with Venezuela’s crisis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced. Softening his war-mongering rhetoric, he said that a peaceful option is still more preferable.

“If the question is, is the United States prepared to consider military action if that’s what it takes to restore the democracy there in Venezuela, the [US] president’s been consistent and unambiguous about that, that the option to use military force is available if that’s what is ultimately called for,” Pompeo said in an interview on Fox News.

The Trump administration also launched what can be considered to be psychological warfare:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday evening issued an order prohibiting U.S. air operators from flying below 26,000 feet in Venezuela’s airspace until further notice, citing “increasing political instability and tensions”.

The FAA notice said any air operators currently in Venezuela, which would include private jets, should depart within 48 hours.
American Airlines Group Inc in March said it was indefinitely suspending its flights to Venezuela, as the country continued to struggle with political turmoil and unrest.

Several other airlines also canceled their flights:

Spanish airline Air Europa says Wednesday’s Caracas flights have been canceled. Flights over the next 10 days also might also be affected because of the “latest developments” in Venezuela.

The Caracas-based travel agency Molina Viajes says flights to and from Miami on Wednesday have been suspended.

Estelar airline says its Wednesday flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Caracas has been cancelled. However, it says flights to and from Peru and Chile are operating.

Such FAA orders are only given for countries where an active air war is going on and where air-defense weapons are expected to be fired. For now no one believes that the U.S. will launch cruise missiles or make bombing runs on Venezuela. It would be in no way justified.

Then again - what might it do should a 'massacre' happen in Venezuela. If hundreds of Guaidó supporters get mowed down by machine gun wielding troops in a false flag operation, the U.S. would surely accuse the Maduro government. With the U.S. media and the Democratic Party fully aligned with the White House regime change strategy there would be little resistance to the use of force. A 'humanitarian' bombing run against Venezuelan government targets, primarily its air defenses, might then be considered to be the right response.

Here is another ominous sign (Spanish, machine translated) that something is up:

The acting Secretary of Defense of the USA, Patrick Shanahan, canceled a trip to Europe that was due to begin this Wednesday, May 1, in order to "coordinate more efficiently" with other branches of the Government, both the situation in Venezuela and the Army's mission in the border with Mexico.

"Secretary Shanahan will no longer travel to Europe, as he has decided that staying in Washington DC will allow him to coordinate more efficiently with the White House National Security Council (NSC) and the State Department the situation in Venezuela.", the Pentagon said in a statement.
During his tour of Europe, Shanahan had planned to travel to Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Another sign that something is up is a phone call (Russian, machine translated) today between the Foreign Minister of Russia Sergej Lavrov and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

On May 1, on the American initiative, a telephone conversation took place between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, and the US Secretary of State, M. Pompeo.

The focus was on the situation in Venezuela, where on the eve of the opposition, with the clear support of the United States, attempted to seize power. It was stressed on the Russian side that Washington’s interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, the threat against its leadership is a gross violation of international law. It is indicated that the continuation of aggressive steps is fraught with the most serious consequences. Only the Venezuelan people have the right to determine their destiny, for which the dialogue of all political forces in the country is demanded, for which its Government has long called for. A destructive external influence, especially a forceful one, has nothing to do with the democratic process.

The generals in the Pentagon will not like the rhetorical build-up at all. They will look at their maps and find that Venezuela is twice the size of Iraq and 30% larger than Afghanistan. It has impenetrable jungles, mountains and slums that even Venezuelan troops do not dare to enter. It has a functioning army and halfway decent air defenses which were recently upgraded by Russian specialists.

It is unlikely that Trump wants to launch a war on Venezuela. He likely knows that it would not be a cake walk, and that it would be a severe risk for his reelection. But who knows what Bolton or Pompeo might tell him to get their way. They just got snookered by the Maduro government. Why would they not snooker Trump?

Posted by b on May 1, 2019 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (170)