TBR News April 23, 2017

Apr 23 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. April 23, 2017: “If Marine LePen surges ahead (but not as the American media assured us constantly that Hillary was doing) in the French presidential elections, it will cause spastic colon in the EU which preaches love, kindness and brotherhood to one and all.

Anti-immigration is becoming a strong movement in the EU and the leaders want none of it.

The more terror attacks the more the population will demand protection and the less they get, the stronger the movements to permanently expel all Muslims, Africans and others will grow.

And if the governments ignore this and pretend that it really isn’t happening, the advocates of racial and ethnic cleansing will erupt into growing violence and the press will moan and twitter at the violation of brotherly love.

But if terrorists invade a newspaper office and machine gun the entire staff, will other press outlets condemn this or devote their time talking about a new elephant at the local zoo?”

Table of Contents

  • North Korea ‘ready to strike’ US aircraft carrier
  • Kurdish Conflict
  • Why Hillary Clinton Really Lost
  • Germany’s anti-immigrant party announces September election line-up
  • French presidential poll a bellwether for Europe
  • The National Security State Was One Big Mistake
  • Pearl Harbor: Fact and Fiction
  • America’s Misadventures in the Middle East
  • Saudi king fires ministers, scraps pay cuts

 North Korea ‘ready to strike’ US aircraft carrier

The Japanese navy destroyers Samidare and Ashigara have joined a US carrier strike group for drills in the western Pacific Ocean. North Korea said it was prepared to hit back if necessary.

April 23, 2017


Pyongyang remained defiant on Sunday, with the ruling parties newspaper publishing a commentary likening the US aircraft carrier to a “gross animal” and threatening to strike it.

“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a US nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” the “Rodong Sinmun” newspaper said.

A spokesperson for the USS Carl Vinson posted on its Facebook page on Sunday that the strategic maneuvers and communication drills would last several days.

“We always look forward to operating with our Japanese partners,” the carrier strike group’s commander Rear Admiral Jim Kilby, was quoted as saying. “The relationship between the JMSDF [Japanese self defense force] and the United States is better than ever and it’s in part thanks to these bilateral exercises.”

US Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to Australia on his tour of Asia on Saturday that the Carl Vinson would be in the Sea of Japan within days. The aircraft carrier and accompanying warships are heading toward waters off the Korean Peninsula in a show of force amid elevated tensions. On April 8, the US Navy said it had directed the naval strike group to divert to North Korea from Singapore, but it has since emerged that the group sailed south first to conduct drills with the Australian navy.

Threats and counter-threats

North Korea has pushed forward with its nuclear and missile programs under leader Kim Jong Un, despite international condemnation. China, which opposes Pyongyang’s weapons build-up and belligerence, but which remains the reclusive state’s only major ally, has called for calm. The US has urged China to do more to rein in North Korea but did not rule out acting unilaterally.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said North Korea “should invest in the welfare of its long-suffering citizens, rather than weapons of mass destruction,” after Pyongyang threatened Australia by saying Canberra’s continued support for the US would be a “suicidal act.”

Another anniversary, another test?

There are growing concerns that Pyongyang might conduct another nuclear test or fire more ballistic missiles to coincide with when North Korea marks the 85th anniversary of its army on Tuesday. Its latest ballistic missile launch attempt was on April 16, shortly after the country marked the 105th birthday of its late founding leader, Kim Il Sung. The launch failed.

The US, South Korea and Japan regularly conduct military and training exercises together. The most recent of the bilateral exercises between the Carl Vinson strike group and Japanese forces took place in March.

Kurdish Conflict

April 21, 2017

Council on Foreign Relations

Attacks in Turkey and clashes with Kurdish groups significantly increased in 2016. A coup attempt in July 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also raised the country’s political instability. While there has been growing discontent under Erdogan’s tenure, especially since the Gezi park protests in June 2013, tensions have also risen between Turkish authorities and Kurdish groups—in particular, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) (a leftwing pro-Kurdish party), and the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) (the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) with ties to the PKK).

Following the July coup attempt, President Erdogan has cracked down on suspected coup conspirators and arrested an estimated thirty-two thousand people. He has also increased air strikes on PKK militants in Turkey and extended operations into Syria to battle the YPG and the self-declared Islamic State with air strikes and ground troops.

Peace talks between the Turkish government and the PKK broke down in July 2015. Since then, over two thousand people have been killed in clashes between security forces and the PKK. In his first public statement since April 2015, the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, called for the resumption of peace talks with the Turkish government in September 2016.


Since 1984, the PKK has waged an insurgency against Turkish authorities for greater cultural and political rights that has resulted in nearly forty thousand deaths. Designated by the Turkish government as a “terrorist group,” PKK members have refused to withdraw from Turkey to Kurdish Iraq; their primary objective has been to establish an independent Kurdish state.

There are approximately thirty million Kurds living in the Middle East. The Kurds constitute nearly one-fifth of Turkey’s seventy-nine million population and have neighboring Kurdish populations in Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Consequently, the fight for independence has had many fronts. The conflict between Kurdish groups and the Turkish government has been inflamed by the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

In July 2015, a two-year cease-fire between Turkey’s government and the PKK collapsed following a suicide bombing by suspected Islamic State militants killed nearly thirty Kurds near the Syrian border. The PKK has accused Turkish forces of not doing enough to prevent the attack against Kurdish civilians.

Turkey’s deadliest attack occurred at a peace rally in Ankara in October 2015. It was claimed by TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Hawks)—an offshoot of the PKK—and killed more than one hundred people.

The growing role of Kurdish representatives in Turkey’s parliament has alarmed the Erdogan government, especially as it continues to tamp down internal dissent. Nearly a year before the July coup in June 2015, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won more than 12 percent of the vote, forcing President Erdogan’s more conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) to form a coalition government. In November 2015, however, the AKP regained control of parliament, winning nearly 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election. Political divisions in Turkey were further exacerbated by the July 2016 coup attempt.

Beyond Turkey, Syrian Kurds have been combating the Islamic State and have formed a semi-autonomous region in Northern Syria. In September 2014, the Kurdish-controlled town of Kobani was besieged and eventually captured by the Islamic State; the violence resulted in more than 1,200 deaths. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by the United States—liberated the strategic Syrian city of Manbij from the Islamic State in late August 2016. Later in August, YPG forces (part of the SDF coalition) clashed with Turkish-backed rebels attempting to gain control of Manbij.

The alliance of Kurdish fighters has also converged in Iraq, where the Islamic State has advanced toward the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The Peshmerga—armed fighters who protect Iraqi Kurdistan—have joined with Iraqi security forces and received arms and financial assistance from the United States.

PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has called for mass mobilization among Kurds to start an “all-out resistance” in the fight against the Islamic State. Despite this common enemy, many of Turkey’s air strikes have targeted Kurdish fighters rather than militants of the Islamic State.


If the Kurds succeed in establishing an independent state in Syria amid the chaos gripping the region, this could accelerate secessionist movements in other Kurdish areas of the Middle East. Heightened terrorist activity by Kurdish separatists is also a growing concern for the United States, which has designated the PKK a foreign terrorist organization.

U.S.-Turkey relations have faltered since President Erdogan renewed calls for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen—a Turkish political and religious leader in self-imposed exile in the United States—whom Erdogan believes to be an organizer of the coup. Relations have also suffered because of the United States’ close relationship with Kurdish groups; the United States continues to supply arms to Peshmerga troops fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and is also considering arming Syrian Kurds.

Why Hillary Clinton Really Lost

An insider book on Campaign 2016 reveals a paranoid Hillary Clinton who spied on staff emails after losing in 2008 and carried her political dysfunction into her loss to Donald Trump

April 19, 2017

by Robert Parry

Consortium News

An early insider account of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, entitled Shattered, reveals a paranoid presidential candidate who couldn’t articulate why she wanted to be President and who oversaw an overconfident and dysfunctional operation that failed to project a positive message or appeal to key voting groups.Okay, I realize that people who have been watching Rachel Maddow and other MSNBC programs – as well as reading The New York Times and The Washington Post for the past four months – “know” that Clinton ran a brilliant campaign that was only derailed because of “Russian meddling.” But this insider account from reporters Jonathan Allen and Annie Parnes describes something else.

As The Wall Street Journal review notes, the book “narrates the petty bickering, foolish reasoning and sheer arrogance of a campaign that was never the sure thing that its leader and top staffers assumed. … Mr. Allen and Ms. Parnes stress two essential failures of the campaign, the first structural, the second political. The campaign’s structure, the authors write, was an ‘unholy mess, fraught with tangled lines of authority, petty jealousies, and no sense of greater purpose.’”

The book portrays Hillary Clinton as distant from her campaign staff, accessible primarily through her close aide, Huma Abedin, and thus creating warring factions within her bloated operation.

According to the Journal’s review by Barton Swaim, the book’s authors suggest that this chaos resulted from “the fact that Mrs. Clinton didn’t know why she wanted to be president. At one point no fewer than 10 senior aides were working on her campaign announcement speech, not one had a clear understanding of why Americans should cast their vote for Mrs. Clinton and not someone else. The speech, when she finally delivered it, was a flop – aimless, boring, devoid of much beyond bromides.”

The book cites a second reason for Clinton’s dismal performance – her team’s reliance on analytics rather than on reaching out to real voters and their concerns.

There is also an interesting tidbit regarding Clinton’s attitude toward the privacy of her staff’s emails. “After losing to Mr. Obama in the protracted 2008 primary,” the Journal’s review says, Clinton “was convinced that she had lost because some staffers – she wasn’t sure who – had been disloyal. So she ‘instructed a trusted aide to access the campaign’s server and download the [email] messages sent and received by top staffers.’”

Nixonian Paranoia

In other words, Clinton – in some Nixonian fit of paranoia – violated the privacy of her senior advisers in her own mole hunt, a revelation that reflects on her own self-described “mistake” to funnel her emails as Secretary of State through a private server rather than a government one. As the Journal’s review puts it: “she didn’t want anyone reading her emails the way she was reading those of her 2008 staffers.”

But there is even a greater irony in this revelation because of the current complaint from Clinton and her die-hard supporters that Russia sabotaged her campaign by releasing emails via WikiLeaks from the DNC, which described how party leaders had torpedoed the campaign of Clinton’s rival for the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and other emails from her campaign chairman John Podesta, revealing the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks and some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

WikiLeaks has denied that it received the emails from Russia – and President Obama’s outgoing intelligence chiefs presented no real evidence to support the allegations – but the conspiracy theory of the Trump campaign somehow colluding with the Russians to sink Clinton has become a groupthink among many Democrats as well as the mainstream U.S. media.

So, rather than conducting a serious autopsy on how Clinton and the national Democratic Party kicked away a winnable election against the buffoonish Donald Trump, national Democrats have created a Zombie explanation for their failures, blaming their stunning defeat on the Russians.

This hysteria over Russia-gate has consumed the first several months of the Trump presidency – badgering the Trump administration into a more belligerent posture toward nuclear-armed Russia – but leaving little incentive for the Democrats to assess what they need to do to appeal to working-class voters who chose Trump’s empty-headed populism over Clinton’s cold-hearted calculations.

The current conventional wisdom among the mainstream media, many Democrats and even some progressives is that the only way to explain the victory by pussy-grabbing Trump is to complain about an intervention by the evil Russians. Maybe Maddow and the other Russia-did-it conspiracy theorists will now denounce Shattered as just one more example of “Russian disinformation.”

The Times’ View

The New York Times’ review by Michiko Kakutani also notes how Shattered details Clinton’s dysfunction, but the newspaper inserted a phrase about “Russian meddling,” presumably to avoid a head-exploding cognitive dissonance among its readers who have been inundated over the past four months by the Times’ obsession on Russia! Russia! Russia!

However, the Times’ review still focuses on the book’s larger message: “In fact, the portrait of the Clinton campaign that emerges from these pages is that of a Titanic-like disaster: an epic fail made up of a series of perverse and often avoidable missteps by an out-of-touch candidate and her strife-ridden staff that turned ‘a winnable race’ into ‘another iceberg-seeking campaign ship.’

“It’s the story of a wildly dysfunctional and ‘spirit-crushing’ campaign that embraced a flawed strategy (based on flawed data) and that failed, repeatedly, to correct course. A passive-aggressive campaign that neglected to act on warning flares sent up by Democratic operatives on the ground in crucial swing states, and that ignored the advice of the candidate’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, and other Democratic Party elders, who argued that the campaign needed to work harder to persuade undecided and ambivalent voters (like working-class whites and millennials), instead of focusing so insistently on turning out core supporters.”

So, perhaps this new book about how Hillary Clinton really lost Campaign 2016 will enable national Democrats to finally start charting a course correction before the party slams another Titanic-style campaign into another iceberg.

Germany’s anti-immigrant party announces September election line-up

April 23, 2017


The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on Sunday voted for 76-year-old publicist Alexander Gauland and 38-year-old economist Alice Weidel to jointly lead its campaign for the country’s September national election.

A majority of AfD delegates backed the two candidates at a congress in Cologne. The right-wing AfD is seeking to win seats in the national parliament for the first time.

The vote followed a surprise announcement on Wednesday by co-leader Frauke Petry, the party’s public face, that she would not lead the AfD’s election campaign. This could boost mainstream parties and lessen the threat the right-wing AfD poses to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bid for a fourth term.

The latest polls put the AfD on 8 to 10 percent – around a third lower than at the end of last year but still above the 5 percent threshold for entering the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

But the party, which has lurched to the right since being founded as an anti-euro party in 2013, is treated as a pariah by established political parties, which refuse to work with it.

Gauland is widely seen a supporter of senior AfD member Bjoern Hoecke, who caused outrage in January by calling Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial a “monument of shame” and demanding a “180 degree turnaround” in Germany’s attempts to atone for Nazi crimes.

Weidel, a little-known figure in the AfD who is seen as a more moderate voice, is in favor of Hoecke being expelled. She has sought to establish herself as a financial and economy expert in the party.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin. Editing by Jane Merriman)

 French presidential poll a bellwether for Europe

April 23, 2017

by Ingrid Melander


PARIS-France voted on Sunday in the first round of a bitterly fought presidential election that is crucial to the future of Europe and a closely-watched test of voters’ anger with the political establishment.

Over 50,000 police backed by elite units of the French security services patrolled the streets less than three days after a suspected Islamist gunman shot dead a policeman and wounded two others on the central Champs Elysees avenue.

Voters will decide whether to back a pro-EU centrist newcomer, a scandal-ridden veteran conservative who wants to slash public spending, a far-left eurosceptic admirer of Fidel Castro or to appoint France’s first woman president who would shut borders and ditch the euro.

The outcome will show whether the populist tide that saw Britain vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the United States is still rising, or starting to ebb. A high level of indecision adds to nervousness.

Hanan Fanidi, a 33-year-old financial project manager, was still unsure as she arrived at a polling station in Paris’ 18th arrondissement.

“I don’t believe in anyone, actually. I haven’t arrived at a candidate in particular who could advance things. I’m very, very pessimistic,” she said.

Emmanuel Macron, 39, a centrist ex-banker who set up his party just a year ago, is the opinion polls’ favorite to win the first round and beat far-right National Front chief Marine Le Pen in the two-person run-off on May 7.

For them to win the top two qualifying positions on Sunday would represent a huge change in the political landscape. The second round would then feature neither of the mainstream parties that have governed France for decades.

But conservative Francois Fillon is making a comeback after being plagued for months by a fake jobs scandal, and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon’s ratings have surged in recent weeks. Any two of the four has a chance to qualify for the run-off.

“It wouldn’t be the classic left versus right divide but two views of the world clashing,” said Ifop pollsters’ Jerome Fourquet. “Macron bills himself as the progressive versus conservatives, Le Pen as the patriot versus the globalists.”

The seven other candidates, including the ruling Socialist party’s Benoit Hamon lag behind in opinion polls.

By noon (6.00 a.m. ET), turnout amid sunshine and clear skies across much of France was 28.54 percent, according to official figures – around the same as in the 2012 first round, in which almost 80 percent eventually took part.

Some polls had been predicting a much lower turnout, closer to the 70 percent that took the then National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen into the second round in 2002. Pollsters are unclear about what a low or high turnout could mean in 2017.

President Francois Hollande and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy have failed through both of the past two five-year presidencies to tackle the high unemployment and sluggish growth.

That issue, and the general trustworthiness of politicians, stands out, polls say, even though security has re-entered the debate since Thursday’s killing of a policeman.

Some argue the incident increases Le Pen’s chances; but previous militant attacks, such as the November 2015 killing of 130 people in Paris ahead of regional polls, have not appeared to have any impact on votes.

Earlier on Sunday a polling station in Besancon, eastern France was evacuated after a stolen vehicle was abandoned with the engine running while voting took place.


The possibility of a Le Pen-Melenchon run-off is not the most likely scenario but is one which alarms bankers and investors.

While Macron wants to further beef up the euro zone, Le Pen has told supporters “the EU will die”. She wants to return to the Franc, re-denominate the country’s debt stock, tax imports and reject international treaties.

Melenchon also wants to radically overhaul the European Union and hold a referendum on whether to leave the bloc.

Le Pen or Melenchon would struggle, in parliamentary elections in June, to win a majority to carry out such radical moves, but their growing popularity also worries France’s EU partners.

“It is no secret that we will not be cheering madly should Sunday’s result produce a second round between Le Pen and Melenchon,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

If either Macron or Fillon were victorious, each would face challenges.

For Macron, a big question would be whether he could win a majority in parliament in June. Fillon, though likely to struggle less to get a majority, would likely be dogged by an embezzlement scandal, in which he denies wrongdoing.

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Bate Felix and Michaela Cabrera in Paris and Ilze Filks in Henin-Beaumont,; Editing by Andrew Callus and Ralph Boulton)

 The National Security State Was One Big Mistake

April 17, 2017

by Jacob G. Hornberger


The year 1989 brought an unexpected shock to the U.S. national-security establishment. The Soviet Union suddenly and unexpectedly tore down the Berlin Wall, withdrew Soviet troops from East Germany and Eastern Europe, dissolved the Warsaw Pact, dismantled the Soviet Empire, and unilaterally brought an end to the Cold War.

The Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA never expected such a thing to happen. The Cold War was supposed to go on forever. The communists were supposedly hell-bent on worldwide conquest, with the conspiracy based in Moscow.

For months and even years after the Berlin Wall came crashing down, there were right-wingers who were warning that it was all a gigantic ruse on the part of the communists, one designed to get America to let down its guard. As soon as that happened, the communists would strike. After all, as every member of the conservative movement and the national-security establishment asserted throughout the Cold War, one could never trust a communist.

But the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA were more than shocked over the end of the Cold War. They were also frightened. They knew that their very existence was based on the Cold War and so-called communist threat. With no Cold War and no worldwide communist conspiracy based in Moscow, people were likely to ask: Why do we still need a national-security state?

Keep in mind, after all, that that is the reason why America’s federal governmental structure was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state after World War II. U.S. officials said that the conversion was necessary in order to protect America from the Soviet Union, Red China, and communism. As soon as the Cold War was over and communism was defeated, U.S. officials said, the American people could have their limited-government republic back.

But of course no one ever thought that would happen. Everyone believed that the national-security state way of life had become a permanent part of American society. A massive, ever-growing military establishment.  A CIA assassinating people and engineering coups around the world. Partnerships with extreme dictatorial regimes. Regime change operations. Invasions. Foreign wars. Secret surveillance schemes. Death and destruction. It was all deemed to be necessary, just one of those unfortunate things that happen in life.

And then the Russians did the unspeakable: They unilaterally ended the Cold War. No negotiations. No treaties. They just ended the hostile environment at their end.

Immediately, Americans began talking about a “peace dividend,” which, not surprisingly, equated to a drastic reduction in military and intelligence spending. While only libertarians were raising the discussion to a higher level — i.e., why can’t we now have our limited government republic back? — the national-security establishment knew that others would inevitably begin asking that question.

They were freaking out in those days. They were saying things like: We can still be important and relevant. We can help win the drug war. We can promote American businesses abroad. We can be a force for peace and stability in the world. We can specialize in regime change.

That’s when they went into the Middle East and began poking hornets’ nests with death and destruction. When people retaliated, they played the innocent: “We have been attacked because of hatred for our freedom and values, not because we have been poking hornets’ nests by killing hundreds of thousands of people, including children, in the Middle East.”

That was how we got the “war on terrorism,” and the judicially supported totalitarian-like powers of the president, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA to assassinate Americans or just to round them, incarcerate them, and torture them, and massive expansions of secret surveillance schemes, all without due process of law and trial by jury.

But always lurking behind the war on terrorism was the possibility of resuming the Cold War against the commies, which would then give the national-security establishment two big official enemies by which it could justify its continued existence and its ever-growing budgets, power, and influence: terrorism and communism (which, coincidentally, were the two big official enemies that Hitler used to secure passage of the Enabling Act, which gave him extraordinary powers).

And now they’re making it look like it’s both the terrorists (which have morphed into the Muslims) and the communists who are coming to get us. Call it Cold War II, with the war on terrorism thrown into the mix.

A prime example: Korea, where some 50,000 American men, many of whom had been conscripted (i.e., enslaved), were sent to their deaths in an illegal and unconstitutional war for no good reason at all, just as another 58,000 or so American men would later be sent to their deaths in another illegal and unconstitutional war in Vietnam for no good reason at all.

The communists were never coming to get us. There never was a worldwide communist conspiracy based in Moscow that was going to conquer the world. It was all balderdash, nothing more than a way to keep Americans perpetually frightened so that they would continue to support the alteration of the federal government to a national-security state.

Throughout the Vietnam War, they told us that if Vietnam fell to the communists, the dominoes would continue falling under the United States would end up under communist rule. It was a lie from the very beginning.

Throughout the Cold War, they told us that Cuba was a grave threat to national security. They said that the island was a communist dagger pointed at America’s throat from only 90 miles away. They even brought the country to the brink of nuclear war, convincing Americans that Soviet missiles were being placed in Cuba so that the communists could start a nuclear war with the United States.

It was all a lie. Cuba never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. It never attempted to assassinate Americans. It never initiated acts of terrorism or sabotage in the United States.

Instead, it was the U.S. national-security establishment that did all those things to Cuba. It was always the U.S. government that was the aggressor against Cuba. That’s what the Bay of Pigs was all about. It’s what Operation Northwoods was all about. It was what the Cuban Missile Crisis was all about.

Those Soviet missiles were placed in Cuba for one reason and one reason alone: for the same reason that North Korea today wants nuclear weapons: to deter U.S. aggression in the form of another invasion of Cuba for the purpose of regime change.

That’s precisely what is happening in Korea today. Unable to let go of the Cold War and leave Korea to the Koreans, the U.S. national-security establishment has never let go of its decades-long obsession with regime change in North Korea.

North Korea is not stupid. It knows that the way to resist U.S. aggression is with nuclear weapons, just like Cuba successfully did back in 1962. That’s why it has been doing its best to acquire them — not to start a war but to deter the U.S. government from doing what has done in Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Chile, Indonesia, Congo, Libya, Syria, and others. That’s also why the U.S. national-security establishment wants to stop North Korea’s nuclear-bomb program — in order to be able to bring regime change to North Korea with a regular war rather than a nuclear war.

The biggest mistake in U.S. history was when the American people permitted the conversion of their government from a limited-government republic to a national security state. Americans should have stuck with their founding principles. Over the years, Americans and the world have paid a big price for that mistake. If things continue spiraling out of control in Korea, the price might soon get much higher, not only for the Korean people and U.S. troops dying in masse but also for thousands of young American men and women who will be conscripted to fight another land war in Asia, not to mention for hard-pressed smerican taxpayers, who will be expected to fund the death and destruction in the name of “keeping us safe” from the communists.

Pearl Harbor: Fact and Fiction

April 23, 2017

by Harry von Johnston PhD

The Japanese attack on the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 was one of those watershed events which mark the history of all nations.

The facts of the attack have never been in doubt. The ships comprising the Imperial Japanese naval task force are as well known as the ships of the U.S. Navy that were sunk during the raid. The losses in men and material on both sides are a matter of uncontested public record as are the names of the various military and political leaders of both Japan and the United States.

What has been a matter of conjecture from the moment that the last carrier-based Japanese bomber left Hawaii is why did the attack happen and who or what was responsible for the unleashing of a destructive war in the Pacific that killed hundreds of thousands of American, British, Dutch, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, Burmese and Koreans as well as one and a half million Chinese soldiers and left a similar number of Japanese dead. Not taken into account in most chronicles of the war are the numbers of civilian dead. The Chinese totals are unknown but estimated to be between 700,000 and 10,000,000. The number of Japanese civilians killed in air raids or other war-related casualties were about 953, 000.

In apportioning the guilt of war, it is the victors who write the histories and the losers who are condemned to a generation of silence.

There is no point, and certainly not sufficient space, to chronicle the complete root causes of this war. The actions and attitudes of past generations can be sifted and analyzed, circumstances and happenings viewed from a multitude of different angles and blame or praise apportioned by historians according to their personal opinions or, more often, by the official attitudes of those who command their works.

The 1941 war in the Pacific, like any incident, cannot be dissected with any degree of accuracy without exploring the history, politics and personalities of previous generations and to this prolix roll must be added such factors as economics, demographics and natural resources.

A kaleidoscope is a pleasant toy with which to amuse children but its concept can serve as an example of the extraordinary problems that face historians who wish to explore the avenues of history and to write about them without prejudice.

The mirrored tube of the toy contains bits of colored glass. What can’t be known are what patterns that will form each time the tube is rotated. This is the problem that faces historians. Facts and dates are certainly easily recognized but all of the various factors involved in historical occurrences become blurred and confusing when viewed across the distance of time.

The further the observer is removed from the moment, the more confusing the patterns become because the literature he must consult is blurred with personal opinion, clumsy and inaccurate analysis and the reality that the winners never admit their victory was either unnecessary or accidental.

With this in mind, where is a beginning to be made concerning the great Pacific war? Does one go back to the beginning of the century or the beginning of the millennium?

It may be erudite for a writer to bring forward chapters of ancient history and to spangle his works with his own opinions and psychological insights into the motives and personalities of the leaders of the period but all this does is serve as a vehicle for the writer’s ego and can only entertain but rarely inform.

This study will present a series of overviews which will condense historical background into readable form and devote the balance of the work to a through chronology of the events as well as supportive material that covers the period just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. Since the end of the war and the death of all the major leaders, more and more valuable records are becoming available to the public. When these are gathered, studied and finally compiled in chronological order, many of the myths, legends and deliberate untruths dissolve to be replaced with as much of the truth as can ever be found concerning a controversial issue.

No one wishes to take the responsibility for deliberately beginning a war that might have had no real reason for its commencement and whose course slaughtered millions of people.

Those in power in the United States when the war broke out cannot have been expected to write memoirs in which they would admit to having instigated such a war. It is far easier to blame the Japanese for launching the bloody conflict with a surprise attack than to suggest that perhaps Japan had been maneuvered into launching the attack.

The supporters of President Franklin Roosevelt have poured out hundreds of books since the end of the war in 1945, not only in praise of the American president’s actions but to place the blame for Pearl Harbor squarely on the expansionism and treachery of Imperial Japan. The basic themes of these essays in justification are Japanese treachery and American innocence.

Roosevelt’s role in the Pearl Harbor attack has been a subject of intense speculation from the very day of the debacle in Hawaii. His opponents, and he had many, claim that he deliberately pushed the Japanese into a war to permit him to fight his arch enemy, Adolf Hitler. His supporters, and they are equally legion, have repeatedly, often and at length denied this thesis but as their ranks thin and as more and more important material becomes available, their defenses have been seriously breached.

In this protracted debate, several valid points have been brought out by Roosevelt supporters that ought to be carefully considered. The most important point is concerned with U.S. military intelligence achievements and mainly deals with the interception and decoding of secret Japanese radio messages. Historians agree that the Japanese diplomatic code, called “Purple” after the color of their diplomatic code book, was broken by military intelligence and consequently, all high-level diplomatic messages between the Japanese Foreign office in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats stationed throughout the world were being decrypted and read almost as soon as U.S. intelligence intercepted them.

The question of the Japanese Army and Navy operational codes is an entirely different matter. The American establishment and its in-house historians have firmly denied for a half-century these military codes were broken until the end of the Pacific war in 1945.

While all of the diplomatic “Purple” decrypts have been made public in the intervening years, only a few of the coded Japanese naval messages have been released and then only in a highly edited and factually vague form.

Another issue is the timing on the decryption of the Japanese messages and the actual distribution of them to U.S. military and governmental figures in Washington. Highly significant messages are claimed not to have been decoded for four years and a number of messages of a lesser importance have no indication as to whom they were delivered or when.

In general, the official governmental position is that no really significant military messages were seen prior to the attack and therefore, neither the President or his ranking military subordinates could have possibly had any knowledge of a pending attack.

The Japanese task force did not transmit any messages during their foray across the deserted waters of the north Pacific but they did receive a considerable number of transmissions sent to them, in naval code, from the CIC Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, and other military officials. A reading of this traffic makes it very clear indeed that an attack against Pearl Harbor was in train and for this reason, admission of the existence and knowledge of these transmissions by political and military figures in the U.S. has been very strongly, and officially, denied in the intervening years.

The argument has been well made, specifically by Roberta Wohlstetter in her 1961 book, ‘Pearl Harbor, Warning and Decision’, that so many Japanese coded messages were intercepted that it was extremely difficult for American intelligence agency personnel to winnow the wheat from the chaff. In retrospect, historians have stated, a Japanese attack was certainly in the offing but the direction of this attack was lost in the muddle of complex and difficult-to-translate messages.

One of the areas of great interest to historians has been the possible motivation for Roosevelt’s increasing pressure on the Japanese government, a pressure that culminated in seizure of Japanese assets and an embargo on oil, gas and scrap metal which were vital to maintaining the Japanese military machine. Many reasons have been given for the President’s action including a personal prejudice in favor of China. His maternal grandfather had a very lucrative opium smuggling operation with that country in the nineteenth century. Other, more likely scenarios encompass Roosevelt’s personal hatred of Hitler in particular and all Germans in general as well as an overriding determination to remain President of the United States until carried out of the office.

Both of these reasons are valid but in and of themselves do not fully explain the dangerous brinkmanship practiced by Roosevelt in his 1941 dealings with Japan. It is painfully and very clearly evident from reading the intercepts of the Japanese diplomatic messages that Tokyo was not only not interested in pursuing war against the U.S. but was seriously engaged in frantic attempts to defuse a dangerous situation which its accelerating progress caused them great alarm. There is no question that Roosevelt and his top advisors were reading all the Japanese diplomatic intercepts and were made fully aware the ease by which they could establish effective dialog with the Japanese government. All diplomatic approaches by Japan were rebuffed by Roosevelt and Cordell Hull, his Secretary of State. The artificial diplomatic crisis deepened and as the year waned, the probability of Japanese military action was clearly evident at the highest official levels in Washington.

To attempt to ascertain Roosevelt’s actual motives in his attitude towards Japan, it might be instructive to consider the situations in both Europe and the United States in 1941.

War between Germany and Poland had broken out on September 1, 1939 and rapidly escalated when France and Britain declared war on Germany several days later. The German army quickly crushed Poland but Hitler made no effort to attack either France or England, hoping that eventually some kind of a settlement could be made with both countries.

In spite of a number of diplomatic moves, Hitler could achieve nothing with either party although the French certainly were not interested in a reprise of the terrible First World War in which their country was turned into a shell-pocked ocean of mud and destruction.

In 1940, the British under their new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, decided to attack neutral Norway and by doing so, deprive Germany of Swedish iron ore shipments that came by sea along the Norwegian coast from northern Sweden. Hitler noted that the British had violated Norwegian neutrality on February 16 when Royal Navy destroyers entered Norwegian territorial waters and attacked the German tanker Altmark despite the protests of Norwegian naval units. The British now began to plan the invasion of Norway and this information came to German intelligence from a neutral diplomat in London.

This knowledge propelled Hitler into immediate action and German troops struck preemptively into Norway and Denmark on March 1. With an improvement in the weather, the Wehrmacht launched an attack on the western front on May 10 and by June 21, had forced the French to surrender and had driven the defeated British out of Europe

During this period, Roosevelt could not intervene in the conflict because the law

constrained him from declaring war without a mandate from Congress and, given the public American sentiment then prevailing, this would never be forthcoming.

Exactly when Roosevelt determined to attack Hitler is not known but there is a considerable body of evidence that his hatred of the German leader stemmed from a speech Hitler gave to his Reichstag on April 28, 1939. This speech, which was a masterpiece of sarcasm, was given in response to an address Roosevelt had made to Hitler a week earlier in which he demanded the German leader give assurances that he would not invade such countries as Ireland and Palestine. As Roosevelt had little actual knowledge of European politics, Hitler was able to very effectively demolish the American president’s arguments. Roosevelt could not stand any kind of criticism from any source and his response to Hitler’s speech was fury and a determination to attack Hitler at the first opportunity.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler launched a massive attack against the Soviet Union, at the time his ally. Many reasons have been given for this attack but a careful study of German and Soviet records indicates that Hitler viewed this campaign solely as a preemptive strike against a country which was rapidly preparing to attack him first.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Roosevelt had actively sought the support of the well-organized Communist party in the United States. This group was influential in certain industrial areas and especially in New York State whose Governor Roosevelt had once been. There is no question that the Communist support was vital in Roosevelt’s election and would continue to be vital in maintaining him in the White House. A man of almost no ideological understanding, Roosevelt was an extremely shrewd domestic politician and he realized the active support of the radical left was vital to his survival in office. His administrations were rapidly filled with a significantly large number of members of the left and Roosevelt went to great lengths to support their aims. The Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939 came as a great shock to American Communists but when Hitler invaded Stalin’s Russia in June of 1941, the Soviet dictator once again resumed his place as the champion of the workers and peasants and a very sought-after ally of Roosevelt and his administration.

The swift advances of the German Army and the virtual collapse of the Soviet Army became a source of great concern to Roosevelt. The large losses in territory and manpower suffered by the Soviets convinced many in Washington that the complete disintegration of the Soviet government was only weeks away. This caused great consternation in both London and Washington because Stalin was the last viable enemy of Hitler. England was militarily wrecked and could not launch a meaningful attack against Germany and the neutral U.S. could do nothing to assist Stalin but give him as much financial support as they could.

If, as it appeared in the autumn of 1941, Russia could collapse, the last major hope for the containment and destruction of Hitler and his country would be gone.

The point of balance now shifted from European Russia to the Far East.

When the leading edge of the German Army was before Moscow, the capital was subject to heavy air raids by the Luftwaffe, and the bulk of the Soviet government and the diplomatic corps had fled. What was left of the decimated Soviet Red Army was engaged in a protracted death struggle for the capital.

There was a very acute possibility the Japanese, chronic enemies of Russia and officially allied with Germany, would take advantage of Stalin’s major preoccupation with the siege of his capital and fall onto his rear, invading the eastern province of Siberia. This area was extraordinarily difficult to supply as the Czar’s generals discovered in 1904. The hostility between Japan and Russia which erupted in that year and the Russo-Japanese war ended in a defeat for Russia and Japan’s elevation to the status of a world power. The animosity between the two countries never abated and in July of 1938, an expansionist Japan, engaged in a protracted and very savage war with the provincial warlords of China, turned its attentions towards Russia and attempted to seize land inside the Soviet Union at Chankufeng near the vital Soviet naval base of Vladivostok.

The Soviets counterattacked and drove the Japanese back into their own territory. Undaunted by their defeat, Japan attacked the Soviets again in May of 1939 and for four months a series of battles raged back and forth. Eventually, in late August of that year, Soviet General Zhukov launched a powerful attack against the invader with nine divisions and 600 tanks. The Japanese were severely beaten; suffering the loss of 18,000 men and considerable aircraft.

Following this humiliating defeat, there was a strong movement in the Japanese high command to prepare for war against the Soviet Union. This project was called the Strike North plan and their plans for an attack on Vladivostok were shown to Hitler by General Baron Oshima, Japan’s pro-German ambassador as early as March, 1941. Hitler discussed the probability of this attack with members of his military staff throughout the balance of the year.

The major problem facing Roosevelt then is evident. Stalin was the linchpin of the Roosevelt-Churchill military policy. If Stalin fell, Hitler was certain to destroy Russia’s capacity to remain in the war and this could not be allowed to happen. Roosevelt was able to give funds to Stalin but could send no supplies or weapons of war to the dictator without the approval of Congress. If Japan decided to move against Stalin’s eastern territories, he would then be fighting a two-front war and without any question, would be quickly defeated.

In autumn of 1941, therefore, Roosevelt’s most urgent task was to prevent Japan from launching any military actions against Russia. As the President was well aware, there was another military faction in Japan that wished to expand in a southern direction and secure the natural resources of Southeastern Asia. This faction was called the Strike South Force and their aims were far more acceptable to Roosevelt than their rivals’ one.

By applying both diplomatic and economic pressure against Japan, Roosevelt obviously hoped to distract the Japanese from embarking on a Russian adventure and to encourage them to move, if move they did, in the opposite and far more acceptable direction. Roosevelt was safe enough in embracing this southern concept because the U.S. had very little invested in the Far East with the exception of a few mid-Pacific islands and the Philippines which, in any case, were slated for independence in 1948.

The British, on the other hand, had a great deal of capital invested in the same area so Churchill was equally fearful of the southern plan of the Japanese. By 1941, however, Britain had been reduced to the level of a client state of America.

Although professing great sympathy for Churchill’s war, Roosevelt had no problem whatsoever in securing the most advantageous financial position he could when England found it must replenish its military equipment losses. When the British Expeditionary Force had fled France in 1940, they had to abandon all of their heavy equipment, vehicles, artillery and small arms on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Roosevelt was most pleased to resupply the British Army…at a price. He sold them obsolete American rifles, equipment, and outdated ammunition and sent them on trade fifty destroyers dating back 30 years and in deplorable repair. In return for this largesse, Churchill had to pay in gold, paper money not being wanted, and to find the gold, he had to empty the treasury and the banks of England. When the gold had all vanished into the U.S. Fort Knox repository, Roosevelt then demanded, and got, the surrender of all British assets and business holdings in the United States and Canada. These his Treasury Department consistently undervalued and these minimal values were credited to the account of the British government for arms purchases.

The assets were later resold by the government to private parties at a considerable profit. This Yankee trading also extended to other, similar spheres when in April of 1941, Roosevelt had the Treasury Department freeze the assets of the Swiss bank branches in the United States on the flimsy grounds that German funds might be involved. What was actually involved were $230 million in Jewish refugee funds, all but $500 thousand of which were kept by the U.S. government.

When the possibility of a Japanese invasion of British territories arose, Churchill expressed great alarm to Roosevelt but the American President then held all the cards and brushed aside the Prime Minister’s concerns with vague promises that America would regain any lost territory at the conclusion of what Roosevelt was certain would be a successful war.

In actuality, Roosevelt was a bitter opponent of the colonial system and expressed to his inner circle that he had no intentions of returning any former colony to its ante bellum masters.

American pressure on Japan to prevent any attack on Russia is certainly the simplest answer to the complex welter of issues raised in the postwar years concerning the outbreak of war in the Pacific. In reality, Roosevelt was completely successful in his goal of distracting the Japanese military but the price the American public eventually paid was enormous.

America’s Misadventures in the Middle East

It’s time for a fundamental reexamination of the U.S. role in the region.

April 20, 2017

by Chas Freeman

The American Conservative

“From now on,” President Donald Trump declared in his inaugural address, “it’s going to be only America first, America first!” If so, no region stands to be more affected than West Asia and North Africa—what Americans call “the Middle East.” America’s interests there are now entirely derivative rather than direct. They are a function of the self-appointed roles of the United States as the warden of world order, the guarantor of other nations’ security, the shepherd of the world economy, and the custodian of the global commons. If America is now to look out only for itself, it has little obvious reason to be much involved in the Middle East.

The United States is a secular democracy. It has no intrinsic interest in which theology rules hearts or dominates territory in the Middle East. It is not itself now dependent on energy imports from the Persian Gulf or the Maghreb. For most of the two-and-a-half centuries since their country was born, Americans kept a healthy distance from the region and were unharmed by events there. They extended their protection to specific nations in the Middle East as part of a global struggle against Soviet communism that is long past. What happens in the region no longer determines the global balance of power.

U.S. wars in the Middle East are—without exception—wars of choice. These wars have proven ruinously expensive and injurious to the civil liberties of Americans. They have poisoned American political culture with various manifestations of xenophobia. Islamophobia has transitioned naturally to anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and bigotry. In the region itself, American military interventions have produced more anarchy than order, more terror than tranquility, more oppression than democratization, and more blowback than pacification.

More than in any other region, America’s misadventures in the Middle East illustrate the need for the United States to decide whether it is the vindicator only of its own interests or the champion and protector of all the world’s prosperity and security. Can America go its own way or must it keep commitments it made under different circumstances in the past? Are Americans accountable for the damage their interventions have wrought, or free to leave to others the task of remedying the miseries they helped create?

In essence, these choices come down to whether the United States needs to deploy its power on a worldwide basis or just carries on doing so because it did in the past and still can. The state of affairs in the Middle East affects America’s global power. The region is where Africa, Asia, and Europe converge. It is a way station or choke point on air and shipping routes between Asia and Europe. It is where the world’s energy supplies are concentrated. It is the point of origin of the three Abrahamic religions and the driver of global contention between them.

The freedom to transit the Middle East is central to the ability of the United States to project its military power around the world. Cooperative relations with the nations of the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and/or Iran are necessary to assure their facilitation of overflight for U.S. warplanes and passage through the Suez Canal by the U.S. Navy. The hostile state of U.S. relations with Iran makes Saudi Arabia and Egypt the logistical linchpins of America’s worldwide military reach. If the United States remains committed to military operations all over the world, it must stay politically and militarily engaged with at least these two nations. Disengaging from them would imply a decision to greatly reduce America’s global footprint and reach.

U.S. allies and partners everywhere defer to the United States in part because they count on its unique ability and demonstrated willingness to use force to assure untrammeled global access to Persian Gulf energy supplies. These constitute about 28 percent of world energy production. They are a decisive factor in fueling global prosperity. In practice, the only international defender of global access to these resources is the United States.

Fracking and horizontal drilling techniques have made the United States once again an energy exporter. Oil and gas shipments from the Persian Gulf now both complement and compete with oil and gas from America. Yet preventing the disruption of access to Persian Gulf energy is a service that the United States continues to provide free of charge to the global economy. America does not ask the principal consumers of these exports—China, the EU, India, Japan, and Korea—to assume or even share the burden of assuring their own energy security. Arguably, this deprives these countries of reasons to build navies that might rival that of the United States and thus helps to preserve America’s global military primacy. But it’s hard to see what other U.S. interest it now serves.

What costs and benefits would accrue to the United States from phasing in arrangements to share responsibility with others for managing threats to global security and prosperity from the Persian Gulf? Clearly, as Asian navies expanded into what has long been an almost exclusively American operational area, the United States would lose its regional monopoly on naval power. But relieved of the burden of protecting the supply lines of others, the U.S. Navy might be freed to focus on areas and issues with more direct effects on American interests. If “it’s going to be only America first,” this tradeoff calls out for systematic examination.

So, of course, do America’s wars in the region. They include the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as the conflicts in the Sahel that escalating combat with a disorderly jumble of transnational Islamist movements has spawned. None of these military operations is authorized by a congressional declaration of war that justifies the commitment of U.S. forces, sets parameters and objectives for their uses of force, and establishes a legal state of war. Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution requires such a declaration to make wars of choice legal. The Constitution’s assignment of the war power to the Congress is unequivocal and fundamental to the separation of powers.

Notwithstanding this, all current American wars are presidentially ordained, permitted but not forthrightly endorsed by Congress, and subject to no effective oversight by anyone other than the nation’s generals. Such is American militarism. None of these wars has a coherent purpose. In none is the United States now in a position to determine the outcome. In none is any end in sight.

Perhaps it’s time for the president to demand that the Congress step up to its responsibility under the Constitution and either declare war or, by failing to do so, make it clear that he must focus on extricating America from the unconstitutional forays into foreign quagmires he has inherited from his predecessors.

If the Congress can muster the will to reexamine the wars it has negligently tolerated, it should begin by belatedly asking how and on what terms they will conclude. What are America’s objectives? Are these objectives feasible? What would constitute success? When might it come? How much would it cost to achieve and consolidate it? Where the U.S. objective has basically come down to avoiding obvious defeat, what must be done to minimize the consequences of failure? And how are Americans to pay for the debt their ever-widening wars are running up?

Recall that, during the George W. Bush administration, the neoconservatives who launched these wars claimed that they would pay for themselves. The cost of U.S. interventions in West Asia and North Africa is now at least $6 trillion in outlays and obligations—and counting. Infinite credit card rollovers are not a safe financial strategy for either individuals or nations. But the United States is still financing its wars by pyramiding debt.

The president and members of Congress might also usefully reconsider the pseudo-strategy the United States has adopted to deal with anti-American terrorists with global reach. Military campaign plans are a component of strategy, not a substitute for it. The thesis that “we must fight terrorists over there so we won’t have to fight them here” is an article of faith in much of the country. In practice, however, this has turned out to be about as sensible as a protracted effort to protect Americans from being stung by hornets by poking hornets’ nests. The more boots on the ground and drones in the air, the greater both the backlash and the blowback.

About 4 million Muslims have perished since 1990 as a direct or indirect result of U.S. policies and interventions. Since the turn of the century, the death toll among the Muslims of the Middle East from the U.S. “Global War on Terror” is at least 1.3 million and perhaps as many as 2 million people, the vast majority of them civilians. Terrorists, whether home-grown or imported, are “over here” because Americans are “over there” killing, wounding, and humiliating their kin, their loved ones, and others of their faith.

The vigorous embrace of populist Islamophobia by America’s leading politicians alienates and radicalizes mainstream Muslims at home as well as abroad, multiplying the ranks of those with a passionate desire for revenge against America and its allies and protégés. It promises to deny the United States indispensable Muslim allies in combating the Jihadi backlash. As the U.S. area of counterterrorism operations expands, Islamist extremism spreads concomitantly. Many expect a further metastasis of terrorism once the so-called Islamic Caliphate loses its territorial footholds in Iraq and Syria and its followers disperse. Nothing the United States is now doing lessens this probability.

If putting “America first” is to mean anything at all, it must stand for configuring U.S. policies to “insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as the preamble to the Constitution of the United States prescribes. But current U.S. policies toward the Middle East raise the threat of domestic terrorism, increase the danger of foreign attack on the American homeland, foster a garrison mentality that corrodes American liberties, and pile debt on future generations of Americans. It is time to consider whether policies of restraint might not yield better results than those produced by promiscuous meddling, exuberant arms sales, and military adventurism. It is time for the United States to review existing relationships with both security partners and adversaries in the Middle East. Americans need to determine how best to reconfigure and recalibrate these relationships to serve U.S. interests.

U.S. interests themselves are also badly in need of review. The Cold War is long over. Regional rivalries between Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have replaced U.S.-Soviet contention and Arab nationalism as the drivers of events in the Middle East. Intra-Muslim sectarian warfare is spreading. Terrorism with Middle Eastern connections has become a global obsession. The role of the region’s abundant resources of oil and gas in world energy markets has diminished. Longstanding U.S. policy projects have been effectively abandoned. These include efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to democratize Middle Eastern societies, and to exclude Russian power from a role in the region’s affairs.

The central objective of U.S. policy in the Middle East has long been to achieve regional acceptance for the Jewish-settler state in Palestine. American diplomats have doggedly sought a political basis for a reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that could provide sustainable security for Israel and facilitate broad Arab normalization of relations with the Jewish state.

The international community originally approved the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine as part of a proposed partition of Palestine into two states. After decades of expansion, Israel has successfully precluded a two-state resolution of its conflict with its captive Arab populations. There is now de facto a single state in Palestine. A government that is democratically elected by Israeli Jews exercises various degrees of tyranny over Muslim and Christian Arabs. This is a formula that assures continuing Palestinian resistance, the alienation of the world’s nearly two billion Muslims from Israel, and the corrosion of both democracy and traditional Jewish values in Israel.

The Jewish state has evolved since its founding. It has left behind it both the humanism that inspired Zionism and the universal moral precepts traditionally espoused by Judaism. The perception that Israel no longer shares values it once aspired to exemplify is increasing its international isolation, especially from Jews in Europe and the United States. But American diplomacy no longer even pretends to seek to halt Israel’s triumphant march toward existential implosion despite the obvious negative consequences of this for the security and international influence of the United States.

Regional rivalries have somewhat eroded the determination of Arab states to keep their public distance from Israel. Saudi Arabia and some other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) share Israel’s fear of Iran and its policies. This has provided a basis for an increasingly overt anti-Iranian intelligence partnership. It has also led to cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia to manipulate U.S. politics so as to hamstring any American impulse to pursue rapprochement with Iran. But Israeli Jewish racism, cruelty to captive Arab populations, and relentless hate-filled propaganda against Islam impart a moral taint that makes normal relations with Israel anathema to most Muslims. These inhumane aspects of Israeli behavior provide a potential basis for an otherwise-unimaginable Arab, Persian, and Turkish united front against the Jewish state.

American indifference to the human-rights violations that are integral to Israel’s despotic rule over Palestinian Arabs has added to longstanding doubts about the sincerity of the American commitment to human rights and democracy. Such doubts are, of course, far from new. There have been many instances in which the United States transgressed its own values abroad by supporting dictatorships or seeking the overthrow of elected regimes it saw as problematic. In the Middle East, the list begins with the ousting of the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953 and concludes with the overthrow of the Hamas government in Palestine in 2006 and the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt in 2013.

But there has never been any doubt about the ideological sincerity and dedication of the NGOs and individuals engaged in democracy and human-rights promotion. In recent years, Egypt, Israel, and some other Middle Eastern countries have inadvertently paid tribute to the effectiveness of NGO advocacy of democratic norms by passing laws and regulations banning them from either engaging in it or supporting local NGOs that do so. Now, judging by the president’s proposed budget cuts downgrading non-military instruments of statecraft, both uppity democrats and sordid authoritarians abroad can rest easy. America is going out of business as a values exporter, whether by means of peaceful persuasion or by force.

Meanwhile, after a few decades’ vacation, Russia has elbowed aside the United States as the most influential external power in the Levant. It did this with skillful diplomacy, supported by a very limited deployment of its armed forces to Syria. Russian military intervention made common cause with Iran and Hizbullah as well as the Shiite regime in Baghdad, reinvigorated the Syrian government’s armed forces, and rolled back its Islamist and Western-supported insurgent enemies. In the process, it simplified the political choice in Syria to one between secular autocracy and religious tyranny. (Which would you prefer, an irreligious dictatorship or a fanatic theocracy?) And it has brought the war in Syria to the beginning of its end. Russian intervention has finally made credible a peace process incorporating all factions with power on the ground in Syria, including the Assad government. But in keeping with Washington’s new disdain for diplomacy, the United States is not part of this effort.

Moscow’s willingness to stand by President Asad has been calculated to show all in the Middle East that, unlike the United States (which readily abandoned Hosni Mubarak in Egypt), Russia can be counted upon steadfastly to back its protégés. Russia has test-driven its new weapons systems in Syria, showing them off to prospective purchasers. In both Syria and Libya, it has made itself part of the solution to Europe’s refugee crisis.

Moscow has built a quasi-alliance with Tehran against Sunni extremism. After a bad start with Turkey, it has worked out an entente (a limited partnership) with Ankara, undercutting Turkey’s alliances with both Washington and Riyadh. Russia’s achievements are a potent reminder that, when used in support of diplomacy and well-defined political objectives, commitments of force do not have to be overwhelming to be effective, as the “Powell Doctrine” in the United States asserts.

What is the hierarchy of U.S. interests in the Middle East in the new circumstances? It can no longer be headed by the quixotic objective of making peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It must consider the consequences for the United States as well as Israel and its Arab and Persian enemies of the end of hopes for peace and Israel’s increasing alienation from the international community. It must incorporate a reaction to the putative nuclear arms and undeniably real ballistic missile races between Iran and Israel. It must recognize and deal with the danger that this competition will drive others in the Middle East to acquire nuclear weapons. It must inform an American response to the perils and opportunities presented by Russo-Iranian cooperation against Jihadism. It must address the rise of Iranian influence in the region and the consequences of the escalating politico-military and ideological rivalry between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC that this is driving. It must realistically assess and exploit the implications for the United States of the opening for Arab-Israeli entente this rivalry has created.

A ranked order of U.S. interests in the Middle East must acknowledge the region’s centrality to global power projection by the United States. It must provide criteria for assessing the costs and benefits of close association or antagonism with the governments of significant local powers, like those of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the UAE. It must take a hard look in particular at the advantages as well as the costs of better relations with Iran.

It must consider the benefits of trade with the countries of the Middle East, including the importance of weapons sales to Arab countries to sustaining the defense industrial base in the United States. It must address the impact of the return of Russia and Turkey to active involvement in the region’s affairs. Formulating policies that deal with these multiple complexities will require focus and determination as well as strategic vision and diplomatic skill.

Over the course of decades, Israel has systematically eliminated alternatives to continued Jewish oppression or eventual expulsion of the non-Jewish inhabitants of all of the Holy Land. It has discredited the “peace process” and left no room for diplomacy. It has made brokering friendly relations between the “Jewish state” and its neighbors practically infeasible. Israel’s behavior is delegitimizing it and its policies, both in the region and internationally, while devaluing the regional and global reputation of the United States.

There is no military answer to these quandaries. It is a waste of time and money to pretend that U.S. gifts of weapons and money to Israel can eventually provide one. But it is difficult to see any opening for diplomacy as long as U.S. taxpayers continue to make it possible for Israel’s government to pursue policies it finds electorally expedient, despite their counterproductivity.

No one now believes that America has the wisdom, empathy, or objectivity to craft a peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Washington is justifiably regarded as the principal enabler of Israel’s policies, including its defiance of international law, its rejection of Arab peace initiatives, its militarism, and its repeated assaults on Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. The United States has been able to sustain close relations with Arab states in the past despite its close ties to Israel because it has been able to present itself as devoted to making peace between Palestinians and Israelis. It can no longer credibly do so. Sadly for all concerned, peace in the Holy Land is now a diplomatic write-off. This debilitates American prestige and significantly diminishes the clout of the United States not just in the region but more widely.

It is in everyone’s interest to limit nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Israel currently has a nuclear monopoly there. The United States does not find that threatening. Others understandably do. No policy that ignores this reality can hope to do more than delay others in the region from offsetting Israel’s nuclear arsenal with their own similar deterrents.

The taboos of domestic U.S. politics can and often do obscure foreign realities. They cannot erase them. To the extent that other countries fear Israeli or U.S. attack, on the model of the unprovoked 2003 American invasion of Iraq, their incentive to develop their own nuclear deterrent capabilities is increased. The United States must either find a way to assuage these threat perceptions or be prepared to accept that others in the region will copy Israel by eventually going nuclear.

The principal beneficiary of U.S. military interventions and Israel’s attacks on its neighbors in the Middle East in recent decades has been Iran. The American overthrow of the Taliban and Ba`ath regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq removed the most powerful threats to the security of the Islamic Republic. The U.S. Army then installed a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. Israel’s 2006 assault on Lebanon gave Iran’s ally, Hizbullah, a hammerlock on Lebanese politics. Its several massacres of Palestinians of Gaza have left them dependent on Iranian support. If curbing Iranian influence is a valid policy objective of the United States, the Trump administration must find new policies to replace those it inherited. Doing this will require insisting that Israel take American interests, not just its own (as it sees them), into account as it acts.

A common concern about Iran has driven Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some other Arab states toward ententes (limited partnerships for limited purposes, perhaps for limited periods of time). On their face, these partnerships are in the American interest. But with no U.S. participation in them, will they support U.S. interests? They could instead drag America into wars it does not want and cannot sustain.

This uncertainty demands candid private dialogue with regional capitals. The Saudi and Emirati-led war in Yemen is a relevant example of this problem. So is potential Saudi facilitation of an Israeli assault on Iran. Iran, allied Shiite militias in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, and Russia seem to be coming together in a loose coalition to counter Israel, Sunni Islamism, and the United States. Such a division of the Middle East would place the United States perpetually in harm’s way for interests not its own.

Relations between the states and non-state actors in the Middle East are complex. Imagining that any participant in the region’s politics is either all good or all bad is a costly error. The relevant question is not the character of regimes but the extent to which they share specific interests coinciding with those of the United States. If they do, it is a mistake for America to rule out cooperation with them. If their interests are opposed to those of the United States, it is foolish to pretend that they are “allies” and, as such, entitled to across-the-board American support.

The United States must now reckon not just with politico-military dynamics within the Middle East but with the rising influence of countries on its periphery, like Turkey and Russia, and others farther away, like China and India. The Islamist Jihadi threat spans the Muslim world, four-fifths of which is non-Arab. The primary victims of its violent politics are Muslims. But intra-Muslim sectarian strife is more and more spilling over into the non-Muslim world.

This gives the international community a vital interest in containing and extinguishing Islamist extremism. To do so requires addressing it on the political and ideological level as well as through law enforcement and military operations. Military operations alone have been and will continue to be ineffective.

Without the cooperation of key Muslim societies—both Shiite and Sunni—no strategy combining political, law enforcement, and military actions is feasible. Without coordination between the United States, Russia, China, the European Union (EU), India, and religiously authoritative Muslim allies, no effective strategy can be carried out. Without the United States or the leadership it has until recently provided, it is hard to see how such coordination can be realized.

To sum up, Americans have arrived at a moment in which the Middle East they have long imagined no longer exists and the actions they are taking no longer yield the intended results. A fundamental reexamination of the premises and purposes of U.S. policies in the region is in order. The complexities of such a review would be formidable. But policies based on past rather than current realities will only get the countries of the Middle East and the United States into even more trouble than they are already in. American policies in the Middle East, as elsewhere, must spring from unflinching analysis of the current situation, be disciplined by a clear-eyed view of American interests, and put those interests—not those of others—first.

Saudi king fires ministers, scraps pay cuts

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has sacked key officials, including the head of the army embroiled in Yemen’s conflict. He’s also erased cuts made last year to Saudi civil servants’ pay, prompted by oil revenue falls.

April 23, 2017


King Salman initiated wide-ranging shake-ups via royal decrees late Saturday, including the appointment of one of his sons as Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to Washington.

Prince Khaled bin Salman, a US-trained F-15 pilot, replaces Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki. He had been “removed” after serving just one year, said the Saudi Press Agency.

Longstanding oil supply-based ties between Gulf states and the US became frayed during the past Obama administration.

Saudi Arabia was visited in the past week by Jim Mattis, the new US defense secretary under President Donald Trump who in January denounced the “harmful influence” of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s rival neighbor.

Ministers, army head replaced

King Salman in his decree also fired his civil service minister Khaled al-Araj, information minister Adel al-Turaifi and technology minister Mohammed al-Suwaiyel.

Late last year, the Arab News reported that Araj was under investigation by the kingdom’s anti-corruption commission for the alleged “irregular hiring” of his son.

The king also appointed Fahad Bin Turki to replace Lieutenant General Eid al-Shalwi as head of the Saudi army.

Two years ago, Saudi Arabia alongside Gulf nations such as Qatar began a campaign again Houthi rebels in Yemen, described by some analysts as a “quagmire.” The US provides logistical and intelligence support for that Saudi-led coalition.

Pay levels restored

In a key move, King Salman restored financial allowances for civil servants and military personnel slashed 20 percent last September as the kingdom sought to save money at a time of low oil prices.

The recommendation to reinstate pay levels had come from the second-in-line to the throne, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, another of the king’s sons and also defense minister, who leads a drive to diversify the economy called “Vision 2030.”

A Saudi government spokesman cited better-than-expected budgetary figures in the first quarter of 2017, saying a “strong improvement” justified the pay reinstatement.

“The royal order returns all allowances, financial benefits, and bonuses to civil servants and military staff,” said state-run Ekhbariya TV.

Foreigners shunned?

Government employees make up about two-thirds of working Saudis.

Last Thursday, the Saudi labor ministry announced that foreigners would no longer be allowed to work in Saudi Arabia’s numerous shopping malls.

Only Saudi men and women would work in malls across the kingdom, the ministry said in a Twitter message.

About nine million foreigners work in the kingdom, according to latest available figures from 2015, ranging from street cleaning, waiting on tables and providing management expertise.

Bloomberg News said from July the Saudi government planned to impose a levy on foreign workers with dependents.

The Jadwa Investment firm, citing third quarter 2016 figures, said the unemployment rate for Saudi women was 34.5 percent.

For Saudi males it was 5.7 percent, Jadwa said. Saudis typically favor jobs in the public sector, where hours are shorter.

Diversification abroad

A further decree issued late Saturday named Ibrahim al-Omar as governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), an agency that manages Saudi Arabia’s foreign investments.

King Salman toured Asia in March that included visits to Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and China, and resulted in trade and investment deals.

















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