TBR News August 31, 2018

Aug 31 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. August 31, 2018:”There is growing turmoil in a country where the irrational actions of the President are increasingly feeding sharp political divisions. The increasing attacks on Trump by many diverse areas of the media are polatizing public opinion into us vs them positions and instead of a president who understands both the art of diplomacy and its necessity, we have as a national leader a man who is incapable of telling the truth, is threatening against any entity or individual whom he sees as critics, and whose irrational attacks on foreign leaders and business entities is rapidly building a consortium of angry enemies.”

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: Number 11
  • Donald Trump’s approval rating sinks to lowest of his presidency
  • Exclusive: Chief U.S. spy catcher says China using LinkedIn to recruit Americans
  • America’s Facebook Friend Allies
  • Even Israeli Officials Are Warning That Trump’s Moves Against Palestinians May Backfire
  • China Daily derides Trump’s Twitter rants as ‘messages from some alternative universe’
  • Exclusive: Iran moves missiles to Iraq in warning to enemies
  • Russia warns U.S. against ‘illegal aggression against Syria’
  • Europe and nationalism: A country-by-country guide


Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: Number 11

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018


  • Apr 7, 2017

“In just the last few days our nation’s ICE officers have arrested … 84 criminal aliens in the Pacific Northwest.”

Source: Weekly address

in fact: Fewer “criminal aliens” were arrested than Trump claimed. According to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement itself, of the 84 people detained in the Pacific Northwest had criminal records, not all 84.


  • Apr 11, 2017

“And yesterday, Toyota just announced that it will invest more than $1.3 billion — it’s probably going to be $1.9 billion — into its Georgetown, Ky., plant, an investment that would not have been made if we didn’t win the election.”

Source: Remarks at CEO discussion

in fact: Like many of the recent investments Trump claims have been made solely because of his victory, this one had nothing to do with his victory. A Toyota spokesman told FactCheck.org that the investment was planned “several years ago” and “predates the Trump administration”; it is part of a larger package of investments the company announced two weeks before Trump’s inauguration.


Speaking about chief strategist Steve Bannon: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve.”

Source: Interview with the New York Post

in fact: The Associated Press noted that Trump was inaccurately downplaying his relationship with Bannon, whom he certainly knew by the time he added Bannon to his campaign in 2016. “David Bossie, who was deputy campaign manager, told The Associated Press after Trump took office that Bossie had introduced Trump and Bannon in 2011 at Trump Tower and they had grown close. Bannon interviewed Trump at least nine times in 2015 and 2016,” the AP wrote.


  • Apr 12, 2017

“I mean the car industry is not going to leave us anymore, believe me. The car industry is staying in our country. They were leaving. If I didn’t win this election, you would have lost your car industry to Mexico and to other countries.

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: Though some production has shifted abroad and continues to do so, the industry certainly was not at risk of vanishing before Trump took office: domestic production increased from 5.8 million vehicles in 2009, during the financial crisis, to 11.8 million vehicles in 2015, according to the American Automotive Policy Council.


About his failure to make executive appointments: “I am waiting right now for so many people. Hundreds and hundreds of people. And then they’ll say, why isn’t Trump doing this faster? You can’t do it faster, because they’re obstructing. They’re obstructionists.”

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: Trump’s glacial pace has nothing to do with Democratic obstruction. He simply isn’t nominating people for posts.


“When you look at Susan Rice and what’s going on, and so many people are coming up to me and apologizing now. They’re saying you know, you were right when you said that. Perhaps I didn’t know how right I was, because nobody knew the extent of it.”

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, was criticized by some on the right over her decision during the 2016 campaign to request the identities of certain people anonymously mentioned in U.S. intelligence reports, possibly including Trump ally and future national security adviser Michael Flynn. But there is no indication that Rice did anything wrong, or even unusual, and even if she did, this would not make Trump correct for claiming Obama had wiretapped him.


“The New York Times said the word ‘wiretapped’ in the headline of the first edition. Then they took it out of there fast when they realized.”

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: The Times never changed its headline; it simply used different words in its print and online headlines, which is normal.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times


“We’re talking about surveillance. It was ‘wiretapped’ in quotes.” And: “But I put ‘wiretapped’ in quotes.”

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: Trump did use quotation marks in two of his four tweets accusing Obama of improperly surveilling him. However, in the other two, he made the same accusation without quotation marks. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process,” he wrote in one; “I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” he wrote in the other.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times


“Obamacare is a disaster. It’s really gone. Essentially, it’s gone.”

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: We allow Trump rhetorical license to call Obamacare “collapsing” and even “exploding,” though experts say neither is true. But it is plainly false to say the law is “gone.” While its marketplaces have problems, they are still functioning and providing insurance to millions; so is its Medicaid

Trump has repeated this claim 33 times


“Well, as an example, on health care, I won’t get one Democrat vote, even though many of them think it’s an incredible plan.”

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: There is no evidence that any Democrat in Congress thinks his health plan is “incredible.” The plan has been denounced by a wide variety of experts and interest groups, and even many Republicans say it is bad.


Speaking about the battle to retake Mosul from Daesh, also known ISIS and ISIL: “Look, they’re still fighting. Mosul was supposed to last for a week and now they’ve been fighting it for many months and so many more people died.”

Source: Interview with Fox Business

in fact: Military officials never predicted that the battle would be completed in a week. The battle was always framed as a long, tough fight.


“And Korea actually used to be a part of China.”

Source: Interview with the Wall Street Journal

in fact: Though China has repeatedly invaded the Korean Peninsula, Korea was never actually a part of China. The claim outraged South Koreans.


“The Secretary General and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete.”

Source: Remarks at joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

in fact: NATO has long fought terrorism. The change NATO made in 2016 was merely to reorganize its operations, adding an assistant secretary general for intelligence and security. The change was unrelated to Trump’s complaints, experts say.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times


“Great win in Kansas last night for Ron Estes, easily winning the Congressional race against the Dems, who spent heavily & predicted victory!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: One can easily dispute the claim that Estes, a Republican candidate in a special election to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo, won “easily”: he prevailed by just seven percentage points in a district Trump won by 27 points in the 2016 election, and he required a visit from Ted Cruz and a last-minute robocall from Trump to do it. That subjective claim aside, though, the rest of the tweet is incorrect. Democrats were vastly outspent by Republicans — the party’s reluctance to help candidate James Thompson drew intense criticism after the vote — and Democrats did not predict victory


  • Apr 16, 2017

“I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: It has never been “almost an impossible thing” for a Republican to win by a large margin in the Electoral College. Since the 1870s, every elected Republican president except for George W. Bush and Richard Nixon (in 1968) has won a bigger share of the Electoral College than Trump did.

Trump has repeated this claim 17 times


Donald Trump’s approval rating sinks to lowest of his presidency

New survey shows first time the national displeasure rating has exceeded 50%, and a majority of support for Mueller’s Russia investigation

August 31, 2018

by Joanna Walters in New York and agencies

The Guardian

Donald Trump has slumped to the lowest approval rating of his presidency, with 60% disapproving of his performance as the US president, according to a new national survey.The figure includes 53% who say they disapprove strongly of his performance in the White House, the first time the national displeasure rating has exceeded 50%, according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll published on Friday morning.

The poll that also found that a majority support the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and think Trump should not fire attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Just 36% of those asked said they approved of the job Trump is doing, matching his low in surveys carried out since he was inaugurated in January of 2017.

The startling new measures will make even stronger the contrast on Friday between the low public opinion of Trump and his glaring absence from services scheduled to commemorate the late Senator John McCain, whose casket was transported from Arizona, the state he represented and where he died last Saturday, to Washington DC on Thursday evening.

McCain on Friday becomes only the 31st American to be accorded the honor of lying in state in the US Capitol in Washington, where the vice-president, Mike Pence, will represent the administration in a morning service to which Trump has expressly not been invited.

The president has also not been invited to the memorial service for McCain in the National Cathedral on the outskirts of Washington on Saturday, where former presidents Barack Obama, a Democrat, and George W Bush, a Republican, were asked by McCain in recent months to give eulogies.

The results of the new opinion poll come 10 days after Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found guilty of fraud by a jury in a federal trial in Alexandria, Virginia. And on the day Manafort was convicted, Trump’s former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in a federal court in New York to, among other charges, campaign finance violations for paying hush money to women who allege affairs with Trump in the past – violations that Cohen blamed on Trump in open court.

Americans are more or less split on the wisdom of Congress impeaching Trump. The poll found that 49% said impeachment proceedings that could lead to Trump being removed from office should happen, while 46% say Congress should not go through with such a move.

A total of 64% of those polled said Trump should not fire Jeff Sessions, whom Trump has repeatedly lambasted since the attorney general recused himself, shortly after taking up his post in 2017, from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow and obstruction of justice.

And a strong 63% approve of the Russia investigation being carried out, with 52% saying they strongly approve.

In the week since John McCain died, the rift between the two men has been deepened, with criticism of Trump for lack of tributes to McCain, followed by a belated, lukewarm acknowledgment of McCain’s service to the country as a war hero and longtime senator. A final statement from McCain, who was known for reaching across the political divides, read out after his death, was critical of “tribal” politics and insular ultra-nationalism in a pointed dig a Trump’s style.

Sarah Palin, McCain’s disastrous choice to be his Republican running mate in the 2008 election, has also pointedly not been invited to the funeral service on Saturday.

In another tumultuous week for Trump, he announced that his White House counsel, Don McGahn, who has been cooperating with Mueller, will resign. The president also renewed his assault on the mainstream media and stepped up attacks on internet giant Google, alleging anti-conservative bias from both.

He also informed Congress on Thursday that he is canceling pay raises due in January for most civilian federal employees, citing budget constraints even as he repeatedly touts the strength of the US economy.


Exclusive: Chief U.S. spy catcher says China using LinkedIn to recruit Americans

August 31, 2018

by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down.

William Evanina, the U.S. counter-intelligence chief, told Reuters in an interview that intelligence and law enforcement officials have told LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft Corp., about China’s “super aggressive” efforts on the site.

He said the Chinese campaign includes contacting thousands of LinkedIn members at a time, but he declined to say how many fake accounts U.S. intelligence had discovered, how many Americans may have been contacted and how much success China has had in the recruitment drive.

German and British authorities have previously warned their citizens that Beijing is using LinkedIn to try to recruit them as spies. But this is the first time a U.S. official has publicly discussed the challenge in the United States and indicated it is a bigger problem than previously known.

Evanina said LinkedIn should look at copying the response of Twitter, Google and Facebook, which have all purged fake accounts allegedly linked to Iranian and Russian intelligence agencies.

“I recently saw that Twitter is cancelling, I don’t know, millions of fake accounts, and our request would be maybe LinkedIn could go ahead and be part of that,” said Evanina, who heads the U.S. National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center.

It is highly unusual for a senior U.S. intelligence official to single out an American-owned company by name and publicly recommend it take action. LinkedIn boasts 562 million users in more than 200 counties and territories, including 149 million U.S. members.

Evanina did not, however, say whether he was frustrated by LinkedIn’s response or whether he believes it has done enough.

LinkedIn’s head of trust and safety, Paul Rockwell, confirmed the company had been talking to U.S. law enforcement agencies about Chinese espionage efforts. Earlier this month, LinkedIn said it had taken down “less than 40” fake accounts whose users were attempting to contact LinkedIn members associated with unidentified political organizations. Rockwell did not say whether those were Chinese accounts.

“We are doing everything we can to identify and stop this activity,” Rockwell told Reuters. “We’ve never waited for requests to act and actively identify bad actors and remove bad accounts using information we uncover and intelligence from a variety of sources including government agencies.”

Rockwell declined to provide numbers of fake accounts associated with Chinese intelligence agencies. He said the company takes “very prompt action to restrict accounts and mitigate and stop any essential damage that can happen” but gave no details.

LinkedIn “is a victim here,” Evanina said. “I think the cautionary tale … is, ‘You are going to be like Facebook. Do you want to be where Facebook was this past spring with congressional testimony, right?’” he said, referring to lawmakers’ questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Russia’s use of Facebook to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections.

China’s foreign ministry disputed Evanina’s allegations.

“We do not know what evidence the relevant U.S. officials you cite have to reach this conclusion. What they say is complete nonsense and has ulterior motives,” the ministry said in a statement.


Evanina said he was speaking out in part because of the case of Kevin Mallory, a retired CIA officer convicted in June of conspiring to commit espionage for China.

A fluent Mandarin speaker, Mallory was struggling financially when he was contacted via a LinkedIn message in February 2017 by a Chinese national posing as a headhunter, according to court records and trial evidence.

The individual, using the name Richard Yang, arranged a telephone call between

Mallory and a man claiming to work at a Shanghai think tank.

During two subsequent trips to Shanghai, Mallory agreed to sell U.S. defense secrets – sent over a special cellular device he was given – even though he assessed his Chinese contacts to be intelligence officers, according to the U.S. government’s case against him. He is due to be sentenced in September and could face life in prison.

While Russia, Iran, North Korea and other nations also use LinkedIn and other platforms to identify recruitment targets, the U.S. intelligence officials said China is the most prolific and poses the biggest threat.

U.S. officials said China’s Ministry of State Security has “co-optees” – individuals who are not employed by intelligence agencies but work with them – set up fake accounts to approach potential recruits.

They said the targets include experts in fields such as supercomputing, nuclear energy, nanotechnology, semi-conductors, stealth technology, health care, hybrid grains, seeds and green energy.

Chinese intelligence uses bribery or phony business propositions in its recruitment efforts. Academics and scientists, for example, are offered payment for scholarly or professional papers and, in some cases, are later asked or pressured to pass on U.S. government or commercial secrets.

Some of those who set up fake accounts have been linked to IP addresses associated with Chinese intelligence agencies, while others have been set up by bogus companies, including some that purport to be in the executive recruiting business, said a senior U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the matter.

The official said “some correlation” has been found between Americans targeted through LinkedIn and data hacked from the Office of Personnel Management, a U.S. government agency, in attacks in 2014 and 2015.

The hackers stole sensitive private information, such as addresses, financial and medical records, employment history and fingerprints, of more than 22 million Americans who had undergone background checks for security clearances.

The United States identified China as the leading suspect in the massive hacking, an assertion China’s foreign ministry at the time dismissed as `absurd logic.`


About 70 percent of China’s overall espionage is aimed at the U.S. private sector, rather than the government, said Joshua Skule, the head of the FBI’s intelligence division, which is charged with countering foreign espionage in the United States.

“They are conducting economic espionage at a rate that is unparalleled in our history,” he said.

Evanina said five current and former U.S. officials – including Mallory – have been charged with or convicted of spying for China in the past two and a half years.

He indicated that additional cases of suspected espionage for China by U.S. citizens are being investigated, but declined to provide details.

U.S. intelligence services are alerting current and former officials to the threat and telling them what security measures they can take to protect themselves.

Some current and former officials post significant details about their government work history online – even sometimes naming classified intelligence units that the government does not publicly acknowledge.

LinkedIn “is a very good site,” Evanina said. “But it makes for a great venue for foreign adversaries to target not only individuals in the government, formers, former CIA folks, but academics, scientists, engineers, anything they want. It’s the ultimate playground for collection.”

Reporting by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by John Walcott; Editing by Kieran Murray and Ross Colvin


America’s Facebook Friend Allies

We seem obsessed with collecting them, even though they’re far more of a burden than any online acquaintance.

August 16, 2018

by Doug Bandow

The American Conservative

Washington has been supremely embarrassed—by a nominal ally, as usual. After the Trump administration insisted that its involvement in Yemen helped reduce civilian casualties there, Saudi Arabia promptly launched an air attack that slaughtered a bus full of school children.

It was a demonstration of how America’s allies often cause more trouble than her enemies do.

No country has more allies that the United States. The most important ones are in Europe and Asia, though Washington also designates favored nations as “Major Non-NATO Allies” (MNNAs), which typically receive some mix of security guarantees and financial support. Then there are a few informal allies, which are security partners in all but name.

This list seems ever to increase. U.S. policymakers constantly seek out more, rather like how many strive to increase their Facebook friends. And indeed, many of America’s professed friends have no more value than those on Facebook.

There are 28 other NATO members, including such behemoths as Albania, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Recently invited to join was Macedonia. Presidents have designated 16 nations as MNNAs, which includes Australia, Japan, and South Korea, along with Egypt, Bahrain, Israel, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Argentina. Saudi Arabia and Taiwan are de facto allies, with presumed but unclear security guarantees.

That’s a lot of charges for America to keep track of. Unfortunately, many of these allies haven’t been putting their best faces forward lately, which has caused plenty of headaches for Washington.

Germany. This enemy turned ally should be the cornerstone of any continental defense alliance. The Federal Republic has Europe’s largest economy and population. It also has a history of military accomplishment (though Germans are admittedly uncomfortable pointing that out). Yet Berlin treats Germany’s and Europe’s defense as an afterthought. The Merkel government has ramped up military spending slightly, though to what effect is unclear: the Bundeswehr lacks even minimal readiness and could not be deployed in any serious fight.

Turkey. Having morphed into the caliphate that the Islamic State only claimed to be, Turkey is growing more Islamist and authoritarian by the day. The new sultan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still feels the need to hold elections. But they are mere formalities, with Erdogan having seized control of the media, imprisoned political opponents, punished critical businessmen, and silenced academics. He’s also treated tens of thousands of people as traitors, prosecuting some, firing others, banning travel by many, and scaring private firms against employing most of them. At the same time, Ankara has undermined Washington’s security interests, purchasing Russian military equipment, facilitating ISIS activity on Turkish territory, targeting America’s Kurdish allies, threatening U.S. troops stationed with Kurdish forces, and confronting NATO neighbor Greece.

Saudi Arabia. Even after modestly loosening the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s cultural strictures, the Saudi government shares few interests and values with America. Politically and religiously, Saudi is a totalitarian state. There are no meaningful elections, no critical media, no opposition activists, no public worship by non-Muslims, and no limits to the abusive power of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud. Despite his reputation as a reformer, MbS, as he is known, is unwilling to accept the slightest criticism at home or abroad. Internationally he is a reckless and bloody adventurer. He attacked Yemen to restore a pliable leader to power, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. He supported radical insurgents in Syria, contributing to that nation’s violent implosion. He attempted to isolate and apparently planned to invade Qatar with the intention of turning it into a puppet state, until U.S. pressure and Turkish troops prevented that. He kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister and forced his resignation—which was immediately reversed when Riyadh finally allowed its captive to leave.

Egypt. Pharaoh Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who usually uses the title “president,” has created a police state far more fearsome than anything deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak ever ran. Cairo, dependent on Saudi subsidies, joined the assault on Qatar. Washington, meanwhile, pays Egypt not to attack Israel, even though the comfortable, well-paid, and influential Egyptian military elite has no intention of risking the good life with a foolish war. The money instead underwrites the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Egyptians, who years hence likely will remember who aided their oppressors.

Israel. Politically inviolate in America, Israel is a regional superpower that requires neither subsidy nor guarantee for its security. Its only serious existential threat comes from within, created by more than half a century of brutal occupation over a large Palestinian population. Moreover, in coming years that occupation could force Israel to choose between being Jewish and democratic. And even worse, the Netanyahu government is driving Washington towards war with Iran, a nation that poses no threat to America and that can be contained by its neighbors.

Poland and the Baltic States. The reason Germany and most other NATO members spend so little on their militaries is because they don’t really fear Russia. An attack by Moscow on Europe is only slightly more likely than a Martian invasion. President Vladimir Putin is not pushing a global ideology and would benefit little if his troops ended up occupying a war-ravaged continent. Russia would also lose any full-scale war with America and Europe. Poland and the Baltics seemingly do worry more about Moscow’s ambitions, but they aren’t willing to spend on their defense. These governments—other than Estonia—have found it painful to hit even the alliance’s recommended military spending level of 2 percent of GDP. Yet even that is a pitiful amount for nations that claim to be at risk of a Russian blitzkrieg. Instead of pouring resources into a tough territorial defense, they want Washington to station U.S. forces on their territory.

Argentina, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, and Morocco. Why are these considered allies? Argentina is a nice place to visit, but it has little security relevance to the United States: years ago, Washington chose the United Kingdom over Argentina when those two states came to blows over the Falkland Islands. Tunisia is the one success of the Arab Spring, but a “major” ally? American forces should have come home from Afghanistan years ago. Pakistan has continually undermined America’s policy in neighboring Afghanistan. The Philippines has a military even less fit for combat than Germany’s but expects Washington to fight China to protect its contested territorial claims. And although Morocco is a great tourist destination, it occupies the Western Sahara against the wishes of that region’s people.

Japan. Another enemy turned friend, Tokyo for decades enthusiastically hid behind its U.S.-imposed constitution, which technically forbids it to create a military. The Japanese instead established a “Self-Defense Force” and greatly limited its responsibilities. That made sense in the early years after World War II, but certainly not today. Japan has the capability to deter both North Korea and China and could contribute significantly to Asian-Pacific security. Even once skeptical nations such as the Philippines want their former occupier to do more. So far, however, Japan prefers that U.S. policymakers risk Los Angeles to protect Tokyo.

Montenegro. This micro-state entered NATO last year, bringing with it a 2,000-man military. The country is best known as the movie set for the James Bond film Casino Royale. As an international combatant, it compares poorly to the imaginary Duchy of Grand Fenwick immortalized in the novel and movie The Mouse that Roared. Likely next new member Macedonia has a similar feel, though its military is bigger, about 8,000 men.

Facebook friends aren’t worth much, but at least they normally don’t cost anything. Accepting an online friend does not obligate one to pay his mortgage, gas up his car, and defend him from local gangsters.

America’s allies are very different. They expect to be paid for everything they do, don’t do, could have done, and were willing to do if we’d thought to ask. They want security guarantees, explicit and implicit. In the worst cases, they drag America into stupid, needless, endless wars.

Alliances are not social clubs to which all countries should belong. They are a means to an end, military organizations that should enhance America’s security. Most of our allies today fail that standard. Ending unnecessary alliances doesn’t mean always going it alone. It means cooperating with countries towards shared ends while maintaining the flexibility to assess the degree of danger and proper response.

Thankfully, America faces few true existential threats. Washington should stop automatically treating its allies’ enemies as its own enemies. Better to avoid unnecessary conflicts, leave capable friendly states responsible for their own defense, and encourage regional security cooperation.

If U.S. military action is necessary as a last resort, so be it. But let that action reflect necessity on behalf of American security, not misguided loyalty to a fake ally.


Even Israeli Officials Are Warning That Trump’s Moves Against Palestinians May Backfire

August 30 2018

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

Jared Kushner has yet to formally unveil his highly touted peace plan for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. But in the past weeks and months, its outlines have become increasingly clear. Recent moves by the United States to recognize Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and deprive Palestinians of refugee status have taken key issues off the table before any future peace negotiation even begins. The Trump administration has announced a steady stream of cuts in aid for Palestinians, including reported plans to stop all funding for the United National Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency which provides healthcare and schooling for Palestinian refugees, as well as cutting $200 million in economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza. These moves are helping clarify the Trump administration’s strategy for getting to peace in the region: imposing maximum pain on the Palestinians as a means of bullying them into submission.

But this strategy may backfire, including against a Netanyahu government that has enthusiastically supported Trump’s get-tough approach. Even former Israeli military officials have begun raising the alarm that the Trump administration’s punitive actions against the Palestinians, rather than bringing peace, are leading the region toward a new era of conflict. In an article this week in Ha’aretz, former Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner criticized the administration’s attempts to “blackmail” the Palestinians, stating that such a strategy would lead to a power vacuum in the West Bank, warning that “hardballing the Palestinian into submission is likely to blow up on Israel’s doorstep.” Lerner’s warning echoes previous reports from Israeli military officials that funding cuts are likely to lead to a humanitarian crisis and further unrest in the occupied territories.

The Trump administration’s unapologetically anti-Palestinian posture, famously symbolized this May by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley walking out of a U.N. Security Council meeting to avoid even hearing a speech by the Palestinian envoy, is in many ways something new in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. While the United States has never been seen as a neutral arbiter on the conflict — famously characterized as “Israel’s lawyer” even by U.S. officials who have taken part in negotiations — the Trump administration’s actions have risen to a new level of overt hostility to Palestinian claims. Going back to the administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman, successive U.S. presidents have shown a willingness to downplay the right of self-determination for the Arab people living in Palestine, while supporting Israeli expansion.

But experts say that even weighed against this shabby historical standard, the Trump administration’s approach is unique for its single-minded focus on satisfying short-term Israeli goals and political constituencies in the U.S., even at the cost of U.S. interests.

“Past U.S. administrations were also slanted toward the Israelis, but what’s different today is that the usual mitigating factors in decision-making, such as American national security interests and the desire to at least appear even-handed, no longer seem to be present,” says Khaled Elgindy, a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute. “Instead we have domestic politics and ideology in their purest form dictating U.S. policy on this issue.”

A number of high-ranking U.S. officials have strong ideological ties to the Israeli right, including U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who has been personally involved in the funding of West Bank settlements and whose appointment was even opposed by hundreds of U.S. rabbis in a public petition. Under Friedman, Kushner, and Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt, the administration has charged ahead with provocative actions like cutting critical aid for organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, despite warnings even from pro-Israel organizations that these actions are setting the stage for unrest.

“Even Israeli military officials have weighed in against cutting aid to UNRWA, because they know that there are security implications on the ground to such a decision,” says Elgindy. “But this doesn’t seem to be a factor in the Trump administration’s thinking.”

Despite helping champion this effort to make life worse for the Palestinian people, Kushner has also, somewhat incongruously, held himself out to them as a peacemaker. In an interview published in Arabic with a Palestinian newspaper in June, Kushner claimed that “the prospects for peace are very much alive.” He also claimed that Palestinian leaders were refusing to negotiate with him due to the fear that “we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life.”

In recent months, White House officials have suggested that they have plans to boost economic activity in the occupied territories as a means of helping woo ordinary Palestinians and hopefully reconciling them to the continued denial of their political rights and the loss of key interests like a capital in East Jerusalem and the return of refugees. This idea of an “economic peace” has long been promoted by Israeli officials as a way of sidestepping thornier political questions. Israel’s warming relationships with the Gulf Arab monarchies have also boosted the prospects for such an approach being tried, with states like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia reported as potentially bankrolling investments in the occupied territories.

But experts with experience in past negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians say that, despite the hopes of Kushner and the Gulf Arab leaders, such a plan is unlikely to bear fruit.

“The idea behind an ‘economic peace’ is that if you keep people economically satisfied, they won’t demand their political rights,” says Diana Buttu, a political analyst based in Ramallah and former legal adviser to the Palestinian side during the Oslo peace process. “Such an idea is not going to work because this conflict is fundamentally about politics and human rights, not economics.”

Buttu adds that the Trump administration’s approach of favoring Israel while bullying the Palestinians into submission may achieve the short-term goal of pleasing the president’s supporters among Christian evangelicals and donors like Sheldon Adelson, but it is unlikely to win Palestinians cooperation with any peace plan. Such an approach may indeed backfire on the Israeli government in the long-term. Faced with a hostile U.S. administration, intransigent Israeli leadership and feckless local government in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians may end up bypassing their own ineffectual leaders and fighting to achieve their rights directly. Grassroots movements like the Great Return March in Gaza, and protests in villages like Nabi Saleh, have suggested that the weakening of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, along with the likely death of the two-state solution, may already be giving rise to new citizen-led movements engaged in direct action against the occupation.

“Palestinians have weathered a lot, but what they are feeling now is that their leadership is incapable of defending them from the Trumps of the world,” Buttu says. If such a dynamic accelerates, it could create a serious dilemma for the Israeli government. “If you looked at South Africa during in 1984, during what seemed like the worst of apartheid, no one would’ve thought that within 10 years that the country would have a black president and that it would be Mandela of all people.”

Butto added, “Things can change just like that.”



China Daily derides Trump’s Twitter rants as ‘messages from some alternative universe’

August 31, 2018


In a Friday editorial, China Daily said that US President Donald Trump’s social media rants are “from some alternative universe,” following his claim that China hacked Hillary Clinton’s email server.

Trump’s allegation was met with scepticism by commentators, both foreign and domestic, after he posted it on Twitter this week. The Chinese newspaper has now weighed in to allege that he is looking for a “scapegoat” to draw attention away from domestic scandals.

The president tweeted on Wednesday about a “very big story” which claimed that Hillary Clinton’s email server had been hacked by China. He also took the opportunity to sardonically deride both the FBI and Department of Justice while also taking a potshot at the ongoing Mueller investigation saying, “Are they sure it wasn’t Russia (just kidding!)?”

The China Daily’s riposte was equally pointed. “To the thinking person, there are few things more disconcerting than a tweet by the US president,” it reads.

As the editorial points out, the Chinese government was quick to deny Trump’s claim. The paper, which is owned by the Communist Party of China, added that the tweet was clearly an attempt to distract voters “as he desperately needs a scapegoat,” ahead of the upcoming midterm elections in November, which will see the Republican party fight to maintain control of both houses of Congress.

“Based on both his own definition and from the perspective of the FBI investigation, what he has just resorted to is fiction. Since his supporters have shown a willingness to suspend disbelief, we can no doubt look forward to more such tales,” the scathing editorial concludes.


Exclusive: Iran moves missiles to Iraq in warning to enemies

August 31, 2018

by John and Ahmed Rasheed


PARIS/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iran has given ballistic missiles to Shi’ite proxies in Iraq and is developing the capacity to build more there to deter attacks on its interests in the Middle East and to give it the means to hit regional foes, Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources said.

Any sign that Iran is preparing a more aggressive missile policy in Iraq will exacerbate tensions between Tehran and Washington, already heightened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

It would also embarrass France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the three European signatories to the nuclear deal, as they have been trying to salvage the agreement despite new U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

According to three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources, Iran has transferred short-range ballistic missiles to allies in Iraq over the last few months. Five of the officials said it was helping those groups to start making their own.

“The logic was to have a backup plan if Iran was attacked,” one senior Iranian official told Reuters. “The number of missiles is not high, just a couple of dozen, but it can be increased if necessary.”

Iran has previously said its ballistic missile activities are purely defensive in nature. Iranian officials declined to comment when asked about the latest moves.

The Iraqi government and military both declined to comment.

The Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar missiles in question have ranges of about 200 km to 700 km, putting Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh or the Israeli city of Tel Aviv within striking distance if the weapons were deployed in southern or western Iraq.

The Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has bases in both those areas. Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani is overseeing the program, three of the sources said.

Western countries have already accused Iran of transferring missiles and technology to Syria and other allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Iran’s Sunni Muslim Gulf neighbors and its arch-enemy Israel have expressed concerns about Tehran’s regional activities, seeing it as a threat to their security.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the missile transfers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that anybody that threatened to wipe Israel out “would put themselves in a similar danger”.


The Western source said the number of missiles was in the 10s and that the transfers were designed to send a warning to the United States and Israel, especially after air raids on Iranian troops in Syria. The United States has a significant military presence in Iraq.

“It seems Iran has been turning Iraq into its forward missile base,” the Western source said.

The Iranian sources and one Iraqi intelligence source said a decision was made some 18 months ago to use militias to produce missiles in Iraq, but activity had ramped up in the last few months, including with the arrival of missile launchers.

“We have bases like that in many places and Iraq is one of them. If America attacks us, our friends will attack America’s interests and its allies in the region,” said a senior IRGC commander who served during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The Western source and the Iraqi source said the factories being used to develop missiles in Iraq were in al-Zafaraniya, east of Baghdad, and Jurf al-Sakhar, north of Kerbala. One Iranian source said there was also a factory in Iraqi Kurdistan

The areas are controlled by Shi’ite militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the closest to Iran. Three sources said Iraqis had been trained in Iran as missile operators.

The Iraqi intelligence source said the al-Zafaraniya factory produced warheads and the ceramic of missile moulds under former President Saddam Hussein. It was reactivated by local Shi’ite groups in 2016 with Iranian assistance, the source said.

A team of Shi’ite engineers who used to work at the facility under Saddam were brought in, after being screened, to make it operational, the source said. He also said missiles had been tested near Jurf al-Sakhar.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon declined to comment.

One U.S official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Tehran over the last few months has transferred missiles to groups in Iraq but could not confirm that those missiles had any launch capability from their current positions.

Washington has been pushing its allies to adopt a tough anti-Iran policy since it reimposed sanctions this month.

While the European signatories to the nuclear deal have so far balked at U.S. pressure, they have grown increasingly impatient over Iran’s ballistic missile program.

France in particular has bemoaned Iranian “frenzy” in developing and propagating missiles and wants Tehran to open negotiations over its ballistic weapons.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday that Iran was arming regional allies with rockets and allowing ballistic proliferation. “Iran needs to avoid the temptation to be the (regional) hegemon,” he said.

In March, the three nations proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its missile activity, although they failed to push them through after opposition from some member states.

“Such a proliferation of Iranian missile capabilities throughout the region is an additional and serious source of concern,” a document from the three European countries said at the time.


A regional intelligence source also said Iran was storing a number of ballistic missiles in areas of Iraq that were under effective Shi’ite control and had the capacity to launch them.

The source could not confirm that Iran has a missile production capacity in Iraq.

A second Iraqi intelligence official said Baghdad had been aware of the flow of Iranian missiles to Shi’ite militias to help fight Islamic State militants, but that shipments had continued after the hardline Sunni militant group was defeated.

“It was clear to Iraqi intelligence that such a missile arsenal sent by Iran was not meant to fight Daesh (Islamic State) militants but as a pressure card Iran can use once involved in regional conflict,” the official said.

The Iraqi source said it was difficult for the Iraqi government to stop or persuade the groups to go against Tehran.

“We can’t restrain militias from firing Iranian rockets because simply the firing button is not in our hands, it’s with Iranians who control the push button,” he said.

“Iran will definitely use the missiles it handed over to Iraqi militia it supports to send a strong message to its foes in the region and the United States that it has the ability to use Iraqi territories as a launch pad for its missiles to strike anywhere and anytime it decides,” the Iraqi official said.

Iraq’s parliament passed a law in 2016 to bring an assortment of Shi’ite militia groups known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) into the state apparatus. The militias report to Iraq’s prime minister, who is a Shi’ite under the country’s unofficial governance system.

However, Iran still has a clear hand in coordinating the PMF leadership, which frequently meets and consults with Soleimani.

Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Jonathan Landay in Washington; editing by David Clarke


Russia warns U.S. against ‘illegal aggression against Syria’

August 30, 2018


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said he had told U.S. officials earlier this week that Moscow is concerned over signs that the United States is preparing new strikes on Syria and warned against “groundless and illegal aggression against Syria”.

Antonov met this week with U.S. officials, including James Jeffrey, special representative for Syria, the Russia Embassy said in a posting on its Facebook page.

Reporting and writing by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore


Europe and nationalism: A country-by-country guide

June 5, 2018

BBC News

Across Europe, nationalist and far-right parties have made significant electoral gains.

Some have taken office, others have become the main opposition voice, and even those yet to gain a political foothold have forced centrist leaders to adapt.

In part, this can be seen as a backlash against the political establishment in the wake of the financial and migrant crises, but the wave of discontent also taps into long-standing fears about globalisation and a dilution of national identity.

Although the parties involved span a broad political spectrum, there are some common themes, such as hostility to immigration, anti-Islamic rhetoric and Euroscepticism.

So where does this leave Europe’s political landscape?


Inconclusive elections and months of uncertainty have culminated in two populist parties – the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League – forming a coalition government.

Their rise from the political fringes comes in a country badly hit by the 2008 financial crisis and which then became the main destination for North African migrants.

Formerly known as the Northern League, The League has switched focus from its initial goal of creating a separate northern state to leading a country it once wanted to leave.

Their joint programme for government includes plans for mass deportations for undocumented migrants, in line with The League’s strong anti-immigration stance.

Visiting Sicily, Italy’s new interior minister and League leader Matteo Salvini said the island must stop being “the refugee camp of Europe”.

Both parties are unhappy with the euro, and with few ruling out more elections the next vote could provide a major headache for the European Union.


Formed just five years ago, in 2017 the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the federal parliament for the first time.

From its beginnings as an anti-euro party, it has pushed for strict anti-immigrant policies and tapped into anxieties over the influence of Islam. Leaders have been accused of downplaying Nazi atrocities.

Their success has been interpreted as a sign of discontent with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees.

At the height of the migrant crisis, Mrs Merkel lifted border controls and almost a million people arrived in 2015, many of them Muslims from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite her CDU/CSU bloc seeing its worst result in almost 70 years, last year’s elections were enough for Mrs Merkel to secure a fourth term as chancellor and form another coalition with the SPD party. For AfD, their status as the largest opposition party gives them their biggest platform yet.

But the AfD’s rise has also seen a change in tone from Mrs Merkel – in her first major speech of her new term she said that the “humanitarian exception” of 2015 would not been repeated, as well as promising to beef up border security and boost deportations.


A far-right party in neighbouring Austria has enjoyed even greater success than the AfD.

Last year saw the Freedom Party (FPÖ) become junior partner in a coalition with the government of Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The Conservatives along with the centre-left Social Democrats have long dominated Austrian politics.

The FPÖ had already only narrowly lost a presidential election in which the two main centrist parties did not even make the second round.

As in Germany, the migrant crisis is also seen as key to their success, and an issue they long campaigned on.

Mr Kurz has vowed a hard-line on immigration; during the campaign the FPÖ even accused him of stealing their policies.

Since the election there have been proposals to ban headscarves for girls aged under 10 in schools and plans to seize migrants’ phones.


Despite the efforts of leader Marine Le Pen to make the far-right National Front palatable to France’s mainstream, she was comprehensively defeated by Emmanuel Macron for the presidency in May 2017.

Marine Le Pen is anti-EU, opposed to the euro and blames Brussels for mass immigration.

In 2010 she told FN supporters that the sight of Muslims praying in the street was similar to the Nazi occupation in World War Two.

Since their loss in the presidential election, the FN suffered an underwhelming result in parliamentary elections, winning a small handful of seats while Mr Macron’s party dominated.

More recently the party has renamed itself as the National Rally, with Ms Le Pen saying she would seek to gain power through forming coalitions with allies.


In April, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured a third term in office with a landslide victory in an election dominated by immigration.

The victory, he said, gave Hungarians “the opportunity to defend themselves and to defend Hungary”.

Mr Orban has long presented himself as the defender of Hungary and Europe against Muslim migrants, once warning of the threat of “a Europe with a mixed population and no sense of identity”, comments that led to him being called a racist.

He is arguably the leading voice among the Visegrad countries in Central Europe – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – that oppose EU plans to compel countries to accept migrants under a quota system.


Although it fell a long way short of a majority, the anti-immigrant Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was the largest party in this year’s general election.

The party is led by former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who like the Visegrad leaders opposes migrant quotas, and has said he wants Slovenia to “become a country that will put the wellbeing and security of Slovenians first”.

During the campaign he formed an alliance with Mr Orban, borrowing his tactic of stirring fears about migrants.

Slovenia, though, only accepted 150 asylum applications last year. During the migrant crisis most of those on the move used the Balkans and Central Europe as transit towards the West.


Another party that has condemned the EU’s handling of the migrant crisis, the conservative Law and Justice party secured a strong win in 2015 elections.

Some of the party’s most high-profile policies, such as taking control of state media and judicial reforms that allow the government to sack and appoint judges, have alarmed the EU.

Law and Justice was also behind a controversial law making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust, which some saw as an attempt to whitewash the role of some individuals in Nazi atrocities.

Poland and Hungary have offered each other political support, such as over migrant quotas and Viktor Orban expressing “solidarity” with Poland in its battle over court reforms.


With elections due in September, and polls showing support at record highs, the far-right Sweden Democrats will have high hopes of their best showing yet.

The centre-left Social Democrat party of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has seen support ebb away and recently announced a toughening up of immigration policy.

The Social Democrats are a party associated with generous social welfare and tolerance of minorities, while the Sweden Democrats oppose multiculturalism and want strict immigration controls.

Like many of the countries featured here, though, the picture is complex. Sweden has welcomed more migrants per capita than any other European country and has one of the most positive attitude towards them.

Elsewhere in Europe…

  • Immigration rules in Denmark are among Europe’s toughest, reflecting the power of the right-wing Danish People’s Party, who are the second largest party in parliament. Denmark allows its police to seize migrants’ property to pay for their upkeep and has pledged to boost contraception aid to developing countries to “limit the migration pressure”
  • The Czech Republic’s new Prime Minister Andrej Babis says recent elections in Slovenia and Italy show the stance of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia on immigration is spreading
  • The 2015 elections in Finland saw the right-wing Finns Party come second, although this year its candidate in presidential elections won just 6.9%
  • In the build-up to last year’s election in the Netherlands, the anti-immigration Freedom Party of Geert Wilders had been tipped to win, but in the end came a distant second despite increasing their number of seats.






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