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2 radically different interpretations of Saudi’s ‘great purge’ and Lebanese PM Hariri’s ‘resignation’

Each scenario must be explored in order to better understand what is happening in Saudi, Lebanon and beyond.

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Yesterday was among the most strange of days in recent Saudi history. It started with the shock resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister and Saudi citizen Saad Hariri shortly after he met with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and ended with the announcement that 11 princes, 4 serving ministers and around 30 ministers in total have been arrested on corruption charges, ostensibly as part of Muhammad Bin Salman’s (MBS) sweeping “reforms” to the Wahhabi Kingdom.

In between these events, Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile which nearly hit King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, before being intercepted by a Saudi missile. Later, Saudi media stated that the Houthi rocket was an attempt on Hariri’s life, a claim which seems quite outlandish given the crude nature of Houthi weapons.

At the end of the day, it appeared that Saudi is politically less stable than Lebanon, something that has hardly ever been the case in modern history, let alone at a time when one would assume it is Lebanon that is about to be plunged into new chaos, not the formerly predictable Wahhabi regime.

In putting the pieces of this puzzle together, it is important to explore both obvious, subtle and counter-intuitive hypotheses for what all of this means. Here are three interpretations:

1. The last gasp of Saudi, Israeli, US ‘regime change’ this time aimed at weakening Hezbollah 

Saad Hariri was thought of as a kind of Saudi puppet in Beirut by his detractors and to be sure, he has many detractors in Lebanon. Hariri represented a pro-US, ‘soft’ on Israel, deeply anti-Syrian, anti-Iranian, pro-Saudi Lebanese politician that was opposed by the Free Patriotic Movement of Christian President Michel Aoun, the Shi’a Amal Movement, as well as the primarily Shi’a but increasingly popular Hezbollah. To be sure, Hariri’s Future Movement does have its large share of support among mainly Sunnis favouring a more pro-Gulfi/neo-liberal style of politics. Such is the nature of sectarian Lebanese politics.

Hariri’s resignation speech, during which many have remarked that he appeared to be hurried and uncomfortable, has already gained infamy for being little more than an anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah tirade, the kind of which is typically given by Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The orthodox interpretation of the speech is something I described yesterday in the following way:

“The speech came shortly after Hariri met with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and only hours after the CIA published suspicious documents which perversely try to link Iran with al-Qaeda.

The fact of the matter is, as everyone except the CIA seems to know, that al-Qaeda is a declared enemy of Iran and Iran is a declared enemy of al-Qaeda, both in terms of geo-strategic interests as well as ideology.

In 1998, Iran almost went to war with Afghanistan to avenge the slaughter of Iranian diplomats by al-Qaeda who at the time were headquartered in Taliban controlled Afghanistan.

More recently, Iran has fought with Iraqi and Syrian troops in their war against al-Qaeda and ISIS, an organisation which was founded by members of a group called al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Moreover, Iranians are targeted by al-Qaeda terrorists across the world in a ruthless fashion.

The absurdity of the CIA’s claim that Iran and al-Qaeda had attempted to work together is not only insulting to those with a sense of reality, but it obscures the fact that in Syria and Libya before that, the US has allied itself with al-Qaeda forces. The US in fact founded al-Qaeda in the 1980s when it was known as the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen. Members of the group even met with Ronald Reagan in the White House.

In spite of supporting al-Qaeda in Syria and Libya and helping to form what became al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the US is now trotting out al-Qaeda as a kind of strange boogieman in order to whip up tensions against Iran, a country which like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Gaddafi’s Libya, was totally opposed to the group.

The supreme disinformation campaign by Mike Pompeo’s CIA has now been effectively regurgitated by the aloof and increasingly unpopular Saad Hariri.

Hariri’s resignation will be welcomed by his many opponents, including perhaps, Lebanon’s Christian President Michel Aoun, who has been working to restore Lebanon’s ties with Syria after a personally touch-and-go relationship with Damascus over the decades.

However, the style of Hariri’s resignation is deeply irresponsible as his speech contained inflammatory sectarian rhetoric which could potentially set off a Sunni extremist uprising in a country which was ripped apart by a 15 year long civil war.

There remains a further danger that Hariri’s anti-Hezbollah and anti-Iran tirade was calculated in order to provoke a wider conflict in and around Lebanon involving Hezbollah, Israel and Sunni terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.

It is also clear that as the war against Takfiri terrorism in western Iraq and eastern Syria is being won by Syria and Iraq, those who continue to seek the destabilisation of Syria and the wider Levant, are now doing so by trying to sow discord in western Syria.

This has manifested itself first of all, in the al-Qaeda offensive on the Golan Heights, assisted by Israeli artillery attacks and secondly, with the resignation of Hariri in Lebanon, which is a move designed to draw Syria’s Hezbollah ally into a new sectarian conflict. These two events crucially happened within 24 hours of one another.

I’m inclined to believe that the attempt to plunge Lebanon into a new civil war will ultimately fail, it is also important remember that this is in many ways the last stand for the ‘regime change’ policy still favoured by Saudi, Israel and the US. The west in particular has been interfering with Lebanon’s internal situation dating from a time when they were still hesitant to fully provoke Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

If they fail in Lebanon, that means that there are no other stops left on the regime change train–certainly no easy ones seeing as the US, Israel and Saudi are still (thankfully) too afraid of attacking Iran directly.
It seems clear enough that Hezbollah will not take the bait and be provoked into taking measures that could lead to instability. Hezbollah, after all, does not need to respond to such provocations, because in Syria and elsewhere, Hezbollah are winning and Hezbollah continues to gain popularity in Lebanon, even among non-Shi’a Muslims. Furthermore, Hezbollah’s leadership are far more intelligent than many in Saudi wish that they were.

So while Hezbollah and other parties in Lebanon including the Amal Movement and President Michel Aoun’s FPM will not feed the chaos as Saudi and Israel are clearly hoping, what is clear is that Saudi and its de-facto allies are making a final push. Is it desperate?…yes. But desperation can lead to renewed hyper-aggression as much as to a sense of despair. Vigilance will be the key for allparties in Lebanon looking to avoid the worst: a re-commencing of civil war.

The Saudi propaganda machine is already in overdrive, with Saudi and pro-Saudi media suggesting that the apparent Houthi missile which was intercepted over Riyadh was somehow a Hezbollah attempt to make Saad Hariri’s ‘assassination fears’ become a reality.  Such a claim amounts to the most childish attempt at a pseudo-false flag in history.

While Hariri was likely made a mafioso style offer he could not refuse by an ever more assertive Muhammad Bin Salman, one cannot discount the madness of famously unethical states in a moment of desperation.

Hariri has clearly been thrown under the bus, along with 11 Saudi princes and 30 ministers who are now under arrest for “corruption” charges, almost certainly on the orders of MBS. When it comes to further provocations in Lebanon, will Israel and al-Qaeda begin to do militarily/terroristically what Saudi has begun doing politically?

There is no absolute answer to such a question, but anything less than total vigilance, preparedness and military readiness from the Lebanese resistance would be worse than a crime, it would be a blunder.

Many in Lebanon will be happy to see Hariri go, but many will also be worried about how he may have opened the door to pro-Saudi sectarianism as a result of the timing and place of his abrupt withdrawal from office”.

Implicit in this interpretation is an attempt by the Saudi-Israel axis (which is very much a real thing in all but name) to distract Hezbollah from its anti-terrorist alliance with Syria by fomenting political chaos in Lebanon. That being said, all eyes will be on  Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah who will deliver a speech later today. My feeling is that he will not take the bait that Saudi and Israel have apparently set and will remain calm, knowing that Hezbollah needn’t panic from a position of strength.

2. A Saudi surrender disguised as a provocation 

If viewed in isolation, the Hariri resignation appears like a clear Saudi organised attempt to foment discord in Lebanon by provoking Hezbollah, with the aim of weakening the resistance in Syria and opening up Lebanon to the kind of civil crisis which in the past has led to aggressive Israeli invasions and general strife.

However, when the events of yesterday are taken in totality, a different theory springs to mind, one which ought to be taken seriously, even if counter-intuitive at first glance.

After MBS’s ‘great purge’ of highly important figures in the Saudi ‘deep state’, including the billionaire and darling of western mainstream media, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, it is fair to say that Muhammad Bin Salman has taken the first strike against any would-be challengers or political opponents as he continues to consolidate his power, even before formally taking the throne from the elderly King Salman.

This ‘great purge’ which comes after the house arrest of former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, is a clear indication that MBS looks to turn Saudi into ‘his’ country just as Stalin turned the USSR into ‘his’ when he purged virtually all the remaining elements of the original Bolshevik leadership during the 1930s.

It is this parallel that is also important in another way. Many commentators, including contemporary Russian opposition leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has remarked that Stalin’s purges, including of the army, left the Soviet Union less than adequately prepared to stop the fascist invasion on 22 June 1941. It should be noted at this point, that MBS’ purge includes many security officials.

MBS’ purges were clearly planned a long time in advance, even though the creation of an anti-corruption committee technically took place only hours before it issued the first degrees placing powerful Saudis under arrest. The fact that MBS sought to conduct many major purges at the same time, is indicative of a man who does not intend to give his opponents any time to regroup against him. Again, this is somewhat reminiscent of Stalin who held large scale trials which prosecuted many opponents (for Stalin, traitors) at one time.

This is significant because it is generally unwise to meddle in the affairs of countries abroad, when conducting such a deep and wide purge at home. This very phenomenon has been often used to explain why Donald Trump’s foreign policy is so chaotic. Trump’s domestic distractions have disallowed the formation of a coherent foreign policy.

Of course, if MBS’ opponents had differing views on how to handle Hariri, the purge may have been an insurance policy. The more likely scenario though is that many of the men purged would not have been able to impact the Hariri decision, not least because it would mean publicly going against the narrative that Hariri resigned because he feared an assassination attempt from Iran and Hezbollah rather than because the Saudi regime told him to go. Few in the wider Arab world believe this narrative, but in Saudi, one ‘has to’ acknowledge it as true for obvious reasons.

This therefore, forces one to consider why the Saudi regime would involve itself in the Hariri affair on the same day as the ‘great purge’?

The answer lies in exploring whether the Hariri ‘purge’ was more for domestic consumption than for international consumption. As a powerful Saudi citizen, one could think of Hariri’s apparently forced resignation as the first Saudi purge of the day, on a day that saw many powerful Saudi citizens dethroned from powerful places in society.

The message to all powerful Saudis, including to Hariri, is that no one is too big to fall at the hands of MBS, even a Saudi citizen who is the Prime Minister in a foreign democracy. The fact that both Hariri and MBS are young men in a leadership role, would indicate that for the famously politically trigger happy MBS, it was also an ego boost.

What about the geo-political repercussions? 

On the surface, the move will clearly enrage Iran, Hezbollah and to a degree anger Syria while emboldening Israel and extremist Sunni movements in the Arab world including al-Qaeda.

Practically though, Israel is all too aware that Hezbollah is far more powerful today than when it expelled Israel from southern Lebanon in 2006 and al-Qaeda, although making a final push in the Golan Heights with Israeli assistance, is nevertheless a terrorist group on its last legs in the Levant and Iraq.

As for Iran, while Saudi continues to spew predictably anti-Iranian rhetoric, Saudi’s pivot towards Russia and China necessarily prohibits further Saudi aggression against Iran, except for that which is limited to rhetorical statements that will irk Iran and give Russia a headache, but do little more.

Saudi Crown Price Mohammad bin Salman calls for “moderate Islam” in the Wahhabi Kingdom

MBS sees China and Russia as crucial partners that will help realise his Vision 2030 project to diversify the Saudi economy. This means that Saudi will have to increasingly play by both Russia and China’s rules, which mean abandoning proxy imperial ambitions, abandoning military threats against nearby states and possibly move towards selling energy in the Petroyuan.

Therefore, a radically different explanation for yesterday’s events in Saudi begin to emerge. Perhaps the Hariri ‘resignation’ and the great purge are meant less to encourage Israel and provoke Iran, Syria and Hezbollah than they are events used to send subtle messages to Russia and China, possibly with communiques made behind the scenes to clarify the meaning.

Such a message is summarised as follows: Saudi has surrendered in its attempts to politically influence the Levant and will allow the chips to fall where they may. The Saudi puppet is out of Lebanon and Saudi won’t do anything meaningful to oppose Hezbollah in the post-Hariri era in Lebanon. Instead, Saudi will focus on domestic political changes to pave the way for a more ‘eastern friendly’ MBS regime in Riyadh.

Here, the implied advantage to Russia is that President Michel Aoun will be allowed to form a new government in Beirut that will be more amenable to Russian and consequently Chinese interests in the region, thus giving the eastern superpowers an unbroken chain of partners in the region stretching from Pakistan to Iran, into Iraq and Syria and finishing on the Mediterranean with Lebanon.

In return, it is implied that Russia will continue to resist any US attempts to slow down MBS’ ascent to power.

To be absolutely clear, I do not believe for a moment that this is a ‘Russian plan’. Instead, Saudi is doing something whose long term outcome is naturally in Russia’s interest and Russia, a country which does not even intervene in the affairs of its enemies, will surely not intervene in the affairs of a Saudi state which is pivoting (however awkwardly) towards Russia and her partners.

CONCLUSION: 

I am by no means fully convinced that the second scenario is what is in fact developing, but with so much mystery as to what actually is happening it would be irresponsible not to explore such a scenario.

In all of this, it is implied that Hariri had little choice in the matter. He was merely given an offer he could not refuse by MBS and he took it. Perhaps this is why Hariri is out of power but not under arrest. Were he to resist Saudi attempts to ‘guide’ his future, he may have found that fortune would have not smiled on him in the way that it apparently has done.

In the end, scenarios one and two may both come into play, just not at the same time. Scenario one is bound to fail in its apparent objectives and thus, Saudi could then pivot to scenario two. This is in my view, the most likely explanation for what is going on. Saudi is engaging in a last ditch provocative move towards Lebanon, Syria and Iran, but this is ultimately a small stick which obscures a larger carrot intended not for Levantines or Iranians, but for Russian and Chinese stomachs.

In each case, the United States is the biggest loser.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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