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Donald Trump ‘decertifies’ Iran; US foreign policy becomes irrational

‘Decertifying’ Iran despite its compliance with JCPOA is further example of a US foreign policy which is becoming ever more erratic and which has lost touch with reality

Alexander Mercouris

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“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”.

The above quote – often misattributed to Euripides – came to me irresistibly as I listened to Donald Trump’s speech on Iran, the complete text of which can be found here.

Suffice to say that in many years of following US Presidential addresses (some of them very weird) I have never heard or read any other speech from a US President on an important foreign policy issue which was so completely detached from reality or so frankly bizarre (the only one which comes close is George W. Bush’s address given on the eve of his invasion of Iraq).

I do not propose to analyse the speech in any detail since this has already been done thoroughly and excellently by my colleague Adam Garrie.

I would however draw attention to three particular statements in Donald Trump’s speech which seemed to me especially surreaI

“Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule.”

(bold italics added)

Opinions on the Iranian Revolution of 1979 differ but I do not know a single person well-informed about recent Iranian history who would recognise this description of it.

The reality – as I remember very well, having observed the Iranian Revolution closely when it was actually happening – is that in 1979 support for the Shah of Iran – a dictator of doubtful legitimacy, whose father was a Persian Cossack officer who became Iran’s Shah as a result of a coup, and who was himself installed by the US as Iran’s ruler following a CIA organised coup which overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government – had completely collapsed, so that Iranian society was almost completely united against him.

Far from Iran’s Islamic republic having been “forced on a proud people” by a faction that “seized power” – Trump presumably means illegally – it was what the overwhelming majority of people in Iran in 1979 wanted, and what they had gone onto the streets in their millions – risking death in confrontations with the Shah’s soldiers – to demand.

The idea that Iran’s current system of government lacks legitimacy is a fundamental error – shared by many people in the US and the West, not just by Donald Trump – which completely misunderstands its origins as well as recent Iranian history and contemporary Iranian society.

Unfortunately, it is an error which leads directly to the second of Donald Trump’s statements which I found surreal

…….the previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. This deal is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA……The nuclear deal threw Iran’s dictatorship a political and economic lifeline, providing urgently needed relief from the intense domestic pressure the sanctions had created.

(bold italics added)

I do not know a single credible analyst who believes that in 2015 – on the eve of the JCPOA being signed – the ‘Iranian regime’ was on the brink of total collapse.  On the contrary the situation in Iran was then – as it is now – politically stable, with the country holding in an orderly and peaceful way a contested Presidential election just two years before.

As for the sanctions, though they were undoubtedly the cause of real hardship, the evidence suggests that it was the US who the Iranian people blamed for them rather than their own government.

The idea that in 2015 Iran’s Islamic republic – which had by then endured years of US hostility and a terrible war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – was on the brink of collapse is a fantasy.

I would add that it is not merely a fantasy. It is actually the reverse of the truth.  Far from “throwing a collapsing regime a lifeline” the reason the Obama administration very grudgingly agreed to the JCPOA was because international support for the sanctions regime against Iran was collapsing, with the US intelligence community continuing to report since 2007 that Iran was not working towards a nuclear weapons capability, with the Russians on the brink of agreeing  a massive ‘goods-for-oil’ barter deal with Iran, and – most importantly – with the US’s own European allies becoming increasingly disenchanted with the sanctions policy, and hinting that they might pull out of it.

All of this was made crystal clear in August 2015 by Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry in a highly revealing interview he gave to Reuters where he said this about why the US agreed to the JCPOA,

But if everybody thinks, “Oh, no, we’re just tough; the United States of America, we have our secondary sanctions; we can force people to do what we want.” I actually heard that argument on television this morning. I’ve heard it from a number of the organisations that are working that are opposed to this agreement. They’re spreading the word, “America is strong enough, our banks are tough enough; we can just bring the hammer down and force our friends to do what we want them to.”

Well, look – a lot of business people in this room. Are you kidding me? The United States is going to start sanctioning our allies and their banks and their businesses because we walked away from a deal and we’re going to force them to do what we want them to do even though they agreed to the deal we came to? Are you kidding?

That is a recipe quickly, my friends, for them to walk away from Ukraine, where they are already very dicey and ready to say, “Well, we’ve done our bit.” They were ready in many cases to say, “Well, we’re the ones paying the price for your sanctions.” We – it was Obama who went out and actually put together a sanctions regime that had an impact. By – I went to China. We persuaded China, “Don’t buy more oil.” We persuaded India and other countries to step back.

Can you imagine trying to sanction them after persuading them to put in phased sanctions to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and when they have not only come to the table but they made a deal, we turn around and nix the deal and then tell them you’re going to have to obey our rules on the sanctions anyway? 

That is a recipe very quickly, my friends, businesspeople here, for the American dollar to cease to be the reserve currency of the world – which is already bubbling out there…..

(bold italics added)

In other words the US was pushed into the JCPOA somewhat against its will at the insistence of its European allies, who were considering lifting sanctions on Iran unilaterally if the US rejected the deal which was on offer.  The US submitted to their demands because it feared that the alternative – threatening economic war on its European allies by imposing sanctions on them – would have hastened the ending of the reserve currency status of the US dollar.

It is rare to say the least for US officials to contemplate in public the possibility of the US dollar losing its reserve currency status.  The fact that in August 2015 Secretary of State Kerry actually did so shows the pressure that the US was under.

In other words far from the Iranian ‘regime’ being on the brink of collapse, in 2015 it was the sanctions regime imposed on Iran which was about to collapse, which was why the US grudgingly agreed to the deal.

Many people including my colleague Adam Garrie have pointed to the absurdity of the third of the statements Donald Trump made in his speech – the one about Iran’s alleged support for terrorism – which seemed bizarre to me.  I need therefore say little about it.

The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks.

(bold italics added)

Suffice to say that Al-Qaeda is a militant sectarian Sunni Salafi terrorist organisation deeply antithetical to Shia Iran.  From time to time Al-Qaeda’s central leadership (“Al-Qaeda Central”) has for tactical reasons attempted to rein in the pathological anti-Shia sectarianism of its followers.  Whenever it has done so it has however failed.  In Iraq its fighters – grouped in the organisation originally called “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” and originally led by the psychotic anti-Shia sectarian Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi – eventually morphed into ISIS, whose attitude to Iran and the Shia can be described as frankly genocidal.  In Syria Al-Qaeda’s fighters under the various names they have used (Jabhat Al-Nusra being the most famous) have also been pathologically murderous anti-Shia sectarians.

The idea that Iran could in any way support or patronise such an organisation is simply preposterous, and the fact that a number of Al-Qaeda operatives may – as Donald Trump claims – have following 9/11 passed through Iran does not (if it is even true) change that fact.

As for the Taliban, in 1998 – following the murder by the Taliban of 11 Iranian diplomats and journalists in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif – Iran and the Taliban almost went to war, with Iran mobilising 70,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan in preparation for an attack on the Taliban until concessions to Iran by the Taliban and UN mediation caused the crisis to be defused.

Subsequently, during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Iran cooperated with the US to defeat the Taliban, with US and Iranian Special Forces even working together to liberate the important Afghan city of Herat from them.

To suggest therefore that Iran and the Taliban – also incidentally a sectarian Sunni organisation, though not an international terrorist organisation like Al-Qaeda – are in alliance with each other is quite simply preposterous.

These three absurd statements in Donald Trump’s speech are in fact only the most absurd in a speech filled with absurdity.  What for example is one to make of this comment about the notional connections between Iran and North Korea?

There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea. I am going to instruct our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed.

(bold italics added)

What is this if not an admission that the US does not actually possess any knowledge that Iran is in fact dealing with North Korea?  If the US does not have any knowledge that Iran is dealing with North Korea why is this comment even in Donald Trump’s speech?

What makes this statement especially bizarre is that though the US has no knowledge that Iran is dealing with North Korea, it does have knowledge – or at least information – that its ally Ukraine is.

I discussed all this at length in an article I wrote for The Duran on 20th August 2017.  Subsequently, I noticed this comment on this same subject in an article on the North Korean nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programme published by the Guardian on 11th September 2017

There is a growing consensus that former Soviet missile engines acquired on the black market in Ukraine have enabled Kim’s scientists to take the strides seen this year.

(bold italics added)

Why does Donald Trump not order US intelligence to investigate the dealings between North Korea and Ukraine about which a “growing consensus” exists, instead of wasting their time by ordering them to investigate dealings between North Korea and Iran about which the US has no knowledge?

The central absurdity of the whole speech is however that Donald Trump is unable to point to any single major breach by Iran of the JCPOA such as would justify his decision to decertify it.   The various breaches he does refer to – all denied by Iran – are minor.

In other words Trump is decertifying Iran and encouraging Congress to punish it notwithstanding that Iran is in compliance with the deal it made with the US, and is doing nothing wrong other than conduct in the Middle East a foreign policy the US doesn’t like.

As to that, the fact that the US and Iran are at the present time adversaries in the Middle East is a fact of life, a reality which any responsible statesman would accept and work around.

Many states at many times in history have found themselves in adversarial relationships with each other.  Acting to tear up a critical international agreement which is being successfully implemented and is working simply because two states don’t get on with each other is not an act of statesmanship or a master-stroke of policy.  It is an act of childish petulance, a teenage tantrum, unworthy of a country which still likes to think of itself as the world’s foremost Great Power.

Unfortunately this pattern of behaviour goes far beyond Donald Trump.  Thus over the course of the last year the whole foreign policy of the US has been held hostage to a concocted scandal based on a farfetched conspiracy theory which any reasonable person can see is preposterous.  Matters have reached the point where it is now being suggested – apparently in all seriousness – that this conspiracy involved ‘weaponising’ Pokemon Go.

Moreover in December the US imposed sanctions on Russia purportedly because of this scandal.  Then – despite Russia having done nothing more that would justify more sanctions – in August the US imposed more sanctions on Russia for the same reason, all over again.

In relation to the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme the US has reneged on agreements it previously made with North Korea, cannot decide whether it wants to talk with North Korea or not, and piles on sanctions against North Korea, despite two decades of evidence that this only makes the North Koreans more determined to press ahead with their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme, as the Chinese and the Russians repeatedly point out to them.

In relation to the so-called “War on Terror”, the US purports to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but has been de facto in alliance with Al-Qaeda in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

In Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria the US has worked to undermine and overthrow secular governments which were the region’s major bulwark against the very Jihadi terrorism which the US says it opposes.

This increasingly erratic behaviour has now reached a new level with this latest speech of Donald Trump’s.

Like most people I believe that the immediate damage done by this speech is limited.  Though I am sure that the US Congress will impose further sanctions on Iran – I cannot think of a single case where Congress has been invited to impose sanctions on another country and has failed to do so – I believe that international support for the JCPOA is too strong, and Iran is too sensible, to cause it to unravel.

Like most people I also believe that the very same US Deep State which has made Donald Trump’s life miserable in relation to Russia, will now act as a restraint on him.  Apparently it was the cabal of generals who now all but run the US government – Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, along with General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who along with Secretary of State Tillerson managed to talk Trump out of pulling out of the JCPOA completely as he apparently wanted to do.

This was not because they have any love of Iran or of the JCPOA.  Rather it was because they were acting in the classic tradition of the US military: always willing to attack without hesitation a state which is unable to resist or hit back; but balking at attacking states like Russia, North Korea or Iran, which not only can hit back, but which are able to put up a determined resistance if they are attacked.

The damage done by Trump’s speech is not to Iran or (probably) to the JCPOA.  It is to the international perception of the US, which is conducting itself ever more irrationally, so that one administration sets out to undermine an agreement reached by a previous administration, even when doing so is contrary to US interests, so that no one can put any trust in the US’s word any more.

After the huge damage done to the US’s international reputation by George W. Bush’s incompetence and belligerence and by Barack Obama’s arrogance and narrow-mindedness, many governments around the world welcomed the new Trump administration which came with – apparently – fresh ideas, and – seemingly – a willingness to turn a new leaf in international relations.

At a blistering pace they are all becoming increasingly disillusioned as they face the reality of another disastrous US Presidency, functioning against a backdrop of a US political system which has been exposed as hopelessly dysfunctional and increasingly irrational, offering no promise of things ever getting better at any time in the future.

Truly in the lunatic asylum, which is what the once great American Republic has become, the inmates have taken over.

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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

RT

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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