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Has Barack Obama already ceded his Syria policy to Hillary Clinton?

Though US President Barack Obama has managed to restrain the more belligerent voices in the US administration demanding military intervention in Syria, he has never succeeded in fully imposing his authority on them, and he now anyway appears to be ceding control of Syrian policy to the much more hawkish Hillary Clinton.

Joe Lauria

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Throughout five years of war in Syria President Obama has been in a constant internal struggle with hawks in his administration who want the U.S. to directly intervene militarily to overthrow the Syrian government.

On at least four occasions Obama has stood up to them. At other times has has compromised and gone half way. With less than three months to go in office, Obama appears to be leaving his Syria policy to those aligned with the lead hawk who might soon take Obama’s place.

When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton failed to convince Obama to consistently take a tough line on Syria.  She wanted him to realize her two main policies, which she still clings to:  a safe zone on the ground and a no-fly zone in the air.

Both would protect rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which she calls her top foreign policy priority. It was the model Clinton had convinced a reluctant Obama to adopt in Libya. It led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi but ultimately turned that county into a failed state.

Libya was emblematic of the disarray following regime change that has marked nearly two decades of neoconservative influence in Washington: dividing and weakening defiant states, while American contractors profit from the chaos that bleeds the locals to death.

Obama learned from Libya. He said his biggest regret was having no plan for the aftermath. It left him deeply skeptical about intervention in Syria.  But given his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he should have already understood what happens after the U.S. overthrows regimes these days.

In the early years of the CIA, in Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, and Guatemala in 1954, as illegal and as unjustified as those coups were, the agency had viable leaders groomed to take over in competition with the Soviet Union. But all that changed after the Cold War ended.  “We can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us,” arch-neocon Paul Wolfowitz boasted before the Iraq invasion.

Today neoconservatives and liberal interventionists (such as Clinton) act like gamblers who can’t leave the table. Disaster for Iraqis and Libyans hasn’t dissuaded them from wagering on Syria.  It seems to have only encouraged them.

That regime change in the guise of “spreading democracy” in the Middle East instead spawns chaos and terrorism only gives the hawks further reason to intervene, create more chaos and make more money, while weakening nations defying Washington.

Clinton began laying a bet on regime change in Damascus by pushing to arm rebels in the summer of 2012. One of her leaked emails explains her motive:  to break up the Tehran to Damascus to southern Lebanon supply line to Hezbollah—a long standing Israeli objective.

Obama refused at this point to arm the rebels. But an August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document showed that U.S. intelligence agencies were up to their own designs in Syria, with or without Obama’s approval.

Ret. Gen. Mike Flynn, who headed the DIA at the time, said it was a “willful decision” in Washington to support a “Salafist principality”—a safe area for jihadist rebels—in eastern Syria to put pressure on Damascus.  He didn’t say who in Washington ultimately decided. The DIA document made public last year warns that these Salafists could join with jihadists from Iraq to form an “Islamic State.” And indeed two years later they did.

While this was gestating in August 2013 Obama again showed some independence on Syria after seeing the consequences of the Clinton-led disaster in Libya: a failed state radiating arms and jihadis to Syria and the Sahel. 

This time Obama compromised with the hawks. He eventually agreed to arm the rebels. But he resisted pressure to launch cruise missiles against Syrian government targets after his “redline” was supposedly crossed by a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

As we now know, the CIA did not think it a “slam dunk” that Syria did it. Evidence has pointed to the rebels. So Obama instead took Russia’s offer to have Syria give up its chemical weapons stocks, which in time it did, infuriating the neocons.

An Even Bolder Putin Offer

Russian President Vladimir Putin followed with another offer to the United States in September 2015, delivered from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly:  He proposed joint U.S.-Russian airstrikes against the now fully formed Islamic State and associated jihadists.

These extremists were seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an undemocratic leader in a police state, but who posed no threat to the West. The jihadists had by now clearly become the greater evil in Syria. In time ISIS would plan or inspire attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, Egypt and the United States.

More than three years earlier I reported that Russia’s motive to support Assad to was stop the spread of jihadism that threatened the West and Russia.  Now Putin put it on the record in his U.N. speech. He invoked the World War II alliance between enemies that together faced a greater threat. “Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind,” Putin said. 

This time Obama sided with the hawks and immediately rejected the offer. We now know why. In a leaked audio conversation with Syrian opposition figures in September, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S., rather than fight ISIS, or Daesh, in Syria, was instead ready to use its growing strength to pressure Assad to resign—the original intention outlined in the DIA document.

“We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened….ah, we thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him,” Kerry said.

Moscow began its military intervention in late September 2015 without the United States. Russia’s motives have been made abundantly clear by Putin and other Russian officials.

For instance, last month Putin told French TV channel TF1: “Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organisations were destroyed as states by our Western partners’ forces? … These states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”

Such clear explanation are rarely reported seriously by Western corporate media. Instead it peddles the line from officials and think tanks that Russia is trying to recover lost imperial glory in the Middle East.

But Kerry knew why Russia intervened. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL was getting stronger, Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad,” he said in the leaked discussion. That seems to indicate the U.S. would have tolerated ISIS coming to the verge of power if it meant ousting Assad.   

Washington may have then intended to turn its firepower on ISIS once Assad was gone. But this presumes Assad would have stepped down, rather than make a last stand in Damascus. Had it gone that far the U.S. was risking an Islamic State government in Syria.

Putin had warned the General Assembly about such a gamble with terrorism: “The Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere. It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes.” He said it was irresponsible “to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.”

Pipelines

There may another motive for Russia’s intervention in Syria beyond a sincere goal of crushing jihadism. There’s the argument that the uprising against Assad financed by the Arab Gulf came after he turned down a proposed gas pipeline running from Qatar in 2009.

A year later Syria was in flames. There is precedent for such a motive. The first coup led by the two-year old CIA in 1949 in Syria came when the elected government rejected a Saudi pipeline deal. The government was removed and replaced by a military leader who let the pipeline be built.

A Qatar gas pipeline through Syria to supply Europe would compete with Russia’s sales of natural gas to the continent. Keeping Assad in power prevents that.

Perhaps Assad had to chose between the Gulf or Russia, not understanding that the sore losers  would launch a jihadist war to oust him. It reminds one of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s choice between the EU or Russia. He also didn’t count on that decision leading to his violent downfall.

The Safe Area

Hillary Clinton has been pushing for a no-fly zone and a safe area in Syria since she ran the State Department.  She has called for both as recently as the last presidential debate, despite the inherent dangers of confronting Russia. 

The safe area is supposed to shelter internally displaced Syrians to prevent them from becoming refugees. But it could also be used as a staging ground to train and equip jihadists intent on regime change, as was employed in Libya. A safe area would need ground troops to protect it. Clinton says there will be no US ground troops in Syria.

Turkey has also been clamoring for a safe area on the ground for the past few years. Erdoğan called for it (as well as a no-fly zone in northern Syria) as recently as last September in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Erdoğan has had neo-Ottoman tendencies for some time but in August he acted on them, invading Syria with U.S. air cover on the exact 500th anniversary of the Ottoman’s first foreign invasion, also of Syria. Now Erdogan is openly making claims on Mosul based on a World War One-era Turkish claim. And he’s massing troops on the Iraqi border threatening war with Baghdad. [See the related Duran article “Will Turkey and Iraq Go to War?”]

The hawks appear to have bested Obama this time. He has not stood in the way of Clinton-allies in his administration letting Erdoğan pursue his neo-Ottoman fantasy (even fighting U.S.-backed Kurds) in exchange for Turkish NATO forces establishing a safe area without U.S. ground troops. Turkey and its rebel forces already control about 490 square miles in northern Syria.

With less than three months left in office, Obama, who had opposed a safe area and a  Turkish invasion, appears to have relinquished his Syria policy to who he wants to be the next president. 

Again with Plan B?

Since American officials rarely explain fully what they are up to beyond slogans like “Fighting ISIS” and “the War on Terror”, understanding U.S. policy in the Middle East is reduced to educated guesses based on official and leaked statements and assessments of complex developments on the ground.

For instance, the U.S. is publicly opposing Turkey by backing Syrian Kurds in their just launched offensive to take Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. Erdogan has vowed to send Turkish troops, or Turkish-backed rebels there. How will Washington solve this contradiction as events on the ground would indicate that Washington is effectively letting Turkey create Clinton’s safe area on territory taken mostly from ISIS. It could eventually stretch from northeast Syria into western Iraq.

A safe area in eastern Syria stretching to western Iraq could implement the so-called Plan B:  dividing Syria to weaken it, while also creating a corridor for the pipeline from Qatar. Settling for Plan B, or partition, would be an admission that Plan A, regime change, had failed.

There might also be another crucial task for Turkey on behalf of the Washington hawks in both Syria and Iraq. Erdogan may well target the Turkman-majority Iraqi Tal Afar area, a Shia   area that the Iraqi government wants to control. It would open a corridor from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. But Turkey could also cut this passage in northern Syria.

Is the U.S. allowing Turkish troops to create these facts on the ground?  It’s impossible to know for sure because of the lack of transparency coming out of Washington. But in this scenario Erdoğan gets to control Syrian Kurdish areas and possibly parts of Iraq, satisfying his neo-Ottoman fantasies, while Clinton gets her safe area with NATO troops, but without deploying U.S. soldiers on the ground.

Aleppo

Obama stood up to the hawks for the third time this summer by allowing Kerry to negotiate with Russia on Putin’s offer at the U.N.: to form a military alliance against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria. Russia’s entry had turned the tide of the war in Syria’s favor but the defensive war against the insurgency has stalled in Aleppo, where a third of the city remains largely under al-Qaeda control.

While Obama publicly slammed the Russians, projecting that they were on an imperial venture that would wind up in a quagmire (exactly what has afflicted U.S. imperial ventures in various theaters), he kept plans for a safe area and no-fly zone on hold.

Then nearly a year after Putin’s offer and months of intermittent talks, Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 9 finally reached a deal to jointly fight terrorists in Syria. Though it was clear the agreement would ground the Syrian air force, resume humanitarian aid and agree on the identity of rebels to be jointly attacked, the U.S. insisted the terms remain secret.

But Defense Secretary Ash Carter made no secret of his objection. On Sept. 8 he said: “In the current circumstance, it is not possible for the United States to associate itself with — let alone to cooperate in — a venture that is only fueling violence and civil war.”

It was an extraordinary act of insubordination for which Carter was not punished. Once again Obama did not completely stand up to the hawks. But then Carter’s objection to the deal went beyond words. Two days before it was to go into effect, his Pentagon’s planes killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers near Deir ez Zor in an air strike the Pentagon later said was an “accident.” U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power was hardly repentant as she condemned Russia’s attempt to discuss the incident at the Security Council as a “stunt.”

Four days later a U.N. aid convoy was attacked near Aleppo, killing more than 20 aid workers. The U.S. immediately blamed Russian air strikes without presenting any evidence. Russia says rebels were responsible. The U.S.-Russia deal was dead.

Moscow eventually revealed its terms. At its heart was the separation of U.S.-backed rebels from al-Qaeda, which dominates a third of Aleppo. But once again, despite repeated pledges to do so, the U.S. failed to separate them.

Syria and Russia had enough and declared all rebels fighting with al-Qaeda to be fair game. They commenced a furious bombardment of east Aleppo to crush the insurgency there once and for all.  Putting all of Aleppo back into government hands would be a major turning point in the war. It has not proven easy. Instead the fierce aerial assaults have claimed numerous civilian lives, handing Russia’s opponents a public relations coup.

Washington, London and Paris are leading the chorus of war crimes accusations against Russia (though the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq without Security Council authorization in an act of aggression that can reasonably be seen as the supreme war crime.)

Russia’s actions in Aleppo have been compared to Israel’s in Gaza. Though two U.N. reports have said Israel may have been guilty of war crimes in 2012 and 2014 attacks on Gaza, Israel has not been prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

The differences between Gaza and Aleppo are stark, however. Gazans are an indigenous people attacked by an Occupying Power. Syria and Russia are attacking the occupiers–largely foreign-backed mercenaries. People in Gaza cannot escape the city because of their attackers, while people in east Aleppo can’t escape because of the attacked.

The area of bombardment and number of people under fire (and so far casualties) were much higher in Gaza than in east Aleppo. Rebel rockets from east Aleppo actually kill large numbers of civilians in the west of the city, unlike Hamas’ rockets into Israel. The biggest difference is that the West defends Israel and deflects charges of war crimes while it accuses Russia and Syria of the same. 

Isolated from the context of the entire war against a foreign-backed rebellion, the battle for east Aleppo ( usually reported as the whole city) has been framed by Western liberal media in the same way Sarajevo was in the 1990s. Then a highly complex war was boiled down to one battle alone, where Bosnian Serbs fired (indiscriminately) into civilian areas.  Today it is Russia that is accused of acting out of the pure intent to kill civilians with no other motive. 

The tactic of intense bombardment in Aleppo by Russia is troubling.  A Syrian army ground invasion of eastern Aleppo without heavy bombardments would minimize civilian causalities, but increase the government’s. It might be the price that has to be paid.

Nuclear Chicken

The reaction to the bombardment of eastern Aleppo has led to a severe increase in rabid calls for Western military intervention against the Syrian government, and possibly against Russia. 

The British parliament held a Russia-bashing session in October with calls for war against Moscow. Neocon newspaper like the Washington Post are itching for battle. A British general said the U.K. would be ready to fight Russia in two years—enough time for a Clinton administration to prepare.

The U.S. and its allies are planning for a post-Putin Russia in which a Wall Street-friendly leader like Boris Yeltsin can be restored to reopen the country to Western exploitation. But Putin is no Yeltsin. Washington’s modus operandi is to continually provoke and blame an opponent until it stands up for itself, as Putin’s Russia has done, then falsely accuse it of “aggression” and attack in “self-defense.”   

We see this being prepared in Ukraine, the Baltics, Poland, the Balkans and in Syria, where neocon calls are increasing for the U.S. to strike the Syrian government. Apparently Obama for the fourth time kept the hawks at bay after a White House meeting last month in which military action was turned down in the face of Russia’s warning that it would target attacking U.S. aircraft.

The neocons appear to much prefer coups to direct military action, but are not averse to blundering into war.

Obama has been the only brake on keeping Syria—and relations with Russia—from spiraling out of control. But his voice is fading as he prepares to leave office.

Into this fevered environment steps Hillary Clinton who may win the White House on Tuesday. She continues to call for a safe area and ominously for a no-fly zone, despite the warning last month from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs, that that would mean war with Russia.

“I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria….not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians,” Clinton said at the last debate after Dunford’s warning.­

She also said this after admitting in one of her paid speeches, released by Wikileaks, that a no-fly zone will “kill a lot of Syrians.”

Russia’s reaction has been defiant, setting up an ominous game of chicken that could go nuclear. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russia would shoot down any American plane attacking the Syrian government.

Russia has also deployed sophisticated air defenses in the country. This has given U.S. brass deep pause about confronting Russia in Syria.  Congress is not disposed to authorize war against Syria. So far Russia has come out on top there, lessening the risks of confrontation that could escalate to the most dangerous levels.

But will Hillary Clinton back down from her harsh rhetoric if she’s elected? Will she appoint more hawkish military leaders? Obama’s half-way measures in Syria have left the door open to a Clinton administration that appears determined to ratchet up the regime change operation, perhaps calling Putin’s bluff.

What happens if she miscalculates and he doesn’t backdown? Would she count on Putin retreating to save the world from a US-Russia war?  Is she ready to back away or smart enough not to even try?

Would Congressional and FBI investigations in the Clinton Foundation and the emails lead her to cause an international crisis to take the heat off, the way her husband bombed Iraq on the very day his impeachment proceedings were to begin?  Some astute analysts, like Alexander Mercouris, think she is rational enough to not provoke such a crisis. That remains to be seen.

Clinton also seems poised to arm the Ukrainian government and perhaps give Putin another ultimatum: give back Crimea or else. What if Putin calls Clinton’s bluff there?  It’s a roll of the dice the hawks, in their fanaticism to rule the world, might be ready to toss.   

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White House planning to proceed with State of the Union

The White House is still planning to move ahead with next week’s scheduled State of the Union address, but the details remain up in the air.

The Duran

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According to multiple sources, it remains unclear whether the address scheduled for Jan. 29 will in fact go forward, or what venue it would be in. The White House is even planning for the possibility of a speech outside of Washington.

“We are still in a holding pattern,” one senior source said.

But Fox News has learned that the White House sent a letter to the House Sergeant at Arms asking to schedule a walk-through for next week’s planned address. This comes after a previously scheduled walk-through last week was canceled at Pelosi’s request.

At the moment, President Trump intends to be at the Capitol next Tuesday to deliver his speech as scheduled, sources said. White House officials told Fox News they essentially are preparing for two tracks for next week’s speech. The preferred track is an address, as per custom, at the Capitol. The second track is a backup plan for a speech outside of Washington, D.C.

Ultimately, whether the speech is given on the House floor is up to Pelosi. In an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley suggested the president could move the location of the speech should Pelosi block it in the House.

“There are many ways he can deliver the State of the Union address,” Gidley said on “America’s Newsroom.” “I’m not going to get ahead of anything he would announce.”

Gidley accused Pelosi of “trying to play politics with that venue.” He also dinged the speaker for suggesting it may be difficult to provide security for the event because of the partial government shutdown.

“If the Secret Service can protect the president of the United States on a trip to Iraq, chances are they can protect the American president in the halls of Congress,” Gidley said.

A spokesman for Pelosi did not immediately return a request for comment. Neither did the House Sergeant at Arms office.

On Capitol Hill, there is immense uncertainty about what will happen. The offices of other congressional leaders referred questions about the speech to Pelosi.

“We are standing by to stand by,” one senior congressional official told Fox News when asked if the State of the Union speech would still unfold.

For that to happen in the House, both chambers of Congress must approve a resolution to use the House chamber and to have both bodies meet in a Joint Session of Congress. This has not happened yet.

Should the Senate move to host the president instead, a resolution would still be needed.

The White House and Pelosi have time to figure things out. Fox News is told Congress can actually put together the event rather quickly, though they would prefer to have at least 72 hours advance notice.

Last week, Pelosi urged Trump to delay his State of the Union address until the partial government shutdown ends, or submit the address in writing.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless the government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to Congress on January 29,” Pelosi wrote.

A senior Homeland Security official later told Fox News, however, that they have been preparing for months for the State of the Union event.

“We are ready,” the official said. “Despite the fact members of the Secret Service are not being paid, the protective mission has not changed.”

The official added: “It is a ‘no fail’ mission.”

On Tuesday, an official confirmed to Fox News that DHS and the Secret Service are continuing their plans for a State of the Union on Jan 29.

After Pelosi called for a delay in the speech, Trump abruptly denied military aircraft to her and other Democrats for a foreign trip just minutes before the congressional delegation was set to depart.

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Sweden: New Government, Old Policies

Swedish political leaders are opposed to the policies of the Sweden Democrats concerning immigration.

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Authored by Judith Bergman via The Gatestone Institute:


  • Keeping the Sweden Democrats away from any kind of political influence seemingly became the main reason the government crisis lasted so long. Swedish political leaders are especially opposed to the policies of the Sweden Democrats concerning immigration.
  • “Sweden needs to build a migration policy from scratch, with fixed rules, and respect for the country’s borders, citizens and laws… Fire brigades and ambulances cannot move into immigrant-dominated areas without armed escort. Those who live and work in our suburbs get their stores robbed, broken or taken over by criminals. The few perpetrators who are actually sentenced for serious crimes escape with mild punishment, while their victims do not receive support or redress. As a result of the uncontrolled immigration, terrorists… walk freely on the streets and squares and utilize our welfare and asylum systems.” — Sweden Democrats.
  • There is not a word in the new agreement about terrorism and internal security, even though the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), in a January 15 press release, stated, “The level of the terror threat remains elevated, a three on a five-point scale. This means that a terrorist act is likely to occur”.

On January 18, more than four months after Sweden’s September elections, Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven became prime minister for a second term, when he won the backing of the Swedish parliament: 115 parliamentarians from his own party and its coalition partner (the environmentalist Green Party) voted for his proposed government coalition, while 77 parliamentarians abstained and 153 voted against. There are 349 seats in the parliament.

Under Swedish parliamentary rules, a prospective prime minister can form a government even if he has not secured a majority of votes, as long as there is not a majority against him in parliament. Löfven was far from winning a majority of votes, prompting the question whether, despite becoming prime minister for a second term, he actually won the election.

The question is actually debatable: Löfven’s Social Democratic party experienced its worst election result ever, gaining only 28.3 % of the vote. It is the first time the party has ever received less than 30% of the vote; its government coalition partner, the Green Party, barely made it above the electoral threshhold, with only 4.4 % of the vote. (The electoral threshhold is 4%).

The prolonged coalition wrangling began after the results of the September 9 elections made it clear that Sweden’s traditional center-left and center-right blocs had each gained around 40% of the vote, yet were unable to find ways to build a government coalition without either involving the opposing bloc or the Sweden Democrats (SD). Keeping the Sweden Democrats away from any kind of political influence, seemingly became the main reason the government crisis lasted so long. Throughout the government’s negotiations, the Sweden Democrats, with 17.5 % of the vote, and now the third-largest party in parliament, representing the more than one million people who voted for them (out of 6.5 million votes in total) remained an isolated outsider, shunned by all political leaders.

“It is … about decency, a decent democracy. A government led by the Social Democrats guarantees that the Sweden Democrats — an extremist and racist party — do not get influence”, Löfven said on September 9, as he was casting his vote.

“My values are not SD’s”, said the leader of the center-right bloc, Ulf Kristersson, a year ago, about whether he would be willing to talk to the Sweden Democrats. “I will not cooperate, converse, collaborate, [or] co-ordinate with SD”. He repeatedthe same message in November, two months after the September 9 elections: “I do not speak to, or negotiate with, the Sweden Democrats”, he told Swedish television. “That is not because I do not respect their voters but I want to talk to those with whom I would like to cooperate.”

Swedish political leaders are especially opposed to the policies of the Sweden Democrats concerning immigration. According to the Sweden Democrats election platform:

“For decades Sweden’s migration policy has been handled in an irresponsible and ignorant way, with serious consequences for Swedish society A very high number of asylum seekers and their relatives has divided society, cultivated exclusion and eroded welfare state. At the same time, safety has been compromised… Today tens of thousands of people are staying illegally within the country’s borders and Sweden is internationally known for unrest and citizens who are active in terrorist networks… Sweden needs to build a migration policy from scratch, with fixed rules, and respect for the country’s borders, citizens and laws”.

As part of such a policy, the Sweden Democrats say they want “to stop receiving asylum seekers in Sweden”, as well as “sharpen the requirements to become Swedish citizens” and “enable revocation of citizenship that has been granted in error”. They also say they want to give the police “tools and resources to search for people who are staying in the country illegally… and allow for longer stays in detention if expulsion cannot be enforced immediately”. In addition, they say they would “Strive for agreements with other countries to be able to expel more people…”

The Sweden Democrats also note that they want a tougher approach to law and order:

“Current and former governments have seriously harmed confidence in the judicial system. Police quit [their jobs] as a result of poor working conditions and growing threats. Fire brigades and ambulances cannot move into immigrant-dominated areas without armed escort. Those who live and work in our suburbs get their stores robbed, broken or taken over by criminals. The few perpetrators who are actually sentenced for serious crimes escape with mild punishment, while their victims do not receive support or redress. As a result of the uncontrolled immigration, terrorists… walk freely on the streets and squares and utilize our welfare and asylum systems. Jews flee Swedish cities while anti-Semitism grows stronger. The social contract is about to be broken on the part of public Sweden”.

To counter this, the Sweden Democrats want to introduce, among other things, “wide-ranging penalties and, in particular, raise the minimum penalty for repeated and serious crimes”. They also want to introduce “compulsory expulsion of grossly criminal foreigners and the possibility to recall citizenship in case of terrorist offenses”. The Sweden Democrats would also like Sweden to leave the EU, and to have a referendum on the issue, something to which almost all the other political parties are strongly opposed.

None of the other parties wants even to consider a dialogue about these issues with the Sweden Democrats. Prime Minister Löfven, in fact, on January 18, spokeas if Sweden’s political leaders, in keeping the Sweden Democrats politically isolated, had just pulled back from the edge of an abyss, the extreme irony of his words clearly lost on himself:

“More and more governments around the world are becoming dependent on parties with an anti-democratic agenda. In the 2018 election, Sweden stood before a similar threat: getting a small right-wing government in the hands of the Swedish Democrats. But in Sweden we stand up for democracy and the equality of people. Sweden chooses a different path and it is historic.

“It has not been easy, but Sweden’s centrist parties have gathered and done what is required. Through the January agreement, Sweden gets a new government based on collaboration in the center of Swedish politics. Sweden gets a powerful government that is not dependent on the Sweden Democrats… The biggest winner is Sweden”.

The January agreement to which Löfven is referring formed the basis of a new political alliance between Löfven’s party and his environmental coalition partner on one hand, and two small parties from the center-right bloc, which decided to break with traditional bloc politics and support the Social Democratic government. It will also form the basis for the new government’s policies. Annie Lööf, the leader of the Center Party (one of the two breakout center-right parties), explained why she had chosen to support Löfven’s government, which, during the elections, she had campaigned to replace:

“The 2018 election was a choice of values. The Center Party chose to stand up for humanity, equality and tolerance. We fought against xenophobia… With this agreement we stand up for our values, while at the same time putting a government in place. It is a solution where neither the Sweden Democrats nor the [far-left] Left Party is given influence over politics.”

Swedish voters appear unimpressed with the way the collective of Swedish political leaders have handled this period of coalition squabbling. A January opinion poll revealed that if elections were to take place now, the Sweden Democrats would go from 17.5% to 19.9% of the vote, becoming the second-largest party in Sweden. The Green Party, the Social Democratic Party’s government coalition partner, would not even make the electoral threshold; neither would one of the two breakout center-right parties that supported Löfven’s government. The other center-right party would lose 30% of its voters.

A different January poll showed that 70% of the Swedes have lost confidence in politicians. “The low level of confidence is startling but not completely unexpected”, said Torbjörn Sjöström, from Novus, the company behind the poll.

“There has been a crisis of confidence for quite some time. The high voter mobility that we have had during the last mandate periods and that SD [Sweden Democrats] has increased so strongly is a sign of a reduced confidence in the political system.

“During the four months that have passed, politics has shown that power seems to be most important, and that political solutions are subordinate. [Politicians] talked about a fateful election but then the country managed and kept on managing for four months without a government, so [politicians] have also shown that politics is not as important as they claimed”.

The loss of confidence in politicians was particularly high — 93% — among people who had voted for the Sweden Democrats. “They think they have seen evidence that democracy does not work. They are the third-largest party, but have been completely outmaneuvered,” said Sjöström, referring to the fact that every single political leader in Swedish politics refused even to talk to the Sweden Democrats.

So, what does the new government promise to do on the most pressing issues, such as immigration and law and order? According to the January agreementbetween the Social Democratic government and its center-right supporters:

“Sweden is a fantastic country but we are facing great challenges together: climate change, lack of integration, segregation and dependency, globalization, which continues to test our competitiveness… increased polarization and racism, gang crime… housing shortages … The proposals in this agreement can vigorously meet these challenges by untying old knots and bringing about systemic changes… Our parties have different ideological starting points but are united in the defense of the liberal foundations of democracy; a strong rule of law, an unwavering protection of the individual’s freedom and rights, resistance to xenophobia, independent free media, equality and equal conditions regardless of background”.

The agreement mentions the issue of migration on page 15 of its 16 pages. It does not, however, mention any of the problematic issues that migration has brought upon Sweden — although it does talk about ideas to get more immigrants into the job market and learning Swedish, as well as proposals to deal with honor killings. Ironically, it actually creates a basis for even more immigration. According to the agreement, Sweden will reintroduce the right to family reunion for those people granted asylum in Sweden who do not have refugee status. This means that they will be able to bring their spouses and children to Sweden, while unaccompanied children will be able to bring their parents. This repatriation is estimated to bring at least 8,000 more people to Sweden in the coming three years. According to Henrik Emilsson, Ph.D of international migration at Malmö University, the change will affect asylum immigration:

“Family reunification is something that is very important for people seeking asylum. The information about which countries have which rules spreads quickly and affects where people apply”.

The issues of “safety, security and democracy” are mentioned only on the last page of the agreement, perhaps indicative of the assigned priority. (By comparison, there are two pages about climate change and the environment).

Here is what the new government plans, but without a word as to how it intends to do it:

“Security throughout Sweden will increase… We take action against organized crime, strengthen the police and combat both crimes and causes of crimes. Democracy must be safeguarded, both here and in the world. The work against violent extremism, anti-gypsyism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and any other forms of racism must be strengthened”.

The agreement also promises “ten thousand more police officers” and pledges, “Sweden’s [foreign] aid will be raised to 1% of the gross national income”.

There is not a word in the agreement about the threat from Islamic terrorism, even though the Swedish Security Service’s (Säpo) January 15 press release stated, “Violence-promoting Islamist extremism currently constitutes the biggest threat to Sweden” and, “The level of the terror threat remains elevated, a three on a five-point scale. This means that a terrorist act is likely to occur”.

Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

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Fake news media FREAK OUT over Trump and NATO (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 172.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the media meltdown over remarks that U.S. President Trump may have made with regard to NATO, and how neo-liberal war hawks championing the alliance as some sort of foreign policy projection of peace and democracy, are really just supporting aggression, war, and the eventual weakening of the United States.

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Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO, Authored by David Swanson:


The New York Times loves NATO, but should you?

Judging by comments in social media and the real world, millions of people in the United States have gone from having little or no opinion on NATO, or from opposing NATO as the world’s biggest military force responsible for disastrous wars in places like Afghanistan (for Democrats) or Libya (for Republicans), to believing NATO to be a tremendous force for good in the world.

I believe this notion to be propped up by a series of misconceptions that stand in dire need of correction.

1. NATO is not a war-legalizing body, quite the opposite. NATO, like the United Nations, is an international institution that has something or other to do with war, but transferring the UN’s claimed authority to legalize a war to NATO has no support whatsoever in reality. The crime of attacking another nation maintains an absolutely unaltered legal status whether or not NATO is involved. Yet NATO is used within the U.S. and by other NATO members as cover to wage wars under the pretense that they are somehow more legal or acceptable. This misconception is not the only way in which NATO works against the rule of law. Placing a primarily-U.S. war under the banner of NATO also helps to prevent Congressional oversight of that war. Placing nuclear weapons in “non-nuclear” nations, in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, is also excused with the claim that the nations are NATO members (so what?). And NATO, of course, assigns nations the responsibility to go to war if other nations go to war — a responsibility that requires them to be prepared for war, with all the damage such preparation does.

2. NATO is not a defensive institution. According to the New York Times, NATO has “deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” This is an article of faith, based on the unsubstantiated belief that Soviet and Russian aggression toward NATO members has existed for 70 years and that NATO has deterred it rather than provoked it. In violation of a promise made, NATO has expanded eastward, right up to the border of Russia, and installed missiles there. Russia has not done the reverse. The Soviet Union has, of course, ended. NATO has waged aggressive wars far from the North Atlantic, bombing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. NATO has added a partnership with Colombia, abandoning all pretense of its purpose being in the North Atlantic. No NATO member has been attacked or credibly threatened with attack, apart from small-scale non-state blowback from NATO’s wars of aggression.

3. Trump is not trying to destroy NATO. Donald Trump, as a candidate and as U.S. President, has wondered aloud and even promised all kinds of things and, in many cases, the exact opposite as well. When it comes to actions, Trump has not taken any actions to limit or end or withdraw from NATO. He has demanded that NATO members buy more weapons, which is of course a horrible idea. Even in the realm of rhetoric, when European officials have discussed creating a European military, independent of the United States, Trump has replied by demanding that they instead support NATO.

4. If Trump were trying to destroy NATO, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Trump has claimed to want to destroy lots of things, good and bad. Should I support NAFTA or corporate media or the Cold War or the F35 or anything at all, simply because some negative comment about it escapes Trump’s mouth? Should I cheer for every abuse ever committed by the CIA or the FBI because they investigate Trump? Should I long for hostility between nuclear-armed governments because Democrats claim Trump is a Russian agent? When Trump defies Russia to expand NATO, or to withdraw from a disarmament treaty or from an agreement with Iran, or to ship weapons to Ukraine, or to try to block Russian energy deals in Europe, or to oppose Russian initiatives on banning cyber-war or weapons in space, should I cheer for such consistent defiance of Trump’s Russian master, and do so simply because Russia is, so implausibly, his so-inept master? Or should I form my own opinion of things, including of NATO?

5. Trump is not working for, and was not elected by, Russia.According to the New York Times, “Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said.” But are anonymous “American officials” really needed to acquire Russia’s openly expressed opinion that NATO is a threatening military alliance that has moved weapons and troops to states on Russia’s border? And has anyone produced the slightest documentation of the Russian government’s aims in an activity it has never admitted to, namely “meddling in American elections,” — an activity the United States has of course openly admitted to in regard to Russian elections? We have yet to see any evidence that Russia stole or otherwise acquired any of the Democratic Party emails that documented that party’s rigging of its primary elections in favor of Clinton over Sanders, or even any claim that the tiny amount of weird Facebook ads purchased by Russians could possibly have influenced the outcome of anything. Supposedly Trump is even serving Russia by demanding that Turkey not attack Kurds. But is using non-military means to discourage Turkish war-making necessarily the worst thing? Would it be if your favorite party or politician did it? If Trump encouraged a Turkish war, would that also be a bad thing because Trump did it, or would it be a bad thing for substantive reasons?

6. If Trump were elected by and working for Russia, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Imagine if Boris Yeltsin were indebted to the United States and ended the Soviet Union. Would that tell us whether ending the Soviet Union was a good thing, or whether the Soviet Union was obsolete for serious reasons? If Trump were a Russian pawn and began reversing all of his policies on Russia to match that status, including restoring his support for the INF Treaty and engaging in major disarmament negotiations, and we ended up with a world of dramatically reduced military spending and nuclear armaments, with the possibility of all dying in a nuclear apocalypse significantly lowered, would that too simply be a bad thing because Trump?

7. Russia is not a military threat to the world. That Russia would cheer NATO’s demise tells us nothing about whether we should cheer too. Numerous individuals and entities who indisputably helped to put Trump in the White House would dramatically oppose and others support NATO’s demise. We can’t go by their opinions either, since they don’t all agree. We really are obliged to think for ourselves. Russia is a heavily armed militarized nation that commits the crime of war not infrequently. Russia is a top weapons supplier to the world. All of that should be denounced for what it is, not because of who Russia is or who Trump is. But Russia spends a tiny fraction of what the United States does on militarism. Russia has been reducing its military spending each year, while the United States has been increasing its military spending. U.S. annual increases have sometimes exceeded Russia’s entire military budget. The United States has bombed nine nations in the past year, Russia one. The United States has troops in 175 nations, Russia in 3. Gallup and Pew find populations around the world viewing the United States, not Russia, as the top threat to peace in the world. Russia has asked to join NATO and the EU and been rejected, NATO members placing more value on Russia as an enemy. Anonymous U.S. military officials describe the current cold war as driven by weapons profits. Those profits are massive, and NATO now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing on the globe.

8. Crimea has not been seized. According to the New York Times, “American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend NATO, which Moscow views as a threat.” Again we have an anonymous claim as to a goal of a government in committing an action that never occurred. We can be fairly certain such things are simply made up. The vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia is commonly called the Seizure of Crimea. This infamous seizure is hard to grasp. It involved a grand total of zero casualties. The vote itself has never been re-done. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single believer in the Seizure of Crimea has ever advocated for re-doing the vote. Coincidentally, polling has repeatedly found the people of Crimea to be happy with their vote. I’ve not seen any written or oral statement from Russia threatening war or violence in Crimea. If the threat was implicit, there remains the problem of being unable to find Crimeans who say they felt threatened. (Although I have seen reports of discrimination against Tartars during the past 4 years.) If the vote was influenced by the implicit threat, there remains the problem that polls consistently get the same result. Of course, a U.S.-backed coup had just occurred in Kiev, meaning that Crimea — just like a Honduran immigrant — was voting to secede from a coup government, by no means an action consistently frowned upon by the United States.

9. NATO is not an engaged alternative to isolationism. The notion that supporting NATO is a way to cooperate with the world ignores superior non-deadly ways to cooperate with the world. A nonviolent, cooperative, treaty-joining, law-enforcing alternative to the imperialism-or-isolationism trap is no more difficult to think of or to act on than treating drug addiction or crime or poverty as reason to help people rather than to punish them. The opposite of bombing people is not ignoring them. The opposite of bombing people is embracing them. By the standards of the U.S. communications corporations Switzerland must be the most isolationist land because it doesn’t join in bombing anyone. The fact that it supports the rule of law and global cooperation, and hosts gatherings of nations seeking to work together is simply not relevant.

10. April 4 belongs to Martin Luther King, Jr., not militarism. War is a leading contributor to the growing global refugee and climate crises, the basis for the militarization of the police, a top cause of the erosion of civil liberties, and a catalyst for racism and bigotry. A growing coalition is calling for the abolition of NATO, the promotion of peace, the redirection of resources to human and environmental needs, and the demilitarization of our cultures. Instead of celebrating NATO’s 70thanniversary, we’re celebrating peace on April 4, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech against war on April 4, 1967, as well as his assassination on April 4, 1968.

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