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Iran would be ready for restoring relations with Saudi Arabia, if Riyadh stopped these 2 things

Iran’s suggestions are not only doable, but they represent a “win-win” solution disguised as an improbable scenario.

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Iran has long been a stalwart defender of the Palestinian cause, while Saudi Arabia has all but made public, their de-facto alliance with the Israeli regime. However, because of the universal condemnation of Donald Trump’s controversial Jerusalem/al-Quds declaration, the entire Arab world, has for the first time in decades, publicly condemned the US over its stance on Israel.

Iran is not calling Saudi Arabia’s bluff, asking Riyadh to put many differences aside with Iran in order to restore diplomatic relations, which were cut off in 2016 after years of tension.

Iran has stated that if Riyadh ceases its aggressive bombing campaign in Yemen and cuts off its ties with Israel, Tehran will be willing to restore relations in spite of many differences in both policy and ideology.

Iran remains one of the oldest countries to exercise self-government in the world. Iran traces its roots to the year 678 B.C., while by contrast, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932. As the 20th century wore on, the two states went in entirely different directions with Saudi Arabia continuing to practice a reactionary Wahhabi ideology while Iran in 1979 was home to the Islamic Revolution, which ushered in modern Islamic Republicanism.

In spite of these very different realities, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has today stated,

“Saudi Arabia should suspend it bombardment of Yemen and stop begging for contacts with the Zionist regime. We want Saudi Arabia to stop two things, the misguided friendship with Israel and the inhuman bombardment of Yemen”.

Is is possible? 

1. Yemen 

Surprisingly, in Yemen, Saudi ceasing its bombardment is possible. Riyadh and in particular de-facto leader Crown Price Muhammad bin Salman is anxious to end the war he spearheaded in 2015. Saudi Arabia’s inability to subdue a Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen, in spite of having vastly superior military technology, has become a long running embarrassment for Riyadh.

At the moment, the lines of control in Yemen, correspond almost precisely to the pre-1990 borders of the two states of South and North Yemen.

As geo-political expert Andrew Korbyko suggested, it would not be entirely impossible to re-constitute South Yemen as either a fully fledged independent state or half of a deeply federated Yemen. Today’s ‘South Yemen’ has a relatively stable government under President Hadi and wealthy allies in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The question here is what of North Yemen? With President Saleh dead, the most realistic yet unsustainable solution, might be for a kind of Houthi government in Sana’a that remains under a kind of semi-permanent Saudi blockade. This would effectively make a new North Yemen, a kind of Transnistria in the Arabian Peninsula, a small statelet cut off on all sides from possible allies, in spite of its coasts. With such a state would have an Iranian ally, Saudi Arabia would not realistically agree to a pro-Iranian state on its borders.

As this could not be a truly permanent solution, Saudi Arabia would eventually have to agree that North Yemen could be supplied via a neutral power. This could realistically be China, which is rapidly consolidating its position in the Horn of Africa, most specifically with the opening of its first overseas military logistics base early this year in Djibouti.

China, as a partner of Iran and a country with extremely healthy relations with Saudi Arabia, would be all too happy to transform Yemen from an impoverished country into an important stop on the Red-to-Med maritime belt of One Belt–One Road.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran would particularly mind China doing commerce in a region, where one way or another, they’ll be doing it anyway. This, a would be Yemeni Republic of Houthistan would transform into a kind of One Belt–One Road republic.

2. Israel 

While many Iranians looked with worry when Saudi King Salman completed a successful first ever visit to Moscow, just months ago, I took a decidedly different view.

So long as President Putin and Rouhani, or those with similar outlooks remain in power in Moscow and Tehran, the partnership between Iran and Russia is assured.

Likewise, while Russia will never endorse pro-Takfiri foreign policies of Riyadh, Russia continues to cooperate with Saudi Arabia over stabilising global oil prices.  Instead of engaging in a counter-productive race to the bottom, Russia recently agreed to extend a previous agreement with the Saudi dominated OPEC, to keep oil prices inflated enough to satisfy Riyadh, via production cuts.

Because Russia has an incredibly diverse economy, while Saudi Arabia does not, it is clear that in respect of the OPEC agreements, Russia is the senior partner that holds a big key to Saudi’s economic solvency.

Russia is therefore in a position to leverage Saudi’s position against Iran to force some kind of detente. As I previously wrote,

“Russia has a natural interest, as most key energy exporters do, in not engaging in a race to the bottom with would-be, let alone actual competitors. In this sense, while Russia as a military and geo-political superpower does not need the protection of OPEC that less powerful energy producers do, it is nevertheless in Moscow’s interest to cooperate with OPEC on a case by case basis. In this sense, Russia has made the decision to value stability of international oil prices more than a would-be ability to undercut competitors and win on volume, while prices plummet in all directions.

Saudi Arabia, for its part, is happy to work with the implied understanding (that may well have been voiced in private) that in exchange for Russian cooperation with OPEC, Saudi will use its surplus sovereign wealth funds which are almost entirely derived from the energy trade, to invest in the Russian economy.

In this sense, Russia’s technology, scientific expertise and growing Eurasian trading routes make a good partner for Saudi’s copious amounts of sovereign wealth.

There is another factor that is also at play. Future Saudi King and current Crown Prince  Mohammad  bin Salman, is eager to diversify the Saudi economy. His pet project, Vision 2030, is already seen as overly ambitious and therefore, Saudi needs all the help it can get in becoming less dependant on oil and on foreign expertise to run the domestic economy.

Russia’s key geographic and geo-political placement on China’s One Belt–One Road combined with Saudi’s already (surprisingly to ideologues) good relations with China, means that Russia is a natural economic partner to Saudi in this sense. Saudi wants and needs as much as it can from One Belt–One Road and now Riyadh is officially working on good terms with the two largest countries along One Belt–One Road.

As for lingering foreign policy agreements which have the potential to make life difficult for Saudi and Russia, the short answer is that Russia is not concerned about this and increasingly, nor is Saudi, in spite of what Saudi propaganda designed for a regional Arab audience may indicate.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is far more limited than many acknowledge. While expensively armed, the Saudi armed forces are not well trained and by most accounts, not incredibly capable. The Saudi led air-war against Yemen which has created a humanitarian disaster, has not given Saudi any clear geo-political advantage. It has only further antagonised Iran and created bad publicity for Saudi among human rights activists in the west, including some left-leaning political figures like Jeremy Corbyn. Yet at the end of the day, Saudi’s misadventure in Yemen, which is privately criticised by many in the Saudi deep state, has done Saudi more harm than good, but at this juncture, such geo-political harm is mostly limited to Shi’a states in the Middle East.

While Saudi has been notorious for funding terrorism, this too has done little to weaken its Arab rivals, especially compared with decades of sustained Israeli aggression which has done far more to create instability and chaos  in the Arab world.

This is not to say that Saudi foreign policy is moral, ethical or well-intentioned, it is none of those things, but nor has it been particularly effective in the crucial long term perspective. This distinction is often lost in impassioned arguments over the Saudi regime’s tactics….

 

…The Russian geo-political ‘insurance policy’ has also helped to bring Turkey and Iran closer together. Again, while Kurdish nationalism and Israeli aggression has mutually infuriated Ankara and Tehran, it was first and foremost, Russia’s friendship with both powers that allowed Iran and Turkey to develop a newfound sense of trust and mutually beneficial economic relations.

Turning to the dispute between Riyadh and Doha, Russia’s genuinely neutral stance on the row between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt on the other, has earned Russia genuine respect on all sides of this conflict.

And then one has to necessarily turn to the Saudi/Iranian conflict. MBS is considered one of the more anti-Iranian figures in a Saudi state that is de-facto anti-Iran. While some ideologically motivated commentators think that the Saudi monarch’s visit to Moscow is a betrayal of the Moscow-Tehran partnership, this is no more the case than Russia’s increasingly good relations with Turkey has been a threat to Russia’s Syrian partner.

The slow-moving but increasingly obvious outcome of good Russian relations with Turkey has meant that Turkey is now playing a less destructive and detracting role in Syria.  While Damascus and Ankara still do not have official diplomatic channels, the fact that Damascus welcomed the Turkish policed de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, is a sign of a small yet significant rapprochement, albeit via a third party.

Likewise, if both Iran and Saudi become increasingly intertwined in an economic partnership with Russia and also China, there will be less of a chance that Saudi would ever make good on its threats against Iran. Even now, the threats against Iran are mostly rhetorical as Saudi simply does not have the ability to even attempt to win a war against Iran’s superior armed forces.

In this sense, Russia is helping create stability in the Middle East by making previous and current rival nations into countries that each have an economic interest in a common partner. That partner is Russia which increasingly also means China, by extrapolation, as well as overriding realities of Chinese investment in the Middle East. There is only one nation that is one good to very good terms with nations as diverse as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Palestine, Israel and in many ways, event the notoriously difficult Lebanon. This country is Russia.

Just as Nawaz Sharif’s ouster from the Premiership in Islamabad has not negatively impacted Pakistan’s close economic and geo-political relations with China, so too would any would-be palace coup in Saudi, or any other Persian Gulf monarchy, not effect relations with Russia as much as some would hope or in other cases, fear. There is only so much that any ideological state can do to resist pragmatism. This far, Russia has quietly made sure that in all such states, pragmatic thinking beats out ideological rhetoric. Saudi Arabia is no exception, it in fact, proves the rule”.

Russia and Saudi Arabia: A case of ‘PEACE FOR OIL and OIL FOR PEACE’

In respect of Israel, Russia has been able to maintain healthy relations with both Israel and Palestine as well as with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Of course, Russia remains a close partner of Syria as well, while effectively re-establishing long lost good relations with Iraq.

If Russia could somehow broker a deal whereby Saudi’s relations with Israel were reduced to economic rather than geo-political cooperation, while encouraging Riyadh to at least partly cease parroting Israeli rhetoric about Iran, Russia could help to “reduce” Riyadh’s levels of relations with Tel Aviv to that which Tehran might find acceptable for the purposes of using pan-Islamic leverage against Tel Aviv on the issue of Jerusalem/al-Quds.

CONCLUSION: 

While Iran’s position on rapprochement with Saudi Arabia remains a tall order, it is not as tall as it appears at first glace. The war in Yemen has been costly and embarrassing to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia is looking for a way out, but thus far have not been able to do so in a manner that preserves the internal “dignity” of the regime among domestic critics.

In respect of Israel, while Saudi will likely continue its burgeoning business contacts with Israel, the idea of teaming up to threaten Iran would be a suicide mission for Muhammad bin Salman and his regime and deep down most Saudis do realise this.

If China and Russia could both use their economic and diplomatic influence over Riyadh to try and force some agreement on key issues, it could be a “win-win” situation for the entire Middle East.

Saudi Arabia would save face and money over Yemen, as well as restore much needed prestige on the issue of Palestine, where most Arabs feel that Saudi Arabia now cares far less than the non-Arab powers of Iran and Turkey. Iran of course would lose nothing in such a deal, but gain a substantial diplomatic upper hand which would show that Tehran is able to take the high road with its opponents, without surrendering its principles.

Saudi’s burgeoning relations with Israel could kill the two state solution in more ways than one

 

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Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the possibility, and feasibility, of putting together an EU army, as French President Macron is now boasting about.

Will an EU Army replace, rival, or fold into NATO? How will the US respond to Europe’s military initiative, and how will Russia deal an EU army?

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


“Insulting” – that’s how US President Donald Trump sharply reacted to the idea of a “real European army” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

And it was how Macron rationalized the need for an independent military force for Europe that perhaps most irked the American leader.

Speaking on a tour of World War I battlefields in northern France last week, Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself from “China, Russia and even the United States of America”.

It was a pretty extraordinary choice of words by the French leader. To frame the US among an array of perceived foreign enemy powers was a devastating blow to the concept of a much-vaunted transatlantic alliance.

Since the Second World War, ending 1945, the concept of an American-European alliance has been the bedrock of a supposed inviolable, mutual defense pact. That nearly seven-decade alliance is now being questioned more than ever.

Macron’s call for a European army was further backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who also pointedly said this week that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its defense.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the proposal for Europe to form its own military organization, independent from Washington. No doubt, Moscow views such a development as augmenting a move towards a multipolar international order, which Russia and China, among others, have been advocating in opposition to American ambitions of unipolar dominance.

When Trump arrived in Paris last weekend along with dozens of other world leaders, including Putin, to commemorate the centennial anniversary marking the end of World War I, there was a notable frostiness between Macron and the American president. Only a few months ago, Macron and Trump had appeared the best of friends in what some observers referred to as a “bromance”.

During the Paris events, Macron sought to placate Trump by saying that the European army proposal would have a “complementary” role to the US-led NATO military alliance. However, their relationship further soured when Macron later delivered a speech in which he made a veiled rebuke of Trump’s “nationalist” politics.

Days later, on returning to Washington, Trump then fired off a fusillade of angry tweets attacking Macron in very personal terms over a range of issues, including “unfair” economic trade and France’s alleged ungrateful attitude towards the US liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The rift between the US and Europe has been brewing even before Trump’s presidency. For years, Washington has been carping that the Europeans need to spend more on military defense, claiming that the US has been shouldering the burden for too long. Trump has taken the griping to a new, higher level. Recall that he has threatened to pull out of NATO because the Europeans were “free loading” on American “protection”.

The irony is that now the French and German leaders are talking about setting up their own military defenses, Trump has blown a fuse.

Evidently, the American contention is not about “burden sharing” of defense. If Washington was genuinely aggrieved about supposedly defending Europe at too much of its own expense, then Trump, one would think, would be only too glad to hear that the Europeans were at last making their own military arrangements, and taking the burden off Washington.

This gets to the heart of the matter about the real purpose of NATO and presence of tens of thousands of US troops stationed in bases across Europe since 1945. American military presence in Europe is not about “protecting” its supposed allies. It is, and always has been, about projecting American power over Europe. In reality, American troops and bases in Europe are more functioning as an occupying force, keeping the Europeans in line with Washington’s strategic objectives of hegemony over the continent.

Macron and Merkel’s vision of a European army is probably fanciful anyway, without any real prospect of materializing. How such a new defense arrangement would work independently from the 29-member NATO alliance led by the US seems unwieldy and impractical.

But the latest tensions between Washington and European leaders over military organization demonstrate the real nature of America’s relationship to Europe. It is about domination by Washington over Europe and has little to do with partnership and protection.

When Trump and previous US presidents have urged greater military spending by Europe the ulterior agenda is for Europeans to pay more to underpin American military presence, not for Europeans to find their own independent defense arrangement.

Tensions in the transatlantic axis seem to be coming to a head, heightened by Trump’s nationalistic “America First” policy. Rivalries are sharpening over trade, US sanctions on Iran, Trump’s threats against European energy plans with Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, and squabbling over NATO expenditures.

There is nothing progressive about Macron or Merkel’s call for a European army. It is more to do with France and Germany wanting to assert themselves as great powers and to shake off American tutelage out of frustration with Trump’s domineering petulance.

Only last week, Macron caused controversy when he praised French military general Philippe Pétain who collaborated with Nazi Germany as leader of Vichy France (1940-44). Macron wants a European army to satisfy his own nationalistic ambitions of revamping French global power. This week, he spent the night onboard a refurbished French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, from which he gave a media interview saying that being “an ally of America meant not being a vassal”. Touché!

A progressive challenge from Europe to American power would not involve setting up a new army. Instead it would involve Europeans pushing for the disbandment of NATO as an obsolete organization and for the withdrawal of US-led forces which are dangerously amassing on Russia’s border.

Nonetheless, the one positive thing to emerge from the transatlantic spat over military defenses is that it illustrates more than ever how European protection is not the real purpose of Washington’s relationship to the continent. The purpose is one of using Europe as a platform for projecting America’s power, in particular against Russia.

The recent announcement by the Trump administration that it is willing to rip up yet another nuclear arms control treaty – the INF following the ABM in 2002 – clearly shows that Washington, ultimately, has recklessly scant concern for Europe’s security with regard to a possible future war with Russia.

For Washington, despite all the chivalrous rhetoric, Europe is not a partner nor even an ally. It is a vassal. Admittedly, thousands of American troops died while bravely fighting wars in Europe. But they are distinct from the US ruling class. At bottom, Europe is merely a battlefield for American military power, just as it was in two previous world wars. One hundred years after the end of World War I, the same callous calculus for the imperial planners in Washington is at play.

European ideas for independent defense is why Washington has reacted so furiously. It’s not willing to give up its European front.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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