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Russia’s ‘constitution’ for Syria (FULL TEXT AND ANALYSIS)

The ‘draft constitution’ Russia presented to the parties at the Astana conference is not a blueprint for Syria’s future and the Russians did not intend in that way. It was a diplomatic play to get the parties talking about other issues than the sterile issue of the future of President Assad, which has prevented process in all the negotiations up to now. In that it appears to have been successful.

Alexander Mercouris

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Since shortly after the Syrian peace talks began in the Kazakh capital Astana rumours have circulated that Russia proposed at the conference a ‘draft constitution’ for Syria.

Rumours about the contents of this ‘draft constitution’ have spread widely, with concern widely expressed that Russia might be seeking to impose its ideas on the Syrian people in quasi-colonial fashion, and that Russia is overreaching itself.

There have also been serious concerns that the ‘draft constitution’ threatens the integrity of the Syrian state by enforcing its federalisation and by granting autonomy to the Kurds, and that Syria’s traditional system of government with a strong executive President is being threatened, thereby making the country ungovernable and unable to meet external or internal threats.

In my opinion these concerns are wrong, though not groundless.  It is always an extraordinary step when one country produces the draft of what it calls a ‘constitution’ for another country, and it is certainly not something that should be encouraged.

Having said this, there were in my opinion valid – indeed obvious – reasons why the Russians acted as they did, and once these are understood and the document itself is explained, it becomes clear that the concerns which have been expressed about the ‘draft constitution’- though made in good faith – are in fact misplaced.

I would say that whilst this will take some explaining, I have no doubt the Russians have explained it all privately to the Syrian government which is why the Syrian government, and the Turks and the Iranians both of whom also oppose Syria’s federalisation, have been so quiet and relaxed about it.

In order to explain this properly, I will now provide a link to the complete text of this so-called ‘draft constitution’.  This is a lengthy document, and I should express my grateful thanks to Mariam Al-Hijab, Editor-in-Chief for Inside Syria Media Center, and to Sophia Mangal, for sending it to me.  Without their help this analysis would be impossible, though I should stress that it is entirely my own and I take sole responsibility for it.

The document – as any document which calls itself a ‘draft constitution’ must be – is very long.  However certain claims which have been made about this ‘draft constitution’ turn out even on a quick reading to be untrue.  For example, it has been claimed that it envisages turning Syria from a Presidential to a parliamentary republic, with the President losing most of his powers and limited to an essentially ceremonial role, and limited moreover to serving for just one term.  The actual text of the ‘draft constitution’ shows that this is all wrong.

The powers of the President are set out in Chapter 4 page 23.

Article 48 makes it clear that the President exercises executive power alongside the government.  Article 49(1) and (2) allow the President to stay in office for two consecutive terms each of 7 years, not just one.   There is no provision that prevents the same individual from standing for a third or more terms as President, provided the third term does not follow directly after the first two.

Article 55 confirms that the President is the guarantor of the constitution, and of Syria’s “independence, unity and territorial integrity”.  Article 57 gives the President the power to issue “decrees, edicts and instructions in accordance with the Constitution and the law”.  Article 60 confirms that the President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.  Article 60(1) authorises the President to issue “all the decisions necessary to exercise this authority”.  Article 60(2) makes it clear that it is the President who is tasked with responding to any threat to the state, though he or she is obligated to inform the upper house of the country’s parliament of whatever action he or she is taking.  Article 60(3) gives the President the power to declare a state of emergency, though only with the prior agreement of the upper house of the parliament or – if this cannot be obtained in the time available – with its agreement to be sought within one day.

Article 63(3) confirms that it is the President who “directs the general course of the Government’s activities”.  Article 64 confirms that it is the President who appoints the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s deputies, and Article 63(3) confirms that the President has the right to summon the members of the government to report on their activities, and that the President has the right to preside over meetings of the government.

In summary, though the President’s powers may be somewhat reduced by comparison with what they are now, the ‘draft constitution’ clearly envisages Syria remaining a Presidential republic, with the President normally serving for two consecutive terms of 7 years each (14 years in total), and remaining in command of the armed forces and in control of the government.  The President would still be the country’s leader, and it is doubtful whether in practical terms the position of the President would be significantly different from what it is now.

If rumours about what the ‘draft constitution’ does to the role of the President are wrong, what about the other more serious claims that have been made about it?  Does it in fact provide for Syria’s federalisation and for the grant of sweeping autonomy to the Kurds?

As has been pointed out by several people, the words “federal”, “federalisation” and “federation” appear nowhere in the document.  Article 1 says that that the names of the country are “the Syrian Republic” and/or “Syria”, with the two names being used interchangeably.  Article 1(2) says that “Syria relies on the unity of its nation and is a common and indivisible homeland for all its citizens”.  Article 9(1) says that “the territory of Syria is indivisible, inviolable and integral”.  Article 9(2) says that “the territory of Syria is inalienable”.

These provisions are more consistent with a unitary state, such as the one Syria is now, then with a federation or with a federal structure.  Certainly the right of secession of any constituent part of Syria is expressly ruled out.

The ‘draft constitution’ does however contain certain other provisions, which some see as pointing in a different direction.  What do they say?

The key provision is Article 15, which reads as follows

  1. Syria consists of constituent parts;
  2. The law states the number of constituent parts, their boundaries and status;
  3. The organization of local administration is based on applying the principle of decentralization of authorities and responsibilities.  The law states that the relationship between these units and the central authority, their mandate, financial revenues and control over their work.  It also states the way such authorities are appointed or elected;
  4. The law shall the status of the Kurdish Cultural Autonomy.

Alongside Article 15, certain other provisions need to be considered.  Specifically there are some particular provisions concerning language in Article 4 which pertain to this question.  Article 4 reads as follows

  1. The official language of the state is Arabic.  The law shall regulate how the official language is used;
  2. Government agencies and organizations of the Kurdish cultural autonomy shall use Arabic and Kurdish equally;
  3. Syrian citizens shall be guaranteed the right to educate their children in their native language in state educational institutions and in private educational institutions that meet the educational standard;
  4. Each region shall have the right to use another majority language in addition to the official language as is regulated by the law, if such use was approved by a locally held referendum.

One big change the ‘draft constitution’ introduces to Syria’s existing arrangements is that it replaces Syria’s existing directly elected unicameral parliament with a bicameral one.  This is relevant to the question of Syria’s “federalisation” because of the way the new upper house of this bicameral parliament – referred to in the ‘draft constitution’ as the “Constituent Assembly” – is set up.  The relevant provision is Article 40

  1. The Constituent Assembly shall be formed to ensure participation of representatives of the constituent parts in legislative activities and administration of the state;
  2. The Constituent Assembly consists of representatives of the constituent parts;
  3. The law shall specify how members of the Constituent Assembly are delegated, their number, status and term of service.

Article 44 sets out the powers of the Constituent Assembly.  Mostly these mirror those of the lower house (the People’s Assembly) but in addition the Constituent Assembly possesses the following further powers: “resolving issues of war and peace” (Article 44(1)(3), “terminating the mandate of the President of the Republic” (Article 44(1)(4)), and “approval of the President’s decision to declare the state of emergency or mobilization” (Article 44(1)(5).  The power to “terminate the mandate of the President” in Article 44(1)(4) requires an impeachment process initiated by the lower house and involving the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, the details of which are set out in Article 61.

These are extraordinarily vague provisions.  It is not clear for example whether the “Kurdish cultural autonomy” mentioned in Articles 4(2) and 15(4) is a political entity, or whether it is simply a provision granting Syria’s Kurdish people certain cultural and linguistic rights.

The number, boundaries and powers of the so called “constituent parts” and their relationship to the central government are left unresolved, to be decided by another law (passed by whom?).  Amazingly, the ‘draft constitution’ leaves unresolved even the basic question of whether the governing bodies of the “constituent parts” are to be elected by the local people, or are to be “appointed” (by whom?), whilst it seems members of the Constituent Assembly will not be elected but will be “delegated” (again by whom?), which will inevitably reduce their status and power.

Of course not all constitutions define or discuss the parts that make up a federation.  That of the US for example does not.  However in such cases the federal parts that make up the union usually already exist or are in the process of formation before the new constitution comes into effect.  That is far from being so in the Syrian case.

Such vague provisions are scarcely a programme for Syria’s federalisation, and – as I have said – some of the other provisions appear to envisage Syria remaining a unitary state, albeit one which may be somewhat more decentralised than it is now, though again the decentralisation provision is so vague as to be almost meaningless.

Such vagueness in such key provisions on such contentious subjects points to the real purpose of the ‘draft constitution’.  It is not a blueprint for Syria’s future.  It is a tool in a diplomatic play.

The ‘draft constitution’ was circulated to the Syrian parties at the peace conference in Astana. Russia’s objective at the peace conference was to consolidate the shaky ceasefire which is in force in some parts of Syria, to get the Syrian opposition groups which are attending the conference to accept Russia as an honest broker, and to get the Syrian parties talking about a possible settlement that will hopefully bring peace to Syria.

In order to have any hope of achieving these things the Russians need to get the Syrian opposition groups talking about issues which go beyond the sterile subject of the future of President Assad.  This is vital because it is this issue which has stymied all attempts to secure an agreement up to now.  The ‘draft constitution’ was the Russians’ tool to do this.

Everything about the ‘draft constitution’ suggests that it is a hurriedly cobbled together document probably farmed out to a postgraduate student at some institute.  Most of it consists of cliches, whilst some sections – for examples the ones concerning the Constituent Assembly – seem to be based, though in a very sketchy way, on Russia’s own constitution.  That the ‘draft constitution’ is so vague on so many of the most crucial issues however shows that it is not intended seriously as a true constitutional document, or even as a subject of discussion or a position paper.

Once the ‘draft constitution’ is understood in the way it is intended – as a diplomatic play – it becomes clear that none of this matters, and the true purpose of its provisions becomes clear.  Precisely because it is not a genuine constitutional document or even a position paper, it is able to offer something to everyone whilst fully satisfying no-one.

The Kurds are given references to their language and their ethnicity, promises of some sort of vague ‘autonomy’, and a provision that some officials of the central government will be picked according to ethnic quotas, which would include them.  Also the world “Arab” is removed from the country’s name.

The secular Ba’athists are given a strong directly elected executive President and a promise of what looks like a unitary state.  The ‘draft constitution’ is also determinedly secular, and importantly it safeguards women’s rights.

The preamble reassures the Arab nationalists by referring to the Arab League and confirming that the official language will be Arabic, whilst the Islamists are offered a reference to the Charter of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

There are vague suggestions of decentralisation such as might give hope to some Sunnis in some of Syria’s provinces, with nothing however so concrete that the Baathists or the Arab nationalists might balk at it.

Needless to say none of these people – the Kurds, the Ba’athists, the Arab nationalists or the Sunni fundamentalists – would consider this ‘draft constitution’ remotely acceptable, and all of them have rejected it, as the Russians of course knew they would.  The point is that by presenting it to them the Russians have got them all talking about something other than the future of President Assad, whilst highlighting areas for future discussion, and leaving open the possibility of a future invitation to Astana to the Kurds, who are currently being prevented from going there by the Syrians and the Turks.

Early indications are that the play was successful.  It seems that the Jihadi groups who came to Astana have warmed to Russia, accepting that the Russians are indeed prepared to act as honest brokers and not simply steamroller over them on behalf of President Assad.

The result was that there were no tantrums or walkouts, the peace process is continuing, and the parties are all talking, if not yet to each other.  The ‘draft constitution’ has given them topics they can all talk about other than the status of President Assad, and – since they all dislike it – even something they can all agree about.

If this all sounds clever, the answer is that of course it is.  However one should not overstate this.  Anyone who has been involved in mediation exercises knows that presenting a document like the ‘draft constitution’ is actually a standard diplomatic and mediation ploy to break the deadlock, get the parties to accept the bona fides of the mediator, and get the parties talking to the mediator if not yet to each other.

One of the great problems in international relations over the last several decades is that the country which has usually tried to fill the role of honest broker in international disputes – the US – is temperamentally unsuited to the role.  What the US invariably does in any dispute it becomes involved in (which is to say all of them) is pick sides, reduce everything to black and white, and demand that the side it has decided against accept in its entirety whatever proposal the US considers the appropriate outcome to the quarrel.  The result is that instead of peace there is usually war, with the settlement of disputes becoming incredibly protracted.

The Russians have a very different approach to diplomacy, one they have perfected over the centuries as a result of their long history as a great European and Eurasian power which – unlike the US – has had throughout its history to deal with other cultures and other countries on equal terms.  The ‘draft constitution’ is exactly the sort of play that might be expected from them, just as it is the sort of play that an earlier generation of diplomats – a Bismarck or a Gorchakov for example – in a like situation might have also used.

With the shift in what old Russians still sometimes call “the correlation of world forces” (which means more than just the balance of power) it is likely that Russian diplomacy will become more prominent in future.  If so then diplomatic plays of this sort will become more common, and we should try to understand them better.

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

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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

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

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

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

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Via Zerohedge…

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

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

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

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

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

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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Via RT…


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

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

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

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

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

‘Active measures’ on social media

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

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

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

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

Alleged hacking & release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

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

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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