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Sanctionstein: What is the real cause of America’s latest sanctions regime?

The latest round of American sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea are nothing more than a desperate attempt to curtail European investment.

Haneul Na'avi

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“Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness […] Polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?

—Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Chapter 24

On 25th July, a united Congress issued a new round of economic sanctions against Russian, Iranian, and North Korean industries, ignoring US President Donald Trump’s provisions, and after last month’s attempts stalled due to unintended economic consequences.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions [R-TX] feared that they would cause “huge problems to companies in Dallas, Texas, that I represent,” putting them at a disadvantage.

Despite this, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders rallied Congress.

“We […] will continue to work with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved,” she read carefully from her talking points.

However, the actual legislation, “Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017” (S.1221) deems it necessary to “authorize the appropriation of $530 million […] to counter Russian influence in Europe and Eurasia and to promote energy security in Ukraine.”

In reality, the bill, a mess of incoherent reasoning, attempts to ‘isolate’ Russia and promote post-coup Ukraine’s privatised (and failing) oil and gas industry, now controlled by American investors.

For example, section 8 does not specify which companies to promote; however, Burmisa Holdings, the private Ukrainian oil conglomerate to which Hunter Biden, former US Vice President Joe Biden’s son, is a member of the board of directors, will eventually take precedence.

Burisma owns several Ukrainian oil and gas companies, including Esko Pivnich and Pari [and] the company also has assets in Ukraine’s Dnepr-Donetsk, the Carpathian and the Azov-Kuvan basins”, a May 2014 Moscow Times article reported.

“[Joe Biden] has pledged to support efforts to reduce [Ukraine’s] dependency on Russian energy”, it continued.

Lickspittle Ben Cardin (D-MD) of the Senate Foreign Relations’ Committee lavished the sanctions, citing the ubiquitous ramblings of ‘Russian aggression’ to Politico.

I believe the proposed changes to the bill have helped to clarify the intent of members of Congress as well as express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities,” he droned.

However, his ‘closest allies’—members of the European Union—were never consulted in the sanctions’ regime and did not share his sentiments.

Several high-ranking German, French, and Austrian officials have openly condemned the unilateral moves, RT reports.

Most salient was European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker’s scathing response:

[The bill] foresees the imposition of sanctions on any company (including European) which contributes to the development, maintenance, modernisation or repair of energy export pipelines by the Russian Federation [which] could affect infrastructure transporting energy resources to Europe [and] have an impact on projects crucial to the EU’s diversification objectives such as the Baltic Liquefied Natural Gas project.

This is why the Commission concluded today that if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days. America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also commented on the sanctions, calling them “extra-cynical”.

We, as you know, are behaving with restraint, very patiently, but at some point we will have to respond, it is impossible to tolerate arrogance toward our country forever,” he expressed.

The growing deterioration in EU-US relations threatens to midwife a powerful rebellion to which Congress cannot extricate itself, and this time, American’s disruptive meddling may irreversibly isolate it from longstanding allies.

Alienation, Commodity Fetishism, and American Sanctions

Karl Marx’s theory of historical materialism illustrates the contradiction within America’s sanctions’ regime.

Marx’s manuscript, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, points out that:

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production [which] turn into their fetters.

Those ‘fetters’ are the dying petrodollar—oil as a commodity to dominate global productive forces—diminished by rising international currencies, which a previous Duran article explains.

Furthermore, the Trump administration hallmarks the transition of America into alienation. Simply put, as the US attempts to ‘isolate Russia, Iran, etc.’—whatever that means—it becomes further ostracised from other great powers who fight to assert themselves in the global market.

No longer are the American bourgeoisie controllers of the petrodollar, but quite the contrary, they fetishise it, invoking the monster of late-stage imperialism that compels them both to demise.

This is precisely what Marx implied in “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, section 2,

“The mystical substance becomes the real subject and the real subject appears to be something else, namely a moment of the mystical substance.”

The American bourgeoisie’s wretched creation now demands a companion (empire), lest the vile creature completely destroys its creator as an impending consequence.

Inevitably, the bourgeoisie and petrodollar will share the same fate as Shelly’s antagonist, immolated together in the destructive flames of that (em)pyre.

Historical Developments Influencing the Sanctions

Several highly important developments have given rise to the blanket US sanctions regime.

One must note that the sanctions do not affect the European economy, but directly target it, as the EU is the single greatest existential threat to US dollar hegemony after China and Russia.

Growing investment between Iran, China, Russia, and the EU has followed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to which the P5+1 (United Nations Security Council permanent members China, Russia, France, the UK, and US with Germany) are signatories.

Earlier this month, delegates of Russian energy giant Gazprom and German petrochemicals company BASF negotiated completion of the Nord Stream-2 project in Moscow.

[…] in the first half of 2017 Gazprom supplied Germany with 26.5 billion cubic meters of gas, an increase of 3.8 billion cubic meters (+16.7 percent) against the first six months of 2016. The parties stressed the importance of the timely implementation of the project.

This is why EU Commission President Junker seeks retaliation: energy demands are increasing and the sanctions threaten the scheduled completion of the Nord Stream-2.

France, however, is the most relevant case study to date and the focus of the sanctions.

French President Emanuel Macron has long desired to end anti-Russian sanctions, even whilst serving as former President Francois Hollande’s finance minister.

The objective we all share is to provide the lifting of sanctions by the summer, as far as the peace process in south-eastern Ukraine is respected,” he stated in Jan 2016.

FARS news details France’s motivations perfectly,

Sanctions that are prohibitive or otherwise too restrictive to foster trade risk driving business to foreign markets — and, in doing so, broker new alliances between longtime American friends and foes. Tensions wrought by US sanctions against Russia, for example, have divided US allies in Europe that were already financially struggling before being hit with the economic penalties’ knock-on effects. That’s why the lower house of France’s parliament has voted [302-16] in a nonbinding agreement to lift EU sanctions against Russia.

EU Commission figures show that the global recession (2008-2014) and volatile oil prices compelled the Sarkozy and Hollande administrations to ‘diversify’ its Middle Eastern sources.

In this period, France’s domestic oil imports fell sharply from 610 mln. barrels at 59.5 bln. USD to 410 mln. barrels at 39.9 bln due to fluctuating crude oil costs and lower manufacturing demands.

Whist supply volumes diminished, 2011-2013 was the most expensive period for crude oil supply costs, with an average of 111 USD per barrel.

In 2011, at its most severe point, the Sarkozy administration invaded Libya along with its NATO allies. France’s Total also joined the now-defunct Nabucco pipeline, which was originally proposed in 2009 to diversify EU oil.

Ironically, Syria rejected it in favour of a pan-Islamic pipeline, which sparked the Saudi and US-backed coup and cancelled the Nabucco project; later, the war facilitated the future Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi security initiative.

“[The] natural gas pipeline would run through Syria’s Aleppo and Turkey unto Europe. However, Assad dampened this dream in 2011 when he instead forged a pact with Iraq and Iran to run an ‘Islamic pipeline’ eastward to the European market,” Christina Lin highlighted.

French oil conglomerate Total finally conceded and greenlighted the Iranian South Pars 11 project last November, defying previous US sanctions, in order to make up for the lost pipeline.

Total has signed a Heads of Agreement (HoA) with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for the development of phase 11 of South Pars, the world’s largest gas field [which] will have a production capacity of 1.8 billion cubic feet per day, or 370 000 barrels of oil equivalent [and] the produced gas will be fed into Iran’s gas network.

French, Iranian, and Chinese companies will finance the entire South Pars project, Total continues:

[We] will operate the SP11 project with a 50.1% interest alongside Petropars (19.9%), a 100% subsidiary of NIOC, and the Chinese state-owned oil and gas company CNPC (30%).

Total’s strategic partnership combines its technical experience with the financial autonomy of its investors and vast untapped reserves of Iranian natural gas.

“[Total] could not be immune to U.S. embargo due to investment in Iran’s oil sector. Over recent years, by setting up international consortiums, Total has managed to circumvent US’s D’Amato sanctions and join South Pars. CNPC’s presence is for the same reason of getting around the sanctions,” IRNA states

The trilateral partnership will also finance the project in Euros instead of dollars, which is the fundamental reason for the unilateral US sanctions.

With U.S. sanctions still in place prohibiting trading with Iran in dollars, Total will finance the project in euros from its own resources,” Reuters mentioned.

At the 1 June St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), CEO Patrick Pouyanne assured investors of his commitment to the project.

“It is worth taking the risk […] because it opens a huge market. We are perfectly conscious of some risks. We have taken into account (sanctions) snap-backs [and] regulation changes,” he stated.

The agreement will spark a European race for Iranian oil, which will guarantee longterm energy security, as most EU bureaucrats still wish to diversify (not divest) fuel sources away from Russia and find the Azerbaijani Shah Deniz project difficult and expensive to finance.

ADVFN explains further,

This contract, which has a 20-year duration, is the first Iranian Petroleum Contract (IPC) and is based on the […] Heads of Agreement signed on November 8, 2016.

Euronews also implies this as the source of last month’s Saudi-Qatari diplomatic row, as Qatar geographically shares the South Pars gas field with Iran,

South Pars is Iran’s section of the world’s biggest gas deposit, shared also with Qatar, and the Persian Gulf field lies at the center of a dispute embroiling Qatar and several Arab neighbors. Saudi Arabia severed commercial links with Qatar last month, accusing it of cozying up to arch-rival Iran. Qatar initially faced a Monday deadline to comply with 13 demands from a Saudi-led coalition, including a cutback in relations with Iran.

The Saudi monarchy now shares the fate of its American counterparts: self-imposed isolation due to economic meddling and bleeding profits due to new currencies entering the oil and gas sector.

In return for cooperating on the South Pars 11, France has offered Rouhani a spectacular deal: revitalising Tehran’s beleaguered airline industry and resuming flights after an 8-year suspension.

Zagros Airlines [will] buy 20 aircraft from the […] Airbus A320neo family and eight A330neo planes. Iran Airtour’s order would comprise 45 planes of the A320neo type,” FARS notes.

Iran’s former deputy Transport Minister Ali Abedzadeh also met last year with former French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies to discuss aviation training schemes along with the Airbus deal.

Finally, both France‘s AREP and Italy‘s Ferrovie dello Stato have signed 7 mln. and 1.3 bln. Euro agreements, respectively, to expand and modernise Iran’s ageing railway system.

To facilitate this, both President Macron and French Finance Minister Michel Sapin have prioritised normalising banking ties with Iran.

The French president vowed to do his utmost for deepening of economic, scientific and cultural relations with Iran during his tenure as French president,” FARS stated.

It’s our aim and our will to normalized banking ties with Iran even if it can’t be done in one day,” Sapin urged during the meeting.

By using the EU as a human shield for its sanctions regime, the United States has expedited its demise by speeding up global USD divestment.

It is of the utmost importance that the P5-1 (minus the US) begin using alternative payment systems such as the Chinese CIPS and Russian SPFS to facilitate their trade agreements.

If France wishes to redeem itself by leading the European pivot, it should facilitate and offer feedback on these new systems to accrue empirical data for other EU member states; other economic powers within the European Economic Area (EEA) will follow suit.

If the European Union, Russia, China and Iran can do this, the US sanctions will mean nothing.

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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?

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

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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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