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Syria on brink of final victory in Aleppo

With Jihadi counter offensives crushed, the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo trapped, and the US out of options, the Syrian government backed by Russia is on the brink of winning ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ and restoring its full control over Syria’s biggest city.

Alexander Mercouris

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Whilst all the attention is focused on the diplomacy, the fighting in Aleppo progresses steadily towards what is now starting to look like an inevitable government victory.

A review of the key events in the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ – likely to be the decisive battle in the Syrian war – is in order. 

At the time of the start of the Russian intervention a year ago, Aleppo – which contrary to what the Western media says is mainly government controlled and overwhelmingly loyal to the government – had become almost completely surrounded by the Jihadi rebels who in 2012 had managed to capture its eastern suburbs.

The key to the crisis the government faced in Aleppo was the Jihadi capture in March 2015 of the provincial capital and most of the western province of Idlib. 

This enabled the Jihadis to threaten the government’s heartland of Latakia, and put them in a position where they could threaten the roads linking Aleppo to the government controlled areas in the south.  At the time of the Russians’ arrival the roads to the south of Aleppo had been cut, so that Aleppo could only be resupplied by air through the airport, which remained under government control.

In the months that followed the arrival of the Russians in September 2015, Russian air support enabled the Syrian army to take the offensive. 

By the time of the first ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement in February of this year the roads leading to Aleppo from the south had been reopened.  The Jihadis in eastern Aleppo however still retained control of the Castello road to the north of the city so that their supply routes to Turkey were still open.

It is now clear that both sides used the period following the ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement in February to resupply and reorganise. 

On the part of the US and its allies this involved combining the various Jihadi groups (including Jabhat Al-Nusra) and putting them under the command of a single headquarters (or “operations room”) whilst resupplying them with weapons including it seems heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery, allegedly drawn from ex-Libyan army stocks. 

Though the objective of this planned offensive was (naturally) never made public, it is clear that it was aimed at capturing (or “liberating”) Aleppo. 

Presumably if Aleppo had been captured an alternative Syrian government would have been set up there, which the US, the European powers, Turkey, and the Arab states of the Gulf, would have recognised as Syria’s true or legitimate government. 

With President Assad having lost control of what was once Syria’s largest city, and the area under the control of his government reduced to Damascus and a belt of territory to its north, that would have made the demand for his removal almost irresistible.

By May US Secretary of State Kerry was issuing threats that the Russians only had until August to agree to a “political transition” in Syria (ie. President Assad’s removal from office).  Though what would happen in August if this did not happen Kerry left unsaid, with hindsight it is clear that it was the Jihadi offensive that was in preparation that he had in mind.

As previously discussed by The Duran (see here and here) Kerry followed up this threat with negotiations with the Russians in which he appears to have offered the Russsians a junior place in the US coalition against ISIS in return for their agreement to President Assad’s removal from power. 

In the event the Russians rejected this offer, whose acceptance would have contradicted the fundamental principles of their whole foreign policy.

Before the Jihadis were in a position to start their offensive, the Syrian government and the Russians got their blow in first. 

Further advances by the Syrian army backed by the Russian air force resulted in the capture in July of the Castello road, cutting off the supply route to the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo from Turkey, and encircling them.

The result was that when the Jihadi offensive against Aleppo finally got started at the end of July it found the Syrian military and the Russians prepared and waiting for them. 

As a result, though the Jihadis were briefly able at the start of their offensive in August to punch a hole through the government lines by capturing the territory of what is sometimes called ‘the Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district in Aleppo’s south western suburbs, their offensive – as The Duran predicted – quickly stalled, causing the Jihadis to suffer heavy losses at the hands of the Syrian army and the Russian air force. 

By the beginning of September the Jihadi force attacking Aleppo from the south west had spent itself, allowing the Syrian army – apparently with help from Russian Special Forces – to recapture the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district, thereby plugging the hole the Jihadis had punched through the government’s lines at the start of their offensive in August.

In passing I would say that this particular episode casts an interesting light over Western media coverage of the war. 

The brief Jihadi capture of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district were widely trumpeted by the Western media as a great victory in banner headlines that appeared on the front pages of Western newspapers.  There was much breathless talk of how ‘the siege of Aleppo’ had been “broken”, and of how this would open the way to the capture or “liberation” of the government controlled area of Aleppo.

The Western media has by contrast barely reported the Syrian army’s recapture of the grounds of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district in September.  It would require very close reading of Western news reports to know it had happened. 

Less observant watchers of the Syrian war who take all their news from the Western media might be confused why a siege which was ‘broken’ in August is intact now.

Whilst the fighting continued around Aleppo, the diplomacy continued as well. 

The failure of the Jihadi offensive in August led to the US proposing a new plan whereby the Syrian military would withdraw from the Castello road purportedly to allow the movement of humanitarian convoys into the city. 

This was first proposed at a time when the Jihadis were still in control of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district and were thus in a position to threaten Aleppo’s communications to the government controlled areas to the south. 

The inducement the US this time offered the Russians was a US offer of joint operations against Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat Al-Nusra.

As discussed before, this plan – had it ever been accepted – would have put the government’s communications and supply routes to Aleppo at grave risk, threatening its control of the city in the event of the (inevitable) collapse of the ceasefire. 

Unsurprisingly the Russians proved unreceptive to this plan, especially as they probably always doubted that the US would act on its offer of joint operations against Jabhat Al-Nusra – all the more so since Jabhat Al-Nusra actually constitutes the bulk of the Jihadi forces fighting the Syrian government in and around Aleppo. 

By the time the plan was formally presented by Obama to Putin at the G20 summit in Hangzhou the whole premise of the plan had however collapsed following the Syrian army’s recapture of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and of the Ramousseh district, securing the government’s supply lines to Aleppo from the south. 

The result was that the meeting between Obama and Putin at the G20 summit ended in acrimony, with the US accusing the Russians of supposedly “backtracking” on things that had already been agreed upon (almost certainly this reflects US anger at the Syrian army’s recapture of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district).

Following the defeat of the Jihadi offensive against south west Aleppo at the beginning of September, and the conclusive completion of the encirclement of the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo, their fate was in all practical terms sealed.

The ceasefire plan that subsequently emerged was an attempt by the more realistically minded officials in Washington – who presumably include Obama and Kerry – to save the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo and to preserve them as a coherent fighting force by getting the Russians to agree to their withdrawal from eastern Aleppo via the Castello road

Though the opening of the Castello road as part of this ceasefire plan was presented as intended to make possible the delivery of humanitarian supplies to eastern Aleppo, in reality the agreement quite clearly refers to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters together with their equipment from eastern Aleppo by way of the Castello road.  The relevant term of the agreement reads as follows:

“Any Syrians can leave Aleppo via Castello Road, including armed opposition forces with their weapons, with the understanding that no harm will come to them and they can choose their destination. Opposition forces leaving Aleppo with weapons must coordinate ahead of time with UN representatives as to the time they will be using Castello Road and the number of personnel and weapons and military equipment departing.”

(bold italics added)

The ceasefire ultimately collapsed because the hardliners in Washington and the Jihadis on the ground in Syria could not in the end bring themselves to accept the surrender of eastern Aleppo to the government by agreeing to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo by way of the Castello road. 

The loss of a Jihadi presence in Syria’s biggest city – and with it the loss of any realistic prospect of the city’s eventual capture – would end the possibility of setting up an alternative government in Aleppo, and with it any realistic prospect of achieving regime change in Syria. 

Though there is now some talk of setting up an alternative government in Turkish controlled Jarablus, doing so in a small town on the Turkish border under the protection of the Turkish army five years after the war started is not a viable alternative, and cannot compare with the setting up of such a government in a Jihadi “liberated” Aleppo.

Since the surrender of eastern Aleppo means the abandonment of any realistic possibility of achieving regime change in Syria, the proposal to do so encountered bitter resistance from the hardliners in Washington and from the Jihadis on the ground in Syria.  That is why the ceasefire plan in the end failed.

The problem is that having ruled out a withdrawal from Aleppo the hardliners have no realistic alternative to offer. 

The Russians have made clear since the collapse of the ceasefire that any idea of sending ‘humanitarian supplies’ into eastern Aleppo via the Castello road must now be abandoned, ending any hope of the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo being resupplied by that route.

Russian troops are apparently still located there, whilst the collapse of the ceasefire means that Syrian troops, who had briefly withdrawn from there, have reoccupied their former positions there, and are indeed carrying out further advances in the area.  That means that the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo can no longer obtain reinforcements or fresh supplies by way of the Castello road.  

Since the Castello road was the last remaining resupply route of the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo, that means they can no longer receive reinforcements or fresh supplies, and are reduced to trying to hold off the attacks of the Syrian army with only what they have.  By contrast the Syrian troops pressing in on them from the north and south can be resupplied and reinforced continuously, which is what is apparently actually happening.

The result of all of this, with the ceasefire having collapsed and with the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo trapped and facing defeat, is that the US is left thrashing around looking for something it can do.

There is again talk of supplying Jihadi troops, presumably in the area around Aleppo, with shoulder held surface to air missiles (‘MANPADS’) (the Saker has explained why this would not be effective) and of the US pulling out of negotiations with the Russians (it is not obvious why the US thinks that would scare or impress the Russians) but the truth is that with a head on clash with the Russian military in Syria categorically ruled out by the US military, the US has no real cards left to play.

This is the reason for all the overblown rhetoric of Russian “barbarism”, of Russia becoming a “pariah nation”, of the death threats against Russian servicemen and civilians in Syria and elsewhere, of the talk of the US bombing of Syrian military bases in eastern Syria (this clearly refers to Deir Ezzor), and of the hints of imposing further sanctions (“coercive measures”) on Russia (a non-starter), and of expelling Russia from the UN Security Council or diluting its power of veto there (ditto). 

In the absence of any viable alternative strategy this talk is intended to embarrass or scare the Russians into calling a stop on the Syrian military’s offensive in Aleppo, or – if that doesn’t work – in concealing behind a smokescreen of angry words the extent of the US’s humiliation in Aleppo .  The Russians however are obviously unimpressed and are paying no attention, and are pressing on.

None of this talk can change the military situation in Aleppo.  Though the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo are – as is to be expected – putting up a fierce fight, as they are now cut off from any hope of reinforcement or resupply in what continues to be a battle of attrition, their strength every day dwindles.  The result is that with every day that passes news comes of further Syrian army advances in the city

Unless the Jihadis’ foreign sponsors are prepared to escalate beyond anything we have seen up to now – which since it would risk a head on clash with the Russians seems very unlikely – the eventual outcome of the fighting in Aleppo is no longer in doubt.

The Syrian army’s eventual recapture of eastern Aleppo would not end the war in Syria. 

Jabhat Al-Nusra would still be in control of Idlib province.  ISIS would still be in control of Raqqah and of much of the desert region in Syria’s east.  In addition the Turkish military has been busy over the last few weeks carving out its “safe zone” for the Jihadis in north east Syria. 

It is not impossible – indeed it is highly likely – that the fall-back plan is to regroup the Jihadi forces in this Turkish controlled “safe zone” so as to launch fresh attacks on Aleppo from there in the future. 

Another option apparently once again being discussed is the old one of partitioning Syria by carving out a Sunni Jihadi state in eastern Syria.

In my opinion neither of these options is realistic or sustainable over the long term.

Having failed in the course of four years of war to capture the whole of Aleppo before the Russians arrived, and having been comprehensively defeated there since, I cannot see the Jihadis succeeding in capturing Aleppo in the future against a revitalised Syrian army that has the backing of Russia.

Nor do I think it sustainable to preserve indefinitely what would in effect be Jihadi emirates in poor peripheral regions of Syria like Idlib or Raqqah, or in a Turkish occupied “safe zone” in north east Syria, against the opposition of Syria, Iran, Iraq, the Kurdish militia, and Russia.  Not only would that be politically difficult, but with the Syrian government securely in control of Damascus and Aleppo, and with regime change in Syria definitely off the agenda, there would seem to be no point in doing so.  

In saying this I should say that I know of the talk of Western plans to build pipelines from Qatar to Europe through this area in order to bypasss Russia.  However I cannot imagine that happening whilst this area remains a fought over contested zone, which with neither the Syrian government in Damascus nor the Kurds accepting the existence of these emirates is what it would be. 

Moreover following the capture of eastern Aleppo the Syrian government’s priority is likely to be the recapture of Idlib.  Though Idlib is in difficult country and will doubtless be fanatically defended (as Raqqah will be) the US can no more prevent its recapture by the Syrian army than it can prevent the Syrian army backed by Russia from recapturing eastern Aleppo.

If the Syrian army recaptures Idlib after it recaptures Aleppo then the Syrian government will have finally secured control of the whole of Syria’s populous western regions, all its main cities, and of its Mediterranean coast.  At that point the preservation of the remaining pockets of Jihadi control in the poor and unpopulated areas of eastern Syria would seem to have even less point.

It is unwise to underestimate the fanaticism and bloody-mindedness of some people in Washington.  Unfortunately that always leaves open the possibility of some sort of dramatic escalation in Syria.  However with the Syrian army close to winning ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ it is increasingly looking as if Syria has finally turned the corner.

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

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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

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

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

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

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Via Zerohedge…

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

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

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

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

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

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

RT

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Via RT…


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

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

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

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

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

‘Active measures’ on social media

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

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

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

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

Alleged hacking & release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

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

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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