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The West’s missile strike: chaos in place of policy; symbolism in place of action

All the West has achieved is expose its fear of the Russian military, its lack of a plan for Syria, and its contempt for international law

Alexander Mercouris

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Over the last few days the word has been the witness of one of the most grotesque and shameful episodes in the history of international relations.

Three nuclear powers, one of them the US, the world’s erstwhile “hyperpower”, and the other two like the US permanent members of the UN Security Council, after days of dithering and argument, launched a military strike on Syria which (depending on whose reports you believe) either failed dismally or which was preplanned to achieve nothing.

They launched this strike in utter disregard of international law, which vests the power to launch strikes of this sort exclusively with the UN Security Council.

In Britain’s case the strike was also launched contrary to a well-established constitutional convention, and in the US’s case it was launched contrary to the US constitution (see this discussion in The Atlantic following the very similar Al-Sharyat attack last year).

As to how the strike violates international law, I can do no better than quote Craig Murray’s brilliant demolition job of the British government’s pitifully inadequate and wholly unmeritorious arguments justifying the strike

……this “legal argument” cites no authority. It does not quote the UN Charter, any Security Council Resolution or any international treaty or agreement of any kind which justifies this action. This is because there is absolutely nothing which can be quoted – all the relevant texts say that an attack on another state is illegal without authorisation of the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Nor does the government quote any judgement of the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court or any other international legal authority. This is important because rather than any treatment, the government makes a specific claim its actions are justified by customary international law, which means accepted state practice. But the existence of such state practice is usually proven through existing court judgements, and there are no judgements that endorse the approach taken by the government in its argument.

The three “tests” set out under para 3 as to what is permitted under international law are not in fact a statement of anything other than the UK’s own position. These “tests” are specifically quoted by Ola Engdahl in Bailliet and Larsen (ed) “Promoting Peace Through International Law” (Oxford University Press 2015). Engdahl notes:

The UK position, that it is permitted to take coercive action under a doctrine of humanitarian intervention when certain conditions are met, is a minority view and does not reflect lex data on the prohibition of the use of force in international relations as expressed in article 2(4) of the UN Charter.

That is undeniably true, and as it is equally undeniably true that a minority view cannot be customary international law, the British government position is utterly devoid of merit……

……the government’s argument is entirely hypothetical, because as the liberal intervention doctrine is not customary international law these arguments cannot justify intervention.

But the evidence that Assad used chemical weapons against Douma is non-existent, and the OPCW did not conclude that the Assad government was responsible for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun. There is no evidence whatsoever that military action was urgently required to avert another such “immediate” attack. Nor is it true that the UK’s analysis of the situation is “generally accepted” by the international community, as witness China and Russia voting together in the Security Council yesterday to condemn the attack.

So the British government sets up its own “three tests” which have no legal standing and are entirely a British concoction, yet still manages to fail them.

If the strike was plainly illegal, it was also utterly immoral.

The purported pretext of the strike was the incident which took place in Douma on 7th April 2018.

The Western powers insist it was a chemical weapons attack.  The Syrians and the Russians furiously deny that it was.

The Western powers – as they admit themselves – have no access to the site of the incident, and have produced no evidence to justify their claims (they claim their evidence is “classified”, which means that it is evidentially worthless).

The Russians by contrast are physically present and in control of the site and say that they have verified from eyewitnesses and by taking samples that no chemical weapons attack took place.

The Syrians and the Russians have also invited a team of investigators from the OPCW, who have just arrived in Syria to investigate the incident.

By launching their strike the Western powers have not only pre-empted the investigation; they have purported to impose ‘punishment’ before there is actually proof of a crime.

Indeed as I have suggested previously, there are strong reasons to think that the entire purpose of the strike was to prevent a proper investigation of the incident which might expose the ‘witnesses’ the West typically relies on in Syria as unreliable by staking the prestige and authority of the Western powers behind a finding of Syrian guilt which the OPCW might be afraid to go against.

I was fascinated to see that the Russian Foreign Ministry in a Statement published yesterday expresses exactly the same view

This step was designed to intimidate and was taken under an absolutely contrived pretext of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in the city of Douma on April 7. The facts presented by the Syrian government and the Russian side showing that the incident had been deliberately and cynically staged have been ignored. The missile strikes were made just as inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were about to head to Douma with a mission to find out the truth. There is every reason to believe that the objective behind the attack on Syria was to obstruct the work of the OPCW inspectors.

(bold italics added)

However all of this – extremely bad as it is – is eclipsed by the abject handling of the strike itself.

I have repeatedly said in article after article for The Duran that Russian warnings of military action by Russia if Russia’s red lines in Syria are crossed are not bluff, and the US military is under no illusions that they are.

My latest article in which I discussed this was published only days before the 7th April 2018 Douma incident and just a week before the strike.

Quite simply, as the events of October 2016, April 2017 and June 2017 show, the US military is not prepared to take on the Russian military in Syria and risk a full scale armed confrontation with Russia there.

I discussed all this in my article in which I discussed the Russian response to the US’s shooting down in June 2017 of the SU-22 fighter bomber in eastern Syria

The fact that the Russians have installed a powerful air defence system in Syria incorporating advanced S-400 and S-300VM Antey 2500 missiles means that the US is unable to confront the Russians directly unless it is prepared to risk possibly very serious casualties.

That is an option neither the US military nor the civilian officials of the Obama and Trump administrations are prepared to face.  This is because they know the extraordinary dangers such a clash with the armed forces of a nuclear superpower would risk.  They also know US public opinion is strongly opposed to the US becoming drawn into such a clash.

This is what explains the US’s failure to intervene in the fighting in East Ghouta.

On three prior occasions – in October 2016, in April 2017 and in June 2017 – the US has appeared to come close to an armed clash with the Russian military in Syria.

Following Russian warnings and counter-moves it has on each occasion backed off.

The same thing has now happened in relation to the fighting in East Ghouta.

Talk of US intervention has again resulted in Russian warnings, which have again caused the US to back off…….

What is the source of much confusion is the persistent claim – made for example in the article in Guardian which I quoted above – that the Russian warnings against US military action are no more than bluff.

Those who make this claim have lately taken to citing the supposed Russian failure to respond to the following incidents

(1) the cruise missile strike on Al-Sharyat air base in April 2017;

(2) the Israeli attack on the Syrian air defence system in February 2018 following the shooting down By Syria of an Israeli F-16 fighter; and

(3) the US air strike in eastern Syria in February 2018 in which a number of Russian mercenaries were killed.

The first of these alleged examples of Russian inaction in response to attacks on Syria is in fact obviously wrong.  The Russians did respond strongly to the US cruise missile strike on Al-Sharyat air base.  They switched off the deconfliction hotline, causing a drastic cut in US air operations over Syria (see above).

As to the other two examples, they are based on the fallacy that the Russians have committed themselves to responding to every attack on the Syrian military by the US and its allies however minor such an attack might be, and that their failure to defend Syria from every such attack is therefore in some way ‘proof’ of their inability or unwillingness to defend Syria when it is attacked…..

As I have repeatedly pointed out, the Russians will not let themselves get drawn into unnecessary confrontations with the Western powers over minor attacks on Syrian military units which have no bearing on the course of the war.   The Israeli strike in February 2018 in retaliation for the Syrian shooting down of an Israeli F-16 fighter was exactly such a minor attack.

To be clear, the Israeli strike – part of a decades long conflict between Israel and Syria in which Russia is not a party – neither interfered with Syrian military operations against the Jihadis nor did it threaten the existence of the Syrian government.  The Russians accordingly were not concerned by it.

By contrast the Russians most certainly are concerned about the fighting in East Ghouta.

Not only is the Battle of East Ghouta a key battle which the Syrian military must win if the Jihadi threat to Syria is to be eliminated, but the Russian military is itself heavily involved in the battle, with the Russian Aerospace Forces actively involved in the fighting, and the Russian military brokering withdrawal agreements with the Jihadis which are paving the way for the Syrian army’s eventual victory in the battle.

Given that this is so, the US and its allies can be under no illusions that a US military intervention in the fighting in East Ghouta will be anything other than fiercely resisted by the Russians.

That guarantees that no such intervention will take place, which is why of course it has not happened.

Rarely have my words been more rapidly or conclusively confirmed by subsequent events.

Not only did the Western powers make sure that their strike was launched only after the Battle of East Ghouta was over and the Jihadis there had been comprehensively defeated, but their efforts to calibrate their strike to a level where it neither threatened the existence of the Syrian government, nor interfered in Syrian military operations, nor risked the lives of Russian military personnel in Syria, have been quite simply extraordinary to behold, and have resulted in a strike so symbolic and empty of meaning as to be completely ineffective.

Needless to say such a strike – one which tells the Russian military how frightened the West is of them – cannot possibly deter.

If the purpose of the strike was to deter President Assad from using chemical weapons – as the Western powers say – then on any objective analysis its utter ineffectiveness can only have the opposite effect.

If President Assad really were the blood-thirsty power mad psychopath the West says he is such a strike could not possibly deter him; it would only embolden him.

For once the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall – liberal interventionist and arch war-hawk that he is – has got the essence of it right.

Lamenting the token nature of the strike, and talking of President Putin rather than of President Assad, he complains bitterly

Dismayed, too, will be those in the west and in Syria’s opposition who hoped sustained military intervention would finally halt the pitiless slaughter of civilians.

Despite their angry protestations, Moscow and Tehran will be content with this outcome. It could have been a whole lot worse.

Putin’s propaganda and disinformation machines will continue to deny responsibility for Douma, preposterously blaming it on a British government determined to avenge the Salisbury nerve gas attack. Russia will cynically use the UN to claim the US and its allies are aggressors, in breach of international law.

But there will be no direct Russian military retaliation. There is no need. Putin has got away with it, again.

As for a coherent plan for Syria, a military strike which has no military effect cannot possibly advance any plan the US may have in Syria, though it is actually impossible to see a US plan.

Thus on one day the President of the United States talks about withdrawing US troops from Syria “very soon”.  Days later his officials talk of keeping them there.

Since the presence of the Russians means these troops cannot march on Damascus, what exactly they are supposed to do – other than become eventual targets of the Syrian anti-US insurgency which is likely to come – is left unexplained.

Perhaps – as Simon Tisdall’s comments suggest – the real target of all these manoeuvres is not Syria at all.

Perhaps the phoney Syrian confrontation is being cranked up to a further level of hysteria in order to justify sustaining the West’s grand geopolitical conflict with Russia.

If so then both the means used – and the objective – are sordid and unworthy of countries which call themselves Great Powers.

The day may soon come when the events of the last few days are seen as a further sign of their decline.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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