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Turkey, the Kurds and the US debacle in North East Syria

US policy in north east Syria has hugely complicated and exacerbated the situation there, setting the Turks and the Kurds against each other, and provoking threats of US military action in support of a misconceived policy that has not been thought through.

Alexander Mercouris

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The war in Syria has been described as a game of three dimensional chess played by nine different players.

I don’t think this is really true.  The main part of the war is a straight contest between the Syrian government and its Jihadi opponents who are trying to overthrow it.  As our contributor Afra’a Dagher has written, these Jihadis often use different names; however in terms of who they are and what they represent who are their external sponsors, they are always the same.

The situation in north east Syria is however more complex than elsewhere in Syria, so I will try to explain it in more detail.  Whilst it is highly dangerous, as I will show the danger here comes not from what Erdogan and Turkey are doing, but from the US, which has experienced in this area a major debacle.

Turkey and the Kurds

There is much confusion about the Turkish incursion which led to the capture of the previously ISIS controlled border town of Jarablus. 

The key point to understand about this incursion is that its intended target is not the Syrian government but the Kurdish militia known as the YPG (the “People’s Protection Units”).

What has upset the situation in north eastern Syria, provoking fighting between the Syrian army and the YPG and the Turkish incursion that has led to the capture of Jarablus, is the dynamic expansion of the territory in north east Syria which is controlled by the YPG.

This map gives an idea of how the area under YPG control expanded in 2015

With US support the YPG – disguising themselves the “Syrian Democratic Forces” – have recently captured from ISIS the town of Manbij, which is located west of the Euphrates river. 

This was the key event that provoked the Turkish incursion.

Most Kurds live in Turkey where they may account for anything between 10% to 20% of the population (opinions differ).  Turkey has had a long running problem assimilating its Kurdish minority and there has been a long history of conflict, with some Kurds during some periods of recent Turkish history fighting insurgency wars against the Turkish government and seeking outright secession from Turkey and the formation of an independent Kurdish state. 

In light of this Turkey considers the Kurdish problem an existential problem for Turkey, one that places in jeopardy the very existence of the Turkish state, at least in its present form.

During the recent period of rule in Turkey by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Erdogan relations between the Turkish authorities and the Kurds have known periods of improvement.  However they have recently sharply deteriorated, and there is now an ongoing insurgency situation in eastern Turkey pitting the Turkish military and Kurdish insurgents led by the PKK (the Kurdish Workers Party).

The Turkish government accuses the YPG of being in league with the PKK.  It therefore vigorously opposes the establishment of any Kurdish YPG controlled zone within Syria along the border with Turkey.     

The Turks have previously made clear that they consider the Euphrates a “red line” beyond which they will not tolerate expansion by the YPG.  The YPG captures of Manbij meant that the YPG had crossed this “red line”.

Manbij lies immediately south of Jarablus.  Had the Kurds advanced north from Manbij and captured Jarabulus and its surrounding areas, they would have connected two Kurdish-held YPG controlled areas in northern Syria, creating precisely the sort of autonomous YPG controlled Kurdish zone along Turkey’s border with Syria that Turkey is determined at all costs to prevent.

The Turkish move towards Jarablus is intended to pre-empt the YPG’s capture of the town and this from happening.

The YPG and the Syrian government

The YPG and the Syrian government have been uneasy allies in the Syrian war. 

The ideology of the YPG is secular, Kurdish nationalist and leftist – the diametric opposite of the Wahhabi Jihadist ideology of the Syrian government’s opponents.   That by definition makes the Kurds and the Syria’s government’s Jihadi enemies, enemies of each other.  On the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that has forced the YPG into an uneasy alliance with the Syrian government.

The YPG’s focus is however not on the survival of the Syrian government but on securing its control of the Kurdish populated areas of northern Syria.  Its alliance with the Syrian government its therefore purely a function of the fact that the two have the same Jihadi enemies in common.

In the longer run it is why relations between the Syrian government and the YPG might fall into conflict.  Ultimately the YPG is pursuing a Kurdish nationalist agenda within Syria, which is very far from that of the Syrian government, which wants to re-establish the Syrian state’s authority over the whole of Syria.

The fragility of the alliance between the Syrian government and the YPG was recently exposed when the YPG, emboldened by the capture of Manbij, acted to consolidate its control of north east Syria by seeking to oust the Syrian military and Syrian government from the town of Al-Hasakah at the eastern end of the belt of territory the YPG controls. 

This led to armed clashes in Al-Hasakah between the YPG militia and the Syrian army, which spilled over into fighting in Aleppo between Syrian troops there and the YPG militia which is participating in the siege of eastern Aleppo.  There were even reports that for a short period the YPG briefly shelled Syrian army positions on the Castello road.

These moves have been interpreted in both Damascus and Ankara as the YPG preparing to take full control of the Kurdish populated territories in north east Syria.  Both Damascus and Ankara strongly oppose this, Damascus because it threatens the unity of Syria, Ankara because it considers the YPG to be an extension of the PKK, and does not want a YPG controlled independent Kurdish region on its border which could act as a safe haven for the PKK.

Turkey’s Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’

The Turkish incursion and the capture of Jarablus were intended to pre-empt the YPG’s intended capture of Jarablus. 

Erdogan and his government have made this quite clear.  The name of the Turkish operation is “Euphrates Shield”, which clearly refers to Turkey’s “red line” against the Kurds along the Euphrates river.  Moreover it seems the YPG did attempt to advance on Jarablus on Monday 22nd August 2016, and were shelled before they got there by the Turkish army.

The Kurds and the YPG for their part have made it quite clear that they understand that the Turkish incursion is ultimately targeted at them.  Redur Xelil, a spokesperson for the YPG, has denounced Turkey’s incursion as an act of “blatant aggression.”  Salih Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), has written on Twitter that Turkey is now in the “Syrian quagmire” and will be defeated like ISIS.

Turkey and the unity of Syria

What is perhaps most striking fact about this latest episode is that Erdogan has now come out publicly as the champion of Syria’s unity.  He is reported to have said on Wednesday 24th August 2016 that

“Turkey is determined for Syria to retain its territorial integrity and will take matters into its own hands if required to protect that territorial unity.”

This is in fact completely logical.  Given that Kurdish separatism is for Turkey an existential question, Turkey – whether led by Erdogan or his opponents – will always prefer to have north east Syria controlled by whatever regime is in power in Damascus – even if that regime is led by Bashar Al-Assad – than have it controlled by the YPG.

What that means is that for the first time since the start of the Syrian war there is a commonality of interest between the Turkish and Syrian governments.  That does not mean that there is a rapprochement underway between them, or that the Turkish government has changed its policy of wanting the overthrow of the Syrian government.  It does however mean that the Syrian government is not as hostile to the Turkish move towards Jarablus as it might otherwise have been, which explains its relatively mild reaction to the Turkish move.

I understand that there are some people who think Erdogan is lying about wanting to preserve the unity of Syria and that his ambitions extend far further and that what he is really aiming at is the conquest of large belts of northern Syria up to and including the city of Aleppo.

I have to say that I doubt this is true.  Conquering these territories and assimilating them into Turkey looks frankly beyond Turkey’s power.  It would antagonise the Arabs to the south and the Russians and Iranians to the north and east.  It would not serve the interests of the US; and potentially, by adding large Arab and Kurdish populations to Turkey, it would only exacerbate Turkey’s already complex internal problems. 

Of course Turkey could expel these people from their lands, but doing so would simply create another set of problems and would surely only worsen further the already difficult situation Turkey has with its own Kurds in Turkey itself. 

Frankly this project looks like a recipe for endless war, which Turkey in its present state simply cannot afford.

Erdogan is many things but he is not stupid, and I am sure that he understands this.  His objective in Syria is not the conquest of its northern regions by Turkey or Syria’s partition.  It is the conversion of Syria into a Turkish satellite state by the establishment of a government friendly to Turkey in Damascus.

The Turkish incursion and the Battle of Aleppo

Erdogan remains committed to President Assad’s overthrow and publicly supports Jabhat Al-Nusra, the strongest Jihadi group fighting the Syrian government in the battle of Aleppo. 

Nothing Erdogan has said or done since the failed coup attempt suggests that he has modified this strategy in any way.  He continues to allow Jihadi fighters and supplies to cross the Turkish border into Idlib province en route to the fighting in Aleppo.  All suggestions that Erdogan is preparing to ditch the rebels in Syria and to reconcile with President Assad is simply wishful thinking.

There are widespread fears that Erdogan’s plan is to create some sort of rebel “safe area” in north east Syria that the rebels can use as a launch pad to support their ongoing offensive against  Aleppo and that is what the advance on Jarablus is all about.

Again I have to say that I doubt this is true.  North east Syria is a bitterly contested area in which the dominant force is not the rebels but the YPG.  It does not look like a credible “safe zone” for the rebels or a credible launch area from which to launch attacks on Aleppo.  On the contrary an attempt to create a rebel “safe zone” in this area would antagonise the YPG, and would restore the alliance between the Syrian government and the YPG to full working order, leading to constant fighting in the area of the so-called “safe zone” between the Syrian rebels and the YPG.  That would surely defeat the whole purpose of the “safe zone”, rendering it unsafe and effectively worthless as a “safe zone”.  

Of course the Turkish military could try to garrison the area to defend whatever “safe zone” it created inside it.  That would however require an incursion into Syria that went far deeper than the one to Jarablus, and which would risk the Turkish army becoming bogged down in a lengthy guerrilla war on Syrian territory with the YPG.  I doubt Erdogan, the Turkish military or the US would want that.

I should say the US warning that it will shoot down aircraft that threaten US troops in the area also does not look to me like support for the setting up by Erdogan of a rebel “safe zone” in this area. 

Firstly the US warning is simply standard US practice where the US has troops on the ground, as it is known to have in this area.

Secondly the US troops in question were backing the YPG – the same group Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ is targeted against – which as I have said would be bitterly opposed to the setting up of a rebel “safe zone” in this area. 

A warning whose effect was to protect the YPG from air attack by the Syrian air force does not translate into a warning intended to back the setting up by the Turkish army of a rebel “safe zone” in an area against the strong opposition of the YPG.

Besides it is not obvious that the rebels actually need a “safe zone” in this area.   They already have a corridor to send men and supplies to Aleppo through Idlib province, which they already control.  Why add to the problems of setting up a “safe zone” much further away in north east Syria when the rebels already control territories so much closer to Aleppo?

Overall, seeing this Turkish incursion as somehow intended to influence the outcome of the battle of Aleppo looks misplaced.  There are sufficient reasons for it based on concerns about the danger to Turkey – real or imagined – posed by the YPG.  One should not look for more reasons for a move when the already apparent reasons are fully sufficient to explain it.

The US, Turkey and the Kurds

The US is the prime backer of the YPG.  It was US bombing that made the YPG’s capture of Manbij possible.  It was the US that probably encouraged the YPG to turn against the Syrian government in Al-Hasakah, and which may have encouraged the YPG to push on and try to create an autonomous role within Syria.

As I have said previously, this is very much in keeping with classic US “third force” strategies, used by the US in many wars of which this is just the latest example.

What is fascinating about this whole affair is how quickly the US has acted to dump the YPG. 

Given the choice between Turkey and the YPG, the US has unhesitatingly supported Turkey.  Not only are US aircraft providing support for the Turkish military in Operation “Euphrates Shield” but Vice-President Biden, on a fence-mending trip to Turkey, has publicly said that the YPG must withdraw to the eastern side of the Euphrates or risk losing US support.  This was it was all explained by a US official speaking to the Wall Street Journal

“We’ve put a lid on the Kurds moving north, or at least doing so if they want any support from us, which I think is a fairly significant piece of leverage.  So for the moment I think we’ve put a lid on the biggest concern that the Turks have, which I think gives us some breathing space to make sure this operation in Jarabulus [sic] is done the right way and that we and the Turks do it together.”

More remarkable still is that Biden is also reported to have backed Erdogan’s call for the preservation of Syria’s unity.  RT reports him saying at joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim

“No (Kurdish) corridor. Period. No separate entity on the Turkish border. A united Syria.”

This incidentally all but proves that despite tensions between Turkey and the US since the coup attempt, the two countries remain allies.  As I have said previously (see here and here) expectations of Turkey switching alliances, quitting NATO and driving the US out of Incirlik are wrong.

Summary

This crisis in north eastern Syria is a case study in the violence and chaos that flows from the contradictions of US policy in Syria.

The US officially brands Jabhat Al-Nusra a terrorist organisation but denies that the YPG is one.  Turkey – the US’s primary ally in this region – denies Jabhat Al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation but insists the YPG is one.

The US is prepared to defend the YPG if it is attacked by the Syrian military.  However it will not defend the YPG if it is attacked by the Turkish military.  On the contrary it will act to facilitate the Turkish military’s attack – as it is in fact doing.

The US backed the YPG when it attacked Manbij, which lies west of the Euphrates.  However it now insists that the YPG must withdraw back to the eastern side of the Euphrates – which means it must evacuate Manbij – or forfeit US support.

The US appears to have incited the YPG to attack the Syrian military in Al-Hasakah so that it could consolidate its control of the territories in which it operates and form an independent zone there.  Following protests from Turkey it now says the YPG cannot have an independent zone there under its control.

It is impossible to see any coherent strategy here.  Rather it looks as if CIA and military officials on the ground in Syria have been going their own way, encouraging the YPG to expand as fast as it can, heedless of the larger consequences. 

The political leadership in Washington, when it finally woke up to what was happening, then had to take disproportionate steps to bring the situation back under control. 

In the process two US “allies” – the Turkish military and the YPG – have practically come to blows with each other, and Turkey has suddenly discovered a commonality of interest with the Assad government in Damascus to block the setting up of an autonomous YPG controlled Kurdish region in north east Syria, probably sending the deputy head of its military intelligence service to Damascus to coordinate policy there.

It is this very lack of coherence in US policy which however is what is so dangerous about this whole situation. 

The US has pursued a policy in north eastern Syria that led it to give a warning of military action a few days ago.  However it is now clear that this policy was never properly thought through. 

To say that this is an irresponsible and reckless way of going about things in a conflict situation where the Russians are also involved is a gigantic understatement.  Yet there is no public debate or discussion about it either in Washington or in Western capitals.

If US policy is being made on the hoof in Syria in such a careless and irresponsible way then the danger of something going catastrophically wrong is hugely magnified.  Yet it is clear that that is precisely the situation we are looking at, and be it noted that this is before the hawkish Hillary Clinton has become US President.  It is impossible to look at this situation without being seriously worried.

  

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White House planning to proceed with State of the Union

The White House is still planning to move ahead with next week’s scheduled State of the Union address, but the details remain up in the air.

The Duran

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According to multiple sources, it remains unclear whether the address scheduled for Jan. 29 will in fact go forward, or what venue it would be in. The White House is even planning for the possibility of a speech outside of Washington.

“We are still in a holding pattern,” one senior source said.

But Fox News has learned that the White House sent a letter to the House Sergeant at Arms asking to schedule a walk-through for next week’s planned address. This comes after a previously scheduled walk-through last week was canceled at Pelosi’s request.

At the moment, President Trump intends to be at the Capitol next Tuesday to deliver his speech as scheduled, sources said. White House officials told Fox News they essentially are preparing for two tracks for next week’s speech. The preferred track is an address, as per custom, at the Capitol. The second track is a backup plan for a speech outside of Washington, D.C.

Ultimately, whether the speech is given on the House floor is up to Pelosi. In an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley suggested the president could move the location of the speech should Pelosi block it in the House.

“There are many ways he can deliver the State of the Union address,” Gidley said on “America’s Newsroom.” “I’m not going to get ahead of anything he would announce.”

Gidley accused Pelosi of “trying to play politics with that venue.” He also dinged the speaker for suggesting it may be difficult to provide security for the event because of the partial government shutdown.

“If the Secret Service can protect the president of the United States on a trip to Iraq, chances are they can protect the American president in the halls of Congress,” Gidley said.

A spokesman for Pelosi did not immediately return a request for comment. Neither did the House Sergeant at Arms office.

On Capitol Hill, there is immense uncertainty about what will happen. The offices of other congressional leaders referred questions about the speech to Pelosi.

“We are standing by to stand by,” one senior congressional official told Fox News when asked if the State of the Union speech would still unfold.

For that to happen in the House, both chambers of Congress must approve a resolution to use the House chamber and to have both bodies meet in a Joint Session of Congress. This has not happened yet.

Should the Senate move to host the president instead, a resolution would still be needed.

The White House and Pelosi have time to figure things out. Fox News is told Congress can actually put together the event rather quickly, though they would prefer to have at least 72 hours advance notice.

Last week, Pelosi urged Trump to delay his State of the Union address until the partial government shutdown ends, or submit the address in writing.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless the government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to Congress on January 29,” Pelosi wrote.

A senior Homeland Security official later told Fox News, however, that they have been preparing for months for the State of the Union event.

“We are ready,” the official said. “Despite the fact members of the Secret Service are not being paid, the protective mission has not changed.”

The official added: “It is a ‘no fail’ mission.”

On Tuesday, an official confirmed to Fox News that DHS and the Secret Service are continuing their plans for a State of the Union on Jan 29.

After Pelosi called for a delay in the speech, Trump abruptly denied military aircraft to her and other Democrats for a foreign trip just minutes before the congressional delegation was set to depart.

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Sweden: New Government, Old Policies

Swedish political leaders are opposed to the policies of the Sweden Democrats concerning immigration.

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Authored by Judith Bergman via The Gatestone Institute:


  • Keeping the Sweden Democrats away from any kind of political influence seemingly became the main reason the government crisis lasted so long. Swedish political leaders are especially opposed to the policies of the Sweden Democrats concerning immigration.
  • “Sweden needs to build a migration policy from scratch, with fixed rules, and respect for the country’s borders, citizens and laws… Fire brigades and ambulances cannot move into immigrant-dominated areas without armed escort. Those who live and work in our suburbs get their stores robbed, broken or taken over by criminals. The few perpetrators who are actually sentenced for serious crimes escape with mild punishment, while their victims do not receive support or redress. As a result of the uncontrolled immigration, terrorists… walk freely on the streets and squares and utilize our welfare and asylum systems.” — Sweden Democrats.
  • There is not a word in the new agreement about terrorism and internal security, even though the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), in a January 15 press release, stated, “The level of the terror threat remains elevated, a three on a five-point scale. This means that a terrorist act is likely to occur”.

On January 18, more than four months after Sweden’s September elections, Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven became prime minister for a second term, when he won the backing of the Swedish parliament: 115 parliamentarians from his own party and its coalition partner (the environmentalist Green Party) voted for his proposed government coalition, while 77 parliamentarians abstained and 153 voted against. There are 349 seats in the parliament.

Under Swedish parliamentary rules, a prospective prime minister can form a government even if he has not secured a majority of votes, as long as there is not a majority against him in parliament. Löfven was far from winning a majority of votes, prompting the question whether, despite becoming prime minister for a second term, he actually won the election.

The question is actually debatable: Löfven’s Social Democratic party experienced its worst election result ever, gaining only 28.3 % of the vote. It is the first time the party has ever received less than 30% of the vote; its government coalition partner, the Green Party, barely made it above the electoral threshhold, with only 4.4 % of the vote. (The electoral threshhold is 4%).

The prolonged coalition wrangling began after the results of the September 9 elections made it clear that Sweden’s traditional center-left and center-right blocs had each gained around 40% of the vote, yet were unable to find ways to build a government coalition without either involving the opposing bloc or the Sweden Democrats (SD). Keeping the Sweden Democrats away from any kind of political influence, seemingly became the main reason the government crisis lasted so long. Throughout the government’s negotiations, the Sweden Democrats, with 17.5 % of the vote, and now the third-largest party in parliament, representing the more than one million people who voted for them (out of 6.5 million votes in total) remained an isolated outsider, shunned by all political leaders.

“It is … about decency, a decent democracy. A government led by the Social Democrats guarantees that the Sweden Democrats — an extremist and racist party — do not get influence”, Löfven said on September 9, as he was casting his vote.

“My values are not SD’s”, said the leader of the center-right bloc, Ulf Kristersson, a year ago, about whether he would be willing to talk to the Sweden Democrats. “I will not cooperate, converse, collaborate, [or] co-ordinate with SD”. He repeatedthe same message in November, two months after the September 9 elections: “I do not speak to, or negotiate with, the Sweden Democrats”, he told Swedish television. “That is not because I do not respect their voters but I want to talk to those with whom I would like to cooperate.”

Swedish political leaders are especially opposed to the policies of the Sweden Democrats concerning immigration. According to the Sweden Democrats election platform:

“For decades Sweden’s migration policy has been handled in an irresponsible and ignorant way, with serious consequences for Swedish society A very high number of asylum seekers and their relatives has divided society, cultivated exclusion and eroded welfare state. At the same time, safety has been compromised… Today tens of thousands of people are staying illegally within the country’s borders and Sweden is internationally known for unrest and citizens who are active in terrorist networks… Sweden needs to build a migration policy from scratch, with fixed rules, and respect for the country’s borders, citizens and laws”.

As part of such a policy, the Sweden Democrats say they want “to stop receiving asylum seekers in Sweden”, as well as “sharpen the requirements to become Swedish citizens” and “enable revocation of citizenship that has been granted in error”. They also say they want to give the police “tools and resources to search for people who are staying in the country illegally… and allow for longer stays in detention if expulsion cannot be enforced immediately”. In addition, they say they would “Strive for agreements with other countries to be able to expel more people…”

The Sweden Democrats also note that they want a tougher approach to law and order:

“Current and former governments have seriously harmed confidence in the judicial system. Police quit [their jobs] as a result of poor working conditions and growing threats. Fire brigades and ambulances cannot move into immigrant-dominated areas without armed escort. Those who live and work in our suburbs get their stores robbed, broken or taken over by criminals. The few perpetrators who are actually sentenced for serious crimes escape with mild punishment, while their victims do not receive support or redress. As a result of the uncontrolled immigration, terrorists… walk freely on the streets and squares and utilize our welfare and asylum systems. Jews flee Swedish cities while anti-Semitism grows stronger. The social contract is about to be broken on the part of public Sweden”.

To counter this, the Sweden Democrats want to introduce, among other things, “wide-ranging penalties and, in particular, raise the minimum penalty for repeated and serious crimes”. They also want to introduce “compulsory expulsion of grossly criminal foreigners and the possibility to recall citizenship in case of terrorist offenses”. The Sweden Democrats would also like Sweden to leave the EU, and to have a referendum on the issue, something to which almost all the other political parties are strongly opposed.

None of the other parties wants even to consider a dialogue about these issues with the Sweden Democrats. Prime Minister Löfven, in fact, on January 18, spokeas if Sweden’s political leaders, in keeping the Sweden Democrats politically isolated, had just pulled back from the edge of an abyss, the extreme irony of his words clearly lost on himself:

“More and more governments around the world are becoming dependent on parties with an anti-democratic agenda. In the 2018 election, Sweden stood before a similar threat: getting a small right-wing government in the hands of the Swedish Democrats. But in Sweden we stand up for democracy and the equality of people. Sweden chooses a different path and it is historic.

“It has not been easy, but Sweden’s centrist parties have gathered and done what is required. Through the January agreement, Sweden gets a new government based on collaboration in the center of Swedish politics. Sweden gets a powerful government that is not dependent on the Sweden Democrats… The biggest winner is Sweden”.

The January agreement to which Löfven is referring formed the basis of a new political alliance between Löfven’s party and his environmental coalition partner on one hand, and two small parties from the center-right bloc, which decided to break with traditional bloc politics and support the Social Democratic government. It will also form the basis for the new government’s policies. Annie Lööf, the leader of the Center Party (one of the two breakout center-right parties), explained why she had chosen to support Löfven’s government, which, during the elections, she had campaigned to replace:

“The 2018 election was a choice of values. The Center Party chose to stand up for humanity, equality and tolerance. We fought against xenophobia… With this agreement we stand up for our values, while at the same time putting a government in place. It is a solution where neither the Sweden Democrats nor the [far-left] Left Party is given influence over politics.”

Swedish voters appear unimpressed with the way the collective of Swedish political leaders have handled this period of coalition squabbling. A January opinion poll revealed that if elections were to take place now, the Sweden Democrats would go from 17.5% to 19.9% of the vote, becoming the second-largest party in Sweden. The Green Party, the Social Democratic Party’s government coalition partner, would not even make the electoral threshold; neither would one of the two breakout center-right parties that supported Löfven’s government. The other center-right party would lose 30% of its voters.

A different January poll showed that 70% of the Swedes have lost confidence in politicians. “The low level of confidence is startling but not completely unexpected”, said Torbjörn Sjöström, from Novus, the company behind the poll.

“There has been a crisis of confidence for quite some time. The high voter mobility that we have had during the last mandate periods and that SD [Sweden Democrats] has increased so strongly is a sign of a reduced confidence in the political system.

“During the four months that have passed, politics has shown that power seems to be most important, and that political solutions are subordinate. [Politicians] talked about a fateful election but then the country managed and kept on managing for four months without a government, so [politicians] have also shown that politics is not as important as they claimed”.

The loss of confidence in politicians was particularly high — 93% — among people who had voted for the Sweden Democrats. “They think they have seen evidence that democracy does not work. They are the third-largest party, but have been completely outmaneuvered,” said Sjöström, referring to the fact that every single political leader in Swedish politics refused even to talk to the Sweden Democrats.

So, what does the new government promise to do on the most pressing issues, such as immigration and law and order? According to the January agreementbetween the Social Democratic government and its center-right supporters:

“Sweden is a fantastic country but we are facing great challenges together: climate change, lack of integration, segregation and dependency, globalization, which continues to test our competitiveness… increased polarization and racism, gang crime… housing shortages … The proposals in this agreement can vigorously meet these challenges by untying old knots and bringing about systemic changes… Our parties have different ideological starting points but are united in the defense of the liberal foundations of democracy; a strong rule of law, an unwavering protection of the individual’s freedom and rights, resistance to xenophobia, independent free media, equality and equal conditions regardless of background”.

The agreement mentions the issue of migration on page 15 of its 16 pages. It does not, however, mention any of the problematic issues that migration has brought upon Sweden — although it does talk about ideas to get more immigrants into the job market and learning Swedish, as well as proposals to deal with honor killings. Ironically, it actually creates a basis for even more immigration. According to the agreement, Sweden will reintroduce the right to family reunion for those people granted asylum in Sweden who do not have refugee status. This means that they will be able to bring their spouses and children to Sweden, while unaccompanied children will be able to bring their parents. This repatriation is estimated to bring at least 8,000 more people to Sweden in the coming three years. According to Henrik Emilsson, Ph.D of international migration at Malmö University, the change will affect asylum immigration:

“Family reunification is something that is very important for people seeking asylum. The information about which countries have which rules spreads quickly and affects where people apply”.

The issues of “safety, security and democracy” are mentioned only on the last page of the agreement, perhaps indicative of the assigned priority. (By comparison, there are two pages about climate change and the environment).

Here is what the new government plans, but without a word as to how it intends to do it:

“Security throughout Sweden will increase… We take action against organized crime, strengthen the police and combat both crimes and causes of crimes. Democracy must be safeguarded, both here and in the world. The work against violent extremism, anti-gypsyism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and any other forms of racism must be strengthened”.

The agreement also promises “ten thousand more police officers” and pledges, “Sweden’s [foreign] aid will be raised to 1% of the gross national income”.

There is not a word in the agreement about the threat from Islamic terrorism, even though the Swedish Security Service’s (Säpo) January 15 press release stated, “Violence-promoting Islamist extremism currently constitutes the biggest threat to Sweden” and, “The level of the terror threat remains elevated, a three on a five-point scale. This means that a terrorist act is likely to occur”.

Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

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Fake news media FREAK OUT over Trump and NATO (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 172.

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the media meltdown over remarks that U.S. President Trump may have made with regard to NATO, and how neo-liberal war hawks championing the alliance as some sort of foreign policy projection of peace and democracy, are really just supporting aggression, war, and the eventual weakening of the United States.

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Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO, Authored by David Swanson:


The New York Times loves NATO, but should you?

Judging by comments in social media and the real world, millions of people in the United States have gone from having little or no opinion on NATO, or from opposing NATO as the world’s biggest military force responsible for disastrous wars in places like Afghanistan (for Democrats) or Libya (for Republicans), to believing NATO to be a tremendous force for good in the world.

I believe this notion to be propped up by a series of misconceptions that stand in dire need of correction.

1. NATO is not a war-legalizing body, quite the opposite. NATO, like the United Nations, is an international institution that has something or other to do with war, but transferring the UN’s claimed authority to legalize a war to NATO has no support whatsoever in reality. The crime of attacking another nation maintains an absolutely unaltered legal status whether or not NATO is involved. Yet NATO is used within the U.S. and by other NATO members as cover to wage wars under the pretense that they are somehow more legal or acceptable. This misconception is not the only way in which NATO works against the rule of law. Placing a primarily-U.S. war under the banner of NATO also helps to prevent Congressional oversight of that war. Placing nuclear weapons in “non-nuclear” nations, in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, is also excused with the claim that the nations are NATO members (so what?). And NATO, of course, assigns nations the responsibility to go to war if other nations go to war — a responsibility that requires them to be prepared for war, with all the damage such preparation does.

2. NATO is not a defensive institution. According to the New York Times, NATO has “deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” This is an article of faith, based on the unsubstantiated belief that Soviet and Russian aggression toward NATO members has existed for 70 years and that NATO has deterred it rather than provoked it. In violation of a promise made, NATO has expanded eastward, right up to the border of Russia, and installed missiles there. Russia has not done the reverse. The Soviet Union has, of course, ended. NATO has waged aggressive wars far from the North Atlantic, bombing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. NATO has added a partnership with Colombia, abandoning all pretense of its purpose being in the North Atlantic. No NATO member has been attacked or credibly threatened with attack, apart from small-scale non-state blowback from NATO’s wars of aggression.

3. Trump is not trying to destroy NATO. Donald Trump, as a candidate and as U.S. President, has wondered aloud and even promised all kinds of things and, in many cases, the exact opposite as well. When it comes to actions, Trump has not taken any actions to limit or end or withdraw from NATO. He has demanded that NATO members buy more weapons, which is of course a horrible idea. Even in the realm of rhetoric, when European officials have discussed creating a European military, independent of the United States, Trump has replied by demanding that they instead support NATO.

4. If Trump were trying to destroy NATO, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Trump has claimed to want to destroy lots of things, good and bad. Should I support NAFTA or corporate media or the Cold War or the F35 or anything at all, simply because some negative comment about it escapes Trump’s mouth? Should I cheer for every abuse ever committed by the CIA or the FBI because they investigate Trump? Should I long for hostility between nuclear-armed governments because Democrats claim Trump is a Russian agent? When Trump defies Russia to expand NATO, or to withdraw from a disarmament treaty or from an agreement with Iran, or to ship weapons to Ukraine, or to try to block Russian energy deals in Europe, or to oppose Russian initiatives on banning cyber-war or weapons in space, should I cheer for such consistent defiance of Trump’s Russian master, and do so simply because Russia is, so implausibly, his so-inept master? Or should I form my own opinion of things, including of NATO?

5. Trump is not working for, and was not elected by, Russia.According to the New York Times, “Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said.” But are anonymous “American officials” really needed to acquire Russia’s openly expressed opinion that NATO is a threatening military alliance that has moved weapons and troops to states on Russia’s border? And has anyone produced the slightest documentation of the Russian government’s aims in an activity it has never admitted to, namely “meddling in American elections,” — an activity the United States has of course openly admitted to in regard to Russian elections? We have yet to see any evidence that Russia stole or otherwise acquired any of the Democratic Party emails that documented that party’s rigging of its primary elections in favor of Clinton over Sanders, or even any claim that the tiny amount of weird Facebook ads purchased by Russians could possibly have influenced the outcome of anything. Supposedly Trump is even serving Russia by demanding that Turkey not attack Kurds. But is using non-military means to discourage Turkish war-making necessarily the worst thing? Would it be if your favorite party or politician did it? If Trump encouraged a Turkish war, would that also be a bad thing because Trump did it, or would it be a bad thing for substantive reasons?

6. If Trump were elected by and working for Russia, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Imagine if Boris Yeltsin were indebted to the United States and ended the Soviet Union. Would that tell us whether ending the Soviet Union was a good thing, or whether the Soviet Union was obsolete for serious reasons? If Trump were a Russian pawn and began reversing all of his policies on Russia to match that status, including restoring his support for the INF Treaty and engaging in major disarmament negotiations, and we ended up with a world of dramatically reduced military spending and nuclear armaments, with the possibility of all dying in a nuclear apocalypse significantly lowered, would that too simply be a bad thing because Trump?

7. Russia is not a military threat to the world. That Russia would cheer NATO’s demise tells us nothing about whether we should cheer too. Numerous individuals and entities who indisputably helped to put Trump in the White House would dramatically oppose and others support NATO’s demise. We can’t go by their opinions either, since they don’t all agree. We really are obliged to think for ourselves. Russia is a heavily armed militarized nation that commits the crime of war not infrequently. Russia is a top weapons supplier to the world. All of that should be denounced for what it is, not because of who Russia is or who Trump is. But Russia spends a tiny fraction of what the United States does on militarism. Russia has been reducing its military spending each year, while the United States has been increasing its military spending. U.S. annual increases have sometimes exceeded Russia’s entire military budget. The United States has bombed nine nations in the past year, Russia one. The United States has troops in 175 nations, Russia in 3. Gallup and Pew find populations around the world viewing the United States, not Russia, as the top threat to peace in the world. Russia has asked to join NATO and the EU and been rejected, NATO members placing more value on Russia as an enemy. Anonymous U.S. military officials describe the current cold war as driven by weapons profits. Those profits are massive, and NATO now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing on the globe.

8. Crimea has not been seized. According to the New York Times, “American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend NATO, which Moscow views as a threat.” Again we have an anonymous claim as to a goal of a government in committing an action that never occurred. We can be fairly certain such things are simply made up. The vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia is commonly called the Seizure of Crimea. This infamous seizure is hard to grasp. It involved a grand total of zero casualties. The vote itself has never been re-done. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single believer in the Seizure of Crimea has ever advocated for re-doing the vote. Coincidentally, polling has repeatedly found the people of Crimea to be happy with their vote. I’ve not seen any written or oral statement from Russia threatening war or violence in Crimea. If the threat was implicit, there remains the problem of being unable to find Crimeans who say they felt threatened. (Although I have seen reports of discrimination against Tartars during the past 4 years.) If the vote was influenced by the implicit threat, there remains the problem that polls consistently get the same result. Of course, a U.S.-backed coup had just occurred in Kiev, meaning that Crimea — just like a Honduran immigrant — was voting to secede from a coup government, by no means an action consistently frowned upon by the United States.

9. NATO is not an engaged alternative to isolationism. The notion that supporting NATO is a way to cooperate with the world ignores superior non-deadly ways to cooperate with the world. A nonviolent, cooperative, treaty-joining, law-enforcing alternative to the imperialism-or-isolationism trap is no more difficult to think of or to act on than treating drug addiction or crime or poverty as reason to help people rather than to punish them. The opposite of bombing people is not ignoring them. The opposite of bombing people is embracing them. By the standards of the U.S. communications corporations Switzerland must be the most isolationist land because it doesn’t join in bombing anyone. The fact that it supports the rule of law and global cooperation, and hosts gatherings of nations seeking to work together is simply not relevant.

10. April 4 belongs to Martin Luther King, Jr., not militarism. War is a leading contributor to the growing global refugee and climate crises, the basis for the militarization of the police, a top cause of the erosion of civil liberties, and a catalyst for racism and bigotry. A growing coalition is calling for the abolition of NATO, the promotion of peace, the redirection of resources to human and environmental needs, and the demilitarization of our cultures. Instead of celebrating NATO’s 70thanniversary, we’re celebrating peace on April 4, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech against war on April 4, 1967, as well as his assassination on April 4, 1968.

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