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The Unraveling of the Netanyahu Project for the Middle East

It was Jared Kushner who championed MbS “as a reformer poised to usher the ultraconservative, oil-rich monarchy into modernity.”

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Authored by Alastair Crooke via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli commentator, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth in May (in Hebrew), set out, unambiguously, the ‘deal’ behind Trump’s Middle East policy: In the wake of the US exit from JCPOA [which occurred on 8 May], Trump, Barnea wrote, will threaten a rain of ‘fire and fury’ onto Tehran … whilst Putin is expected to restrain Iran from attacking Israel using Syrian territory, thus leaving Netanyahu free to set new ‘rules of the game’ by which the Israel may attack and destroy Iranian forces anywhere in Syria (and not just in the border area, as earlier agreed) when it wishes, without fear of retaliation.

This represented one level to the Netanyahu strategy: Iranian restraint, plus Russian acquiescence to coordinated Israeli air operations over Syria. “There is only one thing that isn’t clear [concerning this deal]”, a senior Israeli Defence official closest to Netanyahu, told Ben Caspit, “that is, who works for whom? Does Netanyahu work for Trump, or is President Trump at the service of Netanyahu … From the outside … it looks like the two men are perfectly in sync. From the inside, this seems even more so: This kind of cooperation … sometimes makes it seem as if they are actually just one single, large office”.

There has been, from the outset, a second level, too: This entire ‘inverted pyramid’ of Middle East engineering had, as its single point of departure, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). It was Jared Kushner, the Washington Post reports, who “championed Mohammed as a reformer poised to usher the ultraconservative, oil-rich monarchy into modernity. Kushner privately argued for months, last year, that Mohammed would be key to crafting a Middle East peace plan, and that with the prince’s blessing, much of the Arab world would follow”. It was Kushner, the Post continued, “who pushed his father-in-law to make his first foreign trip as president to Riyadh, against objections from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – and warnings from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis”.

Well, now MbS has, in one form or another, been implicated in the Khashoggi murder.  Bruce Riedel of Brookings, a longtime Saudi observer and former senior CIA & US defence official, notes, “for the first time in 50 years, the kingdom has become a force for instability” (rather than stability in the region), and suggests that there is an element  of ‘buyer’s remorse’ now evident in parts of Washington.

The ‘seamless office process’ to which the Israeli official referred with Caspit, is known as ‘stovepiping’, which is when a foreign state’s policy advocacy and intelligence are passed straight to a President’s ear – omitting official Washington from the ‘loop’; by-passing any US oversight; and removing the opportunity for officials to advise on its content.  Well, this has now resulted in the Khashoggi strategic blunder.  And this, of course, comes in the wake of earlier strategic ‘mistakes’: the Yemen war, the siege of Qatar, the Hariri abduction, the Ritz-Carlton princely shakedowns.

To remedy this lacuna, an ‘uncle’ (Prince Ahmad bin Abdel Aziz) has been dispatched from exile in the West to Riyadh (with security guarantees from the US and UK intelligences services) to bring order into these unruly affairs, and to institute some checks and balances into the MbS coterie of advisers, so as to prevent further impetuous ‘mistakes’.  It seems too, that the US Congress wants the Yemen war, which Prince Ahmad consistently has opposed (as he opposed MbS elevation as Crown Prince), stopped. (General Mattis has called for a ceasefire within 30 days.) It is a step toward repairing the Kingdom’s image.

MbS remains – for now – as Crown Prince. President Sisi and Prime Minister Netanyahu both have expressed their support for MbS and “as U.S. officials contemplate a more robust response [to the Khashoggi killing], Kushner has emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Saudi alliance in the region”, the Washington Post reports. MbS’ Uncle (who as a son of King Abdel Aziz, under the traditional succession system, would be himself in line for the throne), no doubt hopes to try to undo some of the damage done to the standing of the al-Saud family, and to that of the Kingdom.  Will he succeed?  Will MbS accede now to Ahmad unscrambling the very centralisation of power that made MbS so many enemies, in the first place, to achieve it?  Has the al-Saud family the will, or are they too disconcerted by events?

And might President Erdogan throw more wrenches into this delicate process by further leaking evidence Turkey has, if Washington does not attend sufficiently to his demands.  Erdogan seems ready to pitch for the return of Ottoman leadership for the Sunni world, and likely still holds some high-value cards up his sleeve (such as intercepts of phone calls between the murder cell and Riyadh).  These cards though are devaluing as the news cycle shifts to the US mid-terms.

Time will tell, but it is this nexus of uncertain dynamics to which Bruce Reidel refers, when he talks of ‘instability’ in Saudi Arabia.  The question posed here, though, is how might these events affect Netanyahu’s and MbS’ ‘war’ on Iran?

May 2018 now seems a distant era.  Trump is still the same ‘Trump’, but Putin is not the same Putin. The Russian Defence Establishment has weighed in with their President to express their displeasure at Israeli air strikes on Syria – purportedly targeting Iranian forces in Syria.  The Russian Defence Ministry too, has enveloped Syria in a belt of missiles and electronic disabling systems across the Syrian airspace. Politically, the situation has changed too: Germany and France have joined the Astana Process for Syria. Europe wants Syrian refugees to return home, and that translates into Europe demanding stability in Syria. Some Gulf States too, have tentatively begun normalising with the Syrian state.

The Americans are still in Syria; but a newly invigorated Erdogan (after the release of the US pastor, and with all the Khashoggi cards, produced by Turkish intelligence, in his pocket), intends to crush the Kurdish project in north and eastern Syria, espoused by Israel and the US.  MbS, who was funding this project, on behalf of US and Israel, will cease his involvement (as a part of the demands made by Erdogan over the Khashoggi murder). Washington too wants the Yemen war, which was intended to serve as Iran’s ‘quagmire’, to end forthwith.  And Washington wants the attrition of Qatar to stop, too.

These represent major unravelings of the Netanyahu project for the Middle East, but most significant are two further setbacks: namely, the loss of Netanyahu’s and MbS’ stovepipe to Trump, via Jared Kushner, by-passing all America’s own system of ‘checks and balances’.  The Kushner ‘stovepipe’ neither forewarned Washington of coming ‘mistakes’, nor was Kushner able to prevent them. Both Congress and the Intelligences Services of the US and UK are already elbowing into these affairs.  They are not MbS fans.  It is no secret that Prince Mohamed bin Naif was their man (he is still under ‘palace arrest’).

Trump will still hope to continue his ‘Iran project’ and his Deal of the Century between Israel and the Palestinians (led nominally by Saudi Arabia herding together the Sunni world, behind it).  Trump does not seek war with Iran, but rather is convinced of a popular uprising in Iran that will topple the state.

And the second setback is that Prince Ahmad’s clear objective must be other than this – instability in, or conflict with, Iran.  His is to restore the family’s standing, and to recoup something of its leadership credentials in the Sunni world, which has been shredded by the war in Yemen – and is now under direct neo-Ottoman challenge from Turkey.  The al-Saud family, one may surmise, will have no appetite to replace one disastrous and costly war (Yemen), with another – an even greater conflict, with its large and powerful neighbor, Iran.  It makes no sense now.  Perhaps this is why we see signs of Israel rushing to hurry Arab state normalisation – even absent any amelioration for the Palestinians.

Nehum Barnea presciently noted in his May article in Yediot Ahoronot: “Trump could have declared a US withdrawal [from the JCPOA], and made do with that. But under the influence of Netanyahu and of his new team, he chose to go one step further. The economic sanctions on Iran will be much tighter, beyond what they were, before the nuclear agreement was signed. “Hit them in their pockets”, Netanyahu advised Trump: “if you hit them in their pockets, they will choke; and when they choke, they will throw out the ayatollahs””.

This was another bit of ‘stovepiped’ advice passed directly to the US President.  His officials might have warned him that it was fantasy.  There is no example of sanctions alone having toppled a state; and whilst the US can use its claim of judicial hegemony as an enforcement mechanism, the US has effectively isolated itself in sanctioning Iran: Europe wants no further insecurity. It wants no more refugees heading to Europe. Was it Trump’s tough stance that brought Jong Un to the table?  Or, perhaps contrarily, might Jong Un have seen a meeting with Trump simply as the price that he had to pay in order to advance Korean re-unification?  Was Trump warned that Iran would suffer economic pain, but that it would nonetheless persevere, in spite of sanctions? No – well, that’s the problem inherent in listening principally to ‘stovepipes’.

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What a deceitfully sick-minded bunch of perverted coward-liar thieves and murderers.

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Three prostitutes in the front row. The center one resembles eating snout-first in a trough.

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A very imaginative article.

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

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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

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

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

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

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Via Zerohedge…

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

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

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

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

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

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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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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