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Trump comes to Riyadh as Saudi Arabia bankrupts itself

US President Trump arrives in Saudi Arabia at a time when Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the country’s de facto ruler – has launched it on a runaway spending programme which is bound to end in national bankruptcy.

Alexander Mercouris

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US President Donald Trump’s choice of Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip has provoked some criticism.

It is not difficult to understand why.

Whilst the US claims to be the leader of the “free world” the embarrassing reality is that its most important Middle East ally is a repressive autocratic Wahhabist monarchy.  Whilst Donald Trump says the destruction of Jihadi terrorism is his priority, Saudi Arabia – as everyone knows – is the country that bankrolls most of this terrorism.

Beyond that there is the fact that many Americans have not forgotten or forgiven the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers – as well as Osama bin Laden, the presumed organiser and inspirer of the 9/11 attacks – were Saudis.

The fact however remains that Saudi Arabia is the lynchpin of the whole of the US’s strategic position in the Middle East, whilst Saudi Arabia’s oil exports – and the fact that it sells them for US dollars – serve a key role in underpinning US dominance of the world economy.

Whilst this remains the case the US has no realistic option but to maintain good relations with the Saudis.  In that respect Trump’s courtship of the Saudis makes far more sense that Obama’s ill concealed disdain for them, and given the damage Obama did to this crucial relationship Trump’s priority on repairing it – and thus his visit to Saudi Arabia – makes complete sense.

What all the talk of Trump’s visit obscures however is that even as the US seeks to renew its relationship with Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom has embarked on an out-of-control spending spree which can only result in its eventually bankrupting itself.

To understand the scale of what is happening, just consider the outline of the projects that are supposed to be under discussion during Trump’s visit.  The Financial Times provides a good summary

Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, signed more than $50bn worth of deals on Saturday, around $22bn of which were new memorandums of understanding, including:

Investing $7bn with Rowan over 10 years to own and operate drilling rigs, creating 2,800 jobs in Saudi Arabia; extending a joint venture with Nabors for oil well services, seeing $9bn of investment over 10 years, creating up to 5,000 jobs in the kingdom; a new joint venture with National Oilwell Varco in Saudi Arabia to manufacture driving rigs and equipment, seeing $6bn of investment over 10 years.

Aramco also said it would boost operations at its US refinery unit Motiva, with a planned $12bn investment with a likely additional $18bn by 2023. The deal aims to create 12,000 jobs by 2023.

Six firms — including Honeywell, McDermott and Weatherford — signed MOUs to expand Aramco’s use of locally produced goods and services, bringing $19bn of investment to the kingdom.

Aramco also signed a deal with GE to deliver $4bn worth of savings via digitisation of the oil firm’s operations. This was part of a GE package of valued at $15bn.

When deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Washington earlier this year, the White House estimated that Saudi investment pledges could rise to around $200bn.

In the defence sector, Lockheed Martin signed a $6bn deal to assemble 150 Blackhawk helicopters in the kingdom, supporting 450 jobs.

Raytheon and General Dynamics also signed agreements to support the localisation of defence contracts. The deals support Prince Mohammed’s plans for the world’s third-largest spender on arms to create a domestic industry led by the newly formed company Saudi Arabia Military Industries. The kingdom wants to source half of defence spending locally by 2030 from 2 per cent now.

Saudi Arabia’s $200bn Public Investment Fund, which plans to boost its assets under management to $2tn after the planned initial public offering of Aramco, will also announce its SoftBank vision fund deal, as well as launching another partnership, according to its managing director, Yasir Al Rumayyan. The SoftBank vision fund, the largest private equity fund ever created, is expected to close at more than $90bn, with half of the investment coming from PIF. Around 50 per cent of the fund is expected to be invested in the US, bankers say.

Saudi’s sovereign Public Investment Fund pledged $20bn for a $40bn Blackstone US infrastructure fund, with $20bn to be raised from other parties. Blackstone said it expects, with debt financing, to invest $100bn in infrastructure projects, mainly in the US. “This potential investment reflects our positive views around the ambitious infrastructure initiatives being undertaken in the US as announced by President Trump,” said Yasir Al Rumayyan, managing director of PIF.

Dow Chemical, whose chief executive Andrew Liveris co-chaired the Saudi-US CEO Forum on Saturday, agreed to invest more than $100m for a polymers manufacturing plant, while studying a proposed investment in silicones production.

This comes on top of a $300 billion (!) deal to buy arms from the US over a period of 10 years, of which $110 billion (!) is to be spent up front.

These gargantuan arms deals oil rich Arab states regularly make are not primarily intended to strengthen their defence capacity.  The quantities of weapons these oil rich Arab states buy is by many orders of magnitude greater than they can ever use.  Rather these deals are bribes, intended to buy the favour of the country from whom these oil rich Arab states buy these arms, whilst simultaneously buying the favour of useful politicians and businessmen by recycling some of the money to them through kickbacks and commissions.

The US – and Britain and France – have long since become accustomed to this practice, and have no illusions about it.

In the 1970s, when Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya did the same thing with the USSR – buying vast quantities of arms from the USSR which it was never going to use – the Russians did not understand it, and were baffled by it, especially as they saw most of the sophisticated weapons they were supplying vanish into Libyan storehouses (many of them were still there, rusted and decaying, in 2011 when Gaddafi fell).  Today the Russians have also come to understand it.

Needless to say what Gaddafi and the Libyans did with the Soviets in the 1970s is completely dwarfed by what the Saudis regularly do, and even that is dwarfed by the Homerically vast arms deal the Saudis have struck with the US just now.

All of this spending is being driven by the grandiose and out-of-control ambitions of Saudi Arabia’s actual ruler, the 31 year old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who seems to believe that instead of working hard to develop its own industrial and technology base Saudi Arabia can simply buy itself one wholesale.

Moreover at the same time that Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched Saudi Arabia onto this gigantic domestic spending spree, he is doubling down on Saudi Arabia’s hugely over-ambitious and massively costly foreign policy, waging (and losing) war in the Yemen, intervening in Syria, bankrolling Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt, and confronting Iran, a country far more powerful than Saudi Arabia, with resources Saudi Arabia cannot match.

This is exactly the opposite route to the one Saudi Arabia should be following.

If Prince Mohammed bin Salman were familiar with his history (he obviously isn’t) he would know that Saudi Arabia and the other oil rich Arab states have been trying to buy their way to industrialisation since at least the 1960s.  Since this is never done by developing the economy organically and indigenously the attempt has always failed, as the plants and factories imported from Europe and North America need supplies and technicians from abroad to keep them going, and are ill-adapted to local needs.

Repeating this approach, which in the past has always failed, but doing so on a gigantically greater scale, is simply going to make the failure far greater, littering Saudi Arabia with flashy new factories that consume more in resources than the value of the goods they produce.

By contrast, if Prince Mohammed bin Salman were ever to put aside his sectarian prejudices (something which is probably impossible for him) he could do worse than look at Iran, which since the fall of the Shah in 1979, and despite many setbacks and Western sanctions (or possibly because of them) has managed through careful industrial training and management, and by relying on its own resources, to do what Saudi Arabia and the other oil rich Arab states have consistently failed to do, which is build up a significant industrial and technology base of its own.

As for where the funding for this megalomaniac spending programme will come from, the Financial Times article makes it all too obvious: from privatising Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state owned oil company, the historic cash cow of the Saudi economy, which as a result is going to be lost forever.

All this combined with a bizarre fancy that Saudi Arabia’s financial resources can be increased by using the sale of Aramco to leverage up the paper value of the assets managed by its Public Investment Fund (ie. its sovereign wealth fund) from $200 billion to $2 trillion.

Needless to say this is not going to be anywhere near enough, and it is only a matter of time before runaway spending at this rate causes Saudi Arabia to run out of money.

That all sense of reality is being lost is shown by the extraordinary extravagance of the reception Prince Mohammed bin Salman is laying on for President Trump.  A leaked report shows that the Saudis are planning to spend an astonishing $68 million on his visit.

In reality what Saudi Arabia needs to do is not engage in a gigantic programme of over-spending which can only make the country’s economic situation worse, but on the contrary cut back radically on its existing spending, so that it can finally start to live within its means.

That means thinking of how to end the vast system of subsidies and privileges that are distorting and stifling the economy, and which are robbing it of vitality because they are unearned since they are paid for from oil revenues and are not paid for by taxes.

It means working towards ending the peg between the Saudi riyal and the US dollar, which is exaggerating the problems of the country’s budget at a time of low oil prices, and which is increasing its non-oil trade deficit by stifling the competitiveness of the non-oil part of the country’s economy.

It also means reining back on the country’s ludicrously over-ambitious and inherently destabilising foreign policy, which has achieved nothing save to spread terrorism throughout the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia itself, whilst locking Saudi Arabia into an arms race with Iran, which because of Iran’s vastly superior resources Saudi Arabia can never win.

As for the vast sums Saudi Arabia spends on arms – which it cannot use and often doesn’t intend to use – Saudi Arabia would be far better advised spending them instead on educating its people so as to prepare them for a genuine role in the country’s government.

As well as improving the national education system – which by all accounts is in an extremely poor condition, blighted by bigotry and prejudice – that means providing scholarships to young Saudis – men and women – from poorer families to study in universities abroad.

Objectively all this is possible, and it is not too late to do it.  If it were done then in 10 to 20 years time Saudi Arabia would be transformed vastly for the better.

In reality none of this is going to happen, and most likely it would not happen whoever was Saudi Arabia’s ruler.  Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s peculiar genius is to accelerate the now inevitable collapse, so that it will all happen far more quickly than it otherwise would have done, and at supersonic speed.

Patrick Cockburn, that most insightful of commentators on Middle East affairs, has compared the cost and extravagance of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reception of President Trump to the similarly empty and inflated pomp of the Shah of Iran’s Persepolis Party of 1971.

That event together with the Shah’s runaway spending on a manic and unsustainable industrialisation programme eerily similar to the one now planned by Prince Mohammed bin Salman led eventually to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Iranian monarchy.  If the same thing happens in Saudi Arabia the results will be far more bloody.

In the meantime all sorts of people are making hay whilst the good times last.  In the words of the Financial Times

……dozens of chief executives from Saudi Arabia and the US were convening at a forum where they discussed Saudi financial flows into America, and how the US could help diversify the kingdom’s oil-reliant economy. “The government is taking a back seat and putting the private sector as the locomotive to drive the economy,” said Khalid al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister. “There will be risks, but we will work with you to mitigate it.”….

At the close of the Saturday morning forum, about 70 senior Saudi executives and US chief executives boarded buses outside the Four Seasons hotel, bound for lunch with King Salman and Mr Trump at the royal court.

The elite business delegation is set to hold postprandial talks with prince Mohammed, architect of the kingdom’s reform plans. Around 30 US executives were approved to attend the lunch, including names such as Larry Fink of BlackRock, Michael Corbat of Citigroup, Roy Harvey of Alcoa, Adena Friedman of Nasdaq and financial adviser Michael Klein.

Amid tight security, royal guards took the executives’ phones, before they boarded the coaches.

As the horizon darkens, all that is left is to wish these gentlemen bon appetit.

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

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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

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

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

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

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Via Zerohedge…

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

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

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

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

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

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

RT

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Via RT…


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

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

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

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

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

‘Active measures’ on social media

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

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

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

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

Alleged hacking & release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

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

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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