Category Archives: Trump

Gina Haspel’s visit to Ankara has confirmed Trump administration’s worst fears

Trump tells reporters at the White House that the “Saudis”…  ‘had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover up was one of the worst in the history of coverups.’ Trump hits the nail on the head about the Khashoggi case and why it is so damaging for Saudi Arabia and, by association for Trump: its planning reeks of hubris and sheer stupidity, while the cover-up is even worse. ‘Whoever thought of that idea is in big trouble, should be in big trouble’, he says. The language is ominous.

As usual Trump, having all facts, says he wants to get all the facts on Khashoggi’s killing before agreeing with Erdoğan’s assessment that the whole thing was premeditated murder. The idea is that CIA Director Gina Haspel has to report back, although she has already communicated that there is evidence on tape that bin Salman was micromanaging the murder as it took place.

This is why Pompeo is revoking the visas and imposing sanctions on those identified as the killers that, in his words, ‘ work for ministries and at the royal court. These penalties will not be the last word on the matter from the United States. We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.’

Pompeo echoes Trump’s position that Washington is still awaiting all the facts, promising further response. But Trump and Pompeo are not waiting on information from Erdoğan. They are addressing King Salman and his new advisers, putting pressure on them to distance themselves from MBS and choose a new Crown Prince. That’s who they are really waiting on.

Meanwhile, MBS’s planned speech at the (fake) investor conference (Davos in the desert) is summarily cancelled. Instead various other speakers allude to the ‘tragedy’ in Istanbul and the fact that actions such as Khashoggi’s murder ‘are not in the Saudi DNA.’ Sorry, but they are: the Saudi state in its three historical manifestations since the 18th century have been extremely violent affairs.

Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, having forged a close personal relationship with MBS to pursue their aggressive policies in the Middle East, especially towards Palestinians and against Iran, would be the last to want to see him go. However, MBS is now tainted goods, and the longer he stays the worse it will be for Trump. Trump’s Middle East policy is essentially dead. It is unlikely that any other Saudi Royal will follow MBS’s soiled path, crafted over some years by Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ) through Otaiba, his Ambassador in Washington.

Trump’s policy of destabilisation of Iran. But who ultimately is going to destabilise who?

Picture of Shah Ismail Safavi (Safawy or صفوی)  riding into Tabriz in front of his red coated Qizilbash militia to crown himself Shah in 1501 AD.

If, according this site, a US-Israeli war against Iran is out of the question, then what do Trump’s aggressive tweets against Iran actually amount to? It is not a hidden secret that the U.S. and Israel have been supporting anti-régime protesters for at least a decade, and that clandestine networks in Iran have been created by the US to provide Western media outlets with news stories about disruptions in Iran. Obama failed to shake the Iranian régime using those methods, which were partly designed to be a build up to a potential war.

Not that after the debacle in Iraq, such a war was ever realistic in international-diplomatic terms, but whatever potential was there became less and less feasible at time went on. In the final Obama days we find Iranian militias fighting against ISIS-DAESH in Iraq alongside US troops. Furthermore, Obama never said a word against the excesses of Iranian militias in Syria. Iran’s regional strength merely increased over the years, and its presence as a dominant force in four Arab capitals – Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a – was a stupendous testament to the inevitable unintended consequences of sheer idiotic unthinking policy. It was the total failure of the bellicose US/Israeli stance towards Iran, which led to Obama’s surprise phone call to Rouhani (as he was leaving the UN Building in Sept 2013 to take a flight back home after the General Assembly that year), which in turn would lead to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear) 5+1 agreement.

Having blithely withdrawn from the JCPOA, and begun a new campaign of sanctions and bullying against Iran, Trump is metaphorically at war with Iran now. But any casual observer of US policy in the Middle-East will understand that “bringing democracy” to Iran is hardly the priority of those (Israel, Saudi and UAE) who are currently driving Trump’s policy on Iran. Trump’s crazily aggressive tweeting and Pompeo’s pompous announcement of yet another anti-régime Farsi channel, bringing the total of anti-Iran channels broadcasting now to 301, only add up to a policy objective of destabilisation per se. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and UAE simply want to see Iran brought down to the chaotic level of Syria, and Iraq, in order to  “defang” it.

The problem they will find is that Iran is socially differently constituted to both those poor benighted countries. Just a little historical reading going back to how the Safavids reacted to Ottoman expansion (see picture above) and how that created the new type of (anti-Sunni, Shi’a) Iran that we have today, might not only give them pause for thought, but frighten them into altering their policies. However, policy makers dealing with this issue are not the reading type it seems. Nor are they thinking types either, for only a little research into Iranian methods of power-projection (demographic change through ethnic cleansing and formation of ideological militias) clearly evident in Iraq, Syria and Yemen today, demonstrates the brutal continuity of the Safavid system.

Smiling Iraqi politicians doing deals with Saudi Arabia, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s earlier visits to Mohamed bin Salman, seem clearly to have lifted Saudi expectations that they might be able to exert some new influence on the country. That is a pipe dream. Not only will Iraq stay firmly within the Iranian sphere of influence, but this site predicts that, as the US and Israel proceed with a policy of maximum destabilisation of Iran, Iran will respond by massively destabilising Saudi Arabia, sending a brittle self-undermining Saudi régime crashing, and bringing with it an accelerating end to US influence in the Middle East.

That is what Rouhani means when he says that, while blocking the Straits of Hormuz and thus causing the collapse of financial markets worldwide is quite within Iran’s power, it isn’t relevant to the current situation as it is playing out. There is no conventional war underway. Instead, we have a war of ideas, one where the US has long since lost its capacity and its power. The US having properly sullied, degraded and betrayed the ideas of the Enlightenment, it will be Safavid medieval ideas that will win the day.

Putin Trump Summit (2)

What does the Putin-Trump summit come down to? Trump’s pro-Israeli policy is essential to the domestic survival in US politics of a politician with a multitude of enemies, not least within the ranks of his own security bureaucracy. At a time when Israel and Iran are facing off in South-West Syria, his anti-Iranian rhetoric is a vital part of this (singularly narrow) survival strategy. What Trump has to trade with Putin are the new type of sanctions on Russia oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska in particular, concocted by US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

Trump is meeting Putin to ask him to push Iran out of Syria, in exchange for which he will relax sanctions against Deripaska. As an aside, despite the fact that Trump will want to make this trade anyway, it looks like the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in their stunning stupidity, seem to want to give Trump generous (and unnecessary) inducements to make this anti-Iranian policy happen.

Putin’s desperation to rescue Deripaska, on the other hand, is absolutely clear. Despite the latter’s catastrophic mismanagement of the Russian aluminium industry so far, Putin seems willing to endanger the ecology of Lake Baikal (above), the largest freshwater lake on the planet, to save Rusal (the aluminium company). Nationalization is not an option due to the dependence of the Russian state, and Putin’s personal power, on the web that the oligarchs have created between the homeland and their offshore colony, woven as it is into the economies of the colonial powers – US, UK, and France.

So far Russia has succeeded in imposing its will on South-Eastern Syria on behalf of Assad, but severing Iran’s establishment of its strategic base in South-West Syria, territorially contiguous with Southern Lebanon and the territory of (Nasrallah’s) Hezbollah, is quite another matter. Russia’s leverage on Iran does not quite go that far.

However, could Russia solve this by getting Trump to give Turkey a waiver on trading with Iran? On the one hand, a reduction in the presence of Iranian military hardware in South Syria wouldn’t be that problematic for an Iranian régime that has already “demographically reconfigured” Damascus and its suburbs with new loyal (paramilitary) populations ready to do Iranian bidding at any time in the future, should the need for a military build-up arise. On the other hand, ensuring a continuing trade with Turkey is vital for Iran. Although this is in Turkish interests as well, nevertheless, at a time when Turkish bankers are paying a heavy price in US courts for breaking previous US sanctions on Iran, Iran cannot absolutely guarantee this lifeline without Russian pressure on Trump.

Neither would Russia mind consolidating control over Assad, whose régime they helped Iran rescue from annihilation, by fielding a greater Russian military police presence in the Damascus area, and ensuring no further chemical attacks that Russia would then have to spend time and effort spinning as fake news/red flags in the media. In fact, Russia would consolidate its role by acting as a policeman to keep Israel and Iran “apart” in Syria, and give Israel the guarantees it needs. If Russia removes Iran from the Syrian theatre entirely, it would undermine its own status and power in that respect.

Looking generally at the Syrian situation, it then becomes clear that the trumpeted resurgence of Assad and the idea of a unified Syria under his rule is a total mirage. For a start, Trump is concerned only with South-West Syria and Israel. He won’t withdraw US troops from North-East Syria. Despite his statements to that effect, he doesn’t have the power to convince the Pentagon and the CIA to make any move in that regard.

The US security state clearly failed to dislodge Erdoğan in the July 2016 attempted coup, and it watches with dismay as the Turkish military establishment built links with Russia by buying the S-400 air defense systems. So, it will continue to want a permanent point of pressure on Turkey in Syrian Kurdistan to guarantee that its interests in general, and the facilities open to it on Turkish soil (at İncirlik [airbase near Adana] and Kürecik [X-band early warning radar near Malatya]) in particular, are maintained. The Turks are obdurate, and US forces have already previously experienced periods of expulsion (as after the Cyprus invasion), despite Turkish membership of NATO.

The deal with Turkey that Russia will, therefore, broker after this summit, would also consolidate the Turkish position in Idlib, which the Turks are adamant to defend against any incursion by Assad anyway, to prevent a further displacement of refugees towards its borders. Syria, despite the rhetoric, will remain divided. On the house of cards that have been stacked up in the benighted country by foreign powers, today’s geopolitics depend.

Rejecting the Deal of the Century

Jared Kushner’s idea that bribing Gazans with jobs in industrial sites built in North Sinai with finance coerced out of the Saudis by the Trump administration, in order for them to agree to a peace deal which will lose them Jerusalem and all Palestinians the right of return, faces Palestinian ire at both the popular and governmental level – in fact- across the board.

The fifteenth week of the Great March of Return culminates today, Friday, with “Down with the Deal of Century” day to express the disdain of Palestinians for the proffered bribe. It is hard to see how this coiled Trumpist monstrosity can succeed if the Palestinians don’t sign on the dotted line. It is also hard to see Egyptian tyrant Sisi accepting the project.

As much as Sisi wants Israeli support for his bloody rule, the proposals will have implications he won’t exactly relish. A new destabilising factor would come wrapped in the proposed new industrial sites that are nothing other than an extension of the penal colony that is Gaza into Egypt, for which Egypt would be totally responsible. If the project goes through, the Gazans and their leaders (Hamas) will be able to avail themselves of a new influence on different levels of the Egyptian state.

Furthermore, Sisi’s sale of the Islands of Tiran and Sanafir, two small desert islands, to Saudi Arabia, lost him a good deal of support amongst his base. Besides the problem of having to take responsibility for an effective expansion of Gaza into North Sinai, therefore, the Tiran and Sanafir precedent, was a warning to Sisi from such supporters as he still has in Egypt, which he looks like he is taking on board. He seems to be quietly encouraging the Palestinian rejection of the plan to bail him out of having to do the bidding of Trump, Kushner, and Netanhayu.

 

Putin Trump Summit (1)

Moscow-based commentator John Helmer compares the probable agenda of the Putin-Trump summit to the sale of Alaska to the US at the end of the last century. He draws a picture where geopolitical concerns are interwoven with the financial interests of élites, while the outsized class of Russian oligarchs, when not murdering and suing each other, cut deals variously with US, UK and French politicians, to enable them to rule Russia from their mansions in the West. Putin himself walks a fine line between the opposing interests of the military-industrial complex, which he helped rebuild, and represented by its power centre (the “Stavka“), on the one hand, and of the neoliberal élite led primarily by Dmitry Medvedev and Alexei Kudrin, who defend the interests of the oligarchs in mother Russia itself, on the other.

Most startling has been Putin’s reappointment, after his recent re-election as president, of Medvedev and Kudrin to some of the most important posts in his government. It is significant that he did this after US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin’s announced his intention to sanction Oleg Deripaska, the most important link between Putin and the class of oligarchs. The reappointments of the neoliberal politicians tests Putin’s credibility with the population of Russia at large, who elected him, to say the least. Not, therefore, being Putin’s first choice of cabinet, he clearly appears to need the help of these Kremlin-entrenched Western allies in the difficult negotiations ahead with Mnuchin and his boss Trump. Trump, for his part, is in no better domestic position himself, and Russiagate is the least of his problems. A March 2018 Congressional Report, puts him at the centre of the Russian international oligarchic system, by pointing out the ‘… credible allegations as to the use of Trump properties to launder money by Russian oligarchs, criminals, and regime cronies’. The two presidents thus have a lot to talk about, or so it seems.

So in the run-up to the Helsinki summit, Helmer writes: ‘When cynical and unscrupulous men are desperate, they become as predictable as if they were principled. The difference between such men is hard to tell.

Not since the Alaska Purchase of 1867 have the rulers of Moscow and Washington been as desperate to sell something to each other for a price the press and public opinion on both sides are unprepared to calculate or accept.  When President Vladimir Putin (lead image, left) and President Donald Trump (right) meet in a fortnight, this price will be a secret both of them will agree to keep to protect themselves from adversaries at home more powerful than they are themselves.

With two weeks still to go for preparations, so far only the terms the US side intends to table are in the public domain. No Russian government official, think-tank expert, or reporter has published an account of what the Russian terms will be.

During the Kremlin meeting last week between Putin and Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, one clue was visible. This was the appearance of the Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on the Russian side of table, alongside the president’s foreign affairs advisor Yury Ushakov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Shoigu wasn’t matched by a military officer or Pentagon counterpart on the American side of the table. So Shoigu wasn’t present to speak. He was there to listen, and to report to the General Staff what the US side is proposing – and no less significant, what Putin had to say. Shoigu’s presence was a signal that on the Russian side, the military do not quite trust the president — their own, not the other one.

Tsar Alexander II’s decision to sell the Alaskan colony to the US started with the military defeat the Russians suffered during the Crimean War, which ended in 1856. The military weren’t to recover against the Ottoman Turks for another twenty years. In the interval, the tsar had debts to cover from his Crimean losses, as well as from the indemnity Alexander paid to Russian landowners for their loss of serfs in the emancipation of 1861.

Developers of eastern Siberia believed that if Alaska were sold, they could divert its state cashflow into investment schemes in the Amur territory. Also, the imperial treasury could ill afford the subsidies required for the Russian American Company, which had failed to turn otters, seals and whales into profit-making for Alaska. So the assessment in St. Petersburg was that if gold were to be discovered in Alaska, as it had been already in California, the American rush would overwhelm the Russian defences and the territory would be lost. Selling before the forfeit seemed prudent at the time.

A decade was required to raise the price from $5 million the Americans offered to $7.2  million, the figure which the Russians accepted; about $110 million in current money. In the process, the Russian Ambassador in Washington arranged bribes for US officials and journalists, as well as kickbacks for himself, and so encouraged a policy of a sale at any price; US Secretary of State William Seward was also on the give and take. As was the Russian custom then and now, the proceeds of the Alaska deal were shared among those closest to the sell-out.

For the Putin-Trump meeting the only non-negotiable point on the Russian side is Crimea; its status as a Russian territory will not be discussed. Concessions are negotiable on the other warfronts.

The Kremlin’s position on the war in the Donbass is to play for time enough to gauge what Petro Poroshenko’s successor (Yulia Timoshenko) as Ukrainian president will settle for after the election next March. If the US does not back an escalation of operations by the Ukrainian military, including  the use of the newly supplied US Javelin anti-tank missile, then the Russian offer will be to secure the Novorussian forces in place and exchange non-offensive undertakings.

On the Syrian front, Putin has already demonstrated his readiness to withdraw Russian air and ground forces – before the US and its allies have made a reciprocal move.

“Comrades,” Putin told a Kremlin ceremony for graduating cadets last week “over the past years a great deal has been done to develop the Russian Armed Forces. The Russian Army demonstrated its increased potential and coordination when it fought terrorists in Syria. It is now up to you and your comrades-in-arms to make full use of this operation in your military training. As you know, we started the withdrawal of our forces during my visit to Khmeimim. The withdrawal carries on as we speak: 13 aircraft, 14 helicopters, and 1,140 personnel were withdrawn over the past few days. All these people were tested in combat. You and your comrades-in-arms will have to make full use of this experience…”

The problem for the Russian military is that they believe US military undertakings at the field  level, and at the political level, cannot be trusted. Consequently, they doubt Trump or his White House staff can command,  even if they wish to control, the operations in Syria of the CIA  or the Israelis. In such a situation, Shoigu’s post at the meeting with Bolton was to ensure that Putin left no opening for a US offer that may lead to Russian casualties in the field.

Bolton himself conceded after the meeting that in Syria the US is looking to reduction of Russian support for Iranian operations, not Syrian ones. “There are possibilities,” Bolton claimed on television on Sunday, “for doing a larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria and back into Iran which would be a significant step forward… I don’t think Assad is the strategic issue. I think Iran is the strategic issue. It’s not just their continuing nuclear weapons program, it’s  their massive support for international terrorism and their conventional forces in the Middle East and I would say there – this is something that the two presidents will want to discuss at length because I think President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the misbegotten Iran nuclear deal, reimpose our sanctions begin to put much more pressure on Iran is having an effect on their decision making.”

Denuclearisation of the Middle East is an impossibility. Although Putin has committed Russia to continuing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA) for cutting Iran’s capacity to defend  itself with nuclear weapons,  there is no Russian commitment to denuclearising Israel, or restricting US nuclear-armed operations from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, targeted at Iran and Syria. What is left for Putin to negotiate are short-term expedients to limit the likelihood of US-backed Israeli, Saudi or other attacks on Iranian territory. Again, the problem for the Stavka – as the Russian military command is known – is that political undertakings by the US and its allies are consistently proved to be worthless. Political concessions by Putin are therefore regarded as letting down Russia’s guard, with the risk of escalating adversary operations and Russian losses, tactically now,  strategically for the future. From the point of view of the Stavka, deterring the Americans with ready military force is the only effective position from which Putin can negotiate.

“It is important”, a Kremlin-financed think-tank, the Valdai Discussion Club,  cautioned last week, “that the decisions taken at the summit are to be exercised, not sabotaged, as the American side has done a number of times. This is the only way to lay the foundation for future Russian-American relations, where not only Washington, but also Moscow will benefit.”

Disengagement of forces to reduce the likelihood of accidental clashes and fatalities is easier to announce than to implement if there continues to be a steady advance of US naval missile and ground-based Aegis missile batteries in the Black Sea and the Baltic. What then can be negotiated between Trump and Putin on this; on NATO readiness exercises and forward force deployments; and on the eroding limits of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) for the positions of the two side?

Naturally, it’s not for the Stavka to discuss in public the price they are planning to inflict on the Americans and their allies if they keep moving forward. Instead, military and security analysts in Moscow were asked what terms of a military or security type, in any operational theatre around the world, they think Putin can offer the Americans at the summit. They were also asked to say what they believe are the priorities Putin will want to negotiate in exchange with Trump. If they know, they won’t answer.  One source went so far as to say he isn’t going to make any comments at the moment — and requested this be off the record.

The Trump attack on NATO allies for failing to spend more of their domestic budgets on military undertakings is read in Moscow as an opening to less costly escalation by the European powers, especially Germany and France. Relegating the British is also a tactical objective on the Russian side; Moscow sources believe this is best left to the British themselves to accomplish as they have been doing. Undermining Germany’s control of the European Union is a tactical objective on the American side. Moscow sources think Trump is too incompetent to match Putin on this score; the smaller European powers are all moving in a less Russia- threatening direction, they note.  Those which remain hostile are within a stone’s throw of Russian forces – much too close to survive an engagement if they push too provocatively.

The conclusion, according to the state news agency Tass reporting an editorial of Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “Moscow and Washington won’t be able to resolve their key military differences on Syria and Europe in the near future. The forthcoming meeting between Putin and Trump will be apparently devoted to searching for some insignificant compromises and concessions…”

Popular support for Putin is sustainable so long as the military confrontation with the US is acute. For Trump, it’s the reverse – if he appears to be reducing the risks of war with Russia, China, or North Korea, his domestic support rises. Putin’s domestic support evaporates on the widespread voter perception that he and the officials he appoints run the economy for the benefit of the oligarchs, and are rewarded corruptly for this policy.

It is also the near-universal Russian conviction that there is no policy which the government has decided which is not pursued for corrupt reasons. This is what has made the recently announced decisions to increase value-added tax from 18% to 20%, and to extend the retirement age from 60 to 65 (for women from 55 to 63)  bellwether issues for the president and the voters. For Putin’s support among voters is the default position — if not Putin, the alternative would be worse — except in the war conditions which the Americans have created.

There is now no Russian business source in Moscow, London, Geneva or Berlin who doesn’t understand this, along with their western lawyers, bankers, insurers, and wealth managers. “So long as the oil price stays up and Trump makes enemies of the Germans and the Chinese,” a veteran international banker to Russian corporations acknowledges, “Putin has a margin for manoeuvre. His reappointments of exactly the same men as he’s trusted for years to govern the country show he doesn’t trust anyone else in Russia for the future. In the medium term this means sclerosis. But right now Putin must keep happy the two powers which, if they get angry, threaten him – the military and the oligarchs. It takes American and British stupidity, and of course their media, not to see this.”

Russian businessmen advertise in the press; their foreign advisors don’t talk publicly at all.  What they agree among themselves is that they are expecting  Putin to look for a way he and Trump can agree on a return to the business as usual in which they used to be comfortable.  Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed on June 29 in an interview with a London television channel: “I have mentioned sanctions only in the context of the deterioration of relations. We are not pleading to remove them. It is not our business, it is for those, who introduced sanctions, to decide whether they want to continue or whether common sense would prevail.”

Lavrov also conceded: “we would not mind them lifted.”

Since the Kremlin assessment is that Trump is too weak politically to attempt this, and Putin is hard-pressed by the oligarchs to save their businesses in Russia and their fortunes abroad, the question that is being considered for a private exchange between Putin and Trump is a modern-day version of the Alaska Purchase. Today, the offshore Russian colony is of vastly greater wealth than Alaska ever was to the imperial tsar. Alaska fetched a small fraction of the value of Russia’s national income in 1867. The offshore Russian colony today is almost equal in value to the national income.  This is how it looks on the map:

GROWTH OF THE RUSSIAN COLONY OF EL DORADO, 2000-2015
Types of Russian private wealth as a percentage of national income

Figure 4:  Novokmet, Filip, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman.2017. From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016.

How this capital in cash, real estate, shareholdings, and other assets  was first generated at the start of the Yeltsin administration, and then transferred offshore during the Putin administration, can be followed here:

RUSSIAN TAKE-OFF FOR THE TOP 10% INCOME-EARNERS, 1990-2015  

Figure 11a: Novokmet, Filip, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman.2017. From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016.

Today’s offshore colony isn’t for sale to the Americans, for it’s already been bought and sold – not only to the US, but to the UK and the other capital havens of Europe and the Caribbean.

The US economic war against Russian finance and against the oligarchs and their interests is severing the flow of cash between the homeland and this colony, and between the colony and its host, the international capital market. This is not yet total war. The British have attacked Roman Abramovich’s residency permit for London, but welcomed the Otkritie Bank fraudsters Vadim Belyaev and Boris Mints.  The US has barred Oleg Deripaska and Victor Vekselberg from their homes in New York, Washington, and Connecticut, but left Abramovich undisturbed at his addresses in Manhattan and Aspen.  Last week the French abandoned all effort to prosecute Russians for money-laundering and released Suleiman Kerimov to move between Moscow and Cap D’Antibes as he pleases, along with his partner, German Gref, the chief executive of Sberbank.

“We would not mind,” says Lavrov, who has been particularly close in the past to Deripaska, and at present to Alexander Vinokurov, “to build up our own capacity in key sectors of economy, security and other areas on which an independent state depends. In the recent years, we have learned a lot, including the fact that in these issues you cannot rely on the West. You cannot rely on Western technologies, because they can be abruptly stopped at any moment. You cannot rely on the items, which are essential for the day-to-day living of the population, coming from the West, because this could also be stopped.”

An obvious option, the nationalization of these key sectors is not the Kremlin’s policy, not even when the banks have been looted and the manufacturers have lost their export markets. Also, despite repeated public commitments to deoffshorization,  recovering Russia’s offshore wealth is not Putin’s policy.

How far Trump will withdraw on the economic warfare front [which was launched in retaliation for the Stavka’s March announcement of new weaponry. -ed.] and support Putin with the oligarchs on these points is certain to be tested, oligarch sources believe. They expect Putin to ask Trump what  shareholding for Deripaska’s companies will satisfy him for the April 6 sanctions to be modified,  and at least part of their business returned to normal. Trump’s conversation with Putin on the Deripaska sanctions will be kept secret at least until the US Treasury has agreed to rule on Deripaska’s application for sanctions relief in August for some of his companies, in October for others. In the interval, the market value of such inside information may be more difficult to keep secret in Moscow.

When cynical and unscrupulous men are desperate, they become as predictable as if they were principled. The difference between such men is hard to tell.’

Read Helmer’s original article here.

 

We hear you! Bizarre US-Israeli strategy for régime change in Iran

It is clear that military action against Iran is out of the question for the US-Israeli axis, and that  harsh sanctions imposed against Iran and imposed with brute force against US allies around the world is the route that Trump and Pompeo are following. The idea is to destroy Iran’s economy and directly foment unrest to topple the Shia régime.

It is not a hidden secret that the U.S. and Israel have been supporting anti-régime protesters for at least a decade. Clandestine networks in Iran have been created by the US to provide Western media outlets with news stories about disruptions in Iran. This has involved smuggling satellite dishes into the country to receive radio and television broadcasts, while in Washington a coordination government office has been set up called Radio-TV Farda/Tomorrow.

Radio Free Europe, another U.S. radio-TV network serving the US security state, reports that more than 70 percent of Iranians use the satellite dishes. The dishes are illegal in Iran and are consistently been taken down by police. Encouraging youth in Iran to rebel against the system is relatively easy for Western intelligence services, given the repressive laws in the country and the thuggish methods of the Basij  (paramilitary volunteer militia) who impose them.

While the covert support for Iran unrest has been going on for years, Obama had subtly refused to support publicly the protests in Iran. But there is a bizarre twist in Netanhayu and  Pompeo, in their deluded arrogance and crass stupidity, regularly shouting their – “We hear you!” – support for demonstrators, calling out good wishes and issuing professions of concern. These efforts at destabilisation are clearly no longer covert, thus fatally undermining the legitimacy of the protesting groups.

These protesters have recently focused on closing down the iconic Grand Bazaar, which played a pivotal role in the 1979 Iranian revolution. However, although bazaaris are clearly unhappy about the state of the Iranian Rial, they are not the ones to initiate the closures, lending an artificial flavour to the events. Furthermore, the absence of the female chador in the new protests and their obvious narrow demographic character (youthful, male, urban), is an indication that things are not the same as in 1979. Iranian society has changed dramatically since the revolution.

In Rouhani’s call to allow the protests to take place, and in the ability of Iranian institutions to absorb them, we see a maturing of the Iranian state. There is also considerable awareness within Iran of the realities of politics in the West. No scales on Iranian eyes! Moreover, the open support in the US and Israel for the protests needs no interpretation. It is having the reverse effect of throwing the vast majority of the population behind the state, which we see in the vast pro-government demonstrations that follow any protest. All that Trump, Pompeo and Netanhayu are achieving here is the destruction of the ability of Europe and Japan to trade with Iran, disadvantaging them economically even as US tariffs are being imposed on European and Japanese goods, while NATO is being sidelined, and NATO members vilified for not spending enough on arms.

The result of all this is that Europe and Japan will suffer economically while Iranian trade with China, Russia, Turkey and the UAE (as principals and as middlemen) will boom.

Kim and Trump: It Finally all Makes Sense

Trump cancels US participation in the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), against international law. This leads now to the (legal under the terms of the multilateral agreement) increase by the Iranian government (under pressure from the right-wing “Principalists” in its parliament) in the number of centrifuges it is deploying to enrich uranium. It is thus shortening the breakout time for acquiring a nuclear device.

Trump then makes a wild and vague deal with a like-minded dictator (Kim), which although historic and signed, is a threadbare rehash of previous agreements signed with North Korea in the 1994 and 2005.

So is the problem that North Korea actually has nukes and Iran doesn’t (yet)? Is the lesson that to impress the Americans you have to have nukes? Iran is going to attacked because it doesn’t have a deterrent? Maybe, but this is isn’t the essence of the problem. There is no plan to take on Iran militarily and actually never has been. Gareth Porter in Manufactured Crisis has shown that even Netanhayu was always bluffing about attacking Iran (it was all about bluff and counter-bluff on both sides), and Trump is certainly not going to want to put troops on the ground to fight Iran.

Both he and the Pentagon (although perhaps not his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser) understand the failure in Iraq, while Iran, on the other hand, has always been a much bigger fish.  Paul Jay sets out the case for “Trump the Peacemaker” being cover for preparing  war against Iran. Given Trump’s disconnected and impetuous policy-making this seems unlikely. One has to note that Iran is much more powerful (and its national security establishment – the IRGC- much more experienced) even than it was in 2003, while the US is beset with problems with all its allies across the world: problems of Trump’s own making. This is hardly an environment in which the US could plan a major military offensive against such an asymmetrically powerful nation.

Using its vast conventional missile capability Iran could easily destroy the Saudi Arabian Gawar oilfield (the planet’s largest single field), as well as Tel Aviv (either from Lebanon or even from Iran), irrespective of US patriot missiles protecting them (Russia has shown the limited capability of this kind of defence to concerted attacks). It could also block the Persian Gulf for traffic, especially the Straights of Hormuz, by sinking the US 6th Fleet, deploying and using SS-N-27A “Sizzler” missiles (ground to sea missiles that accelerate to twice the speed of sound, 2 km before their target, flying only feet above sea level). The US admits it has no defence for this capability. Iran acquired the technology from China, and all of China, Russia and India, as well as Iran possess them.

Such missiles are almost as strategically important as nuclear weapons, when a narrow objective like the straights of Hormuz is to be destroyed/blocked, while sizzler missiles are much more likely to be used in conflict than nuclear weapons, even if you possessed the latter.

In addition, as far as Trump’s own attitude to the region is concerned, we have to take into account the fact that he is pressuring the Pentagon on pulling out of Syria (which is why the Turks are now getting their way about the alliance between the US and the Kurds in Northern Syria, against the objections of CENTOM Chief Gen. Vogel). This goes against the views of his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser, whom Trump only hired in order to get a massive (2020) campaign donation from Rebecca Mercer. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo follows the President’s line and doesn’t deviate, taking on the Pentagon’s middle management, especially Joseph Votel on this matter. Votel doesn’t want to cooperate with the Turks after Erdoğan’s ejection of his allies and contacts within the Turkish army after the failure of their attempted coup in 2016.

Trump has no policy other than self-aggrandisement and getting re-elected. His Jerusalem move and cynical stroking of the Wailing Wall is all about campaign contributions and domestic political support. He did a lot for his base of religious nuts already with the Jerusalem decision, he doesn’t have to do more, no-one in the US political scene can now outflank him on the Zionist front. He isn’t going to risk all that by going to war in the exceptionally dangerous and ropey situation the US is in right now, against Iran.

So, on a lighter note, is the nub of the matter as to why cancel the JCPOA and then do a deal with Kim simply that he is an unaccountable dictator, whereas Iran is a complicated polity, with a parliament and an ideology that makes no sense to someone like him? Yes, but you have to understand the detail. A Tweet by Trump suddenly revealed all according to the BuzzFeed UK editor:

As Trump said in his Singapore press conference, these guys (meaning Kim and Co.) own all the real estate between China and South Korea – … can’t be bad, can it? If he had one iota of strategic sense though, he would have realised that in signing such a vague deal without easing sanctions, which was Kim’s main aim in the whole peace process, he has opened up the golden opportunity for China to do just that, and for Kim to launch (largely with Chinese and South Korean help) his own personal chain of hotels along the country’s beaches. Eat your heart out Donald…

Iran wakes up to new choices: Pompeo’s bark aimed at whom?

Trump’s words upon pulling out of the JCPOA Iran deal were ‘that’s life’, the ‘Iranians have to learn what life’s about’, suggests a strongarm negotiating tactic. That this may be a reflection of a generalised Trump negotiating modus operandi is suggested by the fact that the Trump summit with Kim Jong-un is having its pre-conditions mollified. This is down to strong South Korean diplomatic intervention, which is establishing an important premise for the negotiations, namely that denuclearisation must inevitably be a gradual and scaled process. Imperiousness has given way to diplomacy.

But then came Pompeo’s bark during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, which talked about the ‘strongest sanctions in history’. Is that a continuation of the Trump ‘art of the deal’? The answer to that lies in establishing who Pompeo was actually barking at. It is most likely that it was a response to Europe’s knee-jerk rejection of Trump’s decision, and its disinterment of old laws intended to protect European companies from foreign (in this case US) sanctions. So it wasn’t really addressed to the Iranian people. By knobbling the Europeans, the White House expects to be able to achieve its end of suffocating Iran.

Iran isn’t North Korea though, and it doesn’t have a powerful US ally with a vested interest in the outcome (South Korea) intervening actively on its behalf to achieve peace. It does have many nations, however, that are adversaries of the US – China and Russia – that see Iran’s survival as important for their own independence and the success of their long-term projects. One US ally – Turkey – although this alliance is always ambivalent – is willing to brave US sanctions and take the consequences on the chin, for the same reasons. Despite the bible thumping, war-drum beating proclivities of the current White House, it is unlikely to take the US to fully-fledged war in the Middle East. It isn’t in Pompeo’s interests, nor in Trump’s, nor would the Pentagon (which understands the asymmetric military power of Iran) be enthusiastic, nor would Europe (across-the-board) be prepared now to provide the fig leaf of legitimacy that Bush acquired through Blair.

This doesn’t mean Trump won’t give Israel the backing and wherewithal to do what it wants in the Middle-East. But then, for years, Israel has been threatening to bomb Iran, and hasn’t done so, and this for many reasons that have been most eloquently spelled out in Gareth Porter’s book ‘Manufactured Crisis’ . Porter’s thesis that Netanhayu is a paper tiger, is borne out by Hassan Nasralla’s sober description of the essentially empty recent Israeli retaliatory strike that Lieberman was referring to when he said ‘we have wiped-out Iran’s military capacity in Syria’; the background to which events has been usefully summarised by Paul Rogers.

The judgement that Iranians are split over how to respond to Trump’s position and Pompeo’s bark, is a false description of the choices facing Iran. The Korean situation doesn’t involve any of the deep ideological bitterness between the people of the Middle-East and Israel/US, and none of the legacy of many recent wars and interventions there. Korea is an old war frozen in time. The choice Iran faces is between simply riding out the Trump administration(s) without changing anything, on the one hand, and actually making a nuclear bomb, on the other. Likely they will opt for the former, and seek to develop Iran economically without the West. So just as nothing will change from the Israeli side, nothing will change from the Iranian side. On the other hand, if the US ramps up pressure further, Iran will begin using its influence across the Middle East against its interests.

What will happen now is that the Iranian economy will merge deeper into the Chinese and Russian projects, which will help those countries widen their markets, and develop new products (commercial airliners, electronics, oil field services) that Iran needs and which those countries have been working on developing for years. With each passing day, trade between non-Western countries increases and as of 2009, has crossed the 50% mark in terms of the value of global trade.

 

Der Spiegel Editorial: Time for Europe to Join the Resistance

Edel Rodriguez designs the latest cover for Der Spiegel after Trump’s Iran decision. The magazine editorial runs as follows:

Trump’s renown is rooted in American hero myths. Trump says that women like Carla Bruni lust after him, something that women like Carla Bruni vehemently deny. Trump says he is exorbitantly rich, yet Trump ran himself into the ground with his casinos to the point that he was 295 million dollars in debt in 1990. He was bailed out by the banks and by his father. The greatest myth, though, has to do with Trump’s alleged negotiating expertise. This too is nonsense. Trump was never proficient in the art of the deal. As a businessman, he paid far too much for substandard properties and has shown no patience as a politician. He isn’t curious. His preparation is nonexistent. Strategy and tactics are both foreign to him. Trump is only proficient in destruction. And that’s what he does.

Read the rest here

After the destructive decision on the Iran Deal, will Trump’s hawkish team lead us inevitably to war?

Trump’s legacy will resemble a pile of rubble. There is no planning context to any of his negative actions, and so far there have been no positive legislative or executive actions or any kind. His tax cut was, after a tax cut, with little in terms of constructive thought about what it was for or what came with it, apart from the tired “trickle down” arguments.

It’s all been about obsessively taking down his predecessor’s legacy. This is so obsessive and all-consuming, it seems to be about the dregs of a slaver culture embodied in the man Trump, instinctively determined to eradicate all traces of black American endeavour. It is so instinctual and unreasoned that the destructiveness is almost childish. It is so dominant in the overall character of his presidency so far that, taken together with his early wish for rapprochement with Russia, and his general statements about the waste of money and time in making war in the Middle-East, it can be said that is not in any way linked to any wish to lead America to war.

If this turns out to be right, it would be ironic, because his bête noire – Obama – Nobel Peace laureate – was indeed a war president. However, Trump’s appointments of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo might appear, given their well-known hawkishness and their hate of Iran, to dictate a path to war. But while John Bolton may want to direct the president in that direction, so far this president has shown a very high propensity for not wanting to be directed, and firing anybody who tries. And while Mike Pompeo may be hawkish, he is, unlike either Bolton or Trump, keen on “consequences” and “what happens after”.

Thomas Wright writes in Politico about how Bolton and Pompeo are incompatible and how Pompeo’s aspirations make him a more cautious character than Bolton. He is politically a natural ally of Mattis, who strongly advised against destroying the Iran nuclear deal.  Mattis doesn’t like Bolton, although he admires Pompeo.  The alliance that looks like forming between the Pentagon and the State Department  that will serve the incumbents’ individual interests, besides Trump’s natural disinterest in actually starting wars, makes war unlikely. Furthermore Bolton’s role, it has to be emphasised, is advisory not executive.

By the looks of things, the (unintended) “consequences” of destroying the Iran nuclear deal that Pompeo will have his hands full dealing with, will have less to do with war in the Middle East, than with the ensuing  (major) rift with Europe, which is suffering economically and is growing tired of the wrecking-ball that is America. As far as actually engaging Iran militarily, the same reason still stands that led US military chiefs to avoid war with Iran in the past decade: they would lose. Another defeat would weaken the US global position even more catastrophically than the defeat of its professional army at the hands of a lightly-armed rebel insurgency in Iraq. Its withdrawal, after Petraeus’ massive payoff to the Sunni tribes was ignominious. The outcome of a war with Iran would be much worse, for the US and the world.