ماذا بعد الحرب في أوكرانيا…؟

 السبت 21 كانون الثاني 2023

زياد حافظ

في هذه المحاولة الاستشرافية في مطلع 2023 قراءة وتساؤلات لمرحلة ما بعد الحرب في أوكرانيا. ننطلق في هذه القراءة من فرضية نناقشها في ما بعد أنّ روسيا ستحسم المعركة العسكرية في أوكرانيا ما قبل نهاية ربيع 2023. لكن هذا لا يعني انّ الصراع مع الحلف الأطلسي بشكل عام والولايات المتحدة بشكل خاص قد ينتهي. فالسؤال يصبح كيف سيتعامل الحلف الأطلسي وخاصة الولايات المتحدة مع الحقائق الميدانية التي تكون قد تحقّقت في الميدان؟

هناك عدة حالات ممكنة ولكن باحتمالات متباينة مبنية على قراءة في ذهنية القيادات الغربية والإمكانيات المتوفرة ضمن ميزان قوّة مختلّ لصالح روسيا بشكل عام وخاصة لصالح المحور العالمي الرافض للهيمنة الأميركية و/ أو الأطلسية. وما يُعقّد المشهد هو اعتبار الطرفين المتخاصمين أيّ روسيا والحلف الأطلسي أنّ الحرب في أوكرانيا حرب وجودية وبالتالي لا يمكن لأيّ طرف أن يتصوّر مخرجاً إلاّ النصر القاطع. وبما أنّ فرضية هذه القراءة تتبنّى حتمية النصر الروسي ما يبقى علينا هو تصوّر ما يمكن أن يقدِم عليه الأطلسي. وعندما نتكلّم عن الأطلسي نقصد بالدرجة الأولى الولايات المتحدة، ثم الاتحاد الأوروبي كمؤسسة، ثم الدول الأوروبية التي تماهت مع سياسات الولايات المتحدة وأخيراً بيروقراطية الحلف الأطلسي كمؤسسة قائمة بحدّ ذاتها. غير أنّ الحلقة الأساسية هي الولايات المتحدة لأنّ ما يمكن أن تقدم عليه سينجرّ بشكل أو بآخر على مؤسسة الحلف الأطلسي والاتحاد الأوروبي.

أما الحلقة الأضعف فهي الدول الأوروبية التي ستتعرّض إلى اضطرابات اجتماعية وسياسية بسبب التراجع الاقتصادي الناتج عن سياسة العقوبات المفروضة على روسيا وخاصة في قطاع الطاقة التي كانت تستوردها بشكل رخيص من روسيا دون أن تجد البديل الاقتصادي الذي يحرّرها من الاتكال على روسيا. والنتائج البنيوية على الاقتصاد الأوروبي هي تفكيك البنية الصناعية التي كانت ركيزة الطبقة الوسطى والاستقرار الاجتماعي. ليس هناك من آفاق إيجابية للاقتصاد الأوروبي في ظلّ ذلك التحوّل البنيوي خاصة مع صعود دول الجنوب الإجمالي وفي مقدّمته الصين والهند والبرازيل الذين سيتقاسمون الناتج الصناعي العالمي. دول أوروبا قد تكون دول متاحف التاريخ وللسياحة والترفيه وليس أكثر. فتصبح دولاً لا وزن لها في إدارة شؤون العالم. وهذا الهبوط لن يكون سهلاً بل ترافقه توترات اجتماعية وانتفاضات سياسية تعيد النظر في البنى السياسة والاقتصادية والاجتماعية لهذه الدول. وما سيساهم في ذلك الانحدار الكارثي هو الرداءة غير المسبوقة للقيادات السياسية سواء كانت في الحكم أو في المعارضة. المشهد البريطاني يتلاقى مع المشهد الألماني والمشهد الفرنسي، تلك الدول التي كانت تتصدّر المشهد الأوروبي. فأما دول الأطراف في أوروبا فقد تغرق أيضاً في حروب عرقية ودينية دون أن تكون لها ركيزة تستند إليها. فعلى سبيل المثال وليس الحصر اسبانيا تواجه حركة انفصالية في منطقة كتالونيا، وإيرلندا الشمالية قد تنفصل عن المملكة المتحدة لتلتحق بالجمهورية الإيرلندية، واسكتلندا قد تستقلّ عن المملكة المتحدة، وكورسيكا عن فرنسا، وبلجيكا تنقسم إلى قسم فرنسي وقسم فلمنكي. وما تبقّى من أوكرانيا خارج القبضة الروسية قد يذهب قسم منه إلى بولندا، والقسم الآخر إلى رومانيا ومولدوفيا. خارطة أوروبا مُعرّضة لتغيير جذري أسوة بما نتج في الحروب الأوروبية في القرون الماضية. كما هناك كلام عن انشطار إيطاليا بين جنوب فقير وشمال ثري. أما النعرات الطائفية في منطقة البلقان فمن السهل إشعالها مجدّداً مع سقوط الحكومات المركزية في حقبة الضيق الاقتصادي.
تصدّعات أوروبا

أما الاتحاد الأوروبي كمؤسسة فيشهد تصدّعات داخلية عززتها الإجراءات العبثية بحق روسيا وارتداداتها على الاقتصادات الأوروبية. فالزمرة الحاكمة في مؤسسة الاتحاد الأوروبي ملتزمة عقائدياً بمقرّرات دافوس لإعادة التعيين للاقتصادات القائمة نحو اقتصادات أكثر «لطفاً بالبيئة» على حدّ زعمهم. وهذا التوجه إلى مصادر طاقة نظيفة ومتجدّدة بشكل قسري وسريع سيؤدّي حتماً إلى تفكيك البنية الصناعية القائمة ما يوقع دول الاتحاد في حالة فقر وتراجع حضاري شبيه بالقرون الوسطى. فالطاقة هي مصدر الحضارة والعبث فيها له ارتدادات خطيرة على سكّان هذه الدول. لكن عدداً من حكومات دول الاتحاد يتململ من طغيان الزمرة المسيطرة على الاتحاد خاصة أنها لا تخضع لمساءلة ومحاسبة. وحكومة فيكتور اروبان المجرية تقود حملة التمرّد ضدّ الاتحاد قد تتبعها حكومة صربيا. من جهة أخرى أبدت بعض الدول الأوروبية كألمانيا وفرنسا امتعاضها من استغلال الولايات المتحدة للشحّ في قطاع الطاقة لفرض أسعار اضعاف ما كانت تدفعه لروسيا. ونعتت هذه الدول الولايات المتحدة بالتصرّف «غير الصديق» مع الحليف!

أما الدول الأوروبية فالتصدّعات التي أحدثتها الحرب الأوكرانية تتفاقم خاصة أنّ النموذج الاقتصادي النيوليبرالي المسيطر بعد سقوط الاتحاد السوفياتي وصل إلى طريق مسدود. كما أنّ النظام النيوليبرالي حوّل السلطة الفعلية للشركات الكبرى وخاصة بيوت المال التي لا تكترث لحال المواطنين. وهذه القوى المسيطرة على القرار السياسي والاقتصادي والثقافي في تلك الدول تستولد نخباً وقيادات من المستوى الرديء على صعيد العلم، والفهم، والأخلاق. وبالتالي ليس في الأفق المنظور إمكانية بروز قيادات أوروبية تضع مصلحة دولها فوق أيّ اعتبار وخاصة تلك الاعتبارات التي تريد إعادة الهندسة الاجتماعية وفقاً لمقرّرات منتدى دافوس. لذلك لا يمكن أن نتوقع خلال السنة الجديدة أيّ تغيير جذري في المشهد الأوروبي إلاّ ربما المزيد من التوترات والفوضى الأمنية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية ما يجعل أوروبا تفقد دوراً كانت تقوم به على الصعيد العالمي. فكيف يمكن وصف سلوك القيادات الأوروبية التي حوّلت أوروبا من ثاني كتلة اقتصادية في العالم، وربما في بعض الأحيان الأولى، إلى مجموعة دول مترهّلة. هذا انتحار جماعي أقدمت عليه قيادات حمقاء بكلّ معنى الكلمة.

تبقى الولايات المتحدة العنصر الأساسي في الحلف الأطلسي. والمشهد الأميركي معقّد حيث الخطاب السياسي السائد لدى المؤسسة الحاكمة وخاصة عند المحافظين الجدد الذين قبضوا على القرار السياسة الخارجية لا يسمح بأيّ تراجع أمام روسيا. لقد أصبحت الطبقة الحاكمة والمحافظون الجدد أسرى الخطاب السياسي حيث الانتصار على روسيا بات شرط ضرورة للبقاء. فلا يتصوّر المحافظون الجدد عالماً وروسيا موجودة على الأقلّ بشكلها الحالي. فلا بدّ من قلب النظام القائم في روسيا والإتيان بنخب سياسية تساهم في تقسيم روسيا إلى عدّة ولايات أو دول ضعيفة تحول دون إمكانية نهوض لدولة لها وزن على الصعيد الدولي. والمحافظون الجدد يحرصون على إجهاض أيّ محاولة للتفاهم مع روسيا تفادياً لحرب قد تخسرها حتماً الولايات المتحدة مهما كانت الكلفة عالية على روسيا. فعلى سبيل المثال وليس الحصر تسبّب المحافظون الجدود تسريب خبر لقاء بين مدير وكالة المخابرات المركزية وليم بيرنز ونظيره الروسي في أنقرة لإجهاض أيّ محاولة لمنع التصعيد في أوكرانيا الذي إذا ما استمرّ سيضع الجيش الروسي في مواجهة مباشرة مع الجيش الأميركي. وهذا الأمر لا يريده الطرفان سواء كان الرئيس الروسي بوتين أو الأميركي بايدن. لكن المحافظين الجدد لهم أجندة مختلفة ولا يكترثون لنتائج حتمية عن مواجهة عسكرية مباشرة بين الدولتين.

أجندة المحافظين الجدد!

السؤال المطروح هو هل يستطيع المحافظون الجدد تجاوز التحفّظات داخل الإدارة الأميركية التي لا تريد المواجهة المباشرة مع روسيا؟ ليس من السهل الإجابة خاصة أنّ المرحلة السابقة شهدت نصر المحافظين الجدد في توريط الولايات المتحدة في الصراع الذي كان بالإمكان تجنّبه مع روسيا. فهم من رفضوا التعامل مع العروض الروسية لحلّ الأزمة في أوكرانيا، وهم بالأساس من قام بالانقلاب على الحكومة المنتخبة شرعيا في أوكرانيا في 2014 وفي مقدمتهم فيكتوريا نيولند زوجة روبرت كاغان كبير المنظرين للمحافظين الجدد. وهم من استعمل اتفاقات منسك في 2015 للمراوغة لتمكين القوّات الأوكرانية لمواجهة روسيا. وهم من أجهضوا الاتفاق الذي تمّ الوصول إليه في أنقرة بين روسيا وحكومة زيلينسكي في نيسان/ ابريل 2022 بعد 3 أشهر من بدء العملية العسكرية الروسية في أوكرانيا. وهم من يدفعون إلى تفريغ ترسانات الدول التي كانت في كنف حلف وارسو وإرسال السلاح والذخائر لأوكرانيا. وهم من يدفعون البنتاغون لتفريع ترسانة الولايات المتحدة من الأسلحة المتطوّرة وإرسالها إلى أوكرانيا. النتيجة لكلّ ذلك هو تدمير كلّ السلاح المتوفر لأوكرانيا وقتل الجنود ودون تحقيق أيّ تقدّم على الأرض. فسجل المحافظين الجدد هو تراكم هائل من الفشل ولكن لا يوجد من يُسائل ويحاسب. ولذلك ستستمرّ إدارة بايدن في ارتكاب الحماقات تلو الحماقات دون تحقيق أي نتيجة لصالح الولايات المتحدة حتى يصبح تحطّم أوكرانيا أمراً واقعا لا يمكن الهروب منه.

المحافظون الجدد لهم أجندة من بند واحد وهي فرض هيمنة الولايات المتحدة على العالم وإنْ أدّى ذلك إلى تدمير الحلفاء وتهديد العالم بحرب نووية لن ينج منها أحد. فهم لا يكترثون لآثار سياساتهم طالما كانوا متمسكين بمفاصل صنع القرار في الولايات المتحدة سواء في الإدارة أو مراكز الأبحاث أو الجامعات أو الإعلام المرئي والمكتوب. وشبكة علاقات المحافظين الجدد لا تقتصر على الولايات المتحدة بل امتدّت إلى دوائر القرار في مكوّنات الحلف الأطلسي وإنْ كانت سياساتهم تدمّر تلك المكوّنات.

استطاع المحافظون الجدد أن يفرضوا سردية بين النخب الحاكمة في الولايات المتحدة والدول الأوروبية المتحالفة معها مفادها أنّ الصراع مع روسيا هو صراع بقاء بينما في الحقيقة هو صراع لتدمير روسيا والاستيلاء على ثرواتها الهائلة من المواد الخام، والطاقة، والمعادن الثمينة والنادرة. كما أنّ حجم روسيا الجغرافي يهدّد مصالح الولايات المتحدة فلا بدّ من تفكيك الدولة الاتحادية. وتعمّ مراكز الأبحاث في الولايات المتحدة عن خرائط محتملة لروسيا المفككة. وبالنسبة للولايات المتحدة فإنّ الهدف الحقيقي هو الحفاظ على هيمنتها وخاصة هيمنة الدولار الذي يواجه تحدّيات من اقتصادات ترفض تلك الهيمنة. والطابع الوجودي لهذا الصراع مبني على ثقافة الفكر الرأس المالي أن التوسّع هو الوسيلة الوحيدة للبقاء. وتاريخ الولايات المتحدة مبني على التوسّع الجغرافي، في البداية تجاه الغرب حتى الوصول إلى المحيط الهادي ومن ثمّ القفز إلى الجزر في ذلك المحيط وصولاً إلى الفليبين والشاطئ الشرقي للصين.

أما جنوباً، فكانت نظرية مونرو التي منعت الدول المستعمرة في القرن التاسع عشر من التواجد في أميركا اللاتينية وجعلها الحديقة الخلفية للولايات المتحدة. وتحفظ في أدراج الإدارات المتتالية خطط احتلال كندا إذا ما اقتضى الأمر! والآن تعمل الولايات المتحدة على التوسع في القطب الشمالي حيث توجد ثروات نفطية وغازية وشرقاً نحو القارة الآسيوية. وبالتالي لا بدّ من وضع اليد على روسيا.

المشروع الأميركي لوضع اليد على روسيا كان مكتوماً بعد سقوط حائط برلين. لكن سرعان ما تبدّدت الوعود المقطوعة للقيادات الروسية بعدم التوسّع شرقاً للحلف الأطلسي. وحجر الزاوية في مواجهة روسيا هو أوكرانيا وفقاً لنظرية زبغنيو بريجنسكي الذي اعتبر أوكرانيا ضرورة أساسية للقضاء على روسيا. المهمّ هنا أنّ التوسع الشرقي للحلف الأطلسي تجاه روسيا يشكّل خطراً وجودياً على روسيا لا يمكنها تجاهله خاصة إذا ما تمّ نشر الصواريخ البالستية النووية فيها كما يدعو إليه قادة النظام الانقلابي في أوكرانيا. حاولت القيادة الروسية إقناع الإدارات المتتالية بعدم التوسع شرقاً لكن العنجهية الأميركية لم تكترث للهواجس الروسية. لسنا هنا في إطار سرد تطوّر العلاقات الروسية الأطلسية/ الأميركية بل لنؤكّد أنّ صوغ الخطاب السياسي يدعو إلى المواجهة لدرء خطر وجودي يعني الوصول إلى الحرب لحلّ المشكلة. الحرب هنا لن تقتصر على الحرب بالوكالة كما هو الحال الآن في أوكرانيا أو ربما عبر بولندا في ما بعد بل في المواجهة المباشرة العسكرية مع روسيا.

ما يؤكّد عمق الأزمة بين النخب الأميركية مقال صدر يوم السبت في 7 كانون الثاني/ يناير 2023 في صحيفة «واشنطن بوست» والموقع من كوندوليزا رايس وزيرة الخارجية السابقة في ولاية بوش الابن وروبرت غيتس وزير الدفاع السابق في كلّ من ولايات بوش الابن وباراك أوباما. في المقال اعتراف واضح أنّ الوقت هو لصالح روسيا ولا بدّ من زيادة الجهود الأميركية (أيّ زيادة التمويل والإمداد لأنها مربحة للمجمّع العسكري الصناعي) وذلك لمنع النصر الروسي. فهذا الأمر سيكون له تداعيات كارثية بالنسبة للولايات المتحدة (خاصة للمجمّع العسكري الصناعي) وأنّ إمكانية تغيير تلك النتائج ستكون صعبة للغاية إنْ لم تكن مستحيلة. والهيمنة الأميركية على العالم أصبحت مطلباً «وجودياً» بالنسبة لتلك النخب التي لا تكترث لنتائج تلك الطموحات والتي لا تأخذ بعين الاعتبار التحوّلات التي حصلت في موازين القوّة. فمقال رايس وغيتس دعوة صريحة لاستمرار الحرب مهما كانت النتائج.

فما هي إمكانيات مواجهة مباشرة بين الحلف الأطلسي وروسيا، وبالأخصّ بين الولايات المتحدة وروسيا؟ حقيقة، إنّ المواجهة في أوكرانيا لها طابعان: الأول مع الحكومة الأوكرانية والثاني الذي تمّ إعلانه منذ بضعة أيام على لسان وزير الدفاع الاوكراني أنّ المواجهة هي بين روسيا والحلف الأطلسي. هدف العملية العسكرية الروسية في أوكرانيا هو تدمير الجيش الأوكراني وخلع النازيين من الحكم في أوكرانيا ومنع الحكومة من الالتحاق بالأطلسي. التطوّرات الميدانية أبرزت تدفق السلاح والذخيرة من مجمل دول الحلف الأطلسي دون أن يغيّر في ميزان القوّة في المعركة الذي كان ولا يزال لصالح روسيا. واليوم تعلن هذه الدول عن نفاذ سلاحها وذخيرتها لتزويد القوّات الأوكرانية بما كانت تملك من بقايا سلاح حلف وارسو. أما السلاح الغربي الذي يسيطر على معظم دول أوروبا الغربية فإنّ معرفة القوّات الأوكرانية بذلك السلاح ما زالت محدودة وتحتاج لوقت طويل للتتأقلم معها.

لكن هل تستطيع الولايات المتحدة الاستمرار بسياسة حرب رغم ضعف الجهوزية. ولا نقصد هنا الجهوزية العسكرية فحسب بل الجهوزية الاقتصادية. يشير الستير كروك وهو دبلوماسي سابق ومن أهمّ العقول السياسية المحلّلة للمشهد السياسي في آخر مقال له بتاريخ 13 كانون الثاني/ يناير 2023 على موقع «ستراتيجك كلتشار فوندشن» إلى أنّ الغرب يتجه تدريجياً لتحويل اقتصاداته لاقتصادات حرب وخاصة في ما يتعلّق بسلسلة التوريد في الإنتاج الصناعي. لكن في رأينا هذه عملية طويلة المدى خاصة بعد تفكيك البنية التحتية الصناعية في الولايات المتحدة والمملكة المتحدة وبالتالي القدرة على تحويل الطاقة الصناعية إلى طاقة إنتاجية حربية كما حصل في الحرب العالمية الثانية أمر مشكوك به في المدى المنظور. فاستبدال سلسلة التوريد التي اعتمدت خلال العقود الأربعة الماضية لتوطين مفاصل عديدة من القطاعات الصناعية في عالم الجنوب الإجمالي لا يمكن إنجازه بفترة قصيرة. فروسيا، ومعها الصين وسائر دول الجنوب الإجمالي لن يتركوا المجال لذلك التحويل.

لذلك نعتقد أنّ المعركة العسكرية الاستراتيجية بين روسيا وأوكرانيا قد حسمت في رأينا لصالح روسيا وأنّ ما تبقّى هو ترجمة الحسم الاستراتيجي إلى معالم مادية سواء في التقدّم الجغرافي أو في التغيير النظام السياسي في أوكرانيا وإنْ اقتضى الأمر دخول كييف لفرض نظام جديد. وقد يحصل ذلك خلال سنة 2023.

المواجهة مع الأطلسي طويلة

أما المواجهة مع الأطلسي فقد تطول خاصة أنّ الغرب يراهن على إطالة الحرب دون تدخّل مباشر للولايات المتحدة وسائر دول الحلف الأطلسي. ويعتمد المحافظون الجدد على سيطرتهم على الإعلام والسردية التي تقول بأنّ أوكرانيا «تنتصر» والقضية مسألة إمدادات فقط لا غير. لكن بدأت النخب الحاكمة تواجه معضلة تفسير انهيار خطوط الدفاع الأوكرانية وخاصة في منطقة سوليدار وباخوت. فهل ستتخذ الخطوة التالية بدخول جيوش الأطلسي بشكل مباشر في أوكرانيا؟

المزاج السياسي المعادي لروسيا في دول أوروبا غير مؤيّد للدخول في حرب مع روسيا. استطلاعات الرأي العام واضحة بهذا الشأن. فالمواطن الأوروبي بغضّ النظر عن رأيه في روسيا وحكّامها لا يريد ولا يتحمّل ثمن المواجهة. ولقد بدأت تظهر معالم «التعب» من أوكرانيا. ولكن المنحى الذي نشهده هو عدم اكتراث الحكومات الغربية للرأي العام الداخلي كما جاء على لسان وزيرة الخارجية الألمانية أنّ المانيا مستمرّة بدعم الجهود الحربية في أوكرانيا وأنها لا تكترث لآراء المواطنين وهذا بكلّ وضوح. لكن العديد من المؤشرات تفيد بأنّ الدول الأوروبية غير جاهزة وغير راغبة للدخول في حرب. أما الولايات المتحدة فهناك من يدفع إلى الدخول المباشر إلى أوكرانيا وإنْ كان الوجود العسكري الأميركي كـ «خبراء» و «مدرّبين» و «مستشارين» أصبح من المسلّمات. والمحافظون الجدد يدفعون إلى المواجهة المباشرة بعد استنفاذ الوكلاء علماً أنّ الجهوزية العسكرية الأميركية غير متوفّرة كما جاء على لسان رئيس هيئة الأركان المشتركة مارك ميلي في جلسة استجوابه في لجنة الدفاع في الكونغرس عند استلام مهامه. قال آنذاك في 2018 إنّ الجهوزية الأميركية لا تتجاوز 40 بالمائة وإنّ هدفه هو إيصال الجهوزية الأميركية إلى 60 بالمائة بحلول 2024.

وتأكيداً على ذلك يصدر معهد «أميركان هريتاج فونداشن» تقريراً سنوياً عن الجهوزية العسكرية الأميركية. وعلى مدى السنوات الخمس الماضية لم يتجاوز تقييم تلك الجهوزية مرحلة «الهامشية» أيّ لا تستطيع الحسم في أيّ مواجهة. وإذا أضفنا المحاكاة النظرية للمواجهة العسكرية مع أيّ من روسيا أو الصين أو إيران فكانت النتائج دائماً لصالح خصوم الولايات المتحدة. صحيح أنّ الولايات المتحدة تنفق أكثر من أيّ دولة في العالم لكن هذا الانفاق لا يعني تفوّقاً في الجودة كما تظهر التقارير حول فعّالية ركائز السلاح الجوّي أو البرّي الأميركي. وإذا أدخلنا في المعادلة السلاح المتفوّق الروسي خاصة في الصواريخ الفائقة لسرعة الصوت وغياب وسائل دفاع مضادة له فإنّ التفوّق التكتيكي والاستراتيجي للسلاح الروسي أصبح كاسراً.

وهناك خبراء عسكريون كـ اندري مرتيانوف يشكّكون بالقدرات البشرية لقيادة الأعمال العسكرية حيث خبرة القادة العسكريين الأميركيين في خوض حروب حقيقية ضدّ خصوم لديهم الحزم والعزم لا يُشجّع على إمكانية نصر عسكري. فتجربة الحرب الكورية والفيتنامية والعراقية والأفغانية تدلّ بوضوح إلى أنّ التفوّق الناري لا يعني بالضرورة النصر. لكن بعيداً عن هذه الاعتبارات ما نريد أن نقوله إنّ الولايات المتحدة غير جاهزة على الصعيد العسكري لخوض حرب طويلة مع دولة من طراز روسيا أو الصين على الأقلّ في المدى المنظور. لدى الولايات المتحدة قدرة نارية تدميرية هائلة تستطيع تدمير المعمورة آلاف المرّات ولكن ليس لديها كيف تترجمها في السياسة.

هناك عقول باردة خارج البنتاغون كدوغلاس مكغريغور او لاري جونسون أو فيليب جيرالدي أو راي مكغوفرن أو لاري ويلكرسون على سبيل المثال وليس الحصر تعي هذه الحقائق وتحاول ضبط إيقاع مسار السلطة السياسية. لكن المحافظين الجدد يتربّصون بها ويمنعون أن تصل تلك الآراء إلى مركز القرار. لذلك سيحتدم الصراع داخل الدولة العميقة بين من يؤيّد توجّهات المحافظين الجدد ومن يخشى من الوقوع في الهاوية. ولا نستبعد تكرار مشهد إنشاء لجنة بيكر ـ هاملتون جديدة التي كفّت يد المحافظين الجدد في إدارة بوش بعد الفشل في العراق. البديل عن كفّ يد المحافظين الجدد هو الحرب التي ستكون مدمّرة للولايات المتحدة وللعالم.

وهنا يكمن العامل الداخلي في الولايات المتحدة الذي قد يغيّر المعادلات بين الدولة العميقة والبيت الأبيض. مسلسل الفضائح التي تطال الرئيس الأميركي يتنامى ما يعني أنّ الدولة العميقة تريد التخلّص من إمكانية ترشّحه مجدّداً في 2024. فتعيين محقق خاص جمهوري الانتماء السياسي للكشف عن تفاصيل «الفضائح» يؤكّد أنّ المؤسسة الحاكمة بما فيها قيادة الحزب الديمقراطي تريد التخلّص من جوزيف بايدن والآتيان بـ كمالا هاريس في حال تنحّى بايدن عن منصبه، أو فتح الطريق لترشيح ميشال أوباما في 2024. في مطلق الأحوال فإنّ التطوّرات الداخلية قد تحوّل الأنظار عن الإخفاق في أوكرانيا ويتيح الفرصة لصوغ خطاب جديد يتجاهل الإخفاق في أوكرانيا. التغيير في السياسة التي تفرضه الوقائع يحتم تغيير في الأشخاص وهذا ما يمكن توقّعه في الأشهر المقبلة لمنع التدهور الذي الكارثي الذي يهدّد الجميع.

في الخلاصة نرى ما بعد الحرب في أوكرانيا الانتصار الكاسح لروسيا وتصدّع الاتحاد الأوروبي. كما سنرى تصاعد النقاش حول الدخول الأطلسي بشكل عام والولايات المتحدة بشكل خاص في حرب نووية محدودة بالنسبة للمحافظين الجدد. لكن في المقابل لا يستطيعون ضبط إيقاعها لأنّ روسيا لن تستجيب لرغبات المحافظين الجدد. فليس هناك من مواجهة نووية «محدودة»! لذلك لا نتوقع الوصول إلى تلك المرحلة بل ربما بداية تفكيك الحلف الأطلسي الذي فقد جدواه ومصداقيته. أما على صعيد الوضع الداخلي في الولايات المتحدة فتراكم الفشل في السياسة الخارجية سيظهر الحاجة للتغيير. من سيقود التغيير وكيف فهذا حديث ليوم آخر. الرهان هو على ما تبقّى من عقول باردة خاصة في أجواء التردّي لمستوى النخب السياسية في الغرب

*باحث وكاتب اقتصادي سياسي والأمين العام السابق للمؤتمر القومي العربي وعضو منتدى سيف القدس

Biden ‘sleepwalking into disaster’: Experts

January 21, 2023 

Source: Agencies

By Al Mayadeen English 

US President Joe Biden could go down in history for allowing his failed policies to trigger a world war, experts say.

US President Joe Biden, January 19, 2022 (Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden’s policies toward Russia, China, and Iran, among other countries, have the US on the verge of disaster as he begins the second half of his first term, experts told Sputnik.
 
Biden reached the midpoint of his presidency earlier today, a period in which the White House has claimed economic successes while critics have slammed him for record-high inflation, the border crisis, and a foreign policy that has escalated tensions with both Russia and China.
 
“I think he’s done better than some of us expected, but he’s still sleepwalking into disaster,” political commentator and US constitutional historian Dan Lazare told Sputnik
 
Like all US presidents, Biden was the victim of forces beyond his control, Lazare cautioned. He said that Biden entered the White House promising to be a big-spending FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] and thus succeeded in pushing through his $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan less than two months after taking office. However, it backfired due to mounting inflationary pressures, which it undoubtedly helped aggravate.
 
Lazare acknowledged that the “rapid and humiliating Taliban conquest of Afghanistan” in July 2021, during Biden’s first year in office, was a disaster that nearly everyone in Washington contributed to over the previous 40 years.
 
“Instead of fiddling while Rome burned, he flipped burgers while Kabul collapsed. The result was the worst foreign-policy setback since Vietnam from an imperial point of view,” he said. 
 
The Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed in November 2022, put new strains on the Atlantic Alliance, according to Lazare. “[The act] has left Europeans unnerved due to its outrageously protectionist industrial policies,” he added.

Dangers of Ukraine

The Biden administration announced on Thursday another $2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine, bringing the total to around $27.5 billion since Biden took office. According to Lazare, the United States is on the verge of a world war.
 
He stressed that Biden looks pretty good “shepherding one military aid package after another through Congress,” warning that the longer the conflict goes on the more apparent it becomes that NATO’s “aggressively expansionist policies are leading to another 1914.”
 
Lazare predicted that Biden’s failure to pursue any serious means of resolving the conflict would exacerbate it, adding that “just as the Entente more or less maneuvered Austro-Hungary into going to war against crazy little Serbia, the Atlantic Alliance maneuvered Russia into going to war against Ukraine by engaging in actions that were increasingly provocative and confrontational,” he said. 
 
Biden risks going down in history alongside disastrous UK leader Herbert Henry Asquith, who led his country into a disastrous world war with Germany in 1914, according to Lazare.

Read next: Poll: Biden receives ‘failing grade’ in leadership and management

“I think history will, thus, end up looking at Biden the same way it looks at Asquith, the UK prime minister who thought he could get away with playing with fire in the Balkans. Once again, short-sighted imperial ambitions are plunging the world into catastrophe,” he said. 
 
Lazare believed that despite all this, the US media had covered Biden sympathetically so far in contrast to their unrelenting attacks on his predecessor. He added that Joe Biden may be a “B- president so far, but I’m sure his report card will be bristling with F’s before too long.”

Feckless mediocrity 

Retired Ambassador Chas Freeman, who served as the Democratic Clinton administration’s assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, noted that the Foreign Policy had assembled 20 analysts who had nothing but praise for Biden’s diplomatic performance.
 
Freeman told Sputnik that no oriental potentate employing praise singers could ask for more, but the Biden administration didn’t produce a ‘foreign policy for the middle class’, only one for what he described as feckless mediocrity.”
 
He added that Biden has also recklessly sparked conflict and crises with major superpowers
 
“Biden and his team have catalyzed and subsequently escalated a dangerous proxy war between the United States, Western Europe, and Russia in Ukraine [and] escalated tensions with China amidst rising concern about the possibility of a war over the status of Taiwan,” Freeman said. 
 
He also abandoned diplomatic efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons development, which has brought Russia, China, and Iran together, according to Freeman.
 
Furthermore, Biden has increased protectionism and rejected the World Trade Organization’s “rules-based order,” causing friction with US allies in both Europe and Asia, he claims.
 
According to Freeman, Biden’s erratic policies had also resulted in a visible reduction in US influence in the Middle East, including a rift with Saudi Arabia and a failure to counter the replacement of apartheid in “Israel” with renewed ethnic cleansing.

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    Biden in newly surfaced video: Iran nuclear deal is “dead”

    21 Dec 2022

    Source: Agencies

    By Al Mayadeen English 

    US President Joe Biden confirms that the Iran deal “is dead”, but then tells people that they will not announce it.

    President Joe Biden. Dec. 16, 2022. (AP)

      President Biden declared on the sidelines of a Nov. 4 election rally that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is “dead,” according to a new video that surfaced on social media late Monday, but stressed the United States won’t announce it.

      This counts as the Biden administration’s strongest confirmation that there’s no path forward for the Iran deal, which leaves key questions about the future of the JCPOA.

      The US envoy for Iran Rob Malley, in late October, said that the administration is not going to “waste time” on trying to revive the Iran nuclear deal at this time considering that the US finds the Iran riots as a more important development, in addition to Iranian support for Russia in Ukraine, and Iran’s positions on its nuclear program.

      Biden made the statement in a brief exchange with a woman who was present at an election rally in Oceanside, California. She requested that Biden declare the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name for the Iran deal, to be null and void.

      The president responded that he would not “for a lot of reasons.” But then he added: “It is dead, but we are not going to announce it. Long story.”

      The woman then said that the current Iranian government “doesn’t represent the people.” In response, he said, “I know they don’t represent you. But they will have a nuclear weapon that they’ll represent.”

      The JCPOA is not our focus right now. It’s not on the agenda,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios.

      “We don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon,” the spokesperson said, pointing at the Iran riots and alleged support for Russia vis-a-vis the war in Ukraine, “Our focus is on practical ways to confront them in these areas.”

      Read next: Gantz advises using Iran’s ‘tough times’ to push it into nuclear deal

      Yesterday, National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby said that the prospects for the JCPOA deal to be renewed are nowhere near sight, citing reasons related to the alleged crackdowns on protesters in Iran.

      “We simply don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon while Iran continues to kill its own citizens, and selling UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles or drones] to Russia,” Kirby said during a press briefing. “Now we don’t anticipate any progress anytime in the near future. That’s just not our focus.”

      This comes in the backdrop of a statement issued by US President Joe Biden at a political rally in California in early November in which he said that the Iran deal was “dead” and that the issue of reviving it was a matter of a “long story”.

      Commenting on these statements, Kirby said what Biden said was “very much in line” with the White House’s position on the nuclear deal. 

      As efforts were underway to revive the nuclear agreement, the US decided to stall the negotiations on the grounds that Iran is allegedly exercising measures of repression on protesters.

      But Iranian authorities found that networks of protesters were in fact financed by several western countries to fulfill imperialist aspirations of implementing regime change in the country. 

      Related

      The Complete Destruction of Ukraine is Unavoidable (Douglas Macgregor)

      December 09, 2022

      Germany’s position in America’s New World Order

      November 02, 2022

      Source

      by Michael Hudson

      Germany has become an economic satellite of America’s New Cold War with Russia, China and the rest of Eurasia. Germany and other NATO countries have been told to impose trade and investment sanctions upon themselves that will outlast today’s proxy war in Ukraine. U.S. President Biden and his State Department spokesmen have explained that Ukraine is just the opening arena in a much broader dynamic that is splitting the world into two opposing sets of economic alliances. This global fracture promises to be a ten- or twenty-year struggle to determine whether the world economy will be a unipolar U.S.-centered dollarized economy, or a multipolar, multi-currency world centered on the Eurasian heartland with mixed public/private economies.

      President Biden has characterized this split as being between democracies and autocracies. The terminology is typical Orwellian double-speak. By “democracies” he means the U.S. and allied Western financial oligarchies. Their aim is to shift economic planning out of the hands of elected governments to Wall Street and other financial centers under U.S. control. U.S. diplomats use the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to demand privatization of the world’s infrastructure and dependency on U.S. technology, oil and food exports.

      By “autocracy,” Biden means countries resisting this financialization and privatization takeover. In practice, U.S. rhettoric means promoting its own economic growth and living standards, keeping finance and banking as public utilities. What basically is at issue is whether economies will be planned by banking centers to create financial wealth – by privatizing basic infrastructure, public utilities and social services such as health care into monopolies – or by raising living standards and prosperity by keeping banking and money creation, public health, education, transportation and communications in public hands.

      The country suffering the most “collateral damage” in this global fracture is Germany. As Europe’s most advanced industrial economy, German steel, chemicals, machinery, automotives and other consumer goods are the most highly dependent on imports of Russian gas, oil and metals from aluminum to titanium and palladium. Yet despite two Nord Stream pipelines built to provide Germany with low-priced energy, Germany has been told to cut itself off from Russian gas and de-industrialize. This means the end of its economic preeminence. The key to GDP growth in Germany, as in other countries, is energy consumption per worker.

      These anti-Russian sanctions make today’s New Cold War inherently anti-German. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said that Germany should replace low-priced Russian pipeline gas with high-priced U.S. LNG gas. To import this gas, Germany will have to spend over $5 billion quickly to build port capacity to handle LNG tankers. The effect will be to make German industry uncompetitive. Bankruptcies will spread, employment will decline, and Germany’s pro-NATO leaders will impose a chronic depression and falling living standards.

      Most political theory assumes that nations will act in their own self-interest. Otherwise they are satellite countries, not in control of their own fate. Germany is subordinating its industry and living standards to the dictates of U.S. diplomacy and the self-interest of America’s oil and gas sector. It is doing this voluntarily – not because of military force but out of an ideological belief that the world economy should be run by U.S. Cold War planners.

      Sometimes it is easier to understand today’s dynamics by stepping away from one’s own immediate situation to look at historical examples of the kind of political diplomacy that one sees splitting today’s world. The closest parallel that I can find is medieval Europe’s fight by the Roman papacy against German kings – the Holy Roman Emperors – in the 13th century. That conflict split Europe along lines much like those of today. A series of popes excommunicated Frederick II and other German kings and mobilized allies to fight against Germany and its control of southern Italy and Sicily.

      Western antagonism against the East was incited by the Crusades (1095-1291), just as today’s Cold War is a crusade against economies threatening U.S. dominance of the world. The medieval war against Germany was over who should control Christian Europe: the papacy, with the popes becoming worldly emperors, or secular rulers of individual kingdoms by claiming the power to morally legitimize and accept them.

      Medieval Europe’s analogue to America’s New Cold War against China and Russia was the Great Schism in 1054. Demanding unipolar control over Christendom, Leo IX excommunicated the Orthodox Church centered in Constantinople and the entire Christian population that belonged to it. A single bishopric, Rome, cut itself off from the entire Christian world of the time, including the ancient Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem.

      This break-away created a political problem for Roman diplomacy: How to hold all the Western European kingdoms under its control and claim the right for financial subsidy from them. That aim required subordinating secular kings to papal religious authority. In 1074, Gregory VII, Hildebrand, announced 27 Papal Dictates outlining the administrative strategy for Rome to lock in its power over Europe.

      These papal demands are strikingly parallel to today’s U.S. diplomacy. In both cases military and worldly interests require a sublimation in the form of an ideological crusading spirit to cement the sense of solidarity that any system of imperial domination requires. The logic is timeless and universal.

      The Papal Dictates were radical in two major ways. First of all, they elevated the bishop of Rome above all other bishoprics, creating the modern papacy. Clause 3 ruled that the pope alone had the power of investiture to appoint bishops or to depose or reinstate them. Reinforcing this, Clause 25 gave the right of appointing (or deposing) bishops to the pope, not to local rulers. And Clause 12 gave the pope the right to depose emperors, following Clause 9, obliging “all princes to kiss the feet of the Pope alone” in order to be deemed legitimate rulers.

      Likewise today, U.S. diplomats claim the right to name who should be recognized as a nation’s head of state. In 1953 they overthrew Iran’s elected leader and replaced him with the Shah’s military dictatorship. That principle gives U.S. diplomats the right to sponsor “color revolutions” for regime-change, such as their sponsorship of Latin American military dictatorships creating client oligarchies to serve U.S. corporate and financial interests. The 2014 coup in Ukraine is just the latest exercise of this U.S. right to appoint and depose leaders.

      More recently, U.S. diplomats have appointed Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s head of state instead of its elected president, and turned over that country’s gold reserves to him. President Biden has insisted that Russia must remove Putin and put a more pro-U.S. leader in his place. This “right” to select heads of state has been a constant in U.S. policy spanning its long history of political meddling in European political affairs since World War II.

      The second radical feature of the Papal Dictates was their exclusion of all ideology and policy that diverged from papal authority. Clause 2 stated that only the Pope could be called “Universal.” Any disagreement was, by definition, heretical. Clause 17 stated that no chapter or book could be considered canonical without papal authority.

      A similar demand as is being made by today’s U.S.-sponsored ideology of financialized and privatized “free markets,” meaning deregulation of government power to shape economies in interests other than those of U.S.-centered financial and corporate elites.

      The demand for universality in today’s New Cold War is cloaked in the language of “democracy.” But the definition of democracy in today’s New Cold War is simply “pro-U.S.,” and specifically neoliberal privatization as the U.S.-sponsored new economic religion. This ethic is deemed to be “science,” as in the quasi-Nobel Memorial Prize in the Economic Sciences. That is the modern euphemism for neoliberal Chicago-School junk economics, IMF austerity programs and tax favoritism for the wealthy.

      The Papal Dictates spelt out a strategy for locking in unipolar control over secular realms. They asserted papal precedence over worldly kings, above all over Germany’s Holy Roman Emperors. Clause 26 gave popes authority to excommunicate whomever was “not at peace with the Roman Church.” That principle implied the concluding Claus 27, enabling the pope to “absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.” This encouraged the medieval version of “color revolutions” to bring about regime change.

      What united countries in this solidarity was an antagonism to societies not subject to centralized papal control – the Moslem Infidels who held Jerusalem, and also the French Cathars and anyone else deemed to be a heretic. Above all there was hostility toward regions strong enough to resist papal demands for financial tribute.

      Today’s counterpart to such ideological power to excommunicate heretics resisting demands for obedience and tribute would be the World Trade Organization, World Bank and IMF dictating economic practices and setting “conditionalities” for all member governments to follow, on pain of U.S. sanctions – the modern version of excommunication of countries not accepting U.S. suzerainty. Clause 19 of the Dictates ruled that the pope could be judged by no one – just as today, the United States refuses to subject its actions to rulings by the World Court. Likewise today, U.S. dictates via NATO and other arms (such as the IMF and World Bank) are expected to be followed by U.S. satellites without question. As Margaret Thatcher said of her neoliberal privatization that destroyed Britain’s public sector, There Is No Alternative (TINA).

      My point is to emphasize the analogy with today’s U.S. sanctions against all countries not following its own diplomatic demands. Trade sanctions are a form of excommunication. They reverse the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia’s principle that made each country and its rulers independent from foreign meddling. President Biden characterizes U.S. interference as ensuring his new antithesis between “democracy” and “autocracy.” By democracy he means a client oligarchy under U.S. control, creating financial wealth by reducing living standards for labor, as opposed to mixed public/private economies aiming at promoting living standards and social solidarity.

      As I have mentioned, by excommunicating the Orthodox Church centered in Constantinople and its Christian population, the Great Schism created the fateful religious dividing line that has split “the West” from the East for the past millennium. That split was so important that Vladimir Putin cited it as part of his September 30, 2022 speech describing today’s break away from the U.S. and NATO centered Western economies.

      The 12th and 13th centuries saw Norman conquerors of England, France and other countries, along with German kings, protest repeatedly, be excommunicated repeatedly, yet ultimately succumb to papal demands. It took until the 16th century for Martin Luther, Zwingli and Henry VIII finally to create a Protestant alternative to Rome, making Western Christianity multi-polar.

      Why did it take so long? The answer is that the Crusades provided an organizing ideological gravity. That was the medieval analogy to today’s New Cold War between East and West. The Crusades created a spiritual focus of “moral reform” by mobilizing hatred against “the other” – the Moslem East, and increasingly Jews and European Christian dissenters from Roman control. That was the medieval analogy to today’s neoliberal “free market” doctrines of America’s financial oligarchy and its hostility to China, Russia and other nations not following that ideology. In today’s New Cold War, the West’s neoliberal ideology is mobilizing fear and hatred of “the other,” demonizing nations that follow an independent path as “autocratic regimes.” Outright racism is fostered toward entire peoples, as evident in the Russophobia and Cancel Culture currently sweeping the West.

      Just as Western Christianity’s multi-polar transition required the 16th century’s Protestant alternative, the Eurasian heartland’s break from the bank-centered NATO West must be consolidated by an alternative ideology regarding how to organize mixed public/private economies and their financial infrastructure.

      Medieval churches in the West were drained of their alms and endowments to contribute Peter’s Pence and other subsidy to the papacy for the wars it was fighting against rulers who resisted papal demands. England played the role of major victim that Germany plays today. Enormous English taxes were levied ostensibly to finance the Crusades were diverted to fight Frederick II, Conrad and Manfred in Sicily. That diversion was financed by papal bankers from northern Italy (Lombards and Cahorsins), and became royal debts passed down throughout the economy. England’s barons waged a civil war against Henry II in the 1260s, ending his complicity in sacrificing the economy to papal demands.

      What ended the papacy’s power over other countries was the ending of its war against the East. When the Crusaders lost Acre, the capital of Jerusalem in 1291, the papacy lost its control over Christendom. There was no more “evil” to fight, and the “good” had lost its center of gravity and coherence. In 1307, France’s Philip IV (“the Fair”) seized the Church’s great military banking order’s wealth, that of the Templars in the Paris Temple. Other rulers also nationalized the Templars, and monetary systems were taken out of the hands of the Church. Without a common enemy defined and mobilized by Rome, the papacy lost its unipolar ideological power over Western Europe.

      The modern equivalent to the rejection of the Templars and papal finance would be for countries to withdraw from America’s New Cold War. They would reject the dollar standard and the U.S. banking and financial system. that is happening as more and more countries see Russia and China not as adversaries but as presenting great opportunities for mutual economic advantage.

      The broken promise of mutual gain between Germany and Russia

      The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 promised an end to the Cold War. The Warsaw Pact was disbanded, Germany was reunified, and American diplomats promised an end to NATO, because a Soviet military threat no longer existed. Russian leaders indulged in the hope that, as President Putin expressed it, a new pan-European economy would be created from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Germany in particular was expected to take the lead in investing in Russia and restructuring its industry along more efficient lines. Russia would pay for this technology transfer by supplying gas and oil, along with nickel, aluminum, titanium and palladium.

      There was no anticipation that NATO would be expanded to threaten a New Cold War, much less that it would back Ukraine, recognized as the most corrupt kleptocracy in Europe, into being led by extremist parties identifying themselves by German Nazi insignia.

      How do we explain why the seemingly logical potential of mutual gain between Western Europe and the former Soviet economies turned into a sponsorship of oligarchic kleptocracies. The Nord Stream pipeline’s destruction capsulizes the dynamics in a nutshell. For almost a decade a constant U.S. demand has been for Germany to reject its reliance on Russian energy. These demands were opposed by Gerhardt Schroeder, Angela Merkel and German business leaders. They pointed to the obvious economic logic of mutual trade of German manufactures for Russian raw materials.

      The U.S. problem was how to stop Germany from approving the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Victoria Nuland, President Biden and other U.S. diplomats demonstrated that the way to do that was to incite a hatred of Russia. The New Cold War was framed as a new Crusade. That was how George W. Bush had described America’s attack on Iraq to seize its oil wells. The U.S.-sponsored 2014 coup created a puppet Ukrainian regime that has spent eight years bombing of the Russian-speaking Eastern provinces. NATO thus incited a Russian military response. The incitement was successful, and the desired Russian response was duly labeled an unprovoked atrocity. Its protection of civilians was depicted in the NATO-sponsored media as being so offensive as to deserve the trade and investment sanctions that have been imposed since February. That is what a Crusade means.

      The result is that the world is splitting in two camps: the U.S.-centered NATO, and the emerging Eurasian coalition. One byproduct of this dynamic has been to leave Germany unable to pursue the economic policy of mutually advantageous trade and investment relations with Russia (and perhaps also China). German Chancellor Olaf Sholz is going to China this week to demand that it dismantle is public sector and stops subsidizing its economy, or else Germany and Europe will impose sanctions on trade with China. There is no way that China could meet this ridiculous demand, any more than the United States or any other industrial economy would stop subsidizing their own computer-chip and other key sectors.[1] The German Council on Foreign Relations is a neoliberal “libertarian” arm of NATO demanding German de-industrialization and dependency on the United States for its trade, excluding China, Russia and their allies. This promises to be the final nail in Germany’s economic coffin.

      Another byproduct of America’s New Cold War has been to end any international plan to stem global warming. A keystone of U.S. economic diplomacy is for its oil companies and those of its NATO allies to control the world’s oil and gas supply – that is, to reduce dependence on carbon-based fuels. That is what the NATO war in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine was about. It is not as abstract as “Democracies vs. Autocracies.” It is about the U.S. ability to harm other countries by disrupting their access to energy and other basic needs.

      Without the New Cold War’s “good vs. evil” narrative, U.S. sanctions will lose their raison d’etre in this U.S. attack on environmental protection, and on mutual trade between Western Europe and Russia and China. That is the context for today’s fight in Ukraine, which is to be merely the first step in the anticipated 20 year fight by the US to prevent the world from becoming multipolar. This process, will lock Germany and Europe into dependence on the U.S. supplies of LNG.

      The trick is to try and convince Germany that it is dependent on the United States for its military security. What Germany really needs protection from is the U.S. war against China and Russia that is marginalizing and “Ukrainianizing” Europe.

      There have been no calls by Western governments for a negotiated end to this war, because no war has been declared in Ukraine. The United States does not declare war anywhere, because that would require a Congressional declaration under the U.S. Constitution. So U.S. and NATO armies bomb, organize color revolutions, meddle in domestic politics (rendering the 1648 Westphalia agreements obsolete), and impose the sanctions that are tearing Germany and its European neighbors apart.

      How can negotiations “end” a war that either has no declaration of war, and is a long-term strategy of total unipolar world domination?

      The answer is that no ending can come until an alternative to the present U.S.-centered set of international institutions is replaced. That requires the creation of new institutions reflecting an alternative to the neoliberal bank-centered view that economies should be privatized with central planning by financial centers. Rosa Luxemburg characterized the choice as being between socialism and barbarism. I have sketched out the political dynamics of an alternative in my recent book, The Destiny of Civilization.

      This paper was presented on November 1, 2022. on the German e-site
      https://braveneweurope.com/michael-hudson-germanys-position-in-americas-new-world-order
      . A video of my talk will be available on YouTube in about ten days.

      1. See Guntram Wolff, “Sholz should send an explicit message on his visit to Beijing,” Financial Times, October 31, 2022. Wolff is the director and CE of the German Council on Foreign Relations. 

      From Ally to Enemy: Australia Hammers Final Nail in US ‘Deal of the Century’

      October 26, 2022

      Abraham Accord signing ceremony in Washington. (Photo: Wikimedia)

      By Ramzy Baroud

      US President Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ was meant to represent a finality of sorts, an event reminiscent of Francis Fukuyama’s premature declaration of the ‘End of History’ and the uncontested supremacy of western capitalism. In effect, it was a declaration that ‘we’ – the US, Israel and a few allies – have won, and ‘you’, isolated and marginalized Palestinians, lost.

      The same way Fukuyama failed to consider the unceasing evolution of history, the US and Israeli governments also failed to understand that the Middle East, in fact, the world, is not governed by Israeli expectations and American diktats.

      The above is a verifiable assertion. On October 17, the Australian government announced that it is revoking its 2018 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Expectedly, the new decision, officially made by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, was strongly criticized by Israel, celebrated by Palestinians and welcomed by Arab countries who praised the responsible diplomacy of Canberra.

      Any serious analysis of the Australian move, however, must not be confined to Australia’s own political shifts but must be extended to include the dramatic changes underway in Palestine, the Middle East and, indeed, the world.

      For many years, but especially since the US invasion of Iraq as part of the politically-motivated ‘war on terror’, Washington perceived itself as the main, if not the only, power that is able to shape political outcomes in the Middle East. Yet, as its Iraq quagmire began destabilizing the entire region, with revolts, social upheavals and wars breaking out, Washington began losing its grip.

      It was then rightly understood that, while the US may succeed in waging wars, as it did in Iraq and Libya, it is unable to restore even a small degree of peace and stability. Though Trump seemed disinterested in engaging in major military conflicts, he converted that energy to facilitate the rise of Israel as a regional power, which is incorporated into the Middle East’s political and economic grids through a process of political ‘normalization’, which is wholly delinked from the struggle in Palestine or the freedom of the Palestinians.

      The Americans were so confident in their power to orchestrate such a major political transformation to the extent that Jared Kushner – Trump’s Middle East advisor and son-in-law – was revealed to have attempted to cancel the very status of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, an attempt that was met with a decisive Jordanian rejection.

      Kushner’s arrogance reached the point that, in January 2020, he declared that his father-in-law’s plan was such a “great deal” which, if rejected by Palestinians, “they’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”

      All of this hubris was joined with many American concessions to Israel, whereby Washington virtually fulfilled all Israeli wishes. The relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem was merely the icing on the cake of a much larger political scheme that included the financial boycott of Palestinians, the cancellation of funds that benefited Palestinian refugees, the recognition of the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel and the support of Tel Aviv’s decision to annex much of the occupied West Bank.

      The then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies had hoped that, as soon as Washington carried out such moves, many other countries would follow, and that, in no time, Palestinians would find themselves friendless, broke and irrelevant.

      This was hardly the case, and what started with a bang ended with a whimper. Though the Biden Administration still refuses to commit to any new ‘peace process’, it has largely avoided engaging in Trump’s provocative politics. Not just that, the Palestinians are anything but isolated, and Arab countries remain united, at least officially, in the centrality of Palestine to their collective political priorities.

      In April 2021, Washington restored funding to the Palestinians, including money allocated to the UN refugees’ agency, UNRWA. It did not do so for charitable reasons, of course, but because it wanted to ensure the allegiance of the Palestinian Authority, and to remain a relevant political party in the region. Even then, the PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, still declared, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazakhstan on October 12, that “we (Palestinians) don’t trust America”.

      Moreover, the annexation scheme, at least officially, did not go through. The rejection of any Israeli steps that could change the legal status of the occupied Palestinian territories proved unpopular with most UN members, including most of Israel’s western allies.

      Australia remained the exception, but not for long. Unsurprisingly, Canberra’s reversal of its earlier decision regarding the status of Jerusalem earned it much criticism in Tel Aviv. Four years following its initial policy shift, Australia shifted yet once more, as it found it more beneficial to realign itself with the position of most world capitals than to that of Washington and Tel Aviv.

      Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ has failed simply because neither Washington nor Tel Aviv had enough political cards to shape a whole new reality in the Middle East. Most parties involved – Trump, Netanyahu, Scott Morrison in Australia, and a few others – were simply playing a political game linked to their own interests at home. Similarly, the currently embattled British Prime Minister Liz Truss is now jumping on the bandwagon of relocating the British embassy to Jerusalem so that she may win the approval of pro-Israel politicians. The move further demonstrates her lack of political experience and, regardless of what Westminster decides to do next, it will unlikely greatly affect the political reality in Palestine and the Middle East.

      In the final analysis, it has become clear that the ‘Deal of the Century’ was not an irreversible historical event, but an opportunistic and thoughtless political process that lacked a deep understanding of history and the political balances that continue to control the Middle East.

      Another important lesson to be gleaned from all of this is that, as long as the Palestinian people continue to resist and fight for their freedom and as long as international solidarity continues to grow around them, the Palestinian cause will remain central to all Arabs and to all conscientious people around the world.

      – Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

      Opec+ row: The US has lost control of its Gulf allies

      13 October 2022 

      David Hearst

      The Biden administration is now paying the price for its chaotic and inconsistent policy on Saudi Arabia

      On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden issued his national security strategy, which boasted, among other things, of his country’s unique capacity to “defend democracy around the world”.

      US President Joe Biden at the White House, on 4 October 2022 (AFP)

      One of the standout phrases of this unashamed piece of geopolitical fiction was this one: “We are forging creative new ways to work in common cause with partners around issues of shared interest.”

      This statement was released just days after Opec+, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, unleashed the biggest shock to oil markets this century by cutting production by two million barrels a day.

      It’s chaos – not in the unstable Middle East, but in the corridors of the National Security Council

      Despite Riyadh’s latest protestations that the decision was based only on “economic considerations”, the move has triggered a tidal wave of anger among Democratic members of Congress, who are now threatening to suspend arms sales to the kingdom for a year. National security adviser Jake Sullivan has also said the White House was looking into a halt to arms sales. As 73 percent of the kingdom’s arms imports come from the US, this is no mere rhetorical threat.

      “If it weren’t for our technicians, their airplanes literally wouldn’t fly… We literally are responsible for their entire air force,” Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California, told reporters. “What galls so many of us in Congress is the ingratitude.”

      Incidentally, the same is true of the British firm BAE Systems, which supplies and maintains aircraft for Saudi Arabia, but the UK government is staying silent. 

      It should not. Because the national security strategy shows that, among other things, the US has lost control of its allies, especially in the Middle East and particularly in the Gulf.

      Courting a ‘pariah’

      To take Biden’s tenure as an illustration, one of the first things he did upon taking office was to appoint Brett McGurk, a diplomat who had served under previous presidents, as his National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East.

      McGurk is famous, or rather infamous, among Sunni political circles in Iraq – let alone pro-Iran Shia ones – for being rather too close to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and latterly its prime minister. McGurk set up the disastrous “fist bump” encounter between Biden and Mohammed bin Salman by negotiating an agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt over the transfer of two uninhabited but strategically placed islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir.

      How, then, could Mohammed bin Salman poke such a large finger in Biden’s eye just before the midterm elections, if McGurk had been doing his job? It’s chaos – not in the unstable Middle East, but in the corridors of the National Security Council.

      Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are pictured in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 16 July 2022 (AFP)
      Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 16 July 2022 (AFP)

      Or take the decisions that Biden made over Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Middle East Eye columnist murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Biden abandoned the principles he touted as a presidential candidate to treat the Saudi crown prince as a pariah, the moment he took office. 

      Upon the publication of a summary of a CIA report on the murder, which concluded that Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing, Biden had an opportunity to put US weight behind a UN investigation into the killing. He notably declined to do so.

      The US announced visa restrictions against 76 Saudis implicated in the plot, but did nothing against the man its intelligence services said was behind it. 

      “The relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time of the so-called Khashoggi ban. “What we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values.”

      Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator, applauded Biden for “trying to thread the needle”, telling the New York Times that the affair was “a classic example of where you have to balance your values and your interests”.

      Not unnaturally, Mohammed bin Salman concluded that he had gotten away with it. Now, Biden is paying the price.

      State of surprise

      The American foreign policy establishment has been, since the end of the Cold War, in a permanent state of surprise.

      There was surprise that it had “lost Russia” at the end of the 1990s; surprise at the devastation caused by its invasion of Iraq; surprise over Vladimir Putin’s 2007 Munich speech, in which the Russian leader called out the US’s “almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations”; surprise at Putin’s intervention in Syria; surprise over the fall of Kabul; and surprise that strategic decisions such as expanding Nato eastwards would ultimately lead to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

      At least the US is showing consistency in its faulty analytics and strategy, and massive blind spots. You can now rely on it to make the wrong choice

      A world power that, until Putin’s intervention in Syria, held a monopoly on the use of international force but has squandered its authority in a series of mainly unforced errors. That is why it can no longer lead the democracies of the world.

      Alienating China at the very time the US needs President Xi Jinping to contain Putin and stop him from using battlefield nukes, which he is quite capable of doing, is perhaps the biggest strategic mistake it is currently making. 

      At least the US is showing admirable consistency in its faulty analytics and strategy, and massive blind spots. You can now rely on it to make the wrong choice. 

      But what of its wayward allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates?

      Saudi miscalculations

      Saudi foreign policy cannot be untangled from the personality of its de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. He is to international relations what a Nintendo game console is to careful reflection. He presses a button and thinks it can happen. He has an idea, and it has to be true.

      I recently met an academic in Tehran who believed Mohammed bin Salman had moved beyond his Game Boy past. He is involved in backchannel negotiations with the Saudis.

      Saudi Arabia: Mohammed bin Salman is now the state

      Read More »

      “A senior Saudi diplomat told me that MBS started as a kid playing video games,” he told me. “Killing Khashoggi, starting a military intervention in Yemen which would last ‘two weeks’, the siege of Qatar, getting rid of [Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri were all video games for him, buttons you can press, enemies disappearing from the screen. Out of necessity, he is becoming more strategic.

      “Strategic maturity does not come from what you would like to have. It comes out of necessity,” the academic added. “I don’t think the Saudis decided to move beyond that strategic relationship with America. The American hand is still strong. But there are differences happening. The Americans are not seen with the same confidence that was seen in Riyadh.

      “Where does it leave the Saudis? The Saudis have been trying to build relations with China and Russia and in the region. Vision 2030 cannot move without calm all around the kingdom. The Saudis see Yemen in two tracks: one, the Saudi-Yemeni track [with the Houthis]; two, the national reconciliation track. But the two rely on each other, and MBS is moving towards a compromise.”

      The Iranian academic admitted that this was music to his ears, which was why he thought his Saudi counterpart was playing it, but nor could he discount the temptation to believe it.

      Machiavellian tutor

      Mohammed bin Salman admires Putin personally. Multiple sources have told me that the inspiration for the Tiger Squad – which killed and dismembered the body of Khashoggi and tried to do the same to Saad al-Jabri, a former minister of state and adviser to deposed crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef – came from the killing of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in London and the attempted poisoning of defector Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

      But beyond that, Mohammed bin Salman sees the limits of the kingdom’s ties to the US. He used former President Donald Trump as his ticket to the top of the Saudi royal family, but now that the Trump clan is – for the moment – out of power, he sees no reason not to court Russia. 

      But he remains impulsive, and his tutor in the modern art of Machiavelli, UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, is more astute.

      Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (R) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are pictured in Abu Dhabi in November 2019 (AFP/Saudi Royal Palace)
      Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi, in November 2019 (AFP/Saudi Royal Palace)

      In distinction to his pupil, Mohammed bin Zayed still sees his country’s growing trade alliance with Israel as his ticket to influencing US policymakers. It was his ambassador in the US, Yousef al-Otaiba – not the Saudi ambassador – who introduced Mohammed bin Salman to the Trump family and to Washington.

      But Mohammed bin Zayed hates being told what to do. One official familiar with relations between the Saudi and Emirati crown princes told me of a plan Mohammed bin Salman once had to run a maglev railway around the Gulf. Only a few of these systems, such as the Shanghai Transrapid, are running in the world, due to the enormous cost of construction. 

      “MBS makes a plan and tells everyone else how much to invest without consulting them,” the official said. “He had an idea to run a maglev train going around the Gulf. Its [cost] was $160bn, because it’s $1bn a mile. Abu Dhabi’s share was huge. They were furious and stopped the plan.

      “MBZ resents being told what to do by MBS, because he thinks he created him. MBS could not conceive of a relationship to him where he is subservient.”

      New era of power projection

      So while Mohammed bin Zayed went to Russia courting Putin, his officials distanced themselves from the Opec+ oil cut. The Financial Times reported that the UAE and Iraq had “expressed misgivings”.

      Foreign policy in the hands of Mohammed bin Zayed is more nuanced than in those of his Saudi protege. This means that every move Mohammed bin Zayed makes is reversible, and therefore tradeable. He calculates each move before he makes it.

      Although the two men look in public to be close to each other, in reality, Mohammed bin Salman is moving faster than his neighbour wants him to. The one thing that Mohammed bin Zayed does not want is for Mohammed bin Salman to become his own man. At the same time, the one thing that Mohammed bin Salman will not tolerate is for anyone else to issue him orders. 

      The US is being tested as much by its allies as by its foes. And for good reason

      It happened once over Yemen, where the announcement of the pullout of UAE troops left the Saudi crown prince on his own.

      Biden and his advisers may be tempted to take a successful pushback of Russian troops in Ukraine as a starting gun for a new era of American power projection around the world – one whose target is China. But even if Putin is turned back in Ukraine, they would be profoundly wrong to do so.

      The US is being tested as much by its allies as by its foes. And for good reason: they sense that the US won’t resume the role of unchallenged leader, which it held briefly for three decades.

      The US has learned no lessons from the fall of Kabul. It reacted to its military defeat in Afghanistan by trading up. A geographically limited conflict in Central Asia was replaced by a potentially much larger conflict with China. Large parts of the world have rightly lost faith in this type of leadership.

      The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

      This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

      David Hearst is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He is a commentator and speaker on the region and analyst on Saudi Arabia. He was the Guardian’s foreign leader writer, and was correspondent in Russia, Europe, and Belfast. He joined the Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

      Read more

      Oil cuts: A perfect storm in US foreign policy 

      The Biden administration’s poor dealings with oil producing countries will have major political and economic ramifications for the west

      October 11 2022

      By MK Bhadrakumar

      The old adage is that a good foreign policy is the reflection of the national policy. In this sense, a perfect storm is brewing on the foreign policy front in the US, triggered by the OPEC decision on 5 October to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day.

      On the one hand, this will drive up the gas price for the domestic consumer and on the other, will expose the US administration’s lop-sided foreign policy priorities. 

      At its most obvious level, OPEC’s move confirms the belief that Washington has lost its leverage with the cartel of oil-producing countries. This is being attributed to the deterioration of the US’ relations with Saudi Arabia during the presidency of Joe Biden. But, fundamentally, a contradiction has arisen between the US interests and the interests of the oil producing countries.

      Petro-diplomacy

      That being said, contradictions are nothing new to the geopolitics of oil: the 1970s and 1980s witnessed two major “oil crises.” One was man-made while the other was an interplay of historical forces — the Yom-Kippur War of 1973 and Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. In the downstream of the former, the Arab nations weaponized oil and proclaimed an oil embargo on western nations which were perceived to have supported Israel in the war.

      The result was that the price of oil rose nearly 300 percent in less than six months, crippling the world’s economy. In the US, President Richard Nixon asked petrol stations not to sell gasoline from Saturday night through until Monday morning to cope with the crisis, which affected industry more than the average consumer.

      In 1979, the Iranian Revolution hit oil production rates and the world’s oil supply shrunk by 4 percent. As panic set in, demand for crude oil shot up and prices more than doubled.

      Biden’s folly

      The Biden administration has tempted fate by underestimating the importance of oil in modern diplomacy, and ignoring that oil will remain the dominant energy source across the world for the foreseeable future, powering everything from cars and domestic heating to huge industry titans and manufacturing plants.

      Even the steady transition to green energy over time is largely dependent on the continued availability of plentiful, cheap fossil fuel. However, the Biden administration overlooked the fact that those who have oil reserves wield a huge amount of power over our oil-centered energy systems, while those who buy oil are, on the contrary, cripplingly dependent on the market and the diplomatic relations which drive it.

      The western powers are far too naive to think that an energy superpower like Russia can be simply “erased” from the ecosystem. An “energy war” with Russia is therefore destined for failure.

      Historically, western nations understood the imperative to maintain good diplomatic relations with oil-producing countries. But Biden threw caution into the wind by insulting Saudi Arabia – when in the run-up to the 2020 presidential elections, he vowed to make the kingdom a “pariah” state.

      Despite his highly-publicized visit to Jeddah in July 2022 to mend fences, the Saudis distrust American intentions, and we are unlikely to see any improvement in US-Saudi relations under Biden’s administration.

      The congruence of interests on the part of the OPEC to keep the prices high is essentially because they need the extra income for their expenditure budget and to maintain a healthy investment level in the oil industry. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April projected Saudi Arabia’s breakeven oil price — the oil price at which it would balance its budget — at $79.20 a barrel.

      Although the Saudi government does not disclose its assumed breakeven oil price, a Reuters report suggested that a preferred price level would be around $90 to $100 a barrel for Brent crude — at which level, it won’t have a huge impact on the global economy. Of course, anything over $100 will be a windfall.

      Dictating who can and can’t sell oil

      Meanwhile, a “systemic” crisis is brewing. It is only natural that OPEC views with skepticism the recent moves by the US and the EU to curtail Russia’s oil exports. The west rationalizes these moves as being aimed at drastically reducing Russia’s revenues from oil exports (which translates into resilience to fight the war in Ukraine.)

      The latest G7 move to put a cap on the prices at which Russia can sell its oil is taking matters to an extreme.

      OPEC regards price caps as a paradigm shift, as it implicitly challenges the cartel’s assumed prerogative to ensure that global oil supply matches demand, where one of the key measures of supply-demand balance is price. Arguably, the west is de facto setting up a rival cartel of oil-consuming countries to regulate the oil market.

      No doubt, the west’s move is precedent-setting — namely, to prescribe for geopolitical reasons the price at which an oil-producing country is entitled to export its oil. If it is Russia today, who is to say it will not be Saudi Arabia or Iraq tomorrow? The G7 decision – if it gets implemented – will erode OPEC’s key role regulating the global oil market.

      OPEC fights back

      As such, OPEC is proactively pushing back with its recent decision to cut down oil production by 2 million barrels per day and keep the oil price above $90 per barrel. OPEC estimates that Washington’s options to counter OPEC+ are limited. Unlike in the past energy history, the US does not have a single ally today inside the OPEC+ group.

      Due to rising domestic demands for oil and gas, it is entirely conceivable that the US exports of both items may be curtailed. If that happens, Europe will be the worst affected. In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo warned that as winter approaches, if energy prices are not brought down, “we are risking a massive deindustrialization of the European continent and the long-term consequences of that might actually be very deep.”

      He added these chilling words: “Our populations are getting invoices which are completely insane. At some point, it will snap. I understand that people are angry . . . people don’t have the means to pay it.” De Croo was warning about the likelihood of social unrest and political turmoil in European countries.

      The economic and political fallout

      Without a doubt, this is a tectonic shift in geopolitics which may probably turn out to be more important than the conflict in Ukraine in the making of the multipolar world order.

      This perfect storm in Biden’s foreign policy can also impact the US midterm elections in November and deliver a Republican majority in the Senate, which could set the tempo for the 2024 US presidential election.

      The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that by turning away from Russian energy, Europe has become a captive market for the US oil companies which are now making “crazy money,” but the high cost of it is draining away the competitiveness of the European economy.

      “Production is collapsing. Deindustrialization is coming. All this will have very, very deplorable consequences for the European continent over probably, at least, the next 10-20 years,” Peskov said.

      Incidentally, Russia stands to gain the most from OPEC+cuts. The expert opinion is that oil prices will move higher from current levels through year-end and next year. That is to say, Russia will not cut any output while the price of oil is set to rise in the coming months.

      As oil prices rise, Russia will not have to cut even a barrel of its production so long as it has a big enough market after December to sell the crude now going to Europe. Again, Moscow, for its part, reiterates that it will not supply oil to countries that would join the G7 price cap. In doing so, it is matching the Biden administration’s non-market instruments.

      The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

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      Rhetoric Versus Reality

      OCTOBER 6, 2022

      Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° 

      Bouthaina Shaaban

      What we are witnessing today is a natural reaction to the level to which Western systems and Western media have used ordinary people and their lives, their well-being, and even their subsistence in order to launch wars.

      When the General Assembly was in session, the Italian elections came to prove that the Western rhetoric at the UN, especially that of Joe Biden and Liz Truss, has nothing to do with the reality and aspirations of their people.

      Western rhetoric tried to show that the West is absolutely united and that the path they are treading is the one that their people want and are determined to tread. However, the Italian elections, preceded by elections in other European countries, proved that Western officials are in one place, and their people, who they are supposed to represent, are in a totally different place.

      A lot of narratives and counter-narratives will prevail in the following weeks about the ascent of the right in Europe. Of course, the ruling oligarchy is trying to describe the right as the far right, the extreme right, perhaps verging on calling the right the terrorist right in an attempt to frighten people from the rise of right movements in Europe. These are nationalist movements saying that the aspirations and the lives of our people should precede liberal doctrine and liberal ideas, which have a frightening social agenda that may prove to be incompatible with the rights and happiness of people.

      We all saw the danger of neo-liberalism, especially in the last two years, trying to define human nature by spreading concepts, arguments, and narratives that have nothing to do with the spontaneous lives and feelings of people everywhere. Besides, Covid-19 proved to most people that the solidarity required from them during wars to pay for armaments and to pay for raging wars anywhere in the globe is not matched by the solidarity these people receive at times of plague. Italy, in particular, was struck hard by Covid-19 but received hardly any help either from the US or from other European countries, with whom it is aligned at times of wars of aggression. In the meantime, it received great help from Cuba, China, and Russia. So the Italian people see and understand what is happening to them.

      This was aggravated by the economic difficulties caused by the proxy war these countries are fighting in Ukraine against Russia and against the emergence of a multipolar world. Western reports show that inflation is rife and people are getting impoverished and suffering from huge expenses exacerbated by an unprecedented rise in prices and fall in their currencies. Why? Because they are required to feed a nonsensical war in Ukraine and destroy a country, which they have nothing to do with, in order to preserve the American hegemony on other countries and other people

      So, for the first time, probably since the second world war, we are witnessing today a real rift between Western people and their true interests on the one hand and those who are supposed to represent them, on the other. In order to fight this trend, and perhaps to corner it, Western media, of course, dictated by Western policymakers, is giving these national trends in most European countries titles that have negative connotations with the aim of frightening people from these movements. They are accusing them of hatred of Muslims, hatred of refugees, wanting to establish Christian states, and being only interested in white and Christian countries. The funny thing about these claims is that they make it seem as if Europe now stands as a paradise for refugees and for Muslims and as if equality is absolutely prevalent and no racism can be traced whatsoever in Europe. When the Ukrainian refugees started to flee into Europe, European commentators and program anchors were saying: those are not Syrians, they are not Iraqis; those are white people with blue eyes. If this is not racism, I don’t know what is?!

      I am not saying that the rising movements in Europe or right-wing movements or national movements in Europe do not have a negative attitude toward Arabs and Muslims, but I am saying even if they have, which is regrettable of course, there will be nothing new in that. We have been suffering from these attitudes for decades. But the difference between what Giorgia Meloni, the new Italian representative, and Liz Truss and Joe Biden, for example, is that the Italians say things as they are; honestly, clearly, and straight to the point; whereas Liz Truss and Joe Biden have a double-faced, hypocritical rhetoric that is supposed to address one reality, while brushing under the carpet a very different reality concerning the lives of people, both in the West and across the world.

      When I read the Western narrative that is meant to frighten everyone from the emerging national movements in Europe, I remembered the importance of naming, and how sometimes naming things or trends or movements is meant to hide the essence of these entities rather than to express their real nature. I remember when I got my MA, I was offered a place to do my Ph.D. at Warwick University in the UK, where I met the head of the English Department. He asked me, “What is the subject you want to work on for a Ph.D.?” I said, “I want to work on the influence of Romantic poets, particularly Percy Bysshe Shelley on the Chartist Movement.” He was shocked and he immediately retorted: “What the hell do the Romantic poets have to do with the Chartist Movement?!” I said, “Well, that is what I want to find out.” The Chartist Movement is the first working-class movement in the world in 1848. It took place about 20 years after the death of Romantic poets; particularly: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.

      Through four years of research in newspapers, books, philosophy, literature, and politics, I discovered that the name romantic has nothing to do with the reality of those poets, who were extremely active in the political domain. Lord Byron was killed fighting a war in Greece to liberate it from the Ottoman occupation, and Shelly spent his life trying to liberate Ireland from British rule. Shelly’s poem “Queen Mab” was called “The Chartist’s Bible.” I am relating this incident to show how important naming is and how much the West, particularly the UK, uses naming things or trends or people in order to project the reality it wants rather than the authentic reality that these names should truly reflect.

      The war that is still raging in Ukraine is causing the impoverishment of Western people; it is causing great hardships for the majority of Western people. But there are beneficiaries of this war: arms industrialists and senior officials in all domains; whether army, intelligence, or politics… they are the ones who are increasing and multiplying their financial fortunes. Thus, what we are beginning to witness with the rise of the right movements or national movements in Europe are the first indications of real rebellion against these unfair and authoritarian autocratic systems that are calling themselves democracies. The upcoming winter may generate different means that people in Western countries are going to use in order to reach their objectives.

      Besides Covid-19 and besides the war in Ukraine, I think that there is a third factor that is motivating people to think deeply about their lives, about the future of their children and their grandchildren. The third factor is the narrative of neo-liberalism that is ignoring all real issues – issues of families, working women, elderly people, poverty, education, childhood, and health – and focusing instead on issues that are almost invented and fabricated by a certain interest group for reasons that have nothing to do with the real lives of people. We all followed the huge concentration in the Western narratives on gay and lesbian relations and same-sex marriages, which in essence contradict human nature. Perhaps there are some people who find themselves in a different boat from most people, but to project this as a necessity and a subject to be forced on the throats of nine-year-olds at schools is something sinister and vicious.

      There is no doubt that the destruction of the family nucleus in the West is a huge social problem that most people are suffering from, while yearning to restore the feeling of family and the normal feeling of affection and care among family members. This should be the case instead of putting such a huge stress on the individual and ignoring that the individual is always much happier and performs much better when he/she is raised by a loving family and a loving community and by a social matrix that provides him/her with all the support, love, and affection that help these individuals excel in their lives.

      So, what we are witnessing today is a natural reaction to the level to which Western systems and Western media have used ordinary people and their lives, their well-being, and even their subsistence in order to launch wars and make the arms industry the best-thriving industry in the West, through conquering other countries and stealing their resources.

      The antithesis for all this is what we read and hear of narratives coming from the East; from China, Russia, Iran, the BRIKS, member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, especially the narrative expressed and confirmed by Xi Jinping over the last decade that we are all living on one planet and that we have to share the resources of this planet and jointly be responsible for the welfare of this planet, without any of us trying to impose things on the other. We have to establish security for all, integrity for all, and prosperity for all because we all share this earth and we should join ranks in order to make sure that people on this earth live well and have the right opportunities to express themselves, build their future, and work hand in hand for the welfare of everybody everywhere.

      Of course, this does not suit systems that encourage apartheid and occupation in Palestine and elsewhere… this doesn’t suit racist systems that see white-skinned men and women as superior to black- or brown-skinned people and want to use brown or black-skinned people as slaves; i.e. modern slaves for accumulating more wealth at the expense of other people and other countries.

      So, what most people in the world aspire to is a welfare system; a truly fair system. The people crave for justice and not for claims of democracies that have no positive effect on their lives. Democracies had been used as slogans in order to suppress both peoples of these countries and people of other countries as well. Perhaps the cycle of history has reached a point where change is absolutely imperative. People have reached a conviction that this road, which has been charted by Western powers, is an extremely dangerous road, and has led to a dead-end. So, we better stop here and make a U-turn in order to ensure that we restore the balance; the logical balance to human lives.

      OPEC+ confirms oil production cut

      5 Oct, 2022 15:02

      The biggest output reduction since early 2020 has come despite US pressure to pump more

      © Getty Images / Mlenny

      OPEC+ member states have agreed an oil production cut of two million barrels per day, a statement published on the group’s website reads.

      The reduction, which is the largest cut since early 2020, will take effect in November, the cartel announced on Wednesday.

      According to OPEC, the step comes “in light of the uncertainty that surrounds the global economic and oil market outlooks, and the need to enhance the long-term guidance for the oil market, and in line with the successful approach of being proactive, and preemptive, which has been consistently adopted” by the group.

      The cuts are much harsher than most experts had anticipated earlier this week, and are now expected to stem the latest drop in global prices for crude.

      Energy ministers from the OPEC+ group led by Saudi Arabia and its allied non-members, including Russia, have held a meeting at the cartel’s Vienna headquarters on Wednesday for the first time since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

      READ MORE: Washington ‘panicking’ over potential Russian and Saudi oil cut – CNN

      The decision on output reduction comes despite intense lobbying by the White House to keep oil production at current levels or higher – something US President Joe Biden had hoped to secure during his visit to Saudi Arabia in July.

      On Tuesday, CNN cited an unnamed senior official as saying that Washington had mobilized all available resources ahead of the oil cartel gathering, with the Biden administration “having a spasm and panicking.” The efforts were described as “taking the gloves off.” Some of the talking points drafted by the US administration suggested the potential cut would be viewed as “a hostile act” and a “total disaster.

      Meanwhile, most officials from OPEC+ member states said any reduction would be a “technical, not a political decision” and cited a “risk of recession” as contributing to the cuts, as they entered the OPEC headquarters in Vienna.

      Suhail Al Mazrouei, the energy minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said that OPEC+ is a “technical organization,” when asked whether the proposal would potentially damage relations with the US.

      For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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      Friends of ‘Israel’ Admit Its Defeat in Maritime Border Issue, Say War Still Possible

      October 5, 2022

      By Staff

      As the dispute on the maritime border between Lebanon and the occupied Palestine edges its final phase, the American friends of ‘Israel’ started lamenting that the final proposal is in favor of Lebanon in general, Hezbollah resistance movement in particular, and claiming that it is depriving the occupying entity from all of the naval resources.

      Those comments also echo former ‘Israeli’ premier and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who started attacking his rival, Zionist PM Yair Lapid, whom he accused of giving away the ‘Israeli’-occupied Palestinian maritime territory to Hezbollah.

      In the same respect, former US ambassador to the ‘Israeli’-occupied territories, David Friedman, commented on the final process in a tweet, in which he mourned that:

      “We spent years trying to broker a deal between ‘Israel’ and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. Got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for ‘Israel.’ No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to ‘Israel.’ Would love to understand how we got here.”

      For his part, Former US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told i24NEWS that the chances of an ‘Israeli’-Hezbollah confrontation “still remain very high” despite the advancement of the US-brokered maritime border delimitation issue.

      Schenker belittled the proposal, saying it “does nothing to lower or alleviate tensions along the blue line where Hezbollah is digging in.”

      The New Jersey native served in the position during the administration of former US president Donald Trump from 2019 to 2021, during which he was assigned as the point man on the ‘Israeli’ occupied Palestine-Lebanon maritime border negotiations.

      Seemingly admitting his failure to finish the issue, whose draft proposal was formed under the mediation of the State Department’s senior advisor for energy security, Amos Hochstein, Schenker also said that it appeared that ‘Israel’ agreed to give the Lebanese “100 percent” of what they wanted, while claiming that the Qana gas field that would be under control of Lebanon contains “very little reserves.”

      He said that the administration of US President Joe Biden can claim a foreign policy win with the deal and a success in promoting regional stability, while cautioning that questions still remain about long-term calm.

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      ”Biden” Fulfilled a Promise on Nord Stream 2

      October 01, 2022

      For those who haven’t seen this footage being reposted the past few days, ”Biden” promised to put an end to Nord Stream 2 on February 7, 2022.

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      The return of the two-state solution illusion

       SEPTEMBER 28, 2022 

      JOE BIDEN AND ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER YAIR LAPID SIGN THE JERUSALEM US-ISRAEL STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP JOINT DECLARATION, JULY 14, 2022 (PHOTO: KOBI GIDEON, GPO)

      By Mitchell Plitnick

      Source

      For Democrats in the United States and the political “centrists” in Israel—represented by Joe Biden and Yair Lapid, respectively—the loss of credibility for the two-state solution has meant losing more and more support for Israeli policies. As the respected polling site 538.com noted recently, among many other sources, younger Democrats are increasingly supportive of Palestinians and less so of Israeli policies. 

      These facts explain the theater we have witnessed in recent days at the United Nations General Assembly and in the American media scene, where the lone Palestinian woman ever elected to Congress has come under unrelenting attack from her own party as well as the opposition. 

      At the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, Biden devoted one brief mention to the question of Palestine, but what he did say was telling. “And we will continue to advocate for lasting negotiating peace between the Jewish and democratic state of Israel and the Palestinian people,” Biden told the Assembly. “The United States is committed to Israel’s security, full stop.  And a negotiated two-state solution remains, in our view, the best way to ensure Israel’s security and prosperity for the future and give the Palestinians the state which — to which they are entitled — both sides to fully respect the equal rights of their citizens; both people enjoying equal measure of freedom and dignity.”

      While stumbling over his words, and certainly unintentionally, Biden said the quiet part out loud. The U.S. will advocate for lasting negotiations, the hallmark of the Oslo process; endless negotiations that lead nowhere while Israeli settlements spread farther across the West Bank, Gaza slowly dies of poverty, and the status quo in East Jerusalem gradually fades into Jewish dominance. And above all, Israeli “security” is guarded “full stop,” and if there is any room left for any Palestinian rights, those will be considered according to Israel’s wishes. 

      Acting Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke at more length about a two-state solution, but said little more. Spending most of his time urging the world to abandon diplomacy with Iran and instead launch a war, presumably to change the regime there, Lapid stated that “An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children.”

      Lapid’s speech was littered with falsehoods. He went on at length about how Israel is victimized by “fake news,” citing an incident in May 2021 where a photo of a toddler who was said to have been killed in an Israeli strike on Gaza circulated on social media. The post was a fake and was quickly debunked. But Lapid failed to mention that, while the toddler, referred to as Malak Al Tanani, was, indeed, made up, there was an entire family of Tananis–Ra’fat Tanani, 38, his pregnant wife Rawiye, 35, and their children Ismail, 6, Ameer, 5, Adham, 4, and Mohammad, 3—who were killed in an Israeli strike on May 13, 2021. A fact-check by the Agence France-Presse confirmed both the fake photo and the real family. B’Tselem also posted a video in May 2022 interviewing a relative of the Tanani family that was killed. 

      Having established, through misleading statements and outright dissembling, Israel as a “victim,” Lapid then made sure to let the assembly know that, while he was coming out in support of more talks, and the idea of a two-state solution, Israel would do nothing to make that solution, or any other, a real possibility. 

      “The burden of proof is not on us. We have already proved our desire for peace. Our peace treaty with Egypt has been fully implemented for 43 years now. Our peace treaty with Jordan for 28 years. We are a country that keeps its word and fulfills agreements,” Lapid said

      Aside from the fact that Lapid omits the crucial point that these peace agreements have been enforced by billions of dollars of U.S. aid to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, Lapid elides the many times Israel has refused to agree to various conditions or interim deals, or has made demands on Palestinians it knew they could not accept

      The absence of a single word about what Israel or the United States would do to achieve freedom for Palestinians or to advance any solution, two state or otherwise, to the ongoing conditions of apartheid and dispossession is unsurprising if one considers that the goal was not to appease the Palestinians, but to address domestic constituencies. 

      Lapid surely knows he was lying when he said that “Despite all the obstacles, still today a large majority of Israelis support the vision of this two-state solution.” In fact, a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that only 31% of Israeli Jews and only 60% of Palestinian and other Arab citizens of Israel support the two-state solution. 

      But his own constituency in the Yesh Atid party supports such negotiations. More importantly, he wants to make sure he has the loyalty of the small Labor and Meretz parties, both of which support the two-state solution, against his center-right rival, Benny Gantz. Right now, all the polls show that neither Lapid nor Gantz will come close to being able to assemble the coalition of 61 seats needed to win the upcoming election, while their far-right competitor, Benjamin Netanyahu, has better, although also far from certain, prospects of reaching that mark. 

      Lapid also hopes to bolster his chances by demonstrating his compatibility with Biden and the Democrats, and they are more than willing to oblige. Targeting Rep. Rashida Tlaib plays a key role in both bolstering Lapid as a bulwark against Netanyahu—whom Democrats would not want to see back in office, given his very close ties to the Republican Party—and in trying to smother the growing support for Palestine within the party. 

      According to a poll conducted by Pew Research back in March, 61% of Americans between 18 and 29 years of age have a favorable opinion of Palestinians. Among those aged 30-49 it is 55%, and even among older voters, 45-47% have a favorable opinion of Palestinians. While many of these people also hold positive views of Israel, American sympathy for Palestinians has grown immensely over the past two decades, when only 16% of voters viewed Palestinians positively. 

      This sits poorly with mainstream Democrats and their corporate, and especially, pro-Israel funders. So, when Tlaib made a self-evident and fact-based statement, Democrats joined Republicans in piling on her and branding her an antisemite. 

      Tlaib, of course, stated that you cannot be progressive and support Israel’s apartheid government. The response was as vicious as it was disingenuous, with the usual anti-Palestinian hatemongers like Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADLAIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, and a long list of Democratic members of Congress stumbling over each other to see who could come up with the most scurrilous and spurious accusations against Tlaib, who did no more than point out what so many international, Palestinian, and even Israeli human rights groups have proven.

      It’s no coincidence that these attacks came at the same time as the UNGA speeches. Tlaib was very careful to point her finger only at the Israeli government and its policies; at no time did she ever hint at the question of Israel’s existence nor of the presence of Jews in the land. Indeed, even the avowedly Zionist group Americans for Peace Now rose to Tlaib’s defense, splitting with J Street, which shamefully supported the attacks on Tlaib.

      The two-state solution and the myth that you can support apartheid and still be true to progressive values go hand in hand. Consider the words Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz used in her hateful rant against Tlaib. “The outrageous progressive litmus test on Israel by Rashida Tlaib is nothing short of antisemitic. Proud progressives do support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.”

      Rep. Jerry Nadler elaborated further. “I fundamentally reject the notion that one cannot support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state and be a progressive. I proudly embrace both of these political positions and identities, even as I have criticized some of the policies and actions of democratically-elected Israeli governments over time. I would happily put my progressive record and credentials up against anyone’s. It is both wrong and self-defeating for progressive leaders to abide such an offensive litmus tests.”

      The legitimacy of many of the Congressmembers claiming the “progressive” label is clearly questionable, but Wasserman-Schultz, joined by other Democrats, calling Tlaib antisemitic for expressing support for a view that Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watchthe United Nationsal-Haq, and B’Tselem have all expressed and backed up with extensive research is cynically perverse, whether you think Tlaib is right or wrong. 

      Both she and Nadler call Tlaib’s statement a “litmus test,” as if the question is not whether Israel practices apartheid, but whether supporting it anyway is acceptable within the bounds of anything that can be labeled “progressive politics.” 

      Nadler also talks about his occasional criticism of “Israeli policies,” as did many of the Democrats who ganged up on Tlaib. How must those words look to a Palestinian in Gaza or Masafer Yatta, or to a Palestinian-American who might be a constituent of one of these Democrats who express such passionate solidarity with Israelis and such stony indifference, if not outright hostility, to Palestinians? 

      For years, the idea of a two-state solution in Palestine and Israel has been exposed as a pipe dream. However viable it may once have been, more and more people have come to realize in recent years that it simply isn’t a realistic option anymore. 

      Some years ago, a well-informed colleague observed to me that the two-state solution is never impossible, but the costs—fiscally, politically, diplomatically—just keep getting higher. He was right, of course. It is never physically impossible to dismantle Israel’s settlements, sever the existing infrastructure in the West Bank from Israel, work out realistic borders, open Gaza, and pour the many billions of dollars into Palestine that would be required after seven decades and counting of occupation to build a truly viable state. 

      It’s all possible, but the cost would be enormous, and the price—allowing the option of refugees returning to their homes, allowing Palestine the means to defend itself like any other country, compensating Palestinians for their dispossession and suffering, all on top of reining in the most radical of the nationalist settlers, resettling the hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the West Bank, shifting borders to accommodate a connection between Gaza and West Bank, sharing water resources equitably, and a hundred other details—is far higher than anything Israel would consider in its wildest dreams. 

      But that doesn’t mean the two-state solution isn’t seen as crucial for Israel and the United States. Its implementation may be undesirable for Israel, but the idea of it serves a crucial purpose: it is the very lifeblood of the myth that one can support a “Jewish and democratic” apartheid state and reconcile that with liberal or progressive values. That allows them to characterize their “disagreements” with Israel as being about specific policies, not an apartheid system at the very heart of Israel’s character. 

      Apartheid is not a policy; it is an institution. It is a political and legal system. It is a crime under international law. It is not merely one decision to demolish a home, to detain a Palestinian without charge, to beat an elderly man at the al-Aqsa Compound, or to launch one missile at a Gaza apartment building. 

      That system is not just incompatible with progressive values, it’s incompatible even with classical Liberalism. To maintain the self-deception many Democratic supporters of Israel, in and out of politics, need for their consciences, they need to believe that there is a genuine striving for a Palestinian state that can deliver rights to those living under Israeli rule right now. 

      But it’s an illusion. Israel has been disrupting the possibility of it from the beginnings of Oslo through today, with massive settlement expansion, the isolation and starvation of Gaza, and the gradual erosion of the long-standing agreements on the holy sites in Jerusalem. 

      Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are desperately trying to save this phony duality, this illusion that you can support an Israeli ethno-state that, by definition, cannot be a state of all its citizens and must, by its nature discriminate against Palestinians and still call yourself a progressive without irony. 

      No one would suggest you can be progressive but be against a woman’s right to decide about what to do with her own body. Nor can you be progressive and oppose LGBTQIA* rights. Nor can you support racial discrimination, or autocracy. 

      Similarly, no matter how loudly you insist otherwise, you cannot be progressive and be in support of an apartheid regime. The illusion of a two-state solution that hasn’t been a viable possibility for many years doesn’t change that. It only reinforces one discriminatory illusion with another. 

      Quick notes from Andrei + open thread

      September 27, 2022

      Dear friends

      Hurricane Ian approaches the Florida Peninsula

      Looks like Hurricane Ian will be even dangerous for the Florida East coast.  So I don’t know how soon we will lose power.  I also am too preoccupied with preparations to write much today.

      But the few headlines below are, I think, quite amazing.

      The thing which I find absolutely hilarious is that the Europeans DO speak of sabotage but DO NOT even mention who the obvious culprit is.  So, especially for the braindead Europeans, I have this: a video from President Brandon himself promising to stop NS2 if Russia “invades” the Ukraine.

      Needless to say, I totally agree with Lira – the Anglos are willing to completely destroy Europe to maintain their dominion over the EU.

      And to my great sadness, I have to say that the people of Europe RICHLY deserve what is coming their way.  Simply put: if you have no self-respect, why would anybody have any respect for you?

      Okay, singing off for the time being.

      Conditions permitting, I will try to drop by as often as I can.  But the next 3 days will be very tough.

      Kind regards

      Andrei

      Biden: Nuclear war cannot be won, must never be fought

      21 Sep 2022 20:53

      Source: Agencies

      By Al Mayadeen English 

      The US President claims that the United States does not seek conflict with China or a new Cold War.

      US President Joe Biden during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York (Reuters)

        US President Joe Biden accused Wednesday Russia of violating the core tenets of membership in the United Nations over the war in Ukraine, claiming that Moscow was making “irresponsible” threats to use nuclear weapons.

        During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Biden criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war.

        “Again, just today, President Putin has made overt nuclear threats against Europe, in a reckless disregard for the responsibilities of the nonproliferation regime,” Biden said.

        “A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase a sovereign state from the map. Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations Charter,” the US President claimed.

        Earlier, Putin announced a partial mobilization in Russia as the war in Ukraine has now lasted for almost seven months.

        “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” Biden said.

        The US President claimed that Russia was not threatened by any side and that Moscow had sought conflict, vowing that the United States would stand in solidarity with Ukraine.

        US does not seek ‘Cold War’ or ‘conflict’ with China

        Regarding the ongoing tensions with China, Biden told the United Nations that the United States does not seek “conflict” with China or a new Cold War.

        “Let me be direct about the competition between the United States and China. As we manage shifting geopolitical trends, the United States will conduct itself as a reasonable leader,” he said.

        He also claimed that “we do not seek conflict. We do not seek a Cold War. We do not ask any nation to choose between the United States or any other partner.”

        Nuclear wars ‘cannot be won,’ US ready to negotiate arms treaties

        In a different context, Biden warned that nuclear wars “cannot be won” and claimed that Washington is ready to pursue arms control measures.

        “A nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought,” Biden told the UN General Assembly, saying that Moscow made “irresponsible nuclear threats.”

        “The United States is ready to pursue critical armed control measures,” said Biden, vowing that Washington will not allow Tehran to obtain atomic weapons, which the Iranian President denied seeking only a few hours earlier at the same session. 

        Americans ‘stand with the brave women of Iran’

        Regarding the case of young Iranian journalist, Mahsa Amini, Biden claimed that Americans “stand with the brave women of Iran.”

        “Today we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” the US President told the UNGA, completely disregarding Iranian reports and CCTV footage which clearly show that Amini was not touched by the police officer and that her death was the result of a medical condition she is suffering from. 

        Biden supports expanding UN Security Council

        Furthermore, Biden indicated that Washington supports the expansion of the UN Security Council to better represent areas including Africa and Latin America.

        “The United States supports increasing the number of both permanent and non-permanent representatives of the council,” he said, adding that “this includes permanent seats for those nations we’ve long supported — permanent seats for countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean. The United States is committed to this vital work.”

        Biden calls for the extension of grain deal

        During his speech, Biden said, “The United States will work with every nation, including our competitors, to solve global problems like climate change. Climate diplomacy is not a favor to the United States or any other nation and walking away hurts the entire world.”

        Biden said that US sanctions allow Russia to export food and fertilizer, claiming that it was “Russia’s war that is worsening food insecurity.”

        He also called for the extension of the July grain deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, which allowed Ukraine to resume Black Sea food and fertilizer exports.

        Read more: Iran that was a victim of terrorism became a haven of security: Raisi

        MORE ON THE TOPIC:

        How the US controls Lebanon’s energy supply

        Far from helping Lebanon solve its acute energy crisis, the US is leveraging Egypt’s gas supply to pressure Beirut over US-brokered maritime border talks with Israel

        August 19 2022

        By Yeghia Tashjian

        Consider the chaos in Europe today caused by a sudden reduction in Russian gas supplies.

        Now imagine the catastrophic state of Lebanon’s energy sector after two years of fuel shortages, limited foreign currency with which to purchase new, urgent supplies, and US-sanctions on Syria impeding Lebanon’s only land route for imports.

        US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea intervenes in all of Beirut’s energy decisions Photo Credit: The Cradle

        After decades of stalled reforms, Lebanon is running out of time and money.

        In June 2021, a lifeline was handed to the country in a deal struck with Baghdad to supply two Lebanese power stations with Iraqi fuel. The agreement, which was due to expire in September 2022, has recently been extended for one year.

        But while there are short and long term solutions available to remedy Lebanon’s energy crisis, the two main options are both monopolized by US policymakers with stakes in regional geopolitics.

        The first option involves transporting fuel to Lebanon via the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP), whereby Egypt will supply gas through Syria. Although the proposal was originally an American suggestion, this fuel route requires US sanctions waivers that have not yet been approved by Washington.

        The second option is for Lebanon to extract its own gas supply from newly discovered fields off its coastline. This too depends entirely on US-mediated, indirect negotiations with Israel to resolve a maritime dispute over the Karish gas field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

        Accessing its own gas supplies will go a long way to guarantee Lebanon’s own energy security, while providing the state with much needed revenues from exports.

        However, the success of either project depends largely on the status of US-Lebanese relations at any given moment. The two options are also inextricably linked to each other: Washington is pressuring Beirut to compromise with Tel Aviv on the maritime border dispute before agreeing to “green light” Cairo’s gas exports via Syria, which is in turn heavily sanctioned by the US’s “Caesar Act.”

        While Washington is playing a leverage game, Lebanon is slowly collapsing.

        Gas from Egypt

        Under the agreement signed with Cairo, 650 million cubic meters of natural gas will be exported annually via the AGP. As it turns out, the actual supply of gas, as per the World Bank’s conditions, awaits US approval to exclude Egypt from sanctions imposed on the passage of goods through Syria.

        The AGP is already a functioning pipeline that has supplied Lebanon with Egyptian gas in the past, but operations were halted in 2011 when Syrian pipelines were damaged during the country’s armed conflict.

        Under the deal, Egypt will pump gas through the pipeline to supply Lebanon’s northern Deir Ammar power plant, which can then produce 450 megawatts of electricity – adding four hours of additional electricity supply per day. It is a modest but necessary improvement over the barely two hours of electricity currently provided by the state.

        The World Bank has pledged to finance the deal on the condition that the Lebanese government implements much needed reforms in the electricity sector, which has created tens of billions of dollars in public debt.

        The Syrian equation       

        For the Syrian government, the arrangement is perceived as a diplomatic victory as it confers ‘legitimacy’ to the state and represents a step toward its international rehabilitation. The AGP deal was also hailed by Syrian Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources Bassam Tohmy as one of the most important joint Arab cooperation projects.

        According to Will Todman, a research fellow in the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the agreement is “a win for the [Bashar al-]Assad government. The deal represents the first major move toward Syria’s economic integration with the region since Arab Spring protests shook Syria in March 2011, halting previous integration efforts.”

        However, due to US Caesar Law restrictions, no concrete progress has been made over the past months. Amman and Cairo have both requested guarantees from Washington that they will not be subject to sanctions – to no avail. US President Joe Biden has yet to make a final decision on whether the plan will be considered a violation of sanctions on Syria.

        Linking the Egypt deal with Israel talks

        In order to create a certain interdependency in the region to minimize the possibility of new conflicts with Israel, the US is attempting to link the Egyptian gas deal with the ongoing, indirect, maritime negotiations between Tel Aviv and Beirut.

        Amos Hochstein, the State Department senior adviser on energy security, who acts as chief mediator on the disputed maritime border between Lebanon and Israel, said after arriving in Beirut on 14 June that the US side will look at the final agreement between Egypt and Lebanon to evaluate the sanctions compliance of the natural gas project.

        This means that Washington is linking the fate of the gas deal to the maritime dispute with Israel to exert additional pressure on Lebanon.

        On 14 October, 2020 – just two months after the Beirut port blast which severed the primary transportation route for seaborne Lebanese imports – Lebanon and Israel began the long-awaited US-mediated talks to demarcate their maritime borders, under the supervision of the UN.

        The framework agreement announced by both countries at the time was the most serious attempt to resolve the maritime dispute and secure gas drilling operations through diplomatic means.

        However, there are many challenges that can slow or even derail these negotiations.

        According to Lebanese estimates, the country has 96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and 865 million barrels of oil offshore, and is in urgent need to begin drilling to save its ailing economy.

        Israel is also in hurry to resolve this dispute as it wants to finalize the negotiations before September 2022, when the Karish gas rig is expected to begin production. The concern is that if a deal is not signed by then, Hezbollah may take action to halt Israel’s extraction altogether – until Lebanon is able to extract its own fuel from those waters.

        Resolution or conflict

        Last month, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah reiterated warnings against Tel Aviv in the event that Lebanon is prevented from extracting its own resources in the Med. “When things reach a dead-end, we will not only stand in the face of Karish… Mark these words: we will reach Karish, beyond Karish, and beyond, beyond Karish,” he cautioned.

        Initially, Lebanon took a maximalist position on its maritime borders with Israel: the main dispute was around the percentage both countries should share in the disputed 860 square kilometers, which covers Lebanon’s offshore gas Blocks 8, 9 and 10.

        It is worth mentioning that Lebanon does not enter these negotiations from a position of strength and is in dire economic need to unlock foreign aid and begin the flow of potential gas revenues.

        Meanwhile, the arrival this summer of the British-based Energean, an oil and gas exploration company, which will begin a drilling operation close to the Karish gas field, has sparked tensions between both countries, prompting US envoy Hochstein to race back to the region on 13 June.

        In order to provide Lebanon with some much-needed leverage and accelerate negotiations, Hezbollah dispatched three drones towards the Karish gas field on 2 July. The operation sought several results: to test Israeli military responses to the drones, to scare off the private company contractors working on the rig, and to motivate both Tel Aviv and Washington to step up and strike a deal.

        The operation achieved its goals. Israel’s military now can’t rule out the possibility that the Lebanese resistance movement will launch additional attacks on the gas field in the near future, or provoke Israel in a different manner – if the maritime dispute is not ironed out, and soon.

        Beyond the Mediterranean Sea

        The negotiations have also been impacted by international developments, chiefly, the war in Ukraine and the growing energy crisis in Europe. Sweeping western economic sanctions on Moscow’s economic interests have dried up Russian exports to the continent, driving Europe to seek alternative sources of energy, few of which are readily available.

        In May 2022, the US and EU unveiled a plan to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and in June, the EU and Israel signed an agreement to export Israeli gas to Europe. These external factors have further motivated the US and Israel to hasten the negotiation process with Lebanon, all of which are overshadowed by the aforementioned US pressure on the Lebanese government.

        Energy expert Laury Haytayan believes that linking Lebanon to regional energy projects makes it harder for Lebanon to go to war with Israel. Haytayan told The Cradle: “Lebanon needs gas, Israel needs stability, and the US wants to give both what they want.”

        It is important to recognize that a final maritime demarcation agreement also means defusing the tensions on the Lebanese-Israeli border, which may require a broader US-Iranian agreement, something that is unlikely in the short term.

        If the gas deal is successful and the US approves the Egyptian energy exports, the move will only increase US leverage over Lebanon when it comes to future negotiations on energy security.

        It is in Lebanon’s interest to ensure that one party, the US, does not continue to hold all the cards related to its vital fuel needs. A recent offer from Iran to supply the country with monthly free fuel was tacitly accepted by Lebanon’s prime minister and energy minister, but needs work. Other states have offered to build power generation plants to enhance the nation’s infrastructure and efficiency.

        But with Lebanon so deeply affected by Washington’s whims – and punishments – it isn’t at all certain that the country can steer itself to these more independent options.

        The US and Israel have never been this highly incentivized to solve the maritime dispute. If the deal fails, Hezbollah may proceed with military action, especially before the conclusion of political ally President Michel Aoun’s term this Fall.

        Furthermore, the gas issue may turn into a contentious domestic political issue ahead of Israel’s November parliamentary elections. In that instance too, a military conflict between Israel and Hezbollah may be triggered.

        The only solution is to strike a deal, get gas flowing, and avert war. Will saner minds prevail, or will the region’s high-stakes geopolitical competition continue to escalate blindly? More importantly, can Washington bear to allow Lebanon the breathing space after three years of severe economic pressure to control Beirut’s political decisions?

        The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

        Price: US to study Iran response, sanctions were not helpful

        August 16, 2022 

        Source: Agencies

        By Al Mayadeen English 

        Salma Al-Shehab, a student at Leeds University and a mother of two, is charged with following and retweeting dissidents and activists on Twitter by Riyadh’s so-called “special terrorist court”.

        Salma al-Shehab, a student at Leeds University and a mother of 2

        A Saudi university student who had returned home for a vacation was sentenced to 34 years in prison for following and retweeting dissidents and activists on her personal Twitter account. 

        The sentence was handed down by Saudi Arabia’s so-called “special terrorist court” just weeks after US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Kingdom, which human rights activists warned could give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) a green light to intensify his crackdown on dissidents and other pro-democracy activists.

        See more: Biden claims human rights on agenda during Saudi Arabia visit

        The case poses evidence of how MBS has targeted Twitter users in his repression campaign, while also controlling a significant indirect stake in the US social media company through Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

        In MBS’ playbook, Tweeting is a crime

        Salma Al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two, aged four and six, was initially sentenced to three years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security.” 

        However, an appeals court handed down the new sentence on Monday – 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban – after a public prosecutor requested that the court consider other alleged crimes.

        Shehab was not a prominent or particularly vocal Saudi activist, neither in Saudi Arabia nor in the United Kingdom. 

        On Instagram, where she had only 159 followers, she described herself as a dental hygienist, medical educator, PhD student at Leeds University, lecturer at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, wife, and mother to her sons, Noah and Adam.

        Her Twitter profile listed 2,597 followers. She regularly shared pictures of her young children and tweets about Covid burnout.

        Shehab rarely retweeted posts from Saudi dissidents in exile calling for the release of political prisoners in the Kingdom.

        The PhD student appeared to support the case of Loujain Al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi feminist activist who was previously imprisoned and tortured for advocating for women’s driving rights, and is now subject to a travel ban.

        Someone who knew Shehab said she couldn’t stand injustice. She was described as well-educated and a voracious reader who had moved to the UK in 2018 or 2019 to pursue her PhD at the University of Leeds. 

        She had returned to Saudi Arabia for a vacation in December 2020, intending to bring her two children and husband with her. Saudi authorities then summoned her for questioning, and she was eventually arrested and tried for her tweets.

        Of secret torture and oppressed revelations  

        In further detail, a person who followed her case revealed that Shehab had been held in solitary confinement at times and had sought to privately tell the judge details about how she had been treated that she did not want to reveal in front of her father during the trial.

        She was not permitted to communicate the message to the judge, as per the source. Three judges signed the appeals verdict, but their signatures were illegible.

        See more: Human Rights Watch Report Reveals New Details About Torture in Saudi Prisons

        On its account, Twitter declined to comment on the case and did not respond to specific questions about Saudi Arabia’s influence over the company, according to the Guardian.

        It is worth noting that Twitter previously did not respond to questions about why a senior aide to MBS, Bader Al-Asaker, was allowed to keep a verified Twitter account with more than 2 million followers, despite US government allegations that he orchestrated an illegal infiltration of the company, leading to the identification and imprisonment of anonymous Twitter users by the Saudi government. A former Twitter employee has been convicted in the case by a US court.

        The Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns more than 5% of Twitter through his investment company, Kingdom Holdings, is one of Twitter’s most significant investors. 

        While bin Talal remains the company’s chairman, his authority over the company was called into question by the US media, including the Wall Street Journal, after it was revealed that the Saudi royal – a cousin of the crown prince – had been held captive at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh for 83 days. 

        See more: MBS after Saudi royals, again

        The incident was part of a larger purge led by MBS against other members of the royal family and businessmen, which involved allegations of torture, coercion, and the expropriation of billions of dollars from Saudi Arabian coffers.

        In May, Kingdom Holding announced that it had sold approximately 17% of its company to the PIF, of which bin Salman is chairman, for $1.5 billion. As a result, the Saudi government is a significant indirect investor in Twitter. According to Twitter, investors have no influence over the company’s day-to-day operations.

        “MBS’s ruthless repression machine”

        The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights condemned Shehab’s sentence, which it said was the longest ever imposed on an activist. It was noted that many female activists had been subjected to unfair trials that resulted in arbitrary sentences, as well as “severe torture,” including sexual harassment.

        Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi living in exile whose sister and brother are detained in Saudi Arabia, said the Shehab case demonstrated Saudi Arabia’s view that dissent equals terrorism.

        “Salman’s draconian sentencing in a terrorism court over peaceful tweets is the latest manifestation of MBS’s ruthless repression machine,” he said.

        “Just like [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s assassination, her sentencing is intended to send shock waves inside and outside the kingdom – dare to criticize MBS and you will end up dismembered or in Saudi dungeons.”

        While the case has received little attention, the Washington Post published a sarcastic editorial about Saudi Arabia’s treatment of the Leeds student on Tuesday, stressing that her case demonstrated that the “commitments” the US President received on  reforms were “a farce.”

        “At the very least, Mr. Biden must now speak out forcefully and demand that Ms. Shehab be released and allowed to return to her sons, 4 and 6 years old, in the United Kingdom, and to resume her studies there,” it read.

        Read more: Former Saudi Spymaster: MBS Is a “Psychopath” Who Planned to Kill King Abdullah

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        Fresh Zionist Attacks on Gaza Come Out of US President’s Regional Tour: Iran’s Veep

         August 8, 2022

        First Vice-President of Iran Mohammad Mokhber underscored that the new attacks by the Zionist regime on the Gaza Strip is a result of a recent trip by US President Joe Biden to the West Asia region.

        Speaking on the sidelines of the Ashura day mourning ceremony, Mokhber said on Monday that the recent regional tour by the US president to the region has emboldened the Zionist regime to resume brutal attacks on the Gaza Strip.

        The new round of pounding Gaza is also indicating that Israel is facing internal challenges and crises, but such attacks will end up in consolidating unity among Muslims and resistance movement groups, the Iranian official argued.

        Describing Iran as the steadfast supporter of oppressed Palestinian people and resistance movements, he emphasized that efforts made by the Zionist regime and its regional and international allies show that how much the resistance movement’s might has improved.

        The first vice president also stressed that resistance is the only way to conquer the occupiers, expressing hope that the holy Quds region can be liberated soon with the God’s help and as a result of resistance by Palestinian youths and Muslims.

        The Islamic Jihad of Palestine fired hundreds of rockets into occupied territories in retaliation to the Zionists’ pounding of the Gaza enclave.

        According to the most recent reports, the number of martyrs of Zionists’ attacks on Gaza mounted to 43 people, including 15 children. Moreover, some 311 residents in Gaza have been injured in the new wave of Zionist attacks so far.

        Some news sources have reported that Gaza and the Zionist regime have agreed upon a ceasefire to be announced at 23:30 local time on Monday, which was mediated by Egypt.

        Source: Agencies

        US Approves Massive Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

        August 3, 2022

        By Staff, Agencies

        The United States has approved massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth more than $5 billion, amid criticism of their ongoing military aggression in Yemen which has inflicted heavy civilian casualties.

        The notice of approval came on Tuesday, two weeks after US President Joe Biden made a controversial trip to Saudi Arabia and met with Saudi leaders in an effort to reset strained relations with Riyadh.

        The State Department said Saudi Arabia would buy 300 Patriot MIM-104E missile systems and related equipment for an estimated $3.05 billion. The missile systems can be used to shoot long-range incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as fighter jets.

        “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a partner country that is a force for political stability and economic progress in the Gulf region,” the State Department said in a statement.

        “The proposed sale will improve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats by replenishing its dwindling stock of PATRIOT GEM-T missiles,” it added.

        Separately, the United States will sell Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] System Missiles and related equipment to the UAE for $2.25 billion.

        “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an important regional partner. The UAE is a vital US partner for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” the State Department said.

        Although Tuesday’s approvals are for defensive weapons, they may still draw opposition in Congress, where lawmakers backed the Biden administration’s decision last year to ban US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE because of their actions in Yemen.

        The Biden administration is also considering lifting its ban on US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia.

        Since the beginning of the war in 2015, the use of US weapons by the Saudi-led coalition in airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen has been well documented.

        As a candidate, Biden had vowed to make the Saudi kingdom a “pariah” on the global stage over the war in Yemen as well as the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist and political dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

        Soon after taking office, Biden appeared to be delivering on the promise, when he declared in February 2021 a halt to US support for the Saudi military operations in Yemen, including “relevant arms sales.”

        His administration also released US intelligence findings that concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS] personally approved the operation targeting Khashoggi.

        Biden, however, has softened his approach in recent months, moving to improve US relations with Saudi Arabia in the hope of getting the world’s top oil exporter to increase oil production in order to offset loss of Russian supplies to the global market and drive down gasoline prices at home.

        MBS: Despot in The Desert

        July 31, 2022 

        Nicolas Pelham- The Economist

        No one wanted to play football with Muhammad bin Salman. Sure, the boy was a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, but so were 15,000 other people. His classmates preferred the company of his cousins, who were higher up the assumed order of succession, a childhood acquaintance recalls. As for the isolated child who would one day become crown prince, a family friend recounts hearing him called “little Saddam”.

        Home life was tricky for bin Salman, too (he is now more commonly known by his initials, [MBS]. His father, Salman, already had five sons with his first wife, an educated woman from an elite urban family. MBS’s mother, Salman’s third wife, was a tribeswoman. When MBS visited the palace where his father lived with his first wife, his older half-brothers mocked him as the “son of a Bedouin”. Later, his elder brothers and cousins were sent to universities in America and Britain. The Bedouin offspring of Prince Salman stayed in Riyadh to attend King Saud University.

        As young adults, the royals sometimes cruised on superyachts together; MBS was reportedly treated like an errand boy, sent onshore to buy cigarettes. A photo from one of these holidays shows a group of 16 royals posing on a yacht-deck in shorts and sunglasses, the hills of the French Riviera behind them. In the middle is MBS’s cousin, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor dubbed “the Arabian Warren Buffett”. MBS, tall and broad-shouldered in a white t-shirt, is pushed to the farthest edge.

        Fast forward to today, and MB has moved to the center of the frame, the most important decision-maker in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy but MBS’s 86-year-old father, though nominally head of state, is rarely seen in public anymore. It has been clear for several years that MBS is in charge. “In effect,” a former Saudi intelligence agent told me, “King Salman is no longer king.”

        At first glance the 36-year-old prince looks like the ruler many young Saudis had been waiting for, closer in age to his people than any previous king – 70% of the Saudi population is under 30. The millennial autocrat is said to be fanatical about the video game “Call of Duty”: he blasts through the inertia and privileges of the mosque and royal court as though he were fighting virtual opponents on screen.

        His restless impatience and disdain for convention have helped him push through reforms that many thoughts wouldn’t happen for generations. The most visible transformation of Saudi Arabia is the presence of women in public where once they were either absent or closely guarded by their husband or father. There are other changes, too. Previously, the kingdom offered few diversions besides praying at the mosque; today you can watch Justin Bieber in concert, sing karaoke or go to a Formula 1 race. A few months ago, I even went to a rave in a hotel….

        But embracing Western consumer culture doesn’t mean embracing Western democratic values: it can as easily support a distinctively modern, surveillance state. On my recent trips to Saudi Arabia, people from all levels of society seemed terrified about being overheard voicing disrespect or criticism, something I’d never seen there before. “I’ve survived four kings,” said a veteran analyst who refused to speculate about why much of Jeddah, the country’s second-largest city, is being bulldozed: “Let me survive a fifth.”

        The West, beguiled by promises of change and dependent on Saudi oil, at first seemed prepared to ignore MBS’s excesses. Then, in late 2018, Saudi officials in Istanbul murdered a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, and dismembered his body with a bone saw. Even the most pro-Saudi leaders turned away.

        …. After Putin invaded Ukraine in February, the price of crude shot up. Boris Johnson was on a plane within weeks. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, previously a sworn enemy of the crown prince, embraced MBS in Riyadh in April. War even forced America’s president into a humiliating climbdown. On the campaign trail in 2020 Joe Biden had vowed to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah”. But on July 15th he went to make his peace with MBS– trying to avoid shaking MBS’s hand, he instead opted for a fist bump that left the two looking all the chummier. Even critics at home acknowledged MBs’s victory. “He made Biden look weak,” said a Saudi columnist in Jeddah. “He stood up to a superpower and won before the world.”

        For MBS, this is a moment of triumph. His journey from the fringe of a photograph to the heart of power is almost complete. He will probably be king for decades. During that time, his country’s oil will be needed to sate the world’s enduring demand for energy.

        A kingdom where the word of one man counts for so much depends utterly on his character. The hope is that, with his position secure, MBS will forswear the vengefulness and intolerance that produced Khashoggi’s murder. But some, among them his childhood classmates, fear something darker. They are reminded of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a one-time modernizer who became so addicted to accumulating power that he turned reckless and dangerous. “At first power bestows grandeur,” a former Western intelligence officer told me, of MBS. “But then comes the loneliness, suspicion and fear that others will try to grab what you grabbed.”

        During the early years of MBS’s ascent, I was vaguely aware of him as one prince among many. I probably wouldn’t have paid him much attention if an old contact of mine hadn’t joined his staff. His new boss, my contact said, was serious about shaking things up. He arranged the meeting at a faux-ancient mud-brick village on the outskirts of Riyadh in 2016. As my Economist colleagues and I approached, the gates of MBS’s compound suddenly slid open, like a Bond-villain’s lair. In the inner chamber sat MBS.

        Reform has often been promised in Saudi Arabia – usually in response to American hectoring – but successive kings lacked the mettle to push change through. When the Al-Saud conquered Arabia in the 1920s, they made an alliance with an ultra-conservative religious group called the Wahhabis. In 1979, after a group of religious extremists staged a brief armed takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Al-Saud decided to make the kingdom more devout to fend off a possible Islamic revolution, as had just happened in Iran. Wahhabi clerics were empowered to run society as they saw fit.

        The Wahhabis exercised control through the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, otherwise known as the religious police. They whacked the ankles of women whose hair poked through their veil and lashed the legs of men who wore shorts. The arrangement suited the House of Saud. Wahhabism provided social control and gave legitimacy to the Saudi state, leaving the royals free to enjoy their oil wealth in the more permissive environments of London and Paris, or behind the gates of their palaces.

        I’m loth to admit it now, but as the prince talked in Riyadh about his plans to modernize society and the economy, I was impressed by his enthusiasm, vision and command of the details. He gave what turned out to be accurate answers about how and when his reforms would happen. Though he was not yet crown prince, he frequently referred to Saudi Arabia as “my” country. We arrived at around 9pm. At 2am, MBS was still in full flow.

        MBS was affable, self-assured, smiling. His advisers were more subdued. If they spoke at all, it was to robotically repeat their master’s lines. Yet when MBS left the room to take a call, they started chatting animatedly. As the prince re-entered, silence fell.

        Like many in those early years, I was excited about what MBS might do for the kingdom. When I returned to the capital a few months later I saw a number of men wearing shorts. I kept looking over my shoulder for the religious police, but none came – they had been stripped of their powers of arrest.

        As crown prince, MBS introduced a code of law so that judicial sentencing accords with state guidelines, not a judge’s own interpretation of the Koran. He criminalized stoning to death and forced marriage. The most overt change involved the role of women. MBS attacked guardianship laws that prevented women from working, travelling, owning a passport, opening a business, having hospital treatment or divorcing without approval from a male relative. In practice, many Saudi women have found these new rights hard to claim in a patriarchal society, and men can still file claims of disobedience against female relatives. But MBS’s reforms were more than cosmetic. Some clerics were jailed; the rest soon fell into line.

        For foreigners, Riyadh is less forbidding these days. “I’m afraid I’ll be caught for not drinking,” a teetotal businessman told me. “There’s cocaine, alcohol and hookers like I haven’t seen in southern California,” says another party-goer. “It’s really heavy-duty stuff”.

        When MBS first entered public life, he had a reputation for being as strait-laced as his father, rare among royals. That quickly changed. Many of the people interviewed for this article said that they believe MBS frequently uses drugs, which he denies. A court insider says that in 2015 his friends decided that he needed some r&r on an island in the Maldives. According to investigative journalists Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck in their book “Blood and Oil”, 150 models were recruited to join the gathering and were then shuttled “by golf cart to a medical center to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases”. Several international music stars were flown in, including Afrojack, a Dutch dj. Then the press blew MBS cover.

        Thereafter, the prince preferred to unwind off the Red Sea coast. At weekends his entourage formed a flotilla by mooring their yachts around his, Serene, which has a driving range and a cinema. According to a former official, “dj MBS”, as his friends called him, would spin the discs wearing his trademark cowboy hat. The yacht is only one of the luxuries MBS has splurged on. He also bought a £230m ersatz French chateau near Versailles, built in 2008 (the meditation room doubles as an aquarium). He is said to have boasted that he wanted to be the first trillionaire.

        We put these and other allegations in this article to MBS’s representatives. Through the Saudi embassy in London, they issued a broad denial, saying “the allegations are denied and are without foundation.”

        MBS’s loosening of social mores reflects the values of many of his youthful peers, in Saudi and beyond – as does his taste for the flashier side of life. Yet despite the social revolution, the prince is no keener than Wahhabi clerics on letting people think for themselves. Shortly before lifting a ban on women driving in 2018, MBS’s officials imprisoned Loujain al-Hathloul, one of the leaders of the campaign for women’s rights. Her family say jailers waterboarded and electrocuted her, and that Saud al-Qahtani, one of MBS’s closest advisers, was present during her torment and threatened to rape her. [A un investigation found reasonable grounds to believe that Qahtani was involved in the torture of female activists. Qahtani allegedly told one of these women: “I’ll do whatever I like to you, and then I’ll dissolve you and flush you down the toilet.”] Hathloul was charged with inciting change to the ruling system. The message was clear: only one person was allowed to do that.

        MBS is ruthlessly ambitious – he reportedly loved reading about Alexander the Great as a teenager – but he also owes his rise to some extraordinary twists of fortune. Succession can be an unpredictable affair in Saudi Arabia. The monarchy is only two generations old, founded in 1932, and the crown has so far moved from brother to brother among the founding ruler’s sons. That has become harder as the prospective heirs age. MBS’s father wasn’t tipped to be king, but after his two older brothers died unexpectedly in 2011 and 2012, he was catapulted up the line of succession.

        When Salman became the heir-designate aged 76, he needed a chief of staff. Most courtiers expected him to choose one of the suave, English-speaking children of his first wife. Instead he appointed a son who spoke Arabic with a guttural Bedouin accent. [MBS has learned English fast since then: when we met in 2016 he sometimes corrected his translator.]

        The choice to elevate MBS was less surprising to those who knew his father well. Salman had dedicated himself to his job as governor of Riyadh rather than chasing more lucrative commissions, and was a stickler for 8am starts, even in his 70s. He was known as the family disciplinarian, not averse to giving wayward royals a thwack with his walking stick or even a spell in his private prison. He clearly saw something of himself in his sixth son. MBS might love video games, but he was also a hard worker and keen to advance.

        MBS put few limits on what he was prepared to do to achieve control. He earned the nickname Abu Rasasa – father of the bullet – after widespread rumors that he sent a bullet in the post to an official who ruled against him in a land dispute [Saudi officials have previously denied this rumor]. He was fearsome in private, too. “There are these terrible tempers, smashing up offices, trashing the palace,” says a source with palace connections. “He’s extremely violent.” Several associates describe him as having wild mood swings. Two former palace insiders say that, during an argument with his mother, he once sprayed her ceiling with bullets. According to multiple sources and news reports, he has locked his mother away.

        It’s hard to say how many wives he has; officially, there’s just one, a glamorous princess called Sara bint Mashour, but courtiers say he has at least one more. MBS presents his family life as normal and happy: earlier this year he told the Atlantic magazine that he eats breakfast with his children each morning [he has three boys and two girls, according to Gulf News – the eldest is said to be 11]. One diplomat spoke of MBS’s kindness to his wife. But other sources inside the royal circle say that, on at least one occasion, Princess Sara was so badly beaten by her husband that she had to seek medical treatment.

        We put this and other allegations in this piece to MBS’s representatives, who described them as “plain fabrication”, adding that “the kingdom is unfortunately used to false allegations made against its leadership, usually based on politically [or other] motivated malicious sources, particularly discredited individuals who have a long record of fabrications and baseless claims.”

        MBS finally got a taste of political power in 2015 when Salman became king. Salman appointed his son deputy crown prince and minister of defense. One of MBS’s first moves was to launch a war in neighboring Yemen. Even America, the kingdom’s closest military ally, was told only at the last minute.

        There was an obvious obstacle in MBS’s path to the throne: his cousin, the 57-year-old heir-designate, Muhammad bin Nayef. Bin Nayef was the intelligence chief and the kingdom’s main interlocutor with the CIA. He was widely credited with stamping out al-Qaeda in Saudi after 9/11. In June 2017 bin Nayef was summoned to meet the elderly king at his palace in Mecca.

        The story of what happened next has emerged from press reports and my interviews. It seems that bin Nayef arrived by helicopter and took the lift to the fourth floor. Instead of the monarch, MBS’sagents were waiting. Bin Nayef was stripped of his weapons and phone, and told that a royal council had dismissed him. He was left alone to consider his options. Seven hours later, a court videographer filmed the charade of MBS kissing his cousin, then accepting his abdication as crown prince. King Salman kept a back seat throughout. Bin Nayef is now in detention [his uncle, who also had a claim to the throne, apparently intervened to try and protect bin Nayef, but was himself later detained]. The staged resignation – an old trick of Saddam Hussein’s – would become MBS’s signature move.

        That was just the warm-up act. In October 2017 MBS hosted an international investment conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. At “Davos in the desert”, the likes of Christine Lagarde, Son Masayoshi and other business glitterati listened to MBS’s pitch for Saudi Arabia’s post-oil future, including the construction of Neom, a new $500bn “smart city”. The event was a hit. Diplomatic grumblings about the war in Yemen or the fate of America’s security partner, Muhammad bin Nayef, faded.

        The gathering was also an opportunity to invite back royals who were often abroad. Once the foreigners had left, MBS pounced. Hundreds of princes and businessmen were swept up. According to a biography of MBS by Ben Hubbard, a New York Times journalist, one of them realized something was amiss only when they got to their hotel room: there were no pens, razors or glasses – nothing that could be used as a weapon.

        MBS held the detainees in the Ritz-Carlton for several weeks [the Marriott and other hotels were also commandeered to house the overflow]. Prisoners’ phones were confiscated. Some were said to have been hooded, deprived of sleep and beaten until they agreed to transfer money and hand over an inventory of their assets. All told, MBS’s guests at the Ritz-Carlton coughed up about $100bn.

        Even royals previously thought untouchable, such as the powerful prince who ran the national guard, got similar treatment. Princess Basma, the youngest child of the second king of Saudi Arabia, was jailed for three years without charge or access to a lawyer; after being released she still had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet, according to a close associate of hers.

        The crushing of the royals and business elite was billed as a crackdown on corruption – and undoubtedly it netted many corruptly acquired assets, which MBS said would be returned to the Saudi treasury. The methods, however, looked more like something from a gangster film than a judicial procedure.

        Interrogations were overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, who reported directly to MBS whenever a detainee broke and gave out their bank details. [All the allegations in this piece concerning Qahtani were put to him via his lawyer. No response was given.] Qahtani had installed himself as one of MBS’s favored henchmen, though earlier in his career, he’d plotted against Salman and his son, trying to sideline them with rumors that Salman had dementia. Qahtani was so loyal to the former faction that he’d named his son after his then boss. According to a former courtier, on the day of the old king’s funeral the two men had it out: MBS slapped Qahtani in the face. Later, MBS let Qahtani prove his worth and brought him on to his staff. Qahtani duly named his younger son Muhammad.

        On paper, Qahtani was a communications adviser, a former journalist who understood Twitter and used an army of bots and loyal followers to intimidate critics on social media [his office included giant screens and holograms that staff used for target-practice with laser guns]. In practice he was entrusted with MBS’s most important and violent missions – the ones that established his grip on power.

        His remit extended far beyond Saudi’s borders. In 2016 he kidnapped Prince Sultan, a minor royal who had been bad-mouthing MBS. MBS offered his jet to fly Sultan from Paris to Cairo – instead, the plane was diverted to Saudi Arabia. According to Hope’s and Scheck’s book, Qahtani posed as Captain Saud, an airline pilot, though surprisingly one who had an expensive Hublot watch.

        Even people who have nothing to do with politics have become afraid to speak near a functioning mobile phone

        With rendition strategies like this, and the cash tap shut off, even royals who weren’t inside the Ritz-Carlton felt the pressure to divest themselves of ostentatious assets. The father of the Saudi ambassador to Britain put Glympton Park, his beloved 2,000-acre estate in the Cotswolds, up for sale. Riyadh’s jewellers did a roaring trade pawning the diamonds of lesser royals. “It’s like the Romanovs selling their Fabergé eggs,” said an adviser to an auction house.

        Many commoners rejoiced at the downfall of their entitled elite. Princes and princesses who once lived off huge handouts began looking for jobs. Their titles became irrelevant. Unable to afford the cost of irrigation, their green ranches became desert again. Banks turned them away. One financial adviser recalled his response to princes trying to get credit on the strength of their royal status: “You call yourselves princes, but they say there’s only one prince now.”

        The Ritz-Carlton episode was just one element of an extraordinary project of centralization. MBS yanked control of various security services back from the princes. He took charge of Aramco, the semi-autonomous state oil company. He installed himself as boss of the sovereign-wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. “He destroyed all the powerful families,” says a retired diplomat. By late 2017, law, money and security in Saudi all flowed directly from him.

        Among those who lost out were the fellow princes who had pushed a young MBS to the edge of the family photo on the yacht all those years ago. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in the center of that shot, surrendered part of his $17bn wealth. As the shakedown widened, MBS’s elder half-siblings put up their yacht for sale. Many of his cousins were locked up. “Payback time,” one victim said.

        While MBS was squeezing the elite at home, he was forging some important friendships abroad.

        MBS and Donald Trump, who was elected president in 2016, had a lot in common. Both had the hunger of the underdog and loathed the snooty policymaking establishments in their countries; they reveled in provocation. The historic compact, by which Saudi Arabia provided oil to American consumers and America guaranteed the country’s security, had frayed in recent years. Barack Obama’s hurried exit from Iraq in 2011 and his nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 had left Saudi Arabia worried that it could no longer rely on American protection. America’s development of its own shale-oil reserves had also reduced its dependence on Saudi oil. Then Trump and MBS got cozy.

        With the Trump administration’s tacit [and sometimes explicit] support, MBS set about treating the entire Middle East much as he did Saudi Arabia, trying to push aside rulers whom he found to be inconvenient. He announced a blockade of Qatar, a tiny gas-rich state to the east of Saudi Arabia. In 2017, angered by Lebanon’s dealings with Iran, MBS invited the prime minister, Saad Hariri, a long-time beneficiary of Saudi patronage, on a starlit camping trip. Hariri turned up, had his phone confiscated and soon found himself reading out a resignation speech on tv.

        Both moves ultimately backfired. But Trump’s Middle East adviser, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, did little to discourage such antics. Together, he and MBS dreamt up a new regional order over WhatsApp, calling each other “Jared” and “Muhammad”. Their rapport was so great that, at Kushner’s prompting, MBS started the process of recognizing “Israel”. His father, still officially king, put a stop to that.

        MBS visited America in March 2018, hanging out in Silicon Valley with Peter Thiel and Tim Cook, and meeting celebrities, including Rupert Murdoch, James Cameron and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Many people were keen to meet the man who controlled a $230bn sovereign-wealth fund. To his frustration, they were less willing to reciprocate by investing in the kingdom.

        That October the intercontinental bonhomie came to an abrupt halt. I was due to go to a conference in Turkey that month. A Saudi journalist I knew, Jamal Khashoggi, got in touch to suggest meeting up: he was also going to be in Istanbul, for an appointment at the consulate. Khashoggi was a court insider whose criticisms of MBS in the Washington Post and elsewhere had attracted much attention. He seemed to be making more effort than usual to stay in touch. While I was at the conference a friend of his phoned me: Jamal still hadn’t emerged from the consulate, he said. By the time I got there, Turkish police were cordoning off the building.

        The full story soon came out in leaked intelligence reports and, later, a un inquiry. A Saudi hit squad, which reportedly coordinated with Saud al-Qahtani, had flown to Istanbul. As they waited for Khashoggi to enter the consulate, they discussed plans for dismembering his body. According to tapes recorded inside the consulate by Turkish intelligence, Khashoggi was told, “We’re coming to get you.” There was a struggle, followed by the sound of plastic sheets being wrapped. A CIA report said that MBS approved the operation.

        MBS has said he takes responsibility for the murder, but denies ordering it. He sacked Qahtani and another official implicated in the intelligence reports. The fallout was immediate. Companies and speakers pulled out of that year’s Davos in the desert; the Gates Foundation ended its partnership with Misk, an artistic and educational charity set up by the prince. Ari Emanuel, a Hollywood agent, cancelled a $400m deal with the kingdom.

        The crown prince seems to have been genuinely surprised at the animus – “disappointed”, says an associate. Hadn’t he committed to all the reforms the West had been asking for? Perhaps he had underestimated the outcry provoked by going after a well-connected international figure, as opposed to a royal unknown outside Saudi Arabia. Or perhaps he understood Western governments’ priorities better than they did themselves. They had done little when Muhammad bin Nayef, their partner in battling terrorism, had disappeared; they had shrugged at reports of torture in the Ritz-Carlton, and at MBS’s reckless bombardment of Yemen. Why did they have so much to say about the killing of a single journalist?

        Three years after the Khashoggi killing, Davos in the desert opened with the singer Gloria Gaynor. As images of smiling children flashed up on a giant screen behind her, she broke into her disco anthem, “I Will Survive”, asking the audience: “Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?”

        The chief executives of private-equity giants BlackRock and Blackstone were back, as were the heads of Goldman Sachs, SocGen and Standard Chartered. Even Amazon sent a representative despite the fact that its boss, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, the paper that employed Khashoggi. Meanwhile, Qahtani was creeping back into favor at the royal court – although he had been implicated by the un for Khashoggi’s murder, a Saudi court took the decision not to charge him.

        MBS revitalized the near-dormant sovereign-wealth fund, pumping tens of billions of dollars into tech, entertainment and sports, to create a softer, more appealing image of Saudi and co-opt new partners. In April 2020, the fund led a consortium to buy Newcastle United, a premier-league football team [the deal took 18 months]. The following year it launched an audacious bid to create Saudi’s own golf tour, the LIV series, hoping to lure players with a prize pot of $255m, far larger than that of American tournaments. At the first LIV tour this year, some top players boycotted the event, others went for the cash.

        Joe Biden has proved tougher to woo. Soon after becoming president, Biden withdrew American military support for the war in Yemen. He wouldn’t talk to MBS, insisting that communications go through King Salman instead. He didn’t even nominate an ambassador to Riyadh for 15 months. The chat everywhere was that Saudi-American relations were in a deep freeze. Then, in February 2022, MBS had a stroke of luck: Russia invaded Ukraine.

        In the days after war broke out, Biden himself tried to call MBS. The crown prince declined to speak to the president. He did take Putin’s call, however. The two men were already close. MBS had personally brought Russia into an expanded version of the OPEC cartel in order for Saudi Arabia to keep control of global oil production. Putin cemented the friendship in 2018 at the g20 summit in Buenos Aires, which took place weeks after the Khashoggi killing. While Western leaders shunned MBS, Putin gave the Saudi ruler a high-five before sitting down next to him.

        MBS’s defiance of America seems to have paid off. After months of evasion, Biden reluctantly agreed to meet MBS in Jeddah in July, on the prince’s own turf and his own terms. The visit gave MBS recognition but did little to rebuild relations. There wasn’t even a concrete assurance of increasing oil production.

        Some in the American foreign-policy establishment remain hopeful that MBS could become a helpful partner in the region, pointing to his recent retreat from confrontation with Qatar and his eagerness to find a diplomatic exit from Yemen. Perhaps, they say, he is maturing as a leader.

        This seems optimistic. MBS’s disastrous campaign in Yemen was ostensibly in support of the country’s president but in April, hours after being summoned to a meeting and offered Arabic coffee and dates, Yemen’s president was reading out a resignation speech on tv. MBS took it upon himself to get rid of him personally – suggesting that his mode of international diplomacy remains as high-handed as ever. “What they’ve learned”, says one foreign analyst, “is don’t murder journalists who dine regularly with congressmen in the United States.”

        The West has taught MBS something else, too – something that autocrats the world over may draw comfort from. No matter the sin, they would argue, if you sit tight through the odium and fury, eventually the financiers, the celebrities, even the Western leaders, will come running back. At 36, MBS has time on his side. Some observers fear that he may become only more dangerous as oil reserves start to decline and the treasure trove shrinks. “What happens when he’s a middle-aged man ruling a middle-income country and starts to get bored?” asks a diplomat who knows MBS personally. “Will he go on more adventures?”

        Earlier this year, I visited an old friend in his office in Saudi Arabia. Before we started talking, he put his phone in a pouch that blocks the signal, to prevent government spies from listening in. Dissidents do that kind of thing in police states like China, but I’d never seen it before in Saudi Arabia. It isn’t just people involved with politics who are taking such precautions: most Saudis have become afraid to speak near a functioning mobile phone. People used to talk fairly openly in their offices, homes and cafés. Now, they are picked up for almost nothing.

        As we chatted over the whir of his office air conditioning, my friend reeled off a list of people he knew who had been detained in the past month: a retired air-force chief who died in prison, a hospital administrator hauled away from his desk, a mother taken in front of her seven children, a lawyer who died seven days after his release from prison. “These people aren’t rabble rousers,” my friend said. “No one understands why.”

        Officially, the government says it has no political prisoners. Rights groups reckon that thousands have been swept up in MBS’s dragnet. I’ve covered the Middle East since the 1990s and can’t think of anywhere where so many of my own contacts are behind bars.

        Few ordinary Saudis predicted that when MBS was done trampling on the elites and the clerics, he would come for them next. Bringing Saudis into the modern, networked, online world has made it easier for the state to monitor what they are saying. A Red Crescent employee called Abdulrahman al-Sadhan used to run a satirical Twitter account under a pseudonym. In 2018 MBS’s agents arrested him and held him incommunicado for two years. American prosecutors later charged two former Twitter employees with allegedly handing over the real names behind various accounts to a Saudi official – al-Sadhan’s family believes that his name was among them. [The trial of one employee is ongoing; he denies passing on information to Saudi officials.]

        On the face of it, MBS has nothing to worry about. Public opinion polls – if they can be trusted – suggest he is popular, particularly with younger Saudis. But there is a growing sense that discontent is brewing beneath the surface. MBS has broken crucial social contracts with the Saudi populace, by reducing handouts while, at the same time, dispensing with the tradition of hearing the feedback of ordinary people after Friday prayers.

        It isn’t hard to imagine some of the issues they’d raise if they had the chance. Many people are struggling as the cost of living rises. When other governments were cushioning their citizens during the pandemic, MBS slashed fuel subsidies and tripled vat. Unable to afford the cost of pumping water, some farmers left crops to wither in the field. Fees for permits and fines have spiraled, too. Though MBS speaks eloquently about the country’s youth, he is struggling to find them jobs. Unemployment remains stubbornly stuck in double digits. Half of the jobless have a university degree, but most white-collar workers I met on MBS’s mega-projects were foreign.

        Saudi Arabia’s attempts to diversify its economy – and so compensate for the long-term decline of oil reserves – isn’t going well either. The pandemic delayed plans for a rapid increase in international tourism. Extorting billions of dollars from your relatives may not be the best way to convince investors that the kingdom is a liberal haven.

        The young prince has reversed even the baby steps towards democracy taken by previous kings. Municipal elections have been suspended – as a cost-cutting exercise, explains the supine press. The Shura Council, a consultative body of 150 people, has only met online since the pandemic [other institutions have gathered in person for months]. “I wish I had more of a voice,” said one member. Whenever I mentioned the prince, his leg twitched.

        A frequent visitor to the royal court says MBS now gives the impression of someone who’s always thinking that people are plotting against him. He seems to be preoccupied with loyalty. He fills key posts either with young royals, foreigners with no local base to threaten him or people he has already broken. A government minister, Ibrahim Assaf, was one of those locked up in the Ritz-Carlton – two months later MBS sent him to the World Economic Forum as his representative. A senior executive on one of his construction projects is someone who says he was tortured in one of his prisons. “He went from being strung naked from his ankles, beaten and stripped of all his assets to a high-level project manager,” says a close acquaintance of the man.

        All remain vulnerable to MBS’s tantrums. Saudi sources say he once locked a minister in a toilet for ten hours. [The minister later appeared on tv blabbering platitudes about the prince’s wisdom.] A senior official I’ve spoken to says he wants out. “Everyone in his circle is terrified of him,” says an insider. And that could make it hard for him to govern a country of 35m people effectively. Former courtiers say no one close to MBS is prepared to offer a truthful assessment of whether his increasingly grandiose schemes are viable. “Saying no”, says one, “is not something they will ever do.”

        If MBS has a mission beyond extending his power, you might expect to find it in Neom, the city he promised to build in the desert. Neom would be nothing less than “a civilizational leap for humanity”, he said in 2017. Head-spinning details followed. The city’s food would be grown on hydroponic walls on a floating structure. It would be powered by the world’s largest green-hydrogen plant. Thousands of snow-blowers would create a ski resort on a nearby mountain. One day it would have driverless cars and passenger drones.

        According to the official timetable, the main city would be completed by 2020. Further districts would be added by 2025. The prince’s tourism minister, Ahmed al-Khateeb, dismissed rumors that the timetable was proving over-ambitious. “Come see with your eyes and not with your ears,” he urged. So, I went.

        Finding Neom was the first problem. There were no road signs to it. After three hours’ drive we came to the spot indicated by the map. It was bare, but for the odd fig tree. Camels strolled across the empty highway. Piles of rubble lined the road, remnants of the town bulldozed to make way for the mighty metropolis.

        The designated area is nearly the size of Belgium. As far as I could tell, only two projects had been completed, MBS’s palace, and something Google Earth calls “The Neom Experience Centre” [when I drove to see it, it was obscured by a prefabricated hut]. The only other solid building I could see was a hotel constructed before Neom was conceived: The Royal Tulip. A poster in the lobby urged me to “Discover Neom”. But when I asked for a guide the hotel manager cursed my sister with Arabic vulgarities and tried to shoo me away. There was no sign of the media hub with “frictionless facilitation”, “advanced infrastructure” and “collaborative ecosystems” promised by the Neom website. Neom’s head of communications and media, Wayne Borg, said he was “out of Kingdom at present”.

        The hotel restaurant was teeming with consultants – all the ones I met were foreign. I later found a Saudi project manager. “We think we’re about to start working, but every two months the consultants coin a new plan,” he told me. “They’re still doing plans of plans.” There was a kind of manic short-termism among these foreigners. Many were paid $40,000 a month, plus handsome bonuses. “It’s like riding a bull,” one of the Neom consultants told me. “You know you’re gonna fall, that no one can last on a bull longer than a minute and a half, two minutes, so you make the most of it.”

        Despite the high salaries, there are reports that foreigners are leaving the Neom project because they find the gap between expectations and reality so stressful. The head of Neom is said by his friends to be “terrified” at the lack of progress.

        Eventually, I found a retired Saudi air-force technician who offered to drive me around the city for $600. He took me to a sculpture standing in the desert with the words, “I love Neom”. A short way farther on we found a new stretch of tarmac, said to mark the edge of the dream city. Beyond it, the lone and level sands stretched far away.

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