How Britain and U.S. Killed the Bahrain Revolution

Former editor and writer for major news media organizations. He has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages

Finian Cunningham

February 17, 2021

Britain and the United States worked together to kill the Bahrain revolution of 2011 and its people’s long-held aspirations for democratic governance.

Ten years ago this week, the Bahraini people launched a daring, peaceful uprising against a despised and despotic monarchial regime. During the next four weeks, the Al Khalifa regime was rocked to its shaky foundations as hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets of the Persian Gulf island state.

What followed, however, was a crucial – if despicable – intervention by Britain and the United States which unleashed a wave of brutal repression – a repression that continues to this day. Without this British and American operation, the Bahraini regime would have fallen to a popular uprising.

At stake for London and Washington was not just the tiny island of Bahrain itself but the stability of the entire chain of Persian Gulf monarchies, principally Saudi Arabia. The Gulf sheikhdoms are essential for maintaining the geopolitical interests of the Western powers in the Middle East, for propping up the petrodollar system which is paramount to American economic sustenance, and prolonging lucrative trade for British and American weapons manufacturers.

If Bahrain were to succumb to a democratic uprising by its people demanding free and fair elections, independent rule of law, more equitable economic governance, and so on, then the Gulf monarchies would be “threatened” by example. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman are the other Gulf states which are ruled over by monarchs. They are all clients of Western powers, facilitating American and British military bases across the region which are vital for power projection, for example prosecuting wars and confronting designated enemies like Iran. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet base as well as a new British naval base that was opened in 2016. In short, Bahrain could not be allowed to attain democracy as that would have a domino effect across the entire region jeopardizing U.S. and British interests.

The democratic aspirations of the Bahraini people are poignantly apposite. The majority of the indigenous population are followers of Shia Islam with many cultural connections to ancient Iran which lies to the north across the narrow Gulf sea. The Bahraini rulers descend from a colonial settler tribe which invaded the island in the 18th century. The Khalifa tribe hailed from the Arabian Peninsula originally. Their occupation of Bahrain was one of conquest and pillage. Unlike most Bahrainis the usurpers professed to following Sunni Islam and held the native population in contempt, lording over them and imposing arbitrary, extortionate levies under pain of death. But the British Empire constructed the new rulers into a monarchy in 1820 in order to perform a sentinel duty over the island in a key waterway leading to Britain’s imperial jewel in the crown, India. The British Empire had similar protectorate arrangements with all the other Gulf Arab territories.

Down through the centuries, British colonial officers and soldiers were relied on to enforce the Khalifa regime in Bahrain. Uprisings by the people would recur periodically and would be violently suppressed by British security forces.

The pattern was repeated during the 2011 Arab Spring revolts which swept across North Africa and the Middle East. Some of these revolts were manipulated or fomented by Western powers for regime change, such as in Syria and Libya. But in Bahrain, it was a truly democratic impulse that galvanized the Shia majority to once again demand their historic rights against what was viewed as an imposter, despotic regime.

Such was the regime’s shaky hold on power that the tide of popular uprising nearly swept it aside during the four weeks following the beginning of the Bahrain uprising on February 14, 2011. This author was present during this tumultuous time which saw up to 500,000 people take to the streets – nearly half the population. Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, became a de facto “Republic of Bahrain” with peaceful encampments and daily throngs defiantly telling King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa that it was “game over” for his crony regime. It was a heady time and the regime’s imminent perilous fate was palpable. Plunging the people into a bloodbath would be the escape route for the rulers and their Western sponsors.

On March 14, 2011, thousands of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded Bahrain and began a bloody repression against unarmed protesters. People were rounded up for mass-detention and torture. Young men were shot dead at point-blank range. The vicious repression that began a decade ago continues to this day – albeit ignored by Western news media. All of the Bahraini pro-democracy leaders languish in prisons without due process. Several prisoners have been executed for alleged terrorist crimes after “confessions” were beaten out of them.

Only days before the Saudi-Emirati invasion of Bahrain, on March 9, 2011, the regime was visited by senior British and American security officials. On the British side were Sir Peter Ricketts, the national security advisor to then Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as General Sir David Richards, the head of British military. In a second separate meeting, on March 11, three days before the onslaught, the Khalifa regime was visited by then U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. We don’t know the details of those discussions but media reports stated at the time that the British and Americans were “offering their support for the royal family”.

Britain and the United States worked together to kill the Bahrain revolution of 2011 and its people’s long-held aspirations for democratic governance. The repression goes on with British and American officials frequently visiting Bahrain to express support for the Khalifa regime. Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the island in August 2020 and fawned over the regime for its support to Washington’s policy of normalizing ties with Israel. There is no sign of the new Biden administration taking a more critical position towards Bahrain. Indeed it was the Obama administration in which Biden was vice president that colluded with Britain in the slaughter of the Bahraini revolution back in 2011.

Thus, when Britain and the United States talk about promoting democracy and human rights in places like Hong Kong, Venezuela, Russia, or anywhere else, just remember their bankrupt credibility as proven by Bahrain. Western news media – despite their claims of freedom and independence – also deserve condemnation. Those media have steadfastly ignored the plight of Bahrainis in deference to their government’s geopolitical interests.

A follow-up commentary on the Arab Spring events 10 years ago will look at how the United States and Britain hypocritically and disingenuously moved to intervene in Libya and Syria at the very same time that these powers were suppressing the legitimate pro-democracy movement in Bahrain.

Pentagon’s Sinister Role in Trump’s Coup Bid

Pentagon's Sinister Role in Trump's Coup Bid - TheAltWorld

Finian Cunningham

January 11, 2021

With the likes of Miller and other far-rightists in charge at the Pentagon, there is no guarantee on whose side the military will be, Finian Cunningham writes.

The extraordinary breach of security at the US Congressional building wasn’t just a “failure of planning” which allowed thousands of Trump supporters to trash the seat of government and to interrupt the electoral certification of Joe Biden as the next president. It was a coup attempt.

What’s more, Trump’s acting Pentagon chief Christopher C Miller is implicated in aiding and abetting the coup bid on January 6.

Trump appointed Miller, a former Green Beret and political loyalist, to head the Pentagon as acting Secretary of Defense following the November 3 election. He was among several other Trump loyalists rushed into senior positions at the Department of Defense prompting concerns back then that Trump was planning to overturn the election result which had cast Biden as winner but which Trump and his supporters have relentlessly disputed.

Several media reports have focused attention on the Pentagon to explain how the siege on the Capitol last Wednesday turned into a four-hour ordeal during which over 500 lawmakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, were forced to shelter in secure bunkers fearing for their lives. But media outlets like the New York Times are reporting the fiasco in anodyne terms as a result of “poor planning” or “failure” to coordinate security.

Calls were put out at around 2pm by the Capitol Police that they needed assistance after crowds broke through security fencing. But it was not until 6pm that members of the National Guard arrived to vacate the government buildings of protesters.

Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser reportedly made phone calls to the Pentagon appealing for troopers to be deployed. So too did lawmakers trapped inside the Capitol, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Those calls went strangely unheeded.

Since Washington DC is not a state it does not have authority over its National Guard. That authority lies with the Pentagon. But the DC troops had been stood down in the days before January 6 or deployed away from the Capitol building on traffic duty, even though there were abundant signals across social media that far-right Trump supporters were planning to rally at the Capitol to block the scheduled certification of Biden’s election by lawmakers in a joint session of Congress.

Mayor Bowser then appealed to the governors in neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia to deploy their National Guards to assist the Capitol. The governors were also receiving frantic calls from those politicians besieged within the chambers of Congress.

However, these state authorities were still obliged to get clearance from the Pentagon in order to deploy their troopers across state lines.

Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, has said that his requests to deploy the National Guard were repeatedly denied by Pentagon officials. It is not clear who these officials were. But the finger of suspicion points to Christopher Miller and the cohort of Trump-appointed loyalists at the Department of Defense.

This indicates that the events on January 6 were much more sinister than has been reported thus far. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died on the day Trump protesters stormed the Congressional building.

President Donald Trump has been condemned for inciting the crowds to attack the Capitol. He made an incendiary speech at a rally hours before Congress convened to certify the election, instructing the throngs to “take back their country”.

The storming of the Congress halls has also been widely condemned as an act of “insurrection” and “an assault on democracy”. But the media coverage tends to portray the event as a chaotic breach of security by rag-tag pro-Trump supporters. Belying those reports are more sinister accounts of armed far-right militia among the melee. There were cadres of Neo-fascists who were armed, equipped with zip-ties and nooses. They were even chanting for Republican Vice President Mike Pence’s head after Trump had earlier denounced him for being weak in not backing his effort to overturn the electoral process.

But what if the Capitol was deliberately left undefended? Questions have to be asked of the chiefs of Capitol Police and Washington DC metropolitan force who reportedly declined security back up purportedly offered by the Pentagon in the days before the “stop the steal” rally which Trump had been promoting for weeks. Was that Pentagon offer genuine or part of a charade?

Capitol Police chief Steven Sund told lawmakers before January 6 that everything was under control for all contingencies. They weren’t. He has since resigned. The Capitol was remarkably vulnerable from only a thin line of cops deployed on the day. Former security officials have expressed amazement at the lack of security. And there is video evidence of officers letting protesters through fences, even waving them on, and guiding them to key areas within the cavernous chambers.

But it is the apparent sinister role of the Pentagon that is most disturbing. Four hours to deploy the National Guard while armed men were marauding the seat of government suggests that this was an opportunity afforded to them to kill members of Congress and to block the electoral process of electing Democrat Joe Biden.

Only three days before January 6, an unprecedented oped piece was published in the Washington Post signed by 10 former Pentagon chiefs, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Leon Panetta and James Mattis. In the oped, they warned Christopher Miller to not use the military to overturn the election result otherwise there would be dire consequences for America’s democracy. It was a phenomenal intervention and warning, which shows how degenerated US politics has become.

It looks like Miller and all the President’s Men at the Pentagon ignored the advice. They went ahead to aid and abet a coup. The coup fizzled out. But there is still explosive elements remaining until Biden is inaugurated on January 20.

When far-right groups target the inauguration ceremony fully armed as they are declaring to do, what will the Pentagon’s response be then? With the likes of Miller and other far-rightists in charge at the Pentagon, there is no guarantee on whose side the military will be.

US Back to ‘Normal’ Imperialism

U.S. Army soldiers prepare to clear and secure a building during exercise Hammer Strike at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait

Sputnik

By Finian Cunningham

13:09 GMT 24.11.2020

The next US administration is taking shape with President-elect Joe Biden naming his picks to top cabinet posts and national security. It heralds a return to “normal” US imperialism and militarism. That is something to dread not celebrate, as American and European media would have us believe.

The incoming Democrat president, who is due to be inaugurated on January 20, is cheerfully reassuring European and NATO leaders that “America is back” after four years of erratic US foreign policy under the maverick Donald Trump.

Biden said his administration will “reclaim America’s seat at the top of the table”.

US media are also straining with Orwellian euphemisms. CNN says under Team Biden, the US will “reclaim its squandered leadership role”. While the Washington Post said the new Biden administration hails the “return to competent government”.

Other commentators say it is a “return to normalcy”. Former US Assistant Secretary of State PJ Crowley is quoted by the BBC as saying of Biden’s picks: “They have a consistent world view. They are strong believers in American leadership and international alliances”.

Well, what is “normal” and “competent” about wars, death and destruction?

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hold a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2017.
© REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNSTU.S. President Donald Trump (R) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hold a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2017.

Biden’s cabinet is a rehash of holdovers from the Obama administrations. Several of the people he has nominated or who are tipped to fill vacancies are advocates of warmongering.

The next US Secretary of State – if vetted by the Senate – is Antony Blinken. As part of the previous Obama administration, Blinken was a major proponent of US military intervention in Libya, Syria and Yemen. He also pushes a hard line towards Russia and China.

All the recent media swooning about Blinken being a professional diplomat and fluent in French belie the true, ugly face of American war policy which he instrumented. We only have to look at the misery of starving children in Yemen to realise the horror and criminality of US militarism which the likes of Blinken are responsible for.

Not yet confirmed by Biden for cabinet posts are Obama-era warmongers Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Michèle Flournoy. The latter is hotly tipped to head the Pentagon as Secretary of Defence.

International human rights lawyer Christopher Black dismissively describes the Biden team as “cruise missile liberals”. Meaning they are adept at using righteous rhetoric to justify war.

Flournoy wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine in June that the US military must build up “deterrence” against China by being able to “credibly threaten to sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours”.

Blinken and Flournoy co-founded a shadowy political strategy business called WestExec Advisors which connects weapons manufacturers with the Pentagon. Talk about conflict of interest! Or maybe that should be a confluence of interest. These people have a vested interest in promoting conflict and war for profit.

During Trump’s four years in the White House, the chaos in US foreign policy was such that American imperial interests were often frustrated. Not that Trump was a peacemaker. His aggression towards China, Iran and Venezuela and Russia (if you count the Nord Stream-2 sanctions), was apparent. But his erratic egoism and cronyism got in the way of the “vital interests” of the US foreign policy establishment and the military-industrial complex.

Joe Biden receives a national security briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 17, 2020
© REUTERS / TOM BRENNERJoe Biden receives a national security briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 17, 2020

That’s why Biden was so heavily backed during his election campaign by former Pentagon and intelligence chiefs, as well as by Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. He’s their man to get back to business-as-usual. And the team he is forming is meant to deliver Washington to the “top table” of exerting hegemonic ambitions.

That means solidifying the NATO alliance and cohering European allies behind US policy of confronting China and Russia – a move which the European vassal politicians seem to be cooing over.

Trump’s feckless leadership was infuriating and exhausting. He was a destabilising figure in international relations. But so too are all US presidents. They will use massive violence and lawlessness to achieve whatever the “vital interests” demand. Supposed “business genius” Trump was just incompetent and inefficient as the so-called leader of the US-led “free world”.

A Biden administration will bring “competence” back to US imperialism with the deployment of professional warmongers. Absurdly, the brainwashing of US and European media present this dreadful prospect as something to be welcomed.

Nuking Itself… How Russophobia Led the U.S. to Bomb its Own Citizens

Finian Cunningham October 26, 2020

Generations of countless Americans have been contaminated and sickened by the first-ever atomic bomb test. The Trinity explosion on July 16, 1945, was carried out in the New Mexico desert. Three weeks later, two A-bombs were dropped on Japan, killing up to 200,000 people.

But the number of American victims caused by radiation fallout from the Trinity test is reckoned to be also imponderably high. The American government conducted the explosion in secret, unbeknownst to the population of New Mexico. That was in spite of warnings from Manhattan Project scientists of a high risk to public health from the extreme radiation. Without a warning to the public and because of a cover-up about the event, countless Americans were exposed to carcinogenic radiation.

In a recent interview with Karl Grossman, New Mexican resident Tina Cordova tells how her community has been campaigning for decades to find out the truth behind the Trinity test and to seek reparations from the federal government. Incredibly, there has never been a federal investigation into establishing the human health impact from that atomic test explosion. But Cordova and her community estimate that the number is huge. She is the fourth generation in her family to have suffered from cancer. Countless others tell of high numbers of infant mortality over the decades and other morbidities that stretch across the entire state of New Mexico.

A combination of factors conspired to wreak a heavy toll on the people of New Mexico. It is one of the poorest states in the U.S., with large numbers of native Americans and Latinos. In selecting the test site for the A-bomb, there was a tacit racism among planners in Washington who viewed the area and its population as expendable. By not warning the people of the explosion, local populations were given no chance to take protective measures such as evacuation or avoiding consumption of contaminated water and food produced from the soil. The people were deceived into continuing their livelihoods as normal following the explosion, drinking contaminated water and breathing radioactive air. The New York Times was instrumental in the cover-up, issuing reports that the explosion was due to a conventional munitions incident. It was only after the horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 an 9 that the people of New Mexico realized what had really happened at the Trinity site. Even then they were kept in the dark by Washington stonewalling about the event for decades to come.

Still another factor that maximized the damage on public health was the rush by the American government to weaponize the A-bomb technology. As Karl Grossman points out, the rationale behind the Manhattan Project was said to be to preempt Nazi Germany. But by July 1945, Nazi Germany was defeated and imperial Japan was on its knees. The inescapable implication is that President Harry Truman and the Pentagon wanted to display the new awesome weapon of mass destruction to the Soviet Union in what would be a chilling demarcation of the postwar globe according to American power.

Truman eagerly awaited the news of the Trinity test while attending the Potsdam allies’ conference in Germany along with Britain’s Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin. On receiving news of the successful explosion, Truman immediately adopted a more strident attitude towards Stalin. In that moment, a new Cold War was born.

Thus, it was Russophobia among the American ruling class that rushed the Trinity A-bomb explosion, even though that event would lead to generations of American citizens stricken with fatal diseases from the fallout. In a very real and frightening way, the U.S. rulers took a decision to “nuke” their own people such was their obsession with confronting the Soviet Union.

Subsequent U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 60s was conducted in remote areas of Nevada and in the Pacific Ocean. Those tests also took a deadly toll on the environment and local populations on Pacific islands.

But the recklessness and callous conditions of the New Mexico test is unparalleled in the toxic exposure it imposed on unsuspecting populations.

The stone-cold willingness to, in effect, bomb its own citizens by the federal government is a shuddering testimony as to the nefarious lengths the planners in Washington were prepared to go in their obsessive Russophobia.

When we survey the relentless fixation today in Washington and the U.S. political class with blaming Russia for all sorts of alleged malign intent, one can easily discern that this endemic Russophobia among America’s rulers has not waned.

The barbarity of what happened in New Mexico 75 years ago is alive and well. If it can be inflicted without apology on American citizens, then what does that say about the danger to the rest of the world?

As U.S. Tensions Soar With China, Taiwan Fears Cannon Fodder Risk

As U.S. Tensions Soar With China, Taiwan Fears Cannon Fodder Risk —  Strategic Culture

Source

Finian Cunningham October 22, 2020

After 40 years of “strategic ambiguity” in its partnership with the United States, Taiwan has taken the unprecedented move of calling Washington for “clarity” on whether it would be defended in the event of armed conflict with China.

The Washington Post reported last week a senior Taiwanese representative to the U.S. as saying: “We need some degree of clarity.” The post headlined with the question: “Would the U.S. protect Taiwan from China?”

The growing nervousness on the island territory off China’s southern coast comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing. Those tensions have been fueled by the Trump administration’s sharp divergence from respecting Washington’s erstwhile One China policy.

Washington severed official relations with Taiwan in 1979 in deference to China’s claims of territorial sovereignty over the island. That move was an expedient concession by Washington to inveigle China away from alliance with the Soviet Union. Taiwan became a redoubt for nationalist forces after the 1949 victory in the civil war by Chinese communists led by Mao Zedong.

During the past four decades, the U.S. has maintained friendly relations with the separatist government in Taipei. Past American administrations have sold arms to Taiwan. However, Washington has always refrained from declaring a military defense pact with the island, even as Beijing reserves the right to take back control by use of force if necessary.

Under Trump, relations were thrown into upheaval. Washington has signed off on an unprecedented number of offensive weapons deals over the past four years with Taiwan. Just last week the Trump administration gave notice that it was moving ahead with three separate advanced-arms packages, including rocket and missile launchers. The arming of Taiwan has provoked anger in Beijing which views the U.S. moves as turning the territory into a “porcupine”, and emboldening separatist intransigence.

There has also been a step-change in American military deployment in the Taiwan Strait. Last week saw the 10th passage this year of a guided-missile destroyer through the strait which the Pentagon calls “freedom of navigation” exercises in international waters.

China has stepped up its military presence in the southern region. Earlier his month, Beijing launched maneuvers which simulated an invasion of Taiwan. Warplanes of the People’s Liberation Army have also increased flights near Taiwan. From Beijing’s point of view, these drills are legal because it holds territorial claim over Taiwan.

The Trump administration seems to be using Taiwan in its wider confrontation with China over trade and geopolitical objectives. By ramping up support for Taiwan, it is calculated to be a destabilizing jab at China.

This summer, the U.S. sent its most senior official to Taiwan since 1979. Health Secretary Alex Azar’s visit infuriated Beijing as it openly flouted the One China status of Taiwan in relation to China. It was seen as a provocative snub to Beijing’s authority.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is being buoyed by what she sees as Washington’s moves towards restoring diplomatic relations. The Trump administration has called for Taiwan to be given full representation at the United Nations, which again is a daring insult to Beijing’s sovereignty.

It is not clear what policy a Joe Biden administration would adopt if the Democrat presidential candidate is elected to the White House on November 3. One hint comes from Michèle Flournoy who is speculated to be in the running to become Biden’s defense secretary. In June this year, Flournoy wrote a lengthly article in Foreign Affairs in which she urged tougher American military support for Taiwan to “deter China”.

On October 10, Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen delivered a strident separatist speech in she called for dialogue with Beijing “as equals”. While the proposition for dialogue might sound welcome, the presumption of “equals” would be seen in Beijing as impudent.

The dangerous tensions over Taiwan are a direct manifestation of U.S. policy to antagonize China. Taiwan is a classic pawn in a bigger game which Washington is pursuing with regard to trying to contain the rise of China as a perceived global rival to the U.S.

The Trump administration’s reckless arms sales to Taiwan have little to do with “protection” of the breakaway territory. China’s far greater military power is no match for the U.S. weapons being plied to the island. The American military-industrial complex is enjoying a surge in sales and profits, but there seems no conviction on Washington’s part to step up to the plate with regard to committing to a defense pact.

That self-serving ambiguity is putting Taiwan in a discomfiting bind. It is being caught in a geopolitical crossfire between the U.S. and China. In its antagonism with Beijing, Washington is fueling separatist tensions which could spark an armed confrontation through miscalculation or frustration.

No wonder Taiwan is belatedly demanding “clarity” from Washington as tensions reach boiling point. Nerves are fraying because, it seems, Taiwan is being assigned the role of American cannon fodder. The clarity it is seeking is unlikely to be rendered by Washington as the latter is only using Taiwan as a device against China.

Why Conflict in Caucasus Is Erdogan’s Revenge for Syria

Why Conflict in Caucasus Is Erdogan's Revenge for Syria - TheAltWorld

Finian Cunningham

October 17, 2020

Turkey’s outsize role in fueling the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is becoming more apparent. That’s why a peace deal will be hard to cut and indeed the conflict may blow up further into a protracted regional war. A war that could drag Russia into battling in the Caucasus on its southern periphery against NATO proxies.

In a phone call this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly backed Moscow’s efforts at mediating a ceasefire in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Notwithstanding, Erdogan appeared to deliver an ultimatum to his Russian counterpart. He said that there must be a “permanent solution” to the decades-long territorial dispute.

Erdogan and his Azerbaijan ally have already made it clear that the only solution acceptable to them is for Armenian separatists to relinquish their claim to Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey and Azerbaijan – bound by common Turkic culture – have long-called the Armenian-held enclave an illegal occupation of Azerbaijani territory since a border war ended in 1994.

When hostilities flared again last month on September 27 initial reports suggested the clashes were of a haphazard nature with both sides trading blame for starting the violence. However, it has since become clear that the actions taken on the Azeri side seem to have been a planned aggression with Turkey’s full support.

Following a previous deadly clash on July 12-13 involving about a dozen casualties among Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, there then proceeded massive military exercises in Azerbaijan involving 11,000 Turkish troops beginning on July 29. For nearly two weeks into August, the maneuvers deployed artillery, warplanes and air-defense units in what was evidently a major drive by Ankara and Baku to coordinate the armies from both countries to fulfill joint operations. Furthermore, reports indicated that Turkish forces, including F-16 fighter jets, remained in Azerbaijan following the unprecedented military drills.

Alongside the drills, there was also a dramatic increase in military arms sales from Turkey to Azerbaijan. According to Turkish export figures, there was a six-fold increase in weapons deals compared with the previous year, with most of the supply being delivered in the third quarter of 2020 between July and September. The armaments included drones and rocket launchers which have featured with such devastating impact since hostilities erupted on September 27.

A third factor suggesting planned aggression was the reported transport of mercenary fighters from Syria and Libya by Turkey to fight on the Azerbaijani side. Thousands of such militants belonging to jihadist brigades under the control of Turkey had arrived in the Azeri capital Baku before hostilities broke out on September 27. The logistics involved in organizing such a large-scale deployment can only mean long-term planning.

Armenian sources also claim that Azeri authorities had begun impounding civilian vehicles weeks before the shooting war opened. They also claim that when the fire-fights erupted on September 27, Turkish media were present on the ground to give live coverage of events.

It seems indisputable therefore that Turkey and Azerbaijan had made a strategic decision to implement a “final solution” to the protracted dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

That’s what makes Russian efforts at mediating a cessation to hostilities all the more fraught. After marathon talks mediated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a ceasefire was introduced on October 10. However, within hours the truce unravelled with reports of resumed exchange of fire and shelling of cities on both sides. The main violations have been committed by the Azerbaijani side using advanced Turkish weaponry. Armenian leaders have complained that the Azeri side does not seem interested in pursuing peace talks.

More perplexing is the widening of the conflict. Azerbaijan air strikes since the weekend ceasefire broke down have hit sites within Armenia, extending the conflict beyond the contested enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has also claimed that Armenian missiles have hit cities within its territory. Armenia flatly denies carrying out such strikes, which begs the question: is a third party covertly staging provocations and fomenting escalation of conflict?

What is challenging for Russia is that it has a legal obligation to defend Armenia as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (1992). With Armenia coming under fire, the pressure will be on Moscow to intervene militarily.

This would see Russia being embroiled in another proxy war with NATO-member Turkey. But this is not in Syria. It is the Caucasus region on Russia’s southern border. There are concerns among senior Russian military figures that such a scenario is exactly what Turkey’s Recep Erdogan is aiming for. Turkey was outplayed by Russia in the proxy war in Syria. Erdogan and NATO’s plans for regime change in Damascus were dealt a bloody nose by Russia. It seems though that conflict in the Caucasus may now be Erdogan’s revenge.

Moscow may need to seriously revise its relations with Ankara, and let Erdogan know he is treading on red lines.

Neither Trump Nor Biden Really Matter to China or Russia

Neither Trump Nor Biden Really Matter to China or Russia - TheAltWorld

Finian Cunningham July 30, 2020

Well, according to the Trump campaign, Democrat rival Joe Biden is the candidate whom Chinese leaders are rooting for to win the presidential election in November. “Beijing Biden” or “Sleepy Joe” would be a gift to China, so it goes.

In turn, trying to out-hawk the Republican incumbent, the Biden campaign paints Trump as being “soft” on China and having been “played” by Chinese counterparts over trade, the corona pandemic and allegations about human rights.

Biden, the former vice president in the previous Obama administrations, has vowed to impose more sanctions on China over allegations of rights violations. He claims to be the one who will “stand up” to Beijing if he is elected to the White House in three months’ time.

Last week, Biden declared he was “giving notice to the Kremlin and others [China]” that if elected to the presidency he would impose “substantial and lasting costs” on those who allegedly interfere in U.S. politics. That’s war talk based on worthless intel propaganda.

Trump meanwhile asserts that no-one is tougher than him when it comes to dealing with China (and Russia for that matter).

Given the Trump administration’s reckless policy of ramping up hostility towards China in recent months, that begs the question: how could a future Biden administration begin to be even more aggressive – short of going to war?

Relations between Washington and Beijing have plummeted to their worst levels since the historic detente initiated by President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. The precipitous downward spiral has occurred under President Trump’s watch. So, how exactly could a prospective President Biden make the relationship more adversarial?

The truth is both Trump and Biden are equally vulnerable to domestic partisan criticism about their respective dealings with China. The belated high-handed approach that both are trying to project is pockmarked with risible hypocrisy.

The Trump campaign scores a valid point when it recalls how former Vice President Biden smooched and feted Chinese leaders with economic opportunities in the American economy.

Likewise, Trump stands accused of lavishing praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping while ignoring the impending coronavirus pandemic because Trump’s top priority was getting a trade deal with China.

The fact that both American politicians have U-turned with regard to China in such nasty terms must leave the authorities in Beijing with a deep sense of distrust in either of the would-be presidents.

Biden at one time waxed lyrical about his close relationship with Xi, but as his bid for the presidency heated up, Biden stuck the proverbial knife in the Chinese leader calling him a “thug”.

For his part, Trump previously referred to Xi as a “dear friend” while dining him with “beautiful chocolate cake” at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but his administration has since slammed the Chinese leader as “authoritarian”. Trump’s racist slurs over the pandemic being “Kung Flu” and “Chinese plague” must give President Xi pause for disgust with the falseness.

At the end of day, can either of these presidential candidates be trusted to pursue principled U.S.-China relations going forward? The toxic anti-China campaigning by both indicates a level of puerile treachery which foreshadows no possible return to any kind of normalcy.

One distinction perhaps between Trump and Biden is the latter is promising to repair relations with Western allies to form a united front against China. To that end, a hawkish confrontational policy under Biden may have more impact on U.S.-China relations than under Trump. Trump has managed to alienate European allies with his broadsides over trade tariffs and NATO spending commitments. Although Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has recently urged “an alliance of democracies” to confront China, that rallying call is likely to fall on deaf ears with European allies irked by Trump’s brash style. Biden on the other hand could bring a more unified Western policy of hostility towards Beijing (and Moscow) by affecting a more appeasing attitude towards Europe. In that way, Biden would be more preferred by the Pentagon and foreign policy establishment than Trump, just as Hillary Clinton was in 2016.

However, it is doubtful that Beijing is paying too much attention to what either candidate is saying or posturing at. If both of them can flip so much from talking softly to shouting loud anti-China profanities then their individual characters may be deemed malleable and unscrupulous. Both have shown a shameless streak in stoking anti-China bashing for electioneering gain. Trump pulled that trick last time out in 2016 when he railed against China for “raping America” only for him to discover “deep friendship” with Xi following that election. Now he has reverted to hostility out of self-serving calculation to whip up anti-China sentiment among voters. And Biden is apt to do the very same.

Forget about such fickle personalities when it comes to reading U.S. policy towards China. Beijing will be looking at the longer trajectory of how U.S. policy turned towards a more militarized approach with the “Pivot to Asia” under the Obama-Biden administration in 2011. Indicating how Deep State continuity transcends Democrat or Republican occupants of the White House, the next major indicator was in the Pentagon planning documents of 2017 and 2018 under Trump which labelled China and Russia as “great power rivals”. The American “ship of state”, it may be concluded, is therefore set on a collision course with both Beijing and Moscow in terms of ramping up a confrontational agenda. Who sits in the White House scarcely matters.

For Trump and Biden to trade barbs about which one is “softer” on China or Russia is irrelevant in the bigger picture of U.S. imperialist ambitions for global dominance. The logic of a waning American empire and the concomitant inherent belligerence to compensate for the perceived loss of U.S. global power are the issues to follow, not whether Trump or Biden clinch the dog-and-pony race to the White House.

Conflict Looms for Egypt and Ethiopia Over Nile Dam

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Conflict Looms for Egypt and Ethiopia Over Nile Dam - TheAltWorld
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Finian Cunningham Former editor and writer for major news media organizations. He has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages

July 17, 2020

Ethiopia appears to be going ahead with its vow to begin filling a crucial hydroelectric dam on the Nile River after protracted negotiations with Egypt broke down earlier this week. There are grave concerns the two nations may go to war as both water-stressed countries consider their share of the world’s longest river a matter of existential imperative.

Cairo is urging Addis Ababa for clarification after European satellite images showed water filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia has stated that the higher water levels are a natural consequence of the current heavy rainy season. However, this month was designated by Addis Ababa as a deadline to begin filling the $4.6 billion dam.

Egypt has repeatedly challenged the project saying that it would deprive it of vital freshwater supplies. Egypt relies on the Nile for 90 per cent of its total supply for 100 million population. Last month foreign minister Sameh Shoukry warned the UN security council that Egypt was facing an existential threat over the dam and indicated his country was prepared to go to war to secure its vital interests.

Ethiopia also maintains that the dam – the largest in Africa when it is due to be completed in the next year – is an “existential necessity”. Large swathes of its 110 million population subsist on daily rationed supply of water. The hydroelectric facility will also generate 6,000 megawatts of power which can be used to boost the existing erratic national grid.

Ominously, on both sides the issue is fraught with national pride. Egyptians accuse Ethiopia of a high-handed approach in asserting its declared right to build the dam without due consideration of the impact on Egypt.

On the other hand, the Ethiopians view the project which began in 2011 as a matter of sovereign right to utilize a natural resource for lifting their nation out of poverty. The Blue Nile which originates in Ethiopia is the main tributary to the Nile. Ethiopians would argue that Egypt does not give away control to foreign interests over its natural resources of gas and oil.

Ethiopians also point out that Egypt’s “claims” to Nile water are rooted in colonial-era treaties negotiated with Britain which Ethiopia had no say in.

What makes the present tensions sharper is the domestic political pressures in both countries. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is struggling to maintain legitimacy among his own population over long-running economic problems. For a self-styled strong leader, a conflict over the dam could boost his standing among Egyptians as they rally around the flag.

Likewise, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is beset by internal political conflicts and violent protests against his nearly two years in office. His postponement of parliamentary elections due to the coronavirus has sparked criticism of a would-be autocrat. The recent murder of a popular singer-activist which resulted in mass protests and over 100 killings by security forces has marred Abiy’s image.

In forging ahead with the dam, premier Abiy can deflect from internal turmoil and unite Ethiopians around an issue of national pride. Previously, as a new prime minister, he showed disdain towards the project, saying it would take 10 years to complete. There are indicators that Abiy may have been involved in a sinister geopolitical move along with Egypt to derail the dam’s completion. Therefore, his apparent sudden support for the project suggests a cynical move to shore up his own national standing.

Then there is the geopolitical factor of the Trump administration. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump weighed in to the Nile dispute in a way that was seen as bolstering Egypt’s claims. Much to the ire of Ethiopia, Washington warned Addis Ababa not to proceed with the dam until a legally binding accord was found with Egypt.

Thus if Egypt’s al-Sisi feels he has Trump’s backing, he may be tempted to go to war over the Nile. On paper, Egypt has a much stronger military than Ethiopia. It receives $1.4 billion a year from Washington in military aid. Al-Sisi may see Ethiopia as a softer “war option” than Libya where his forces are also being dragged into in a proxy war with Turkey.

Ethiopia, too, is an ally of Washington, but in the grand scheme of geopolitical interests, Cairo would be the preferred client for the United States. Up to now, the Trump administration has endorsed Egypt’s position over the Nile dispute. That may be enough to embolden al-Sisi to go for a showdown with Ethiopia. For Trump, being on the side of Egypt may be calculated to give his flailing Middle East policies some badly needed enthusiasm among Arab nations. Egypt has the backing of the Arab League, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt has previously threatened to sabotage Ethiopia’s dam. How it would do this presents logistical problems. Egypt is separated from Ethiopia to its south by the vast territory of Sudan. Cairo has a strong air force of U.S.-supplied F-16s while Ethiopia has minimal air defenses, relying instead on a formidable infantry army.

Another foreboding sign is the uptick in visits to Cairo by Eritrean autocratic leader Isaias Afwerki. He has held two meetings with al-Sisi at the presidential palace in the Egyptian capital in as many months, the most recent being on July 6 when the two leaders again discussed “regional security” and Ethiopia’s dam. Eritrea provides a Red Sea corridor into landlocked Ethiopia which would be more advantageous to Cairo than long flights across Sudan.

Nominally, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace deal in July 2018 to end nearly two decades of Cold War, for which Ethiopia’s Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the Eritrean leader may be tempted to dip back into bad blood if it boosted his coffers from Arab money flowing in return for aiding Egypt.

There will be plenty of platitudinous calls for diplomacy and negotiated settlement from Washington, the African Union and the Arab League. But there is an underlying current for war that may prove unstoppable driven by two populous and thirsty nations whose leaders are badly in need of shoring up their political authority amid internal discontent.

Why Trump Scapegoats China

U.S. President Donald Trump answers a question from CNN's chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta about hospitals and frontline health care workers reporting shortages of masks and coronavirus tests during the coronavirus response daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2020.

17.04.2020

by Finian Cunningham

President Trump this week said no-one believes China’s official figures on Covid-19 casualties. Along with his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump accused Beijing of a cover-up on the scale of the disease.

Almost in the same breath, the White House has also accused the World Health Organization of colluding with China in deceiving other nations about the pandemic danger. To supposedly prove his point, Trump cut off US funding to the WHO.

China has slammed claims of it conducting a cover-up, saying it provided early warning to the rest of the world about the deadly outbreak.

Part of Trump’s skepticism towards China’s data appears to stem from the country’s relatively low numbers of infection cases and deaths. This week, China’s infection cases were about 82,000 while its deaths numbered over 4,000. That was after an upward revision on earlier data concerning the city of Wuhan where the new coronavirus disease erupted in December. Beijing says such revision is normal practice by all countries as mortality information is gathered. In Britain, for example, it is reckoned that deaths have so far been greatly underestimated due to lack of counting deceased in elderly care homes. Is anyone accusing the British government of a cover-up?

In any case, what seems to be bothering The Donald and other Western leaders is just how low China’s pandemic figures are by comparison with their own.

In the US this week, the infection cases and death toll are upwards of 700,000 and 34,000, according to this global counter. That’s massively greater than figures in China. Likewise the casualty rates in Italy, Spain, France and Britain are way out ahead of what China has reported.

That huge disparity has led Western politicians to accuse China of a cover-up or at least not coming fully clean with evidence. Because to reflect on the enormously discrepant figures it otherwise makes the Western countries look extremely bad in their mishandling of the public health crisis. The exploding casualties indicate gross ineptitude and dereliction of public health services (which is correct). In which case, it is politically expedient, and indeed imperative, to find a scapegoat in order to cover-up for the monumental incompetence of Western leaders. Ironically, it’s not China which is doing the covering up. It is the West and their criminally incompetent governments and their slavish adherence to capitalist priorities. Private profit before people.

The US and President Trump are potentially most acutely exposed for their ineptitude in coping with the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic ripping through American society is down to Trump’s callous complacency which was displayed for weeks after both China and the WHO explicitly warned of a public health crisis as far back as the end of January.

The American crisis is also down to the parlously insecure state of American workers living on the edge of financial ruin and an underfunded crumby health care system that puts corporate profit before human need.

Same goes for Britain and many other Western states. The fact is that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed all their chronic failings to protect public health. That’s why it is imperative for the Western culprits to blame China for allegedly deceiving them into supposedly not being able to make adequate preparations.

The Western inference that China’s Covid-19 figures are unreliable are contradicted by data from South Korea. It was one of the first countries outside China to be put on alert over the epidemic. But it was early and rapid action by South Korea’s government that ensured the impact was kept relatively low. Out of a caseload of 106,000 infections, some 230 South Koreans have died from the disease. Compare that with Britain, where the caseload as of this week is similar, but the death toll stands at over 14,000, two orders of magnitude greater.

© REUTERS / KIM HONG-JIA couple takes a walk near a cherry blossom trees street, closed to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Seoul, South Korea, April 1, 2020

South Korea’s effectiveness in containing the Covid-19 pandemic shows that the right government action of massive testing, tracking and quarantining can succeed. China’s record is apparently not as good as South Korea’s, but nevertheless is comparable in the scale of its success. Western governments and media are not accusing South Korea of a cover-up. And if South Korea can succeed in the way it did, then it is entirely feasible that China did also by the same proactive intervention of testing, tracking and lockdown. To claim China is lying about its figures is to willfully ignore the success of South Korea against Covid-19.

Trump and other Western leaders are scapegoating China over Covid-19 because they can’t allow the public to ponder on the shameful and awful truth: that their governments let them die unnecessarily.

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

Unmasked: NATO’s Dog-Eat-Dog Pandemic Reaction

Finian CunninghamApril 10, 2020

Unmasked: NATO's Dog-Eat-Dog Pandemic Reaction - Islam Times

Despite its charter proclaiming mutual defense and security, the NATO military alliance is showing a rather unbecoming dog-eat-dog individualistic reaction in coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States, the top dog in the 30-member pack of nations, is accused of “modern piracy” after it nabbed consignments of face masks which were bound for allies Canada, France and Germany to help those nations fight against soaring epidemics of the disease.

To think too that only last year, NATO celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding in 1949 with lots of fanfare and vain self-congratulations of how noble the alliance is. Skeptics, though, see the bloc as a Cold War relic whose security claims are but empty Orwellian excuses for warmongering and propping up obscenely wasteful corporate militarism.

The latest incident involved the alleged commandeering of 200,000 anti-infection surgical masks by the US which had been originally ordered by German authorities for police officers in Berlin. The shipment was intercepted in Thailand and directed to the US instead.

It appears that the US firm, 3M, which sources the facial masks in China, was mandated by the Trump administration to increase its exports to the US due to the emergency circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, thereby over-riding the transaction with Germany.

However, Berlin state minister Andreas Geisel condemned the US intervention as “modern day piracy”.

There have been similar reports of medical equipment bound for Canada and France also being intercepted by US authorities. Last week, a planeload of masks about to take off from Shanghai for France was bought up by American officials who turned up at the airport at the last minute wielding wads of cash.

Washington has denied the American actions are underhand. Well, maybe not underhand, but the Wild West-style capitalism of outbidding others with bigger bucks over life-saving medical material certainly seems unethical. And what about all that jive about mutual defense and security? Where’s the fraternal coordination in a crisis?

It’s not just the US which is seen as saving its own skin in a panic. Germany and France have also imposed export bans on their companies sending medical supplies to other European countries. That has led to grievances voiced by Serbian leader Alexander Vucic and others complaining that there is no European solidarity.

Even European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was obliged to rebuke EU states for not displaying sufficient solidarity and for closing off borders and supplies to others in need from the pandemic.

In Italy and Spain, where deaths have soared above 10,000 in recent weeks, there has been popular outrage over the lack of collective response from European and NATO allies.

Given the rapidly growing threat to public health from the Covid-19 pandemic it is understandable that nations are taking desperate measures. From an initial indifference towards the disease in the US, the authorities there are now increasingly fearful that the infections and death toll may spiral out of control.

Last week, the global infection number surpassed one million with more than a quarter of those being in the US. The American death toll may peak at multiples of what we have seen in China or Europe. This is especially because of the deprived social conditions of American workers and due to under-resourced for-profit public health services.

Coming in an election year, President Trump is seeing his reelection hopes potentially going up in smoke along with the economy hit by coronavirus. That no doubt compels his administration to pull out all the stops to contain the pandemic, which would explain the snatching of vital medical equipment from allies.

No doubt too that was why Trump gratefully accepted medical aid sent from Russia last week. The US has also received supplies from China. Which puts into perspective how tawdry are American sanctions on Moscow and Trump’s trade-war wrangling with Beijing is.

Russia and China have both despatched medical aid to Italy to help it cope with the crisis. The Italian government and public have acknowleged the show of solidarity with gratitude.

Ironically, and cheaply, some US media outlets and European parliamentarians have accused Russia and China of exploiting the pandemic for alleged propaganda purposes. It is claimed that Russian and Chinese media are spreading disinformation over Covid-19 with the objective of undermining NATO and the European Union. That’s just another iteration of the usual anti-Russia mentality which is fixated on the notion of a supposed Kremlin plot to “destroy Western democracies”.

NATO and the EU are doing a pretty fine job of undermining themselves, never mind purported input from Russia or China.

The only time NATO seems to show “solidarity” is when its member-nations attack and destroy weaker foreign countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Somalia – at the behest of top-dog USA. When the chips are down, however, and survival instincts kick in, then it’s dog-eat-dog with a snarling “Screw You!”

The saga of stealing masks from one another is surely truth-by-parody.

Sick West Goes Viral

FINIAN CUNNINGHAM SATURDAY 4 APR 20

The world is in a sick place. We’re not just talking about the escalating coronavirus pandemic, serious though that is with global deaths doubling over the past week. What is also sick is the way gestures of solidarity are being cynically twisted.

Take the arrival of Russian medical aid to the US this week. That was promptly arranged after US President Donald Trump asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call for help in coping with the coronavirus crisis. Even before the Antonov-124 cargo plane touched down at JFK airport certain US media outlets were labelling the gesture of solidarity as a “propaganda gimmick” by the Kremlin.

It was surmised that the Russian response to the US request for aid was “to push efforts for relief from sanctions” imposed by Washington. The cynical inference is that supposed Russian conniving and deceit knows no bounds in the black art of manipulation.

A Russian made Antonov An-124, one of the biggest cargo planes in the world, is pictured on May 29, 2019, on the tarmac of the airport in Brest, Western France.

© AFP 2020 / FRED TANNEAU

How about just simply acknowledging the evident fact that Russia is sending vital medical help to the US at a time of need motivating by no other sentiment than basic humanitarian compassion? The fact that Russia has been slapped with numerous US sanctions over recent years since the Ukraine crisis as well as stemming from bizarre claims of Moscow meddling in the 2016 US presidential election – only goes to show Russia’s capacity for magnanimity. Simple as that folks.

The same pathetic distortion was earlier voiced regarding Russian and Chinese aid to Italy and other European countries stricken with the deadly virus.

This week a European Union so-called media watchdog warned that Russia and China were engaged in a disinformation campaign to “undermine public trust in national health-care systems”.

There are also reports of claims by US intelligence and other officials that China is to blame for spreading the disease because it deliberately under-reported the outbreak that initially occurred in December, thereby allegedly leaving Western nations ill-prepared to withstand the pandemic.

Those claims are patently false. China had alerted the world to the seriousness of the disease as early as January when it was itself getting to grips with the uncertain public health crisis. Western nations had three months to learn from China’s experience, as well as from neighboring South Korea, where authorities clamped down on the epidemic. But Western governments for various reasons, no doubt primarily due to budgetary costs, chose instead to ignore the threat.

Trump and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson in particular showed stupendous nonchalance bordering on callous indifference. Both of them dismissed the looming Covid-19 crisis as a “passing flu”. Only last week Trump was touting the US “getting back to business by Easter”.

What is abundantly evident is that the US, Britain and other Western states are not prepared to deal with the present crisis because of their rundown public health services. That structural problem is a matter of government neglect over many years to ensure that their citizens are adequately protected in a time of crisis. And that neglect stems from deliberate policy choices, such as showering the rich with tax breaks and squandering trillions on militarism, while relentlessly cutting funds for public services.

In short, the coronavirus crisis is a reflection of a deeper crisis in the capitalist system that prevails among Western states, as American professor Richard Wolff explains. Societal human needs are always sacrificed on the altar of elite private profit.

Men wearing protective masks stand as people hike along a section of the Great Wall in Badaling in Beijing, on its first day of re-opening after the scenic site's coronavirus related closure, China, 24 March 2020.

© REUTERS / THOMAS PETER

The fact that in the US and Britain there is a paltry number of test kits for checking the disease and a dearth of vital protective equipment for medical staff is a national disgrace due to inherent political and economic reasons. That is what needs to be focused on. That is where the public anger should be directed. Why have citizens been so abjectly betrayed by their governments whose first duty of care should be to protect them?

It is absurd and contemptible for certain media and pundits to try to distract from the central issue of bankrupt democracy by seeking to disparage Russia over humanitarian aid or scapegoat China for the systemic failures of Western governments.

One senses, however, that the ploys of Russophobia and Chinaphobia have become hopelessly threadbare in credibility. In Britain, for example, normally Conservative-supporting media are asking angry questions on their front pages about government dereliction. Are we to believe that such anger is the result of Russia and China “sowing disinformation to undermine public trust”?

No, it is simply a case of citizens realizing – slowly and painfully – that their governments and society organized on capitalist priorities is a shambles unworthy of the name “democracy”.

The sickness of smearing and blaming others instead of dealing honestly with inherent problems will only embolden the public even more to exact retribution from their culpable authorities. As millions of workers and their families reap poverty and illness, one senses too that the pitchforks are being taken down from the barn roofs.

Sickness in the West is going viral, but maybe some lasting benefit may come from this crisis in the end, if societies are overhauled for the greater good of citizens.

Finian Cunningham

Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromising Integrity in Journalism (2019).

Sickening US Sanctions on Iran Amid Global Coronavirus Epidemic

By Finian Cunningham

Source

Corona Iran 64861

Russia, which has so far been relatively unscathed from the disease, is reportedly sending 50,000 test kits to Iran for detecting the virus. The Islamic Republic has recorded over 300 deaths so far and there are fears of many more fatalities to come over the next few weeks as the flu-like disease spreads to all provinces.

Meanwhile, China – where the outbreak originated in December – is sending thousands of ventilators, respirators and other equipment to Italy, which has become the worst-affected country in Europe by the disease.

In stark contrast to these international humanitarian actions, the United States continues to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran under its policy of “maximum pressure”.

Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani this week called on the rest of the world to demand the lifting of US sanctions because they are hampering the fight against Covid-19 in Iran.

Washington claims that its sanctions on Iran do not specifically target medicines and humanitarian supplies to the country. But that claim is cynical sophistry. Even the US-based Human Rights Watch organization – usually uncritical of American foreign policy – has stated that sanctions are hitting Iran’s public health services.

A ruling by the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in October 2018 also found that US sanctions were unlawful, especially because they prevent Iran from importing vital humanitarian supplies.

Two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that his country would offer humanitarian assistance to Iran over the coronavirus crisis if Tehran made a request. Pompeo said the US “stands with the people of Iran”.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has subsequently rejected Washington’s “offer”, dismissing it as a disingenuous propaganda stunt. He said that if Washington really was concerned for the people of Iran then it would immediately revoke its economic sanctions that are restricting every industrial sector, including banking and shipping.

Any fair-minded person would agree with President Rouhani. What is charitable about throttling a country and then offering superficial respite? It’s tantamount to waterboarding a prisoner and then letting him breathe for a few seconds before continuing the torture.

The Trump administration re-imposed crippling US sanctions on Iran in May 2018 after the Americans decided to dump the international nuclear accord. As the ICJ ruling above makes clear, those sanctions are unlawful. Again, let that fact sink in: US policy towards Iran is unlawful.

The American economic stranglehold has slashed Iran’s global oil exports, plunging the country’s economy into turmoil. Even before the coronavirus epidemic emerged, Iranians have been deprived of life-saving medicines because of failing import-purchasing power and skyrocketing inflation. Untold numbers of patients have died from lack of drugs for cancer treatment and other terminal illnesses – all because of the US blockade on the country.

But from the callous American point of view, this is all going to plan as part of “maximum pressure” to incite regime change. Professed concern for the Iranian people by President Trump and his administration is simply sickening.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world can become inured to the barbarity of economic sanctions inflicted on Iran by the US. The slow, daily death toll of people perishing from chronic lack of medicines can become invisible due to the seeming abstract nature of these deaths.

However, with the coronavirus now gripping Iran it suddenly becomes clear again just how monstrous US policy towards that country is. Whatever American propaganda fantasies might claim about Iran, there is absolutely no justification for kicking sick innocent people when they are down.

Washington calls Iran the “world’s number one terror state”. What does that make the US when it is choking a nation that is trying to fight off a disease that may kill thousands?

At the end of the day, what comes around goes around. There are growing fears that the Covid-19 virus is set to explode in the US, mainly because of years of underfunding of public health services. American governments have for years pandered to the rich elite, while the majority of its citizens have become mired in poverty and deprivation. The US authorities are nowhere near prepared to deal with the impending humanitarian crisis, according to American medics and nurses.

The heartlessness of successive US governments towards Iran – and in particular under the current Trump administration – is heartlessness shown towards all human beings, including ordinary American citizens. And vile US policy will reap what it has sown.

NATO and COVID-19: a Parasitical Disease in Europe

Finian Cunningham March 12, 2020

The decision to go-ahead with NATO’s biggest-ever war games in Europe at a time of heightened fears over the coronavirus sure raises questions about the military alliance’s stated purpose of maintaining security.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has said the Defender-Europe 20 exercises will not be cancelled due to the flu-like disease which has now spread to every country in the European Union causing hundreds of deaths so far.

Over the next five months some 17 allied NATO members will participate in military maneuvers across seven European states: in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All of the host nations have reported infections from the COVID-19 virus. “Host” being an operative word when it comes to also talking about the relationship with the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn is quoted as saying that the coronavirus outbreak has “become a global pandemic” and the “worst has yet to come.”

In all, 37,000 troops are involved in the Defender-Europe 20 war games, the biggest contingency since the end of the Cold War nearly three decades ago. The U.S. is sending 20,000 personnel. Most of those troops will return to bases located in at least 20 American states. Thus, the risk factor of spreading the disease across Europe and the U.S. is significantly increased by the NATO events.

Going ahead with the European war games looks especially ill-advised given that U.S. forces in Asia-Pacific have cancelled similar military exercises that were scheduled in South Korea out of fears about coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Defender-Europe 20 events underway come amid reports that the U.S. Commander in Europe, Lt. General Christoper Cavoli, may have been infected after attending a recent military conference in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The top health advisor to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Brig. General Paul Friedrichs has also admitted that the number of COVID-19 cases among the Pentagon’s armed forces may be far higher than is being reported.

The seeming lack of cautionary measures by the U.S.-led NATO alliance is in contrast to growing public concerns for containing the disease. Italy – which has recorded the second highest fatalities worldwide after China – has placed a total lockdown on public travel for its 60 million population. Airlines across Europe have cancelled thousands of flights as some carriers go out of business altogether.

Sporting events across Europe including major soccer matches are being cancelled or will be held without attendance by fans. The six-nations rugby tournament has been thrown into disarray from match fixtures being rescheduled; a big match between Ireland and France due this weekend is postponed until October.

In Britain there are calls for parliament to be suspended after health minister Nadine Dorries was reported to have been infected. Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of complacency in dealing with the virus.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also come under fire for not taking sufficient containment measures or providing adequate resources such as testing kits. The official number of U.S. cases of COVID-19 is relatively low so far, but that is thought to be due to limited testing.

It would therefore seem reasonable in this context of pandemic risk that such a multinational event like NATO’s Defender-Europe 20 be called off. As it proceeds, the war games appear to a perfect vector for accelerating disease spread between two continents and beyond. Indeed, not parking these war games seems the height of carelessness.

How fitting that NATO should be so unresponsive to real need. This lumbering 29-nation military organization which consumes a combined annual budget of $1 trillion is a creature of habit and slavish ideology. Nearly 30 years after the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the world has moved on. But not, it seems, NATO. It continues to hold its war games supposedly defending Europe from “Russian invasion”.

If NATO can’t adjust to such glaring world realities as the end of the Soviet Union three decades ago, then no wonder its response to coronavirus is hardly fleet-footed. It’s the military equivalent of a dinosaur whose functioning is no longer supported by its environment.

The irony is that NATO’s obscene military largesse is crushing public finances that would otherwise be more usefully spent, such as building up healthcare infrastructure that would help mitigate crises like the coronavirus. Many other societal needs are chronically neglected because of exorbitant military budgets among NATO members. Donald Trump brags that he has cajoled European allies to fork out hundreds of billions more dollars on military budgets.

The coronavirus is but a stress-test on whole societies that have become hollowed out by excessive militarism and the corporate capitalist super-structure it serves.

Even before the coronavirus problem emerged in China earlier this year, the NATO war games in Europe (and elsewhere) have been a cause for much criticism. The geopolitical tensions that this U.S.-led militarism is engendering towards Russia and China have been deplored. Moscow has denounced the Defender-Europe 20 event as a “rehearsal for war” which is completely disconnected from reality. The inveterate Cold War ideology that drives NATO is imposing insecurity and risk of war on Europe in a way that makes a mockery of NATO claims about being dedicated to “security and defense”.

The reckless risk-taking with regard to inflaming a coronavirus pandemic is typical of NATO’s obsolete purpose. Like the disease itself, NATO is a parasite on host nations draining vital public resources. This organization should be “self-isolating”… 30 years too late.

Dresden Terror Bombing, Like Hiroshima, a Maniacal Warning to Moscow

Finian Cunningham February 17, 2020

This weekend 75 years ago, the German city of Dresden was razed to the ground by British and American aerial bombardment. At least 25,000 mainly civilians were destroyed in raid after raid by over 1,200 heavy bombers, indiscriminately dropping high explosives and incendiaries. It took seven years just to clear the rubble.

The destruction of Dresden, a world-famous cultural center of Baroque majesty, has been long dogged by controversy. Official British and American military accounts claim it was necessary to hasten the collapse of the Third Reich; with a reasoning that resonates with US claims for dropping the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Critics say, however, that the mass bombing of Dresden was immaterial in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany. It was a wanton act of terror – a war crime – carried out by the British and Americans. Critics point out that most of the industrial and military targets on the outskirts of the beautiful city were largely left untouched by the bombing. British wartime leader Winston Churchill is even said to have expressed misgivings about the morality of this and other indiscriminate bombing of German civilian centers.

Ardent advocates of the terror-bombing campaign said it would exhaust German morale. A classic case of ends justifying means, no matter how vile the means.

There were also claims at the time that the damage to Nazi communication and transport lines would aid the advancing Soviet Red Army.

But there is good reason to believe that the rationale for the obliteration of Dresden was for an altogether more sinister reason. It wasn’t so much an act of terror aimed at Nazi Germany, but rather a show of maniacal power to the Soviet Union.

A British Royal Air Force memo on the Dresden operation noted that it would “show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do.” (See caption 17 in this linked photo essay.)

By mid-February 1945, the front lines of the Western and Eastern allied forces were such that the American and British ground troops had not yet entered Germany territory, while the Soviet Red Army had crossed the Oder River and were a mere 70 kilometers from Berlin, the seat of the Third Reich. Such was the keen advance of the Soviets that the Western allies were concerned that the Red Army might take all of German territory.

Rather than aiding Soviet forces from the mass bombing of Dresden, Leipzig and other cities in the German east, it seems plausible that, as the above British RAF memo indicates, the Western allies were intent on demonstrating a shockingly brutal, raw power to Moscow. Not just military power, but a will power to use any means necessary to defeat enemies.

There is a direct analogy here with the subsequent atomic bombing of Japan. At the Potsdam conference in July 1945 following the defeat of Nazi Germany and the carve-up of Berlin, giving the Western allies shared control of the German capital way beyond their final front lines, the American president Harry Truman relished the ability to drop a sinister hint to Josef Stalin about a newly acquired secret weapon – the A-bomb.

As with the earlier British and American bombing of Dresden and other German cities, there was arguably little military justification for dropping the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9. Like Dresden, the military significance of those cities was dubious. The death of 200,000 civilians from the atomic inferno was not a military necessity for defeating imperial Japan, as Truman’s top generals MacArthur and Eisenhower were advising him against.

So if the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki was unnecessary from a military point of view to end the Pacific War, why was it done?

As with Dresden, the point was a monstrous display of terror by Western powers to let the Soviet Union know that nothing would be off-limits in the postwar geopolitical stand-off that was anticipated and which became the Cold War.

When the A-bombs were dropped on Japan, Stalin was said to have been frozen by reports of the awesome new destructive power. The Soviet Union was not to develop its A-bomb until 1949.

The terror unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems to have had the intended effect of halting Soviet Red Army advances that were being made into the Korean Peninsula and onwards to Japan. The American troop lines were relatively remote by comparison with their Soviet counterparts, yet after the A-bombing the US was catapulted to take over both Asian-Pacific territories in the postwar period. Not unlike the precocious territorial gains that were acquired by the Western allies in defeated Nazi Germany.

Thus the moral controversies about the British and American bombing of German and Japanese cities goes way beyond arguments about the right or wrong of mass murder for the supposed purpose of ending wars. That moral hazard is difficult enough. But even more fiendish is a bigger picture; one in which the cold, calculated use of terror and genocide is not about ending war, but rather to simply exert geopolitical power against a perceived rival in the postwar era. Terror for terror sake, evil for evil sake.

A final note: it has become fashionable to falsify the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany by claiming that the Red Army became an occupying tyranny in eastern Europe after the war’s end. Suffice to say that if the Soviets committed even a fraction of the crimes that were actually carried out by the Americans and British from their aerial bombing of civilians in both Germany and Japan, one would never hear the end of deafening Western condemnations against Moscow to this day, and for decades to come.

Trump’s Brink of War with Iran Spun on a Lie

Finian Cunningham

February 9, 2020

Iraqi military intelligence has found that almost certainly the rocket attack on a U.S. base in December which killed an American contractor was carried out by the Islamic State terror group – not an Iranian-backed Shia militia, contrary to what Washington has been claiming.

The rocket attack on the base in Kirkuk in northern Iraq on December 27 led to a spiral of violence which brought the U.S. to the brink of war with Iran last month. For a few days, the world held its breath in dread of a war which could have engulfed the entire Middle East and beyond.

It turns out that President Trump’s brink of war with Iran was most likely spun on a cynical lie. That misinformation also led to the U.S. assassination of top Iranian military leader, Major General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, and to the subsequent shoot-down of a civilian airliner in Iran with 176 lives lost.

Following the deadly barrage on the American base in Kirkuk on December 27, the U.S. immediately blamed the Iranian-backed militia called Khataib Hezbollah. Washington took revenge within days by launching airstrikes on December 29 against the militia at sites across Syria and Iraq, killing dozens of fighters.

That then prompted furious protests at the U.S. embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on January 1. Trump fulminated against Iran for orchestrating the assault on American personnel and property, warning of a devastating military response.

On January 3, Trump ordered a drone strike against Iran’s Maj. Gen. Soleimani after he arrived at Baghdad international airport. Soleimani was murdered along with Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al Muhandis who was leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which includes Khataib Hezbollah – the Shia group that the Americans blamed for the multiple-rocket attack killing the U.S. contractor on December 27 in Kirkuk.

There then followed an intensive media campaign by Trump and his top officials which sought to portray the Iranian general as the ultimate author of the December 27 rocket attack. Soleimani was overnight transformed into a monster-terrorist who had to be “taken out”.

In his State of the Union address last week, Trump repeated the vilification of Soleimani and the justification for his assassination.

The president stated: “Soleimani was the Iranian regime’s most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq. As the world’s top terrorist, Soleimani orchestrated the deaths of countless men, women, and children. He directed the December assault [at Kirkuk U.S. base] and went on to assault U.S. forces in Iraq. Was actively planning new attacks when we hit him very hard. And that’s why, last month, at my direction, the U.S. military executed a flawless precision strike that killed Soleimani and terminated his evil reign of terror forever.”

Neither Trump nor his senior administration officials have presented any evidence to link Soleimani with the rocket attack at Kirkuk. Nor have they provided evidence that the Khataib Hezbollah militia group were responsible. The Americans say their information is classified and therefore cannot be disclosed publicly. For its part, the militia group has denied any involvement.

Iraqi military officials, however, are now coming out to say that they believe the perpetrators of the Kirkuk attack were Islamic State (also known as Daesh). The New York Times last week quoted Iraq’s Brigadier General Ahmed Adnan as saying: “All the indications are that it was Daesh… We as Iraqi forces cannot even come to this area unless we have a large force because it is not secure. How could it be that someone [Khataib Hezbollah] who doesn’t know the area could come here and find that firing position and launch an attack?”

The area surrounding the U.S.-Iraqi base in Kirkuk is a hotbed for the radical Sunni Islamic State network. It would therefore be nigh impossible for a Shia militia like Khataib Hezbollah to mount a major operation in a hostile and remote northern area of the country.

Furthermore, the Iraqi military said it had notified the Americans of imminent Islamic State hostile activity in the Kirkuk area in the weeks before the attack on December 27.

That points to another anomaly in Trump’s State of the Union speech when he bragged about how he had achieved the “100 per cent” destruction of the IS terror organization in Iraq and Syria. Trump’s bravura necessarily means denying that the terror group could have killed an American contractor. Better to blame a Shia militia affiliated with Iran so as not to spoil the self-congratulations.

More than that though, it seems that the Trump administration had Iran’s military leader in its cross-hairs for months before he was finally assassinated. It is reported Trump wanted to kill Soleimani as far back as 2017. Thus, the rocket attack on the base in Kirkuk and the subsequent protests at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad were merely a cynical pretext to trigger the assassination plan.

The killing of Soleimani resulted in an outpouring of national grief across Iran for a hero figure and a retaliation ballistic missile attack by Iran against two U.S. bases in Iraq on January 8. There were no American casualties in those attacks. But the world was brought to the brink of war. A war which could have spiraled into a regional conflict and even a world war given the strategic balance of forces in the region, including those of Russia, NATO and Israel.

In the event, war was narrowly averted. But one tragic outcome was the accidental shooting down of Ukrainian airliner Flight 752 above Tehran on the morning of January 8. Iranian air defenses fired in the mistaken belief it was an enemy target amid heightened tensions of war with the U.S. in retaliation for the Iranian missile attack on American bases in Iraq only hours earlier. All 176 onboard the airliner were killed. All the more damnable is that assassinations, the brink of war and the loss of innocent civilians all stemmed from what appears now to be an odious lie from the Trump administration.

US Returns to Ashes of 1945

by Finian Cunningham

US Vice President Mike Pence used his speech at the Holocaust memorial last week to bang a war drum at Iran. It revealed a deplorable lack of dignity and understanding of the event, despite Pence’s efforts to appear solemn.

But not only that. It showed too how out of touch the United States – at least its political leadership – is with the rest of the world and a growing collective concern among others to ensure international peace.

Maybe that’s why Britain’s Prince Charles appeared to snub Pence, declining to shake his hand while attending the commemoration of the Holocaust and 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Charles warmly greeted other dignitaries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and France’s Emmanuel Macron. It was curious how he blanked Pence.

But there again, maybe not that curious. Pence and the Trump administration seem to be hellbent on starting a war with Iran. A war that would engulf the entire Middle East and possibly ignite a world conflagration.

Washington’s wanton threats of violence against Iran and its recent assassination of one of Iran’s top military leaders stands as a shocking repudiation of international law and the UN Charter. It’s the kind of conduct more akin to an organized crime syndicate rather than a supposedly democratic state.

The UN Charter was created in 1945 in the aftermath of the Second World War precisely to prevent repetition of the worst conflagration in history and all its barbaric crimes, including the Nazi Holocaust. Over 5o million people died in that war, and nearly half of them belonged to the Soviet Union.

The prevention of war is surely the most onerous responsibility of the UN Security Council. Yet the United States is the one power that routinely ignores international law and the UN Charter to unilaterally launch wars or military interventions. Washington’s threats against Iran are, unfortunately, nothing new. This is standard American practice.

Britain's Prince Charles speaks to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during the World Holocaust Forum
© REUTERS / RONEN ZVULUN

Snub or No Snub? Netizens Laugh Off Prince Charles’ Explanation After Not Shaking Hands With Mike Pence

When world leaders addressed the Holocaust memorial held in Israel last Wednesday it was obvious – albeit implicitly – from their words that the US has become an isolated rogue state owing to its inveterate belligerence.

Putin, Macron, Prince Charles and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier all invoked the need for collective commitment to international law and peace. They implied that such a commitment was the best way to honour those who were killed in the Holocaust and the Second World War; the surest way to prevent the barbarity of fascist ideology and persecution ever to be repeated.

Those speakers one after another denounced the ideology of demonizing others which fuels hatred and wars. How pertinent is that to the way Washington routinely demonizes other nations and foreign leaders?

In sharp contrast, when the American vice president made his address, his apparent solemnity was contradicted by a blood-curdling call to arms against Iran, which he accused of being the “leading state purveyor of anti-semitism”. Pence urged the whole world “to stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, spoken as if he was spitting out the words like venom.

There is little doubt that Pence was formulating a rationale for military confrontation with Iran. That has been the consistent policy of the Trump administration over the past three years.

It was no surprise that Pence’s speech was in sync with the usual bellicose rhetoric from Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu towards Iran. But what was arresting was just how out of sync Pence and the Trump administration are with the rest the world.

US Vice President Mike Pence speaking at the fifth World Holocaust Forum, 23 January 2020.
© SPUTNIK / ALEXEY NIKOLSKY

World War II for Dummies? US Vice President Hails Liberators of Auschwitz Death Camp, ‘Forgets’ to Name Them

It was an odious spectacle to see Pence don a somber face as he talked about the victims of the Holocaust, while his own state wages war against any foreign nation whenever and wherever Washington deems. At an event that was supposed to reflect on the horror and evil of war, Pence showed he had no understanding or self-awareness.

That’s what is perplexing about many American politicians. They seem ignorant of history (Pence gave no acknowledgement to the Soviet soldiers who liberated Auschwitz and other death camps); they are consumed by self-righteousness and arrogance like a puritan preacher without an ounce of humanity.

Anyone who reflects on the horror of war would surely be advocating the respect of and adherence to international law, commitment to peace, and the earnest pursuit of dialogue and partnership among nations.

Russia’s Putin has repeatedly called for the members of the UN Security Council to urgently get together in order to guarantee a multilateral commitment to peace. Putin has also repeatedly appealed to the United States to get serious about negotiating renewed arms control treaties. Washington has ignored those latter calls.

Participants in the Jewish event of Holocaust remembrance walk in the former Nazi German World War II death camp of Auschwitz shortly before the start of the annual March of the Living in which young Jews from around the world walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau in memory of the 6 million Holocaust victims, in Oswiecim, Poland, Thursday, May 2, 2019

© AP PHOTO / CZAREK SOKOLOWSKIIf One’s Outraged by Words About Polish Anti-Semitism, One Should Delve Into History – Ex-Polish MP

The American national myth, evolved over recent decades since 1945, views itself as “exceptional” from all other nations. That translates as the US presuming to be “superior” and “above the law that others are bound by”.

Mike Pence’s menacing words and attitude at the Holocaust memorial showed a disturbing and pernicious disconnect with the need for preventing war and genocide. It was a disgraceful dishonouring of victims.

Out of sync with the world, the US has returned to the ashes and lawlessness of 1945.

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

Ukraine Peace Hostage to Washington’s Russophobia

Image result for Ukraine Peace Hostage to Washington’s Russophobia

December 15, 2019

After Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky finished multilateral peace talks in Paris, the emphatic media message was that “no red lines had been crossed” in negotiations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It sounded like Zelensky was far more concerned with trying to reassure observers he hadn’t “capitulated” to Putin, rather than engaging in a genuine dialogue to resolve his country’s conflict.

The so-called Normandy Four format of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine is scheduled to meet again in four months. The meeting in Paris on December 9 was the first time leaders had convened after nearly a three-year hiatus. It is to be welcomed that President Zelensky, who was elected in April, shows a willingness to engage with Russia, unlike predecessor Petro Poroshenko, in order to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. The region has been mired in nearly six years of civil war.

During the Paris talks, there was agreement to uphold a ceasefire in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and to extend deconfliction zones by withdrawing troops and artillery. There was also agreement on the exchange of all prisoners between Ukraine government forces and the pro-Russia rebels in Donbas. All very good. But what about the full implementation of the Minsk Accord signed back in 2015?

That accord obliges the government in Kiev to permit elections and regional autonomy in the Donbas. It also obliges a full amnesty for rebels who took up arms against the Kiev administration, which came to power through an illegal US-backed coup in February 2014. The Kiev power grab ushered in an ultra-nationalist Russophobic regime intent on dominating the pro-Russian eastern region. The dramatic shift in power in Kiev towards Neo-Nazi demagogues and paramilitaries was the decisive factor in Donbas taking up arms and also in pro-Russia Crimea seceding in March 2014 and joining the Russian Federation.

Regrettably, President Zelensky appears unwilling to implement the Minsk deal which his predecessor signed up to. In fact, at the concluding press conference jointly held by the four leaders at the Paris talks, Zelensky was given to trying to re-write Minsk. He insisted on “security issues” being settled before political issues. That suggests he wants rebels in Donbas to disarm without Kiev recognizing the region’s autonomy. Zelensky also insisted on “not giving up Donbas and Crimea”, and of regaining control over all of Ukraine’s borders, including those adjacent to Russia.

The Minsk deal – which France, Germany and Russia are in concurrence on as being the only viable way forward to peace – does not say anything about Crimea “being returned” to Ukraine. The accord does not precondition autonomy in the Donbas on a prior disarmament.

In other words, Zelensky is going off script on the Minsk terms for finding a peace settlement. His position is still not adhering to the obligations his government signed up to. Perhaps over the coming months, the Ukrainian president may come round to fulfilling responsibilities as stipulated by the Minsk accord.

But there are, unfortunately, reasons to be skeptical. That’s because the relentless Russophobia residing in Washington leaves Zelensky with little room for maneuver. The shaky Kiev regime is totally reliant on Washington’s patronage for its IMF financial life-line, as well as for military support. Zelensky is the president of a vassal state. Washington calls the tune and the tributes.

As could be seen more than ever during the recent impeachment hearings on President Trump, the consensus in Washington is that Ukraine is “at war with Russia”. American politicians and media are convinced in their Cold War delusions that Russia has invaded Ukraine and is the “aggressor” against a “freedom-loving nation”. That propaganda narrative, of course, reinforces the delusions of the Russia-hating ultra-nationalists in Ukraine who have threatened Zelensky’s life if he “surrenders” to Russia.

Hence, the conflict in Ukraine is not being addressed as the internal one that it really is. Instead, it is being viewed through the Russophobic lens as an external problem, allegedly created by Russian aggression. That means the “solution” is about standing up to Russia with lots more US military aid, rather than addressing the core issues of Kiev’s toxic politics and policies towards its separatist regions.

Russia is a guarantor of Minsk, just like France and Germany are. It is not a party with obligations to fulfill. Those obligations are on the politicians in Kiev and the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

With Washington pressing Zelensky to stand up to non-existing “Russian aggression” that means the search for peace in Ukraine will remain elusive. Peace will only come to Ukraine when Washington stops kicking Kiev around like a political football to gratify its Cold War hostility towards Russia. That’s unlikely to happen in the near future.

When Zelensky seeks to reassure that “no red lines” have been crossed, his mind is not on genuine peace negotiations. Rather, he is seeking to placate Ukraine’s hostage-takers in Washington.

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.

Netanyahu-Pompeo Meeting Solidifies War Plan on Iran

Netanyahu-Pompeo Meeting Solidifies War Plan on Iran

Ratcheting economic sanctions, military force encirclement, inciting seditious violence and relentless war rhetoric. This all by the US and its allies over the past year towards Iran, yet it is Iran which is portrayed as posing “potential threats” to American interests.

The hastily arranged meeting last week between Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had the hallmarks of a war-plan summit amid a peak in renewed media provocation against Iran.

In the last weeks there has been a flurry of US media reports claiming that Iran is secretly moving ballistic missiles into Iraq and elsewhere across the region. As usual the media credulously cite anonymous intelligence and Pentagon officials on those claims.

Here’s CNN quoting one administration official: “There has been consistent intelligence in the last several weeks,” the official said, referring to “a potential Iranian threat against US forces and interests in the Middle East.”

Last month, the head of US CentCom made a similar dire forecast of Iranian intentions. General Kenneth McKenzie said: “I would expect that if we look at the past three or four months, it’s possible they [Iran] will do something that is irresponsible.”

Notice how General McKenzie tacitly acknowledges the background of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions and US military force buildup against Iran as if that is somehow normal international conduct. Then he turns all that US aggression on its head by accusing Iran of possibly doing “something that is irresponsible”.

There are worrying signs that the US and Israel are redoubling the pressure of war against Iran. This pressure has to be seen in the context of a formidable deployment of US military forces – troops, warplanes and warships in the region since May this year. The earlier buildup was announced on the basis of unfounded claims that Iran was preparing to launch offensive operations against American interests. Then came a series of mysterious attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf over the summer which Washington blamed on Iran without evidence.

Street protests in Iran since mid-November over fuel-price increases appear to be hijacked by subversive elements. President Trump and other US officials have openly called for the protests to destabilize the Iranian government.

Fresh claims that Iran is sending ballistic missiles to neighboring countries appear to be setting the stage for justifying a pre-emptive US attack on Iran.

No doubt the Iranian government is under severe pressure from the economic hardship that the US has re-imposed unlawfully since Trump dumped the international nuclear accord in May 2018. No doubt too Iran is apprehensive about the relentless military threats against it from Washington and its Israeli ally. Almost certainly, Iran will have mobilized forces in the reasonable calculation that it may come under attack at any moment.

But, perversely, US intelligence and military officials are interpreting Iranian defensive moves as “indications of a potential threat” to American “interests”.

The meeting last week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signals a foreboding development. Recall that this is in the context of US media reports of Iranian ballistic missiles being deployed and of reports that the Trump administration is considering a doubling of troop levels in the Middle East to 28,000, as well as sending more missiles and warplanes.

Netanyahu met Pompeo in Lisbon, Portugal, on Wednesday, December 04. The meeting was called urgently and was unscheduled. Netanyahu – who is fighting for his political survival over corruption charges – tried to arrange discussions with Pompeo on the sidelines of the NATO summit near London, but according to Israeli media reports there was not enough time for security logistics to be put in place by the British. That indicates the Israeli leader was trying to meet Pompeo in a hurry.

When Netanyahu met with Pompeo in Lisbon, he said at the start of their discussions: “The first subject that I will raise is Iran. The second subject is Iran, and so is the third. And many more.

The Israeli premier added: “We have been fortunate as President Trump has led a consistent policy of exerting pressure on Iran. Iran is increasing its aggression in the region as we speak, even today, in the region. They are trying to have staging grounds against us and the region from Iran itself, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen and we are actively engaged in countering that aggression.”

Netanyahu also gloated that the “Iranian empire [sic] is tottering… let’s make it totter even more.”

For several months Iran has steadfastly refused to take the bait of war laid down by the Trump administration. But with pressures mounting both within the country and externally, it would be imperative for the Iranian authorities to marshall their defenses.

US intelligence and military officials are using contorted logic to accuse Iran of posing a threat, and the American corporate media are ably assisting in the propagation of this oxymoron.

Netanyahu’s hasty meeting with Pompeo last week suggests that the US and Israel are putting the final touches to their malignant masterpiece for provoking a war with Iran.

The Antisemitic Card

People of different faiths wear the Jewish kippah during a demonstration against antisemitism in Germany in Erfurt, Germany, Wednesday, April 25, 2018.

by Finian Cunningham

27.11.2019

It is a ludicrous situation when anyone criticizing Israeli state violations against Palestinians or neighbouring countries is then instantly discredited as being “antisemitic”.

We see this in Britain and the United States all the time. Congresswomen like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been denounced for being “anti-Jewish”, including by President Trump, simply because they protested Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian lands or for having a malign influence on US foreign policy.

In Britain, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party have once again this week been vilified as “antisemitic” in prominent news media.

The reality is that Corbyn is neither racist or anti-Jewish. The specious allegation stems from him and sections of Labour being vehemently critical of Israel and its conduct towards Palestinians.

If elected in the general election next month, Labour says it will cut military trade with Israel and move to officially recognize a Palestinian state.

This conflation of valid criticism of the Israeli state with being “anti-Jew” is a cynical distortion which is wielded to give Israel impunity from international law. It plays on moral blackmail of critics by equating the historical persecution of Jews and in particular the Nazi holocaust with the sanctity of the modern Israeli state.

That distortion is exposed by many Jews themselves who have spoken out in the US and in Britain to defend the right of people to criticize Israeli policies. They understand the vital distinction between the Israeli state and the much wider existence of Jewishness. They understand that to be opposed to Israeli state practices is in no way to mean animus towards Jews in general.

Only in the past week, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his government intends to expand annexation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. The land occupied by Israeli forces since the 1967 Six Day War is illegally occupied, according to multiple UN resolutions under international law. Now Netanyahu wants to increase the violations. And with the support of the Trump administration which also announced it was no longer viewing Israeli settlements on Palestinian land as illegitimate.

Over the past month, the Israeli military has stepped up airstrikes on the Gaza Strip where nearly two million Palestinians subsist in abject poverty largely because of an Israeli blockade. One family of nine, including children, was killed by an airstrike on their home on November 14. As always the death toll among Palestinian civilians is grotesquely disproportionate to Israeli victims of rockets fired from Gaza.

Israeli forces have also been carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, including the capital Damascus, over the past year. Russia, among others, has condemned those attacks as “unlawful aggression”. Arguably, war crimes.

When Jeremy Corbyn and Britain’s Labour Party and a handful of American politicians speak out to denounce Israeli violations they are doing so to uphold international law and voice support for victims of state violence. That is a principled and honourable position.

Shamefully, the US and British governments and much of the corporate news media never do speak out. They shield Israeli leaders from international accountability by vetoing UN resolutions or by turning a blind eye. Pro-Israeli lobbies funnel massive donations to politicians in Washington on both sides of the aisle, and to the British Conservative Party. Their silence is bought. Not only silence but outright distortion, such as when people criticize Israeli malfeasance – and there is much of that – then they are absurdly character-assassinated as “antisemites”.

Admittedly, many British Jews phoned into radio stations this week to complain that they feel unwelcome in Britain due to what they perceive as growth in antisemitism under the Labour Party. To be fair though, their claims were not backed up by hard evidence of specifically anti-Jewish behaviour. They were eliding their Jewishness with Labour’s criticism of Israel.

The claims made against Corbyn this week by the British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirviz of being “unfit for office” because of an alleged complacent attitude towards antisemitism in his party should be put in context.

Corbyn has apologized several times for a tiny fraction (less than 0.1 per cent) of party members accused of antisemitism. Why should he be obliged to keep on apologizing, as BBC interviewer Andrew Neil imperiously demanded again this week?

Chief Rabbi Mirviz is a self-declared friend of Conservative leader Boris Johnson and an ardent, uncritical supporter of the Israeli state.

Mirviz does not represent all British Jews, as many other Jewish groups came out voicing their support for Corbyn and his valid right of free speech to criticize Israel.

Mirviz got prominent media coverage for his views this week in the London Times and Daily Mail, among others. Britain’s rightwing media are owned by billionaire oligarchs who despise Labour’s manifesto for progressive wealth redistribution.

Official race-hate figures for Britain show that physical attacks against British Muslims are preponderantly more than attacks against any other religious minority, including Jews. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have evident problems of fomenting Islamophobia. Yet we don’t see British media providing proportionate criticism on that to balance their focus on Corbyn and his alleged views.The antisemitic card is played to shield Israel from important criticism; and by Britain’s plutocrats and their media who would rather see the public squabbling over spurious claims about antisemitism so they can keep on plundering wealth from the majority of British people.

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

Bibi’s Get-out-of-Jail Card… War With Iran

Image result for Bibi’s Get-out-of-Jail Card… War With Iran

Finian Cunningham
November 24, 2019

It seems more than coincidence that as the legal noose tightens around Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Israeli military have suddenly stepped up air strikes on Iranian forces based in Syria.

Playing the strongman role on national security and winning another term as prime minister would stave off prosecution over pending corruption charges.

If Netanyahu is ousted from office he will be immediately subjected to trial. A subsequent conviction on all charges could result in him facing up to 13 years in jail. A lot is at stake for Israel’s elder statesmen. At 70 years old, he is the longest-serving prime minister in the history of the Israeli state, having been elected four times already.

Therefore the longer he can hang on as premier, the longer he can postpone his day in court, as the leadership position affords a certain immunity while in office.

Israel’s current political impasse is a particularly dangerous time for Netanyahu. After two elections held earlier this year, neither Netanyahu nor his nearest rival Benny Gantz have been able to form a coalition government. Netanyahu is still the sitting PM. But lawmakers could vote for a new prime minister in the next few weeks, or else failing that the country will be forced to go to a third election in March next year.

Either way, Netanyahu needs to stay in office if he wants to throw the prosecution trial into the long grass. That means the temptation will be ever-stronger for the hot-headed commando-turned-politician to rile up security tensions with Iran and Syria, as well as neighboring Palestinians. Netanyahu has always drummed up votes by presenting himself as the great defender of Israelis.

Over the past week, as a three-year criminal investigation concluded with charges being leveled against Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and abuse of power for favorable media influence, Israeli forces under his command launched deadly air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. Reports indicated that around 23 people were killed, most of whom were Iranian military belonging to the elite Quds Force. Though Syrian media claimed that most of the attacks were intercepted. Whether Iranian personnel were killed or not, the Israeli intention is to provoke Tehran.

Notably, Israeli military usually do not confirm or deny when they carry out air strikes on Syria or neighboring countries. This week, however, Israeli leaders including Netanyahu were bragging about the strikes.

Netanyahu said: “I have made clear that any who attack us, we will attack them. That is what we did tonight [November 20] toward military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets.”

The Israelis claim they were responding to rockets fired from the Golan Heights. But it seems those rockets were provoked by earlier Israeli strikes on Syria just days before.

There is more than a suspicion that Israel was orchestrating the pretext for a flare up in violence. The purpose being to allow Netanyahu to dust off his war medals and flex his muscles for the electorate.

Such a ploy is in keeping with how Netanyahu over recent months has been cranking up the bellicose rhetoric. Before the elections this year in March and September, he has been declaring that if he is re-elected his government would annex large swathes of the Palestinian territory in the West Bank. In spite of international law and UN resolutions designating Israeli settlements as illegal.

US President Donald Trump obliged Netanyahu’s electioneering when the White House announced on November 18 that Washington was henceforth recognizing all Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory as legitimate. Was this Trump shifting US policy to help bail out his friend Bibi, knowing that the indictment sheet was on the way?

Over the past month, Israeli forces have also escalated air strikes on Gaza with dozens of civilians being killed, including families and children. Netanyahu has been cynically winding up fears among Israelis of rocket attacks from Palestinian militants in the besieged Gaza strip. A densely populated area of 1.8 million people subsisting in poverty, deprived of fresh water and electricity, due to Israel’s military cordon.

But in ginning up tensions with Iran in such a provocative way by targeting its elite Quds Force in Syria, Netanyahu is playing with fire.

Russia condemned the Israeli air strikes on Syria last week as unlawful aggression. The Russian foreign ministry warned that such acts were risking a wider conflict in the region.

Again, Trump seems to be aiding and abetting Netanyahu’s agenda of inciting national security tensions with Iran in order to hand Netanyahu a get-out-of-jail card. No doubt Trump knows the feeling as lawmakers in Washington push an impeachment inquiry into his alleged abuse of authority for favors regarding Ukraine.

The dramatic eruption of street violence in Iran over the past week has seen provocateurs hijack public protests over fuel price increases. The rapid spread of arson attacks on public property and shooting dead of several Iranian security force members indicate a foreign role in agitation.

President Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued stark statements of interference in Iranian internal affairs, by encouraging further street disturbances, hypocritically claiming that the US “was standing with the Iranian people”.

Brian Hook, the White House’s special envoy for Iran, even went as far as openly admitting that the US has been working for the past 18 months on finding ways of helping anti-government activists to circumvent internet restrictions imposed by the Iranian authorities to quell the spread of disturbances.

“We have been able to get into the hands of the Iranian people circumvention tools that allow them to communicate with each other when the regime tries to censor them,” said Hook.

Last week, Trump told Congress that he was sending 3,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia to “prevent Iranian provocation”, another move which Russia slammed as provoking regional tensions. Meanwhile, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group entered the Persian Gulf.

Trump and Netanyahu seem to be working hand-in-hand to ratchet up tensions with Iran. Evidently, Netanyahu is betting that the sound of war drums will drown out the calls for his prosecution trial over corruption charges. But rather than facing justice, the Israeli leader seems prepared to ignite a war with Iran just to save his own hide.

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