Yemen Won’t Be Silent Over Looting of Natural Resources – Al-Mashat

August 11, 2022

By Staff, Agencies

A top Yemeni official condemned the incessant looting of the war-torn country’s natural resources, in particular natural gas and crude oil, saying the Yemeni nation will not remain silent over such plundering.

“We denounce the [Saudi-led] mercenaries for plundering the Yemeni people’s national assets and depositing the proceeds in a Saudi National Bank [SNB] account,” President of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council Mahdi al-Mashat underlined on Wednesday.

Stressing that the Yemeni nation lacks the most basic services, the official said the current freeze on the salaries of government employees, owing to the brutal Saudi-led aggression and unjust siege, can be resolved through oil revenues.

“The revenues of oil and gas looted by mercenaries are fairly enough to pay the salaries of civil servants and pensioners, and promote development,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Mashat called on the United Nations and the international community to pressure the Saudi-led coalition forces to fulfill their commitments under the Stockholm Agreement and facilitate payment of the salaries of all government employees and pensioners.

He further stressed that the Yemeni people “will not remain silent about the ongoing looting of their wealth, whose profits are converted by mercenaries into companies and real estate abroad.”

In a fresh development on Wednesday, the Yemen Petroleum Company [YPC] said the Saudi-led coalition has seized another Yemen-bound ship carrying fuel in blatant violation of the recently-extended ceasefire brokered by the UN.

The fuel ship, Symphony, was seized while carrying tens of thousands of tons of diesel oil, Yemen’s official Saba news agency reported, citing a statement by the YPC spokesman Essam al-Mutawakel.

Saudi Arabia launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in collaboration with its Arab allies and with arms and logistics support from the US and other Western states.

The objective was to reinstall the Riyadh-friendly regime of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and crush the Ansarullah resistance movement, which has been running state affairs in the absence of a functional government in Yemen.

While the Saudi-led coalition has failed to meet any of its objectives, the war has killed hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Field Marshal Mahdi Muhammad Al-Mashat during the military parade of the Presidential Protection Brigades

US Approves Massive Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

August 3, 2022

By Staff, Agencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MBS: Despot in The Desert

July 31, 2022 

Nicolas Pelham- The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macron Hosts MBS Regardless of Outrage over Khashoggi Murder

JULY 28, 2022

By Staff, Agencies

French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS] for talks in Paris on Thursday, regardless of criticism that the invitation is deeply inappropriate barely four years after the murder by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The meeting is seen as the latest step in the readmission of the de-facto ruler of the kingdom into the international fold, after US President Joe Biden met him earlier this month.

The topics set to loom over the meeting include energy supply as concern grows over possible power shortages in wake of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, as well as reining in the nuclear program of Riyadh’s top regional foe Iran.

“I feel profoundly troubled by the visit, because of what it means for our world and what is means for Jamal [Khashoggi] and people like him,” Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told AFP, describing MBS as a man who “does not tolerate any dissent.”

The visits mark MBS’ first trip to the EU since the murder of Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, a crime that a UN probe described as an “extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible.”

It also said there was “credible evidence” warranting further investigation of the individual liability of high-level Saudi officials, including MBS.

US intelligence agencies determined that MBS had “approved” the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, though Riyadh denies this, blaming rogue operatives.

The killing drew outrage not just over the elimination of a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, but also for the manner in which it was carried out. Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018, strangled and dismembered, reportedly with a bonesaw.

His reception by world leaders is “all the more shocking given many of them at the time expressed disgust [over the killing] and a commitment not to bring MBS back into the international community,” Callamard added, denouncing the “double standard.”

But despite the concern over Saudi Arabia’s rights record, the kingdom is seen by many in the West as an essential partner due to its energy resources, purchases of weaponry and staunch opposition to Iran.

Western countries resume their relationship with Riyadh after the isolation imposed on Ibn Salma

Iran FM Terms Revenge for Gen. Soleimani as ’Absolute Responsibility’

Jully 23, 2022

By Staff, Agencies

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said revenge for the assassination of Iran’s celebrated anti-terror commander Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani is among the “absolute responsibilities” of the foreign ministry and other concerned organizations.

Amir Abdollahian made the remarks in an interview broadcast on state television Thursday evening while elaborating on the Sayyed Ebrahim Raesi-led administration’s foreign policy.

“The issue of General Soleimani will never be forgotten. The issue is so deep that even [Russian President Vladimir] Putin pointed to the important position and role of General Soleimani during his meetings with the Leader of the Islamic Revolution and the Iranian president,” the top diplomat said.

The foreign ministry, Amir Abdollahian noted, has beefed up a committee that follows up on international issues, adding that the judiciary branch is also seriously pursuing the case.

“We consider avenging the blood of Martyr Soleimani in legal, international, and political arenas and deem following up on the issue in all its aspects as our absolute responsibility,” he asserted.

General Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard [IRG], and his Iraqi trenchmate Hajj Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units [PMU], were martyred along with their companions in a US drone strike on January 3, 2020.

The strike near the Baghdad International Airport was authorized by then-President Donald Trump.

The two noted anti-terror commanders were tremendously respected and admired across the region for their instrumental role in fighting and decimating the Daesh [Arabic for ‘ISIS/ISIL’] Takfiri terrorist group in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

In other remarks during the interview, Iran’s foreign minister said Saudi Arabia has shown readiness to advance the ongoing talks from security to the political sphere, after progress in the previous five rounds hosted by the Iraqi government.

He said the two sides have reached some agreements, including on re-opening embassies in their respective countries.

“Last week we received a message from Iraqi foreign minister [Fuad Hussein] saying that the Saudi side is ready to move the phase of talks from a security one to a political and public one,” said the minister.

“We also expressed our readiness to continue talks at the political level so that it leads to the return of Iran-Saudi Arabia ties to the normal level.”

Riyadh decided to sever diplomatic relations with Iran back in January 2016 after its embassy in Tehran was stormed by protestors who were enraged by the Saudi execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr.

There was no change in Riyadh’s confrontational policy towards Tehran until 2021 when it signaled an inclination to mend fractured ties with the Islamic Republic.

Major news day for Russia: In conclusion of his working visit to Iran, Vladimir Putin answered questions from the media.

July 20, 2022

In conclusion of his working visit to Iran, Vladimir Putin answered questions from the media.

Question: Mr President, some would think the world has forgotten about Syria amid the numerous issues on the international agenda. But we have seen today that this is not so.

We would like to hear your views on the situation on the ground in Syria. A great deal has been said today about points of contact, but there are many differences as well. Have you discussed or coordinated any fundamentally new solutions today? I am referring primarily to these differences.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: What I would like to begin with is not the differences but the fundamental issues that allow us to work and continue our efforts in the trilateral format. All of us believe that it I necessary to guarantee the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and to eliminate all sorts of terrorists, which I will not enumerate here. This is the fundamental and the most important thing, as we have pointed out again in our joint statement. I believe that this is very important.

Yes, there are certain differences, which is obvious, but all of us support the constitutional process. Thanks to our efforts, we have brought together various conflicting parties at one negotiating platform, including the opposition and the official authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic, experts and representatives of public organisations, as well as the UN. I believe this is extremely important. This is the first point.

The second. Humanitarian aid is being provided to Syria, for which there is particularly great demand today, because the sanctions imposed on Syria and the Syrian people have produced a deplorable result: nearly 90 percent of people in Syria are living below the poverty line. The situation in Syria is extremely serious.

Of course, it would be unfair to give priority attention to certain groups, to politicise humanitarian aid.

Third. There are different approaches to organising humanitarian aid. We have always believed that it should be organised in full compliance with international humanitarian law. This means that all humanitarian aid must be provided through the official Syrian authorities, through Damascus. However, we have agreed to extend the existing procedure for six months, including for deliveries to the Idlib zone, so as to have more time for coordinating our positions.

There is some disagreement about what is happening in Northern Syria. Incidentally, we also have some common ground here: all of us believe that US troops should leave this area. This is the first point. And they should stop looting the Syrian state, the Syrian people, taking their oil illegally. But there is disagreement about how to organise and stabilise the situation in that region. As you know, Russian-Turkish observation convoys are working there together.

However, in our view, in order to ensure a long-term, stable situation there it is necessary to transfer the entire territory under the control of the official authorities in Damascus, under the control of the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and then it will be possible to hold a dialogue with those who are responsible – in this case the official Syrian authorities. I believe it would greatly stabilise the situation there.

But in general, it is work in progress. As I have said many times and would like to stress once again, the work of this tripartite group – Russia, Turkiye and Iran – this joint effort to search for compromises and find these compromises has led to the fact that over 90% of Syria is now under official government control and, as we say in such cases, we have broken the back of international terrorism there. This is a great result of this joint work.

Question: Mr President, you had three one-on-one meetings today, first with Mr Raisi, then with Mr Khamenei, and then with Mr Erdogan, and there were no news conferences after these meetings. All we know is the topic you were discussing, the official part.

In particular, you said that you discussed the grain issue with your Turkish counterpart, the issue of supplying Russian and Ukrainian grain to international markets. Could you tell us some more about that, please?

Vladimir Putin: There are no secrets here; in fact, almost everything is known. There are some subtleties; maybe I do not always have time to follow what is happening in the information field. I will tell you how I see it.

First, what was the highlight of the three meetings? At each meeting, there were issues that could be considered central to a particular bilateral meeting.

For example, as I said at the news conference, in my press statement, the main theme at the meeting with the Spiritual Leader of Iran was strategic issues, including developments in the region. This is natural, as it is the sphere of his activity. It was very important for me to hear his opinion, his assessment. I have to say that we have very similar views with Iran on many aspects. So, it was very important and very useful.

As for my meeting with President Raisi, we discussed primarily economic matters. I would like to note that Russian-Iranian trade has grown by 40 percent over the past six months. This is a very good indicator.

There are promising spheres for our cooperation, and there is a great variety of them, like infrastructure development. You may know that a deputy prime minister of the Russian Government chairs a group that is responsible for developing relations in the South Caucasus, including infrastructure projects in the South Caucasus, that is, in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia. A great deal can be achieved in this sphere in cooperation with Iran.

As you know, the first pilot train is travelling along the North-South Railway line. It is a short route to ports in the south of Iran, which further leads to the Persian Gulf and India.

There is a practical project: the Rasht-Astara railway is a short 146-kilometre line across Iran. Azerbaijan is interested in its construction. I recently met with President Aliyev during the Caspian Summit, and we discussed this matter. Iran is interested in this as well, as our Iranian partners have told us just now. Russia is interested in this, because it will connect Russia’s northern region, St Petersburg, directly to the Persian Gulf. It is a very interesting and promising project. The task now is to build this line, which is only 146 kilometres. Russia is ready to do this.

We need to coordinate the conditions of this construction project. We have discussed its general outlines with our Iranian partners and friends, and we have coordinated it with Azerbaijan. I hope we will get down to business now. And then, it will be an interesting job for us. It actually amounts to exporting the services of Russian Railways (RZD). This is one of the relevant examples.

There are other spheres. There are security issues relevant to Iran’s nuclear programme. It was very important for us to understand the sentiments of the Iranian party regarding this work. It also involves Russia, which is contributing to the joint efforts aimed at relaunching interaction between Iran and the IAEA. I will not speak about this now, but Russia is playing a considerable role in this.

The grain issue. It is what we discussed with the President of Turkiye. I have already said that the Republic of Turkiye and personally President Erdogan have done a great deal to facilitate the agreement on Ukrainian grain exports. But initially we suggested that it should be adopted as a package, that is, we would facilitate the Ukrainian grain exports provided all the restrictions on the potential exports of Russian grain are lifted. This is what we initially agreed upon with international organisations. They pledged to formulate this as a package solution. Nobody has so far raised any objections, including our American partners. We will see what comes of it in the near future.

As you know, the Americans have actually lifted restrictions, for example, on the delivery of Russian fertilisers to the global market. I hope this will also happen with regard to the export of Russian grain if they really want to improve the situation on the global food markets. As I have said, we are ready to do this right now. We can export 30 million tonnes of grain, and our export potential based on this year’s harvest will be 50 million tonnes.

Question: Mr President, a serious energy crisis is developing in Europe, which is discussing the possibility of Gazprom cutting off gas deliveries. The company has allegedly issued an official notification to one of its German clients, citing force majeure circumstances.

Are there grounds for accusing Russia of causing this energy crisis? Will Gazprom continue to honour its obligations

Vladimir Putin: First of all, Gazprom has always honoured, and will continue to honour its commitments.

There are no grounds at all for the attempts by our partners to shift or try to shift the blame for their own mistakes on Russia and Gazprom.

What is the situation with energy deliveries? In 2020, in the first half of 2020, gas cost 100 euros per 1,000 cubic metres in Europe. The price rose to 250 euros in the first half of 2021. Today it is 1,700 euros per 1,000 cubic metres of gas.

What is happening? I have spoken about this on numerous occasions, and I do not know if we should go into detail regarding the energy policies of European countries, which underrate the importance of traditional sources of energy and have put money on non-traditional energy sources. They are big experts on non-traditional relations, and they have also decided to make a bid for non-traditional energy sources like the sun and wind.

Last winter was long, there wasno wind, and that did it. Investment in the fixed assets of traditional energy producers has decreased because of previous political decisions: banks do not finance them, insurance companies do not insure them, local governments do not allocate land plots for new projects, and pipeline and other forms of transportation are not developing. This is a result of many years, probably a decade of this policy. This is the root cause of price hikes rather than any actions by Russia or Gazprom.

What is going on today? Until recently, we supplied gas to Europe without Turkiye: we supplied around 30 billion cubic metres a year to Turkiye, and 170 billion to Europe, 55 billion via Nord Stream 1, and, if memory serves me, 33 billion were supplied via Yamal-Europe, via the two strings that run through Ukraine. About 12 billion were delivered to Europe through Turkiye via TurkStream.

Ukraine suddenly announced that it was going to close one of the two routes on its territory. Allegedly because the gas pumping station is not under its control but on the territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic. But it found itself under the control of the Lugansk People’s Republic several months before, and they closed it just recently without any grounds. Everything was functioning normally there, no one interfered. In my opinion, they closed it simply for political reasons.

What happened next? Poland imposed sanctions on Yamal-Europe, which supplied 33 billion cubic metres of gas. They used to take 34, I think, 33–34 million cubic metres a day from us. They shut it down completely. But then we saw that they turned on the Yamal-Europe pipeline in reverse mode, and they started taking about 32 million a day from Germany. Where is the gas from Germany coming from? It is our Russian gas. Why from Germany? Because it turned out to be cheaper for the Poles. They used to get it from us at a very high price, closer to the market price, whereas Germany gets it from us 3–4 times cheaper than the market price under long-term contracts.

It is profitable for German companies to sell it to the Poles at a small premium. It is profitable for the Poles to buy it because it is cheaper than to buy it directly from us. But the volume of gas in the European market has decreased, and the total market price has gone up. Who has won? All Europeans only lost. This is the second point: Yamal-Europe.

So, first one of the routes in Ukraine was shut down, then Yamal-Europe was shut down, now Nord Stream 1, which is one of the main routes – we pump 55 billion cubic metres a year through it. There are five Siemens gas compressor stations working there, and one is on standby. One compressor had to be sent out for repairs. A repaired compressor was supposed to come from Canada, from the Siemens plant in Canada, to replace it. But it ended up under sanctions in Canada. So, one pumping station, just one piece of equipment was out of order because of scheduled maintenance work and it has not been returned from Canada.

Now we are being told that the unit will be delivered from Canada soon, but Gazprom does not have any official documents yet. We must certainly obtain them, because this is our property, it is the property of Gazprom. Gazprom should receive not only the hardware, not only the gas pumping unit, but also the accompanying documents, both legal and technical documentation. We must be able to see what Gazprom is taking – the turbine’s current condition as well as its legal status, whether it is under sanctions or not, what we can do with it, or maybe they are taking it back tomorrow. But that is not all.

The problem is that at the end of July, on July 26, I think – we can ask Gazprom – another turbine should be sent for routine maintenance, for repairs. And where will we get a replacement from? We do not know.

One more turbine is actually out of order because of some crumbling of its internal liner. Siemens has confirmed this. That leaves two operational units, which are pumping 60 million per day. So, if one more is delivered, fine, we will have two in operation. But if it is not, only one will be left, and it will pump only 30 million cubic meters per day. You can count how much time it will take to pump the rest. How is this Gazprom’s responsibility? What does Gazprom even have to do with this? They have cut off one route, then another, and sanctioned this gas pumping equipment. Gazprom is ready to pump as much gas as necessary. But they have shut everything down.

And they have fallen into the same trap with the import of oil and petroleum products. We hear all sorts of crazy ideas about capping the volume of Russian oil imports or the price of Russian oil. This is going to lead to the same situation as with gas. The result (I am surprised to hear people with university degrees saying this) will be the same – rising prices. Oil prices will spiral.

As for gas, there is another route we are ready to open, which is Nord Stream 2. It is ready to be launched, but they are not launching it. There are problems here as well, I discussed them with the Chancellor about six or maybe eight weeks ago. I raised this issue; I said that Gazprom had reserved the capacity, and that this capacity needed to be used, and it cannot be suspended in mid-air indefinitely.

The answer was that there were other issues on the agenda, more important things, so it is difficult for them to deal with this right now. But I had to warn them that then we would have to redirect half of the volume intended for Nord Stream for domestic consumption and processing. I raised this issue at the request of Gazprom, and Gazprom has actually already done it. Therefore, even if we launch Nord Stream 2 tomorrow, it will not pump 55 billion cubic meters, but exactly half that amount. And given that we are already halfway through this year, it would be just a quarter. Such is the supply situation.

But – I said this at the beginning of my answer to your question and I want to end with this – Gazprom has always fulfilled and will always fulfil all of its obligations, as long as, of course, anyone needs it. First, they themselves close everything, and then they look for someone to blame – it would be comical if it were not so sad.

Question: You spoke with Mr Erdogan today. He has repeatedly stated his readiness to arrange talks between you and Vladimir Zelensky. Has this issue surfaced today? Are you ready to meet with the President of Ukraine?

Vladimir Putin: President Erdogan is making a lot of efforts to create the necessary conditions for normalising the situation. It was during our talks in Istanbul that we actually reached an agreement, and it only remained to initial it. But, as you know, after that, when our troops, in order to create the right conditions, withdrew from central Ukraine, from Kiev, the Kiev authorities backed off on those agreements. These were agreements that had actually been achieved. So, you see that the final result depends, of course, not on intermediaries, but on the parties’ commitment to fulfil the agreements reached. And we can see today that the Kiev authorities have no interest in that.

As for Turkiye’s efforts, as well as other countries’ proposals – Saudi Arabia has offered its mediation services, and the United Arab Emirates, and they do have such capabilities – we are grateful to all our friends who are interested in resolving this crisis for providing their opportunities. Even their willingness to make some contribution to this noble cause is worth a lot. We are deeply grateful for that.

Iran Will Respond in Kind to Any Measure Against Its National Security

July 18, 2022 

By Staff, Agencies

A senior Iranian diplomat said the Islamic Republic will respond in kind to any measure against its national security from any neighboring country, in a veiled reference to the countries that have normalized their relations with the ‘Israeli’ occupation regime.

“Targeting our security from neighboring countries will be met with a response to those countries and a direct response to ‘Israel’,” Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, warned in an interview with Al Jazeera news network published on Sunday.

Tehran has emphasized that it pursues a policy of improving relations with neighboring countries, while at the same time making it clear that the countries, which are normalizing their relations with ‘Israel’ and allowing the occupying regime to establish a foothold in the region, are betraying the Palestinian cause and bringing instability to the region.

Kharrazi, however, said ‘Israel’ is in a phase of weakness and US President Joe Biden’s support for the regime would fail to bring it back to the fore.

Kharrazi said Iran has carried out extensive military drills to demonstrate its capability to hit targets deep inside the ‘Israeli’ occupation entity in the event “Iran’s vital and sensitive facilities are targeted.”

During the interview, Kharrazi, an ex-foreign minister, also said Tehran calls for launching regional talks to be attended by important countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, and other states.

He noted that Qatar has made important proposals on holding dialog among regional countries and that Tehran has expressed its full readiness in this regard.

The sole solution to regional crises, according to the senior diplomat, is the formation of a regional dialog forum in order to find settlements to political and security disputes among regional countries.

Kharrazi also welcomed recent remarks by Saudi officials about extending a hand of friendship to Iran, saying Tehran is ready to enter into dialog with Riyadh in order to restore bilateral relations to normalcy.

he also rejected allegations that Iran has intentions to make nuclear weapons, saying this is while the Islamic Republic possesses the technical capabilities, such as increasing the level of uranium enrichment from 20 percent to 60 percent.

The diplomat dismissed any possibility of talks about “our missile program and our regional policies,” saying any negotiation on the two subjects would mean submission to the enemy.

Regarding the indirect negotiations with the United States to revive the 2015 Iran deal, he said it is difficult to conduct a direct dialog with Washington in light of a thick wall of mistrust due to hostile US policies toward the Islamic Republic.

He added that there are no guarantees that the US would continue to honor the Iran deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA], if the deal is restored, and “this prevents any possible agreement.”

Iran and the US concluded two days of indirect talks, mediated by the European Union, in the Qatari capital of Doha late last month in an attempt to break the stalemate in reviving the JCPOA.

At the end of the talks, Iran and the EU, which plays a mediatory role, said they would keep in touch “about the continuation of the route and the next stage of the talks.”

The talks in Doha followed seven rounds of inconclusive negotiations in the Austrian capital of Vienna, as the US insisted on refusing to undo its so-called maximum pressure policy against Tehran.

Oil, Iran On Biden’s Agenda at Arab Summit Concluding Middle East Tour

July 18, 2022 

By Staff, Agencies

US President Joe Biden is set to discuss volatile oil prices during a summit with Arab leaders on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, the final stop of his Middle East tour, meant to bolster US positioning and knit the regional countries against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second city on the Red Sea coast, will bring together leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

Biden landed Friday in Saudi Arabia, a longtime US ally he once vowed to make a “pariah” over its human rights record, and met with King Salman, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other top Saudi officials.

Tensions had been high between Biden and Prince Mohammed, especially after Biden’s administration released US intelligence findings that Prince Mohammed approved an operation targeting journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose gruesome killing in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate in 2018 spurred global outrage.

Biden now appears ready to re-engage with a country that has been a key strategic ally of the United States for decades, a major supplier of oil and an avid buyer of weapons.

Washington wants the world’s largest exporter of crude to open the floodgates to bring down soaring gasoline prices, which threaten Democratic chances in November mid-term elections.

But Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, tamped down expectations of immediate progress while speaking with reporters on the flight to Jeddah.

Biden said his trip “Is about once again positioning America in this region for the future. We are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill.”

At the summit, Biden was set to hear a chorus of concern about the region’s stability and security, as well as concerns about food security, climate change and the continued ‘threat of terrorism.’

Biden was under pressure to discuss the cases of Khashoggi as well as Saudis detained under what critics of Prince Mohammed described as a far-reaching crackdown on dissent.

Late Friday, Biden said he raised Khashoggi’s killing “at the top of the meeting” with Prince Mohammed and “made it clear if anything occurs like that again they will get that response and much more.”

While in the ‘Israeli’-occupied territories, Biden admitted in comments to reporters that his motives for visiting Saudi Arabia were “broader” than human rights.

“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear, and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights.”

US military-entertainment complex cleaning up Saudi regime reputation

17 Jul 2022

Source: Politico

By Al Mayadeen English 

Saudi firms are working alongside US corporations, in tandem with Washington, to wash the slate clean.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden, with a fist bump after his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday July 15, 2022. (Saudi Press Agency)

The military-entertainment complex is at work, and this time with its most crucial client, Saudi Arabia. The US government and its giant corporation lackeys are working round the clock, along with Riyadh, to clean a reputation tarnished with pariah statuses and human rights abuses to pave the way for future cooperation and normalization – in other words, getting those strategic interests

Partnerships between celebrities and governments are becoming increasingly popular, and it is not very uncommon for private firms to take on projects to link influencers with foreign governments for some good PR. 

Recent times have seen US firms welcome a top-dollar client – Saudi Arabia – that has been attempting to launder a good reputation as it paves the way for normalization with what NATO dubs the “only democracy in the Middle East.” Within this framework and logic, “Israel” and Saudi Arabia both work to whitewash a dirty slate of endless crimes, and they’ll need to keep doing so to work together at this stage. 

“[Mohammed bin Salman] tried to launder his reputation, whitewash it through bringing in celebrities to hold concerts, to sportswash it by buying soccer clubs, and anyway he can sort of try to rehabilitate his reputation and his image,” said Seth Binder, director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “I think to my mind, President Biden’s trip is that sort of final complete rehabilitation.”

An article published in Politico exposed details of a proposal from the largest PR firm in the world, Edelman, which devised a strategy to fix Saudi Arabia’s bloody reputation – the proposal is an exhibition of how far Riyadh is willing to go to crumble its pariah status today.

The campaign, which Edelman proposed to the US Department of Justice, is a five-year-long campaign named “Search Beyond”, which will include productions with international celebrities from within the Kingdom. A former Edelman employee divulged that the celebrities were chosen strategically, and not in a random fashion. 

So the idea comes, according to the article, as follows: What if Riyadh hosted Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” from multiple locations in the country for an entire week, knowing that Noah is a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights among other humanitarian issues? Or, what if Priyanka Chopra, a staunch supporter of women’s rights and feminist activism, hops on board the campaign? Other names included famous DJs Steve Aoki and David Guetta, in addition to Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and social media influencer Olivia Culpo. Even a partnership with world-class music festivals like Coachella is on the table. 

The cash set to be paid to celebrities, in many instances, is even far more than what they get from acting in a film. The spokespeople for Edelman themselves are being paid about $787,000 over a year of serving their Saudi clients.

This wouldn’t be the first project that Edelman is implementing with or in Saudi Arabia. The PR giant also did PR for NEOM Company – the company developing a utopian city on the Saudi coast, and it has also promoted LinkedIn in Saudi Arabia in a way that markets it as a “platform that amplified the voices of Saudi career women.”

However, “Search Beyond” is one of the most profit-bearing projects among most partnerships at home, according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings. Edelman broke down the costs of the project into 4 categories: research, planning, and strategy; media relations and strategic partnerships; social media plan development and outreach; and client management and reporting.

Edelman also promised to “monitor online conversations and media coverage to identify ‘friends’ and detractors,” “commence a relationship-building programme of US-based media contacts,” and host “monthly client meetings.”

Ben Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said using pop culture for their “reputational laundering campaign” is something Riyadh has been trying to do for years, whether it is through sportswashing or through Hollywood connections. 

“I think that this lobbying campaign … is a big part of the reason why Biden was able to do this trip, why this was at all possible. It’s because of places like Edelman and the other folks working for the Saudis.”

Edelman filed paperwork earlier this month with the Department of Justice to conduct public relations for an advertising company based in Saudi Arabia, with the contract costing $208,000. The Saudi company works closely with the Saudi Data Artificial Intelligence Agency.

With all these ideas up in the air and on the table, nevertheless, an MTV Entertainment spokesperson said that neither MTV nor the Daily Show were involved in “Search Beyond” and declined to comment on whether they will be willing to work with Saudi Arabia in the future. 

Hiring PR firms won’t be the first and last attempt, especially when reports arose that yesterday at the Jeddah Summit, questions pertaining to Riyadh’s pariah status and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi were censored in the media

بايدن في جولته الشرق أوسطية.. النفط مقابل حقوق الإنسان

تموز 16 2022

المصدر: الميادين نت

فاطمة فتوني 

استعراض ود بين “تل أبيب” والرياض. حقوق أفراد وشعوب في مهبّ المصالح الدولية، كيف سارت زيارة الرئيس الأميركي بايدن للمنطقة معاكسةً لاتجاه الخطاب الأميركي المعلَن بشأن حقوق الإنسان والحريات ؟

“المملكة العربية السعودية منبوذة، وستدفع ثمن مقتل الصحافي السعودي، جمال خاشقجي”. ( المتحدثة باسم البيت الأبيض كارين جان بيير ، بتاريخ 2 حزيران/يونيو 2022).

لا يزال صدى تصريح الرئيس الأميركي جو بايدن، حاضراً، عندما تعهَّد أن يجعل السعودية “منبوذة”، ربطاً بجريمة  قتل الصحافي جمال خاشقجي، عندما كان على عتبة دخول البيت الأبيض.

تصل المواجهة بين الأطلسي وروسيا إلى حدّ لم يعد بايدن يرى في السعودية إلّا النفط. أمّا جمال خاشقجي، فليس إلّا ملفّاً أُغلِق وطُوِي. وأكثر التصريحات انتقاداً، بحقّ من أثبتت الـcia تورّطه في قتل الصّحافيّ السعودي، طبعتها المجاملة والمناورات الكلامية.

من “تل أبيب” إلى الرياض لم يرَ بايدن أيَّ انتهاكاتٍ لأيّ حقوقٍ، وتجاهلَ كل القضايا التي كانت في سلَّم أولوياته، عندما فاز بالرئاسة. ومن منبوذة أميركياً، بأدلة إدانة جنائية، الى شريكة تجلس إلى الطاولة. هكذا نسف الرئيس الاميركي كل تعهداته أمام حاجته إلى النفط السعودي، وسعيه لحماية “إسرائيل” وأمنها.

عندما قام الرئيس السابق دونالد ترامب بأول زيارة رئاسية له للسعودية، تمّ الترحيب به شخصياً من جانب الملك سلمان. أمّا بايدن فكان في استقباله، في مدرج المطار، حاكم مكة والسفيرة السعودية لدى الولايات المتحدة. 

دخل بايدن القصر الملكي يتقدّمه ابن سلمان من دون حديث أو كلام، كما كانت العادة، عند استقبال أي رئيس أو مسؤول عربي أو أجنبي. مشهد عكس برودة العلاقات، التي اضطر الأميركي إلى أن يضعها على نار أزمات المنطقة من جديد. لغة الجسد قد تكون أبلغ من أي كلام. البداية كانت بمصافحة “مترددة”، حفظاً لماء الوجه، بضرب قبضتَي اليدين، بذريعة فيروس “كورونا”، علماً بأن بايدن صافح قادة “إسرائيل”، وعانق مَن قابله بقبضة اليد.

هذا اللقاء كان بايدن قال إنّه لن يحدث. لكن، من الواضح أنه لا بد منه للولايات المتحدة مع مملكة غنية بالنفط، في لحظة تغيّرات جيوسياسية، لم تحقّق من خلالها حتى الآن أي إنجاز في المواجهة مع روسيا في أوكرانيا.

يُشار إلى أنّه، حين سُئل بايدن بشأن خاشقجي، كان جوابه أن ولي العهد السعودي، محمد بن سلمان، وعد بأنه “إذا حدث أي شيء كهذا مرة أخرى، فسيكون هناك رد، وربما أكثر من ذلك كثيراً”؛ أي أن القضية أُقفلت، مع اعتراف ضمني بمسؤولية ابن سلمان عنها.

وتحدّث الرئيس الأميركي في زيارته عن إنجازات في السعودية. لكن، تبقى الملفات الكبرى متعثّرة، ولاسيما مع تأكيد حكومة صنعاء رفضَها سلاماً مُجْتَزَأً. وعلى الصعيد الاقتصادي، يشير موقع “بوليتيكو” إلى أنّ السعودية تواجه صعوبات في تحقيق أهداف إنتاج النفط.

وبين الاستقبال والإنجازات المزعومة، من جهة، وادعاء دفاع الولايات المتحدة عن حقوق الإنسان، من جهة أخرى، يبرز ملف جمال خاشقجي الذي تنكَّر بايدن لكل التعهدات التي رفعها خلال حملته الانتخابية، والقاضية بمحاسبة قتلته، كما تبرز أيضاً “تبرئة” القضاء الأميركي لـ”إسرائيل من جريمة اغتيال الصحافية الشهيدة، شيرين أبو عاقلة. وهذا الأمر يكشف زيف ازدواجية معايير حقوق الإنسان لدى الولايات المتحدة.

تبدو المحاولات الأميركية لإخفاء المبرِّر الحقيقي للزيارة متعثرة للغاية، إذ صرّح بايدن، في مؤتمر صحافي، عقده عقب لقائه قادة دول “الناتو” في قمة مدريد، بأنّ الغرض من زيارته السعودية “ليس الضغط عليها من أجل زيادة إنتاج النفط“. لكنّه أوضح، لدى سؤاله عما إذا كان سيطلب من القادة السعوديين زيادة إنتاج النفط، أنّه “يتعيّن على جميع دول الخليج زيادة إنتاج النفط، بصورة عامة، وليس السعودية على وجه الخصوص”، مشيراً إلى أنّه “يأمل أن تستنتج الدول أنّ ذلك في مصلحتها”.

ونقلت وسائل إعلام إسرائيلية، عن مصادر أميركية، قالت إنها “موثوقة”، أنّ ما يجري الحديث عنه مع زيارة الرئيس الأميركي، جو بايدن، للشرق الأوسط، “لا يتعلق بناتو شرق أوسطي، أو بحلف إسرائيلي عربي”، بل إنّ ما يهم بايدن هو موضوع النفط، و”حاجته إلى السعودية في هذا الأمر”.

ووفقاً لما ورد، فإنّ الغاية من تجاهل قضية خاشقجي، هي تعزيز إنتاج النفط وتقوية النفوذ في المنطقة خوفاً من الدور الروسي الصيني فيها، للحؤول دون نسجهما علاقات بحلفاء أميركا في الشرق الأوسط، وخصوصاً دول الخليج، التي شعرت بالخوف من تراجع اهتمام أميركا بالشرق الأوسط، بعد انسحابها من العراق وأفغانستان.

تسعى الولايات المتحدة الأميركية لاستعادة سيطرتها على موارد الطاقة في الشرق الأوسط، بعد أن أجبرتها الحرب الأوكرانية الروسية على البحث عن مصادر تمويل للطاقة لحلفائها الأوروبيين، الأمر الذي أعاد إلى النفط الخليجي وغاز البحر المتوسط أهميتيهما، بالإضافة إلى العمل على زيادة إنتاج النفط الخليجي مع خفض أسعاره، من أجل خلق استقرار في سوق الطاقة، حتى لا يتأثر الاقتصاد الأميركي، الذي يعاني حالة غير مسبوقة من التضخم المالي.

تداعيات داخلية أميركية

تعيد الولايات المتحدة الأميركية ترميم علاقتها بحلفائها، وخصوصاً السعودية، تحت شعار “المصالح الأميركية فوق المبادئ الإنسانية”. وتبرز تداعيات داخلية أميركية لمشهد زيارة بايدن للسعودية على موضوع التضخم وأسعار الطاقة، بسبب الرغبة الأميركية في زيادة إيرادات الطاقة للسوق العالمية، في ظل العقوبات على الطاقة الروسية. وبحسب المعلومات المتخصصة، فإنّ الطاقة، التي تستطيع السعودية إنتاجها وضخها، لن تكون قادرة على تعديل ميزان القوة، أو تغيير ميزان السوق.

وأثارت زيارة الرئيس الأميركي، جو بايدن، للسعودية، حالة من الانقسام في الولايات المتحدة، محورها ملفات حقوق الإنسان في المملكة، وفق تحليل لمجلة “فورين أفيرز”. وبعد الزيارة، ظهرت في الداخل الأميركي “انتقادات وسخرية” لأداء بايدن خلال الزيارة. ووفقاً للمعطيات، فإن ترجمة هذه الزيارة، عبر تحسين الوضع الاقتصادي داخل أميركا، مسألة “مشكوك فيها”.

ويرى مؤيدو زيارة بايدن للسعودية أن مصلحة الولايات المتحدة وميزان القوى في الشرق الأوسط يتطلبان علاقات أميركية سعودية استراتيجية، بعيداً عن حقوق الإنسان. والأولوية للمصالح الأميركية في الشرق الأوسط، والتي تتطلب “علاقة استراتيجية بالسعوديين”، في حين يصر المعارضون، وبينهم ديمقراطيون وأيضاً جمهوريون، على ضرورة أن تحسن الرياض سجلها فيما يتعلق بحقوق الإنسان في البلاد.

وعلى الرغم من الاختلاف الداخلي، فإن بايدن حاول تسويق الزيارة على أنها زيارة المصالح، وليست تنازلاً عن تعهداته، أو تفريطاً بحقوق الإنسان، حين سأله أحد الصحافيين في جدة عن رسالته لخطيبة خاشقجي، قال: “لم أحضر إلى هنا كي أقابل ولي العهد. جئت لأقابل مجلس التعاون الخليجي”. وعلى الرغم من ذلك، فإن مسؤولين أميركيين قالوا إنه “ليس من المتوقع صدور أي إعلان رئيس بشأن زيادة إمدادات النفط خلال هذه الزيارة”.

بايدن، القادم من فلسطين المحتلة، كان كتب في افتتاحية “واشنطن بوست” أن الحريات الأساسية هي دائماً في أجندته، خلال سفراته الخارجية، كما ستكون خلال هذه الجولة وفي “إسرائيل” والضفة الغربية. وفي كلامه هذا تبرئة للإسرائيليين عن كل انتهاكات حقوق الفلسطينيين وجرائم القتل والأسر والتمييز العنصري وسرقة الأراضي والاستيطان.

وبحسب مصادر فلسطينية، فإن بايدن لم ينجز أي شيء من زيارته لبيت لحم، ولم يحقق أي أهداف له، وخصوصاً أن الرفض الشعبي الفلسطيني الداخلي لزيارته كان واضحاً من خلال التظاهرات التي نددت بمجيئه.

الصحافيون، خلال مؤتمر بايدن الصحافي في بيت لحم، ارتدوا قمصاناً عليها صورة الشهيدة شيرين أبو عاقلة، بحيث إن سلوك القضاء الأميركي تجاه الجريمة أضاف رصيداً آخر لمسار التجاهل للقضايا الحقوقية الكبرى.

هكذا باتت حقوق الإنسان ثمناً لملء النقص في النفط وتعزيز النفوذ ومحاولة تسجيل النقاط في الصراعات الدولية، من أجل المصلحة الكبرى للولايات المتحدة، ومن أجل حسابات خاصة ببايدن في الداخل الأميركي.

فيديوات متعلقة

اقرأ أيضاً

ماذا يريد جو بايدن من الشرق الأوسط؟

تموز 15 2022

حسن لافي 

يتمثّل الهدف الأميركي للزيارة في إعادة صياغة خارطة موازين القوى لدول المحور الأميركي في المنطقة.

يمكن قراءة زيارة الرئيس الأميركي جو بايدن للشرق الأوسط من خلال عدة مستويات تمثل بكليتها الأهداف الرئيسية لتلك الزيارة. على المستوى الاستراتيجي، تأتي زيارته في خضم صراع الولايات المتحدة الأميركية الشرس والمعلن مع كلٍّ من الصين وروسيا على معركة تشكيل المنظومة الدولية وصياغتها بعد انتهاء عصر القطب الأميركي الواحد الذي شارف على الانتهاء.

تسعى أميركا لقطع الطريق أمام الصين وروسيا، للحؤول دون نسجهما علاقات مع حلفاء أميركا في الشرق الأوسط.

لذلك، تسعى الولايات المتحدة الأميركية لاستعادة سيطرتها على موارد الطاقة في الشرق الأوسط بعدما أجبرتها الحرب الأوكرانية الروسية على البحث عن مصادر تمويل للطاقة لحلفائها الأوروبيين، ما أعاد للنفط الخليجي وغاز البحر المتوسط أهميته، إضافة إلى العمل على زيادة إنتاج النفط الخليجي مع خفض أسعاره، من أجل خلق استقرار في سوق الطاقة، حتى لا يتأثر الاقتصاد الأميركي الذي يعاني حالة غير مسبوقة من التضخم المالي.

على المستوى الجيو-استراتيجي، تسعى أميركا لقطع الطريق أمام الصين، ومن ثم روسيا، للحؤول دون نسجهما علاقات مع حلفاء أميركا في الشرق الأوسط، وخصوصاً دول الخليج، الذين شعروا بالخوف من تراجع اهتمام أميركا في الشرق الأوسط بعد انسحابها من العراق وأفغانستان وذهابها للتفاوض مع الإيرانيين على اتفاق نووي جديد، ما أنتج حالة من الانفتاح على كلٍّ من الصين وروسيا، ولو على سبيل تحسين شروط تحالفهم مع الأميركيين، وليس تغيير اتجاهاتهم التحالفية، ناهيك بأن تداعيات الأزمة الأوكرانية باتت تهدد الهيمنة الأميركية على المنظومة الدولية كدولة عظمى.

وبالتالي، رجعت أميركا إلى سياسة الأحلاف التي انتهجتها في ستينيات القرن الماضي، واستمرت طوال فترة الحرب الباردة. لذلك، تعيد ترميم علاقتها مع حلفائها، وخصوصاً السعودية، تحت شعار “المصالح الأميركية فوق المبادئ الإنسانية”.

يتمثّل الهدف الأميركي للزيارة على مستوى إقليم الشرق الأوسط بإعادة صياغة خارطة موازين القوى لدول المحور الأميركي في المنطقة، لتكون “إسرائيل” هي مركز الثقل الأساس الذي يثق الأميركي بأنه قادر على تنفيذ متطلبات مصلحته بأقل الأثمان، وبإخلاص كبير، لكون ذلك يتطابق مع مصلحتها كدولة وظيفية احتلالية يرتبط وجودها بالرعاية الأميركية؛ قائدة المشروع الغربي في العالم.

والأهم أنّ الدول الأخرى الحليفة للولايات المتحدة الأميركية، سواء العربية أو الإسلامية، لا تثق أميركا بها وبقدرتها على أداء ذلك الدور، ناهيك بالإشكاليات الداخلية التي يعانيها قادة تلك الدول على المستوى الداخلي.

لذلك، كل ما يحدث في المنطقة من إنشاء تحالفات عسكرية واقتصادية وسياسية تحت الرعاية الأميركية هدفه ضمان أمن “إسرائيل” والحفاظ على قوتها كدولة مركزية في الشرق الأوسط، ما دفع الولايات المتحدة الأميركية مجدداً إلى إعادة اكتشاف أهمية وجود “إسرائيل” ككيان استعماري متقدّم في خدمة مشروعها كدولة عظمى في العالم، في ظل منافسة كلٍّ من الصين وروسيا، وفي منطقة لم تنتهِ مصالحها الاقتصادية فيها بعد.

ينبع خطورة إطلاق بايدن – لابيد “إعلان القدس” من كونه وثيقة أعادت الولايات المتحدة الأميركية مجدداً فيها تأكيداتها والتزاماتها السابقة على مدار أكثر من 70 عاماً تجاه “إسرائيل والشعب اليهودي” في ورقة واحدة لا تتضمن الجديد، ولكنها بمنزلة تأكيد من جو بايدن، الرئيس الديمقراطي، على “صفقة القرن” التي طرحها الرئيس السابق دونالد ترامب الجمهوري، ما يعيد التزام الحزبين الأميركيين تجاه “إسرائيل”، بعدما عصفت الكثير من الرياح السيئة بالعلاقة بينهم منذ عهد الرئيس الأميركي السابق باراك أوباما، وليس انتهاء بأزمة رفض التيار اليساري في الحزب الديمقراطي الأميركي التصويت على تضمين الموازنة العامة في الكونغرس بند تمويل إعادة مخزون صواريخ القبة الحديدية الإسرائيلية.

من الواضح أن “إسرائيل”، للأسف الشديد، استطاعت أن تستفيد جيداً من التطورات والتغيرات في الساحة الدولية، والتي هددت الهيمنة الأميركية، في إعادة تسويق نفسها بحلة جديدة للمشروع الغربي الاستعماري، ولكن هذه المرة كـ”دولة اليهود”، وبدعم دول التطبيع العربي غير المسبوق وغير المتوقع، حتى من الأميركيين أنفسهم، بل أدت “إسرائيل” دور الوسيط بين دول الخليج، وخصوصاً السعودية، وإدارة جو بايدن، وبالتالي برهنت للأميركيين قدرتها على قيادة حلف الناتو الصهيو-تطبيعي الجديد.

أوضحت الزيارة أنَّ بايدن لم يغير موقفه تجاه إيران، فما زال يفرق بين المشروع النووي الإيراني من جهة، والمشروع العسكري لمحور المقاومة بقيادة إيران من جهة أخرى. 

في المشروع النووي، أكد بايدن التزامه الحل الدبلوماسي من خلال اتفاق جديد مع إيران. وبالنسبة إلى التهديد العسكري، منح بايدن “إسرائيل” الكثير من الأدوات العسكرية والسياسية والاقتصادية لمواجهته، مثل منظومة الاعتراض بالليزر الجديدة ومنظومة الدفاع الجوي الإقليمي المشترك، لكن تبقى رؤية بايدن متعارضة مع الموقف الإسرائيلي الذي يرى في التهديد الإيراني رزمة واحدة متكاملة.

لذلك، تضغط “إسرائيل” تجاه وضع الحل العسكري تجاه المشروع النووي الإيراني على طاولة خيارات إدارة بايدن، رغم التزام الأخير عدم السماح لإيران بالحصول على القنبلة النووية. وفي هذا السياق، تحاول “إسرائيل” انتهاج سياسة التدرج الاستراتيجي في سبيل تغيير موقف إدارة بايدن من دون الوصول إلى صدام معه، رغم أن الوقت لا يسعفها كثيراً بحسب تقديراتها الاستخبارية.

أظهرت أجندة الزيارة أنَّ القضية الفلسطينية بالنسبة إلى جو بايدن مجرد هوامش، ويكفي إبداء قناعته الشخصية بحل الدولتين، لكن من دون أي خطوة حقيقية تجاه هذا الحل، بل إنّ الذريعة الأميركية حاضرة بعدم وجود حكومة مستقرة في “إسرائيل”.

ويخشى بايدن أن يستغلّ بنيامين نتنياهو أي ضغط أميركي على حكومة يائير لابيد قبل الانتخابات للعودة إلى الحكم، الأمر الذي سيجعل تأجيل تنفيذ أي خطوة أميركية لمصلحة الفلسطينيين إلى ما بعد الانتخابات الإسرائيلية وتأليف حكومة مستقرة في “إسرائيل” أمراً مبرراً لدى السلطة الفلسطينية.

إن الآراء المذكورة في هذه المقالة لا تعبّر بالضرورة عن رأي الميادين وإنما تعبّر عن رأي صاحبها حصراً

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Andrei Martyanov: SAS and BRICS

July 14, 2022

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Old Way, New Way

July 14, 2022

By Dmitry Orlov and posted with permission

The hardest part of living through a time of wrenching change is that nobody particularly bothers to inform you that the times have changed and that nothing will be the same again. Certainly not the talking heads on TV, who are often the last to know. You have to figure it out for yourself if you can. But I am here to help.

It all has to do with energy. Not with technology—that’s incidental; not with military superiority—that’s fleeting and largely imaginary; certainly not with any sort of political or cultural self-righteousness—that’s delusional. There is no substitute for energy. If you run low, you can’t switch to running your industrial economy on fiddlesticks. It just shuts down. What’s worse, energy sources are not even particularly substitutable for each other. If you run low on gas, you can’t just switch to coal or to dried dung, even if you are up to your neck in it. Modern industry runs on oil, natural gas, and coal, in that order, and they can be substituted for each other in very limited ways.

Furthermore, energy has to be very cheap. Oil has to be about the cheapest liquid you can buy—cheaper than milk; cheaper even than bottled water. If energy isn’t cheap enough, then all the energy-hungry industry that runs on it becomes unprofitable and shuts down. That’s the stage at which we are now in much of the world. So, what happened?

Once upon a time the US produced most of the oil in the world. But then the prolific wells in West Texas ran out and Saudi Arabia took over as the biggest oil producer. But the US wasn’t about to take that sitting down and hatched an ingenuous plan: Saudi Arabia will sell its oil for printed US dollars, then take most of those dollars and give them back to the US by “investing” it in US “debt”. Everybody else who needed oil had to figure out a way to earn US dollars to buy it, and any US dollars they had left over after buying oil also had to be used to buy up US debt just because: “Nice economy you have there! Now we wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to it, would we?”

Indeed, a few people didn’t get the message (Saddam of Iraq, Qaddafi of Libya) and got their countries bombed. And a whole lot of other defenseless countries got bombed just to keep the others scared. But then Syria, which refused to get the message too, asked the Russians for help. The Russians helped Syria, and now nobody is afraid of the US any more. Meanwhile, the US became spoiled by all this free money, grew fat, lazy, degenerate and weak and amassed the hugest pile of “debt” (in quotes because there is no question of ever repaying it) in all of human history.

In the meantime Russia, being the largest energy-producing country in the world, decided that it has had enough. Under the old scheme, Russia exported its resources cheaply, spend 1/3 of the revenue on imports and allowed 2/3 to leak out of the country, quite a lot of it also used to buy US “debt”. It couldn’t do anything about this right away, and so it spent the last decade developing its military to a point where now the US/NATO are afraid to go near it and its economy to a point where it doesn’t need much of the imports, at least not for a few years. And then a silly thing happened: the US confiscated Russia’s holdings of US “debt,” making everyone in the world take notice and start dumping it—even the Japanese!—sending the entire financial scheme into a tailspin.

Meanwhile, Russia has started to switch from selling its energy exports for dollars and euros, which then leave the country, where they can be confiscated, to selling them for rubles, which stay inside the country. Do you want to buy some Russian energy? Well, figure out how to earn some rubles! And if your own anti-Russian sanctions prevent you from doing so—well, la-di-da, whose fault is that? Also, given that there is now a worldwide energy shortage, the Russians asked themselves: Why sell lots of oil and gas for a little money when you can sell less of them for more money?

These are not projected developments; they are happening now and in real-time. “Hostile nations” (which is all of the West) now need rubles to buy Russian natural gas and there is a plan to extend this scheme to oil exports. And just a couple of days ago Russia’s finance minister, Anton Siluanov, announced that there isn’t much point for Russia to export anything for dollars or euros since Russia doesn’t need them for anything and advised exporters to start using barter arrangements instead. Barter is rather inconvenient, but if offering dollars (or euros) just gets you punched in the teeth, then that’s all there is left.

What sorts of barter arrangements? Well, for instance, there is a very nice gigantic chemical plant in Germany, the Ludwigshafen Chemical Complex in Germany, owned by BASF, that is about to shut down due to a shortage of its main feedstock, which is Russian natural gas. That equipment could be crated up and shipped off to Russia in exchange for some energy products, fertilizer and other key supplies that the Germans will need to keep body and soul together over this coming winter. Are anti-Russian sanctions in the way? Well, la-de-da again! They are not Russia’s problem; somebody else has to find a way around them.

Meanwhile, lots of dead ideas, systems and institutions are piling up in the West. Dead is the Green New Deal (a scheme concocted by people who know neither physics nor even arithmetic) and the Great Reset, and Build Back Better (whatever that was), and the rules-based international order, and Mutual Assured Destruction (if you ask for it, Russia will destroy it, but how mutual is that?). And we are all standing by, waiting for a shout of “Timber!” when the dollar/euro/yen debt pyramid begins to topple.

The world is also waiting with bated breath for a whole lot of pompous but useless busybodies to disappear from public view. Dumping that pompous blowhard Boris Johnson was a good start, but what about Scholz, Macron, Duda, von der Lyin’, Zelensky and a whole host others? Biden is in a category of his own, since it clearly doesn’t matter who is the US president or even if there is one.

The world has changed, but social reality hasn’t yet caught up with political and physical reality. This is the summer of anticipation. The winter of discontent is next. Come next spring, we will all be living on a strange and different planet.

To read my other articles, please subscribe at https://boosty.to/cluborlov.

Biden in Jeddah: mending fences, not building bridges

President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia will likely end in face saving gestures, but no major geopolitical concessions

July 12 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Kristian Alexander and Giorgio Cafiero

Before 2019, never had a US president referred to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a ‘pariah’ on his campaign trail. Joe Biden’s Saudi-bashing as a presidential candidate, plus a host of other delicate issues, have fueled significant friction between the White House and Riyadh.

Today, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia are probably at their worst since the events of September 11, 2001, stymied by a major trust deficit in the relationship between Biden’s White House and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

By the same token, the Biden administration views Saudi Arabia as a critical partner in the Persian Gulf and continues to sign massive arms deals with the kingdom.

For all the rhetoric on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose brutal murder MbS is said to have sanctioned, team Biden never imposed state-level sanctions against Saudi Arabia, nor on the crown prince himself.

Meanwhile, the administration praises the role of Riyadh in the Arab world’s trend toward normalization with Israel.

Within this context, Biden’s first presidential trip to West Asia – in which he will go to Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Saudi Arabia this week – will be important to White House efforts to mend fences with Riyadh and salvage this decades-old partnership.

In a US mid-term election year that will likely lead to significant gains for his Republican opposition, Biden seeks to score major foreign policy points in Jeddah that can be used for domestic consumption back in Washington this summer.

Incentivizing Biden to convince the Saudis to increase their oil production are the millions of US motorists struggling with high gas prices and the many average American voters grappling with generational high inflation.

Energy prices are therefore extremely important to Biden’s controversial trip to the kingdom. Yet, this month’s summit in Saudi Arabia is unlikely to give Americans much relief at the gas pump between now and the elections in November.

Shifting the narrative from oil to peace

Determined to ensure that the US public does not tie this tour’s success specifically to a Saudi oil production hike – which could easily result in the Biden administration’s humiliation – the White House message is that this visit to Jeddah largely concerns peace in the region.

As Biden wrote in the Washington Post, avoiding a future in which the region is “coming apart through conflict” is of “paramount importance” to the White House, and he will “pursue diplomacy intensely – including through face-to-face meetings – to achieve our goals.”

According to Biden, if the region comes together through “diplomacy and cooperation” there is a lower chance of “violent extremism” threatening US national security or “new wars that could place new burdens on US military forces and their families.”

This trip comes at a time in which there is a fragile truce in Yemen, where the Saudis and Emiratis have waged a devastating seven-year war. Although the conflict remains unresolved, the drastic reduction in violence and increased humanitarian assistance to the war-torn country have given millions of Yemenis desperately needed relief.

The truce in Yemen has been possible in part because of Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member support, which makes it easier for Biden to justify his visit to Jeddah. After all, it was the Khashoggi affair and the conflict in Yemen that ‘Biden-the-candidate’ cited as reasons for his ‘pariah’ treatment of Riyadh.

Thus, moving toward a settlement to this conflict, in which the last two US presidents were heavily involved in escalating, helps Biden save face as he makes this trip. If the president leaves the kingdom with some guarantees from the Saudis about their commitment to future truce extensions, that could be interpreted as a win for Biden.

“The US administration is beginning to realize that President Biden can’t just ignore Saudi Arabia and that it’s in the best interest of the two countries to start working together, not just to reduce oil prices and pressure on US consumers, but also to further the stability of the Middle East and contain [the Iranian] threat whether in Lebanon or Yemen,” Najah Al-Otaibi, an associate fellow at the Riyadh-based King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said in an interview with The Cradle.

Expanding on her point, Al-Otaibi said that “Saudi Arabia has recently agreed to extend the United Nations-mediated ceasefire with Yemen, and Prince Mohammed [bin Salman] played a critical role in this move, according to Biden’s officials who thought it is a step forward to solving the conflict.”

Last month, Biden clarified that, for him, bolstering Israel’s security was a major motivation for the trip to Saudi Arabia. Despite some speculation among pundits that Saudi Arabia will soon join the Abraham Accords, this is highly doubtful, especially with King Salman still on the throne. However, with MbS “the reformer” as future king, normalization between “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” and Israel is all the more likely.

Insecurity and an ‘Arab NATO’

Even if Riyadh remains outside the Abraham Accords, there is much that Saudi Arabia can do to make it easier for other Arab-Muslim countries to normalize with Tel Aviv, and for the kingdom’s allies, already signatories to the Abraham Accords, to build on their overt relations with the Israelis.

While in Jeddah, Biden will likely push the Saudis to take some more baby steps toward a de facto normalization with Israel, even if it remains unofficial. One way for the kingdom to do so would be by granting permission for Israeli planes to transit Saudi airspace on their way to the UAE, Bahrain, and other countries.

Other avenues could include bolstering involvement by Israeli technology firms in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Saudi–Israeli military cooperation, and more visits by high-ranking Israeli officials to the kingdom that could build on former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s November 2020 visit to Neom.

Shoring up US–Arab partnerships in preparation for the increasingly likely scenario that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks with Iran will collapse in acrimony is a high priority for Biden.

Against the backdrop of Iran’s nuclear advancements as negotiations further stall, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states attending the GCC+3 summit are preparing for a post-JCPOA future in which friction between the US and Israel, on one side, and the Islamic Republic, on the other, appears set to intensify in the coming weeks and months.

“I think Iran, not oil, is the main issue as Iran moves closer and closer to having all the parts it needs to put together a nuclear bomb,” David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow at the Wilson Center, told The Cradle. “Only a revival of the Iranian nuclear deal can stop that trend, and nobody is optimistic about that happening now.”

Although Riyadh and Tehran have been in direct talks via Baghdad since April 2021, the Saudi leadership wants assurances from team Biden that Washington remains committed to the kingdom’s security regardless of the fate of the 2015 nuclear accord, and that the US will work with its Arab allies to counter Iran in regional hotspots, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Yet, mindful of the little trust Saudi officials have in the Biden administration, it is difficult to imagine the US president gaining enough confidence from Riyadh during this upcoming trip vis-à-vis Iran-related issues. As Ottaway told The Cradle:

“I suspect [Biden] will declare another US commitment to defending the kingdom from its foreign enemies, but after Trump’s failure to take any action after Iranian attacks on Saudi oil facilities in 2019, he needs to say or do something to back up [what are] just words.”

In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about an Arab NATO that includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other US-friendly Arab states. Biden will seek to advance this initiative as the west and its allies and partners in West Asia remain worried about Iran’s regional foreign policy agenda.

“[Biden] wishes to reaffirm the historical strength and enduring reciprocity of the alliance, but also to press Riyadh on cooperating more on the energy side – particularly as the US moves as well to create a region-wide defense platform, the so-called Middle East NATO,” Sean Yom, an associate professor at Temple University, pointed out in an interview with The Cradle.

“There is, however, one sticking point that will probably cause a difference: the Saudis continue to desire a strong US presence in the Gulf, one that can police Iran and intervene in a potential militarized conflict, whereas Biden clearly is continuing his predecessors’ anti-interventionist stance,” added Yom.

Nonetheless, many experts have doubts about an Arab NATO ever manifesting into a real alliance, and expect the initiative to remain merely conceptual. This assessment accounts for the opposition of some Arab states to an open military coordination with Israel, as some GCC states, like the Sultanate of Oman, do not want to join an alliance aimed at weakening or intimidating Tehran.

There are also logistical hurdles which would make it difficult for these state militaries to integrate in a NATO-like manner.

“Biden’s plan for a US-backed ‘Arab NATO’ of GCC states plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan seems as unlikely to succeed as Trump’s Middle East Strategic Alliance, which never got off the ground,” Ottaway says.

Virtue-signalling human rights

Although Biden’s administration has determined that the moral costs of this presidential trip do not outweigh the perceived benefits, the Khashoggi affair remains a delicate issue – though significantly less so now than in the immediate aftermath of the grisly murder in October 2018.

MbS wants the US government to drop the Khashoggi issue, but elements within Biden’s party maintain that any interaction between him and the crown prince would be “profoundly disturbing.” To placate more progressive politicians, high-profile media pundits, and human rights activists who criticize Biden for “legitimizing” MbS on this trip, the president will seek some human rights concessions, like those which his administration secured at the start of his presidency.

If Biden is successful on this front, he could return to the US claiming that his visit to the kingdom helped advance, rather than hinder, the cause of human rights. Such an achievement would help Biden save face and tell his base that he did not abandon certain principles or so-called ‘American values’ by meeting MbS in the Saudi kingdom.

“His campaign trail rhetoric, like all political campaign rhetoric, was never going to bear much resemblance to executive policy and official diplomacy,” cautioned Yom. “But I do think Biden will exit the meetings by claiming that he squarely put human rights concerns, and potentially even democratic awareness, onto the agenda for Riyadh.”

Yet, whether the Saudi leadership feels it is under sufficient pressure to release any political prisoners, or provide liberties to some recently released Saudis who are banned from traveling, remains to be seen.

From the perspective of the Saudi government, the US and other western governments are inappropriately virtue signaling when raising human rights concerns in the kingdom. The view from Riyadh is that these issues are internal issues that do not concern Washington or European capitals.

Saudi and other Arab officials will often point to US sins in Iraq or police brutality against African-Americans to highlight elements of hypocrisy on the part of US politicians lecturing the Saudi government on the human rights front.

MbS reportedly “shouting” at US national security adviser Jake Sullivan after the high-ranking official brought up the Khashoggi case underscores the effect of these discussions on the leaders of Saudi Arabia.

The grander geopolitical picture 

Biden will visit Saudi Arabia amid a period of increasing east–west bifurcation and intensifying great power competition. Although neither China nor Russia is on the verge of replacing the US as security guarantor of Saudi Arabia or any GCC states, US influence in the Gulf has declined with Beijing and Moscow gaining greater clout at Washington’s expense.

Biden’s trip to Jeddah aims to reassert US influence in the Persian Gulf and attempt to prevent Riyadh and other Arab capitals from moving closer to the Chinese and Russians. An objective of Biden’s is to bring GCC states back into the geopolitical orbit of the west, while slowing down the growth of their partnerships with Beijing and Moscow.

“There were undeniable hiccups in the relationship last year, relating to halting support to the Yemen war, aggressive rhetoric against MbS, and more scrutiny on arms sales,” Yom explained.

“Fundamentally, none of these factors perturbed the great structural core of the US–Saudi alliance, built upon mutual perceptions of energy security, sovereign protections, and regional hegemony. But those hiccups were enough to make the decision-making circles in Riyadh a bit uncomfortable, enough at least to entertain Russian and Chinese overtures for military and energy cooperation.”

The White House and the entire US foreign policy establishment have grave concerns about Sino–Saudi ballistic missile cooperation and the extent to which the Chinese and Emiratis are making their defense and security relations more robust.

It is safe to say that while in Jeddah, team Biden will make it clear that the US will withhold future military assistance if GCC states move militarily closer to China. The extent to which such pressure has any impact on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s relationships with Beijing remains an open question.

Nonetheless, team Biden must understand that this visit will occur against the backdrop of serious tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has grown frustrated with many aspects of Washington’s agenda in the Biden era.

The Saudi government’s view is that Biden is an ’Obama 2.0’ – a perspective that is not unreasonable when mindful of how many Obama administration veterans, including Biden himself, are serving in the White House.

By moving closer to China and Russia, the Saudis are sending a message, loud and clear, to Washington that Riyadh has other options on the international stage as the world moves towards multipolarity with more Arab statesmen perceiving the US as a power that is withdrawing from West Asia.

Riyadh can exaggerate the extent to which the kingdom has grown closer to Beijing and Moscow to gain leverage over the US and secure more concessions from Washington. That is likely to continue, and Biden would be making a mistake in placating the Saudis in every instance to merely try to stop Riyadh from tilting closer to China and Russia.

Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia is showing itself to be increasingly confident and Biden’s visit to the kingdom will add to Riyadh’s sense of being emboldened, giving the Saudi leadership more reason to pursue its own interests in ways that sometimes align more closely with Beijing and Moscow’s foreign policy objectives than those of western powers.

Despite these geopolitical tensions, the Biden administration and Al-Saud rulers both value Washington and Riyadh’s decades-old partnership, and neither side wants to abandon it. Much anger and a significant trust deficit, however, have built up between these two countries.

Biden will not be leaving Saudi Arabia later this month with all these issues resolved. But the dialogue in Jeddah has the potential to begin a process of mending fences.

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

بايدن في إسرائيل: توسيع التطبيع مهمّة أولى

 الأربعاء 13 تموز 2022

هناك تقديرات في إسرائيل بأنّ زيارة بايدن محدودة الأهداف والنتائج (أ ف ب)

يحيى دبوق

على رغم أن الرئيس الأميركي، جو بايدن، سيحلّ، اليوم، ضيفاً على إسرائيل، إلّا أن زيارة الكيان العبري لا تمثّل محطّة رئيسة ضمن جولته المختصرة التي تنتهي في السعودية، حيث غاية الزيارة ومقصدها. مع هذا، يجهّز المسؤولون الإسرائيليون سلّة مطالب يتوقّعون من الضيف الأميركي أن يلبّيها، وفي مقدّمها الإسهام في توسيع اتفاقات التطبيع لتشمل المملكة، والدفع نحو حلف عربي – إسرائيلي لمواجهة تهديدات إيران وحلفائها، وإنْ بدأ على شكل منظومات رادارية إنذارية مشتركة لكشف الصواريخ والمسيّرات «المعادية»، إلى جانب عطاءات مالية وتكنولوجية لن تبخل واشنطن في تعزيزها. وفي ظلّ محدودية التوقّعات، فإن أهمّ ما في الزيارة، من جهة تل أبيب، هو أنها تمثّل فرصة ممتازة لمعاينة وفحص حدود القوّة الأميركية في عالمٍ بات سريع التحوُّل

يصل الرئيس الأميركي، جو بايدن، إلى تل أبيب، اليوم، في زيارة مجاملة للحليف الإسرائيلي، قبل أن يتّوجه إلى السعودية، حيث ينتظره زعماء دول عربية، هم هدف الزيارة ومقصدها. وسيسعى بايدن إلى تجنيد هذه الدول ما أمكن، لمؤازرة الولايات المتحدة والغرب عموماً، في المواجهة العسكرية – الاقتصادية القائمة مع روسيا في أوكرانيا. ومن المقرَّر أن تتضمّن الزيارة إلى إسرائيل، لقاءات بروتوكولية يتخلّلها إطلاق مواقف أميركية تعبّر عن تأييد كامل وشامل لتل أبيب والتزام مطلَق بأمنها وتفوّقها العسكري، وتشديد على الوقوف إلى جانبها في مواجهة التهديدات المُحدقة بها، وفي مقدّمها تلك الإيرانية. من جهته، سيركّز الجانب الإسرائيلي على إثارة مكامن قلقه – وإن بصورةٍ غير مباشرة – من إمكانية تبديل التموضع الأميركي في المنطقة، وتراجع انشغال واشنطن فيها لمصلحة ساحات أخرى. أمّا تهديد إيران وحلفائها، فسيكون محور المقاربة الإسرائيلية للزيارة.

ما هي توقّعات تل أبيب؟
هناك تقديرات في إسرائيل بأنّ زيارة بايدن محدودة الأهداف والنتائج، وهي تُعّد في الأساس خطوة أولى تمهيدية تكتنفها المجاملات والودّ، قبل زيارة جدة، حيث المقصد الرئيس لزيارة المنطقة. مع ذلك، فإن محطّة بايدن في تل أبيب، تشكّل فرصة لهذه الأخيرة لتحصيل ما أمكن من الإدارة:

تريد تل أبيب حلفاً عربياً – إسرائيلياً لمواجهة تهديدات إيران وحلفائها


– كما تطالب بدفع تسوية ما تلحظ مصالحها، في ما يتعلّق بترسيم الحدود البحرية مع لبنان، ليس فقط في إنهاء الترسيم وحفظ المصالح البحرية الغازية والنفطية المباشرة، بل في أن تكون تسوية كهذه توطئة لأخرى أكبر، تصل، في نهاية المطاف، إلى التطبيع مع لبنان، علماً أن المطالب الإسرائيلية – قبل التسوية البحرية وبعدها – ستكون مركّزة على إشراك الإدارة الأميركية أكثر في الجهود والمساعي الاستخبارية والأمنية لمواجهة سلاح «حزب الله»، الذي باتت القدرة الذاتية على لجمه وصدّه ومنع تناميه، متواضعة ومتعذّرة من ناحية إسرائيل، فيما الضغط على لبنان و«حزب الله» بواسطة الأزمة الاقتصادية، هي في الأساس استراتيجية تتبنّاها الإدارة وتسعى إلى تعزيزها، مع أو من دون دفع إسرائيل وتحفيزها.

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Israeli military officials sent to Qatar as US works to bolster security cooperation

Arrival of officials in Qatar underscores how normalisation impacts Arab states that have not formally established ties to Israel

A general view shows US Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft at al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar (AFP/File photo)

8 July 2022 

By Sean Mathews

Israeli military officials have secretly been dispatched to Qatar as part of a security reshuffle that places Israel in US Central Command’s area of responsibility, current and former US and Gulf officials have told Middle East Eye.

At least one location where Israeli officials have travelled is al-Udeid, a US air base and the forward operating headquarters of all US forces in the Middle East, also known as Centcom, the sources said.

Israel was absorbed into Centcom last year, in a move that built on the 2020 normalisation agreements which saw Bahrain and the UAE establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Morocco and Sudan normalised relations with Israel soon after.

A Gulf official with knowledge of the matter who spoke with MEE on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic did not say how many Israeli personnel were currently in the country.  

The Abraham Accords and Israel’s inclusion in Centcom ‘are forcing all Arab capitals to reassess what their relationship with Israel looks like’

– R Clarke Cooper, former US official

Despite lacking formal relations, Israel and Qatar – two key US allies – maintain ties, and are known to engage on issues including the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

“There is dialogue, and it is a good dialogue,” said the Gulf official.

Qatar publicly acknowledges what it calls a “working relationship” with Israel. Those ties came to the fore during Israel’s offensive on Gaza last year when Defence Minister Benny Gantz reportedly met with Qatari officials in an unnamed country to negotiate aid for the besieged Gaza Strip.

However, the disclosure, not previously reported elsewhere, of Israeli military officials travelling to Qatar underscores how ties are extending beyond traditional areas such as Palestine, particularly as the US works to bolster security cooperation between its Arab partners and Israel.

“The Abraham Accords, as well as the inclusion of Israel into the US Central Command, are forcing all Arab capitals to reassess what their relationship with Israel looks like,” R Clarke Cooper, former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs under the Trump administration and currently at the Atlantic Council, told MEE.

“Current considerations of military integration to address shared threats like Iran is a real-time example of such reassessment,” he added.

‘Exploring greater security coordination’

In March, Qatari military officials – along with those from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan – reportedly held a meeting with US and Israeli counterparts in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh to discuss a plan for joint missile defence.

The meeting took place against a backdrop of rising tensions with Iran, as talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal stall. 

In contrast to other Gulf states, Qatar is seen as more supportive of a return to the deal. Qatar shares the world’s largest natural gas field with Iran. Its leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, travelled to the Islamic Republic in May in a push to jumpstart stalled talks. Last month, the US and Tehran held indirect negotiations in Doha aimed at reviving the accord.  

Biden Middle East visit: Why an Israel-led security pact is a paper tiger
Read More »

But Qatar’s geographic position also means that it would be vulnerable to any escalation in the region, analysts say.

“The Qataris, like other smaller countries between Saudi Arabia and Iran, are open to exploring greater security coordination with other actors, whether that be Turkey, whether that be Israel as well,” Anna Jacobs, a senior analyst on Gulf states at the International Crisis Group, told MEE.

Asked about the stationing of Israeli military officials at US bases in Qatar, Centcom referred MEE to the Israeli military. The Israeli military refused to comment on the topic.

Lt Col Dave Eastburn, US Central Command spokesman, told MEE in a written response that the “easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors subsequent to the Abraham Accords has provided a strategic opportunity for the United States to align key partners against shared threats in the Middle East, including our partners in Israel”.

‘Working relationship’

Qatar, a gas-rich country of 2.8 million people, of which only 300,000 are Qatari nationals, has had a complex relationship with Israel.

Qatar was the first country in the Gulf to establish trade relations with Israel. During the Second Intifada, it was reportedly pressured by Saudi Arabia and other states to close its trade office there. A reopened office was subsequently shuttered when Israel launched its 2009 invasion of Gaza.

Qatar has long positioned itself as an advocate of the Palestinian cause. The Al Jazeera Media Network and its affiliates, which are funded by the Government of Qatar, are viewed by many as critical of Israel.

Doha is also close to Hamas, the group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip, and provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza in coordination with the UN, and with the backing of Israel.

Doha’s leverage with Hamas helped it negotiate a ceasefire to last May’s fighting which saw more than 260 Palestinians killed in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and 13 in Israel. Following the truce, Qatar pledged $500m in support of Gaza’s reconstruction.

A few months after the ceasefire, Qatar announced new measures to provide aid to impoverished families in Gaza. Defence Minister Benny Gantz praised Doha, stating: “I would like to thank Qatar for taking a positive role as a stabilising actor in the Middle East.”

“The Qataris have a win-win situation,” Yoel Guzansky, a Gulf expert at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, told MEE.

“They are appreciated on the Palestinian street for not normalising. They have good relations with the US and good relations with Israel.”

Navigating the grey zone

Biden is scheduled to embark on a four-day trip to the Middle East next week, where he will first visit Israel and the occupied West Bank. The visit will then culminate with a major gathering of regional leaders in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah.

Ahead of Biden’s trip, US officials have hinted that new states could take steps to normalise relations with Israel. The US is believed to be negotiating a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, in a move that could eventually pave the way for Riyadh to normalise in the future.

Biden Middle East visit: Why the Arab world needs a new leadership
Read More »

Few expect Qatar to take similar measures.

The State Department denied MEE’s request to discuss Qatar and US normalisation efforts. Qatar also didn’t respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. 

In an interview earlier this year, Qatar’s foreign minister ruled out normalising ties with Israel “in the absence of a real commitment to a two-state solution” between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“If I was the Qataris, I would not normalise. And if I was the Israelis, I don’t know if I would want them to,” Guzansky said, explaining that both sides were so far apart on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that it was likely in each’s favour to keep bilateral ties in a “grey zone”.

Navigating that grey zone amid signs that normalisation in the region is proceeding will likely continue to test Qatar’s ability to balance the relationship. 

Saudi Arabia to Grant the Zionist Enemy Ultimate Freedom of Navigation

July 1, 2022

By Staff

The United States, “Israel”, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are reportedly close to clinching a deal over two strategic islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir. That’s according to Barak Ravid, a political affairs commentator for “Israel’s” Walla! website.

Ravid quotes three senior “Israeli” officials who claim that the parties are inching towards finalizing a set of agreements, understandings, and guarantees ahead of an upcoming visit to the region by US President Joe Biden.

Ravid argues that the deal “will constitute an important achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East.” He also thinks that it may pave the way for a gradual process of normalization between Saudi Arabia and “Israel.”

Ravid points out the obvious: “Israel” and the Saudis don’t have official diplomatic relations, and therefore, cannot directly sign a formal agreement regarding the two islands.

As such, the participating sides are trying to come up with creative legal and diplomatic solutions to close the agreement through indirect contacts. Ravid adds that in recent months, the Biden administration mediated quiet negotiations between Saudi Arabia, “Israel” and Egypt over a deal that would complete the transfer of the two islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

According to Ravid, the question was raised at the heart of the negotiations about how to respond to Saudi Arabia’s request to remove international observers from the two islands while at the same time maintaining the security arrangements and political guarantees requested by “Israel.”

For their part, the “Israelis” wants to ensure that Egyptian guarantees in the context of the so-called “peace” agreement bind the Saudis as well, especially with regard to an agreement allowing “Israeli” ships to freely sail through the Strait of Tiran to and from the port of Eilat.

Two senior “Israeli” officials told Walla! that Saudi Arabia agreed to take upon itself all Egyptian guarantees, including the obligation to preserve freedom of navigation.

“Israeli” officials said that the outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the new Prime Minister Yair Lapid, and War Minister Benny Gantz were briefed in recent days about the details of the plan to complete the agreement and agreed on its principles.

According to the plan, Saudi Arabia will sign an agreement with Egypt regarding the two islands, and in return, it will send a memorandum to the United States detailing its commitment to freedom of navigation and security arrangements.

The Biden administration will then transfer to “Israel” a memorandum detailing the Saudi commitment to freedom of navigation and will provide American guarantees to monitor the level of compliance.

An “Israeli” official said that Gantz and relevant parties within the security establishment believe that the plan preserves “Israel’s” security interests in the Red Sea and support the move.

“Parallel to finalizing the agreement on the two islands, it is expected that Saudi Arabia will announce that it will allow planes belonging to “Israeli” shipping companies to use Saudi airspace on their way to the east, especially to India and China,” the source adds.

But Ravid clarifies that while the negotiating parties are close to inking a deal, the plan has not been finalized and the agreement and guarantees are still being worked out.

Michael Hudson interviewed by Ben Norton (Multipolarista) Update with transcript

June 30, 2022

Economist Michael Hudson on inflation and Fed plan to cut wages: A depression is coming

Transcript:

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Hey, everyone, this is Ben Norton, and you are watching or listening to the Multipolarista podcast. I am always privileged to be joined by one of my favorite guests, Michael Hudson, one of the greatest economists living today.

We’re going to be talking about the inflation crisis. This is a crisis around the world, but especially in the United States, where inflation has been at over 8%. And it has caused a lot of political problems. It’s very likely going to cause the defeat, among other factors, of the Democrats in the mid-term elections in November.

And we’ve seen that the response of the US government and top economists in the United States is basically to blame inflation on wages, on low levels of unemployment and on working people.

We’ve seen that the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, has said that inflation is being caused by wages supposedly being too high. We’ve also seen that the top economist and former Clinton administration official Larry Summers has claimed that the solution to inflation is increasing unemployment, potentially up to 10%.

So today I’m joined by economist Michael Hudson, who has been calling out this kind of neoliberal snake oil economics for many years. And Professor Hudson has an article he just published that we’re going to talk about today. You can find this at his website, which is michael-hudson.com. It’s titled “The Fed’s Austerity Program to Reduce Wages.” and I’m going to let Professor Hudson summarize the main points of his article.

Professor Hudson, as always, it’s a pleasure having you. Can you respond to the decision by the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates by 0.75%? It doesn’t sound like a lot – it’s less than 1% – but this was the largest rate hike since 1994.

And now we’ve already seen reports that there’s going to be a depression. The Fed chair is blaming this on wages. Can you respond to the position of the Fed and the inflation crisis in the US right now.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

For the Fed, the only two things that it can do is, number one, raise the discount rate, the interest rate; and number two, spend $9 trillion buying stocks, and bonds, and real estate mortgages to increase real estate prices, and to increase the amount of wealth that the wealthiest 10% of the population has.

To the wealthiest 10%, especially the 1%, it’s not only inflation that’s a problem of wages; every problem that America has is the problem of the working class earning too much money. And if you’re an employer, that’s the problem: you want to increase your profits. And if you look at the short term, your profits go up the more that you can squeeze labor down. And the way to squeeze labor down is to increase what Marx called the reserve army of the unemployed.

You need unemployment in order to prevent labor from getting most of the value of what it produces, so that the employers can get the value, and pay that to the banks and the financial managers that have taken over corporate industry in the United States.

You mentioned that while the Fed blames the inflation it on labor, that’s not President Biden’s view; Biden keeps calling it the Putin inflation. And of course, what he really means is that the sanctions that America has placed on Russia have created a shortage of oil, gas, energy, and food exports.

So really we’re in the Biden inflation. And the Biden inflation that America is experiencing is the result basically of America’s military policy, its foreign policy, and above all, the Democratic Party’s support of the oil industry, which is the most powerful sector in the United States and which is guiding most of the sanctions against Russia; and the national security state that bases America’s power on its ability to export oil, or control the oil trade of all the countries, and to export agricultural products.

So what we’re in the middle of right now isn’t simply a domestic issue of wage earners wanting higher salaries – which they’re not particularly getting; certainly the minimum wage has not been increased – but you have to put this in the context of the whole cold war that’s going on.

The whole US and NATO confrontation of Russia has been a godsend, as you and I have spoken before, for the oil industry and the farm exporters.

And the result is that the US dollar is rising against the euro, against sterling, and against Global South currencies. Well, in principle a rising dollar should make the price of imports low. So something else is at work.

And what’s at work, of course, is the fact that the oil industry is a monopoly, that most of the prices that have been going up are basically the result of a monopolization, in the case of food, by the marketing firms, like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, that buy most of the crops from the farmers.

The irony is that while food prices, next to oil prices, are the major factor that is soaring, farmers are getting less and less for their crops. And yet farmers’ costs are going up – up for fertilizer, up for energy, up for other inputs – so that you’re having enormous profits for Archer Daniels Midland and the food monopolies, of the distributors, and enormous, enormous gains for the oil industry, and also of course for the military-industrial complex.

So if you look at what’s happening in the overall world economic system, you can see that this inflation is being engineered. And the beneficiaries of this inflation certainly have not been the wage earners, by any stretch of the imagination.

But the crisis that the Biden policy has created is being blamed on the wage earners instead of on the Biden administration’s foreign policy and the basically the US-NATO war to isolate Russia, China, India, Iran, and Eurasia generally.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Professor Hudson, I want to talk about the increase in interest rates by the Fed. There has been a lot of attention to this, although, again, it’s 0.75%, which is not that big. But it’s of course going to have an outsize impact on the economy.

In your article, again, this is your column at michael-hudson.com, “The Fed’s Austerity Program to Reduce Wages,” you talk about the Fed’s “junk economics,” and you say that the idea behind raising interest rates by 0.75% is that:

raising interest rates will cure inflation by deterring borrowing to spend on the basic needs that make up the Consumer Price Index and its related GDP deflator. But banks do not finance much consumption, except for credit card debt, which is now less than student loans and automobile loans. Banks lend almost entirely to buy real estate, stocks and bonds, not goods and services.

So you argue that one of the effects of this is that it’s actually going to roll back homeownership in the United States. You note that the rate of homeownership has been falling since 2008.

So can you expand on those arguments? What will be the impact of the increase of the interest rates by the Fed?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, in order to get an economics degree which is needed to work at the Fed or at the Council of Economic Advisors, you have to take economics courses in the universities, and all of the textbooks say just what you quoted me as saying they say.

The pretense is that banks actually play a productive role in society, by providing the money for factories to buy machinery, and build plants, and do research and development, and to hire labor; and that somehow the money that banks create is all lent out for industrial economy, and that that will enable companies to make more money that they’ll spend on labor; and of course, as they spend more money on labor, that supports to bid prices up as the reserve army of the unemployed is depleted.

But that’s all a fiction. The textbooks don’t want to say that banks don’t play a productive role like that at all. And the corporations don’t do what the textbooks say.

If you look at the Federal Reserve balance sheet and statistics that it publishes every month, you’ll see that 80% of bank loans in the United States are mortgage loans to commercial real estate and mostly for home real estate. And of course the home mortgage loans have been nothing, like under 1% for the last 14 years, since 2008.

Only the banks and the large borrowers, the financial sector, have been able to borrow at these low rates. Homeowners all along have had to pay very high rates, just under 4%, and now it’s going above 4%, heading to 5%.

Well, here is the situation that the Federal Reserve has created. Suppose that you’re a family right now going out to buy a home, and you find out that in order to borrow the money to buy the home – because if the average home in America costs $600,000 or $700,000, people haven’t saved that much; the only way you can buy a home is to take out a mortgage.

Well, you have a choice: you can either rent a home, or you can borrow the money to buy a home. And traditionally, for a century, the carrying charge for financing a home with the mortgage has been about the equivalent of paying a rent. The advantage is, of course, that you get to own the home when it’s over.

Well, now let’s look at what’s happening right now. All of a sudden, the carrying charge of mortgages have gone way, way up. The banks are making an enormous gap. They can borrow at just around 1%, and they lend out at 4.5%. They get a windfall gain of the markup they have in mortgages, lending to prospective homeowners.

And of course, the homeowners don’t have enough money to be able to pay the higher interest charged on the mortgages that they take out. So they are not able to buy as expensive a home as they wanted before.

But they’ve been a declining part of the population. At the time Obama took office, over 68% of Americans owned their own home. Obama started the great wave of evictions, of 10 million Americans who lived in homes, essentially to throw them out of their homes, especially the victims of the junk mortgages, especially the lower income and racial minorities who were redlined and had to become the main victims of the mortgages.

America’s homeownership rate is now under 61%. What has happened? You’ve had huge private capital firms come into the market thinking, wait a minute, we can now buy these properties and rent them out. And we can buy them for all cash, unlike homeowners, we’re multibillionaires, we Blackstone, BlackRock.

You have these multibillion-dollar funds, and they say, well, we can’t make much money buying bonds or buying stocks that yield what they do today, now that the Federal Reserve has ground down interest rates. What we can do is make money as landlords.

And so they’ve shifted, they’ve reversed the whole shift away from the 19th-century landlordism to an economy based on financialization, and the wealthy classes making money on finance, to go back to making money as landlords.

And so they are buying up these homes that American homeowners can’t afford to buy. Because when you raise the mortgage rate, that doesn’t affect a billionaire at all. Because the billionaire firm doesn’t have to borrow money to buy the home. They have the billion dollars of their own money, of pension fund money, of speculative money, of the money of the 1% and the 10% to spend.

So what you’re having by increasing the interest rates is squeezing homeowners out of the market and turning the American economy into a landlord-ridden rental economy, instead of a homeowners economy. That’s the effect.

And it’s a windfall for the private capital firms that are now seeing that are making money as landlords, the old fashioned way, it worked for 800 years under feudalism. It’s coming back in style.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Professor Hudson, you point out in this article at your website that more than 50% of the value of U.S. real estate already is held by mortgage bankers. And of course, that percentage is increasing and increasing.

Now, you, Professor Hudson, have argued a point that I haven’t seen many other people make, although it’s an obvious, correct point, which is that there has actually been a lot of inflation in the United States in the past several years, but that inflation was in the FIRE sector: finance, insurance, and real estate.

We see that with the constant increase in real estate prices; they go up every single year; rent goes up every single year. The difference now is that there’s also a significant increase in the Consumer Price Index.

And there is an interesting study published by the Economic Policy Institute, which is, you know, a center-left think tank, affiliated with the labor movement; they’re not radicals, they’re progressives. And they did a very good study.

And they found – this was published this April – they found that corporate profits are responsible for around 54% of the increase of prices in the non-financial corporate sector, as opposed to unit labor costs only being responsible for around an 8% increase.

So they showed, scientifically, that over half of the increase of prices in the non-financial corporate sector, that is in the Consumer Price Index, over half of that inflation is because of corporate profits.

Of course, that’s not the way it’s discussed in mainstream media. That’s not the way the Fed is discussing it all. We see Larry Summers saying that we need to increase unemployment. Larry Summers, of course, was the treasury secretary for Bill Clinton.

He’s saying that the U.S. has to increase unemployment; the solution to inflation is increasing unemployment. Even though these studies show that over half of inflation in the Consumer Price Index is because of corporate profits.

I’m wondering if you can comment on why so many economists, including people as revered as Larry Summers, refuse to acknowledge that reality.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Most economists need to get employment, and in order to be employed, you have to give a picture of the economy that reflects how well your employer helped society at large. You’re not allowed to say that your employer is acting in ways that are purely predatory. You’re not allowed to say that the employer does not earn an income.

You talked about corporate profits and the classical economists. If you were a free-market economist like Adam Smith, or David Ricardo, or John Stuart Mill – these are monopoly rents. So what you call corporate profits are way above normal corporate rates of return, normal profits. They’re economic rents from monopoly.

And that’s because about 10 or 15 years ago, the United States stopped imposing its anti-monopoly laws. It has essentially let monopolies concentrate markets, concentrate power, and charge whatever they want.

And so once you’ve dismantled the whole legal framework that was put in place from the 1890s, from the Sherman Antitrust Act, down through the early 20th century, the New Deal, once you dismantle all of this state control, saying – essentially what Larry Summers says is, we’re for a free market.

A “free market” is one in which companies can charge whatever they want to charge for things; a free market is one without government regulation; a free market is one without government; a free market is a weak enough government so that it cannot protect the wage earners; it cannot protect voters. A “democracy” is a country where the bulk of the population, the wage earners, have no ability to affect economic policy in their own interests.

A “free market” is one where, instead of the government being the planner, Wall Street is the planner, on behalf of the large industries that are basically being financialized.

So you’ve had a transformation of the concept of what a free market is, a dismantling of government regulation, a dismantling of anti-monopoly regulation, and essentially the class war is back in business.

That’s what the Biden administration is all about. And quite frankly, it’s what the Democratic Party is all about, even more than the Republican Party. The Republican Party can advocate pro-business policies and pro-financial policies, but the Democratic Party is in charge of dismantling the legacy of protection of the economy that had been put in place for a century.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Yeah, and this is an article in Fortune that was originally based on an article in Bloomberg: “5 years at 6% unemployment or 1 year at 10%: That’s what Larry Summers says we’ll need to defeat inflation.” That’s how simple it is, you know, just increase unemployment, and then inflation will magically go away!

Now, I also wanted to get your response, Professor Hudson, to these comments that you highlighted in a panel that was organized by the International Manifesto Group – a great organization, people can find it here, their channel here at YouTube. And they held a conference on inflation. And you were one of several speakers.

And you highlighted these comments that were made by the Fed chair, Jerome Powell. And this is according to the official transcript from The Wall Street Journal. So this is not from some lefty, socialist website. Here’s the official transcript of a May 4 press conference given by the Fed chief, Jerome Powell.

In this press conference, he said, discussing inflation, he said, in order to get inflation down, he’s talking about things that can be done “to get wages down, and then get inflation down without having to slow the economy and have a recession and have unemployment rise materially.”

So this is another proposal. Larry Summers says 6% unemployment for five years, or 10% unemployment for one year. The Fed chair, Jerome Powell, says the solution is “to get wages down.” I’m wondering if you can respond to that as well.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, the important thing to realize is that President Biden re-appointed Jerome Powell. President Biden is a Republican. The Democratic Party is basically the right wing of the Republican Party, the pro-financial, the pro-Wall Street wing of the Republican Party.

Why on earth, if the Democrats were different from the Republicans, why would would Biden re-appoint an anti-labor Republican, as head of the Federal Reserve, instead of someone that would actually try to spur employment?

Imagine, here’s a party that is trying to be elected on a program of, “Elect us, and we will create a depression and we will lower wages.” That is the Democrat Party slogan.

And it’s a winning slogan, because elections are won by campaign contributions. The slogan is, “We will lower wages by bringing you depression,” is a tsunami of contributions to the Democratic Party, by Wall Street, by the monopolists, by all the beneficiaries of this policy.

So that’s why the Supreme Court ruling against abortions the other day is a gift to the Democrats, because it distracts attention from their identity politics of breaking America into all sorts of identities, every identity you can think of, except being a wage earner.

The wage earners are called deplorables, basically. And that’s how the donor class thinks of them, as sort of unfortunate overhead. You need to employ them, but it really it’s unfortunate that they like to live as well as they do, because the better they live, the less money that you will end up with.

So I think that this issue of the inflation, and what really causes it, really should be what elections are all about. This should be the economic core of this November’s election campaign and the 2024 election campaign. And the Democrats are leading the fight to lower wages.

And you remember that when President Obama was elected, he promised to increase the minimum wage? As soon as he got in, he said the one thing we cannot do is raise the minimum wage. And he had also promised to back card check. He said, the one thing we must not do is increase labor unionization with card check, because if you unionize labor, they’re going to ask for better wages and better working conditions.

So you have the Democratic Party taking about as hard a right-wing position as sort of Chicago School monetarism, saying the solution to any any problem at all is just lower wages and somehow you’ll be more competitive, whereas the American economy is already rendered uncompetitive, not because wages are so high, but because, as you mentioned before, the FIRE sector, the finance, insurance, and real estate sector is so high.

Rents and home ownership, having a home is too expensive to be competitive with foreign labor. Having to pay 18% of GDP on medical care, privatized medical care, prices American labor out of the market. All of the debt service that America has paid is pricing America out of the market.

So the problem is not that wages are too high. The problem is that the overhead that labor has to pay in order to survive, for rent, for medical care, for student loans, for car loans, to have a car to drive to work, for gas to drive to work, to buy the monopoly prices that you need in order to survive – all of these are too high.

None of this even appears in economic textbooks that you need to get a good mark on, in order to get an economics degree, in order to be suitably pliable to be hired by the Federal Reserve, or the Council of Economic Advisers, or by corporations that use economists basically as public relations spokesmen. So that’s the mess we’re in.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Professor Hudson, in your article at your website, michael-hudson.com, you have an important section about the quantitative easing policies. We were talking about how there has been inflation in the past decade, but then inflation was largely in the FIRE sector, pushing up, artificially inflating the prices of real estate and stocks.

You note that:

While home ownership rates plunged for the population at large, the Fed’s “Quantitative Easing” increased its subsidy of Wall Street’s financial securities from $1 trillion to $8.2 trillion – of which the largest gain has been in packaged home mortgages. This has kept housing prices from falling and becoming more affordable for home buyers.

And you, of course, note that “the Fed’s support of asset prices saved many insolvent banks – the very largest ones – from going under.”

I had you on to discuss, in late 2019, before the Covid pandemic hit, we know that the Fed had this emergency bailout where it gave trillions of dollars in emergency repo loans to the biggest banks to prevent them from from crashing, trying to save the economy.

I do want to talk about this as well, because sometimes this is used by right-wingers who portray Biden hilariously as a socialist. You were just talking about how the Democrats have a deeply neoliberal, right-wing economic program.

But of course, there is this rhetoric that we see from Republicans and conservatives claiming that Biden is a socialist. They claim that the reason there is inflation is because Biden is just printing money and giving money to people.

Of course, that’s not at all what’s happening. What has happened is that the Fed has printed trillions of dollars and given that to stockholders, to big corporations, and to banks.

And this is a point that I saw highlighted in that panel I mentioned, the conference on inflation that was organized by the International Manifesto Group. A colleague of yours, a brilliant political economist, Radhika Desai, she invited everyone to go to the Fed website and look at the Fed balance sheet.

And this is the Fed balance sheet from federalreserve.gov. This is the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System website. And it is pretty shocking to see this graph, which shows the total assets of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

US Federal Reserve assets balance sheet 2022

Back in 2008, the Federal Reserve had around $900 billion in assets. Now it’s at nearly $9 trillion in assets.

And we can see, after the financial crash, or during the financial crash, it increased to around $2 trillion. And then around 2014, it increased to around $4.5 trillion. And then especially in late 2019 and 2020, it skyrocketed from around $4 trillion up to $7 trillion. And since then, it has continued skyrocketing to $9 trillion in assets.

Where did all of that money go? And what was the impact on the economy, of course?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, the impact on the economy has been to vastly increase the wealth of the wealthiest 1% of Americans who own most of the stocks and bonds.

Sheila Bair, the former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, pointed out that a lot of this $8 trillion is spent to buy junk bonds.

Here’s the problem. The problem really began with President Obama. He inherited a system where you had the largest wave of commercial bank fraud in American history.

As my colleague Bill Black at the University of Missouri at Kansas City has pointed out, everybody knew that there was a bank fraud on. The newspapers referred to junk mortgages and “NINJA” borrowers: “no income, no jobs, no assets.”

So banks had written mortgages way above the actual value of homes, especially to racial and ethnic minorities, without any ability of the borrowers to actually pay.

And then these banks had packaged these mortgages, and sold them to hapless pension funds, and other institutional investors and to the European banks that are always very naive about how honest American banks are.

You had this whole accumulation of what the 19th century called fictitious capital. Mortgages for property that wasn’t worth anywhere near as much as the mortgage is for.

So if the mortgage was defaulted, if homeowners had jingle mail – in other words, you just mail the keys back to the bank and say, ok, take the house, I find I can buy a house now at half the price that Citibank or one of these other banks lent out.

Well, normally you’d have a crash of prices back to realistic levels, so that the value of mortgages actually reflected the value of property, or the value of junk bonds issued by a corporation reflected the actual earning power of the corporation to pay interest on the junk bonds.

So by the time Obama took over, the whole economy was largely fictitious capital. Well, Obama came in and he said, my campaign donors are on Wall Street. He called in the Wall Street bankers and he said, I’m the guy standing between you and the crowd with the pitchforks, the people who voted for me. But don’t worry, I’m on your side.

He said, I’m going to have the Federal Reserve create the largest amount of credit in human history. And it’s all going to go to you. It’s going to go to the 1% of the population. It’s not going to go into the economy. It’s not going to build infrastructure. It’s not going into wages. It’s not going to reduce the price of homes and make them more affordable to Americans.

It’s going to keep the price of these junk bonds so high that they don’t crash back to non-fictitious values. It’s going to keep the stock market so high that it’s not going to go down. It’s going to create the largest bond market boom in history.

The boom went from high interest rates to low interest rates, meaning a gigantic rise in the price of bonds that actually pay interest that are more than 0.1%.

So there was a huge bond market boom, a huge stock market, a tripling of stock market prices. And if you are a member of the group that owns 72% of American stocks, I think that’s 10% of the population, you have gotten much, much richer.

But if you’re a member of the 90% of the population, you have had to go further and further into debt just in order to survive, just in order to pay for medical care, student loans, and your daily living expenses out of your salary.

So if American wages were at a decent level, American families would not be pushed more and more into debt. The reason the personal debt has gone up in the United States is because families can’t get by on what they earn.

So obviously, if they can’t get by on what they earn, and they have to borrow to get by, they are not responsible for causing the inflation. They’re being squeezed.

And the job of economists, and of Democratic Party and Republican politicians, is to distract attention from the fact that they’re being squeezed and blame the victim, and saying, you’re doing it to yourself by just wanting more money, you’re actually creating the inflation that is squeezing you.

When actually it’s the banks, and the government’s non-enforcement of the monopoly policy, and the government support of Wall Street that is responsible for what is happening.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Very, very well said.

Professor Hudson, I should have highlighted another part of this graph here. This is, again, this is at the Federal Reserve Board website. It’s even more revealing when you look at the selected assets of the Fed, and you see that all of these assets basically are securities, securities held outright by the Fed.

We see that around 2008, the Fed had less than $500 billion in securities. And you have this policy of quantitative easing. And since then, basically all of the increase has been in securities. Of the roughly $9 trillion in assets the Fed holds, about about $8.5 trillion is in securities.

US Federal Reserve assets securities balance sheet 2022

I’m wondering if you can compare this to central banks in other countries. We’ve seen, for instance, that the Western sanctions on Russia were aimed at trying to destroy the Russian economy.

President Biden claimed they were trying to make the ruble into rubble. In fact, the ruble is significantly stronger now than it was before the sanctions. To such a degree that the Russian government and Russian national bank are actually trying to decrease the value of the ruble, because they think it’s a little overvalued; it makes it a little harder to be competitive.

So how does this policy of the US Fed having $8.5 trillion worth of securities compare to the policies of other central banks?

You have experience working with the Chinese government as an advisor. Do other governments’ central banks have this policy?

And and that $8.5 trillion in securities, what are those securities? Even from the perspective of these neoliberal economics textbooks that you were talking about, that people are taught in universities, this seems to me to be totally insane. I don’t see how there is even an academic, neoliberal textbook explanation for this policy.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Very few people realize the difference between a central bank and the national treasury. The national treasury is what used to perform all of the policies that central banks now do. The national treasury would be in charge of issuing money and spending it.

Central banks were broken off in America in 1913 from the Treasury in order to shift control of the money supply and credit away from Washington to New York. That was very explicit.

The original Federal Reserve didn’t even permit a Treasury official to be on the board of directors. So the job of a central bank is to represent the interest of the commercial banks.

And as we just pointed out, the interest of the commercial banks is to produce their product: debt. And they create their product against existing assets, mainly real estate, but also stocks and bonds.

So the job of the central bank here is to support the financial sector of the economy, and that sector that holds wealth in the form of stocks, bonds, and loans, and especially bank bonds that make their money off real estate credit.

Same thing in Europe, with Europe’s central bank. Europe is going into a real squeeze now, and has been going into a squeeze ever since you had the Greek crisis.

In Europe, because right-wing monetarist designed the euro, part of the eurozone rule is you cannot run a budget deficit, a national budget deficit of more than 3% of gross domestic product.

Well, that’s not very much. That means that you can’t have a real Keynesian policy in Europe to pull the economy out of depression. That means that if you’re a country like Italy right now, and you have a real financial squeeze there, a corporate squeeze, a labor squeeze, the government cannot essentially rescue either Italian industry or Italian labor.

However, the European central bank can, by the way that it creates credit, by central bank deposits, the European central bank can vastly increase the price of European stocks, bonds, and packaged mortgages. So the European central bank is very much like the commercial bank.

China is completely different, because, unlike the West, China treats money and credit as a public utility, not as a private monopoly.

And as a public utility, China’s central bank will say, what are we going to want to create money for? Well, we’re going to want to create money to build factories; we’re going to want to create money so that real estate developers can build cities, or sometimes overbuild cities. We can create money to actually spend in the economy for something tangible, for goods and services.

The Chinese central bank does not create money to increase stock market prices or bond prices. It doesn’t create money to support a financial class, because the Communist Party of China doesn’t want a financial class to exist; it wants an industrial class to exist; it wants an industrial labor force to exist, but not a rentier class.

So a central bank in a Western rentier economy basically seeks to create credit to inflate the cost of living for homebuyers and for anyone who uses credit or needs credit, and to enable corporations to be financialized, and to shift their management away from making profits by investing in plant and equipment and employing labor to produce more, to making money by financial engineering.

In the last 15 years, over 90% of corporate earnings in the United States have been spent on stock buybacks and on dividend payouts. Only 8% of corporate earnings have been spent on new investment, and plants, and equipment, and hiring.

And so of course you have had the economy deindustrialized. It’s this idea that you can make money financially without an industrial base, without a manufacturing base; you can make money without actually producing more or doing anything productive, simply by having a central bank increase the price of the stocks, and bonds, and the loans made by the wealthiest 10%.

And of course, ultimately, that doesn’t work, because at a certain point the whole thing collapses from within, and there’s no industrial base.

And of course, when that happens, America will find out, wait a minute, if we close down the economy, we’re still reliant on China and Asia to produce our manufacturers, and to provide us with raw materials, and to do everything that we need. We’re really not doing anything but acting as a world – well, people used to say parasite – as a world rentier, as getting something for nothing, as a kind of financial colonialism.

So America you could look at as a colonial power that is a colonial power not by military occupation, but simply by financial maneuvering, by the dollar standard.

And that’s what’s being unwound today as a result of Biden’s new cold war.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Professor Hudson, you criticized the strategy of simply trying to increase the interest rates to bring down inflation, noting that it’s going to lead to a further decline in homeownership in the United States. It’s going to hurt working people. I think that’s a very valid criticism.

I’m curious, though, what your take is on the response of the Russian central bank to the Western sanctions. We saw that the chair of the Russian central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, she – actually this is someone who is not even necessarily really condemned a lot by Western economists; she is pretty well respected by even, you know, Western neoliberal economists.

And she did manage to deal with the sanctions very well. She imposed capital controls immediately. She closed the Russian stock market. And also, in a controversial move, she raised the interest rates from around 9% up to 20%, for a few months. And then after that, dropped the rates.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

A few days, not a few months. That was very short. And now she has moved the interest rates way down.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Back to 9%.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

She was criticized for not moving them further down.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Yeah, well go ahead. I’m just curious. So she immediately raised it to 20%, and then has dropped the interest rates since then. I’m curious what you think about that policy. Yeah, go ahead.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

There is very little that a central banker can do when the West has declared a war, basically, a war on a country that is completely isolated.

The response has come from President Putin and from Foreign Secretary Lavrov. And they pointed out, well, how is Russia going to going to trade and get what it needs. And this is what the recent meetings of the BRICS are all about.

Russia realizes that the world is now broken into two halves. America and NATO have separated the West. Basically you have a white people’s confederation against all the rest of the world.

And the West has said, we’re isolating ourselves from you totally. And we think you can’t get along without us.

Well, look at the humor of this. Russia, China, Iran, India, Indonesia, and other countries are saying, hah, you say we we can’t get along without you? Who is providing your manufacturers? Who is providing your raw materials? Who is providing your oil and gas? Who is providing your agriculture, and the helium, the titanium, the nickel?

So they realize that the world is breaking in two, and Eurasia, where most of the world’s population is concentrated, is going to go its own way.

The problem is, how do you really go your own way? You need a means of payment. You need to create a whole international system that is an alternative to the Western international system. You need your own International Monetary Fund to provide credit, so that the these Eurasian countries and their allies in the Global South can deal with each other.

You need a World Bank that, instead of lending money to promote U.S. policies and U.S. investments, will promote mutual gains and self-sufficiency among the countries.

So already, every day in the last few weeks, you have had meetings with the Russians about this, who said, ok, we’re going to create a mutual trading area, starting among the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

And how are we going to pay? We can’t pay in dollars, because if we have money in a dollar bank, or a euro bank in Europe, they can just grab the money, like they grab Venezuela’s money. They can just say, we’re taking all your money because, essentially, we don’t want you to exist as an alternative to the finance capital world that we are creating.

So essentially, Russia, China, and these other countries are saying, ok, we’re going to create our own international bank. And how are we going to fund it? Well, every member of the bank will contribute, say, a billion dollars, or some amount of their own currency, and this will be our backing. We can also use gold as a means of settlement, as was long used among countries.

And this bank can create its own special drawing rights, its own bank order, is what Keynes called it. It can create its own credit.

Well, the problem is that, if you have Brazil, for instance, or Argentina, joining this group, or Ecuador, that sells almost all of its bananas to Russia, how is it going to get by?

Well, if there is a BRICS group or a Shanghai Cooperation Organization bank, obviously the Western governments are not going to accept this.

So Russia realizes that as a result of Biden’s Cold War Two, there is going to be a continued rise in energy prices. You think gasoline prices are not high now? They’re going up. You think food prices are not high now? They’re going up more.

And Europe is especially the case, because Europe now cannot buy Russian gas to make the fertilizer to make its own crops grow.

So you’re going to have a number of countries in the Global South, from Latin America to Africa, being squeezed and wanting to trade with the Eurasian group.

And the problem is Russia says, all right, we know that you can’t afford to pay. We’re glad to give you credit, but we don’t want to give you credit that you’re going to simply use the money you have to pay your dollar debts that are coming due.

Because one of the effects that I didn’t mention of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates is there is a huge flow of capital from Europe and England into the United States, so that if you’re a billionaire, where are you going to put your savings? You want the highest interest rates you want. And if the United States raises interest rates, the billionaires are going to move their money out of England, out of the euro, and the euro is going back down against the dollar. It’s almost down to a dollar a euro.

The British pound is heading downwards, towards one pound per dollar.

This increase in the dollar’s exchange rate is also rising against the currencies of Brazil, Argentina, the African countries, all the other countries.

So how are they going to pay this summer, and this fall, for their food, for their oil and gas, and for the higher cost of servicing their dollar debts?

Well, for Eurasia, they’re going to say, we want to help you buy our exports – Russia is now a major grain exporter, and obviously also an oil exporter – saying we want to supply you and give you the credit for this, but you’re really going to have to make a decision. Are you going to join the U.S.-NATO bloc, or are you going to join the Eurasian bloc?

Are you going to join the White People’s Club or the Eurasian Club? And it really comes down to that. And that’s what is fracturing the world in these two halves.

Europe is caught in the middle, and its economies are going to be torn apart. Employment is going to go down there. And I don’t see wages going up very much in Europe.

You’re going to have a political crisis in Europe. But also you’ll have an international diplomatic crisis over how are you going to restructure world trade, and investment, and debt.

There will be two different financial philosophies. And that’s what the new cold war is all about.

The philosophy of US-sponsored finance capitalism, of making money financially, without industrialization, and with trying to lower wages and reduce the labor force to a very highly indebted workforce living on the margin.

Or you’ll have the Eurasian philosophy of using the economic surplus to increase productivity, to build infrastructure, to create the kind of society that America seemed to be growing in the late 19th century but has now rejected.

So all of this is ultimately not simply a problem of interest rates and central bank policy; it really goes beyond central banks to what kind of a social and economic system are you going to have.

And the key to any social and economic system is how you treat money and credit. Is money and credit going to be a public utility, or will it be a private monopoly run for the financial interests and the 1%, instead of a public utility run for the 99%?

That’s what the new cold war is going to be all about. And that’s what international diplomacy week after week is trying to settle.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Very, very well said. And I really agree about this increasing kind of bipolar order, where the US-led imperialist system is telling the world they have to pick a side. You know, as George W. Bush said, you’re either with us or you’re against us; you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.

That’s what Biden is saying to the world. And we see the West has drawn this iron curtain around Russia. And now they’re threatening to do the same around China.

Now, of course, the difference is that China has the largest economy in the world, according to a PPP measurement. It’s even larger than the US economy. I don’t know how they can try to sanction the Chinese economy, considering China is the central factory of the world.

But this is related to a question I had for you, Professor Hudson, and this is from a super chat question from Manoj Payardha, and it’s about how Chinese banks say they’re not ready yet to develop an alternative to the SWIFT. He asked, how will the Third World pay Russia for resources?

And we’ve seen, maybe you can talk about the measures being implemented. India has this rupee-ruble system that they’ve created.

But I want to highlight an article that was published in Global Times. This is a major Chinese newspaper, and this is from April. And it quotes the former head of China’s central bank, who was speaking at a global finance forum in Beijing this April.

And basically he said, we need to prepare to replace Swift. He said the West’s adoption of a financial nuclear option of using SWIFT to sanction Russia is a wake up call for China’s financial development. And he said, “We must get prepared.”

So it seems that they’re not yet prepared. But this is something that you’ve been talking about for years. Or maybe you disagree and maybe you think they already are prepared with the SWIFT alternative?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well they’re already using an alternative system. If they weren’t using an alternative system – Russia is adopting part of the Chinese system for this – they wouldn’t be able to have banks communicate with each other.

So, yes, they already have a rudimentary system. They’re making it a better system that can also be immune from U.S. computer espionage and interference. So yes, of course there’s already a system.

But I want to pick up on what you said about Biden, how Biden characterizes things.

Biden characterizes the war of the West against Eurasia as between democracy and autocracy. By “democracy,” he means a free market run by Wall Street; he means an oligarchy.

But what does he mean by autocracy? What he means by autocracy, when he calls China an autocracy, an “autocracy” is a government strong enough to prevent an oligarchy from taking power, and taking control of the government for its own interests, and reducing the rest of the economy to debt peonage.

An “autocracy” is a country with public regulation against monopolies, instead of an oligarchic free market. An “autocracy” uses money and credit, essentially, to help economies grow. And when debts cannot be paid in China, if a factory or a real estate company cannot pay debts, China does not simply say, ok, you’re bankrupt, you’re going to have to be sold; anybody can buy you; the Americans can buy you.

Instead, the Chinese say, well, you can’t pay the debts; we don’t want to tear down your factory; we don’t want your factory to be turned and gentrified into luxury housing. We’re going to write down the debt.

And that’s what China has done again and again. And it’s done that with foreign countries that couldn’t pay the debt. When a debt that China has come due for China’s development of a port, or roads, or infrastructure, it says, well, we understand that you can pay; we will delay payment; we will have a moratorium on your payment. We’re not here to bankrupt you.

For the Americans, to the international funds, they’re saying, well, we are here to bankrupt you. And now if we lend you, we the IMF, lends you money to avoid a currency devaluation, the term is you’re going to have to privatize your infrastructure; you’re going to have to sell off your public utilities, your electric system, your roads, your land to private buyers, mainly from the United States.

So you have a “democracy” supporting bankruptcy, foreclosure, financialization, and privatization, and low wages by a permanent depression, a permanent depression to keep down wages.

Or you have “autocracy,” seeking to protect the interests of labor by supporting a living wage, to increase living standards as a precondition for increasing productivity, for building up infrastructure.

You have these two diametrically economic systems. And, again, that’s why there’s a cold war on right now.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

And there’s another super chat question here, Professor Hudson. You mentioned the International Monetary Fund, the IMF. We have talked about that many times. This is from Sam Owen. He asked, why do countries continue to accept bad IMF loans when they have such a poor track record? Is it just the US government meddling in the national politics? Are there cases of good IMF loans?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, what is a country? When you say a country to most people, people think, ok, let’s talk about Brazil; let’s talk about all the people in Brazil; you have a picture in the mind of the Amazon; you have a big city with a lot of people in it.

But the country, in terms of the IMF, is a group of maybe the 15 wealthiest families in Brazil, that own most of the money, and they are quite happy to borrow from the IMF, because they say, right now there’s a chance that Lula may become president instead of the neo-fascist Bolsonaro. And if Lula comes in, then he is going to support labor policies, and he may stop us from tearing down the Amazon. So let’s move our money out of the country.

Well, normally this would push the exchange rate of the cruzeiro (real) down. So the IMF is going to make a loan to Brazil to support the cruzeiro (real), so that the wealthy 1% of Brazil can move their money into dollars, into euros, into foreign currency and offshore bank incentives, and load Brazil down with debt, so that then when there is an election, and if Lula is elected, the IMF is going to say, well, we don’t really like your policies, and if you pursue a pro-labor, socialist policy, then there’s going to be a capital flight. And we’re insisting that you pay all the money that you borrowed from the West right back now.

Well, that’s going to lead Lula either to sit there, follow the IMF direction, and let the IMF run the economy, instead of his own government, or just say, we’re not going to pay the foreign debt.

Well, until now, no country has been in a strong enough position not to pay the foreign debt. But for the first time, now that you have the Eurasian group – we’ll call it BRICS, but it’s really Eurasia, along with the Southern groups that are joining, the Global South – for the first time, they can say, we can’t afford to stay in the West anymore.

We cannot afford to submit the economy to the IMF demands for privatization. We cannot submit to the IMF rules that we have to fight against labor, that we have to pass laws banning labor unions, that we have to fight against laborers’ wage, like Western democracies insist on. We have to go with the Chinese “autocracy,” which we call socialism.

And of course, when America accuses China being an “autocracy,” autocracy is the American word for socialism. They don’t want to use that word. So we’re back in Orwellian double-think.

So the question is what, will the Global South countries do when they cannot afford to buy energy and food this summer, without an IMF loan? Are they going to say, ok, we can only survive by joining the break from the West and joining the Eurasian group?

That is what the big world fracture is all about.

And I described this global fracture already in 1978. I wrote a book, “Global Fracture,” explaining just exactly how all of this was going to happen.

And at that time, you had Indonesia, you had Sukarno taking the lead, the non-aligned nations, India, Indonesia, were trying to create an alternative to the financialized, American-centered world order. But none of these countries had a critical mass sufficient to go their own way.

Well, now that America has isolated Russia, China, India, Iran, Turkey, all these countries, now it has created a critical mass that is able to go its own way. And the question is, now you have like a gravitational pull, and will this Eurasian mass attract Latin America and Africa to its own group, away from the United States? And where is that going to leave the United States and Europe?

BENJAMIN NORTON:

And we saw one of the clearest examples yet of this bipolar division of the world between, you know, the West and the rest, as they say, with this ridiculous meeting that was just held of the G7.

Of course, the G7 are the white, Western countries. And then they’ll throw in U.S.-occupied Japan in there, to pretend they’re a little more diverse.

But we saw that the G7 just held a summit, and basically the entire summit was about how can we contain China? How can we expand the new cold war on Russia into a new cold war on China?

And here’s a report in BBC: “G7 summit: Leaders detail $600bn plan to rival China’s Belt and Road initiative.” Now, I got a chuckle out of this. The idea that the US government is going to build infrastructure in the Global South, I mean, it’s pretty laughable.

It’s also absurd considering that China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which involves over half of the countries on Earth, is estimated at many trillions of dollars in infrastructure projects. So the US and its allies think that they can challenge that with $600 billion in public-private partnerships.

I should stress, of course, what they announced is going to be a mixture of so-called public initiative and then contracts for private corporations.

So it’s yet another giveaway to the private sector, in the name of building infrastructure.

But I’m wondering if if you can comment on the G7 summit that just was held.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, nothing really came out of it. They all said that they could not agree on any more sanctions against Russia, because they’re already hurting enough. India, in particular, stood up and said, look, there’s no way that we’re going to join the sanctions against Russia, because it’s one of our major trading partners. And by the way, we’re getting a huge benefit from importing Russian oil, and you’re getting a huge benefit by getting this oil from us at a markup.

So the G7 could not get any agreement on what to do. It is already at a stalemate. And this is only June. Imagine the stalemate it’s going to be in September.

Well, next week, President Biden is going to Saudi Arabia and saying, you know, we’re willing to kill maybe 10 million more of your enemies; we’re willing to help Wahhabi Sunni groups kill more of the Iranian Shiites, and sabotage Iraq and Syria. We’ll help you back al-Qaeda again, if you will lower your oil prices so that we can squeeze Russia more.

So that’s really the question that Saudi Arabia will have. America will send give it more cluster bombs to use against Yemen.  And the question is, is Saudi Arabia going to say, ok, we’re going to earn maybe $10 billion less a month, or however much they’re making, just to make you happy, and so that that you will kill more Shiites who support Iran?

Or are they going to realize that if they throw in their lot with the United States, all of a sudden they’ll be under attack from Iran, Russia, Syria, and they’ll be sitting ducks? So what are they going to do?

And I don’t see any way that Biden can actually succeed in getting Saudi Arabia to voluntarily earn less on its oil prices. Maybe Biden can say it’s only for a year, only for one or two years. But as other countries know, when America says only for a year or two, it really means forever. And if you don’t continue, then somehow they have a regime replacement, or a regime change and a color revolution.

So Biden keeps trying to get foreign countries to join the West against Eurasia, but there is Saudi Arabia sitting right in the middle of it.

And all that Europe can do is watch and wonder how it’s going to get by without without energy and without much food.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Yeah, in fact, Venezuela’s President Maduro just confirmed that the Biden administration has sent another delegation basically begging Venezuela to try to work out some deal because, of course, the U.S. and the EU have boycotts of Russian energy.

So it’s really funny to me that, after years of demonizing Venezuela, portraying it as a dictatorship and all of this, the U.S. had to decide, well, the war in Venezuela is not as important as the war on Russia right now; so we’re going to temporarily pause our war on Venezuela to stick the knife deeper into Russia.

But on the on the subject of the the G7 meeting, this was the hilarious comment made by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in an article in Reuters titled “Europe Must Give Developing Nations Alternative to Chinese Funds.”

So echoing the same perspective that we hear from Biden, U.S. government officials constantly say that the US needs to challenge China in the Global South. So Europe pledged €300 billion – however, once again, important asterisk – “in private and public funds over five years to fund infrastructure in developing countries.”

So once again, we see another neoliberal private-public partnership. It’s going to be another public giveaway to private corporations.

And “she said that this is part of the G7’s drive to counter China’s multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road project.”

Now, this is really just tying everything together that we have been talking about today, Professor Hudson – in your article “The Fed’s Austerity Program to Reduce Wages,” you conclude the article noting that the depression that people in the United States are on the verge of facing because of these neoliberal policies – telling workers in the U.S. that they need to decrease their wages and be unemployed in order to stop inflation – you point out that:

Biden’s military and State Department officers warn that the fight against Russia is just the first step in their war against China’s non-neoliberal economy, and may last twenty years. That is a long depression. But as Madeline Albright would say, they think that the price is “worth it.”

And you talk about the new cold war against the socialist economy in China and the state-led economy in Russia.

So you predict not only a depression is coming. We have seen that in mainstream media outlets. Larry Summers said, you know, a depression could be coming for a few years. But you say, no, not only is a depression coming; it’s going to be a long depression. We could be seeing 20 years.

And basically the U.S. government and other Western leaders, as we see Ursula von der Leyen from the EU, they’re basically telling their populations, tighten your belts; we have decades of depression coming, because we have collectively decided, as Western leadership, that we are going to force the world through a long depression economically, or at least forced the West through a long economic depression, in order to try to halt the rise of China and Russia.

They’re basically telling their populations, suck it up, tighten your belts for decades, because in the end, the price is worth it in order to prevent the collapse of our empires.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

That’s right. When they’re talking about private-public initiatives, they’re talking about Pentagon capitalism. That means the government will give trillions of dollars to private firms and ask them to build infrastructure.

And if they build a port or a road in a Global South country, they will operate this at a profit, and it will be an enormously expensive infrastructure, because to make financial money off this infrastructure, you have to price it at the cost of production, which is Pentagon capitalism, hyper inflated prices; you have to pay management fees; you have to pay profits; you have to pay interest rates.

As opposed to the Chinese way of funding as equity. The Western mode of funding is all debt leverage. China takes as collateral for the infrastructure that it pays, an equity ownership in the port or whatever infrastructure in the Belt and Road that it’s building.

So you have the difference between equity ownership, debt-free ownership, where if it can afford to pay, fine; if it doesn’t make an income, there are no dividends to pay.

Or you have the debt leverage that is intended that the government cannot pay it, so that the government that will be the co-signer for the debt for all of this infrastructure will somehow be obliged to tax its whole population to pay the enormous super-profits, the enormous monopoly rents, the enormous debt charges of von der Leyen’s Margaret Thatcher plan.

Von der Leyen thinks that she can do to Europe and to America what Margaret Thatcher did to England. And if she does, then then America and Europe deserve it.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

And Professor Hudson, as we start wrapping up here, I know you have to go pretty soon, just a few short questions here at the end.

I’m wondering if what we’re also seeing is not only this fundamental crisis in the Western neoliberal, financialized economies, but it’s also this bubble that has burst, or at least this phase that is over.

At least this is my reading, I’m curious if you agree. In the 1990s, the peak of, you know, the so-called golden age of neoliberalism; we had Bill Clinton riding this wave, and it was the “end of history,” in Francis Fukuyama’s nonsense prediction and all that.

How much of that was not only based on this exorbitant privilege, as the French call it, of the dictatorship of the US dollar – we talked about that based on your book “Super Imperialism,” how the US was given this massive global free lunch economically because of dollar hegemony – but how much of it was not just that, but also the fact that in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, the US and Western Europe had access to very cheap consumer goods from Asia and very cheap energy from Russia?

To me, it seems like those two factors are some of the most important reasons why this golden age of neoliberalism in the ’90s and early 2000s was even possible.

It was on the back of low-paid Asian workers, and based on this idea that Russia would permanently be, what Obama called it: a gas station.

Well, we’ve seen that, one, East Asian economies have lifted themselves up of poverty, especially China has ended extreme poverty and raised median wages significantly.

And now, of course, the West has sanctioned itself against buying Russian energy, massively increasing the cost of energy around the world.

So do you think that that bubble, or that brief moment of the end of history, the golden age of neoliberalism, that can never come back?

Because unless the West can succeed in overthrowing the Russian government and imposing a new puppet like Yeltsin, and overthrowing the Chinese government, it seems like that that the golden in the 1990s is never going to come back.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, you’ve left out the key element of the golden age: that is military force, and the willingness to assassinate any foreign leader that does not want to go along with US policy.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Of course.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

You’re neglecting what America did to [Salvador Allende]; you’re neglecting how America took over Brazil; America’s meddling and control, and in Europe, the wholesale bribery and manipulation of Europe’s political system, to put in charge of the [German] Green Party a pro-war leadership, an anti-environmental leadership, to put in charge of every socialist party of Europe right-wingers, neoliberals.

Every European socialist and labor party turned neoliberal largely by American maneuvering and meddling in their foreign policy.

So it’s that meddling that was intended to prevent any alternative economic philosophy from existing to rival neoliberalism.

So that when you talk about the end of history, what is the end of history? It means the end of change. It means stop; there will be no reform; there will be no change in the neoliberal system that we have locked in.

And of course, the only way that you can really end history is by what Biden is threatening: atomic war to blow up the world.

That is the neoliberal end of history. And it’s the only way that the neoliberals can really stop history. Apart from that, all they can try to do is to prevent any change that is adverse to locking in the neoliberal order.

So the “end of history” is a declaration of war against any country that wants to go its own way. Any country that wants to build up its own economy as a way that will keep the benefits of its economic growth in its own country, instead of letting it go to the global financial class centered in the United States and Britain.

So we’re talking about, neoliberalism was always a belligerent, implicitly military policy, and that’s exactly what you’re seeing in the proxy war of US and NATO in Ukraine today.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Yeah, very well said. That’s the other key ingredient: overthrowing any government that is a challenge, that shows there is an alternative, to try to prove the maxim that “there is no alternative.”

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Yes.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Here’s an interesting comment from Christopher Dobbie. He points out that in Australia, the average age for their first homeowner was 27 in 2001; now it’s 35, and increasing more and more by the year.

Now, in the last few minutes here, Professor Hudson, here’s another brief question that I got from someone over at patreon.com/multipolarista – people can go and support this show. One of my patrons asked this question: who who is hurt most by the Fed or other central banks raising interest rates? People, average consumers, or companies?

And obviously, you talked earlier about how the US Federal Reserve is different from other central banks, but it’s kind of an open question. Who is hurt more by raising interest rates?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, companies are certainly hurt because it means that any possibility of getting productive credit is raised. But they’re also benefited, because if interest rates raised go up high enough, then it will not pay corporate raiders to borrow money to take over and raid companies and empty them out, like they did in the 1980s.

So everything cuts both ways. Raising the interest rates have given commercial banks an excuse to raise the interest charges on credit card loans and mortgage debts.

So raising interest rates, to the banks, have enabled them to actually increase their margin of monopoly profits on the credit that they extend.

And that certainly hurts people who are reliant on bank credit, either for mortgages or for consumer debt, or for any kind of loans that they want to take out.

Basically, raising interest rates hurts debtors and benefits creditors.

And benefiting creditors very rarely helps the economy at large, because the creditors are always really the 1%; the debtors are the 99%.

And if you think of economies, when you say, how does an economy benefit, you realize that, well, if the economy is 1% creditors and 99% debtors, you are dealing with a bifurcation there.

And you have to realize that the creditors usually occupy the government, and they claim we are the country. And the 99% are not very visible.

Democracy can only be afforded if they population’s voting has no effect at all on the government, that it’s only symbolic. You can vote exactly which oligarch you want to rule your country. Ever since Rome that was the case, and it’s the case today.

Is there really any difference between the Republicans and Democrats in terms of their policy? When you the same central bank bureaucracy, the same State Department blob, the same military-industrial complex, the same Wall Street control, what does democracy mean in a situation like that?

The only way that you can have what democracy aims at is to have a government strong enough to check the financial interests, to check the 1%, acting on behalf of the 99%. And that’s what socialism is.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Very well said.

Here is another brief question from patreon.com/multipolarista – people can become a patron and help support the show over there.

This question, Professor Hudson, is about the proposal of an excess profits tax as an alternative to try to contain inflation. What do you think about the proposal of an excess profits tax?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, only the little people make profits. If you’re a billionaire, you don’t want to make a profit; you want to essentially take all of your return in the form of capital gains. That’s where your money is.

And the way you avoid making a profit is you establish an offshore bank or creditor, and you pay out all of your profits in the form of interest, which an expense. You expense all of what used to be, what really is, income. And you show no profits at all.

I don’t think Amazon has ever made a profit. You have huge, the biggest corporations, with all the capital gains, have no profits. Tesla is a gigantic stock market presence, and it doesn’t make a profit.

So the key is capital gains, is financial gains, stock market gains, gains in real estate prices, unearned income. That’s what the free lunch is.

You want to prevent profits being paid out in the form of interest. So I would vastly increase profits, by saying you cannot deduct interest as a business expense. It’s not a business expense. It’s a predatory parasitic expense. So you’re going to have to declare all of this as profit, and pay interest on it.

Pricing your output from a foreign offshore banking center, so that you don’t seem to make any profit, like Apple does, pretending to make all its money in Ireland, you can’t do that anymore. You’re going to have to pay a real return.

So the accounting profession has made profits essentially tax free. So the pretense of making money by taxing profits avoids talking about capital gains and all of fictitiously low profits that are simply pretended not to be profit, like interest, depreciation, amortization, offshore earnings, management fees.

All of these should be counted as profits, and taxed as such as they were, I’d say back at the Eisenhower administration levels.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

And finally, the last question here, Professor Hudson, someone asked about the U.S. government pressuring countries in Africa not to buy Russian wheat. And the U.S. is, of course, claiming that this wheat is supposedly stolen from Ukraine.

This article, this headline at Newsweek, it summarizes pretty well: “U.S. Warns Starving African Nations to Not Buy Grain Stolen by Russia.” Again, that “stolen” is alleged by the U.S.

But you actually have a really good column about this over at your website, which again is michael-hudson.com: “Is US/NATO (with WEF help) pushing for a Global South famine?

I know this could be a long point of discussion; it could be the entire interview. And I know you have to go soon. But just concluding here, I’m wondering if you could comment.

The United Nations itself has warned that there could be a famine, especially in Global South nations.

What do you think the role of these neoliberal policies and Western sanctions are in fueling that potential crisis?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, the wealthiest families in the world used to go every year, now they go every few years, to Davos, to Klaus Schwab’s Davos World Economic Forum. And they say, the world is overpopulated; we need about 2 billion human beings to starve, preferably in the next year or two.

So it’s as if the wealthy families have got together and say, how can we thin out the population that really we, the 1%, don’t need?

And in all of their policies, it is as if they’ve decided to follow the World Economic Forum and deliberately shrink the world population, especially in Africa and Latin America.

Remember, these are white people at the World Economic Forum, and that is their idea of how to retain equilibrium.

They’re always talking about “equilibrium,” and equilibrium is going to be for countries that cannot afford to grow their own food, because they have put their money into plantation crops and cotton to sell to the West, instead of feeding themselves – they’re just going to have to starve to contribute to world “equilibrium.”

BENJAMIN NORTON:

And while we’re on the subject of the World Economic Forum, I guess I should just briefly add – we’ve talked about this a little bit, but I just feel remiss not mentioning it – it’s interesting to see how right-wingers have seized on the World Economic Forum and begun criticizing it a lot.

Obviously, it’s worth criticizing. It’s a horrible neoliberal institution that represents the Western capitalist class. But we’ve even seen, you know, Glenn Beck, the right-winger, former Fox News host, he published a book about the Great Reset and the World Economic Forum.

I’m just wondering really quickly if you could respond to the idea that the World Economic Forum is like some “socialist” organization. Obviously, it’s the exact opposite.

But what do you say to these conservatives who have a right-wing critique of the World Economic Forum, and think it’s like secretly socialist, and Biden is a socialist.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

They look at any government or managerial power as socialist, not drawing the distinction between socialism and oligarchy.

The question is government power can be either right-wing or left-wing, and to say that any government power is socialist is just degrading the word.

However, as I mentioned before, almost all of the European “socialist” parties are neoliberal. Tony Blair was the head of something that called itself the British Labour Party. Gordon Brown was the head of the British Labour Party.

You can’t be more neoliberal and oligarchic than that. And that’s why Margaret Thatcher said her greatest success was creating Tony Blair.

You have the same thing in France; the French “socialists” are on the right-wing of the spectrum. The Greek “socialist” party, on the right-wing of the spectrum.

You have “socialist” parties around the world being neoliberalized.

So what does the word socialism mean? You want to go beyond labels into the essence.

And the question is, in whose interest is the government going to be run for? Will it be run for the 1% or the 99%?

And the right wing wants to say, well, the 1% can be socialist, because they’re taking over the government and that’s the big government, and we’re against it.

Well, the right-wing is taking over the government, but it’s not really what the world meant by socialism a century ago.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Yeah, very well said. I just always laugh when I see these right-wing critiques of the World Economic Forum. I mean, the World Economic Forum is the embodiment of capitalism. It is the group of the elite capitalists who get together to talk about how they can exploit the working class and help monopolize the global economy on behalf of Western capital.

So with that said, there still are many questions, but I know you have to go, and we’re already at an hour and a half.

I do want to thank everyone who joined. We’re at 1200 viewers right now, so it has been a really good response.

Professor Hudson, you’re very popular. You should do your own YouTube channel. Maybe we can talk about that, because every time I have you on, it’s always an amazing response that I get. And hopefully we can do this again more in future.

Aside from people going to your website, michael-hudson.com, is there anything else that you want to plug before we conclude?

MICHAEL HUDSON:

Well, the book that I just wrote, “The Destiny of Civilization,” is all about what we’ve been talking about. It’s about the world’s split between neoliberalism and socialism. So that was just published and is available on Amazon. And I have two more books that are coming out very shortly.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

Yeah, for people who are interested, I did an interview with Professor Hudson here at Multipolarista a few weeks ago about his new book, The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism.”

And of course, anyone who wants to support this show, you can go to patreon.com/multipolarista. And as always, this will be available as a podcast, if you want to listen to the interview again. I’m certainly going to listen to this discussion again. You can find that anywhere there are podcasts.

Professor Hudson, it’s always a real pleasure. Thanks so much for joining me.

MICHAEL HUDSON:

I enjoyed the discussion.

BENJAMIN NORTON:

And like I said earlier at the beginning, for me, I truly think it’s always a privilege, because I do think you’re one of the greatest living economists. So I always feel very privileged to have the opportunity to pick your brain about all of these questions.

And I want to thank everyone who commented, who watched, and who listened. I will see you all next time.

BRICS+: It’s Back with Scale and Ambition

June 28, 2022

http://infobrics.org/post/36006/

By Jaroslav Lissovolik

After several years of being relegated to backstage of the BRICS agenda, in 2022 the BRICS+ format is back and is at the very center of the discussions surrounding China’s chairmanship in the grouping. With the return of the BRICS+ paradigm the BRICS is going from introvert to extrovert and its greater global ambition raises hopes across the wide expanses of the Global South of material changes in the global economic system. The main question now centers on what the main trajectories of the evolution of the BRICS+ framework will be – thus far China appears to have advanced a multi-track approach that targets maximum scope and diversity in the operation of the BRICS-plus paradigm.

One of the novelties of China’s BRICS chairmanship in 2022 has been the launching of the extended BRICS+ meeting at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs that apart from the core BRICS countries also included representatives from Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal in Africa, Argentina from Latin America, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Thailand. And while the inclusion of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia may reflect their role in the G20 and overall size of their economies in the developing world, the inclusion of countries such as Senegal (chairmanship in the African Union in 2022), United Arab Emirates (chairmanship in the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2022) and Argentina (chairmanship in CELAC in 2022) is suggestive of a regional approach to building the BRICS+ platform.

That regional approach was also evidenced in the Forum of political parties, think-tanks and NGOs that was held on May 19th in BRICS+ format – among the countries invited to participate were Cambodia (chairmanship in ASEAN in 2022) as well as Senegal and Argentina that represented Africa and Latin America respectively. In effect China thus presented an inclusive format for dialogue spanning all the main regions of the Global South via aggregating the regional integration platforms in Eurasia, Africa and Latin America. Going forward this format may be further expanded to include other regional integration blocks from Eurasia, such as the GCC, EAEU and others.

During the meeting of foreign ministers of BRICS countries China also announced plans to open up the possibility of developing countries joining the core BRICS grouping. This approach differed to some degree from the line pursued by BRICS in the preceding years, when any expansion outside of the BRICS core was deemed to be the purview of the BRICS+ format. It remains to be seen whether the expansion in the core BRICS grouping is going to be supported by other members, but at this stage it appears unlikely that a speedy accession of any single developing economy is likely in the near term.

One important consideration in the future evolution of the BRICS+ format is its evenhandedness and balance observed between the main regions of the Global South. In this respect the inclusion of several countries into the “core BRICS” group may be fraught with risks of imbalances and asymmetries in terms of the representation of the main regions of the developing world in the core BRICS grouping. There is also the risk of greater complexity in arriving at a consensus with a wider circle of core BRICS members. While the option of joining the core should be kept open, there need to be clear and transparent criteria for the “BRICS accession process”.

Another issue relevant to the evolution of the BRICS+ framework is whether there should be a prioritization of the accession to the BRICS core of those developing economies that are members of the G20 grouping. In my view the G20 track for BRICS is a problematic one – the priorities of the Global South could get weakened and diluted within the broader G20 framework. There is also the question about the efficacy of G20 in coordinating the joint efforts of developing and developed economies in the past several years in overcoming the effects of the pandemic and the economic downturn. Rather than the goal of bringing the largest heavyweights into the core BRICS bloc from the G20 a more promising venue is the greater inclusivity of BRICS via the BRICS+ framework that allows smaller economies that are the regional partners of BRICS to have a say in the new global governance framework.

The next stage in the BRICS+ sequel is to be presented by China in June during the summit of BRICS+ countries. The world will be closely gauging further developments in the evolution of the BRICS+ format, but the most important result of China’s chairmanship in BRICS this year is that BRICS+ is squarely back on the agenda of global governance. The vitality in BRICS development will depend to a major degree on the success of the BRICS+ enterprise – an inert, introvert BRICS has neither global capacity, nor global mission. A stronger, more inclusive and open BRICS has the potential to become the basis for a new system of global governance.

Valdai Discussion Club

Source: Valdai Discussion Club

مشروع بايدن: «ناتو إسرائيليّ» بأموال العرب بلا قنبلة إيرانيّة!

 الثلاثاء 28 حزيران 2022

الأحلاف، السياسية منها والعسكرية، كانت بين أبرز مرتكزات الهيمنة الأميركية على العالم (أ ف ب)
 محمد صادق الحسيني

كلّ شيء يتحرك بسرعة وفجأة من أجل تنفيذ تعليمات السيد الأميركي المختنق في الشرنقة الأوكرانية!

تتزاحم الزيارات والمصالحات بين عواصم المتخاصمين، وتعود طاولة المفاوضات النووية الى الانتعاش بشكل سريع، وتنقل بحركة أوروبية انقلابية من فيينا لتصبح على مقربة من عرش ابن سلمان المهدّد بالباليستي اليمني ويُستدعى «الحاجب «

العراقي ليقوم بدور التهدئة بين الرياض وطهران.

وتتحرك «المقاصة» المالية القطرية لتحلل ما هو محرّم على بايدن داخلياً في الوقت الراهن بخصوص إطلاق سراح الأموال الإيرانية المجمّدة.

وقد يتوّج ذلك في مسقط لتحضر بريطانيا كشريك فاعل!

إنها حركة «دمج» قرار الدولة الأميركية العميقة المهزومة عالمياً والمنسحبة من منطقتنا بحالة الضعف والهزال الصهيوني وعجزه عن حماية أمنه بنفسه لينبلج عملياً الإعلان عن «مشروع بايدن الإسرائيلي الجديد» من إحدى مدن الملح في منتصف تموز المقبل.

ودائماً على قاعدة «الضرورات تبيح المحظورات» سيبرّر الأميركي كلّ هذا للرأي العام لديه، مع تقديم ضمانات لأيتام ترامب من تل أبيب الى الرياض بأن لا قنبلة نووية ايرانية في الأفق.

ولما كان منسحباً من المنطقة كما فعل مع أفغانستان لذلك سيقول لهم جميعاً :

 تفضلوا قلعوا شوككم بأيديكم وأطلقوا نظام الدفاع الجوي المشترك، وشركاتنا المتعددة الجنسية ستؤمّن لكم كلّ ما تريدون لينتعش مجمع الصناعات الحربية الأميركي بأموال العرب…

واما عن آلية حصول ذلك، فقد أفاد مصدر دبلوماسي متابع للتحركات الجارية، بما يلي:

أولا ـ انّ الهدف الأساسي للرئيس الأميركي، من زيارته المقبلة للشرق الأوسط، هو إعادة ترتيب المنطقة من جديد، اقتصادياً وسياسياً وعسكرياً، وهو الأمر الذي يستدعي جعل إيران جزءاً لا يتجزأ من هذه الترتيبات الجديدة .

ثُانيا ـ يرى بايدن أنّ العودة الى الاتفاق النووي مع إيران هي الخطوة الأساسية لإنجاح مشروعه.

وعليه فإنّ هدف الرئيس الأميركي من وراء سعيه لدمج إيران، في مشروع إعادة صياغة الشرق الاوسط، يتمثل في ما يلي:

أ ـ تهدئة خواطر الدول الخليجية وطمأنتها على أمنها في المستقبل .

ب ـ ضبط إيقاع إيران في الشرق الأوسط مستقبلاً، من خلال تقديم إغراءات اقتصادية وتجارية لها، في إطار مشروع الدمج المُشار إليه أعلاه.

ثالثا ـ يرى بايدن انّ أمام إيران خيارين هما:

أ ـ أن تكون جزءاً من هذه الترتيبات المستقبلية.

ب ـ أو تواجه التحدي العسكري من الولايات المتحدة وحلفائها.

رابعا ـ يعتبر الرئيس الأميركي انّ معيار نجاح زيارته للشرق الأوسط هو نجاحه في العودة الى الاتفاق النووي مع إيران، والاتفاق معها على الترتيبات المستقبلية، لمنطقة الشرق الأوسط، من خلال تفاهمات ثنائية، بينها وبين واشنطن، خارج الاتفاق النووي.

خامسا ـ اما بخصوص الترتيبات العسكرية، التي يريد بايدن العمل على الشروع بتنفيذها، بين الدول العربية و»إسرائيل»، فإنّ مواقف الأطراف المعنية بهذا المشروع، هي مواقف متباعدة وليس من السهل حشدها لقبول التنفيذ.

سادسا ـ إذ انّ دولة الإمارات العربية مثلاً الدولة الأكثر اندفاعاً للمشاركة «الإسرائيلية» في التحالف العسكريّ المقترح من الولايات المتحدة لمواجهة إيران.

 بينما ترفض كلٌّ من مصر والكويت وعُمان الدخول في تحالف معادٍ لإيران وذلك لأنها لا ترى انّ إيران تشكل ايّ تهديد لأمن هذه الدول او لمصالحها العربية والاقليمية .

سابعا ـ وفي إطار موقفها، من إنشاء تحالف عسكري ضدّ إيران في الشرق الأوسط، فإنّ الإمارات و»إسرائيل» تنويان البدء بإقامة قواعد الإنذار «الإسرائيلي» المبكر في الإمارات بعد انتهاء زيارة بايدن مباشرة.

علماً انّ الجهات «الإسرائيلية» المعنية قد انتهت من نقل المعدات والتجهيزات العسكرية اللازمة لذلك الى الإمارات العربية المتحدة.

كما انّ الخبراء العسكريين «الإسرائيليين» والفنيين والمهندسين، التابعين لشركات الصناعات الجوية «الإسرائيلية»، موجودون أيضاً في الإمارات ويقومون بتنفيذ الترتيبات التحضيرية لإقامة تلك القواعد.

ويمكرون ويمكر الله، والله خير الماكرين.

بعدنا طيّبين قولوا الله…
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