Russia-China advance Asian roadmap for Afghanistan

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for a family photo before a meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Contact Group on Afghanistan, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Sputnik via AFP
Russia-China advance Asian roadmap for Afghanistan

July 15, 2021

Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s ‘facilitate, not mediate’ role could be the key to solving the Afghan imbroglio

By Pepe Escobar, with permission and first posted at Asia Times

Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting of Foreign Ministers on Wednesday in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, may have been an under-the-radar affair, but it did reveal the contours of the big picture ahead when it comes to Afghanistan.

So let’s see what Russia and China – the SCO’s heavyweights – have been up to.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi laid out the basic road map to his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar. While stressing the Chinese foreign policy gold standard – no interference in internal affairs of friendly nations – Wang established three priorities:

1. Real inter-Afghan negotiations towards national reconciliation and a durable political solution, thus preventing all-out civil war. Beijing is ready to “facilitate” dialogue.

2. Fighting terror – which means, in practice, al-Qaeda remnants, ISIS-Khorasan and the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Afghanistan should not be a haven for terrorist outfits – again.

3. The Taliban, for their part, should pledge a clean break with every terrorist outfit.

Atmar, according to diplomatic sources, fully agreed with Wang. And so did Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin. Atmar even promised to work with Beijing to crack down on ETIM, a Uighur terror group founded in China’s western Xinjiang. Overall, the official Beijing stance is that all negotiations should be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.”

There is no sign yet that the Taliban will enter a power-sharing arrangement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Photo: AFP/Wali Sabawoon/NurPhoto

It was up to Russian presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov to offer a more detailed appraisal of the Dushanbe discussions.

The main Russian point is that Kabul and the Taliban should try to form a provisional coalition government for the next 2-3 years while they negotiate a permanent agreement. Talk about a Sisyphean task – and that’s an understatement. The Russians know very well that both sides won’t restart negotiations before September.

Moscow is very precise about the role of the extended troika – Russia, China, Pakistan and the US – in the excruciatingly slow Doha peace process talks: the troika should “facilitate” (also Wang’s terminology), not mediate the proceedings.

Another very important point is that once “substantive” intra-Afghan negotiations resume, a mechanism should be launched to clear the Taliban of UN Security Council sanctions.

This will mean the normalization of the Taliban as a political movement. Considering their current diplomatic drive, the Taliban do have their eyes on the ball. So the Russian warning that they should not become a security threat to any of the Central Asian “stans” or there will be “consequences” has been fully understood.

Four of the five “stans” (Turkmenistan is the exception) are SCO members. By the way, the Taliban have sent a diplomatic mission to Turkmenistan to ease its fears.

Break for the border

In Dushanbe, a special meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, established in 2005, for the first time was held at the foreign minister level.

This shows that the SCO as a whole is engaged in making its “facilitate, not mediate” role the prime mechanism to solve the Afghan drama. It’s always crucial to remember that no fewer than six SCO member-nations are Afghanistan’s neighbors.

During the main event in Dushanbe – the SCO Foreign Ministers Council – the Russians once again framed Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy as an attempt to deter China and isolate Russia.

Following recent analyses by President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian delegation explained to its SCO counterparts its view counterposing Moscow and Beijing’s effort to develop a polycentric world system based on international law, on the one hand, with the Western concept of the so-called “rules-based world order.”

The Western approach, they said, puts pressure on countries that pursue independent foreign policy courses, ultimately legitimizing the West’s “neocolonial policy.”

On the ground

While the SCO was discussing the drive towards a polycentric world system, the Taliban, on the ground, kept doing what they’ve been doing for the past few weeks: capturing strategic crossroads.

The Taliban already controlled border crossings with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkmenistan. Now they have taken over ultra-strategic Spin Boldak, bordering Balochistan in Pakistan, which in trade terms is even more important than the Torkham border crossing near the Khyber Pass.

Taliban in Spin Boldak, the very busy commercial border between Afghanistan and Balochistan in Pakistan. Photo: AFP

According to Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, “the Spin Boldak district in Kandahar province has been cleared of the enemy” – Kabul’s forces – “and the district is now under the control of the mujahideen.” The term “mujahideen” in the Afghan context means indigenous forces fighting foreign invaders or proxies.

To have an idea of the importance of Spin Boldak for the Taliban economy during their years in power, see the third chapter of a series I published in Asia Times in 2010, here and here. Eleven years ago, I noted that “the Afghan-Pakistan border is still porous, and the Taliban seem to believe they may even get their Talibanistan back.” They believe that now, more than ever.

Meanwhile, in the northeast, in Badakhshan province, the Taliban are getting closer and closer to the border with Xinjiang – which has led to some hysteria about “terrorism” infiltrating China via the Wakhan corridor.

The Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan, seen from the Tajik side. Photo: Pepe Escobar, November 2019

Nonsense. The actual Afghanistan-China border in the Wakhan is roughly 90 kilometers. Beijing can exercise full electronic surveillance on everything that moves.

I crossed part of the Wakhan on the Tajik side, bordering Afghanistan, during my Central Asian loop in late 2019, and on some stretches of the Pamir Highway I was as close to Xinjiang as 30 kilometers or so through no man’s land. The only people I saw along the geologically spectacular, desolate landscape were a few nomad caravans. The terrain can be even more forbidding than the Hindu Kush.

If any terror outfits try to get to Xinjiang, they won’t dare cross the Wakhan; they will try to infiltrate via Kyrgyzstan. I met a lot of Uighurs in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital: mostly businessman, legally going back and forth. On the Kyrgyz-Xinjiang border, there was a steady flow of cargo trucks. ETIM was dismissed as a bunch of nutcases.

What’s way more relevant is that the Ministry of Public Works in Kabul is actually building a 50-kilometer road – for the moment unpaved –  between Badakhshan province and Xinjiang, all the way to the end of the Wakhan corridor. They will call it the Wakhan Route.

No imperial graveyard ahead

SCO member Pakistan remains arguably the key to solve the Afghan drama. The Pakistani ISI remains closely linked to every Taliban faction: never forget the Taliban are a creation of legendary General Hamid Gul in the early 1990s.

At the same time, for any jihadi outfit it’s easier to hide and lie low deep in the Pakistani tribal areas than anywhere else – and they can buy protection, irrespective of what the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his circle are very much aware of it – as much as Beijing. That will be the ultimate test for the SCO in its anti-terror front.

China needs an eminently stable Pakistan for all the long-term Belt and Road/China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects and to fulfill its goal of incorporating Afghanistan. Kabul would be bound to benefit not only from increased connectivity and infrastructure development but also from future mineral including rare earth exploration projects.

Meanwhile, Hindu nationalists would love to outflank Pakistan and extend their influence in Kabul, encouraged by Washington. For the Empire of Chaos, the ideal agenda is – what else? – chaos: disrupting Belt and Road and the Russia-China road map for Eurasian integration, Afghanistan included.

Added hysteria depicting Russia and China involved in Afghan reconstruction as but a new chapter in the never-ending “graveyard of empires” saga does not even qualify as nonsense. The talks in Dushanbe made clear that the Russia-China strategic partnership approach to Afghanistan is cautiously realistic.

Taliban negotiators Abdul Latif Mansoor (right), Shahabuddin Delawar (center) and Suhail Shaheen (left) walk to attend a press conference in Moscow on July 9, 2021. Photo: AFP / Dimitar Dilkoff

It’s all about national reconciliation, economic development and Eurasian integration. Not included are a military component, hubs for an Empire of Bases, foreign interference. Moscow and Beijing also recognize, pragmatically, that fulfilling those dreams will not be possible in an Afghanistan hostage to ethno-sectarianism.

The Taliban for their part seem to have recognized their own limits, hence their current inter-regional diplomatic drive. They seem to be paying close attention to the inevitable heavyweights – Russia and China – as well as the Central Asian “stans” plus Pakistan and Iran.

Whether all this interconnection dance will herald the beginning of a post-war Afghanistan as a real functioning state, all we can say is insha Allah.

Say hello to the diplo-Taliban

Say hello to the diplo-Taliban

July 09, 2021

Deploying diplomatic skills refined from Doha to Moscow, the Taliban in 2021 has little to do with its 2001 incarnation

by Pepe Escobar with permission, and first posted at Asia Times

A very important meeting took place in Moscow last week, virtually hush-hush. Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, received Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security adviser.

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Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (center) and other members of the Taliban arrive to attend an international conference in Moscow on March 18, 2021. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP

There were no substantial leaks. A bland statement pointed to the obvious: They “focused on the security situation in Afghanistan during the pullout of Western military contingencies and the escalation of the military-political situation in the northern part of the country.”

The real story is way more nuanced. Mohib, representing embattled President Ashraf Ghani, did his best to convince Patrushev that the Kabul administration represents stability. It does not – as the subsequent Taliban advances proved.

Patrushev knew Moscow could not offer any substantial measure of support to the current Kabul arrangement because doing so would burn bridges the Russians would need to cross in the process of engaging the Taliban. Patrushev knows that the continuation of Team Ghani is absolutely unacceptable to the Taliban – whatever the configuration of any future power-sharing agreement.

So Patrushev, according to diplomatic sources, definitely was not impressed.

This week we can all see why. A delegation from the Taliban political office went to Moscow essentially to discuss with the Russians the fast-evolving mini-chessboard in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban had been to Moscow four months earlier, along with the extended troika (Russia, US, China, Pakistan) to debate the new Afghan power equation.

On this trip, they emphatically assured their interlocutors there’s no Taliban interest in invading any territory of their Central Asia neighbors.

It’s not excessive, in view of how cleverly they’ve been playing their hand, to call the Taliban desert foxes. They know well what Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been repeating: Any turbulence coming from Afghanistan will be met with a direct response from the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

In addition to stressing that the US withdrawal – actually, repositioning – represents the failure of its Afghan “mission,” Lavrov touched on the two really key points:

The Taliban is increasing its influence in the northern Afghanistan border areas; and Kabul’s refusal to form a transitional government is “promoting a belligerent solution” to the drama. This implies Lavrov expects much more flexibility from both Kabul and the Taliban in the Sisyphean power-sharing task ahead.

And then, relieving the tension, when asked by a Russian journalist if Moscow will send troops to Afghanistan, Lavrov reverted to Mr Cool: “The answer is obvious.”

Mohammad Suhail Shaheen is the quite articulate spokesman for the Taliban political office. He’s adamant that “taking Afghanistan by military force is not our policy. Our policy is to find a political solution to the Afghan issue, which is continuing in Doha.” Bottom line: “We confirmed our commitment to a political solution here in Moscow once more.”

That’s absolutely correct. The Taliban don’t want a bloodbath. They want to be embraced. As Shaheen has stressed, it would be easy to conquer major cities – but there would be blood. Meanwhile, the Taliban already control virtually the whole border with Tajikistan.

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New face of the Taliban: The insurgents’ spokesman Mohammad Suhail Shaheen speaks to media in Moscow on February 15, 2021.

The 2021 Taliban have little in common with their 2001 pre-war on terror incarnation. The movement has evolved from a largely Ghilzai Pashtun rural guerrilla insurgency to a more inter-ethnic arrangement, incorporating Tajiks, Uzbeks and even Shi’ite Hazaras – a group that was mercilessly persecuted during the 1996-2001 years of Taliban power.

Reliable figures are extremely hard to come by, but 30% of the Taliban today may be non-Pashtuns. One of the top commanders is ethnically Tajik – and that explains the lightning-flash “soft” blitzkrieg in northern Afghanistan across Tajik territory.

I visited a lot of these geologically spectacular places in the early 2000s. The inhabitants, all cousins, speaking Dari, are now turning over their villages and towns to Tajik Taliban as a matter of trust. Very few – if any – Pashtuns from Kandahar or Jalalabad are involved. That illustrates the absolute failure of the central government in Kabul.

Those who do not join the Taliban simply desert – as did the Kabul forces manning the checkpoint close to the bridge over the Pyanj river, off the Pamir highway; they escaped without a fight to Tajik territory, actually riding the Pamir highway. The Taliban hoisted their flag in this crucial intersection without firing a shot.

The Afghan National Army’s chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadza, fresh into his role by appointment from Ghani, is keeping a brave face: ANA’s priority is to protect the main cities (so far, so good, because the Taliban are not attacking them); border crossings (that’s not going so well), and highways (mixed results so far).

This interview with Suhail Shaheen is quite enlightening – as he feels compelled to stress that “we don’t have access to media” and laments the “baseless” barrage of “propaganda launched against us,” which implies that Western media should admit the Taliban have changed.

Shaheen points out that “it’s not possible to take 150 districts in just six weeks by fighting,” which connects to the fact that the security forces “do not trust the Kabul administration.” In all districts that have been conquered, he swears, “ the forces came to the Taliban voluntarily.”

A smoke plume rises from houses amid an ongoing fight between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the western city of Qala-i- Naw, the capital of Badghis province, on July 7. The Taliban launched its first major assault on a provincial capital since the US military began its final drawdown of troops from the country.

Shaheen makes a statement that could have come straight from Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s: The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are the real freedom fighters.” That may be the object of endless debate across the lands of Islam.

But one fact is indisputable: The Taliban are sticking by the agreement they signed with the Americans on February 29, 2020. And that implies a total American exit: “If they don’t abide by their commitments, we have a clear right of retaliation.”

Thinking ahead to “when an Islamic government is in place,” Shaheen insists there will be “good relations” with every nation, and embassies and consulates will not be targeted.

The Taliban “goal is clear: to end the occupation.” And that brings us to the tricky gambit of Turkish troops “protecting” Kabul airport. Shaheen is crystal clear. “No NATO forces – that means continuation of occupation,” he proclaims. “When we have an independent Islamic country, then we will sign any agreement with Turkey that is mutually beneficial.”

Shaheen is involved in the ongoing, very complicated negotiations in Doha, so he cannot allow himself to commit the Taliban to any future power-sharing agreement. What he does say, even though “progress is slow” in Doha, is that, contrary to what was previously reported by media in Qatar, the Taliban will not present a formal written proposal to Kabul by the end of the month, The talks will continue.

Going hybrid?

Whatever the “Mission Accomplished” non-denial denials emanating from the White House, a few things are already clear on the Eurasia front.

The Russians, for one thing, are already engaging the Taliban, in detail, and may soon strike their name off their terror list.

The Chinese, for another, are assured that if the Taliban commits Afghanistan to join the Belt and Road Initiative, connecting via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, ISIS-Khorasan will not then be permitted to go on overdrive in Afghanistan bolstered by Uyghur jihadis currently in Idlib.

And nothing is off the table for Washington when it comes to derailing BRI. Crucial silos scattered across the deep state must be already at work replacing a forever war in Afghanistan with hybrid war, Syria-style.

Lavrov is very much aware of Kabul power brokers who would not say “no” to a new hybrid war arrangement. But the Taliban for their part have been very effective – preventing assorted Afghan factions from supporting Team Ghani.

As for the Central Asian “stans,” not a single one of them wants any forever wars or hybrid wars down the road.

Fasten your seat belts: It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

A Saigon moment in the Hindu Kush

A Saigon moment in the Hindu Kush

July 07, 2021

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

And it’s all over

For the unknown soldier

It’s all over

For the unknown soldier

The Doors, The Unknown Soldier

Let’s start with some stunning facts on the ground.

The Taliban are on a roll. Earlier this week their P.R. arm was claiming they hold 218 Afghan districts out of 421 – capturing new ones every day. Tens of districts are contested. Entire Afghan provinces are basically lost to the government in Kabul – de facto reduced to administer a few scattered cities under siege.

Afghanistan in Badakhshan province, seen from the Pamir highway in Tajikistan during my November 2019 Central Asian loop. This district, not far from Ishkashim, is now under Taliban control. Photo: Pepe Escobar

Already on July 1st the Taliban announced they controlled 80% of Afghan territory. That’s close to the situation 20 years ago, only a few weeks before 9/11, when Commander Masoud told me in the Panjshir valley , as he prepared a counter-offensive, that the Taliban were 85% dominant.

Their new tactical approach works like a dream. First there’s a direct appeal to soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to surrender. Negotiations are smooth – and deals fulfilled. Soldiers in the low thousands have already joined the Taliban without a single shot fired.

Mapmakers cannot upload updates fast enough. This is fast becoming a textbook case on the collapse of a 21st century central government.

The Taliban are fast advancing in western Vardak, easily capturing ANA bases. That is the prequel for an assault on Maidan Shar, the provincial capital. If they get control of Vardak they will be literally at the gates of Kabul.

After capturing Panjwaj district, the Taliban are also a stone’s throw away from Kandahar, founded by Alexander The Great in 330 B.C. and the city where a certain mullah Omar – with a little help from his Pakistani ISI friends – started the Taliban adventure in 1994, leading to their Kabul power takeover in 1996.

The overwhelming majority of Badakhshan province – Tajik majority, not Pashtun – fell after only 4 days of negotiations, with a few skirmishes thrown in. The Taliban even captured a hilltop outpost very close to Faizabad, Badakhshan’s capital.

I tracked the Tajik-Afghan border in detail when I traveled the Pamir highway in late 2019. The Taliban, following mountain tracks on the Afghan side, could soon reach the legendary, desolate border with Xinjiang in the Wakhan corridor.

The Taliban are also about to make a move on Hairaton, in Balkh province. Hairaton is at the Afghan-Uzbek border, the site of the historically important Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya, through which the Red Army departed Afghanistan in 1989.

ANA commanders swear the city is now protected from all sides by a five-kilometer security zone. Hairaton has already attracted tens of thousands of refugees. Tashkent does not want them to cross the border.

And it’s not only Central Asia; the Taliban have already advanced to the city limits of Islam Qilla, which borders Iran, in Herat province, and is the key checkpoint in the busy Mashhad to Herat corridor.

The Tajik puzzle

The extremely porous, geologically stunning Tajik-Afghan mountain borders remain the most sensitive case. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, after a serious phone call with Vladimir Putin, ordered the mobilization of 20,000 reservists and sent them to the border. Rahmon also promised humanitarian and financial support to the Kabul government.

The Taliban, for their part, officially declared that the border is safe and they have no intention of invading Tajik territory. Earlier this week even the Kremlin cryptically announced that Moscow does not plan to send troops to Afghanistan.

A cliffhanger is set for the end of July, as the Taliban announced they will submit a written peace proposal to Kabul. A strong possibility is that it may amount to an intimation for Kabul to surrender – and transfer full control of the country.

The Taliban seem to be riding an irresistible momentum – especially when Afghans themselves were stunned to see how the imperial “protector”, after nearly two decades of de facto occupation,

left Bagram air base in the middle of the night , scurrying away like rats.

Compare it to the evaluation of serious analysts such as Lester Grau, explaining the Soviet departure over three decades ago:

When the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, they did so in a coordinated, deliberate, professional manner, leaving behind a functioning government, an improved military and an advisory and economic effort insuring the continued viability of the government. The withdrawal was based on a coordinated diplomatic, economic and military plan permitting Soviet forces to withdraw in good order and the Afghan government to survive. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) managed to hold on despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Only then, with the loss of Soviet support and the increased efforts by the Mujahideen (holy warriors) and Pakistan, did the DRA slide toward defeat in April 1992. The Soviet effort to withdraw in good order was well executed and can serve as a model for other disengagements from similar nations.

When it comes to the American empire, Tacitus once again applies: “They have plundered the world, stripping naked the land in their hunger… they are driven by greed, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor… They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace.”

In the wake of the Hegemon, deserts called peace, in varying degrees, include Iraq, Libya, Syria – which happen to, geologically, harbor deserts – as well as the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.

That Afghan heroin rat line

It looks like Think Tank Row in D.C., between Dupont and Thomas Circle alongside Massachussets Avenue, have not really done their homework on pashtunwali – the Pashtun honor code – or the ignominious British empire retreat from Kabul.

Still, it’s too early to tell whether what is being spun as the US “retreat” from Afghanistan reflects the definitive unraveling of the Empire of Chaos. Especially because this is not a “retreat” at all: it’s a repositioning – with added elements of privatization.

At least 650 “U.S. forces” will be protecting the sprawling embassy in Kabul. Add to it possibly 500 Turkish troops – which means NATO – to protect the airport, plus an undeclared number of “contractors” a.k.a mercenaries, and an unspecified number of Special Forces.

Pentagon head Lloyd Austin has come up with the new deal. The militarized embassy is referred to as Forces Afghanistan-Forward. These forces will be “supported” by a new, special Afghan office in Qatar.

The key provision is that the special privilege to bomb Afghanistan whenever the Hegemon feels like it remains intact. The difference is in the chain of command. Instead of Gen. Scott Miller, so far the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, the Bomber-in-Chief will be Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of CENTCOM.

So future bombing will come essentially from the Persian Gulf – what the Pentagon lovingly describes as “over the horizon capability”. Crucially, Pakistan has officially refused to be part of it, although in the case of drone attacks, they will have to overfly Pakistani territory in Balochistan. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan also refused to host American bases.

The Taliban, for their part, are unfazed. Spokesman Suhail Shaheen was adamant that any foreign troops that are not out by the 9/11 deadline will be regarded as – what else – occupiers.

Whether the Taliban will be able to establish dominance is not an issue; it’s just a matter of when. And that leads us to the two really important questions:

1.  Will the CIA be able to maintain what Seymour Hersh initially, and later myself, described as the Afghan heroin rat line that finances their black ops?

2.  And if the CIA cannot continue to supervise opium poppy field production in Afghanistan as well as coordinate the subsequent stages of the heroin business, where will it move to?

Every thinking mind across Central/South Asia knows that the Empire of Chaos, for two long decades, was never interested in defeating the Taliban or fighting for “the freedom of the Afghan people”.

The key motives were to keep a crucial, strategic forward base in the underbelly of “existential threats” China and Russia as well as intractable Iran – all part of the New Great Game; to be conveniently positioned to later exploit Afghanistan’s enormous mineral wealth; and to process opium into heroin to fund CIA ops. Opium was a major factor in the rise of the British empire, and heroin remains one of the world’s top dirty businesses funding shady intel ops.

What China and the SCO want

Now compare all of the above with the Chinese approach.

Unlike Think Tank Row in D.C., Chinese counterparts seem to have done their homework. They understood that the USSR did not invade Afghanistan in 1979 to impose “popular democracy” – the jargon then – but was in fact invited by the quite progressive UN-recognized Kabul government at the time, which essentially wanted roads, electricity, medical care, telecommunications, education.

As these staples of modernity would not be provided by Western institutions, the solution would have to come from Soviet socialism. That would imply a social revolution – a convoluted affair in a deeply pious Islamic nation – and, crucially, the end of feudalism.

“Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski’s imperial counterpunch worked because it manipulated Afghan feudal lords and their regimentation capacity – bolstered by immense funds (CIA, Saudis, Pakistani intel) – to give the USSR its Vietnam. None of these feudal lords were interested in the abolition of poverty and economic development in Afghanistan.

China is now picking up where the USSR left. Beijing, in close contact with the Taliban since early 2020, essentially wants to extend the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – one of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) flagship projects – to Afghanistan.

The first, crucial step will be the construction of the Kabul-Peshawar motorway – through the Khyber pass and the current border at Torkham. That will mean Afghanistan de facto becoming part of CPEC.

It’s all about regional integration at work. Kabul-Peshawar will be one extra CPEC node that already includes the construction of the ultra-strategic Tashkurgan airport in the Karakoram highway in Xinjiang, only 50 km away from the Pakistani border and also close to Afghanistan, as well as Gwadar harbor in Balochistan.

In early June, a trilateral China-Afghanistan-Pakistan meeting led the Chinese Foreign Ministry to unmistakably bet on the “peaceful recovery of Afghanistan”, with the joint statement welcoming “the early return of the Taliban to the political life of Afghanistan” and a pledge to “expand economic and trade ties”.

So there’s no way a dominant Taliban will refuse the Chinese drive to build infrastructure and energy projects geared towards regional economic integration, as long as they keep the country pacified and not subject to jihadi turbulence of the ISIS-Khorasan variety – capable of spilling over to Xinjiang.

The Chinese game play is clear: the Americans should not be able to exert influence over the new Kabul arrangement. It’s all about the strategic Afghan importance for BRI – and that is intertwined with discussions inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), incidentally founded 20 years ago, and which for years has advocated for an “Asian solution” for the Afghan drama.

The discussions inside the SCO regard the NATO projection of the new Afghanistan as a jihadi paradise controlled by Islamabad as not more than wishful thinking nonsense.

It will be fascinating to watch how China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and even India will fill the vacuum in the post-Forever Wars era in Afghanistan. It’s very important to remember that all these actors, plus the Central Asians, are full SCO members (or observers, in the case of Iran).

Tehran plausibly might interfere with potential imperial plans to bomb Afghanistan from the outside – whatever the motive. On another front, it’s unclear whether Islamabad or Moscow, for instance, would help the Taliban to take Bagram air base. What’s certain is that Russia will take the Taliban off its list of terrorist outfits.

Considering that the empire and NATO – via Turkey – will not be really leaving, a distinct future possibility is a SCO push, allied with the Taliban (Afghanistan is also a SCO observer) to secure the nation in their terms and concentrate on CPEC development projects. But the first step seems to be the hardest: how to form a real, solid, national coalition government in Kabul.

History may rule that Washington wanted Afghanistan to be the USSR’s Vietnam; decades later, it ended up getting its own second Vietnam, repeated as – what else – farce. A remixed Saigon moment is fast approaching. Yet another stage of the New Great Game in Eurasia is at hand.

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain: In praise of James Douglas Morrison, 20th century poet, dead at 27 half a century ago

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain:  In praise of James Douglas Morrison, 20th century poet, dead at 27 half a century ago

July 03, 2021

By Pepe Escobar, exclusively for the Saker Blog

He was like Blake’s tiger, always burning bright and chasing Rimbaud rainbows – just to finish, like Marat, in a bathtub. He was only 27.

Jim Morrison died on July 3, 1971 in Paris. Half a century later, The Collected Works of Jim Morrison: Poetry, Journals, Transcripts, and Lyrics lavishly celebrates the soul of the poet.

Before he died, Jim had self-published three limited editions of his poetry: The Lords/Notes on Vision (1969), The New Creatures (1969), and An American Prayer (1970).

Now, finally, we may have access to his complete writings, including the screenplay for his 50-minute experimental film, HWY, shot in Godard’s cinema verité style in the spring and summer of 1969 in L.A. and the Mojave desert, with Jim playing a hitchhiker. Old-school petrol heads will savor Jim on the wheel of his 1967 Shelby GT 500 Mustang in this HD clip from a film inspired by HWY.

The Collected Works feel like a collar of magic jade fragments, complete with handwritten pages in notebooks, crossed out words, underlines, the whole perhaps similar to the ‘Plan for Book’ Jim once sketched.

The overwhelming majority of us baby boomers belong to the “die young, stay pretty, leave a beautiful corpse” generation. Following our own road maps, prone to trial and error, we did live all the roads of excess; but unlike Blake’s dictum, we may not have reached the palace of wisdom. We never cease to be amazed that unlike Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, Otis Redding, we are survivors at best.

For so many of us then in our teens, from 1967 to 1971 the Doors were impregnated in our body and soul. Jim was the psychedelic Dyonisus, his excessive alter egos – Lizard King, Mr. Mojo Risin’- propelling him over and over again towards the next ride in the infinite highway.

Before he metastasized into instant legend, Jim was what Hunter Thompson would immortalize in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which came out in 1971: “A man on the move, and just sick enough, to be totally confident”.

Now the poetry oozing out of the freestyle soundscapes weaved by Krieger, Densmore and Manzarek, or HWY as a sort of prelude to L.A. Woman (“cops and cars / the topless bars / never saw a woman / so alone”) may be relieved as a prequel to what was about to vanish, poignantly evoked by Thomas Pynchon in Inherent Vice, the Greatest Hippie Detective Novel – or Raymond Chandler on LSD:

The Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close after all, and all be lost, taken back into darkness… how a certain hand might reach terribly out of darkness, and reclaim the time, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good.

And all the children are insane

Any Top Ten list of 20th Century Poetry in the Anglo-American sphere would necessarily include Yeats’s The Second Coming, Eliot’s

The Waste Land and Pound’s Cantos. From the mid-century beats, comes Ginsberg’s Howl. Afterwards it’s Dylan land – from

Ballad of a Thin ManDesolation Row and Visions of Johanna to the total dilaceration in Blood on the Tracks (Tangled Up in BlueSimple Twist of Fate).

And then, there’s Jim Morrison’s The End – the closing track of

The Doors, recorded in August 66, released in January 1967, six months before the Summer of Love.

It was my dear friend Quantum Bird – not even born when Morrison died – who led me to a re-appreciation of The End in the Western canon, prompted by a Morrison epigraph I used in a column on NATO.

Striking images emerge like rocks out of the Morrison river, like “the streets are fields that never die”, in The Crystal Ship, or “speak in secret alphabets”, in Soul Kitchen.

Strange Days could not be more contemporary: “Strange days have found us / strange days have tracked us down / they’re going to destroy / our casual joys / we shall go on playing / or find a new town”.

Yet we could only guess what shore Morrison’s Crystal Ship was heading for, the words – “be-fore / you / slip / in-to / un-consciousness” – coiling like a snake, barely whispered. The journey could be anything: Chandler’s Big Sleep, an overdose of heroin, a ghastly murder, suicide, even a suicide pact.

Morrison was usually Blake on steroids, rewriting “some are born to sweet delight / some are born to endless night” in his own way. The End is a journey through the corridors of the endless night (“the killer awoke before dawn / he put his boots on / he took a face from the ancient gallery / and he walked on down the hall”). No wonder Coppola carefully chose it for the opening of Apocalypse Now – or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set in Vietnam, where the Empire was lost “in a Roman wilderness of pain / and all the children are insane”.

Ride the snake

In 1966, when he wrote The End, two years before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, it’s as if Morrison had already intuited that as a poet laboring at the apex of Empire, life would become necessarily unbearable.

LSD + Rimbaud + insights in Navajo land only amplified his aesthetic and philosophical illuminations. The End includes references to “every element of systemic collapse”, as Quantum Bird remarked, from imperial arrogance to cultural collapse, from wokeism to loss of control of the empire’s own internal space, from dystopic propaganda to the sense of total bewilderment facing a dying ethos. Woke soldiers are about to be reprogrammed as serial killers.

Morrison had his vision way before the Summer of Love, way before Woodstock (summer of 1969), way before the Stones at Altamont (winter of 1969) – the official end of peace and love.

When the Empire collapses “in a desperate land” – look at the tawdry, farcical Afghanistan remix, happening right now – there’s “no safety or surprise”. It’s “the end of laughter and soft lies / the end of nights we tried to die.”

The end of everything that stands.

I’ll leave you now mentally riding a Mustang in the desert, down on the infinite highway and – in geopolitical synchronicity – riding the snake.

Julian Assange – held under psychological torture in Belmarsh by the lords of the Empire for the crime of committing journalism – is 50 years old today.  Julian Assange was born the day Jim Morrison died.

Dance on fire. If you dare.

The long and winding multipolar road

July 01, 2021

The West’s ‘rules-based order’ invokes rulers’ authority; Russia-China say it’s time to return to law-based order

The long and winding multipolar road

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

We do live in extraordinary times.

On the day of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), President Xi Jinping, in Tiananmen square, amid all the pomp and circumstance, delivered a stark geopolitical message:

The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to intimidate, oppress or subjugate them. Anyone who tries to do this will find themselves on a collision course with a large steel wall forged by more than 1.4 billion Chinese.

I have offered a concise version of the modern Chinese miracle – which has nothing to do with divine intervention, but “searching truth from facts” (copyright Deng Xiaoping), inspired by a solid cultural and historical tradition.

The “large steel wall” evoked by Xi now permeates a dynamic “moderately prosperous society” – a goal achieved by the CCP on the eve of the centennial. Lifting over 800 million people out of poverty is a historical first – in every aspect.

As in all things China, the past informs the future. This is all about xiaokang – which may be loosely translated as “moderately prosperous society”.

The concept first appeared no less than 2,500 years ago, in the classic Shijing (“The Book of Poetry”). The Little Helmsman Deng, with his historical eagle eye, revived it in 1979, right at the start of the “opening up” economic reforms.

Now compare the breakthrough celebrated in Tiananmen – which will be interpreted all across the Global South as evidence of the success of a Chinese model for economic development – with footage being circulated of the Taliban riding captured T-55 tanks across impoverished villages in northern Afghanistan.

History Repeating: this is something I saw with my own eyes over twenty years ago.

The Taliban now control nearly the same amount of Afghan territory they did immediately before 9/11. They control the border with Tajikistan and are closing in on the border with Uzbekistan.

Exactly twenty years ago I was deep into yet another epic journey across Karachi, Peshawar, the Pakistan tribal areas, Tajikistan and finally the Panjshir valley, where I interviewed Commander Masoud – who told me the Taliban at the time were controlling 85% of Afghanistan.

Three weeks later Masoud was assassinated by an al-Qaeda-linked commando disguised as “journalists” – two days before 9/11. The empire – at the height of the unipolar moment – went into Forever Wars on overdrive, while China – and Russia – went deep into consolidating their emergence, geopolitically and geoeconomically.

We are now living the consequences of these opposed strategies.

That strategic partnership

President Putin has just spent three hours and fifty minutes answering non-pre-screened questions, live, from Russian citizens during his annual ‘Direct Line’ session. The notion that Western “leaders” of the Biden, BoJo, Merkel and Macron kind would be able to handle something even remotely similar, non-scripted, is laughable.

The key takeaway: Putin stressed US elites understand that the world is changing but still want to preserve their dominant position. He illustrated it with the recent British caper in Crimea straight out of a Monty Python fail, a “complex provocation” that was in fact Anglo-American: a NATO aircraft had previously conducted a reconnaissance flight. Putin: “It was obvious that the destroyer entered [Crimean waters] pursuing military goals.”

Earlier this week Putin and Xi held a videoconference. One of the key items was quite significant: the extension of the China-Russia Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, originally signed 20 years ago.

A key provision: “When a situation arises in which one of the contracting parties deems that…it is confronted with the threat of aggression, the contracting parties shall immediately hold contacts and consultations in order to eliminate such threats.”

This treaty is at the heart of what is now officially described – by Moscow and Beijing – as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era”. Such a broad definition is warranted because this is a complex multi-level partnership, not an “alliance”, designed as a counterbalance and viable alternative to hegemony and unilateralism.

A graphic example is provided by the progressive interpolation of two trade/development strategies, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), which Putin and Xi again discussed, in connection with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which was founded only three months before 9/11.

It’s no wonder that one of the highlights in Beijing this week were trade talks between the Chinese and four Central Asia “stans” – all of them SCO members.

“Law” and “rule”

The defining multipolarity road map has been sketched in an essay by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that deserves careful examination.

Lavrov surveys the results of the recent G7, NATO and US-EU summits prior to Putin-Biden in Geneva:

These meetings were carefully prepared in a way that leaves no doubt that the West wanted to send a clear message: it stands united like never before and will do what it believes to be right in international affairs, while forcing others, primarily Russia and China, to follow its lead. The documents adopted at the Cornwall and Brussels summits cemented the rules-based world order concept as a counterweight to the universal principles of international law with the UN Charter as its primary source. In doing so, the West deliberately shies away from spelling out the rules it purports to follow, just as it refrains from explaining why they are needed.

As he dismisses how Russia and China have been labeled as “authoritarian powers” (or “illiberal”, according to the favorite New York-Paris-London mantra), Lavrov smashes Western hypocrisy:

While proclaiming the ‘right’ to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries for the sake of promoting democracy as it understands it, the West instantly loses all interest when we raise the prospect of making international relations more democratic, including renouncing arrogant behavior and committing to abide by the universally recognized tenets of international law instead of ‘rules’.

That provides Lavrov with an opening for a linguistic analysis of “law” and “rule”:

In Russian, the words “law” and “rule” share a single root. To us, a rule that is genuine and just is inseparable from the law. This is not the case for Western languages. For instance, in English, the words “law” and “rule” do not share any resemblance. See the difference? “Rule” is not so much about the law, in the sense of generally accepted laws, as it is about the decisions taken by the one who rules or governs. It is also worth noting that “rule” shares a single root with “ruler,” with the latter’s meanings including the commonplace device for measuring and drawing straight lines. It can be inferred that through its concept of “rules” the West seeks to align everyone around its vision or apply the same yardstick to everybody, so that everyone falls into a single file.

In a nutshell: the road to multipolarity will not follow “ultimatums”. The G20, where the BRICS are represented, is a “natural platform” for “mutually accepted agreements”. Russia for its part is driving a Greater Eurasia Partnership. And a “polycentric world order” implies the necessary reform of the UN Security Council, “strengthening it with Asian, African and Latin American countries”.

Will the Unilateral Masters ply this road? Over their dead bodies: after all, Russia and China are “existential threats”. Hence our collective angst, spectators under the volcano.

The Chinese Miracle, Revisited

The Chinese Miracle, Revisited

June 30, 2021

Western exceptionalists may continue to throw a fit 24/7 ad infinitum: that will not change the course of history.

By Pepe Escobar with permission and widely distributed

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) centennial takes place this week at the heart of an incandescent geopolitical equation.

China, the emerging superpower, is back to the global prominence it enjoyed throughout centuries of recorded history, while the declining Hegemon is paralyzed by the “existential challenge” posed to its fleeting, unilateral dominance.

A mindset of full spectrum confrontation already sketched in the 2017 U.S. National Security Review is sliding fast into fear, loathing and relentless Sinophobia.

Add to it the Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership graphically exposing the ultimate Mackinderian nightmare of Anglo-American elites jaded by “ruling the world” – for only two centuries at best.

The Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping may have coined the ultimate formula for what many in the West defined as the Chinese miracle:

“To seek truth from facts, not from dogmas, whether from East or West”.

So this was never about divine intervention, but planning, hard work, and learning by trial and error.

The recent session of the National People’s Congress provides a stark example. Not only it approved a new Five-Year Plan, but in fact a full road map for China’s development up to 2035: three plans in one.

What the whole world saw, in practice, was the manifest efficiency of the Chinese governance system, capable of designing and implementing extremely complex geoeconomic strategies after plenty of local and regional debate on a vast range of policy initiatives.

Compare it to the endless bickering and gridlock in Western liberal democracies, which are incapable of planning for the next quarter, not to mention fifteen years.

The best and the brightest in China actually do their Deng; they couldn’t care less about the politicizing of governance systems. What matters is what they define as a very effective system to make SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) development plans, and put them in practice.

The 85% popular vote

At the start of 2021, before the onset of the Year of the Metal Ox, President Xi Jinping emphasized that  “favorable social conditions” should be in place for the CCP centennial celebrations.

Oblivious to waves of demonization coming from the West, for Chinese public opinion what matters is whether the CCP delivered. And deliver it did (over 85% popular approval). China controlled Covid-19 in record time; economic growth is back; poverty alleviation was achieved; and the civilization-state became a “moderately prosperous society” – right on schedule for the CCP centennial.

Since 1949, the size of the Chinese economy soared by a whopping 189 times. Over the past two decades, China’s GDP grew 11-fold. Since 2010, it more than doubled, from $6 trillion to $15 trillion, and now accounts for 17% of global economic output.

No wonder Western grumbling is irrelevant. Shanghai Capital investment boss Eric Li succinctly describes the governance gap; in the U.S., government changes but not policy. In China, government doesn’t change; policy does.

This is the background for the next development stage – where the CCP will in fact double down on its unique hybrid model of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

The key point is that the Chinese leadership, via non-stop policy adjustments (trial and error, always) has evolved a model of “peaceful rise” – their own terminology – that essentially respects China’s immense historical and cultural experiences.

In this case, Chinese exceptionalism means respecting Confucianism – which privileges harmony and abhors conflict – as well as Daoism – which privileges balance – over the boisterous, warring, hegemonic Western model.

This is reflected in major policy adjustments such as the new “dual circulation” drive, which places greater emphasis on the domestic market compared to China as the “factory of the world”.

Past and future are totally intertwined in China; what was done in previous dynasties echoes in the future. The best contemporary example is the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the overarching Chinese foreign policy concept for the foreseeable future.

As detailed by Renmin University Professor Wang Yiwei, BRI is about to reshape geopolitics, “bringing Eurasia back to its historical place at the center of human civilization.” Wang has shown how “the two great civilizations of the East and the West were linked until the rise of the Ottoman Empire cut off the Ancient Silk Road”.

Europe moving seaward led to “globalization through colonization”; the decline of the Silk Road; the world’s center shifting to the West; the rise of the U.S.; and the decline of Europe. Now, Wang argues, “Europe is faced with a historic opportunity to return to the world center through the revival of Eurasia.”

And that’s exactly what the Hegemon will go no holds barred to prevent.

Zhu and Xi

It’s fair to argue that Xi’s historical counterpart is the Hongwu emperor Zhu, the founder of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The emperor was keen to present his dynasty as a Chinese renewal after Mongol domination via the Yuan dynasty.

Xi frames it as “Chinese rejuvenation”: “China used to be a world economic power. However, it missed its chance in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the consequent dramatic changes, and was thus left behind and suffered humiliation under foreign invasion …we must not let this tragic history repeat itself.”

The difference is that 21st century China under Xi will not retreat inward as it did under the Ming. The parallel for the near future would rather be with the Tang dynasty (618-907), which privileged trade and interactions with the world at large.

To comment on the torrent of Western misinterpretations of China is a waste of time. For the Chinese, the overwhelming majority of Asia, and for the Global South, much more relevant is to register how the American imperial narrative – “we are the liberators of Asia-Pacific” – has now been totally debunked.

In fact Chairman Mao may end up having the last laugh. As he wrote in 1957, “if the imperialists insist on launching a third world war, it is certain that several hundred million more will turn to socialism, and then there will not be much room left on earth for the imperialists; it is also likely that the whole structure of imperialism will utterly collapse.”

Martin Jacques, one of the very few Westerners who actually studied China in depth, correctly pointed out how “China has enjoyed five separate periods when it has enjoyed a position of pre-eminence – or shared pre-eminence – in the world: part of the Han, the Tang, arguably the Song, the early Ming, and the early Qing.”

So China, historically, does represent continuous renewal and “rejuvenation” (Xi). We’re right in the middle of another one of these phases – now conducted by a CCP dynasty that, incidentally, does not believe in miracles, but in hardcore planning. Western exceptionalists may continue to throw a fit 24/7 ad infinitum: that will not change the course of history.

A Sovereign Iran will Move Closer to Russia-China

22/06/2021

A Sovereign Iran will Move Closer to Russia-China

Iran’s president-elect will ‘Look East’ while seeking to exit ‘strategic patience’ when dealing with the US

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at AsiaTimes

In his first press conference as President-Elect with 62% of the votes, Ebrahim Raeisi, facing a forest of microphones, came out swinging and leaving nothing to the imagination.

On the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal, the dossier that completely obsesses the West, Raeisi was clear:

– the US must immediately return to the JCPOA that Washington unilaterally violated, and lift all sanctions.

– The JCPOA negotiations in Vienna will proceed, but they do not condition anything in terms of Iran’s future.

– The Iranian ballistic missile program is absolutely non-negotiable in the framework of the JCPOA, and will not be curbed.

Asked by a Russian journalist whether he would meet President Biden if a deal was struck in Vienna and all sanctions lifted – a major “if” – Raeisi’s answer was a straight “No”.

It’s crucial to stress that Raeisi, in principle, favors the restoration of the JCPOA as its was signed in 2015 – following the guidelines of Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. But if the Vienna charade goes on forever and the Americans keep insisting on rewriting the deal towards other areas of Iranian national security, that’s a definitive red line.

Raeisi acknowledged the immense internal challenges he faces, in terms of putting the Iranian economy back on track, getting rid of the neoliberal drive of outgoing Team Rouhani, and fighting widespread corruption. The fact that election turnout was only 48.7%, compared to the average 70% in the prior three presidential contests will make it even more difficult.

Yet in foreign policy Iran’s path ahead is unmistakable, centered on the “Look East” strategy, which means closer cooperation with China and Russia, with Iran developing as a key node of Eurasian integration or, according to the Russian vision, the Greater Eurasia Partnership.

As Professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran told me “there’s going to be a tilt eastward and to the Global South. Iran will improve relations with China and Russia, also because of US pressure and sanctions. President-elect Raeisi will be better positioned to strengthen these ties than the outgoing administration.”

Marandi added, “Iran won’t intentionally hurt the nuclear deal if the Americans – and the Europeans – move towards full implementation. The Iranians will reciprocate. Neighbors and regional countries will also be a priority. So Iran will no longer be waiting for the West.”

Marandi also made a quite nuanced distinction that the current policy was “a major mistake” by Team Rouhani, yet “not the fault of Dr. Zarif or the Foreign Ministry, but the government as a whole.” That implies the Rouhani administration placed all its bets on the JCPOA and was completely unprepared for Trump’s “maximum pressure” offensive, which de facto decimated the reformist-minded Iranian middle class.

In a nutshell: in the Raeisi era, exit “strategic patience” when dealing with the US. Enter “active deterrence”.

A key node of BRI and EAEU

Raeisi was met by those who control the “international community” narrative with proverbially derisive and/or demonizing epithets: loyal to the “repressive machinery” of the Islamic Republic, “hardliner”, a violator of human rights, mass executioner, anti-Western fanatic, or simply “killer”. Amnesty International even called for him to be investigated as perpetrator of crimes against humanity.

Facts are more prosaic. Raeisi, born in Mashhad, has a PhD in jurisprudence and fundamentals of Islamic law and a further jurisprudence degree from the Qom seminary. His previous positions include member of the Assembly of Experts and chief of the Judiciary.

He may not have been exposed to the Western way of life, but he’s not “anti-Western” – as he believes Iran must interact with all nations. Yet foreign policy must follow Khamenei’s guidelines, which are very clear. Without understanding Khamenei’s worldview, any analysis of Iranian complexities is an idle sport. For essential background, please refer to my Asia Times e-book Persian Miniatures.

It all starts with Ayatollah Khomeini’s founding concept of an Islamic Republic, which was indeed influenced by Plato’s Republic as well as Muslim political philosopher al-Farabi’s Virtuous City (also Plato-influenced).

On the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Khamenei updated his concept of foreign policy, as part of a clear map for the future. This is absolutely required reading to understand what Iran is all about. An excellent analysis by Mansoureh Tajik emphasizes the ways the system strives for balance and justice. Khamenei could not be more straightforward when he writes,

Today, the challenge for the US is Iran’s presence at the borders surrounding the Zionist regime and dismantling the illegitimate influence and presence of America from West Asia, Islamic Republic’s defense of Palestinian fighters at the heart of the occupied territories, and defense of holy flag of Hizbullah and the Resistance in the entire region. If in those days, the West’s problem was preventing Iran from buying even the most primitive forms of arms for its defense, today, its challenge is to prevent the Iranian arms, military equipment, and drones reaching Hizbullah and the Resistance everywhere in the region. If in those days, America imagined it can overcome the Islamic System and the Iranian nation with the help of a few self-selling Iranian traitors, today, it is finding itself in need of a large coalition of tens of hostile yet impotent governments to fight Iran. Yet, it fails.”

In terms of Big Power politics, Iran’s “Look East” policy was devised by Khamenei – who fully vetted the $400 billion-worth Iran-China comprehensive strategic partnership, which is directly linked to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and also supports Iran joining the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).

So it’s Iran as a key Eurasian connectivity hub that is going to shape its geopolitical and geoeconomic future. And not the West, as Marandi stressed.

China will be investing in Iranian banking, telecom, ports, railways, public health and information technology – not to mention striking bilateral deals in weapons development and intel sharing.

On the Russian front, the impetus will come from the development of the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), which directly competes with an East to West overland corridor that can be hit anytime with extra-territorial American sanctions.

Iran has already struck an interim free trade agreement with the EAEU, active since October 2019. A full-fledged deal – with Iran as a full member – may be struck in the first few months of the Raeisi era, with important consequences for trade from the South Caucasus to wider Southwest Asia and even Southeast Asia: Vietnam and Singapore already have free trade zones with the EAEU.

The American rhetoric about Iran’s “isolation” does not fool anyone in Southwest Asia – as the developing interaction with China-Russia attests. Add to it Moscow’s reading of the “mood for deepening dialogue and developing contacts in the defense sphere”.

So this is what the Raeisi era is leading to: a more solid union of Iranian Shi’ism, socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Greater Eurasia Partnership. And it doesn’t hurt that state of the art Russian military technology is quietly surveying the evolving chessboard.

Between the lines of the Biden-Putin summit

Between the lines of the Biden-Putin summit

June 17, 2021

Biden hinted US wants Russia ‘back in the fold’ but Putin won’t being leaving China’s embrace any time soon

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at AsiaTimes

Let’s start with the written word.

In Geneva, the US and Russia issued a joint statement where we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Assorted Dr. Strangeloves will cringe – but at least the world has it in writing, and may breathe a sigh of relief with this breakthrough of sorts. That doesn’t mean that a “non-agreement capable” US industrial-military complex will abide.

Moscow and Washington also committed to engage in an “integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust.” The devil in the details is in which “near future” the dialogue will progress.

A first step is that ambassadors are returning to both capitals. Putin confirmed that the Russian Foreign Ministry and the State Department will “start consultations” following the new START-3 treaty extension for five years.

Equally important was the actual Rosebud in Geneva: the Minsk protocol. That was one of the key drivers for the White House to actually request the summit to the Kremlin – and not the other way around.

The US establishment was shaken by the lightning-flash military buildup in Russian territory contiguous to Donbas – which was a response to Kiev provocations (Putin: “We conduct exercises on our territory, but we do not conduct exercises dragging equipment and weapons to the US border”).

The message was duly received. There seems to be a change of posture by the US on Ukraine – implying the Minsk protocol is back.

But that can all be – once again – shadow play. Biden said,

“We agreed to pursue diplomacy related to the Minsk agreement.”

To “pursue diplomacy” not necessarily means strictly abiding by a deal already endorsed by the UN Security Council which is being disrespected by Kiev non-stop. But at least it implies diplomacy.

A benign reading would reveal that some red lines are finally being understood. Putin did allude to it: “In general, it is clear to us what our US partners talk about, and they do understand what we say, when it comes to the ‘red lines.’ But I should say frankly that we have not gone as far as placing the emphases in detail and distribute and share something.”

So no detail – at least not yet.

Giving away the game

Talking before boarding Air Force One out of Geneva, a relaxed Joe Biden seems to have given away the game – in a trademark self-deluded way.

He said, “Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now… They are being squeezed by China. They want desperately to remain a major power.”

This reveals a curious mix between zero knowledge about the complex, always evolving Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership and outright wishful thinking (“squeezed by China”, “desperate to remain a major power”).

Russia is a de facto major power. Yet Putin’s vision of complete Russian sovereignty can only flourish in a true multipolar world coordinated by a Concert of Sovereigns: a realpolitik-based Balance of Power.

That’s in sharp contrast to the unipolarity privileged by the Hegemon, whose establishment considers any political player calling for sovereignty and multipolarity as a sworn enemy.

This cognitive dissonance certainly was not removed by what Putin, Biden and their extended teams discussed at Villa La Grange.

It’s quite enlightening to revive the arc from Anchorage to Geneva – which I have been chronicling for Asia Times for the past three months. In Alaska, China was hurled into a dingy environment and received with insults at the diplomatic table – responded in kind by the formidable Yang Jiechi. Compare it with the Hollywood-style ceremonial in Geneva.

The difference in treatment offered to China and Russia once again gives away the game.

US ruling elites are totally paralyzed by the Russia-China strategic partnership. But their ultimate nightmare is that Berlin will understand that once again they are being used as cannon fodder – which they are as it’s been clearly visible throughout the Nord Stream 2 saga.

That might eventually propel Berlin into the ultimate Eurasian alliance with Russia-China. The recently signed Atlantic Charter signals that the ideal scenario for the Anglo-Americans – shades of WWII – is to have Germany and Russia as irreconcilable opposites.

So the main American goal in the somewhat quirky Putin-Biden photo op (Putin smirk meets Biden looking into the distance) was to trick Putin into thinking Washington wants Russia “back into the fold”, moving Moscow away from Beijing and avoiding a triple alliance with Berlin.

What about regional stability?

There were no substantial leaks from Geneva – at least not yet. We don’t know whether Lavrov and Blinken actually did much of the talking when only the four of them – plus translators – were in the library room.

At the extended meeting, notorious Maidan cookie distributor Victoria ‘F**k the EU’ Nuland had a seat on the table. That might imply that even if US-Russia agree on nuclear stability, regional stability remains largely off the table (Putin: “What is stable in supporting a coup in Ukraine?”)

Biden vaguely referred to US and Russia possibly working together on humanitarian aid to Syria. That was code for Idlib – where NATO’s Turkey is actively supporting jihadis of the al-Nusra kind. Not a word on illegal American occupation of Syrian territory – complete with oil smuggling, and the fact that the real humanitarian crisis in Syria is a direct result of US sanctions.

None of this was asked in both pressers. A passing word on Iran, another passing word on Afghanistan, not even a mention of Gaza.

Putin, in full command of the facts and insisting on logic, was clearly accommodating, emphasizing “no hostility” and “a willingness to understand each other”. Biden, to his credit, said disagreements were not dealt with in a “hyperbolic atmosphere” and his “agenda” is not directed against Russia.

Putin went into extreme detail explaining how Russia is “restoring lost infrastructure” in the Arctic. He’s “deeply convinced” the US and Russia should cooperate in the Arctic.

On cybersecurity, he was adamant that Moscow provided all information on US requests about cyber attacks, but never receives answers from the Americans. He emphasized most cyber attacks originate in the US.

On human rights: “Guantanamo is still working, does not comply with any international law”. And “torture was used in American prisons, including in Europe.”

Very important: they did touch upon, “casually”, the vaccine wars, and the “possibility” was evoked of mutual recognition of vaccines.

For the record: US mainstream media was invited for Putin’s presser – and felt free to lodge accusatory “questions” faithful to the “rogue Kremlin behavior” script while no Russian media whatsoever was allowed on Biden’s presser.

In a nutshell: applying Kissinger’s Divide and Rule to put a spanner in the Russia-China works was D.O.A. when you’re dealing with ultra-savvy players such as Putin and Lavrov.

Putin, in his presser, said, “I have no illusions, and there can be no illusions”. Later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked if Geneva would lead to the US being removed from Russia’s Unfriendly Nations list: “No…there are no grounds yet.”

Still, there are glimmers of hope. Stranger geopolitical things have happened. If warmongers are sidelined, 2021 might even end up as The Year of Strategic Stability.

The real B3W-NATO agenda

June 16, 2021

The real B3W-NATO agenda

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The West is the best

The West is the best

Get here and we’ll do the rest

Jim Morrison, The End

For those spared the ordeal of sifting through the NATO summit communique, here’s the concise low down: Russia is an “acute threat” and China is a “systemic challenge”.

NATO, of course, is just a bunch of innocent kids building castles in a sandbox.

Those were the days when Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay,

NATO’s first secretary-general, coined the trans-Atlantic purpose: to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

The Raging Twenties remix reads like “keep the Americans in, the EU down and Russia-China contained”.

So the North Atlantic (italics mine) organization has now relocated all across Eurasia, fighting what it describes as “threats from the East”. Well, that’s a step beyond Afghanistan – the intersection of Central and South Asia – where NATO was unceremoniously humiliated by a bunch of Pashtuns with Kalashnikovs.

Russia remains the top threat – mentioned 63 times in the communiqué. Current top NATO chihuahua Jens Stoltenberg says NATO won’t simply “mirror” Russia: it will de facto outspend it and surround it with multiple battle formations, as “we now have implemented the biggest reinforcements of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War”.

The communiqué is adamant: the only way for military spending is up. Context: the total “defense” budget of the 30 NATO members will grow by 4.1% in 2021, reaching a staggering $1.049 trillion ($726 billion from the US, $323 billion from assorted allies).

After all, “threats from the East” abound. From Russia, there are all those hypersonic weapons that baffle NATO generals; those large-scale exercises near the borders of NATO members; constant airspace violations; military integration with that “dictator” in Belarus.

As for the threats from China – South China Sea, Taiwan, the Indo-Pacific overall – it was up to the G7 to come up with a plan.

Enter “green”, “inclusive” Build Back Better World (B3W), billed as the Western “alternative” to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). B3W respects “our values” – which clownish British PM Boris Johnson could not help describing as building infrastructure in a more “gender neutral” or “feminine” way – and, further on down the road, will remove goods produced with forced labor (code for Xinjiang) from supply chains.

The White House has its own B3W spin: that’s a “values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership” which will be “mobilizing private-sector capital in four areas of focus – climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equality – with catalytic investments from our respective development institutions”

The initial “catalytic investments” for BW3 were estimated at $100 billion. No one knows how these funds will be coming from the “development institutions”.

Seasoned Global South observers already bet they will be essentially provided by IMF/World Bank “green” loans tied to private sector investment in selected emerging markets, with an eye on profit.

The White House is adamant that “B3W will be global in scope, from Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa and the Indo-Pacific”. Note the blatant attempt to match BRI’s reach.

All these “green” resources and new logistic chains financed by what will be a variant of Central Banks showering helicopter money would ultimately benefit G7 members, certainly not China.

And the “protector” of these new “green” geostrategic corridors will be – who else? – NATO. That’s the natural consequence of the “global reach” emphasized on the NATO 2030 agenda.

NATO as investment protector

“Alternative” infrastructure schemes already proliferate, geared to contain “Russia bullying” and “Chinese meddling” off from the EU. That’s the case of the Three Seas Initiative, where 12 EU member-states from Eastern Europe are supposed to better interconnect the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas.

This initiative is a pale copy of China’s 17+1 mechanism of integrating Eastern Europe as part of BRI – in this case forcing them to build very expensive infrastructure to receive very expensive American energy imports.

The offensive against “threats from the East” is bound to fail.

Dmitry Orlov has detailed how “Russia excels at building and operating huge energy, transportation and materials production systems” and, in parallel, how “the technosphere…has quietly relocated and is now busy telecommuting between Moscow and Beijing.”

As every geek knows, China is way ahead in 5G and is the world’s top market for chips. And now the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law – significantly approved right before the G7 in Cornwall – will “safeguard” Chinese companies from “unilateral and discriminatory measures imposed by foreign countries” and the US “long arm jurisdiction”, thus forcing Atlanticist capital to make a choice.

It’s China as a rising global power that in fact has proposed an “alternative” to the Global South in the first place, a counterpunch to the endless IMF/World Bank debt trap of the past decades. BRI is a highly complex sustainable development trade/investment strategy with the potential to integrate vast swathes of the Global South.

That’s a direct connection to Chairman Mao’s famous theory on the division of the Three Worlds ; the emphasis then on the post-colonial Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), of which China was a stalwart, now encompasses the whole Global South. In the end, it’s always about sovereignty against neocolonialism.

B3W is the Western, essentially American, reaction to BRI: try to scotch as many projects as possible while harassing China 24/7 in the process.

Unlike China or Germany, the US hardly manufactures products the Global South wants to buy; manufacturing accounts for only 5% of a US economy essentially propped up by the US dollar as reserve currency and the – dwindling – Pentagon’s Empire of Bases.

China churns out ten top engineers for every US “financial expert”. China has perfected what is known among bilingual tech experts as an effective system to make SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) development plans – and implement them.

The notion that the Global South will be convinced to privilege B3W – a hollow PR coup at best – over BRI is ludicrous. Yet NATO will be regimented to actively protect those investments that follow “our values”. One thing is certain: there will be blood.

Empire of Clowns vs. Yellow Peril

June 14, 2021

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

Empire of Clowns vs. Yellow Peril

Global South will be unimpressed by new B3W infrastructure scheme funded by private Western interests out for short-term profit 

It requires major suspension of disbelief to consider the G7, the self-described democracy’s most exclusive club, as relevant to the Raging Twenties. Real life dictates that even accounting for the inbuilt structural inequality of the current world system the G7’s economic output barely registers as 30% of the global total.

Cornwall was at best an embarrassing spectacle – complete with a mediocrity troupe impersonating “leaders” posing for masked elbow bump photo ops while on a private party with the 95-year-old Queen of England, everyone was maskless and merrily mingling about in an apotheosis of “shared values” and “human rights”.

Quarantine on arrival, masks enforced 24/7 and social distancing of course is only for the plebs.

The G7 final communique is the proverbial ocean littered with platitudes and promises. But it does contain a few nuggets. Starting with ‘Build Back Better’ – or B3 – showing up in the title. B3 is now official code for both The Great Reset and the New Green Deal.

Then there’s the Yellow Peril remixed, with the “our values” shock troops “calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” with a special emphasis on Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

The story behind it was confirmed to me by a EU diplomatic source, a realist (yes, there are some in Brussels).

All hell broke loose inside the – exclusive – G7 room when the Anglo-American axis, backed by spineless Canada, tried to ramrod the EU-3 plus Japan into an explicit condemnation of China in the final communiqué over the absolute bogus concentration camp “evidence” in Xinjiang. In contrast to politicized accusations of “crimes against humanity”, the best analysis of what’s really going on in Xinjiang has been published by the Qiao collective.

Germany, France and Italy – Japan was nearly invisible – at least showed some spine. Internet was shut off to the room during the really harsh “dialogue”. Talk about realism – a true depiction of “leaders” vociferating inside a bubble.

The dispute essentially pitted Biden – actually his handlers – against Macron, who insisted that the EU-3 would not be dragged into the logic of a Cold War 2.0. That was something that Merkel and Mario ‘Goldman Sachs’ Draghi could easily agree upon.

In the end the divided G7 table chose to agree on a Build Back Better World – or B3W – “initiative” to counter-act the Chinese-driven Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Reset or else

The White House, predictably, pre-empted the final G7 communiqué. A statement later retracted from their website, replaced by the official communique, made sure that, “the United States and our G7 partners remains deeply concerned by the use of all forms of forced labor in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities and supply chains of the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors – the main supply chains of concern in Xinjiang.”

“Forced labor” is the new mantra handily connecting the overlapping demonization of both Xinjiang and BRI. Xinjiang is the crucial hub connecting BRI to Central Asia and beyond. The new “forced labor” mantra paves the way for B3W to enter the arena as the “savior” human rights package.

Here we have a benign G7 “offering” the developing world a vague infrastructure plan that reflects their “values”, their “high standards” and their way of business, in contrast to the Yellow Peril’s trademark lack of transparency, horrible labor and environmental practices, and coercion methods.

Translation: after nearly 8 years since BRI, then named OBOR (One Belt, One Road) was announced by President Xi, and subsequently ignored and/or demonized 24/7, the Global South is supposed to be marveling at a vague “initiative” funded by private Western interests whose priority is short-term profit.

As if the Global South would fall for this remixed IMF/World Bank-style debt abyss. As if the “West” would have the vision, the appeal, the reach and the funds to make this scheme a real “alternative”.

There are zero details on how B3W will work, its priorities and where capital is coming from. B3W idealizers could do worse than learn from BRI itself, via Professor Wang Yiwei.

B3W has nothing to do with a trade/sustainable development strategy geared for the Global South. It’s an illusionist carrot dangling over those foolish enough to buy the notion of a world divided between “our values” and “autocracies”.

We’re back to the same old theme: armed with the arrogance of ignorance, the “West” has no idea how to understand Chinese values. Confirmation bias applies. Hence China as a “threat to the West”.

We’re the builders of choice

More ominously, B3W is yet another arm of the Great Reset.

To dig deeper into it, one could do worse than examining Building a Better World For All, by Mark Carney.

Carney is a uniquely positioned player: former governor of the Bank of England, UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, adviser to PM Boris “Global Britain” Johnson and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, and a trustee of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Translation: a major Great Reset, New Green Deal, B3W ideologue.

His book – which should be read in tandem with Herr Schwab’s opus on Covid-19 – preaches total control on personal freedoms as well as a reset on industry and corporate funding. Carney and Schwab treat Covid-19 as the perfect “opportunity” for the reset, whose benign, altruistic spin emphasizes a mere “regulation” of climate, business and social relations.

This Brave New Woke World brought to you by an alliance of technocrats and bankers – from the WEF and the UN to the handlers of hologram “Biden” – until recently seemed to be on a roll. But signs in the horizon reveal it’s far from a done deal.

Something uttered by B3W stalwart Tony Blair way back in January is quite an eye-opener: “It’s going to be a new world altogether… The sooner we grasp that and start to put in place the decisions [needed for a] deep impact over the coming years the better.”

So here Blair, in a Freudian slip, not only gives away the game (“deep impact over the coming years”, “new world altogether”) but also reveals his exasperation: the sheep are not being corralled as fast as necessary.

Well, Tony knows there’s always good old punishment: if you refuse the vaccine, you should remain under lockdown.

BBW, incidentally, accounts for a heterodox category of porn flics. B3W in the end may reveal itself as no more than toxic social porn.

G7: Desperately Seeking Relevancy

G7: Desperately Seeking Relevancy

June 09, 2021

A G7 rebooted as a Sinophobic crusade will have few if any takers due to members’ rising dependence on Chinese goods and markets

by Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The upcoming G7 in Cornwall at first might be seen as the quirky encounter of “America is Back” with “Global Britain”.

The Big Picture though is way more sensitive. Three Summits in a Row – G7, NATO and US-EU – will be paving the way for a much expected cliffhanger: the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva – which certainly won’t be a reset.

The controlling interests behind the hologram that goes by the name of “Joe Biden” have a clear overarching agenda: to regiment industrialized democracies – especially those in Europe – and keep them in lockstep to combat those “authoritarian” threats to US national security, “malignant” Russia and China.

It’s like a throwback to those oh so stable 1970s Cold War days, complete with James Bond fighting foreign devils and Deep Purple subverting communism. Well, the times they are-a-changin’. China is very much aware that now the Global South “accounts for almost two-thirds of the global economy compared to one-third by the West: in the 1970s, it was exactly the opposite.”

For the Global South – that is, the overwhelming majority of the planet – the G7 is largely irrelevant. What matters is the G20.

China, the rising economic superpower, hails from the Global South, and is a leader in the G20. For all their internal troubles, EU players in the G7 – Germany, France and Italy – cannot afford to antagonize Beijing in economic, trade and investment terms.

A G7 rebooted as a Sinophobic crusade will have no takers. Including Japan and special guests at Cornwall: tech powerhouse South Korea, and India and South Africa (both BRICS members), offered the dangling carrot of a possible extended membership.

Washington’s wishful thinking cum P.R. offensive boils down to selling itself as the primus inter pares of the West as a revitalized global leader. Why the Global South is not buying it can be observed, graphically, by what happened for the past eight years. The G7 – and especially the Americans – simply could not respond to China’s wide-ranging, pan-Eurasian trade/development strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The American “strategy” so far – 24/7 demonization of BRI as a “debt trap” and “forced labor” machine – did not cut it. Now, too little too late, comes a G7 scheme, involving “partners” such as India, to “support”, at least in theory, vague “high-quality projects” across the Global South: that’s the Clean Green Initiative , focused on sustainable development and green transition, to be discussed both at the G7 and the US-EU summits.

Compared to BRI, Clean Green Initiative hardly qualifies as a coherent geopolitical and geoeconomic strategy. BRI has been endorsed and partnered by over 150 nation-states and international bodies – and that includes more than half of the EU’s 27 members.

Facts on the ground tell the story. China and ASEAN are about to strike a “comprehensive strategic partnership” deal. Trade between China and the Central and Eastern European Countries (CCEC), also known as the 17+1 group, including 12 EU nations, continues to increase. The Digital Silk Road, the Health Silk Road and the Polar Silk Road keep advancing.

So what’s left is loud Western rumbling about vague investments in digital technology – perhaps financed by the European Investment Bank, based in Luxembourg – to cut off China’s “authoritarian reach” across the Global South.

The EU-US summit may be launching a “Trade and Technology Council” to coordinate policies on 5G, semiconductors, supply chains, export controls and technology rules and standards. A gentle reminder: the EU-US simply do not control this complex environment. They badly need South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

Wait a minute, Mr. Taxman

To be fair, the G7 may have rendered a public service to the whole world when their Finance Ministers struck an alleged “historic” deal last Saturday in London on a global, minimal 15% tax on multinational companies (MNCs).

Triumphalism was in order – with endless praise lavished on “justice” and “fiscal solidarity” coupled with really bad news for assorted fiscal paradises.

Well, that’s slightly more complicated.

This tax has been discussed at the highest levels of the OECD in Paris for over a decade now – especially because nation-states are losing at least $427 billion a year in tax-dodging by MNCs and assorted multi-billionaires. In terms of the European scenario that does not even account for the loss of V.A.T. by fraud – something gleefully practiced by Amazon, among others.

So it’s no wonder G7 Finance Ministers had $1.6 trillion-worth Amazon pretty much on their sights. Amazon’s cloud computing division should be treated as a separate entity. In this case the mega-tech group will have to pay more corporate tax in some of its largest European markets – Germany, France, Italy, UK – if the global 15% tax is ratified.

So yes, this is mostly about Big Tech – master experts on fiscal fraud and profiting from tax paradises located even inside Europe, such as Ireland and Luxembourg. The way the EU was built, it allowed fiscal competition between nation-states to fester. To discuss this openly in Brussels remains a virtual taboo. In the official EU list of fiscal paradises, one won’t find Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Malta.

So could this all be just a P.R. coup? It’s possible. The major problem is that at the European Council – where governments of EU member-states discuss their issues – they have been dragging their feet for a long time, and sort of delegated the whole thing to the OECD.

As it stands, details on the 15% tax are still vague – even as the US government stands to become the largest winner, because its MNCs have shifted massive profits all across the planet to avoid US corporate taxes.

Not to mention that nobody knows if, when and how the deal will be globally accepted and implemented: that will be a Sisyphean task. At least it will be discussed, again, at the G20 in Venice in July.

What Germany wants

Without Germany there would not have been real advance on the EU-China Investment Agreement late last year. With a new US administration, the deal is stalled again. Outgoing chancellor Merkel is against China-EU economic decoupling – and so are German industrialists. It will be quite a treat to watch this subplot at the G7.

In a nutshell: Germany wants to keep expanding as a global trading power by using its large industrial base, while the Anglo-Saxons have completely ditched their industrial base to embrace non-productive financialization. And China for its part wants to trade with the whole planet. Guess who’s the odd player out.

Considering the G7 as a de facto gathering of the Hegemon with its hyenas, jackals and chihuahuas, it will also be quite a treat to watch the semantics. What degree of “existential threat” will be ascribed to Beijing – especially because for the interests behind the hologram “Biden” the real priority is the Indo-Pacific?

These interests could not give a damn about a EU yearning for more strategic autonomy. Washington always announces its diktats without even bothering to previously consult Brussels.

So this is what this Triple X of summits – G7, NATO and EU-US – will be all about: the Hegemon pulling all stops to contain/harass the emergence of a rising power by enlisting its satrapies to “fight” and thus preserve the “rules-based international order” it designed over seven decades ago.

History tells uss it won’t work. Just two examples: the British and French empires could not stop the rise of the US in the 19th century; and even better, the Anglo-American axis only stopped the simultaneous rise of Germany and Japan by paying the price of two world wars, with the British empire destroyed and Germany back again as the leading power in Europe.

That should give the meeting of “America is Back” and “Global Britain” in Cornwall the status of a mere, quirky historical footnote.

How St. Petersburg is mapping the Eurasian Century

How St. Petersburg is mapping the Eurasian Century

June 04, 2021

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

It’s impossible to understand the finer points of what’s happening on the ground in Russia and across Eurasia, business-wise, without following the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

So let’s cut to the chase, and offer a few choice examples of what is discussed on top panels.

The Russian Far East – Here’s a discussion on the – largely successful – strategies boosting productive investment in industry and infrastructure across the Russian Far East. Manufacturing in Russia grew by 12.2% between 2015 and 2020; in the Far East it was almost double, 23.1%. And from 2018 to 2020, per capita investment in fixed capital was 40% higher than the national average. The next steps center on improving infrastructure; opening global markets to Russian companies; and most of all, finding the necessary funds (China? South Korea?) for advanced tech.

St. Isaac’s cathedral, St. Petersburg

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – As I’ve seen for myself in previous editions of the forum, there’s nothing remotely similar in the West in terms of seriously discussing an organization like the SCO – which has progressively evolved from its initial security focus towards a wide-ranging politico-economic role.

Russia presided the SCO in 2019-2020, when foreign policy got a fresh impetus and the socioeconomic consequences of Covid-19 were seriously addressed. Now the collective emphasis should be on how to turn these member nations – especially the Central Asian “stans” – more attractive for global investors. Panelists include former SCO secretary-general Rashid Alimov, and the current one, Vladimir Norov.

Eurasian partnership – This discussion involves what should be one of the key nodes of the Eurasian Century: the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC). An important historical precedent apply: the 8th-9th centuries Volga trade route that connected Western Europe to Persia – and could now be extended, in a variation of the Maritime Silk Road, all the way to ports in India. That raises a number of questions, ranging from the development of trade and technology to the harmonic implementation of digital platforms. Here one finds panelists from Russia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

The Greater Eurasian partnership – Greater Eurasia is the overarching Russian concept applied to the consolidation of the Eurasian Century. This discussion is largely focused on Big Tech, including full digitalization, automated managing systems and Green growth. The question is how a radical tech transition could work for pan-Eurasia interests.

And that’s where the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) comes in: how the EAEU’s drive for a Greater Eurasian Partnership should work in practice. Panelists include the chairman of the board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, Mikhail Myasnikovich, and a relic from the Yeltsin past: Anatoliy Chubais, who is now Putin’s special representative for “relations with international organizations to achieve sustainable development goals.”

Gotta ditch all those greenbacks

Arguably the most eye-catching panel on SPIEF was on the post-Covid-19 “new normal” (or abnormal), and how economics will be reshaped. An important sub-section is how Russia can possibly capitalize on it, in terms of productive growth. That was a unique opportunity to see IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, Russian Central Bank governor Elvira Nabiullina and Russian Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov debating on the same table.

It was Siluanov who in fact commanded all the SPIEF-related headlines when he announced that Russia will totally ditch the US dollar in the structure of the National Wealth Fund (NWF) – the de facto Russian sovereign wealth fund – as well as reduce the share of the British pound. The NWF will have more euros and yuan, more gold, and the yen’s share remains stable.

This ongoing de-dollarization process has been more than predictable. In May, for the first time, less than 50% of Russian exports were denominated in US dollars.

Siluanov explained that the sales of roughly $119 billion in liquid assets will go through the Russian Central Bank, and not through financial markets. In practice, that will be a simple technical transfer of euros to the NWF. The Central Bank after all has been steadily getting rid of the US dollars for years now.

Sooner or later, China will follow. In parallel, some nations across Eurasia, in an extremely discreet manner, are also bypassing what is de facto the currency of a debt-based economy – to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars, as Michael Hudson has been explaining in detail. Not to mention that transacting US dollars exposes whole nations to an extra-territorial, extortionary judicial machine.

On the all-important Chinese-Russian front, permeating all the discussions at SPIEF, is the fact that a pool of Chinese technical knowhow and Russian energy is more than able to solidify a massive pan-Eurasian market capable of dwarfing the West. History tells us that in 1400, India and China were responsible for half of the world’s GDP.

As the West wallows in a self-induced Build Back Better collapse, the Eurasian caravan seems unstoppable. But then, there are those pesky US sanctions.

The Valdai Discussion Club Session dug deeper into the hysteria: sanctions serving a political agenda are threatening vast swathes of the world economic and financial infrastructure. So we’re back once again to the inescapable syndrome of the weaponized US dollar – deployed against India buying Iranian oil and Russian military hardware, or against Chinese tech companies.

Panelists including Russian Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Kolychev and the UN Special Rapporteur on the “Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights”, Alena Douhan, debated the inevitable new escalation of anti-Russian sanctions.

Another running theme underneath the SPIEF debates is that, whatever happens on the sanctions front, Russia already has an alternative to SWIFT, and so does China. Both systems are compatible with SWIFT in software, so other nations may also be able use it.

No less than 30% of SWIFT’s traffic involves Russia. If that “nuclear “option” would ever come to pass, nations trading with Russia would almost certainly ditch SWIFT. On top of it, Russia, China and Iran – the “threat” trio to the Hegemon – have currency swap agreements, bilaterally and with other nations.

SPIEF this year has taken place only a few days before the G7, NATO and US-EU summits – which will graphically highlight European geopolitical irrelevancy, reduced to the status of a platform for US power projection.

And taking place less than two weeks before the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva, SPIEF most of all performed a public service for those who care to notice, charting some of the most important practical contours of the Eurasian Century.

It’s a Nikolai Patrushev-Yang Jiechi world

May 31, 2021

It’s a Nikolai Patrushev-Yang Jiechi world

As Sino-Russo-Iranophobia dissolves in sanctions and hysteria, mapmakers carve the post-unilateral order

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

It’s the Nikolai Patrushev-Yang Jiechi show – all over again. These are the two players running an up and coming geopolitical entente, on behalf of their bosses Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Last week, Yang Jiechi – the director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee – visited Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow. That was part of the 16thround of China-Russia strategic security consultations.

What’s intriguing is that Yang-Patrushev happened between the Blinken-Lavrov meeting on the sidelines of the Arctic Council summit in Reykjavik, and the upcoming and highest-ranking Putin-Biden in Geneva on June 16 (possibly at the Intercontinental Hotel, where Reagan and Gorbachev met in 1985).

The Western spin before Putin-Biden is that it might herald some sort of reset back to “predictability” and “stability” in currently extra-turbulent US-Russia relations.

That’s wishful thinking. Putin, Patrushev and Lavrov harbor no illusions. Especially when in the G7 in London, in early May, the Western focus was on Russia’s “malign activities” as well as China’s “coercive economic policies.”

Russian and Chinese analysts, in informal conversations, tend to agree that Geneva will be yet another instance of good old Kissingerian divide and rule, complete with a few seducing tactics to lure Moscow away from Beijing, an attempt to bide some time and probing openings for laying out geopolitical traps. Old foxes such as Yang and Patrushev are more than aware of the game in play.

What’s particularly relevant is that Yang-Patrushev laid the groundwork for an upcoming Putin visit to Xi in Beijing not long after Putin-Biden in Geneva – to further coordinate geopolitically, once again, the “comprehensive strategic partnership”, in their mutually recognized terminology.

The visit might take place on July 1, the hundredth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party – or on July 16, the 20thanniversary of the China-Russia Treaty of Friendship.

So Putin-Biden is the starter; Putin-Xi is the main course.

That Putin-Luka tea for two

Beyond the Russian president’s “outburst of emotions” comment defending his Belarusian counterpart’s action, the Putin-Lukashenko tea for two in Sochi yielded an extra piece of the puzzle concerning the RyanAir emergency landing in Minsk– starring a blogger from Belarus who is alleged to have lent his services to the ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazi-ridden Azov battalion, which fought against the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Ukrainian Donbass in 2014.

Lukashenko told Putin he had “brought along some documents so you can understand what is going on.” Nothing has been leaked regarding the contents of these documents, but it’s possible they may be incandescent – related to the fact that sanctions were imposed by the EU against Belavia Airlines even though the carrier had nothing to do with the RyanAir saga – and potentially capable of being brought up in the context of Putin-Biden in Geneva.

The Big Picture is always Eurasia versus the Atlanticist West. As much as Washington will keep pushing Europe – and Japan – to decouple from both China and Russia, Cold War 2.0 on two simultaneous fronts has very few takers.

Rational players see that the 21st century combined scientific, economic and military power of a Russia-China strategic partnership would be a whole new ball game in terms of global reach compared with the former USSR/Iron Curtain era.

And when it comes to appealing to the Global South, and the new iterations of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), emphasis on an international order upholding the UN Charter and the rule of international law is definitely sexier than a much-vaunted “rules-based international order” where only the hegemon sets the rules.

In parallel to Moscow’s lack of illusions about the new Washington dispensation, the same applies to Beijing – especially after the latest outburst by Kurt Campbell, the former Obama-Biden 1.0 assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific who is now back as the head of Indo-Pacific Affairs on the National Security Council under Obama-Biden 3.0.

Campbell is the actual father of the ‘pivot to Asia’ concept when he was at the State Department in the early 2010s – although as I pointed out during the 2016 US presidential campaign, it was Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State who claimed Mothership of the pivot to Asia in an October 2011 essay.

At a gig promoted by Stanford University last week, Campbell said, “The period that was broadly described as engagement [with China] has come to an end.” After all, the “pivot to Asia” never really died, as there has been a clear Trump-Biden continuum.

Campbell obfuscated by talking about a “new set of strategic parameters” and the need to confront China by working with “allies, partners and friends”. Nonsense: this is all about the militarization of the Indo-Pacific.

That’s what Biden himself reiterated during his first address to a joint session of the US Congress, when he boasted about telling Xi that the US will “maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific” just as it does with NATO in Europe.

The Iranian factor

On a different but parallel track with Yang-Patrushev, Iran may be on the cusp of a momentous directional change. We may see it as part of a progressive strengthening of the Arc of Resistance – which links Iran, the People’s Mobilization Units in Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and now a more unified Palestine.

The proxy war on Syria was a tragic, massive fail on every aspect. It did not deliver secular Syria to a bunch of takfiris (aka “moderate rebels”). It did not prevent the expansion of Iran’s sphere of influence.  It did not derail the Southwest Asia branch of the New Silk Roads. It did not destroy Hezbollah.

“Assad must go”? Dream on; he was reelected with 95% of Syrian votes, with a 78% turnout.

As for the upcoming Iranian presidential election on June 18 – only two days after Putin-Biden – it takes place when arguably the nuclear deal revival drama being enacted in Vienna will have reached an endgame. Tehran has repeatedly stressed that the deadline for a deal expires today, May 31.

The impasse is clear. In Vienna, through its EU interlocutors, Washington has agreed to lift sanctions on Iranian oil, petrochemicals and the central bank, but refuses to remove them on individuals such as members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

At the same time, in Tehran, something very intriguing happened with Ali Larijani, former Parliament speaker, an ambitious member of a quite prominent family but discarded by the Guardian Council when it chose candidates to run for President. Larijani immediately accepted the ruling. As I was told by Tehran insiders, that happened with no friction because he received a detailed explanation of something much bigger: the new game in town.

As it stands, the one positioned as the nearly inevitable winner on June 18 seems to be Ebrahim Raeisi, up to now the chief justice – and close to the Revolutionary Guards. There’s a very strong possibility that he will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to leave Iran – and that means the end of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as we knew it, with unforeseen consequences. (From the Revolutionary Guards’ point of view, the JCPOA is already dead).

An extra factor is that Iran is currently suffering from severe drought – when summer has not even arrived. The power grid will be under tremendous pressure. The dams are empty – so it’s impossible to rely on hydroelectric power. There’s serious popular discontent regarding the fact that Team Rouhani for eight years prevented Iran from obtaining nuclear power. One of Raeisi’s first acts may be to command the immediate construction of a nuclear power plant.

We don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowin’ when it comes to the top three “existential threats” to the declining hegemon – Russia, China and Iran. What’s clear is that none of the good old methods deployed to maintain the subjugation of the vassals is working – at least when confronted by real sovereign powers.

As Sino-Russo-Iranophobia dissolves in a fog of sanctions and hysteria, mapmakers like Yang Jiechi and Nikolai Patrushev relentlessly carve the post-unilateral order.

The Iranian presidential shocker

The Iranian presidential shocker

May 26, 2021

The undisputed leader of the tightly vetted pack is soft hardliner Ebrahim Raeisi, the Islamic Republic’s Chief Justice

by Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

When Iran’s Interior Ministry released on Tuesday the final list of candidates approved by the 12-member Guardian Council to run for President in the upcoming June 18 election, all hell was breaking loose in Tehran for at least 24 hours.

An “unofficial” list of the 7 candidates for the presidential election was already circulating and causing quite a stir, but not confirmed yet to be final.

The talk of the town was that the list barred a lot of important people. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was out. So was Ali Larijani – a former Parliament speaker, and even the current Iranian Vice President, Es’haq Jahangiri, who should be the top reformist running.

The Fars news agency had broken the story on Monday, announcing the final 7. They got everything right – from the elimination of Ahmadinejad, Larijani and Jahangiri to the fact that no women candidates were approved.

Fars is very close to the IRGC. So what happened makes perfect sense. Including the rumors swirling around Tehran that outgoing President Rouhani went into panic mode, calling Ayatollah Khamenei for a revision of the list.

As it stands, the Magnificent Seven who will be running are Ebrahim Raeisi, Saeed Jalili, Mohsen Rezaei, Alireza Zakani, Seyyed Amir-Hossein, Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Albdolnasser Hemmati and Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh.

The undisputed leader of the pack is Raeisi, the head of the Judiciary since 2019. He is technically a Principlist – an Islamic Revolution conservative, in Iranian terms – but says he will run as an independent. Call him a soft hardliner.

Among the others, the only one relatively known outside of Iran is Jalili, also a Principlist, and former top nuclear negotiator as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council from 2007 to 2013.

At least in thesis, two reformists are left: Mehr-Alizadeh and Hemmati, the current governor of the Central Bank. But they have no national appeal.

So Raeisi now seems to be nearly a done deal: a relatively faceless bureaucrat without the profile of an IRGC hardliner, well known for his anti-corruption fight and care about the poor and downtrodden. On foreign policy, the crucial fact is that he will arguably follow crucial IRGC dictates.

Raeisi is already spinning that he “negotiated quietly” to secure the qualification of more candidates, “to make the election scene more competitive and participatory”. The problem is no candidate has the power to sway the opaque decisions of the 12-member Guardian Council, composed exclusively by clerics: only Ayatollah Khamenei.

The Guardian Council cryptically stated that only 40 out of 592 candidates had submitted “all the required documents” to the Interior Ministry’s election HQ. There was no explanation about the content of these “documents”.

Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaee, the Council’s spokesman, dismissed any politicking: decisions were made based on “election law”. So no one can contest them – except Khamenei. He stressed that the Council “had not been informed” of any action by the Leader.

The end of the reformist era

Vice President Jahangiri, who would have been the reformist standard bearer, did not take it lightly: in a forceful statement, he said, “the Council naturally bears the responsibility for the decision and its legal basis and for the political and social consequences arising from it.”

More crucially for the Tehran establishment, he highlighted a “serious threat” to the system: “I hope that the republican aspect of the establishment, the effective participation of the people in determining their own fate, the national interests, and the future of Iran will not be sacrificed to immediate political expediencies.”

Advisers to former President Ahmadinejad – still extremely popular nationally – told me they are still weighing their options: “It is a very big disappointment, but expected. A big mistake, that will lead to anger and distrust among common people, and eventually backlash.”

Professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran remarked, “there’s still some uncertainty about the candidates.” He’s not making a full assessment yet because he’s not sure the vetoing of Larijani, especially, “will be the final say”.

Even as the Magnificent Seven are now free to start campaigning, the overall sentiment is that the Rouhani-Zarif era seems to be over, not with a bang but a whimper.

At the JCPOA negotiations in Vienna, Iranian deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi continues to sound as a realist, stressing, “I am not confident that it would be possible to conclude the negotiations but there is a possibility.” That would require “political decisions to be made”, a direct reference to Washington.

Everyone in Vienna knows that what was agreed to far on the JCPOA revival was the easy part. The real problem are the remaining hundreds of sanctions that must be canceled by the US Congress – and that’s not gonna happen.

Besides, the Americans continue to insist that Tehran should first resume the nuclear commitments it has suspended – following its legal retaliation rights as defined by Article 26 of the JCPOA. Tehran’s red line is clear: it was Washington which ditched the JCPOA, so it’s up to the US to first remove all sanctions, “practically and verifiably”.

Tehran has reiterated over and over again it will walk out of Vienna by the end of May if there’s no deal. The IRGC couldn’t care less: they are already in post-JCPOA mode. Focused on the Iran-China strategic deal. Focused on wider Eurasia integration alongside Russia and China. And relying on the perfect candidate placed to become the next Iranian president.

The mask of “liberal democracy” falls with a bang

May 17, 2021

The mask of “liberal democracy” falls with a bang

By Pepe Escobar for The Saker Blog and thereafter widely distributed

Nakba, May 15, 2021. Future historians will mark the day when Western “liberal democracy” issued a graphic proclamation: We bomb media offices and destroy “freedom of the press” in an open air concentration camp while we forbid peaceful demonstrations under a state of siege in the heart of Europe.

And if you revolt, we cancel you.

6 members of the same family assassinated at this bombing in Beit Lahia

Gaza meets Paris. The bombing of the al-Jalaa tower – an eminently residential building which also housed the bureaus of al-Jazeera and AP, among others – by “the only democracy in the Middle East” is directly connected to the verboten order carried out by Macron’s Ministry of Interior.

For all practical purposes Paris endorsed the occupying power’s provocations in East Jerusalem; the invasion of al-Aqsa mosque – complete with tear gas and stun grenades; racist Zionist gangs harassing and crying “death to Arabs”; armed settlers aggressing Palestinian families threatened with expulsion from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan; a campaign of carpet bombing whose lethal victims – on average – are 30% children.

Paris crowds were not intimidated. From Barbes to Republique, they marched in the streets – their rallying cry being Israel assassin, Macron complice. They instinctively understodood that Le Petit Roi – a puny Rothschild employee – had just firebombed the historical legacy of the nation that coined the Déclaration Universelle des Droits de L’Homme.

The mask of “liberal democracy” kept falling again and again in a loop – with imperial Big Tech dutifully canceling the voices of Palestinians and defenders of Palestine en masse, in tandem with a diplomatic kabuki that could fool only the already brain-dead.

On May 16, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired a United States Security Council (UNSC) debate via video link that had been stalled by Washington, non-stop, throughout the week. China presides the UNSC throughout May.

The UNSC could not even agree on a mere joint statement. Once again because the UNSC was blocked by the – cowardly – Empire of Chaos.

It was up to Hua Liming, former Chinese ambassador to Iran, to break it all down in a single sentence:

“The US doesn’t want to give the credit of mediating the Palestine-Israel conflict to China, especially when China is the president of the UNSC.”

The usual imperial procedure is to “talk”, “offer you can’t refuse” Mafia-style, to both sides under the table – as the combo behind Crash Test Dummy, an avowed Zionist, had already admitted on an appalling White House tweet “reaffirming” its “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself”.

Liming emphasized, correctly, “this is the key reason why any solution or ceasefire between Israel and Gaza or other forces in the region would be temporary.”

The whole Global South is incessantly bombarded by the imperial “human rights” rhetoric – from convicted crook Navalny to fake reports on Xinjiang. Yet when there is a real human rights catastrophe unleashed by the settler colonialist ally’s carpet bombing, Liming pointed out how “the hypocrisy and double standards of the US have been exposed again”.

One phone call can stop it

Amos Yadlin is the former IDF Military Intelligence Directorate chief, and also former Israeli military attaché to the US.

In a meeting with South African Zionists, he admitted the obvious: the Zionist carnage against Gaza can be stopped by Crash Test Dummy – who happens to be, what else, a Zionist puppet.

Yadlin claimed that the Crash Test Dummy administration, rather the combo behind it, was getting “impatient” and he would be “not surprised if this will all stop in 48 hours.” And once again he had to reinforce the obvious: “When the Egyptians ask Israel to stop, Israel doesn’t want to stop. But if the Americans will ask Israel to stop, Israel will have to listen.”

The Empire practices trademark doublespeak when referring to the “international community” – which in theory gathers at the UN. The concomitant 24/7 propaganda barrage applies only to the motley crew of partners in crime, minions, lackeys, poodles and vassals, imperially ignoring and/or pissing on the heads of over 80% of the planet. Confronted with the reality of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and others, “rules-based international order” does not even qualify as a joke for retards.

So next time you see some sub-zoology specimen deploying the “Israel has the right to defend itself” Maximum Stupidity argument, the only possible response is to unleash facts as missiles.

Every sentient being with a conscience knows Palestine faces a racist settler colonialism project boasting an armed-to-the-hilt-military and several nuclear bombs, specialized in practicing state terrorism.

Gaza though is a particularly horrifying case. Population: nearly 2 million people. One of the top densely populated areas on the planet. A de facto open air concentration camp where no less than 50% are children, one in ten stunted to a great extent because of food shortages provoked by the Israeli blockade. The official Israeli military plan is to allow just enough food in so the whole population barely survives. 50% of the population depends on food aid.

No less than 70% of families are refugees, who were ethnically cleansed from what is now southern Israel: there are roughly 1.46 million refugees out of a population of 1.9 million.

Gaza has 8 refugee camps – some being bombed as we speak. Never forget that Israel ruled Gaza directly from 1967 to 2005 and did less than zero to better their appalling conditions.

There are only 22 health centers, 16 social services offices and 11 food distribution centers, serving roughly 1 million people. No airport or port: both destroyed by Israel. The unemployment rate is 50% – the highest on the whole planet. Clean water is available to only 5% of the population.

But then there’s the Resistance. Elijah Magnier has shown how they have already pierced Israel’s pre-fabricated aura of invulnerability and “prestige” – and there’s only one way to go, as the speed, accuracy, range and potency of rockets and missiles can only improve.

In parallel, in a wise strategic move, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have made it very clear they prefer that Hezbollah does not get itself directly involved – for now, thus allowing the whole Global South to be focused on the carnage perpetrated against Gaza.

“A landscape of iron and desolation”

Sociologie de Jerusalem, by Sylvaine Bulle, is a short but quite illuminating book showing how the battle for East Jerusalem is as imperative for the future of Palestine as the tragedy in Gaza.

Bulle focuses on the “internal racism” in Israel directly linked to the hegemony of extreme-right Zionist “elites”. A key consequence has been the “peripherization” and marginalization of East Jerusalem, thrown into a situation of “forced dependence” of Westernized West Jerusalem.

Bulle shows how East Jerusalem only exists as “a landscape of iron and desolation”, through a juxtaposition of ultra-dense and totally abandoned zones. Palestinians who live in these areas are not regarded or respected as citizens.

Beit Lahia – the horrifying detail

It got much worse after 2004 and the construction of The Wall – which prevented the daily mobility of Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the Palestinians in Jerusalem. That was an extra fracture, with parts of East Jerusalem isolated on the other side of the wall and a lot of people now living in a real no man’s land. Very few across the “liberal democratic” West have any idea how does that feel in practice.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem don’t have Israeli nationality. Most have Jordanian passports. Yet now even Palestinians with Israeli nationality are rebelling – in most cases in very poor towns in the center of the country. Young generations simply have no reason to believe they belong in Israel.

As for Israeli secular leftists, they have been “neutralized” and carry no political power, as they were incapable of integrating the working masses, which in turn were completely captured by hardcore religious extremists.

Bulle’s conclusion, expressed with way too much diplomacy (this is France, after all), is inevitable: the state of Israel is more and more Jewish and less and less democratic, a de facto Zionist regime. She believes it might be possible to rebuild the link between Jewish national identity and democracy, including the rights of Palestinian minorities.

Sorry, but that’s not gonna happen, as the current tragedy, which started in East Jerusalem, graphically shows.

The Via Dolorosa continues – as we all watch in horror. Just imagine the inter-galactic Western levels of hysteria if Russia or China were bombing, firing shells and missiles and killing children in residential areas. No wonder the Empire of Chaos – and Lies, posing as a “liberal democracy” while enabling the murderous Zionist project, is firmly flirting with the dustbin of History.


Pepe Escobar’s new book is Raging Twenties. Follow him on VKTelegram and Instagram.

So what if the Ottomans shaped the modern world?

So what if the Ottomans shaped the modern world?

May 15, 2021

Erdogan is mesmerized by Calilph Selim but, unlike Machiavelli, he doesn’t fear him; he wants to emulate him

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at the Asia Times

Once upon a time in Anatolia, in the late 13th century a Turkic principality – one of many shaped in the wake of the Mongol invasion of the 1240s – consigned the Seljuk Turks to the past and emerged as the Ottoman emirate. It was named after its founder, Osman I.

By the middle of the 15th century, the time of the game-changing conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II, the expanding Ottoman empire had absorbed virtually all its neighboring Turkic emirates.

And by the start of the 16th century, what sprang up was a multi-religious and multi-ethnic empire that – pragmatic and tolerant – ruled for four centuries over the Balkans, Anatolia and Southwest Asia.

Talk about a major historical riddle: How did a small principality in the western fringe of what used to be known as Asia Minor turn into what could arguably be defined as Islam’s most important empire? The key to unlocking the riddle may be offered by Sultan Selim I.

God’s Shadow, which in its original English edition (Faber & Faber) is subtitled The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World, may reveal that author Alan Mikhail, chair of the Department of History at Yale, is uniquely qualified to argue the case.

Mehmet II, who with his endless obsession and cunning extinguished the Byzantine empire on the fateful May 29, 1453, when he was only 21, was a larger-than-life figure for peoples of the Mediterranean, the Balkans and Asia Minor.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Left) during an April 17, 2017, visit to the tomb of Yavuz Sultan Selim, a sultan of the former Ottoman Empire 1512-1520, in Istanbul, a day after Erdogan’s victory in a national referendum. Photo : AFP / Yasin Bulbul / Turkish Presidential Press Office

He bridged Europe and Asia. He refashioned Constantinople, renamed Istanbul, into the capital of the sprawling empire. He lorded over the silk roads from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The Fatih (“Conqueror”) assumed mythical proportions east and west – and even branded himself Caesar, heir to Byzantine emperors.

Mehmet II conquered the Balkans in the 1460s, finished off with Genoese trading colonies in Crimea and imposed vassalage over the Crimean Tatar Khanate in 1478. That meant, in practice, turning the Black Sea into a virtual Ottoman lake.

Author Mikhail stresses right at the start that the Ottoman Empire was the most powerful state on earth – more powerful than the Ming dynasty, not to mention the Safavids – for quite some time. It was the largest empire in the Mediterranean since ancient Rome and “the most enduring” in the history of Islam.

Then he sets the crux of the – explosive – thesis he will develop in detail: “It was the Ottoman monopoly of trade routes with the East, combined with their military prowess on land and on sea, that pushed Spain and Portugal out of the Mediterranean, forcing merchants and sailors from these 15th-century kingdoms to become global explorers as they risked treacherous voyages across oceans and around continents – all to avoid the Ottomans.”

This thesis will be extremely unpalatable to a hegemonic (at least for the past 150 years) West, now confronted with its turbulent decline. Mikhail does his best to show how, “from China to Mexico, the Ottoman empire shaped the known world at the turn of the 16th century.”

Obviously ideological, military and economic competition with the Spanish and Italian states – and then Russia, China and other Islamic states – was no holds barred. Still, Mikhail relishes showing how Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Montezuma, Luther, Tamerlan – one and all “calibrated their actions and defined their very existence in reaction to the reach and grasp of Ottoman power.”

Christopher Columbus taking leave of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon before setting out on his first voyage to the New World, August 8, 1492. Photo: AFP / Ann Ronan Picture Library

Geoeconomic superpower

It takes a lot of balls for a historian employed by an elite American university to offer a self-described “revolutionary” narrative on the role of Islam and the Ottomans in shaping not only the Old World, but also the New World. Mikhail is fully aware of how this will come as “a bitter pill for many in the West.”

Exit Muslims as the “terrorist.” Exit “the rise of the West.” Enter the Ottomans as a civilizing power. Mikhail is adamant: The practice “since the Industrial Revolution and the so-called glories of the 19th century” of stretching European primacy back to Columbus “is a historical absurdity.” The Ottoman empire “struck fear into the world for centuries before it earned its derogatory 19th-century sobriquet, ‘the sick man of Europe.’”

The fact is that, for all its setbacks, the Ottoman Empire – in over 600 years of history – remained the hegemon in the Middle East and one of the most important states in Europe, Africa and Asia until World War I. From 1453 up to the 19th century, the Ottomans remained “at the center of global politics, economics and war.”

Just imagine. Ottoman armies ruled over vast swaths of Europe, Africa and Asia; the most crucial Silk and non-Silk trade corridors; key city hubs along the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. They ruled over Damascus, Istanbul, Cairo, Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina. That’s a long way from their humble beginnings as sheepherders in desolate trails across Central Asia.

And then there’s the ultimate badass: Sultan Selim.

Mikhail spends a great deal of his narrative carefully setting the stage for the eruption of the quintessentially Machiavellian Selim, even before he became Sultan in 1512. Still in Trabzon, in the Black Sea, as provincial governor, consolidating the imperial forces in the East, by 1492 Selim was fully aware how the alliance between Istanbul and Cairo conditioned European trade in what US neo-cons not long ago called the “Greater Middle East.”

The Ottomans and the Mamluks – whom Selim would later destroy as Sultan – controlled all access to the East from the Mediterranean. This geoeconomic fact by itself destroys the fable of European ascendancy during the Renaissance and the much-lauded “Age of Exploration”; it was all about Ottoman control of trade and commerce.

If anyone in Europe wanted to trade with China and India, they would have to adjust to the Ottoman’s “my way or the highway.” The Venetians tried, and it didn’t work. Genoese Columbus went full highway. Mikhail relishes nothing more than showing how the voyages of Columbus, in so many ways, “were a response to the power of the Ottomans.” They were “the political force that shaped Columbus and his generation more than any other.”

Things get positively heavy metal when Columbus is depicted as a Christian jihadi, as “he used the notion of a global civilizational war between Christendom and Islam to push his case for the Atlantic voyage.” Queen Isabella ended up buying it.

And then it all went downhill, in a literally bloody way, as “the vocabulary of war with Islam became the language of the Spanish conquest in the Americas.” The West conveniently forgets that all indigenous peoples were required (Mikhail’s own italics) to acknowledge that the Catholic Church was the universal power and that their own belief systems were absolutely inferior.

From Selim to Erdogan

Machiavelli was a huge fan of the Ottomans, whom he admired and feared. He was particularly impressed by Selim’s strategic acumen, always prevailing over nearly impossible odds. Machiavelli finished The Prince in the exact same year – 1513 – when Selim eliminated his half-brothers to finally secure the Sultanate, which he had conquered in 1512.

Selim started with a bang – with no less than an economic blockade against the Safavids, outlawing the export of Persian silk from the Ottoman empire. (That trade had been how the Iranians reached the Eastern Mediterranean and the lucrative European markets.

Selim casually hanging out with crocodiles in Egypt. Photo: Miniature included in the book

Selim casually hanging out with crocodiles in Egypt. Photo: Miniature included in the book

Selim’s victory over the Safavids in the Battle of Chaldiran was intertwined with something immensely eventful; the Portuguese capture of ultra-strategic Hormuz in 1515. That was the first European possession in the Persian Gulf. And what a prize: The Portuguese would now have control over shipping to and from the Persian Gulf, as well as a key hub linking to their new colonies on India’s west coast.

After the battle between Christians and Muslims crossed the Atlantic, the stage was set for the next chapter: Ottomans and Portuguese fighting for global power in the Indian Ocean.

Selim was on a roll. First he took Syria – incorporating legendary Damascus and Aleppo. Then he smashed the Mamluks – and that meant not only Cairo but also Jerusalem, Mecca, Medina and even Yemen, with its strategic access to the Indian Ocean and infinite possibilities for Ottoman commerce, starting with a monopoly on the silk trade.

The Selim Sultanate lasted only 8 years, from 1512 to 1520 – with geopolitical tectonic plates moving non-stop. Luther plunged Christianity into a religious civil war. The Ottomans controlled more territory around the Mediterranean than any other power. The European imperial drive hit the Indian Ocean. And then there was the ultimate theological challenge presented by the ultimate Other: Native Americans, north and south. They could not possibly be part of “God’s creation.”

When he died in 1520, Selim – sultan and also caliph – thought that being the ruler of the world’s largest empire was a given. He was, indeed, “God’s shadow on Earth.”

By the end of the last chapter in the book, “American Selim,” Mikhail again tackles the most burning question: why (his italics) Columbus had to cross the Atlantic. In a nutshell: “Hoping for an alliance with the Grand Khan of the East, he aimed to retake Jerusalem and destroy Islam; more prosaically, his voyages promised an end-run around the trade monopolies of the Ottomans and the Mamluks.”

After Columbus arrived in the Americas, Europeans inevitably filtered their experiences “through the lens of their wars with Muslims” and engaged “in a new version of their very old Crusades, a new kind of Catholic jihad.” Nevertheless, “Islam would continue to forge the histories of both Europe and the New World and the relationship between the two.”

After so much drama, Mikhail and the book’s editors still manage to present an outstanding image in the next before the last page: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ceremoniously staring at Selim’s tomb in Istanbul in 2017, after winning a constitutional referendum that expanded his powers enormously.

Like Machiavelli, Erdogan is mesmerized by Selim. But, unlike Machiavelli, he does not fear him; he wants to emulate him. What – weaponized – imperial dreams still lurk in the mind of the neo-Ottoman sultan?

An empire in love with its Afghan cemetery

MAY 06, 2021

An empire in love with its Afghan cemetery

The New Great Game 3.0 is just beginning with a hat tip to Tacitus and dancing to the Hindu Kush groove

By Pepe Escobar with permission from the author and first posted at Asia Times

One cannot but feel mildly amused at the theatrical spectacle of the US troop pullout from Afghanistan, its completion day now postponed for maximum PR impact to 9/11, 2021.

Nearly two decades and a staggering US$2 trillion after this Forever War was launched by a now immensely indebted empire, the debacle can certainly be interpreted as a warped version of Mission Accomplished.

“They make a desert and call it peace,” said Tacitus – but in all of the vastness of the Pentagon there sits not a single flack who could imagine getting away with baldfacedly spinning the Afghan wasteland as peaceful.

Even the UN bureaucratic machinery has not been able to properly account for Afghan civilian deaths; at best they settled for 100,000 in only ten years. Add to that toll countless “collateral” deaths provoked by the massive social and economic consequences of the war.

Training and weaponizing the – largely inefficient – 300,000-plus Afghan Army cost $87 billion. “Economic aid and reconstruction” cost $54 billion: literally invisible hospitals and schools dot the Afghan landscape. A local chapter of the “war on drugs” cost $10 billion – at least with (inverted) tangible results: Afghanistan now generates 80% of the world’s opium.

All these embarrassing facts disappear under the shadow play of 2,500 “official” departing troops. What really matters is who’s staying: by no means just a few out of some 17,000 “contractors,” over 6,000 of whom are American citizens.

“Contractor” is a lovely euphemism for a bunch of mercenaries who, perfectly in tune with a shadow privatization drive, will now mingle with Special Forces teams and covert intel ops to conduct a still lethal variation of hybrid war.

Of course this development won’t replicate those David Bowie-style Golden Years in the immediate post-9/11 era. Ten years ago, following the Obama-Petraeus surge, no fewer than 90,000 contractors were dancing to the Hindu Kush groove, lavishly compensated by the Pentagon and dabbling in everything from construction, transportation and maintenance to “enhanced interrogation services.”

Collectively, this shadow army, a triumph of private enterprise many times cheaper than the state-sponsored model,  bagged at least $104 billion since 2002, and nearly $9 billion since 2016.

Now we’re supposed to trust CENTCOM commander General Kenneth McKenzie, who swears that “the U.S. contractors will come out as we come out.” Apparently the Pentagon press secretary was not briefed: “So on the contractors, we don’t know exactly.”

Some contractors are already in trouble, like Fluor Corporation, which is involved in maintenance and camp construction for no fewer than 70 Pentagon forward operating bases in northern Afghanistan. Incidentally, no Pentagon PR is explaining whether these FOBs will completely vanish.

Fluor was benefitting from something called LOGCAP – Logistics Civil Augmentation IV Program – a scheme set by the Pentagon at the start of Obama-Biden 1.0 to “outsource logistical military support.” Its initial five-year deal was worth a cool $7 billion. Now Fluor is being sued for fraud.

Enhancing stability forever

The current government in Kabul is led by a virtual nonentity, Ashraf Ghani. Like his sartorially glamorous predecessor Hamid Karzai, Ghani is a US creature, lording it over a rambling military force financed by Washington to the tune of $4 billion a year.

So of course Ghani is entitled to spin a rosy outlook for an Afghan peace process on the pages of Foreign Affairs.

It gets curioser and curioser when we add the incandescent issue that may have provoked the Forever War in the first place: al-Qaeda.

“former security coordinator for Osama bin Laden” is now peddling the idea that al-Qaeda may be back in the Hindu Kush. Yet, according to Afghan diplomats, there is no evidence that the Taliban will allow old-school al-Qaeda – the Osama/al-Zawahiri incarnation – to thrive again.

That’s despite the fact that Washington, for all practical purposes, has ditched the Doha Agreement signed in February 2020, which stipulated that the troop pullout should have happened this past Saturday, May 1.

Of course, we can always count on the Pentagon to “enhance security and stability”  in Afghanistan. In this Pentagon report we learn that “AQIS [al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent] routinely supports and works with low-level Taliban members in its efforts to undermine the Afghan government, and maintains an enduring interest in attacking US forces and Western targets.”

Well, what the Pentagon does not tell us is how old-school al-Qaeda, pre-AQIS, metastasized into a galaxy of “moderate rebels” now ensconced in Idlib, Syria. And how contingents of Salafi-jihadis were able to access mysterious transportation corridors to bolster the ranks of ISIS-Khorasan in Afghanistan.

The CIA heroin ratline

All you need to know, reported on the ground, about the crucial first years of the imperial adventure in Afghanistan is to be found in the Asia Times e-book Forever Wars, part 1.

Two decades later, the politico-intel combo behind Biden is now spinning that the end of this particular Forever War is an imperative, integrated to the latest US National Security Strategy.

Shadow play once again reigns. Withdrawal conditionals include the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan military and security forces; that notorious Taliban-al-Qaeda re-engagement; the fight for women’s rights; and acknowledging the supreme taboo: this ain’t no withdrawal because a substantial Special Forces contingent will stay in place.

In a nutshell: for the US deep state, leaving Afghanistan is anathema.

The real heart of the matter in Afghanistan concerns drugs and geopolitics – and their toxic intersection.

Everyone with transit in the Dubai-Kandahar axis and its ramifications knows that the global-spanned opium and heroin business is a matter very close to the CIA’s heart. Secure air transport is offered by bases in Afghanistan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

William Engdahl has offered a concise breakdown  of how it works. In the immediate post-9/11 days, in Afghanistan, the main player in the opium trade was none other than Ahmed Wali Karzai, presidential brother and a CIA asset. I interviewed him in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital, in October 2001 (the interview can be found in Forever Wars). He obviously did not talk about opium.

Ahmed Karzai was snuffed out in a Mafia-style hit at home, in Helmand, in 2011. Helmand happens to be Afghanistan’s Opium Central. In 2017, following on previous investigations by Seymour Hersh and Alfred McCoy, among others, I detailed the workings of the CIA heroin ratline in Afghanistan.

New Great Game 3.0 is on

Whatever happens next will involve layers and layers of shadow play. CENTCOM’s McKenzie, at a closed-door hearing at the US House Armed Services Committee, basically said they are still “figuring out” what to do next.

That will certainly involve, in McKenzie’s own assessment, “counter-terrorism operations within the region”; “expeditionary basing” (linguistic diversion to imply there won’t be any permanent bases, at least in thesis); and “assistance” to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (no details on what this “assistance” will consist of).

Now compare it with the view by major Eurasian powers: Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran, three of them members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with Iran as an observer and soon full member.

Their number one priority is to prevent any mutating Afghan jihadi virus to contaminate Central Asia. A massive 50,000 troop-strong Russia-Tajikistan military exercise in late April had exactly that in mind.

Ministers of defense of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) met in Dushanbe with the objective of further fortifying the porous Tajik-Afghan border.

And then there’s the Turkmen-Afghan border, from which the opium/heroin trail reaches the Caspian Sea and diversifies via Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Moscow, even more than the CSTO, is particularly worried by this stretch of the trail.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is poppyfield-300x168.jpg

The Russians are very much aware that even more than different opium/heroin routes springing up, the top danger is a new influx of Salafi-jihadis into the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Even if analyzing it from completely different perspectives, Americans and Russians seem to be equally focused on what Salafi-jihadists – and their handlers – may come up with in post-9/11, 2021 Afghanistan.

So let’s go back to Doha, where something really intriguing is afoot.

On April 30, a so-called extended troika – Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan – issued a joint statement in Doha on their discussions regarding a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.

The extended troika met with the Kabul government, the Taliban and host Qatar. At least they agreed there should be “no military solution.”

It gets curioser and curioser again: Turkey, backed by Qatar and the UN, is getting ready to host a conference to further bridge the gap between the Kabul government and the Taliban. Realpolitik cynics will have a ball wondering what Erdogan is scheming at.

The extended troika, at least rhetorically, is in favor of an “independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic, neutral and self-sufficient Afghanistan.” Talk about a lofty undertaking. It remains to be seen how Afghanistan’s “neutrality” can be guaranteed in such a nest of New Great Game serpents.

Beijing and Moscow will be under no illusions that the newly privatized, Special Forces Afghan-American experiment will eschew using Salafi-jihadis, radicalized Uighurs or other instant assets to destabilize what in effect should be the incorporation of Afghanistan to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (where it’s already an observer) and the larger Eurasia integration project.

An extra-intriguing piece of the puzzle is that a very pragmatic Russia – unlike its historical ally India – is not against including the Taliban in an overall Afghan settlement. New Delhi will have to go along. As for Islamabad, the only thing that matters, as always, is to have a friendly government in Kabul. That good old “strategic depth” obsession.

What the major players – Russia and China – see in the framework of a minimally stabilized Afghanistan is yet one more step to consolidate the evolution of the New Silk Roads in parallel with the Greater Eurasia partnership. That’s exactly the message Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Now compare it with the – never explicit – strategic deep state aim: to keep some sort of military-intel “forward operating base” in the absolutely crucial node between Central and South Asia and close, oh so close, to national security “threats” Russia and China.

The New Great Game 3.0 is just beginning at the graveyard of empires.

Brave New Cancel Culture World

Brave New Cancel Culture World

May 01, 2021

If we need a date when the West started to go seriously wrong, let’s start with Rome in the early 5th century

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

In 2020, we saw the enshrinement of techno-feudalism – one of the overarching themes of my latest book, Raging Twenties.

In lightning speed, the techno-feudalism virus is metastasizing into an even more lethal, wilderness of mirrors variant, where cancel culture is enforced by Big Tech all across the spectrum, science is routinely debased as fake news in social media, and the average citizen is discombobulated to the point of lobotomy.

Giorgio Agamben has defined it as a new totalitarianism.

Top political analyst Alastair Crooke has attempted a sharp breakdown of the broader configuration.

Geopolitically, the Hegemon would even resort to 5G war to maintain its primacy, while seeking moral legitimization via the woke revolution, duly exported to its Western satrapies.

The woke revolution is a culture war – in symbiosis with Big Tech and Big Business – that has smashed the real thing: class war. The atomized working classes, struggling to barely survive, have been left to wallow in anomie.

The great panacea, actually the ultimate “opportunity” offered by Covid-19, is the Great Reset advanced by Herr Schwab of Davos: essentially the replacement of a dwindling manufacturing base by automation, in tandem with a reset of the financial system.

The concomitant wishful thinking envisages a world economy that will “move closer to a cleaner capitalist model”. One of its features is a delightfully benign Council for Inclusive Capitalism in partnership with the Catholic Church.

As much as the pandemic – the “opportunity” for the Reset – was somewhat rehearsed by Event 201 in October 2019, additional strategies are already in place for the next steps, such as Cyber Polygon, which warns against the “key risks of digitalization”. Don’t miss their “technical exercise” on July 9th, when “participants will hone their practical skills in mitigating a targeted supply chain attack on a corporate ecosystem in real time.”

A New Concert of Powers?

Sovereignty is a lethal threat to the ongoing cultural revolution. That concerns the role of the European Union institutions – especially the European Commission – going no holds barred to dissolve the national interests of nation states. And that largely explains the weaponizing, in varying degrees, of Russophobia, Sinophobia and Iranophobia.

The anchoring essay in Raging Twenties analyzes the stakes in Eurasia exactly in terms of the Hegemon pitted against the Three Sovereigns – which are Russia, China and Iran.

It’s under this framework, for instance, that a massive, 270-plus page bill, the Strategic Competition Act , has been recently passed at the US Senate. That goes way beyond geopolitical competition, charting a road map to fight China across the full spectrum. It’s bound to become law, as Sinophobia is a bipartisan sport in D.C.

Hegemon oracles such as the perennial Henry Kissinger at least are taking a pause from their customary Divide and Rule shenanigans to warn that the escalation of “endless” competition may derail into hot war – especially considering AI and the latest generations of smart weapons.

On the incandescent US-Russia front, where Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sees the lack of mutual trust, no to mention respect, as much worse than during the Cold War, analyst Glenn Diesen notes how the Hegemon “strives to convert the security dependence of the Europeans into geoeconomic loyalty”.

That’s at the heart of a make-or-break saga: Nord Stream 2. The Hegemon uses every weapon – including cultural war, where convicted crook Navalny is a major pawn – to derail an energy deal that is essential for Germany’s industrial interests. Simultaneously, pressure increases against Europe buying Chinese technology.

Meanwhile, NATO – which lords over the EU – keeps being built up as a global Robocop, via the NATO 2030 project – even after turning Libya into a militia-ridden wasteland and having its collective behind humiliatingly spanked in Afghanistan.

For all the sound and fury of sanction hysteria and declinations of cultural war, the Hegemon establishment is not exactly blind to the West “losing not only its material dominance but also its ideological sway”.

So the Council on Foreign Relations – in a sort of Bismarckian hangover – is now proposing a New Concert of Powers to deal with “angry populism” and “illiberal temptations”, conducted of course by those malign actors such as “pugnacious Russia” who dare to “challenge the West’s authority”.

As much as this geopolitical proposal may be couched in benign rhetoric, the endgame remains the same: to “restore US leadership”, under US terms. Damn those “illiberals” Russia, China and Iran.

Crooke evokes exactly a Russian and a Chinese example to illustrate where the woke cultural revolution may lead to.

In the case of the Chinese cultural revolution, the end result was chaos, fomented by the Red Guards, which started to wreak their own particular havoc independent of the Communist Party leadership.

And then there’s Dostoevsky in The Possessed, which showed how the secular Russian liberals of the 1840s created the conditions for the emergence of the 1860s generation: ideological radicals bent on burning down the house.

No question: “revolutions” always eat their children. It usually starts with a ruling elite imposing their newfound Platonic Forms on others. Remember Robespierre. He formulated his politics in a very Platonic way – “the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality, the reign of eternal justice” with laws “engraved in the hearts of all men”.

Well, when others disagreed with Robespierre’s vision of Virtue, we all know what happened: the Terror. Just like Plato, incidentally, recommended in Laws. So it’s fair to expect that the children of the woke revolution will eventually be eaten alive by their zeal.

Canceling freedom of speech

As it stands, it’s fair to argue when the “West” started to go seriously wrong – in a cancel culture sense. Allow me to offer the Cynic/Stoic point of view of a 21st century global nomad.

If we need a date, let’s start with Rome – the epitome of the West – in the early 5th century. Follow the money. That’s the time when income from properties owned by temples were transferred to the Catholic Church – thus boosting its economic power. By the end of the century, even gifts to temples were forbidden.

In parallel, a destruction overdrive was in progress – fueled by Christian iconoclasm, ranging from crosses carved in pagan statues to bathhouses converted into churches. Bathing naked? Quelle horreur!

The devastation was quite something. One of the very few survivors was the fabulous bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, in the Campidoglio/ Capitoline Hill (today it’s housed in the museum). The statue survived only because the pious mobs thought the emperor was Constantine.

The very urban fabric of Rome was destroyed: rituals, the sense of community, singin’ and dancin’. We should remember that people still lower their voices when entering a church.

For centuries we did not hear the voices of the dispossessed. A glaring exception is to be found in an early 6th century text by an Athenian philosopher, quoted by Ramsay MacMullen in Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eight Centuries.

The Greek philosopher wrote that Christians are “a race dissolved in every passion, destroyed by controlled self-indulgence, cringing and womanish in its thinking, close to cowardice, wallowing in all swinishness, debased, content with servitude in security.”

If that sounds like a proto-definition of 21st century Western cancel culture, that’s because it is.

Things were also pretty bad in Alexandria. A Christian mob killed and dismembered the alluring Hypatia, mathematician and philosopher. That de facto ended the era of great Greek mathematics. No wonder Gibbon turned the assassination of Hypatia into a remarkable set piece in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (“In the bloom of beauty, and in the maturity of wisdom, the modest maid refused her lovers and instructed her disciples; the persons most illustrious for their rank or merit were impatient to visit the female philosopher”).

Under Justinian – emperor from 527 to 565 – cancel culture went after paganism no holds barred. One of his laws ended imperial toleration of all religions, which was in effect since Constantine in 313.

If you were a pagan, you’d better get ready for the death penalty. Pagan teachers – especially philosophers – were banned. They lost their parrhesia: their license to teach (here is Foucault’s brilliant analysis).

Parrhesia – loosely translated as “frank criticism” – is a tremendously serious issue: for no less than a thousand years, this was the definition of freedom of speech (italics mine).

There you go: first half of the 6th century. This was when freedom of speech was canceled in the West.

The last Egyptian temple – to Isis, in an island in southern Egypt – was shut down in 526. The legendary Plato’s Academy – with no less than 900 years of teaching in its curriculum – was shut down in Athens in 529.

Guess where the Greek philosophers chose to go into exile: Persia.

Those were the days – in the early 2nd century – when the greatest Stoic, Epictetus, a freed slave from Phrygia, admirer of both Socrates and Diogenes, was consulted by an emperor, Hadrian; and became the role model of another emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

History tells us that the Greek intellectual tradition simply did not fade away in the West. It was a target of cancel culture.

So Who Wants a Hot War?

So Who Wants a Hot War?

April 17, 2021 

by Pepe Escobar and cross-posted with Strategic Culture Foundation

It’s not by accident that the Hegemon is going no holds barred to harass and try to smash Eurasian integration by all means available.

It’s a scorpion battle inside a vortex of distorted mirrors inside a circus. So let’s start with the mirrors in the circus.

The non-entity that passes for Ukrainian Foreign Minister traveled to Brussels to be courted by US Secretary of State Blinken and NATO secretary-general Stoltenberg.

At best, that’s circus shadowplay. Much more than NATO advisers in a frantic revolving door in Kiev, the real shadowplay is MI6 actually working very close with President Zelensky.

Zelensky’s warmongering script comes directly from MI6’s Richard Moore. Russian intel is very much aware of all the fine print. Glimpses were even carefully leaked to a TV special on the Rossiya 1 channel.

I confirmed it with diplomatic sources in Brussels. British media also got wind of it – but obviously was told to further distort the mirrors, blaming everything on, what else, “Russian aggression”.

German intel is practically non-existent in Kiev. Those NATO advisers remain legion. Yet no one talks about the explosive MI6 connection.

Careless whispers in Brussels corridors swear that MI6 actually believes that in the case of a volcanic but as it stands still preventable hot war with Russia, continental Europe would burn and Brexitland would be spared.

Dream on. Now back to the circus.

Oh, you’re so provocative

Both Little Blinken and NATO straw man Stoltenberg parroted the same script in Brussels after talking to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister.

That was part of a NATO “special meeting” on Ukraine – where some Eurocrat must have told a bunch of extra clueless Eurocrats how they would be carbonized on the spot by Russian TOS-1 Buratino’s terrifying explosive warheads if NATO tried anything funny.

Listen to the sound of Blinken yappin’: Russian actions are “provocative”.

Well, his staff certainly did not hand him a copy of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu examining step by step the deployment of the annual US Army DEFENDER-Europe 21: “The main forces are concentrated in the Black Sea and Baltic region.”

Now listen to the sound of Stoltenberg yappin’: We pledge “unwavering support” to Ukraine.

Woof woof. Now go back to play in your sandboxes.

No, not yet. Little Blinken threatened Moscow with “consequences” whatever happens in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov’s infinite patience is nearly Daoist. Sun Tzu’s Art of War, by the way, is a Daoist masterpiece. Peskov’s answer to Blinken: “It is simply not necessary for us to go around forever proclaiming: ‘I am the greatest!’ The more one does this sort of thing, in fact, the more people doubt it…”

When in doubt, call the irreplaceable Andrei Martyanov – who always tells it like it is. The Crash Test Dummy gang in D.C. still does not get it – although some Deep State pros do.

Here’s Martyanov:

As I am on record constantly – the United States never fought a war with its Command and Control system under the relentless sustained fire impact and its rear attacked and disorganized. Conventionally, the United States cannot win against Russia in Europe, at least Eastern part of it and Biden Admin better wake up to the reality that it may, indeed, not survive any kind of escalation and, in fact, modern Kalibrs, 3M14Ms, as a matter of fact, have a range of a 4,500 kilometers, as well as 5,000+ kilometer range of X-101 cruise missiles, which will have no issues with penetrating North American airspace when launched by Russia’s strategic bombers without even leaving the safety of Russia’s airspace.

The Patrushev effect

The circus went on with the phone call from “Biden” – that is, Crash Test Dummy with an earpiece and a teleprompter in front of the phone – to President Putin.

Call it the Patrushev effect.

In his stunning interview to Kommersant, Triple Yoda Patrushev mentioned a very civilized late March phone call he had with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Of course there’s no smokin’ gun, but if anyone would come up with the face-saving idea of a Biden-Putin phone call that would have been Sullivan.

The spin from Washington and Moscow is only slightly divergent. The Americans highlight that “Biden” – actually the deciding combo behind him – wants to build “a stable and predictable relationship with Russia, consistent with US interests.”

The Kremlin said that Biden “expressed interest in normalizing bilateral relations.”

Away from all this fog, what really matters is Patrushev-Sullivan. That has to do with Washington telling Turkey that US warships would be transiting the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea. Sullivan must have told Patrushev that no, they won’t be “active” in Donbass. And Patrushev told Sullivan, OK, we won’t incinerate them.

There are absolutely no illusions in Moscow that this putative Biden-Putin summit in a distant future will ever take place. Especially after Daoist Peskov had made it very clear that “no one will allow America to speak with Russia from a position of strength.” If that sounds like a line straight out of Yang Jiechi – who made shark fin’s soup out of Blinken-Sullivan in Alaska – that’s because it does.

Kiev, predictably, remains stuck in circus mode. After getting sharp messages from Mr. Iskander, Mr. Khinzal and Mr. Buratino, they changed their mind, or at least pretend to, and are now saying they don’t want war.

And here comes the intersection between circus and the serious stuff. The “Biden” combo never said, explicitly, on the record, that they don’t want war. On the contrary: they are sending those warships to the Black Sea and – circus again! – designating an envoy, Ministry of Silly Walks-style, whose only job is to derail the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

So the cliffhanger – like a teaser for Snowpiercer – is what happens when Nord Stream 2 is completed.

But before that, there’s something even more momentous: next Wednesday, on his speech to the Russian Security Council, President Putin will lay down the law.

It’s Minsk 2, stupid

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, has struck a much less Daoist note than Peskov: “The United States is our enemy, doing everything to undermine Russia’s position in the international arena, we do not see other elements in their approach to us. These are our conclusions”.

That’s stone to the bone realpolitik. Ryabkov knows the Hegemon’s “non agreement-capable” mindset inside out. So an added dimension to his observation is its direct connection to the only solution for Ukraine: the Minsk 2 agreements.

Putin reiterated Minsk 2 on his live teleconference with Merkel and Macron – and certainly to “Biden” in their phone call. The Beltway, the EU and NATO are all aware of it. Minsk 2 was signed by Ukraine, France and Germany and certified by the UN Security Council. If Kiev violates it, Russia – as a member of the UNSC – must enforce it.

Kiev has been violating Minsk 2 for months now; it refuses to implement it. As a faithful Hegemon satrapy, they are also not “agreement-capable”. Yet now they are seeing the – firepower – writing on the wall if they as much as think of starting a blitzkrieg against Donbass.

The open secret in the whole Ukraine/Donbass wilderness of mirrors under the circus tent is of course China. Yet Ukraine, in a sane world, would not only be part of a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) corridor, but also part of the Russian Greater Eurasia project. China specialist Nikolai Vavilov recognizes the importance of BRI, but is also certain Russia is above all defending its own interests.

Ideally, Ukraine/Donbass would be inserted in the overall revival of the Silk Roads – as in internal Central Eurasian trade based and developed taking into consideration Eurasia-wide demand. Eurasia integration – in both the Chinese and Russian vision – are all about interconnected economies via inter-regional trade.

So it’s not by accident that the Hegemon – on the verge of becoming an irrelevant player across Eurasia – is going no holds barred to harass and try to smash the continental integration by all means available.

In this context, manipulating a failed state to meet its own doom is just (circus) business.

RUSSIAN-SYRIAN GAS CONTRACT HINTS AT SYRIA’S RECOVERY

Source

 09.04.2021

Russian-Syrian Gas Contract Hints At Syria’s Recovery

Submitted by Steven Sahiounie.

The Syrian government signed a 4-year contract in March with Capital Limited, a Russian firm, to conduct oil and gas exploration in the area known as block No. 1 in the Syrian exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of the Tartous province.

The disputed maritime area covers 2,250 square kilometers on the Syrian-Lebanese maritime borders in the Mediterranean Sea.

Large reservoirs of natural gas have been discovered under the seafloor of the eastern Mediterranean and the neighboring nations and energy exploration companies are eager to exploit these gas deposits.

The Levantine basin has proven reserves of more than 60 trillion cubic feet of gas. The US Geological Survey has estimated that 1.7 billion barrels of oil lie in the basin, and as much as 122 trillion cubic feet of gas. That amount of gas is equivalent to about 76 years of gas consumption in the European Union (EU).javascript:window[“$iceContent”]

Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels and serves as a transition fuel towards more renewables, and to replace coal and nuclear electric generation across the EU.  Gas is the energy of demand for the EU, which is the biggest emerging gas market in the world.

In December 2013, Damascus entered into a major agreement with Moscow to explore oil and gas in the offshore territorial waters for 25 years.  Drilling and exploration costs were estimated at $100 million.  Russia would finance these activities with expenditures recovered from eventual production.

The 2013 deal for gas exploration involved Russia’s SoyuzNefteGaz; however, the current contract involves two Russian companies, Capital Limited and East Med Amrit.

The area in which Russian companies are being allowed to operate is disputed by the Lebanese, with the maritime borders drawn by the Syrians, especially in Block No. 1, overlapping significantly with Block No. 1 and Block No. 2 on the Lebanese side, and encroaching approximately 750 square kilometers within Lebanon’s maritime border.

Lebanon was busy demarcating its southern maritime and land borders with Israel for years, without making any progress.

On April 6, Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe said that Lebanese President Michel Aoun held a phone conversation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss the demarcation of maritime borders between the two countries. Wehbe said Aoun confirmed in his call with Assad that “Lebanon won’t accept to diminish from its sovereignty over its waters”, and confirmed that his country sticks to demarcating the maritime borders via negotiations, and not court disputes.

The majority of the land borders between the two countries have been demarcated in 1971, while the maritime borders between Syria and Lebanon have not been delineated. Lebanon had previously demarcated its maritime borders in 2011, and in 2014 launched a round of primary licenses and invited bids for Block No. 1 in the north, but Syria did not recognize the Lebanese demarcation. Damascus objected to the unilateral Lebanese demarcation of its exclusive economic zone in the north, by sending a protest letter to the United Nations in 2014.

Wehbe said that Beirut must negotiate with Damascus about the demarcation of maritime borders.

“This is not an act of aggression but every state demands its rights according to its perspective,” Wehbe said, adding that negotiations must take place within the framework of international laws and the brotherly relations between the two countries.

In late 2010, a dramatic discovery was made in the eastern Mediterranean of a huge natural gas field offshore, in what geologists call the Levant or Levantine Basin. The discovery set into motion a geopolitical plan devised in Washington and Tel Aviv back in 1996.  By March 2011 Syria was immersed into a revolution instigated and fueled by the CIA on orders from President Obama.

In August 2011 findings were revealed by Syrian exploration companies of an immense gas field in Qara near the border with Lebanon and near the port of Tartus, which was leased to the Russian navy. The gas reserves are believed to be equal to or exceed those of Qatar.  The US-backed rebels kept the fighting focused in the area to prevent the recovery of the gas.

Trump ordered the US troops illegally occupying Syria to stay and steal the oil.  The US military prevents the Syrian government from using the oil in the northeast to rebuild or recover from 10 years of war.

The US, NATO, and the EU all worked in coordination to destroy Syria and keep it from reaching its potential as an energy-sufficient nation.

Washington’s ‘regime-change’ strategy was based on instigating internal chaos in Syria through the use of CIA training and weapons of armed fighters following Radical Islam, which they thought would end with an Islamic State as opposed to the existing secular government in Damascus, and supported through the coffers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both nations state sponsors of Radical Islam.

The US lost the war in Syria. But, Washington will continue to isolate Russia and try to prevent the unchanged government in Damascus from the gas reserves off-shore.

Turkey began the US-NATO war against Syria as a team player. Turkey was used as a transit point for all the hundreds of thousands of foreign terrorists from the four corners of the globe who flocked to Syria on Team-USA to oust the Syrian government, in favor of Radical Islam. However, Turkey feels left out of the lucrative gas deals, and envious of its neighbors in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey is trying to disrupt energy exploration. Meanwhile, it is the babysitter of the Al Qaeda terrorists in control of Idlib and determined to maintain the status quo in Idlib.

While Russia has been in the Syrian port of Tartus for decades, it was in 2015 that they were invited to Syria militarily in the darkest days of terrorist expansion.  The Russians have a long and bloody experience with Radical Islamic terrorists on Russian soil. With Syria laying on the southern front of Russia, it was seen as a national security threat to allow an Islamic state to be proclaimed in Damascus, even if it was only the Muslim Brotherhood politicians supported by the US and housed in hotels in Istanbul.

The Russians felt they could either defeat the terrorists in Syria or wait and fight them on the streets of Moscow. Radical Islam is neither a religion, nor a sect, but a political ideology that is very difficult to deal with once US weapons are placed in their hands.

In 2012, F. William Engdahl wrote a prophetic article Syria, Turkey, Israel and a Greater Middle East Energy War. He wrote, “The battle for the future control of Syria is at the heart of this enormous geopolitical war and tug of war. Its resolution will have enormous consequences for either world peace or endless war and conflict and slaughter.”

Engdahl theorized that Syria would ultimately be a major source for Russian-managed gas flows to the EU.

In late 2015, Pepe Escobar, a journalist with Asia Times, wrote a groundbreaking article Syria: Ultimate Pipelineistan War”.

Escobar wrote, “Syria is an energy war. With the heart of the matter featuring a vicious geopolitical competition between two proposed gas pipelines, it is the ultimate Pipelinestan war.”

In the article, he takes you back to 2009 when Qatar proposed to Damascus the construction of a pipeline traversing Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria to Turkey, to supply the EU.

However, in 2010 Syria chose a competing project, the $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline. That choice set into motion what the western media terms as the Syrian civil war, but in reality was never civil, and was a classic US ‘regime-change’ project which featured a cast of thousands, and among the supporters were the heads of state from most of the civilised world.

After 10 years of war, Syria may finally be approaching the endgame. President Assad’s government is looking to post-war recovery and reconstruction, which will need foreign and domestic investments. The energy sector is crucial. Syria’s oil exports accounted for 30% of pre-war revenue, and the prospect of gas output was revealed just as the war ramped up. US and EU sanctions will make foreign investment difficult, but the world is watching Russia in the waters off Syria.

Steven Sahiounie is an award-winning journalist and political commentator.

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