“The Iranian Threat”: Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace?

“The Iranian Threat”:  Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace?

By Noam Chomsky
TomDispatch
August 20, 2015

Throughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely.”

There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over “the Iranian threat.” Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be “the gravest threat to world peace.” Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat.  After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?

Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that “would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard” of the United States, killing “tens of millions of Americans.”

The two most likely winners, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are battling over whether to bomb Iran immediately after being elected or after the first Cabinet meeting.  The one candidate with some foreign policy experience, Lindsey Graham, describes the deal as “a death sentence for the state of Israel,” which will certainly come as a surprise to Israeli intelligence and strategic analysts — and which Graham knows to be utter nonsense, raising immediate questions about actual motives.

Keep in mind that the Republicans long ago abandoned the pretense of functioning as a normal congressional party.  They have, as respected conservative political commentator Norman Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute observed, become a “radical insurgency” that scarcely seeks to participate in normal congressional politics.

Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, the party leadership has plunged so far into the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector that they can attract votes only by mobilizing parts of the population that have not previously been an organized political force.  Among them are extremist evangelical Christians, now probably a majority of Republican voters; remnants of the former slave-holding states; nativists who are terrified that “they” are taking our white Christian Anglo-Saxon country away from us; and others who turn the Republican primaries into spectacles remote from the mainstream of modern society — though not from the mainstream of the most powerful country in world history.

The departure from global standards, however, goes far beyond the bounds of the Republican radical insurgency.  Across the spectrum, there is, for instance, general agreement with the “pragmatic” conclusion of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Vienna deal does not “prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that it is cheating on the agreement,” even though a unilateral military strike is “far less likely” if Iran behaves.

Former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross typically recommends that “Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving towards a weapon, that would trigger the use of force” even after the termination of the deal, when Iran is theoretically free to do what it wants.  In fact, the existence of a termination point 15 years hence is, he adds, “the greatest single problem with the agreement.” He also suggests that the U.S. provide Israel with specially outfitted B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs to protect itself before that terrifying date arrives.

“The Greatest Threat”

Opponents of the nuclear deal charge that it does not go far enough. Some supporters agree, holding that “if the Vienna deal is to mean anything, the whole of the Middle East must rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.” The author of those words, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif, added that “Iran, in its national capacity and as current chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement [the governments of the large majority of the world’s population], is prepared to work with the international community to achieve these goals, knowing full well that, along the way, it will probably run into many hurdles raised by the skeptics of peace and diplomacy.” Iran has signed “a historic nuclear deal,” he continues, and now it is the turn of Israel, “the holdout.”

Israel, of course, is one of the three nuclear powers, along with India and Pakistan, whose weapons programs have been abetted by the United States and that refuse to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Zarif was referring to the regular five-year NPT review conference, which ended in failure in April when the U.S. (joined by Canada and Great Britain) once again blocked efforts to move toward a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East. Such efforts have been led by Egypt and other Arab states for 20 years.  As Jayantha Dhanapala and Sergio Duarte, leading figures in the promotion of such efforts at the NPT and other U.N. agencies, observe in “Is There a Future for the NPT?,” an article in the journal of the Arms Control Association: “The successful adoption in 1995 of the resolution on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East was the main element of a package that permitted the indefinite extension of the NPT.”  The NPT, in turn, is the most important arms control treaty of all.  If it were adhered to, it could end the scourge of nuclear weapons.

Repeatedly, implementation of the resolution has been blocked by the U.S., most recently by President Obama in 2010 and again in 2015, as Dhanapala and Duarte point out, “on behalf of a state that is not a party to the NPT and is widely believed to be the only one in the region possessing nuclear weapons” — a polite and understated reference to Israel. This failure, they hope, “will not be the coup de grâce to the two longstanding NPT objectives of accelerated progress on nuclear disarmament and establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.”

A nuclear-weapons-free Middle East would be a straightforward way to address whatever threat Iran allegedly poses, but a great deal more is at stake in Washington’s continuing sabotage of the effort in order to protect its Israeli client.  After all, this is not the only case in which opportunities to end the alleged Iranian threat have been undermined by Washington, raising further questions about just what is actually at stake.

In considering this matter, it is instructive to examine both the unspoken assumptions in the situation and the questions that are rarely asked.  Let us consider a few of these assumptions, beginning with the most serious: that Iran is the gravest threat to world peace.

In the U.S., it is a virtual cliché among high officials and commentators that Iran wins that grim prize.  There is also a world outside the U.S. and although its views are not reported in the mainstream here, perhaps they are of some interest.  According to the leading western polling agencies (WIN/Gallup International), the prize for “greatest threat” is won by the United States.  The rest of the world regards it as the gravest threat to world peace by a large margin.  In second place, far below, is Pakistan, its ranking probably inflated by the Indian vote.  Iran is ranked below those two, along with China, Israel, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

“The World’s Leading Supporter of Terrorism”

Turning to the next obvious question, what in fact is the Iranian threat?  Why, for example, are Israel and Saudi Arabia trembling in fear over that country?  Whatever the threat is, it can hardly be military.  Years ago, U.S. intelligence informed Congress that Iran has very low military expenditures by the standards of the region and that its strategic doctrines are defensive — designed, that is, to deter aggression. The U.S. intelligence community has also reported that it has no evidence Iran is pursuing an actual nuclear weapons program and that “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”

The authoritative SIPRI review of global armaments ranks the U.S., as usual, way in the lead in military expenditures.  China comes in second with about one-third of U.S. expenditures.  Far below are Russia and Saudi Arabia, which are nonetheless well above any western European state.  Iran is scarcely mentioned.  Full details are provided in an April report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which finds “a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have… an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access to modern arms.”

Iran’s military spending, for instance, is a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eight, an imbalance that goes back decades.  The CSIS report adds: “The Arab Gulf states have acquired and are acquiring some of the most advanced and effective weapons in the world [while] Iran has essentially been forced to live in the past, often relying on systems originally delivered at the time of the Shah.”  In other words, they are virtually obsolete.  When it comes to Israel, of course, the imbalance is even greater.  Possessing the most advanced U.S. weaponry and a virtual offshore military base for the global superpower, it also has a huge stock of nuclear weapons.

To be sure, Israel faces the “existential threat” of Iranian pronouncements: Supreme Leader Khamenei and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously threatened it with destruction.  Except that they didn’t — and if they had, it would be of little moment.  Ahmadinejad, for instance, predicted that “under God’s grace [the Zionist regime] will be wiped off the map.”  In other words, he hoped that regime change would someday take place.  Even that falls far short of the direct calls in both Washington and Tel Aviv for regime change in Iran, not to speak of the actions taken to implement regime change.  These, of course, go back to the actual “regime change” of 1953, when the U.S. and Britain organized a military coup to overthrow Iran’s parliamentary government and install the dictatorship of the Shah, who proceeded to amass one of the worst human rights records on the planet.

These crimes were certainly known to readers of the reports of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, but not to readers of the U.S. press, which has devoted plenty of space to Iranian human rights violations — but only since 1979 when the Shah’s regime was overthrown.  (To check the facts on this, read The U.S. Press and Iran, a carefully documented study by Mansour Farhang and William Dorman.)

None of this is a departure from the norm.  The United States, as is well known, holds the world championship title in regime change and Israel is no laggard either.  The most destructive of its invasions of Lebanon in 1982 was explicitly aimed at regime change, as well as at securing its hold on the occupied territories.  The pretexts offered were thin indeed and collapsed at once.  That, too, is not unusual and pretty much independent of the nature of the society — from the laments in the Declaration of Independence about the “merciless Indian savages” to Hitler’s defense of Germany from the “wild terror” of the Poles.

No serious analyst believes that Iran would ever use, or even threaten to use, a nuclear weapon if it had one, and so face instant destruction.  There is, however, real concern that a nuclear weapon might fall into jihadi hands — not thanks to Iran, but via U.S. ally Pakistan.  In the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, two leading Pakistani nuclear scientists, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian, write that increasing fears of “militants seizing nuclear weapons or materials and unleashing nuclear terrorism [have led to]… the creation of a dedicated force of over 20,000 troops to guard nuclear facilities.  There is no reason to assume, however, that this force would be immune to the problems associated with the units guarding regular military facilities,” which have frequently suffered attacks with “insider help.” In brief, the problem is real, just displaced to Iran thanks to fantasies concocted for other reasons.

Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as “the world’s leading supporter of terrorism,” which primarily refers to its support for Hezbollah and Hamas.  Both of those movements emerged in resistance to U.S.-backed Israeli violence and aggression, which vastly exceeds anything attributed to these villains, let alone the normal practice of the hegemonic power whose global drone assassination campaign alone dominates (and helps to foster) international terrorism.

Those two villainous Iranian clients also share the crime of winning the popular vote in the only free elections in the Arab world.  Hezbollah is guilty of the even more heinous crime of compelling Israel to withdraw from its occupation of southern Lebanon, which took place in violation of U.N. Security Council orders dating back decades and involved an illegal regime of terror and sometimes extreme violence.  Whatever one thinks of Hezbollah, Hamas, or other beneficiaries of Iranian support, Iran hardly ranks high in support of terror worldwide.

“Fueling Instability”

Another concern, voiced at the U.N. by U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, is the “instability that Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program.” The U.S. will continue to scrutinize this misbehavior, she declared.  In that, she echoed the assurance Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered while standing on Israel’s northern border that “we will continue to help Israel counter Iran’s malign influence” in supporting Hezbollah, and that the U.S. reserves the right to use military force against Iran as it deems appropriate.

The way Iran “fuels instability” can be seen particularly dramatically in Iraq where, among other crimes, it alone at once came to the aid of Kurds defending themselves from the invasion of Islamic State militants, even as it is building a $2.5 billion power plant in the southern port city of Basra to try to bring electrical power back to the level reached before the 2003 invasion.  Ambassador Power’s usage is, however, standard: Thanks to that invasion, hundreds of thousands were killed and millions of refugees generated, barbarous acts of torture were committed — Iraqis have compared the destruction to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century — leaving Iraq the unhappiest country in the world according to WIN/Gallup polls.  Meanwhile, sectarian conflict was ignited, tearing the region to shreds and laying the basis for the creation of the monstrosity that is ISIS.  And all of that is called “stabilization.”

Only Iran’s shameful actions, however, “fuel instability.” The standard usage sometimes reaches levels that are almost surreal, as when liberal commentator James Chace, former editor of Foreign Affairs, explained that the U.S. sought to “destabilize a freely elected Marxist government in Chile” because “we were determined to seek stability” under the Pinochet dictatorship.

Others are outraged that Washington should negotiate at all with a “contemptible” regime like Iran’s with its horrifying human rights record and urge instead that we pursue “an American-sponsored alliance between Israel and the Sunni states.”  So writes Leon Wieseltier, contributing editor to the venerable liberal journal the Atlantic, who can barely conceal his visceral hatred for all things Iranian.  With a straight face, this respected liberal intellectual recommends that Saudi Arabia, which makes Iran look like a virtual paradise, and Israel, with its vicious crimes in Gaza and elsewhere, should ally to teach that country good behavior.  Perhaps the recommendation is not entirely unreasonable when we consider the human rights records of the regimes the U.S. has imposed and supported throughout the world.

Though the Iranian government is no doubt a threat to its own people, it regrettably breaks no records in this regard, not descending to the level of favored U.S. allies.  That, however, cannot be the concern of Washington, and surely not Tel Aviv or Riyadh.

It might also be useful to recall — surely Iranians do — that not a day has passed since 1953 in which the U.S. was not harming Iranians. After all, as soon as they overthrew the hated U.S.-imposed regime of the Shah in 1979, Washington put its support behind Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who would, in 1980, launch a murderous assault on their country.  President Reagan went so far as to deny Saddam’s major crime, his chemical warfare assault on Iraq’s Kurdish population, which he blamed on Iran instead.  When Saddam was tried for crimes under U.S. auspices, that horrendous crime, as well as others in which the U.S. was complicit, was carefully excluded from the charges, which were restricted to one of his minor crimes, the murder of 148 Shi’ites in 1982, a footnote to his gruesome record.

Saddam was such a valued friend of Washington that he was even granted a privilege otherwise accorded only to Israel.  In 1987, his forces were allowed to attack a U.S. naval vessel, the USS Stark, with impunity, killing 37 crewmen.  (Israel had acted similarly in its 1967 attack on the USS Liberty.)  Iran pretty much conceded defeat shortly after, when the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian ships and oil platforms in Iranian territorial waters.  That operation culminated when the USS Vincennes, under no credible threat, shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in Iranian airspace, with 290 killed — and the subsequent granting of a Legion of Merit award to the commander of the Vincennes for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and for maintaining a “calm and professional atmosphere” during the period when the attack on the airliner took place. Comments philosopher Thill Raghu, “We can only stand in awe of such display of American exceptionalism!”

After the war ended, the U.S. continued to support Saddam Hussein, Iran’s primary enemy.  President George H.W. Bush even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in weapons production, an extremely serious threat to Iran.  Sanctions against that country were intensified, including against foreign firms dealing with it, and actions were initiated to bar it from the international financial system.

In recent years the hostility has extended to sabotage, the murder of nuclear scientists (presumably by Israel), and cyberwar, openly proclaimed with pride.  The Pentagon regards cyberwar as an act of war, justifying a military response, as does NATO, which affirmed in September 2014 that cyber attacks may trigger the collective defense obligations of the NATO powers — when we are the target that is, not the perpetrators.

“The Prime Rogue State”

It is only fair to add that there have been breaks in this pattern. President George W. Bush, for example, offered several significant gifts to Iran by destroying its major enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.  He even placed Iran’s Iraqi enemy under its influence after the U.S. defeat, which was so severe that Washington had to abandon its officially declared goals of establishing permanent military bases (“enduring camps”) and ensuring that U.S. corporations would have privileged access to Iraq’s vast oil resources.

Do Iranian leaders intend to develop nuclear weapons today?  We can decide for ourselves how credible their denials are, but that they had such intentions in the past is beyond question.  After all, it was asserted openly on the highest authority and foreign journalists were informed that Iran would develop nuclear weapons “certainly, and sooner than one thinks.” The father of Iran’s nuclear energy program and former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was confident that the leadership’s plan “was to build a nuclear bomb.” The CIA also reported that it had “no doubt” Iran would develop nuclear weapons if neighboring countries did (as they have).

All of this was, of course, under the Shah, the “highest authority” just quoted and at a time when top U.S. officials — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger, among others — were urging him to proceed with his nuclear programs and pressuring universities to accommodate these efforts.  Under such pressures, my own university, MIT, made a deal with the Shah to admit Iranian students to the nuclear engineering program in return for grants he offered and over the strong objections of the student body, but with comparably strong faculty support (in a meeting that older faculty will doubtless remember well).

Asked later why he supported such programs under the Shah but opposed them more recently, Kissinger responded honestly that Iran was an ally then.

Putting aside absurdities, what is the real threat of Iran that inspires such fear and fury? A natural place to turn for an answer is, again, U.S. intelligence.  Recall its analysis that Iran poses no military threat, that its strategic doctrines are defensive, and that its nuclear programs (with no effort to produce bombs, as far as can be determined) are “a central part of its deterrent strategy.”

Who, then, would be concerned by an Iranian deterrent?  The answer is plain: the rogue states that rampage in the region and do not want to tolerate any impediment to their reliance on aggression and violence.  In the lead in this regard are the U.S. and Israel, with Saudi Arabia trying its best to join the club with its invasion of Bahrain (to support the crushing of a reform movement there) and now its murderous assault on Yemen, accelerating a growing humanitarian catastrophe in that country.

For the United States, the characterization is familiar.  Fifteen years ago, the prominent political analyst Samuel Huntington, professor of the science of government at Harvard, warned in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs that for much of the world the U.S. was “becoming the rogue superpower… the single greatest external threat to their societies.” Shortly after, his words were echoed by Robert Jervis, the president of the American Political Science Association: “In the eyes of much of the world, in fact, the prime rogue state today is the United States.” As we have seen, global opinion supports this judgment by a substantial margin.

Furthermore, the mantle is worn with pride.  That is the clear meaning of the insistence of the political class that the U.S. reserves the right to resort to force if it unilaterally determines that Iran is violating some commitment.  This policy is of long standing, especially for liberal Democrats, and by no means restricted to Iran.  The Clinton Doctrine, for instance, confirmed that the U.S. was entitled to resort to the “unilateral use of military power” even to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” let alone alleged “security” or “humanitarian” concerns.  Adherence to various versions of this doctrine has been well confirmed in practice, as need hardly be discussed among people willing to look at the facts of current history.

These are among the critical matters that should be the focus of attention in analyzing the nuclear deal at Vienna, whether it stands or is sabotaged by Congress, as it may well be.

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A TomDispatch regular, among his recent books are Hegemony or SurvivalFailed StatesPower SystemsHopes and Prospects, and Masters of Mankind. Haymarket Books recently reissued twelve of his classic books in new editions. His website is www.chomsky.info. 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176038/tomgram:_noam_chomsky,_rogue_states_and_nuclear_dangers/

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Playing the Long Game on Iran: The Neoconservatives, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Republicans Game the System

Playing the Long Game on Iran:  The Neoconservatives, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Republicans Game the System

By David Bromwich
TomDispatch
August 23, 2015

“We’re going to push and push until some larger force makes us stop.”

David Addington, the legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, made that declaration to Jack Goldsmith of the Office of Legal Counsel in the months after September 11, 2001. Goldsmith would later recall that Cheney and Addington were the first people he had ever met of a certain kind: “Cheney is not subtle, and he has never hidden the ball. The amazing thing is that he does what he says. Relentlessness is a quality I saw in him and Addington that I never saw before in my life.”

Goldsmith did not consider himself an adversary of Cheney and Addington. He probably shared many of their political views. What shocked him was their confidence in a set of secret laws and violent policies that could destroy innocent lives and warp the Constitution. The neoconservatives — the opinion-makers and legislative pedagogues who since 2001 have justified the Cheney-Bush policies — fit the same description. They are relentless, they push until they are stopped, and thus far they have never been stopped for long.

The campaign for the Iraq war of 2003, the purest example of their handiwork, began with a strategy memorandum in 1996, so it is fair to say that they have been pitching to break up the Middle East for a full two decades. But fortune played them a nasty trick with the signing of the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran. War and the prospect of war have been the source of their undeniable importance. If the Iran nuclear deal attains legitimacy, much of their power will slip through their fingers. The imperialist idealism that drives their ventures from day to day will be cheated of the enemy it cannot live without.

Iran might then become just one more unlucky country — authoritarian and cruelly oppressive but an object of persuasion and not the focus of a never-ending threat of force. The neoconservatives are enraged and their response has been feverish: if they were an individual, you would say that he was a danger to himself and others. They still get plenty of attention and airtime, but the main difference between 2003 and 2015 is the absence of a president who obeys them — something that has only served to sharpen their anger.

President Obama defended the nuclear deal vigorously in a recent speech at American University. This was the first such extended explanation of a foreign policy decision in his presidency, and it lacked even an ounce of inspirational fluff.  It was, in fact, the first of his utterances not likely to be remembered for its “eloquence,” because it merits the higher praise of good sense. It has been predictably denounced in some quarters as stiff, unkind, ungenerous, and “over the top.”

Obama began by speaking of the ideology that incited and justified the Iraq War of 2003. He called it a “mindset,” and the word was appropriate — suggesting a pair of earphones around a head that prevents us from hearing any penetrating noise from the external world. Starting in the summer of 2002, Americans heard a voice that said: Bomb, invade, occupy Iraq! And do the same to other countries! For the sake of our sanity, Obama explained, we had to take off those earphones:

“We had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place.  It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy; a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus; a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.  Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war, insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history.  And, of course, those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak — even appeasers of a malevolent adversary.”

In this precise catalogue of mental traits, Obama was careful to name no names, but he made it easy to construct a key:

A mindset characterized by a preference for military action: President George W. Bush ordering the U.N. nuclear inspectors out of Iraq (though they had asked to stay and complete their work) because there was a pressing need to bomb in March 2003;

A mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissing the skeptical challenge and eventual non-participation of France and Germany as proof of the irrelevance of “old Europe”;

A mindset that exaggerated threats: the barely vetted New York Times stories by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, which an administration bent on war first molded and then cited on TV news shows as evidence to justify preventive war;

Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz pooh-poohing the estimate by Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki that it would take 400,000 troops to maintain order in Iraq after the war;

Insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history: the bromides of Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on the indwelling Arab spirit that yearns for American-style democracy across the Middle East.

Obama went on to assert that there was a continuity of persons as well as ideas between the propagandists who told us to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq in 2003 and those now spending tens of millions of dollars to ensure that Congress will abort the nuclear deal. “The same mindset,” the president remarked, “in many cases offered by the same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong, led to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States, than anything we have done in the decades before or since.”

Those people have never recognized that they were wrong. Some put the blame on President Bush or his viceroy in Baghdad, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer, for mismanaging the occupation that followed the invasion; others continue to nurse the fantastic theory that Saddam Hussein really was in possession of nuclear weapons but somehow smuggled them across the border to Syria and fooled both U.S. reconnaissance teams and the U.N. inspectors; still others maintain that Shiite militias and weaponry dispatched to Iraq from Iran were the chief culprits in the disaster of the postwar insurgency.

Bear in mind that these opinion-makers, in 2003, hardly understood the difference between Shiite and Sunni in the country they wanted to invade. To put the blame now on Iran betrays a genius for circular reasoning. Since all Shia militias are allied by religion with Iran, it can be argued that Iraq was not destroyed by a catastrophic war of choice whose effects set the region on fire. No: the United States under Bush and Cheney was an unpresuming superpower doing its proper work, bringing peace and democracy to one of the dark places of the earth by means of a clean, fast, “surgical” war. In 2004 and 2005, just as in 2015, it was Iran that caused the trouble.

Simple Facts That Are Not Known

Because the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has scorned the nuclear deal without any attention to detail, the president felt compelled in his speech to recognize candidly the difference of national interest that exists between Israel and the United States. Though we are allies, he said, we are two different countries, and he left his listeners to draw the necessary inference: it is not possible for two countries (any more than two persons) to be at once different and the same.  Obama went on to connect the nations in question to this premise of international politics:

“I believe [the terms of the agreement] are in America’s interest and Israel’s interest.  And as president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”

The last affirmation is critical. A president takes an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States” — that is, to attend to the interest of his own country and not another.

The danger of playing favorites in the world of nations, with a partiality that knows no limits, was a main topic of George Washington’s great Farewell Address. “Permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded,” said Washington, because

“a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

There are Americans today who submit to a ruling passion that favors uniquely the interests of Israel, and the president had them in mind when he invoked his duties under the Constitution toward the only country whose framework of laws and institutions he had sworn to uphold. Genuine respect for another democracy formed part of his thinking here. Not only was Obama not elected to support Netanyahu’s idea of America’s interest, he was also not elected by Israelis to support his own idea of Israel’s interest.

In a recent commentary in Foreign Affairs, the prominent Israeli journalist and former government adviser Daniel Levy pointed out a fact that is not much remembered today regarding Netanyahu’s continuous effort to sabotage negotiations with Iran. It was the Israeli prime minister who initially demanded that nuclear negotiations be pursued on a separate track from any agreement about the trade or sale of conventional weapons. He chose that path because he was certain it would cause negotiations to collapse. The gambit having failed, he now makes the lifting of sanctions on conventional weaponry a significant objection to the “bad deal” in Vienna.

Obama concluded his argument by saying that “alternatives to military action will have been exhausted if we reject a hard-won diplomatic solution that the world almost unanimously supports. So let’s not mince words.  The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.” A measured statement and demonstrably true.

But you would never come within hailing distance of this truth if you listened to the numbers of Congressional Republicans who repeat the neoconservative watchwords and their accompanying digests of the recent history of the Middle East. They run through recitations of the dramatis personae of the war on terror with the alacrity of trained seals. Israel lives in a “dangerous neighborhood.” Islamists are “knocking on our door” and “looking for gaps in the border with Mexico.” Iran is “the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world.” Barack Obama is “an appeaser” and “it’s five minutes to midnight in Munich.” Elected officials who walk on two legs in the twenty-first century are not embarrassed to say these things without the slightest idea of their provenance.

If there was a fault in the president’s explanation of his policy, it lay in some things he omitted to say. When you are educating a people who have been proselytized, as Americans have been, by a political cult for the better part of two decades, nothing should be taken for granted. Most Americans do not know that the fanatical Islamists, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, the Islamic State (IS) — the active and destructive revolutionary force in the greater Middle East at the moment — are called Sunni Muslims. Nor do they know that the Shia Muslims who govern Iran and who support the government of Syria have never attacked the United States.

To say it as simply as it should be said: the Shiites and Sunnis are different sects, and the Shiites of Iran are fighting against the same enemies the U.S. is fighting in Syria and elsewhere. Again, most Americans who get their information from miscellaneous online scraps have no idea that exclusively Sunni fanatics made up the force of hijackers who struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. They would be surprised to learn that none of these people came from Iraq or Iran. They do not know that 15 of the 19 came from Saudi Arabia — a supposed ally of the United States. And they do not know that the Islamist warriors who brought chaos and destruction to Syria and Iraq are bankrolled in part by members of the Saudi and Qatari elite who have nothing to do with Iran. It has never been emphasized — it is scarcely written in a way that might be noticeable even in our newspaper of record — that Iran itself has carried the heaviest burden of the fight against IS.

Throughout his presidency, when speaking of Iran, Obama has mixed every expression of hope for improved relations with a measure of opprobrium. He has treated Iran as an exceptional offender against the laws of nations, a country that requires attention only in the cause of disarmament. He does this to assure the policy elite that he respects and can hum the familiar tunes. But this subservience to cliché is timid, unrealistic, and pragmatically ill advised. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did not denounce the Soviet Union when they took that country’s dictator, Joseph Stalin, as a partner in war in 1941, though Stalin’s crimes exceeded anything attributable to the Iranian mullahs. Ritual denunciation of a necessary ally is a transparent absurdity. And in a democracy, it prevents ordinary people from arriving at an understanding of what is happening.

Nuclear Deals and Their Critics, Then and Now

What are the odds that the neoconservatives and the Republicans whose policy they manage will succeed in aborting the P5+1 nuclear deal? One can take some encouragement from the last comparably ambitious effort at rapprochement with an enemy: the conversations between President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Washington, and Moscow in 1986, 1987, and 1988. At the same time, one ought to be forewarned by the way that unexpected change of course was greeted. The neoconservative cult was just forming then.  Some of its early leaders like Richard Perle had positions in the Reagan administration, and they were unanimously hostile to the talks that would yield the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) of 1988. The agreement set out the terms for the destruction of 2,611 missiles, capable of delivering 4,000 warheads — the biggest step in lowering the risk of nuclear war since the Test Ban Treaty championed by President Kennedy and passed in late 1963.

But as James Mann recounted in The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan a narrative of the anticommunist president’s surprising late turn in foreign policy — all of Reagan’s diplomatic efforts were deeply disapproved at the time, not only by the neoconservative hotheads but by those masters of the “diplomatic breakthrough,” former President Richard Nixon and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; by the most widely quoted columnists of the right, George Will and William Safire; and by Time magazine, which ran a story titled “Has Reagan Gone Soft?” The Reagan-Gorbachev talks were looked upon with suspicion, too, by “realists” and “moderates” of the political and security establishment, including Robert Gates and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Why Gates? Because he was deputy director of the CIA and the Agency was thoroughly convinced that Soviet Russia and its leadership could never change. Why Bush? Because he was already running for president.

The political and media establishment of that moment was startled by the change that President Reagan first signaled in 1986, as startled as today’s establishment has been by the signing of the P5+1 agreement. This was the same Ronald Reagan who in 1983 had called the Soviet Union “an evil empire.” At the end of his visit to Moscow in June 1988, Reagan was asked by the ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson, “Do you still think you’re in an evil empire, Mr. President?”

“No,” Reagan replied. “I was talking about another time and another era.” And he stuck to that answer at a press conference the next day, adding: “I think that a great deal of [the change] is due to the General Secretary, who I have found different than previous Soviet leaders… A large part of it is Mr. Gorbachev as a leader.”

By 1987, Reagan’s popularity had hit a low of 47% — largely because of the Iran-Contra scandal — but he still retained his reputation as the most irreproachable defender of the West against world communism. Obama for his part has done everything he could — short of emulating the invade-and-occupy strategy of Bush — to maintain U.S. force projection in the Middle East in a manner to which Washington has become accustomed since 9/11. He doubtless believes in this policy, and he has surrounded himself with adepts of “humanitarian war”; but he clearly also calculated that a generous ration of conformity would protect him when he tried for his own breakthrough in negotiations with Iran.

In the end, Reagan got a 93-5 vote in the Senate for his nuclear treaty with the Soviet Union. Obama is hoping for much less — a vote of less than two thirds of that body opposed to the Iran settlement.  But he is confronted by the full-scale hostility of a Republican party with a new character and with financial backing of a new kind.

The U.S. military and security establishment has sided with the president. And though the fact is little known here, so have the vast majority of Israelis who can speak with any authority on issues of defense and security. Even the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has signaled his belief that Netanyahu’s interventions in American politics are wrong. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has advised that, however reluctantly, Israel should accept the nuclear agreement and forge an understanding with the U.S. about what to do in case of its violation. To this remarkable consensus should be added the public letter — signed by 29 American scientists, many of them deeply involved in nuclear issues, including six recipients of the Nobel Prize — which vouches for the stringency of the agreement and praises the “unprecedented” rigor of the 24-day cap on Iranian delays for site inspection: an interval so short (as no one knows better than these scientists) that successful concealment of traces of nuclear activity becomes impossible.

Two other public letters supporting the nuclear deal have been notable.  The first was signed by former U.S. diplomats endorsing the agreement unambiguously, among them Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq after 2003; Nicholas Burns, who negotiated with Iran for the younger Bush; and Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served under both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. A further letter carried the personal and institutional authority of dozens of retired admirals and generals. So close an approach to unanimity on the benefits of an agreement among the U.S. military, diplomatic, and scientific communities has seldom been achieved. Even President Reagan could not claim this degree of support by qualified judges when he submitted the INF treaty to the Senate.

Such endorsements ought to represent a substantial cause for hope. But Obama’s supporters would be hard pressed to call the contest a draw on television and radio. The neoconservatives — and the Republicans channeling them — are once again working with boundless energy.  Careers are being built on this fight, as in the case of Senator Tom Cotton, and more than one presidential candidacy has been staked on it.

On the day of Obama’s speech, even a relatively informed talk show host like Charlie Rose allowed his coverage to slant sharply against the agreement. His four guests were the Haaretz reporter Chemi Shalev; the Daily Beast columnist Jonathan Alter; the former State Department official and president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass; and the neoconservative venture capitalist, Mark Dubowitz, who has come to be treated as an expert on the nuclear policies and government of Iran.

Haass, passionately opposed to the agreement, said that the president’s speech had been “way over the top,” and hoped Congress would correct its “clear flaws.” Shalev rated the speech honest and “bracing” but thought it would leave many in the Jewish community “offended.” Dubowitz spoke of Iran as a perfidious nation that ought to be subjected to relentless and ever-increasing penalties. His solution: “empower the next president to go back and renegotiate.” Jonathan Alter alone defended the agreement.

Planning to Attack Iran, 2002-2015

By now, the active participants in mainstream commentary on the War on Terror all have a history, and one can learn a good deal by looking back. Haass, for example, a pillar of the foreign policy establishment, worked in the State Department under Bush and Cheney and made no public objection to the Iraq War. Dubowitz has recently co-authored several articles with Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading propagandist for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In a characteristic piece in the Wall Street Journal last November, Gerecht and Dubowitz argued that the P5+1 negotiations opened a path to a nuclear bomb for Iran. President Obama, they said, was too weak and trapped by his own errors to explore any alternatives, but there were three “scenarios” that a wiser and stronger president might consider. First, “the White House could give up on diplomacy and preemptively strike Iran’s nuclear sites”; second, “the administration could give up on the current talks and default back to sanctions”; third, “new, even more biting sanctions could be enacted, causing Tehran considerable pain.” The range of advisable policy, for Gerecht and Dubowitz, begins with “crippling sanctions” and ends with a war of aggression.

These scenarios typify the neoconservative “options.” Writing on his own in the Atlantic in June 2013, Dubowitz informed American readers that there was nothing to celebrate in the Iranian presidential election that brought to power the apparently rational and moderate Hassan Rouhani. “A loyalist of Iran’s supreme leader and a master of nuclear deceit,” Rouhani, as interpreted by Dubowitz, is a false friend whose new authority “doesn’t get us any closer to stopping Iran’s nuclear drive.”

Consider Gerecht in his solo flights and you can see what made the president say that these are the people who gave us the Iraq War. They were as sure then about the good that would follow the bombing and invasion of that country as they are now about the benefits of attacking Iran. Indeed, Gerecht has the distinction of having called for an attack on Iran even before the official launch of the Bush strategy on Iraq.

It is said that Dick Cheney’s August 26, 2002, speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars marked the first formal description of the War on Terror offered by a U.S. leader to American citizens. But Gerecht, a former CIA specialist on the Middle East, stole a march on the vice president.  In the Weekly Standard of August 6, 2002, under the title “Regime Change in Iran?,” he declared his belief that President Bush was the possessor of a “revolutionary edge and appeal… in the Middle East.” The younger Bush had

“sliced across national borders and civilizational divides with an unqualified assertion of a moral norm. The president declared, ‘The people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world.’ America will stand ‘alongside people everywhere determined to build a world of freedom, dignity, and tolerance.’”

The analyst Gerecht took up where the evangelist Bush left off: the relevant country to attack in August 2002 — on behalf of its people of course — was Iran. Gerecht had no doubt that

“the Iranian people overwhelmingly view clerical rule as fundamentally illegitimate. The heavily Westernized clerics of Iran’s religious establishment — and these mullahs are on both sides of the so-called ‘moderate-conservative’ split — know perfectly well that the Persian word azadi, ‘freedom,’ is perhaps the most evocative word in the language now… Azadi has also become indissolubly associated with the United States.”

This was the way the neoconservatives were already writing and thinking back in August 2002. It is hard to know which is more astounding, the show of philological virtuosity or the self-assurance regarding the advisability of war against a nation of 70 million.

General prognostications, however, are never enough for the neoconservatives, and Gerecht in 2002 enumerated the specific benefits of disorder in Iraq and Iran:

“An American invasion [of Iraq] could possibly provoke riots in Iran — simultaneous uprisings in major cities that would simply be beyond the scope of regime-loyal specialized riot-control units. The army or the Revolutionary Guard Corps would have to be pulled into service in large numbers, and that’s when things could get interesting.”

That was how he had it scored. Bush, the voice of freedom, would be adored as a benevolent emperor at a distance:

“President Bush, of course, doesn’t need National Iranian Television broadcasts to beam his message into the Islamic Republic. Everything he says moves at light speed through the country. The president just needs to keep talking about freedom being the birthright of Muslim peoples.”

Such was the neoconservative recipe for democracy in the Middle East: beam the words of George W. Bush to people everywhere, invade Iraq, and spark a democratic uprising in Iran (assisted if necessary by U.S. bombs and soldiers).

For a final glimpse of the same “mindset,” look closely at Gerecht’s advice on Syria in June 2014. Writing again in the Weekly Standard, he deprecated the very idea of getting help from Iran in the fight against the Islamic State. “The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Enemy” declares the title of the piece, and the article makes the same point with a minimal reliance on facts. Sunni terrorists are portrayed as impetuous youngsters who naturally go too far, but it is too early to gauge their trajectory: the changes they bring may not ultimately be uncongenial to American interest. The Shiite masterminds of Iran, on the other hand, have long ago attained full maturity and will never change. Gerecht’s hope, last summer, was that substantial Iranian casualties in a war against IS would lead to the spontaneous uprising that failed to materialize in 2003.

“It is possible that the present Sunni-Shiite conflict could, if the Iranian body count rises and too much national treasure is spent, produce shock waves that fundamentally weaken the clerical regime… Things could get violent inside the Islamic Republic.”

The vision underlying this policy amounts to selective or strategic tolerance of al-Qaeda and IS for the sake of destroying Iran.

Will the War on Terror Be Debated?

How can such opinions be contested in American politics? The answer will have to come from what remains of the potential opposition party in the war on terror. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut has been a remarkable exception, but for the most part the Democrats are preoccupied with domestic policy. If almost two-thirds of Congress today is poised to vote against the Iran settlement, this embarrassment is the result of years of systematic neglect. Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Ron Wyden, Tammy Baldwin, and a few others have the talent to lead an opposition to a pursuit of the war on terror on the neoconservative plan, but to have any effect they would have to speak up regularly on foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party and its billionaire bankrollers are playing the long game on Iran. They would like to gain the two-thirds majority to override Obama’s veto of a Congressional vote against the nuclear agreement, but they do not really expect that to happen. The survival of any agreement, however, depends not only on its approval but on its legitimation.  Their hope is to depress public support for the P5+1 deal so much that the next president and members of the next Congress would require extraordinary courage to persist with American participation.

In the Foreign Affairs column mentioned earlier, Daniel Levy concluded that the long game is also Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy:

”Netanyahu is going for a twofer — if he loses on the veto-proof super majority in Congress, he can still succeed in keeping the Iran deal politically controversial and fragile and prevent any further détente with Iran. The hope, in this case, is that the next U.S. administration can resume the status quo ante in January 2017.”

What we are seeing, then, is not simply a concentrated effort that will end with the vote by the Senate in September on the P5+1 nuclear deal. It is the earliest phase of a lobbying campaign intended to usher in a Republican president of appropriate views in January 2017.

One may recognize that the money is there for such a long-term drive and yet still wonder at the virulence of the campaign to destroy Iran. What exactly allows the war party to keep on as they do? Within Israel, the cause is a political theology that obliges its believers to fight preemptive wars without any end in sight in order to guard against enemies who have opposed the existence of the Jewish state ever since its creation. This is a defensive fear that responds to an irrefutable historical reality. The neoconservatives and the better informed among their Republican followers are harder to grasp — harder anyway until you realize that, for them, we are Rome and the Republican Party is the cradle of future American emperors, praetors, and proconsuls.

“Ideology,” as the political essayist and Czech dissident Vaclav Havel once wrote, is “the bridge of excuses” a government offers to the people it rules. Between 2001 and 2009, the U.S. government was run by neoconservatives; they had a fair shot and the public judgment went against them; but in a climate of resurgent confusion about the Middle East, they have come a long way toward rebuilding their bridge. They are zealots but also prudent careerists, and the combination of money and revived propaganda may succeed in blurring many unhappy memories. Nor can they be accused of insincerity. When a theorist at a neoconservative think tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies or the American Enterprise Institute, affirms that democracy is what the Iranian people will have as soon as the U.S. cripples the resources of that country, he surely believes what he is saying. The projection seems as true to them now as it was in 2002, 2007, and 2010, as true as it will be in 2017 when a new president, preferably another young man of “spirit” like George W. Bush, succeeds the weak and deplorable Barack Obama. For such people, the battle is never over, and there is always another war ahead. They will push until they are stopped.

David Bromwich, a TomDispatch regular, teaches literature at Yale University and is the author of Moral Imagination.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176039/tomgram%3A_david_bromwich%2C_the_neoconservative_empire_returns/#more

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Double-Dip Oil Rout: Why an Oil Glut May Lead to a New World of Energy

Double-Dip Oil Rout:  Why an Oil Glut May Lead to a New World of Energy

By Michael T. Klare
TomDispatch
August 20, 2015

The plunge of global oil prices began in June 2014, when benchmark Brent crude was selling at $114 per barrel. It hit bottom at $46 this January, a near-collapse widely viewed as a major but temporary calamity for the energy industry.  Such low prices were expected to force many high-cost operators, especially American shale oil producers, out of the market, while stoking fresh demand and so pushing those numbers back up again.  When Brent rose to $66 per barrel this May, many oil industry executives breathed a sigh of relief.  The worst was over.  The price had “reached a bottom” and it “doesn’t look like it is going back,” a senior Saudi official observed at the time.

Skip ahead three months and that springtime of optimism has evaporated.  Major producers continue to pump out record levels of crude and world demand remains essentially flat. The result: a global oil glut that is again driving prices toward the energy subbasement.  In the first week of August, Brent fell to $49, and West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for U.S. crude, sank to $45. On top of last winter’s rout, this second round of price declines has played havoc with the profits of the major oil companies, put tens of thousands of people out of work, and obliterated billions of dollars of investments in future projects. While most oil-company executives continue to insist that a turnaround is sure to occur in the near future, some analysts are beginning to wonder if what’s underway doesn’t actually signal a fundamental transformation of the industry.

Recently, as if to underscore the magnitude of the current rout, ExxonMobil and Chevron, the top two U.S. oil producers, announced their worst quarterly returns in many years.  Exxon, America’s largest oil company and normally one of its most profitable, reported a 52% drop in earnings for the second quarter of 2015.  Chevron suffered an even deeper plunge, with net income falling 90% from the second quarter of 2014.  In response, both companies have cut spending on exploration and production (“upstream” operations, in oil industry lingo).  Chevron also announced plans to eliminate 1,500 jobs.

Painful as the short-term consequences of the current price rout may be, the long-term ones are likely to prove far more significant.  To conserve funds and ensure continuing profitability, the major companies are cancelling or postponing investments in new production ventures, especially complex, costly projects like the exploitation of Canadian tar sands and deep-offshore fields that only turn a profit when oil is selling at $80 to $100 or more per barrel.

According to Wood Mackenzie, an oil-industry consultancy, the top firms have already shelved $200 billion worth of spending on new projects, including 46 major oil and natural gas ventures containing an estimated 20 billion barrels of oil or its equivalent.  Most of these are in Canada’s Athabasca tar sands (also called oil sands) or in deep waters off the west coast of Africa.  Royal Dutch Shell has postponed its Bonga South West project, a proposed $12 billion development in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nigeria, while the French company Total has delayed a final investment decision on Zinia 2, a field it had planned to exploit off the coast of Angola.  “The upstream industry is winding back its investment in big pre-final investment decision developments as fast as it can,” Wood Mackenzie reported in July.

As the price of oil continues on its downward course, the cancellation or postponement of such mega-projects has been sending powerful shock waves through the energy industry, and also ancillary industries, communities, and countries that depend on oil extraction for the bulk of their revenues. Consider it a straw in the wind that, in February, Halliburton, a major oil-services provider, announced layoffs of 7% of its work force, or about 6,000 people.  Other firms have announced equivalent reductions.

Such layoffs are, of course, impacting whole communities.  For instance, Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, the epicenter of the tar sands industry and not so long ago a boom town, has seen its unemployment rate double over the past year and public spending slashed.  Families that once enjoyed six-digit annual incomes are now turning to community food banks for essential supplies.  “In a very short time our world has changed, and changed dramatically,” observes Rich Kruger, chief executive of Imperial Oil, an Exxon subsidiary and major investor in Alberta’s tar sands.

A similar effect can be seen on a far larger scale when it comes to oil-centric countries like Russia, Nigeria, and Venezuela.  All three are highly dependent on oil exports for government operations.  Russia’s government relies on its oil and gas industry for 50% of its budget revenues, Nigeria for 75%, and Venezuela for 45%.  All three have experienced sharp drops in oil income.  The resulting diminished government spending has meant economic hardship, especially for the poor and marginalized, and prompted increased civil unrest.  In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has clearly sought to deflect attention from the social impact of reduced oil revenue by ­whipping up patriotic fervor about the country’s military involvement in Ukraine.  Russia’s actions have, however, provoked Western economic sanctions, only adding to its economic and social woes.

No Relief in Sight

What are we to make of this unexpected second fall in oil prices?  Could we, in fact, be witnessing a fundamental shift in the energy industry?  To answer either of these questions, consider why prices first fell in 2014 and why, at the time, analysts believed they would rebound by the middle of this year.

The initial collapse was widely attributed to three critical factors:  an extraordinary surge in production from shale formations in the United States, continued high output by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) led by Saudi Arabia, and a slackening of demand from major consuming nations, especially China.

According to the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy, crude oil production in the United States took a leap from 5.6 million barrels per day in June 2011 to 8.7 million barrels in June 2014, a mind-boggling increase of 55% in just three years.  The addition of so much new oil to global markets — thanks in large part to the introduction of fracking technology in America’s western energy fields — occurred just as China’s economy (and so its demand for oil) was slowing, undoubtedly provoking the initial price slide.  Brent crude went from $114 to $84 per barrel, a drop of 36% between June and October 2014.

Historically, OPEC has responded to such declines by scaling back production by its member states, and so effectively shoring up prices.  This time, however, the organization, which met in Vienna last November, elected to maintain production at current levels, ensuring a global oil glut.  Not surprisingly, in the weeks after the meeting, Brent prices went into free fall, ending up at $55 per barrel on the last day of 2014.

Most industry analysts assumed that the Persian Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, were simply willing to absorb a temporary loss of income to force the collapse of U.S. shale operators and other emerging competitors, including tar sands operations in Canada and deep-offshore ventures in Africa and Brazil.  A senior Saudi official seemed to confirm this in May, telling the Financial Times, “There is no doubt about it, the price fall of the last several months has deterred investors away from expensive oil including U.S. shale, deep offshore, and heavy oils.”

Believing that the Saudi strategy had succeeded and noting signs of increasing energy demand in China, Europe, and the United States, many analysts concluded that prices would soon begin to rise again, as indeed they briefly did.  It now appears, however, that these assumptions were off the mark.  While numerous high-cost projects in Canada and Africa were delayed or cancelled, the U.S. shale industry has found ways to weather the downturn in prices.  Some less-productive wells have indeed been abandoned, but drillers also developed techniques to extract more oil less expensively from their remaining wells and kept right on pumping.  “We can’t control commodity prices, but we can control the efficiency of our wells,” said one operator in the Eagle Ford region of Texas.  “The industry has taken this as a wake-up call to get more efficient or get out.”

Responding to the challenge, the Saudis ramped up production, achieving a record 10.3 million barrels per day in May 2014.  Other OPEC members similarly increased their output and, to the surprise of many, the Iraqi oil industry achieved unexpected production highs, despite the country’s growing internal disorder.  Meanwhile, with economic sanctions on Iran expected to ease in the wake of its nuclear deal with the U.S., China, France, Russia, England, and Germany, that country’s energy industry is soon likely to begin gearing up to add to global supply in a significant way.

With ever more oil entering the market and a future seeded with yet more of the same, only an unlikely major boost in demand could halt a further price drop.  Although American consumers are driving more and buying bigger vehicles in response to lower gas prices, Europe shows few signs of recovery from its present austerity moment, and China, following a catastrophic stock market contraction in June, is in no position to take up the slack.  Put it all together and the prognosis seems inescapable: low oil prices for the foreseeable future.

A Whole New Ballgame?

Big Energy is doing its best to remain optimistic about the situation, believing a turnaround is inevitable. “Globally in the industry $130 billion of projects have been delayed, deferred, or cancelled,” Bod Dudley, chief executive of BP, commented in June.  “That’s going to have an impact down the road.”

But what if we’ve entered a new period in which supply just keeps expanding while demand fails to take off?  For one thing, there’s no evidence that the shale and fracking revolution that has turned the U.S. into “Saudi America” will collapse any time soon.  Although some smaller operators may be driven out of business, those capable of embracing the newest cost-cutting technologies are likely to keep pumping out shale oil even in a low-price environment.

Meanwhile, there’s Iran and Iraq to take into account.  Those two countries are desperate for infusions of new income and possess some of the planet’s largest reserves of untapped petroleum.  Over the decades, both have been ravaged by war and sanctions, but their energy industries are now poised for significant growth.  To the surprise of analysts, Iraqi production rose from 2.4 million barrels per day in 2010 to 4 million barrels this summer.  Some experts are convinced that by 2020 total output, including from the country’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region, could more than double to 9 million barrels.  Of course, continued fighting in Iraq, which has already lost major cities in the north to the Islamic State and its new “caliphate,” could quickly undermine such expectations.  Still, through years of chaos, civil war, and insurgency, the Iraqi energy industry has proven remarkably resilient and adept first at sustaining and then boosting its output.

Iran’s once mighty oil industry, crippled by fierce economic sanctions, has suffered from a lack of access to advanced Western drilling technology.  At about 2.8 million barrels per day in 2014, its crude oil production remains far below levels experts believe would be easily attainable if modern technology were brought to bear.  Once the Iran nuclear deal is approved — by the Europeans, Russians, and Chinese, even if the U.S. Congress shoots it down — and most sanctions lifted, Western companies are likely to flock back into the country, providing the necessary new oil technology and knowhow in return for access to its massive energy reserves.  While this wouldn’t happen overnight — it takes time to restore a dilapidated energy infrastructure — output could rise by one million barrels per day within a year, and considerably more after that.

All in all, then, global oil production remains on an upward trajectory.  What, then, of demand?  On this score, the situation in China will prove critical.   That country has, after all, been the main source of new oil demand since the start of this century.  According to BP, oil consumption in China rose from 6.7 million barrels per day in 2004 to 11.1 million barrels in 2014.  As domestic production only amounts to about 4 million barrels per day, all of those additional barrels represented imported energy.  If you want a major explanation for the pre-2014 rise in the price of oil, rapid Chinese growth — and expectations that its spurt in consumption would continue into the indefinite future — is it.

Woe, then, to the $100 barrel of oil, since that country’s economy has been cooling off since 2014 and its growth is projected to fall below 7% this year, the lowest rate in decades.  This means, in turn, less demand for extra oil.  China’s consumption rose only 300,000 barrels per day in 2014 and is expected to remain sluggish for years to come.  “[T]he likelihood now is that import growth will be minimal for the next two or three years,” energy expert Nick Butler of the Financial Times observed.  “That in turn will compound and extend the existing surplus of supply over demand.”

Finally, don’t forget the Paris climate summit this December.  Although no one yet knows what, if anything, it will accomplish, dozens of countries have already submitted preliminary plans for the steps they will pledge to take to reduce their carbon emissions.  These include, for example, tax breaks and other incentives for those acquiring hybrid and electric-powered cars, along with increased taxes on oil and other forms of carbon consumption.  Should such measures begin to kick in, demand for oil will take another hit and conceivably its use will actually drop years before supplies become scarce.

Winners and Losers

The initial near collapse of oil prices caused considerable pain and disarray in the oil industry.  If this second rout continues for any length of time, it will undoubtedly produce even more severe and unpredictable consequences. Some outcomes already appear likely: energy companies that cannot lower their costs will be driven out of business or absorbed by other firms, while investment in costly, “unconventional” projects like Canadian tar sands, ultra-deep Atlantic fields, and Arctic oil will largely disappear.  Most of the giant oil companies will undoubtedly survive, but possibly in downsized form or as part of merged enterprises.

All of this is bad news for Big Energy, but unexpectedly good news for the planet. As a start, those “unconventional” projects like tar sands require more energy to extract oil than conventional fields, which means a greater release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Heavier oils like tar sands and Venezuelan extra-heavy crude also contain more carbon than do lighter fuels and so emit more carbon dioxide when consumed. If, in addition, global oil consumption slows or begins to contract, that, too, would obviously reduce carbon dioxide emissions, slowing the present daunting pace of climate change.

Most of us are used to following the ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a shorthand gauge for the state of the world economy.  However, following the ups and downs of the price of Brent crude may, in the end, tell us far more about world affairs on our endangered planet.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176035/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_big_oil_in_retreat/#more

 

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America’s Empire of Bases

America’s Empire of Bases

By Chalmers Johnson
TomDispatch
August 9, 2015

As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize — or do not want to recognize — that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire — an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can’t begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.

Our military deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations. To dominate the oceans and seas of the world, we are creating some thirteen naval task forces built around aircraft carriers whose names sum up our martial heritage — Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Enterprise, John F. Kennedy, Nimitz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Carl Vinson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John C. Stennis, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another.

Our installations abroad bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or, like the now well-publicized Kellogg, Brown & Root company, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston, undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. One task of such contractors is to keep uniformed members of the imperium housed in comfortable quarters, well fed, amused, and supplied with enjoyable, affordable vacation facilities. Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales. On the eve of our second war on Iraq, for example, while the Defense Department was ordering up an extra ration of cruise missiles and depleted-uranium armor-piercing tank shells, it also acquired 273,000 bottles of Native Tan sunblock, almost triple its 1999 order and undoubtedly a boon to the supplier, Control Supply Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its subcontractor, Sun Fun Products of Daytona Beach, Florida.

At Least Seven Hundred Foreign Bases

It’s not easy to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department’s annual “Base Structure Report” for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. Pentagon bureaucrats calculate that it would require at least $113.2 billion to replace just the foreign bases — surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic product of most countries — and an estimated $591.5 billion to replace all of them. The military high command deploys to our overseas bases some 253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employs an additional 44,446 locally hired foreigners. The Pentagon claims that these bases contain 44,870 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and that it leases 4,844 more.

These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2003 Base Status Report fails to mention, for instance, any garrisons in Kosovo — even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel, built in 1999 and maintained ever since by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The Report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, although the U.S. military has established colossal base structures throughout the so-called arc of instability in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11.

For Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan, which has been an American military colony for the past 58 years, the report deceptively lists only one Marine base, Camp Butler, when in fact Okinawa “hosts” ten Marine Corps bases, including Marine Corps Air Station Futenma occupying 1,186 acres in the center of that modest-sized island’s second largest city. (Manhattan’s Central Park, by contrast, is only 843 acres.) The Pentagon similarly fails to note all of the $5-billion-worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases in other people’s countries, but no one — possibly not even the Pentagon — knows the exact number for sure, although it has been distinctly on the rise in recent years.

For their occupants, these are not unpleasant places to live and work. Military service today, which is voluntary, bears almost no relation to the duties of a soldier during World War II or the Korean or Vietnamese wars. Most chores like laundry, KP (“kitchen police”), mail call, and cleaning latrines have been subcontracted to private military companies like Kellogg, Brown & Root, DynCorp, and the Vinnell Corporation. Fully one-third of the funds recently appropriated for the war in Iraq (about $30 billion), for instance, are going into private American hands for exactly such services. Where possible, everything is done to make daily existence seem like a Hollywood version of life at home. According to the Washington Post, in Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, waiters in white shirts, black pants, and black bow ties serve dinner to the officers of the 82nd Airborne Division in their heavily guarded compound, and the first Burger King has already gone up inside the enormous military base we’ve established at Baghdad International Airport.

Some of these bases are so gigantic they require as many as nine internal bus routes for soldiers and civilian contractors to get around inside the earthen berms and concertina wire. That’s the case at Camp Anaconda, headquarters of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, whose job is to police some 1,500 square miles of Iraq north of Baghdad, from Samarra to Taji. Anaconda occupies 25 square kilometers and will ultimately house as many as 20,000 troops. Despite extensive security precautions, the base has frequently come under mortar attack, notably on the Fourth of July, 2003, just as Arnold Schwarzenegger was chatting up our wounded at the local field hospital.

The military prefers bases that resemble small fundamentalist towns in the Bible Belt rather than the big population centers of the United States. For example, even though more than 100,000 women live on our overseas bases — including women in the services, spouses, and relatives of military personnel — obtaining an abortion at a local military hospital is prohibited. Since there are some 14,000 sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults each year in the military, women who become pregnant overseas and want an abortion have no choice but to try the local economy, which cannot be either easy or pleasant in Baghdad or other parts of our empire these days.

Our armed missionaries live in a closed-off, self-contained world serviced by its own airline — the Air Mobility Command, with its fleet of long-range C-17 Globemasters, C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters, KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-10 Extenders, and C-9 Nightingales that link our far-flung outposts from Greenland to Australia. For generals and admirals, the military provides seventy-one Learjets, thirteen Gulfstream IIIs, and seventeen Cessna Citation luxury jets to fly them to such spots as the armed forces’ ski and vacation center at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps or to any of the 234 military golf courses the Pentagon operates worldwide. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld flies around in his own personal Boeing 757, called a C-32A in the Air Force.

Our “Footprint” on the World

Of all the insensitive, if graphic, metaphors we’ve allowed into our vocabulary, none quite equals “footprint” to describe the military impact of our empire. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and senior members of the Senate’s Military Construction Subcommittee such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are apparently incapable of completing a sentence without using it. Establishing a more impressive footprint has now become part of the new justification for a major enlargement of our empire — and an announced repositioning of our bases and forces abroad — in the wake of our conquest of Iraq. The man in charge of this project is Andy Hoehn, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy. He and his colleagues are supposed to draw up plans to implement President Bush’s preventive war strategy against “rogue states,” “bad guys,” and “evil-doers.” They have identified something they call the “arc of instability,” which is said to run from the Andean region of South America (read: Colombia) through North Africa and then sweeps across the Middle East to the Philippines and Indonesia. This is, of course, more or less identical with what used to be called the Third World — and perhaps no less crucially it covers the world’s key oil reserves. Hoehn contends, “When you overlay our footprint onto that, we don’t look particularly well-positioned to deal with the problems we’re now going to confront.”

Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America’s version of the colony is the military base. By following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever larger imperial stance and the militarism that grows with it. Militarism and imperialism are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Each thrives off the other. Already highly advanced in our country, they are both on the verge of a quantum leap that will almost surely stretch our military beyond its capabilities, bringing about fiscal insolvency and very possibly doing mortal damage to our republican institutions. The only way this is discussed in our press is via reportage on highly arcane plans for changes in basing policy and the positioning of troops abroad — and these plans, as reported in the media, cannot be taken at face value.

Marine Brigadier General Mastin Robeson, commanding our 1,800 troops occupying the old French Foreign Legion base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti at the entrance to the Red Sea, claims that in order to put “preventive war” into action, we require a “global presence,” by which he means gaining hegemony over any place that is not already under our thumb. According to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, the idea is to create “a global cavalry” that can ride in from “frontier stockades” and shoot up the “bad guys” as soon as we get some intelligence on them.

“Lily Pads” in Australia, Romania, Mali, Algeria…

In order to put our forces close to every hot spot or danger area in this newly discovered arc of instability, the Pentagon has been proposing — this is usually called “repositioning” — many new bases, including at least four and perhaps as many as six permanent ones in Iraq. A number of these are already under construction — at Baghdad International Airport, Tallil air base near Nasariyah, in the western desert near the Syrian border, and at Bashur air field in the Kurdish region of the north. (This does not count the previously mentioned Anaconda, which is currently being called an “operating base,” though it may very well become permanent over time.) In addition, we plan to keep under our control the whole northern quarter of Kuwait — 1,600 square miles out of Kuwait’s 6,900 square miles — that we now use to resupply our Iraq legions and as a place for Green Zone bureaucrats to relax.

Other countries mentioned as sites for what Colin Powell calls our new “family of bases” include: In the impoverished areas of the “new” Europe — Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria; in Asia — Pakistan (where we already have four bases), India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and even, unbelievably, Vietnam; in North Africa — Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Algeria (scene of the slaughter of some 100,000 civilians since 1992, when, to quash an election, the military took over, backed by our country and France); and in West Africa — Senegal, Ghana, Mali, and Sierra Leone (even though it has been torn by civil war since 1991). The models for all these new installations, according to Pentagon sources, are the string of bases we have built around the Persian Gulf in the last two decades in such anti-democratic autocracies as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

Most of these new bases will be what the military, in a switch of metaphors, calls “lily pads” to which our troops could jump like so many well-armed frogs from the homeland, our remaining NATO bases, or bases in the docile satellites of Japan and Britain. To offset the expense involved in such expansion, the Pentagon leaks plans to close many of the huge Cold War military reservations in Germany, South Korea, and perhaps Okinawa as part of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s “rationalization” of our armed forces. In the wake of the Iraq victory, the U.S. has already withdrawn virtually all of its forces from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, partially as a way of punishing them for not supporting the war strongly enough. It wants to do the same thing to South Korea, perhaps the most anti-American democracy on Earth today, which would free up the 2nd Infantry Division on the demilitarized zone with North Korea for probable deployment to Iraq, where our forces are significantly overstretched.

In Europe, these plans include giving up several bases in Germany, also in part because of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s domestically popular defiance of Bush over Iraq. But the degree to which we are capable of doing so may prove limited indeed. At the simplest level, the Pentagon’s planners do not really seem to grasp just how many buildings the 71,702 soldiers and airmen in Germany alone occupy and how expensive it would be to reposition most of them and build even slightly comparable bases, together with the necessary infrastructure, in former Communist countries like Romania, one of Europe’s poorest countries. Lieutenant Colonel Amy Ehmann in Hanau, Germany, has said to the press “There’s no place to put these people” in Romania, Bulgaria, or Djibouti, and she predicts that 80% of them will in the end stay in Germany. It’s also certain that generals of the high command have no intention of living in backwaters like Constanta, Romania, and will keep the U.S. military headquarters in Stuttgart while holding on to Ramstein Air Force Base, Spangdahlem Air Force Base, and the Grafenwöhr Training Area.

One reason why the Pentagon is considering moving out of rich democracies like Germany and South Korea and looks covetously at military dictatorships and poverty-stricken dependencies is to take advantage of what the Pentagon calls their “more permissive environmental regulations.” The Pentagon always imposes on countries in which it deploys our forces so-called Status of Forces Agreements, which usually exempt the United States from cleaning up or paying for the environmental damage it causes. This is a standing grievance in Okinawa, where the American environmental record has been nothing short of abominable. Part of this attitude is simply the desire of the Pentagon to put itself beyond any of the restraints that govern civilian life, an attitude increasingly at play in the “homeland” as well. For example, the 2004 defense authorization bill of $401.3 billion that President Bush signed into law in November 2003 exempts the military from abiding by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

While there is every reason to believe that the impulse to create ever more lily pads in the Third World remains unchecked, there are several reasons to doubt that some of the more grandiose plans, for either expansion or downsizing, will ever be put into effect or, if they are, that they will do anything other than make the problem of terrorism worse than it is. For one thing, Russia is opposed to the expansion of U.S. military power on its borders and is already moving to checkmate American basing sorties into places like Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The first post-Soviet-era Russian airbase in Kyrgyzstan has just been completed forty miles from the U.S. base at Bishkek, and in December 2003, the dictator of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, declared that he would not permit a permanent deployment of U.S. forces in his country even though we already have a base there.

When it comes to downsizing, on the other hand, domestic politics may come into play. By law the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closing Commission must submit its fifth and final list of domestic bases to be shut down to the White House by September 8, 2005. As an efficiency measure, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has said he’d like to be rid of at least one-third of domestic Army bases and one-quarter of domestic Air Force bases, which is sure to produce a political firestorm on Capitol Hill. In order to protect their respective states’ bases, the two mother hens of the Senate’s Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein, are demanding that the Pentagon close overseas bases first and bring the troops now stationed there home to domestic bases, which could then remain open. Hutchison and Feinstein included in the Military Appropriations Act of 2004 money for an independent commission to investigate and report on overseas bases that are no longer needed. The Bush administration opposed this provision of the Act but it passed anyway and the president signed it into law on November 22, 2003. The Pentagon is probably adept enough to hamstring the commission, but a domestic base-closing furor clearly looms on the horizon.

By far the greatest defect in the “global cavalry” strategy, however, is that it accentuates Washington’s impulse to apply irrelevant military remedies to terrorism. As the prominent British military historian Correlli Barnett has observed, the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq only increased the threat of al-Qaeda. From 1993 through the 9/11 assaults of 2001, there were five major al-Qaeda attacks worldwide; in the two years since then there have been seventeen such bombings, including the Istanbul suicide assaults on the British consulate and an HSBC Bank. Military operations against terrorists are not the solution. As Barnett puts it, “Rather than kicking down front doors and barging into ancient and complex societies with simple nostrums of ‘freedom and democracy,’ we need tactics of cunning and subtlety, based on a profound understanding of the people and cultures we are dealing with — an understanding up till now entirely lacking in the top-level policy-makers in Washington, especially in the Pentagon.”

In his notorious “long, hard slog” memo on Iraq of October 16, 2003, Defense secretary Rumsfeld wrote, “Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.” Correlli Barnett’s “metrics” indicate otherwise. But the “war on terrorism” is at best only a small part of the reason for all our military strategizing. The real reason for constructing this new ring of American bases along the equator is to expand our empire and reinforce our military domination of the world.

Chalmers Johnson was the author of Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006), and editor of Okinawa: Cold War Island (1999).  His final book was Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope (2010).

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176033/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_chalmers_johnson_on_garrisoning_the_planet/#more

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Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran with lies, lies, lies

Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran with lies, lies, lies

By Pepe Escobar
RT – Russia Today
August 21, 2015

The Associated Press – with great fanfare – ran an “exclusive” story masquerading what was in fact a glaring propaganda piece, according to which, under the P5+1, UN-ratified nuclear deal with Iran, the country would carry out some of the inspections of its own “sensitive sites.”

There was nothing specific in the piece. The crucial document AP alleges to have “seen” was not even the final signed agreement between Iran and the IAEA. AP did not quote any passage from the document. The bombastic “exclusive” tag relied just on the opening paragraph’s sensationalist language:

“Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the UN agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press.”

The article states nothing specifically. “Own inspectors” – in this context – means that Iran, according to the agreement, is allowed to exclude “inspectors” from states which have their own confrontational agenda. Everyone knows who the usual suspects are.

According to the final agreement, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors must always be present at any inspection. The additional presence of Iranian experts allows them to track the selected UN inspectors; some of them may be outright spies, which was exactly the case with the 1990s UN inspections of Iraq.

Managers shall be managed

Iran security expert Gary Sick was among the first to identify AP’s falsehoods.
Here, in synthesis, is what everyone involved and/or following the Iranian nuclear dossier must know about nuclear residue testing.

Under the terms of the so-called “managed access” procedures agreed between the P5+1 and Iran, “the inspected party may take environmental swipe samples at a particular site in the presence of the IAEA inspectors using swabs and containment bags provided by the IAEA to prevent cross contamination. According to former IAEA officials, this is an established procedure.”

Scientists agree that, “the process ensures the integrity of the inspection operation and the samples for all parties.”

Here, in detail, are the key facts regarding environmental sampling and managed access regarding specifically the controversial Iranian military-industrial site in Parchin. The source is unimpeachable: Tarif Rauf is a former head of verification and security policy coordination at the IAEA, reporting directly to the Director-General.

To his credit, the head of the IAEA Yukiya Amano, released a statement seriously dressing down AP’s sensationalism. Yamano stresses the agreements are “confidential” – as in AP did not read anything; and he defends the procedures as “technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices.” Yamano – who got his job via American influence – could never be accused of being an Iran-appeaser.

What is AP up to?

AP, an American news agency whose dispatches are reproduced in full by countless newspapers and magazines all across the world, once again is being used as a crude propaganda vehicle – just like US corporate media as a whole was used as a crude propaganda vehicle in the run-up towards the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq.

At a micro level, this is yet another stance of the rampant politicization of the IAEA. Washington has been doing this for years.

At a macro level, the implications are really serious. The “exclusive” went out at an extremely sensitive point of the relentless campaign by the US War Party and the Israel lobby against the Vienna deal.

There’s only one purpose for selling this piece not as an Op-Ed but as an “unbiased”, fact-based breaking news story: To convince wavering politicians, all of them Democrats, on Capitol Hill, that the Vienna deal is a bad deal.
Especially because none of these politicians will be reading Noam Chomsky’s more detailed debunking of a Washington cottage industry; the demonization of Iran.

AP at least removed some – but not all – of its allegations from the original “exclusive”. But damage has been done. If this had originated from media based in BRICS nations, especially Russia, China and Brazil, one can imagine the “international community” outrage. AP being exceptionalist-based, they might have thought they could get away with it. Well, they can’t.

http://www.rt.com/op-edge/313020-iran-escobar-media-nuclear/

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Bangkok bombing — beyond the usual suspects

Bangkok bombing — beyond the usual suspects

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
August 20, 2015

BANGKOK – So the Bangkok Bomber, a.k.a. The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt, according to the Thai police electronic sketch, is a hybrid. He may be a Westerner. He may be a Middle Easterner. But he may not be a Thai. He’s got to be a “foreigner.” A cross-pollinated Eurasian, maybe?

Now Thai investigators seem to have established the yellow T-shirted uber-target was part of a network of at least 10 members. Some of them … Thai. The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt did speak in English to the motorbike taxi driver who transported him from nearby the Erawan shrine – the site of the bombing – to his next destination in a soi (side-street) off business thoroughfare Silom road, a short ride of no more than 5 minutes.

Police sketch and video image of prime suspect

The “network” being investigated may be international, then. But according to Winthai Suvari, spokesman for the – quaintly Orwellian – National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official denomination of the military junta ruling Thailand since May 2014, it is “unlikely” to be linked to global terror/jihad.

So, in principle, no ISIS/ISIL/Daesh – much to the consternation of the American security “experts” who are briefing CNN, as well as scores of instant Southeast Asia-based “terror analysts.”

No dodgy transiting Chechens. No disgruntled Muslim separatists from southern Thailand – instrumentalized or not. And even no shady transiting Uyghurs, furious after the NCPO deported over 100 back to China. The Uyghur angle was personally debunked by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Winthai also disclosed a fascinating piece of information; Thai investigators have concluded Chinese tourists were not the prime targets of the Bangkok Bomber — even though they make up the largest demographic holidaying in Thailand. After all several other foreign tourists — mostly Asians — were at the Erawan shrine as the bomb went off, not to mention Thais.

And here we’re hurled smack back into a very Thai wilderness of mirrors already evoked by Asia Times. From the beginning, the NCPO has sworn the bombing was against tourism and the economy. Which also means against the current government — who is supervising both. And that begs the inevitable question — about which interests and what sort of “international network” are best served by creating such chaos.

As seen on TV

General Prime Minister Prayut never shies away from a blockbuster sound bite. He seems to know how Thai investigators should solve the bombing puzzle; by watching Blue Bloods — yet another NYPD-related show; “They (the investigators) will get tips, ideas and insights for their case.” Tom Selleck to the rescue, then.

Well, Tom Selleck would be appalled by one of this week’s investigating subplots. At the very night of the bombing, in a cinematic Bangkok Dangerous submerged by rumors and fear, some elements of the Thai police were sure fate (Buddha? Brahma?) had handed them over the prime suspect on a plate.

The ordeal of someone I prefer to name EU Citizen, to protect his privacy is — somewhat — described here. EU Citizen happens to be the youngest son of one of my closest friends in France. As we sat at the Oriental Hotel — not far from the always crowded pier in which a second bomb, on Tuesday, almost caused another mass carnage, but ended up exploding in the water — a more harrowing story began to emerge.

EU Citizen’s mistake was trying to catch a flight in the worst place at the worst possible time. He did not board his flight back to Europe because of a scratch in his passport photo; a problem that did not prevent him from entering Thailand in the first place.

But “as he resembled the wanted bomb suspect” he ended up being arrested as he waited for the Airport Rail Link to go back to town, and “questioned” for two hours in Thai – with no translators and no right for a phone call. The “interrogation” consisted of a bunch of tourist police showing him the footage of the Guy in the Yellow T-shirt, pointing at him, and shouting, “It’s you! It’s you!” Well, EU Citizen hardly resembles the bomb suspect.

EU Citizen eventually managed to leave the police post and go back to town. Yet the next morning, when he went to the French embassy by the Chao Phraya river to get a laissez-passer to replace his damaged passport, he was snatched by a police commando right in front of the embassy; a sting witnessed by a mob of TV cameras.

EU Citizen was forced to reconstitute in detail all the itinerary of his Thai holidays – complete with a further police trip to the hotel he stayed in Bangkok on the night of the bombing. Yet this time the “special team” seemed to have watched the right TV shows; the inquisitor spoke decent English and EU Citizen was allowed a translator from the French embassy.

Finally, on Wednesday night, EU Citizen managed to board a new flight back to Europe, as Gen Jaktip Chaichinda, no less than the next national police chief starting next month, finally confirmed he was not The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt. And yet, for scores of Facebook users in Thailand, and for an untold number of TV viewers, he was.

Inside job?

As Thai investigators may keep channeling multiple variations of televised NYPD methods, broadening the scope of the investigation, with Interpol involved, could potentially generate the perfect geopolitical storm.

Consider three facts.

Fact 1: weeks before the bombing, the media rhetoric of the usual corporate suspects against the Thai military was ratcheted up — from “slap on the wrist” mode to full demonization.

Fact 2: the Obama administration is absolutely furious because Thailand is not on board with the TPP negotiations. TPP, of course, is the NATO-on-trade arm of the “pivoting to Asia.”

Fact 3: multiple Beltway factions are even more furious because of the very close trade/strategic relationship of the NCPO with Beijing.

So, geopolitically, we could enter prime time conspiracy territory — as in a Terminator version of “pivoting to Asia.” But what about internally?

The answer might lie in a shadowy game that is virtually off-limits for foreigners; the promotion lists issued this month for assorted Thai military forces — army, air force, navy. Who went up, down or was outright excluded offers a clue to who is aching to hugely discredit the NCPO.

Another intriguing factor is how unscathed the Erawan shrine actually is (already re-opened for business, with huge crowds). That spells out an enormously skilled (lucky?) Guy in a Yellow T-shirt. And that’s yet another prime instance of Thai wilderness of mirrors. The shrine has been a key spectator/victim of political attacks and counter-attacks for years — and whatever happens to it carries a wealth of symbolic implications across the whole spectrum of Thai culture.

And that leads to the implausibility of arguments attributing the Erawan and the (failed) pier bombs to Chechens, Uyghurs or Southern Muslim separatists. A Bangkok Dangerous inside job? Not even Tom Selleck can answer that.

http://atimes.com/2015/08/bangkok-bombing-beyond-the-usual-suspects/

 

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Who profits from the Bangkok bombing?

Who profits from the Bangkok bombing?

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
August 18, 2015

BANGKOK – The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt — long shorts, unruly black hair, thick dark glasses — arrived at the Erawan shrine in a tuk-tuk. No one may have noticed him; just another nondescript backpacker in one of the busiest crossroads in Asia. He may have come to pay his respects to the golden statue of Brahma at the center of the shrine – and gaze on the Thai dancers and musicians in the background.

He sits on a bench. Then, slowly, he gets rid of a black backpack. He stands up, checks his mobile. Then he walks away. Stops. Actually seems to be calling someone on his mobile. Then he finally leaves Erawan, hitting the crowded intersection, clutching a white plastic bag, but always checking his phone.

Images of bombing suspect

He may – or may not – have known all his movements were being tracked by multiple CCTV cameras. A few minutes after he disappears from their sights, and allegedly takes a motorbike taxi, he enters, with a lethal bang, the wilderness of mirrors that is contemporary Thailand.

Who is he? Thai police is convinced he is none other than the Bangkok Bomber. And there seem to be no other prime CCTV-captured candidates.

The first leak described him as an “Arab-like man”. That’s quite vague – as there is a huge, bustling mini-Middle East only two Skytrain stations away from the Erawan shrine. But that was enough to ring all al Qaeda/ISIS bells across the planet.

Then a quote was wrongly attributed to General Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the – quaintly Orwellian – National Council for Peace and Order which rules over Thailand after a coup in May 2014. Prayuth was actually referring to someone else when he stated that the suspect was believed to be a northeast-based Red Shirt member – as in a faithful follower of self-exiled, corruption-tainted, billionaire tycoon/former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

And that’s Thai wilderness of mirrors in full regalia. The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt may be an Arab terrorist; he may be an indigenous anti-military Red Shirt operative; he might even be something in between – a Thai Muslim separatist.

The blowback dervish dance

Royal Thai Army chief and Deputy Defense Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr stressed the 3 kg pipe bomb at the Erawan shrine did “not match” the tactics of Muslim separatist rebels in Thailand’s Deep South, even though there has been a recent surge of IED attacks (27 in July alone), but just confined to the Deep South.

Thailand’s Muslim guerrilla is all about separatism – not religion. The key guerrilla outfit is the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). What they want is essentially full autonomy for Thailand’s three southern border provinces—Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala.

So this may not be prime al-Qaeda-style Jemaah Islamiyah territory, not to mention ISIS/ISIL/Daesh; what conservative Muslim clerics in the Deep South worry about is Thai cultural imperialism.

But that does not preclude, of course, insidious attempts at hardcore Islamization; and combative Salafi-jihadis gestated by their Wahhabi matrix are quite adept at that. By the way Jemaah Islamiah, on the record, fully supports Muslim separatism in Thailand. And the separatists and the military junta in Bangkok are not talking – “peace” or otherwise.

Is The Guy in a Yellow T-Shirt a Uyghur? The connection remains plausible – as the Erawan shrine is extremely popular among Chinese (and most Asians, for that matter). Thailand was rocked last month by a Uyghur scandal; more than 100, suspected of “terrorism” by Beijing, were deported to China.

It’s a fact there is a Uyghur connection in the Deep South itself; that’s a training stopover, after they leave Western China to their idealized future as “moderate rebels” in Syria. Some of the deported were indeed planning to wage jihad in “Syraq,” as Beijing intel was convinced. Hardly surprising that Chinese TV showed them on the plane back to China enveloped by black hoods.

The proverbial blowback dervish dance followed; an attack on the Thai consulate in Turkey. With the proverbial American connection; the attack was coordinated by the World Uyghur Congress, which is essentially financed by the now-banned-in-Russia NED and supported by the Nulandistan faction of the State Department.

Timing and location, location, location

The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt certainly has a gift for timing. Assuming he’s the real Bangkok Bomber, he turned the self-described “City of Life” into a city of death only one day after hundreds of thousands of Thais in blue shirts cycled across the city in the Bike for Mom spectacular; a two-wheeled homage to the Queen’s birthday, led by Crown Prince Maha himself.

And that’s where the wilderness of mirrors unveils — or reflects — the Thai royal succession. Since the coup in May 2014, General Prime Minister Prayuth’s pride and joy has been to provide Thailand with some sort of stability. Yes, this is a military junta — but most people at least in Bangkok are not complaining; compared to the nasty polarization — and appalling violence — of the past decade, this looks and feels like a five-star spa. The price was paid by democracy; crackdown on all forms of political protest, silencing — or ignoring — the opposition as a whole, a wave of arrests.

But now the going gets tougher. Last year, General Prime Minister Prayuth was saying that democracy would be back by October 2015, two months from now. A new road though map spells out elections only – maybe — by 2017.

The draft of a new constitution is due to be voted next month by the — also quaintly Orwellian — National Reform Council. And a public referendum may – or may not – happen in January 2016.

This is all supposed to be in place in case the royal succession is relatively imminent. Revered King Bhumibol’s health is faltering, and the Crown Prince’s public profile displayed in full — and fun — regalia at the Bike for Mom spectacular is part of the softening of the transition. Key subtext; all avenues for Thaksin Shinawatra and his Red Shirt army to plan a comeback must be closed a.s.a.p.

Stability? What stability?

The Bangkok bombing’s day after was marked by yet another IED, this one thrown from a bridge across the Chao Praya river. It missed a boat and the bustling Sathorn pier — very close to the Shangri-La hotel — by a whisker and exploded in the water. The target, once again; global tourists and local civilians, echoing Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s substantially correct initial verdict at the Erawan shrine; “The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism.”

And that may point to the military junta’s ultimate nightmare; what if The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt detonated a rolling campaign to target all Bangkok’s top tourist magnets?

Thailand is not exactly stagnated; according to Credit Suisse it may grow 2.5% this year — not shabby in a downward global economy. But no less than two-thirds of this GDP growth comes from tourism. And tourism from Asia. Hong Kong has already issued a red alert on travel to Thailand.

Out of the fatal victims at Erawan, there are, so far, apart from five Thais, three Chinese, two Hong Kong residents, two Malaysians, one Singaporean, one Indonesian and one Filipino. Many of the wounded are from China and Taiwan. Special booths near the shrine were set up with plenty of Chinese translators to help the victims, relatives and even Chinese media.

What’s certain is that The Bangkok Bomber already smashed the junta’s credibility. What kind of “stability” is that when the military could not see it coming – the largest, deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Bangkok?

The next step may well be round up the usual (Red Shirt) suspects. As in the leaders/faithful road warriors of the deposed (twice) Shinawatra clan.

A pipe bomb packed with 3kg of TNT and wrapped in cloth has precedents. Only six months ago two small pipe bombs exploded near the upscale Siam Paragon mall, not far from the Erawan shrine. Responsibility was attributed to the red shirts. That happened only one month after a national assembly — controlled by the General Prime Minister — decided that the former spectacularly inefficient prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra should be excluded from politics for five years.

And one of two suspects who fired grenades at Thailand’s Criminal Court building earlier this year happened to be close to Thaksin’s cousin, Chaiyasit Shinawatra.

Yet don’t forget the wilderness of mirrors. Bangkok’s velvet corridors have been shaken by rumors of a counter coup. There are factions not exactly amused by the General Prime Minister too comfortably settling down in the power seat; and most of all, these factions are increasingly incensed by the very close Bangkok-Beijing relationship.

If the shady forces controlling The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt thought they could masquerade the Erawan massacre as a Deep South-style IED blast, it didn’t stick. We already know the losers; Thailand’s fragile unity; Thailand’s economy — heavily dependent on tourism; and the geopolitical Big Prize: the multilayered Thai-Chinese relationship, which includes several instances of the New Silk Road(s).

But we still don’t know who employed The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt. Is he a red shirt? Is he a jihadi-to-be indoctrinated and trained by the usual suspects? Is he – oh, the sweet smell of conspiracy! – a CIA black ops in cahoots with the new US ambassador in Thailand, Glyn Davies, a specialist in “non-military force” to advance regime change options (or Thailand’s essential vote in favor of the anti-China TPP)?

The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt, lost in a wilderness of mirrors, may have some answers. But please don’t go cowboy and ask questions later.

http://atimes.com/2015/08/escobar-who-profits-from-the-bangkok-bombing/

 

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