How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill

How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill

Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib
The Nation
July 15, 2014

This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

In the basement of Washington’s swank Mandarin Oriental Hotel on a balmy spring day, the conference guests were finishing up their boxed lunches as the conversation shifted to their host’s pet topic—Iran. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, perhaps DC’s premier neoconservative think tank, had gathered donors, supporters, press and other interested parties for a two-day meeting on Middle East policy. And some of the Hill’s most rapacious hawks for sanctions on Iran were in the room that day to receive awards.

The moderator, a veteran Bloomberg reporter, hailed FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz as “the architect of many of the sanctions we have against Iran right now, who advised Congress on how to draft that legislation and has also advised Treasury and the White House on his opinions about sanctions.” The praise was telling. Although Dubowitz tried to give credit to Congress, the White House and the departments of Treasury and State, groups like the FDD play an outsize role in shaping policy on the delicate and potentially explosive issue of Iran’s nuclear program.

Since the moderate Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran last June, the Obama administration has engaged in an intensive round of diplomacy aimed at placing permanent curbs on that program. The talks have progressed further than anyone expected, with an interim deal in November that set a late July deadline for reaching a final accord. On Capitol Hill, though, diplomacy has been dismissed by a parade of influential naysaying hawks. And these organizations are already talking up ways of making sure that a deal, if one is reached, is dead on arrival.

Within Washington’s corridors of power, the institution that has done the most to focus attention on the alleged Iranian nuclear threat—Congress—has also been among the most skeptical when it comes to using diplomacy to do anything about it. But the members of Congress don’t come up with these ideas on their own. A handful of organizations—especially the FDD, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)—do most of the legwork in shaping policy. An even smaller network of right-wing donors funds these groups (see the sidebar below [1]).

* * *

Over the past decade, this small network of advocates has become incredibly effective at getting its way. A 2010 bill slapping sanctions on foreign banks and companies doing business—especially oil business—with Iran passed the Senate 99–0, and a 2011 amendment sanctioning international companies dealing with Iran’s Central Bank passed 100–0. In 2012, another sanctions amendment passed the Senate 94–0, and a 2013 resolution backing Israel should it attack Iran was passed 99–0. “By far and away the most powerful voices are what you can term the hawkish groups on Iran policy,” says a former congressional aide.

In the boxing ring that is Washington, the match-up isn’t even. Compare, for example, the budgets of groups that oppose diplomacy with those that support it. Four of Washington’s pro-diplomacy groups are significant players on the Hill: the Center for a New American Security, the National Iranian American Council, the American Iranian Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. According to their most recent tax filings, these organizations boasted an annual combined budget of approximately $9.4 million.

Meanwhile, the latest tax filings for just two of the groups that push hardline policies, the FDD and AIPAC, have a combined budget of approximately $75 million. And that doesn’t include the annual budget of an AIPAC offshoot, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy ($8.7 million), or aggressive right-wing PR groups like United Against Nuclear Iran ($1.6 million), whose spokespeople are regularly quoted by national media.

All that cash helps produce papers and reports advising Congress, flashy DC conferences and other ways of accessing power. For example, a more modestly funded dovish group might request a meeting with members of Congress, but some members will meet only with advocates who bring along a constituent, which could require buying a plane ticket. “That’s obviously easier for lobby groups that have a lot of money, because they can fly someone out,” says Kate Gould, a lobbyist with the pro-diplomacy Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The hawkish groups skillfully work the Hill with regular briefings and frequent contacts with staffers. Their battalions of policy analysts and lawyers “package [sanctions] bills and hand them to congressional offices,” says the former Hill aide. They also assiduously ply the mainstream media, regularly providing op-eds and quotes in news coverage. In other words, this is a full-scale operation: the hawks generate the ideas, translate them into policy, shepherd bills through Congress and celebrate their passage.

To see how deeply these groups have influenced Congress, one need only glance at the docket of House and Senate committee hearings on Iran. It’s at these hearings that members of Congress vie to burnish their credentials as being tough on Iran, calling for ever-harsher sanctions. “Congressional hearings are not weighted to be some objective analysis of some foreign policy issue,” says the former congressional aide. “The people who are calling the hearings have an agenda.”

Since November 2012, eleven separate hearings on Iran policy have considered a total of thirty-six expert testimonies from outside groups. Of that number, two neoconservative organizations dominated: FDD fellows made five appearances, and those from the AEI had four. Neoconservative allies like David Albright, who co-chairs a nonproliferation group with Dubowitz and spoke before Congress four times in this period, also gave testimony. All told, people associated with groups taking a hard line on Iran sanctions accounted for twenty-two of the thirty-six testimonies solicited by House and Senate committees.

Centrist think tanks, on the other hand, were underrepresented. Employees of the Council on Foreign Relations testified twice, while the Brookings Institution, the RAND Corporation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies fielded only one witness apiece over the period reviewed by The Nation. Experts from dovish think tanks hardly appeared at all: the only witness from such a group, Barak Barfi of the generally left-of-center New America Foundation, made one appearance.

Since 2010, when the GOP retook the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee has been led by hard-liners. Florida’s über-aggressive Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was replaced last year by California’s Ed Royce, who is only slightly less extreme. In 2013, Royce’s committee unanimously approved legislation that the FDD helped write—and that AIPAC has backed—which would tighten the screws on Iran, giving “the ayatollah a choice between the collapse of his economy or compromise on his nuclear weapons program and giving up that program,” in Royce’s words. The bill came to a full House vote at the end of July, just days before Rouhani’s inauguration.

* * *

However, the determination by the White House to take advantage of Rouhani’s overtures brought about a remarkable change in Congress, stiffening the spines of liberal Democrats. Led by Jim McDermott, John Conyers, Keith Ellison and Jim McGovern, they issued a letter on July 31 urging delay, saying it would be “counterproductive and irresponsible to vote on this measure before Iran’s new president is inaugurated.” More than a quarter of the House—including more than 100 who would later vote for the bill Royce co-sponsored—signed another letter encouraging the Obama administration to explore diplomacy with Iran. “It would be a mistake,” warned the signatories, “not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.” Even so, Royce’s bill would pass by a lopsided 400-20 vote.

Nonetheless, by late November of last year, several rounds of intense negotiations yielded the Joint Plan of Action, which saw the United States and its partners—the four other permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, called the P5+1—modestly ease sanctions in exchange for Iran’s reducing its stockpiles of nuclear material and ceasing enrichment to higher levels. A key component of the interim deal was that the P5+1 would refrain from imposing new sanctions. The two sides agreed to aim at striking a final accord within six months—and both would need to keep their respective hardliners in check.

The Obama administration would soon face another hurdle with hawks on the Hill. In December, Senators Robert Menendez, Mark Kirk and Charles Schumer introduced their counterpart to the Royce bill. AIPAC threw its weight behind it, helping to amass fifty-nine co-sponsors. Though vaguely worded, the Senate bill sought to destroy negotiations by imposing deeper sanctions, insisting that any final deal must “dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities.”

The sanctions hardliners heaped praise on the measure. In a video posted online, AIPAC’s policy director, Brad Gordon, claimed the effort would “dramatically enhance our chance” of striking a deal with Iran and urged AIPAC’s members to write their senators to garner co-sponsors. But the bill raised alarms among advocates of diplomacy—including, most importantly, the White House. “This bill is in direct contradiction to the administration’s work to peacefully resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. Obama issued a veto threat.

If there were any doubts about the danger that such a bill posed to an agreement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laid them to rest when he was asked by Time what would happen if Washington enacted new sanctions—even those with a delayed trigger—during the talks. “The entire deal is dead,” Zarif responded.

With the wind in its sails, the White House got help from dovish groups like the Friends Committee on National Legislation and J Street, which rallied their supporters against the Menendez-Kirk-Schumer bill. Gould, the FCNL lobbyist, says members of Congress received more than 10,000 calls about it—“overwhelmingly pro-diplomacy,” she adds. Crucially, Senate majority leader Harry Reid refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Spooked, some of the sixteen Democratic co-sponsors begged off their initial support. As Senator Jeff Merkley put it in a letter to constituents, “At this time I do not support additional sanctions legislation because I share the views of many foreign policy experts that it could undermine the ongoing negotiations.” By February, AIPAC had also backed off, deploying influential constituents and donors to urge against a Senate vote, according to the Daily Beast. Even Menendez suggested that the time was not right to vote on his own bill. “While AIPAC is very powerful, it doesn’t win all the time,” says a former Obama administration official. “And because it’s misstepping so frequently, it’s losing quietly.”

With Democratic leaders averse to passing further legislation now, sanctions hawks are left with an increasingly partisan congressional base. But they remain undeterred. Should the P5+1 strike a deal with Iran, the hardliners are preparing new tactics to limit sanctions relief. Key to this strategy is shifting the goal posts. Right now, the White House is demanding that Iran reduce its uranium enrichment and allow inspectors greater access. The hawks would like to shift conventional wisdom—if not explicit policy—toward the goal of regime change. As Dubowitz put it bluntly at the FDD’s conference this spring, “The strategic problem here is the nature of the regime.”

At the end of June, Foreign Policy acquired an FDD document that it characterized as a “playbook for opposing an Obama nuclear deal with Iran.” The paper, written by Dubowitz and Senator Kirk’s recently departed deputy chief of staff, Richard Goldberg, calls on Congress to oppose the rollback of sanctions until Iran proves that its entire financial sector has no involvement in terrorism, money laundering or proliferation. By broadening the scope of requirements for sanctions relief, these demands would quickly render an otherwise historic deal into no deal at all. In July, Congress dutifully obliged: Royce, along with Democrat Eliot Engel, spearheaded a letter—signed by 342 of his colleagues—demanding a larger congressional role in talks and raising requirements on lifting sanctions to the FDD’s expansive standards. “Iran’s permanent and verifiable termination of all of these activities—not just some—is a prerequisite for permanently lifting most congressionally-mandated sanctions,” the letter stated.

The stakes, of course, are high. An agreement could open the door to a new era of improved relations with Iran and lead to desperately needed cooperation in solving what has become a regional sectarian war. The alternative is deepening confrontation—fueled by the same impulse that gave rise to the disastrous war in Iraq.

The Money Behind the Lobby

Sheldon Adelson
Chairman and CEO, Las Vegas Sands Corporation
Estimated worth: $36.8 billion
Iran-related contributions:
Over $1.5 million to the FDD between 2008 and 2011;
at least $1.04 million to AIPAC since 2007

• In October 2013, Adelson—who along with his wife, Miriam, was the GOP’s biggest donor during the 2012 presidential campaign—said the United States should drop a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.

Paul Singer
Founder, Elliot Management hedge fund
Estimated worth: $1.5 billion.
Iran-related contributions:
$3.6 million to the FDD between 2008 and 2011;
$1.5 million to AIPAC between 2010 and 2011

• Singer was listed as the American Enterprise Institute’s second-largest donor in 2009, giving $2.31 million to the organization between 2009 and 2011. He was also a major fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Bernard Marcus
Co-founder, Home Depot
Estimated worth: $3.6 billion
Iran-related contributions:
$10.7 million to the FDD between 2008 and 2011,
making him its biggest donor in that period;
$2.1 million to the FDD in 2012;
$650,000 to the AEI between 2007 and 2012;
$2.45 million to AIPAC between 2007 and 2012

• In the 2012 presidential campaign, Marcus contributed $60,000 to the Republican National Committee and $20,000 to a Mitt Romney Super PAC; he also maxed out his personal contributions to the Romney campaign.

—Eli Clifton

The contributions to AIPAC from all three donors were directed to the American Israel Education Foundation, which calls itself “the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC.”

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Neocons Agree: Pressure Iran Forever

Neocons Agree:  Pressure Iran Forever

by Derek Davison
July 30, 2014

One of the unintended consequences of the decision to extend the international talks on Iran’s nuclear program is the growing number of neoconservative calls for even more pressure on Iran. So it was on July 28 that the Gemunder Center Iran Task Force, a creation of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), hosted a panel discussion, “The Elusive Final Deal with Iran: Developments and Options Going Forward,” the participants of which all agreed on the need to “pressure” Iran now, and presumably forever, or at least until a new regime takes over in Tehran (which will be any day now, surely).

The substance of the discussion closely mirrored JINSA’s July 17 report, “Improving the Prospects for an Acceptable Final Deal with Iran,” which also focused on “pressure.” The panel repeatedly made the case for more pressure, which highlighted the shifting goalposts that have marked the neocon approach to the talks between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) since they began.

America and its allies were supposed to pressure Iran into negotiating and bringing its nuclear program into compliance with international expectations. Now that Iran is (again) negotiating and is in compliance, the calls for increasing pressure continue from neoconservative think tanks and certain actors on Capitol Hill.

When Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations talks about the importance of increasing pressure on Iran while “giving them a way out,” it’s not quite clear how that differs from what has already happened up until this point. Now American pressure is supposed to leverage not just Iran’s participation in the talks, not only its compliance with its NPT obligations, but also inspire Iranian capitulation to the agenda of American hawks. Iran’s failure to capitulate is proof positive that it hasn’t been pressured enough. Either the Iran hawks aren’t getting the hang of this “negotiating” thing or they consider “pressuring” Iran the end, not the means.

So what should pressure amount to when it comes to Iran and the nuclear talks? According to the JINSA report, Iran “respects only strength” (that really is a direct quote), so naturally a “credible” military threat is required. This requires more public threats of a military response, more public pledges to defend America’s regional allies from alleged Iranian aggression, more public tests of US “bunker buster” weaponry like the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), and more weapons sales, including MOPs, to Israel.

The panel also heavily emphasized the idea that America must “compete” with Iran regionally, “interdicting Iranian actions” as Ambassador Dennis Ross put it. This would presumably ratchet up the “pressure” on Iran. But the chaotic state of affairs throughout the Middle East right now makes it almost impossible for the US to adopt an across-the-board policy of opposing Iranian action everywhere. There are three regional flashpoints where Iran is currently active: Gaza, where it may be strengthening its support for Hamas; Syria, where it supports Bashar al-Assad against the rebel factions trying to unseat him; and Iraq, where it supports the Shia-led government (even if its support for Nouri al-Maliki is waning) and opposes the Islamic State (IS).

In Gaza, the US can and will oppose Iranian activity that might harm Israeli interests, but in Syria the picture becomes muddled, since America supports some of the rebels fighting Assad (the Free Syrian Army) but opposes others (the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front and IS, also opposed by Iran). Meanwhile, in Iraq, for all practical purposes the US and Iran are on the same side, backing Maliki (or at least Baghdad) against IS and the Baathist Naqshbandi Army, though Washington has emphasized the need for a policy of reconciliation between Baghdad and Iraq’s disaffected Sunnis. JINSA’s report notes, in something of an understatement, that “the United States has been reticent to counter Iranian attempts to bolster its Shiite allies” in Syria and Iraq. Well, there’s a reason for that; doing so would materially damage US interests in Iraq and would risk the rise of a greater threat in Syria.

The panelists disagreed somewhat on the ideal length of a comprehensive deal. Ross, somewhat more realistically than his fellow panelists, suggested that an acceptable deal would sunset after 20 years, whereas former George W. Bush officials Stephen Rademaker and Eric Edelman seemed to be unhappy with a deal that would ever sunset. Rademaker specifically objects to language in the JPOA indicating that at the conclusion of a comprehensive solution, “the Iranian nuclear programme will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT.” While this would still leave Iran subject to Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, specifically its requirement that states comply with safeguards negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to prevent the development of a nuclear weapon, Rademaker insists that Iran should remain under the terms of a comprehensive deal indefinitely. This is certainly a non-starter for the Iranians, who have been clear that they will only accept a deal under which Iran will ultimately be treated like any other NPT-signatory, but maybe they’re only insisting on that point because the US hasn’t “pressured” them enough yet.

About the Author

Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics. He has Master’s degrees in Middle East Studies from the University of Chicago, where he specialized in Iranian history and policy, and in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied American foreign policy and Russian/Cold War history. He previously worked in the Persian Gulf for The RAND Corporation.

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Israel-Palestine: Correcting Some Faulty Ideas on Both Sides

Israel-Palestine:  Correcting Some Faulty Ideas on Both Sides

by Mitchell Plitnick
July 26, 2014

Like many of us, I’ve been very busy on social media since Israel began its military operation in Gaza. I see a lot of ignorant nonsense there, and it’s not limited to the pro-Israel side. I also see a lot of shoddy thinking and ignorance of the facts. Since I had to study up a lot of this for my job as the Director of the US Office of B’Tselem, I thought I might set the record straight.

“War crimes”

Various memes make the rounds in discussions of war crimes. One that I found particularly laughable was “Even the UN says Hamas is committing war crimes but they say Israel only might be.” I’ve also seen defenses of Hamas’ firing of missiles at civilian targets in Israel based on Palestinians’ right of self-defense.

Here is the long and short of it: War crimes are defined as “Serious violations of international humanitarian law constitute war crimes.” That’s going to encompass pretty much every violation that might become a public issue in any conflict.

International law recognizes that civilians are going to be hurt, killed and dispossessed in war. The obligation of combatants is to do all they can to minimize the death and destruction if they do need to operate in areas where it is likely that civilians will be hurt.

As a result, when Israel proclaims its innocence of violating these laws, no matter how suspicious we may be, enforcers of international law cannot declare that war crimes have been committed without an investigation. Reasonable people who are not international lawyers can make assumptions, but the investigation needs to happen, and it is always possible, especially when the conflict involves an area as densely populated as Gaza, that it will turn out that the state in question did its best to avoid civilian casualties. High civilian casualty numbers are not proof, but they obviously raise suspicions.

On Hamas’ side, this is true as well, but Hamas makes no secret of its use of weapons which, by their very nature, cannot be used in a manner that can discriminate between civilian and military targets. So, while the UN or other bodies would still investigate and make a case before taking any action, Hamas is committing war crimes. It’s not unfair to say so.

In this case, however, Israel has declared that the homes of leading Hamas activists (and those of other factions) are legitimate targets. They have, in fact, willfully bombed such houses during these engagements as a result. Unlike the 2002 assassination of Salah Shehade, where Israel claimed (falsely, many say) to have believed Shehade to be alone in the building they bombed, Israel has made no such claims this time around. Therefore, it is also not unfair to say that Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza, even before an investigation.

If not for Iron Dome, there would have been many more Israeli casualties

This statement seems to make sense, but the numbers don’t back it up. A study done through July 14, when rocket fire into Israel was at its most intense, showed that the number of rockets being fired from Gaza was fewer than in Operation Cast Lead and the frequency of hits was about the same.

I’m all for Iron Dome. Any defensive system whose purpose is to protect civilians is something I consider an absolute positive, and I only wish more countries would invest in such systems, endeavoring to protect, rather than avenge, their civilians. The concern that iron Dome would make Israel even more reckless and grant it even more impunity does not seem to be borne out by its actions in the current onslaught. Those actions, brutal as they are, are no worse than what Israel did in 2008 and 2012 to Gaza or what it did in 2006 to Lebanon. So, yeah, please let’s see more Iron Domes in the world.

By the same token, however, it doesn’t seem like Iron Dome is actually protecting Israeli civilians nearly as much as the rockets’ lack of any sort of targeting ability.

Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people

Opponents of Israeli policies in the United States and in Israel itself have an uphill battle against an entrenched propagandistic view of the entire conflict. We do ourselves no favors by using bombastic, easily assailable language in making our arguments.

Genocide has a specific meaning in international law. It does not mean large scale killing. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide provides that definition:

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

There is no evidence that this is what Israel is trying to do. Indeed, the best evidence that Israel is not doing this is the simple fact that the Palestinian population, in both the West Bank and Gaza, continues to grow, despite the occupation and all its concomitant hardships.

Would Israel like to find a way to get rid of the Palestinians in the West Bank and cut off Gaza? Sure, but that is not genocide, it is ethnic cleansing, and frankly, that’s bad enough. Israel has done that very gradually over the years, confiscating more and more land, forcing Palestinians into ever smaller enclaves and turning Gaza into one big open air prison.

Making claims that are contradicted by the facts, especially the weighty accusation of genocide, is irresponsible and self-defeating; it plays right into Israel’s propaganda hands.

Hamas is exercising legitimate self-defense

It is absolutely true that an occupied people has the right to resist its occupiers. It is also true that the unusual nature of Israel’s occupation makes it very difficult for guerrilla groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and others to take any violent action that would conform to international legal standards. As international legal expert Noura Erekat puts it: “Hamas has crude weapons technology that lacks any targeting capability. As such, Hamas rocket attacks ipso facto violate the principle of distinction because all of its attacks are indiscriminate. This is not contested.”

It is also true that Israel itself does not differentiate between attacks on its civilians and its soldiers. It views them as equally illegitimate and labels it all “terrorism,” even though legally, Israeli soldiers are combatants while on duty. Take, for example, the killing of IDF soldier Natanel Moshiashvili in 2012. The IDF statement about his death plainly states: “The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers, and will operate against anyone who uses terror against the State of Israel.”

Nonetheless, the fact that Palestinians are mostly unable to strike exclusively at Israeli military targets does not mean that it is suddenly legal to use indiscriminate weapons or to target civilians. These are war crimes, and any credible investigation must investigate both sides while also taking into account the massive differences in capabilities and power of the two. Israel must also be scrutinized more closely because it has a far greater ability to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants than Hamas.

Hamas is using human shields

Saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true, but it does make a whole lot of people believe it. For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu willfully and repeatedly lied to the Israeli public and the world about Hamas’ complicity in the kidnap and murder of the three young Israeli settlers, which sparked this latest round. He kept saying he had proof that he never produced, and now the Israeli police are admitting what everyone who was actually paying attention at the time knew: this was an independent act of violence.

It’s the same with the human shield argument. Like genocide, the term “human shield” has a legal definition. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, “… the use of human shields requires an intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.” Again, as Erekat wrote: “International human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are not true.” Erekat correctly cites reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which focused on past engagements. There is also doubt being cast by journalists in Gaza today.

In fact, no evidence has ever been presented to support the accusation apart from the high number of civilian casualties and Israel’s word. On the other hand, Israel’s own High Court had to demand that Israel stop using human shields. That happened in 2005, but the practice continued.

In any case, even the presence of human shields does not absolve or mitigate Israel’s responsibility to minimize civilian casualties. Again quoting Erekat: “Even assuming that Israel’s claims were plausible, humanitarian law obligates Israel to avoid civilian casualties…In the over three weeks of its military operation, Israel has demolished 3,175 homes, at least a dozen with families inside; destroyed five hospitals and six clinics; partially damaged sixty-four mosques and two churches; partially to completely destroyed eight government ministries; injured 4,620; and killed over 700 Palestinians. At plain sight, these numbers indicate Israel’s egregious violations of humanitarian law, ones that amount to war crimes.”

Finally, one last point and one more citation of Noura Erekat. The claim that Israel is merely acting in self-defense fails on a number of counts. As I and others have been saying from the beginning, the Netanyahu government willfully and cynically used the murders of three Israelis as an excuse to provoke Hamas with mass arrests and widespread activities that included the deaths of nine Palestinian civilians before this operation started. That removes the self-defense argument from the start. But more than that, the Gaza Strip, despite it being emptied of settlements and soldiers, remains under Israeli control, and is thus occupied territory, contrary to Israel’s claims. Please check out Erekat’s excellent write-up of what this means for the right of self-defense. And please note, she never denies that Israel has a right to protect its own civilians, but that is not the same thing.

About the Author

Mitchell Plitnick is the former Director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and was previously the Director of Education and Policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement. Plitnick regularly speaks all over the country on current issues. His writing has appeared in the Jordan Times, Israel Insider, UN Observer, Middle East Report, Global Dialogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Die Blaetter Fuer Deutsche Und Internationale Politik, Outlook, and in a regular column for a time in Tikkun Magazine. He has been interviewed by various outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor and CNBC Asia. Plitnick graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography.

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Crime (Israel) and punishment (Russia)

Crime (Israel) and punishment (Russia)

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
July 30, 2014

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining it …

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunaticGeorge Orwell, 1984

So Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Hollande and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi – let’s call them the Fab Five – get on a video conference call to muster their courage and “increase pressure” asking for a cease-fire in Gaza. Later in the day, Israel’s Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu delivers his answer, in plain language: he remains dead set on achieving his version of a Final Solution to Gaza. [1] With or without “pressure”.

So what’s left for the Fab Five after having their illustrious Western collective behinds solemnly kicked? They decide to dump Gaza and instead sanction Russia – again! How brilliant is that as an exit strategy?

Spectacular non-entity Tony Blinken, who doubles as deputy national security adviser to Barack Obama, was keen to stress to Western corporate media that the unruly Eurotrash mob is now “determined to act”. No, not against Israel because of Gaza; against Russia because of Ukraine. Such a lovely Orwellian symmetry: the extended Two Minutes Hate from Israel towards Gazans morphs into the extended Two Minutes Hate from the “West” towards Russia, mirroring the extended Two Minutes Hate from Kiev towards Eastern Ukrainians.

Not even Hollywood could come up with such a plot; Israel gets away with unlawful premeditated mass murder of civilians, while Russia gets framed for a (smaller-scale) airborne mass murder of civilians that has all the makings of being set up by the Kiev vassals of Russia’s Western “partners”.

Here I have exposed how sanctions, sanctions, sanctions is the one and only official Obama administration “policy” on Russia. On top of the next European Union sanctions, coming soon, the US will be piling up – what else – more sanctions. After all, Washington is so “concerned” that Moscow will sooner or later invade Ukraine; that would certainly, and finally, answer all those In God We Trust prayers.

Where we stand now
Let’s follow the facts. Washington from the get-go said it was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s missile that downed MH17. They swore they had evidence. Like in “We know. Trust us”. The historical record for the past 60 years at least shows they cannot be trusted. There was never any evidence. Just spin.

Moscow, via the Defense Ministry, presented hard evidence. And called for an unbiased international investigation. Washington ignored it all – the call and the hard evidence.

The US Navy, crammed with state-of-the-art missile defense radars, has been in the Black Sea for weeks now. As much as the Russians, they have tracked every particle flying over Ukraine. The NSA goes for signals intelligence; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency goes for phenomena in the imagery realm; the Defense Intelligence Agency adds Humint; there’s the CIA; and there’s the all-seeing, all-knowing Director of National Intelligence. How come all this trillion-dollar Full Spectrum Dominance apparatus cannot come up with a single, conclusive piece of evidence?

The only risible “evidence” presented so far pictures the acronym salad of US intel agencies spending their time reading blogs and Twittering. As in the State Department head in Kiev twittering satellite imagery that the New York Times parroted “proved” Russia is shelling Ukraine from across the border. The proverbial “senior US officials” even had to tersely admit on the record they have no proof whatsoever about “Putin’s missile”. If they had, NATO would be ready to flip burgers in Red Square.

Based on the wealth of info now in the open, the top probability of what caused the MH17 tragedy was an R-60M air-to-air missile shot from a Ukrainian Su-25 – and not a BUK (there’s also the possibility of a double down; first an R-60M and then a BUK). The R-60M is very fast, with an ideal engagement distance of up to five kilometers. That’s how far the Su-25 detected by the Russians (they showed the graphics) was from MH17.

SBU – Ukrainian intel – for its part confiscated the recordings of Kiev control tower talking to MH17. That would certainly explain why MH17 was overflying a war zone (Malaysian Airlines revealed they were forced to). Hefty bets can be made the recordings are now being “doctored”.

Then there are the black boxes, which will not de decoded by the Malaysians or by the Dutch, but by the Brits – acting under Washington’s orders. As The Saker blogger summed up the view of top Russian specialists, “the Brits will now let the NSA falsify the data and that falsification will be coordinated with the SBU in Kiev which will eventually release the recordings who will fully ‘confirm’ the ‘authenticity’ of the NSA-doctored recordings from the UK.” To make it more palatable, and erase suspicions about Anglo-American foul play, the Dutch will announce it. Everyone should be forewarned.

NATO heads, for their part, are droolin’. Kiev’s forces/militias will hold “joint exercises” with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Ukraine in slightly over a month from now, on September 1; red alert applies, because this is when Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the slow motion ethnic cleansing of Donbass will be finished.

As for the R2P (“responsibility to protect”) angle, it sounds quite improbable. True, Moscow can always say that unless the slow motion ethnic cleansing of Donbass stops they will recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics. In that case, Moscow would be replaying Abkhazia and South Ossetia; a de facto R2P backed by military muscle.

Under international law – which Washington never respects, by the way – this is not the same as “invading” Ukraine. The frankly scary Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, would obviously freak out – but that’s a dose of her own medicine. It would indeed be comparable to what the Americans are doing to the benefit of those Salafi-jihadis in Syria; and better yet, to what the US did in Kosovo.

The $50billion vultures
And now, on top of sanctions, Moscow also has to contend with a massive US$50 billion theft attempt. The International Arbitration Court in The Hague found that the Kremlin’s pursuit of Yukos and its main shareholder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a decade ago was politically motivated. Moscow can’t appeal – but it will pursue all legal avenues for trying to get this ruling “set aside”.

Well, it’s The Hague’s decision itself that is political. Khodorkovsky was found guilty not only by the Russian judicial system but also by the European Court of Human Rights. Yukos and Menotep shareholders were and remain a bunch of oligarch gangsters – to put it mildly.

So here’s the Empire of Chaos once again in action, manipulating a Dutch court after literally stealing Germany’s gold and fining France for selling warships to Russia. In this case though, the “West” has more investments in Russia than the Russian government in the West. Payback could be a bitch – as in Moscow, for instance, freezing all US and EU energy investments especially in the new ultra-profitable frontier, the Arctic oil fields. Western Big Oil will never allow this to happen.

This could go on forever. The bottom line: the Russian state simply won’t allow itself to be robbed by a dodgy ruling on behalf of a bunch of oligarchs. In parallel, a case can be made that not only the Return of the Living (Neo-Con) Dead but also substantial sections of the deep state in Washington DC and environs – as well as “Western” plutocracy – want to provoke some sort of NATO war against Russia, sooner rather than later.

And in another parallel line, Moscow rumor has it that the Kremlin finds this protracted post-Yukos battle just an afterthought compared to the economic war about to convulse Europe and eventually pit Europe against Russia: exactly what the Empire of Chaos is praying – and working – for. “Two Minute” Hate? Talk about hours, days, weeks, and years.

1. Netanyahu: We’re prepared for an extended operation in Gaza, The Jerusalem Post, July 28, 2014.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at


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A chessboard drenched in blood

A chessboard drenched in blood

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
July 23, 2014

“The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Everyone remembers the Downing Street Memo, which unveiled the Bush/Blair “policy” in the run-up to the 2003 bombing/invasion/occupation of Iraq. The “policy” was to get rid of Saddam Hussein via a lightning war. The justification was “terrorism” and (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which had “disappeared”, mounted in trucks, deep into Syria. Forget about intelligence and facts.

The tragedy of MH17 – turned, incidentally, into a WMD – might be seen as a warped rerun of imperial policy in Iraq. No need for a memo this time. The “policy” of the Empire of Chaos is clear, and multi-pronged; diversify the “pivot to Asia” by establishing a beachhead in Ukraine to sabotage trade between Europe and Russia; expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to Ukraine; break the Russia-China strategic partnership; prevent by all means the trade/economic integration of Eurasia, from the Russia-Germany partnership to the New Silk Roads converging from China to the Ruhr; keep Europe under US hegemony.

The key reason why Russian President Vladimir Putin did not “invade” Eastern Ukraine – as much as he’s been enticed to by Washington/NATO – to stop a US military adviser-facilitated running slaughter of civilians is that he does not want to antagonize the European Union, Russia’s top trading partner.

Crucially, Washington’s intervention in Kosovo invoking R2P – Responsibility to Protect – was justified at the time for exactly the same reasons a Russian intervention in Donetsk and Luhansk could be totally justified now. Except that Moscow won’t do it – because the Kremlin is playing a very long game.

The MH17 tragedy may have been a horrendous mistake. But it may also have been a desperate gambit by the Kiev minions of the Empire of Chaos. By now, Russian intel may have already mastered the key facts. Washington’s predictable modus operandi was to shoot from the hip, igniting and in theory winning the spin war, and doubling down by releasing the proverbial army of “top officials” brimming with social media evidence. Moscow will take time to build a meticulous case, and only then lay it out in detail.

Hegemony lost
The Big Picture spells out the Empire of Chaos elites as extremely uneasy. Take Dr Zbigniew “The Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski, who as a former foreign policy mentor has the ears of the increasingly dejected White House paperboy. Dr Zbig was on CNN this Sunday challenging Europe’s leaders to “stand up to Putin”. He wonders if “Europe wants to become a satellite” and worries about “a moment of decisive significance for the future of the system – of the world system”.

And it’s all Putin’s fault, of course: “We’re not starting the Cold War. He [Putin] has started it. But he has gotten himself into a horrendous jam. I strongly suspect that a lot of people in Russia, even not far away from him who are worried that Russia’s status in the world is dramatically being undermined, that Russia’s economically beginning to fail, that Russia’s threatened by the prospect of becoming a satellite to China, that Russia’s becoming self-isolated and discredited.”

Obviously Dr Zbig is blissfully unaware of the finer points of the Russia-China strategic partnership, as well as their concerted voice inside the BRICS, the G-20 and myriad other mechanisms. His trademark Russophobia in the end always gets the better of him. And to think that in his latest book, Strategic Vision (2012), Dr Zbig was in favor of an enlarged “West” annexing Turkey and Russia, with the Empire of Chaos posing as “promoter” and “guarantor” of broader unity in the West, and a “balancer” and “conciliator” between the major powers in the East. A quick look at the record since 2012 – Libya, Syria, Ukraine, encirclement of China – reveals the Empire of Chaos only as fomenter of, what else, chaos.

Now compare a fearful Dr Zbig with Immanuel Wallerstein – who was a huge influence in my 2007 warped geopolitical travel book Globalistan. In this piece (in Spanish) Wallerstein argues that the Empire of Chaos simply can’t accept its geopolitical decadence – and that’s why it has become so dangerous. Restoring its hegemony in the world-system has become the supreme obsession; and that’s where the whole “policy” that is an essential background to the MH17 tragedy reveals Ukraine as the definitive do or die battleground.

In Europe, everything hinges on Germany. Especially after the National Security Agency scandal and its ramifications, the key debate raging in Berlin is how to position itself geopolitically bypassing the US. And the answer, as pressed by large swathes of German big business, lies in a strategic partnership with Russia.

Show me the missile
Slowly, with no hype and no spin, the Russian military are starting to deliver the goods. Here, courtesy of the Vineyard of The Saker blog, is their key presentation so far. As The Saker put it, Russia had – and has – a “20/20 radar vision”, or full spectrum surveillance, on everything going on in Ukraine. And so, arguably, does NATO. What the Russian Ministry of Defense is saying is as important as the clues it is laying out for experts to follow.

The damaged MH17 starboard jet engine suggests a shape charge from an air-to-air missile – and not a Buk; that’s consistent with the Russian Ministry of Defense presentation graphically highlighting an Ukrainian SU-25 shadowing MH17. Increasingly, the Buk scenario – hysterically peddled by the Empire of Chaos – is being discarded. Not to mention, again, that not a single eyewitness saw the very graphic, thick missile trace that would have been clearly visible had a Buk been used.

Way beyond the established fact of a Ukrainian SU-25 trailing MH17, plenty of unanswered questions remain, some involving a murky security procedure at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport – where security is operated by ICTS, an Israeli company based in The Netherlands and founded by former officers from the Israeli Shin Bet intel agency. And then there is the unexplained presence of “foreign” advisors in Kiev’s control tower.

As much as Bashar al-Assad in Syria had absolutely no motive to “gas his own people” – as the hysterical narrative went at the time – the Eastern Ukraine federalists have no motive to down a civilian airliner. And as much as Washington doesn’t give a damn about the current civilian slaughter in Gaza, it doesn’t give a damn about the MH17 civilian deaths; the one and only obsession is to force Europeans to sanction Russia to death. Translation: break up Europe-Russia commercial and geopolitical integration.

One week before the MH17 tragedy, the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies was already sounding the alarm concerning the Empire of Chaos’s “policy” and its refusal to “adhere to the principles and norms of international law and the rules and spirit of the existing system of international relations”.

Moscow, in building its case on the MH17 tragedy, will bide its time to debunk Kiev’s claims and maximize its own credibility. The game now moves to the black boxes and the cockpit voice recorder. Still Ukraine will remain the do or die battlefield – a chessboard drenched in blood.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at


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It was Putin’s missile!

It was Putin’s missile!

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
July 18, 2014

And here’s the spin war verdict: the current Malaysia Airlines tragedy – the second in four months – is “terrorism” perpetrated by “pro-Russian separatists”, armed by Russia, and Vladimir Putin is the main culprit. End of story. Anyone who believes otherwise, shut up.

Why? Because the CIA said so. Because Hillary “We came, we saw, he died” Clinton said so. Because batshit crazy Samantha “R2P” Power said so – thundering at the UN, everything duly printed by the neo-con infested Washington Post. [1]

Because Anglo-American corporate media – from CNN to Fox (who tried to buy Time Warner, which owns CNN) – said so. Because the President of the United States (POTUS) said so. And mostly because Kiev had vociferously said so in the first place.

Right off the bat they were all lined up – the invariably hysterical reams of “experts” of the “US intelligence community” literally foaming at their palatial mouths at “evil” Russia and “evil” Putin; intel “experts” who could not identify a convoy of gleaming white Toyotas crossing the Iraqi desert to take Mosul. And yet they have already sentenced they don’t need to look any further, instantly solving the MH17 riddle.

It doesn’t matter that President Putin has stressed the MH17 tragedy must be investigated objectively. And “objectively” certainly does not mean that fictional “international community” notion construed by Washington – the usual congregation of pliable vassals/patsies.

And what about Carlos?
A simple search at reveals that MH17 was in fact diverted 200 kilometers north from the usual flight path taken by Malaysia Airlines in the previous days – and plunged right in the middle of a war zone. Why? What sort of communication MH17 received from Kiev air control tower?

Kiev has been mute about it. Yet the answer would be simple, had Kiev released the Air Traffic Control recording of the tower talking to flight MH17; Malaysia did it after flight MH370 disappeared forever.

It won’t happen; SBU security confiscated it. So much for getting an undoctored explanation on why MH17 was off its path, and what the pilots saw and said before the explosion.

The Russian Defense Ministry, for its part, has confirmed that a Kiev-controlled Buk anti-aircraft missile battery was operational near the MH17’s crash. Kiev has deployed several batteries of Buk surface-to-air missile systems with at least 27 launchers; these are all perfectly capable of bringing down jets flying at 33,000 ft.

Radiation from a battery’s Kupol radar, deployed as part of a Buk-M1 battery near Styla (a village some 30km south of Donetsk) was detected by the Russian military. According to the ministry, the radar could be providing tracking information to another battery which was at a firing distance from MH17’s flight path. The tracking radar range on the Buk system is a maximum of 50 miles. MH17 was flying at 500 mph. So assuming the “rebels” had an operational Buk and did it, they would have had not more than five minutes to scan all the skies above, all possible altitudes, and then lock on. By then they would have known that a cargo plane could not possibly be flying that high. For evidence supporting the possibility of a false flag, check here.

And then there’s the curiouser and curiouser story of Carlos, the Spanish air traffic controller working at Kiev’s tower, who was following MH17 in real time. For some Carlos is legit – not a cipher; for others, he’s never even worked in Ukraine. Anyway he tweeted like mad. His account – not accidentally – has been shut down, and he has disappeared; his friends are now desperately looking for him. I managed to read all his tweets in Spanish when the account was still online – and now copies and an English translation are available.

These are some of his crucial tweets:

  • “The B777 was escorted by 2 Ukrainian fighter jets minutes before disappearing from radar (5.48 pm)”
  • “If the Kiev authorities want to admit the truth 2 fighter jets were flying very close a few minutes before the incident but did not shoot down the airliner (5.54)”
  • “As soon as the Malaysia Airlines B777 disappeared the Kiev military authority informed us of the shooting down. How did they know? (6.00)”
  • “Everything has been recorded on radar. For those that don’t believe it, it was taken down by Kiev; we know that here (in traffic control) and the military air traffic control know it too (7.14)”
  • “The Ministry of the Interior did know that there were fighter aircraft in the area, but the Ministry of Defense didn’t. (7.15)”
  • “The military confirm that it was Ukraine, but it is not known where the order came from. (7.31)”

    Carlos’s assessment (a partial compilation of his tweets is collected here ): the missile was fired by the Ukraine military under orders of the Ministry of Interior – NOT the Ministry of Defense. Security matters at the Ministry of the Interior happen to be under Andriy Parubiy, who was closely working alongside US neo-cons and Banderastan neo-nazis on Maidan.

    Assuming Carlos is legit, the assessment makes sense. The Ukrainian military are divided between Chocolate king President Petro Poroshenko – who would like a d?tente with Russia essentially to advance his shady business interests – and Saint Yulia Timoshenko, who’s on the record advocating genocide of ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine. US neo-cons and US “military advisers” on the ground are proverbially hedging their bets, supporting both the Poroshenko and Timoshenko factions.

    So who profits?
    The key question remains, of course, cui bono? Only the terminally brain dead believe shooting a passenger jet benefits the federalists in Eastern Ukraine, not to mention the Kremlin.

    As for Kiev, they’d have the means, the motive and the window of opportunity to pull it off – especially after Kiev’s militias have been effectively routed, and were in retreat, in the Donbass; and this after Kiev remained dead set on attacking and bombing the population of Eastern Ukraine even from above. No wonder the federalists had to defend themselves.

    And then there’s the suspicious timing. The MH17 tragedy happened two days after the BRICS announced an antidote to the IMF and the World Bank, bypassing the US dollar. And just as Israel “cautiously” advances its new invasion/slow motion ethnic cleansing of Gaza. Malaysia, by the way, is the seat of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, which has found Israel guilty of crimes against humanity.

    Washington, of course, does profit. What the Empire of Chaos gets in this case is a ceasefire (so the disorganized, battered Kiev militias may be resupplied); the branding of Eastern Ukrainians as de facto “terrorists” (as Kiev, Dick Cheney-style, always wanted); and unlimited mud thrown over Russia and Putin in particular until Kingdom Come. Not bad for a few minutes’ work. As for NATO, that’s Christmas in July.

    From now on, it all depends on Russian intelligence. They have been surveying/tracking everything that happens in Ukraine 24/7. In the next 72 hours, after poring over a lot of tracking data, using telemetry, radar and satellite tracking, they will know which type of missile was launched, where from, and even produce communications from the battery that launched it. And they will have access to forensic evidence.

    Unlike Washington – who already knows everything, with no evidence whatsoever (remember 9/11?) – Moscow will take its time to know the basic journalistic facts of what, where, and who, and engage on proving the truth and/or disproving Washington’s spin.

    The historical record shows Washington simply won’t release data if it points to a missile coming from its Kiev vassals. The data may even point to a bomb planted on MH17, or mechanical failure – although that’s unlikely. If this was a terrible mistake by the Novorossiya rebels, Moscow will have to reluctantly admit it. If Kiev did it, the revelation will be instantaneous. Anyway we already know the hysterical Western response, no matter what; Russia is to blame.

    Putin is more than correct when he stressed this tragedy would not have happened if Poroshenko had agreed to extend a cease-fire, as Merkel, Hollande and Putin tried to convince him in late June. At a minimum, Kiev is already guilty because they are responsible for safe passage of flights in the airspace they – theoretically – control.

    But all that is already forgotten in the fog of war, tragedy and hype. As for Washington’s hysterical claims of credibility, I leave you with just one number: Iran Air 655.

    1. Missile Downs Malaysia Airlines Plane Over Ukraine Killing 298, Kiew Blames Rebels, Washington Post, July 18, 2014.

    Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

    He may be reached at

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BRICS against Washington consensus

BRICS against Washington consensus

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
July 15, 2014

The headline news is that this Tuesday in Fortaleza, northeast Brazil, the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) fights the (Neoliberal) World (Dis)Order via a new development bank and a reserve fund set up to offset financial crises.

The devil, of course, is in the details of how they’ll do it.

It’s been a long and winding road since Yekaterinburg in 2009, at their first summit, up to the BRICS’s long-awaited counterpunch against the Bretton Woods consensus – the IMF and the World Bank – as well as the Japan-dominated (but largely responding to US priorities) Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The BRICS Development Bank – with an initial US$50 billion in capital – will be not only BRICS-oriented, but invest in infrastructure projects and sustainable development on a global scale. The model is the Brazilian BNDES, which supports Brazilian companies investing across Latin America. In a few years, it will reach a financing capacity of up to $350 billion. With extra funding especially from Beijing and Moscow, the new institution could leave the World Bank in the dust. Compare access to real capital savings to US government’s printed green paper with no collateral.

And then there’s the agreement establishing a $100 billion pool of reserve currencies – the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), described by Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as “a kind of mini-IMF”. That’s a non-Washington consensus mechanism to counterpunch capital flight. For the pool, China will contribute with $41 billion, Brazil, India and Russia with $18 billion each, and South Africa with $5 billion.

The development bank should be headquartered in Shanghai – although Mumbai has forcefully tried to make its case (for an Indian take on the BRICS strategy, see here )

Way beyond economy and finance, this is essentially about geopolitics – as in emerging powers offering an alternative to the failed Washington consensus. Or, as consensus apologists say, the BRICS may be able to “alleviate challenges” they face from the “international financial system”. The strategy also happens to be one of the key nodes of the progressively solidified China-Russia alliance, recently featured via the gas “deal of the century” and at the St. Petersburg economic forum.

Let’s play geopolitical ball
Just as Brazil managed, against plenty of odds, to stage an unforgettable World Cup – the melting of the national team notwithstanding – Vladimir Putin and Xi Xinping now come to the neighborhood to play top class geopolitical ball.

The Kremlin views the bilateral relation with Brasilia as highly strategic. Putin not only watched the World Cup final in Rio; apart from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, he also met German chancellor Angela Merkel (they discussed Ukraine in detail). Yet arguably the key member of Putin’s traveling party is Elvira Nabiulin, president of Russia’s Central Bank; she is pressing in South America the concept that all negotiations with the BRICS should bypass the US dollar.

Putin’s extremely powerful, symbolic meeting with Fidel Castro in Havana, as well as writing off $36 billion in Cuban debt could not have had a more meaningful impact all across Latin America. Compare it with the perennial embargo imposed by a vengeful Empire of Chaos.

In South America, Putin is meeting not only with Uruguay’s President Pepe Mujica – discussing, among other items, the construction of a deepwater port – but also with Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

Xi Jinping is also on tour, visiting, apart from Brazil, Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela. What Beijing is saying (and doing) complements Moscow; Latin America is viewed as highly strategic. That should translate into more Chinese investment and increased South-South integration.

This Russia-China commercial/diplomatic offensive fits the concerted push towards a multipolar world – side by side with political/economic South American leaders. Argentina is a sterling example. While Buenos Aires, already mired in recession, fights American vulture funds – the epitome of financial speculation – in New York courthouses, Putin and Xi come offering investment in everything from railways to the energy industry.

Russia’s energy industry of course needs investment and technology from private Western multinationals, just as Made in China developed out of Western investment profiting from a cheap workforce. What the BRICS are trying to present to the Global South now is a choice; on one side, financial speculation, vulture funds and the hegemony of the Masters of the Universe; on the other side, productive capitalism – an alternative strategy of capitalist development compared to the Triad (US, EU, Japan).

Still, it will be a long way for the BRICS to project a productive model independent of the casino capitalism speculation “model”, by the way still recovering from the massive 2007/2008 crisis (the financial bubble has not burst for good.)

One might view the BRICS’s strategy as a sort of running, constructive critique of capitalism; how to purge the system from perennially financing the US fiscal deficit as well as a global militarization syndrome – related to the Orwellian/Panopticon complex – subordinated to Washington. As Argentine economist Julio Gambina put it, the key question is not being emergent, but independent.

In this piece, La Stampa’s Claudio Gallo introduces what could be the defining issue of the times: how neoliberalism – ruling directly or indirectly most of the world – is producing a disastrous anthropological mutation that is plunging us all into global totalitarianism (while everyone swears by their “freedoms”).

It’s always instructive to come back to Argentina. Argentina is imprisoned by a chronic foreign debt crisis essentially unleashed by the IMF over 40 years ago – and now perpetuated by vulture funds. The BRICS bank and the reserve pool as an alternative to the IMF and World Bank offer the possibility for dozens of other nations to escape the Argentine plight. Not to mention the possibility that other emerging nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey may soon contribute to both institutions.

No wonder the hegemonic Masters of the Universe gang is uneasy in their leather chairs. This Financial Times piece neatly summarizes the view from the City of London – a notorious casino capitalism paradise.

These are heady days in South America in more ways than one. Atlanticist hegemony will remain part of the picture, of course, but it’s the BRICS’s strategy that is pointing the way further on down the road. And still the multipolar wheel keeps rolling along.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

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