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Assessment of the Middle East and North Africa situations and futures

Assessment of the Middle East and North Africa situations and futures  Interview with Adbel Bari Atwan, American Herald Tribune, 19 March 2019

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What is your analysis of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Gaza?

Abdel Bari Atwan: The Palestinian political scene is in a state of paralysis, which is a direct consequence of the disastrous Oslo process. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is not in good health, so the stage is now set for the post-Abu Mazen period. But nobody has a roadmap for where to go. Abu Mazen is the last of the founding fathers, and his departure will cause the Fateh movement to fragment and lose influence, as happened to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) after the death of George Habash. So chaos and confusion prevail. I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip draw inspiration from the demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria.

What about the Palestinians’ right of return to their lands stolen since 1948 and the deal of the century that removes the Palestinian right of return? Has the deal of the century been abandoned or is it still valid?

The ‘Deal of the Century’ cannot be pulled off. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi consigned it to an early death, as it plunged the deal’s broker into crisis. No Palestinian could accept it anyway. The Palestinian Revolution began in the refugee camps. It was all about the right of return. To abandon it would be to abandon the Palestinian cause. That right and others cannot be bought off with promises of investment or improved economic conditions, as the deal proposes. Palestine is not Northern Ireland.

How do you explain that at the moment when in Europe and in the USA, we see rising a great critical movement of Israel, like the BDS which advocate different forms of boycott, Arab countries are normalizing their relations with the Zionist and criminal entity of Israel?

These moves towards normalization are not too worrying, as they are confined to the governments and do not extend to the peoples.The peoples reject normalization with Israel, as the cases of Jordan and Egypt show. It’s the same in every other Arab country. Israel is alarmed by BDS and how it may develop in future. This explains its frenetic efforts to brand all criticism and opposition anywhere in the world as anti-Semitic: it fears to become a pariah state and the only way it can avoid that is to criminalize and close down exposure and discussion of its behavior.

What is your reading of the Warsaw conference of February 13 and 14, when we saw the alliance between Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, etc. and the Zionist and criminal entity Israel against Iran?

The Warsaw Conference was a one-man show, starring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was staged for his benefit, but I believe it was a failure. Its original purpose was to launch a new US-led alliance — a so-called ‘Arab Nato’ — that would act as the spearhead of an international coalition against Iran and include Israel as a member, probably informally at first. But the Gulf States that the US is trying to turn into allies of Israel are not representative of the Arab world as a whole. They account for less than 5% of the Arab population, and their own peoples overwhelmingly reject normalization with Israel. In recent years these states have been able to play a dominant role in the Arab world due to their oil wealth and their manipulation of political Islam. But political Islam has been changing in nature, and the importance of oil in the global energy picture has been declining, so their ‘golden age’ is drawing to a close.

How did we get to the fact that some Arab countries come to betray and sell themselves to the Zionist and criminal entity of Israel?

It’s not new, and mainly it’s a matter of perceived self-preservation. Regimes see the goodwill of the US as vital, and Israel as the key to the US’ heart. They talk about a shared interest in confronting Iran but that shouldn’t be taken at face value. Israel talks up the Iranian threat as a way of trying to sideline the Palestinian cause, and the Gulf States do the same to bolster the rule of their regimes.This also entails the poisonous fuelling of Sunni-Shii sectarianism.

I did an investigation a few years ago about the activities of the Israeli lobby in Congo. What is your reading of Israel’s strategic redeployment in Africa?

Africa is currently an arena of rivalry for influence and competing interests involving many countries – the US, China, Turkey, Israel, Russia, and others. Israel does not have much to offer Africa, other than political influence in Washington. It is eager to establish a presence and exert influence on the periphery of important Arab countries like Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt.These countries are all in a weakened state at present and preoccupied with internal problems. But they will eventually recover and their governments will awaken. Sub-Saharan Africa is their natural hinterland and they cannot be prized apart in the long term.

The people of Yemen is experiencing a criminal war waged by Saudi Arabia and its allies in total silence. How do you explain this silence of the international community and the media?

The West turned a blind eye to the Yemen war when it was launched four years ago because of Saudi influence and interests. It gave Saudi Arabia a chance to resolve the conflict in its favor. But neither Saudi Arabia nor the West appreciated the nature of Yemen or its people into account. They should have heeded the advice of the kingdom’s founder, King Abdelaziz, who ordered his sons Faisal and Saud to withdraw when they tried to invade the country. The latest war on Yemen has had a catastrophic effect, but in military terms, it has been a failure. The international silence is now beginning to be broken, and I hope that continues.

What is your reading of events happening in Venezuela? Do you think that the United States will come to a direct military intervention?

What is happening in Venezuela is a US-sponsored coup attempt and I believe it will fail.

There is no longer any mention of the Khashoggi case, which showed the true face of the Saudi regime and raised a worldwide outcry. How do you explain that?

The Khashoggi case is closely linked to Trump’s fate. Trump’s opponents in the US seized on it as a stick with which to beat him, due to his close association with the current Saudi leadership. That’s why there was such an outcry over the killing, however horrific, on an individual, but no similar reaction to Saudi actions that caused thousands of deaths such as the war on Yemen (until recently) and the proxy intervention in Syria. It should not be any surprise, however, that US and Western interests ultimately prevailed over human rights concerns, in this case like so many others. The Israel Lobby has also played a part in suppressing the outcry.  But the affair will have a longer-term impact. It laid bare Saudi Arabia’s high-handedness and dominance in the region.

How do you analyze the events taking place in Algeria against the fifth term of Bouteflika?

The protests were not so much against Bouteflika as against the ruling elite that was using him as a front and was too divided to agree on a replacement for him, long after he should have been allowed to retire. The powers-that-be made three mistaken assumptions: first, that the fifth term could be pushed through; second, that Algerians would rather have stability than democracy; and third, that the terrifying memory of the bloody decade of the 1990s would deter demonstrations or protests, for fear of repeating what happened in Syria or Libya. They seemed to think, perhaps based on Syria’s experience, that concessions are a slippery slope and not compromising pays off in the longer term. But now they have had to give at least the appearance of backing down due to the strength of popular feeling. The question now is what comes next: a measure of genuine but controlled reform as in Morocco or an Egyptian-style scenario where the army runs things behind a facade of pro-forma elections?

Intelligence reports indicate a redeployment of Daesh to Libya. Can we end the terrorism of Daesh and Al Qaeda without really fighting the ideological matrix of these groups? Is it enough defeating these groups militarily?

Daesh is finished above ground in the Arab world. But it will continue to exist underground because the conditions that incubated still exist. In my view, the challenge is not so much to fight the ideology as to address those conditions. The ideology, or at least its adoption or acceptance in some places and by some people, is a product of these ‘failed-state’ conditions and the marginalization they cause. In many cases – Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen – they are a consequence, in whole or in part, of direct or indirect Western military intervention. Putting an end to these interventions would be a step to tackling the problem.

Are we not witnessing the continuation of the Cold War between the US administration on one side and Russia and China on the other? How do you explain the need for the United States to have an enemy?

The US can’t sleep unless it has an enemy. It has become an obsession, though creating or talking up external enemies has always been a means of advancing the interests of domestic power elites. But the picture is changing. America is no longer rules the world in matters of war and peace. Its real power is not its military might but the US Dollar. Its abuse of its financial and commercial power has become so extensive that an international alliance is taking shape to deprive it of this weapon.

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen

Who is Abdel Bari Atwan?

Abdel Bari Atwan is a Palestinian journalist born in 1950 in Deir al-Balah, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He lived in a family of 11 children. After graduating from primary school in the refugee camp, he continued his studies in Jordan. He then studied journalism at Cairo University.

After working for many Arab newspapers, he ran until 2013 al-Quds al-Arabi, a newspaper he founded in London in 1989 with other Palestinian expatriates. Today, he is the editor-in-chief of Rai al-Youm, an Arab world digital news and opinion website. He lives and works in London.

Abdel Bari Atwan is considered one of the most important columnists in the Arab press. He is regularly invited byBBC WorldSky NewsAl Jazeera English and CNN World, as well as several networks in Arabic. He has published numerous editorials in various English newspapers, including The GuardianThe Mail on SundayThe Scottish Herald and others.

He has written several books: Islamic State The Digital Caliphate(2019) After Bin Laden: Al Qaeda, the Next Generation (2013) Country of Words: A Palestinian Journey from the Refugee Camp to the Front Page(2009);The Secret History of Al-Qaida (2006).

He is a member of the Palestinian National Council (Palestinian Parliament) since 1990.

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President Putin’s address to Russia’s National Assembly

President Putin’s address to Russia’s National Assembly  Authored by Dmitry Orlov via Russia Insider, 13 March 2019

An article I published close to five years ago, “Putin to Western elites: Play-time is over”, turned out to be the most popular thing I’ve written so far, having garnered over 200,000 reads over the intervening years. In it I wrote about Putin’s speech at the 2014 Valdai Club conference. In that speech he defined the new rules by which Russia conducts its foreign policy: out in the open, in full public view, as a sovereign nation among other sovereign nations, asserting its national interests and demanding to be treated as an equal. Yet again, Western elites failed to listen to him.

Instead of mutually beneficial cooperation they continued to speak the language of empty accusations and counterproductive yet toothless sanctions.

And so, in last month’s address to Russia’s National Assembly Putin sounded note of complete and utter disdain and contempt for his “Western partners,” as he has usually called them. This time he called them “swine.”

The president’s annual address to the National Assembly is a rather big deal. Russia’s National Assembly is quite unlike that of, say, Venezuela, which really just consists of some obscure nonentity named Juan recording Youtube videos in his apartment. In Russia, the gathering is a who’s-who of Russian politics, including cabinet ministers, Kremlin staffers, the parliament (State Duma), regional governors, business leaders and political experts, along with a huge crowd of journalists. One thing that stood out at this year’s address was the very high level of tension in the hall: the atmosphere seemed charged with electricity.

It quickly became obvious why the upper echelon of Russia’s state bureaucracy was nervous: Putin’s speech was part marching orders part harangue. His plans for the next couple of years are extremely ambitious, as he himself admitted. The plank is set very high, he said, and those who are not up to the challenge have no business going near it. Very hard work lies ahead for almost everyone who was gathered in that hall, and those of them who fail at their tasks are unlikely to be in attendance the next time around because their careers will have ended in disgrace.

The address contained almost no bad news and quite a lot of very good news. Russia’s financial reserves are more than sufficient to cover its entire external debt, both public and private. Non-energy-resource exports are booming to such an extent that Russia no longer needs oil and gas exports to maintain a positive balance of trade. It has become largely immune to Western sanctions. Eurasian integration projects are going extremely well. Russian government’s investments in industry are paying dividends.

The government has amassed vast amounts of capital which it will now spend on domestic programs designed to benefit the people, to help Russians live longer, healthier lives and have more children. “More children—lower taxes” was one of the catchier slogans.

This was what most of the address was about: eradication of remaining poverty; low, subsidized mortgage rates for families with two or more children; pensions indexed to inflation above and beyond the official minimal income levels (corrected and paid out retroactively); high-speed internet for each and every school; universal access to health care through a network of rural clinics; several new world-class oncology clinics; support for tech start-ups; a “social contract” program that helps people start small businesses; another program called “ticket to the future” that allows sixth-graders to choose a career path that includes directed study programs, mentorships and apprenticeships; lots of new infrastructure projects such as the soon-to-be-opened Autobahn between Moscow and St. Petersburg, revamped trash collection and recycling and major air pollution reductions in a dozen major cities; the list goes on and on.

No opposition to these proposals worth mentioning was voiced in any of the commentary that followed on news programs and talk shows; after all, who could possibly be against spending amassed capital on projects that help the population?

Perhaps the most ambitious goal set by Putin was to redo the entire system of Russia’s government regulations, both federal and regional, in every sphere of public life and commerce. Over the next two years every bit of regulation will be examined in order to determine whether it is necessary and whether it responds to contemporary needs and if it isn’t or doesn’t it will be eliminated. This will significantly ease the burden of regulatory compliance, lowering the cost of doing business.

Another goal was to continue growing the already booming agricultural export sector. Last year Russia achieved self-sufficiency in wheat seed stock, but the overall goal is to achieve complete self-sufficiency in food and to become the world’s provider of ecologically clean foodstuffs. (As Putin pointed out, Russia remains the only major agricultural producer in the world that hasn’t been contaminated by American-made GMO poisons.) Yet another goal is to further grow Russia’s tourism industry, which is already booming, by introducing electronic tourist visas that will be much easier to obtain.

Last year’s address surprised the world with its second part, in which Putin unveiled a whole set of new Russian weapons systems that effectively negate every last bit of US military superiority. This year, he added just one new system: a supersonic cruise missile called “Zirkon” with a 1000 km range that flies at Mach 9. But he also provided a progress report on all the others: everything is going according to plan; some new armaments have already been delivered, others are going into mass production, the rest are being tested. He spoke in favor of normalized relations with the EU, but accused the US of “hostility,” adding that Russia does not threaten anyone and is not interested in confrontation.

Putin’s sharpest words were reserved for the US decision to abandon the INF treaty. He said that the US acted in bad faith, accusing Russia of violating the treaty while they themselves violated it, specifically articles 5 and 6, by deploying dual-use launch systems in Romania and Poland which can be used for both air defense and for offensive nuclear weapons which the treaty specifically prohibits. Nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles, which the US could deploy in Poland and Romania, would of course pose a risk, but would not provide the US with anything like a first-strike advantage, since these cruise missiles are obsolete to the point where even Syria’s Soviet-era air defenses were able to shoot down most of the ones the US lobbed at them as punishment for the fake chemical weapons attack in Douma.

Speaking of the American dream of a global air defense system, Putin called on the US to “abandon these illusions.” The Americans can think whatever they want, he said, but the question is, “can they do math?” This needs unfolding.

First, the Americans can think whatever they want because… they are Americans. Russians do not allow themselves the luxury of thinking complete and utter nonsense. Those who are not grounded in fact and logic tend to get the Russian term “likbez” thrown in their faces rather promptly. It literally decodes as “liquidation of illiteracy” and is generally used to shut down ignoramuses. But in the US shocking displays of ignorance are quite acceptable. For an example, you need to look no further than the astonishingly idiotic “Green New Deal” being touted by the freshman congresstwit (how’s that for a gender-neutral appellation?) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If she were Russian she’d have been laughed right out of town by now.

“But can they do math?” Apparently not! There is another Russian term—“matchast”—which literally decodes as “material part” but stands for the understanding that can only be achieved through the knowledge of mathematics, the hard sciences and engineering. In Russia, ignoramuses like Ocasio-Cortez, who think that transportation needs can be provided by electric vehicles powered by wind and solar, get shut down by being told to go and study “matchast” while in the US they are allowed to run wild in the halls of congress.

In this case, if Americans could “do math,” they would quickly figure out that there is no conceivable defensive system that would be effective against the new Russian weapons, that there are no conceivable offensive weapons that would prevent Russia from launching an unstoppable retaliatory strike, and that therefore the “new arms race” (which some Americans have been daft enough to announce) is effectively over and Russia has won. See above: Russia is not spending its money on weapons; it is spending it on helping its people. The US can squander arbitrary amounts of money on weapons but this won’t make an iota of difference: an attack on Russia will be the last thing it ever does.

Russia does not plan to be the first to violate the ABM treaty, but if the US deploys intermediate-range nuclear weapons against Russia, then Russia will respond in kind, by targeting not just the territories from which it is threatened but the locations where the decisions to threaten it are taken.Washington, Brussels and other NATO capitals would, clearly, be on that list. This shouldn’t be news; Russia has already announced that in the next war, should there be one, will not be fought on Russian soil. Russia plans to take the fight to the enemy immediately. Of course, there won’t be a war—provided the Americans are sane enough to realize that attacking Russia is functionally equivalent to blowing themselves up with nuclear weapons. Are they sane enough? That is the question that is holding the world hostage.

It is in speaking of them that Putin used the most withering word in his entire address. Speaking of Americans’ dishonesty and bad faith in accusing Russia of violating the ABM treaty while it was they themselves who were violating it, he added: “…and the American satellites oink along with them.” It is rather difficult to come up with an adequate translation for the Russian verb “????????????”; “oink along with” is as close as I am able to get. The mental image is of a chorus of little pigs accompanying a big swine. The implication is obvious: Putin thinks that the Americans are swine, and that their NATO satellites are swine too.

Therefore, they shouldn’t expect Putin to scatter any pearls before them and, in any case, he’ll be too busy helping Russians live better lives to pay any attention to them.

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Putin Is the Preeminent Statesman of Our Time

Putin Is the Preeminent Statesman of Our Time  John Chuckman, 9 March 2019

There is an immense amount of criticism of Putin, especially coming from America, most of it empty criticism which ignores realities and genuine analysis. For the more thoughtful, it represents only the stink and noise of propaganda, and not honest criticism in its true sense at all.

In politics, and especially in the direction of a country’s foreign affairs, there are certain behaviors and ideas and attitudes which mark out a person as exceptional. I think there can be no doubt, Putin is just such a person, and I am very much inclined to say, the preeminent one of our time. Frankly, compared with Putin’s skills, Donald Trump comes off as a noisy circus act, a sideshow carnival barker, and not an appealing one. He has an outsized impact in the world only because he represents the most powerful country on earth and has embraced all the prejudices and desires of its power establishment, not because of the skilfulness of his actions or the insight of his mind. Obama made a better public impression, but if you analyze his actions, you see a man of immense and unwarranted ego, a very secretive and unethical man, and a man who held no worthy ideals he promoted. He was superficial in many things. And he was completely compliant to the power establishment, leaving no mark of his own to speak of.

Putin is a man who advocates cooperation among states, who argues against exceptionalism, who wants his country to have peace so that it can grow and advance, a man lacking any frightening or tyrannical ideologies, a man who invariably refers to other countries abroad, even when they are being uncooperative, in respectful terms as “our partners,” a man who knows how to prioritize, as in defense spending, a man with a keen eye for talent who has some other exceptional people assisting him – men of the calibre of Lavrov or Shoygu, a man who supports worthy international organizations like the UN, a man who only reluctantly uses force but uses it effectively when required, a highly restrained man in almost everything he does, a man who loves his country and culture but does not try foisting them off on everyone else as we see almost continuously from American presidents, a man with a keen eye for developing trends and patterns in the world, a man with an eye, too, for the main chance, a man whose decisions are made calmly and in light of lot of understanding. That’s quite a list.

The differences between recent American leaders, all truly mediocre, and Putin probably has something to do with the two counties’ relative situations over the last few decades. After all, if the support isn’t there for someone like Putin, you won’t get him. Russia’s huge Soviet empire collapsed in humiliation in 1991. The country was put through desperate straits, literally its own great depression with people begging or selling pathetic trinkets on the streets. And America made no real effort to assist. Indeed, quite the opposite, it kicked someone who was down and tried to shake all the loose change from his pockets. Out of Russia’s desperation came a man of remarkable skills, a rather obscure figure, but one who proved extremely popular and was obviously supported by enough powerful and important people to employ his skills for the county’s recovery and advance.

And he showed no weakness or flinching when dealing with some of the extremely wealthy men who in fact became wealthy by striping assets from the dying Soviet Union, men who then also used their wealth to challenge the country’s much-needed new leadership. He was, of course, excoriated in the United States, but to the best of my understanding, he did what was necessary for progress. The results are to be seen in a remarkably revitalized Russia. Everywhere, important projects are underway. New highways, new airports, major new bridges, new rail lines and subways, a new spaceport, new projects and cooperative efforts with a whole list of countries, new efforts in technology and science, and Russia has become the world’s largest exporter of wheat. Putin also has committed Russia to offering the world grain crops free of all GMOs and other contaminants, a very insightful effort to lock-in what have been growing premium markets for such products, even among Americans.

The military, which badly declined after the fall of the USSR, has been receiving new and remarkable weapons, the products of focused research efforts. New high-tech tanks, artillery, ships, and planes. In strategic weapons, Russia now produces several unprecedented ones, a great achievement which was done without spending unholy amounts of money, Russia’s military budget being less than a tenth that of the United States. Putin’s caution and pragmatism dictate that Russia’s first priority is to become as healthy as possibly, so it needs peace, for decades.

Few Westerners appreciate the devastating impact of the USSR’s collapse, but even before that, the Soviet empire had its own slow debilitating impact. Russia’s economic system was not efficient and competitive. The effects of that over many years accumulated. The USSR always did maintain the ability to produce big engineering projects such as dams and space flight, but it always was sorely lacking in the small and refined things of life that an efficient economy automatically sees are provided.

The new strategic weapons are an unfortunate necessity, but the United States threatens Russia as perhaps never before with the expansion of NATO membership right to the Russian border, something breaking specific American promises of years back. And it has been running tanks all over Europe and then digging them in them right at the frontier just to make a point. It has deployed multiple-use covered missile launchers not far from the border which may as easily contain offensive intermediate-range ground-to-ground nuclear missiles as the defensive anti-missile missiles claimed to be their purpose.

And it has torn up one of the most important nuclear-weapons treaties we had, the INF Treaty, pertaining to intermediate-range missiles. Intermediate-range nuclear missiles based in Europe give the United States the ability to strike Russia with little warning, their ten-minute flight path compares to a roughly thirty-minute flight path for an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) coming from America. These are extremely de-stabilizing, as are the counter-measures Russia felt it must take, Russian intermediate-range nuclear missile aimed at European centers. Everyone eventually recognized that, and that’s why the treaty was successfully completed. Europeans appreciated no longer becoming the immediate battlefield in a nuclear war.

But relations with the United States now have entered a new world, and it is not a brave one. America’s power establishment has assumed new goals and priorities, and in those, Russia is not viewed well, despite its new identity as a nation ready to participate and peacefully compete with everyone, a nation without the kind of extreme ideology communism was, a kind of secular religious faith. Despite its readiness to participate in all Western organizations and forums and discussions, it is viewed with a new hostility by America. It is arbitrarily regarded as an opponent, as an ongoing threat. As I discuss below, America, too, has been in kind of a decline, and the response of its leadership to that fact involves flexing its muscles and extracting concessions and privileges and exerting a new dominance in the world, a response not based in economic competition and diplomatic leadership, a response carrying a great deal of danger.

And, very importantly, its response is one that involves not only bypassing international organizations, but, in many cases, working hard to bend them to its purposes. There are many examples, but America’s treatment of the UN has been foremost. It has in the recent past refused for considerable periods to pay its treaty-obliged dues until it saw changes it unilaterally demanded.

It has dropped out of some important agencies completely, most notably UNESCO. In general, it has intimidated an international organization into better accommodating American priorities, including very much imperial ones opposed to what the UN is supposed to be about. And it has used this intimidation and non-cooperativeness to influence the nature of leadership at the UN, the last few Secretaries-General being timid on very important matters and ineffective in general. That’s just the way America likes them to be now. A harsh Neocon like Madeleine Albright won her government-service spurs at the UN by engineering the departure of an unwanted Secretary-General.

Promoting coups is not a new activity for the United States. There is a long postwar record, including Iran’s democratic government in the 1950s, Guatemala’s democratic government in the 1950s, and Chile’s democratic government in 1973. But the recent coup in Ukraine represented something rather new, a very provocative activity right on a major Russian border. It was also against an elected government and in a country which shares with Russia a history and culture going back more than a thousand years to the predecessor state of Kievan Rus. Yes, there are resentments in Ukraine from the Soviet era, and those are what the United States exploited, but the country was democratically governed. In any event, staging a coup in a large bordering country is a very serious provocation. You can just imagine the violent American reaction to one in Mexico or Canada.

The new, post-coup government in Ukraine also made many provocative and plainly untrue statements. The ineffective, and frequently ridiculous, President Poroshenko kept telling Europeans that Russian troops and armor were invading his country. Only his brave army was holding the hordes back.

He was literally that silly at times. Of course, none of it was ever true. American spy satellites would quickly detect any Russian movement, and they never did. In an effort to put the wild claims into perspective, treating them with the contempt they deserved, Putin once said that if he wanted to, he could be in Kiev in two weeks. Undoubtedly true, too. Well, the statement was taken completely out of context, treated as a threat by America’s always-faithful-to-the-narrative press. Journalism in the service of government policy – all of it, from the most elevated newspapers and broadcasters to the humblest. And I think that nicely illustrates the absurdity of events in Ukraine and the way they have been used.

The United States paid for the coup in Ukraine. We even know how much money it spent, five billion dollars, thanks to the overheard words of one of America’s most unpleasant former diplomats, Victoria Nuland. The idea was to threaten Russia with the long Ukrainian border being put into genuinely hostile hands.

Never mind that the government driven from office with gunfire in the streets from paid thugs was democratically elected. Never mind that many of the groups with which the United States cooperated in this effort were right-wing extremists, a few of them resembling outright Nazis, complete with armbands and symbols and torchlight parades. And never mind that the government America installed was incompetent, not only sending Ukraine’s economy into a tailspin but promptly igniting a completely unnecessary civil war.

The large native, Russian-speaking population (roughly 30% of the country) is completely dominant in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Those two regions partly turned the tables by seceding from Ukraine with its government which early-on worked to suppress historic Russian-language rights and carried on a lot of activities to make those with any Russian associations feel very unwelcome. It’s a deliberately provocative environment, and, as we all know from our press, not a day goes by in Washington without anti-Russian rhetoric and unsupported charges. While Washington greatly failed in this effort, it nevertheless succeeded in generating instability and hostility along a major Russian border. It also gained talking points with which to pressure NATO into some new arrangements.

In the case of Crimea, it is important to remember that it has been Russian since the time of Catherine the Great. It only was in recent history that Crimea became part of Ukraine, and that happened with the stroke of a pen, an administrative adjustment during the days of the USSR, the very USSR the people now running Ukraine so despise, rejecting almost everything ever done, except for the administrative transfer of Crimea apparently. Just one of those little ironies of history. The people who live in Crimea speak Russian, and they did not welcome the new Ukrainian government’s heavy-handed, nationalist, anti-Russian drive around Ukrainian language and culture, necessarily a narrow, claustrophobic effort since the late USSR was a multi-national and multi-lingual state, and given Crimea’s much longer-term history as part of Russia. Even during Crimea’s recent past as part of Ukraine, Russia continued to maintain, under lease, its major naval base at Sevastopol on the Black Sea, so the connections with Russia have been continuous.

In virtually every newspaper story you read and in places like Wikipedia on the Internet, you will see the word “annexation” used to describe Crimea’s relationship with Russia. It simply is not an accurate description, but its constant use is a very good measure of America’s ability to saturate media with its desired version of events. The people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from an unfriendly new Ukraine, and they voted to petition Russia’s admitting them as part of the country. How can you call the results of free and open votes annexation? Well, only the same way you can tell the twice-elected President of Venezuela that he is not President and that another man, who did not even run in the election and administered the oath of office to himself, is the President.

This is the kind of Alice-in-Wonderland stuff that comes as part of America’s new drive for dominance. It simply paints the roses red. What is claimed to have happened in Crimea provides the only support for charges of Russian aggression, the laying on of all kinds of sanctions, and running around all over Europe tearing up road surfaces with tanks. This is the atmosphere within which Putin must work, trying to maintain as many sound relationships with Europe as he can, and he actually has been quite successful. A number of prominent European politicians, especially retired ones who aren’t under the immediate pressures of politics and relations with America, have voiced support for Russia. Some have even visited Crimea by invitation and toured. And Russia’s major new gas pipeline into Europe, Nord Stream 2, proceeds despite constant American pressure against it. It is at this writing 70% complete. The Europeans cannot just abandon their long-term ally, the United States, even though I’m sure they understand the illusions and false claims of the current situation.

The United States also retains considerable capacity to hurt Europe financially, so they rush into nothing, but I believe there can be no doubt that American words and actions have significantly weakened old and important relationships. No one likes being lied to, and they like even less having to pretend lies are truth.

Putin has been more cautious in the case of the secession of another Russian-speaking portion of Ukraine, an even larger one in population and in economic importance, the Eastern portion called Donbass. The people there declared two republics, Donetsk and Luhansk, and they petitioned to be admitted as part of Russia. But Russia does not officially recognize them although it has sent large volumes of aid as they were besieged by the new Ukrainian government. The government of Ukraine started a small civil war in the region.

Russia supports the Minsk Accords, which it helped to write, accords to reunite the region with Ukraine but which require Ukraine to grant it a degree of constitutional autonomy to the region. This is a reasonable approach to ending the conflict, but it is not easy to implement. It is not something looked favorably upon by Ukraine’s right-wing extremists who push the government hard, having even threatened it at times. The entire business has been mired in difficulties from the start. Ukraine displayed remarkable military incompetence in this civil war against a much smaller opponent. It tried to increase the size of its forces with conscription in the West of Ukraine, but the number of no-shows and run-aways grew embarrassingly large. And, of course, none of this even needed to happen had the new government’s policies been sensible and fair in the first place. But you got no pressure from the United States over fairness. It is merely content to have caused a lot of difficulties on Russia’s border. And there is the matter of the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines’ Flight MH-17, which my study of the circumstances suggests unequivocally was an act by Ukraine, whether accidental or deliberate.

The United States has pushed hard to have this blamed on Russia, so as to not discredit its installed Ukrainian government, but the facts, as we know them, simply do not support that conclusion. The United States has shamefully pressured a NATO member, Holland, not even a central party to the event, to conduct a long and tortoise-paced investigation of the crash. It has ignored key evidence, and all of its interim conclusions can readily be seen as couched in the kind of suggestive but inexact language criminal lawyers advise their clients to use in court. What we see in Ukraine, is government incompetence, almost uniformly in all its activities, and again there is no concern expressed by the United States about all the difficulties – economic, military, and social – its efforts have caused for the Ukrainian people.

Putin’s adroit handling of the coup in Ukraine, frustrating many of America’s aims without getting Russia involved in conflict, determined Washington to further stoke-up anti-Russian feeling in Europe. You must always remember that NATO does represent a vehicle for the peaceful American occupation of Europe, Europe being an important economic competitor and potentially a major world power. The obsolescence of the original arguments for NATO – the threat of the USSR and the massive Red Army, now both long passed into history – had the potential to see America eventually lose its occupying perch in Europe.

Russian-threat hype added force to recent efforts over the last decade and a half to have inconsequential new states admitted to NATO, some of them having the attraction of borders with Russia and lots of simmering old anti-Soviet hostilities. Certainly, countries like Estonia or Latvia bring neither military nor economic strength to the organization. Other small states, such as Slovenia or Slovakia or Montenegro just fill holes in the map of Europe, so NATO is a contiguous mass. The small states are in fact potentially a serious drag.

But for America, they were attractive new members because they are so grateful about being asked “to play with the big boys.” Their votes as part of the organization effectively dilute the influence of the larger, older states, such as France or Germany, who sometimes disagree with the United States, and some of whom have been developing new relationships with modern Russia. The entire series of American activities in Europe after the disappearance of the USSR represents absolutely nothing constructive, indeed, quite the opposite.

As I mentioned, America, too, has been in a kind of decline, but absolutely nothing resembling what Russia experienced. America’s establishment has come to realize that over the last couple of decades it is in a relative decline. It went from producing, after WWII, about forty percent of what the world used to twenty-something percent, and all signs point to the trend continuing. America was waking-up from an extended fantasy – a period when fluffy notions like “the American Dream” were embraced as real, a period explained by the simple fact that after the war all of America’s serious competitors had been flattened. America was waking to a time when those competitors were coming back and a time when fierce new competitors were rising. The “Dream” part of the advertising slogan, “the American Dream,” became all too apparent.

During that period of unique prosperity and power following WWII, a good deal of America’s leadership became what people who have been given too much often tend to become, spoiled and corrupt, unable to make good decisions in many cases, indulging in god-like notions of the planet being run for their benefit, and always, steadily leaving behind their own people’s welfare for imperial concerns abroad. The entire ethic of the New Deal period evaporated, and by the 1990s, a Democratic President like Clinton could actually make a speech bragging about “ending welfare as we know it.”

The people who really run the country, its power establishment, fixed on a new strategy to address uncomfortable realities. That strategy involves using America’s still great military and financial power to dominate international affairs in a more obvious and palpable way than ever. Dominance became an openly-discussed theme, as it rarely was before, in the hope, over time, of squeezing concessions and advantages from others to regain or at least hold on to its global position. This is an openly aggressive posture that has been assumed. No more pretence of being a nice guy. And it was actively promoted by a new political faction in Washington, the Neocons, a group who share certain interests and see America’s use of power as serving those interests. They have been open advocates of using military force to get things you want, and they hold many important and influential posts. Perhaps their greatest common interest is the welfare of Israel, and they see an America perceived as aggressive best serving Israel’s security.

It is important to note that while Russia maintains excellent relations with Israel – Putin has been visited often by Israel’s Prime Minister – nevertheless, by virtue of its sheer size and geographical location and military power, Russia is seen as a barrier to America’s more unrestrained use of power. “Russia” is almost a dirty word for many of America’s Neocon faction and for many Israelis. Russia’s recent decisive assistance to Syria in fighting gangs of terrorists introduced and supported from outside was viewed about as negatively as is possible.

That is war Israel wanted President Assad to lose, and it secretly gave a great deal of assistance to the terrorists. It was hoping to secure a permanent hold on the Golan, grab even another slice of Syria as a buffer for its illegal residents in Golan, all while seeing one of the region’s leaders it most dislikes eliminated. It worked closely in the effort with Saudi Arabia’s murderous Crown Prince, and America oversaw and encouraged all aspects of a dirty war to topple a legitimate government which has remained fairly popular with its people despite years of agonizing conflict and endless dishonest American claims about such matters as chemical weapons. Assad is seen as a defender of the rights of Syria’s diverse religious groups, including its many Christians.

So, there is a built-in powerful negative towards Russia in Washington power circles for which there is no clear possible remedy or correction, and, indeed, no matter how reasonably Putin behaves, his country faces this opposition. For some American politicians, and very notably Hillary Clinton, this has proved a handy tool, Clinton long having been a close-to fanatical supporter of Israeli interests. The fact has earned her a great deal of campaign funding and other support over the years.

Clinton’s ego also just could not take the fact that she lost the election to the leader of “the deplorables,” as she once called Trump’s supporters, so in dark claims of Russian interference, supported by absolutely no proof whatsoever, she protects her ego. And long before election day, Clinton had a hand in exploiting attitudes about Russia in another way. She is known to have paid, at least in part, for the fraudulent Steele Dossier commissioned from an ex-British spy. It was used to try to discredit Trump over Russian connections.

This dislike for Russia by the Neocons and other boosters of resurgent American power really is what is at the heart of America’s current Russophobia obsession, not any threatening actions by Russia. It becomes a kind of vicious circle with new accusations piled on all the time by various actors each with their own motives, and it is clearly quite dangerous.

So, these are the positions of the two countries today, Russia having risen quite impressively from the depths under a remarkably able leader, extremely popular and well-supported by powerful elements of its society, versus America, now in a much different kind of decline than what Russia experienced, led by an establishment group with rather less-than-honorable intentions and with a political system virtually designed to produce no real leaders who might interfere with establishment plans.

Putin is further supported from the outside by the rising colossus of China, one of the great miracle stories of our time. In the past, the two countries have not always been friends, and America, in the time of Nixon, actually worked at playing one off against the other. But that is no more.

The American establishment’s intentions for China are too clear. It is virtually reneging on many old promises such as those around Taiwan being an integral part of China, it is treating China as an unwanted competitor, accusing it of every nefarious activity you can think of to impede its economic progress and demanding trade concessions as though China had been an unfair competitor rather than just a new, more successful one. America is now attacking in every way possible – from questioning motives and methods to trying to generate opposition by participants – China’s unprecedented and magnificent global enterprise, the Silk Road Project, a project dwarfing the great canals of the past and destined to bring new prosperity to all participants through trade. It hardly represents a positive attitude to oppose and impede it.

Putin is exactly the kind of man to quickly recognize and embrace a project like that. Russia is also rushing to help China greatly increase its supply of natural gas from Siberia’s immense reserves in order to decrease its dependence on coal. The first great new pipeline is almost finished.

So, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, both highly intelligent leaders, have a great many weighty common interests in working together as never before. America’s new policies have been a driving force in bringing them together, and there is no reason to expect any diminishment of that force. Recent American international behavior requires others to accept what Putin likes to call America’s “exceptionalism,” its position first and above all other nations, its self-granted privilege of not having to play by the same rules as everyone else – its status of “the indispensable nation” as one of America’s more arrogant diplomats put it not very long ago – and it requires that from two major, proud, and ancient societies which cannot possibly grant it.

America’s dependence on its gigantic military and security establishment represents a serious long-term weakness in many ways, even though it provides the very foundation of the American establishment’s new strategy for dominance. Empires, after all, while benefitting the privileged segments of a society, are a drag on most of its citizens, depriving them of many benefits, including the simple, important benefit of good and caring national government. America spends more than ten times as much as Russia on its military.

China, compared to not many years ago, has increased its military spending greatly, but for a country with such a huge economy, second only to the United States and likely to overtake it before long, it still spends less than a quarter of what the United States does. And America does not even have the money to pay for its atrociously large military. It borrows the money, and who do you think pays the stream of interest payments for those massive borrowings? You’d be right if you said all of its ordinary, tax-paying citizens without privileges. They also are “on the hook” for the ultimate negative economic consequences of all this debt and borrowing.

Of course, from a world perspective, America’s military represents an ongoing threat to peace and security, much the opposite of what is claimed for it inside the United States. Great standing armies have always represented threats, and here is the greatest standing army in history.

Many historical analyses hold them largely responsible for such terrible conflicts as WWI (a war whose outcome made WWII inevitable also). When such power is at hand, the temptation to use it is constant, and its very presence distorts all attitudes and decisions. Many of America’s own Founders understood that, but it has been forgotten by the contemporary American establishment in its relentless pursuit of empire and influence.

Security expenses are hard to compare, so much is secretive, but the United States with its 17 separate national security agencies and such a vast enterprise as the NSA’s new archipelago of facilities stuffed with hi-tech gear and supercomputers which spy on and record every American plus others would put any other country out of the competition. Again, the demands of the American establishment utterly compromise the interests of the country’s own citizens at large. Indeed, now in security matters, ordinary Americans have been pretty much reduced to a herd, each with an identifying tag stapled to his ear.

Russia’s democracy may be quite imperfect, but America’s – what it had of one, it never from the beginning identified itself actually as a democracy – has been transformed into plutocracy with an elaborate window-dressing simulation of democracy, an arrangement in which the state’s resources are committed to its privileged class and the advance of empire. And, as I’ve written many times, you can have a decent country or you can have an empire, but you cannot have both.

John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like 3 million Vietnamese in their own land because they happened to embrace the wrong economic loyalties.

He lives in Canada, which he is fond of calling “the peaceable kingdom.” He has been translated into at least ten languages and is regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. His first book was published, The Decline of the American Empire and the Rise of China as a Global Power, by Constable and Robinson, Lo

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About Peter Senior

I'm a very experienced and pragmatic management consultant. I've reviewed and led the restructuring of many organisations - large and small corporations and Government Departments, much of the time as President of the New Zealand Institute of Management Consultants. Before that I was General Manager of a major NZ newspaper; earlier, an analyst for IBM UK. I gained an honours degree in engineering at London University, and studied management at Cambridge University. This wide range of experience has left me frustrated: I continue to see too many examples of really bad management. Sometimes small easily fixed issues; sometimes fundamental faults; and sometimes really tricky problems. Mostly these issues can be fixed using a mixture of common sense, 'management 101' and applying lessons from years of management experience. Unfortunately, all too often, politics, bureaucracy and daft government regulations get in the way; internal factors such as poor culture and out-of-date strategies are often evident. So what's gone wrong, and why, and most importantly, how to fix 'it'? I hope there are like-minded people 'out there' who will share their thoughts enabling 'us' to improve some significant management failures that affect the general public. If you just accept bad management, you don't have the right to complain! If you'd like to share thoughts on any aspects of management, send me an email to petersenior42@gmail.com . My latest project has the interim title 'You’ve been conned. Much of what you were taught and read is largely irrelevant, misleading or plain wrong – this is the REAL story of life: past, present and our possible future.' The working paper so far comprises 105 pages, many listing references and interim conclusions. The main problem is finding sufficient credible evidence, and realising the more Iearn, the more I realise I don't know!
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