The US and Turkey have come to an agreement under which US military personnel will begin training so-called moderate rebels to fight in Syria. The announcement was made Tuesday. This is not just a foolish move; it is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire.
There are no moderate rebels. The moderate people in Syria support their government. If Obama is really serious about fighting ISIS he should join forces with the Syrian government and with Hezbollah–because they are the “boots on the ground” who are taking the fight to the terrorists.
How will the US know the “moderates” it trains aren’t really ISIS secret agents? That may sound funny, but I’m serious. In a report here we are told that the US has so far “screened” about 1,200 rebel fighters said to have been drawn from “several moderate groups in Syria.”
According to the report, the “screening” process is being headed up by Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata. The plans are to train about 5,000 “moderates” per year, but the process is going slowly because each applicant is supposedly being thoroughly checked. Some 100 US personnel are already in the area setting up three training camps–in Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia–and eventually about 1,000 US troops are expected to be involved in the program.
Question: how does Nagata know that at least some of the “moderates” being recruited for this effort aren’t in reality deep-cover ISIS operatives? Answer: he doesn’t. And even if they are moderates now, what’s to stop them from going over to the other side once they get their American training and equipment?
We saw an instance, late last year, in which two “moderate” rebel groups who had received US training–Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front–laid down their weapons and surrendered after coming into military conflict with Al-Nusra. The two groups had been supplied with GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles. All of this equipment ended up in Al-Nusra’s possession. It is said that Harakat Hazm gave up “without firing a shot,” and that some of its members even defected over to the takfiri militants. These events took place in early November of 2014, and they proved somewhat embarrassing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, or WINEP.
In April of 2014, WINEP fellow Jeffrey White published an article in which he referred to Harakat Hazm as “rebels worth supporting.” I discussed White’s piece in a post entitled The Myth of the ‘Moderate’ Rebels, which I put up on October 15 last year. At that time, Harakat Hazm had not yet surrendered to Al-Nusra, but the post included a video about the organization that placed its supposed “moderation” into considerable doubt. Below is that video. Starting at about 1:04 in you will see footage showing five men seated at a table. The one in the center is Salim Idris, former chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army–another supposed “moderate.”
In my article I noted that the best way for the US to defeat ISIS, perhaps the only way, is to join forces with the Syrian government. But this will not happen, I also mentioned, because it runs counter to the wishes of the Zionist lobby in America, which wants to see regime change in Syria.
Now, just months later, one has to wonder: was it Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata who made the decision to give GRAD rockets and TOW missiles to Harakat Hazm? Nagata was already on the job training Syrian rebels in October of last year, and you can go here to see a report filed at that time that offers a little bit of insight into his background. The report doesn’t leave you with a great deal of confidence in him.
Once the initial 1,200 “moderates” have undergone their training, what happens then? Will they simply be wished the best of luck, sent off into Syria, at which point that’s the end of it? Hardly. According to a report here, once they are in Syria, the “moderate” rebels will be given the power to call in US airstrikes, which opens up a host of possibilities, including a scenario in which US air power is manipulated by those on the ground for purpose of attacking rival rebel groups. And this, too, has happened before–in Afghanistan.
How much of our tax dollars are being wasted on this enterprise? How much is being wasted now–and how much will be wasted in the years to come? Another consideration is the chance that all this will escalate. Those who remember history will recall that the Vietnam war started out with just a small number of US “advisers” in the country to train South Vietnamese troops. In 1959, a total of just 760 US personnel were in South Vietnam; in 1960, the number grew to 900. By 1968, America had more than a half million troops stationed in the country.
As mentioned above, one of the US training camps being set up is in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabist ideology was born in Saudia Arabia, and the kingdom today remains its epicenter. Exactly what sort of persons do you suppose Nagata will be providing training for in his camp there? Perhaps they will include the enlightened followers of a Saudi cleric who recently explained why, in his view, the earth doesn’t rotate. The cleric has been identified as Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari:
The above video surfaced earlier this week. The following video, below, was posted three months ago and shows Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah discussing, in a somewhat bemused manner, the beliefs of clerics like al-Khaibari:
Not only is the “moderate rebel” a myth, but the notion that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar are sincere partners in fighting ISIS is also a myth. All three countries have been heavily implicated in providing assistance to the very terrorists the Obama administration claims to be fighting. Due to the low price of oil, filling up gasoline cans is cheap these days.
The only people who attempt to put out fires with gasoline are either, a) the very stupid; or, b) those who only pretend to want to see the fire put out but who in reality are seeking to create a bigger fire.
In a speech given on Thursday, February 19, Obama asserted that the world is “united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.” This is a fairly accurate statement as far as it goes; the vast majority of the world’s people are indeed united on that point. The question, of course, becomes: does Obama really not know who his friends are in this fight?
The Middle East is really not that hard to figure out. The best, the brightest, the most patriotic of the region–these people already know what side they are on; they have joined the ranks of Hezbollah, the Syrian and Lebanese Armies, and the Syrian National Defense Force. They will fight and they will defeat America’s trained proxies, and then when nothing is left but for America to send in its own ground forces, they will fight America as well.
This is the course our leaders are presently headed on–all for Israel.
In Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, the philosopher delivered his summarization of the writings of Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas thusly, “Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.”
American foreign policy is determined in much the same fashion. Valuable objects are desired. Noble justifications are manufactured. Trusting populations are deceived. War is made. Empires do their special pleading on a global scale. For instance, the U.S. and its allies know precisely how they want to portray the Ukrainian conflict to their deluded Western populations. They need only apply the false flags and fashion the nefarious motives—like so many brush strokes—to the canvas of geopolitics.
Both the government and their corporate media vassals know their conclusions in advance. They are simple: Russia is the aggressor; America is the defender of freedom; and NATO is a gallant security force that must counter Moscow’s bellicosity. As the chief pleader in the construction of this fable, the Obama administration has compiled a litany of lies about the conflict that it disseminates almost daily to its press flacks.
One lie is that Putin has a feverishly expansionist foreign policy. No evidence exists for this claim, repeated ad nauseum in the West. The annexation of Crimea hardly seems like an example of such a policy. Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine. Russia was quite content with its long-term agreements with Kiev over the stationing of its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol. It was the Kiev putsch that forced its hand.
There are plenty of signals that Putin has sent a stream of conscripts across the border to battle alongside the besieged “rebel separatists” in the East of Ukraine. But is this a crime of imperialism, sending soldiers to defend communities of ethnic peers under attack? Seems a difficult argument to make.
Moreover, Moscow has long stated that it wouldn’t permit NATO bases on its border—a purely defensive stance. The West knows this, but that is precisely its plan. It also surely knew that by capsizing Kiev and installing a few Westernized technocrats, it would provoke Russia into taking Crimea rather than sacrifice its Black Sea outpost. This cynical baiting permitted Washington to frame its aggression as self-defense, and Moscow’s self-defense as aggression. For context, consider how the U.S. might react if China suddenly toppled Mexico City using local drug lords with the aim of stationing hypersonic glide missiles in Tijuana. For once, Washington’s contempt for diplomacy would be justified.
Another lie is that we know Russia was behind the downing of MH17. Obama repeated this outlandish claim in the pulpit of the United Nations, no less. No proof exists, but plenty of circumstantial evidence seriously undermines the charge—missing air traffic controller (ATC) transcripts, the absence of satellite evidence of Buk anti-aircraft missile launchers in rebel territory, shelling traces on cockpit material, and Ukrainian ATC worker tweets pointing the finger at Kiev, and so on. Yet within hours of the crash, Barack Obama had told the world that Russian-backed separatists were responsible, and that Moscow must be punished. Nobody owns the narrative better than the USA.
A third lie is that the toppling of Viktor Yanukovych was a democratic uprising. Interesting how these always seem to occur wherever America has “strategic interests” in peril. Only then does the fever for representative government seize upon the minds of the rabble. Setting fantasy aside, the most reasonable conclusion, judging not least by admissions from Victoria Nuland and Obama himself, is that the U.S. engineered a coup using fascist thugs in the vanguard, and false flag shootings to drive Yanukovych into hurried exile. Odd how it all occurred when Yanukovych, after prevaricating for a time, discarded his association agreement with the EU for a better Russian offer. (Note likewise how Syria erupted in violence immediately following Bashar al-Assad’s decision to reject a Western-backed Qatari pipeline deal in favor of an Iranian one. In both cases, the inciting incidents were examples of an imperial province defying the diktats of Rome.)
A fourth lie is that Western sanctions against Russia are merited, since they are based on Russian aggression. However, a State Department run by his rhetorical eminence, Secretary of State John Kerry, would never phrase it so bluntly. Instead, we were informed that Russia was being chastened for “violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” and because it had worked to, “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets.” One can just imagine the media flacks in speechless submission as this decree was sonorously recited from on high. None of this puffery removes the fact that the coup was a contemptuous move to bring NATO to the edges of Russia.
My, how the media lemmings fall in line with the official rhetoric. Dutiful to a fault, Western corporate media have performed their servile tasks with aplomb this month. A Thursday Times edition earlier in the month led with the headline, “U.S. and Europe working to end Ukraine fighting.” Saturday morning’s edition led with “U.S. faults Russia as combat spikes in East Ukraine.” A lead in the Economist put it rather more bluntly, “Putin’s war on the West.” Beneath the headline was a Photoshopped image of the Russian President, looking resolute, hand extended with puppet strings dangling from each digit. The op-ed pages of the Washington Post teemed with vitriol, continuing efforts to portray Obama as a latter-day Neville Chamberlain, arch appeaser of transparent tyrants. The “alarmingly passive” White House should be more concerned about how “to keep Vladimir Putin in line.”
This isn’t nuanced propaganda. It isn’t hedging or garden variety bias. It’s flat-out mendacity. Surely these publications have, as none of the rest of us does, the resources to know that the United States, trailed by its milquetoast EU lackeys, is trying to provoke a conflict between nuclear powers in eastern Ukraine. It either wants Russia to quit backing eastern rebels and permit NATO to establish bases on its border, or allow itself to be drawn into a resource-sapping proxy war. The end goal of the former is to divide Moscow from Europe. The goal of the latter is to vastly diminish the federation’s capacity to support its Shiite and Alawite allies in the Middle East, all of who stand in the way of Washington’s feverish dream of regional hegemony. Neither option holds much hope for residents of Donetsk, Luhansk and the surrounding oblasts, or provinces.
Yet the Times leads the Western world in disseminating, in every Starbuck’s in America, the folderol that our high-minded, hand-wringing, and munificent leaders are pursuing peace. This despite the unquenchable imperial ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will not cease his provocations until he has resurrected the former glory of the Soviet Union, circa the Stalin era. How soon before the term “Hun” starts circulating? We’ve already got warmongering Senators releasing fake photos and cantankerously arguing that Obama is weak in the face of a world-historical threat.
Howitzers for Peace
Despite hysterical claims that Obama is a dove and tremulous fears that Putin will roll unopposed across the European mainland, the U.S. Congress approved new sanctions on Russia just before Christmas. The Orwellian, “Ukraine Freedom and Support Act” was intended to make sure that Vladimir Putin, “pays for his assault on freedom and security in Europe,” according to co-author of the bill, Senator Larry Corker, the Republican who will soon chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But what are sanctions without a little lethal aid thrown in? The bill also provided $350 million in such aid to Kiev. That means “anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries, fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance and control equipment, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment.”
Now President Obama, tired of the pretense of diplomacy, is said to be weighing a recommendation from the always-helpful Brookings Institute to speed some $3 billion more in military aid to Kiev, including missiles, drones and armored Humvees. Look at this stern-faced collection of the pale and pious, spines erect as they advocate more slaughter in East Ukraine, where the U.N. has condemn both sides of the conflict—Western-backed Ukrainian government and the Russian-supported Novorossiya Army in the East—of indiscriminate shelling, which no doubt accounts for the hundreds of civilian deaths in just the last few weeks. A million have already fled to Russia as shelling from their own nation’s army has destroyed power and medical infrastructure, one of the first steps toward the impoverishment of a region. Couple that physical distress with the economic stress being implemented through Kiev’s agreement with the European Union.
The U.S. has also promised energy aid to Kiev to counter—as the media generally puts it—Russian threats to cut gas supplies. It is rarely noted that Kiev has refused to pay or even schedule payments on its $2 billion past-due invoice on previous deliveries. This is no doubt a Western prescription or precondition of assistance.
Note the staggering disparities here. Kiev owes Russia $2 billion in back payments. Vice President Joe Biden promises $50 million in energy relief, none of which will make it to Moscow. Then the president weighs in with $350 million in military aid and contemplates a staggering $3 billion more. He also offers a piddling $7 million for humanitarian purposes alongside some 46 million in the same bill for border security and the like.
That’s some $3.35 billion to further destroy a fractured Ukrainian society and $57 million to help repair it. Forgive me for being obtuse, but how is this peacemaking? Yet Secretary of State Kerry, Senator John McCain and others in Congress have continuously cast the conflict in defensive terms, producing all manner of fabrication to support the conceit. In the next sound byte, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance wants to double its Response Force to some 30,000 troops. France’s Hollande has called for Ukrainian entry into NATO.
Peace Before the Thaw?
Amid all this belligerent posturing, cameras crisply flashed when Angela Merkel and Francoise Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko concluded a second Minsk ceasefire agreement last week, implemented Sunday. It was perhaps a last ditch effort by a temporizing EU to prevent a vicious proxy war, or possibly more insincere diplomatic posturing to provide cover for Western aggression. In any event, Washington was notably absent, but surely it loomed large over the meetings. The core points of the accord include a withdrawal of heavy weapons behind the nominal buffer zone; amnesty for prisoners; withdrawal of foreign militias and disarming of illegal groups; decentralization of areas controlled by Novorossiya Armed Forces, supposedly in the form of constitutional reform; but also Ukrainian control of the Russian border by year’s end. Despite the agreement, the battle for city of Debaltseve continued, with the rebels—or “terrorists” in Kiev parlance—finally emerging victorious yesterday and driving the Ukrainian Army into retreat.
Betting on peace isn’t a smart call in this circumstance. Already radical voices have flared up in Kiev and also in rebel circles declaring their contempt for the agreement. None of the contracting parties in Minsk seem to have control over these groups. Poroshenko himself said he agreed to the first Minsk agreement to let his troops regroup, and he has evidently refused the stipulation of constitutional reform this time around. Nor has Washington shown any serious interest in implementing a peace plan. In fact, the financial outlay by the White House suggests this is no token conflict, but part of a larger imperial strategy that many pundits claim doesn’t exist.
But it does. Look at Carter administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s strategic master plan, laid out in his book The Grand Chessboard, among others. Then see how that plan found its apostles in the neoconservative movement, re-articulated in Paul Wolfowitz’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance for the Clinton administration, and later in the Bush administration’s madcap blueprint for reshaping the Middle East. As ever, the objective is full-spectrum dominance, an arcadia or nightmare, depending on which side of the imperial fence you find yourself.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Taliban militants have censured the United Nations for what they describe as its “unjust and political motives” in attributing a rise in the number of Afghan civilian casualties in 2014 to the group’s militancy.
“The findings of the report are unjust and we refute them,” the Taliban militant group declared in a Thursday statement, claiming that Afghan government forces may have also contributed to the high civilian toll in the war-ravaged country in the past year.
The development came after the United Nations announced in a Wednesday report that 72 percent of the overall civilian casualties throughout Afghanistan were attributed to the Taliban and other militant groups.
“The United Nations does not show the crimes that the Afghan military under the Kabul administration is committing against civilians,” the Taliban statement further said.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, more than 10,000 civilian casualties were recorded across the Asian country during 2014, reflecting a 22-percent hike compared to figures from the previous year.
“Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfill commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm,” said Nicholas Haysom, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for Afghanistan.
The report, however, does not attribute any civilian casualties in the war-torn country to the US-led foreign forces, most of which withdrew from the country by the end of 2014.
Washington’s assassination drone strikes and other air raids and military operations conducted by the US-led forces have been widely blamed for large number of civilian casualties since the foreign troops began their military invasion of the country in 2001.
Afghan civilians have been bearing the brunt of the 13-year war in Afghanistan since the US-led occupation of the country under the pretext of a “war on terror.”
February 18, 2015
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister:
Many Americans love Canada and the specific benefits that have come to our country from our northern neighbor’s many achievements (see Canada Firsts by Nader, Conacher and Milleron). Unfortunately, your latest proposed legislation—the new anti-terrorism act—is being described by leading Canadian civil liberties scholars as hazardous to Canadian democracy.
A central criticism was ably summarized in a February 2015 Globe and Mail editorial titled “Parliament Must Reject Harper’s Secret Policeman Bill,” to wit:
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper never tires of telling Canadians that we are at war with the Islamic State. Under the cloud of fear produced by his repeated hyperbole about the scope and nature of the threat, he now wants to turn our domestic spy agency into something that looks disturbingly like a secret police force.
Canadians should not be willing to accept such an obvious threat to their basic liberties. Our existing laws and our society are strong enough to stand up to the threat of terrorism without compromising our values.”
Particularly noticeable in your announcement were your exaggerated expressions that exceed the paranoia of Washington’s chief attack dog, former vice-president Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney periodically surfaces to update his pathological war mongering oblivious to facts—past and present—including his criminal war of aggression which devastated Iraq—a country that never threatened the U.S.
You are quoted as saying that “jihadi terrorism is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced” as a predicate for your gross over-reaction that “violent jihadism seeks to destroy” Canadian “rights.” Really? Pray tell, which rights rooted in Canadian law are “jihadis” fighting in the Middle East to obliterate? You talk like George W. Bush.
How does “jihadism” match up with the lives of tens of millions of innocent civilians, destroyed since 1900 by state terrorism—west and east, north and south—or the continuing efforts seeking to seize or occupy territory?
Reading your apoplectic oratory reminds one of the prior history of your country as one of the world’s peacekeepers from the inspiration of Lester Pearson to the United Nations. That noble pursuit has been replaced by deploying Canadian soldiers in the belligerent service of the American Empire and its boomeranging wars, invasions and attacks that violate our Constitution, statutes and international treaties to which both our countries are signatories.
What has all this post-9/11 loss of American life plus injuries and sickness, in addition to trillions of American tax dollars, accomplished? Has it led to the stability of those nations invaded or attacked by the U.S. and its reluctant western “allies?” Just the opposite, the colossal blowback evidenced by the metastasis of al-Qaeda’s offshoots and similar new groups like the self-styled Islamic state are now proliferating in and threatening over a dozen countries.
Have you digested what is happening in Iraq and why Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said no to Washington? Or now chaotic Libya, which like Iraq never had any presence of Al-Qaeda before the U.S.’s destabilizing military attacks? (See the New York Times’ editorial on February 15, 2015 titled “What Libya’s Unraveling Means”.)
Perhaps you will find a former veteran CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, Robert L. Grenier more credible. Writing in his just released book: 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary (Simon & Schuster), he sums up U.S. government policy this way: “Our current abandonment of Afghanistan is the product of a…colossal overreach, from 2005 onwards.” He writes, “in the process we overwhelmed a primitive country, with a largely illiterate population, a tiny agrarian economy, a tribal social structure and nascent national institutions. We triggered massive corruption through our profligacy; convinced a substantial number of Afghans that we were, in fact, occupiers and facilitated the resurgence of the Taliban” (Alissa J. Rubin, Robert L. Grenier’s ‘88 Days to Kandahar,’ New York Times, February 15, 2015).
You may recall George W. Bush’s White House counterterrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who wrote in his 2004 book, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror—What Really Happened, “It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting, ‘Invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’”
Mr. Bush committed sociocide against that country’s twenty-seven million people. Over 1 million innocent Iraqi civilians lost their lives, in addition to millions sick and injured. Refugees have reached five million and growing. He destroyed critical public services and sparked sectarian massacres—massive war crimes, which in turn produce ever-expanding blowbacks.
Canadians might be most concerned about your increased dictatorial policies and practices, as well as this bill’s provision for secret law and courts in the name of fighting terrorism—too vaguely defined. Study what comparable practices have done to the United States – a course that you seem to be mimicking, including the militarization of police forces (see The Walrus, December 2014).
If passed, this act, piled on already stringent legal authority, will expand your national security bureaucracies and their jurisdictional disputes, further encourage dragnet snooping and roundups, fuel fear and suspicion among law-abiding Canadians, stifle free speech and civic action and drain billions of dollars from being used for the necessities of Canadian society. This is not hypothetical. Along with an already frayed social safety net, once the envy of the world, you almost got away with a $30 billion dollar purchase of unneeded costly F-35s (including maintenance) to bail out the failing budget-busting F-35 project in Washington.
You may think that Canadians will fall prey to a politics of fear before an election. But you may be misreading the extent to which Canadians will allow the attachment of their Maple Leaf to the aggressive talons of a hijacked American Eagle.
Canada could be a model for independence against the backdrop of bankrupt American military adventures steeped in big business profits… a model that might help both nations restore their better angels.
On 26 September 1962, four tanks rumbled through a moonless night and surrounded Imam Badr’s palace in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Hearing the tanks Badr and his father-in-law descended from the highest room of the palace moments before it was shelled.
The coup that would plunge north Yemen into almost eight years of bloody civil war was underway. Imam Badr ordered his remaining guards to bring him Bren guns. Then Badr and his father-in-law stepped out onto a balcony and opened fire on the mutinous soldiers that surrounded the palace while gasoline soaked sandbags were ignited and hurled onto the tanks below. The soldiers momentarily fled and Badr lived on to fight from northwest Yemen’s rugged mountains until his eventual exile in the UK in 1970. Imam Badr’s exile marked the end of the Zaidi Imamate that had ruled parts of Yemen for a thousand years.
The leader of the coup was the chief of Badr’s corps of bodyguards, Colonel Abdullah al-Sallal who was supported by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Within months, several thousand Egyptian soldiers were on the ground in north Yemen to support Sallal’s republicans in their fight against Badr’s royalists. The royalists were bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and covertly supported at various times by Jordan, Israel, Iran, France, and the UK, all of whom had a strategic interest in weakening Nasser and the Egyptian Army. Nasser would eventually commit more than fifty-thousand soldiers supported by MiGs and heavy weaponry to Yemen. Despite the number of soldiers, extensive air-support, and even the Egyptians’ use of chemical weapons, the war in Yemen became what Nasser would later describe as, ‘my Vietnam.’
With the recent Houthi takeover of much of northern Yemen, there are echoes of the 1960s. There seems little likelihood of Yemen not becoming a battleground for a protracted proxy war between two regional powers: Saudi Arabia and Iran which, in contrast to the 1960s, are now on opposite sides. The Saudis are vehemently opposed to the Houthis because they are Shi’a, adherents to the Zaidi sect of Shi’a Islam. The Saudis are fearful that the Houthis’ ‘revolution’ could spread across their southern border and embolden their own restive Shi’a minority. In April 2000, the Saudis put down a Shi’a led rebellion in the province of Najran, which borders areas that are now controlled by the Houthis.
On the other side of the emerging proxy war is Iran whose material support for the Houthis is limited. The claims made about Iran supplying arms and training to the Houthis are dubious. The Houthis are in no need of weapons—they have more than they can manage—and the core Houthi fighters are battle-hardened and require no training. However, if isolated, the Houthis may increase their level of engagement with Iran.
What the Houthis do need and what Iran has likely been providing, at least in token amounts, is money. The Yemeni economy is moribund. The Central Bank of Yemen is dependent on loans and grants from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. The resignation of Yemeni President Hadi and his government and the Houthis’ unilateral and extralegal dissolution of the Yemeni Parliament have meant that money from the Gulf States has dried up. It is an open question as to where the money for the salaries for tens of thousands of Yemeni bureaucrats and soldiers will come from. The lack of funds to pay government salaries poses a serious and potentially fatal challenge for the Houthi leadership.
Saudi Arabia will take full advantage of the Houthis’ limited financial resources by providing blank checks to those tribal leaders and displaced military figures who oppose the Houthis and agree to fight them. Most worrying is the fact that some of this money could make its way to groups like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who, as militant Salafis, are the sworn enemies of the Shi’a led Houthis. AQAP is a far more amorphous organization than is commonly supposed. The Houthi takeover of Sana’a and the resignation of the government will mean that the lines between tribesmen and tribal militias opposed to the Houthis and the militants allied with AQAP will become even less distinct. Militant Salafi organizations like AQAP will be key beneficiaries of a proxy war in Yemen.
The calls by some in the Yemeni government for members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to intervene in Yemen in order to force the Houthis to withdraw is a first step toward igniting a new proxy war in Yemen. The calls will likely go unheeded, at least in terms of an overt ground-based intervention. The members of the GCC, most particularly Saudi Arabia, do not have the capabilities or constitution for a military intervention in Yemen. Yemen is most definitely not Bahrain. However, some members of the GCC will undoubtedly fund a host of covert measures in Yemen, all of which will add fuel to the fire that threatens to wash over Yemen.
The Houthis are a distinctly Yemeni movement that is deeply rooted in the Yemeni socio-cultural context. All outside parties, including those in the US government, like Senators John McCain and Diane Feinstein, who recently called for more ‘boots on the ground’ in Yemen, would do well to remember the words—some of his last words—of Field Marshal Amer, the architect of Egypt’s disastrous campaign in north Yemen: ‘we did not bother to study the local, Arab and international implications or the political and military questions involved. After years of experience we realized that it was a war between tribes and that we entered it without knowing the nature of their land, their traditions and their ideas.’ The Egyptians became involved in Yemen thinking that they were supporting a proxy, the republicans, in what would be a short sharp war against the Saudi backed royalists, but it ended up costing them more than twenty-thousand dead soldiers. Meddling in Yemen without taking into account the country’s history, traditions, and intricate patchwork of loyalties is a dangerous game for all involved.
Michael Horton is a writer and Middle East analyst.
Dennis Ross calls for law mandating US war on Iran if deal “violated” to “address Israel’s concerns”
A former US presidential aide says Washington should pass a law mandating military action against Iran if the Islamic Republic violates the terms of a final deal over its nuclear program.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Dennis Ross said the US must be clear what the consequences would be for any possible Iranian violations of the deal in any agreement over Tehran’s nuclear work.
“You cannot wait until you face the violations, and decide what it (the consequence), will be,” he said. “You actually should work that out now.”
Ross, who from 2009 to 2011 was a key White House official dealing with Iran, said this is an area where the US administration and Congress can cooperate and agree in advance what the price of violations will be.
If Iran is found to have been engaged in a non-civilian nuclear work despite a nuclear agreement, said Ross, then the consequence should be the use of American military force.
“There should be legislation, worked out with the [Capitol] Hill in advance, which says if we catch them with the following kinds of violations, then the implication is that we are going to take out those facilities,” he added.
He said a law that would authorize military action if Iran violates the deal, could also address Israel’s concerns.
Iran and the P5+1 group of countries – Russia, China, France, Britain, the US and Germany – are seeking to reach a high-level political agreement by April 1 and to confirm the full technical details of the accord by July 1.
Since an interim deal was sealed in the Swiss city of Geneva in November 2013, the negotiating sides have missed two self-imposed deadlines to ink a final comprehensive agreement over Tehran’s nuclear energy program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has in numerous times confirmed Iran has been abiding by its commitments to the Geneva deal.
The Agency that is supervising Tehran’s nuclear program, has never reported any deviation in Iran’s nuclear program toward militarism.
India reportedly plans to finalize a major arms deal with the Israeli regime worth nearly USD1.5 billion that includes Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and four aerostat radars.
The military deal will likely be sealed during a visit to India by Israeli minister for military affairs, Moshe Ya’alon, who is due in the city of Bangalore on Wednesday for the Aero India show, which will continue through February 22.
The Israeli official, who is due to hold talks with India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, will be accompanied by major Israeli military contractors.
The bi-annual Aero India exhibit is India’s biggest showcase of military equipment.
“We are flexible when it comes to transfer of technology,” said the spokesman for the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, Ohad Horsandi, who added, “A while back, Israel and India had shifted away from buyer-seller relations toward a stronger and more equal partnership that can include joint production and co-development.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reportedly seeking to enhance its military and security ties with the Washington and Tel Aviv in a bid to overhaul a largely Soviet-era arsenal and turn India into a global manufacturing hub.
India plans a USD 150-billion military spending spree through 2027. Pending purchases include 126 Rafale fighter jets from the France-based Dassault company and 145 howitzer guns from the UK-based firm, BAE Systems Plc.
During a visit to India last month, US President Barack Obama agreed to a pilot project in which India will jointly manufacture parts for drones and transport jets. The two countries will also set up a working group to share aircraft carrier technology and develop jet engines.
India last year decided to buy Israeli anti-tank guided missiles and launchers and revive the joint development of a long-range missile. The USD 659 million of Israeli arms purchases since Modi took power is more than Israeli regime’s total military exports to India in the prior three years.
The fate of Ukraine is now shifting from the military battlefield back to the arena that counts most: that of international finance. Kiev is broke, having depleted its foreign reserves on waging war that has destroyed its industrial export and coal mining capacity in the Donbass (especially vis-à-vis Russia, which normally has bought 38 percent of Ukraine’s exports). Deeply in debt (with €3 billion falling due on December 20 to Russia), Ukraine faces insolvency if the IMF and Europe do not release new loans next month to pay for new imports as well as Russian and foreign bondholders.
Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko announced on Friday that she hopes to see the money begin to flow in by early March. But Ukraine must meet conditions that seem almost impossible: It must implement an honest budget and start reforming its corrupt oligarchs (who dominate in the Rada and control the bureaucracy), implement more austerity, abolish its environmental protection, and make its industry “attractive” to foreign investors to buy Ukraine’s land, natural resources, monopolies and other assets, presumably at distress prices in view of the country’s recent devastation.
Looming over the IMF loan is the military situation. On January 28, Christine Lagarde said that the IMF would not release more money as long as Ukraine remains at war. Cessation of fighting was to begin Sunday morning. But Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh announced that his private army and that of the Azov Battalion will ignore the Minsk agreement and fight against Russian-speakers. He remains a major force within the Rada.
How much of Ukraine’s budget will be spent on arms? Germany and France made it clear that they oppose further U.S. military adventurism in Ukraine, and also oppose NATO membership. But will Germany follow through on its threat to impose sanctions on Kiev in order to stop a renewal of the fighting? For the United States bringing Ukraine into NATO would be the coup de grace blocking creation of a Eurasian powerhouse integrating the Russian, German and other continental European economies.
The Obama administration is upping the ante and going for broke, hoping that Europe has no alternative but to keep acquiescing. But the strategy is threatening to backfire. Instead of making Russia “lose Europe,” the United States may have overplayed its hand so badly that one can now think about the opposite prospect. The Ukraine adventure could turn out to be the first step in the United States losing Europe. It may end up splitting European economic interests away from NATO, if Russia can convince the world that the epoch of armed occupation of industrial nations is a thing of the past and hence no real military threat exists – except for Europe being caught in the middle of Cold War 2.0.
For the U.S. geopolitical strategy to succeed, it would be necessary for Europe, Ukraine and Russia to act against their own potential economic self-interest. How long can they be expected to acquiesce in this sacrifice? At what point will economic interests lead to a reconsideration of old geo-military alliances and personal political loyalties?
This is becoming urgent because this is the first time the EU has been faced with such war on its own borders (if we except Yugoslavia). Where is the advantage for Europe supporting one of the world’s most corrupt oligarchies north of the Equator?
America’s Ukrainian adventure by Hillary’s appointee Victoria Nuland (kept on and applauded by John Kerry), as well as by NATO, is forcing Europe to commit itself to the United States or pursue an independent line. George Soros (whose aggressive voice is emerging as the Democratic Party’s version of Sheldon Adelson) recently urged (in the newly neocon New York Review of Books) that the West give Ukraine $50 billion to re-arm, and to think of this as a down payment on military containment of Russia. The aim is the old Brzezinski strategy: to foreclose Russian economic integration with Europe. The assumption is that economic alliances are at least potentially military, so that any power center raises the threat of economic and hence political independence.
The Financial Times quickly jumped on board for Soros’s $50 billion subsidy. When President Obama promised that U.S. military aid would be only for “defensive arms,” Kiev clarified that it intended to defend Ukraine all the way to Siberia to create a “sanitary cordon.”
First Confrontation: Will the IMF Loan Agreement try to stiff Russia?
The IMF has been drawn into U.S. confrontation with Russia in its role as coordinating Kiev foreign debt refinancing. It has stated that private-sector creditors must take a haircut, given that Kiev can’t pay the money its oligarchs have either stolen or spent on war. But what of the €3 billion that Russia’s sovereign wealth fund loaned Ukraine, under London rules that prevent such haircuts? Russia has complained that Ukraine’s budget makes no provision for payment. Will the IMF accept this budget as qualifying for a bailout, treating Russia as an odious creditor? If so, what kind of legal precedent would this set for sovereign debt negotiations in years to come?
International debt settlement rules were thrown into a turmoil last year when U.S. Judge Griesa gave a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the pari passu clause with regard to Argentina’s sovereign debts. The clause states that all creditors must be treated equally. According to Griesa (uniquely), this means that if any creditor or vulture fund refuses to participate in a debt write-down, no such agreement can be reached and the sovereign government cannot pay any bondholders anywhere in the world, regardless of what foreign jurisdiction the bonds were issued under.
This bizarre interpretation of the “equal treatment” principle has never been strictly applied. Inter-governmental debts owed to the IMF, ECB and other international agencies have not been written down in keeping with private-sector debts. Russia’s loan was carefully framed in keeping with London rules. But U.S. diplomats have been openly – indeed, noisily and publicly – discussing how to “stiff” Russia. They even have thought about claiming that Russia’s Ukraine loans (to help it pay for gas to operate its factories and heat its homes) are an odious debt, or a form of foreign aid, or subject to anti-Russian sanctions. The aim is to make Russia “less equal,” transforming the concept of pari passu as it applies to sovereign debt.
Just as hedge funds jumped into the fray to complicate Argentina’s debt settlement, so speculators are trying to make a killing off Ukraine’s financial corpse, seeing this gray area opened up. The Financial Times reports that one American investor, Michael Hasenstab, has $7 billion of Ukraine debts, along with Templeton Global Bond Fund. New speculators may be buying Ukrainian debt at half its face value, hoping to collect in full if Russia is paid in full – or at least settle for a few points’ quick run-up.
The U.S.-sponsored confusion may tie up Russia’s financial claims in court for years, just as has been the case with Argentina’s debt. At stake is the IMF’s role as debt coordinator: Will it insist that Russia take the same haircut that it’s imposing on private hedge funds?
This financial conflict is becoming a new mode of warfare. Lending terms are falling subject to New Cold War geopolitics. This battlefield has been opened up by U.S. refusal in recent decades to endorse the creation of any international body empowered to judge the debt-paying capacity of countries. This makes every sovereign debt crisis a grab bag that the U.S. Treasury can step in to dominate. It endorses keeping countries in the U.S. diplomatic orbit afloat (although on a short leash), but not countries that maintain an independence from U.S. policies (e.g., Argentina and BRICS members).
Looking forward, this position threatens to fracture global finance into a U.S. currency sphere and a BRICS sphere. The U.S. has opposed creation of any international venue to adjudicate the debt-paying capacity of debtor nations. Other countries are pressing for such a venue in order to save their economies from the present anarchy. U.S. diplomats see anarchy as offering an opportunity to bring U.S. diplomacy to bear to reward friends and punish non-friends and “independents.” The resulting financial anarchy is becoming untenable in the wake of Argentina, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other sovereign debtors whose obligations are unpayably high.
The IMF’s One-Two Punch leading to privatization sell-offs to rent extractors
IMF loans are made mainly to enable governments to pay foreign bondholders and bankers, not spend on social programs or domestic economic recovery. Sovereign debtors must agree to IMF “conditionalities” in order to get enough credit to enable bondholders to take their money and run, avoiding haircuts and leaving “taxpayers” to bear the cost of capital flight and corruption.
The first conditionality is the guiding principle of neoliberal economics: that foreign debts can be paid by squeezing out a domestic budget surplus. The myth is that austerity programs and cuts in public spending will enable governments to pay foreign-currency debts – as if there is no “transfer problem.”
The reality is that austerity causes deeper economic shrinkage and widens the budget deficit. And no matter how much domestic revenue the government squeezes out of the economy, it can pay foreign debts only in two ways: by exporting more, or by selling its public domain to foreign investors. The latter option leads to privatizing public infrastructure, replacing subsidized basic services with rent-extraction and future capital flight. So the IMF’s “solution” to the debt problem has the effect of making it worse – requiring yet further privatization sell-offs.
This is why the IMF has been wrong in its economic forecasts for Ukraine year after year, just as its prescriptions have devastated Ireland and Greece, and Third World economies from the 1970s onward. Its destructive financial policy must be seen as deliberate, not an innocent forecasting error. But the penalty for following this junk economics must be paid by the indebted victim.
In the wake of austerity, the IMF throws its Number Two punch. The debtor economy must pay by selling off whatever assets the government can find that foreign investors want. For Ukraine, investors want its rich farmland. Monsanto has been leasing its land and would like to buy. But Ukraine has a law against alienating its farmland and agricultural land to foreigners. The IMF no doubt will insist on repeal of this law, along with Ukraine’s dismantling of public regulations against foreign investment.
International finance as war
The Ukraine-IMF debt negotiation shows why finance has become the preferred mode of geopolitical warfare. Its objectives are the same as war: appropriation of land, raw materials (Ukraine’s gas rights in the Black Sea) and infrastructure (for rent-extracting opportunities) as well as the purchase of banks.
The IMF has begun to look like an office situated in the Pentagon, renting a branch office on Wall Street from Democratic Party headquarters, with the rent paid by Soros. His funds are drawing up a list of assets that he and his colleagues would like to buy from Ukrainian oligarchs and the government they control. The buyout payments for partnership with the oligarchs will not stay in Ukraine, but will be moved quickly to London, Switzerland and New York. The Ukrainian economy will lose the national patrimony with which it emerged from the Soviet Union in 1991, still deeply in debt (mainly to its own oligarchs operating out of offshore banking centers).
Where does this leave European relations with the United States and NATO?
The two futures
A generation ago the logical future for Ukraine and other post-Soviet states promised to be an integration into the German and other West European economies. This seemingly natural complementarity would see the West modernize Russian and other post-Soviet industry and agriculture (and construction as well) to create a self-sufficient and prosperous Eurasian regional power. Foreign Minister Lavrov recently voiced Russia’s hope at the Munich Security Conference for a common Eurasian Union with the European Union extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok. German and other European policy looked Eastward to invest its savings in the post-Soviet states.
This hope was anathema to U.S. neocons, who retain British Victorian geopolitics opposing the creation of any economic power center in Eurasia. That was Britain’s nightmare prior to World War I, and led it to pursue a diplomacy aimed at dividing and conquering continental Europe to prevent any dominant power or axis from emerging.
America started its Ukrainian strategy with the idea of splitting Russia off from Europe, and above all from Germany. The U.S. playbook is simple: Any economic power is potentially military; and any military power may enable other countries to pursue their own interests rather than subordinating their policy to U.S. political, economic and financial aims. Therefore, U.S. geostrategists view any foreign economic power as a potential military threat, to be countered before it can gain steam.
We can now see why the EU/IMF austerity plan that Yanukovich rejected made it clear why the United States sponsored last February’s coup in Kiev. The austerity that was called for, the removal of consumer subsidies and dismantling of public services would have led to an anti-West reaction turning Ukraine strongly back toward Russia. The Maidan coup sought to prevent this by making a war scar separating Western Ukraine from the East, leaving the country seemingly no choice but to turn West and lose its infrastructure to the privatizers and neo-rentiers.
But the U.S. plan may lead Europe to seek an economic bridge to Russia and the BRICS, away from the U.S. orbit. That is the diplomatic risk when a great power forces other nations to choose one side or the other.
The silence from Hillary
Having appointed Valery Nuland as a holdover from the Cheney administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the hawks by likening Putin to Hitler. Meanwhile, Soros’s $10 million on donations to the Democratic Party makes him one of its largest donors. The party thus seems set to throw down the gauntlet with Europe over the shape of future geopolitical diplomacy, pressing for a New Cold War.
Hillary’s silence suggests that she knows how unpopular her neocon policy is with voters – but how popular it is with her donors. The question is, will the Republicans agree to not avoid discussing this during the 2016 presidential campaign? If so, what alternative will voters have next year?
This prospect should send shivers down Europe’s back. There are reports that Putin told Merkel and Holland in Minsk last week that Western Europe has two choices. On the one hand, it and Russia can create a prosperous economic zone based on Russia’s raw materials and European technology. Or, Europe can back NATO’s expansion and draw Russia into war that will wipe it out.
German officials have discussed bringing sanctions against Ukraine, not Russia, if it renews the ethnic warfare in its evident attempt to draw Russia in. Could Obama’s neocon strategy backfire, and lose Europe? Will future American historians talk of who lost Europe rather than who lost Russia?
Michael Hudson’s book summarizing his economic theories, “The Bubble and Beyond,” is now available in a new edition with two bonus chapters on Amazon. His latest book is Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached via email@example.com
 Fin min hopes Ukraine will get new IMF aid in early March – Interfax, http://research.tdwaterhouse.ca/research/public/Markets/NewsArticle/1664-L5N0VN2DO-1
5:40AM ET on Friday Feb 13, 2015 by Thomson Reuters
 “The west needs to rescue the Ukrainian economy,” Financial Times editorial, February 12, 2015.
 Elaine Moore, “Contrarian US investor with $7bn of debt stands to lose most if Kiev imposes haircut,” Financial Times, February 12, 2015.
Arms manufacturers currently have dozens of employees seconded to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and other British government agencies, an investigation has discovered.
The revelations highlight the close relationship between business and government, especially in highly lucrative industries such as the arms trade.
Employees from BAE Systems (manufacturers of the Eurofighter Typhoon), MBDA (makers of missiles), Babcock (defense contractor working on Trident nuclear submarine replacement), and MSI (gunnery systems producer) have all taken senior level roles within the MoD.
BAE systems, the second largest arms company in the world, has had more than 10 executives seconded to the MoD and the arms sales unit of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in the last year.
The MoD’s Equipment and Support Branch, which has a £14 billion annual budget to buy equipment for the armed forces, hosted nine BAE executives in senior positions, the investigation by the Guardian found.
UKTI Defence and Security Organisation, another government department, had four secondments from BAE, two from MBDA, and two from Detica, a cyber-security specialist acquired by BAE in 2010.
While on secondment, salaries are paid by the company and not by the government department they join.
Personnel exchange between business and government works in the opposite direction as well, with 13 civil servants having been seconded from the MoD to outside organizations, including cyber-security company Templar Executives, Lloyds Banking group, arms firm QinetiQ, defense think tank the Institute for Security and Resilience Studies (ISRS) and the BBC.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) described the arrangement as “totally inappropriate.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Andrew Smith of CAAT said, “Arms companies already enjoy a significant and totally disproportionate level of government support, and these kinds of secondments only make it more so.
“It is totally inappropriate for arms companies that will be lobbying for extra military spending to be working for departments that buy their wares.”
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, said the British government’s relationship with arms manufacturers was “uncomfortably close.”
“All too often we’ve seen the government’s actions aligned with the interests of big business, which is particularly concerning when the businesses involved produce weapons,” she told the Guardian.
“For many years, the British government has had an uncomfortably close relationship with arms manufacturers and a shady record of arming dictatorships to match.”
“Secondments like these cast a shadow of doubt over the integrity over the actions of both the MoD and UKTI when it comes to their dealings with arms manufacturers. Our policies should serve the common good and must be free from the influence of vested interests like arms companies.”
The Guardian’s revelations come in the wake of the HSBC tax avoidance scandal in which the revolving door between financial institutions and government has also faced scrutiny.
Lord Green, the former head of HSBC, came under the spotlight for having taken the role of Minister of State for Trade and Investment immediately after leaving the bank.
Leaked documents allege that during Green’s tenure as Chairman of HSBC from 2006 to 2010, he oversaw the orchestration of industrial scale tax evasion for drug dealers, international criminals, dictators and terrorists.
Lord Green stood down from a senior position in the banking lobby group The City UK on Saturday.
Former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is arguing for supplying arms to Ukraine, saying the US should counter Russia’s influence in the former Soviet Union and act as a global leader.
Dealing with Russia should be done from a position of “strength, not from weakness,” former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Der Spiegel in an interview published on Saturday, saying that giving Ukraine military aid would give Russia a “higher price to pay.”
“I would have provided arms to Ukraine early on because I think they need to have the military aid necessary to send Russia a message,” Panetta told the publication.
Panetta said that he doubts that the current ceasefire will last, saying that “like the last one, it will only be temporary unless the West is willing to enforce it with both economic and military support to the Ukrainians.”
Panetta added that he would act from a position of strength, and would also give more military aid to NATO countries which border Russia.
“The United States has to be a leader in the world, because the problem is: If we are not leading, nobody else will,” he added.
France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Finland have all rejected the idea of providing Ukraine with lethal assistance. Russia has warned that the proposed US arms deliveries to Kiev could lead to a sharp increase in violence in Donbas, where fighting intensified at the start of 2015. In addition, Russia denies that it is militarily involved in the conflict.
Leon Panetta was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009 to 2011 and US Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013.
Last week President Obama sent Congress legislation to authorize him to use force against ISIS “and associated persons and forces” anywhere in the world for the next three years. This is a blank check for the president to start as many new wars as he wishes, and it appears Congress will go along with this dangerous and costly scheme.
Already the military budget for next year is equal to all but the very peak spending levels during the Vietnam war and the Reagan military build-up, according to the Project on Defense Alternatives. Does anyone want to guess how much will be added to military spending as a result of this new war authorization?
The US has already spent nearly two billion dollars fighting ISIS since this summer, and there hasn’t been much to show for it. A new worldwide war on ISIS will likely just serve as a recruiting tool for jihadists. We learned last week that our bombing has led to 20,000 new foreign fighters signing up to join ISIS. How many more will decide to join each time a new US bomb falls on a village or a wedding party?
The media makes a big deal about the so-called limitations on the president’s ability to use combat troops in this legislation, but in reality there is nothing that would add specific limits. The prohibition on troops for “enduring” or “offensive” ground combat operations is vague enough to be meaningless. Who gets to determine what “enduring” means? And how difficult is it to claim that any ground operation is “defensive” by saying it is meant to “defend” the US? Even the three year limit is just propaganda: who believes a renewal would not be all but automatic if the president comes back to Congress with the US embroiled in numerous new wars?
If this new request is not bad enough, the president has announced that he would be sending 600 troops into Ukraine next month, supposedly to help train that country’s military. Just as the Europeans seem to have been able to negotiate a ceasefire between the opposing sides in that civil war, President Obama plans to pour gasoline on the fire by sending in the US military. The ceasefire agreement signed last week includes a demand that all foreign military forces leave Ukraine. I think that is a good idea and will go a long way to reduce the tensions. But why does Obama think that restriction does not apply to us?
Last week also saw the Senate confirm Ashton Carter as the new Secretary of Defense by an overwhelming majority. Carter comes to the Pentagon straight from the military industrial complex, and he has already announced his support for sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. Sen. John McCain’s strong praise for Carter is not a good sign that the new secretary will advise caution before undertaking new US interventions.
As we continue to teeter on the verge of economic catastrophe, Washington’s interventionists in both parties show no signs of slowing. The additional tens of billions or more that these new wars will cost will not only further undermine our economy, but will actually make us less safe. Can anyone point to a single success that the interventionists have had over the last 25 years?
As I have said, this militarism will end one way or the other. Either enough Americans will wake up and demand an end to Washington’s foreign adventurism, or we will go broke and be unable to spend another fiat dollar on maintaining the global US empire.
Nearly a decade ago, a keen observer of Honduras produced a damning analysis of the country. “In a very real sense, Honduras is a captured state,” he began. “Elite manipulation of the public sector, particularly the weak legal system, has turned it into a tool to protect the powerful,” and “voters choose mainly between the two major entrenched political parties, both beholden to the interests of individuals from the same economic elite.” The situation required a “strategy that will give people the means to influence public policy,” the report concluded.
Its author was James Williard, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Honduras in 2005. In the following years, Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran president from 2006-2009, formulated a strategy like the one Williard mentioned. The country’s rulers reacted by toppling Zelaya in June 2009, manipulating the feeble legal system to justify his overthrow. Washington feigned outrage, but then recognized the marred November 2009 national election, its 2013 follow-up—and heaped supplies on the military. About “half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere” went to Honduras in 2011, Martha Mendoza disclosed, referring to the $1.3 billion in military electronics that “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon” would explain.
Zelaya had planned to conduct a poll the day of the coup, to see whether the public desired a referendum on constitutional reform that November. “Critics said it was part of an illegal attempt by Mr. Zelaya to defy the Constitution’s limit of a single four-year term for the president,” New York Times reporter Elisabeth Malkin wrote immediately after the ouster.
That was the official line. But U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens had a different take. “The fact is we have no hard intelligence suggesting any consideration”—let alone effort—“by Zelaya or any members of his government to usurp democracy and suspend constitutional rule,” he wrote five days before the coup. Zelaya’s “public support” then was somewhere “in the 55 percent range,” with the poll’s as high as 75%. These figures signaled the nightmare. “Zelaya and his allies advocate radical reform of the political system and replacement of ‘representative democracy’ with a ‘participatory’ version modeled on President Correa’s model in Ecuador,” Llorens panicked.
He need not have. Repression crushed the hope of reform, and today’s Honduras recalls its 1980s death-squad heyday. The Constitution Zelaya allegedly violated dates from that era, and “contained perverse elements such as military autonomy from civilian control,” Michelle M. Taylor-Robinson explains, adding that “during the 1980s the military chief negotiated defense policy directly with the U.S. government and then informed the Honduran president of what was decided.”
General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez helmed the army until 1984. “Trained in Argentina, as he rose to power he openly declared to U.S. Ambassador Binns that he admired the Argentine methods used during the murderous Dirty Wars there and planned to use the same techniques in Honduras,” Jennifer Harbury notes. Álvarez wasn’t kidding. He proceeded to form Battalion 316, whose members the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies trained. One of its targets was union leader German Pérez Alemán. Battalion hit men forced him into a car on a busy street near Tegucigalpa’s airport, then killed him with torture. Journalist Oscar Reyes was another victim. “He was strung up naked and beaten ‘like a piñata,’” Harbury writes, while his wife, Gloria, “was given electrical shocks to the genitals that damaged her internal organs.”
Reagan dealt with Álvarez by awarding him the Legion of Merit in 1983. Now a new generation continues the Battalion’s work. “In the ’80s we had armed forces that were excessively empowered. Today Honduras is extremely similar,” activist Bertha Oliva stated, emphasizing that “the presence of the U.S. in the country was extremely significant” then, and is now. “Military personnel now control state institutions that in the 1990s were taken from them,” added Héctor Becerra, Director of the Honduran Committee for Free Expression.
One example is the Public Order Military Police (PMOP, in Spanish), first deployed weeks before the 2013 election. That October 10, it “raided the home of Marco Antonio Rodriguez, Vice President of SITRAPANI (National Child Welfare Agency Workers’ Union),” then “broke down the doors” of seasoned activist Edwin Robelo Espinal’s home a few weeks later, human rights group PROAH reported. Several legislators opposed the law creating the PMOP. A top Honduran human rights official declared it unconstitutional. But not only was its champion, ex-Congressman Juan Orlando Hernández, allowed to retain his position—he’s now president.
And “since taking office in January 2014 [he] has presided over several deployments of soldiers and expanded the PMOP,” the Security Assistance Monitor points out. PROAH reviews some case studies in citizen security, like one “where the police have been complicit in the kidnapping and torture of two fishermen, and another where soldiers were directly responsible for the torture of two miners.” A former police agent, in a sworn statement, described other experiments in sadism “that implicate top level commanders of the national security forces,” according to TeleSUR. A “woman was taken to a security house in the exclusive Trejo neighborhood, interrogated for 48 hours, hanged and disappeared,” for example. The agent also recounted how his team had abducted three gang members, who “were tortured and killed. They were then decapitated and their bodies appeared in different parts of the city. A different head was placed on each body to make it more difficult to identify the person killed.”
International policy expert Alexander Main writes that U.S. support for Honduran militarization has been not only “tacit”—seen in “the steady increase of U.S. assistance to national armed forces” since the coup—but also “direct.” A DEA Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), for example, “set up camp in Honduras to train a local counternarcotics police unit” from 2011-2012. U.S. and Colombian Special Forces later instructed “a new ‘elite’ police unit called the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Group” (TIGRES, in Spanish). When $1.3 million vanished in a drug raid last year, evidence emerged implicating dozens of TIGRES members. It seems the training paid off.
We can say the same of U.S. efforts to shape Honduran society. The “military simply did not exist in any institutionalized form” there for much of the 20th century, Kirk Bowman observes. This situation changed after the U.S. and Honduran governments signed a Bilateral Treaty of Military Assistance in May 1954. We see the outcomes today. The journalists gunned down by passing assassins, the poor farmers stalked and murdered for defending their land—this is as much a part of Obama’s Latin America legacy as his celebrated Cuba thaw.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.