Kim and China playing Trump cards

By Ameen Izzadeen
Kim Jong-un has some guts. The North Korean leader’s foolhardiness apparently knows no bounds. Though baby faced, he is dangerous. He has only contempt for the United States. The maverick regime’s eccentric leader dismisses with a characteristic smirk US warnings of a tough response in the wake of every nuclear or missile test his country carries out. He conducted 24 such tests, including a suspected hydrogen bomb test, last year.
Last Sunday, in what is seen as a challenge to the new US President Donald trump, who is not even one month into his office, the impoverished but nuclear powered North Korea carried out an intermediate range missile test. It was the political equivalent of World Wrestling Entertainment’s all-time bad guy Roddy Piper’s pre-match taunt thrown at his opponent.
Trump the opponent was, surprisingly, not provoked. There was no lunging forward to land a punch on the face. No head butt or camel-clutch stranglehold. Perhaps Trump is learning how to be president-like. Well, Trump is unpredictable, too. He has his own plans to deal with world issues. On Wednesday, in a move that is likely to propel the Middle East into further violence, he backed off the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Since surprises abound in the Trump presidency, his North Korea solution may have some out-of-the-box approach.
Last month the then President-elect Trump sounded tough when he reacted with exaggerated swagger to a threat by North Korea to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. “It won’t happen,” he roared in a tweet.
The same Trump, however, put Iran on notice when that country carried out a missile test on January 29.
The North Korean missile test was a double provocation. Not only was it a taunt thrown at Trump. It was also a shot across the bows to Japan; and it came at a time when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in the United States as Trump’s guest. The duo had a joint news conference. Abe called the missile test “absolutely intolerable.” But Trump in an unusually guarded statement said the US was “behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.” He didn’t even mention North Korea by name. The response was seen in line with his campaign remarks.
During the campaign, Trump said he was willing to talk to the North Korean leader and accused US allies Japan and South Korea of not paying enough to share the cost the US had to incur in defence of them. North Korea, of course, couldn’t be happier with such Trump remarks.
Trump then delivered another trump card to North Korea. In one of his first presidential actions, he withdrew from the Transpacific Partnership Treaty (TPP) – a move that would allow China, North Korea’s one and only ally, to increase its influence in the Asian region through the rival Comprehensive Economic Pact.
But Trump soon realised his folly; he quietly fell in line with Barack Obama’s policy of checking China while maintaining the one-China policy and healthy trade relations.
Days after the latest North Korean provocation, Trump delivered a tough message to North Korea. Addressing a joint media conference with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump described North Korea as a “Big problem” and said he would deal “very strongly” with it. The US, together with Japan and South Korea, later called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to deliver a warning to North Korea.
In January last year, North Korea announced it had successfully carried out its first hydrogen bomb test, but it drew worldwide condemnations.
The sanctions-hit North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries and its nuclear programme comes at a great cost to the social welfare of millions of people living in abject poverty.
Nuclear weapons research, production, maintenance and delivery systems cost billions of dollars. Although it is impossible to make an accurate estimate given the secrecy surrounding North Korea’s nuclear programme, South Korean analysts say Pyongyang spends nearly US$ 700 million or more a year on its nuclear programme. Although compared with the US$ 62 billion the US spends on nuclear weapons each year or even Pakistan’s US$ 2.2 billion annual nuclear budget, what North Korea spends is low. But still it is a huge sum, especially if we add the opportunity cost in terms of social welfare. The money should have been spent on poverty alleviation. Two years ago, Kim Jong-un, in a paper he authored, said he “cannot sleep” because of worry over his people’s poverty. The North Korean news agency KCNA quoted the young leader as saying that he lamented that his people have “never enjoyed an abundant life”.
The irony is that North Korea’s nuclear programme is a big source of income though it is costly. North Korea earns millions of dollars by secretly sharing its nuclear and missile technology with states secretly developing missiles and nuclear programmes. According to the Washington-based Arms Control Association, North Korea has been a key supplier of missiles and missile technology to countries in the developing world, particularly in politically unstable regions such as the Middle East and South Asia. Such transfers are believed to be one of Pyongyang’s primary sources of hard currency, ACA says.
Obama’s North Korea policy was one of “strategic patience” — squeeze Pyongyang and wait for it to buckle, just as it handled Iran with regard to its nuclear programme. The US allies feel this policy has not worked, and say a tougher approach is needed to deal with Kim Jong-un. They now look to Trump with hope, giving him legitimacy and recognition which he does not get at home – and Trumps like it.
That Trump was serious with Asia became evident when the new Defence Secretary James Mattis made the Far-East Asian region his first choice of destination after he took office. During his visit to the region, Mattis assured South Korea and Japan that the security alliance binding them with the US remained strong and delivered a strong warning to North Korea.
Disregarding Chinese protests, the US Defence Secretary assured the two allies that the US would go ahead with plans to instal an advanced anti-missile system in South Korea.
In the Asian power game, the North Korean missile test offers just another excuse for the United States to beef up its defences in Asia at a time when China has heightened its assertive diplomacy to establish its sovereignty over a series of disputed islands in the South China Sea.
China condemned the North Korean missile test, saying it ran contrary to United Nations resolutions, but such condemnations have become routine.
China believes the missile test will only accelerate the US programme to instal Thaad missiles in South Korea after the Obama administration deferred their deployment in the face of strong Chinese protests.
China has in recent months transformed several of South China Sea islets into potential military bases. In recent years, US warships have sailed close to these islets in a bid to negate China’s sovereignty claims over them and the surrounding waters. However, the two countries have exercised restraint and not allowed the friction to develop into all-out hostility. Well don’t they say that nuclear powers do not go to war?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump and Iran: Restraint not rhetoric

By Ameen Izzadeen
Donald Trump is a newsmaker extraordinary. It is no exaggeration to say that from the day he assumed office on January 20, not a single morning passes without a Trump-related breaking news item greeting us as we switch on to CNN. There is little rest for news hunters hounding him. ‘Controversial’ is perhaps the most used word in news items about him.
Besides his extraordinary newsworthiness, he has become the pivot of international politics, as though world politics revolves around him. Rarely do we read an international political or economic analysis where Trump or the unpredictability associated with his policies is not mentioned. Almost all analyses point to the uncertainty if not the chaos he has created in world and domestic politics. Guessing the trajectory of his policies is not a matter for political pundits alone. It is increasingly becoming a job for psychoanalysts.
One of the perilous uncertainties is Trump’s Iran policy. Will he start a war with Iran? Or is the hostile rhetoric just hype? Whatever it is, a dangerous situation is developing in the Persian Gulf amidst a war of words between the two countries, especially in the wake of two missile tests carried out by Iran in recent weeks.
That Trump will turn hostile toward Iran was evident even during his campaign, but many dismissed his anti-Iran rants as a political gimmick. They were wrong. Trump appears to be gearing for a clash with Iran. Since he took office, he has been accusing Iran of being the main state sponsor of terrorism. In the wake of the Iranian missile test, he tweeted this week “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!” He has also blamed the Iranians for an attack carried out by Yemen’s Houthi forces on a Saudi military vessel.
In another tweet he said, “Iran, #1 in terror” and questioned how the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was ever signed.
As has been the case with many of the Trump charges, the allegation that Iran sponsors terrorism does not stand a fact check. The mainstream US media, which are usually quick to point out the factual errors in Trump statements, for obvious reasons, would not say that Iran has not been associated with any of the terrorist activities since the 9/11 attacks and more so since the United States’ 2003 Iraq invasion that subsequently paved the way for terror groups such as ISIS to emerge.
Given the US media’s hostility towards Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979 and given their pro-Israeli prejudice, their silence or suppression of facts is not unexpected. So Trump and his team have a freehold on Iran-bashing. Under a normal or establishment US president, a real shooting war between Iran and the United States may appear far-fetched, given the disastrous consequences of such a war and Iran’s ability to strike back. But with Trump at the helm, predicting war or peace is like playing Russian roulette.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis is an avowed anti-Iranian. He believes that Iran is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East. Trump’s National Security adviser Mike Flynn has already put Iran on notice in response to the Islamic Republic’s January 29 missile test, which the Trump administration saw as a violation of the Obama era nuclear treaty. Ironically, Trump, during his campaign, vowed to dismantle the treaty which the United States and five other world powers signed with Iran.
So it came as no surprise when Trump seized on the Iranian missile test to issue a series of warnings to Iran and slap fresh sanctions. Just as Trump, Israel and Saudi Arabia also blamed Barack Obama for the Iran deal, in terms of which some sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for Iran shelving its nuclear material enrichment programme. Interestingly, despite Trump’s anti-Muslim credentials, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies view Trump as a friend because of his anti-Iran stance. Some of them even have welcomed the travel ban on the people of seven Muslim nations.
Iran, however, hit back by denying visas to US wrestlers who wanted to take part in a competition in Iran and launched another missile test last week, in addition to conducting a military exercise and further cutting down transactions in dollars.
In a further rub, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei in a speech this week scorned Trump. He said: “We are thankful to (Trump) for making our life easy as he showed the real face of America. He (Trump) says ‘You should be afraid of me’. No! The Iranian people will respond to his words on February 10 (the day on which Iran celebrates the victory of the 1979 Islamic revolution) and will show their stance against such threats.”
Reacting more hawkishly to the second Iranian missile test, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer warned the Iranian leader, “There’s a new President in town” and the administration would not “sit by” to allow the Islamic republic to pursue its military ambitions.
“I think the Ayatollah [Iran’s Supreme Leader] is going to realise there’s a new President in office…. He {the new US president} will continue to take action as he sees fit.”
However, the White House acknowledged the missile test was not a direct breach of the 2015 nuclear pact though it “violates the spirit” of the deal. Then why this anti-Iran onslaught?
Iran should have exercised restraint in responding to Trump’s tangled tweets.
It should try to sustain the process which it, together with the United States, had set in motion during the Obama administration to improve relations. Instead, Iran resorted to diplomatic or political populism to respond to Trump’s warnings. Iran should have displayed diplomatic magnanimity and shunned action or rhetoric to provoke Trump. It should not play into Trump’s hands and give him an excuse to start a war with Iran or dismantle the nuclear deal or, on the pretext of fighting Iran, implement his outlandish plan for America – a plan that undermines human rights, democracy and liberal and moral principles.
Perhaps, Iran, by confronting Trump, wants to prompt him to take the United States on the path to ruin?
However egregious the double-standards-ridden US foreign policy has been, and however horrendous its military record, the United States’ contribution towards the progress of humanity by way of discoveries and inventions in the field of science, medicine and technology is so voluminous that the rest of the world is heavily indebted to it. Besides, the ongoing protests against Trump’s travel ban on Muslims from seven nations are a testament to the American people’s resolve to stand by moral principles. It is heartening to note that the good people no longer remain silent and let evil thrive.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Muslims in Trump’s America: They came before Columbus

By Ameen Izzadeen
In 2003, six months after US troops invaded Iraq, I met this young Afro American researcher in Chicago, while I was touring the United States under a State Department International Visitors’ Programme. He was Amir Nashid Alid Muhammad, who had just published a book titled ‘Muslims in America: Seven centuries of History (1312-2000)’.
His book says the first Muslims came to America 180 years before the European settlers came following Christopher Columbus’ voyage in 1492. They were explorers from Mali and other parts of West Africa. Abu Bakri, the brother of Mansa (Sultan) Musa of Mali, was one of the first to set sail to America from Africa.
Amir Muhammad is not the only person to say this. Ivan Van Sertima, in his books ‘They Came Before Columbus’ and ‘African Presence in Early America’ also confirms that Moors or Muslims arrived before Columbus.
The early Muslims in America, according to researchers, merged with the Native Americans, who were by and large monotheists. Most of these Muslims perished in the multitude of massacres the European settlers carried out in their greed for the gold and land that belonged to the Native Americans, who are even today misidentified as ‘Red Indian’ or worse still as savages in comic books and Hollywood films.
History researchers say Muslims came to America in four different waves – first as explorers, then fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, then during the early 19th century Barbary Coast wars (which were incidentally the first conflicts the newly independent United States waged against North African Muslim states) coinciding with the enslavement of Africans and, finally, by immigration which started in the 1870s.
Property-tycoon-turned-president Donald Trump would do well to read this rarely-spoken-about history before he further undermines America’s core values by another executive order. During the campaign, he had vowed to impose a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration into the United States. To deal with the so-called Islamic terrorism, he promoted a policy of eliminating the entire families of terrorists.
As concerned Americans continue their protests against Trump’s executive order prohibiting people from seven Muslims countries from entering the United States and subjecting Muslims from other countries to a tough vetting process, ‘Muslims Under Trump’s America’ is a dark chapter of the history of American Muslims.
Throughout America’s history, the saga of Muslims was one of suppression and resilience, slavery and freedom, retreat and renaissance. Their history is part of America’s Black History, which is being observed this month – and, ironically, which Trump on Wednesday said he would promote.
The American Muslims’ predicament became worse after the 9/11 terror attacks. With fear gripping the Americans, President George W. Bush brought in draconian legislation such as the Patriot Act and tough security and surveillance measures which amounted to racial profiling and an invasion of privacy, while he launched a worldwide war to hunt down the terrorists. Apart from a few liberals and leftists, the Americans, by and large, felt these measures were necessary to ensure homeland security even though they ate into civil liberties.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the federation, said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” His advice was, however, lost on the American people in the post-9/11 period. Their timidity encouraged white supremacists to make a political comeback. Making the most of the fast-spreading Islamophobia, neocon ideologists executed their Project for New American Century (PNAC) which called for the US military dominance of the world, especially West Asia, to ensure the United States’ economic superiority.
As this global campaign for US military dominance continued under the pretext of a war on terror, with Islamic terrorists being generated in spy laboratories, the Muslims in the United States became a targeted community. Even during liberal Barack Obama’s administration, Muslims were regularly offloaded from civilian aircraft whenever a passenger raised the slightest doubt about them.
When Obama was president, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, a record 257 incidents of hate crimes against Muslims took place in the United States in 2015. Under Trump’s America, the attacks on Muslims have seen a sharp rise. Muslims, especially hijab wearers, face daily harassment. A mosque in Texas was set on fire last week.
What’s worse, Trump’s key national security advisors are apparent warmongers and see Islam as a violent ideology. His National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, has already put Iran on notice for carrying out a missile test. To deal with radical Islam, he promotes total war. Trump’s key strategic advisor Steve Bennon, now on the National Security Council, has said that Islam is “the most radical” religion in the world and the US is engaged in a civilisational struggle potentially leading to “a major shooting war in the Middle East again.”
Is the Trump-Flynn-Bennon combination trying to enact Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations? Neither Islam nor Christianity teaches adherents to fight the people of other faiths. Yet those who hijack the religion, giving a warped interpretation to the message of peace, commit horrendous crimes in its name. The so-called Islamic terrorist’s ideology has no place in Islam. The early caliphs slammed them as Khwarijs or the ones who live outside the fold of Islam.
Today, instead of a clash of civilisations, a clash within the civilization is taking place as far as Islam is concerned. The Sunnis and Shiites are at each other’s jugulars while hundreds, if not thousands of groups squabble with each other, sometimes by means of violence, over the ownership of Islam.
The so-called radical Islamists, disproportionate to their horrors, are just a small minority within Islam. To deal with radical Islam, which is, to a large extent, a product of western intelligence outfits or geopolitical games, socio-economic measures, not wars, should be implemented. Taking education to places where ignorance prevails is one such measure. Creating economic opportunities and establishing a world order based on justice and peace are other measures.
War on terror is one thing, but war on Muslims is quite another thing and one that has no place in civilised society. It was indeed a defining moment when the United States Acting Attorney General Sally Yates stood up to Trump and advised her officials not to carry out what she interpreted as the President’s unlawful order to restrict Muslims from entering the US. She was fired, but she showed the way to resist. Resist Fascism in whatever form it appears. Resist now rather than after a Hitler is created. A warning has already come from a group of American psychotherapists. Calling themselves the Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism, they warned: “As psychotherapists practising in the United States, we are alarmed by the rise of the ideology of Trumpism, which we see as a threat to the well-being of the people we care for and to American democracy itself…. We cannot remain silent as we witness the rise of an American form of fascism.”
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump-Netanyahu: A political nuclear explosion

By Ameen Izzadeen
The much feared Middle Eastern Armageddon appears closer than ever, with a maverick property tycoon as President of the United States and a rightwing hardliner as prime minister of Israel coming together. The combination could be like a nuclear explosion.
The newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump is already on course to turn the world upside down. In the first week of his presidency, he has taken steps to scrap his predecessor’s medicare programme, popularly known as Obamacare, banned state funds for abortion, signed an executive order to immediately start the building of a 1,900 mile wall along the Mexico-US border, placed travel restrictions on people from seven Islamic countries and endorsed torture and secret prisons. In addition, he has authorised the resumption of the Dakota and Keystone XL oil pipeline projects in utter disregard to environmental concerns and the Native Americans’ right to land. Rejecting nepotism charges, he has appointed his son-in-law as a presidential advisor.
He seems to be no respecter of the ‘conflict of interest’ principle, a key ingredient of good governance. He has invested some of his wealth in the Dakota pipeline project and his decision to resume it is a clear conflict of interest. This week senior ethics lawyers and constitutional scholars filed a lawsuit against Trump, accusing him of violating the constitution. They charge he has allowed his businesses to accept payments from foreign governments. They also point out that Trump has handed over his businesses to his two adult sons instead of placing them in a blind trust, as has been done by the presidents before him.
Trump’s actions apparently show he is vindictive, anti-climate and without principles. He is quarrelsome and petty-minded. His officials were seen this week arguing with the media over the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration on January 20. What is more disturbing is that the ‘alternative fact’ doctrine, perhaps for the first time since George Orwell spoke about it in his famous book ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, has become a reality under Trump. The two words ‘Alternative facts’, which Orwell described as Newspeak, were uttered by Trump’s Counsellor Kellyanne Conway when she, appearing in a TV show, defended Trump’s claims about the crowd size.
With facts assuming alternative forms, we are heading for a fully-fledged post-truth world – fully fledged because the foundation for such deception has long been laid by successive US administrations, especially that of war-mongering George W. Bush. To demonise the communists during the Cold War era, to justify the US participation in World War II and later in the Vietnam War, to invade Iraq and to oust Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, deception a.k.a. Newspeak and alternative fact was resorted to.
It was heartening to watch on CNN on Wednesday a New York Time journalist speak about the need to fact check whatever the Trump team dishes out. We wish the media had done so during the presidency of Bush. Award winning war correspondent John Pilger once asked the distinguished American investigative journalist Charles Lewis: “What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims (about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction), instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?” Lewis replied: “If we journalists had done our job there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.”
Well on one score, we may have to grudgingly agree with the new US president — that the US media are dishonest – or at least a section of the media. Through the adoption of its version of Newspeak, the mainstream US media, controlled by six Zionist-friendly media giants, presented lies as facts and portrayed the Iraq war as a war against terror, although they knew Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 terror attacks. The US media rarely speak the truth with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Lacking balance and fair reporting, they portray Palestinian freedom fighters as terrorists, Palestinian victims as oppressors and the aggression of Israel as a security need, and the apartheid Zionist state as the only truly democratic state in the Middle East.
We will leave the dishonesty of the US media for another day and focus our attention on Trump and the Middle Eastern crisis. When Trump began his campaign for the White House, he vowed to maintain equidistance with regard to Israel and Palestine. But his speech at the America-Israeli Public Affairs Committee or the so-called Israeli lobby, brought out his ultra loyalty to the Zionist state which keeps robbing the land of the Palestinian people. Trump has said he would shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their future state. He has picked as the US ambassador to Israel David Friedman who is a staunch supporter of Israel’s policy of building Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
True, almost all US presidents, since the setting up of Israel in 1948, maintained a pro-Israeli bias, but under Trump, the US Middle Eastern policy appears outrageously lopsided. Making a mockery of the peace process, he has entrusted the task of making peace between Israel and Palestine to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an avowed Zionist who is said to have shaped Trump’s speech to the Israeli lobby.
Emboldened by the Trump administration’s Zionist bias, Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week announced plans to build 2,500 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem for the Jews. The announcement came barely a month after the then President Barack Obama facilitated a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s settlement building policy and ten days after an international conference was held in Paris to bring peace to Palestine. It was only after the UN Security Council resolution was passed that Trump notoriously tweeted asking Israel to be strong and declaring that the UN would be different from January 20.
Justifying his selection of his passionately pro-Zionist son-in-law as peacemaker, Trump on the eve of his inauguration declared that if Kushner could not produce the Middle East peace, nobody could.
But do Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu realise that peace comes with justice – and that peace without justice is like a piece from the graveyard? Or will they endorse the Israeli right wing’s peace plan which calls for the annexation of Jerusalem and the remaining areas of the West Bank and the eviction of the Palestinian people at gunpoint to force them to find refuge in neighbouring states? The latter proposition is more likely under the Trump presidency.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump’s spy drama: Even a James Bond will be shocked

Scandals, sleaze and now sick and spy stories: The United States’ President-elect Donald Trump continues to court controversy. This time, it is quite serious since it is about the national security of the United States — and it may lead to his impeachment, if investigations prove that he is being handled by the Russians, who are said to be in possession of some salacious video tapes of the President-elect. It is an open secret that big powers work secretly to bring about regime change in countries where they perceive the governments to be unfriendly or a security threat. But if the allegations that Russia had hacked into sensitive emails of the Democratic Party National Committee in a bid to ensure Trump’s victory are true, then this may be the first time that the United States had become a target nation for a regime change operation by an outside power. If the allegations are true that the Russians had links with the Trump team, then the script of the Russian game plan will make even John Le Carre’s ‘the Spy Who Came from the Cold’ look like a kindergarten book. Even Ian Fleming’s James Bond would be shocked. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is no stranger to the world of spies. He was a senior member of the KGB, the dreaded intelligence outfit of the former Soviet Union. Since he became the President of Russia, he has been guiding and restructuring Russia’s secret service agencies. In September last year, an influential Russian daily Kommersant reported that Putin had ordered a major new reshuffle of Russia’s security agencies and the creation of a new super agency called the Ministry of State Security by merging the FSB (the main successor agency to the KGB) with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The claims that Putin had unleashed a regime change operation in the US are not altogether surprising, given his animosity towards the US. Russia may not be an economic power, but Putin wants Russia to be regarded as a superpower, just like the United States. He was livid when Washington engineered a coup in Ukraine and overthrew the pro-Kremlin President. He saw the US-led moves to expand the Western military alliance Nato to Russia’s backyard as a serious security threat to his country. In what was seen as retaliation for the US action in Ukraine, he intervened in Syria, turning the United States’ Middle Eastern programmes topsy-turvy. Now, details are surfacing, albeit as allegations, about Putin’s plan to install a pro-Russian president in the White House. If the allegations are true, then Putin is spymaster par excellence. The allegations surrounding the Trump-Russia affair surfaced after a dossier prepared by a former British spy was leaked to the media. The ex-MI6 secret agent identified as Christopher Steele, who spied on the football governing body FIFA and exposed its corruption, was initially hired by FusionGPS, a Washington-based research firm, to investigate Trump on behalf of unidentified Republicans who wanted to stop Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination. According to BBC, one of them was Jeb Bush, who bowed out of the race in the early part of the campaign after his dismal performance in the primaries. By the time the agent started his work, the Republican primaries were over. The original clients dropped out. But the secret agent continued his work because the company that hired him wanted the information for new clients — Democratic Party supporters. By July last year, the agent had collected enough material. He felt the information was explosive and its implications could be overwhelming. The agent shared his dossier with his friends in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, but he felt the Bureau was not interested in pursuing it or even trying to cover it up because just days before the elections FBI chief James Comey announced new investigations into Hillary Clinton emails instead of into the dossier. Reuters quoted people familiar with the FBI investigation as saying that the Bureau indeed opened preliminary investigations into Trump and his entourage’s dealings with Russians, but the Bureau shifted into low gear in the weeks before the election to avoid interfering in the vote. Frustrated, agent Steele during a visit to New York handed over a copy of the dossier to the Mother Jones Editor, who published a story based on it in the magazine’s October 31 issue. The story did not make a big impact because it only talked about the existence of such a dossier, not much about its contents, because of the highly sensitive nature of the information. In November last year, a former senior Western diplomat confided in Republican Senator John McCain about the existence of the document, when they were in Halifax, Canada for a security conference. McCain dispatched a trusted emissary to a western capital to meet the agent. The emissary returned with a copy of the document. On December 9, a month after Trump won the presidential election, McCain had a one-on-one with FBI chief Comey. It was following this meeting that US intelligence chiefs met the President elect. They had showed him the document and a two-page memo based on it. Following the meeting early this week, the document found its way to CNN. As to who leaked it to CNN, little is known. But the website Buzzfeed published an unedited version of the document. It claims that Trump booked into Moscow’s Ritz hotel and occupied the same room the Obamas had once occupied. He had allegedly watched prostitutes perform a ‘golden showers’ act (urination) on the bed to express his deep dislike for the Obamas. The document claims that the Russians were secretly filming the perverted sex acts in the room. If the claims are true, it means the Russians have compromising material or immense liverage on the next US president. The dossier also claims that Russia had been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years and that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen travelled to Prague in August or early September to meet a Russian official. However, the lawyer strongly denies he ever visited the Czech capital. Trump on Wednesday dismissed the allegations as fake news and accused the intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier to the media. “It’s all fake news, it’s phoney stuff, it didn’t happen,” he said, adding that “sick people” had “put that crap together… it’s an absolute disgrace”. Now the big question that arises is not about Trump. It is about the alertness of US spies. What were they doing when the Russians were executing their plans? Most, if not all, states suffer from Paranoid Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterised by paranoia and a pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalised mistrust of others. A person suffering from this disorder believes that other people’s motives are suspect and they will harm them and, therefore, they constantly look for clues in their surroundings to identify what they perceive as threats. Those who run or work for state intelligence agencies are required to behave like PPD sufferers but should guard themselves against becoming PPD patients. Unlike PPD patients, state intelligence officers or secret agents confirm or dismiss their suspicions through reason and knowledge. For this, they gather intelligence, which is a basic activity in every intelligence outfit. Counterintelligence measures and covert operations are the next most important activities of spy agencies. Spies are required not to drop their guard even when they make a courtesy bow to a friend. Their eyes and ears should be attuned to pick and react immediately to any possible unfriendly action or gesture. So the question is: why haven’t the US intelligence agencies probed Trump? The fact that they had to be alerted by a private detective of a foreign country is a damning indictment of the US intelligence agencies’ failures, which include their endorsement that former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)MI

– See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Trump-s-spy-drama-Even-a-James-Bond-will-be-shocked-122114.html#sthash.xb4VbQwm.dpuf

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Wars and woes of 2017

By Ameen Izzadeen
Blast through 2017 was ironic, if not nightmarish and tragic. The gun attack that killed nearly 40 revellers in Turkey’s sultanate city of Istanbul two hours after the clock struck 12 could be a harbinger for things to come. One need not be an artful soothsayer or a much-sought-after political analyst to predict that the year that is six days old today will be one of chaos and bloody mayhem, despite the billions of wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year as they kissed, hugged, texted and emailed each other.
If war is defined loosely as a violent conflict between two groups of people or an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will, then history is yet to see a day without a war since we formed ourselves into tribes, communities and, later, into states. According to a 2003 New York Times book “What Every Person Should Know about War’, in the past 3,400 years of recoded history, humans have been at peace for 268 years or just 8 percent of recorded history.
One wonders whether war and aggression are in the human genes. Men fight, and women, too. Perhaps, we are inherently aggressive. But the innate inclination towards aggression does not mean we are born killers.
Most human beings abhor taking the life of another human being. Even soldiers are reluctant to kill. According to a survey carried out by United States Army Colonel S.L.A. Marshall, only about 15 percent of the US infantry men fired their guns at all in battle during World War II, even when their positions were under attack and their lives were in danger. Studies have concluded that soldiers with killer instinct are rare. The sage will say nonviolence is the height of bravery or the weapon of the strongest.
Yet, war takes place. We have not fully made use of our innate potential to live in peace or make peace. This peace instinct, it appears, has been subdued by our greed for more power and wealth, our madness driven by ideological bigotry and a feeling of insecurity which makes us look at the other with suspicion. When we organise ourselves into states possessing means of military violence, this greed, this madness and this insecurity drive us to take measures which are not conducive to peace. As a result, international relations have become a continuous struggle for power.
In this power game, states resort to war – the ultimate test of power — when diplomacy is seen as a liability and does not serve their national interests. States also resort to proxy wars to pursue their national interest goals which may include acquiring territory and protecting economic interests such as energy security, navigational routes and transnational business interests. One should not forget that states also go to war on ideological grounds or on the pretext of promoting one ideology or another to plunder other people’s resources. War is also promoted to boost arms sales which have become a major source of income for many industrial countries. Nineteenth-century Prussian General and thinker Karl von Clausewitz in a celebrated statement said, “War is not a merely political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.”
Thus wars and proxy wars – whether one calls them just wars, holy wars or wars on terror — are here to stay as long as power politics governs us. In power politics, morality has little place and, if taken into account, it is done only to achieve one’s self-centred goals. Selective morality devoid of its universal character – applicable to all cases — is nothing but immorality and it prevents oppressed people from finding justice.
No wonder, far from us is the day when swords will be turned into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks, with nations refusing to lift their swords against another nation while feeling they no longer need to learn war.
This was probably why the year that passed us, like many years before it in living memory, ended up as a year of war, a year of terrorist attacks and a year that saw the rise of populism and the white supremacist rightwing, as manifested in the electoral surprises of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump. By no means, could it be called a year of human rights, justice and peace. Sadly, even the only peace deal – the agreement to end the five-decade-old Colombian conflict – did not survive a referendum.
The New Year inherits more than 50 wars that defiled 2016. With the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan making regular headlines not so much because of their intensity as because of big power involvement, occasionally the world was reminded that there were other conflicts crying for peace in countries such as occupied Palestine, Turkey, Bahrain, Ukraine, South Sudan, Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, the Philippines, India (Kashmir) and Myanmar (Rohingiya and Karen). And there were terrorist attacks which make no country safe. With ISIS on the run in Syria and Iraq, 2017 is likely to see more terror attacks.
If these violent conflicts were the main dish at the 2017 blast-through party, then the January 20 inauguration of maverick Trump as the 45th President of the United States, arguably the world’s most powerful state, appears as the devil’s dessert. He has warned he will reverse whatever peace measures outgoing President Barack Obama has taken. They include measures to normalise relations with neighbouring Cuba and a peace resolution at the United Nations Security Council to urge Israel to stop settlement building activities and work for a two-state solution.
Trump’s promise to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which under international law is an occupied Palestinian city, is likely to give rise to a third Intifada or more violence in the Palestinian territory. If his tweets are anything to go by, his regime will give more priority to the security of the homeland than to human rights issues or democracy building efforts. Even in the US, democracy is likely to be at its lowest ebb under Trump. The only silver lining appears to be Trump’s cooperation with Russia to end the Syrian conflict and defeat the terror outfit ISIS.
But Trump’s friendship with Russia can also be a ruse to weaken the growing security alliance between Moscow and Beijing. Since Trump was elected on November 8 last year, he has been quarrelling with China. By keeping Russia on his side and making Taiwan happy, Trump is moving like a ruthless businessman to contain China. Whether the realities on the ground will compel him to soften his tirade against China, after he moves to the White House, is a big guessing game in world politics today.
The gloomy picture apart, the New Year is not going to be only war and more war. On January 15, France will host a major conference to give a fresh start to find a solution to the 100-year-old Palestinian crisis. 2017 marks the 100th year of the infamous Balfour declaration by which Britain allowed European Zionists to set up Israel in Palestine. Though Israel has said it will boycott the conference, a resolution based on the conference outcome is likely to be taken up before Trump takes over the White House as a UN Security Council motion.
On Sunday, we not only welcomed a New Year, but also a new UN Secretary General. One hopes the spirit of peace at the Paris Conference will give the New UN Chief Antonio Guterres the necessary energy to work towards a peaceful resolution of the world’s conflicts.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Five minutes to midnight, Obama stuns Israel

By Ameen Izzadeen
So the Barack Obama administration has at last proved it has the courage to stand up to Israel but it was too little too late. Can President Obama achieve in the 22 remaining days of his presidency what he could not achieve in the past eight years?
After paying obeisance, probably under compulsion, to Israel throughout his two-term Presidency, Obama, last Friday, ordered the US envoy to abstain from voting on the United Nations Security Council resolution reiterating that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands were a violation of international law.
When the non-binding resolution found passage to a standing ovation and when the US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unprecedented speech censuring Israel on Wednesday, it appeared that the US had regained the moral conscience that it had lost by its surrender to Israel and its support for Israel’s wrongs. But let there be no jubilation, the conscience will be lost again, come January 20.
Kerry’s criticism of Israel was couched in carefully chosen damage-control words. In a 70-minute speech, televised live worldwide, but not in Israel, he laid stress on how the United States had been a submissive servant of Israel for the past seven decades and explained the circumstances under which the Obama administration was forced to let the resolution find passage without the usual US veto. Kerry outlined the Obama administration’s continuous diplomatic, economic and military support for Israel. He said no US administration had done as much for Israel as the Obama administration had, citing the record $38 billion aid package and moves to absolve Israel of censure in the face of war crimes charges.
Kerry, like President Obama, is a rare politician — rare, because he has in him peace activism. After serving in the military for four months, he came back to the country to oppose the United States’ war in Vietnam and, later, George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yet the man who had the courage to oppose his country’s decision to go to war appeared apologetic on Wednesday when he delivered his speech.
Though he criticized Israel’s settlement policies, he also praised Israel and slammed the Palestinians while underscoring Israel’s security. It raised the question why the US had to go on its knees to explain to Israel why it did not veto the resolution, which was, after all, a toothless motion that had no enforcement mechanism. It was a reiteration of the long-standing US policy of advocating the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Kerry appeared like a subordinate reading out his show-cause note to his boss, though at times he sounded angry and found fault with the boss.
The boss — Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was furious. Within minutes he came live on Israeli TV to denounce Kerry’s speech as biased. He said he was disappointed with the speech, which he saw as “unbalanced” and “obsessively focused” on settlements. He countered Kerry’s invective about Israel for being hindrance to the peace process, and claimed it was the Palestinians who botched the peace efforts.
Far from it, the Palestinians have met every condition the US and Israel had placed. They have long recognised Israel as a sovereign nation and its right to exist. Each time the Palestinians fulfilled a difficult condition, the Netanyahu regime, widely seen as the most hardline rightwing government in Israel’s history, came out with another condition more difficult to meet than the previous one. The peace process collapsed because Israel insisted that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a country exclusively for the Jews.
Kerry rightly pointed out in his speech that a Jewish state and democracy cannot exist together. Hours before the speech, Kerry told a State Department gathering that such a proposition would make Israel an apartheid state, with its 20 percent Arab populations becoming second class citizens. He said Israel had been, since the Oslo accord, building settlements, disregarding international calls to halt such activity. Blaming rightwing hardliners in the Israeli government, he said that even after President Obama assumed office, thousands of Jewish homes and military outposts were built and such activities were making the two-state solution impossible.
If only Kerry’s speech and the UNSC move had come at least in the early part of Obama’s second term, they would have given the administration enough time to grapple with Israel to push through the US plan for a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis. But why now? Don’t they know that the US president-elect Donald Trump will reverse or rubbish the Obama administration’s Palestinian policy? Trump has tweeted urging Israel to be strong and assuring it that things would be different after January 20, while Congress is moving in the direction of passing a resolution to condemn Obama’s anti-Israel action and slash funds for the UN. With Israel and its lobby virtually feeding – call it bribing – most US politicians, Palestinians can have little or no faith in any US administration to achieve peace. In Israel, hardline politicians who are members of the Netanyahu regime are pushing for moves to annex the entire West Bank after forcing its people to go to Jordan or any other Arab country. Meanwhile, Trump is set to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — a move every US administration has desisted from doing.
Perhaps, Obama, who made Middle East peace the centerpiece of his foreign policy objectives, is more pragmatic. He knew if he had done, earlier in his term, what he did last Friday, he would have faced a hostile Congress and hostile media, which are controlled largely by a handful of Jewish families sympathetic to the Zionist cause. So he and Kerry waited for the last moment. True, with their moves, they won’t be able to achieve much, but, at least, they made the American people aware that Israel is an obstacle to peace. They made the Americans to stop and take a look at why so many academics and educated people in the US and other parts of the world are supporting a Boycott-Disinvest-Sanction (BDS) campaign to punish Israel for its crimes against the Palestinian people. Obama and Kerry have sent a powerful message to US politicians that the US national interest need not be always attached to the outrageous policies of Israel. As Kerry said, “some seem to believe that US friendship means the US must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests.”
It was only last month, Jimmy Carter, a former President, called on Obama to recognize Palestine as an independent state before he left office.
But analysts say instead of that, he is likely to support another UNSC resolution before he leaves office on January 19 and this resolution will be based on the January 15 Paris peace conference. Last week, we called Obama a war president. But with his five-minutes-to-midnight moves this week, he has moved up several notches on the peace scale.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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