Saturday, February 4, 2017

الحصاد- إيران وأميركا.. أوراق لمواجهة محتملة

First on the White House agenda – the collapse of the global order. Next, war?

Illustration by Robert G Fresson
The Guardian


Donald Trump doesn’t read books. He leaves that to his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the man rapidly emerging as the true power behind the gaudy Trump throne. Given Bannon’s influence – he is the innermost member of the president’s inner circle and will have a permanent seat on the National Security Council, a privilege Trump has denied the head of the US military – it’s worth taking a good look at the books on his bedside table.
Close to the top of the pile, according to this week’s Time magazine, is a book called The Fourth Turning, which argues that human history moves in 80- to 100-year cycles, each one climaxing in a violent cataclysm that destroys the old order and replaces it with something new. For the US, there have been three such upheavals: the founding revolutionary war that ended in 1783, the civil war of the 1860s and the second world war of the 1940s. According to the book, America is on the brink of another.

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 Steve Bannon: the strategist behind Trump’s travel ban

You’ll notice what all those previous transformations have in common: war on an epic scale. For Bannon, previously impresario of the far-right Breitbart website, that is not a prospect to fear but to relish. Time, which has Bannon on the cover, quotes him all but yearning for large-scale and bloody conflict. “We’re at war” is a favourite Bannon slogan, whether it’s the struggle against jihadism, which Bannon describes as “a global existential war” that may turn into “a major shooting war in the Middle East”, or the looming clash with China.

All this lust for bloodshed may explain why Bannon was unperturbed by the chaos and loathing unleashed by last weekend’s refugee ban, which he drove through with next to no consultation with the rest of the US government. For Bannon is an advocate of the “shock event”. He’s described himself as a “Leninist”, telling one writer in 2013: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down.” It seems war is his chosen method.
People are beginning to take notice – and get alarmed. Twice recently I’ve been told of hyper-rational individuals, who made their fortunes reading the runes correctly now converting their wealth into gold – better to withstand the coming conflagration and collapse of the civilised order. The current edition of the New Yorker includes a report on escalating demands among the super-rich for apocalypse-proof boltholes, with particular interest in airstrips and farms in New Zealand as a “back-up”.
All this can seem hyperbolic, if not hysterical. But if such thinking is taking root, it’s because a delicate set of international arrangements, painstakingly assembled in the years after 1945, and which have prevented a world war for nearly 80 years, are now getting a kicking from three different directions.

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 Trump ‘unbelievably disappointed’ by refugee deal with Australia

First and most obvious, is Trump himself. Not content with declaring Nato “obsolete”, he has begun hacking away at key pillars of the western alliance. His phone call with Australia’s prime minister has been written up in part as jaw-dropping comedy, but recall that Australians and Americans fought side by side as allies for a century. The two countries have long shared intelligence without restriction. Australia’s loyalty is so great, it sent troops to fight in America’s doomed Vietnam war (when Britain stayed away). Yet Trump treated the country as if it were dirt on his shoe. It shows the extent to which this US president is ready to implement Bannon’s fevered dream – and “bring everything crashing down”.
But Trump is not the sole villain here. This week’s Brexit vote in the House of Commons was a reminder that Britain too is among those taking a mallet to our fragile international system. By leaving the European Union, Britain has made it a live question whether the EU can survive. Theresa May insists she hopes it does, but the fact of Brexit will speak louder than any words.
This was an argument the remain camp failed to put with sufficient force in last year’s referendum, but it is central. Europe has a history of bloody conflict stretching back many centuries. The only period of continental peace came when the nations of Europe combined in a community and then a union. Even to risk the future of that union is to risk the return of war in Europe.
Both these shifts would be damaging enough, but the combination is a true menace. It’s not just that Trump’s proposed EU envoy actively looks forward to the unravelling of the EU, hoping it goes the way of the Soviet Union. It’s that Trump sees multilateral cooperation as a limp-wristed strategy for losers, preferring to make bilateral deals that work for him. That triggers a Darwinian scramble, in which every nation looks out only for itself – and damn the arrangements that previously held the world together.
And of course all this has an effect on those actors outside the west, as they respond to these shifts. With a swooning admirer in the White House, Vladimir Putin now feels free to flex his muscleswitness this week’s offensive in eastern Ukraine. China is girding itself for a trade war, or worse, with Trump’s America. Meanwhile global jihadism rubs its hands as Trump, with his refugee ban, all but vindicates their warped vision – signalling to the world’s Muslims that, yes, Islamic State is right and there is no place for you in the west.
All this leaves liberals and the left in an unfamiliar, unwanted position. Progressives seek progress: their preferred stance is advocating for change, for improving on the status quo. But the great shifts of 2016 have left them – us – in a new place. Suddenly we find ourselves campaigning not for what could be, but for what was.

Take those rebel Labour MPs who voted against the triggering of article 50. They were singing hymns of praise for the status quo ante, for a union of European nations that has brought peace, co-operation and stability. Of course, in normal times they would prefer to be pointing out the EU’s flaws, demanding it go further in, say, environmental or worker protection. But the battle lines have shifted in these last 12 months. Now progressives are fighting desperately to hold on to what we’ve got, trying to stop the unravelling going any further.
Democrats in the US are facing a similarly queasy feeling. In the last few days alone, they have seen Republicans repeal laws that prevented coal companies from polluting freshwater streams and stopped US corporations secretly paying foreign governments for mineral extraction rights. Activists now find themselves campaigning not for new or better laws, but for the survival of old ones that were doing some good.
Plenty on the left will have disliked much about the postwar architecture that held up since 1945: too US-dominated, too tilted in favour of the rich and powerful. But now they see Trump and others take a wrecking ball to the UN, the EU and much else, they may be having second thoughts.
Because Steve Bannon is not destroying the old, clunky post-1945 order for the sake of a fairer, more equal, more interdependent world. He seems instead to dream of a bloody, fiery war that will kill millions – out of which will be forged a new, cleansed and even more dominant America.
It’s a terrifying vision. Next to that, any progressive should want to conserve what we have. If that makes us the new conservatives – with Bannon, Trump and the Brexiteers as the wrecking-ball radicals – then so be it.

Why Trump has Tehran in his crosshairs

By Jonathan Steele


Trump is turning up the heat on Iran to appease his Israeli and Saudi allies, but how will Russia and Turkey respond?
The Trump administration's sudden escalation of tension against Iran is aimed primarily at reinforcing the anti-Iranian axis led by Israel and Saudi Arabia, Washington's two main allies in the region.   
By heightening the rhetoric against Tehran, Trump is laying out a carpet for Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the White House in 10 days' time.    
The symbolic objective of the Israeli prime minister's first meeting with the new US president - and the one which is likely to be highlighted by the US media - may be to verify whether Trump really intends to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a slap in the face of all Palestinians, both moderate and Islamist, as well as of Washington's European allies.   
But the bigger Israeli purpose is to check Trump's line on Israel's settlement strategy and his willingness to use military force against Iran.
On settlements, Trump has already given a huge boost to Netanyahu in advance of the visit by authorising the White House to put out a statement saying that existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are "no impediment to peace".  
Although the statement also said further settlement expansion "may not be helpful," its first part repudiates the UN Security Resolution which described all settlements as illegal and which the Obama administration had pointedly refused to veto last month.
Netanyahu will want to know just how far Trump is ready to go in using force against Iran, either directly or by giving a green light to Israel to go ahead with air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.    
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Jewish Federations of North America's 2015 General Assembly on 10 November, 2015 in Washington, DC (AFP)
During the election campaign Trump ostentatiously sided with the US neocons' belligerent approach to Iran's role in the Gulf and its close links with Hezbollah in Lebanon. 
After winning, Trump appointed as his Defence Secretary General James Mattis, who was recently revealed to have argued for air strikes on Iran a decade ago.
The hawks in Washington are already gearing up to give the new president authorisation to use force against Iran pre-emptively at any time. A resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives last month giving Trump permission for this.
The consensus among analysts in the US capital seems to be that Trump's sanctions against Iran in response to the latest of many Iranian missile tests do not mean that he is rejecting the 2015 nuclear deal, even though he regularly denounced it on the campaign trail. Nor are the new sanctions particularly hard-hitting. They target similar entities and middle-ranking officials to those which the Obama administration had already sanctioned.
The bigger issue is the use of force and Trump's tweets that Obama was too "kind" to Iran and that the new president will be different and take “nothing off the table”.   

The Flynn factor

Significantly, Michael Flynn, Trump's National Security Adviser,  explained the new administration’s policy by accusing Iran of "continuing to threaten the United States and our allies".    
Flynn is known for breaking with the neo-con world view by favouring a realist and less ideological approach to Russia, but on Iran he is showing that he is fully in line with the anti-Iranian hawks. This will reassure not only Netanyahu but the Saudis too.
They will be delighted to see Flynn's description of the Houthis in Yemen as an Iranian "proxy terrorist group" even though it is clear that the Houthis are territorially-based local Yemeni insurgents who use the same conventional war-fighting methods as the Saudi-supported pro-government forces.  
Retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn arrives for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on 20 January, 2017 (AFP)
This statement by Flynn is the second Trump concession to Riyadh, coming after the exclusion of Saudi Arabia from the list of countries whose citizens are hit by the notorious US travel ban.
For separate reasons Israel and Saudi Arabia have made a major issue of a perceived threat from Iran.   
For Israel, it is designed to divert attention from the major unsolved regional conflict, the Israeli theft of Palestinian land, as well as to roll back Iran's support for Hezbollah, the main group willing to challenge Israeli policies with direct action.
For Saudi Arabia, the struggle with Iran is aimed at promoting a fictitious explanation of a foreign hand behind the grass-roots Arab Spring-inspired indigenous protests in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia.   
Talk of alleged long-standing Iranian expansionism blurs the fact that the actual recent Iranian outreach in the last few years has not been in the Gulf but in the northern part of the Arab world, namely Iraq and Syria, where Iranian forces have come in, at the invitation of those countries’ governments, as a reactive defence against jihadis.  
The latest cause for Saudi anger with Iran, and it is shared by the Trump administration, is the exclusion of both countries from last month's Astana initiative for peace in Syria. The Saudis were not invited at all, the Americans only at the last minute.  
Iran was in the driving seat, alongside Russia and Turkey, a dramatic sign of Iran's acceptance by major foreign powers. The emerging Saudi, Israeli and Trump triangle will try to reverse this.

How will Russia and Turkey respond?

An Iranian-Turkish detente had already begun to develop long before Trump appeared on the scene.  
Although Iranian-Turkish trade has declined somewhat in the last two years, it had grown dramatically during the first decade of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party rule in Turkey.   
The fact that Turkey was run by a largely Sunni Islamist party was no bar to good economic exchanges with the Shia Islamists of Iran, especially as both preside over rapidly modernising economies with a large consumer class.   
During the period of international sanctions linked to Iran's nuclear programme Turkish entities helped to undermine the blockade.   
Most importantly at the political level,  Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif was one of the first foreign officials to declare support for Erdogan during last summer's coup attempt.   
Iran welcomed the fact that Erdogan's Syrian policy was changing and that Turkish opposition to Iran's ally, Bashar al-Assad, was softening. Iran will now be keen to ensure that Erdogan does not go back on this.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) as Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) looks on after a news conference in Moscow on 20 December, 2016 (AFP)
In Russia, the new Trump pressure on Iran will produce a mixed reaction. Vladimir Putin still has to hold his first meeting with the new US president, and he will not want to spoil it by letting US belligerence towards Iran stand in the way or criticising it loudly.   
The Kremlin’s priorities are Ukraine and Syria. Putin hopes to have US sanctions lifted as part of a return to regular US-Russian diplomatic dialogue on a footing of mutual respect, equal treatment and no unilateral pressure.   
On Syria, Putin wants to ascertain whether the US is truly putting the military and political struggle against so-called Islamic State and other jihadis in Syria ahead of the campaign against Assad, inherited from Obama.
At the same time Russia sees benefits in having good contacts with Iran. It was no accident that on the day after Trump imposed his sanctions on Iran an announcement was made that Iran's President Rouhani would make a long-delayed trip to Moscow next month.  
Moscow wanted to send a signal that it does not believe in unilaterally imposed big-power boycotts. Iran wanted to show it has plenty of room for diplomatic manoeuvring, however much the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia would like to isolate it.
The best test for whether the US sabre-rattling of the last few days marks a fundamental shift will come not just with the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu, but the encounter between Trump and Putin which is not yet fixed.
Jonathan Steele is a veteran foreign correspondent and author of widely acclaimed studies of international relations. He was the Guardian's bureau chief in Washington in the late 1970s, and its Moscow bureau chief during the collapse of communism. He has written books on Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, South Africa and Germany, including Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq (I.B.Tauris 2008) and Ghosts of Afghanistan: the Haunted Battleground (Portobello Books 2011).


By Eric Margolis


When I was suffering through advanced infantry training in the US Army many, many moons ago, I learned the Trump negotiating system.
Our dreaded first sergeant, Delmar Creech, would terrorize us, inflict push-ups or latrine detail, and then restrict us to barracks over weekends for some minor infraction.
We hated him with a passion. But then one Friday he strode into the barracks and, with a big smile, said ‘you boys have been good. I’m granting you PX privileges!’
A cheer erupted. We were being allowed to go to the base store to buy candy, cigarettes and magazines. Suddenly, everyone said, `Sarge ain’t such a bad guy after all.’
This is the secret to Donald Trump’s negotiating tactics: a storm of invective and abuse, followed by some minor concessions. `Trump ain’t such a bad guy after all.’
We just witnessed this technique used on our old ally, Australia, where Trump threw a telephone tantrum over the prospect of a modest number of mainly South Asian Muslim refugees held on Australia’s Devil’s Island entering the US.
This nasty little spat came on the heels of last week’s refusal by Trump to accept Mideast refugees from seven nations, supposedly to keep America safe. However, there has not been a single attack against the US from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria or Yemen – even though all have been bombed (26,171 times) or had their governments overthrown by the US and its allies.
President Trump is doing precisely what he promised voters, something very rare in politics. One of the last presidents to do so was Democrat James K. Polk in the mid-1800’s who stormed into office on the promise of conquering northern Mexico, lowering tariffs, and bluffing the British out of Oregon.
Polk accomplished all of his goals, then refused to run for a second term so he would not be compelled to make political compromises. He died in 1849. His legacy was the new American states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other western regions.
This writer had hoped that when Trump felt the full weight of office he would make good on his vow to press for a real Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. Instead, Trump welcomed Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu, packed his cabinet with rabid Muslim-haters, neo-cons and far right zanies and has just about proclaimed a new crusade against Islam.
Was all this real or a political ploy? We must remember that nearly half of all Republican voters – Trump’s base – describe themselves as practicing born-again Christians. The Christian fundamentalist right played a key role in George Bush’s two victories. Some 78% of born-again Christians voted for Bush.
These religious right voters come from the Bible Belt South and Midwest, a vast expanse routinely ignored by East and West coast pundits and political operatives. The Trump campaign was extremely clever in analyzing this political geography and focusing efforts on the evangelical empty spaces between New York and Los Angeles – the same region that brought Prohibition in 1919 and Trump in 2016.
One of the key tenets of Republican theological voters is the hatred of Islam as the ‘new’ Communism and the fear that Islam’s growth is far outpacing Christianity.
Few of these confused Republican core voters have any sense of geography or history. After the 9/11 attacks, surveys showed that 78% or more were convinced that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks. This was a glaring example of what expert Kevin Phillips terms `the American Disenlightenment.’
President Trump benefitted from this accrued ignorance in his startling electoral victory. East and West coast media were astounded because they had never attended a Pentecostal Church or listened to the poisonous sermons of ‘Rev’ John Hagee or so-called Christian radio from whose bizarre ravings many Christian fundamentalists receive all their news.
I witnessed the birth of the strange alliance between America’s Christian far right and Israel in the early 1980’s during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Two radio stations from the Bible Belt USA rushed in to begin broadcasting their fundamentalist creed to Lebanon and Syria.
We laughed at these Christian broadcasters but the Israelis were smart enough to understand how their new born-again fundamentalist allies could be used as the first step to win over the America’s Christian far right. The fundamentalists believe that Biblical Israel must be re-created (never mind Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) before Christ can return.
Armageddon, the ultimate battle between good and evil, would ensue, bringing destruction of the Earth. Born-agains will zip up to heaven while the rest of us slowly burn in hellfire.
Three decades later, Christian Conservatives are one of America’s leading political forces. President Trump just called for the ban on churches preaching politics and fundraising be lifted.
Let’s hope Trump uses some of his great energy to arm twist Israelis and Palestinians into a decent peace deal. This, alas, seem unlikely.

Tensions brewing: Iran conducts missile exercise after US sanctions


Iran defied Washington's freshly slapped sanctions on Saturday by continuing its missile exercises, as the US defence secretary accused Tehran of being the "biggest state sponsors of terrorism".


Iran is expected to deploy missiles for a Revolutionary Guards exercise on Saturday in a show of defiance just a day after the Donald Trump's new administration imposed fresh sanctions over a ballistic missile test launch last weekend.
The manoeuvres in the northeastern province of Semnan were aimed at demonstrating Iran's "complete preparedness to deal with the threats" and "humiliating sanctions" from Washington, the Guards' Sepahnews website said.
"Different types of domestically produced radar and missile systems, command and control centres, and cyber warfare systems will be used in this exercise," it said.
But a list of the missiles expected to be deployed published later on the website showed they were of very short range - up to 75 kilometres (47 miles).
US President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions on Iran on Friday over its test launch of a medium-range ballistic missile and its alleged support for Yemeni rebels, who recently targeted a Saudi warship.
Tensions continued to rise hours later when US Defence Secretary James Mattis said that Iran was "the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world" before ensuring that Washington had no intentions to increase troop numbers in the Middle East in response.
But as concerns brewed, an official confirmed the new sanctions do not yet mean that the US has abandoned commitments it made to lift measures aimed at Iran's nuclear programme.
Trump has made no secret of his contempt for that accord, which his predecessor Barack Obama approved in July 2015, and officials suggested Friday's measures would not be the last.
Iran announced it would take "reciprocal action" against US individuals and companies.
"In response to the new move by the United States of America and as a reciprocal action, (Iran) will impose legal limitations for some American individuals and companies that have had a role in the creation and support of extreme terrorist groups in the region," the foreign ministry said.
It said it would publish a list of names later.

واشنطن: الحوثيون إحدى الجماعات الإرهابية التابعة لإيران



Trump’s chief strategist predicts wars with China, Middle East


Steve Bannon, top advisor and chief of staff to US President Donald Trump predicted wars between the United States and China, as well as another war in the Middle East, USA Today reported last week.
The American news outlet said that it went back and listened to dozens of recordings of the radio show which Bannon used to host and found that he had made many controversial statements in 2015 and early 2016 about “expansionist” China and Islam.
USA Today reported: “In one episode, Bannon said: ‘You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China. Right? They are motivated. They are arrogant. They are on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat’.”
He predicted that there would be a war between the United States and China within the next decade, USA Today said.
Bannon also predicted “a major shooting war in the Middle East” in the coming years. “To be brutally frank, I mean Christianity is dying in Europe, and Islam is on the rise,” he said in January 2016.
Some of these situations may get a little unpleasant,” he said. “But you know what, we are in a war.”
While China is a global, nuclear-equipped power and member of the United Nations Security Council, Islam is a global religion and has no formal political representation. It is therefore unclear what exactly Bannon meant by “expansionist Islam”.