White House Blasts Senate Attempt To Undercut Obama Foreign Policy

Neocon push for ‘military option’ in Iran hurts US – White House

Russia-Today
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.(AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.(AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)

The White House blasted Senate Republicans’ open letter to Iran on Monday, comparing it to “efforts of neocons in the previous administration” to prefer military options over diplomacy, thereby harming America’s standing in the world.

President Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, said that regarding negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, congressional Republicans are “ready to fast-forward to the military approach before the diplomatic approach has been given the opportunity to succeed.” This is consistent with the pattern of foreign policy decisions the Republicans have made over the past two decades, he said.

Forty-seven Republican senators sent an open letter to the Iranian government Monday morning, claiming that any agreement would have to face ratification in Congress, and could be revoked by the next occupant of the White House “with the stroke of a pen.”

Earnest’s comments echoed an earlier statement by Senate minority whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who pointed out that the failure of the talks would make a military response to Iran’s nuclear efforts more likely. He also said the Republican senators should “think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East.”

The White House spokesman disagreed that an agreement with Iran would have to be subject to ratification in Congress, citing several instances of international “commitments” to prove his point, including treaties with Japan and the Republic of Korea about the stationing of US troops there. However, he explained the administration’s view that Congress would have the final word on lifting the sanctions if and when Iran lived up to the deal.

The Obama administration does not envision substantial sanctions relief until it sees a “demonstrated commitment” from Iran “for years” to accept “intrusive” inspections of nuclear facilities, factories, and uranium mines, Earnest said. If Iran somehow did not live up to the terms of the agreement, the White House would have a “full range of options on the table,” including the military option, he added.

The best way for us to resolve international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is to get Iran’s own commitment to not develop a nuclear weapon,” Earnest told reporters. “The rush to war, to military option that Republicans are advocating, is not in the best interest of the US.”

Referring to the recent authorization to use military force, which Obama requested from Congress to wage war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Earnest pointed out that the “common thread” between that and the Iran situation is “a Republican Party that is eager to direct almost unlimited authority to the President of the United States to wage war, but to try to repeatedly tie his hands when he is trying to conduct diplomacy.”

Saudi King Reinforces Middle Eastern Sectarian Lines In the Sand

Saudi Arabia Consolidates its Alliance Against Iran

alakhbar

1243306A handout picture released by the Yemeni Presidency on February 28, 2015, shows President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, right, meeting Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Said Al-Jaber in Aden. AFP.

New Saudi king Salman bin Abdul Aziz is widely considered a hardliner, more hawkish than his predecessors on both domestic and foreign affairs, and his first few weeks in office have confirmed this reputation. He started off by getting his house in order, reassuring his American ally about the recent rejiggering of the royal hierarchy, ostensibly meant to pave the way for a new generation of leaders. He promoted the leaders of the kingdom’s counter-terrorism establishment, finding among them a new crown prince, a new deputy crown prince, and executives for various other administrations. And, after downsizing advisory circles throughout the royal court, he devoted himself to what Saudi Arabia calls “the blatant Iranian expansion” into the Saudi sphere of influence.

Salman offered a first glimpse of his policy toward Yemen and the Houthis by refusing to allow former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to attend King Abdullah’s funeral. Saudi Arabia did not appreciate the assistance Saleh gave the Houthis. By moving the Saudi embassy from Sanaa to Aden, and the subsequent relocation of other Gulf embassies, King Salman raised the level of confrontation with the Houthis and Iran.

The Gulf embassies were relocated shortly after the Western embassies closed their doors. This suggests that the US and its Saudi ally coordinated the decision. Saudi Arabia wants to change the rules of the game in Yemen, while the US wants to pressure Iran to speed up the signing of an agreement. The lead US nuclear negotiator, Wendy Sherman, said: “Whether or not a nuclear deal is reached, the United States will continue to voice its longstanding concerns about Iranian policies that undermine regional stability.” That statement was likely intended, first and foremost, to reassure Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The Saudis had given the green light to the Houthis to fight terrorism and undermine the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, but that policy no longer stands after recent Houthi actions and rhetoric intimated that they seek to control all of Yemen. The Houthis responded swiftly, launching the first direct flight from Tehran to Sanah, and there is talk of more surprises on the way. Yemen is thus expected to witness more bloodshed against the backdrop of the regional conflict.

The second message dispatched by the new Saudi regime was directed at Egypt. King Salman has indicated a desire to temper the political and financial zeal shown by the late King Abdullah towards Cairo. Saudi Arabia does not want to see the situation in Egypt disintegrate, but at the same time, it is not going to allow Egypt to return to its old Arab leadership role. Leaked phone conversations between the Egyptian president and his military leaders have raised concerns about Sisi’s real intentions. These leaks are not likely to be forgotten in the Gulf anytime soon, just as it has not been forgotten that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad once called several Saudi leaders “half men.”

A Saudi warning was discernible in the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) statement, criticizing Egypt’s accusations that Qatar supports terrorism. Even though another statement was issued confirming Gulf support for Egypt, it is hard to believe that the matter was a mistake. Apparently, Saudi Arabia was annoyed by Egyptian accusations, because they coincided with the Qatari prince Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s visit to Saudi Arabia. President Sisi realized that the new Saudi position is a source of some concern. He repeated his famous statement that Egypt’s national security is linked to the Gulf’s security and vice versa, and his other statement about the Egyptian army’s readiness — taking only the time needed to traverse the distance — to help its Gulf and Arab brethren if they are ever in danger. It is nice to repeat these statements, even if the claim that it will only “take the time needed to traverse the distance” fell by the wayside when Israel rained down bombs, death and destruction on Egypt’s own back yard in Gaza, embarrassing Sisi in the process.

Another issue of disagreement between Saudi Arabia about Egypt that has not been greatly publicized, but has been festering in the dark, has to do with the Syrian opposition. Cairo hosted a conference to bring the opposition together, but it deliberately marginalized the Syrian National Coalition and it still has not replied to a request for a visit by its president Khaled Khoja (as he himself told Ahmad Ali in the Qatari daily al-Watan). There is also speculation that the Egyptian army is keen on preserving the Syrian army’s resolve, and that Egypt wants to bring Syria back to the Arab League. Saudi Arabia is opposed to the idea and might threaten to withdraw financial aid to prevent such a development. Sisi, however, found common ground. On the eve of his trip to Riyadh, he talked about the need for “a political solution, maintaining Syrian territorial unity and fighting terrorism,” while avoiding questions about Assad’s future in this solution.

Egypt will soon host an economic summit and an Arab summit, which will shed further light on the nature of the Saudi-Egyptian relationship. It appears that both sides are eager to preserve the relationship, even if they have diverging goals and hopes. The Egyptian eagerness came through in Sisi’s statements, while Saudi eagerness manifested in in the king’s decision to go to the airport in person to welcome President Sisi. The key question, however, is: will the financial aid arrive?

Saudi Arabia needs Egypt and Turkey politically and militarily in its confrontation with Iran. The relationship with Cairo is stable even if it undergoes some changes. Talk about reviving the Muslim Brotherhood under US pressure, and out of an Arab and international need to confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), may be greatly exaggerated. Hours before Sisi headed to Riyadh, death sentences were issued in Cairo against the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and an Egyptian court classified Hamas as a terrorist organization.

These rulings further angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and perhaps Egypt wanted to anger him on purpose. Before heading from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, he announced that he will not meet with Sisi in Riyadh, demanding serious steps from Cairo before such a meeting could take place. It is hard to imagine Erdogan and Sisi shaking hands as long as the Egyptian president continues to pursue the Muslim Brotherhood. The turkish project in the Middle East depends on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite this Egyptian-Turkish antagonism, Saudi Arabia is trying to become the center of a regional mobilization against the Iranian project, with its rising momentum from Iraq to Yemen, down to the military changes taking place on Syria’s northern and southern fronts.

This mobilization is critical amid talk of an imminent Iranian-American agreement. President Barack Obama, who headed a large delegation to Saudi Arabia in a show of support for King Salman, hours after King Abdullah’s death, hosted the Qatari prince,whose relationship with Saudi Arabia has significantly improved in the past few weeks. In addition, Washington announced an agreement with Erdogan to train the “moderate” Syrian opposition. It is clear that Washington is meticulously delineating the contours of a regional balance even at the height of its blunders in the region.

Where will the first repercussions of this Saudi mobilization manifest?

Let’s watch Yemen closely (the South itself might split over the Gulf presence). Let’s also watch the Syrian fronts. Iraq on the other hand has been ordained by the West to fight terrorism, so it is difficult to allow regional players to change the rules of the game there at this point.

Half of the US Senate Publicly Undermines and Embarasses the President of the United States

[47 Republican Senators move to undermine presidential nuclear negotiations with Iran]

Cotton and 46 Fellow Senators to Send Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran

US Senate
Washington, D.C.— Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) along with 46 of his Republican colleagues in the Senate will today release an open letter to the the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran about the ongoing nuclear negotiations between their country and the United States. A PDF of the official letter can be found here.  The  text of the letter can be found below: 
An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution—the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices—which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.
First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.
Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.  For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.
What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.
We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.
Sincerely,
Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT  
Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA       
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY      
Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL         
Senator John McCain, R-AZ 
Senator James Inhofe, R-OK           
Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS   
Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL  
Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY
Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID           
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC       
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX             
Senator Richard Burr, R-NC
Senator John Thune, R-SD  
Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA
Senator David Vitter, R-LA  
Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY     
Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS           
Senator Jim Risch, R-ID
Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL       
Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO     
Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
Senator Rob Portman, R-OH           
Senator John Boozman, R-AR          
Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA  
Senator John Hoeven, R-ND
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL  
Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI 
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Senator Mike Lee, R-UT       
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH 
Senator Dean Heller, R-NV  
Senator Tim Scott, R-SC       
Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX       
Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE  
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV         
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA    
Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO           
Senator James Lankford, R-OK       
Senator Steve Daines, R-MT
Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD
Senator David Perdue, R-GA           
Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC   
Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA       
Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE     
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK

Click here for a PDF Of the official letter. 

Republican Letter To Iran6.pppRepublican Letter To Iran5.ppp Republican Letter To 4 Republican Letter To Iran3.ppp Republican Letter To Iran2.pppRepublican Letter To Iran1.ppp

Syria Concentrates On Clearing-Out Qalamoun Ahead of Arab Summit

Syria-based jihadis prepare for Lebanon offensive

daily star LEB

397676_img650x420_img650x420_crop
File – A Lebanese army officer from a commandos unit, center, gives orders to his soldiers after they blew up a bomb-packed parked car in a field outside the village of Fakiha, near the Lebanese and Syria border, in northeast Lebanon, Monday, March 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Syria-based terrorist groups are preparing to resume their attacks against Lebanese territories on the northeastern border with Syria with the advent of spring in the next few weeks, according to reports received by military and security institutions in Lebanon based on Western intelligence information.

The anticipated terrorist attacks prompted the Lebanese Army to launch a series of pre-emptive operations against jihadis holed up in rugged areas near the border with Lebanon. The Army’s pre-emptive strikes against ISIS and the Nusra Front have been praised by several foreign security agencies.

The battle for the rugged outskirts stretching from Syria’s Qalamoun region to the Lebanese northeastern town of Arsal, including mountains overlooking the main international highway linking Lebanon to Syria, is inevitable, a high-ranking military source told The Daily Star.

This battle could flare up in a matter of days, especially after the two sides, the Lebanese Army on the one hand, and ISIS and the Nusra Front and those revolving in their orbit on the other, have gathered the necessary military and field information for it, the source said.

According to the source, several Lebanese and Syria factors led to the acceleration of what is known as the “snow-melting” battle in the rugged areas along the Lebanese-Syria borders.

At the forefront of these factors is the Syrian regime’s push to seize control of the largest area in Syria, especially areas that had been under the grip of opposition and extremist groups, the source said, speaking at his office where he was surrounded by geographical maps of areas that were the scene of clashes between the Army and takfiri groups.

Giving another reason that could speed up the battle for the rugged outskirts along the Lebanese-Syrian frontier, the source cited detailed information about dissent and differences that burst out into the open through clashes between some factions affiliated with the Nusra Front and others affiliated with ISIS, and the possibility of Lebanon and Syria, in the absence of coordination between them, separately launching painful strikes against these groups in order to prevent them from achieving their calculated goal to take control of some strategic hills between Lebanon and Syria.

A third reason for the battle is the increasing number of people who are demanding that the Lebanese Army carry out a qualitative military operation against terrorist groups for reasons related to the fate of 25 Lebanese soldiers and policemen held hostage by ISIS and the Nusra Front, the source said.

The supporters of such a military operation are confident of its success, judging by successful pre-emptive battles fought by the Army in the northeastern town of Ras Baalbek last month during which troops managed to wrest control of hilltop positions held by terrorist groups, the source added.

Lebanese officials are well aware that the battles fought by military and security forces against terrorist groups in the rugged areas overlooking Arsal and Ras Baalbek, and stretching along the range of eastern mountains and the northern Bekaa area, to prevent them from making a breakthrough in this region, have given extremist organizations a chance to attempt to cross from Syria into Lebanon through the northern Lebanese territory spanning from Nahr al-Kabir to Akkar and its outskirts, up to Halba and its surroundings.

Security sources said armed militants, estimated at more than 10,000, are in control of territory in northeastern rugged areas up to the coast, where they exercise their religious beliefs and traditions and are trying to impose them on local residents.

Both Lebanon and Syria are eager to liberate their common border from Islamist militants ahead of the Arab summit scheduled to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt at the end of this month and which would discuss the possibility of establishing a joint Arab force to fight terrorism, the military source said.

With this, Beirut and Damascus would try to get Arab leaders meeting in Egypt to face their responsibilities, given that the two countries have been exposed to terrorist attacks, the source said.

2009 German Analysis Documenting US Plan To Unleash Civil War In Ukraine

Imperial Geopolitics: Ukraine, Georgia and the New Cold War between NATO and Russia

IMI german

von: Martin Hantke | Veröffentlicht am:

1. Januar 2009

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand current and future U.S., EU and NATO policy. Over ten years ago the former National Security Advisor gave a graphic description of the imperatives of imperial geopolitics. He argued that the U.S.A.’s position of supremacy should be preserved under all circumstances. To this end NATO, acting as a “bridgehead” of the U.S.A., should expand into Eurasia and take control of geostrategically important regions so as to prevent Russia’s resurgence as a powerful political force.

Brzezinski had in mind two countries or regions in particular: “Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire. Russia without Ukraine can still strive for imperial status, but it would then become a predominantly Asian imperial state, more likely to be drawn into debilitating conflicts with aroused Central Asians, who would then be supported by their fellow Islamic states to the south.” […] “However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.”1 Brzezinski argued further that there was an imperative need to gain control of the southern Caucasus, i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, on Russia’s southern flank. The past master of U.S. geopolitics set out the aim and purpose of NATO policy with impressive clarity: “The United States and the NATO countries – while sparing Russia’s self-esteem to the extent possible, but nevertheless firmly and consistently – are destroying the geopolitical foundations which could, at least in theory, allow Russia to hope to acquire the status as the number two power in world politics that belonged to the Soviet Union.”2

In the years that followed, these words were systematically put into political practice with NATO taking its eastward expansion right up to Moscow’s borders. Furthermore, active Western support for the “colourful revolutions” in Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004) led to the sitting pro-Russian or neutral governments and presidents being ousted by pro-Western candidates.3 Russia regarded NATO’s policy as crossing the “red line”. As the war between Russia and Georgia in the summer of 2008 showed, Russia is no longer prepared to stand idly by in the face of further attempts at expansion. Nevertheless, the Western military alliance is doggedly pursuing its escalation policy, in which Ukraine and Georgia are now being offered NATO membership as a means of safeguarding the “successes” that have been scored. U.S. President Barack Obama is also in favour of these two countries joining NATO.4 The announcement that Michael McFaul, a hardliner on policy towards Moscow, is to be appointed senior director for Russian affairs at the National Security Council gives little cause for hope that Washington under its new president will abandon its aggressive, anti-Russian policy. This amounts to tacit acceptance that the New Cold War between NATO and Russia, invoked so frequently of late, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ukraine: “On someone else’s arse”

Even now, the approach to Ukraine is evidently still determined by Brzezinski’s recipes from the devil’s workshop of geopolitics. NATO accession and Europe’s energy supply are issues that are closely intertwined. Writing in Handelsblatt, Peter Zeihan from Strategic Forecast, the think-tank often referred to as the “shadow CIA”, described the complex geopolitical situation as follows: “On the one hand, the ‘orange’ revolution of 2004 led to the installation of a Ukrainian government hostile to Russia’s objectives. President Viktor Yushchenko would like to integrate his country into the European Union and NATO. For Russia that would be the kiss of death. Most of the infrastructure linking Russia with Europe – from pipelines to railway lines and high-voltage cables – is located in Ukraine. Industry and agriculture in both countries are closely interlinked. There are more Russians living in eastern Ukraine than anywhere else in the world outside Russia. The Russian Black Sea fleet is stationed in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol because there are no reasonable alternatives. Ukraine stretches so far into southern Russia that a hostile power in the country could pose a threat to Moscow. Moreover, the country stretches so far eastwards that an antagonistic government there could even threaten Russia’s connections with the Caucasus. In a nutshell, if Ukraine slips out of Russia’s sphere of influence Russia will be forced completely onto the defensive in strategic terms. Vice versa, if Russia regains control in Kiev, the country could set itself up as a regional – and perhaps even a global – power.”5 It was to obviate such a scenario that Washington engaged in a further round of frenzied activity shortly before the end of U.S. President George W. Bush’s period in office. This activity was aimed at advancing Ukraine’s future membership of NATO. Martin Luther’s words to the effect that “Riding through a fire is easy on someone else’s arse” might perhaps have flashed through the mind of the then U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, as she walked up with Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Volodymyr Ohryzko, to sign the United States-Ukraine Charta on Strategic Partnership on 19 December 2008. Rice said: “The United States supports Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures. And in that regard, I want to assure you that the declaration at Bucharest which foresees that Ukraine will be a member of NATO when it can meet those standards is very much at the center of our policy.” The Ukrainian Foreign Minister set great store by a strengthening of the presence of the United States in Ukraine, in particular through a diplomatic mission on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea.6

In addition to a programme of enhanced security cooperation intended to strengthen Ukraine’s candidacy for NATO membership, agreement was reached on close collaboration on energy issues. It was resolved inter alia that “In recognition of the importance of a well functioning energy sector, the parties intend to work closely together on rehabilitating and modernizing the capacity of Ukraine’s gas transit infrastructure.”7 This Charter on Strategic Partnership was signed against the backdrop of the gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia. Given Ukraine’s failure to pay its debts and the lack of any new agreement on deliveries of gas to Ukraine, supplies of Russian gas to Ukraine were stopped as of 1 January 2009. Within a few days the dispute began to have an effect on energy supplies throughout Europe. On 6 January 2009, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia reported that deliveries through the Ukrainian transit pipelines had come to a halt. Supplies to Austria fell by 90%. There are a number of indications that Ukraine’s actions can only be explained by reference to the support it received from the U.S.A. That was the Russian view too: “The Russian gas company Gazprom has pinned responsibility for the gas dispute with Ukraine on the U.S.A. Gazprom declared on Tuesday that Ukraine’s actions are being directed by the U.S. government. Despite the deployment of EU observers the Ukraine is again removing gas from the transit pipelines. Russia is therefore unable to deliver supplies to the EU countries. Alexander Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the Russian energy giant, has accused the U.S.A. of fuelling the conflict.”8

In the case of both Georgia and Ukraine there is a close link between the gas dispute and support for their admission to NATO. In April 2008 the Bertelsmann Foundation concluded that Ukraine and Georgia were already closely integrated into “NATO’s working processes”. “Ever since it was founded in 1994, both countries have been part of the Partnership for Peace programme of the North Atlantic Alliance which is intended to promote individual cooperation between NATO and non-NATO countries. Cooperation has subsequently been extended. […] In their bilateral cooperation agreements with NATO both countries see far-reaching domestic reforms as a means of moving closer to the defence alliance. Such reforms principally concern the consolidation of internal democratic structures, but priority is also given to the fight against global terrorism and support for the operations and missions of the North Atlantic Alliance. The latter was one reason why U.S. President George W. Bush emphasized his efforts to have Ukraine and Georgia included in the Membership Action Plan. The progress made in integration into NATO’s defence structures puts into perspective the question that arose at the Bucharest summit about the steps Ukraine and Georgia will take after the provisional ‘no’ to their admission to the Membership Action Plan. Their path will inevitably take them into NATO.”9

Germany is playing a double role here. On the one hand it has joined France in rejecting an accelerated accession procedure for Ukraine, which the U.S.A. favoured; on the other hand it is playing a risky game by not placing any obstacles in the path of fundamental approval of Ukraine’s accession to NATO. The German Foreign Office has itself provided an apt description of this double role: “At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008 Ukraine was in principle given the prospect of membership (‘We agreed today that these countries (i.e. Ukraine and Georgia) will become members of NATO’). Ukraine was not granted a Membership Action Plan (MAP); instead, a comprehensive review process was initiated.”10 This granting of prospective membership to Ukraine for the first time, combined with Georgia’s aggression shortly afterwards against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, proved the last straw for Moscow.

Georgia: a geopolitical prize

A look at the map quickly makes it clear why the Southern Caucasus is so important. Georgia provides the only opportunity of supplying Europe with gas and oil from the resource-rich countries of Central Asia and of transporting goods and products to Europe by land from China and Kazakhstan. The Nabucco pipeline project is intended to help reduce Europe’s “dependence” on Russian gas imports, which currently account for 40% of its supplies and are expected to climb to even higher levels. According to the European press service EurActiv, “The US has long been pushing for the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines from the Caspian basin that would bypass Russia, especially via Georgia.”11 The project is a top priority for the European Union, too. During his period as representative of the EU Council President in 2006 the Austrian Minister of Economics Martin Bartenstein said: “[The] Nabucco pipeline is Europe’s most important energy project.”12

For both the EU Member States and the NATO countries Georgia provides the geographical terrain that is essential to cutting Russia off from the purchasers of its energy exports. Russia’s countermeasures include three pipeline projects – Nord Stream (Baltic Sea pipeline), South Stream (Russian-Italian gas pipeline through the Black Sea via Varna in Bulgaria) and Blue Stream (from Russia through the Black Sea into Turkey) – as well as the building of direct energy lines to western and southern Europe to ensure the unobstructed export of energy free from any checks or controls by former Eastern Bloc states very favourably disposed to the U.S.A. This was why the U.S.A., in particular, played the Georgian card in the hope of containing Russia’s political influence in Europe and preventing its rise to the status of an industrial power.

Western support for the war

Germany continues to play a significant part in the arming of Georgia. The Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) mostly train Georgian officers as part of the general staff training course which includes participants from other countries. Over the past few years the Bundeswehr has been host to a steady stream of high-ranking military delegations from Georgia. In addition, G 36 rifles manufactured by Heckler & Koch have been delivered to Georgia. The bulk of the training has been carried out by the U.S.A., however. The U.S. Army has trained Georgian soldiers “to bring the armed forces of Georgia, a loyal ally of Washington, up to NATO standards as an outpost in the Caucasus.”13 In 2006 alone, says the German news magazine Der Spiegel, the U.S.A. supported Georgia to the tune of 80 million U.S. dollars, 13 million of which went on the payment of “military supplies and services” as well as the training of soldiers. In addition the U.S.A. has helped Georgia by regularly modernising its fleet and delivering helicopters free of charge.14 The considerable extent of U.S. military assistance, which has “enabled the Pentagon to overhaul Georgia’s forces from bottom to top”, is described by the New York Times as follows: “At senior levels, the United States helped rewrite Georgian military doctrine and train its commanders and staff officers. At the squad level, American marines and soldiers trained Georgian soldiers in the fundamentals of battle.”15
All told, therefore, the Georgian armed forces have over five infantry brigades each numbering 2,000 men. In addition there are the reservist units whose level of training is far inferior. The Georgian government talks officially of 37,000 soldiers and 100,000 reservists. Since Mikhail Saakashvili took office, Georgia’s military spending has increased significantly: “In 2003 it amounted to 52 million lari (24 million U.S. dollars), whereas in 2006 that figure had tripled to 139 million lari (78 million U.S. dollars). Real expenditure is much higher, however. Anyone liable to be called up for military service, for example, can buy themselves out of the army – four-fifths of the money goes straight to the ministry.”16

There is also brisk cooperation between Georgia and NATO. In July 2008, a joint manoeuvre was held as part of the Partnership for Peace Programme in which a total of 1,630 military personnel, including 1,000 Americans and 600 Georgians, took part.17 In addition, the Georgian army has been – and still is – prominently involved in the war in Iraq, which is in contravention of international law, as well as in Afghanistan and Kosovo. In 2008, Georgia had 2,000 solders in Iraq, the third-largest contingent of the “Coalition of the Willing”. However, after the Georgian army had been repulsed in South Ossetia in August 2008, the U.S. Air Force flew the Georgian units stationed in Iraq back to the home front to provide help while the fighting was still in progress. Given the massive campaign undertaken by the U.S.A. and its allies to build up the country’s military, it is barely credible that, while the U.S.A. might not actually have given the green light, it was not fully informed of the pending attack and subsequently kept silent about it.

At any rate, the Russians are certain that the attack took place with support from Washington. The Russian ambassador to NATO, Dimitri Rogozin, made a statement to the effect that Saakashvili agreed the attack with his “backers”. It is clear to whom he was referring.18 Vladimir Vasilyev, Chairman of the Duma Security Committee, summed up the Russian point of view as follows: “The longer the matter goes on, the better the world will come to understand that Georgia would never have been capable of it [the attack on South Ossetia] without the United States”.19 In an interview for the German TV station ARD the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made his views of the U.S.A.’s behaviour perfectly clear: “One cannot help thinking that the American leadership knew of the planned action and, indeed, participated in it […] in order to organise a small-scale but successful war. And, if things went wrong, to force Russia into the role of the enemy.”20

Russia’s counter-attack

It is, indeed, hard to believe that the Georgian attack took place without any prior consultation with the U.S.A. Yet it must have been clear to the U.S. government that the Georgian army would be crushed in battle, which was precisely what happened. The question arises, therefore, as to Washington’s motives. Did it simply miscalculate in assuming that Russia would quietly accept the Georgian advance? It is hard to imagine but conceivable nonetheless. The other explanation is that the primary objective was to stir up a conflict with Russia so as to make the European Union toe an even more anti-Russian line and that Saakashvili came in handy here in the role of useful idiot, albeit at the expense of the people in the region. The matter cannot be clarified with any degree of certainty, although the latter explanation would appear more plausible.

At all events, the calculation backfired, because Russia seized the opportunity provided by the Georgian attack to improve its own position in the Caucasus. It is also very hard to imagine that Moscow was not informed of Georgia’s invasion plans. It was evidently well prepared for such an eventuality. In July, 8,000 Russian soldiers carried out an exercise simulating the repulsion of a Georgian attack. That might also explain why the Georgian troops were halted within 24 hours and the Russian troops gained the upper hand relatively quickly. Hence to describe Georgia’s war of aggression as the result of President Saakashvili stumbling into a Russian trap is not very convincing. Whether the Russians were well prepared or not, the fact of the matter is that Georgia engaged in a war of aggression.

In the course of the conflict Russia succeeded in shattering confidence in Georgia’s reliability as a transit country for future Caspian energy supplies. Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili himself said that “one of the main reasons for the Russian attack was that Georgia already has the Baku-Tblissi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC), which has been laid one metre underground from end to end. This is intended to circumvent Russia.”21 That suspicion is not as mistaken as it might seem. After all, the opening of the BTC pipeline in May 2006, over which Washington and Moscow had wrangled bitterly for almost a decade, was one of the biggest geopolitical successes in the U.S.A.’s plans to roll back Russian influence in the region. “The Georgian security adviser, Alexander Lomaia, says that the Russians dropped six bombs but failed to hit the pipeline. If that is true, it would indicate that Russia’s military action was conducted in pursuit of other, more far-reaching strategic goals than merely preventing a humanitarian crisis in South Ossetia.”22

The Nabucco project was also dealt a heavy blow. According to Ed Chow from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Russia has raised serious doubts in the minds of Western lenders and investors […] as to whether a pipeline through Georgia is safe from attacks or beyond the control of the Kremlin.”23 Nevertheless, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs attempted to give an assurance that the EU was sticking to its plan to build the Nabucco pipeline through Georgia despite the Caucasus conflict: “This infrastructure is needed”, Piebalgs said.24

For the first time since the end of the (old) Cold War Russia has thus ended a Western attempt at expansion by military means. That alone is sufficient to underline the dimensions of the Russian-Georgian war. At the same time the invasion of Georgia is a clear signal to the West that in future Russia will once again have to be taken into account in international power politics. A Strategic Forecast analysis says: “Russia has demonstrated three things with its operation in South Ossetia. Firstly, its army can carry out successful operations, which foreign observers have doubted. Secondly, the Russians can defeat forces trained by U.S. military instructors. Thirdly, Russia has shown that the U.S.A. and NATO are not in a position that would enable them to intervene militarily in this conflict.”25

Astonishing one-sidedness

It is hardly surprising that the Russian response to the Georgian invasion was fiercely criticised by the U.S., which almost unreservedly took Georgia’s side. Zbigniew Brzezinski was vociferous in his response, comparing Putin’s actions with those of Hitler. He went on to say that Moscow’s behaviour “can lead to exclusion and economic and financial sanctions. If Russia continues down this road it must ultimately be isolated within the community of states.”26
The European Union adopted an equally one-sided stance: “The European Council is gravely concerned by the open conflict which has broken out in Georgia, by the resulting violence and by the disproportionate reaction of Russia.”27 These were the words used by the European heads of state and government on 1 September in commenting on the events in the Caucasus. They failed to mention, let alone criticise, the fact that Georgia’s aggression was clearly what had unleashed the war. The statement continues by severely criticising Russia alone. Thus the heads of state and government “strongly condemn Russia’s unilateral decision to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” In stark contrast to the policy of recognizing Kosovo that was pursued by the vast majority of EU Member States, the European Council “recalls that a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict in Georgia must be based on full respect for the principles of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity recognised by international law, the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and United Nations Security Council resolutions.”27

There were occasional vehement demands for even more drastic action against Russia. The Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP), advocated an EU position that is “tougher than that of NATO.”28 The fact that the hardliners were not able to have their way entirely has to do with the specific constellation of interests that have made this appear inopportune, particularly from a German perspective. On the one hand there is a desire to show Moscow who is in charge in Europe but, on the other, there is a wish not to spoil things completely with Russia, because business there is simply too profitable.29 Nevertheless, Germany is in almost full accord with NATO’s escalation policy.

(Energy) NATO is put into position

In November 2006 U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, a leading NATO strategist, literally went on the offensive. On the fringes of the NATO summit in Riga he criticised Moscow for its attempts to use oil as a “weapon” against the West and proposed the setting up of an “Energy NATO”. The underlying idea is that in future NATO should treat any interruption of oil and gas supplies as it would a military attack (see article by Tobias Pflüger).

In January 2008, five high-ranking NATO generals published a position paper that was specifically introduced into the debate in the form of a catalogue of requirements for the forthcoming updating of NATO’s strategic concept, the idea being that it could serve as a blueprint for the NATO summit on 3/4 April 2009: “ There will be an increase in global competition for scarce resources, and this will certainly be the case for fossil fuel, which will swell the possibility of suppliers abusing their position and their leverage.. […]Dependency on oil and gas is a vulnerability that some governments will seek to exploit – the Gazprom crisis demonstrated how easily demand can be manipulated. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is – and is likely to remain – a mechanism for keeping the price of oil artificially high, and recently Russia and the United Arab Emirates have been exploring the idea of setting up a ‘Gas OPEC’. […] For this reason, it might well be worth considering using NATO as an instrument of energy security.”30

Shortly afterwards, in June 2008, Richard Lugar, who for a time was under discussion as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State for Defense, repeated his threats against Russia at a hearing of the Senate and vigorously advocated the building of the Nabucco pipeline.31 At the same hearing the new U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden expressly praised Lugar’s work on energy policy and emphasised the importance of the conflicts in the Caspian region: “The stakes involve hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and infrastructure, the resurgence of Russia, and the energy security of Europe.. […] Russians love chess. Our strategic response on the chess board of Central Asia must be to establish a presence on parts of the board they do not yet control. That means laying down new pipelines that add alternatives […] to the monopoly Russia has enjoyed.”32

Biden is therefore likely to have welcomed one of the last major security policy initiatives launched by the Bush administration which aimed at drawing Georgia further into the Western orbit by means of a joint declaration on partnership: “The United States and Georgia officially became “strategic partners” under a charter signed by the two governments on January 9 [2009]. […] Few details have been publicized about the charter, which was signed four months after Georgia’s disastrous war with Russia. It has been widely reported, however, that the Georgian pact resembles a strategic partnership charter signed by the United States and Ukraine in December.”33 Like the United States-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership the agreement with Georgia is likely to comprise intensified military cooperation and measures to expedite Ukraine’s membership of NATO. On 15 September 2008 NATO resolved to set up a commission to deepen relations with Georgia. This is intended “to coordinate Alliance efforts to assist Georgia in recovering from the recent conflict”.34

Cold War as a self-fulfilling prophecy

The aim of the policy pursued by the U.S.A. in Ukraine and Georgia is to wage a new Cold War against Russia. Russia is to be challenged by a policy of pinpricks involving “colourful revolutions”, energy blockades, NATO expansion and the stationing of missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. By disrupting economic relations with Western Europe Washington aims to contain Russia’s global political influence and thwart its advance as a new industrial power. Should this scenario turn out to be a success, it would simultaneously ensure that the NATO allies in Western Europe are tied into a joint strategy of escalation and have to become even more heavily involved in projects designed to secure energy supplies.
Since this strategy has thus far proved successful and it cannot, unfortunately, be assumed that there will be a move away from a policy of U.S. confrontation under President Obama, there is a renewed threat of bloc confrontation. At the height of the Georgian war Russian President Dmitri Medvedev sent out a clear message to the West: “We are not afraid of anything, not even the prospect of a Cold War.”35 The anti-war movement will have to adjust to the realities of the New Cold War. The strategy of imperialism pursued by NATO and the EU must be opposed here and now in a calm and collected fashion.

Endnotes

1 Brzezinski, Zbigniew: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, New York 1997, p. 24 (Seitenangabe in der englischen Fassung unsicher)
2 ibid., p.27 (s.o.)
3 On Western support for the “colourful revolutions” cf. Chauvier, Jean-Marc: Westlich werden und östlich bleiben, Le Monde diplomatique, 14 January 2005
4 Carpenter, Ted: Worse than Bush? National Interest Online, 11 July 2008
5 Zeihan, Peter: Moskau wird Kiew nie dem Westen überlassen [Moscow will never leave Kiev to the West], Handelsblatt, 20 January 2009
6 United States, Ukraine Sign Security Charter, America.gov, 19 December 2008
7 United States-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership, 22 December 2008, URL: http://tinyurl.com/agqc4k
8 Befeuern die USA den Gasstreit? [Is the U.S. fuelling the gas dispute?], heute.de, 13 January 2009
9 Isic, Mirela: Ein „Vielleicht” für die Ukraine und Georgien [A “maybe” for Ukraine and Georgia], Center for Applied Policy Research, CAP News, 10 April 2008
10 Auswärtiges Amt [German Foreign Office]: Ukraine, Stand: Oktober 2008 [Ukraine, status as of October 2008], URL: http://tinyurl.com/b3gvbg
11 Nabucco: ‘Pie in the sky’ after Georgia crisis?, EurActiv, 25 August 2008
12 ibid.
13 Friedmann, Matti: Sie waren nicht bereit für den Krieg mit Russland [They weren’t prepared for war with Russia], AP, 19 August 2008
14 Schröder gibt Saakaschwili die Schuld [Schröder puts the blame on Saakashvili], Der Spiegel 16 August 2008
15 Grey, Barry: Bush escalates confrontation with Russia over Georgia, World Socialist Web Site, 13 August 2008
16 Der Spiegel 16 August 2008
17 Georgien stockt Armee mit Blick auf NATO-Beitritt deutlich auf [Georgia boosts its army with a view to NATO membership], russland.ru, 16 July 2008
18 Nuclear Nightmares: The Return of M.A.D., Huffington Post, 19 August 2008
19 Chin, Larry: South Ossetia: superpower oil war, Online Journal, 13 August 2008
20 This and many other critical remarks made by Putin were cut out of the ARD broadcast. A full transcript of the interview can be found at http://www.spiegelfechter.com/wordpress/392/das-interview
21 EurActiv, 25 August 2008
22 Rosenbaum, Kaspar: Südossetien: Der Westen in der Propagandaschlacht [South Ossetia: The West in a propaganda battle], ef-online, 11 August 2008
23 EurActiv, 25 August 2008
24 Energie-Agentur sagt wachsende EU-Abhängigkeit von Importen voraus [Energy agency predicts growing EU dependence on imports], Yahoo News Finanzen, 4 September 2008
25 Stratfor: Russland hat Stärke gezeigt und wird nur auf Stärke hören [Russia has shown its strength and will only respond to strength], RIA Novosti, 11 August 2008
26 “Russlands Vorgehen ähnelt dem von Hitler” [Russia’s actions resemble those of Hitler], Die Welt, 11 August 2008
27 Extraordinary European Council, Brussels, 1 September 2008, 12594/08
28 Pflüger, Tobias: EU eskaliert den Konflikt mit Russland weiter [EU escalates the conflict with Russia], IMI-Standpunkt 2008/052
29 On Germany’s role cf. Hantke, Martin: The Georgian War and Imperial Geopolitics, in: AUSDRUCK (October 2008).
30 Naumann, Klaus et al.: Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership, URL: http://tinyurl. com/5buj19, p. 47 et seq.
31 U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Richard G. Lugar Opening Statement for Hearing on Oil, Oligarchs and Opportunity: Energy from Central Asia to Europe, 12 June 2008, URL: http://tinyurl.com/df7tg8
32 BIDEN: We Need to Confront Russia’s Oil Dominance with Aggressive, High Level Diplomacy, 12 June 2008, URL: http://tinyurl.com/crjhol
33 Corso, Molly: Georgia: Washington and Tbilisi sign Strategic Pact sure to irk the Kremlin, Eurasia Insight, 9 January 2009
34 Framework document on the establishment of the NATO-Georgia Commission, Tbilisi, 15 September 2008
35 Dimitri Medvedev raises spectre of new Cold War, The Times Online, 26 August 2008

How Is Venezuela A “Threat To US Foreign Policy,”and Why Does This Constitute A “National Emergency”?

  • President Barack Obama and Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro.

    President Barack Obama and Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro. | Photo: Reuters


UPDATE: Venezuela’s foreign minister says Caracas will soon respond to Washington’s statements.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order against Venezuela Monday aimed at interfering in the country’s sovereignty by declaring a national emergency based on arguments claiming that the South American nation is a threat to national security because of alleged human rights violations and widespread corruption.

“I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, find that the situation in Venezuela, including the Government of Venezuela’s erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to anti-government protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat,” the order reads. ​

​Immediately after, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry announced the government of President Nicolas Maduro would “soon” respond to Obama’s executive action against the Latin American country.

“We will soon make Venezuela’s response to the extent and reach of these statements,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said in a news conference.

Also read: US Aggression Against Venezuela Fact Not Fiction

​Obamaalsoordered sanctionsagainstsevenVenezuelanofficials, sayingthat they all would be bannedfrom traveling to the United States and any and all assets and propertiesbelonging to themwould be frozen.

The officials affected by Obama’s sanctions are Antonio Jose Benavides Torres, Commander of the Strategic Region for the Integral Defense (REDI) of the Central Region of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB); Gustavo Enrique Gonzalez Lopez, Director General of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and President of Venezuela’s Strategic Center of Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA).

Also, Justo Jose Noguera Pietri, President of the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG), a state-owned entity, and Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron, a national level prosecutor of the 20th District Office of Venezuela’s Public Ministry, as well as Manuel Eduardo Perez Urdaneta, Director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police; Manuel Gregorio Bernal Martinez, Chief of the 31st Armored Brigade of Caracas of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army; Bernal Martínez, who was the head of SEBIN on February 12, 2014, and against Miguel Alcides Vivas Landino, Inspector General of the FANB.

“We now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.

“We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents. Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent,” Earnest added.

Earnest said Washington has consistently called on the Venezuelan government to release opposition member they claim to be unjustly jailed.

“The Venezuelan government should release all political prisoners, including dozens of students, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma,” he stated, completely ignoring all the conclusive evidence presented by the Venezuelan government against the these and other members of the right-wing opposition.

These statements come despite the fact that grave human rights violations have been reported in the United States, including the police killing of various unarmed African-Americans and hispanics without any legal consequences against the perpetrators.

The U.S. is also responsible for serious human rights violations against dozens of arbitrarily detained people in Guantanamo.

The Obama administration has also opted to ignore the extremely serious human rights issues in allied countries such as Mexico, despite the fact that international organizations, including the United Nations, have continuosly criticized the Mexican government for human rights abuses and impunity.