Former White House Budget Director David Stockman drops a bomb in his latest interview by saying, “I think what people are missing is this date, March 15th 2017. That’s the day that this debt ceiling holiday that Obama and Boehner put together right before the last election in October of 2015. That holiday expires. The debt ceiling will freeze in at $20 trillion. It will then be law. It will be a hard stop. The Treasury will have roughly $200 billion in cash. We are burning cash at a $75 billion a month rate. By summer, they will be out of cash. Then we will be in the mother of all debt ceiling crises. Everything will grind to a halt. I think we will have a government shutdown. There will not be Obama Care repeal and replace. There will be no tax cut. There will be no infrastructure stimulus. There will be just one giant fiscal bloodbath over a debt ceiling that has to be increased and no one wants to vote for.”
Stockman also predicts very positive price moves for gold and silver as a result of the coming budget calamity.
Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with financial expert and best-selling author David Stockman. The author of “Trumped!” The book that predicted Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.
The invite list by Democrat members of Congress reads like yet another staged protest like so many in recent years that resulted in costly mayhem and damage. This time, though, it won’t be a protest on city streets, but rather within the halls of Congress itself as President Donald Trump takes center stage to lay out his year one agenda for the nation to the legislators responsible for turning that agenda into law.
Both Democrats and the Establishment Media see it as yet another opportunity to try and challenge and embarrass the president.
The anti-president mood will be unprecedented. Remarkable that the very same party and media who not so long ago vilified a Republican congressman for shouting out that then-President Obama was lying about Obamacare (a truthful claim), who demanded that despite political differences the Office of the President must always be respected, is now the party of unhinged opposition – the Office of the President be damned.
The list of guests will be people Democrats feel have been unjustly harmed by an administrative that is barely a month old. Those “harmed” include immigrants both legal and otherwise. Children of illegal immigrants who had criminal records and then were deported will be brought into Congress. So too will Muslims claiming to have been victims of hate crimes as well as a handful of people Democrats will use to represent the “good” that Obamacare has done.
It is rumored some of these guests will boo and hiss the president and that the media is already preparing to highlight those examples in its coverage of the prime-time address.
Six Russian diplomats have died since November, in addition to an aide to a former deputy prime minister. All but one died on foreign soil. Some were shot, while other causes of death are unknown. Note that a few deaths have been labeled “heart attacks” or “brief illnesses.” Here’s what you need to know:
You probably remember Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov — he was assassinated by a police officer at a photo exhibit in Ankara on December 19.
On the same day, another diplomat, Peter Polshikov, was shot dead in his Moscow apartment. The gun was found under the bathroom sink but the circumstances of the death were under investigation. Polshikov served as a senior figure in the Latin American department of the Foreign Ministry.
Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died in New York this past week. Churkin was rushed to the hospital from his office at Russia’s UN mission. Initial reports said he suffered a heart attack, and the medical examiner is investigating the death, according to CBS.
Russia’s Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, died after a “brief illness January 27, which The Hindu said he had been suffering from for a few weeks.
Russian Consul in Athens, Greece, Andrei Malanin, was found dead in his apartment January 9. A Greek police official said there was “no evidence of a break-in.” But Malanin lived on a heavily guarded street. The cause of death needed further investigation, per an AFP report. Malanin served during a time of easing relations between Greece and Russia when Greece was increasingly critiqued by the EU and NATO.
On the morning of U.S. Election Day, Russian diplomat Sergei Krivov was found unconscious at the Russian Consulate in New York and died on the scene. Initial reports said Krivov fell from the roof and had blunt force injuries, but Russian officials said he died from a heart attack. BuzzFeed reports Krivov may have been a Consular Duty Commander, which would have put him in charge of preventing sabotage or espionage.
Ex-KGB chief Oleg Erovinkin, who was suspected of helping draft the Trump dossier, was found dead in the back of his car December 26, according to The Telegraph. Erovinkin also was an aide to former deputy prime minister Igor Sechin, who now heads up state-owned Rosneft.
Some history: In November 2015, a senior adviser to Putin, Mikhail Lesin, who was also the founder of the media company RT, was found dead in a Washington hotel room according to the NYT. The Russian media said it was a “heart attack,” but the medical examiner said it was “blunt force injuries.”
Two cases that are a little clearer: In 2006, former KGB officer and whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium. Six years later, whistleblower Alexander Perepilichny died from a toxin while jogging in England, per the NYT report.
The Eurasian Politician – Issue 5 (April-September 2002)
THE ROOTS OF ISLAMIC TERRORISM Antero Leitzinger (March 2002)
This article intends to trace the roots of Islamic terrorism, with special focus on Afghanistan. Notes are added on practical and philosophical problems of world media in finding the right track. From systematic errors in revealing little details, to serious misconceptions about basic facts and principles, we can relatively easily learn how much of “common knowledge” rests actually on superficial research and popular myths. Instead of becoming critical and aware of the traps laid around the issue, both Islamists and Islamophobes fail to recognize how they are manipulated.
Terrorism is real
Terrorism is not as difficult a concept as some claim. It is a political ideology (-ism) on the use of terror, which is arbitrary, unrestricted and unspecified fear. This excludes traditional warfare against regular armies and police forces, and individual assassinations of public figures.
Neither separatism nor criminal violence as such is necessarily terrorism. To call an act terrorism, we should always ask: Does this really spread blind terror among the general populace? A bomb blown in a market place, or in a civilian airplane, intends to create common fear among customers and bystanders alike, because just about anybody could become a victim. The victims are typically anonymous, and the very idea of the act was to cause damage or a credible threat. The assassination of a political leader, throwing stones on occupation troops, or bombing of enemy positions during a declared war or after an order to surrender has been given, may be repulsive and kill innocent people, but there is no terror, if no average “man of the street” needs to feel uneasy about his security the next day. No women or children should need to fear that they could be mistaken as presidents, soldiers, or military installations. Somebody may have bad luck and be targeted accidentally, but if it is terrorism, we will find ourselves asking: Why? What is the object?
Terrorism is rarely the ultimate end itself, as anarchy or communism is thought to be, but merely a method to promote some politics. That is why terrorists represent a political ideology. Even when they are in fact nothing but common criminals or psychopaths, terrorists make efforts to find a political excuse for their acts.
We know that not every political movement has created a terrorist splinter group, or served as an excuse for terrorism. Actually, terrorism has been the favourite method of extreme socialists only – both of the (left-wing) international, and the (right-wing) national varieties. Since the Jacobins of the French revolution held a “Reign of Terror” in 1794, the international socialists (communists) and national socialists (fascists) have shared a common tendency to use terrorism.
A clear definition of terrorism helps to identify and trace it through history. It can be dated and located. This makes it very real – and thus also possible to be exterminated.
How Socialists became Islamic terrorists
Modern terrorism was born within a year, 1967-1968. International socialists (communists) started the fashion all over the world simultaneously, which should make us suspicious about the common roots. National socialists followed suit, turning Marxists of Muslim origin into Islamists of Marxist origin.
In May 18th, 1967, Yuri Andropov took over the leadership of the KGB. The Russian security services evolved into a state within the Soviet state, as it became clear when Andropov became the communist party’s general secretary after Leonid Brezhnev’s death, in 1982. During Andropov’s era, which was far longer than that of any other KGB chief, the Soviet secret services supported international terrorism through satellite states and Marxist “liberation fronts”. “On becoming chairman of the KGB in 1967, Andropov immediately announced his intention to revive KGB ‘special actions’ as an essential tool of Soviet policy during the Cold War.” (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 374)
The man who became Andropov’s deputy was former Azerbaijani KGB chief Semyon Tsvigun, who committed suicide on January 19th, 1982. His wife was the sister of Brezhnev. Eduard Topol wrote a spy novel about the case, titled “Red Square”. In the novel, Tsvigun’s widow accuses Andropov for being an anti-Semite, organizing international terrorism, and having his subordinate assassinated. Reality, however, does not corroborate any rift within the KGB. Tsvigun’s son became a KGB officer too, and was appointed as a Soviet diplomat in Cairo from August 1984. Tsvigun’s son-in-law became the main supplier of arms to Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan, by 1995.
On June 2nd, 1967, violent student demonstrators met the Shah of Iran in West Germany. All of free Europe was plagued by student demonstrations in May 1968, causing a nearly revolutionary situation in France. Numerous left-wing terrorist cells were formed in Germany, Italy, and other western countries. Their activities peaked in 1977, after which the West German terrorists retired in communist East Germany.
The (North Irish) IRA and (Basque) ETA started their terrorism in 1968, with peaks around 1976. Andropov considered an IRA request for arms delivery for three years until subscribing it in 1972. (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 378 and 384-385)
German and Italian left-wing terrorists cooperated by summer 1969, and in October 1971, altogether 16 terrorist groups held a meeting in Florence, Italy. Beside the IRA and ETA, many Palestinian and Latin American (ERP, ELN, MLN, MIR) groups joined to the international terror network by 1973.
In the USA, Soviet agents incited racial tension by writings in the name of the Ku Klux Klan, and by a bomb explosion in New York City, in summer 1971. (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 238) The same year, Soviet agents made contacts to a Quebecois separatist group, the FLQ.
In Latin America, communist Cuba was the source of revolutionary activities in many countries, although the KGB kept its own agents there too. (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 386) In October 1967, “Che Guevara”, whose girl-friend was an East German, was executed in Bolivia, becoming a romantic idol for teenage girls. Thirty-four years later, his picture could be seen on the T-shirts of young Palestinian brawlers. In Mexico, the KGB was involved in student riots from July to October 1968, prior to the Olympic Games. Uruguay experienced urban guerrilla activities by the MLN, peaking between 1968 and 1972. Argentine followed between 1970 and 1975. Communists had big hopes on Chile, but were bitterly disappointed by the military coup in 1973.
By the end of the 1970s, communist optimism was definitely on the decline everywhere in the world. At that point, the KGB desperately needed any kind of a boost of revolutionary spirits. Surprisingly, the Middle East came to rescue.
In December 1967, a Lebanese Christian, George Habash, who had been a Pan-Arabic national socialist, had broadened his field by founding the PFLP, a Palestinian organization. Although it split already by the next year, the PFLP remained the most pro-Soviet Palestinian terrorist group, with widest global ties. It caused the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party to adopt the Palestinian cause in 1968. In July 1970, Andropov allowed the first direct Soviet arms delivery to the PFLP. From that on, both the KGB and – perhaps even more so – the Russian military intelligence, GRU, provided Palestinian terrorists with arms and training. (Segaller, p. 126-127; Livingston & Halevy, p. 140; Lunev, p. 80; Kuzichkin, p. 206; Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 381) From 1972 on, this was co-ordinated by Habash, who had close connections to Japanese and Latin American terrorist groups. (Livingston & Halevy, p. 208-209)
The man chiefly responsible for exporting Palestinian terrorism was Wadi Haddad, deputy leader of the PFLP, recruited as agent “Natsionalist” by the KGB in 1970. Andropov revealed his aims in a report to Brezhnev himself: “The nature of our relations with W. Haddad enables us to control the external operations of the PFLP to a certain degree, to exert influence in a manner favorable to the Soviet Union and also to carry out active measures in support of our interests through the organization’s assets while observing the necessary conspirational secrecy.” (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 380)
The once fashionable airplane hijackings had been begun by the PFLP in July 23rd, 1968. At that time, the Soviet Union, having supported the establishment of Israel and armed its forces 20 years earlier, had already invested a lot of resources into the Palestinian cause and Arab Socialism. Arms had been initially smuggled through Egypt. (Barron, p. 77)
“By the summer of 1968, the Soviet Union had progressed far toward converting Egypt into its principal base of subversion against the Arab world.” (Barron, p. 62) Thirty-three years later, Egypt was the principal base of Islamic terrorists. Soviet Union, however, failed in Egypt. In May 1971, Anwar Sadat wiped out most of KGB agents. In July 1972, Soviet advisors were expelled from Egypt. Eight years later, Sadat paid for this with his life, being assassinated by members of an Islamist group. Sadat’s peace policy toward Israel made it easy for the remnants of the KGB network to ally with the right-wing Muslim Brotherhood. This is the background of Ayman az-Zawahiri, the second man of al-Qayda.
Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah organization received its first Soviet arms shipment in September 1972. Palestinians were, however, split into pro-Iraqi and pro-Syrian parties and factions. Although both Iraq and Syria were ruled by an Arab Socialist Baath party, and extremely friendly toward the Soviet Union after the end of 1950s, the deepening friction between these two Arab states cut through the Palestinians, and frustrated Soviet efforts to unite Arabs against Israel and the western world.
The Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the subsequent oil embargo from October 1973 to March 1974, which was aimed against the USA, taught the KGB two lessons: that the traditional, orthodox Arab Socialist partners and their Palestinian proxies could not be trusted and achieved little through military endeavours and terrorism; but that the future was economic, and lay with the oil-fields in Saudi Arabia and Gulf emirates. Thus Political Islam, or Islamism, replaced Socialism as the most promising basis for winning Arab hearts and hurting western interests in the Middle East. After the debacle in Egypt, the KGB turned toward Saudi Arabia, where King Faysal had been assassinated in May 1975, and King Khalid ruled until 1982. Here, the KGB could find most valuable connections through the Muslim Brotherhood.
The key link may have been Muhammad Maruf ad-Dawalibi, former Prime Minister of Syria, and founder of the Islamic Socialist Front in autumn 1949. He had declared already in April 1950, that Arabs would prefer “thousands time more to become a Soviet Republic than to be spoils of Jews”. (Reissner, p. 332, 355 and 422-423) Dawalibi’s preference for Soviet rule had not been shaken by Soviet support for Israel as late as September 1951. Instead, he recommended Arab leaders to seek even harder for Soviet support. (Reissner, p. 357 and 366) Dawalibi was exiled from Syria, but he became a councellor of King Khalid, and the chairman of the Islamic Conference that convened in Pakistan in 1976. (Reissner, p. 394 and 423)
Saudi Arabia became after 1974 the main financier of international terrorism, regardless of the professed Atheism of Palestinian Marxist groups. For example, only in the year 1989, the PLO received 85 million US$ and Hamas 72 million US$ Saudi payments. At the same time, Kuwait too financed Hamas with 60 million US$. (Goodwin, p. 16-17)
This policy, explained as payoffs to keep terrorists away from Saudi targets, was supervised by the Saudi intelligence chief, the king’s nephew, Prince Turki, from 1977 until his unexplained sacking at the end of August, 2001.
Another Saudi god-father of Islamism was the senile Mufti Abdulaziz Bin Baz (d. 1999), who declared that the sun revolved around the earth (1966), and that the earth was flat (1969), among other equally “Islamic” doctrines. (Goodwin, p. 211) With Saudi money, such ideas where transmitted through the Islamic Conference, and its organizer, the Muslim World League, all over Muslim world.
Iraq was in mid-1970s Russia’s most trusted ally in the Muslim world (except for South Yemen, which was already officially a Soviet satellite), and the only nominally non-communistic state, where the KGB ceased its activities, because there appeared to be no need for any supervision. When Saddam Hussein had some Iraqi communists executed, in May 1978, the KGB became worried, but the outbreak of Iraqi-Iranian war in 1980, came as a surprise to Soviet diplomacy. For a while, Soviet Union wavered in whom to support, but when the USA, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia had made their choice for Iraq, the Soviet Union switched sides. Following this, many Soviet-sponsored terrorists had to move from Iraq to Iran, Syria, or Lebanon.
Iran became Russia’s most loyal ally after the Islamic revolution in 1979. This relationship has lasted over two decades, and is still cherished by the Islamists among Shi’ite clergy and security services. When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan later the same year, there was only one spontaneous demonstration in Tehran, after which Iran has tamely followed Russia’s actions against neighbouring Muslim people.
The Iranian revolution took the KGB by surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise, and the Soviet Union choose to side with the Islamist revolutionaries already by November 1978. Azerbaijan’s contemporary president, former party leader and KGB chief (a successor and friend of Tsvigun), Hayder Aliyev, was the expert on Middle East, who had soon convinced the Politburo, that Ayatollah Khomeini should be supported by the Soviet Union. (Taheri, p. 218) This assessment caused a permanent division within the Iranian communist (Tudeh) party, because it was instructed to support Khomeini despite the doubts of the party’s own general secretary. He was replaced by a relative of Khomeini. (Kuzichkin, p. 264 and 285)
Among the closest associates of Khomeini, there were many Communists who had conveniently grown beards. Mustafa Ali Chamran had studied in California and Egypt before he founded a Red Shi’ite secret society. His pupils included later foreign minister Ibrahim Yazdi, oil minister Mohammed Gharazi, and a Lebanese fellow student in Berkeley University, Hussein Shaikh al-Islam, who led the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran. This occupation, shortly before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, focused Iranian radicalism into anti-Americanism. (Taheri, p. 78 and 139-140) Mohammed Beheshti, whose death at a bombing on June 28th, 1981, remained a mystery, had resided in East Germany. Khomeini’s early companion and foreign minister, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, was a link to Syria. Most left-wing radicals were repressed only after summer 1981, by which time many former Communists had successfully accommodated with the new regime. Both Ghotbzadeh and Chamran had received Palestinian terrorist training. As a student in the USA, Ghotbzadeh had been recruited by the GRU. (Livingston & Halevy, p. 153-154; Kuzichkin, p. 302)
“It is significant that anti-Americanism was first propagated as a major theme of Muslim fundamentalism by young men and women from Islamic countries who had spent time in the United States as students or workers.” (Taheri, p. 206) These included the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Said Qutb, who had lived in the USA for two years around 1949/1950. The four pilots of September 11th, 2001, included one native German citizen, whose Moroccan father was no Islamist at all, a Lebanese of liberal background, and a United Arab Emirates’ subject, both of whom had spent five years in Germany, and the Egyptian-born terrorist leader Muhammad Atta, who had immigrated into Germany nine years earlier.
Daniel Pipes’ article “The Western Mind of Radical Islam” describes well, how so many Islamic terrorists actually adopted more ideas from contacts to western society than from their own traditions: “Fundamentalist leaders tend to be well acquainted with the West, having lived there, learned its languages, and studied its cultures. … Indeed, the experience of living in the West often turns indifferent Muslims into fundamentalists. … In contrast to this ostentatious familiarity with Western ways, fundamentalists are distant from their own culture. … Having found Islam on their own as adults, many fundamentalists are ignorant of their own history and traditions.” (http://www.danielpipes.org/articles/199512.shtml)
This became very obvious through the biographies of those who committed the suicide attacks of September 2001, and who were typically from wealthy families, liberally educated, and had lived many years in Hamburg, London, and America. Pipes takes notice of the fact that “fundamentalist Muslims” (or rather, “Islamists”, as they care little of traditions and their true fundaments), have introduced distinctly Christian notions into their religion. He presents plenty of detailed examples, among others that “fundamentalists have turned Fridays into a Sabbath, something it had not previously been. … Ignorant of the spirit underlying the Shari’a, fundamentalists enforce it along territorial, not personal lines…” (http://www.danielpipes.org/articles/199512.shtml), and so forth.
While original Islamic law had complex separate provisions for Jews and Christians, Islamists tend to regard them as intolerantly as non-Christians used to be regarded in pre-19th century Europe. Islamists also tend to confuse Islamic concepts (f. ex. regarding ritual purity, food prescriptions, etc.) with similar but not identical Christian concepts. A visible example is the uniform-like “Islamic head-scarf”, which could be derived rather from prescriptions in the Epistle of St. Paul than from interpretations of the Koran, or from traditional customs. There is also a curious tendency to threat apostates with death sentence (while the Koran forbids the use of force in matters of religion), and to prevent female followers from marrying Christian men, while men have always been allowed to marry Christian women, and the Koran explicitly orders the same marriage restrictions or exemptions equally for both sexes. Actually, it was the Christian Canon and laws (for example in Russia until the beginning of 20th century), that threatened an apostate with death penalty and prevented mixed marriages. When Christian societies found out that such laws had no base in religion, Islamists took them over, although they had even less base in Islam. For example, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, Muslim women were banned from mixed marriages only after the 1970s, when Islamism became a global fashion. Fundamentally anti-Islamic fashions and interpretations of religion were exported from Saudi Arabia globally since the 1970s, with heavy financial backing.
Pipes describes the way Islamists “have set up church-like structures. The trend began in Saudi Arabia, where the authorities built a raft of new institutions…, for example: the Secretary of the Muslim World League, the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference… The Islamic Republic of Iran soon followed the Saudi model and went beyond it…” (http://www.danielpipes.org/articles/199512.shtml)
Anti-Americanism became a strong common denominator for not only Muslims, but also Christians and Atheists in the Middle East. This was not so surprising, since not only Habash, but also another Marxist Palestinian party leader, Nayef Hawatmeh of the DFLP, was a Christian. (IHT 9.8.1999) The PLO included many Christian Arabs, but since 1985, it too adopted an “Islamic” policy. Arafat’s own Al-Fatah organization together with the Communist Party of Jordan allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. (Bodansky, p. 21)
In the Karabakh conflict, Khomeini supported Christian Armenians, whose terrorist movement ASALA had been originally established by a former Iraqi member of the PFLP, “Hagop Hagopian”, and had shared common training camps in Lebanon with the PFLP, from 1977 to 1982. (Seale, p. 337-338)
After July 1983, ASALA disappeared in the same Lebanese valley, where another anti-Turkish organization, the PKK, emerged next summer. This was no novelty, since pro-Soviet Armenians had participated in the founding of an anti-Turkish Kurdish party already in 1927 – also in Lebanon. Both ASALA and PKK were rumoured to have been brainchildren of a Soviet Armenian KGB officer Karen Brutents. (MN 10.3.1999)
Another Armenian terrorist faction, renamed ARA, moved from Iraqi and PFLP protection to Iranian and Lebanese (actually Syrian) custody by the end of 1984. This coincided with the swift of Soviet sympathy from Iraq to Iran during the Iraqi-Iranian war. (Taheri, p. 112 and 278) They were activated against Azerbaijani Muslims in 1987.
The “Islamic revolution” in Iran inspired also frustrated left-wing Arabs. The Arab world had been demoralized by the 1973 war, by failure to gain enough from the oil crisis, and by the Lebanese civil war in 1975-1976. Even a Christian Marxist like Jérôme Shahin came to the conclusion, that neither Arab Socialism nor Pan-Arabic unity, but only Islam could inspire Arab “masses”. Another Marxist, Anwar Abdulmalek, advocated “Political Islam”, and described Khomeini as “progressive by definition” because of the innate anti-Americanism of Islamic heritage. The “Abdelmalek-Shahin syndrome” gave suddenly hope to alienated left-wing intellectuals. (Sivan, p. 161-168)
Islamism became the new ideology for Algerian independence champion Ahmad Ben Bella (1984), who had been decorated with a Lenin medal twenty-one years earlier. (Taheri, p. 192-193 and 296) In Morocco, Socialists turned into Islamists included Abdulkarim Moti and Abdussalam Yassine. (Taheri, p. 195) The latter published an open letter to the king in 1974, was imprisoned, and lives still under house arrest as the leader of Adl wa Ihsane (Justice and Well-fare) Party. (NZZ 2.7.1999)
This conversion from Marxism to Islam was no worse a spiritual problem than the conversion of traditionally deeply Roman Catholic nationalist organizations like the IRA and ETA, into Marxist terrorist groups in the 1960s. German right-wing terrorists of the Wehrsportgruppe felt no problems either, in being trained in 1981 by left-wing Palestinians in Lebanon. (NZZ 8.1.1985)
Despite possible ideological objections, those communists and other extremists, who remained loyal to Russia’s strategic mission in the Middle East, were ready to serve it under a new ideological disguise. This was noticed by some researchers by mid-1980s: “The most significant new factor is the Soviet realization that two movements – radical-revivalist Islam (commonly but misleadingly called ‘fundamentalist’) and traditionalist Islam – have become the most decisive trends in the Muslim world, and that if Moscow is to have any influence there, it must find a way to exploit and manipulate them – particularly the radical-revivalists, who are most useful to them. … They know that their hopes for success lie in persuading the radical-revivalist Muslims to see the Soviets as an instrument to be used against a common enemy, the West.” (Afghanistan…, p. 244)
Soviet Islamists in Afghanistan
Russia has long traditions in the political art of provocation, dating back to the imperial age, when the secret police finally lost track of its own web of “agents provocateurs”, who successfully infiltrated and compromised opposition parties by committing themselves to so serious crimes, that they could just as well be considered revolutionaries in police disguise. Provocations were adopted by the Soviet secret services, and widely used in the “ethnic conflicts” that appeared suddenly in Central Asia and the Caucasus, between 1987 and 1993. (See: Caucasus…!)
Provocations were exercised already during the invasion of Afghanistan, as has been recently (in February 2002) revealed by Vasili Mitrokhin, a KGB officer from 1956 to 1984, who prepared a secret report in 1987 and defected to Britain in 1992. He describes “false flag” operations, where “Soviet-trained Afghan guerrilla units posed as CIA-supported, anti-Soviet mujahidin rebels [Islamic freedom-fighters] to create confusion and flush out genuine rebels”. In January 1983, there were 86 such “false bands”, trained by KGB officer V. Kikot of the 8th Department of the “Directorate S”. Kikot was transferred from Cuba, and was acquainted with training Palestinian terrorists. There were also over 110 agents infiltrated in Iran and over 200 agents in Pakistan, including Murtaza Bhutto, son of the former president and brother of the future prime minister. (WP 24.2.2002; IHT 25.2.2002)
Former KGB general Oleg Kalugin assured correctly on a BBC World News TV discussion on September 23rd, 2001, that there were more terrorists of al-Qayda who had been trained by the KGB than by the CIA, but his words were not taken seriously by other debaters, who preferred to blame the prevailing poverty in Palestinian refugee camps, American non-involvement there, American involvement in assisting Afghan freedom-fighters in the 1980s, and global inequality, as breeding-grounds for terrorism. For some reason, logically inconsistent and practically unfounded theories remain far more popular in western media than the simple facts confessed by top-ranking ex-Soviet officials.
Afghan freedom fighters recognized Gulbuddin Hikmatyar as a KGB provocateur already by 1985. Two-thirds of the conflicts between Afghan guerrilla factions were caused by KGB provocation. (Bradsher, p. 295; Afghanistan…, p. 203-227 and 395) This should have been no surprise, since Hikmatyar is told to have spent four years in the Afghan communist party (PDPA) before becoming a “devout” Muslim. (http://www.afghan-web.com/bios/today/ghekmatyar.html) Even an Afghan left-wing feminist group accuses Hikmatyar for participation in an assassination carried out by the KGB in 1985. (http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/3340/rawa.html)
“The Soviets manipulated and exploited Gulbaddin Hekmatiyar’s Hizbi-i Islami [Islamic Party] primarily through the numerous agents in his military council, which included representatives not only from the Muslim Brotherhood but also from Libya, Iran, and the PLO. In the mid-1980s, Gulbaddin Hekmatiyar was known to have visited Libya and Iran and was rumored to have visited the PDRY [communist South Yemen].” (Bodansky, p. 22-23)
As CNN’s reporter Richard Mackenzie has said, Hikmatyar “gained notoriety in Afghanistan for killing more fellow Mujahideen than he did communists.”
Many observers predicted early enough, what would be the alternative to communist power in Kabul: “Since 1978 the Communist regimes in Kabul have consistently identified Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the most radical figure, as the primary or even the sole leader of the entire Resistance… In the event that the Communist regimes in Kabul were ever to be replaced or joined by the most radical elements in the Resistance and these elements attempted to implement their extremist programs, it appears certain that they would meet with massive public opposition, setting off disorders which would provide the Soviets with an opportunity to return in the guise of providing stability. In such a case, an international community convinced that the Afghans are ‘incapable’ of self-government would hardly protest.” (Afghanistan…, p. 9) This was very much what happened indeed, and within 15 years from this prophesy, the time seemed ripe for Russia to make it happen.
Although Hikmatyar was (like the Taliban leaders later) a Sunni Muslim, he regarded Iran as his model, and took refugee in Iran, where he sympathized the Taliban until he was forced to disappear from Tehran in February 2002. A great mystery, wondered by many western researchers and journalists who had observed the Afghan war, was how notoriously anti-American Hikmatyar, despite his bad reputation and terrorist sympathies, became a favourite of the Pakistani ISI (until 1993), and thus a main recipient of US military aid for Afghan guerrillas in the mid-1980s. Several explanations, including KGB infiltration of the CIA (or rather ISI), have been provided. (Arney, p. 160-161; IHT 28.1.1994)
The most probable explanation is simply that the CIA possessed more money than wisdom. A former CIA agent, Reuel Marc Gerecht, described in his article “The Counterterrorist Myth”, how throughout the Afghan war, the Directorate of Operations never developed a team of Afghan experts. The first case officer to have some proficiency in an Afghan language did not arrive until 1987. After 1989, the CIA abandoned Afghanistan, in the firm belief that the Cold War was over, and for the following ten years, no CIA official paid a visit to the legendary commander Ahmadshah Masud in Afghanistan, to learn that the war was far from over yet. (http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/07/gerecht.htm)
Although American contribution to the Afghan war has been exaggerated, it remains a dark cloud over the CIA’s credibility. The British were critical about CIA’s policy, and far more efficient by providing Stinger missiles to Masud, who used them to expel the Russians. Hikmatyar sold his Stingers to Iran in 1987. (Cooley, p. 92 and 173)
Russia’s aid for the communist army exceeded all foreign aid to the guerrillas. From 1986 to 1990, the USA sent weapons worth of 2,5 to 3,2 billion US$ and Saudi Arabia for the same amount, while the Soviet Union provided an arsenal worth an estimated 5,7 billion US$, according to moderate estimates. (Goodwin, p. 16 and 82; NZZ 26.-27.9.1998; Reuters 1.4.2001) Saudi Arabia may have continued financing its own proxies in the years 1991-1992. But this was certainly more than equalled by Russia’s shipments, estimated as high as worth of 4 billion US$ annually (20-30 daily flights), continuing at least until 1991. (Khabir Ahmad’s report in “Venäjän ja Itä-Euroopan instituutin Tiedonantoja ja katsauksia” 3/2001)
There are discrepancies between the numbers presented in different sources, but whatever reasons the USA may have had for spending money on Hikmatyar, Russia’s legacy prolonged the most destructive civil war beyond the official disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of Kabul.
Afghan communists have a broad history of “turning coats”, or to be more accurate, of growing beards and adopting the title “Mullah” attached to a pseudonym. Prior to the Soviet invasion, the communists had been divided into three factions:
Maoist radicals of the Khalq faction, led by Hafizullah Amin (1979), who was deposed by the Soviets. These included army officer Turan Abdurrahman, who joined the guerrilla already in 1979, and reappeared as “Mullah Borjan”, the supreme commander of the Taliban military in 1996, before he was killed under unknown circumstances;
Moderates of the Khalq faction, led by Nurmuhammad Taraki (1978-1979), who was deposed by Amin. These included defence minister Shahnawaz Tanai, and several other generals, who joined Hikmatyar between 1990 and 1992, but defected to the Taliban by 1996, organizing their air force, air defence (Muhammad Gilani), artillery (Shah Sawar), communications units, military intelligence, and security services (Muhammad Akbar);
Kremlin loyalists of the Parcham faction, led by Babrak Karmal (1979-1986), Najibullah (1986-1992), and Abdurrashid Dostum, who is an ethnic Uzbek general. Dostum’s air force bombed Kabul to ruins before it too defected to the Taliban in May 1997. Dostum himself joined the “Northern Alliance” with the legal government only when he was reduced to military marginality, and although he generously received an office in Kabul, he would still like to challenge the interim government, and remains a trouble-maker in the northern provinces, with support from Uzbekistan.
Taliban commandants were identified in an excellent article by Stéphane Allix in Le Monde diplomatique, January 1997. They all had a past in the communist Khalq faction. The KGB was not supposed to recruit agents among them, but concentrated on the Parcham faction, (Kuzichkin, p. 312) but the GRU must have been interested specially in recruiting Khalq officers.
The founder of the Taliban, “Mullah” (without much of clerical education) Omar, was a comrade-in-arms of “Mullah Borjan” in the Islamic Revolutionary Movement, before they founded a new party of their own, by autumn 1994. Their credentials in the resistance were marginal compared to those of Masud. The same applies to Osama Bin Ladin, who arrived in Pakistan by 1984 and may have participated in one battle but boasted as a war veteran to his young idolaters. According to CIA agent Milton Bearden, Bin Ladin fought a battle only in spring 1987, although his biographer Yossef Bodansky, blessed with rather vivid imagination, credits him also with a couple of skirmishes in 1986 and 1989. (Bodansky, p. 19 and 25)
Actually, when the Palestinian organizer of Arab aid, Abdullah Azzam, wanted to send volunteers, money, and arms to assist Masud, Bin Ladin had his mentor assassinated in autumn 1989, took over the organization (al-Qayda), sent the volunteers back home (Kabul remained to be liberated, as well as the rest of Central Asia), and let Hikmatyar have the rest. Bin Ladin left his base in the Pakistani frontier town of Peshawar in an unexplained panic (telling that Saudi Arabia had hired the ISI to kill him), in 1991, while communists were still in power in Kabul, and just when things started to move in Soviet Central Asia. He had quite apparently no interest in destabilizing the Russian sphere of influence, and in contrary, directed the activities of Arab adventurers against pro-American governments.
During the Afghan war, Arabs hanging around in the region had been of little use (the Afghans detested them because of their religious fervour, lack of respect for traditions, and boasting habit), and although they pretended to be interested in Afghanistan, they were in fact hiding in Peshawar from their own police. When visiting Afghanistan, they were merely tolerated because of their connections to financial aid. (NZZ 26.-27.9.1998) Most of the “Arab Afghans” were Egyptians in exile, but some Arab countries dumped there common criminals. In 1991, they were recruited to fight in Algeria, and in 1993-1994, they were used by Hikmatyar to assist Aliyev and Russian-sponsored terrorists in Azerbaijan. (Cooley, p. 178-179)
Bin Ladin returned to Afghanistan only when in need of refuge for himself, invited by Hikmatyar in 1996, and soon found out, that meanwhile, all his fellow terrorists had defected – alongside with the communist generals – to the self-appointed “Mullah” Omar. Bin Ladin followed suit.
Russia’s sponsorship of the Taliban and al-Qayda
Post-Soviet Russia faked friendship with the legal Afghan government of Burhanuddin Rabbani (1992-2001), while its “former” communist generals (seven out of eleven) served Hikmatyar, with the main exception of Dostum. According to Peshawar University professor Azmat Hayat Khan, the communist army was divided with the explicit intention of continuing destabilization, and retaining their party affiliations and structures for future use. (“Central Asia” 31/1992, p. 62) The Taliban was, however, sometimes suspicious about its former communists, many of whom may have been purged in September 1998, when three generals, twenty-two officers, and thirty other people were arrested for involvement in a communist conspiracy. (Radio Russia 27.9.1998; http://www.subcontinent.com/sapra/terrorism/tr_1998_12_001-s.htm)
When Rabbani’s defence minister Masud, the archenemy of the KGB, was about to restore peace in Afghanistan by 1995, against all odds, Russia promoted a new rebel movement, the Taliban. Money, arms and technological know-how were channelled not only through the above-mentioned agents, but also directly by flights from Russia, and probably overland through Turkmenistan. This started before Bin Ladin’s arrival, and Bin Ladin – through his Egyptian connections, close to Hikmatyar – remained servile to Russian interests.
First of all, Russia was worried about the future of ex-Soviet Tajikistan, which enjoyed a short period of democracy at the very same time when Rabbani and Masud, both ethnic Tajiks, were restoring order in Kabul. The Russian army restored old communists to power in Tajikistan, fought a bloody civil war, and put pressure on the Afghan government not to tolerate Tajik guerrillas on its soil. Rossiiskiye Vesti wrote in September 1994, that the Tajik civil war could be finished only by pacifying Afghanistan. (The Times 8.5.1995)
Secondly, Saparmurat Niyazov, the communist leader of Turkmenistan, initiated, in November 1994, a project to build oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan to Pakistan. (Guardian 3.10.1995) This was further promoted by the mighty Gazprom company, whose former manager Viktor Chernomyrdin is, as its shareholder, one of the world’s richest men, and happened to be Russian prime minister from 1993 to 1998. This end of the pipeline project has received little attention from Western media, while the other end has produced speculations ever since the Californian-based UNOCAL and the Saudi Arabian Delta Oil companies were attracted to the project by October 1995. Originally, also the Argentinean oil company Bridas was involved, but because it would have preferred a routing through Iran, it was dropped out of the project. (Der Spiegel 1/7.1.2002)
Gazprom succeeded in having UNOCAL to sign a deal on August 13th, 1996. This became a political nuisance to the USA, and finally, UNOCAL cancelled it. However, neither the government of Turkmenistan, nor the Russian gas giant Gazprom, suffered from bad publicity. They met no political objections to continue negotiations with the Taliban. (IPS 30.4.1999; AsiaPulse via COMTEX 31.10.2000) Niyazov personally put on hold the promising alternative, American-sponsored Trans-Caspian Pipeline Project for the export of Turkmen gas to Turkey. (The Monitor 4.1.2001)
Turkmenistan’s Afghan connections, both economical and political, remained relatively unnoticed by the media, because the country was almost as closed from the outside world as it used to be during the Soviet times. After the Taliban’s defeat and the escape of al-Qayda militants toward the north-east corner of Iran, or toward Turkmenistan, Niyazov had to cut his links by a thorough purge in the army and secret services. Muhammad Nazarov, chief of the KNB (Turkmen KGB), was publicly reprimanded, demoted from four-star general to lieutenant general, and dismissed on March 13th, 2002. He was replaced by the interior minister. The defence minister and head of military counterintelligence, Gurbanduri Begenzhev, also lost his posts in disgrace. The same happened to Khosse Reyymov, another major general, who had been responsible for border controls. The changing of the guard came as a surprise as just weeks before, the security services were being presented as a pillar of Niyazov’s authoritarian regime. Some sources suggested that the US ambassador had complained in private to Niyazov of crime within the Turkmen secret services. Niyazov’s “fight against infection” within the KNB began immediately after the meeting. (TOL 18.3.2002)
While Niyazov and Chernomyrdin had personal financial interests to support the Taliban, US Vice President Al Gore signed the infamous 1995 US-Russian weapons agreement, which exempted Russia from sanctions, although Russia would sell arms to Iran. This secret agreement violated the rules of 1992, by the US Congress. Gore’s excuse was that Russia agreed upon not selling nuclear technology, and to stop all arms exports to Iran by the end of 1999. This, of course, never happened, and when the failed agreement was leaked to The New York Times in October 2000, Russia declared its intention not to keep it anyway. (Reuters 31.10. and 22.11.2000) The case illustrates how deeply Chernomyrdin was involved in businesses with Islamic extremists, and how Russia succeeded in having Bill Clinton’s administration participate in shady deals against American public interests. There were also rumours of promised concessions in the pipeline projects, or in financial support to Gore’s presidential campaign. Gore’s loss at the November 2000 elections was a devastating surprise for Russian political establishment.
Thirdly, a KGB officer, Viktor But (Victor Bout), flew arms to the Taliban until 2001. The beginning of this business enterprise would have remained unknown, if a Russian airplane would not have been spotted at Kandahar airport. According to But’s explanations, the arms shipment, originally intended to the government in Kabul, was forced to land at Kandahar by a MiG 21, on August 6th, 1995. This happened exactly at a time when the Taliban was about to be routed. Instead of a rapid disaster at this critical point, the reinforced Taliban turned to attack, and took over the town of Herat by September 5th. The Russian pilots were kept as hostages in Kandahar until next August 16th, when they miraculously escaped and were decorated by the Russian president. Soon after, in September 1996, an well-armed Taliban advanced all the way to Kabul.
“By August the [Taliban] group was broke and desperate. Yet suddenly they were rolling in cash and confidence. On Sept. 27 the Taliban marched into Kabul. Former mujahedin commanders close to the Taliban say the bonanza arrived courtesy of Osama bin Ladin… Afghan and Western sources say bin Laden’s gift to Omar amounted to $3 million.” (Newsweek 13.10.1997) According to Russian sources, the money, exactly three million US$, was a “ransom” paid directly by Russia. (Interfax 29.8.1996) Perhaps it did not make much of a difference, who delivered the money – and much more than worth of that in arms – to the Taliban?
Viktor But was born in 1967, probably in Smolensk. He has used also the names Viktor Bulakin and Vadim Aminov. He carries five passports: two Russians, one Ukrainian, and probably one Tajik and one Uzbek. (Guardian 23.12.2000) He served as navigator in the Soviet air force, and graduated from the Military Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow, known as a GRU spy school. By 1991, But had a career in the KGB, assisted by his father-in-law, who was no less a character than the Brezhnev family member Tsvigun. (Guardian 23.12.2000)
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, But served in UN peace troops in Angola. (Sunday Telegraph 22.7.2001) He still has a house in Johannesburg, now used as a brothel. In 1995, But appeared in Belgium as the owner of a cargo flight company. He flew arms to Afghanistan, since 1997 to East Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, and since 1998 to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Destinations may have included also Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Eritrea or Georgia (the end users are often unknown), Peru, and Sri Lanka (Tamil Tigers). (Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2002; The Washington Monthly 1/2002)
But’s partners were Soviet-trained air force generals of the Taliban. To be closer to Afghanistan, he moved in 1997 to the United Arab Emirates. When UN sanctions forced the United Arab Emirates to check the cargo going to Afghanistan, in January 2001, Bill Clinton’s administration did its last favour to friendly Russia by allowing an exception for carriers registered in Russia. (LAT 20.1.2002) For Clinton’s administration, Russians were always above any suspicions as sponsors of Islamic terrorism. Once again, the British MI6 was needed to turn CIA’s attention to the right direction. (Sunday Times 17.2.2002)
Russian disinformation labelled the Taliban a client of Pakistan, although some observers had noticed already by 1997, that the ISI had surprisingly little leverage on the Taliban. Even if the Taliban were a creation by Benazir Bhutto’s (1993-1996) interior minister, Nasrullah Babar, they had soon freed themselves from any gratitude and dependence.
In June 2001, a fax message from Peshawar, revealed by Pakistani intelligence, described But’s role as Taliban’s lifeline. Arms should be routed either overland via Turkmenistan, or by air to Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan – the airplanes, flown by reliable Armenian pilots, would then fake emergency landings in Afghanistan. (WT 11.11.2001)
But has 250-300 employees, probably mostly Russians, Ukrainians, and Armenians. According to a Russian newspaper, the Komsomolskaya Pravda, But’s main source of arms is Transdnestria, the Moldovan slice of land occupied by Russian army and administered by Soviet-nostalgic communists. (BBC 27.2.2002) This is also where terrorists of the Turkish PKK have found refugee. According to Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2002, “Pakistani smugglers with ties to Ukraine” escorted possibly up to 200 al-Qayda militants to Ukraine. The “Pakistani smuggler” was, however, But’s associate, and the destination probably Transdnestria.
But himself owns a five-storey house in Moscow, where he appeared in a radio studio to declare his innocence. Shortly before, the Russian Interpol officer had claimed that they had searched for But for years, and could guarantee, that he was not in Russia. (LAT 26.2.2002) But’s brother had a house in Islamabad. (WP 26.2.2002)
On February 28th, 2002, the head of the Russian Interpol office proudly declared, that after four years of investigations, Russian law-enforcement agencies could assure, that But was nowhere in Russia. At the same time, But appeared in the Ekho Moskvy radio programme, saying that he had lived all the time in Moscow. He evaded questions by claiming, that he was a businessman, envied and therefore persecuted by Americans, that he had no ties to Russian intelligence, that he was involved only in air transportation since 1992, and that he never went “into the arms trade as such” – after all, “What does ‘arms trade’ mean?” But asked philosophically. He repeated the common claim that “Americans helped in cultivating the Taliban and controlled it through Pakistan.” (NYT 1.3.2002)
The same night, a Russian Interior Ministry spokesman explained that police were not seeking to arrest But, because they had no evidence of any wrongdoing. (LAT 1.3.2002) Instead, the Russian media started to explain that But was only working for a Ukrainian Jew, Vadim Rabinovich, who must be an Israeli agent. This claim had been originally presented by the reorganized Russian foreign intelligence service SVR. (Der Spiegel 1/7.1.2002)
The But affair may have required from Russia more than just diversion in the media. In mid-October 2001, tension between Russian and Abkhazian border was very high, and experts predicted an “anti-terror invasion” of Georgia by Russian forces. This did not happen, however, as suddenly everything cooled down. At the same time, Russia’s foreign ministry had protested The Washington Times’ report about al-Qayda’s arms trade relations to “Russian mafia”, asking for exchange of information between security services. (RFE/RL Russian Federation Report 1.10.2001; DN 16.10.2001) When the But affair was discussed in public, in February 2002, Georgia invited US military assistance. This caused a fury in Russia, but unexpectedly, the Kremlin appeared paralyzed to react.
Some years ago, Clinton’s Russia expert Strobe Talbott had entertained great expectations because the FBI was allowed to open an office and to train Russian colleagues to fight terrorism in Moscow. This was before the spy scandal of the FBI. They failed, however, to investigate the September 1999 terror wave, which was pinned collectively on Chechens, but was obviously committed by Russian secret services. At the end of October, 2000, FSB colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko sought asylum in Britain and claimed to have evidence of FSB’s guilt for the bombings. (Monitor 2.11.2000; BBC 6.11.2000) Other Russians have expressed suspicions on GRU’s involvement. (The Independent 6.11.2000; Monitor 11.1.2000; TN 3.2.2000) Interpol, the FBI, and their Russian colleagues appear to be unable not only to investigate terrorism but also to apprehend well-known Russian “merchants of death” in Moscow, despite of international warrants for arrest.
Talbott’s “post-Cold War” thesis was that simple good will, trusting Russian officials, and supporting financially Russia’s supposedly reforming institutions, would pay back in the form of increasing mutual trust and genuine friendship. According to a polling conducted by the US State Department, quite the opposite has happened: over 70 % of Russians had a favourable opinion of the USA in 1993, but only 37 % in February 2000. (Forbes.Com 31.10.2000)
There might indeed be a Chechen connection, but hardly the like Interpol’s Russian officials would be investigating: the former communist boss of Soviet Chechnya, and Russia’s puppet president (1995-1996) Doku Zavgayev, was appointed as Russia’s ambassador to Tanzania shortly before Bin Ladin’s associates blew up buildings there. US federal prosecutors found a letter between terrorists, who repeatedly referred to the group’s members in Kenya by the code name “the fish people”. (NYT 23.1.2000) The arms flown by But’s company to Afghanistan were listed as “fish from Tanzania”. (WT 11.11.2001) Where do fish dwell? Perhaps in an aquarium, which happens to be the nickname of the GRU headquarter in Moscow… (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/russia/gru/aquarium.htm)
Also, the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s decision to fly to Nairobi, in February 1999, may be added to a list of curious East African coincidences.
We should also remember the career of Yevgeni Primakov, KGB operative in Egypt in the 1960s, chief of the SVR from 1991 to 1996, foreign minister from 1996 to 1998, and prime minister from 1998 to 1999. His appointment into Chernomyrdin’s government in December 1996 followed two months after the sacking of Aleksandr Lebed, the popular general who made peace in Chechnya and advocated strong measures against the Taliban. “The rivalry between SVR and foreign ministry … ended in decisive victory for the SVR with Primakov’s appointment as foreign minister … in December 1996.” (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 562)
Primakov appears to have carried with him a sharp policy change: instead of negotiating a final peace deal with the Chechens, as had been agreed by Lebed, the FSB encouraged provocative Islamists, who committed murders and kidnappings from 1997 to 1999, scaring most foreign aid workers and reporters out of the land, and providing the Russian government with an excuse for a renewed intervention. Obviously, this was a method successfully exercised in Afghanistan to oust the Rabbani government from Kabul.
During his travels in the Middle East in the 1980s, Primakov had been known to talk about Free Mason and Jewish conspiracies. (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 573)
According to a Russian newspaper article by Oleg Lurye, Bin Ladin’s cousin had meetings with the daughter of Boris Yeltsin. (RFE/RL Business Watch 12.3.2002)
Soviet Islamists in Russia
Islamists in modern Russia are KGB-trained provocateurs, who fight traditions and nationalism, and dream about a re-established Soviet Union. Their perception of Islam resembles more a Communist caricature than the historical roots of ethnically mainly Caucasian and Tatar Muslims. To understand the development to this better, KGB’s activities in the Middle East can be divided in five-year periods:
1968-1972 the KGB puts great hopes on international terrorism in general, and
particularly on Palestinians, and other Arab Socialists. Focus on Egypt.
1973-1977 the KGB is disappointed and Arabs are frustrated, but Saudi-sponsored
Islamism provides an alternative political ideology for promoting
anti-American and pro-Russian sentiments. Focus on Iraq.
1978-1982 the KGB puts great hopes on the “Islamic revolution” of Iran, and its
expansion to Arab countries, while exporting communism into Afghanistan.
Focus on Iran. End of Andropov’s era (1967-1982) in the KGB.
1983-1987 the KGB is disappointed, but accommodated by the dominance of Islamism
over orthodox Communism in Iran. Focus on Syria and Afghanistan. End of
GRU chief Pyotr Ivashutin’s era (1963-1987).
1988-1992 the KGB withdraws its “active measures” inside the Soviet borders, and
concentrates in provoking “ethnic conflicts” to divide and rule
separatists in the Caucasus and elsewhere in the disintegrating empire.
The KGB is split (1991), and the GRU has chiefs with no intelligence
background (1987-1991) but establishes huge post-Soviet military bases
in Karabakh, Abkhazia, and Transdnestria.
1993-1997 the KGB (FSB and SVR) re-establishes communist power in former Soviet
Republics (except the Baltic countries) but fails to do it in Chechnya.
Afghanistan remains divided as a new group of provocateurs, the Taliban,
emerges to challenge the freedom fighters. The GRU under Fyodor Ladygin
(1992-1997), has more resources at its disposal than the SVR under
Through these phases, Russian secret services gained a tight hold on international terrorism, and specially on Islamism. It was nothing new. During the 1920s, Soviet intelligence had succeeded in thoroughly infiltrating fiercely anti-Soviet monarchist emigrant organizations. Furthermore, “dozens of mythical organizations came into being. One of these, the ‘Trust’, has become well known in both Western and Soviet writings. For many years the Soviet leaders claimed to have cunningly infiltrated a monarchist resistance organization, but in the 1970s they admitted that they themselves had created it. … Similar ones attacked… the church hierarchy of every denomination; and ‘nationalists’ inside and outside the country, with a ‘line’ of provocation covering each political tendency within each major ethnic subdivision – Ukrainians, Cossacks, Armenians, Georgians, Central Asians. Fragmentary information on at least two dozen ‘lines’ has become known in the West through the years.” (Deriabin & Bagley, p. 262 and 263)
Unfortunately, “Soviet provocation… remains little understood in the West. People safe in a democratic system may find it difficult to conceive that rulers would systematically use such hostile techniques against their own subjects.” (Deriabin & Bagley, p. 252)
Back in the 1920s, anti-Soviet emigrants were compromised in front of western governments to reduce their credibility, and they were used in domestic propaganda to stage sabotage actions, to scare the populace, and to provoke dissidents into revealing themselves. This excellent experience was certainly in the minds of post-Andropov and post-Ivashutin intelligence officers, who “may in fact have launched a new golden era of provocation. … A blatant example was the work of the far-right anti-Semitic organization called Pamyat (Memory).” (Deriabin & Bagley, p. 251 and 261)
For the development of Soviet Islamism, the years 1988-1992 were crucial. The KGB fought for its very existence, and the GRU too was called to fight internal enemies within Soviet borders, instead of its traditional foreign military intelligence work. Although the GRU had fewer agents abroad than the KGB (in relation 7 to 10), it was claimed to possess more financial resources by the mid-1980s. (Kuzichkin, p. 274) Where was the money spent when the “Cold War” was declared ended, traditional military intelligence lost motivation, and left-wing terrorist organizations of the 1970s vanished from sight? Obviously, GRU resources were concentrated to activities within Soviet borders, to arm and train provocateurs. It is known, that special forces were called from Afghanistan to crush Crimean Tatar demonstrations in Moscow, in July 1987. They appeared soon in the bloody incidents of Tbilisi (1989) and Baku (1990), and in Baltic capitals (1991).
GRU’s Afghan experience was, how to manipulate Islamists and to make Communists (of the Khalq faction) to grow beards and join their declared enemies. This “Khalq strategy” provided a successful alternative to the more orthodox “Parcham strategy” that relied on ideologically less unholy alliances. When Soviet property was privatized, the GRU naturally made money out of sale of air craft and arms.
As Finnish researcher Anssi Kullberg has recently pointed out in his well documented master’s thesis on Russian geopolitics, the Islamic Renaissance Party was founded in Astrakhan, in June 1990, under KGB surveillance, to argue for a Soviet and global Islam against separatist movements among Muslim nations.
The Islamic Party of Azerbaijan was founded in 1991 by a philologist, “a typical representative of the post-Soviet lumpen-intelligentsia”, who was both anti-Turkic and anti-Semitic. Its members organized the burning of an Israeli flag and training of “Islamic brigades”. The party fought an international Masonic (!) conspiracy to spread the American model of civilization, until its leadership was arrested in 1996, and accused of spying for Iran. (Igor Rotar: Islamic Fundamentalism in Azerbaijan – Myth or Reality? Prism 8/2000)
Soviet sponsorship for Islamism has been exposed by a Chechen nationalist leader, Ahmad Zakayev, in a revealing booklet on “Wahhabism – Kremlin’s drugs against national liberation organizations”. (Dziennik Polski 30.9.2001)
Finnish Polish researcher Zofia Grodzinska-Klemetti, who visited Chechnya during and between the war years, has also stressed how both Russian and Saudi intelligence were regarded by Chechens as parallel forces undermining the peace and liberty of Chechen society. She noticed in her lecture in Helsinki on October 23rd, 2001, that anti-Semitic propaganda was always in Russian language, and that God was always addressed in Arabic, as Allah, instead of using more popular appellations in local languages. It has been very typical for western Islamists to insist on the use of God’s Arabic name. Obviously, anti-Semitism did not emerge from Caucasian or Russian Turkic (Tatar) cultures, but was imported in the name of Arab-centered Islam.
When the Soviet colonies had nevertheless declared independence in 1991, militant Muslims like the Chechen Basayev brothers, and some of Hikmatyar’s “Afghan Arabs”, were invited by the GRU to join an “Islamic cause” on behalf of Abkhazia against Georgia. Although the war of 1992-1993 was depicted as a war of independence for the traditionally Muslim Abkhazians, the Basayevs and other Muslim volunteers soon found out, that this was far from the truth. The so-called Abkhazians were old-time Communists who refused to accept democratic changes. Instead of gaining more autonomy, Abkhazia – just like Karabakh and Transdnestria – became practically operated by Russian secret services, and engaged in international arms trade and training of terrorists.
According to American Turkish researcher Ali M. Koknar, Shamil Basayev went through military training in Afghanistan from April until July 1994; Indian researcher Vinod Anand dates his visit from March to May 1994 – anyway before the Taliban emerged. His host must then still have been Hikmatyar, or one of his Soviet-trained subordinates. There has never been evidence of any contacts between the Chechen leadership and the Taliban, except for a private mission of the former Chechen vice president in early 2000, when Russia had already invaded Chechnya for the second time.
The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria had declared independence in 1991, and for the first three years, Russia tried a variety of tricks to overpower it. What had succeeded by 1993 in Georgia, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan, failed to bring results in Chechnya. In the end, Russia started two full-scale invasions against this tiny Caucasian nation. Very few Islamists have shown any sympathy for their fellow Muslims. Both Iran and Iraq have applauded Russia’s invasions. Although Russia has blamed Muslim terrorists (“Afghan Arabs”) for the tough Chechen resistance, more Ukrainian or ethnic Russian (!) volunteers have been sighted among Chechen freedom-fighters than Arabs or Afghans.
There are tactical similarities between Chechnya and Afghanistan. Equally sinister forces operated in both countries. Provocateurs were used by Russian secret services to destabilize governments, and the world media was largely kept disinformed about what was going on. At some point, while Afghans were accused for fighting in Chechnya, Chechens were accused for fighting in Afghanistan. Such astonishingly illogical accusations were uncritically transmitted by Western media. Few journalists bothered to ask, why these “mercenaries” remained invisible, immortal (no bodies found on battle grounds), and impossible to be ever caught alive (unless Russia had its prisoners-of-war executed before they could be interrogated), or what sense would it make to have such a bold “students’ exchange” between two countries without a common border or even a common neighbour. The logistic risks alone would certainly discourage such practices.
Beside this, the origins of such inconsistent claims could be traced quite easily. The myth of Chechens in Afghanistan was invented by the Times of India in December 1999, concerning at first only refugees, women and children. By April 2000, there appeared in The Indian Express and The Hindustan Times articles, distributed in the internet by well-known disinformation agents, stories about Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants, who allegedly had been to Chechnya in August 1999, but returned to fight in Kyrgyzstan before retiring to Afghanistan. (Vinod Anand: Export of Holy Terror to Chechnya From Pakistan and Afghanistan, Strategic Analysis 24.3/2000) Indian newspapers have been always useful for launching Russian disinformation.
In April 2000, the alleged Afghans in Chechnya and Chechen refugees in Afghanistan were suddenly turned into Chechen fighters in Afghanistan, by the Russian media. (Gazeta.ru 26.4.2000) When a Russian TV crew claimed on May 22nd, 2000, that Masud had admitted the existence of “not yet many” Chechens in Afghanistan, Itar-TASS news agency reported “dozens of Chechens” sighted in Afghanistan, which Reuters and BBC inflated into “thousands of Chechens”. So, a myth was born. Although Kazakstani Khabar TV searched 3260 prisoners in Afghanistan to find a Chechen, the only candidate turned out to be an Azerbaijani. (BBC 4.1.2002) A Russian newspaper reporter managed to meet a Circassian, who must have worked hard to explain his American interrogators the differences of Caucasian nationalities. (MN 6.-12.2.2002) There were more Westerners among al-Qayda prisoners.
Mysteriously, none of these Chechens could ever be interviewed – unlike two captured Chinese Uyghurs, who were presented in probably every respectable Western newspaper. (http://www.dawn.com/2001/04/16/top15.htm) This, of course, pleased China, but provided Russia little evidence to substantiate its own myths on terrorism.
It has been alleged that most al-Qayda militants in Afghanistan were of Saudi Arabian or Egyptian origin, but passports could be stolen or forged. Records captured in Kabul, include mostly Yemeni names, followed by Algerians, and individual Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinian, Kuwaiti, and Tunisians. (Jane’s Defence Weekly 30.1.2002) Al-Qayda’s third man, “Abu Zubaydah”, was first declared a Saudi Arabian of Palestinian origin, but then recognized as an Iraqi activist of the Arab Socialist Baath party. (NYT 14.2.2002; Der Spiegel 8/18.2.2002) Although they are Arabs all the same, identities could provide clues about political backgrounds.
Chechens have been accused for various mischief in Russia. Some years ago, there were stories about toxic material hidden in Moscow parks by Chechen terrorists. Now we know that the Soviet Army had dumped chemical armament into a Moscow park 30 years earlier. (TOL 12.9.2001) All traces seem to lead back to the “Third Rome” and its “praetorians”, the Russian military intelligence, GRU. According to the Russian president himself, in his speech at the “Aquarium” on November 5th, 2001, as many as 421 GRU officers had perished in Chechnya during two years of war, and the GRU continues to have a role in Russian foreign affairs! (NIS Observed 28.11.2001)
TAPI signing ceremony, German firm ILF signs deal to run TAPI project in Afghanistan
Work on TAPI gas pipeline kicks off in Afghanistan
German firm ILF Consulting Engineers (Jordanian branch) consists of several international and independent engineering and consulting companies [developing]…complex industrial and infrastructure projects.
Najib Sharifi is a political analyst and a member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness, a Kabul-based think tank.
A resurgent Russia is making new inroads into Afghanistan, not in the way the former USSR did, but by aligning itself with some of the very extremists whose leaders were involved in the defeat of the Soviet Union’s decade-long invasion of Afghanistan.
In December 2016, Moscow disclosed its contacts with the Taliban, the group that is intent on toppling the Afghan government. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it is sharing intelligence and cooperating with the Taliban to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group’s (ISIL, also known as ISIS) militants in Afghanistan.
Moscow has repeatedly declared its concerns about ISIL militants, in many instances exaggerating their presence and power in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Afghan government officials have claimed Russia has been delivering weapons to the Taliban, allegations that have been rejected by Russian officials.
Russia’s recent posturing towards Afghanistan has opened a new chapter in what could be termed a new great game in the heart of Asia with multiple players, including Russia, the United States, China, India, Pakistan and others.
Russia’s diplomatic offensive coupled with battlefield support to the Taliban has perplexed many about the Russian intention in AfghanistanRussia’s encroachment into Afghanistan could be part of President Vladimir Putin‘s expansionist ideals to restore Russia’s position as a geopolitical player.
Since coming to power in 1999, Putin has pursued what can be called an interventionist policy through armed conflicts, cyberattacks and propaganda wars.
The second Chechen war in 1999, the conflict in Georgia in 2008, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the military engagement in Syria in 2015 and the cyber operations on the US in 2016 are prominent examples.
President Putin has successfully exploited these wars to elevate Russia’s standing in the international political transactions and consolidate his position in Russia. So the question now is: what does Russia want in Afghanistan?
Russia is most likely following multiple objectives. By aligning itself with the Taliban, it could gain the ability to strengthen its bargaining position in broader dealings with Washington. Insecurity and instability in Afghanistan is on the rise, directly threatening the survival of the US-backed Afghan government and pose a great danger to the US and NATO mission in the country.
In Russian calculation, harassing US/NATO attempts at this precarious situation could be the best time to extract concessions in the form of reducing US pressure on Russia regarding Crimea and easing US sanctions, among othersIt is also likely that Russia is trying to gather additional chips with regards to the future of Afghanistan so that it can then have a front row seat at any regional and global diplomacy/talks on the future of peace and security in Afghanistan. A key motivation in this regard could be Russia’s exclusion in most key discussions on Afghanistan in the past.
Russia’s attempts could have also been motivated by its concerns over the degrading status of the Kabul government and the lack of clarity of Kabul’s western allies towards defending Afghanistan against the growing threat of the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
By providing support to the Taliban, Russia might be hedging itself against the increasing fatigue of the Western countries, preparing to manage the political landscape, and shape the future government if the current government collapses.
By hyping the ISIL threat, Russia not only tries to create legitimacy for their collusion with the Taliban, but they may also want to pave the ground for their augmented military presence and political influence in Central AsiaAs the Central Asian states have been falling under increasing economic influence of China, Russia sees itself losing its hegemonic role.
Increasing its military presence will enhance Russia’s policing role in the Central Asian region and expand Central Asia’s security dependency on Russia.
There could also be economic motives behind Russia’s new game. The Central Asian republics have some of the richest natural gas and oil reserves in the entire region. Leaders of these republics have sought to find new markets, especially in the energy-thirsty South Asia.
This is because if Central Asian states manage to diversify markets for their natural gas, it will further reduce Russia’s grip over the region’s energy markets (PDF).
As Afghanistan is the shortest route for Central Asian natural gas to reach South Asia, alignment with the Taliban would enable Russia to derail attempts to take Central Asian natural gas to South Asia, thus compelling Central Asian states to remain dependent on Russia and China as the main purchasers of Central Asian natural gas.
There is no doubt Russia has legitimate concerns about growing extremism in the region. A remarkable number of ISIL fighters come from the Central Asian countries, which Russia considers its security backyard.
However, supporting one terrorist group to defeat another terrorist group is not a sustainable geopolitical strategy, particularly in the complex landscape of Afghanistan where history has proved many political and military calculations wrong.
It is hard to believe the hardcore ideologues could become strategic partners to Russia because of their deep-seated ideological animosity towards the country.
The best approach would be to work with the Afghan government and the regional and international partners to address the growing menace of extremism in the region. Partnering with a dangerous and unpredictable group to pursue a zero-sum game could easily backfire.
Russian support for the Taliban has already helped the militant group make battlefield gains and enhance their legitimacy.
The question is to what extent will Russia support the Taliban and whether it will remain purely tactical support. This will most likely be determined by the state of relations between Putin and the Trump administration and their approach towards fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.
If Russia has begun to view the Taliban as an alternative to the Afghan government, then it is on the wrong side of history. Perhaps, in the short-run, Russia might gain in terms of undermining the US and its allies’ efforts in Afghanistan or even forcing them to abandon Afghanistan.
Yet in the long-run, Russia’s support for the Taliban militants will only unleash a new wave of terrorism in the region, which might see no end and endanger Russia’s very security and stability.
Najib Sharifi is a political analyst and a member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness, a Kabul-based think-tank.
Russia is pressing world powers to provide Syria with billions of dollars for reconstruction to bolster its faltering efforts to resolve the Arab state’s six-year conflict.
But European and Gulf states, angered by Russia’s military intervention that tilted the war in favour of President Bashar al-Assad, will only contribute if Moscow secures a peace settlement that sets the terms for an eventual political transition, western diplomats say.
“They [Russia] go in, they mess it all up, they break everything and want everyone to pay for it,” said a European diplomat.
The issue is expected to be raised at UN-backed talks between the Syrian government and rebels that begin in Geneva on Thursday. Russia is the dominant foreign player involved in the war, but after helping broker a ceasefire between the warring parties in December, it has struggled to bring the adversaries closer to a political agreement.
Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister in charge of Middle East issues, told a meeting of EU ambassadors in Moscow last week that the reconstruction of Syria would top the agenda very soon, according to European diplomats. He said “tens of billions of dollars” would be needed, while warning that “nothing” should be expected from Russia, the diplomats said.
“The Russians really do not want to inherit a completely destroyed Syria — that’s a problem that would stick with them as long as Iraq has been haunting the Americans,” said a Middle East-based diplomat.
But the Russian initiative could face resistance — particularly as Russian air strikes were responsible for destruction in cities such as Aleppo. The conflict has reduced entire neighbourhoods across the country to rubble and forced millions of people from their homes.
EU member states have differed on whether to insist on Mr Assad’s departure as an explicit condition for a settlement or back a transitional arrangement. Countries including the UK, France and the Netherlands believe the war will not end until he goes, but others argue that should not stop efforts to ease the violence.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, plans to host an international conference on Syria’s future in April.
“Mogherini would like to use that to put the EU in the forefront of shaping the debate on reconstruction. The UK and France are very cautious about rushing into something that isn’t going to hold and inadvertently propping up Assad,” said another European diplomat.
The Geneva negotiations follow negotiations in Kazakhstan mediated by Russia and Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition.
Russia used those talks to table a draft of a new Syrian constitution, despite the fact that work on a charter was originally part of the agenda for the Geneva process. The second round of talks in Astana wrapped up without visible progress last week and Moscow is expected to raise its draft charter in Geneva.
Details of Russia’s draft constitution have not been made public, but a crucial issue is how long Mr Assad would be able to cling to power. Rebels and diplomats say the draft peddled by Russia would involve a devolution of powers, with portfolios, such as the interior, defence and foreign ministries, gaining extra power.
Some opposition figures are slowly warming to the idea, which would essentially put in place an Iraq or Lebanon-style power-sharing system.
“It is far from ideal and not something we had aspired to, but I think it is better than war,” one opposition figure said.
However, others argued it is a charade the opposition should steer clear of.
“It doesn’t matter much if you have a new and powerful post but you don’t have the intelligence forces or military behind you,” said an opposition figure.
Russian Middle East experts blame the Syrian government and Iran, another backer of Mr Assad, for being the biggest obstacles to a political settlement.
The Kremlin believes that neither that problem nor convincing European powers to support a Russian-brokered political deal can be solved without clarity over US policy in Syria. The Obama administration, which was criticised by Syria’s opposition for not doing more to end the violence, was increasingly marginalised as Russia’s influence grew.
US President Donald Trump has suggested his priority in Syria will be fighting Isis and not pushing for Mr Assad to step down. But his administration has increased the pressure on Iran, the main regional backer of the Syrian regime.
“The Trump administration’s hard line on Iran could be very useful in getting Iran to make concessions,” said a former Russian diplomat. “But for that we need a clear message from Washington.”
[If Trump doesn’t go all meek like Obama, succumbing to the powers of the Swamp Dwellers, he will find-out that he cannot drain the Swamp using denizens of the swamp. Cleaning the graft out of the Pentagon and its weapons’ procurement programs (including primarily, its capability to start covert war as policy) has to be Trump’s policy…and he will find NO GENERALS willing to bloodlet the Mothership.]
Donald Trump’s new national security adviser appears to have a strikingly different view from many in the administration about the link between terrorists and their religion. In the first full staff meeting since taking his new job, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told National Security Council staff that the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” wasn’t a helpful label because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” reports the New York Times. McMaster told staff members that the phrase blames “an entire religion” so “he’s not on board,” someone who participated in the meeting told the Guardian.
McMaster’s words are in sharp contrast to the language used by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and even Trump himself, who frequently criticized President Barack Obama for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” During the campaign, Trump also used it as a talking point against Hillary Clinton. “These are radical Islamic terrorists and she won’t even mention the word, and nor will President Obama. He won’t use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’,” Trump said during the Oct. 9 debate at Washington University in St. Louis. “Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. She won’t say the name and President Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there. It’s radical Islamic terror.”
McMaster also appeared to strike a different tone on Russia, telling National Security Council staff “the talk about Moscow being a friend of Washington is over,” reports CNN, citing a source who was present at the meeting.
Although McMaster’s words could signal a coming clash with the White House, it could also be a sign that he is eager to push the National Security Council away from politics. Before Flynn was fired for misleading the vice president and others about conversations he held with the Russian ambassador numerous reports talked of a demoralized Council as veteran staff were troubled by overt partisanship among the new leadership.
Senators could choose to publicly question McMaster about his differences with the president and his team if the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a confirmation hearing. Although the national security adviser post doesn’t require Senate approval, senators must approve of McMaster’s decision to remain a three-star general in his new post.
Fearful the new administration will abuse its power, the former president’s lawyers are uniting to fight back.
Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight.
United to Protect Democracy, which draws its name from a line in President Barack Obama’s farewell address that urged his supporters to pick up where he was leaving off, has already raised a $1.5 million operating budget, hired five staffers and has plans to double that in the coming months. They’ve incorporated as both a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4), allowing them to operate as a nonprofit but participate in some forms of political advocacy as well.
While other Trump opponents focus on taking the president to court over the travel ban and deportations, the new group plans to drill into issues that aren’t already hitting the headlines, like potential intervention in and intimidation of regulatory agencies by West Wing staff.
“When people hear concerns about democracies declining into authoritarianism, they expect that moment to come in a singular thunderclap where everyone can see that this is the time,” said Ian Bassin, who’s leading the new group. “In reality, often times, democracies decline over a period of years that happen through a series of much smaller steps.”hey started by submitting 50 Freedom of Information Act requests this week that they believe will confirm their suspicions. The plan is to bring what they find to reporters, build it into pressure for congressional oversight with the help of a campaign director they’ll hire, and, as necessary, to file lawsuits.
They’re also hoping to establish themselves as a base for government employees worried about ethics violations — up to and including becoming whistleblowers — and are hoping that their website, https://unitedtoprotectdemocracy.org/,can become a resource.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, responding to the group’s formation, said, “This administration has raised the level of ethics training and oversight to a new level compared to the practices of the previous administration.”
Bassin was an associate White House counsel during the first three years of the Obama administration, spending much of his time working on ethics questions such as what’s known as the agency contact rule, meant to prevent politics and favoritism from influencing independent agencies. He’s hiring other lawyers with similar White House counsel and Justice Department experience who have the insider knowledge of where problems tend to arise, and the kind of questions that can pin down answers: They were the ones who not so long ago were responding to the FOIA requests and guiding government employees away from conflicts.
“As people who had the privilege of serving at the highest level of our government, we understand those guardrails, where people might come up against them and what the tools are that we have as private citizens to hold our government accountable,” Bassin said.
“You need folks who have been in the government to understand how they operate to make sure that those protections continue to serve their function,” said Tom Perrelli, an associate attorney general during Obama’s first term now in private practice who’s spoken with Bassin about the new group.
Jesse Lee, who was Obama’s White House director of rapid response, is also on board as communications director,and Caroline McKay, a former legal assistant in the White House Counsel’s office, is managing operations. But they’re also coming with a huge network of support from other Obama lawyers, as well as partner organizations like the Brennan Center.
“President Obama has said repeatedly that his lawyers deserve a lot of credit for helping his Administration go eight years without a major scandal,” said Danielle Gray, one of Obama’s former secretaries of the Cabinet. “The leaders of this effort will bring that experience to protecting and preserving accountable and democratic government.”
Bassin “has managed to gain the support of a lot of very serious people,” said Karen Dunn, another former associate White House counsel best known for helping run debate prep for Obama and Hillary Clinton, and called her former colleague the “perfect person for this particular organization at this particular moment.”
“It’s really important for a bunch of people to shine the light on this question, to make very clear when autocrats are starting in any way to detract from democratic institutions,” said Yascha Mounk, a Harvard Law lecturer who specializes in the rise of authoritarianism and has been having high level strategic advisory conversations with the group.
But it’s more than just the smaller encroachments that are on Bassin’s mind. Trump’s attack on the judge who halted his immigration ban already has him building a plan for what might happen if the White House directly defies a judicial ruling, and what they’d need to do in the potential constitutional crisis that would follow. Existing nonprofits, he said, have not been structured to deal with the kind of unprecedented, norm-breaking threats that he believes are coming from Trump and his aides.
“We need an organization that is specifically and holistically focused on that worst-case scenario,” Bassin said.
[US Ticonderoga-Class missile cruiser USS Hue parks in the port of Tallinn, just 23 miles northeast of Ämari Air Base, the site of recent NATO base expansion, home to many NATO aircraft. Russian officials have termed this expansion a “threat.”]
American guided-missile cruiser USS Hué City has entered the Estonian port city of Tallinn, the US Navy said, adding that the visit promotes “safety and stability” in the Baltic region and aims to strengthen US relationship with Estonia.
“Guided-missile cruiser USS Hué City (CG 66) arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, for a scheduled port visit to enhance US-Estonia relations as the two nations work together for a stable, secure, and prosperous Baltic region and Europe,” the US Navy said in a statement.
According to the release, the visit “demonstrates the shared commitment to promote safety and stability within the region, while seeking opportunities to enhance the enduring relationship with allies like Estonia.”
“Hue City looks forward to spending time in Estonia supporting our NATO ally,” said Captain Dan Gillen, the ship’s commanding officer. “It is essential that we continue to strengthen our working relationships with our allies. This visit also provides a chance for the crew to get out in Tallinn and experience Estonia.”
After the visit, the cruiser will continue to conduct “maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts” in the Baltic Sea, the Navy statement added.
USS Hué City is a Ticonderoga-class cruiser serving in the US Navy since 1991. It is over 170 meters long and has a crew of 400, Estonian Navy spokesperson Karl Baumeister told ERR online portal.
The ship’s visit comes amid the arrival of US tanks and military equipment in Eastern Europe for NATO military drills, dubbed Operation Atlantic Resolve. NATO says the buildup along Russia’s borders is a defensive measure to counter the “Russian threat” amid the Ukrainian crisis.
Earlier in February, US military hardware – including M1A2 Abrams battle tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles – arrived in the northern Estonian town of Tapa as part of continued US efforts to counter the alleged Russian threat.
The deployment marks a new phase of the Operation Atlantic Resolve, which started in April 2014, following the Crimean referendum to split from coup-stricken Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Atlantic Resolve is perceived by Washington as a demonstration of continued US commitment to the collective security of Europe in the view of alleged Russian aggression.
Moscow has criticized the expansive NATO military buildup on its borders, saying it increases the risk of incidents and poses a threat to Russian national security.
“This deployment is, of course, a threat for us,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov said in February, adding that “it is obvious that the steps by NATO gravely increase the risk of incidents.”
A view of the the six-party talks on Afghanistan hosted by Russia in Moscow. Credit: M Ashraf Haidari/Twitter.
New Delhi: Afghanistan and five regional players agreed at their first consultations in Moscow on Wednesday that adherence to ‘red lines’ was necessary for Taliban’s participation in talks with Afghanistan. While Afghanistan and India talked of the need for ending safe havens, New Delhi asserted that only Kabul had the right to decide its opposite number in direct talks.
The six-party talks, hosted by Russia, was attended by senior officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China and India. The Russian initiative is significant due to the return of Moscow to the region as an active player, but had led to apprehensions in Kabul and New Delhi that it was trying hard to bring in Taliban into the mainstream so as to combat its perceived real threat of the so-called ISIS.
Afghanistan had been rather peeved when Moscow held talks with Pakistan and China in December 2016, but failed to invite any officials from Kabul. Russia’s decision to hold wider regional consultations were partly to address the Afghan fears. The next edition will expand the participation to central Asian countries. However, no US or western countries, who still have troops stationed in Afghanistan, are part of this new process.
At the Moscow meeting, the Russians said all the right words. “The Russian federation made the position very clear that they opposed the Taliban and that they supported the government of Afghanistan. That they consider the government of Afghanistan as the legitimate representative of the Afghan people, not the Taliban,” M. Ashraf Haidari, who led the Afghan delegation to the six-party talks, told The Wire.
Haidari, who is the Afghan foreign ministry’s director general for policy and strategy, said that the Russians added that they maintained contacts with the Taliban only due to their concerns and with intention to support Afghan government in potential peace talks.
“They [Russia] assured the Afghan government that they would do nothing in terms of bypassing us and side-lining us and talk to the Taliban knowing that it is not going to serve their own long term interests in the region,” he added.
In an interview with state-run news agency TASS, Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s point person on Afghanistan, said that the “Afghan government seeks to resume talks”.
According to sources privy to the Moscow discussions, Russia has made it clear at the meeting that “violence was not acceptable”, even as it noted that talks with Taliban could help lead to a stabilisation of the security situation in Afghanistan.
India has been worriedly observing Russia-led efforts for talks with Taliban, with officials apprehensive about the normalisation of the terror groups which continues to have strings attached to Pakistan military establishment. The argument that Taliban was fighting with ISIS in pockets of Afghanistan did not find many takers in New Delhi, as Indian officials believe that most of the IS fighters are mainly repurposed TTP members.
The Afghan side had raised its peace deal with the Hizb-e-Islami, which gave immunity to its chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from previous criminal offences, as a model for talks with the Taliban.
Afghan officials again pointed that whenever the government had tried to initiate talks with Taliban, the designated militant interlocutor was either killed or disappeared. The finger was obviously pointed at Pakistan.
India had pointedly pronounced during the discussions that Afghanistan should have the right to choose with whom to hold talks and that the choice should not be dictated by other countries. “We underlined that it is up to the government of Afghanistan to decide whom to engage in direct talks. These efforts can only be facilitated by friends and well wishers of Afghanistan,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup told reporters.
In conclusion, and much to the relief of Afghanistan and India, all six countries agreed that the ‘red lines’ for engagement with the Taliban – which include giving up violence, abiding by Afghan constitution and cutting ties with al Qaida – have to be met.
“They support the Afghan government and they support our red lines,” Haidari told The Wire.
This commitment to the red lines was also implicitly reflected in the press release issued by the Russian foreign ministry at the end of the talks. “The participants agreed to step up efforts to promote the intra-Afghan peace process while maintaining the leading role of Kabul and observing the previously agreed upon principles of integrating the armed opposition into peaceful coexistence.”
Haidari described the meeting as a “new beginning”, which could assure cooperation “from the state actors who have direct influence over Taliban”.
In his statement read out at the meeting, he said that a key reason for the failure of the quadrilateral contact group was that members did not implement their commitments.
“Indeed, the success of the QCG process squarely hinged on a set of clearly defined and agreed-upon benchmarks, which were not met. This increasingly showed that the key challenge to the process remained a policy selectivity by some to distinguish between good and bad terrorists, even though terrorism is a common threat that confronts the whole region where if one of us doesn’t stand firm against it, others’ counter-terrorism efforts will not bear the results we all seek,” he said.
Both Afghanistan and India highlighted the need to combat “safe havens” across the border.
Haidari noted that the “availability of safe sanctuaries and institutional support for violent extremism in our immediate neighborhood helps sustain a deadly and destructive war in Afghanistan.”
India on its part noted that “it was essential to end all forms of terrorism and extremism that beset Afghanistan and our region and to ensure denial of territory or any other support, safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region.”
A continuing tense relations between Kabul and Islamabad may mean that the timing was not too auspicious to get Pakistan government’s cooperation on removing terror launch pads from its soil.
On the day of the talks, Afghan deputy chief of mission was summoned by Pakistan foreign office to lodge protest over “terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil by the terrorist outfit, Jumaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) from its sanctuaries inside Afghanistan.”
JuA, an offshoot of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack at Lahore’s Mall road which left 13 dead.
On Thursday night, a suicide blast hit Sindh’s popular Shahbaz Qaladar shrine, the responsibility for which was claimed by ISIS, according to news agencies. Within a few hours, Pakistan military spokesperson pointed finger at Afghanistan.
Recent Ts acts are being exec on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. We shall defend and respond.
[It may be, that we are finally seeing the true “Hand of Russia in Afghanistan”, just as we have really seen the overt and covert reach of Russia in Syria. Many of us have waited, searching in anticipation of learning Russia’s true intentions in Afghanistan and the Middle east. We do not yet know the true nature of the post Soviet break-up mission of the former KGB. Whatever Perestroika meant to the West, it did not mean the same thing to the KGB, high-ranking intelligence officials like Mr. Putin could be counted on to follow the real mission, instead of the circus being run by Gorbachev.
It is not so strange that the Taliban and Russia would suddenly be revealed to be friends. With the professionalism of the KGB, one would expect geopolitical intrigues to take decades to play-out, before they would be finally exposed (SEE: The (Russian) Roots of Islamic Terrorism).]
With Russia, China and Iran joining Pakistan in supporting Taliban, India’s Afghanistan policy has received a setback
India has an important stake in the future of Afghanistan, its natural ally and close friend for long. India, under successive governments, has been a major aid donor to Afghanistan. As the US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, recently told his country’s Senate Armed Services Committee, “With over $2 billion development aid executed since 2002, and another $1 billion pledged in 2016, India’s significant investments in Afghan infrastructure, engineering, training, and humanitarian issues will help develop Afghan human capital and long-term stability.” Recent developments, however, do not augur well for Indian or Afghan interests. Despite being ravaged by successive wars for the past 36 years, Afghanistan remains a playground for the foreign powers that have fomented or engaged in hostilities there. The latest developments suggest that the Afghanistan-related geopolitics is only getting murkier. In the process, the Taliban is acquiring strange new friends.
Russia and Iran, the traditional patrons of the Northern Alliance, are now openly mollycoddling the Taliban and giving it political succour. In this effort, they have the cooperation of China and Pakistan, thus creating a regional axis. This development represents a shot in the arm for the Taliban’s fight against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and the government in Kabul. Pakistan, of course, fathered the Taliban and remains its principal benefactor, providing safe havens on its territory to the militia. China, for its part, was just one of three countries along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that recognised the Taliban regime in Kabul until it was overthrown in 2001 following the U.S. invasion. In fact, China and the Taliban announced a memorandum of understanding for economic and technical cooperation on the day two planes crashed into New York’s World Trade Center. Beijing is now again courting the Taliban. It has hosted at least one Taliban delegation and offered to mediate between Kabul and the rebels.
It is Russia’s U-turn on the Taliban, however, that stands out because it is strategically the most significant development. From a terrorist foe, the Taliban has become a potential ally for Moscow. Russia’s apparent aim is to turn up the heat and raise the costs for the U.S. military’s continuing role in Afghanistan. It has even sought to obstruct the Afghan government’s U.S.-backed peace deal with a faded warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. While China has frustrated India’s moves to place the Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar on the UN sanctions list, Moscow recently blocked Hekmatyar’s removal from the same list. What makes the emerging regional axis more surprising is that Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, continues to bankroll the Taliban. Another paradox is that two of America’s allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, are still aiding and abetting the U.S. military’s main battlefield enemy, the Taliban, which has killed hundreds of American soldiers.
As for Moscow, it has sought to underpin its policy shift by warming up to Pakistan. In order to cultivate ties with the Taliban, whose top leadership remains holed up in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Russia is befriending Islamabad. Russia has held its first ever military exercise with Pakistan and is selling attack helicopters to it. Moscow is also negotiating a $2 billion natural gas pipeline contract with Islamabad. The new developments in the Af-Pak belt carry major implications for Indian security. Although India and the Afghan government were invited to a round of discussions in Moscow this month, Russia is shaping its new Afghanistan policy not in cooperation with New Delhi and Kabul. Indeed, at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar in December, Russia’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, made some critical comments about New Delhi and Kabul. Subsequently, after discussions with Pakistan in Moscow, Russia and China called for “flexible approaches” toward the Taliban and the removal of some its leaders from the UN sanctions list. The Russian cooperation with the Taliban, while putting a damper on American efforts to reach a peace deal with that militia, is likely to exacerbate the security dynamics in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, which already boasts, as Gen. Nicholson pointed out, “the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world.” Put simply, Moscow’s new stance represents a setback for counterterrorism and for India’s Afghanistan policy.
The author is a strategic thinker and commentator.
Russian officials have had to contain their glee in monitoring recent political events in America and Europe. They appear to think their days in the cold may soon be over. Much has been made of President-elect Donald Trump’s wish to improve relations with Moscow, but the last news out of France appears even more auspicious to Moscow.
The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, is known for her pro-Putin sympathies. Now, with François Fillon’s nomination as the center-right candidate, both major contenders in next year’s French presidential election are favorably disposed toward Russia.
These warmer feelings towards Russia are based, mainly, on changing threat perceptions in the West. Since the emergence of the Islamic State and the proliferation of terrorist attacks in Europe and America, many Europeans and Americans appear to view Moscow’s aggression against its neighbors, such as Ukraine and Georgia, as an increasingly esoteric problem.
Particularly after Russia’s intervention in Syria, even on the right many now view Russia not as a threat to the West but as a natural ally in defeating the jihadi threat.
These warmer feelings towards Russia are based, mainly, on changing threat perceptions in the West.
While this notion is gaining popularity, it is at best the triumph of hope over experience, and at worst a dangerous delusion. Russia’s interaction with radical Islam over two decades shows that it is part of the problem, not the solution. In fact, leaders in Moscow have a track record of manipulating radical Islam whenever that has suited their purposes – including systematic collusion with Islamic extremists. A few examples illustrate this policy.
Exhibit one is the twenty-year insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. In this conflict, the forces fighting for independence from Russia were divided between secular nationalists and Islamic radicals. Because the secular nationalists enjoyed considerable legitimacy both in the West and among the local population, Moscow actively encouraged the growth of the jihadi elements, which were disliked locally and anathema to the West.
Moscow worked hard to kill off the leaders of Chechnya’s secular nationalists. By contrast, there is compelling evidence of collusion between Russia’s secret services and the region’s most notorious radicals, such as Shamil Basayev and Arbi Barayev, and of systematic Russian infiltration of the radical Islamic groups from the North Caucasus.
As Russia imposed a brutal proxy regime in Chechnya, it sought to leave Chechens and foreigners alike with a binary choice: tolerate the brutal Kadyrov regime, or side with the jihadis.
Russia’s interaction with radical Islam over two decades shows that it is part of the problem, not the solution.
Exhibit two is the case of Russia’s foreign fighters in Syria. Ahead of the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics, held next to the North Caucasus, Moscow in spite of its infiltration of jihadi networks faced an acute risk of terrorist attacks. So, as Novaya Gazeta’s Elena Milashina has showed, Russia’s Federal Security Service organized a “pipeline” to facilitate the export of North Caucasian radicals to fight in Syria. Would-be fighters were provided passports and safe passage; some were recruited by Russian intelligence services.
Indeed, foreign fighters from Russia have reached higher in the hierarchy of the Islamic State than any other foreign fighters, and work alongside Saddam Hussein’s former Baathist officers who – similarly – have deep connections to Moscow dating to the Soviet period. Is this a coincidence? The exact nature of these relationships is by nature murky, but the level of state infiltration of the jihadi circles in Russia at the very least raises serious questions about Moscow’s links to the Islamic State.
But, critics may counter, has not Russia’s intervention in Syria served to wipe out these jihadis? Again, while this is the Russian rhetoric, the record shows otherwise. Never mind that Russia has tried, falsely, to take credit for the American drone strikes that have decimated the Islamic State leadership.
By now, it is widely established that Russian airstrikes have not primarily targeted the Islamic State at all, but other rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, as in Aleppo. In reality, Moscow is taking a page from the playbook in Chechnya: by eliminating the rebel groups, it strives to mold a situation that presents a binary choice, and where the only alternative to the Assad regime is the Islamic State.
Exhibit three is Afghanistan, where Moscow since last year established contacts with the Taliban insurgency, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. Citing the need to fight the Islamic State franchise in the country, Moscow began intelligence sharing programs with the Taliban, and provided this jihadi group with international legitimacy.
Even Russia’s claims to be a bulwark against Islamic radicalization in nearby Central Asia fails to hold up to scrutiny. In fact, it is by now established that most Central Asians fighting in Syria or Iraq are not radicalized in their home countries, where governments have a solid track record of countering radicalization.
In fact, the large majority of Central Asian recruits to Islamic radical movements have been radicalized while toiling as temporary and often illegal workers in Russia itself. Far from being a bulwark against extremism, Russia is domestically an incubator of radical Islam.
This bleak picture raises the question: if Russia is not fighting Islamic extremism, then what are its real goals? The answer is twofold. First, in places a different as Chechnya and Syria, Russia actively tries to shape the actors on the battlefield to leave a binary choice between Islamic extremists and brutal strongmen dependent on Moscow.
Second, in theaters as diverse as Afghanistan and Syria, Russia’s focus is squarely to undermine the national security interests of the United States. In Afghanistan, Russia is supporting the Taliban against Islamic State; while in Syria it claims to fight ISIS, but in fact ignores it and instead targets other rebel groups. The common denominator? Russia alternatively bolsters America’s main enemy, or actively targets its local allies.
The notion that Russia is, or could be, an ally against the threat of radical Islam is a dangerous delusion. Russia’s record makes it clear that it sees America, not Islamic extremism, as its main enemy. So long as Vladimir Putin runs Russia, Russia will remain part of the problem, not the solution.
Pakistan Army on Wednesday launched ‘Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad’ across the country, Inter-Services Public Relations, the army’s media wing, said in a statement.
Radd-ul-Fasaad — which translates roughly to ‘elimination of discord’ — will aim at indiscriminately eliminating the “residual/latent threat of terrorism”, consolidating the gains made in other military operations, and further ensuring the security of Pakistan’s borders, read the statement.
Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Navy, Civil Armed Forces (CAF) and other security and law enforcing agencies (LEAs) will actively participate in and ‘intimately support’ the armed forces’ efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the country, the statement added.
“The effort entails conduct of Broad Spectrum Security / Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations by Rangers in Punjab, continuation of ongoing operations across the country, and focus on more effective border security management,” the ISPR said.
“Countrywide de-weaponisation and explosive control are additional cardinals of the effort. Pursuance of National Action Plan will be the hallmark of this operation,” it added.
The announcement followed a meeting in Lahore between Chief of Armed Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, the corps commanders of Punjab, the director general of Pakistan Rangers Punjab, and the heads of intelligence agencies.
Earlier in the day, the federal government had approved a request forwarded by the Government of Punjab for the deployment of Rangers personnel in the province.
Punjab had requested the federal government to deploy over 2,000 Rangers personnel in the province, who would be given policing powers to conduct intelligence-based operations (IBOs) against militants, wherever required and with full authority.
Additionally, at the start of the week, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had informed Senate that the army had been empowered to act against terrorists across the border if it had concrete evidence that Afghan soil had been used to launch recent attacks in the country.
He had said it had been established beyond doubt that foreign soil had been used to orchestrate the attacks in Lahore and Hayatabad.
Recalling Pakistan’s commitment to not allow its soil to be used for terrorist acts in any country, Dar had said the time had come to ensure that no other country’s soil was used against Pakistan either.
Renewed focus on NAP?
Operation Radd-ul-Fasad has been announced as a continuation of the National Action Plan (NAP), the ISPR said in its Wednesday notification.
Widely criticised for its apparently half-hearted implementation, NAP had been formulated after the devastating attack on Army Public School Peshawar in December 2014.
As part of the plan, military courts were established to fast-track terrorism cases. Intelligence-based operations across the country were initiated to disrupt and destroy terror networks in urban and rural areas. The plan had also laid an emphasis on curtailing terror financing.
NAP had also promised to take action against seminaries involved in militancy, but the government had dithered on bringing them under control, apparently for fear of backlash from religious parties as well as militants.
Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad was announced in the aftermath of a fresh resurgence in terror attacks in Pakistan.
On Feb 21, security forces killed three suicide attackers who attempted to wreak havoc at a local court in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Charsadda district. The attack had killed five civilians and was claimed by the proscribed Jamaat-ul-Ahraar (JuA).
On Feb 16, the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan was struck by a suicide bomber affiliated with the militant Islamic State. The worst in the recent flurry of militant activity in Pakistan, it saw at least 88 killed and more than 300 injured after a suicide bomber targeted devotees during the evening dhamaal.
The same day, a suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle into a vehicle carrying judges in Peshawar’s Hayatabad Phase 5 area, killing the driver and injuring its four other occupants. This attack was claimed by the TTP.
On Feb 13, a suicide bomber had struck a protest on Lahore’s Charing Cross interchange, killing 13 and injuring 85. The attack had happened right outside the gates of Punjab’s Provincial Assembly.
The attack was claimed by the JuA.
On the same day, two personnel of Balochistan’s bomb disposal squad were killed as they attempted to defuse an explosive device planted under the Sariab Road bridge in Quetta, the provincial capital.
Chronology of military operations in Pakistan
The following are major military operations carried out by armed forces against local and foreign militants in the recent past:
Operation Rah-i-Haq-I in Swat valley and Shangla district (2007)
Operation Rah-i-Haq-II in Swat valley and Shangla (2008)
Operation Sirat-i-Mustaqeem in Khyber Agency (2008)
Operation Sherdil jointly launched with Frontier Corps in Bajaur Agency (2008)
Operation Rah-i-Haq-III in Swat valley and Shangla (2009)
Operation Black Thunderstorm in Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla district (2009)
Operation Brekhna in Mohmand Agency (2009)
Operation Rah-i-Rast, commonly known as Swat Operation, (2009)
Operation Rah-i-Nijat in South Waziristan (2009)
Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border (2014)
Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad across the country (2017)
“Proposals for combat intervention in demonstrate Syria yet again that Washington’s interventionist elite learns nothing and remembers nothing from the past. President Trump has an opportunity to begin anew. The American people desperately need a president willing to put them first and say no to more social engineering, more foreign intervention, and more foolish wars.“
President Donald Trump instructed the Pentagon to develop a strategy to defeat the Islamic State. Apparently one of the options is introducing U.S. combat forces to confront ISIS. Americans could be fighting in Syria in just a few weeks. That would be an extraordinarily foolish policy.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet takes off from the US navy’s super carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) (‘Ike’) in the Mediterranean Sea on July 7, 2016. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Defeating the Islamic State is not America’s responsibility. It arose out of Syria’s spiral into civil war and Iraq’s descent into sectarian rule. In the first ruthless Islamists proved to be the most effective opponents of the Assad regime. In the second desperate Sunnis preferred ISIS’s 7th century warriors to Baghdad’s modern sectarian killers.
Originally the Islamic State in the Levant, which grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, focused on creating a “caliphate,” or quasi-government. Although hostile to America, its principal enemies were states in the Middle East: Shiite Iraq, Syria’s Alawite-dominated government, independence-minded Kurds, Sunni monarchies from Jordan to Saudi Arabia, and Turkey with its secular, practical heritage. Add to that military-ruled Egypt, drawn into the struggle after the slaughter of Coptic Christian workers kidnapped in Libya. Despite the Islamic State’s initial defeat of ill-led Iraqi forces and assumption of a lead role in the Syrian insurgency, the insurgent group faced an overwhelming if largely disorganized coalition.
Bringing these forces to bear would have been complicated and time-consuming. But the initial success of Daesh, as it is known in the Middle East, would have forced its opponents to commit more to defeat the movement. And the Islamic State’s terrorist retaliation, its only means of fighting back against nation states with an overwhelming conventional military advantage, would have been focused on its Middle Eastern opponents.
However, in 2014 the U.S. took the lead in attempting to build an anti-ISIS coalition. Unfortunately, turning the battle into one between Islamic crusaders and the Great Satan helped the Islamic State’s recruitment efforts. America’s involvement also allowed allied states to back away. Turkey and the Gulf states were more interested in ousting Bashar al-Assad than defeating ISIS. Ankara actually accommodated ISIS for some time before moving against the Islamists, and even now more seriously battles Syrian Kurdish forces. The Gulf States largely abandoned the conflict, launching an unprovoked, aggressive assault on Yemen, which the Obama administration backed in a misguided show of allied solidarity.
A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces made up of US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters, stands guard near the village of Bir Fawaz, 20 km north of Raqa, during their offensive towards the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold, on February 8, 2017. (DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
In Syria Washington found itself lost amid a welter of conflicting powers with different objectives. The administration sought to overthrow Assad, even though he was the strongest barrier against Islamic extremists. The Obama administration sought to simultaneously work with the Kurds and Turkey. In Iraq, America found itself backing a sectarian government guilty of war crimes allied with Iranian militias.
Perhaps worst of all, the Obama administration turned the U.S. and its allies into terrorist targets. After the horrific attacks in Paris a shocked French President Francois Hollande declared that his nation was at war—14 months after his government began bombing ISIS. He obviously had expected a bloodless crusade.
Although the U.S. apparently has not suffered from any terrorist incidents organized by the Islamic State, Americans have died in ISIS-inspired attacks, Moreover, as the group’s defeat looms, it is more likely to try to turn itself into a super al-Qaeda, better at staging murderous attacks on the homelands of those Western nations which attacked the caliphate. While the West could not count on immunity no matter what happened in the fight against ISIS, America’s leading role has dramatically increased the danger.
Despite the failure of most of Washington’s Mideast allies to treat the Islamic State’s rise as an existential threat, the group is losing, and is now “a dead man walking” in the words of Daniel Davis of Defense Priorities. While the struggle certainly is not over, Daesh faces too many foes to succeed. And it is losing to indigenous ground forces. Although U.S. training and air support have helped, the boots on the ground are almost entirely Muslim, from countries and forces directly threatened by ISIS.
Some 500 U.S. military personnel are on station in Syria—special operations forces, bomb squad members, trainers, and commandoes. Introducing American combat units would relieve the pressure on other governments to maintain their efforts. For instance, Turkey has a 400,000 man military and could do much more. The Gulf State could devote both ground and air forces.
Greater U.S. involvement also would reinforce the meme of Christian America versus Muslims. It would more directly entangle Washington in the complicated conflicts among anti-ISIS combatants. And, most important, it would expand Washington’s role in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. And the more deeply involved the U.S. gets, the more difficult it will be to extract itself.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
While direct combat would be the worst policy, lesser intervention would create many of the same risks while providing even fewer potential benefits. Arming the so-called moderate insurgents so far has proved to be of dubious value; often these forces have surrendered personnel and weapons to the radicals. Arming insurgents with anti-aircraft weapons would risk leakage to radicals interested in downing Western passenger planes. Creating no-fly or safe zones would bring the U.S. directly into the war against not only ISIS but also Syria and Russia.
Yet none of these measures would guarantee the fall of the Assad regime, let alone creation of a democratic, humane Syrian government friendly to America and the West, as desired by Washington. And having further inflamed the conflict, the U.S. would find it even harder to back away. If the American people liked the outcomes in Iraq and Libya, they would love Washington’s participation in the bitter, bloody, multi-sided Syrian civil war.
Of course, Washington officials who make a career of justifying every conceivable military intervention are trying to stampede the Trump administration. For instance, House Speaker Paul Ryan proclaimed: “It’s in our vital national interest. We must destroy ISIS in Syria.” The question is why, since other nations are doing the job?
The Islamic State is an evil organization, but it has yet to demonstrate an ability to strike the U.S. As for the Middle East, Israel is a regional superpower and secure. The international oil market has changed, diminishing the importance of Gulf oil supplies. In blowing up both Iraq and Libya Washington demonstrated that it in fact cares little about regional stability, whatever its rhetoric. While the human tsunami has unsettled Europe, that is no justification for America going to war.
Finally, such a mission would not be quick and simple. If American forces took Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, then what? Hop onto helicopters the next day and wave good bye? The usual “unnamed source” at the Pentagon told CNN “it’s possible that that you may see conventional forces on the ground in Syria for some period of time.” Once introduced, there would be a multitude of reasons why they could not be quickly withdrawn, and “some period of time” likely would turn into “a long period of time.” Yet it is hard to imagine greater harm to U.S. interests and credibility than getting involved in another lengthy no-win guerrilla conflict, losing support from the American public which comes to feel misled, and finally racing home claiming “peace with honor” when neither in fact prevails.
Let Daesh’s Arab and Muslim enemies defeat it.
Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilisation units flash the sign of victory as they hold a position near Lake Thar Thar in the desert West of the city of Samarra, Iraq, on March 4, 2016 during a military operation aimed at retaking areas from the Islamic State jihadist group. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Congress should reclaim its authority and insist that the Trump administration request authorization before prosecuting yet another undeclared war. The Obama administration relied on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force approved after 9/11, even though the measure explicitly targeted the perpetrators of those attacks. The Islamic State didn’t even exist at that time.
Proposals for combat intervention in demonstrate Syria yet again that Washington’s interventionist elite learns nothing and remembers nothing from the past. President Trump has an opportunity to begin anew. The American people desperately need a president willing to put them first and say no to more social engineering, more foreign intervention, and more foolish wars.
France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has refused to go into a meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan after his aides asked her to wear a headscarf.
Le Pen was scheduled to meet with Mufti Deryan as part of her three-day visit to Lebanon this week where she met senior officials.
She was scheduled to meet Deryan on Tuesday morning.
Shortly after she arrived at his office, one of his aides tried to give her a headscarf to put on.
She refused and said: “I have met before with (Grand Imam) Sheikh al-Azhar (in Egypt) without wearing a veil.”
Once she was told that customs are different in Lebanon, Le Pen walked toward her car and left.
Le Pen said she had told Deryan’s office on Monday that she would not don a headscarf: “They did not cancel the meeting, so I thought they would accept that I will not wear the scarf.”
“They wanted to impose this on me, to present me with a fait accompli. Well, no one presents me with a fait accompli,” the French presidential candidate said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Dar al-Fatwa said “its press office had informed the presidential candidate, through one of her assistants, of the need to cover her head when she meets his eminence, according to the protocol assumed by Dar al-Fatwa.”
“Dar al-Fatwa officials were surprised by her refusal to conform to this well-known rule,” it said.
– ‘Fascists flock together’ –
Fewer than a dozen protesters gathered near Beirut’s Zaytuna Bay on Tuesday afternoon to protest against Le Pen’s visit.
“From Beirut to Damascus to Paris to Washington, fascists flock together,” one placard read.
One banner read “Fascists out!”, and demonstrators carried pictures of Le Pen and U.S. President Donald Trump.
At a news conference to cap her trip, Le Pen insisted she “has never confused the religion of Islam with fundamentalist Islam.”
“I oppose Islam as a political project. I am fighting a war against fundamentalist Islamists,” she told gathered reporters.
Islamic dress is a hot-button issue in France, where the full-face veil is banned in public places.
Le Pen’s deputy Florian Philippot swiftly lauded her controversial move.
“A magnificent message of liberty and emancipation sent to the women of France and of the world,” Philippot wrote on Twitter.
After leaving Daryan’s office, Le Pen headed to Bkirki, north of Beirut, to meet Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi.
There, she saluted Lebanon’s “moderate” culture, “created by Christians and Muslims.”
Le Pen had arrived over the weekend and met on Monday with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Kataeb party leader Sami Gemayel.
Le Pen, the National Front leader, is leading polls of voters’ intentions for the first round of France’s presidential election on April 23.
She is running on an anti-immigration and anti-European Union platform; critics say that is a cover for anti-Islamic and anti-foreigner views.
The FN leader called Sunday for the international community to step up humanitarian aid to keep the refugees in Lebanon.
Rival presidential hopeful and former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on January 24, where he met both Aoun and Hariri.
Le Pen has met few top foreign officials since taking control of the FN in 2011. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to meet with her.
And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have said last week that “a victory of the populists would be the end of Europe,” a clear reference to Le Pen’s call for a referendum on France’s EU membership.
There are few more serious charges than taking up the cause of America’s enemies and colluding to undermine the country from within.
Yet that very accusation has been leveled against President Trump by some of his most fevered critics. They cite, among the particulars, the president’s evident high regard for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, which helped Trump and badly undermined Democrat Hillary Clinton.
It’s not just left-wing celebrities like film director Michael Moore who are wielding the T-word. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq war veteran, used it during a CNN interview.
“If members of the administration are essentially conspiring with Russia … that’s the definition of treason,” Moulton said. “This is a very, very serious affair.”
Trump and his top aides have emphatically denied any knowledge of Russia’s efforts to tilt the election, much less involvement. The president has repeatedly insisted he would have won the White House regardless and suggests the focus on Russian interference is a way of undercutting his administration.
“The whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse,” Trump said at last week’s frenetic news conference. “It’s a ruse.”
Casually tossing out political rhetoric is one thing, provocative as it may be. The laws that define treason are quite specific, however, making it unlikely in the extreme the accusations that Trump and his aides conspired against America will go anywhere beyond the purview of late-night comedians and the president’s hardest-core detractors.
What is treason?
It is the one crime that is spelled out in the Constitution. Article III, Section 3 states: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.
It is a distinct crime from others covered by law, such as sedition — inciting revolt against the government — or espionage.
What is the punishment for treason?
That was left up to Congress. Lawmakers decreed the mandatory minimum punishment would be five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In the most egregious cases, the penalty is death.
Presumably the accusations against Trump et al don’t go to waging war against the United States but rather the matter of alleged “aid and comfort.”
So what does the law say in that regard?
Offering aid and comfort covers a range of activities. Giving shelter to an enemy soldier or providing material assistance to a hostile government would be two examples. Merely sympathizing with a foreign government does not, in itself, constitute treason. The law requires a specific action to be undertaken.
How difficult is it to obtain a conviction?
Very. A guilty verdict requires either a confession in open court or the testimony of two witnesses “to the same overt act.”
How common are prosecutions for treason?
Rare. In the whole history of the country, there have only been a few dozen cases brought to trial. Less than half resulted in convictions.
Wasn’t Benedict Arnold convicted of treason?
Actually, no. Even though he is perhaps the most famous traitor in U.S. history, his collaboration with the British occurred during the Revolutionary War, before the Constitution was drafted.
Perhaps the most celebrated case of treason involved Aaron Burr, in 1807. In what was then known as the “Trial of the Century,” the former vice president was accused of waging war against his young country by allegedly seeking to entice western territories to break away and form their own nation.
President Jefferson helped direct the prosecution from the White House. Nonetheless, Burr was acquitted after a trial presided over by the Supreme Court’s chief justice, John Marshall.
Wow! Sensational stuff!
Indeed. And something we’re unlikely to see replicated anytime soon.
Once again Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed the responsibility of the blast. The explosion took place during the Chemist and Pharmaceuticals Association protest. Rescue 1122 has arrived at the site of incident. 18 people have lost their lives and almost 72 are badly injured in a blast took place at Mall Road, Lahore.
It was not first deadliest attack of Jamat ul Ahrar but previous year on the ever of Easter a suicide attack on Gulshan-e-Iqbal amusement park in Lahore, Pakistan had claimed more than 70 lives.
Pakistan is in a state of shock and dismay as eye witnesses on television screens recalled scattered body parts and pools of blood across the park, and hospital officials tweeted calls for blood donations.
Jamaat-ul Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack. Ahsanullah Ahsan, the spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said the group had targeted Christians celebrating Easter, although the police are still investigating the claim. Warning Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that “we have entered Lahore”, the capital of the Punjab province and the political power base of Sharif, the militant group threatened further attacks.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has so far launched several attacks on Pakistani civilians and security forces in recent months in an apparent attempt to boost its profile among Pakistan’s increasingly fractured militants, who since June 2014 have been at the receiving end of a fully-fledged military operation in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). So far, the military has killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants in the operation.
This has eased militant violence to some extent but certain groups, such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, retain the ability to launch devastating attacks. In March 2015, the group claimed responsibility for two suicide attacks on Christian churches in Youhanabad, Lahore, that killed at least 15 people. The Easter Sunday bombing is the fifth attack by the group since December 2015.
Omar Khorasani is the head of Jamaat-ul Ahrar and former TTP leader of the Mohmand Agency chapter. He established the splinter group in August-September 2014 after he was ousted by the incumbent TTP chief, Mullah Fazlullah, following internal differences.
Jamaat claims to be fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan. It is likely to have some support in Mohmand, and the other FATA agencies: Bajaur, Khyber and Aurakzai. Some media outlets recently reported the group’s allegiance to Islamic State (IS) but there is no evidence of any active involvement at present.
The latest attack was the deadliest since the December 2014 massacre of 134 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar by the Pakistan Taliban. This attack prompted Pakistan’s civil-military leadership to resolve to take on the terrorists and their facilitators, not only in the tribal areas but also within Pakistani cities.
Protests in Islamabad
Some in Pakistan are of the opinion that the bombing in Lahore may be seen within a broader context. At a Corps Commanders’ conference on March 21, the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, emphasised the need to consolidate gains of military operations for long-term stability.
For this he stressed the escalated pace of intelligence-based operations across the country to destroy the entire terrorist infrastructure in the country.
The very next day an alliance of more than 30 religious groups that run madrassahs and religious charities – and are generally known to sympathise with the militant’s Islamic agenda – set March 27 as the deadline for the Punjab provincial government to withdraw a recent law protecting women that they oppose as un-Islamic.
At the same time, supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, a police guard executed last month for the 2011 killing of the Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, for publicly advocating reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, also launched a protest. On Easter Sunday, as the suicide bomber played havoc in Lahore, several thousand Qadri supporters occupied the high-security zone, known as the Red Zone, outside Pakistan’s parliament in Islamabad.
After the complete failure of the civilian administration to control the situation, the army has been deployed and at the time of writing the situation appears to be under control. Whether or not the two incidents are connected is anybody’s guess at the moment.
It is ironic that despite democratic governments in Pakistan since 2008, it is the military, under the incumbent army chief Raheel Sharif, that the general public sees as willing to take on the militants. Conversely, the Nawaz Sharif government is increasingly perceived as lacking the political will to take on the militant groups in southern Punjab because of parochial political interests.
In the aftermath of the bombing, Raheel Sharif chaired a high-level meeting late Sunday night and ordered concerned commanders and intelligence officials to immediately start operations to detain perpetrators of the attack. According to the latest media reports, an army and paramilitary crackdown is being launched against banned terrorist outfits across Punjab.
The prime minister is due to address the nation on Monday night. It is likely that the government will allow a full-scale paramilitary rangers operation in the Punjab province – something it has been resisting until now. An ongoing operation in the southern city of Karachi already gives powers to the paramilitary rangers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects – a strategy that has brought about some stability in the port city after years of violence and lawlessness.
A quarter century after the Cold War, the Pentagon is worried about Russia’s military prowess again.
POLITICOhas learned that, following the stunning success of Russia’s quasi-secret incursion into Ukraine, McMaster is quietly overseeing a high-level government panel intended to figure out how the Army should adapt to this Russian wake-up call. Partly, it is a tacit admission of failure on the part of the Army — and the U.S. government more broadly.
“It is clear that while our Army was engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia studied U.S. capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious and largely successful modernization effort,” McMaster told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. “In Ukraine, for example, the combination of unmanned aerial systems and offensive cyber and advanced electronic warfare capabilities depict a high degree of technological sophistication.”
In Ukraine, a rapidly mobilized Russian-supplied rebel army with surprisingly lethal tanks, artillery and anti-tank weapons has unleashed swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles and cyberattacks that shut down battlefield communications and even GPS.
The discussions of what has been gleaned so far on visits to Ukraine—and from various other studies conducted by experts in and out of government in the U.S. and Europe—have highlighted a series of early takeaways, according to a copy of a briefing that was delivered in recent weeks to the top leadership in the Pentagon and in allied capitals.
U.S. military and intelligence officials worry that Moscow now has the advantage in key areas. Lighter armored vehicles like those the Army relied on heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan are highly vulnerable to its new weapons. And main battle tanks like Russia’s T-90—thought to be an anachronism in recent conflicts—are still decisive.
McMaster added that “Russia possesses a variety of rocket, missile and cannon artillery systems that outrange and are more lethal than U.S. Army artillery systems and munitions.” Its tanks, meanwhile, are so improved that they are “largely invulnerable to anti-tank missiles,” says retired General Wesley Clark, who served as NATO commander from 1997 to 2000 and has been sounding the alarm about what the Ukraine conflict means for the U.S. military.
Also on display in Ukraine to an alarming degree: Moscow’s widespread political subversion of Ukrainian institutions, part of what experts are now calling “hybrid warfare” that combines military power with covert efforts to undermine an enemy government. Russia has since then also intervened with ground forces and airstrikes in Syria—apparently somewhat successfully—and flexed its muscles in other ways. This week, two Russian fighter jets and a military helicopter repeatedly buzzed a U.S. Navy warship in the Baltic Sea, despite radio warnings.
McMaster’s response is the Russia New Generation Warfare Study, whose government participants have already made several unpublicized trips to the front lines in Ukraine. The high-level but low-profile effort is intended to ignite a wholesale rethinking—and possibly even a redesign—of the Army in the event it has to confront the Russians in Eastern Europe.
It is expected to have profound impact on what the U.S. Army will look like in the coming years, the types of equipment it buys and how its units train. Some of the early lessons will be road tested in a major war game planned for June in Poland. Says retired Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan: “That is all designed to demonstrate that we are in the game.”
Among those who have studied the Russian operation in Ukraine closely is Phillip Karber, president of the Potomac Foundation and former Marine who has made 22 trips to Ukraine since 2014. “Few in the West have paid much attention to Russia’s doctrinal pivot to ‘New Generation War’ until its manifestation in Ukraine,” says Karber. Another surprise, he adds, “is the relative lack of Western attention, particularly given the unexpected scale and duration of the conflict, as well as the unanticipated Russian aggressiveness in sponsoring it.
Karber says the lethality of new Russian munitions has been striking, including the use of scatterable mines, which the U.S. States no longer possesses. And he counts at least 14 different types of drones used in the conflict and reports that one Ukrainian unit he was embedded with witnessed up to eight drone flights in a single day. “How do you attack an adversary’s UAV?” asks Clark. “Can we blind, disrupt or shoot down these systems? The U.S. military hasn’t suffered any significant air attacks since 1943.”
The new Army undertaking is headed by Brigadier General Peter L. Jones, commandant of the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. But it is the brainchild of McMaster, who as head of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Fort Eustis, Virginia, is responsible for figuring out what the Army should look like in 2025 and beyond.
Clark describes McMaster’s effort as the most dramatic rethinking since the collapse of the Soviet Union.“These are the kind of issues the U.S. Army hasn’t worked since the end of the Cold War 25 years ago.”
The question is why the U.S. government—and the Army in particular—has once again allowed its attention to be diverted for so long that it has been caught by surprise by a major development like Russia’s enhanced capabilities. While Russian President Vladimir Putin undertook an aggressive military buildup, the U.S. Army actually drew up plans to shrink the active-duty force by some 40,000, from about 490,000 to 450,000 over the next several years. That plan is now in question. A bill recently proposed in the House of Representatives would halt the reduction. And last month, the Alaska delegation successfully got the Pentagon to back down on its plans to deactivate an airborne brigade. One of the justifications that were cited: a newly belligerent Russia.
There is also a question about whether McMaster is the general for the job. For most of his career, McMaster has been a controversial figure. In a book he published earlier in his career, Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, he attacked the generals of the Vietnam era for not admitting frankly that the war was unwinnable. Yet later, when McMaster pushed for a complex strategy of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, critics said McMaster and his fellow so-called “COIN-dinistas” misrepresented and oversold their own war-fighting strategy. Counterinsurgency calls not just for fighting insurgents but for a kind of “hearts-and-minds” campaign to win over local populations through reconstruction, policing and economic progress that usually takes at least a decade.
But the U.S. never intended to stay in Afghanistan or Iraq for that long.
Now reality is taking McMaster in precisely the direction that some of his critics said he and the other COIN specialists needed to focus on more in the first place: orienting the Army to what it does best, confronting conventional adversaries. The question is whether the U.S. military is able to adopt a realistic approach to Russian aggression without getting the nation into World War III.
Oddly enough, the model for the new effort is the Army’s detailed study of a war fought 43 years ago, one that most people have forgotten about. As a guide to this new major review, Politico has learned, McMaster is dusting off the Army’s landmark after-action review of the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Moscow’s then-proxies, Egypt and Syria.
In October 1973, as America’s painful odyssey in the jungles of Vietnam was winding down, a war broke out thousands of miles away that would profoundly change the U.S. Army.
Tank losses in the first six days of the Yom Kippur War were greater than the entire U.S. tank inventory stationed in Europe to deter the Soviet Union when Egypt and Syria launched the surprise attack on Israel. In the most recent major armored battles, during World War II three decades earlier, opposing tank armies faced off at an average of 750 yards. In the Yom Kippur War, it was 3,000 yards or more, a far bigger killing field.
In the aftermath, Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams dispatched a pair of generals to walk the battlefields of smoldering armor, obtain damaged Russian equipment and find out what the Army “should learn from that war.”
“The Yom Kippur War had a shock effect on the U.S. Army,” recalls Karber, who participated in what came to be known as the Starry-Baer panel, named for the officers who oversaw it. “It challenged decades of accumulated assumptions.”
What the Army learned from the Yom Kippur War was that“powerful new antitank weapons, swift-moving formations cutting across the battlefield, and interaction between ground formations and the air arm showed how much the world around our Army had changed as we focused on Vietnam,” as one summary of the Starry-Baer report put it. General Donn Starry’s own description of the circumstances four decades ago could easily describe what the Army is confronting today, if the word Vietnam were replaced with Iraq or Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union with Russia.
“Military attention turned back to the nation’s commitment to NATO Europe,” Starry wrote back then. “We discovered the Soviets had been very busy while we were preoccupied with Vietnam. They had revised operational concepts at the tactical and operational levels, increased their fielded force structure and introduced new equipment featuring one or more generations of new technology.”
Fast forward to 2016. After a decade and a half of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond—longer than even in Vietnam—decades of assumptions about warfare are once again being re-evaluated. McMaster and other top generals have concluded that while the United States was bogged down in the Middle East, Moscow focused its energies on rebuilding its own forces to potentially counter America’s tactics.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin died at the age of 64, just a day before his 65th birthday, in New York on Monday.
“A prominent Russian diplomat has passed away while at work. We’d like to express our sincere condolences to Vitaly Churkin’s family,” Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement available on its official website.
Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Petr Iliichev said about Churkin that he kept working “till the very end.”
“The loss that Russia has suffered is irreplaceable. Ambassador Churkin kept working till the very last moment. He dedicated all his life to protecting Russia’s interests abroad. He was [always] at the front line, taking the most challenging appointments,” Iliichev said.
The representative of the UN Secretary-General Farhan Haq said that the UN was shocked by the news, extending their condolences to Moscow: “We mourn ambassador Churkin, he’s been such a regular presence here that I’m actually quite stunned and our thoughts go to his family and his government.”
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, took to Facebook to express her grief: “A great diplomat. An extraordinary personality. A brilliant man. We’ve lost a person very dear to us.”
Putin expressed his condolences to the family of late diplomat, as well as to his colleagues in the Foreign Ministry.
“It is with deep sorrow that Russian President Vladimir Putin learned about the death of Vitaly Churkin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday. He added that Putin held Churkin’s professionalism and diplomatic talent in high regard.
Following the news of the ambassador’s death, the UN began its scheduled meeting with a moment of silence to honor Churkin’s memory.
The late ambassador’s colleagues took to Twitter to express their condolences as well.
No further details concerning the circumstances of Churkin’s death are available at the moment.
Vitaly Ivanovich Churkin was born in Moscow in 1952. He graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1974, beginning his decades-long career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shortly.
Ambassador Churkin served as Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations since 2006. Prior to this appointment, he was Ambassador at Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (2003-2006), Ambassador to Canada (1998-2003), Ambassador to Belgium and Liaison Ambassador to NATO and WEU (1994-1998), Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation to the talks on Former Yugoslavia (1992-1994), Director of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR/Russian Federation (1990-1992).
Vitaly Churkin was awarded the Order For Merit to the Fatherland of IV degree in 2012.
A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that Florida doctors can talk to patients about gun safety, declaring a law aimed at restricting such discussions a violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law does not trespass on patients’ Second Amendment rights to own guns and noted a patient who doesn’t want to be questioned about that can easily find another doctor.
“The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right,” wrote Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan in one of two majority opinions covering 90 pages. “There is no actual conflict between the First Amendment rights of doctors and medical professionals and the Second Amendment rights of patients.”
Circuit Judge William Pryor, who was a finalist in President Donald Trump’s search for a Supreme Court nominee, said in a separate concurring opinion that the First Amendment must protect all points of view.
“The promise of free speech is that even when one holds an unpopular point of view, the state cannot stifle it,” he wrote. “The price Americans pay for this freedom is that the rule remains unchanged regardless of who is in the majority.”
The law was passed in 2011 and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott with strong support from the National Rifle Association. It was the only one of its kind in the nation, although similar laws have been considered in other states.
Supporters in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature insisted it was necessary because doctors were overstepping their bounds and pushing an anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment agenda.
The law was challenged almost immediately by thousands of physicians, medical organizations and other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union as a violation of free speech in what became known as the “Docs v. Glocks” case. A legal battle has raged in the courts since then, with several conflicting opinions issued.
“We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.
The 11th Circuit noted that Florida lawmakers appeared to base the law on “six anecdotes” about physicians’ discussions of guns in their examination rooms and little other concrete evidence that there is an actual problem. And doctors who violated the law could face professional discipline, a fine or possibly loss of their medical licenses.
“There was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” Jordan wrote for the court.
The NRA and Florida attorneys had argued that under the law doctors could ask about firearms if the questions were relevant to a patient’s health or safety, or someone else’s safety, and that the law was aimed at eliminating harassment of gun owners. But the 11th Circuit said there was no evidence of harassment or improper disclosure of gun ownership in health records, as law supporters also claimed.
“There is nothing in the record suggesting that patients who are bothered or offended by such questions are psychologically unable to choose another medical provider, just as they are permitted to do if their doctor asks too many questions about private matters like sexual activity, alcohol consumption, or drug use,” the court ruled.
The ruling did determine that some parts of the law could remain on the books, such as provisions allowing patients to decline to answer questions about guns and prohibiting health insurance companies from denying coverage or increasing premiums for people who lawfully own guns.
The case will return to U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami for a ruling that follows the 11th Circuit’s direction. The case could, however, also be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This US Navy photo shows the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson participating in a vertical replenishment-at-sea with the Black Knights of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 4 and the Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 3. MC2 SEAN M. CASTELLANO / AFP – Getty Images
China has disputes with a number of countries over maritime areas and islands in the South China Sea. In addition, the South China Sea, one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, is crucial to global trade.
Trump recently backed off his early refusal to accept the U.S.’ longstanding One-China policy, which recognizes China’s claim to Taiwan as a renegade province. The change in position came after a telephone call with China’s President Xi Jinping.
But relations between the two countries remain fraught, with each eyeing the other warily. The Chinese press, which often reflects the government viewpoint, has been particularly harsh toward Trump, calling him “reckless,” “unfit to lead a superpower,” and “as ignorant as a child” regarding foreign policy.
Concern over the thaw in relations between Russia and the Taliban could complicate fight against terrorism.
A renewed attempt at finding a peaceful end to the lingering unrest in conflict-ridden Afghanistan held in Moscow on Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry has announced.
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has said that the consultative meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow is a positive step in promoting regional cooperation and solidarity in the war against terrorism.
Moscow has hosted at least two meetings on Afghanistan in less than two months in a bid to bring the much-awaited Afghan peace negotiation process between the government and the Taliban group back on track. The Taliban has long continued its armed struggle against the central government in Kabul.
The six nations talks include representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, India, China and Iran where they will discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said that high-level delegations from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and India are currently holding discussions in Moscow and details of the diplomacy will be soon shared.
“Moscow is currently hosting consultations on Afghanistan involving senior officials of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and India and we will be brief you on the outcome of this meeting,” said Zakharova.
Speaking on the impact of such talks on core issues facing the wider region, particularly Afghanistan, Faramarz Tamanna, chairman Afghanistan Center for Strategic Thinking at the MoFA, has said that holding such meetings would be helpful in boosting regional cooperation in campaign against terrorism.
“We should try to create a common understanding between the regional countries in order to attain the partnership of all regional countries in restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region,” said Faramarz Tamanna.
Political commentators believe that Russia’s interests in Afghanistan’s political situation and the thaw in ties between Russians and the Taliban would further complicate the war in Afghanistan.
“Supporting the Taliban in the long term could create a problem for Afghanistan,” said political analyst Hamid Saboori.
It appears however, that Kabul is no longer concerned about the thaw in relations between the Taliban and Moscow and a possible rivalry between Russia and the United States in Afghanistan following a trip to Moscow by Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani to Moscow earlier this month.
“There activities are not concerning for us, but we try to get their supports in restoring peace,” said Jawed Faisal, deputy spokesman to CEO Abdullah Abdullah.
Last week general John Nicholson, the commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan said the increasing influence of Russia in Afghanistan would impact Afghan government’s efforts in the fight against terrorism and Kabul’s bid in restoring longstanding peace and security.
I just wanted to begin by mentioning that the nominee for secretary of the Department of Labor will be Mr. Alex Acosta. He has a law degree from Harvard Law School, was a great student; former clerk for Justice Samuel Alito. And he has had a tremendous career. He’s a member and has been a member of the National Labor Relations Board, and has been through Senate confirmation three times, confirmed; did very, very well.
And so Alex, I’ve wished him the best. We just spoke. And he’s going to be — I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of labor.
And also as you probably heard just a little while ago, Mick Mulvaney, former congressman, has just been approved weeks late, I have to say that, weeks, weeks late, Office of Management and Budget. And he will be I think a fantastic addition.
Paul Singer just left. As you know, Paul was very much involved with the anti-Trump or as they say, “never Trump.” And Paul just left and he’s given us his total support. And it’s all about unification. We’re unifying the party and hopefully we’re going to be able to unify the country. It’s very important to me. I’ve been talking about that for a long time. It’s very, very important to me.
So I want to thank Paul Singer for being here and for coming up to the office. He was a very strong opponent, and now he’s a very strong ally. And I appreciate that.
I think I’ll say a few words, and then we’ll take some questions. And I had this time. We’ve been negotiating a lot of different transactions to save money on contracts that were terrible, including airplane contracts that were out of control and late and terrible; just absolutely catastrophic in terms of what was happening. And we’ve done some really good work. We’re very proud of that.
And then right after that, you prepare yourselves, we’ll do some questions, unless you have enough questions. That’s always a possibility.
I’m here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration. We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.
A new Rasmussen poll, in fact — because the people get it — much of the media doesn’t get it. They actually get it, but they don’t write it. Let’s put it that way. But a new Rasmussen poll just came out just a very short while ago, and it has our approval rating at 55 percent and going up. The stock market has hit record numbers, as you know. And there has been a tremendous surge of optimism in the business world, which is — to me means something much different than it used to. It used to mean, “Oh, that’s good.” Now it means, “That’s good for jobs.” Very different.
Plants and factories are already starting to move back into the United States, and big league — Ford, General Motors, so many of them. I’m making this presentation directly to the American people, with the media present, which is an honor to have you. This morning, because many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve. And I hope going forward we can be a little bit — a little bit different, and maybe get along a little bit better, if that’s possible. Maybe it’s not, and that’s OK, too.
TRUMP: Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.
I ran for president to present the citizens of our country. I am here to change the broken system so it serves their families and their communities well. I am talking — and really talking on this very entrenched power structure, and what we’re doing is we’re talking about the power structure; we’re talking about its entrenchment. As a result, the media is going through what they have to go through too often times distort — not all the time — and some of the media is fantastic, I have to say — they’re honest and fantastic.
But much of it is not a — the distortion — and we’ll talk about it, you’ll be able to ask me questions about it. But we’re not going to let it happen, because I’m here again, to take my message straight to the people. As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea — we’ll take care of it folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.
Beginning on day one, our administration went to work to tackle these challenges. On foreign affairs, we’ve already begun enormously productive talks with many foreign leaders, much of it you’ve covered, to move forward towards stability, security and peace in the most troubled regions of the world, which there are many. We have had great conversations with the United Kingdom, and meetings. Israel, Mexico, Japan, China and Canada, really, really productive conversations. I would say far more productive than you would understand.
We’ve even developed a new council with Canada to promote women’s business leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s very important to me, very important to my daughter Ivanka. I have directed our defense community headed by our great general, now Secretary Mattis. He’s over there now working very hard to submit a plan for the defeat of ISIS, a group that celebrates the murder and torture of innocent people in large sections of the world. It used to be a small group, now it’s in large sections of the world.
They’ve spread like cancer. ISIS has spread like cancer — another mess I inherited. And we have imposed new sanctions on the nation of Iran, whose totally taken advantage of our previous administration, and they’re the world’s top sponsor of terrorism, and we’re not going to stop until that problem is properly solved. And it’s not properly solved now, it’s one of the worst agreements I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody. I’ve ordered plan to begin building for the massive rebuilding of the United States military. Had great support from the Senate, I’ve had great from Congress, generally.
We’ve pursued this rebuilding in the hopes that we will never have to use this military, and I will tell you that is my — I would be so happy if we never had to use it. But our country will never have had a military like the military we’re about to build and rebuild. We have the greatest people on earth in our military, but they don’t have the right equipment and their equipment is old. I used it; I talked about it at every stop. Depleted, it’s depleted — it won’t be depleted for long. And I think one of the reason I’m standing here instead of other people is that frankly, I talked about we have to have a strong military.
We have to have a strong law enforcement also. So we do not go abroad in the search of war, we really are searching for peace, but its peace through strength. At home, we have begun the monumental task of returning the government back to the people on a scale not seen in many, many years. In each of these actions, I’m keeping my promises to the American people. These are campaign promises. Some people are so surprised that we’re having strong borders.
Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about for a year and a half, strong borders. They’re so surprised, oh, he having strong borders, well that’s what I’ve been talking about to the press and to everybody else. One promise after another after years of politicians lying to you to get elected. They lied to the American people in order to get elected. Some of the things I’m doing probably aren’t popular but they’re necessary for security and for other reasons.
And then coming to Washington and pursuing their own interests which is more important to many politicians. I’m here following through on what I pledged to do. That’s all I’m doing. I put it out before the American people, got 306 Electoral College votes. I wasn’t supposed to get 222. They said there’s no way to get 222, 230’s impossible.
270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan. In other words, the media’s trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason.
And — but a lot of people are happy about it. In fact, I’ll be in Melbourne, Florida five o’clock on Saturday and I heard — just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there. I turn on the T.V., open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved.
And they’re outstanding people like Senator Dan Coats who’s there, one of the most respected men of the Senate. He can’t get approved. How do you not approve him? He’s been a colleague — highly respected. Brilliant guy, great guy, everybody knows it. We’re waiting for approval. So we have a wonderful group of people that’s working very hard, that’s being very much misrepresented about and we can’t let that happen.
So, if the Democrats who have — all you have to do is look at where they are right now. The only thing they can do is delay because they screwed things up royally, believe me. Let me list to you some of the things that we’ve done in just a short period of time. I just got here. And I got here with no cabinet. Again, each of these actions is a promise I made to the American people.
I’ll go over just some of them and we have a lot happening next week and in the weeks — in the weeks coming. We’ve withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans Pacific Partnership. We’re going to make trade deals but we’re going to have one on one deals, bilateral. We’re going to have one on one deals.
We’ve directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing and call for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure and that means plant, equipment, roads, bridges, factories. People take 10, 15, 20 years to get disapproved for a factory. They go in for a permit, it’s many, many years. And then at the end of the process — they spend 10s of millions of dollars on nonsense and at the end of the process, they get rejected.
Now, they may be rejected with me but it’s going to be a quick rejection. Not going to take years. But mostly it’s going to be an acceptance. We want plants built and we want factories built and we want the jobs. We don’t want the jobs going to other countries. We’ve imposed a hiring freeze on nonessential federal workers. We’ve imposed a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations.
We’ve issued a game-changing new rule that says for each one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. Makes sense. Nobody’s ever seen regulations like we have. You go to other countries and you look at indexes (ph) they have and you say “let me see your regulations” and they’re fraction, just a tiny fraction of what we have. And I want regulations because I want safety, I want environmental — all environmental situations to be taken properly care of. It’s very important to me. But you don’t need four or five or six regulations to take care of the same thing.
We’ve stood up for the men and women of law enforcement, directing federal agencies to ensure they are protected from crimes of violence. We’ve directed the creation of a task force for reducing violent crime in America, including the horrendous situation — take a look at Chicago and others, taking place right now in our inner cities. Horrible.
We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs. We’re becoming a drug infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We are not going to let it happen any longer.
We’ve undertaken the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe. And are now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border, met with general — now Secretary Kelly yesterday and we’re starting that process. And the wall is going to be a great wall and it’s going to be a wall negotiated by me. The price is going to come down just like it has on everything else I’ve negotiated for the government. And we are going to have a wall that works, not gonna have a wall like they have now which is either nonexistent or a joke.
We’ve ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens, and we have ordered an end to the policy of catch and release on the border. No more release. No matter who you are, release. We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.
The court system has not made it easy for us. And are even creating a new office in Homeland Security dedicated to the forgotten American victims of illegal immigrant violence, which there are many. We have taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country. No parts are necessary and constitutional actions were blocked by judges, in my opinion, incorrect, and unsafe ruling. Our administration is working night and day to keep you safe, including reporters safe. And is vigorously defending this lawful order.
I will not back down from defending our country. I got elected on defense of our country. I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result. They already are, I can tell you that. Extreme vetting will be put in place and it already is in place in many places.
In fact, we had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number. I have heard 80 percent, I find that hard to believe, that is just a number I heard, that they are overturned 80 percent of the time. I think that circuit is — that circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil. But we are appealing that, and we are going further.
We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country. So we’ll be going along the one path and hopefully winning that, at the same time we will be issuing a new and very comprehensive order to protect our people. That will be done sometime next week, toward the beginning or middle at the latest part. We have also taken steps to begin construction of the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines. Thousands and thousands of jobs, and put new buy American measures in place to require American steel for American pipelines. In other words, they build a pipeline in this country, and we use the powers of government to make that pipeline happen, we want them to use American steel. And they are willing to do that, but nobody ever asked before I came along. Even this order was drawn and they didn’t say that.
TRUMP: And I’m reading the order, I’m saying, why aren’t we using American steel? And they said, that’s a good idea, we put it in. To drain the swamp of corruption in Washington, D.C., I’ve started by imposing a five-year lobbying ban on White House officials and a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government.
We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It is’s disaster. I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people our that representatives are representing.
So we’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare, and are deep in the midst of negotiations on a very historic tax reform to bring our jobs back, to bring our jobs back to this country. Big league. It’s already happening. But big league.
I’ve also worked to install a cabinet over the delays and obstruction of Senate Democrats. You’ve seen what they’ve done over the last long number of years. That will be one of the great cabinets ever assembled in American history.
You look at Rex Tillerson. He’s out there negotiating right now. General Mattis I mentioned before, General Kelly. We have great, great people. Mick is with us now. We have great people.
Among their responsibilities will be ending the bleeding of jobs from our country and negotiating fair trade deals for our citizens.
Now look, fair trade. Not free, fair. If a country is taking advantage of us, not going to let that happen anymore. Every country takes advantage of us almost. I may be able to find a couple that don’t. But for the most part, that would be a very tough job for me to do.
Jobs have already started to surge. Since my election, Ford announced it will abandon its plans to build a new factory in Mexico, and will instead invest $700 million in Michigan, creating many, many jobs.
Fiat Chrysler announced it will invest $1 billion in Ohio and Michigan, creating 2,000 new American jobs. They were with me a week ago. You know you were here.
General Motors likewise committed to invest billions of dollars in its American manufacturing operation, keeping many jobs here that were going to leave. And if I didn’t get elected, believe me, they would have left. And these jobs and these things that I’m announcing would never have come here.
Intel just announced that it will move ahead with a new plant in Arizona that probably was never going to move ahead with. And that will result in at least 10,000 American jobs.
Walmart announced it will create 10,000 jobs in the United States just this year because of our various plans and initiatives. There will be many, many more, many more, these are a few that we’re naming.
Other countries have been taking advantage of us for decades — decades, and decades, and decades, folks. And we’re not going to let that happen anymore. Not going to let it happen.
And one more thing, I have kept my promise to the American people by nominating a justice of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is from my list of 20, and who will be a true defender of our laws and our Constitution, highly respected, should get the votes from the Democrats. You may not see that. But he’ll get there one way or the other. But he should get there the old-fashioned way, and he should get those votes.
This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country. Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time. And we have not even started the big work yet. That starts early next week.
Some very big things are going to be announced next week. So we are just getting started. We will be giving a speech, as I said, in Melbourne, Florida, at 5:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.
And with that, I just say, God bless America, and let’s take some questions.
Mara (ph), Mara (ph), go ahead. You were cut off pretty violently at our last news conference.
TRUMP: Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He is a man who there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who is with us today. And I was not happy with the way that information was given.
He didn’t have to do that, because what he did wasn’t wrong — what he did in terms of the information he saw. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally. That’s the real problem.
And, you know, you can talk all you want about Russia, which was all a, you know, fake news, fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it. In fact, I saw a couple of the people that were supposedly involved with all of this — that they know nothing about it; they weren’t in Russia; they never made a phone call to Russia; they never received a phone call.
It’s all fake news. It’s all fake news. The nice thing is, I see it starting to turn, where people are now looking at the illegal — I think it’s very important — the illegal, giving out classified information. It was — and let me just tell you, it was given out like so much.
I’ll give you an example. I called, as you know, Mexico. It was a very, very confidential, classified call. But I called Mexico. And in calling Mexico, I figured, oh, well that’s — I spoke to the president of Mexico; I had a good call. All of a sudden, it’s out there for the world to see. It’s supposed to be secret. It’s supposed to be either confidential or classified, in that case.
Same thing with Australia. All of a sudden, people are finding out exactly what took place. The same thing happened with respect to General Flynn. Everybody saw this. And I’m saying — the first thing I thought of when I heard about it is: How does the press get this information that’s classified? How do they do it?
You know why? Because it’s an illegal process and the press should be ashamed of themselves. But more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves, really ashamed.
Yes, go ahead.
TRUMP: Because when I looked at the information, I said, “I don’t think he did anything wrong; if anything, he did something right.” He was coming into office. He looked at the information. He said, “Huh, that’s fine.” That’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to — he didn’t just call Russia. He called and spoke to both ways, I think there were 30-some-odd countries. He’s doing the job.
You know, he was doing his job. The thing is, he didn’t tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn’t remember. So either way, it wasn’t very satisfactory to me. And I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position. And that also helps, I think, in the making of my decision.
But he didn’t tell the vice president of the United States the facts. And then he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.
QUESTION: (inaudible) clarification here. During your campaign, did anyone from your team (inaudible) Russian government or Russian intelligence? And if so, what was the nature of those conversations (inaudible)? TRUMP: The failing New York Times wrote a big, long front-page story yesterday. And it was very much discredited, as you know. It was — it’s a joke. And the people mentioned in the story, I notice they were on television today saying they never even spoke to Russia. They weren’t even a part, really — I mean, they were such a minor part. They — I hadn’t spoken to them.
I think the one person — I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. And he actually said he was a very low-level member of I think a committee for a short period of time. I don’t think I ever met him. Now, it’s possible that I walked into a room and he was sitting there, but I don’t think I ever met him. I didn’t talk to him ever. And he thought it was a joke.
The other person said he never spoke to Russia; never received a call. Look at his phone records, et cetera, et cetera. And the other person, people knew that he represented various countries, but I don’t think he represented Russia, but knew that he represented various countries. That’s what he does. I mean, people know that.
That’s Mr. Manafort, who’s — by the way, who’s by the way a respected man. He’s a respected man. But I think he represented the Ukraine or Ukraine government or somebody, but everybody — people knew that. Everybody knew that.
So, these people — and he said that he has absolutely nothing to do and never has with Russia. And he said that very forcefully. I saw his statement. He said it very forcefully. Most of the papers don’t print it because that’s not good for their stories.
TRUMP: So the three people that they talked about all totally deny it. And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election.
He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the country. So that’s the extent.
Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media. The real news is the fact that people, probably from the Obama administration because they’re there, because we have our new people going in place, right now.
As you know, Mike Pompeo has — has now taken control of the CIA, James Comey at FBI, Dan Coats is waiting to be approved, I mean he is a senator and a highly respected one and he’s still waiting to be approved. But our new people are going in.
And just while you’re at it, because you mentioned this, Wall Street Journal did a story today that was almost as disgraceful as the failing New York Time’s story, yesterday. And it talked about — these are (ph) front page.
So director of national intelligence just put out, acting a statement, any suggestion that the United States intelligence community, this was just given to us, is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.
So they took this front page story out of The Wall Street Journal top and they just wrote the story that its not true. And I’ll tell you something, I’ll be honest, because I sort of enjoy this back and forth that I guess I have all my life but I’ve never seen more dishonest media than frankly, the political media. I thought the financial media was much better, much more honest.
But I will say that, I never get phone calls from the media. How did they write a story like that in The Wall Street Journal without asking me or how did they write a story in The New York Times, put it on front page?
That was like the story they wrote about the women and me, front page, big massive story. And it was nasty and then they called, they said we never said that, we like Mr. Trump. They called up my office, we like Mr. Trump, we never said that.
And it was totally — they totally misrepresented those very wonderful women, I have to tell you, totally misrepresented. I said give us the retraction. They never gave us a retraction and frankly, I then went on to other things.
OK, go ahead.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) said today that you have big intellectual margins (inaudible) 300 or more (ph), or 350 (ph) electoral (ph) votes. President Obama about 365 (OFF-MIKE).
QUESTION: Obama (OFF-MIKE) 426 on (OFF-MIKE). So why should Americans…
TRUMP: …I’m skipping that information, I don’t know, I was just given (ph) we had a very, very big margin.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) why should Americans trust you (OFF-MIKE) the information (OFF-MIKE)?
TRUMP: Well, I don’t know, I was given that information. I was given — I actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that? OK thank you, that’s…
TRUMP: Go ahead Sir, yes?
QUESTION: Can you tell us in determining that Lieutenant General Flynn did — whether there was no wrongdoing in your mind, what evidence was weighed? Did you ask for transcripts of these telephone intercepts with Russian officials, particularly the Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who he was communicating with?
What— what evidence did you weigh to determine that there was no wrongdoing? Further to that, Sir, you said on a couple of locations this morning, you are going to aggressively pursue the source of these leaks.
TRUMP: We are.
QUESTION: Can we ask what you’re going to do and also, we’ve heard about a — a review of the intelligence community headed up by Steven Feinberg, what can you tell us about that?
TRUMP: Well, first of all about that, we now have Dan Coats, hopefully soon, Mike Pompeo and James Comey and they’re in position so I hope that we’ll be able to straighten that out without using anybody else.
The gentleman you mentioned is a very talented man, very successful man and he’s offered his services and you know, it’s something we may take advantage of. But I don’t think we’re need that at all because of the fact that you know, I think that we are gonna be able to straighten it out very easily on its own.
As far as the general’s concerned, when I first heard about it, I said huh, that doesn’t sound wrong. My counsel came, Don McGahn, White House Counsel, and he told me and I asked him, he can speak very well for himself. He said he doesn’t think anything is wrong, you know, really didn’t think.
It was really, what happened after that but he didn’t think anything was done wrong. I didn’t either because I waited a period of time and I started to think about it, I said “well I don’t see” — to me, he was doing the job.
The information was provided by — who I don’t know, Sally Yates. And I was a little surprised because I said “doesn’t sound like he did anything wrong there.” But he did something wrong with respect to the vice president and I thought that was not acceptable. As far as — as far as the actual making the call, fact I’ve watched various programs and I’ve read various articles where he was just doing his job.
That was very normal. You know, first everybody got excited because they thought he did something wrong. After they thought about it, it turned out he was just doing his job. So — and I do. And by the way, with all of that being said, I do think he’s a fine man.
QUESTION: Sir, if I could, on the leaks — on the leaks, sir…
TRUMP: …Go ahead. Finish off then I’ll get you.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. What will you do on the leaks? You’ve said twice today…
TRUMP: …Yes, we’re looking at them very — very, very serious. I’ve gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies and we’re — I’ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks. They’re put out by people either in agencies — I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in. You know, again, we don’t have our people in because we can’t get them approved by the Senate.
We just had Jeff Sessions approved. Injustice, as an example (ph). So, we are looking into that very seriously. It’s a criminal act. You know what I say, when I — when I was called out on Mexico, I was shocked because all this equipment, all this incredible phone equipment — when I was called out on Mexico, I was — honestly, I was really, really surprised.
But I said “you know, it doesn’t make sense. That won’t happen” but that wasn’t that important a call, it was fine, I could show it to the world and he could show it to the world, the president who’s a very fine man, by the way. Same thing with Australia. I said “that’s terrible that it was leaked” but it wasn’t that important. But then I said to myself “what happens when I’m dealing with the problem of North Korea?”
What happens when I’m dealing with the problems in the Middle East? Are you folks going to be reporting all of that very, very confidential information, very important, very — you know, I mean at the highest level? Are you going to be reporting about that too? So, I don’t want classified information getting out to the public and in a way that was almost a test.
So I’m dealing with Mexico, I’m dealing with Argentina, we were dealing on this case with Mike Flynn. All this information gets put into the “Washington Post” and gets put into the “New York Times” and I’m saying “what’s going to happen when I’m dealing on the Middle East? What’s going to happen when I’m dealing with really, really important subjects like North Korea?
We got to stop it. That’s why it’s a criminal penalty.
QUESTION: I just want to get you to clarify this very important point. Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign? And on the leaks, is it fake news or are these real leaks?
TRUMP: Well the leaks are real. You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake. So one thing that I felt it was very important to do — and I hope we can correct it. Because there’s nobody I have more respect for — well, maybe a little bit but the reporters, good reporters.
It’s very important to me and especially in this position. It’s very important. I don’t mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it’s true and, you know, over a course of time, I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write badly and I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.
I don’t watch it any more because it’s very good — he’s saying no. It’s OK, Jim (ph). It’s OK, Jim (ph), you’ll have your chance. But I watch others too. You’re not the only one so don’t feel badly. But I think it should be straight. I think it should be — I think it would be frankly more interesting. I know how good everybody’s ratings are right now but I think that actually — I think that’d actually be better.
People — I mean, you have a lower approval rate than Congress. I think that’s right. I don’t know, Peter (ph), is that one right? Because you know I think they have lower — I heard lower than Congress. But honestly, the public would appreciate it, I’d appreciate it — again, I don’t mind bad stories when it’s true but we have an administration where the Democrats are making it very difficult.
TRUMP: I think we’re setting a record or close to a record in the time of approval of a cabinet. I mean, the numbers are crazy. When I’m looking, some of them had them approved immediately.
I’m going forever and I still have a lot of people that we’re waiting for. And that’s all they’re doing, is delaying. And you look at Schumer and the mess that he’s got over there and they have nothing going. The only thing they can do is delay. And, you know, I think that they’d be better served by, you know, approving and making sure that they’re happy and everybody’s good.
And sometimes — I mean, I know President Obama lost three or four, and you lose them on the way, and that’s OK. That’s fine. But I think it would — I think they would be much better served, John, if they just went through the process quickly. This is pure delay tactics.
And they say it, and everybody understands it. Yeah, go ahead, Jimmy.
TRUMP: Well, I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything. Now, when WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they’re not giving classified information. They’re giving stuff — what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on the debates.
Which, by the way, nobody mentions. Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates. Can you imagine — seriously — can you imagine if I received the questions? It would be the electric chair. OK, he should be put in the electric — you would even call for the reinstitution of the death penalty, OK. Maybe not you John. Yes? We’ll do you next Jim, I do you next(ph).
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) clarify —
TRUMP: Yes, yes, sure
QUESTION: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador —
TRUMP: No, I didn’t.
QUESTION: — prior to your — TRUMP: No, I didn’t.
QUESTION: — inauguration.
TRUMP: No, I didn’t.
QUESTION: And then fired him —
TRUMP: Excuse me.
TRUMP: No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.
I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job. And it came out that way — and in all fairness, I watched Dr. Charles Krauthammer the other night say he was doing his job and I agreed with him. And since then, I’ve watched many other people say that.
No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it. OK? Jim?
QUESTION: Thank you very much, and just for the record, we don’t hate you. I don’t hate you.
QUESTION: So, pass that along —
TRUMP: Ask — ask Jeff Zucker how he got his job. OK?
QUESTION: If I may follow up on some of the questions that have taken place so far here, sir —
TRUMP: Well, that’s — well, you know, we do have other people. You do have other people and your ratings aren’t as good as some of the other people that are waiting.
QUESTION: It’s pretty good right now, actually.
TRUMP: OK, go ahead, John.
QUESTION: If I may ask, sir, you said earlier that WikiLeaks was revealing information about the Hillary Clinton campaign during the election cycle. You welcomed that. At one time —
TRUMP: I was OK with it.
QUESTION: — you said — you said that you loved WikiLeaks. At another campaign press conference you called on the Russians to find the missing 30,000 e-mails. I’m wondering, sir, if you — TRUMP: Well, she was actually missing 33 and then that got extended with a pile after that.
QUESTION: Then(ph), your(ph) numbers(ph) were off too.
TRUMP: No — no, but I did say 30. But it was actually higher than that.
QUESTION: If — if I may ask you, sir, it — it sounds as though you do not have much credibility here when it comes to leaking if that is something that you encouraged during(ph) the campaign —
TRUMP: OK, fair question. Ready?
QUESTION: Well, if I may ask you that —
TRUMP: No — no, but let me do one at a time.
QUESTION: If I may as a follow up?
TRUMP: Do you mind?
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
TRUMP: All right. So, in one case, you’re talking about highly classified information. In the other case, you’re talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss. I will say this, if John Podesta said that about me and he was working for me, I would have fired him so fast your head would have spun.
He said terrible things about her. But it wasn’t classified information. But in one case, you’re talking about classified — regardless, if you look at the RNC, we had a very strong — at my suggestion — and I give Reince great credit for this — at my suggestion, because I know something about this world, I said I want a very strong defensive mechanism.
I don’t want to be hacked. And we did that. And you have seen that they tried to hack us and they failed. The DNC did not do that. And if they did it, they could not have been hacked. But they were hacked and terrible things came in. And, you know, the only thing that I do think is unfair is some of the things were so — they were — when I heard some of those things I picked up the papers the next morning and said, oh, this is going to be front page, it wasn’t even in the papers.
Again, if I had that happen to me, it would be the biggest story in the history of publishing or the head of newspapers. I would have been headline in every newspaper. I mean, think of it. They gave her the questions to a debate and she — and she should have reported herself.
Why did Hillary Clinton announce that, “I’m sorry, but I have been given the questions to a debate or a town hall, and I feel that it’s inappropriate, and I want to turn in CNN for not doing a good job.” QUESTION: And if I may follow up on that, just something that Jonathan Karl (ph) was asking you about. You said that the leaks are real, but the news is fake. I guess I don’t understand. It seems that there’s a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?
TRUMP: The reporting is fake. Look, look…
TRUMP: You know what it is? Here’s the thing. The public isn’t — you know, they read newspapers, they see television, they watch. They don’t know if it’s true or false because they’re not involved. I’m involved. I’ve been involved with this stuff all my life. But I’m involved. So I know when you’re telling the truth or when you’re not. I just see many, many untruthful things.
And I’ll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word “tone.” The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.
I watched this morning a couple of the networks. And I have to say, Fox & Friends in the morning, they’re very honorable people. They’re very — not because they’re good, because they hit me also when I do something wrong. But they have the most honest morning show. That’s all I can say. It’s the most honest.
But the tone, Jim. If you look — the hatred. The, I mean, sometimes — sometimes somebody gets…
TRUMP: Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn’t have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump. And the hatred and venom coming from his mouth; the hatred coming from other people on your network.
Now, I will say this. I watch it. I see it. I’m amazed by it. And I just think you’d be a lot better off, I honestly do. The public gets it, you know. Look, when I go to rallies, they turn around, they start screaming at CNN. They want to throw their placards at CNN. You know.
I — I think you would do much better by being different. But you just take a look. Take a look at some of your shows in the morning and the evening. If a guest comes out and says something positive about me, it’s — it’s brutal.
Now, they’ll take this news conference — I’m actually having a very good time, OK? But they’ll take this news conference — don’t forget, that’s the way I won. Remember, I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like every day. OK?
TRUMP: No, that’s how I won. I won with news conferences and probably speeches. I certainly didn’t win by people listening to you people. That’s for sure. But I’m having a good time.
Tomorrow, they will say, “Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.” I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.
But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, “Donald Trump rants and raves.” I’m not ranting and raving.
QUESTION: If I may, just one more followup…
TRUMP: Should I let him have a little bit more? What do you think, Peter? Peter, should I have — let him have a little bit more?
Sit down. Sit down. We’ll…
QUESTION: Just because of the attack of fake news and attacking our network, I just want to ask you, sir…
TRUMP: I’m changing it from fake news, though.
QUESTION: Doesn’t that under…
TRUMP: Very fake news.
QUESTION: … I know, but aren’t you…
TRUMP: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Real news, Mr. President, real news.
TRUMP: And you’re not related to our new…
QUESTION: I am not related, sir. No. I do like the sound of Secretary Acosta, I must say.
TRUMP: I looked — you know, I looked at that name. I said, wait a minute, is there any relation there? Alex Acosta.
QUESTION: I’m sure you checked that out, sir.
TRUMP: OK. Now I checked it — I said — they said, “No, sir.” I said, “Do me a favor, go back and check the family tree.”
QUESTION: But aren’t you — aren’t you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people’s faith in the First Amendment, freedom of the press, the press in this country, when you call stories you don’t like “fake news”? Why not just say it’s a story I don’t like.
TRUMP: I do that.
QUESTION: When you call it “fake news,” you’re undermining confidence in our news media (inaudible) important.
TRUMP: No, no. I do that. Here’s the thing. OK. I understand what you’re — and you’re right about that, except this. See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I’ll say, “Wow, that’s going to be a great story.” And I’ll get killed.
I know what’s good and bad. I’d be a pretty good reporter, not as good as you. But I know what’s good. I know what’s bad. And when they change it and make it really bad, something that should be positive — sometimes something that should be very positive, they’ll make OK. They’ll even make it negative.
So I understand it. So, because I’m there. I know what was said. I know who’s saying it. I’m there. So it’s very important to me.
Look, I want to see an honest press. When I started off today by saying that it’s so important to the public to get an honest press. The press — the public doesn’t believe you people anymore. Now, maybe I had something to do with that. I don’t know. But they don’t believe you. If you were straight and really told it like it is, as Howard Cosell used to say, right?
Of course, he had some questions also. But if you were straight, I would be your biggest booster. I would be your biggest fan in the world, including bad stories about me. But if you go — as an example, you’re CNN, I mean it’s story after story after story is bad. I won. I won. And the other thing, chaos because zero chaos. We are running — this is a fine-tuned machine and Reince happens to be doing a good job but half of his job is putting out lies by the press (ph).
You know, I said to him yesterday this whole Russia scam that you guys are building so that you don’t talk about the real subject which is illegal leaks, but I watched him yesterday working so hard to try and get that story proper. And I’m saying “here’s my chief of staff,” a really good guy, did a phenomenal job at RNC. I mean, he won the election, right?
We won the presidency. We got some senators, we got some — all over the country, you take a look, he’s done a great job. And I said to myself, you know — and I said to somebody that was in the room, I said “you take a look at Reince, he’s working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires.” I mean, they’re fake. They’re not true. And isn’t that a shame because he’d rather be working on healthcare, he’d rather be working on tax reform, Jim (ph).
I mean that. I would be your biggest fan in the world if you treated me right. I sort of understand there’s a certain bias maybe by Jeff (ph) or somebody, you know — you know, whatever reason. But — and I understand that. But you’ve got to be at least a little bit fair and that’s why the public sees it. They see it. They see it’s not fair. You take a look at some of your shows and you see the bias and the hatred.
And the public is smart, they understand it. Go ahead.
QUESTION: (inaudible) …for those who believe that there is something to it, is there anything that you have learned over the last few weeks that you might be able to reveal that might ease their concerns that this isn’t fake news? And second…
TRUMP: …I think they don’t believe it. I don’t think the public — that’s why the Rasmussen poll just has me through the roof. I don’t think they believe it. Well, I guess one of the reasons I’m here today is to tell you the whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse. That’s a ruse. And by the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia, just so you understand that.
Now tomorrow, you’ll say “Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.” It’s not terrible. It’s good. We had Hillary Clinton try and do a reset. We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country. You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons like lots of things are done with uranium including some bad things.
Nobody talks about that. I didn’t do anything for Russia. I’ve done nothing for Russia. Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium. Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember? With the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks. Here, take a look. He looked at her like, what the hell is she doing with that cheap plastic button?
Hillary Clinton — that was the reset, remember it said reset? Now if I do that, oh, I’m a bad guy. If we could get along with Russia, that’s a positive thing. We have a very talented man, Rex Tillerson, who’s going to be meeting with them shortly and I told him. I said “I know politically it’s probably not good for me.” The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water.
Everyone in this country’s going to say “oh, it’s so great.” That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia. Now, you’ve had a lot of presidents that haven’t taken that tack. Look where we are now. Look where we are now. So, if I can — now, I love to negotiate things, I do it really well, and all that stuff. But — but it’s possible I won’t be able to get along with Putin.
Maybe it is. But I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said “you know.” He’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying “you know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.” OK?
And that’s a shame because if we could get along with Russia — and by the way, China and Japan and everyone. If we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.
QUESTION: Is tax reform on the line (ph)?
QUESTION: Mr. President? Mr. President? Mr. President, since you…
TRUMP: Tax reform is going to happen fairly quickly. We’re doing Obamacare. We’re in final stages. We should be submitting the initial plan in March, early March, I would say. And we have to, as you know, statutorily and for reasons of budget, we have to go first. It’s not like, frankly, the tax would be easier, in my opinion, but for statutory reasons and for budgetary reasons, we have to submit the healthcare sooner.
So we’ll be submitting healthcare sometime in early March, mid- March. And after that, we’re going to come up, and we’re doing very well on tax reform.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you mentioned Russia. Let’s talk about some serious issues that have come up in the last week that you have had to deal with as president of the United States.
QUESTION: You mentioned the vessel — the spy vessel off the coast of the United States.
TRUMP: Not good.
QUESTION: There was a ballistic missile test that many interpret as a violation of an agreement between the two countries; and a Russian plane buzzed a U.S. destroyer.
TRUMP: Not good.
QUESTION: I listened to you during the campaign …
TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. When did it happen? It happened when, if you were Putin right now, you would say, “Hey, we’re back to the old games with the United States; there’s no way Trump can ever do a deal with us.” Because the — you have to understand. If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful.” But I know you well enough.
Then you would say, “Oh, he was too tough; he shouldn’t have done that.” Look, all of the…
QUESTION: I’m just trying to find out your orientation to those…
TRUMP: Wait a minute. Wait, wait. Excuse me just one second.
TRUMP: All of those things that you mentioned are very recent, because probably Putin assumes that he’s not going to be able to make a deal with me because it’s politically not popular for me to make a deal. So Hillary Clinton tries a reset. It failed. They all tried. But I’m different than those people.
QUESTION: How are you interpreting those moves? And what do you intend to do about them? Have you given Rex Tillerson any advice or counsel on how to deal?
TRUMP: I have. I have. And I’m so beautifully represented. I’m so honored that the Senate approved him. He’s going to be fantastic.
Yes, I think that I’ve already…
QUESTION: Is Putin testing you, do you believe, sir?
TRUMP: No, I don’t think so. I think Putin probably assumes that he can’t make a deal with me anymore because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal. I can’t believe I’m saying I’m a politician, but I guess that’s what I am now.
Because, look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal.
Now, I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal. I don’t know. We might. We might not. But it would be much easier for me to be so tough — the tougher I am on Russia, the better. But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.
If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along — and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.
They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
QUESTION: So when you say they’re not good, do you mean that they are…
TRUMP: Who did I say is not good?
QUESTION: No, I read off the three things that have recently happened. Each one of them you said they’re not good.
TRUMP: No, it’s not good, but they happened.
QUESTION: But do they damage the relationship? Do they undermine…
TRUMP: They all happened recently.
QUESTION: … this country’s ability to work with Russia?
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TRUMP: They all happened recently. And I understand what they’re doing because they’re doing the same thing.
Now, again, maybe I’m not going to be able to do a deal with Russia, but at least I will have tried. And if I don’t, does anybody really think that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump? Does anybody in this room really believe that? OK?
But I tell you one thing, she tried to make a deal. She had the reset. She gave all that valuable uranium away. She did other things. You know, they say I’m close to Russia. Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States. She’s close to Russia.
QUESTION: Can we…
TRUMP: I gave — you know what I gave to Russia? You know what I gave? Nothing.
QUESTION: Can we conclude there will be no response to these particular provocations?
TRUMP: I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response. I don’t say I’m going into Mosul in four months. “We are going to attack Mosul in four months.” Then three months later, “We are going to attack Mosul in one month.” “Next week, we are going to attack Mosul.”
In the meantime, Mosul is very, very difficult. Do you know why? Because I don’t talk about military, and I don’t talk about certain other things, you’re going to be surprised to hear that. And by the way, my whole campaign, I’d say that. So I don’t have to tell you. I don’t want to be one of these guys that say, “Yes, here’s what we’re going to do.” I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea.
TRUMP: Wait a minute. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea. And I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do with Iran. You know why? Because they shouldn’t know. And eventually, you guys are going to get tired of asking that question.
TRUMP: So when you ask me what am I going to do with a ship, the Russian ship as an example, I’m not going to tell you. But hopefully, I won’t have to do anything, but I’m not going to tell you.
QUESTION: Could I just ask you — thank you very much, Mr. President. The trouble…
TRUMP: Where are you from?
TRUMP: Here’s another beauty.
QUESTION: That’s a good line. Impartial, free and fair.
TRUMP: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Mr. President…
TRUMP: Just like CNN right?
QUESTION: On the travel ban — we could banter back and forth. On the travel ban would you accept that that was a good example of the smooth running of government…
TRUMP: Yeah, I do. I do. Let me tell you about this government…
QUESTION: Were there any mistakes…
TRUMP: Wait. Wait. I know who you are. Just wait.
Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision. We had a court that’s been overturned. Again, may be wrong. But I think it’s 80 percent of the time, a lot.
We had a bad decision. We’re going to keep going with that decision. We’re going to put in a new executive order next week some time. But we had a bad decision.
That’s the other thing that was wrong with the travel ban. You had Delta with a massive problem with their computer system at the airports. You had some people that were put out there, brought by very nice busses, and they were put out at various locations.
Despite that the only problem that we had is we had a bad court. We had a court that gave us what I consider to be, with great respect, a very bad decision. Very bad for the safety and security of our country. The rollout was perfect.
Now, what I wanted to do was do the exact same executive order, but said one thing. I said this to my people. Give them a one-month period of time. But Gen. Kelly, now Sec. Kelly, said if you do that, all these people will come in and (inaudible) the bad ones.
You do agree there are bad people out there, right? That not everybody that’s like you. You have some bad people out there.
Kelly said you can’t do that. And he was right. As soon as he said it I said wow, never thought of it. I said how about one week? He said no good. You got to do it immediately because if you do it immediately they don’t have time to come in.
Now nobody ever reports that. But that’s why we did it quickly.
Now, if I would’ve done it a month, everything would’ve been perfect. The problem is we would’ve wasted a lot of time, and maybe a lot of lives because a lot of bad people would’ve come into our country.
Now in the meantime, we’re vetting very, very strongly. Very, very strongly. But we need help. And we need help by getting that executive order passed.
QUESTION: Just a brief follow-up. But if it’s so urgent, why not introduce…
TRUMP: Yes? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I was just hoping that we could get a yes or no answer on one of these questions involving Russia. Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
TRUMP: Well I told you, Gen. Flynn obviously was dealing. So that’s one person. But he was dealing, as he should have been.
QUESTION: During the election?
TRUMP: No. Nobody that I know of. Nobody…
QUESTION: So you’re not aware of any contact during the course..
TRUMP: Look, look, look…
QUESTION: … of the election?
TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?
QUESTION: Can you just say yes or no? TRUMP: Russia is a ruse.
I know you have to get up and ask a question. It’s so important.
Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to.
I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago.
We had a very good talk, especially the second one, lasted for a pretty long period of time. I’m sure you probably get it because it was classified. So I’m sure everybody in this room perhaps has it. But we had a very, very good talk.
I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.
Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine, or people that — whoever. But people knew that. Everybody knew that.
QUESTION: But in his capacity as your campaign manager, was he in touch with Russian officials during the election?
TRUMP: You know what? He said no. I could only tell you what he — now he was replaced long before the election. You know that, right?
He was replaced long before the election. When all of this stuff started coming out, it came out during the election. But Paul Manafort, who’s a good man also by the way, Paul Manfort was replaced long before the election took place. He was only there for a short period of time.
QUESTION: Mr. President…
TRUMP: How much longer should we stay here, folks?
QUESTION: Mr. President…
TRUMP: Five more minutes. Is that OK? Five?
QUESTION: Mr. President, on national…
TRUMP: Wait. Let’s see. Who’s — I want to find a friendly reporter.
TRUMP: Are you a friendly reporter? Watch how friendly he is. Wait. Wait. Watch how friendly he is. Go ahead.
TRUMP: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So first of all, my name is (Inaudible) from (Inaudible) Magazine. I (inaudible). I haven’t seen anybody in my community, including yourself or any of the — anyone on your staff of being (OFF-MIKE).
Because (OFF-MIKE). However, what we’ve already heard about and what we (OFF-MIKE) is (OFF-MIKE) so you’re general forecast (ph) like 48 (OFF-MIKE). There are people who are everything (ph) happens through their packs (ph) is one of the (OFF-MIKE)…
TRUMP:…he said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not, its not, not — not a simple question, not a fair question. OK sit down, I understand the rest of your question.
So here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti- Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican — quiet, quiet, quiet.
See, he lied about — he was gonna get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive.
I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the prime minister, you heard Ben Netanyahu (ph) yesterday, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time and then he said, forget it.
So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.
TRUMP: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, I’m Lisa (ph) from the…
TRUMP: See, it just shows you about the press, but that’s the way the press is.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Lisa Dejardown (ph) from the PBS News Hour. On national security and immigration, can you give us more details on the executive order you plan for next week? Even its broad outlines?
QUESTION: Will it be focused on specific…
TRUMP: It’s a very fair question.
QUESTION: …countries? And in addition, on the DACA program for immigration.
QUESTION: What is your plan, do you plan to continue that program or to end it?
TRUMP: We’re gonna show great heart, DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids.
In many cases, not in all cases. And some of the cases, having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely, incredible kids, I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way — it’s a very — it’s a very, very tough subject.
We’re gonna deal with DACA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget and I have to convince them that what I’m saying is — is right. And I appreciate your understanding on that.
But the DACA situation is a very, very — it’s a very difficult thing for me because you know, I love these kids, I love kids, I have kids and grandkids. And I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and you know, the law is rough.
I’m not talking about new laws, I’m talking the existing law, is very rough, it’s very, very rough. As far as the new order, the new order is going to be very much tailored to the what I consider to be a very bad decision.
But we can tailor the order to that decision and get just about everything, in some ways, more. But we’re tailoring it now to the decision, we have some of the best lawyers in the country working on it.
And the new executive order, is being tailored to the decision we got down from the court. OK?
QUESTION: Mr. President…
(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: …reopening of the White House Visitors Office?
QUESTION: And she does a lot of great work for the country as well (ph). Can you talk a little bit about what’s first for (ph) Melania Trump does for the country and (inaudible) so opening White House Visitors Office, what does that mean…
TRUMP: Now, that’s what I call a nice question. That is very — who are you with?
TRUMP: Good, I’m gonna start watching, all right? Thank you very much. Melania’s terrific, she was here last night, we had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife who is by the way, lovely.
And we had a really good discussion about Cuba because we have very similar views on Cuba. And Cuba was very good to me in the Florida election, as you know the Cuban Americans. And I think that Melania’s gonna be outstanding, that’s right, she just opened up the visitors center, in other words, touring of the White House.
She, like others that she’s working with, feel very, very strongly about women’s issue, women’s difficulties. Very, very strongly, she’s a very, very strong advocate. I think she’s a great representative for this country.
And a funny thing happens, because she gets — she gets so unfairly — Melania, the things they say. I’ve known her for a long time, she was a very successful person, she was a very successful model. She did really well.
She would go home at night and didn’t even want to go out with people. She was a very private person. She was always the highest quality that you’ll ever find. And the things they say — I’ve known her for a long time — the things they say are so unfair. And actually, she’s been apologized to, as you know, by various media because they said things that were lies.
I’ll just tell you this. I think she’s going to be a fantastic first lady. She’s going to be a tremendous representative of women and of the people. And helping her and working her will be Ivanka, who is a fabulous person and a fabulous, fabulous woman. And they’re not doing this for money.
They’re not doing this for pay, they’re doing this because they feel it; both of them. And Melania goes back and forth and after Barron finishes school — because it’s hard to take a child out of school with a few months left — she and Barron will be moving over to the White House. OK, thank you, that’s a very nice question.
TRUMP: Go ahead. QUESTION: Mr. Trump?
TRUMP: Yes, oh, this is going to be a bad question, but that’s OK.
QUESTION: It doesn’t(ph) have(ph) to be a bad question.
TRUMP: Good, because I enjoy watching you on television. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, thank you so much. Mr. President, I need to find out from you, you said something as it relates to inner cities. That was one of your platforms during your campaign. Now you’re —
TRUMP: Fix the inner cities.
QUESTION: — president. Fixing the inner cities.
QUESTION: What will be that fix and your urban agenda as well as your HBCU Executive Order that’s coming out this afternoon? See, it wasn’t bad, was it?
TRUMP: That was very professional and very good.
QUESTION: I’m very professional.
TRUMP: We’ll be announcing the order in a little while and I’d rather let the order speak for itself. But it could be something that I think that will be very good for everybody concerned. But we’ll talk to you about that after we do the announcement. As far as the inner cities, as you know, I was very strong on the inner cities during the campaign.
I think it’s probably what got me a much higher percentage of the African American vote than a lot of people thought I was going to get. We did, you know, much higher than people thought I was going to get. And I was honored by that, including the Hispanic vote, which was also much higher.
And by the way, if I might add, including the women’s vote, which was much higher than people thought I was going to get. So, we are going to be working very hard on the inner cities, having to do with education, having to do with crime. We’re going to try and fix as quickly as possible — you know, it takes a long time.
It’s taken more a hundred years and more for some of these places to evolve and they evolved, many of them, very badly. But we’re going to be working very hard on health and healthcare, very, very hard on education, and also we’re going to be working in a stringent way, in a very good way, on crime.
You go to some of these inner city places and it’s so sad when you look at the crime. You have people — and I’ve seen this, and I’ve sort of witnessed it — in fact, in two cases I have actually witnessed it. They lock themselves into apartments, petrified to even leave, in the middle of the day.
They’re living in hell. We can’t let that happen. So, we’re going to be very, very strong. That’s a great question and — and it’s a — it’s a very difficult situation because it’s been many, many years. It’s been festering for many, many years. But we have places in this country that we have to fix.
We have to help African American people that, for the most part, are stuck there. Hispanic American people. We have Hispanic American people that are in the inner cities and their living in hell. I mean, you look at the numbers in Chicago. There are two Chicagos, as you know.
There’s one Chicago that’s incredible, luxurious and all — and safe. There’s another Chicago that’s worse than almost any of the places in the Middle East that we talk, and that you talk about, every night on the newscasts. So, we’re going to do a lot of work on the inner cities.
I have great people lined up to help with the inner cities. OK?
QUESTION: Well, when you say the inner cities, are you going — are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your — your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as —
TRUMP: Am I going to include who?
QUESTION: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional —
TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?
QUESTION: — Hispanic Caucus —
TRUMP: Do you want to set up the meeting?
QUESTION: No — no — no. I’m not —
TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?
QUESTION: I’m just a reporter.
TRUMP: Well, then(ph) set up the meeting.
QUESTION: I know some of them, but I’m sure they’re watching right now.
TRUMP: Let’s go set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus. I think it’s great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it’s great. I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman Cummings and he was all excited. And then he said, well, I can’t move, it might be bad for me politically. I can’t have that meeting.
I was all set to have the meeting. You know, we called him and called him. And he was all set. I spoke to him on the phone, very nice guy.
QUESTION: I hear he wanted that meeting with you as well.
TRUMP: He wanted it, but we called, called, called and can’t make a meeting with him. Every day I walk and say I would like to meet with him because I do want to solve the problem. But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that, some other lightweight. He was probably told — he was probably told “don’t meet with Trump. It’s bad politics.”
And that’s part of the problem in this country. OK, one more.
TRUMP: No, no, one question. Two we can’t handle. This room can’t handle two. Go ahead, give me the better of your two.
QUESTION: (inaudible) …not about your personality or your beliefs, talking about (inaudible), some of it by supporters in your name. What do you…
TRUMP: …And some of it — can I be honest with you? And this has to do with racism and horrible things that are put up. Some of it written by our opponents. You do know that. Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that. Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump, they’re put up by the other side and you think it’s like playing it straight?
No. But you have some of those signs and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They’ll do signs and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you. OK.
TRUMP: Go ahead, go ahead.
QUESTION: You’re the president now. What are you going to do about it?
TRUMP: Who is that? Where is that?
QUESTION: What are you going to do about — what are you going to do about (inaudible).
TRUMP: Oh, I’m working on it. I’m working on it very — no, no, look. Hey, just so you understand, we had a totally divided country for eight years and long before that. In all fairness to President Obama, long before President Obama we have had a very divided — I didn’t come along and divide this country. This country was seriously divided before I got here.
We’re going to work on it very hard. One of the questions I was asked, I thought it was a very good question was about the inner cities. I mean, that’s part of it. But we’re going to work on education, we’re going to work on — you know, we’re going to stop — we’re going to try and stop the crime. We have great law enforcement officials, we’re going to try and stop crime.
We’re not going to try and stop, we’re going to stop crime. But it’s very important to me — but this isn’t Donald Trump that divided a nation. We went eight years with President Obama and we went many years before President Obama. We lived in a divided nation. And I am going to try — I will do everything within my power to fix that. I want to thank everybody very much.
It’s a great honor to be with you. Thank you. Thank you very much, thanks.
The blood-stained floor at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar on Friday. ASIF HASSAN / AFP – Getty Images
SEHWAN, Pakistan — Pakistani forces killed and arrested dozens of suspects in raids overnight into Friday, a day after a suicide bombing killed 80 worshipers at a Sufi shrine.
The terrorist attack — Pakistan’s deadliest in years — raised questions about the authorities’ ability to rein in militant groups despite military offensives against them.
The raids targeted militant hideouts. Shootouts left at least 39 suspects dead across Pakistan, according to three security officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Suicide Bomber Kills More Than 70 at Muslim Shrine0:58
In one raid, the troops killed 11 people at a militant hideout in the port city of Karachi. In another, paramilitary Rangers came under fire as they returned from Sehwan, a town in southern Sindh province where the bombing took place, and killed seven of the attackers.
Other raids took place in northwestern Pakistan and the eastern province of Punjab. Officials said a total of 47 suspects were arrested.
In Thursday’s attack, the suicide bomber walked into the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan, and detonated his explosives, killing 80 people. At least 20 women and nine children were among the dead. Scores of people were wounded.
“We were there for the love of our saint, for the worship of Allah,” a wailing woman told the Dawn News television channel outside the shrine. “Who would hurt us when we were there for devotion?”
The white marble floor was still marked by blood on Friday, and a pile of abandoned shoes and slippers was heaped in the courtyard, many of them belonging to victims.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted a “Shiite gathering.” The Sunni extremist group views Shiites as apostates and has targeted Pakistan’s Shiite minority in the past. It views Sufi shrines like the one targeted Thursday as a form of idolatry.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed that security forces would track down the perpetrators of the attack, according to Pakistani state TV.
“Each drop of the nation’s blood shall be avenged, and avenged immediately,” Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said in a statement. “No more restraint for anyone.”
A wave of bombings over five days has hit all four of Pakistan’s provinces and two major cities, killing nearly 100 people and shaking a nascent sense that the worst of the country’s militant violence may be in the past.
Most of the other attacks have been claimed by factions of the Pakistani Taliban, which is waging its own fight against the Pakistani government but whose ranks have also cooperated with and sometimes defected to ISIS.
Thursday’s attack was the deadliest in Pakistan following the Dec. 16, 2014 assault on an army-run school in Peshawar that killed 154 people, mostly schoolchildren.
The Koch brothers, net worth $82 billion. AP photo.
The mainstream media is missing the forest for the trees. Press coverage has been focusing almost exclusively on the billionaires Donald Trump has appointed to his cabinet, their potential conflicts of interest and their qualifications.
There’s been little coverage of the big picture: the dangerous trend of growing interlocking ties between business and government.
This is not only happening in the U.S.; it’s a worldwide phenomenon.
The consolidating connections between government and business bear more than a passing resemblance to the style of governance called “corporatism” in the 1930s, which sought to legitimize oligarchy and plutocracy.
Oligarchy is defined as “government by the few” and came into use in the 16th century. Deriving from two Greek words – oligos meaning “few” and arch for “rule.”
The term “plutocracy comes from two words: ploutos meaning “wealth” and kratos for “govern.” The terms are related to hierarchy and monarchy.
Senator Bernie Sanders, D.-Vt., has said “oligarchs” are “a small number of very wealthy families who spend huge amounts of money supporting right-wing candidates who protect their interests.” Sanders differentiates this “small number” from the larger world of the rich and superrich – the plutocrats, who have long exercised considerable influence on U.S. politics.
Today’s plutocrats include the Walton family, the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, who are seven of the 11 wealthiest Americans: Charles Koch (worth $36 billion), David Koch (worth $36 billion), Christy Walton ($35.4 billion) and Jim Walton ($33.8 billion), Alice Walton ($33.5 billion), Samuel Robson Walton ($33.3 billion) and Adelson ($28.5 billion).
All those plutocrats also have extreme anti-worker histories.
Three scholars from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich point out that the trend of growing rule by oligarchs and plutocrats isn’t confined to America. Five years ago, Stefania Vitali, James Glattfelder and Stefano Battiston wrote The Network of Global Corporate Control after examining 37 million companies and investors worldwide and analyzing all 43,060 transnational corporations and the share/ownerships linking them.
The scholars discovered that 147 firms, through interlocking stakes in one another, control 40 percent of the wealth in the whole system. And a total of 737 transnational firms control 80 percent of the wealth.
This, the first mapping of the structure of global corporate control, includes not just Walton Enterprises—the Walton family’s holding company for Walmart, Sam’s Club and allied firms – but also Deutsche Bank (one of Trump’s main lenders), the Goldman Sachs Group, which has ties to several Trump Cabinet nominees, and Bank of America.
New Scientist magazine talked to one systems theorist “disconcerted” at the level of interconnectedness, but not surprised, according to Bruce Upbin, writing in Forbes.
Such interconnecting structures may be common in biology with things like fungus, lichen, and weeds, but economists say the danger comes when you combine hyperconnection with the concentration of power. The Swiss scientists warn this can lead to instability.
Some have scoffed, noting most of the “controlling” companies are investment firms, which technically are owned by shareholders through pensions, mutual funds, etc. Further, while thorough, the 36-page study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Plos One is not precisely complete.
The study excludes government-sponsored enterprises that were publicly created but privately held, such as the federal Farm Credit Banks and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac). Though the research results show an overwhelming number of banks, institutional investors and funds, they don’t exactly offer individuals control over such assets, much less policies and practices supposedly undertaken on behalf of the nominal owners.
The situation may be worse than the scholars outlined. First, their data is from 2011, so presumably concentration increased. Second, most investments in vehicles like mutual funds are “managed” by indexes such as Standard & Poor’s. S&P, owned by McGraw-Hill is one of just four indexes that exert a phenomenal influence over trading and, therefore, control. The others are Barclay’s, which took over Lehman Brothers after the financial meltdown of 2007, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and Russell Investments, which Northwestern Mutual owns.
Of course, that may be nothing new. During the Great Depression, U.S. journalist Ferdinand Lundberg, who studied American wealth and power and their histories, published America’s 60 Families. The book showed the financial and political power of the country’s elite.
“The United States is owned and dominated today by a hierarchy of its 60 richest families, buttressed by no more than 90 families of lesser wealth,” Lundberg wrote decades ago. “These families are the living center of the modern industrial oligarchy which dominates the United States, functioning discreetly under a de jure democratic form of government behind which a de facto government, absolutist and plutocratic in its lineaments … It is the government of money in a dollar democracy.”
Two years ago, journalist David Rosen cited Lundberg when he cautioned, “If both the presidency and the Congress fell under Republican control, life in the U.S. for middle-income, working-class and poor would get really worse.”
The interlocking interests may be close to locking out everyone else.
Driver killed, four civil judges hurt in Peshawar ;
5 dead in Mohmand hit
PESHAWAR/Mohmand Agency – Only a couple of days after deadly Lahore suicide attack, three Taliban bombers struck at two places in north-west of the country yesterday, killing seven people and wounding at least a dozen others.
One bomber targeted civil judges in Peshawar, while two others attacked a government building in Fata’s Mohmand Agency, unnerving citizens whose growing sense of security has been shaken by a terror storm gripping the country for last three days.
Two suicide bombers launched an assault at the office of the Political Agent in Mohmand around 9am, opening heavy fire at the security men in bid to enter the complex.
One of them was gunned down by the Levies personnel but another exploded his vest, killing five people and injuring seven others. A third bomber was neutralised during the search operation launched in the area.
Later in the day, a suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle into a van carrying several civil judges that was travelling through Hayatabad area and detonated his explosive vest with a big bang.
“It was a suicide attack,” senior police official Sajjad Khan told AFP. He said the van driver and a passerby were killed in the attack, which was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Five people – including at least four judges, three of them female – were injured, he added.
Eyewitnesses and police said the terror strike happened near Sitara Market, PDA Building in Hayatabad Phase-V, resulting in death of the driver of the vehicle, Khursheed, and injuries to four civil judges.
The injured civil judges were identified as Asif Jadoon and Tehreem Sabahat, Rabia Abbassi and Amna Haider.
All of them were on way back to their homes after attending their routine duty. The condition of all the injured persons has been stated stable.
Asif Jadoon had decided the case of Afghan national Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman who was deported after she was arrested for illegally obtaining Pakistani nationality.
PTI chief Imran Khan was due to visit Hayatabad Medical Complex at 4:30pm in connection with a ceremony. The site is located at a seven-minute walking distance from where the blast occurred. The visit was put off. Imran’s visit to Peshawar Press Club was also cancelled due to the suicide blast in the city.
SSP Operations Sajjad Haider told media persons that apparently the target of the suicide bomber was the government vehicle, but they were investigating why exactly the van was selected for the attack.
Chief Capital City Police Tahir Khan said eight to nine kilograms of explosives was used in the attack as Bomb Disposal Squad was still examining the intensity of the powerful suicide blast. He said the police were vigilant on all the external routes linking with tribal areas, however, it was difficult to check every person entering the city.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister and PTI chairman strongly condemned the heinous act of terrorism and termed it a reaction of operation Zarb-e-Azb. They also blamed federal government for not implementing the National Action Plan in its true spirit.
In Mohmad incident, officials told The Nation that the pair of suicide bombers opened indiscriminate fire at the Levies personnel to get into the offices’ complex. However, the security personnel promptly retaliated and killed one of them while the other blew himself up.
Five people including three Levies personnel were martyred in the explosion at the government compound in Ghalanai Town. Seven others wounded in the assault included children.
Later, police said, another suicide bomber blew himself up when security forces surrounded him during a search operation in the area.
“One suicide bomber blew himself up once spotted and challenged by security agencies,” the army said in a statement, adding the guards shot dead a second bomber.
Medical Superintendent (MS) Agency Headquarters Hospital in Ghalanai, Dr Shahid Muhammad said the martyred personnel included Sepoy Taj Alam, Sepoy Zar Said, Sepoy Yasir Khan and two civilians Tahir khan and a teacher – Pazir Gul.
The injured were identified as Havaldar Shah Room, Sepoy Hayat, Sepoy Sheraz and two children Haris and Moony, he added. The injured were shifted to Peshawar hospital for treatment.
The Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility in a statement emailed to journalists, vowing to continue their assaults on government installations.
The same Taliban group had claimed an attack in Lahore on Monday in which 13 people were killed and over 80 injured. The martyrs included seven police, two of them high officials – DIG Ahmed Mobeen and Additional DIG Zahid Gondal.
An eye witness Munir Khan, who teaches at the nearby Higher Secondary School in Ghalanai, said he was in the classroom when he heard indiscriminate firing followed by huge blasts.
“I thought our school was under attack, as we had already been alerted against a possible terrorist assault,” he said. He added that all the students in the school were scared as windowpanes of several rooms shattered due to the blast.
Drawing Master Pazir Gul, who also died in the blast, came to the school early in the morning, parked his car and left the school saying he had to go to bazaar for some work, Munir Khan said. He was nearing the main gate of the attacked complex when one of the suicide bomber blew himself up, killing Gul and others on the spot, Khan narrated.
Another deceased, Tahir Khan, had recently returned from Saudi Arabia and was visiting the offices’ complex to see his friend, Levies Havldar Kabeer Khan, who was on duty at the main gate.
After the incident curfew was imposed in the area and bazaars in Ghalanai and Ekkaghund were close down.
The Peshawar-Bajaur road was also closed for traffic till 2pm. Security forces conducted search operations in Ghalanai, Babi Khel, Halki Ghandab, Sheikh Banda, Garo Kando and others areas.
Meanwhile, officials said a party of the security forces came under fire in Mohmand. However, five militants were killed in the retaliation. Ammunition and explosives was recovered from possession of the dead militants.
Bombers hit judges van, govt office
OUR STAFF REPORTERs/Agencies
This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 16-Feb-2017 here.
“I’ve talked with people in the intelligence community that do have concerns about the White House, about the president, and I think those concerns take a number of forms,” he said, according to the paper. “What the intelligence community considers their most sacred obligation is to protect the very best intelligence and to protect the people that are producing it.”
The report points out that, historically, intelligence officials have held back information about how spies gather information, but in those cases, the information was not held back due to concerns over the president’s trustworthiness.
In January, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, took on Trump over his criticism of the intelligence service.
“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer told MSNBC. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied the accusation late Wednesday that intelligence officials were withholding information from Trump.
“Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.”
The Week magazine published an article Tuesday about how America’s spies “took down Michael Flynn,” Trump’s former national security adviser.
Damon Linker, a senior correspondent, wrote, “These leaks are an enormous problem. And in a less polarized context, they would be recognized immediately for what they clearly are: an effort to manipulate public opinion for the sake of achieving a desired political outcome. It’s weaponized spin.”
Flynn’s ouster was a blow to a White House struggling to find its footing in Trump’s first weeks in office.
The questions about Russia only deepened late Tuesday when The New York Times reported that U.S. agencies had intercepted phone calls last year between Russian intelligence officials and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.
Current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the Times anonymously said they found no evidence that the Trump campaign was working with the Russians on hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Fox News on Wednesday that he had sent a letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general urging it to investigate the leaks that led to Flynn’s removal.
Flynn maintained for weeks that he had not discussed U.S. sanctions in his conversations with Russia’s ambassador. He later conceded that the topic may have come up.
Still, reports that there is a divide between Trump and his spies is concerning.
A White House official told The Journal that there is no information “that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”
The Week linked to a report in Bloomberg that said, “Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.”
[By these official kill estimates, ISIS forces should be completely eliminated by now, yet everybody still claims to be fighting armies of thousands of fanatics…WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY ALL COMING FROM?
Shouldn’t we know by now the nationalities of the majority dead fanatics? It should be an easy matter for the mighty US Military to force whichever little “piss ant” state is recruiting and sending these nuts? I have heard Pentagon spokesmen trying to mislead us my entire life. I am getting pretty sick of it.]
In this undated file photo released by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave its flags in a convoy. (Militant website via AP, file)
The Pentagon is planning a demonstration for late 2018 that will prove to the world that it can blanket the globe with versatile drones.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced funding on Monday for Phase III of its Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) project. The effort, made in partnership with the Office of Naval Research and Northrop Grumman, will give officials the ability to launch long-range, high-endurance operations from anywhere in the world.
In short, TERN will use vertical launch drones with offensive and defensive capabilities from over 100 small deck helicopter-capable ships.
“It would allow the Navy and the Marine Corp to conduct persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — and targeting and strike operations virtually anywhere in the world at ranges greater than 600 nautical miles,” DARPA said via its YouTube channel on Monday.
Each drone is capable of carrying 1,000 pounds of payload.
“DARPA, ONR, and Northrop Grumman are currently planning a series of at-sea flight tests of a full-scale technology demonstration system in late 2018,” the agency added. “TERN aims to dramatically improve the quality, capability and reach of future Navy [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance/Strike aircraft], and Marine expeditionary operations around the world.”
[Trump was elected to disrupt business as usual in Washington. Now that he has begun to do just that, the swamp-dwellers and their overlords are running scared, scared of losing control of the govt apparatus. It is certain that Trump will eventually fight back against the hidden leakers. His only course of action may be to interfere with their lines of communication, probably implying some sort of govt control of Facebook and other social media. The police state begins in small steps. Bureaucratic civil war may be just the beginning.]
To paraphrase presidential candidate Donald Trump, somebody’s doing the leaking. But who, and why, and does it represent a defense of American democratic norms or a death knell for them?There’s no shortage of theories. Some of the damaging leaks are emerging from the White House, as part of internecine warfare between rival factions. But the more consequential ones, including the revelations that forced the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn Monday night, have hinged on information from the intelligence community.Trump has tried to change the focus away from the substance of the leaks to their provenance. On Tuesday, he tweeted this:
The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?
The president referred to a column by Eli Lake in Bloomberg View, calling Flynn’s ouster a “political assassination.” Lake rejects the White House spin that Flynn was fired simply because of a breach of trust with Trump. Instead, he blames Democratic politicians and, even more importantly, the intelligence community:
Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.
But there are other theories, some of which overlap. At Washington Free Beacon, a site that is conservative but has generally been anti-Trump, Adam Kredo reports on what he says is “a secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump’s national security apparatus and preserve the nuclear deal with Iran,” including Ben Rhodes, a former top aide to Barack Obama.
Rhodes rejected the Free Beacon story. “It’s totally absurd and doesn’t make any sense,” he wrote in an email. “I don’t know who the sources are for these stories and I don’t even understand the false conspiracy theory—how would getting rid of Flynn be the thing that saves the Iran Deal? It’s an effort to make the conversation about anything other than the actual story of what happened with Russia.”
Even if there’s no grand conspiracy, there are any number of potential individual culprits. There have also been a stream of stories about frustration, demoralization, and fear within the federal workforce.Central to the Flynn story is Sally Yates, a career prosecutor who became a high-ranking Justice Department official in the Obama administration. She became acting attorney general after Trump’s inauguration. Yates informed the White House counsel in late January that Flynn was not telling the truth when he claimed he had not discussed sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador, and that the Justice Department was concerned that he was vulnerable to blackmail. A few days later, Yates said Justice would not defend Trump’s executive order on immigration, and she was fired. That means Yates loyalists might have an incentive to leak damaging information.And Trump has waged a months-long campaign against the intelligence community. During the campaign, he repeatedly rejected the consensus assessment that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta in order to interfere with the election, only in January saying he accepted that conclusion. The day after his inauguration, Trump went to the CIA, where he sought to bury the hatchet. “I am so behind you,” Trump said. “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump.” In his tweets Wednesday, he notably did not mention the CIA, but his feud with the intelligence community is apparently back in action.
As a general rule, it’s probably unwise to pick a fight with spies, a point Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer made in early January. “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” he said. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”Yet Schumer’s warning, even if realistic, is chilling: Not only does it raise the possibility of unelected, faceless bureaucrats using classified information to retaliate against a duly elected president. That would be true even if it didn’t come after the intelligence scandals of the Obama years, in which revelations from Edward Snowden showed the vast powers that the NSA had accrued and could use, even on American citizens, with little or no oversight.Some commentators have dubbed what’s going on the revenge of the American Deep State, in reference to the existence—real, imagined, or a little bit in between—of a bureaucratic shadow government that constrains the legitimate government in places like Turkey. In Turkey, generals devoted to the secularist ideology of national founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk have repeatedly toppled governments that they worried were threatening that ideology. In January, when a dossier of explosive and unverified claims about Trump was published, Glenn Greenwald, the leftist journalist who helped break the Snowden story, warned that liberals who cheered the dossier were in effect cheering for an intelligence coup. Greenwald specifically labeled these actions the work of a Deep State, writing, “But cheering for the CIA and its shadowy allies to unilaterally subvert the U.S. election and impose its own policy dictates on the elected president is both warped and self-destructive. Empowering the very entities that have produced the most shameful atrocities and systemic deceit over the last six decades is desperation of the worst kind.”
The idea of a “Deep State” constraining Trump was not new. Back in February, when the idea of a President Trump still seemed wildly implausible, Megan McArdle wrote that he wouldn’t be able to do that much damage, even if he won, thanks to bureaucrats who could slow-walk or even block his priorities. “This is the reality: Most of what you want to do to Washington won’t get done—and neither will much of what you want to get done outside of it, if you insist on taking Washington on,” she wrote. After the inauguration, some liberals took new heart in that idea.But the Deep State motif has really gained in popularity over the last few days, as the pace of leaks undermining Trump has accelerated. “The fact the nation’s now-departed senior guardian of national security was unmoored by a scandal linked to a conversation picked up on a wire offers a rare insight into how exactly America’s vaunted Deep State works,” Marc Ambinder writes at Foreign Policy. “It is a story not about rogue intelligence agencies running amok outside the law, but rather about the vast domestic power they have managed to acquire within it.”It’s not just the leaks. At Slate, Phillip Carter argued that pushback from career officials had helped prevent Trump from instituting a plan to reinstate torture, labeling this the work of a deep state.
Not everyone buys the analogy.
“I wouldn’t call what is going on in the United States a deep state,” said Omer Taspinar, a professor at the National War College and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution who is an expert on both national security and Turkey.
The Turkish Deep State is something different, Taspinar contends: a clandestine network of retired intelligence officials, mafiosi, and others who engage in prosecutable criminal activity. He offered a hypothetical scenario that would echo the sorts of tactics the Turkish Deep State deployed in the war against Kurdish separatists: Imagine if white nationalists with ties to the administration conducted false-flag attacks intended to gin up concerns about Islamist terror and enable Trump’s tough immigration controls.
“It was not the judiciary, the civil society, the media, or the bureaucrats trying to engage in checks and balances against a legitimately elected government,” he said. “What we’re witnessing in the U.S., it’s basically the institutional channels.”
Even leaking, which sometimes does flirt with violating the law, doesn’t deserve to be tarred as the work of a nefarious deep state, Taspinar said.
“Anything that would try to portray what the leakers, or what the government officials try to do as a ‘deep state’ is an attempt to delegitimize whistleblowers or people who believe that what the government is doing right is against the Constitution,” he said. “Any kind of bureaucratic resistance is too innocuous to be labeled as the activities of the deep state.”
Perhaps there needs to be a better term for the resistance that bureaucrats offer to presidents they oppose. (After all, some experts contend they also hobbled Obama on some issues.) But one common element, from whistleblowers to bureaucratic leakers to violent Deep State thugs in Turkey, is a commitment to certain norms and practices, and the sense that the only way to defend norms is to violate them on a case-by-case basis.
And as the Turkish example shows, that works—up to a point. The problem is that when a deep state pushes too far, it can undermine itself and end up empowering that which it seeks to prevent. The Turkish military repeatedly toppled governments, starting in 1960. But more recently, they power has waned. Current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used allegations of Deep State plotting against the government as a pretext for mass arrests of dissidents, detention of journalists, and further crackdowns on civil society. In July, some elements of the Turkish military attempted a coup, but were too weak to accomplish it. Even Turkish liberals who disliked Erdogan condemned the coup. The Deep State now seems to weak to work real change, but the threat is strong enough to allow Erdogan to discredit legitimate opposition.
There’s a great gulf between the Turkish situation and the Trump administration—though some analysts have not hesitated to draw parallels between the two men’s styles. Trump’s American opponents face, like their Turkish counterparts, face the challenge of fostering leaks and bureaucratic resistance that can hem in the Trump administration and reveal any wrongdoing. If they go too far, however, they risk catastrophe in two direction: They might empower an unaccountable intelligence agency, with dangerous long-term effects; or they might inspire such a backlash from Trump and his allies in Congress that he works to destroy the bureaucratic system, removing an essential constraint on the president’s power. The question isn’t what the good choice and bad choice are; it’s what the least worst choice is.
The Afghan envoy was conveyed grave concerns about the continuing terrorist attacks on its soil by the terrorist outfit, the statement said.
“Attention of the senior diplomat was also drawn to the earlier actionable intelligence shared by our authorities with the Afghan side,” it added.
Afghanistan, it said, was urged to take urgent measures to eliminate terrorists and their sanctuaries, financiers and handlers operating from its territory.
The attack by the militant group came three days after it announced it will carry out a series of attacks on government installations around the country. A spokesperson for the group warned in a statement that Monday’s bomb was “just the start”.
It underscored the challenges faced by Pakistan in its push to stamp out militancy, even as security dramatically improved in 2015 and 2016.
Lahore, the country’s cultural capital, suffered one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks during 2016 when Jamaatul Ahrar carried out a suicide attack in a park during Easter. The attack led to a death toll of more than 70, including many children.
“Tell us Mr. President, what is going to happen to those other groups?” folkloric chanters from the war-torn village of Bojaya sang at the peace ceremony with Marxist FARC guerrillas last year. The president never responded, but “the other groups” did.
The women from the jungle village where the FARC killed 80 in a 2002 massacre took advantage of the president’s finest moment to confront him of a looming threat, the paramilitaries, an escalating threat Santos has yet to effectively deal with.
According to armed conflict website Pacifista, “the other groups” came Thursday in the form of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), the descendant of the AUC, the group that killed tens of thousands and displaced millions between 1997 and 2006 and only partially demobilized under former President Alvaro Uribe.
Threatened by a massive group of 200 armed men in military uniforms, a small battalion, 80 of Bojaya’s indigenous inhabitants were immediately displaced.
The mass displacement by the group comes amid an escalating terror campaign that threatens Colombia’s entire peace process and the lives of many, exactly as experts had warned.
Apart from the Bojaya displacement case, the group has increasingly stepped up its violence, targeting the police, the private sector and the civilian population alike.
Major paramilitary movements
In several municipalities along the Panamanian border and Pacific coast, locals have seen as many as 600 armed men in war outfits, according to newspaper El Espectador.
In the village of Bijao, one group of 200 heavily armed men in military uniform arrived with toys for the children and a list with names of community leaders they said they would kill.
The community is terrified and we don’t want to relive the ghosts of war. This puts the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC in danger. It is inconceivable the state won’t admit that paramilitarism in Colombia still exists.
Anonymous threatened community leader from Bojaya
Presumed paramilitary death squads have assassinated as many as 18 community leaders since peace with the FARC was signed in November last year. After having been promised peace by the government, the same government now condemns these high-risk areas to war.
The mass mobilization and displacement of troops takes place without the the 17th Brigade of the 4th Division even noticing, raising suspicion that the military continues to collude with paramilitaries, exactly as before.
The terror campaign is hitting the rural population hard. Farmers from Catatumbo even halted the demobilization of the local 33rd front, claiming to already have seen the same armed men terrorizing Uraba. For them, the FARC is their only protection.
Farmers from the north of Antioquia, another conflict region, sent out a desperate press release begging the international community to intervene and demand the government and the military to act against the paramilitaries, instead of denying they exist.
Against what was agreed in the peace agreement, the government has failed to facilitate the FARC demobilization while the military in many places failed to assume territorial control, a move considered key to reduce the risk of power vacuums between armed groups or narcos.
The families of the victims of the Bojaya massacre and many other vulnerable communities, were left on their own, leaving the government’s promise of “no repetition” a hollow one.
We were just beginning to trust in the state that for years abandoned us and left us unprotected. We don’t know what to do now.
Bojaya resident Leyner Palacios
Porfirio Jaramillo, a.k.a. dead leader #18
Porfirio Jaramillo was a community leader trying to regain land illegally appropriated by a local business. He was taken from his home in the township of Guacamayas on Thursday evening by four armed men in military outfit. His lifeless body was found the next morning alongside a nearby road for the neighbors to see. He became the 18th assassinated community leader since peace was signed late last year.
Apart from allegedly targeted and random assassinations, AGC men reportedly have taken to raping at least one minor. Policemen have been randomly assassinated for months and since a few weeks businesses are attacked and the road from Medellin to Uraba has become too dangerous to travel.
According to the bishop of Uraba there is a clear “increase in paramilitarism, whose groups are swiftly entering the zones that are left by members of the FARC.”
Who are these guys?
Around the turn of the century the paramilitaries committed one massacre every two days. But nevertheless, the AUC enjoyed ties to generals, intelligence chiefs and allegedly a chief prosecutor and tens of thousands of members of the military and other government employees. They were even allowed a secret meeting inside the presidential palace.
The AUC officially demobilized between 2003 and 2006 and consequently, according to Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, “paramilitaries don’t exist in Colombia.”
The truth is that the AUC demobilization was purposely inflated. This has been confirmed by multiple judges. Irregularities and fraud in that “peace process” went so far that the then-Peace Commissioner is now a fugitive, allegedly hiding in Canada. The prosecution wants to hear him about his role in the fraudulent demobilization.
Many who demobilized had never been in the AUC but were paid to take part in the ceremony, according to demobilized members.
Only 120 paramilitaries were ever imprisoned, according to the New York Times. The majority of the 27,000 who demobilized were granted amnesty and given a $180 / month stipend for a few years. More than 2,000 “died” after their demobilization.
According to AGC founder “Don Mario,” the AUC deliberately kept weapons hidden as insurance. These weapons were taken up by Mario and 250 men. In 2008, the paramilitaries announced themselves as AGC.
Not giving up war trophies?
The current wave of paramilitary violence began around the time that former AUC financiers including multinationals like Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte heard they could face crimes against humanity charges for financing the AUC, as part of the transitional justice system in the FARC peace deal.
More than 90 companies from Uraba face charges of having colluded with paramilitary death squads either to silence labor dissent or obtain territory through forced displacement. By killing a land claimant, he can no longer claim any land.
At the same time, the AGC’s nationwide terror campaign (one rival was found impaled with a broom in Barranquilla) makes it clear who is the boss in territory where there is no law.
Colombia’s government, which has seen many dozens of allied politicians disappear behind bars for their ties to the paramilitaries, has decided to deny the mere existence of the paramilitary groups and accuse their former allies of being common criminals.
Many more politicians, including former President Alvaro Uribe, face prison if well-documented charges are proven he promoted “paramilitarism” the way his cousin did and his brother, who is in jail awaiting trial, allegedly did.
If the AGC takes part in the Truth Commission, much more evidence would be gathered that could explain why 24,400 state agents are either accused or convicted of war crimes as well as 12,500 civilians and companies.
“The authorities and media are trying to deny our true reality,” “Raul Jaramillo” of the AGC wrote Colombia Reports in an email a few weeks ago. “They always try to minimize the organization, as if they’re dealing with some narcos,” he added.
Meanwhile, Santos’ efforts to promote peace are failing because of the same cause that started the political violence, a corrupt and weak state that is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens.
Doug Mills / The New York Times
President Donald Trump while meeting with Brian Krzanich, chief executive of Intel, in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, Feb. 8 2017.
By Michael D. Shear, New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — The resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser caps a remarkably tumultuous first month for President Donald Trump’s White House that has burdened the early days of his presidency with scandal, legal challenges, personnel drama and questions about his temperament during interactions with world leaders.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, lasted only 24 days before his tenure was cut short by an admission that he had misled the vice president and other White House colleagues about the contents of a phone call with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
The resignation on Monday night and the continuing turmoil inside the National Security Council have deeply rattled the Washington establishment.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., railed against the administration on Tuesday, denouncing the “dysfunction” of the country’s national security apparatus and accusing the White House of being a place where “nobody knows who’s in charge and nobody knows who’s setting policy.”
Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, expressed concern about upheaval inside the White House.
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” he said at a military conference Tuesday.
Asked about his comments later, Thomas said in a brief interview, “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.”
But Flynn’s late-night departure just added to the broader sense of chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
In record time, the 45th president has set off global outrage with a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, fired his acting attorney general for refusing to defend the ban and watched as federal courts swiftly moved to block the policy, calling it an unconstitutional use of executive power.
The president angrily provoked the cancellation of a summit meeting with the Mexican president, hung up on Australia’s prime minister, authorized a commando raid that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL member, repeatedly lied about the existence of millions of fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election and engaged in Twitter wars with senators, a sports team owner, a Hollywood actor and a major department store chain. His words and actions have generated almost daily protests around the country.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my lifetime about what may or may not happen in Washington,” said Leon Panetta, a Democrat who served as chief of staff, secretary of defense and CIA director during a 50-year career that spanned nine presidents from both parties.
“I don’t know whether this White House is capable of responding in a thoughtful or careful way should a crisis erupt,” Panetta said in an interview Tuesday. “You can do hit-and-miss stuff over a period of time. But at some point, I don’t give a damn what your particular sense of change is all about, you cannot afford to have change become chaos.”
Trump’s allies note that the president has moved forward in areas that are more typical of the early days of a first-term administration. Trump nominated a Supreme Court justice 12 days into his tenure and has issued a dozen executive orders, including ones to limit the influence of lobbyists, reduce regulations, pare the Affordable Care Act, move forward on pipeline construction, end trade deals and speed up deportations.
Those accomplishments are catnip for the president’s most fervent supporters across the country, said Sarah Fagen, who served as a senior aide and political director for former President George W. Bush. The perspective on the White House is very different far outside the interstate freeway that rings Washington, she said.
“If you’re someone inside the Beltway, you think it’s been really rocky,” she said. “If you are outside the Beltway, you think, ‘That’s why we sent him there.’ There has been a lot of chaos and a lot of growing pains, but they have gotten a lot done.”
Still, half of the president’s Cabinet has yet to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, and several other key White House aides have become lightning rods for daily mockery by late-night comedians.
It all has official Washington reeling and exhausted as it tries to make sense of — and keep up with — the nearly constant tornado of activity swirling around the president and his advisers.
“If you had no-drama Obama, you’ve got all-drama, all-the-time Trump,” said John Feehery, a veteran Republican strategist, who compared the past several weeks to the chaotic start to Newt Gingrich’s tenure as speaker of the House in 1995.
“Newt never settled down. It was always one crisis after another,” Feehery recalled. “This might be the new normal. People will start getting used to the new normal but will also be exhausted by it.”
As a candidate, Trump promised to move quickly to stop illegal immigration, bring jobs back, end trade deals and reduce crime. Central to his campaign agenda was his pledge to be a disruptive force in Washington — and he has certainly done that.
Since winning the election, Trump and his closest aides have embraced the turmoil, viewing it as evidence of their aggressive efforts to fundamentally reorient the government.
The West Wing also uses the chaos as a tactical weapon, believing that the flurry of early-morning presidential tweets, controversial statements during the afternoon briefing and surprise executive actions work to keep their adversaries, the media and others off balance.
On Tuesday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, happily kept reporters waiting while he did “a quick recap of the president’s activity,” proceeding to offer a long list of meetings and phone calls with foreign leaders, female entrepreneurs, local officials and educators.
Yet the disruptions have come at a cost: the president has so far made little progress on legislation that would repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. The White House has not proposed a promised infrastructure bill to repair deteriorating roads, bridges and tunnels. And the president’s aides have not yet drawn up plans for an overhaul of the nation’s tax code.
“It’s pretty predictable,” Feehery said. “This guy has never been in government before and he promised to be disruptive.”
It may also have consequences for Trump’s ability to help Republicans win in the 2018 midterm elections. And Republican campaign experts acknowledge that his chances for winning re-election may hinge on his ability to contain the White House frenzy.
“You are processing so much information in a day now. This stuff would have doomed anyone else, just one or two of them,” said Thomas M. Davis, a former Republican member of Congress from Virginia. “They have got to produce something. If all you’ve got is a bunch of executive orders and a Twitter feed, you don’t want to go into an election like that.”
Kevin Madden, who served as a senior adviser to Mitt Romney during both of his presidential campaigns, said Trump’s voters in 2016 wanted him to overhaul an establishment in Washington, which they view as long on promises, long on process but short on action.
“Voters certainly asked for change. They certainly wanted to see disruption,” Madden said. “But if change begins to look like confusion and disruption morphs into disorder, you risk losing a certain level of confidence with voters.”
DOHA, Qatar — Few of the Trump administration’s priorities have received as much criticism from the American foreign policy establishment as the president’s desire to improve relations with Russia. President Trump’s allegedly pro-Russian policies have been the subject of conspiracy theories and scandal.
This makes little sense. There are many good reasons for the United States to reach conciliation with Moscow on issues from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. The real question will be if Washington can control its own desire for global hegemony enough to make that possible.
Unlike China, Russia is not an emerging peer competitor to the United States. Russia is a regional power struggling to retain a fragment of its former sphere of influence. Moreover, it should be a natural ally of the United States in the fight against Islamist extremism. A reduction of tension with Russia would allow the United States to concentrate on more important geopolitical issues.
Ultimately, the United States may have no choice but to work with Russia. The West’s previous strategy has run its course, as recent policy failures make clear. Plans to expand American support for the former Soviet countries ring hollow. The United States and NATO did not fight for Georgia in 2008 or Ukraine in 2014. They will not do so in the future. In these circumstances, holding open the possibility of NATO membership for these countries, as the West has done for years, is pointless. By the same token, the populations of the European Union — an organization wrestling with existential problems of its own — have no will to help Ukraine join their club in the foreseeable future. In Syria, the United States and its allies seem to be torn between wanting to unseat President Bashar al-Assad and wanting to contain the jihadists who oppose him. Russia, on the other hand, has made its position clear.
Repairing relations with Russia can begin in Ukraine. The parameters for such a compromise were laid out in the Minsk agreement of 2015, which committed Russia to disarm separatists in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine to draw up a new federal constitution granting enhanced autonomy to the Donbas, the eastern Ukrainian region that has declared independence. The United States should work with Russia on a compromise for the Donbas, which should be demilitarized and secured by a United Nations peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula should be accepted (since short of a world war there is no way Russia will give it up). Though the annexation shouldn’t be recognized legally, American sanctions on Russia should be lifted.
American and NATO officials like to claim that such a compromise would encourage Russian aggression elsewhere. This view is based on self-deception on the part of Western elites who are interested in maintaining confrontation with Russia as a distraction from more important, painful problems at home, like migration, industrial decline and anger over globalization.
A child with a map can look at where the strategic frontier between the West and Russia was in 1988 and where it is today, and work out which side has advanced in which direction. So it is necessary to recognize that over the past generation, Russia’s actions — though sometimes wrong and even criminal — have been overwhelmingly reactive to what the West has done. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is about Ukraine, a country of supreme historical, ethnic, cultural, strategic and economic importance to Russia. It implies nothing for the rest of Eastern Europe.
If, as many of the hawks in Brussels and Washington claim, Russia wanted to undermine and then invade Latvia, it would have done so after 2008, when the Latvian economy was in collapse and it would have been easy to create a crisis there. Instead, Moscow did nothing — the Russian government is well aware that any such move would bring Western Europe and the United States back together in hostility toward Russia.
If Russia does invade Latvia or one of the other Baltic States, of course, the United States and its allies would have to fight — and fight hard — to defend them. These countries are members of NATO and the European Union. To surrender them to Russian aggression would make the West look both morally bankrupt and geopolitical impotent. But it is hard to imagine any realistic situation in which this need will arise.
Eastern Europe is not the only arena where the American agenda has proved inept. In Syria, the United States and Western Europe have bungled the war. Here, too, Mr. Trump’s plans to cooperate with Russia would be a welcome change. Because of Russian, Iranian and now Turkish support, Mr. Assad’s Syrian state is not going to fall. If it is to be transformed in the future, negotiation with Russia and Iran will be necessary.
Iran is an essential ally against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria. And that means that the White House will soon discover the dangerous inconsistencies in its policies. Both Mr. Trump and his recently resigned national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, have spoken of prioritizing the fight against the Islamic State. But by simultaneously expressing desire for a new confrontation with Iran, they have demonstrated that they do not actually understand the word “priority.”
Furthermore, barring an open Iranian violation of the nuclear agreement, no imaginable American concession to Russia would persuade Moscow to agree to new international sanctions against Iran. One reason is that Russia sees good relations with Iran as permanently in its interest, whereas the policy makers in Moscow know that American concessions may be withdrawn by the next administration.
China may be the other major sticking point. While he has moderated his stand somewhat in recent weeks, Mr. Trump has suggested he is prepared for a confrontation with China. But Russia will not play along. With a 2,600-mile-long border with China and a hopelessly outnumbered army, there is no way that Russia can be persuaded to adopt an outright hostile stance toward its neighbor. The furthest that Russia might go as a result of a better relationship with the United States would be to limit sales of its most sophisticated weapons to China, and perhaps to help seek a United Nations-brokered international compromise over the islands disputed by China and its neighbors.
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has not opposed the United States out of blind anti-Americanism. In the former Soviet countries, Russia has defended what the Russian establishment sees — rightly or wrongly — as vital Russian national interests.
Elsewhere in the world, Russia has clashed with the United States for reasons that have often been shared by many Americans, and have often later been proved correct: opposition to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya being the most notable examples. While Russia wants good relations with the United States, it will not lend blanket support to American global primacy. If that is what the Trump administration is hoping for, it will be sorely disappointed, and the latest attempt at reconciliation with Russia will fail.
Germany’s secret services have found little evidence that the Kremlin is directly trying to manipulate the country’s public opinion. But the leaked government report suggests that indirect methods may be at work.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is not deliberately trying to undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of her impending re-election campaign – or at least, if he is, he is hiding his tracks well. That’s the inconclusive conclusion that Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies came to last fall, following several months of investigation which was delivered to Merkel’s chief-of-staff Peter Altmaier in the form of a 50-page report.
Altmaier chose not to make the report public, but it was leaked to the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” newspaper this week. According to the paper, the BND (Germany’s equivalent of the CIA) and its domestic counterpart, the Verfassungsschutz (BfV), was charting a “middle way” between two conclusions – firstly, that the Russian government is not directly spreading misinformation in Germany, and, secondly, that it is, but it couldn’t be proven.
“An open/direct control or financing through Russian state authorities or Russian intelligence agencies could not be proven in any cases,” the report said. Nevertheless, such activities “could be carried out by people and organizations outside the services.”
Though these various external protagonists “were not playing a prominent role in endangering Germany’s security interests,” “further investigative efforts” were still necessary, the intelligence agents added.
Merkel commissioned the report into Russian intervention
Threads to the Kremlin
Despite not being able to find any direct evidence, the German spies seemed convinced that the Russian government is coordinating a campaign to “sow disunity in the EU and Germany, and so to weaken their position of power” from the highest levels of the Russian government: “The bundling of all the influencing activities in the presidential administration does represent a significant success factor.”
The report listed three well-publicized examples of how Russian actors may have spread misinformation in Germany – or at least about Germany. The first was the case of “Lisa,” a 13-year-old Russian-German living in Berlin, who told police in January 2016 that she had been raped by people of “Mediterranean appearance.”
Though she later admitted to having made the story up, the case made international headlines and sparked protests outside Merkel’s office by both far-right groups and the Russian community in Berlin. The situation escalated when Russian state media and the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the German police of covering up the crime. “The news that she disappeared was kept secret for a very long time,” Lavrov told a press conference.
The newly-leaked German intelligence report also noted a Russian-language WhatsApp message that was widely distributed among Russian-speaking Germans last winter, which read, “Muslims organizing a sex-jihad in Europe on February 14.” This was part of a conspiracy theory alleging that a Muslim hate preacher had called on his followers to mass-rape German women on that date.
Since the message was deemed “amateurish,” the German intelligence agencies concluded there was no involvement from Russian secret services. Meanwhile in other cases, the German chancellery decided that the agency’s conclusions were too speculative – one of the reasons it was not made public.
No clear agenda
Mark Galeotti, Russian security specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said this lack of clarity was nothing new. “There’s no question that Russia is supporting and sponsoring a campaign to use disinformation to try and have a political impact,” he told DW. “The issue isn’t: ‘Is there a fake news campaign?’ Yes, of course there is. The issue is: ‘Is all fake news Russian?’ The answer is clearly not.”
Altmaier said much of the evidence was inconclusive
“There is evidence of the Kremlin’s involvement, but there isn’t evidence of how effective it is,” Galeotti said. “The Kremlin puts a lot of money into its soft power arms like [state news outlet] RT and we know that the Kremlin lies to a considerable degree for political effect. We also know there are attempts to carry out more covert and subversive acts – secret funding for political groups, that kind of thing.”
Indeed, the new German report found “possible Russian influence attempts” being made on Germany’s nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Russia’s alleged hack on the Democratic National Convention in the US last year unsettled many in Germany who wonder whether the Kremlin may be planning a similar attempt to sabotage the Bundestag election in September – even if the hack’s ultimate effect on the US vote, balanced against other factors, is impossible to quantify.
Not only that, is toppling Merkel actually Moscow’s conscious policy? “Well maybe – but there’s a certain degree of stability in having Merkel as chancellor, and you never know quite what an alternative government would mean,” pointed out Galeotti. “It’s not like the Russians want to conquer Europe – I don’t believe that for a minute – but what they do want to do is ensure that Europe is too divided to prevent Russia from imposing its will on Ukraine, and Belarus, and Georgia.”
Furthermore, just because Russia has state news outlets doesn’t mean they are constantly being controlled by the state. “I know people who work in the RT newsroom,” said Galeotti. “Occasionally, yes, there is the phone call that says, ‘this is the line’ when something big happens. But usually when there’s a story, there are bunch of people who know roughly what the Kremlin wants, and they say, ‘can we use this, can we spin this?’ It’s almost entrepreneurial disinformation. It’s opportunistic.”
[The writer in the following JP post blames every problem in the Middle East on Qatar or Iran, nothing at all is said of the assistance Israeli forces routinely give to Syrian/International Islamists fighting in southern Syria. Likewise, nothing is said in the article to link the violence to Saudi Arabia, or Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the author of the entire Arab Spring/Jihadi conspiracy against Syria. The Saudis washed their hands of the Islamist file when Obama and the West turned on the Saudis for failing to oust Assad.]
For decades, the term “Middle East peace” has referred almost exclusively to the two-state solution that has been advocated by Westerners. The false belief that Jews building houses in Judea & Samaria has caused jihadism around the world is now being challenged. After all, these “settlements” are not responsible for the civil wars in Syria, Iraq, or Libya, nor are they causing the battle in Yemen between an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia against Iranian-supported militants. However, there is indeed one threat that is affecting all of these conflicts and preventing peace in the region–Qatar. In every conflict in the Middle East, Qatar is somehow involved, from Libya to Syria, from Egypt’s uprising to the spread of Islamists throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Despite its small size, Qatar is an influential middle power in the world, and in particular, in the Gulf region and Arab World. Its wealth, derived mainly from oil, has allowed Doha to buy influence and spread its power around the Middle East and the world.
In 2016, Marc Lynch published his book The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East. In it, Lynch goes into depth with analyzing the cause of the 2011 Arab Uprisings, as well as the subsequent civil wars and foreign interventions in a number of Arab countries. In particular, he details the role of Gulf Arab states, especially Qatar, in fomenting unrest and violence and supplying extremist groups throughout the region. With the outbreak of civil war in both Libya and Syria, Qatar took advantage of a weak and destabilizing situation to spread its own influence in those two countries. In Libya, there were three main backers of regime-change to oust Moammar Qadafi, the brutal dictator who ruled the North African country at the time: The United States, the European Union (and NATO at large), and the Gulf Arabs. Each of these three power blocs had their own reasons for wanting Qadafi gone. The Americans claimed that it was largely due to the human-rights abuses by Qadafi, and that he was somehow committing genocide against Libyans (never mind the fact that the use of the term “genocide” in this context is inappropriate and false). The Europeans claimed the same thing, although new evidence has emerged suggesting that Qadafi’s pan-Africanism, which threatened European neo-colonial goals in Africa, were the real motivation for his toppling. And the third power bloc came from the Gulf Arabs. Lynch explains in his book that the Gulf Arabs were interested in expanding their influence in North Africa, and had called upon the UN, EU, and others to impose no-fly zones to protect civilians and rebel groups from the brutality of the Qadafi regime. By early April, Qatar had already begun its process of dropping or delivering arms shipments to rebel groups in Libya. Rebel groups, in their victory over regime forces, began raising the Qatari flag over outposts they held.
Qatar’s interventionist and imperialist policies did not end in Tripoli–in fact, they go beyond the borders of the Middle East. In Tunisia, perhaps the only successful example of rebellion in the Arab Uprisings, Qatar continued to shape politics of the region by assisting Ennahda–the “moderate Islamist” party in taking power. And Moncef Marzouki, while a secular leftist, also was backed by Qatar and rose to power in Tunis. In Egypt, Qatar joined Turkey with backing Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for president, after the outset of the rebellion and ousting of the oppressive Hosni Mubarak. Using its media empire, Al-Jazeera, Qatar positioned itself “as the champion of not just the Muslim Brotherhood but also of Tahrir itself”, according to Lynch. Israel and Saudi Arabia (along with its close Gulf partners) were alarmed by the fall of Mubarak, whom they’d relied upon to counter Iran, keep Hamas and other Palestinian militants in check, and maintain the peace treaty with the Jewish state. In Yemen, Qatar increased its presence as well, trying to mediate between then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi rebels, backed by Tehran. Ultimately, however, Saleh was ousted and Qatar threw its weight behind the Islah Movement, a radical organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha began using Al-Jazeera to inspire protests on the “Arab street” by dedicating extensive airtime to the Arab Spring and trying to garner support from the international community. In the case of Egypt and the United States, it was successful. Despite Mubarak being a close partner of the Americans in the region for decades, then-president Barack Obama abandoned him in the name of democracy, allowing an Islamist backed by Qatar to take power in Cairo, emboldening the Muslim Brotherhood-related Hamas movement and threatening the cold peace with Israel. Qatari proxies and partners were well represented in transitional government and new governments (mainly Islamist ones) in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, the Syrian National Council, and Libya. After Hamas rejected Assad’s brutality in Syria, it faced a troubled relationship with Iran, which was replaced by warmer ties with Turkey and Qatar. Since then, Egypt has fallen away from the Muslim Brotherhood and back into a traditional authoritarian-yet-stable model supported by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, and a gulf (pardon the pun) has emerged between Qatar and its neighbors, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (which are more concerned with stability and have no interest in seeing protestors in the Arab streets demanding more rights). Yet Qatar’s power and influence has expanded nonetheless, making it one of two expansionist countries in the Middle East that is threatening peace; the other, obviously, is Iran.
In Syria, Qatar, like Turkey, invested heavily in the Syrian economy and developed strong personal relationships with Bashar al-Assad, the dictator. But as soon as the uprisings in Syria began in 2011, Qatar smelled another opportunity. It connected numerous protest leaders and activists within the Arab Republic to Al-Jazeera, hosting them and giving them interviews numerous times. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood figure based in the Qatari capital, gave prominent speeches denouncing the brutality of the Assad regime. Numerous sermons given by clerics in Qatar included the human rights abuses in Syria and denouncements of the Damascus regime, while the government was among the first to cut ties with Damascus, implement sanctions against Syria, and lobby the Arab League and United Nations to take action against Assad. In November 2011, it expelled Syria from the Arab League, and also intensely lobbied for the United States and the UN to use force to remove Assad from power. However, the war-weary Western World and Russian-Chinese opposition to regime change foiled these plans, leading to Qatar’s more direct role in sending arms and cash to a number of rebel and Islamist organizations within Syria to topple the government.
As I mentioned earlier, while Qatar’s meddling and expansionism is most obvious in the Middle East itself, it has used other mechanisms to be more subtle about doing so abroad. In Western countries, college campuses are recording a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in general. Much of this has to do with the money received by Middle East/Arabic/Islamic Studies programs in numerous campuses–money that often comes straight from Qatar and its neighbors. Its use of Al-Jazeera, a news network accused of sexism, pro-terrorist sentiment, and anti-Semitism, to penetrate Western media outlets and spread Qatar’s propaganda, should also raise alarm. India has criticized Al-Jazeera for showing disputed territories such as Jammu as Kashmir as being part of Pakistan. Israel has accused Al-Jazeera of encouraging Palestinian terror against the Jewish state and being biased against Jews more generally. Some officials in Iraq, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, accused it of fomenting sectarian violence and of holding anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian views. Egypt, too, has cracked down on Al-Jazeera due to its seemingly pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance and some of its commentators speculating that President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is of “Jewish origin” and is involved in a “Zionist plot to divide Egypt”. On Facebook, the more youthful AJ+ tries to attract young liberals and activists outraged about things like police brutality, the war on drugs, assaults on women’s and gay rights, and economic inequality with video clips of around 30-60 seconds. But like Al-Jazeera, this is nothing more than Doha’s propaganda. Such clips would have real meaning and legitimacy if they weren’t so blatantly opposed to Israel, apologetic towards terror, or hypocritical. AJ+ is right to slam bigotry and unfairness in the Western World, yet it fails to mention or critique the human rights abuses (often more serious, by far) of its own government or that of its neighbors. This use of media and funding of programs on colleges related to the Middle East serve to influence and shape the minds of a politically vocal and active generation in favor of Qatari policy—one where the West and Israel’s survival or interests have no legitimacy, and where human rights violations in theocracies or autocracies are either unknown/nonexistent or excusable and accepted.
Despite what many Israel critics claim, Zionism is not an expansionist, European colonial project. Rather, it is the national liberation movement of the Jews, an aboriginal group from the Land of Israel. That isn’t to say there are no imperial/colonial projects happening in the region, however. There are two. One is the more blatant and immediate threat of Iran’s attempt to recreate the Persian Empire at the expense of Israel’s existence, Arab security, and Western interests. The other is the Qatari approach, more carefully cloaked, to change the mindset of young, progressive Westerners into blaming all that is wrong in the world and the region on the Jews (sound familiar?) and the West, and engaging in the soft bigotry of low expectations when it comes to human rights in Arab countries. If the West and Israel don’t counteract both of these threats, and quickly, their values and existence may soon come under attack.
[Trump has not yet fathomed the limitless powers at his disposal…consider the Presidential Emergency Powers. President after president has used this limitless power in frivolous manners. Consider the last two Presidents’ use of this power.]
“I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, find that the threat of attachment or other judicial process against the Development Fund for Iraq, Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations, or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, obstructs the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq. This situation
“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,”–Executive Order 13303 Protecting the Development Fund for Iraq and Certain Other Property in Which Iraq Has an Interest
[With this one sentence, Barack Obama was able to say with a straight face—
“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,”]
A White House official on Sunday attacked a U.S. court ruling that blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration as a “judicial usurpation of power” and said the administration was considering a range of options, including a new order.
Sustained criticism of the judiciary from the White House comes amid concern among Democrats and legal scholars over Trump’s view of the constitutional principle of judicial independence as the administration seeks to overcome legal setbacks to its travel ban issued on Jan. 27.
It has also become the backdrop against which U.S. senators consider Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
The Republican president said on Friday that he may issue a new executive order rather than go through lengthy court challenges to the original one, which temporarily barred entry to the United States of people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“We have multiple options and we are considering all of them,” White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Miller sharply criticized the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Thursday that upheld a Seattle federal judge’s suspension of Trump’s executive order. He accused the San Francisco-based court of having a history of overreaching and of being overturned.
“This is a judicial usurpation of power,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The president’s powers here are beyond question.”
The Trump administration has defended the travel ban on grounds it will prevent potential terrorists from entering the country, although no acts of terrorism have been perpetrated on U.S. soil by citizens of the targeted countries.
The ban’s announcement, late on a Friday, sparked a weekend of confusion at airports around the globe and within the federal agencies charged with enforcing it. It also triggered widespread protests and legal challenges.
Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Aware that a new executive order would allow critics to declare victory against the travel ban, the White House has deflected blame and intensified its criticism of the judiciary.
“I think it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government,” Miller said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“One unelected judge in Seattle cannot make laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy,” he said.
Miller’s performance on several Sunday news shows won a plaudit on Twitter from Trump, who has himself attacked individual judges and called the courts “so political.”
“Great job!” Trump tweeted.
Gorsuch condemned the attacks on the judiciary as “disheartening” in private meetings last week with a number of U.S. senators, who pressed the judge to go public. Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, confirmed the conversations.
Legal experts said the Trump administration statements could undermine respect for the constitutional division of powers.
Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin said that accusing the judiciary of usurping the president’s powers demonstrated “an absurd lack of appreciation for the separation of powers.”
“Miller is coming dangerously close to reviving a discredited and dangerous theory that each branch of government, including the president, has independent authority to decide what the law and Constitution mean,” Ohlin said in an interview on Sunday.
“In our system of government, the commander in chief executes the laws, but it is the judiciary which interprets both the laws and statutes passed by Congress and the Constitution. That’s their solemn duty,” he added.
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said Trump’s remarks could diminish popular respect for institutions of law and order by making Americans think “the government’s a joke, that you don’t have to follow what judges say.”
Immigration laws give the U.S. president broad powers to restrict who enters the country on national security grounds.
But the same laws forbid discrimination based on race, sex, nationality or place of birth or residence. The case also could involve First Amendment protections involving religion.
Trump’s executive order banned entry into the United States to refugees and citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, except refugees from Syria, who were banned indefinitely.
Options for the administration include formulating a new executive action, appealing the 9th Circuit panel’s decision to the full appeals court and appealing the emergency stay to the U.S. Supreme Court, Miller said.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Julia Harte; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alan Crosby and Peter Cooney)
FILE 2017: A photo released by ICE shows foreign nationals being arrested this week. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)
Immigration arrests across Southern California over the past week were planned before President Trump took office and could be compared to similar operations the occurred last summer, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said.
David Marin, the director, told the paper that most of those arrested had prior felony convictions, but a few were taken in because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He said five people would not have met the Obama administration’s enforcement priorities but were arrested because they were found to be in the country illegally.
“The rash of these recent reports about ICE checkpoints and random sweeps and the like, it’s all false, and that’s definitely dangerous and irresponsible,” Marin told the paper. “Reports like that create panic, and they put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger.”
He said similar operations took place this week in Atlanta, New York and Chicago.
Immigrant advocates decried a series of arrests that federal deportation agents said aimed to round up criminals in Southern California but they believe mark a shift in enforcement under the Trump administration.
Advocates began fielding calls Thursday from immigrants and their lawyers reporting raids at homes and businesses in the greater Los Angeles area.
In one instance, agents knocked on one door looking for a man and ended up arresting another who is in the country illegally but has no criminal record — something Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said would not likely have happened previously.
“This was not normal,” Salas told reporters Friday.
The announcement of the arrests comes days after an Arizona woman was arrested and deported to Mexico after what she thought was a routine check in with immigration officials and amid heightened anxiety among immigrant communities since Trump signed an executive order to expand deportations.
A decade ago, immigration officers searching for specific individuals would often arrest others found along the way, a practice that drew criticism from advocates. Under the Obama administration, agents also carried out arrests but focused more narrowly on specific individuals.
In the suburbs of Los Angeles, 50-year-old house painter Manuel Mosqueda was there when his fiancé answered the door, thinking it was police, his 21-year-old daughter Marlene said.
“They were looking for someone else and they took my dad in the process,” she said.
Karla Navarrete, a lawyer for CHIRLA, said she sought to stop Mosqueda from being placed on a bus to Mexico and was told by ICE that things had changed. She said another lawyer filed federal court papers to halt his removal.
Salas said the agency provided scant details to lawyers who headed to the detention center in response to the phone calls, and in the past was more forthcoming with information.
She also said there is increased anxiety in the community about immigration enforcement since Trump’s order.
Democratic state lawmakers denounced the arrests and urged immigrants to know their rights and what to do if approached by federal authorities.
“Even under Obama we had sweeps or big operations where they would go into a particular neighborhood or say that this week we’re going to do a big operation and arrest people with certain profiles in certain parts of the city,” Jennie Pasquarella, a director of immigrant rights for the ACLU, said. “The piece of it that is new is some of the reports that we were getting yesterday indicating that there were people [arrested] who did not have any criminal convictions at all.”
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seen on a screen as he speaks via a videoconference during a ministerial summit to hold discussion on the future of Mosul city, post-Islamic State, in Paris, France, October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo
Iraq won’t take part in any regional or international conflicts, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday.
The comment came after Abadi had spoke in a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump where tensions with Iran were mentioned.
“Iraq is very keen to preserve its national interests (..)and does not wish to be part of any regional or international conflict which would lead to disasters for the region and for Iraq,” Abadi told state TV.
The White House on Friday said Trump and Abadi “spoke to the threat Iran presents across the entire region,” in their first phone call since the inauguration of the U.S. president.
Abadi’s office on Friday also gave a readout of the phone call that took place overnight Thursday, without specifically mentioning Iran.
(Reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan police spokesman said a roadside bombing has killed the top government official of a district in western Farah province. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack.
The spokesman, Iqbal Baher, said that Abdul Khaliq, the top official in the Khak-e-Safed district, died in the bombing near his home in the city of Farah, the provincial capital, on Tuesday.
He said Khaliq was on his way home from a mosque earlier in the morning when the explosion took place.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadiclaimed responsibility for the attack in Farah city (Qari Yusouf Ahmadi spokesman for Rasoul/Zakir Taliban faction).
Taliban insurgents frequently use roadside bombs and suicide attacks to target government officials as well as Afghan security forces across the country.
Moscow signaled on Wednesday, February 8, that it has started – or is about to start – supplying precision weapons to the Syrian military in order to boost its capabilities against the Islamic State organization.
It came in an announcement by Ilyas Umakhanov, deputy chairman of the Russian Federation Council, who said, “Russia will continue an asymmetrical response (to terrorism) in Syria, which may include the regrouping of forces and means…and of course the supply of high-precision weapons to the Syrian government.”
He added that “It is impossible to defeat terrorism only by efforts of one country. Terrorism has assumed a global character and, having achieved obvious victory in one place, there is no reason to create additional vacuums where terrorists can resume military operations.”
It is clear that Umakhanov was referring to two main topics:
1. Military cooperation by the US, Russia, Syria and Turkey in the war against ISIS, with the first signs already visible on the fronts in northern and eastern Syria.
2. Russian estimation of the need to supply the Syrian military with the most advanced weapons to ramp up its capabilities to the same level as those of the other militaries taking part in the war against ISIS in Syria.
According to Russian media reports on Feb. 8, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said recently that more than 160 types of advanced weapons have been tested in the course of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria, which started in September 2015. The reports did not specify where or when Shoigu made the comment.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources reveal the types of weapons that the Russians have decided to send the Syrian army.
They include small drones armed with precision bombs; shoulder-fired, laser-guided antitank and antiaircraft missiles; “loitering munitions” which follow their targets after being dropped from planes; small unmanned vehicles for clearing tunnels; advanced night vision equipment; laser and infrared sights; intelligence systems for locating targets; and long-range sniper rifles.
Loitering munitions combine the traits of missiles, drones and bombs. They are dropped from a plane and then controlled by a soldier on the ground or in the air. They can fly for many hours as long as they have enough fuel and electricity. The munitions use a GPS system to show their precise location, and are usually fitted with a video camera which shows targets in real time in high resolution, even in poor weather conditions or at night, via remote control.
As soon as the target is identified, the bomb is directed to its target, such as the window of a building, an armored vehicle or a group of fighters. In addition to the target, all of the bomb’s sensors are destroyed when the bomb explodes.
Russia’s announcement was a complete surprise to the highest levels of the Israeli government and military. During the six years of the Syrian civil war, the IDF, particularly its intelligence bodies and its air force, made great efforts to prevent the flow of such precision weapons to the Syrian military and to the Iranian and Hizballah forces in Syria.
But now that the Russians have announced that they will provide those weapons to the Syrian military, it is obvious that some of the arms are bound to fall into the hands of the Iranians and Hizballah.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, in 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Russia has just sent Syria the largest shipment of missiles between the two countries to date, the latest delivery between the two allies that could further change the stakes in the Middle East, U.S. officials told Fox News on Wednesday.
The shipment of 50 SS-21 short-range ballistic missiles arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus along the Mediterranean Sea in the past two days, the officials said.
“For someone winding down a war, that’s a big missile shipment,” one official said.
The SS-21, which comes in different types, has a range of roughly 100 miles.
Russia has fired two SS-21 missiles and four longer-range SS-26 Iskander missiles in the past two days into Syria’s Idlib province against “opposition” fighters, according to those officials. It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. was backing any of those fighters.
The Iskander is a nuclear-capable missile and has been deployed to Kaliningrad — a Russian enclave in the Baltics — in recent months.
The SS-21 short range missile is called “Scarab” by NATO.
In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow’s plans to scale down its military presence in Syria. Moscow’s aircraft carrier, which had been stationed off the coast of Syria, has returned to Russia.
Still, Russia has approximately 50 aircraft in Syria, including fighter jets, helicopter gunships, and drones.
Airstrikes hitting Idlib early Tuesday killed at least 15 people, wounded dozens more and demolished several buildings, in one of the deadliest attacks since the so-called “cease-fire” went into effect last year, Syrian activists and medics said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 26 people were killed, including 10 civilians — mostly women. The opposition-run Civil Defense in Idlib said 15 bodies were pulled from the rubble and that 30 people were taken for medical treatment. Conflicting numbers are common in the chaotic aftermath of such attacks.
The Russian military denied its warplanes attacked Idlib. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian warplanes haven’t conducted a single strike on Idlib this year. Russia has waged an air campaign in Syria since September 2015, providing a crucial boost for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in battles with terror groups and the mainstream opposition.
The Syrian civil war, which began with a 2011 uprising against the Assad family’s four-decade rule, has killed an estimated 300,000 people and destroyed much of the country. The U.N. has estimated that reconstruction could cost around $350 billion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews
The international naval exercise “AMAN-17” (AMAN means peace in Urdu) will be held in Karachi, Pakistan, from February 10-14. More than 35 countries will participate in the event.
A ship-borne helicopter conducted maritime search and rescue during a multi-subject drill in the east waters of the Gulf of Aden on Jan. 17, 2017. [Photo/Military.cnr.cn]
The multinational exercise, themed “together for peace,” has been planned by the Pakistan Navy and will be conducted in the North Arabian Sea.
AMAN 17 exercise will feature harbor and sea phases where participants will witness a variety of activities including Search & Rescue (SAR) Operations, gunnery drills, anti-piracy demonstrations, replenishment at Sea (RAS) and maritime counter-terrorism demonstrations.
It involves ships, aircraft, helicopters, Special Operations Forces (SOF), Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD), marine teams and observers from regional as well extra-regional navies.
This exercise provides a platform for the navies involved – some of which do not work together very often – to hone their skills and build cooperation and friendship to promote peace and stability.
The joint drill will bring together navies from 12 countries including Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition, observers from 31 countries will also attend the event.
It’s the fifth time that China has participated in the joint drill. The Chinese navy fleet will include the guided-missile destroyer Harbin, guided-missile frigate Handan and the comprehensive supply ship Dongpinghu.
Initiated and organized by Pakistan, the “AMAN” series exercise has been held every other year since 2007, aiming to boost inter-operability and to demonstrate the allied nation’s capabilities to fight terrorism and other maritime threats.
“In accordance with the decision by the Armed Forces Supreme Commander, a snap check of the Aerospace Forces began to evaluate readiness of the control agencies and troops to carry out combat training tasks,” he said.According to Shoigu, the control agencies and military units started measures to enhance combat readiness at 09:00 Moscow Time.
“Special attention should be paid to combat alert, deployment of air defense systems for a time of war and air groupings’ readiness to repel the aggression,” Shoigu added.
He also ordered to ensure strict compliance with the safety requirements and undamaged condition of weapons and ammunition. The minister pointed to the need to rule out damage to state-owned property and prevent negative impact on the environment.
As usual, the “legitimate press” is misleading the world about “The News” on Trump’s EducationSecretary, Betsy DeVos.
Big Media is trying their best to oppose DeVos for her home-schooled education, without touching upon her more controversial grounds for disqualification. The real reason that should bump DeVos out of the line is given on her Wiki-page, quoted below:
“DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, the former CEO of multi-level marketing company
[This website, ThereAreNoSunglasses, has consistently posted interviews in the foreign press by Bashar al-Assad (as well as with Vladimir Putin), in order to offer his own unfiltered words to judge him by. I have included links to the interviews below so that everyone might be able to see the consistency in his opinions-given. He says that there has been no real Western campaign against ISIS in Syria by the West, except for more circus and a token show of force, conducted illegally, without govt permission. His testimony resonates with Western alternative researchers and writers, who lay the blame for “Islamist terrorism” directly upon the doorstep of the CIA and whichever party of the US Govt, was in power at the time.]
Damascus, SANA_ President Bashar al-Assad stressed that Syria is owned by the Syrians and that the peace is two things: fighting terrorists and terrorism, stopping the flowing of terrorism, every kind of logistical support. Second, dialogue between the Syrians to decide the future of their country and the whole political system.
On his expectations from the new administration in Washington, President Assad said, in a statement to Belgian media,What we heard as statements by Trump during the campaign and after the campaign is promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS, that’s what we’ve been asking for during the last six years. So, I think this is promising, we have to wait, it’s still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria. So, as I said, it’s still early to judge it.
Question 1: Mr. President, we’ve been to Aleppo, we’ve seen the destruction, how do you see the way forward to peace nowadays after Astana?
President Assad: If you want to talk about how to see the peace, it’s not related mainly to Astana; it’s related to something much bigger: how can we stop the flowing of the terrorists toward Syria, or in Syria, how can we stop the support from regional countries like Turkey, Gulf states, or from Europe like France and UK, or from the US during the Obama administration. If we deal with that title, this is where you can talk about the rest, about the political procedure. Astana is one of the initiatives during this war on Syria, and it’s about the dialogue between the Syrians. Now it’s too early to judge Astana, the first one was positive because it was about the principles of the unity of Syria, about the Syrians deciding their future. How can you implement this communique? That’s the question, and I think we are going to see Astana 2 and so on. So, the peace is two things: fighting terrorists and terrorism, stopping the flowing of terrorism, every kind of logistical support. Second, dialogue between the Syrians to decide the future of their country and the whole political system. These are the headlines about how we see the future of Syria.
Question 2: We have seen many breaches in the ceasefire, would you consider the ceasefire is still upholding, or is it dead?
President Assad: No, it’s not dead, and it’s natural in every ceasefire anywhere in the world, in every war, in any conflict, to have these breaches. It could be sometimes on individual levels, it doesn’t mean there’s policy of breaching the ceasefire by the government or by any other party, and this is something we can deal with on daily basis, and sometimes on hourly basis, but till this moment, no, the ceasefire is holding.
Question 3: In the fight against terror group Daesh, do you think all means are justified?
President Assad: Depends on what do we mean by “all means,” you have to be…
Journalist: Literally all means.
President Assad: Yeah, but I don’t know what the means that are available to tell you yes or “all means,” so I don’t what the “all means” are. But if you want to talk about military means, yes of course, because the terrorists are attacking the people – I’m not only talking about ISIS; ISIS and al-Nusra and all the Al Qaeda-affiliated groups within Syria – when they are attacking civilians, and killing civilians, and beheading people, and destroying properties, private and public, and destroying the infrastructure, everything in this country, let’s say, our constitutional duty and legal duty as government and as army and as state institutions is to defend the Syrian people. It’s not an opinion; it’s a duty. So, regarding this, you can use every mean in order to defend the Syrian people.
Question 4: But we have seen the destruction in Aleppo, you have seen the images as well. Was there no other way to do it?
President Assad: Actually, since the beginning of the crisis, of the war on Syria, we used every possible way. We didn’t leave any stone unturned in order to bring people to the negotiating table, but when you talk about the terrorists, when you talk about terrorists, when you talk about Al Qaeda, when you talk about al-Nusra and ISIS, I don’t think anyone in this world would believe that they are ready for dialogue, and they always say they’re not; they have their own ideology, they have their own way path, they don’t accept anything that could be related to civil state or civil country, they don’t, and I think you know as a European about this reality. So, no, making dialogue with al-Nusra and Al Qaeda is not one of the means, but if somebody wanted to change his course on the individual levels, we are ready to accept him as a government, and give him amnesty when he goes back to the normal life and gives up his armament.
Question 5: The Belgian government is contributing in the fight against Daesh. There are six F-16 fighter planes in the fight against Daesh. Are you grateful to the Belgian government for that contribution?
President Assad: Let me be frank with you, when you talk about contribution in the operation against ISIS, actually there was no operation against ISIS; it was a cosmetic operation, if you want to talk about the American alliance against ISIS. It was only an illusive alliance, because ISIS was expanding during that operation. At the same time, that operation is an illegal operation because it happened without consulting with or taking the permission of the Syrian government, which is the legitimate government, and it’s a breaching of our sovereignty. Third, they didn’t prevent any Syrian citizen from being killed by ISIS, so what tobe grateful for? To be frank, no.
Question 6: You have stated several times that it is up to the Syrian people, it is up to the constitution, to decide who their leadership should be, who their president should be. If the Syrian people would decide for a new leadership, would you consider to step aside?
President Assad: If the Syrian people choose another president, I don’t have to choose to be aside; I would be aside, I would be outside this position, that’s self-evident, because the constitution will put the president, and the constitution will take him out according to the ballot box and the decision of the Syrian people. Of course, that’s very natural, not only because of the ballot box; because if you don’t have public support, you cannot achieve anything in Syria, especially in a war. In a war, what you need, the most important thing is to have public support in order to restore your country, to restore the stability and security. Without it, you cannot achieve anything. So, yes, of course.
Question 7: Mr. President, I am 43 years old, if I would have been born in Syria, there would always have been an Assad in executive power. Can you imagine a Syria without a member of the Assad family in executive power?
President Assad: Of course, we don’t own the country, my family doesn’t own the country, to say that only Assad should be in that position, that’s self-evident, and this could be by coincidence, because President Assad didn’t have an heir in the institution to be his successor. He died, I was elected, he didn’t have anything to do with my election. When he was president, I didn’t have any position in the government. If he wanted me to be an heir, he would have put me somewhere, gave me a responsibility, I didn’t have any responsibility, actually. So, it’s not as many in the media in the West used to say since my election, that “he succeeded his father” or “his father put him in that position.” So, yes, Syria is owned by the Syrians, and every Syrian citizen has the right to be in that position.
Question 8: Do you think the European Union or even NATO can play a role in, like, rebuilding the country, like, rebuilding Syria?
President Assad: You cannot play that role while you are destroying Syria, because the EU is supporting the terrorists in Syria from the very beginning under different titles: humanitarians, moderate, and so on. Actually, they were supporting al-Nusra and ISIS from the very beginning, they were extremists from the very beginning. So, they cannot destroy and build at the same time. First of all, they have to take a very clear position regarding the sovereignty of Syria, stop supporting the terrorists. This is where the Syrians would – I say would – accept those countries to play a role in that regard. But in the meantime, if you ask any Syrian the same question, he will tell you “no, we don’t accept, those countries supported the people who destroyed our country, we don’t want them to be here.” That’s what I think.
Question 9: Do you think Belgium can play a role in Syria?
President Assad: Let me talk about the European political position in general; many in this region believe that the Europeans don’t exist politically, they only follow the master which is the Americans. So, the question should be about the Americans, and the Europeans will follow and will implement what the Americans want. They don’t exist as independent states, and Belgium is part of the EU.
Question 10: There is a new administration in Washington, with Trump in power. What do you expect from it? Are you looking to work closely together?
President Assad: What we heard as statements by Trump during the campaign and after the campaign is promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS, that’s what we’ve been asking for during the last six years. So, I think this is promising, we have to wait, it’s still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria. So, as I said, it’s still early to judge it.
Question 11: If you look back on the last couple of years, are there any things that you regret?
President Assad: Every mistake could be a regret, by any individual, and as a human…
Journalist: Have you made mistakes?
President Assad: As a human, I have to make mistakes to be human. Otherwise, I’m not a human.
Journalist: What would you consider a mistake?
President Assad: A mistake is when you either take a wrong decision or make a wrong practice, it depends on the situation. But if you want to talk about the crisis, as I understand from the question, the three decisions that we took from the very beginning is to fight terrorism, and I think it’s correct, is to make dialogue between the Syrians, I think it’s correct, to respond to every political initiative, whether it’s genuine or not, and I think it’s correct, and actually we supported the reconciliation between the Syrians, and I think it’s correct. Anything else could be trivial, so you have a lot of things regarding the practice, regarding the institutions, you always have mistakes.
Question 12: If you look back, was this war avoidable?
President Assad: No, because there was bad intention regarding the different countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, France, UK, and the US in order to destabilize Syria, so it wasn’t about the Syrians. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have many flaws before the war and today as a country that allow many of those countries to mess with our country. I’m not excluding, I’m not saying it’s only about them, but they were the one who took the initiative in order to wage this war, so I don’t think it was avoidable.
Question 13: You have just had a visit from a Belgian parliamentary delegation with Mr. Dewinter and Mr. Carcaci, do you consider them as friends?
President Assad: The most important thing about those visits is not to be friends with them. As a politician, you don’t come to Syria to visit your friend; you come to Syria to see what’s going on.
Journalist: Do you see them as political allies?
President Assad: No, they’re not my allies at all. They are coming here not for that reason; they are here in order to see what’s going on. They are the allies of the Belgian people. They came here because the government, the Belgian government, like many European governments, are blind today, they have no relation with this country on every level, so they don’t see what’s going on, they cannot play any role. So, now the only eyes that you have are the delegations that are coming from your country, and this is one of them, this is one of the eyes that your government could have, and you could have many other eyes and delegations coming to Syria. So, they’re not my allies, they’re not coming here for me; they’re coming here to see the situation, and I’m one of the players in the Syrian conflict, it’s natural to meet with me to hear what’s my point of view.
Question 14: Mr. President, just one more question: after the victories in Aleppo, Wadi Barada, your troops are close from al-Bab, do you think that all these major victories can change the mind of European governments concerning the Syrian government?
President Assad: I don’t know, I think they have to answer that question. For us, it’s our war, we need to liberate every single inch on the Syrian territory from those terrorists. If the European governments think that their efforts went in vain, that’s good, they may change their mind, and at least to stop supporting those terrorists that don’t have the support of the public in Syria; they only have the support of the Europeans and the Gulf states, the Wahabi Gulf states, in order to have more terrorism and extremism in Syria. We hope, I think during the last two years, the whole world has changed, the United States has changed, the situation in Syria has changed, the situation in the region in general has changed. Two things didn’t change or hasn’t changed till this moment: first of all, Al Qaeda is still there through ISIS and al-Nusra, and the mentality of the European officials, it hasn’t change yet, they live in the past.
Question 15: Mr. President, in your opinion, what is our ______ to question if after the war, the international court in the Hague should go over some responsibles on the crimes against humanity against the Syrian people, do you support that view, that the responsibles of the crimes at war should be judged by the international court in the Hague?
President Assad: We all know that the United Nations institutions are not unbiased, they are biased, because of the American influence and the French and British, mainly. So, most of those institutions, they don’t work to bring the stability to the world or to look for the truth; they are only politicized to implement the agenda of those countries. For me, as president, when I do my duty, the same for the government and for the army, to defend our country, we don’t look to this issue, we don’t care about it. We have to defend our country by every mean, and when we have to defend it by every mean, we don’t care about this court, or any other international institution.
Question 16: Yes. Do you accept the position of the United Nations?
President Assad: It depends on that position. Most of the positions are biased, as I said, regarding every organization, regarding every sector, regarding most of the resolutions against Syria. That’s why it was for the first time maybe for Russia and China to take so many vetoes in few years, because they know this reality. So, no, we don’t accept, we don’t accept.
MECCA (AFP) – Saudi police arrested an apparently “mentally disturbed” man who tried to set himself on fire at Islam’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, a police spokesman said on Tuesday (Feb 7).
The man, in his 40s and a Saudi citizen, “poured petrol on himself and tried to set it alight,” Grand Mosque police spokesman Major Sameh al-Salami said.
“His behaviour gives the impression that he is mentally disturbed.”
The incident happened on Monday night right next to the Kaaba, the cubic stone structure at the heart of the mosque towards which Muslims pray.
Pilgrims and police escorted the man away before he could light the petrol, footage posted on social media showed.
Witnesses told Saudi media that the man also tried to set fire to the kiswah, the black and gold silk curtain that covers the Kaaba.
One witness told the Sabq news website that the man had been uttering “takfiri” slogans, referring to extremist Islamist groups blamed for numerous attacks worldwide.
The huge flow of pilgrims into the Grand Mosque makes security checks at the gates extremely difficult.
In November 1979, the Grand Mosque was seized by more than 400 fundamentalists led by Saudi Juhayman al-Oteibi who claimed to have with them the redeemer – the mahdi.
They seized pilgrims as hostages and it took special forces a fortnight of fierce gun battles to retake the mosque compound.
This is the second alleged Houthi Scud missile attack on Saudi soil in one week and the latest attack since Yemen started stockpiling missiles in summer 2016.
On 31 January, a Borkan-1 missile reportedly killed 80 coalition soldiers on a Saudi-UAE military base on Zuqar Island in the Red Sea. This attack was never confirmed or denied by the Saudi-led coalition.
According to emerging reports from Yemen, a surface-to-surface missile fired by the Yemeni Army has hit Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
The missile was launched on Sunday evening, and sources in Yemen have described the missile test as successful. It is unclear exactly what missile was used, and casualty figures, if any, are yet to be reported.
Saudi Arabia militarily intervened in the Yemeni Conflict in 2015, leading a coalition of almost 10 Middle Eastern countries. In October 2016, a Yemeni activist warned that Riyadh was the next target for a Yemeni missile attack.
Update 1: More information has emerged, suggesting that the missile was a variant of a Russian Scud, known as the “Borkan” surface-to-surface missile.
Update 2: Sources indicatethat the missile struck a military base West of Riyadh, in Mazahimiyah.
Officials say strategy marries president’s vows to improve relations with Putin and to aggressively challenge Iran’s military presence in Middle East
Ali Shamkhani, right, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, welcomed Russia’s special envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, in Tehran on Sunday. Photo: Vahid Salemi/Associated Press
By Jay Solomon
WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is exploring ways to break Russia’s military and diplomatic alliance with Iran in a bid to both end the Syrian conflict and bolster the fight against Islamic State, said senior administration, European and Arab officials involved in the policy discussions.
A senior administration official said the White House doesn’t have any illusions about Russia or see Mr. Putin as a “choir boy,” despite further conciliatory statements from Mr. Trump about the Russian leader over the weekend. But the official said that the administration doesn’t view Russia as the same existential threat that the Soviet Union posed to the U.S. during the Cold War and that Mr. Trump was committed to constraining Iran.
“If there’s a wedge to be driven between Russia and Iran, we’re willing to explore that,” the official said.
Such a strategy doesn’t entirely explain the mixed signals Mr. Trump and his circle have sent regarding Moscow, which have unnerved U.S. allies and caught Republican leaders in Congress off guard.
Days after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said a surge in violence in eastern Ukraine demanded “clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions,” Vice President Mike Pence suggested Sunday that Washington could lift sanctions on Moscow soon if it cooperated in the U.S. fight against Islamic State.
Mr. Trump himself spoke again about wanting to mend relations with Mr. Putin in an interview that aired before Sunday’s Super Bowl, saying “it’s better to get along with Russia than not.” After Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said Mr. Putin was a “killer,” the president responded: “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
But those involved in the latest policy discussions argue there is a specific focus on trying to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran.
“There’s daylight between Russia and Iran for sure,” said a senior European official who has held discussions with Mr. Trump’s National Security Council staff in recent weeks. “What’s unclear is what Putin would demand in return for weakening the alliance.”
But persuading Mr. Putin to break with Tehran would be immensely difficult and—a number of Russian experts in Washington say—come at a heavy cost likely to reverberate across America’s alliances with its Western partners. Nor would Mr. Trump be the first U.S. president to pursue the strategy: The Obama administration spent years trying to coax Russia away from Iran, particularly in Syria, only to see the two countries intensify their military operations there to bolster the Damascus regime.
“If the Kremlin is to reduce its arms supplies to Iran, it is likely to expect a significant easing of sanctions,” said Dimitri Simes, a Russia expert and president of the Center for the National Interest in Washington. “The Russians don’t believe in free lunches.”
The Kremlin has said it aims to mend ties with the U.S. under the Trump administration but in recent months has also signaled its intent to continue to build on its cooperation with Iran.
Moscow and Tehran have formed a tight military alliance in Syria in recent years. The Kremlin is a major supplier of weapons systems and nuclear equipment to Iran.
But the Trump administration is seeking to exploit what senior U.S., European and Arab officials see as potential divisions between Russia and Iran over their future strategy in Syria and the broader Mideast.
“The issue is whether Putin is prepared to abandon [Ayatollah] Khamenei,” said Michael Ledeen, an academic who advised National Security Council Advisor Michael Flynn during the transition and co-wrote a book with him last year. “I think that might be possible if he is convinced we will ‘take care’ of Iran. I doubt he believes that today.”
Russia, Iran and Turkey have been leading talks in Kazakhstan in recent weeks to try to end Syria’s six-year war. Participants in the discussions, which have excluded high-level U.S. diplomats, said Russia has appeared significantly more open than the Iranians to discussing a future without President Bashar al-Assad.
A Russian-backed faction in the talks has promoted the creation of a new Syrian constitution and a gradual transition away from Mr. Assad.
Moscow has pressed the Trump administration to join the talks at a high-level, an invitation not extended while President Barack Obama was in office. Last week, the administration sent only a lower-level official, its ambassador to Kazakhstan.
Mr. Putin largely has succeeded in saving the regime of Mr. Assad from collapse through a brutal air war in Syria over the past 18 months. But the Kremlin is interested in fortifying its long-term military presence in Syria and doesn’t necessarily view Mr. Assad as an enduring partner, these officials said.
Iran, conversely, is wholly wedded to Mr. Assad as its primary partner for shipping weapons and funds to Iran’s military proxies in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, including Hezbollah and Hamas. Any future Arab leader in Syria, even one close to Mr. Assad, is unlikely to tie his position so closely to Tehran.
“Russia is fully aware of the corruption and incompetence of the Assad regime…[and] knows that a stable Syria—a country worth having military bases in the long term—is unattainable with Assad at the helm,” said Fred Hof, a former State Department official who oversaw Syria policy during President Obama’s first term.
He added: “Tehran knows there is no Syrian constituency beyond Assad accepting subordination to [Iran].”
The Obama administration also pursued a strategy of trying to woo Russia away from Tehran. During his first term, Mr. Obama succeeded in getting then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to support tough United Nations sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities. Moscow also delayed the delivery of antimissile batteries to Tehran, sparking a diplomatic row between the countries.
In return, the Obama White House rolled back missile-defense deployments in Europe that Russia believed weakened its strategic position.
Tensions between Russia and the U.S. flared, though, after Mr. Putin regained the presidency in 2012 and seized the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014. The U.S. and European Union responded with tough financial sanctions on Mr. Putin’s inner circle.
A number of Russia experts in Washington say they believe Mr. Putin would demand a heavy price now for any move to distance himself from Iran. In addition to easing sanctions, they believe he would want assurances that the U.S. would scale back its criticism of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine and stall further expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership for countries near the Russian border.
Montenegro is scheduled to join NATO this year. The U.S. Senate still needs to vote to approve the bid.
In a report released Friday, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, cautioned that even if Moscow were to distance itself from Tehran, it wouldn’t contain the enormous influence that Iran wields over Syria’s economic, military, and political institutions. “Any U.S. effort to subvert Iran’s posture in Syria through Russia will undoubtedly end in failure,” the assessment said.
Russia delivered its S-300 antimissile system to Iran after Tehran, the U.S. and five other world powers implemented a landmark nuclear agreement a year ago. The Kremlin since has talked of further expanding its military and nuclear cooperation with Tehran.
Mr. Trump, though, campaigned on improving relations with Moscow, a theme that Mr. Putin has publicly embraced. Mr. Trump has suggested he could ease sanctions on Russia if the Kremlin took serious steps to cooperate in fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and addressing other national security threats to the U.S.
Mr. Trump and his advisers have made clear since assuming office that constraining Iran would be among their top priorities. They have also privately acknowledged there is no certainty the Kremlin will cooperate.
Last week, the administration declared Iran “on notice” and the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 25 Iran-linked individuals and entities for their alleged roles in aiding Iran’s ballistic missile program and terrorist activities. The Pentagon also dispatched a naval destroyer, the USS Cole, last week to police the waters around Yemen.
The Trump administration’s show of force has raised concerns that the U.S. and Iran could stumble into a military conflict. But officials close to the Trump administration said they believed the White House could gain the respect of the Kremlin if it showed a commitment to enforcing its warnings to other governments.
“Iran has a continuing operation throughout the region…that is not sustainable, not acceptable, and violates norms and creates instability,” a senior U.S. official said on Friday. “Iran has to determine its response to our actions. Iran has a choice to make.”
Britain’s ability to defend itself against a major military attack has been called into question after an investigation found Navy warships are so loud they can be heard 100 miles away by Russian submarines.
Rear Admiral Chris Parry, a former director of operational capability for the Ministry of Defence, said the £1 billion a piece Type 45 destroyers are “as noisy as hell” and sound like “a box of spanners” underwater.
It comes amid warnings that years of defence cuts and expensive procurement contracts with a small number of large defence firms, has the left the military with an “existential minimum” amount of equipment.
The Ministry of Defence spent £3.5bn on each of the Army’s Ajax tanks, but they are unable to fit on board transport aircraft without needing to be dismantled, according to an investigation by the Sunday Times.
A further £1.2 billion was spent on 54 Watchkeeper reconnaissance drones, which haven’t entered frontline service for 12 years.
General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of Joint Forces Command, has called on the Government to “re-bench” the armed forces.
Watch | Watchkeeper: army’s latest ‘spy in the sky’
He said: “You are dealing with a legacy of iterative hollowing out, which has reached a point where the frog has boiled.”
Long-rumoured problems with the Navy’s fleet of six Type 45 destroyers that left them total powerless were confirmed early this year.
The Ministry of Defence issued a statement admitting “reliability issues” had affected the ships and said that it was considering upgrades to the vessels to make them more reliable.
The warships were originally designed to work in the cool waters of the North Atlantic, but in hotter climates, the jet engines have experienced problems with heat, causing them to shut down.
Admiral Parry said: “We used to put little wooden wedges between the hatchclips and the hatches in my destroyer to stop them rattling so we could keep the noise down.”
“We have forgotten all about it — it’s crazy. Noise suppression has been probably the biggest dirty secret since the end of the Cold War that people have been cheerfully ignoring.”
The Ministry of Defence ordered 54 Watchkeeper reconnaissance drones in 2005 in an £847m deal to provide surveillance and reconnaissance for troops.
The drones can beam back high definition images as they fly up to 16,000ft above the battlefield, but technical and safety delays have meant that apart from a brief stint in Afghanistan, the aircraft will not enter full service until this year.
An MOD spokesperson said: “Britain’s defence budget is the biggest in Europe and it is growing every year, we are investing £178 billion as the UK steps up globally.
“We are focused on maintaining an affordable programme and getting the best value for the taxpayer to deliver the cutting-edge kit our Armed Forces need to keep Britain safe.”
James Robart, the U.S. district judge in Washington State, offered little explanation for his decision to stop President Trump‘s executive order temporarily suspending non-American entry from seven terror-plagued countries. Robart simply declared his belief that Washington State, which in its lawsuit against Trump argued that the order is both illegal and unconstitutional, would likely win the case when it is tried.
Now the government has answered Robart, and unlike the judge, Justice Department lawyers have produced a point-by-point demolition of Washington State’s claims. Indeed, for all except the most partisan, it is likely impossible to read the Washington State lawsuit, plus Robart’s brief comments and writing on the matter, plus the Justice Department’s response, and not come away with the conclusion that the Trump order is on sound legal and constitutional ground.
Beginning with the big picture, the Justice Department argued that Robart’s restraining order violates the separation of powers, encroaches on the president’s constitutional and legal authority in the areas of foreign affairs, national security, and immigration, and “second-guesses the president’s national security judgment” about risks faced by the United States.
Indeed, in court last week, Robart suggested that he, Robart, knows as much, or perhaps more, than the president about the current state of the terrorist threat in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and other violence-plagued countries. In an exchange with Justice Department lawyer Michelle Bennett, Robart asked, “How many arrests have there been of foreign nationals for those seven countries since 9/11?”
“Your Honor, I don’t have that information,” said Bennett.
“Let me tell you,” said Robart. “The answer to that is none, as best I can tell. So, I mean, you’re here arguing on behalf of someone [President Trump] that says: We have to protect the United States from these individuals coming from these countries, and there’s no support for that.”
Perhaps Robart has been briefed by the intelligence community on conditions in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and the rest. Perhaps Robart has received the President’s Daily Brief. Perhaps not. In any event, the Justice Department argued — reasonably but not successfully — that it is the president, and not a U.S. District Court judge in the Western District of Washington State, who has the knowledge and the authority to make such decisions.
“Your Honor, I think the point is that because this is a question of foreign affairs, because this is an area where Congress has delegated authority to the president to make these determinations, it’s the president that gets to make the determinations,” Bennett said. “And the court doesn’t have authority to look behind those determinations.”
Robart rejected that position outright. Later, in its emergency brief filed Saturday night with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the government argued that a U.S. District Court judge has no legal right to stop a presidential action in which the president exercised his own constitutional power to conduct foreign policy, as well as power delegated by him to Congress in the area of immigration. The political branches of government have plenary authority over those areas, the government argued, citing cases from 1950, 1952, and 1999:
Judicial second-guessing of the president’s determination that a temporary suspension of entry of certain classes of aliens was necessary at this time to protect national security would constitute an impermissible intrusion on the political branches’ plenary constitutional authority over foreign affairs, national security, and immigration. See, e.g., Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 588-89 (1952) (“[A]ny policy toward aliens is vitally and intricately interwoven with contemporaneous policies in regard to the conduct of foreign relations, the war power, and the maintenance of a republican form of government.”). “[I]t is not within the province of any court, unless expressly authorized by law, to review the determination of the political branch of the Government to exclude a given alien.” Knauff, 338 U.S. at 543; see also INS v. Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U.S. 415, 425 (1999).
In addition, the government argued, “courts are particularly ill-equipped to second-guess the president’s prospective judgment about future risks.” The reason: “Unlike the president, courts do not have access to classified information about the threat posed by terrorist organizations operating in particular nations, the efforts of those organizations to infiltrate the United States, or gaps in the vetting process.”
The government brief supported the president’s decision on both legal and constitutional grounds, starting with the law. And that starts with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which states:
Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.
Quoting cases from 2016 and 1977, the Justice Department argued that, specifically in the context of immigration, “the Supreme Court has ‘long recognized the power to expel or exclude aliens as a fundamental sovereign attribute exercised by the government’s political departments largely immune from judicial control.'” “When Congress delegates this plenary power to the executive, the executive’s decisions are likewise generally shielded from administrative or judicial review.”
Earlier presidents have “repeatedly invoked this authority,” the government brief argued, noting actions by Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. The Supreme Court even ruled in 1993 that the president had “ample power” to order a naval blockade to keep out Haitians trying to enter the United States. Surely he has the authority to stop a Libyan, in Libya, from receiving permission to enter the United States.
The government brief noted that the “vast majority” of people affected by the executive order are foreign nationals residing outside the U.S. Yemenis in Yemen, Somalis in Somalia, Libyans in Libya, etc. But Washington State argued that it has an interest, as a state, in stopping the Trump order because “immigration is an important economic driver in Washington.” The state’s lawyers argued that Microsoft alone employs nearly 5,000 H-1B visa holders, and that is in addition to those working for Amazon, Expedia, and Starbucks in the state. Therefore, the people of Washington State have legal standing to challenge the Trump order.
The government responded that, whatever Microsoft’s hiring preferences, the law is clear:
The [Immigration and Naturalization Act]’s carefully reticulated scheme provides for judicial review only at the behest of an alien adversely affected, and even then only if the alien is subject to removal proceedings. Under longstanding principles exemplified by the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, an alien abroad cannot obtain judicial review of the denial of a visa (or his failure to be admitted as a refugee). It follows that a third party, like Washington, has no “judicially cognizable interest” in such a denial.
In other words, a state cannot stop a president’s national security directive to satisfy the wishes of a particularly big business in that state.
Washington State also argued that the president’s authority under the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 to deny entry to “any aliens or any class of aliens” was later limited by a 1965 amendment that “prohibits discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas on the basis of race, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The Trump order, Washington State lawyers argued, along with intent revealed in statements made by candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign, are discriminatory and violate the amended immigration act.
Not so, argued the Justice Department. “This restriction does not address the president’s authority…to ‘suspend the entry’ of aliens, which is an entirely different act under the immigration laws,” the Department argued. “An immigrant visa does not entitle an alien to admission to the United States, and even if an alien is issued a valid visa, he is subject to being denied admission to this country when he arrives at the border.” Beyond that, the government said, the lawsuit’s argument could lead to an absurd end:
Washington State’s interpretation…would lead to the untenable result that the United States could not suspend entry of nationals of a country with which the United States is at war, which would raise a serious constitutional question about Congress’s ability to restrict the President’s Article II authority to ensure the nation’s security.
Beyond that, there is the issue of non-immigrant entry into the U.S., that is, the millions of people who are admitted each year not as immigrants but as visitors. While the 1965 passage concerns “immigrant visas,” there seems to be no question among anyone that the president can halt the entry of non-immigrants at any time, and Trump’s order specifically included non-immigrants.
On the larger question of the Trump order’s constitutionality, the government makes a very simple point: foreign nationals in foreign countries do not have U.S. constitutional rights:
The vast majority of the individuals that Washington State claims are affected by the Executive Order are aliens outside the United States, but it is “clear” that “an unadmitted and nonresident alien” “had no constitutional right of entry to this country as a nonimmigrant or otherwise.” Mandel, 408 U.S. at 762; see Plasencia, 459 U.S. at 32. This is fatal to Washington’s facial challenges, which require it to show that there is no constitutionally valid application of the order. Even if the state could show a constitutional violation with respect to some individuals — and it cannot — they plainly cannot establish such a violation as to non-resident aliens who are outside the United States and who have no prior connection to this country…The district court’s sweeping injunction…conflicts with the basic principle that “an alien seeking initial admission to the United States requests a privilege and has no constitutional rights regarding his application, for the power to admit or exclude aliens is a sovereign prerogative.” Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21, 32 (1982).
Nevertheless, Washington State argued that Trump’s order violates the First Amendment because it is “intended to disfavor Islam and favor Christianity,” and violates the Fifth Amendment because it is “motivated by animus and a desire to harm a particular group,” meaning Muslims, and because it would discriminate between groups seeking to enter the U.S.
To make its case, Washington State lawyers cherry-picked several Trump statements from the campaign to demonstrate alleged presidential intent to deprive Muslims abroad and in the U.S. of their constitutional rights.
The Justice Department responded in four different ways. First is the argument that no foreign national in a foreign country has U.S. constitutional rights to violate. Second is that the Trump executive order covers countries previously identified by Congress and the Obama administration as terrorist hot spots and is therefore not based on Trump’s alleged animus toward a particular religion. Third, the order does not target Muslims specifically. And fourth, and perhaps most importantly, it is not the role of a U.S. district judge to divine the president’s motives:
Washington State argued that the district court should disregard the president’s stated rationale for issuing the executive order because Washington State believed it was prompted by religious animus toward Islam. That argument is wrong, and it cannot be reconciled with Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 US. 753, 770 (1972), which held that, “when the executive exercises” immigration authority “on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason, the courts will [not] look behind the exercise of that discretion[.]” Cf. Kerry v. Din, 135 S. Ct. 2128, 2140 (2015) (Kennedy, J., concurring) (noting that Mandel’s “reasoning has particular force in the area of national security”). Here, as another district court has recognized, the executive order undeniably states a facially legitimate and bona fide reason — ensuring the “proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of foreign nationals” and “that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists.” Order, §§ 3(c), 5(a), (c); see Louhghalam, Order 18-19. The order does so in part by incorporating a list of seven countries that were identified by Congress — and by the Executive in 2016 — as raising terrorism-related concerns.
Finally, the Justice Department noted that even with such a large body of law opposing Robart’s judgment, and in such a high-profile case with so much responsibility on the judge to clearly state his reasoning, Robart “did not confront” the arguments against his position and indeed “gave no explanation why the state of Washington has a high likelihood of success on the merits of its claims.” Beyond that, the state itself, as a state, is not subject to the executive order, and therefore does not have standing to challenge it. And Robart’s order is “vastly overbroad” and “untethered to Washington State’s particular claims” and “extends even to aliens abroad who currently have no visas” and “applies nationwide, effectively overriding the judgment of another district court [in Boston] that sustained the executive order against parallel challenges.”
In fact, while Judge Robart decreed that the interests of Washington State would be harmed by the Trump order, the government argued that the interests of the presidency, and of the Constitution, would be harmed by Judge Robart’s decision. “Judicial intrusion on the political branches’ exclusive authority over the admission of aliens, by violating the separation of powers, in itself constitutes irreparable injury,” the Department argued.
By the end of the Justice Department’s 24-page brief, Judge Robart’s, and the state of Washington’s, argument lay in tatters.
So what happens now? The Department filed the emergency request to stop Robart’s order with the 9th Circuit, long known as the most liberal appeals court in America. No matter how strong the case, many observers thought there would be zero chance the circuit court would take the government’s side. And indeed, the emergency effort to stop Robart was immediately rejected. But that was just the emergency effort. In the days ahead, there will be a fuller hearing on the issue, and possibly more appeals.
As that goes on, even among Trump allies there will be debate over whether the new administration moved too fast, whether it should have waited until it had more fully introduced the ideas in the executive order to the public and had its own team in place in the Justice Department. (The Department’s brief was filed by Noel J. Francisco, a former Bush administration official who is now a temporary Trump appointee serving as Acting Solicitor General.)
Despite the overwhelming strength of the administration’s argument, what happens next — as the case is argued in a liberal circuit and then possibly moves on to a Supreme Court divided evenly, 4 to 4, among liberal and conservative justices — is impossible to predict. But strength of the case does not assure victory. As Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host who also served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, tweeted on Sunday: “The law is on Donald Trump‘s side. Doesn’t mean that the courts will follow it.”
The Central Banks have been buying corporate stocks. The Federal Reserve has been buying stocks likely through companies like Citadel Capital. Max Keiser
Never forget that Federal Reserve Vice-Chairman Stanley Fischer used to be the Governor of the Bank of Israel. He holds dual US-Israeli citizenship and was brought here in 2014 to oversee the demise of the US Dollar. Vidrebel
Hint: Stanley Fisher used to be a professor of economics. He was a mentor to Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi. That is all you need to know about him.
David Rothkopf was the Managing Director of Kissinger Associates back in the 1990s. He wrote the book Superclass in which he said that the world was run by 30 Families and their 6,000 Minions. The Thirty Families are the New World Order. The NWO wants to replace the sovereign decision making authority of more than 100 nations with their Absolute Power. One World government would remove the facade of democracy.
The trade treaties TPP and TTIP would have taken power away from sovereign nations and turned it over to corporations. A Swiss study found that 147 corporations controlled 20% of world trade. The 30 Families and their 6,000 Minions wanted these companies to be above the law and to exploit consumers in all nations without recourse to law. So what if you have studies proving Genetically Modified Organisms are harmful to human and animal health. You will eat your GMO and not talk back.
The TPP and TTIP treaties would have been stepping stones to a One World government.
Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have stopped the progression to a One World government. That and the dislike for GMO by consumers around the world. All you need to know about One World government is that One Bank One Vote would have replaced One Man One Vote.
As Max Keiser was implying, the plan is to run the stock market up so the Uber Rich can unload their over valued shares to the Central Banks, pension funds and small investors then let you eat the inflation as the world plunges into a Global Depression worse than the 1930s.
The Bankers plan to cut our wages and pensions by 60% or more. Of course some nations would be better off than others after a global crash. Russia has very little debt even though it has dipped into reserves. Putin has enough cash left over to buy gold by the ton. Despite Fake News reports, the US does not have more gold reserves than Russia.
The British have more Household or private debt than Americans. But Australia and the Netherlands have even more than Britain. The US and Japan lead most countries in national public debt. And that includes Greece. You will have to do a web search for total private debt as well as public debt for your nation to determine how bad things will become in the relatively near future.
Why am I concerned about debt? Because a Depression is a period in time when Unpayable Debts are cancelled en masse. The preferred method for cancelling Unpayable Debts in the modern era is Hyperinflation. Venezuela just added a zero to their money. On July 4, 2008 in Zimbabwe the price of a bottle of beer rose from 100 to 150 billion dollars between 5 and 6:30 pm.
The United States was over populated by design and has been living off the charity of others since the 1960s. The US prints dollars which people overseas use to buy oil or food or thousands of other products and commodities from producers outside the US. Americans get to pay for imported cars, food, oil, electronics, apparel and everything else with’I Owe You Nothing’ Federal Reserve Notes. That system which allows the US to print dollars foreigners are forced to redeem will come to an abrupt end in the near future.
That is when imported prices either double or triple or even quadruple thus instantly impoverishing everyone who is stuck holding dollars. That will cut American wages and pensions 60%. When you combine that massive paycut with the other accompanying economic dislocations, you can see how Americans will suffer worse than during the Great Depression. Only 3 million Americans starved to death last time in the 1930s.
The Bankers transfer wealth from us to them through a rigged system that allows them to charge us interest on money they created out of nothing. That ability to rob 300 million non-Jewish Americans is sacrosanct. We will not be allowed to change our banking laws until our survival depends on it.
A few hints of things to come before the collapse:
Most of us have friends and relatives who love the price of their home. They do not realize that homes in many areas of the world are way over valued. It was only the phenomenal rise in Unpayable Mortgage Debt that has driven up house prices beyond the ability of young couples to buy.
Others have never thought about what will happen to their city the day after the Nationwide Food Riots begin. WalMart has had riots in localities where the Electronic Transfer Benefit cards for Food Stamps failed to work. Imagine what happens when 120 million Americans cannot afford to buy food because their wages and pensions were cut 50%.
This income reduction will work out in different ways for people around the world. Some nations will be far in worse conditions than others. Both America and Great Britain will have hard times.
Americans do have 350 million guns but millions of people might use them against their fellow citizens to steal what little they have. That is what the Uber Rich want to happen.
It was interesting to note that Donald Trump has 3 generals in his inner circle. To me that signifies that he is prepared for a Civil War. George W Bush had 2 former Defense Secretaries and a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his inner circle. But that was so America could fight Israel’s wars in the Mideast. I see a greater domestic focus for Trump. Bush’s father was a former CIA Director and had worked for the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds. But Trump’s father was a builder in Brooklyn. And his mother had immigrated from the Hebrides islands when she was 18. English was her second language.
Stanley Fischer was lauded by other Central Bankers for his skills. This is not good news for you. He favors using your deposit money to pay for any losses the Banks incur. That means your savings and pension will be cut more than 60%. I read in Zero Hedge that 27 million employed adults who work as many hours as they can get have to skip meals to get through the week. Cutting their wages will be hazardous to the health of anyone who works for the government and especially for those in law enforcement or the military after martial law is decreed.
I must repeat my previous plea: Only Debt Cancellation will end this Depression painlessly without violence. After the Nationwide Food Riots begin, martial law will be declared. The only sensible solution would be for junior military officers to seize control and arrest the Bankers seizing their assets to fund Debt Cancellation.
I will conclude with something have not said for awhile.
The Fundamental Fact of Your Existence as a modern man or woman is that the bankers of New York and London want to reduce you to Debt Slavery.
Wall Street hedge fund manager and financial analyst Mitch Feierstein claims that Donald Trump came to power just in time to prevent billionaire George Soros and Bill and Hillary Clinton achieve a Trans Pacific free trade deal hidden from the public.
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — President Donald Trump came to power just in time to prevent billionaire George Soros and Bill and Hillary Clinton achieve a Trans Pacific free trade deal hidden from the public, Wall Street hedge fund manager and financial analyst Mitch Feierstein told Sputnik.”George Soros and Clinton Inc. were nearly able to declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ on their vision of establishing an opaque ‘New World Order’,” Feierstein, a hedge fund manager who has spent 38 years working in the New York, Tokyo and London global financial markets, said on Tuesday.
On Monday, Trump announced that he was scrapping the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that his predecessor President Barack Obama had sought to complete during his eight years in office.
“Forget Soros’s New World Order for now because a new sheriff, Donald Trump, the 45th US President arrived on in Washington promising to drain the swamp. TPP is a now history and it will be interesting to see who is naked at low tide,” Feierstein noted.
The top-secret TPP free trade agreement was one of the worst trade deals ever crafted by Washington’s pay-to-play culture of corruption, Feierstein stated.
“How could any rational individual or sovereign be supportive of a secret ‘trade deal’ with zero transparency and legal language drafted by multi-national corporations?” he asked.
The TPP was deliberately crafted to ensure a form of “globalization” so that these same corporations who designed the “rules” could operate in the dark with total impunity while stripping member nations of their sovereignty and denying consumers of all their rights and protections, Feierstein explained.
“TPP was Obama’s ‘Crown Jewel’ achievement after 35 years of failed neoliberalism funded by oligarchs for the benefit of oligarchies,” he observed.
Feierstein is a British-American investor, banker and writer who has worked as a columnist for the Daily Mail and currently works as a columnist for The Independent and the Huffington Post.
A military source said that the forces of the House of Representatives (HoR) under the leadership of General Khalifa Haftar had transported 70 wounded soldiers to Russia for treatment.
The source added that this is an indication that the cooperation between Haftar and Russia had started.
An army officer said that the wounded had traveled to Russia from Benghazi through Egypt.
Haftar has a cooperating relationship with Egypt and Emirates in fighting the revolutionaries’ council in Benghazi.
From his side, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said, on Wednesday, that his country considers Haftar as one of the main Libya personalities.
Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Lavrov added that the Libyan crisis must be ended as soon as possible.
He said that he supports the meeting between the main parties in the Libyan conflict. Lavrov called for a meeting that gathers the head of the Presidential Council (PC), Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of the HoR Ageela Saleh, and Haftar.
Sunni Terrorism is Killing Internationally but America Blames Iran: Christians and Hezbollah
Boutros Hussein, Chika Mori, and Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
President Donald Trump of America was elected based on promises over the internal economy and re-energizing the nation state by focusing on equal trade agreements that envisage greater protection for American workers. Sadly, it seems that in the realm of geopolitics, terrorism, and military issues, that the usual easy slogans are back in favor in order to appease Israel and Saudi Arabia respectively. Therefore, if events spiral out of control in the Ukraine, it appears that promises with solving the relationship with the Russian Federation may also be missed.
James Mattis, the US Defense Secretary, is citing Iran with being the “biggest state sponsor of terrorism.” Yet mentioning Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, in relation to Iran being involved in terrorism is not only false, it denies the stable role of Iran in helping to defeat ISIS (Islamic State – IS) in Iraq and Syria. This, amazingly, includes Iran assisting America by stealth in Iraq because without Iran’s resolve – and the role of Shia militias – then the central government of Baghdad was threatened with being overrun by ISIS prior to the counterattack.
Equally, religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, are threatened by the genocidal and enslaving tendencies of Sunni Islamists in this country based on endless atrocities by ISIS. Similarly, in Syria, the Shia force of Hezbollah is helping to protect Syrians of all faiths, irrespective if Christian, Druze, or Muslim. Likewise, the main Christian politician in Lebanon, Michel Aoun, is known to have good relations with Hezbollah.
Indeed, Sunni Islamic terrorism is responsible for September 11 in America just like the same ideology is spreading its barbaric tendencies in Europe. Maybe Mattis isn’t aware of the difference of geopolitics and international terrorism? After all, the terrorists of Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Al-Nusra, Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban, and a plethora of others, follow the same Sunni Islamic intrigues in line with the political ambitions of the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, Africans, Asians, Europeans, and North Americans, are threatened solely by Sunni Islamic terrorism in countless nations. Also, in parts of some European cities, the reality of Sunni Islamization based on Gulf petrodollars and the policies of naïve politically correct liberals in Europe is altering the demographic and religious landscape.
ISIS to the anti-Shia state institutionalism of Saudi Arabia and other nations including Bahrain are fermenting sectarianism based on the endless persecution of Shia Muslims. Given this reality, the growth of Al-Qaeda (AQAP in Yemen) in Yemen and the growing tentacles of ISIS in this nation are based on the Sunni Muslim coalition under the leadership of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the Shia in Yemen – and all forces opposed to the Saudi Arabia led coalition – face the triple forces of Sunni Islamic aggression, Western military arms boosting Saudi Arabia, and the wrath of bloodthirsty Sunni Islamist groups including AQAP and ISIS.
Mattis said, “We have seen their [Iran’s] misconduct, their misbehavior, from Lebanon and Syria to Bahrain and to Yemen and it’s got to be addressed at some point.”
Yet, this statement by Mattis seems more aimed at appeasing Israel and Saudi Arabia, rather than caring about the religious mosaic of the region and finding a space in order for Christians to survive throughout the Middle East. For example, in Syria, it is government forces and allies including Hezbollah that are enabling the Christians to survive the genocidal tendencies of ISIS and other Sunni Islamist sectarian terrorist forces. Likewise, Hezbollah and Christians in the Aoun camp in Lebanon – and at a local level based on the initiatives of Shia mosques and Christian churches – seek to maintain the religious mosaic of this nation.
His Eminence, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, an extremely powerful religious cleric in the movement of Hezbollah knows full well the real danger to the entire region. Nasrallah said, “I want to ask the Christians before the Muslims: You are seeing what is taking place in Syria. I am not causing sectarian evocations. Let no one say that Sayyed is doing so. Not at all! Where are your churches? Where are your patriarchs? Where are your nuns? Where are your crosses? Where are the statues of Mary (pbuh)? Where are your sanctities? Where are all of these? What has the world done for them? What did the world do for them previously in Iraq? Aren’t these groups causing all of this in all the regions?”
Nasrallah is confirming that Christians and Christian churches survive openly in Lebanon and in Syria under government controlled areas. Indeed, Syrian soldiers of all faiths, be they Muslim or Christian, are on the frontline against ISIS and various al-Qaeda affiliates. Whereas, in Iraq, the demise of the Christian population is based on the intrigues of major Western powers and the role of Sunni Islamists in major Gulf nations that are spreading Sunni Islamic sectarianism. Similarly, not one single Christian church is tolerated in Saudi Arabia. Also, in major Western nations, the problem is Sunni Islamist educational indoctrination that is being tolerated via Takfiri Sunni mosques and Sunni Islamist educational facilities that are creating states within a state.
In a past article by Modern Tokyo Times, it was stated, “It is ironic that Hezbollah (Hizbullah) in Lebanon under His Eminence, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, is more concerned about the plight of Christians and other religious minorities, rather than the so-called democratic West. Indeed, it is abundantly clear that America, France, and the United Kingdom are fully behind the emptying of Christians throughout the Middle East based on their close ties with feudal Gulf monarchies. Therefore, while Saudi Arabia bans the Christian faith it is also clear that Western meddling in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, is leading to a catastrophe for the Christian populations of these nations. Indeed, it is even hard to say nations about Iraq and Libya because Gulf and Western destabilization policies have led to failed states. Syria, thankfully, is fighting tenaciously in order to preserve the religious mosaic and to prevent another failed state.”
Mattis is clearly delusional at best but at worse his words are based on enormous manipulation of language. Yes, Iran and Hezbollah are anti-Israel but this is a different issue that is outside the scope of international terrorism. In other words, if America opposes Iran despite this nation helping America in the past in Afghanistan via the Northern Alliance after September 11 and the role of this nation in modern day Iraq, then Mattis should focus on the geopolitical reality of this and the role of Gulf petrodollars.
International terrorism is mainly killing in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Sometimes, the same international terrorism butchers in Berlin, Brussels, London, Madrid, New York, Nice, Paris, and other Western cities. Yet this international terrorism is Sunni Islamist and just like the nation state of Saudi Arabia, this hatred is aimed at all non-Muslims, the Shia, and moderate variants of Sunni Islam that are now equally being deemed to be apostates. Therefore, Mattis is disingenuous and is misleading the people of America by focusing on limited and endless geopolitical games that are emboldening the sword of Sunni Islamism.
Things have gotten so bad in the chamber lately that Chuck Schumer even voted against Mitch McConnell’s wife.
The seats for Democratic senators remain empty as a vote is held for Scott Pruitt’s nomination to be administrator of the EPA during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Feb. 2. | Getty
The Senate is barely functioning. And the future looks even bleaker.
Showdowns, government shutdown threats and “nuclear options” will loom over the chamber in the coming months. In fact, the tumultuous first month of President Donald Trump’s administration may turn out to be the most pleasant period of the 115th Congress.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Total GOP control of Washington should mean that Trump gets everything he wants out of Capitol Hill.
But Senate Democrats — the last line of Democratic defense — are slow-walking the installation of Trump’s Cabinet to a historic degree, so much so that Republicans haven’t even started yet on Trump’s legislative agenda. Republicans will eventually win all these confirmation battles, but it will be time-consuming and ugly.
How ugly has it gotten? Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer voted against the nomination of Elaine Chao for secretary of Transportation. Chao happens to be the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Chao was approved easily — the vote was 93-6 — but Schumer’s “no” vote infuriated many Republicans. Yet it was also the embattled Schumer’s way of sending a message to both his base and GOP counterparts – “I will do whatever it takes.” He joined the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker in voting again Chao.
“The Senate is coming apart,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
“It’s not a good time. It’s not a good time,” added Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Democrats, many of whom openly loathe Trump and are furious over his refugee crackdown – which Democrats describe as a “Muslim ban” – and other executive actions, have used all the procedural arrows in their quiver to slow down confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet nominees. They’ve boycotted committee meetings, refused to let panels meet in the afternoon, dragged out votes as long as possible, and refused to agree to even normal floor requests. They are voting against Trump’s Cabinet picks in unprecedented numbers, arguing that Trump doesn’t deserve even a patina of partisan support.
And their tactics have been partly successful.
The Senate’s confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet is the slowest in modern history, spanning back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had their whole Cabinets confirmed at this point, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were nearly finished and even George H.W. Bush had nine of his Cabinet secretaries in place despite opposition from a Democratic Senate.
Trump, though, has only four Cabinet secretaries confirmed, although several more — including Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions — are expected to clear this week.
Democrats say it’s Trump’s own fault for the slow pace. Democrats claim if Trump had picked better qualified candidates for these posts, the slowdown wouldn’t have happened.
“They are extraordinarily fringe cabinet nominees driving this conversation,” insisted liberal Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a central advocate of slowing Trump’s agenda.
McConnell has responded to the delay tacits by exploiting his majority status to grind down the Democrats. He scheduled a rare 6:30 a.m. Senate vote on Friday to move forward Betsy DeVos for Education secretary. He has delayed the opening times for the Senate each day to evade Schumer’s objections. When Democrats refused to attend committee hearings to vote on nominees, Republicans changed the committee rules so they could jam them through. They moved forward on nominations even before background checks are complete or refused Democratic demands for more information.
Republicans insist Democrats will eventually get tired of gnashing their teeth over Trump. He’s the president and there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s a message you hear over and over from Republicans — Trump won, let it go.
“I don’t see how they sustain their anger and their lack of participation in the governing process very long and still come back in 2018. I just don’t think it’s an agenda for success,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas.) “So my hope is that once they sort of get over the fact that Donald Trump won … they’ll try to be more productive.”
GOP senators add that Democrats made their own troubles on Trump’s nominees by invoking the “nuclear option” on executive-branch nominees and lower-court judges in 2013, making it possible to push them through on a simpler majority vote. Before that, it took 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, forcing presidents and the majority to cut deals with the minority party.
The prospect of another “nuclear option” fight looms over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a move that would cause a volcanic uproar from the minorty party. Yet Democrats won’t rule out blocking him and Republican are threatening to kill the supermajority requirement to get him confirmed, potentially watering down the filibuster even further.
However, the real payback from Democrats may come later in year. The first half of 2017 will be dominated by bills that McConnell can push through on a simple majority — including Obamacare repeal and a tax-reform package.
But government funding will run out on April 28, and Democrats could filibuster any bill to keep the government open— and force a showdown over keeping the government down. It’s unlikely to happen, admitted Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), although other Democrats suggest it could.
The summer will see a vote on increasing the nation’s $20-trillion-plus debt ceiling. Republicans can push an increase through the House on their own, but need 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats could get leverage there.
It is the annual appropriations bills, though, where Democrats have their most power. GOP congressional leaders and the White House already believe Senate Democrats will block most or all of those bills, looking to gain an upper hand over Trump and Republicans. If Trump goes too far with policy riders — totally defunding Planned Parenthood, for instance — or makes too deep cuts to the EPA or other health and safety programs, Democrats suggest they’re willing to go the mat.
“I don’t know, depends on what they propose,” replied Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) when asked about funding brinkmanship. “We’re not going to just shut the government down to shut the government down. That’s not what this is about.”
A number of senators, including those in his own party, said Trump is going to have to dramatically tone down his rhetoric and attempt to build some relationships with Democrats.
“I hope and believe that, sooner rather than later, the president will realize that he has to establish some [bipartisan] relationships,” McCain said.
McCain added that the first two weeks of the Trump presidency have felt like “two months.” And some longtime legislators had to dredge up dire events to make today’s political battles seem normal.
“People ask me if I’m worried about our country right now. And I say, well I am. But I always try to put things in perspective,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). “This is a country that survived a civil war followed by the assassination of our president followed by the impeachment of the next president. We got through that, so the Senate will get through this.”
[With each new decision made by President Trump, we see more and more clearly, that Trump is no different from the previous Presidents who have been foisted upon us by our corrupt electoral system. Trump has made a huge issue of patriotism and “making America great again,” in order to hoodwink the masses into believing that he will actually bring industry back to the US. He may increase jobs somewhat, but he will bring no industries back here.
Trump is there to increase the value of his US investments and those of his fat-cat fellow-travelers, and to keep pushing the Zionist agenda. He is maintaining the Israel-serving tradition started by Reagan, that of assembling another “neoconservative” cabinet, disguised as a cabal of patriots. A Hillary cabinet would have looked no different, except for the Trump emphasis on American jobs and homeland security.]
FILE- In this Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 file photo,former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani walks under a photo of Iran opposition leader Massoud Rajavi as he takes the podium to speak at a protest of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations, in New York. A Cabinet nominee of U.S. President Donald Trump and one of his advisers gave paid speeches for an Iranian exile group that killed Americans before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, ran donation scams and saw its members set themselves on fire over the arrest of their leader. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) (The Associated Press)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – An official in U.S. President Donald Trump’s Cabinet and at least one of his advisers gave paid speeches for an Iranian exile group that killed Americans before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, ran donation scams and saw its members set themselves on fire over the arrest of their leader.
Elaine Chao, confirmed this week as Trump’s transportation secretary, received $50,000 in 2015 for a five-minute speech to the political wing of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, previously called a “cult-like” terrorist group by the State Department. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani also was paid an unknown sum to talk to the group, known as the MEK.
More than two dozen former U.S. officials, both Republican and Democratic, have spoken before the MEK, including former House Speaker and Trump adviser Newt Gingrich. Some have publicly acknowledged being paid, but others have not.
While nothing would have prohibited the paid speeches, they raise questions about what influence the exiles may have in the new administration.
Already, a group of former U.S. officials, including Giuliani, wrote a letter to Trump last month encouraging him to “establish a dialogue” with the MEK’s political arm. With Trump’s ban on Iranians entering the U.S., his administration’s call this week to put Iran “on notice” and the imposition of new sanctions on Friday, the exile group may find his administration more welcoming than any before.
A potential alliance with the MEK would link the U.S. to a group with a controversial history that has gone against American interests in the past by supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran. After fleeing Iran, the MEK joined forces with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It later exposed details of the clandestine nuclear program run by Iran, which views the MEK as its sworn enemy.
“The Mujahedeen have backed the winning horse. They are going to have some at least entree into the administration,” said Ervand Abrahamian, a professor at the City University of New York who wrote a book on the MEK. “I think it weakens the U.S. because the more they have access to the administration, the more people in Iran are going to be scared of anything the U.S. does.”
“THE AYATOLLAH MUST GO”
The MEK long has cultivated a roster of former U.S. and European officials to attend its events opposing Iran’s clerically-run government. It pays for the appearance of many.
Standing before a cheering crowd of MEK supporters in Paris in 2015, Giuliani didn’t disappoint.
“The ayatollah must go! Gone! Out! No more!” Giuliani shouted in a speech as American flags waved behind him on giant screens.
“I will not support anyone for president of the United States who isn’t clear on that slogan behind me. What does it say? It says regime change!”
Giuliani has acknowledged being paid for his appearances at MEK events. However, he hasn’t filed a government disclosure form since his failed 2008 Republican presidential bid, so it’s unclear how much the MEK has paid him in total. Giuliani did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment sent through his aides.
As Guiliani spoke in Paris, behind him were a host of other former officials on stage, including Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. A former director of the Peace Corps and a labor secretary under President George W. Bush, Chao gave a much more subdued speech focusing on women’s rights.
“While discrimination against women (has) been outlawed in other countries, Iran has been legalizing it,” Chao said. “While other countries are empowering women, Iran has been penalizing them.”
Chao had a seat of honor at the Paris event next to Maryam Rajavi, the “president-elect” of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political arm of the MEK. She received a $50,000 honorarium from the MEK-associated Alliance for Public Awareness, according to a report she filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
Chao received another $17,500 honorarium for a March 2016 speech she gave to the Iranian-American Cultural Association of Missouri, which MEK opponents also link to the exile group. Chao did not respond to requests for comment.
Gingrich has also spoken to the MEK before, including at a gala in 2016, although it is not clear whether or how much he was paid. Gingrich could not be reached for comment. The White House also had no comment.
The MEK welcomes the incoming Trump government, as “some people within this administration” plan to change American policies toward Iran, said Mohammad Mohaddessin, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of its political arm.
“The core of the policy that we are advocating is to be tough with the Iranian regime, to not ignore its crimes against the Iranian people,” Mohaddessin told the AP.
The U.S. Treasury briefly investigated the MEK’s practice of paying American politicians in 2012. A Treasury spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment about the status of that probe.
“THE KILLING OF TWO AMERICANS, THIS WAS WORK OF MOVEMENT MUJAHEDEEN”
The MEK was formed by radicalized university students in 1965. It embraced both Marxism and the idea of an Islamic government after the violent overthrow of the American-backed shah. Their name, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, means “the People’s Holy Warriors.”
The group at one point successfully infiltrated the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, according to a State Department report. And a series of bombings attributed to the MEK accompanied visits by presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter to Iran, including one to target an American cultural center.
In 1973, MEK assailants wearing motorcycle helmets shot dead U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lewis L. Hawkins, the deputy chief of the U.S. military mission to Tehran, as he walked home from work.
In 1975, gunmen attacked a car carrying two American airmen, killing them. Hours later, American consular officials received a call claiming the attack for the MEK in revenge for Iran executing prisoners.
“This was work of Movement Mujahedeen of Iran,” the caller said, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable.
In the three years that followed, the MEK killed three American employees of defense contractor Rockwell International and a Texaco executive.
“The Mujahedeen are xenophobic,” a once-secret 1981 CIA assessment on the group said. “Anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism provide cornerstones for the policies.”
The MEK, which now describes itself as being “committed to a secular, democratic, non-nuclear republic” in Iran, blames a Marxist splinter faction of the group for killing the Americans.
After joining in the Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the MEK quickly fell out of favor with Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The MEK declared war on Iran in June 1981. Within days, a bomb exploded at the headquarters of the Khomeini-directed Islamic Republican Party in Tehran, killing at least 72 people. Both Iran and the CIA attributed the attack to the MEK, which never claimed responsibility for it.
A series of assassinations and attacks followed as MEK leaders and associates fled to Paris. Later expelled from France, the MEK found haven in Iraq amid its grinding, bloody war with Iran. Heavily armed by dictator Saddam Hussein, MEK forces launched cross-border raids into Iran.
After Iran accepted terms of a United Nations cease-fire in 1988, the MEK sent 7,000 fighters over the border. The attack further alienated the group from average Iranians.
The MEK says it renounced violence in 2001. But the U.S. Army’s official history of the Iraq invasion in 2003 says MEK forces “fought against coalition forces” for the first weeks of the war, something the MEK denies.
Fourteen U.S. soldiers were killed and at least another 60 wounded escorting MEK members on supply missions, according to a RAND Corp. report prepared for the office of the U.S. defense secretary. The MEK itself became a target of violence, and in September 2013 at least 52 members were shot dead.
Thousands of MEK members were ultimately resettled in Albania.
After siding with Saddam, the MEK’s popularity in Iran plummeted. To boost its ranks, the group increasingly began targeting Iranians applying for visas abroad in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, promising them work, aid in moving to Western countries and even marriage, according to RAND.
“Most of these ‘recruits’ were brought into Iraq illegally and then required to hand over their identity documents for ‘safekeeping,'” RAND said. “Thus, they were effectively trapped.”
The MEK also forced its members to divorce their spouses and separated parents from their children, which the State Department described as “cult-like characteristics.” The MEK dictates how much its members sleep, giving them busy-work tasks and controlling what outside news they consume, according to RAND and Abrahamian, the university professor.
For years, MEK leader Massoud Rajavi, the husband of Maryam Rajavi, hasn’t been seen publicly and is presumed to have died, Abrahamian said. MEK members call him the “Hidden Imam” who will return to Earth as a messiah, Abrahamian said.
When French police arrested Maryam Rajavi in 2003 as part of a terrorism investigation, MEK members responded by lighting themselves on fire in Paris and other European cities. The MEK denies it is a cult.
Over the years, the MEK has been targeted in a series of investigations around the world for running charity scams.
An FBI probe found MEK members hustled travelers arriving to Los Angeles International Airport, asking them to donate after showing them binders of photographs of disaster or torture victims. The money instead went to banks in Belgium, France, Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to “support MEK operations and activities, including terrorist activities,” a 2007 indictment against seven members said.
In Britain, authorities dissolved a charity in 2001 allegedly associated with the MEK that had made an estimated 5 million pounds a year. Its investigation found some donors “were misled into believing they were personally sponsoring individual children when this was not in fact the case.”
In the 2003 raids in France, police found $1.3 million, mostly in $100 bills, at MEK-affiliated properties.
Mohaddessin, the MEK foreign policy chairman, blames the investigations on a concerted misinformation campaign carried out by Iran. The Islamic Republic has imprisoned and executed the group’s members for years.
“These allegations are absolutely false,” Mohaddessin said. “There are many cases that were fabricated by the Iranian regime and their agents.”
Iran also has alleged the MEK receives foreign support. After the assassination of four nuclear scientists, Iran accused Israel of training and equipping MEK fighters who committed the killings. The MEK called the accusation “absolutely false” at the time, while Israel declined to comment.
In recent months, Saudi Arabia increasingly has shown support for the MEK as it faces off with Iran in wars in Syria and Yemen. The kingdom’s state-run television channels have featured MEK events and comments. Prince Turki al-Faisal, the nation’s former intelligence chief, even appeared in July at an MEK rally in Paris.
“I want to topple the regime too,” the prince said to cheers.
“SKILLED MANIPULATORS OF PUBLIC OPINION”
From protests at the United Nations to their Paris rallies, the MEK has proven over the years to be effective at getting attention.
RAND in 2009 called the group “skilled manipulators of public opinion.” A U.S. diplomatic cable from February of that year released by WikiLeaks described their “extravagantly hospitable, exaggeratedly friendly, culturally-attuned manner.” The cable also mentioned that the MEK had “a history of using intimidation and terrorism for its ends,” which Mohaddessin called an allegation from the Iranian regime.
The MEK’s success in getting former U.S. officials behind them could be seen in a letter dated Jan. 9 sent to Trump just days before his inauguration.
“We repeat the call for the U.S. government to establish a dialogue with Iran’s exile resistance,” read the letter, signed by Giuliani and others.
However, exile groups haven’t always been proven to be reliable American allies in the Middle East. Exiled Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, for instance, heavily lobbied the administration of President George W. Bush to invade by pushing false allegations of weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
But while the MEK continues to pay former U.S. officials for their time, the family of the American lieutenant colonel killed in 1975 has filed a $35 million federal lawsuit in Colorado against the group and Iran.
The reason for the lawsuit, Lt. Col. Jack Turner’s family says, is simple: “Unlike the U.S. hostages, our father never had the chance to come home.”
Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, and to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Purpose. The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States. Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans. And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.
Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program. Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States. The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism.
In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Sec. 2. Policy. It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States; and to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes.
Sec. 3. Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall immediately conduct a review to determine the information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat.
(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the President a report on the results of the review described in subsection (a) of this section, including the Secretary of Homeland Security’s determination of the information needed for adjudications and a list of countries that do not provide adequate information, within 30 days of the date of this order. The Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide a copy of the report to the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence.
(c) To temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period described in subsection (a) of this section, to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals, pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas).
(d) Immediately upon receipt of the report described in subsection (b) of this section regarding the information needed for adjudications, the Secretary of State shall request all foreign governments that do not supply such information to start providing such information regarding their nationals within 60 days of notification.
(e) After the 60-day period described in subsection (d) of this section expires, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall submit to the President a list of countries recommended for inclusion on a Presidential proclamation that would prohibit the entry of foreign nationals (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas) from countries that do not provide the information requested pursuant to subsection (d) of this section until compliance occurs.
(f) At any point after submitting the list described in subsection (e) of this section, the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Homeland Security may submit to the President the names of any additional countries recommended for similar treatment.
(g) Notwithstanding a suspension pursuant to subsection (c) of this section or pursuant to a Presidential proclamation described in subsection (e) of this section, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.
(h) The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall submit to the President a joint report on the progress in implementing this order within 30 days of the date of this order, a second report within 60 days of the date of this order, a third report within 90 days of the date of this order, and a fourth report within 120 days of the date of this order.
Sec. 4. Implementing Uniform Screening Standards for All Immigration Programs. (a) The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall implement a program, as part of the adjudication process for immigration benefits, to identify individuals seeking to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission. This program will include the development of a uniform screening standard and procedure, such as in-person interviews; a database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants; amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent; a mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be; a process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest; and a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.
(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, shall submit to the President an initial report on the progress of this directive within 60 days of the date of this order, a second report within 100 days of the date of this order, and a third report within 200 days of the date of this order.
Sec. 5. Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017. (a) The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. During the 120-day period, the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the USRAP application and adjudication process to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement such additional procedures. Refugee applicants who are already in the USRAP process may be admitted upon the initiation and completion of these revised procedures. Upon the date that is 120 days after the date of this order, the Secretary of State shall resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have jointly determined that such additional procedures are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.
(b) Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.
(c) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.
(d) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest.
(e) Notwithstanding the temporary suspension imposed pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may jointly determine to admit individuals to the United States as refugees on a case-by-case basis, in their discretion, but only so long as they determine that the admission of such individuals as refugees is in the national interest — including when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution, when admitting the person would enable the United States to conform its conduct to a preexisting international agreement, or when the person is already in transit and denying admission would cause undue hardship — and it would not pose a risk to the security or welfare of the United States.
(f) The Secretary of State shall submit to the President an initial report on the progress of the directive in subsection (b) of this section regarding prioritization of claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution within 100 days of the date of this order and shall submit a second report within 200 days of the date of this order.
(g) It is the policy of the executive branch that, to the extent permitted by law and as practicable, State and local jurisdictions be granted a role in the process of determining the placement or settlement in their jurisdictions of aliens eligible to be admitted to the United States as refugees. To that end, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall examine existing law to determine the extent to which, consistent with applicable law, State and local jurisdictions may have greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions, and shall devise a proposal to lawfully promote such involvement.
Sec. 6. Rescission of Exercise of Authority Relating to the Terrorism Grounds of Inadmissibility. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall, in consultation with the Attorney General, consider rescinding the exercises of authority in section 212 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182, relating to the terrorism grounds of inadmissibility, as well as any related implementing memoranda.
Sec. 7. Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States, as recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President periodic reports on the progress of the directive contained in subsection (a) of this section. The initial report shall be submitted within 100 days of the date of this order, a second report shall be submitted within 200 days of the date of this order, and a third report shall be submitted within 365 days of the date of this order. Further, the Secretary shall submit a report every 180 days thereafter until the system is fully deployed and operational.
Sec. 8. Visa Interview Security. (a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.
(b) To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.
Sec. 9. Visa Validity Reciprocity. The Secretary of State shall review all nonimmigrant visa reciprocity agreements to ensure that they are, with respect to each visa classification, truly reciprocal insofar as practicable with respect to validity period and fees, as required by sections 221(c) and 281 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1201(c) and 1351, and other treatment. If a country does not treat United States nationals seeking nonimmigrant visas in a reciprocal manner, the Secretary of State shall adjust the visa validity period, fee schedule, or other treatment to match the treatment of United States nationals by the foreign country, to the extent practicable.
Sec. 10. Transparency and Data Collection. (a) To be more transparent with the American people, and to more effectively implement policies and practices that serve the national interest, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall, consistent with applicable law and national security, collect and make publicly available within 180 days, and every 180 days thereafter:
(i) information regarding the number of foreign nationals in the United States who have been charged with terrorism-related offenses while in the United States; convicted of terrorism-related offenses while in the United States; or removed from the United States based on terrorism-related activity, affiliation, or material support to a terrorism-related organization, or any other national security reasons since the date of this order or the last reporting period, whichever is later;
(ii) information regarding the number of foreign nationals in the United States who have been radicalized after entry into the United States and engaged in terrorism-related acts, or who have provided material support to terrorism-related organizations in countries that pose a threat to the United States, since the date of this order or the last reporting period, whichever is later; and
(iii) information regarding the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including honor killings, in the United States by foreign nationals, since the date of this order or the last reporting period, whichever is later; and
(iv) any other information relevant to public safety and security as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, including information on the immigration status of foreign nationals charged with major offenses.
(b) The Secretary of State shall, within one year of the date of this order, provide a report on the estimated long-term costs of the USRAP at the Federal, State, and local levels.
Sec. 11. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.