American Resistance To Empire

US Congress Debates the Unthinkable…Forever War, Made “Legitimate” By Legislation

Damir Sagolj / Reuters
A rising generation of Americans has never known peace.

Very soon, in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria or Somalia or Libya or perhaps elsewhere, an 18-year-old man or woman will be deployed by the United States military to risk his or her life in a War on Terror that began before they were even born.

Already, every single spring, roughly 3.5 million high-school graduates reach adulthood with no memory of a time when their country wasn’t waging multiple wars.

The United States is at war in so many places, against so many groups, that the majority of citizens would struggle to name half of them—and no reader can name all of them, unless an official with access to highly classified information is among us, because the identities of some of the groups the United States is fighting are state secrets.

Last year, when four American fighters died in Niger, multiple United States senators declared their surprise that the military they oversee had troops deployed in that country.

The American public elected successive presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, who expressed skepticism of foreign wars that they did not then end. Members of the U.S. Congress have been unwilling to endorse several of the wars that successive presidents waged anyway, despite their unpopularity and illegality. Last Friday, one American was killed and four wounded in fighting in Somalia, though it is unlikely that a proposal to put boots on the ground there would pass.

The need for Congress to act—to rein in the president, to protect American blood and treasure, to preserve republican government, and to reassert its lawful, constitutional authority over war—has never been more urgent, with the single exception of the years of fighting in Vietnam, another conflict that began without a declaration of war and stretched across multiple presidencies, resulting in the deaths of 58,220 Americans.

To avert a like catastrophe, prominent Republicans and Democrats have been urging Congress to reassert itself on the matter of where the president is permitted to wage war and expressing their belief that the status quo undermines the rule of law.

President Trump’s saber-rattling only adds urgency to the question.

But incredibly, the most widely supported effort to improve on the  Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a resolution that has been stretched past the breaking point by successive presidents, would actually legalize war in all of the places it is presently being waged and radically increase the president’s ability to legally expand the Forever War.

Proposed by Senators Tim Kaine and Bob Corker, its radicalism approaches that of a constitutional amendment. Their new AUMF would subvert an article at the core of the Constitution, gutting a vital protection against tyranny devised by the Framers. It would authorize multiple existing wars without even debating them individually. It would empower Trump and his successors to unilaterally wage war in new countries, expand their ability to indefinitely detain prisoners without charges, and empower them to unilaterally kill individuals even inside the United States.

In opposition, the ACLU has declared, “It would be hard to overstate the depth and breadth of the dangers to the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights that the Corker-Kaine AUMF would cause … The Corker-Kaine AUMF would cause colossal harm to the Constitution’s checks and balances, would jeopardize civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad, would lead to a broad expansion of war without meaningful oversight, and would represent a sharp break from adherence to international law, including the United Nations Charter.”

The Fox News host Andrew Napolitano declared in testimony to Congress that “the legislation would give the president far more powers than he has now, would directly violate Congress’s war-making powers by ceding them away to the president, would defy the Supreme Court on the unconstitutionality of  giving  away core governmental  functions, would commit the U.S. to foreign wars without congressional and thus popular support, and would invite dangerous mischief by any president wanting to attack any enemy—real or imagined, old or new—for foreign or domestic political  purposes, whether American interests are at stake or not.”

And in his view it would be unconstitutional.

“Just because the branch of government that is losing power consents to that loss does not make it Constitutional,” he argued. “The Separation of Powers Doctrine was not written to preserve the power or the hegemony of the three branches for their own sake, but rather to preserve human liberty by keeping the branches at tension.”

Yet the law might well pass. And for that reason, while there is still time to stop it, the bill warrants the attention of every adult American, regardless of party or clique.

Before going further, it is important to understand exactly what the proposed law says, and why some well-meaning legislators believe that passing it is a prudent course.

  1. The bill would authorize the president to wage ongoing wars against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in Syria, the Haqqani Network, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya.
  2. The bill would create a way for the president to lawfully wage counterterrorism campaigns against those terrorist organizations in still other countries, and to add still other groups or individuals as “associated forces.”
  3. More specifically, to wage war in a new country, or against a new group or person, Trump would merely have to notify Congress within 48 hours. Legislators would review his expansion of war and could vote to stop it—but that congressional “no” would be subject to a presidential veto, so it would effectively take a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to stop any expansion of war. (Waging war against a new country would still be governed by the War Powers Resolution of 1973—not that presidents generally adhere to that law.)
  4. It would repeal the 2002 Iraq War authorization.
  5. It would expand the list of those vulnerable to indefinite detention without charges or trial by applying a former National Defense Authorization Act to new groups.

For proponents, those provisions are attractive because they bring existing wars under the color of law; define what groups count as “associated forces” of al-Qaeda; force the president to notify Congress upon adding a new associated force—which doesn’t always happen now—and force a legislative debate; and guarantee no White House lawyer can misuse the Iraq War AUMF.

That isn’t nothing.

Kaine’s thinking is perhaps illuminated by an anecdote he related on the Senate floor last year while discussing the notification provision in his proposed law. In April of 2014, he said, the Department of the Navy solicited contractual bids for “personnel recovery, casualty evacuation, and search and rescue” in “high risk environments” in 14 countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Togo, and Tunisia.

“Only five of those 14 countries have ever been notified to Congress pursuant to war-powers letters, but we were planning to engage in casualty evacuation in connection with high-risk activities in all of these countries in Africa,” Kaine said. “I’d like a process that informs Congress and informs the public equal to what we put in contracting documents to inform military contractors.”

That would be nice. The oft-violated War Powers Resolution ought to do the trick already; still, a new law that forced public disclosure of all warring might prove useful. But even as the Corker-Kaine bill attempts to wrest new information about where the president is waging war, it undercuts Congress’s ability to do anything about it, as if gaining a bit of transparency is worth trading away the war power itself.

Senator Rand Paul has rightly objected that the bill flips the Constitution on its head. “This authorization transfers the power to name the enemy and its location from Congress to the president,” Paul observed. “Worse yet,” he added, “this authorization changes the nature of declaring war from an affirmative vote of a simple majority to a negative, supermajority vote to disapprove of presidential wars. So if the president defines a new associated force that our military will attack, Congress can only stop that president with a two-thirds vote to overcome his veto.”

Napolitano sharpened the point in testimony to Congress. “So a president with one-third plus one vote in either House of Congress can wage war on any target at any time the president chooses,” he fumed. “That is so contrary to what Madison intended, so contrary to the plain meaning of the Constitution, so violative of the separation of powers as to be a rejection of the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. And none of you wants to reject that oath.”

The legal scholar Jonathan Turley most effectively underscored how anathema the proposal would be to the Framers who so deliberately vested the war power in Congress.

“This is one of the few points on which there was almost unanimity [at the Constitutional Convention],” he explained. “I say almost because Pierce Butler actually proposed to give this entire power to the president of the United States. He didn’t receive a second. He spoke to a room of Framers and made that proposal, and not a single one seconded that motion. That was one of the most important moments of our republic. That silence, the absence of a sound, shows where we began.”

And one needn’t care at all about the views of the Framers to see the dangerous implications of empowering the president today as the Corker-Kaine bill would do.

“Do I want my son going to war with al-Shabbab in Somalia?” Christopher Anders of the ACLU asked. “My son can’t find Somalia on a map,” he declared. “Probably very few people in this room know what al-Shabbab is.” Yet under the law being considered, “if the president wants to send 200,000 troops there and go all out in house-to-house fighting, as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, he can do that.”

Or say, for instance, that President Trump wanted to invade Pakistan, a nuclear power, with a force of 50,000 American troops. Even after the reckless precedents that Obama set with the constitutionally dubious arguments he offered to justify his illegal intervention in Libya, and the similarly dubious arguments Trump offered to justify his illegal bombing of Syria, a ground invasion of Pakistan would be hugely difficult to justify without the imprimatur of Congress.

But if Corker-Kaine becomes law, Trump could simply order the invasion, then notify Congress that he intended to wage war in a new country where the Taliban operates. And he would be perfectly within the law to start deploying troops without advance permission or notification, and to keep doing so even if majorities in the House and Senate were against him, so long as even a third of either chamber declined to order him to reverse the expansion of the Forever War.

Now say Trump wanted to wage war in Mexico. He might do so within the law by declaring a drug cartel that trafficked in Afghan opium to be an associated force of the Taliban.

Hours after the first drone strikes fell on Ciudad Juarez, he could notify Congress that he was targeting a new associated force in a new country. Once again, a majority of Congress could vote against him without stopping the war. The law’s failure to exclude the United States as a country that the president can add, and language that allows individuals to be added as “associated forces,” even raises the specter of drone strikes or other targeted killings on American soil—something many today would consider not only unlawful, but an impeachable offense.

Little wonder that Turley considers the law worse than the current AUMF. “It will make this body a pedestrian to war,” he said. “It will put war-making on autopilot. And this law does not even have a sunset provision. It just goes on. Under the former AUMFs, we’ve gone through 17 years of war. Adopt this proposal and we’ll have 170 more. It will revise the Constitution without an amendment.”

At Just Security, Tess Bridgeman offers several changes to the legislation that would allow Congress to retain more control. “First and foremost,” she writes, “a new AUMF could explicitly state that it does not authorize the use of force against ‘associated forces’ beyond those named in the statute, and that the President must come back to Congress and seek authority to use force when necessary.”

The same should go for combat in new countries. And rather than requiring mere congressional debate on ongoing wars every four years, “the new AUMF should sunset in 4 years,” Bridgeman writes. “Congress can reauthorize force just as it reauthorizes other extraordinary authorities, and a decision not to do so should be taken seriously.” She concludes that “if Congress truly wants to reassert its role in authorizing military force, which I strongly believe it should do, it should not hand the President the permanent authority to expand the conflict unless a veto-proof supermajority can be mustered to stop him.”

There are those in Congress who agree. Representative Barbara Lee, the lone member of Congress to predict the Forever War that the post-9/11 AUMF ushered in, warned in an open letter, “I have grave concerns about the current proposal authored by Senator Bob Corker and Senator Tim Kaine that would continue our state of perpetual war.” Paul organized a hearing against the bill, where Senators Sanders, Lee, Udall, Peters, and Merkely shared their misgivings. But the fate of the proposal remains unclear.

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

US Drops Threatened Opposition To Russian/German Nord Stream 2 Gas Pipeline

[SEE: Trump Threatens Economic Warfare Against Germany If Nord Stream 2 Is Built ]

Pass the peace pipe: US promises Germany to leave Russian gas pipeline alone

Pass the peace pipe: US promises Germany to leave Russian gas pipeline alone
Germany’s Economy Ministry said Berlin was assured by the United States that any punitive measures introduced against Moscow wouldn’t affect the building of gas pipelines from Russia.

The ministry’s spokesperson said Germany opposed sanctions with extraterritorial effect but, in the specific case of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany, guidelines that had been provided by Washington suggested that the construction would be unaffected, Reuters reports.

Earlier, Washington repeatedly voiced disapproval of the Nord Stream 2 project, pledging to introduce sanctions against European firms participating in the building of the gas pipeline. The project, led by Russia’s energy giant Gazprom, is being implemented in cooperation with German energy firms Wintershall and Uniper, French multinational Engie, British-Dutch oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell and Austrian energy company OMV.

The US administration claimed that the pipeline, aimed at delivering Russian gas to Germany, undermined Europe’s energy security and stability. The White House threatened to sanction project participants using a provision in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), approved by US Congress last summer.

The natural gas pipeline, which is of great importance for Germany along with the other EU nations, has been repeatedly opposed by smaller members of the European Union. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Hungary have severely criticized the project. On Thursday, Hungarian Foreign and Foreign Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto accused the bloc of applying double standards to Nord Stream 2.

“We are not part of the project, we can’t resist it. But I can say there are unacceptable double standards,” the minister told Sputnik, stressing that the former South Stream project, which could provide diversification of gas supplies for Central Europe was “killed” by the EU. “And now we don’t see any encouragement on the part of the European Commission. I can’t imagine any excuses or reasons the Commission could bring,” he said.

Another Eastern European country opposed to the project has been Ukraine, which fears the pipeline may deprive its budget of transit fees.

Syrian Army Cleans-Up On Terrorists In Daraa, To Border w/Golan

Syrian Opposition Ignores US Advice on Daraa

“Commander of the Southern Front factions Colonel Khaled Al-Nabulsi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the group ignored the US advice by choosing to confront regime forces and their allied militias.”



Jordanian Official Reports Cease-fire in Southern Syria as Nasrallah Hails ‘Very Big Victory’



An Assad regime-offensive has made rapid gains against insurgents, causing a wave of refugees to amass near the Syria-Israel border

Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the Daraa province countryside during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 27, 2018
Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the Daraa province countryside during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 27, 2018MOHAMAD ABAZEED/AFP 

A ceasefire has been agreed for southern Syria between the government and rebels, a Jordanian official source said on Friday, amid fears of a gathering humanitarian catastrophe in a region sensitive to neighbours Jordan and Israel.

The source did not elaborate further on the reports of an agreement in the territory where Syrian government forces have been waging an offensive to regain rebel-held territory since last week.

“Haaretz has reported that officers from the Free Syrian Army, that is operating in the Dara area, have sent messages to Syrian government forces in recent days saying that they will lay down their weapons if they are allowed to stay in their villages and homes.”

DaraaGoogle Maps 

In Washington, a State Department official said the United Sattes could not confirm the truce report, and the situation in southern Syria remained “grim” with Russia and Syrian government forces continuing to bomb the area.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fights alongside Damascus, said meanwhile that a “very big victory” was near in southern Syria, where pro-government forces have made rapid gains in Deraa province. State media said troops had marched into several towns and a rebel official said opposition front lines had collapsed.

Government forces backed by Russian air power have turned their focus to the southwest since defeating the last remaining besieged insurgent pockets including eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

A war monitor said the offensive has uprooted more than 120,000 civilians in the southwest since it began last week. Tens of thousands of people have fled towards the border with Jordan and thousands more to the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel and Jordan — which already hosts over 666,000 U.N. registered refugees — say they will not let refugees in.

“We left under bombardment, barrel bombs, (air strikes by) Russian and Syrian warplanes,” said Abu Khaled al-Hariri, 36, who fled from al-Harak town to the Golan frontier with his wife and five children.

Makeshift encampments housing Syrians fleeing from Daraa, as seen from the Israeli side of the Golan

“We are waiting for God to help us, for tents, blankets, mattresses, aid for our children to eat and drink.”

President Bashar al-Assad has pressed ahead with the offensive despite U.S. warnings of “serious repercussions”. Washington has told rebels not to expect military support against the assault.

The campaign has shattered a “de-escalation” deal negotiated by the United States, Russia and Jordan that had mostly contained fighting in the southwest since last year.

A Jordanian official source told Reuters there were confirmed reports of a ceasefire in southern Syria that would lead to “reconciliation” between opposition and government forces. The source did not elaborate.

Jordan has been facilitating talks between rebel factions and Moscow over a deal that would end the violence in return for the return state rule to Deraa province.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned that many civilians risk being trapped between government forces, rebels, and Islamic State which has a small foothold there – an outcome he said would be a “catastrophe”.

“The real concern is that we are going to see a repetition of what we saw in eastern Ghouta – the bloodshed, the suffering, the civilians being held, being under a siege,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitoring group, said the campaign has killed at least 98 civilians since June 19.

Residents celebrate the army's arrival in the formerly rebel-held town of Ibta, northeast of Deraa city, Syria in this handout released on June 29, 2018
Residents celebrate the army’s arrival in the formerly rebel-held town of Ibta, northeast of Deraa city, Syria in this handout released on June 29, 2018\ SANA/ REUTERS 

The chief Syrian opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri has decried “U.S. silence” over the offensive and said only a “malicious deal” could explain the lack of a U.S. response.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump will have a detailed discussion about Syria when they meet in July.

The war has been going Assad’s way since Russia intervened on his side in 2015, when he held just a fraction of the country. Today he commands the single largest part of Syria, though much of the north and east is outside his control.

Syrian troops have seized a swathe of rebel territory northeast of Deraa city. State TV broadcast scenes of what they said were locals celebrating the army’s arrival in the formerly rebel-held town of Ibta and said rebels turned in their weapons.

The assault has so far targeted Deraa, not rebel-held parts of nearby Quneitra province at the Golan which are more sensitive to Israel.
State media said that government forces seized al-Harak and Rakham towns, and that insurgents in four other towns agreed to surrender their arms and make “reconciliation” deals.

A series of offensives and local deals – accept state rule or leave – has helped Damascus suppress insurgent bastions across western Syria.
“Most of the (people in) the eastern villages have fled to west Deraa and to Quneitra,” said Abu Shaima, a Free Syrian Army rebel spokesman. Another rebel official said some towns were trying to negotiate deals with the state on their own. “There was a collapse in the eastern front yesterday,” he added. “The front in Deraa city is steadfast.”

Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman, speaking by phone, said some people had also fled to government territory, while others crossed to a corner of southwest Syria held by an Islamic State-affiliated group.

Jordan reiterated its position that newly displaced Syrians must be helped inside Syria. “Jordan has reached its capacity in receiving refugees,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told the pan-Arab broadcaster al-Jazeera late on Thursday.

Israel transferred aid to Syrians seeking refuge near border in overnight mission

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, in an interview with Tel Aviv Radio 102FM, said: “I think we must prevent the entry of refugees from Syria to Israel, in the past we have prevented such cases.”

The Israeli military said an increased number of civilians had been spotted in refugee camps on the Syrian side of the Golan over the past few days, and that it had overnight sent aid supplies at four locations to people fleeing hostilities.

The IDF raised Thursday its alert level in the Golan Heights in light of the recent escalation in the fighting in southern Syria between the Assad regime and rebel militias and the Syrian army’s increasing proximity to the Israeli border.

Israel isn’t expecting a direct confrontation with the Syrian army, but it is preparing for possibility of spillover effects from the regime’s attack, with Russian and Iranian assistance, on the Daraa region, which is just sixty kilometers from the Israeli border.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot flew to Washington on Thursday for a quick meeting with his U.S. counterpart. On Sunday, the security cabinet will meet to discuss the home front’s preparedness for a war in the north.

Eisenkot’s meeting with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was arranged over the past few days. The two will mainly discuss events in Syria, as well as their countries’ joint effort to restrain Iran’s military intervention in the region.

US-Repackaged Anti-Iranian Terrorist Group Finds A Soft Spot In The Bosom of Trump Republicans

Rudy Giuliani is pictured. | AP Photo
Rudy Giuliani applauds as a video is displayed before he speaks at the Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights on May 5. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Giuliani, Gingrich to address controversial Iranian group

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, formerly considered a terrorist group, has several friends close to Trump and is seeing some of its longtime goals advanced.

Two close confidants of President Donald Trump are scheduled to speak Saturday before a controversial Iranian opposition group previously designated as a terrorist outfit, raising fresh questions about the group’s Washington influence as Trump pursues a pressure campaign against Tehran.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and informal adviser Newt Gingrich are listed as headliners for Saturday’s “Free Iran” conference in Paris, organized by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and its affiliates. For 15 years, the U.S. designated the MEK a terrorist group, while analysts describe it as a cult – both allegations the group rejects.

The MEK holds frequent conferences, but this weekend’s gathering comes at a heady moment for the group. Several of the politicians it has cultivated in recent years, with the help of handsome speaking fees, are now key figures in Trump’s orbit — including not only Giuliani and Gingrich but National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Trump has also taken several steps in line with the group’s desire to oust Iran’s Islamist rulers. They include Trump’s exit from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the MEK repeatedly criticized, and increased sanctions and other pressure that some Trump aides hope will weaken the regime in Tehran.

On Tuesday, a State Department official announced that other nations, including China and India, must stop purchasing Iranian oil by Nov. 4 or face U.S. sanctions. Iran is already experiencing significant economic pain, sparking a series of recent protests that have rekindled hopes in Washington for a popular revolution that would install a more moderate government.

State Department and White House officials declined to speak on the record or on background when asked whether the Trump administration has had any contact with the MEK or its affiliates, and it’s not clear whether Gingrich, Giuliani or Bolton have discussed the group with Trump.

Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment, but the former New York City mayor has spoken at MEK events in the past, leading chants in recent months of “regime change” and openly talking about the possibility of MEK rule in Iran. Gingrich, another long-time MEK backer, confirmed that he will attend the Paris event.

In emails, Gingrich declined to discuss his conversations with Trump, but he argued that the MEK has been unfairly “maligned.” “In meetings I have been in they draw very large, enthusiastic crowds and have sustained a spirit of opposition,” Gingrich wrote. “Their sources inside Iran including reporting on recent mass demonstrations indicate a level of support greater than any other group I have seen.”

The appearance of Giuliani and Gingrich at the conference “underscores once more how some of Trump’s top surrogates are advocates of regime change in Iran,” said Dartmouth University’s Daniel Benjamin, a former Obama administration counterterrorism official with expertise on the MEK.

The MEK, which reportedly pays its speakers tens of thousands of dollars, has enlisted allies from across the U.S. political spectrum. Other scheduled speakers listed by the group for Saturday include former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, and Fran Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser in the Republican presidential administration of George W. Bush.

Officials involved with the MEK and its more polished affiliate, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, did not answer multiple requests for comment.

The Clinton administration designated the MEK a terrorist group in 1997 due to its decades-long armed campaign against Iran’s current theocratic regime and its predecessor, the U.S.-backed monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The MEK is alleged to have carried out a string of bombings in the 1970s that killed several Americans then in Iran, including military personnel. The MEK, which was founded by a group of leftists and has some Marxist ideological roots, also earned the enmity of many Iranians because of its support for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

The Obama administration reversed the group’s terrorist designation in 2012 amid arguments that the group had shed its militant past. The group’s defenders say it is waging a heroic fight against Iran’s repressive theocratic government, and note that it has supplied some useful intelligence about events within Iran, including about the country’s nuclear program. The MEK and its affiliates say they support a secular democratic government in Iran.

However, many analysts say that, even if it no longer espouses violence, the MEK has come to resemble a cult. It imposes strict rules on members, its funding sources are mysterious and it has little genuine support within Iran. The MEK is led by Maryam Rajavi, and, supposedly, her husband Massoud, who has not been seen publicly in years.

Despite what the MEK may hope for from the Trump administration, aides to the president have denied that regime change is an official U.S. goal. But Iran experts say the administration’s policy suggests otherwise.

In the spring of last year, for instance, Joel Rayburn, a senior National Security Council official who deals with the Middle East, spoke with Washington think-tanks experts about the possibility of creating a coalition of Iranian minority groups — such as the Kurds, the Baluch or the Azeris — to try to topple the regime, according to a former senior Trump administration official. (National Security Council spokesmen declined to offer comment.)

Since his May 8 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, Trump has re-imposed a raft of sanctions directly on Iran. He is also threatening to sanction European and other countries that do business with the country.

Soon after, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech laying out U.S. grievances with Iran and listing 12 demands that many analysts said were tantamount to a call for regime change. In the days afterward, Pompeo downplayed that idea.

“It’s not about changing the regime,” he told Voice of America’s Persian language service. “It’s about changing the behavior of the leadership in Iran to comport with what the Iranian people really want them to do.”

The new economic pressure from Washington is taking a toll on Iran. Several large European companies have said they’ll quit the Iranian market to avoid potential U.S. penalties. Further rattling Iran’s economy were remarks from a State Department official, speaking on background to reporters Tuesday, who said the Trump administration expects other countries to stop purchasing Iranian oil, the country’s top export.

The news, which rocked oil markets, further dashed the hopes of Iranians who believed the nuclear deal might transform the country’s economy but have endured continued economic stagnation. That contributed to a wave of demonstrations in December and January which were snuffed by a harsh government crackdown that reportedly left at least 25 dead and thousands arrested.

Protests have flared again in recent days, apparently driven by economic grievances. As in the December-January protests, there were also hard-to-verify reports of Iranians openly criticizing the regime and demanding that it stop spending money on military activities in other countries and invest more on its citizens at home.

The senior State Department official who spoke to reporters on Tuesday seized that narrative.

“Iranians are basically fed up with the regime squandering the nation’s wealth on not-particularly productive ventures abroad,” the official said. “This situation exists because of the regime’s behavior.”

Still, some Iran experts warned that any Trump administration effort to try to take credit for the protests could backfire, especially given many Iranians’ dim views of Trump. Far from seeing the U.S. president as their ally against the Islamist regime, many instead despise Trump for imposing a travel ban, upheld this week by the Supreme Court, that bars most Iranians from setting foot on U.S. soil.

“Iranians are both bitter about American pressure and their own government,” said Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution, who added, however, that, “one way or another the regime will try to discredit and taint those who dissent as somehow driven by outside support or orchestration.”

Another Iran analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that even if the protesters are tired of the current regime, that doesn’t mean they have any sympathy for the MEK.

“Iranians don’t want to replace one regime with another,” he said. The MEK is “a regime in exile tied to Marxism. They just don’t have the backing in Iran.”

Still, the Trump administration appears eager to fan the unrest, especially online.

The web site of America’s “virtual embassy in Iran” – the U.S. has no formal diplomatic presence in Iran – is filled with statements and announcements bashing the Iranian government on issues such as human rights and terrorism.

The Iran unit at the State Department also operates a Twitter feed in the Persian language that has been unusually aggressive under Trump.

One tweet, sent out in mid-February, features a menacing caricature of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, saying the phrase “A resistance economy” even as a chart behind him shows the falling value of Iran’s currency. “How would you describe this cartoon?” the tweet asks readers.

On Tuesday, it tweeted a poll asking if readers thought Iran’s economic condition was adequate.

Pompeo, too, has gotten in on act. Using his official Twitter handle, the secretary of state has sent out a series of images and comments in recent days emphasizing the plight of ordinary Iranians. On Wednesday, Pompeo tweeted out a photo that appeared to show Iranians protesting.

“It should surprise no one #IranProtests continue,” he wrote. “People are tired of the corruption, injustice & incompetence of their leaders. The world hears their voice.”

The messages on the U.S. diplomatic accounts in many ways echo the extensive social media network set up by the MEK and its affiliates, which also hype any instance of protest in Iran. In recent days, the group’s Twitter accounts have frequently re-tweeted Pompeo’s comments, while prominently featuring news of Trump’s efforts to re-impose sanctions.

Iraq Stages Tit for Tat Revenge Executions of ISIS Terrorists, After Islamic State Murders 8 Iraqi Civilians

[FACING THE NOOSE:  Hundreds of ISIS terrorists including 100 foreign women to be executed immediately by Iraq in revenge for hostage killing]

Iraq Executes Twelve ISIS Terrorists In Response To Killing Of Captives

Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December after expelling the terrorists from all major towns and cities in a vast offensive.

Iraq Executes Twelve ISIS Terrorists In Response To Killing Of Captives

The terrorists were immediately condemned to death after they exhausted all of their appeals.

Baghdad:Iraq executed a dozen death row terrorists on the order of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, his office said Friday, in retaliation for the ISIS group’s murder of eight captives.

The executions on Thursday came shortly after Abadi ordered the “immediate” implementation of the death sentences of hundreds of convicted terrorists in response to the killings by ISIS.

“By order of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, 12 terrorists sentenced to death (whose appeals were exhausted) were executed on Thursday,” a statement released by Abadi’s office said.

It did not specify how they were executed but death sentences in terrorism-related cases are usually carried out by hanging.

More than 300 people, including around 100 foreign women, have been condemned to death in Iraq and hundreds of others to life imprisonment for membership of ISIS, a judicial source said in April.

Abadi, who has faced charges of failing to respond in force to ISIS, on Thursday ordered “the immediate punishment of terrorists condemned to death” whose appeals have been exhausted, his office said.

He vowed to avenge the deaths of the eight ISIS captives, a day after their bodies were found along a highway north of Baghdad.

“Our security and military forces will take forceful revenge against these terrorist cells,” he told senior military officials and ministers.

“We promise that we will kill or arrest those who committed this crime,” he added.

Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December after expelling the terrorists from all major towns and cities in a vast offensive.


But the Iraqi military has kept up operations targeting mostly remote desert areas where terrorists have continued to carry out attacks.

Is A New Civil War Inevitable?

Is America headed toward a civil war? Sanders, Nielsen incidents show it has already begun

A second member of the Trump administration was hounded at a restaurant in less than a week. This time it was Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Susana Victoria Perez has more. Buzz60

Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kirstjen Nielsen experiences at restaurants suggest a ‘soft’ civil war is well underway. It will get worse unless we learn to stop hating each other.

The other day, author Tom Ricks asked whether we’re heading toward a civil war. “I don’t believe we’re to Kansas of the 1850s yet. But we seem to be lurching … in that direction,” he wrote.

Ricks was commenting on “What Democratic rage would look like,” a Bloomberg opinion column that quotes political scientist Thomas Schaller as saying, “I think we’re at the beginning of a soft civil war. … I don’t know if the country gets out of it whole.”

That sounds pretty serious. The column by Francis Wilkinson presents a catalog of things Democrats are mad about — from the existence of the electoral college to Trump’s “propaganda apparatus” — and predicts that if Democrats lose the midterm elections, there will be hell to pay. (And Republicans, you know, could make a similar list of their own complaints.)

“I don’t know exactly what that would look like,” Wilkinson writes. “But liberals have a great deal of cultural, academic and economic heft, stretching from Hollywood to Harvard. Just this week, someHollywood powerhouses flirted with leveraging their clout against the Trumpist Fox News. There are endless variations on such a power play. If Democrats opt to use their power more aggressively — breaking rules — Schaller’s soft civil war hardly seems unlikely.”

The civil war is already starting

Well, actually this sort of thing seems to be well underway. Hollywood has basically turned its products, and its award shows, into showcases for “the resistance.” Americans are already sorting themselves into communities that are predominantly red or blue. And in heavily blue Washington, D.C., Trump staffers find that a lot of people don’t want to date them because of their politics.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was even kicked out of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because the owner and employees disliked her politics. This seems like a small thing, but it would have been largely unthinkable a generation ago.

And, in a somewhat less “soft” manifestation, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was bullied out of a restaurant by an angry anti-Trump mob, and a similar mob also showed up outside of her home.

Will it get worse? Probably. To have a civil war, soft or otherwise, takes two sides. But as pseudonymous tweeter Thomas H. Crown notes, it’s childishly easy in these days to identify people in mobs, and then to dispatch similar mobs to their homes and workplaces. Eventually, he notes, it becomes “protesters all the way down, and if we haven’t yet figured out that can lead to political violence, we’re dumb.”

Apparently, some of us are dumb or else want violence. As Crown warns, “We carefully erected civil peace to avoid this sort of devolution-to-a-mob. It is a great civilizational achievement and it is intensely fragile.” Yes, it is indeed fragile, and many people will miss it when it’s entirely gone.

Marriage counselors say that when a couple view one another with contempt, it’s a top indicator that the relationship is likely to fail. Americans, who used to know how to disagree with one another without being mutually contemptuous, seem to be forgetting this. And the news media, which promote shrieking outrage in pursuit of ratings and page views, are making the problem worse.

What would make things better? It would be nice if people felt social ties that transcend politics. Americans’ lives used to involve a lot more intermediating institutions — churches, fraternal organizations, neighborhoods — that crossed political lines. Those have shrunk and decayed, and in fact, for many people politics seems to have become a substitute for religion or fraternal organizations. If you find your identity in your politics, you’re not going to identify with people who don’t share them.

The rules of bourgeois civility also helped keep things in check, but of course those rules have been shredded for years. We may come to miss them.

America had one disastrous civil war, and those who fought it did a surprisingly good job of coming together afterward, realizing how awful it was to have a political divide that set brother against brother. Let us hope that we will not have to learn that lesson again in a similar fashion.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of “The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself,” is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @instapundit.







Pentagon Set To Unleash “SKYNET” (AI) To Balance the Audit Books

AI Can Help Fix DoD Spending And Audits

“I just had a general who came to my office,” said Chris Lynch, head of DoD’s internal hoodie-wearing geek squad, the Defense Digital Service. “The problem was the entire mission was being run out of Excel.”

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. photo

Chris Lynch, director of the Defense Digital Service.

WASHINGTON: Artificial intelligence and big data can help the Pentagon figure out how it actually spends almost $700 billion a year, especially since much of the Defense Department still runs on two-finger typists entering data into old versions of Microsoft Excel.

“I just had a general who came to my office,” said Chris Lynch, head of DoD’s internal hoodie-wearing geek squad, the Defense Digital Service. “The problem was the entire mission was being run out of Excel.”

How is that even possible? “You would be amazed,” Lynch told the DefenseOne tech conference at the Newseum here. “The answer is that one person puts information from a piece of paper into an Excel spreadsheet; they email it to another (person), who then takes that and merges it into another (spreadsheet). That person then pivots in their chair; there’s another computer, they type it into that. That gets fired out on a different network, so both get sent out to another person who merges that into another spreadsheet — and then at the end of the day, after about 17 versions of that same step being done over probably a month, it goes into a PowerPoint presentation.”

The room erupted in incredulous laughter. But Lynch is serious about how badly the Defense Department handles data. It’s not just money, either. The worst of the worst is probably the perpetually backlogged process for vetting security clearances. “It is the definition of nearly everything wrong with …. doing a process,” Lynch said. “It’s feet on the streets, it’s paper, and….most of the time, we end up finding things out, (after) doing all of that work, that the person self-reported.”

After Lynch’s public talk, I asked him how the private sector did this better. “That’s not an easy question,” he said, because there’s a whole industry devoted to figuring out data sharing and workflows, which vary widely from company to company and industry to industry. “Understanding workflows (is) fundamental (to) the efficiency of businesses…. Sometimes you can just buy a piece of software (off the shelf). In other cases it may be bespoke to your organization.”

Robert Work

Pentagon processes are so complex and so dysfunctional that they’re potentially fertile ground for artificial intelligence and machine learning. During Bob Work‘s time as deputy Defense secretary under both Obama and Trump, Work told the conference, “we couldn’t really track” how much money the Pentagon actually spent on top priorities like cybersecurity, electronic warfare, or the artificial intelligence-focused Third Offset Strategy.

As anyone knows who’s paid attention to Pentagon spending knows, Congress appropriates funds every year, but the Defense Department’s information systems can’t follow the flow of money down to the military services and defense agencies and out to specific contractors on “literally millions of contracts,” he said. That’s part of the reason behind the Defense Department’s continuing inability to audit itself. The Pentagon announced its first system-wide audit in December last year.

Then-Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, at the time Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, showed Work an analysis of Third Offset-related spending by a big data/AI company called Govini. (Work and Winnefeld are now both on Govini’s board). “They showed me a simple graph (showing) this is how the money’s being spent down to the specific contracts,” Work recalled. “I was just blown away, because that type of data’s just not available in the Department of Defense.”

In one case, the Defense Department thought it was funding 38 separate projects on artificial intelligence, Govini founder Eric Gillespie told the conference. Govini was called in to double-check. The number of AI programs they found DoD was funding? 593.

Today it takes tremendous effort to get this kind of clarity, Gillespie and other panelists said, because the Pentagon’s data is fragmented amongst different agencies, offices, and contractors, each of which tends to guard its data jealously. Even when two groups want to share, they may not be able to because their software is incompatible. Recent advances allow artificial intelligence and big data analytics to scour this chaotic wilderness of information, the same way Project Maven scours hundreds of hours of drone surveillance footage for hints of terrorist activity.

“For the first time in history,” Gillespie said, “data science allows you to do things like that at scale that you just couldn’t do three, four, five years ago.”