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The “Are You Serious?” Awards: Looking Back on 2019

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 5:10pm


Each year Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan gives awards to individuals, companies, and governments that make reading the news a daily adventure. Here are the awards for 2019

The Life Imitates Art Award goes to the U.S. Border Control and the Trump administration, which are currently holding between 11,000 and 14,000 immigrant children under the age of 18 in internment camps.

According to the London Review of Books, a Border Patrol agent gave a three-year old the choice of being with her mother or her father. When the father was being taken away the child began to cry, only to be scolded by the agent: “You said with Mom.” The child’s name: Sofi.

The Dr. Strangelove Award goes to the U.S. Defense Department for its unique solution to the problem of supplying troops in war zones. Between 2001 and 2010, U.S. soldiers escorting fuel convoys in Afghanistan and Iraq accounted for more than half the casualties suffered by American forces.

The solution? Portable nuclear power plants that would generate between 1 and 10 megawatts and service up to 1,000 troops. The “micro-nukes” would be “semiautonomous” — that is, they wouldn’t need on-site operators.

Even small reactors contain significant amounts of highly radioactive and long-lived isotopes, like cesium-137. I mean, what could go wrong?

The Fake News Award goes to the U.S. government’s Radio Marti. The station, run by the Agency for Global Media that also includes Voice of America, got caught faking a mortar attack during a broadcast from Managua, Nicaragua.

One of the journalists involved in the deception, Tomas Regalado Jr., is the son of Tomas Regalado Sr., who oversees Radio and TV Marti.  Radio Marti broadcast several shows last year that described philanthropist and Democratic Party donor George Soros as “a nonbelieving Jew of flexible morals.”

The Golden Jackal Award goes to the U.S. arms company Raytheon, with a tip of the hat to Lockheed Martin and Boeing, for landing more than $1 billion in intermediate missile contracts.

The contracts were awarded shortly after the Trump administration withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF) in 2018. Intermediate missiles are considered especially destabilizing because their short flight time means all sides must keep their missiles on a hair trigger.

“The withdrawal from the INF Treaty has fired the starting pistol on a new Cold War,” says Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Runner up is ArmorMe, a company that produces children’s backpacks. Field-tested by the Israeli military, the backpack includes a sheet of bullet resistant Kevlar. According to the company, the backpack “looks and feels like a regular eco-friendly canvas backpack — so your child will fit in with his or her friends.”

But if a shooter shows up, it provides “protection for your child, peace-of-mind for yourself.”

Catherine de’ Medici Award — named for Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589), who was known as the “great poisoner ”— goes to the Pentagon for contaminating drinking water at military bases with polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS, a major ingredient of fire fighting foam. The chemical causes cancer, kidney failure, immune system suppression, and other health problems.

The military has known about the contamination for decades but failed to tell anyone about it until recently. Scientists have dubbed PFAS the “forever chemical,” because it if virtually indestructible.

According to the Pentagon, the military is now moving on the problem. “I’m proud of what the Department of Defense has done in the last two-plus years,” says the military’s deputy assistant for the environment, Maureen Sullivan.

But asked how many people could be affected, she replied that she “couldn’t hazard a guess — we’re tracking water sources — not people.”

The Golden Grinch Award goes to the Trump administration for cutting food stamps for up to 750,000 people and limiting benefits for an estimated 3.7 million people, while spending $649 billion on this year’s military budget.

While the government was handing out $28 billion to farmers hurt by the White House’s trade war with China (the vast majority of which, according to the Environmental Working Group, went to large, corporate farms), it was altering the poverty index to make it more difficult for the poor to receive nutritional assistance.

In the meantime, Huntington Ingalls Industries was awarded $15.2 billion to build two aircraft carriers to add to the U.S.’s 10-carrier fleet. The Russians have one (and it is small, old and recently damaged in a fire) and China has two (with plans for one more).

The Great Moments in Science Award has two winners:

  • Republican Senator Mile Lee of Utah, who contends that the solution to climate change won’t be found by governments or programs like the Green New Deal, but by having “more babies.”
  • Republican Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, who says he is a “person of color, I’m white. I’m Anglo Saxon,” and proud to be from “Ireland.” Well, Kelly is right about the white and Irish part. The O’Kellys were from Tyrone in the north, but the Anglo Saxons (and Normans) invaded in 1169, drove the Kellys out of Tyrone and ruled the island for more than 800 years. A visit to might help.

The Henry VIII Award goes to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who doubled the number of beheadings in 2018 and is on track to break that record in 2019.

Before Salman came to power in 2017, the Saudis had beheaded 67 people in the preceding eight months. He increased the pace to 133 in 2018, and is on pace to behead over 170 people in 2019. While many are South Asians coerced into smuggling drugs, others are oppressed Shiites from Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern provinces. Of the 37 beheaded on a single day in April, 33 were Shiites.

Victims are not allowed lawyers and torture is an accepted way of carrying out investigations. Three were minors, a violation of international law. No American administration has protested the execution of the minors or the use of torture to extract confessions.

The Terminator Award goes to the U.S., United Kingdom, South Korea, Russia, Israel, and Australia for trying to torpedo a United Nations treaty banning  “lethal autonomous weapons systems.” The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is trying to require “meaningful human control over the use of force” in such devices lest “lives be taken based on algorithms.” Some 28 governments back a ban on such weapons.

The Marie Antoinette Award goes to Francios de Rugy, president of the French Assembly and a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron. The Macron administration is trying to increase the age of retirement and cut pension plans. Macron also sliced unemployment benefits and public services, while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

In the meantime, Mr. de Rugy has been hosting lavish dinners for friends and family at his official residence, the Hotel de Lassay, featuring lobster tails and bottles of 2004 Mouton-Rothschild at $560 a pop.

Runner up in this category is the British Foreign Office, which spent $15.8 million to purchase a full-floor apartment in New York City to house the British Consul General. In the meantime, the Conservative government refuses to pay for re-housing the survivors of the terrible 2017 Grenfell fire that incinerated more than 70 people.

And when British Foreign Office rescues women who are forced into marriages in places like Pakistan and Somalia, the victims are billed for services. Four women, whom the Foreign Office saved from a religious institution in Somalia, where they were chained and whipped to force them into marriage, billed them $900 apiece for their rescue. The women’s passports were confiscated until they paid up.

The Golden Lemon Award goes — once again — to Lockheed Martin for its F-35 Lightning stealth fighter, at $1.5 trillion, the most expensive weapon system in U.S. history.

According to Defense News, pilots have to carefully watch their speed lest they damage the airframe and stealth coating. Apparently cockpit pressure spikes cause “excruciating” air and sinus pain. The pilot’s $400,000 helmets don’t work very well, and each helmet is designed to fit only one pilot. It takes several days to get a replacement helmet if one breaks.

The June readiness rate for the F-35 — that is the percentage of planes that can make it into the air — was 8.7 percent, not quite up to the 80 percent readiness standard for all other aircraft. But things are looking up: In May only 4.7 percent of the planes were ready to fly.

Over 300 F-35s have been sold to allies, with Japan a prime customer. One of those F-35s crashed in April, killing its pilot and grounding the fleet. According to the Japanese, the plane had been forced to make seven emergency landings prior to the crash. The Americans and the Japanese are desperately trying to find the wreckage, because “the F-35A is an airplane that contains significant amounts of secrets that need to be protected” from opponents, said Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya.

A modest proposal: give our F-35s to all potential enemies and let them have a really expensive plane that doesn’t work.

The Golden Oops Award goes to U.S. Strategic Air Command that tweeted that it was prepared to drop something “much bigger” than the New Year’s Eve crystal ball in Times Square.  The tweet was followed by a video of a B-2 bomber dropping bombs. The blowback on social media was so fierce that the military quickly pulled the video and apologized that it “was in poor taste and does not reflect our values.”

The Ethnic Sensitivity Award goes to the U.S. State Department’s director of policy planning, Kiron Skinner, who, at a public talk last April, said that the competition between the U.S. and China was bitter, because “it’s the first time that we will have a great-power competitor that is not Caucasian.”

This would come as a surprise to Pearl Harbor veterans. So exactly who does Skinner think we fought at Midway, Guadalcanal, and Saipan?

On the plus side, the Kudo Award, finally, goes to:

  • The Stansted 15, who broke into the Stansted International Airport north of London in September and chained themselves together to block the British Home Office from deporting refugees from Ghana and Nigeria.
  • Captain Pia Klemp, for rescuing more than 1,000 refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean. She is facing a 20-year prison sentence in Italy, even though not rescuing them would have been a violation of Article 98 of the 1982 UN Law of the Sea.
  • Artist Philipp Ruch, who constructed a replica of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial next to the house of far-right Alternative For Germany Thuringia state legislator Bjorn Hocke. Hocke has called the Berlin memorial a “monument of shame.”
  • Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, the little Swede that could.

The post The “Are You Serious?” Awards: Looking Back on 2019 appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at and

Americans Need to Hear More from Iranians. Here’s Where to Start.

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 3:28pm


Following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would seek new sanctions, but not immediate military escalation, against Iran, most people in the United States likely breathed a sigh of relief.

For Iranians and Iranian Americans like myself, that relief was accompanied by a reminder of just how painful existing conditions can be. Sanctions starve our people of food, medicine, and safety while public figures threaten us with more violence. We may no longer be at immediate risk of all-out, open combat, but this is hardly peace.

Every part of the U.S. relationship with Iran feels asymmetrical, and looking through coverage of Iran in U.S. media makes that imbalance incredibly obvious. It’s even been memed: Every few months I see friends share an image from a 1998 interview in which Iran’s then-President Mohammad Khatami refers to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America — which he states, perhaps fancifully, “I am sure most Americans have read.”

Iranians (and the rest of the world) are expected to keep up with American news and history — often more so than many Americans themselves. But perspectives from Iranians and Iranian Americans have been largely absent in mainstream U.S. media, or of questionable sourcing when they do appear.

This absence is systemic, a recent analysis from Jadaliyya explained, and allows war hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to get away with basing the conventional wisdom on foreign policy on shallow tropes.

Fortunately, this absence has also been felt by plenty of Americans, eager to resist more bloodshed in their names. So I’ve compiled a few of the most illuminating and emotionally resonant pieces I’ve come across from Iranians and Iranian Americans, both in the diaspora and within Iran.

To understand the most recent crisis

I was skeptical of most op-eds in the aftermath of the U.S. drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani. But I knew this New York Times piece from Azadeh Moaveni had struck a nerve in my community when it kept popping up in family WhatsApp chats and across my Twitter timeline.

And for good reason — Moaveni explains why the constant beating of war drums feels “like a civilizational inheritance, a legacy that my mother bore before me, her mother before her, and that I will pass down to my children.”

Many people know of the U.S.-backed coup in Iran that installed a brutal monarch in 1953. More are learning about the time the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988, at the close of Iran’s war with Iraq, in which the U.S. also provided Iraq with support. These memories, Moaveni says, are ever present in Iranian policy and sentiment towards the U.S. government.

For another frame of reference, read the work of anthropologist Narges Bajoghli, who has done years of field research on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Her reporting as the Trump administration reneged on the Iran deal shows the frustration and betrayal that have been pervasive since the beginning of this round of the crisis. Her research also means her geopolitical analysis of Soleimani’s assassination is unparalleled.

To learn about the gravity of sanctions


Every time the Trump administration announces a new round of sanctions against Iran, I ask myself: What could there possibly be left to sanction?

Sanctions have an enormous impact on ordinary Iranians. There are the daily indignities — the people who get cut off from Venmo and Slack for non-violations, like traveling to Iran or putting the word “Persian” in a transaction. And then there’s the dangerous — from the restrictions on donations after natural disasters to the impact on health care and the labor market.

To realize how oppressive sanctions can feel when you’re the one living under them, read this piece by the pseudonymous Iranian author Pedestrian, whose writing portrays life in Iran with a nuance and grace I’m not used to seeing in English-language media.

“By adopting the seemingly neutral language of economics and law, sanctions legitimize dehumanization,” they write. To understand why sanctions are an act of war, read more about the weight of caring for your loved ones under them.

To understand life in wartime 

After Soleimani’s assassination, people across the United States both joked and worried about impending war.

Instead of thinking of the future, my mind went to the past, to the stories I heard all my life from my family about living through sirens and air raids during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. I’ve heard these stories with increasing frequency over the last few years as friends and family talk more openly about a war would mean for people in Iran.

Presumably this is also the case for Amir Ahmadi Arian, who wrote this matter-of-fact piece for Guernica about the reality of growing up in Ahvaz, Iran, just 70 miles east of the war’s frontline, after the election of Donald Trump. “War, for many well-meaning people I know, is an abstract tragedy,” Arian writes. “They are against the idea of war, but they have very little sense of what a war actually is, how a body in an invaded territory might receive one.”

I’ve spent my whole life watching Iran enter and exit headlines with an uncomfortable frequency, headlines too often accompanied by dehumanizing, Orientalist tropes. Fortunately, these articles are just a small sample of the knowledge and experience of a country of more than 80 million people, who are often reduced to simplistic caricatures.

There’s lots of work to be done to rectify these stereotypes — these are just a few places to start.

The post Americans Need to Hear More from Iranians. Here’s Where to Start. appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Negin Owliaei is a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Our Last Decade to Get Climate Right

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 4:30pm


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in October 2018 that we have 12 years to keep global temperatures increases at 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. Now, we have more like 10 years.

We have this decade.

In the first weeks of 2020, we’ve already witnessed mass evacuations and the death of over a billion animals in Australia due to raging bushfires, a devasting flood that took the lives of 67 people (and rising) in the already sinking city of Jakarta, and the loss of power and homes after back-to-back earthquakes rocked Puerto Rico, which has yet to recover from the devastating Hurricane Maria.

Annual international climate negotiations connect world leaders and civil society groups, from developed and developing countries alike, to address this crisis. Yet these negotiations have often been exercises in disconnection more than anything else.

When I attended my first United Nations climate conference in Poland’s coal capital, Katowice, in 2018, the disconnect between the people most responsible for the crisis and the people most vulnerable to it was as visible as the smoke coming from the plants a few meters from the venue.

Big Oil seemed to have more voice at the conference than indigenous communities. Civil society groups promoting justice and community action were excluded from many spaces at the talks altogether. It’s no wonder that human rights and just climate finance got neglected at that conference.

At last year’s climate gathering, COP25 in Madrid, the disconnect was still there and as visible as ever.

It was seen most dramatically in the armed security removing and blocking more than 100 climate activists, mainly indigenous and youth, from entering COP25 after a peaceful protest. called it an “unprecedented crackdown on dissent.”

It was also seen in the parties’ lack of agreement on how to proceed with international carbon markets, which could lead to major rollbacks in progress toward reducing emissions. Privatized carbon markets are still on the table and will be discussed further later this year in Glasgow, Scotland.

Even UN Secretary General António Guterres called the results of COP25 a disappointment. “The international community has lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adoption, and finance to tackle the climate crisis,” he said.

It wasn’t just the lost opportunity to increase ambition that made the conference a disappointment. Just as bad, wealthy polluters like the United States refused to provide any assistance to the more vulnerable countries impacted by pollution from developed countries.

How many years will it take for world leaders to prioritize the world’s climate-impacted populations over its fossil fuel-dependent corporations? We cannot wait until the end of the decade, that’s for sure.

If COP25 had stayed in Chile, the prior host before a popular uprising there made hosting impractical, world leaders would have gotten to see that market schemes like carbon offsets in Article 6 won’t save anyone.

They would instead have seen the huge civil backlash to the neoliberal economic system that boosts corporate profits over people’s lives. They would have seen a student-led, eco-feminist movement in Chile demanding the overthrow of a system that privatizes natural resources and social services and which exacerbate the climate crisis and social inequality.

The movement in Chile is not too different from the student-led movements in the U.S., and all around the world, calling for climate justice. That’s why the next UN climate talk in December, COP26, should begin the decade with inclusive and effective climate action.

That means world leaders need to be listening to the masses and their movements, including civil society in the negotiation room, and excluding polluters and other profiteers off the loss of lives and livelihoods from the conference altogether.

This is our last decade to get it right.

The post Our Last Decade to Get Climate Right appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson is the Landau Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

10 Ways Trump’s Aggression Against Iran Hurts Americans and the Region

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 4:49pm


The U.S. assassination of General Qasem Soleimani has not yet plunged us into a full-scale war with Iran thanks to the Iranian government’s measured response, which demonstrated its capabilities without actually harming U.S. troops or escalating the conflict. But the danger of a full-blown war still exists, and Donald Trump’s actions are already wreaking havoc.

The tragic attack on the Ukrainian passenger jet, which left 176 innocent people dead, is the first example of this. Iranian anti-aircraft defenses, on high alert and jittery after Trump’s irresponsible threats of devastating retaliation against 52 sites in Iran, mistook the civilian airliner for an attacking U.S. cruise missile and shot it out of the sky.

As we wait for the next unintended consequences of Trump’s reckless actions in the region, here are ten important ways they have left the American people, the region and the world in greater danger.

1. The first result of Trump’s blunders may be an increase in U.S. war deaths across the greater Middle East. While this was avoided in Iran’s initial retaliation, Iraqi militias and Hezbollah in Lebanon have already vowed to seek revenge for the deaths of Soleimani and the Iraqi militia. U.S. military bases, warships, and nearly 80,000 U.S. troops in the region are sitting ducks for retaliation by Iran, its allies, and any other group that is angered by U.S. actions or simply decides to exploit this U.S.-manufactured crisis.

The first U.S. war deaths after the U.S. airstrikes and assassinations in Iraq were three Americans killed by Al-Shabab in Kenya on January 5th. Further escalation by the U.S. in response to Iranian and other attacks on Americans will only exacerbate this cycle of violence.

2. U.S. acts of war in Iraq have injected even more volatility and instability into an already war-torn and explosive region. Close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is seeing its efforts to solve its conflicts with Qatar and Kuwait thrown into jeopardy, and it will now be harder to find a diplomatic solution to the catastrophic war in Yemen, where the Saudis and Iranians are on different sides of the conflict.

Soleimani’s murder is also likely to sabotage the peace process with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Shiite Iran has historically opposed the Sunni Taliban, and Soleimani even worked with the United States in the aftermath of the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

Now the terrain has shifted. Just as the United States has been engaging in peace talks with the Taliban, so has Iran. The Iranians are now more apt to ally with the Taliban against the United States. The complicated situation in Afghanistan is likely to draw in Pakistan, another important player in the region with a large Shiite population. Both the Afghan and Pakistani governments have already expressed their fears that the U.S.-Iran conflict could unleash uncontrollable violence on their soil.

Like other short-sighted and destructive U.S. interventions in the Middle East, Trump’s blunders may have explosive unintended consequences in places most Americans have not yet even heard of, spawning a new string of U.S. foreign policy crises.

3. Trump’s attacks on Iran may actually embolden a common enemy, the Islamic State, which can take advantage of the chaos created in Iraq. Thanks to the leadership of Iran’s General Soleimani, Iran played a significant role in the fight against ISIS, which was almost entirely crushed in 2018 after a four-year war.

Soleimani’s murder may be a boon to the ISIS remnants by stoking anger among Iraqis against the group’s nemesis, the Americans, and creating new divisions among the forces — including Iran and the United States — that have been fighting ISIS.

In addition, the U.S.-led coalition that has been pursuing ISIS has “paused” its campaign against the Islamic State in order to get prepared for potential Iranian attacks on the Iraqi bases that host coalition troops, giving another strategic opening to the Islamic State.

4. Iran has announced it is withdrawing from all the restrictions on enriching uranium that were part of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. Iran has not formally withdrawn from the JCPOA, nor rejected international supervision of its nuclear program, but this is one more step in the unraveling of the nuclear agreement that the world community supported. Trump was determined to undermine the JCPOA by pulling the U.S. out in 2018, and each U.S. escalation of sanctions, threats, and violence against Iran further weakens the JCPOA and makes its complete collapse more likely.

5. Trump’s blunders have destroyed what little influence the U.S. had with the Iraqi government. This is clear from the recent parliamentary vote to expel the U.S. military. While the U.S. military is unlikely to leave without long, drawn-out negotiations, the 170-0 vote (the Sunnis and Kurds didn’t show up), along with the huge crowds that came out for Soleimani’s funeral procession, show how the general’s assassination has rekindled enormous anti-American sentiment in Iraq.

The assassination has also eclipsed Iraq’s burgeoning democracy movement. Despite savage repression that killed more than 400 protesters, young Iraqis mobilized in 2019 to demand a new government free of corruption and manipulation by foreign powers. They succeeded in forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, but they want to fully reclaim Iraqi sovereignty from the corrupt U.S. and Iranian puppets who have ruled Iraq since 2003. Now their task is complicated by U.S. actions that have only strengthened pro-Iranian politicians and parties.

6. Another inevitable consequence of Trump’s failed Iran policy is that it strengthens conservative, hard-line factions in Iran. Like the U.S. and other countries, Iran has its own internal politics, with distinct points of view. President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, who negotiated the JCPOA, are from the reform wing of Iranian politics that believes Iran can and should reach out diplomatically to the rest of the world and try to resolve its long-standing differences with the U.S.

But there is also a powerful conservative wing that believes the U.S. is committed to destroying Iran and will therefore never fulfill any commitments it makes. Guess which side Trump is validating and strengthening by his brutal policy of assassinations, sanctions, and threats?

Even if the next U.S. president is genuinely committed to peace with Iran, he or she may end up sitting across the table from conservative Iranian leaders who, with good reason, will not trust anything U.S. leaders commit to.

7. Trump’s blunders may be the last straw for U.S. friends and allies who have stuck with the U.S. through 20 years of inflammatory and destructive U.S. foreign policy. European allies have disagreed with Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and have tried, albeit weakly, to save it. When Trump tried to assemble an international naval task force to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz in 2019, only the U.K., Australia and some Persian Gulf states wanted any part of it, and now 10 European and other countries are joining an alternative operation led by France.

At a January 8 press conference, Trump called on NATO to play a greater role in the Middle East, but Trump has been blowing hot and cold on NATO — at times calling it obsolete and threatening to withdraw. After Trump’s assassination of Iran’s top general, NATO allies began withdrawing forces from Iraq, signaling that they do not want to be caught in the crossfire of Trump’s war on Iran.

With the economic rise of China, and Russia’s renewed international diplomacy, the tides of history are shifting and a multipolar world is emerging.  More and more of the world, especially in the global south, sees U.S. militarism as the gambit of a fading great power to try to preserve its dominant position in the world. How many chances does the U.S. have to finally get this right and find a legitimate place for itself in a new world that it has tried and failed to smother at birth?

8. U.S. actions in Iraq violate international, domestic and Iraqi law, setting the stage for a world of ever greater lawlessness. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) has drafted a statement explaining why the U.S. attacks and assassinations in Iraq do not qualify as acts of self-defense and are in fact crimes of aggression that violate the UN Charter. Trump also tweeted that the U.S. was ready to hit 52 sites in Iran, including cultural targets, which would also violate international law.

Members of Congress are incensed that Trump’s military attacks violated the U.S. Constitution, since Article I requires congressional approval for such military actions. Congressional leaders were not even made aware of the strike on Soleimani before it occurred, let alone asked to authorize it. Members of Congress are now trying to restrain Trump from going to war with Iran.

Trump’s actions in Iraq also violated the Iraqi constitution, which the U.S. helped to write and which forbids using the country’s territory to harm its neighbors.

9. Trump’s aggressive moves strengthen the weapons makers. One U.S. interest group has a bipartisan blank check to raid the U.S. Treasury at will and profits from every U.S. war and military expansion: the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned Americans against in 1960. Far from heeding his warning, we have allowed this behemoth to steadily increase its power and control over U.S. policy.

The stock prices of U.S. weapons companies have already risen since the U.S. assassinations and airstrikes in Iraq and the CEOs of the weapons companies have already become significantly richer. U.S. corporate media have been trotting out the usual line-up of weapons company lobbyists and board members to beat the war drums and praise Trump’s warmongering —  while keeping quiet about how they are personally profiting from it.

If we let the military-industrial complex get its war on Iran, it will drain billions, maybe trillions, more from the resources we so desperately need for healthcare, education, and public services, and only to make the world an even more dangerous place.

10. Any further escalation between the U.S. and Iran could be catastrophic for the world economy, which is already riding a roller-coaster due to Trump’s trade wars. Asia is especially vulnerable to any disruption in Iraqi oil exports, which it has come to depend on as Iraq’s production has risen. The larger Persian Gulf region is home to the greatest concentration of oil and gas wells, refineries and tankers in the world. One attack already shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production in September, and that was only a small taste of what we should expect if the U.S. keeps escalating its war on Iran.

We Need a Popular Response

Trump’s blunders have placed us back on the path to a truly catastrophic war, with barricades of lies blocking every off-ramp.

The Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have cost millions of lives, left the U.S.’s international moral authority in the gutter and exposed it as a warlike and dangerous imperial power in the eyes of much of the world. If we fail to haul our deluded leaders back from the brink, an American war on Iran may mark the ignominious end of our country’s imperial moment and seal our country’s place among the ranks of failed aggressors whom the world remembers primarily as the villains of human history.

Alternatively, we, the American people, can rise up to overcome the power of the military-industrial complex and take charge of our country’s destiny. The anti-war demonstrations that are taking place around the country are a positive manifestation of public sentiment. This is a critical moment for the people of this nation to rise up in a very visible, bold and determined groundswell to stop the madman in the White House and demand, in one loud voice: NO. MORE. WAR.

The post 10 Ways Trump’s Aggression Against Iran Hurts Americans and the Region appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection. Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher for CODEPINK, and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Trump: Make Space Great Again

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 3:20pm


With a stroke of a pen, Donald Trump created an entirely new branch of the armed forces last year. It’s the first new branch of the U.S. military since 1947.

The Space Force is not exactly a new idea. It’s a revival of a Reagan-era initiative that had been set up to oversee missile defense, which the George W. Bush administration repurposed after 9/11 to focus on the war in Afghanistan.

Yet what Trump has put together is fundamentally different, and potentially more destabilizing, than the previous incarnation.

Unlike virtually everything else that Trump has touched, this boondoggle has generated almost no controversy. Congress approved Trump’s initiative, which was folded into the annual National Defense Authorization Act, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote at the end of 2019. Not only have very few voices of protest been raised against this extraordinary expansion of U.S. militarism, it has even generated some unexpected praise.

In The Washington Post, for instance, David Montgomery wrote a long encomium in the magazine section in early December entitled “Trump’s Excellent Space Force Adventure.”

Creating a Space Force is arguably an excellent idea, one for which Trump may deservedly go down in history, along with all the other things he will be remembered for. No, really. I’m tempted to laugh at myself as I type these sentences because I, too, greeted news of the Space Force with incredulous guffaws… What I missed at the time, though — and what everyone else mocking Space Force doesn’t seem to appreciate — is the sheer range of problems that could ensue if other countries are able to establish extraterrestrial military supremacy.

This would be an easy-to-dismiss article if David Montgomery were one of the right-wing crazies, like columnist Marc Thiessen, that the Post publishes on a regular basis. But no, Montgomery is a very good journalist who has dutifully covered labor issues and progressive activism even as the rest of the media universe has run screaming in the other direction.

That makes it incumbent to take his article and this topic very seriously. What exactly is this Space Force? And why has Trump’s latest contribution to ensuring America’s “full-spectrum dominance” been such an easy sell?

The Next Big Fight

The new Space Force nearly didn’t get off the ground.

Former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis was so cool to the idea that in July 2017 he wrote a letter to Congress declaring his opposition on the grounds that it would, among other things, create unnecessary military bureaucracy. But the proposal had bipartisan support in Congress — Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN) of the House Armed Services Committee — and an enthusiastic booster in Donald Trump as well. So, it rocketed through Congress when so any other initiatives have stalled.

The Space Force will be cobbled together from various existing agencies. Its 400 staff are based temporarily at an air force base. Its second in command comes out of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. It will oversee more than 70 Army, Navy, and Air Force space units. It will soon employ 16,000 people, but all of them previously worked for the Air Force Space Command.

Its budget will be around $40 million. That’s not a lot of money in Pentagon terms, given that the most recent budget provided the Air Force with $3 billion for the B-21 bomber alone and the Navy with a whopping $34 billion for shipbuilding. But expect significant increases in future allocations. After all, the military budget contains around $14 billion for space operations distributed across the various services. When it comes to the Space Force, not even the sky’s the limit.

Like any proper government agency, the Space Force’s first priority is planning, according to its new head, Gen. Jay Raymond: “His command is building integrated planning elements to embed with other commands. Lead staffers have already been hired and the command is preparing to establish the first teams at U.S. European Command, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and U.S. Strategic Command.”

That also entails coordination with allies. The Space Force is already liaising like crazy with European and Asian partners.

That all sounds benign: planning, liaising. But let’s not forget the purpose of this new branch of the military. It has taken over responsibility from the Strategic Command — in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — for any war-fighting that takes place in space.

As Pentagon head Mark Esper has said, the Space Force will “allow us to develop a cadre of warriors who are appropriately organized, trained, and equipped to deter aggression and, if necessary, to fight and win in space…The next big fight may very well start in space, and the United States military must be ready.”

Space Race

When it comes to nuclear weapons and drones and cyberwarfare, it’s too late for the United States to turn an initial technological advantage into a global moratorium on production. Since it quite deliberately missed such opportunities for multilateral disarmament, Washington now feels obliged to spend scads of dollars to ensure that it maintains a significant lead over its various adversaries, ostensibly to deter the bad guys from using their weapons.

The same applies to space. “The ultimate goal is to deter a war in space,” David Montgomery writes. “In the Pentagon’s view, space must be considered a warfighting domain precisely to keep it peaceful.”

Well, that’s what the Pentagon always says. It’s why it calls itself a “Defense Department” to obscure what it really is: a bureau devoted to wage war, not simply deter it. As for space, the Pentagon sees a virtually limitless terrain for expansion.

According to the “deterrence” model, however, such expansion requires a clear and present danger. One major vulnerability the Pentagon has identified in space is the U.S. complex of commercial and military satellites.

The fear that other countries would take down U.S. assets in orbit around the earth has been around for some time. During the Carter administration, the United States and Soviet Union began negotiating a ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. The Reagan administration abandoned those talks, largely because it feared they would restrict the president’s cherished “Star Wars” plan of constructing a massive missile defense system.

Both sides then began building ASATs, and others joined the race. To date, no country has actually used this technology to take down the satellite of another country. Rather, they’ve only used it to take down their own satellites — as a test of capabilities. Four countries have done just that: the United States, Russia, India, and China.

However, it’s actually not so easy to take out a satellite. GPS and communications satellites orbit at altitudes above what an ICBM can reach. A space rocket could do the trick, but that would cost a lot of money and still require multiple hits to disrupt communications.

“Killer satellites,” orbiting weapons that can take out neighboring satellites, are another option. The United States has accused Russia of deploying four such potential weapons. Russia has responded that these small satellites serve an entirely different purpose: to repair other satellites that have suffered malfunctions. In truth, it’s hard to discern from the outside the ultimate purpose of such repair vehicles: remedy a friendly satellite or ram an unfriendly one. Such are the inherent dangers of dual-use systems.

Then there’s the threat of hypersonic vehicles that can deploy satellites, killer or otherwise, as well as potentially conduct operations in space. China is working on a hypersonic glider, as is Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin made a big splash at the end of 2019 when he announced a new Russian missile that can fly 27 times the speed of sound. Such systems make any missile defense systems, which already face major challenges in taking out conventional missiles, absolutely (as opposed to mostly) useless.

The United States has tested its own hypersonic missile. Lockheed Martin is developing a new hypersonic SR-72, which would be a combination drone and stealth bomber. DARPA has teamed up with Boeing to get a hypersonic plane into operation, which would fall somewhere between a traditional airplane and a rocket. The Pentagon has also developed its X-37b military space plane, which it insists is not designed for military purposes but only to test out new satellite technologies (a frankly dubious contention).

War over the Worlds

A third realm of space conflict — in addition to weapons that enter space on their way toward terrestrial targets and weapons that aim at each other in space — is over the territory and resources of nearby moons and planets.

That might seem far-fetched, since no country seems close to setting up anything like a base on the moon or on Mars. But militaries are voracious in their ambitions. And they’ll always have their visionary — read: kooky — boosters like Newt Gingrich, who wants to team up with Trump on his colonizing space idea, “occupying the moon, developing the moon, and continuing to Mars.”

Just as powerful nations are scrambling to claim territory in the Arctic that has become accessible due to climate change, these space cadets are looking to stake claims to an even larger set of commons that lie beyond this planet.

Just listen to Maj. Gen. John Shaw, the leader of Space Force’s Space Operations Command: “I’ve been telling the team, ‘Don’t think about a warfighting service for the next decade. Create a warfighting service or the 22nd century. What is warfighting going to look like at the end of this century and into the next?’”

In other words, let’s ask Congress for a blank check to spend on any crazy idea we might have about the future of war.

In an Air Force report published in September, military personnel and academics considered various space scenarios for 2060. The “positive” scenarios — titled Star Trek, Garden Earth, and Elysium — all assume that the “U.S. coalition retains leadership over the space domain and has introduced free-world laws and processes that have led to significant global civil, commercial, and military expansion in space and resulted in large revenue streams.”

Sounds like extraterrestrial colonialism to me, though for the time being without the indigenous populations to exterminate first. Not surprisingly, in these scenarios the United States maintains its leadership through overwhelming military power deployed in the stratosphere and beyond.

The “negative” scenarios — titled Zhang He (sic), Xi’s Dream, and Wild Frontier — assume either an “alternate nation” leads in space or no clear winner emerges from a vigorous national competition.

It’s no mystery what this “alternative nation” is.

Zheng He was a great explorer of the fifteenth century who might have established China as the preeminent colonial power in the world if the emperor at the time hadn’t decided to focus on affairs closer to home. Xi is, of course, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his dream of a prosperous and powerful China.

The report makes no mention of arms control, international negotiations to preserve the commons of space, or even the dangers of a military space race. Instead, these blue-sky thinkers could only imagine a battle between the United States and the up-and-coming hegemon over all the marbles.

And that’s where they intersect with Trump as well. At a meeting of the National Space Council in 2018, he said:

I want to also say that when it comes to space, too often, for too many years, our dreams of exploration and discovery were really squandered by politics and bureaucracy, and we knocked that out. So important for our psyche, what you’re doing. It’s going to be important monetarily and militarily. But so important for right up here — the psyche.  We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We’ve always led.

And so the United States has. We’ve always led the way in devising destructive technologies and, for a good many decades, using them to wage war across the planet.

The Alternative

The first attempts to extend arms control to space came in the 1960s. The Limited Test Ban Treaty banned nuclear tests in space. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 banned weapons of mass destruction from space, but all attempts to ban conventional weapons have failed. China and Russia have proposed something along those lines. The biggest naysayer? The United States, which argues that the treaty only forbids technologies that China and Russia currently don’t possess.

Perhaps — but that doesn’t prevent the United States from starting negotiations on various mechanisms to demilitarize space. Restarting negotiations to ban anti-satellite weapons would be a good start, but that might be too ambitious for the current moment.

So, cooperation among the principal space powers could begin with a suitable confidence-building mechanism, like a joint initiative for dealing with space junk.

The Europeans are out there trying to harmonize the various national initiatives for dealing with all the debris circling the earth. There are 14,000 pieces of garbage larger than 4 inches across (pieces of satellites, rocket stages), and even smaller items can do irreparable damage to a spacecraft. The United States could take a proactive approach to the commons by working with others to clean up space — and not just catalog the problem as it is doing now.

Alas, cleaning up trash is also probably a stretch for the Trump administration, given how blind it is to environmental problems, even if that trash is a national security hazard.

But what the United States is doing now with the new Space Force is the worst kind of response to the problem of the increased militarization of space. It is creating an imaginary “space gap” that the United States has to pour money into closing, just like the various missile and bomber gaps of the late twentieth century. It will increase the risk of conflict in space, not reduce it.

The Space Force is a huge white elephant, worse than the Reagan-era missile defense system dubbed Star Wars. In fact, it’s Star Wars without end, sequel after sequel hitting military theaters near you. Even in the unlikely event that all is quiet on the terrestrial front, the new Space Force and its promise to keep the universe safe from bad guys will serve to justify astronomical Pentagon budgets for decades to come.

The post Trump: Make Space Great Again appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.