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 TeasersEric Margolis Blogview

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I don’t like flying. I consider it unnatural, unhealthy and fraught with peril. But I do it all the time. For me, it’s either fly or take an ox cart.

In fact, I’ve been flying since I was six years old – from New York to Paris on a lumbering Boeing Stratocruiser, a converted, double-decker WWII B-29 heavy bomber. I even had a sleeping berth. So much for progress.

Lots can go wrong in the air. Modern aircraft have thousands of obscure parts. If any one of them malfunctions, the aircraft can be crippled or crash. Add pilot error, dangerous weather, air traffic control mistakes, mountains where they are not supposed to be, air to air collisions, sabotage and hijacking.

I vividly recall flying over the snow-capped Alps in the late 1940’s aboard an old Italian three-motor airliner with its port engine burning, and the Italian crew panicking and crossing themselves.

Some years ago, I was on my way to Egypt when we were hijacked by a demented Ethiopian. A three day ordeal ensued that included a return flight to New York City from Germany, with the gunman threatening to crash the A-310 jumbo jet into Wall Street – a grim precursor of 9/11. My father, Henry Margolis, got off a British Comet airliner just before it blew up due to faulty windows.

Which brings me to the current Boeing crisis. After a brand new Boeing 737 Max crashed in Indonesia it seemed highly likely that there was a major problem in its new, invisible autopilot system, known as MCAS. All 737 Max’s flying around the world should have been grounded as a precaution. But America’s aviation authority, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), allowed the Max to keep flying. The FAA is half regulator and half aviation business promoter, a clear conflict of interest.

The crash of a new Ethiopian 737 Max outside Addis Ababa under very similar circumstances to the Lion Air accident set off alarm bells around the globe. Scores of airlines rightly grounded their new Max’s. But the US and Canada did not. The FAA continued to insist the aircraft was sound. The problem, it was hinted between the lines, was incompetent third world pilots.

It now appears that America’s would-be emperor, Pilot-in–Chief Donald Trump, may have pressed the FAA to keep the 737 Max’s in the air. Canada, always shy when it comes to disagreeing with Washington, kept the 737 Max’s flying until there was a lot of evidence linking the Indonesia and Ethiopian crashes.

Trump finally ordered the suspect aircraft grounded. But doing so was not his business. That’s the job of the FAA. But Trump, as usual, wanted to hog the limelight.
By now, the 737 Max ban is just about universal.

Interestingly, Ethiopia refused to hand over the crashed 737’s black boxes (actually they are red) to the FAA, as is normal with US-built aircraft. Instead, Addis Ababa sent the data boxes for analysis to BEA, France’s well-regarded aviation accident investigator. Clearly, Ethiopia lacks confidence in the veracity and impartiality of the FAA and the White House.

Today, Trump professes vivid interest in Boeing’s well-being. Last May, however, Trump cancelled an Iranian order to Boeing for $20 billion in airliners which had originally been signed under the Obama administration. Israel’s fingerprints were all over this cancellation. Iran desperately needs new aircraft to replace its fleet of decaying, 1960’s passenger aircraft that have become flying coffins.

Boeing (I am a shareholder) will recover from this disaster unless the 737 Max’s center of gravity is dangerously unstable. The mystery autopilot system will be reconfigured and pilots properly trained to use it. Air France had a similar problem when it introduced the new A320. But Boeing, not third world pilots, is at fault.

There’s another key factor. I’ve been writing for decades that passenger aircraft should return to the three-man crew they had 40-50 years ago. The position of flight engineer was supposedly eliminated by cockpit automation. Today, aircraft are so electronically complex they need a specialist on board who can deal with problems. Pilots should not be expected to be masters of computer technology. A third crew member is essential when things go wrong. But employing one costs money. It seems rock-bottom fares remain more important than safety.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Boeing 
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“Tell me who you cannot criticize and I will tell you who is your master”. (Attributed to Voltaire).

Saying anything negative about Israel has long been the third rail of US politics and media. Israel is our nation’s most sacred cow. Any questioning of its behavior brings furious charges of anti-Semitism and professional oblivion.

I keep in my bookcase a cautionary book, ‘They Dared Speak Out’ written by US senators and congressmen who all lost their positions after rebuking Israel for its mistreatment of Palestinians or daring to suggest that Israel had far too much influence in the US.

Journalists learn this first commandment very early. Criticize, or even question, Israel at your own peril. Until recently, we journalists were not even allowed to write there was an ‘Israel lobby.’ It was widely considered Washington’s most powerful lobby group but, until lately, mentioning its name was seriously verboten.

Now, young Democratic stars Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a feisty congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, have suddenly broken the taboo and said what dared not be said: there is too much rightwing Israeli influence and there must be justice for Palestine.

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have come to the defense of Ilhan Omar against the usual charges that she is anti-Semitic. So have black groups and smaller liberal Jewish groups. The Democratic Party, that once received half its financial support from Jewish sources, is badly split over the Palestine crisis. Its old guard is retreating and does not know what to do beyond issuing fiery denunciations of the heretical Miss Omar. The Democratic Party split comes just at a time when it is trying to bring down President Donald Trump.

Many people seem unaware that Islam is now America’s third largest religion and may soon surpass the number of Jews. In Canada, Muslims are already the second religion.

Ilhan is not anti-Semitic. I grew up in New York and New England where vicious anti-Semitism abounded. I know real anti-Semitism when I see it. But she is quite right in charging that vast amounts of pro-Israel money have bought Congress and the media.

Sheldon Adelson, the pro-Israel casino tycoon, has given well over $100 million to the Republican Party and its leaders. This money comes from legal gambling, a sickness that preys on addicts and the unfortunate.

In the 1700’s, Dr. Samuel Johnson well defined lotteries and gambling as ‘a tax on fools.’ Such is the source of Adelson’s billions and his influence over the US political process. He is also the primary financier of Israel’s prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, who now faces serious charges of corruption.

Interestingly, Britain faces a similar political storm. Its left-leaning Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has called for justice for the Palestinians and a viable state for them. Britain’s pro-Israel groups and media have launched furious counterattacks on Corbyn and his allies, barraging them with false accusations of being anti-Semitic. This is utter nonsense. To find real anti-Semitism in Britain you need look into the recesses of the Conservative Party. I’ve seen its ugly face.

Israel’s brutal repression of Palestinians has sparked bitter anti-Israel sentiments across Europe. Not so much in America, where media leans far over to Israel’s side and evangelical Christians have been bamboozled into believing that a Greater Israel is somehow necessary for the Second Coming.

But young Americans, and even more so Europeans, are increasingly hearing the call of justice for Palestine. They want no truck with Israel’s right-wingers, whom many leftist Israelis, including the late great writer, Uri Avnery, brand ‘fascists.’

The prescient and courageous Pat Buchanan said it years ago: the US Congress was ‘Israeli occupied territory.’ His political career was ruined.

So was my mother’s career. She was one of the first American female journalists to cover the Mideast in the early 1950’s. After extensively reporting the unknown fact that there were nearly one million Palestinian refugees driven from the new state of Israel, she was silenced by advertisers pulling ads from the papers she wrote for and, finally, threats to throw acid in my face. Her career was ruined.

So I say to Miss Omar and the other brave ladies, full speed ahead. Damn the torpedoes. Do what is good for the world and your country. Break the hold of big money over our republic.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, Israel Lobby 
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President Donald Trump’s air trip to Vietnam cost taxpayers $5,695,000 just for the president’s flying Taj Mahal. Plus millions more for his retainers, the presidential limo, hotel rooms, meals, security details and only Ho Chi Minh knows what else.

For what? A nice photo op and a cheery dinner for the two leaders in Hanoi. Just about everyone who follows Asian affairs knew in advance that North Korean dynastic strongman (aka king) had no interest or good reason for giving up his nuclear program. The director of US national intelligence, Dan Coates, told Trump as much last week.

Many moons ago, I worked in Jamaica on land and port development projects. The boss of my firm, a self-important bigwig, used to brush off each new problem by saying in his melodious English-Jamaican accent, ‘don’t worry, I will neeeegotiate it!’ But more often than not, the chief negotiator made a mess of things.

America’s self-proclaimed chief negotiator just did the same in Vietnam. Either he was so anxious to get out of Washington to avoid the rising storm of scandals he faces or he thought he could flatter the North Korean leader into giving up his nuclear weapons, the only thing that prevents a US invasion of North Korea or a regime change operation.

One also doubts that Trump & Co. realized just how much North Korea’s neighbors, Russia and China, were whispering in Kim Jong Un’s ear. Where did North Korea’s nuclear technology and missiles come from? Did Trump really believe crafty Vlad Putin would allow him to charm the pants off Kim?

So-called ‘denuclearizing’ North Korea was always snake oil. The only effective way to reduce Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal is to engage in patient quid pro quo concessions over years. A better way would be to declare an end to the 1950 Korean War and slowly lift crushing US sanctions against North Korea, then let South Korea take the lead in rebuilding the North. And, most of all, cease US threats to invade North Korea and/or overthrow the Kim dynasty.

For their part, the North Koreans could demand the US denuclearize the region, removing its nuclear weapons from Japan, South Korea, Guam and the Fifth Fleet. Pyongyang could also insist that the more than 30,000 US troops and air bases in South Korea be removed. These are the true diplomatic issues, not hugs and professions of undying love.

President Trump is an amateur diplomat even though he thinks he’s a king. All the attention he gets from US media has clearly gone to his head. His `Art of the Deal’ did not work in Hanoi.

Interestingly, the American media didn’t devote much attention to the irony of Trump’s first brush with Vietnam in the late 1960’s, when his wealthy family secured for him a reported six medical deferments over a tiny foot problem that kept him out of the US Army during the Vietnam War. I enlisted in the army and limped through basic and advanced infantry training with a broken bone in my left foot during the same conflict because I believed it was the duty of every US citizen to do military duty.

Trump’s insistence that North Korea scrap most or even all of its nuclear weapons in exchange for a moderate lessening of US sanctions looked like a non-starter before Trump left for Hanoi. It’s very likely that arch war-monger John Bolton, who sabotaged previous nuclear deals with Iran and North Korea, played a major role in this fiasco.

Interestingly, Trump earlier told reporters that Russia’s Putin had told him that KGB reported that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal was mostly bluster. KGB has a reputation for accuracy.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim must make another two day train journey back to Pyongyang. He has to get over his fear of flying – which is more secure than train travel. The Hanoi failure may undermine Kim’s hold on power. This is not good. The Kim you know is far better than the one you don’t. A wobbly North Korea would be much more dangerous than the kingdom of Kim. North and South Korea are making important progress to building better relations.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, North Korea 
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While Americans were obsessing over a third-rate actor’s fake claims of a racial assault, old foes India and Pakistan were rattling their nuclear weapons in a very dangerous crisis over Kashmir. But hardly anyone noticed that nuclear war could break out in South Asia.

India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed, have fought four wars over divided Kashmir since 1947, the lovely mountain state of forests and lakes whose population is predominantly Muslim. India controls two thirds of Kashmir; Pakistan and China the rest. This bitter dispute, one of the world’s oldest confrontations, has defied all attempts to resolve it.

The United Nations called on India to hold a plebiscite to determine Kashmir’s future, but Delhi ignored this demand, knowing it would probably lose the vote.

Muslim Kashmiris have been in armed revolt against harsh Indian occupation since the 1980’s. Some 70,000 civilians, mostly Muslims, have died to date. Today, India stations a million soldiers and paramilitary forces in Kashmir to repress popular demands by Muslim Kashmiris for either union with neighboring Pakistan or an independent Kashmiri state.

India’s human rights groups accuse Delhi of grave human rights violations, including torture, murder, rape and collective punishment. Delhi says it is protecting Kashmir’s Hindus and Sikhs from Muslim reprisals, and blames the uprising on what it calls ‘cross border terrorism’ initiated by old enemy, Pakistan.

Last week, a Kashmiri ‘mujahidin’ rammed his explosive-laden car into a bus filled with paramilitary Indian troops at Pulwama, killing over 40 and provoking outrage across India.

Unable to crush the decades-old uprising in Kashmir, India threatens major reprisal attacks on Pakistan. However, Kashmir is mountainous, offering poor terrain for India’s overwhelming superiority in tanks and artillery. So Indian commanders have long pressed Delhi to allow them to attack further south on the flat plains of Punjab.

Powerful Indian armored strike corps are poised to slice into vulnerable Pakistan and chop it up into pieces. India has also considered heavy air strikes into Pakistani Punjab and even a naval blockade to cut off Pakistan’s oil imports.

Outnumbered and outgunned six to one by India, Pakistan has developed a potent arsenal of nuclear weapons that can be delivered by aircraft, short and medium-ranged missiles and artillery. Pakistan says it will riposte almost immediately with tactical nuclear weapons to a major Indian attack. Both sides’ nuclear forces are on a hair-trigger alert, greatly increasing the risks of an accidental nuclear exchange.

More detail on this threat scenario may be found in my ground-breaking book on the region’s many dangers, ‘War at the Top of the World.’ Rand Corp estimated a decade ago that an Indo-Pak nuclear exchange would kill two million immediately and 100 million in ensuing weeks. India’s and Pakistan’s major water sources would be contaminated. Clouds of radioactive dust would blow around the globe.

India is deeply frustrated by its inability to crush the independence movement in Kashmir, labeling it ‘terrorism.’ True enough, Pakistan’s crack intelligence service, ISI, has links to the many Kashmiri mujahidin groups. But the uprising is also due to often brutal, corrupt Indian rule over Kashmir and the desire by Muslims for self-rule. As I have often written, every people has a god-given right to be misruled by their own people.

Right now, India is debating a major punitive strike against Pakistan. India national elections are imminent. The Hindu nationalist government in Delhi fears being accused of being soft on Pakistan. It was during a similar crisis in the 1980’s that Pakistan’s tough leader, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, flew to Delhi in a surprise visit and averted a war being planned by India.

If India does launch attacks they will likely be large in scale and involve heavy use of tactical air power. If units on either side become bogged down in fighting, commanders may call for the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Far outgunned Pakistan has been clear about such recourse. The urge to be first to strike with nuclear arms will be powerful.

Once again, the bitter Kashmir dispute endangers the rest of the world. The great powers should be pressing both India and Pakistan to reach a compromise on this problem. But India has long opposed internationalization of the issue, saying it is a domestic Indian matter. It is difficult to imagine the current Hindu nationalist government in Delhi backing down over Kashmir. But India must be very cautious because behind Pakistan stands its ally China which shares a long, often poorly-defined border with India. Kashmir, not Korea, is the world’s most dangerous border.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: India, Nuclear War, Pakistan 
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Warsaw, Poland is not a fun place to visit in darkest February, but that is where the US just staged an anti-Iranian jamboree of 60 client states that brought derision and scorn from Europeans and much of the Mideast.

The point of this cynical exercise was to lay the diplomatic groundwork for an anti-Iranian coalition to act as a fig-leaf for an upcoming attack on Iran planned by President Donald Trump and his close ally, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

The real question is who is calling the shots in bleak Warsaw, Trump or Bibi Netanyahu? It seems to many that the Israeli tail is again wagging the American dog.

This is thanks to the power of America’s born-again evangelicals, hoodwinked into believing that a Greater Israel is somehow a key part of the Second Coming of Christ.

A Fox News poll this week finds that a quarter of these credulous folks believe that God actually summoned Donald Trump to become president. This may even be more than the number of Americans who believe that Elvis is still alive. More proof that the Republicans have pretty much become a theological party.

The three horseman of the hard right Republican Apocalypse, Vice president Mike Pence, Insecurity advisor John Bolton, and State Secretary Mike Pompeo (who reportedly keeps an open bible on his desk) joined their voices to the Warsaw jamboree to excoriate Iran for being a ‘sponsor of terrorism,’ and a danger to world peace and stability.

The never understated Bibi Netanyahu, whose nation has at least 100 nuclear weapons, claimed Iran, which has no nukes and feeble armed forces, was planning a ‘second Holocaust’ for Israel.

An over-excited Netanyahu even tweeted that the Warsaw meeting was preparing for `war with Iran.’ He was forced to retract his tweet. But he did get to sit next to the delegate from war-torn Yemen, a stooge put into place by the Saudis and Emiratis whose aggression against Yemen has so far cost hundreds of thousands of lives, mass starvation and epidemics.

This week a newly energized US House of Representatives voted for an end to their nation’s support for the Saudi-led war in the Mideast’s poorest nation. The Senate, still controlled by Republican Crusaders, will be likely to vote down the sensible House proposal.

Another participant at Warsaw was the largest Arab nation, Egypt. This nation just extended the rule of its military dictator, Field Marshall al-Sisi, to 2034. It was Sisi, backed by Saudi money, who overthrew Egypt’s first democratic government in history, killing and jailing thousands.

In a slap in the face to Washington, Europe’s leaders, France, Germany and the European Union government, either refused to attend the Warsaw hate-fest against Iran or sent low-level paper-passers.

Ironically, while Trump’s people were fulminating against Iranian ‘terrorism,’ it was Iran that was the victim of terrorist attacks. An attack from a Pakistan-based Sunni Jaish al-Adl extremist group linked to the CIA killed 27 soldiers and wounded a similar number. Iran has been the target of constant attacks since its 1979 revolution by groups linked to the US, and from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other US regional vassals.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is even a long-term lobbyist for the hyper-violent Marxist Iranian extremist group, the MEK which was even branded a ‘terrorist group’ by the US government.

The Warsaw jamboree was also supposed to set the stage for Trump’s much ballyhooed Mideast ‘peace’ plan. Run by son-in-law Jared Kushner, the full plan is expected to be released in April, right after Israeli elections. It will likely consist of trying to buy off Palestinian land claims with US taxpayer money and some cash from the Saudis. America’s Arab client states in the region will all provide polite applause.

The Warsaw jamboree produced no evident results and left the US even more isolated than before. Europe is moving ahead with a financial mechanism to permit trade with Iran that circumvents US sanctions. US intelligence itself reports that Iran is not working in nuclear weapons. Europe wants to trade with Iran.

America’s anti-Iran campaign has just suffered another blow. This after Washington badly damaged relations with China and Canada over the arrest of the daughter in Vancouver of the founder of Huawei over charges it traded with Iran. Most non-Americans view this as an outrage. But the later-day Crusaders around Trump don’t seem to care that they are damaging America’s reputation and making a mess of its foreign policy.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy 
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President Donald Trump and the neocon sofa samurais who surround him seem determined to pick a fight with China or Russia, or both at the same time.

Later this month, the US and China are due to try to end their long-running trade war which has damaged the economies of both nations. At the heart of the trade dispute are soya beans and pork, the two principal American exports to China, as well as China’s efforts to grab US technology.

I find it amazing that, in 2019 high-tech America, the most important exports to China, aside from aircraft, are the humble soya bean and pigs. Of course, they come from farm country, the heartland of Trump’s political support.

Not a thought has been given to the hellish mistreatment of the pigs themselves, intelligent animals who are turned into inanimate objects known as ‘pork’, or the foul conditions their industrial breeding creates.

China will likely be the first to blink in this test of national wills. It imports less from the US than it exports and is thus vulnerable to trade pressure.
But history amply shows that it’s a bad idea to push China into a corner and make it lose face.

Suave diplomacy is the way to deal with the proud, prickly Chinese. They have refused to play by world trade rules, it is true, and need some serious arm-twisting. But not at a time when the Pentagon is ostentatiously planning a war against China in the western Pacific. The fuse has already been lit.

Meanwhile, the far right neocons, led by the unbalanced John Bolton, have convinced Trump to break the 1987 US-Soviet short and intermediate missile treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. This landmark agreement led to the removal of all US and Soviet land-based missiles from Europe. The pact was regarded as the first major step in reducing nuclear weapons.

The 1987 treaty was a godsend for Europe, which would have been ground zero in any nuclear exchange. It was also a huge relief for Moscow which rightly feared that the highly accurate US Pershing missiles based in Europe could deliver a devastating surprise strike, known as decapitation, on Soviet government leadership targets. Moscow’s retaliation would have razed Paris, London, Frankfurt, Brussels, Amsterdam and other important targets.

Over recent months, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been responding to growing US nuclear threats by vaunting new developments in his nation’s missile technology. If accurate and actually deployed, these new hypersonic and nuclear-powered missiles with immense range will make obsolete all of US anti-missile defenses, a topic much loved by Trump.

Now, Trump & Co. are preparing to junk this crucial piece of Cold War architecture and resume the arms race with Russia. Pentagon sources say the real reason is to counter China’s missiles, which were not a factor in 1987, and have proliferated in recent years. Increasingly accurate, these Chinese tactical and strategic missiles are a major source of concern to the US Navy and US Asian bases.

But the US still has ample land, air and ocean-based nuclear forces to inflict immense damage on China. Violating the bedrock 1987 treaty with Moscow hardly seems worth adding some US nuclear-armed missiles in Guam, Japan or South Korea.

We must also suspect that the Trump White House has resurrected the old Cold War notion of bankrupting the Soviets/Russia by drawing them into a ruinous arms race. The US and its NATO satraps and Japan had a five times larger military capability than the old Soviet Union or today’s threadbare Russia. ‘We’ll spend them into the ground,’ went the old battle cry in Washington. This at least is preferable to a nuclear exchange.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev just denounced the Trump administration’s nuclear policies as a gigantic mistake and threat to mankind. NATO, showing its subservience to Washington, bleated its support for US plans to deploy new medium-ranged missiles in Europe. But, in truth, Europeans are aghast at the prospect of a nuclear war fought in their backyards.

When the history of our era is written, Trump’s reincarnation of Cold War nuclear missile rattling will surely rank as a monumental historic folly. No amount of soya bean or pig sales can make up for that.

 
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An ancient Hindu prayer says, ‘Lord Shiva, save us from the claw of the tiger, the fang of the cobra, and the vengeance of the Afghan.’

The United States, champion of freedom and self-determination, is now in its 18th year of colonial war in Afghanistan. This miserable, stalemated conflict is America’s longest and most shameful war. So far it has cost over $1 trillion and killed no one knows how many Afghans.

This conflict began in 2001 on a lie: namely that Afghanistan was somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the US. These attacks were planned in Europe and the US, not Afghanistan, and apparently conducted (official version) by anti-American Saudi extremists. This writer remains unconvinced by the official versions.

We still don’t know if Osama bin Laden instigated the attacks. He was murdered rather than brought to trial. Dead men tell no tales. However, Mullah Omar, leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, told my late friend journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave that bin Laden was not involved in 9/11. Who benefited? Certainly not the Afghans. They have been at war for the past 40 years.

As I wrote in my first book, ‘War at the Top of the World,’ Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribal majority were fierce fighters and were incredibly brave. Their Taliban movement was a tribal-nationalist-Islamist force devoted to fighting communism, drug dealing and foreign influence. Taliban stamped out the Afghan opium trade and had just about crushed the drug-dealing Russian-backed Tajik northern alliance – until the US invaded in 2001. The Afghan drug lords quickly became US allies and remain so today.

Taliban was not a ‘terrorist movement,’ as western war propaganda falsely claimed. Twenty years earlier their fathers were hailed ‘freedom fighters’ by President Ronald Reagan when they were fighting Soviet occupation. Taliban’s Pashtun warriors wanted all foreigners out of their nation and the right to run their own affairs according to Islamic principles.

The US has savaged Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries. US B-52 and B-1 heavy bombers are razing tribal villages, predator killer drones attack most road movement, US-paid Afghan puppet forces, many former Communists, routinely torture and murder. All this while the US-installed yes-man regime in Kabul does nothing to halt massive drug dealing and human rights abuses.

In fact, dealing in opium and morphine is the primary business of Afghanistan. This cash crop could not be exported to Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia without the connivance of the Kabul regime and its US military protectors. When the full truth about the war is finally written, the US will be in the deepest shame over involvement in the drug trade.

Washington, which has done as much as the former Soviet invaders to ravage Afghanistan, has no clear idea what to do next. President Trump announced withdrawal of some of the 14,000 US troops (and large numbers of mercenaries) from Afghanistan. But then the pro-war neocons at State and the Pentagon sought to veto the president’s statement. Meanwhile, desultory talks are droning on in Doha, Qatar, between the US and Taliban, led by the US ‘special envoy’ (read proconsul) Zalmay Khalilzad, a neocon who played an important role in promoting the invasion of Iraq.

Why is the US still at war in Afghanistan after 18 years? First, because the politicians and generals involved won’t accept responsibility for a defeat and its huge cost. There is nothing more wasteful than a lost war. Second, because imperial-minded circles want to keep bases in Afghanistan to menace China, Iran and Pakistan. There are huge profits to be made from this endless war with its $400 per gallon gasoline trucked in from Karachi and 24-hour on call air support. Plus the bases and fleet that support the war and promotion for the senior officers involved.

To keep this useless war against lightly armed Pashtun tribesmen going, the US must massively bribe Pakistan to maintain the military’s supply routes into that isolated nation. The absurd waste of US money in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been fully documented by the US government’s audit agencies.

President Trump is right to talk about ending this ignoble conflict. But the neocon fifth column he has foolishly helped install keeps thwarting his aspirations.

Trump should order the fighting ended and all US troops out of Afghanistan within 90 days. End US involvement in the drug trade. Tell India to butt out of Afghanistan. That would be statesmanship. Afghanistan must be allowed to return to its former obscurity.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military 
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`Good fences make good neighbors,’ wrote American poet Robert Frost. But not according to President Donald Trump whose proposed Great Wall is supposed to protect the nation from hordes of rabid, murderous, drug crazed rapists and unwhites from south of the border.

I’m a life-long student of military architecture, with a particular passion for modern fortification, chief among which is France’s own Great Wall, the magnificent and unfairly reviled Maginot Line.

Given the heated debate in America over Trump’s proposed barrier along the Mexican border, it’s worth looking back to the Maginot Line. It was supposed to have been France’s savior after the bloodbath of World War I.

Proposed by Deputy André Maginot in the 1920’s, the Line was supposed to cover key parts of France’s frontiers with German and Italy. Due to the terrible losses of the Great War, France did not have enough soldiers to properly defend its long frontiers. So it made sense to erect fortifications to compensate for manpower weakness and to block surprise attacks from next door enemy forces.

The first large Maginot fort was built in the 1920’s north of Nice to protect the Cote d’Azur from possible Italian attacks. Mussolini was demanding France return the Riviera coast to its former Italian rulers. Work on the principal Line along the German and Luxembourg borders began soon after. Phase one covered 260 miles from near the Rhine to Longuyon, a rail junction south of the Belgian border.

The Line consisted of hundreds of steel and concrete machine gun and anti-tank casemates with interlocking flanking fire. They were surrounded by upright rails designed to halt tanks and dense belts of interwoven barbed wire covered by machine guns. Artillery casemates with 75mm, 81mm and 135mm guns covered the fort’s fronts and sides.

Within and behind the Maginot Line were based an army of specialized fortress troops and hundreds of field artillery guns. The era’s most advanced electronic communications systems meshed the defenses together. The big forts were mostly buried 90 feet underground, proof from any projectiles of the era.

But the problem was that a wall or barrier is only effective so long as there are adequate troops to man it.

In the spring of 1940, France had deployed nearly a third of its field army behind the Maginot Line. But then the Germans staged a brilliant breakthrough north of the Line across the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes forest region. In 1938, a French parliamentarian named Perrier (from the French water family) had toured the Ardennes area and warned the military that it was very vulnerable to a German breakthrough. The generals scoffed at ‘this civilian’ and ignored Perrier’s warning.

Sure enough, the German armored and infantry assault came right through this Ardennes weak point near Sedan, forcing a rapid retreat by French and British forces in the region that ended up at Dunkerque.

As outflanked Allied forces pulled back from the frontier, they exposed the northern flank of the Maginot Line. The French high command, fearing their armies around the Line would be encircled, ordered the interval forces to retreat towards the highlands of central France. The Line was thus denuded of its troops and artillery. These units, who were armed and trained for static defense, had to make their way cross country on foot. Most were captured en route by advancing German forces.

In spring 1940 the Line was unfinished with large gaps and open flanks due to budgetary constraints caused by the 1930’s depression. The Germans drove through them, wisely avoiding most of big forts, and attacked the Line from the rear. Ironically, in 1944/45, German troops ended up defending the Maginot Forts from the advancing US Army.

The Line worked as planned, protecting vulnerable areas. But it was never extended to the Channel due to Belgium’s high water table and reluctance to fortify behind the French ally. The Belgians believed their powerful forts near Liege would delay the Germans until the French Army could intervene. They were wrong.

The French public ascribed almost magical powers to the Line. It would keep them invulnerable they believed. Building the fortifications became a national works project during the Depression, rather like the US WPA labor program. But Adolf Hitler vowed he would go around the Line and chop it up. He did.

A Trump wall or barrier will cost far more than believed and be likely unfinished, with large gaps like the Maginot Line. Some better way of blocking the border must be found. If not, we may end up having to wall and garrison the Canadian border as well.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Donald Trump, World War II 
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Reports coming in about China’s new gulag for Muslims seem too awful to believe. But the United Nations and responsible media have revealed that hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims from western China – and perhaps as many as one million – have been shut away in a growing chain of prison camps designed to impose ruthless state control over them and crush their culture and religion.

Who are these oddly-named people, China’s Uighurs? Their homeland lies on China’s far western region next to independent Kazakhstan and Pakistan. The region, as I’ve seen, is arid, hilly and very remote. The Uighurs are a Turkic people of ancient Muslim culture who have nothing in common with China except proximity. Their once independent nation used to be called the East Turkestan Republic before it was invaded and gobbled up in 1949 by Red China and, before that, by the Russian Empire.

A year later, Communist China began invading independent Tibet. China’s aim there was to crush Tibetan national resistance to Chinese rule and wipe out as much as possible of Tibet’s ancient feudal and religious culture. I infiltrated into Tibet in the 1980’s in time to see violent Tibetan demonstrations and riots against the Chinese occupiers. Four decades later, draconian Chinese rule is well on the way to crushing the life out of Tibet’s ancient Buddhist culture.

The same process is happening now in Eastern Turkestan. This strategic piece of real estate is part of the ethnic Turkish Central Asia that includes Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Mongolia and Afghanistan are sometimes included. In the late 19th century, there arose the Pan-Turkic movement in Turkey that sought to unite Central Asia under the guidance of Istanbul. But in the end, the Russian Empire and China occupied Central Asia until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, China is the last remaining colonial master.

The Uighurs, a forgotten people, have been protesting and resisting Chinese rule since the late 1940’s. Beijing has always seen Islam as a challenge to its absolute rule. Uighur resistance has been limited and ineffectual. But Beijing had a big scare when the US CIA set up camps in Afghanistan in the late 1970’s to train Uighurs into an anti-Chinese guerrilla force for use in a potential future US-China war. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the former CIA training camps for Uighurs were brazenly called ‘Islamic terrorist training camps’ and blamed on Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.

China has set about uprooting Muslim culture and identity. Religious devotions, beards and traditional Islamic dress, the Uighur language itself, and historic customs are banned. Communist party members are billeted in the home of Uighurs to keep a wary eye on them. Schools are run by Chinese officials; Uighur movements are restricted; mosques are shuttered.

Over the past year, China has reportedly been building what are officially called ‘re-education’ centers in the region. The UN reports that up to one million Muslims have been locked away in these modern gulags, surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. China’s prison complex, known as ‘laogai,’ covers the nation, but the Muslim gulag appears particularly brutal and intimidating. Of course, a million Muslims in China’s prisons pales in comparison to the two million, mostly blacks, in US state and federal prisons (though none are charged with religious crimes).

China’s strategy in Tibet and Eastern Turkestan has been what I call ‘ethnic inundation.’ Han Chinese are brought in from afar to settle Muslim and Buddhist lands, relentlessly swamping the local population who become a policed minority. Interestingly, Israel has been following the same policy on the West Bank and Golan. Gaza has been turned into a giant, open-air prison for Palestinians. China’s Turkestan gulag may surpass Gaza in the number of prisoners it holds. Unsurprisingly, China rarely criticizes Israel for its repression of Palestinians.

The Muslim world has done next to nothing to protest the fate of the Uighurs. Only Turkey, one of the few Muslim nations with self-respect, is strongly rebuking China and giving refuge to Uighur refugees. Those self-proclaimed ‘defenders of the faith,’ Saudi Arabia, have been mute to the oppression in Turkestan – as mute as they have been to the savage mistreatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, 800,000 of whom are now living in awful condition in Bangladesh.

As with the sordid murder of Saudi writer Khashoggi by Saudi agents, few dare rebuke the rich perpetrator of the crime. No one wants to be on China’s blacklist.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Uyghurs 
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The United States and China look like two punch-drunk prizefighters squaring off for a major championship fight. They have no good reason to fight and every reason to cooperate now that both their stock markets have been in turmoil.

Six hundred point market swings down and then up look like symptoms of economic nervous breakdown.

Factions in both nations are beating the war drums, putting presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping under growing pressure to be more aggressive.

Trump shoulders much of the blame for having started this unnecessary confrontation by imposing heavy duties on Chinese goods. The US president has turned the old maxim on its head that nations that trade heavily don’t go to war. The US and China, both huge trading partners, appear headed to military clashes, or even full scale war, if their governments don’t come to their senses soon.

Trump was clearly trying to bully China into major trade concessions and better commercial behavior. He is right about this. I’ve done business in China for over 15 years and seen every kind of chicanery, fakery and double-dealing imaginable. China learned from the French that the First Commandment is ‘Thou Shalt Not Import.’

The Japanese are no better. I recall Japanese health authorities telling my pharma firm that all our tablets had to be triangular shaped to make them nearly impossible to swallow.

Theft of technology is indeed rampant, as Trump asserts. But has he looked into CIA and NSA’s techno spying recently? They ransacked the Soviet Union during its last dying days. Much of our postwar missile technology was developed by German scientists spirited off to the USA. After the Sputnik launch in 1957, I recall seeing a German cartoon showing a Soviet and US satellite in orbit next to one another. One whispers to the other, ‘Now that we’re alone, let’s speak German!’

Meanwhile, US warships are patrolling the South China Sea and playing chicken with Chinese naval units and aircraft. It’s only a matter of time before a dangerous incident occurs that could spark a real shooting war. The Trump White House has been encouraging India to challenge China at sea and in the high Himalayas.

Beijing has pulled the rug out from under Apple sales in China, causing a near panic on the US stock market. In his quest for power and glory, Trump may have fatally wounded US financial markets. Apple was the shining example of fruitful cooperation between the US and China.

Trump’s confrontation with China was aimed at winning him votes in the US Farm and Bible belts. It’s ironic that over 80% of Trump backers who profess themselves evangelical Christians are cheering on his military adventure against China and, for that matter, North Korea. ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ got lost on the road to Iowa.

China’s ruler, Xi Jinping, has gotten sufficiently annoyed with Trump to rekindle his nation’s strident claims to ‘renegade province’ Taiwan. In past years, the mighty US Seventh Fleet would have turned any Chinese invasion fleet into chow mein. US Naval officers used to claim they would make a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan into ‘a million-man swim.’ Today, China has the technology, manpower and naval power to invade Taiwan, should it so choose.

While lacking the military proficiency of the US Navy, China’s new fighters, drones, anti-ship missiles and fleet submarines already pose a serious challenge to the US 7th Fleet. It would be foolish to underestimate China’s striking power.

In the midst of all these tensions, the US chose to get Canada to arrest the daughter of China’s leading high tech firm, Meng Wanzhou, on charges of trading with Iran. Trump appeared unaware of plans to arrest Meng as she was transiting Vancouver airport. There is a very strong suspicion that the rabid hawks in the White House, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, hatched this incident to keep the US and China in confrontation.

During the Bush administration, Bolton pulled off a similar machination to thwart a peace deal between North Korea and the US. Now the Chinese are humiliated and furious at Washington for the arrest of Mrs Meng, and the Canadians, who had no business getting involved in this fracas over Iran, are left holding the bag. Pathetic.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Canada, China, Neocons 
Eric Margolis
About Eric Margolis

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune the Los Angeles Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times, Nation – Pakistan, Hurriyet, – Turkey, Sun Times Malaysia and other news sites in Asia.

He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Lew Rockwell. He appears as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, France 2, France 24, Fox News, CTV and CBC.

His internet column www.ericmargolis.com reaches global readers on a daily basis.

As a war correspondent Margolis has covered conflicts in Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Sinai, Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, El Salvador and Nicaragua. He was among the first journalists to ever interview Libya’s Muammar Khadaffi and was among the first to be allowed access to KGB headquarters in Moscow.

A veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East, Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq.

A native New Yorker, he maintains residences in Toronto and New York, with frequent visits to Paris.


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