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Making the case that the explosion resulted from an attack
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The narrative that the Beirut explosion was an exclusive consequence of negligence and corruption by the current Lebanese government is now set in stone, at least in the Atlanticist sphere.

And yet, digging deeper, we find that negligence and corruption may have been fully exploited, via sabotage, to engineer it.

Lebanon is prime John Le Carré territory. A multinational den of spies of all shades – House of Saud agents, Zionist operatives, “moderate rebel” weaponizers, Hezbollah intellectuals, debauched Arab “royalty,” self-glorified smugglers – in a context of full spectrum economic disaster afflicting a member of the Axis of Resistance, a perennial target of Israel alongside Syria and Iran.

As if this were not volcanic enough, into the tragedy stepped President Trump to muddy the – already contaminated – Eastern Mediterranean waters. Briefed by “our great generals,” Trump on Tuesday said: “According to them – they would know better than I would – but they seem to think it was an attack.”

Trump added, “it was a bomb of some kind.”

Was this incandescent remark letting the cat out of the bag by revealing classified information? Or was the President launching another non sequitur?

Trump eventually walked his comments back after the Pentagon declined to confirm his claim about what the “generals” had said and his defense secretary, Mark Esper, supported the accident explanation for the blast.

It’s yet another graphic illustration of the war engulfing the Beltway. Trump: attack. Pentagon: accident. “I don’t think anybody can say right now,” Trump said on Wednesday. “I’ve heard it both ways.”

Still, it’s worth noting a report by Iran’s Mehr News Agency that four US Navy reconnaissance planes were spotted near Beirut at the time of the blasts. Is US intel aware of what really happened all along the spectrum of possibilities?

That ammonium nitrate

Security at Beirut’s port – the nation’s prime economic hub – would have to be considered a top priority. But to adapt a line from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Beirut.”

Those by now iconic 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate arrived in Beirut in September 2013 on board the Rhosus, a ship under Moldovan flag sailing from Batumi in Georgia to Mozambique. Rhosus ended up being impounded by Beirut’s Port State Control.

Subsequently the ship was de facto abandoned by its owner, shady businessman Igor Grechushkin, born in Russia and a resident of Cyprus, who suspiciously “lost interest” in his relatively precious cargo, not even trying to sell it, dumping style, to pay off his debts.

Grechushkin never paid his crew, who barely survived for several months before being repatriated on humanitarian grounds. The Cypriot government confirmed there was no request to Interpol from Lebanon to arrest him. The whole op feels like a cover – with the real recipients of the ammonium nitrate possibly being “moderate rebels” in Syria who use it to make IEDs and equip suicide trucks, such as the one that demolished the Al Kindi hospital in Aleppo.

The 2,750 tons – packed in 1-ton bags labeled “Nitroprill HD” – were transferred to the Hangar 12 warehouse by the quayside. What followed was an astonishing case of serial negligence.

From 2014 to 2017 letters from customs officials – a series of them – as well as proposed options to get rid of the dangerous cargo, exporting it or otherwise selling it, were simply ignored. Every time they tried to get a legal decision to dispose of the cargo, they got no answer from the Lebanese judiciary.

When Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab now proclaims, “Those responsible will pay the price,” context is absolutely essential.

Neither the prime minister nor the president nor any of the cabinet ministers knew that the ammonium nitrate was stored in Hangar 12, former Iranian diplomat Amir Mousavi, the director of the Center for Strategic Studies and International Relations in Tehran, confirms. We’re talking about a massive IED, placed mid-city.

The bureaucracy at Beirut’s port and the mafias who are actually in charge are closely linked to, among others, the al-Mostaqbal faction, which is led by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, himself fully backed by the House of Saud.

The immensely corrupt Hariri was removed from power in October 2019 amid serious protests. His cronies “disappeared” at least $20 billion from Lebanon’s treasury – which seriously aggravated the nation’s currency crisis.

No wonder the current government – where we have Prime Minister Diab backed by Hezbollah – had not been informed about the ammonium nitrate.

Ammonium nitrate is quite stable, making it one of the safest explosives used in mining. Fire normally won’t set it off. It becomes highly explosive only if contaminated – for instance by oil – or heated to a point where it undergoes chemical changes that produce a sort of impermeable cocoon around it in which oxygen can build up to a dangerous level where an ignition can cause an explosion.

Why, after sleeping in Hangar 12 for seven years, did this pile suddenly feel an itch to explode?

So far, the prime straight to the point explanation, by Middle East expert Elijah Magnier, points to the tragedy being “sparked” – literally – by a clueless blacksmith with a blowtorch operating quite close to the unsecured ammonium nitrate. Unsecured due, once again, to negligence and corruption – or as part of an intentional “mistake” anticipating the possibility of a future blast.

This scenario, though, does not explain the initial “fireworks” explosion. And certainly does not explain what no one – at least in the West – is talking about: the deliberate fires set to an Iranian market in Ajam in the UAE, and also to a series of food/agricultural warehouses in Najaf, Iraq, immediately after the Beirut tragedy.

Follow the money

Lebanon – boasting assets and real estate worth trillions of dollars – is a juicy peach for global finance vultures. To grab these assets at rock bottom prices, in the middle of the New Great Depression, is simply irresistible. In parallel, the IMF vulture would embark on full shakedown mode and finally “forgive” some of Beirut’s debts as long as a harsh variation of “structural adjustment” is imposed.

Who profits, in this case, are the geopolitical and geoeconomic interests of US, Saudi Arabia and France. It’s no accident that President Macron, a dutiful Rothschild servant, arrived in Beirut Thursday to pledge Paris neocolonial “support” and all but impose, like a Viceroy, a comprehensive set of “reforms”. A Monty Python-infused dialogue, complete with heavy French accent, might have followed along these lines: “We want to buy your port.” “It’s not for sale.” “Oh, what a pity, an accident just happened.”

 
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When the Ronald Reagan and Nimitz carrier strike groups recently engaged in “operations” in the South China Sea, it did not escape to many a cynic that the US Pacific Fleet was doing its best to turn the infantile Thucydides Trap theory into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The pro forma official spin, via Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz, is that the ops were conducted to “reinforce our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, a rules-based international order, and to our allies and partners”.

Nobody pays attention to these clichés, because the real message was delivered by a CIA operative posing as diplomat, Secretary of State Mike “We Lie, We Cheat, We Steal” Pompeo: “The PRC has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region”, in a reference to the Nine-Dash Line. For the State Dept., Beijing deploys nothing but “gangster tactics” in the South China Sea.

Once again, nobody paid attention, because the actual facts on the sea are stark. Anything that moves in the South China Sea – China’s crucial maritime trade artery – is at the mercy of the PLA, which decides if and when to deploy their deadly DF-21D and DF-26 “carrier killer” missiles. There’s absolutely no way the US Pacific Fleet can win a shooting war in the South China Sea.

Electronically jammed

A crucial Chinese report, unavailable and not referred to by Western media, and translated by Hong Kong-based analyst Thomas Wing Polin, is essential to understand the context.

The report refers to US Growler electronic warplanes rendered totally out of control by electronic jamming devices positioned on islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

According to the report, “after the accident, the United States negotiated with China, demanding that China dismantle the electronic equipment immediately, but it was rejected. These electronic devices are an important part of China’s maritime defense and are not offensive weapons. Therefore, the US military’s request for dismantling is unreasonable.”

It gets better: “On the same day, former commander Scott Swift of the US Pacific Fleet finally acknowledged that the US military had lost the best time to control the South China Sea. He believes that China has deployed a large number of Hongqi 9 air defense missiles, H-6K bombers, and electronic jamming systems on islands and reefs. The defense can be said to be solid. If US fighter jets rush into the South China Sea, they are likely to encounter their ‘Waterloo.’”

The bottom line is that the systems – including electronic jamming – deployed by the PLA on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, covering more than half of the total surface, are considered by Beijing to be part of the national defense system.

I have previously detailed what Admiral Philip Davidson, when he was still a nominee to lead the US Pacific Command (PACOM), told the US Senate. Here are his Top Three conclusions:

1) “China is pursuing advanced capabilities (e.g., hypersonic missiles) which the United States has no current defense against. As China pursues these advanced weapons systems, US forces across the Indo-Pacific will be placed increasingly at risk.”

2) “China is undermining the rules-based international order.”

3) “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

Implied in all of the above is the “secret” of the Indo-Pacific strategy: at best a containment exercise, as China continues to solidify the Maritime Silk Road linking the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Remember the nusantao

The South China Sea is and will continue to be one of the prime geopolitical flashpoints of the young 21st century, where a great deal of the East-West balance of power will be played.

I have addressed this elsewhere in the past in some detail, but a short historical background is once again absolutely essential to understand the current juncture as the South China Sea increasingly looks and feels like a Chinese lake.

Let’s start in 1890, when Alfred Mahan, then president of the US Naval College, wrote the seminal The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. Mahan’s central thesis is that the US should go global in search of new markets, and protect these new trade routes through a network of naval bases.

That is the embryo of the US Empire of Bases – which remains in effect.

It was Western – American and European – colonialism that came up with most land borders and maritime borders of states bordering the South China Sea: Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam.

We are talking about borders between different colonial possessions – and that implied intractable problems from the start, subsequently inherited by post-colonial nations.

Historically, it had always been a completely different story. The best anthropological studies (Bill Solheim’s, for instance) define the semi-nomadic communities who really traveled and traded across the South China Sea from time immemorial as the Nusantao – an Austronesian compound word for “south island” and “people”.

The Nusantao were not a defined ethnic group. They were a maritime internet. Over centuries, they had many key hubs, from the coastline between central Vietnam and Hong Kong all the way to the Mekong Delta. They were not attached to any “state”. The Western notion of “borders” did not even exist. In the mid-1990s, I had the privilege to encounter some of their descendants in Indonesia and Vietnam.

So it was only by the late 19th century that the Westphalian system managed to freeze the South China Sea inside an immovable framework.

Which brings us to the crucial point of why China is so sensitive about its borders; because they are directly linked to the “century of humiliation” – when internal Chinese corruption and weakness allowed Western “barbarians” to take possession of Chinese land.

A Japanese lake

The Nine Dash Line is an immensely complex problem. It was invented by the eminent Chinese geographer Bai Meichu, a fierce nationalist, in 1936, initially as part of a “Chinese National Humiliation Map” in the form of a “U-shaped line” gobbling up the South China Sea all the way down to James Shoal, which is 1,500 km south of China but only over 100 km off Borneo.

The Nine Dash Line, from the beginning, was promoted by the Chinese government – remember, at the time not yet Communist – as the letter of the law in terms of “historic” Chinese claims over islands in the South China Sea.

One year later, Japan invaded China. Japan had occupied Taiwan way back in 1895. Japan occupied the Philippines in 1942. That meant virtually the entire coastline of the South China Sea being controlled by a single empire for the fist time in history. The South China Sea had become a Japanese lake.

Well, that lasted only until 1945. The Japanese did occupy Woody Island in the Paracels and Itu Aba (today Taiping) in the Spratlys. After the end of WWII and the US nuclear-bombing Japan, the Philippines became independent in 1946 and the Spratlys immediately were declared Filipino territory.

In 1947, all the islands in the South China Sea got Chinese names.

And in December 1947 all the islands were placed under the control of Hainan (itself an island in southern China.) New maps duly followed, but now with Chinese names for the islands (or reefs, or shoals). But there was a huge problem: no one explained the meaning of those dashes (which were originally eleven.)

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, China, South China Sea 
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Two decades after a political earthquake, a powerful aftershock that should be rocking Brazil apart is being met with thunderous silence.

What is now termed “the Banestado leaks” and “CC5gate” is straight out of vintage WikiLeaks: a list, published for the first time in full, naming names and detailing one of the biggest corruption and money laundering cases in the world in the past three decades.

This scandal allows for the healthy practice of what Michel Foucault characterized as the archeology of knowledge. Without understanding these leaks, it’s impossible to place in proper context events ranging from the sophisticated assault by Washington on Brazil – initially via NSA spying on President Dilma Roussef’s first term (2010-2014) – all the way to the “|Car Wash” corruption investigation that jailed Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and opened the way for the election of neofascist patsy Jair Bolsonaro as president.

Credit for the scoop on this George Orwell-does-hybrid-war plotline is due, once again, to independent media. The small website Duplo Expresso, led by young, daring, Bern-based international lawyer Romulus Maya, first published the list.

An epic five-hour podcast assembled the three key protagonists who denounced the scandal in the first place, back in the late 1990s, and now are able to re-analyze it: then-governor of Parana state Roberto Requiao, federal prosecutor Celso Tres and now retired police superintendent Jose Castilho Neto.

Previously, in another podcast, Maya and anthropologist Piero Leirner, Brazil’s foremost analyst of hybrid war, briefed me on the myriad political intricacies of the leaks while we discussed geopolitics in the Global South.

The CC5 lists are here, here , and here . Let’s see what makes them so special.

The mechanism

Way back in 1969, the Brazilian Central Bank created what was described as a “CC5 account” to facilitate foreign companies and executives to legally wire assets overseas. For many years the cash flow in these accounts was not significant. Then everything changed in the 1990s – with the emergence of a massive, complex criminal racket centered on money laundering.

The original Banestado investigation started in 1997. Federal prosecutor Celso Tres was stunned to find that from 1991 to 1996 Brazilian currency worth no less than US$124 billion had been wired overseas. Eventually the total for the whole life of the racket (1991-2002) ballooned to a whopping $219 billion – placing Banestado as one of the largest money laundering schemes in history.

Tres’s report led to a federal investigation focused in Foz do Iguacu in southern Brazil, strategically situated right at the Tri-Border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, where local banks were laundering vast amounts of funds through their CC5 accounts.

Here is how it worked. US dollar dealers in the black market, linked to bank and government employees, used a vast network of bank accounts under the names of unsuspecting smurfs and phantom companies to launder illegal funds from public corruption, tax fraud and organized crime, mainly through the Banco do Estado do Parana branch in Foz do Iguacu. Thus “the Banestado case.”

The federal investigation was going nowhere until 2001, when then-police superintendent Castilho ascertained that most of the funds were actually landing in accounts at the Banestado branch in New York. Castilho arrived in New York in January 2002 to turbo-charge the necessary international money tracking.

Through a court order, Castilho and his team reviewed 137 accounts at Banestado New York, tracking $14.9 billion. In quite a few cases, the beneficiaries’ names were the same as those of Brazilian politicians then serving in Congress, cabinet ministers and even former presidents.

After a month in New York, Castilho was back in Brazil carrying a hefty 400-page report. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence he was removed from the investigation, which was then put on hold for at least a year. When the new Lula government took power in early 2003, Castilho was back in business.

In April 2003, Castilho identified a particularly interesting Chase Manhattan account named “Tucano” – the nickname of the PSDB party led by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who had been in power before Lula and who always kept very close ties to the Clinton and Blair political machines.

Castilho was instrumental in the setup of a parliamentary inquiry commission over the Banestado case. But, once again, this commission led nowhere – there was not even a vote on a final report. Most companies involved negotiated deals with the Brazilian Internal Revenue Service and thus ended any possibility of legal action in regard to tax evasion.

Banestado meets Car Wash

In a nutshell, the two largest political parties – Cardoso’s neoliberal PSDB and Lula’s Workers’ Party, neither of which ever really faced down imperial machinations and the Brazilian rentier class – actively buried an in-depth investigation.

Moreover Lula, coming right after Cardoso, and mindful or preserving a minimum of governability, made a strategic decision not to investigate “Tucano” corruption, including a slew of dodgy privatizations.

New York prosecutors went so far as to prepare a special Banestado list for Castilho with what really mattered for criminal prosecution to go through: the full circle of the money laundering scheme, with funds first illegally remitted out of Brazil using the CC5 accounts, next passing through the New York branches of the Brazilian banks involved, then reaching offshore bank accounts and trusts in tax havens (e.g., Cayman, Jersey, Switzerland) and finally going back to Brazil as – fully laundered – “foreign investment,” for the actual use and enjoyment of the final beneficiaries who had first removed the not-accounted-for money from the country using the CC5 accounts.

But then Brazilian Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos, appointed by Lula, nixed it. As superintendent Castilho metaphorically puts it, “This deliberately prevented me from going back to Brazil with the murdered body.”

While Castilho never got hold of this critical document, at least two Brazilian congressmen, two senators and two federal prosecutors who would later on rise to fame as Car Wash investigation “stars” – Vladimir Aras and Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima – did get it. Why and how the document – call it the “body bag” – never found its way into the criminal proceedings back in Brazil is an extra mystery wrapped up inside the whole enigma.

Meanwhile, there are “unconfirmed” reports (several sources would not go on record on this) that the document might have been used for outright extortion of the individuals, mostly billionaires, featured on the list.

Extra sauce in the judicial sphere comes from the fact that the provincial judge in charge of burying the Banestado case was none other than Sergio Moro, the self-serving Elliot Ness figure who in the next decade would rise to superstar status as the capo di tutti i capi of the massive Car Wash investigation and subsequent justice minister under Bolsonaro.

 
• Category: Economics, Foreign Policy • Tags: Brazil, Lula, Neoliberalism 
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Late afternoon in May 29, 1453, Sultan Mehmet, the third son of Murad, born of a slave-girl – probably Christian – in the harem, fluent in Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Persian and Hebrew, followed by his top ministers, his imams and his bodyguard of Janissaries, rides slowly towards the Great Church of St Sophia in Constantinople.

It’s unlikely that Sultan Mehmet would be sparing a thought for Emperor Justinian, the last of quite a breed: a true Roman Emperor in the throne of Byzantium, a speaker of “barbarous” Greek (he was born in Macedonia) but with a Latin mind.

Much like Sultan Mehmet, Justinian was quite the geopolitician. Byzantium trade was geared towards Cathay and the Indies: silk, spices, precious stones. Yet Persia controlled all the caravan routes on the Ancient Silk Road. The sea route was also a problem; all cargo had to depart from the Persian Gulf.

So Justinian had to bypass Persia.

He came up with a two-pronged strategy: a new northern route via Crimea and the Caucasus, and a new southern route via the Red Sea, bypassing the Persian Gulf.

The first was a relative success; the second a mess. But Justinian finally got his break when a bunch of Orthodox monks offered him to bring back from Asia some precious few silkworm eggs. Soon there were factories not only in Constantinople but in Antioch, Tyre and Beirut. The imperial silk industry – a state monopoly, of course – was up and running.

A fantastic mosaic in Ravenna from the year 546 depicts a Justinian much younger than 64, his age at the time. He was a prodigy of energy – and embellished Constantinople non-stop. The apex was the Church of St. Sophia – the largest building in the world for centuries.

So here we have Sultan Mehmet silently proceeding with his slow ride all the way to the central bronze doors of St Sophia.

He dismounts and picks up a handful of dust and in a gesture of humility, sprinkles it over his turban.

Then he enters the Great Church. He walks towards the altar.

A barely perceptible command leads his top imam to escalate the pulpit and proclaim in the name of Allah, the All Merciful and Compassionate, there is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet.

The Sultan then touches the ground with his turbaned head – in a silent prayer. St Sophia was now a mosque.

Sultan Mehmet leaves the mosque and crosses the square to the old Palace of the Emperors, in ruins, founded by Constantine The Great 11 and ½ centuries before. He slowly wanders the ancient halls, his fine velvet slippers brushing the dust from the fabulous pebbled floor mosaics.

Then he murmurs two verses of a Persian poet:

As the spider weaves the curtain over the palace of the Roman Caesars

The owl sings the time of the house of Afrasiab”

The Byzantine empire, founded by Constantine The Great on Monday, May 11, 330, was over on a Tuesday, May 29, 1453.

Sultan Mehmet is now the Lord of Constantinople and the Lord of the Ottoman Empire. He’s only 21 years old.

Back to the Magic Mountain

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-christened Hagia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque. He may have done it because his popularity is waning; his proxy wars are a disaster; his AKP party is shattered; and the economy is bleeding badly.

But what’s striking is that right at the beginning of his official televised speech, Erdogan quoted exactly the same verses by the Persian poet murmured by Sultan Mehmet in that fateful afternoon in 1453.

Erdogan’s latest move – which is part of his perennial master plan to claim leadership of global Islam over the decrepit House of Saud – was widely interpreted in myriad latitudes as yet another instance of clash of civilizations: not only Orthodox Christianity vs. Islam but once again East vs. West.

That reminded me of another East vs. West recent derivation: a revival of the Settembrini vs. Naphta debate in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, promoted by a Dutch think tank, the Nexus Institute, which aims to “keep the spirit of European humanism alive”. The debate pitted Aleksander Dugin against Bernard-Henri Levy (widely known in France as BHL). The full transcript of the debate is here.

Dugin is a leading Eurasianist and the conceptualizer of the – largely banned in the West – Fourth Political Theory . As a philosopher and political theorist, Dugin is cartoonishly demonized across the West as “Putin’s brain”, a closet fascist and “the most dangerous philosopher in the world”.

BHL, hailed as “one of the West’s leading intellectuals”, is a vain poseur who emerged as a “nouveau philosophe” in the mid-1970s and ritually regurgitates the usual Atlanticist mantras enveloped in flowery quotes. He managed, among other feats, to write a book about Pakistan without knowing anything whatsoever about Pakistan, as I thrashed it on Asia Times back in 2002.

Here are a few interesting talking points throughout the debate.

Dugin stresses the end of Western hegemony and global liberalism. He asks BHL, directly, how, “interestingly, in your book, you define the American empire or the global liberal system as a system of nihilism, based on nothing.” Dugin does define himself as a nihilist “in the sense that I refuse the universality of modern Western values (…) I just challenge that the only way to interpret democracy is as the rule of minorities against the majority, that the only way to interpret freedom is as individual freedom, and that the only way to interpret human rights is by projecting a modern, Western, individualistic version of what it means to be human on other cultures.”

BHL, which seems not to have read his own, dreary, book – this is something Dugin told me in person last year in Beirut, after the debate – prefers to resort to proverbial, infantile Putin bashing, picked up over and over again, stressing “there is a bad, dark wind of nihilism in its proper sense, which is a Nazi and a fascist sense, which is blowing in the great Russia.”

Later on in the debate, BHL adds, “I really believe that there is a link between, on the one side, your and Huntington’s way of thinking; and, on the other side, the occupation of Crimea, the 30,000 deaths in Ukraine and the war in Syria with its bloodbath, tragic and horrible.”

On racism, Dugin is adamant: he does not defend it. For him, “Racism is an Anglo-Saxon liberal construction based on a hierarchy between peoples. I think this is criminal.” Then he defines “a new Manichean division, a new racism. Those who are in favor of Western values, they are good. Everybody who challenges that, in the Islamic tradition, in the Russian tradition, in the Chinese tradition, in the Indian tradition, everywhere, they are populists, and they are classified as fascism. I think that is a new kind of racism.”

BHL prefers to concentrate on “the civilization of human rights, freedom, individual dignity, and so on. This deserves to be universalized. This should be conceived, except if you are a racist, as profitable for the entire humanity.” And then it’s Anti-Semitism all over again: “All the men who you quoted and from whom you draw your inspiration – Spengler, Heidegger, who is also a great philosopher of course, and others – are contaminated, corrupted, infected by this plague which is antisemitism. And alas – you too.”

 
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Two of the US’s top “strategic threats” are getting closer and closer within the scope of the New Silk Roads – the leading 21st century project of economic integration across Eurasia. The Deep State will not be amused.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi blasted as “lies” a series of rumors about the “transparent roadmap” inbuilt in the evolving Iran-China strategic partnership.

That was complemented by President Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vezi, who said that “a destructive line of propaganda has been initiated and directed from outside Iran against the expansion of Iran’s relations with neighbors and especially (with) China and Russia.”

Vezi added, “this roadmap in which a path is defined for expansion of relations between governments and the private sectors is signed and will continue to be signed between many countries.”

To a great extent, both Mousavi and Vezi were referring to a sensationalist report which did not add anything that was not already known about the strategic partnership, but predictably dog-whistled a major red alert about the military alliance.

The Iran-China strategic partnership was officially established in 2016, when President Xi visited Tehran. These are the guidelines.

Two articles among the 20 listed in the agreement are particularly relevant.

Item 7 defines the scope of the partnership within the New Silk Roads vision of Eurasia integration: “The Iranian side welcomes ‘the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ initiative introduced by China. Relying on their respective strengths and advantages as well as the opportunities provided through the signing of documents such as the “MOU on Jointly Promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ and ‘MOU on Reinforcement of Industrial and Mineral Capacities and Investment’, both sides shall expand cooperation and mutual investments in various areas including transportation, railway, ports, energy, industry, commerce and services.”

And item 10 praises Iran’s membership of the AIIB: “The Chinese side appreciates Iran’s participation as a ‘Founding Member’ of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Both sides are willing to strengthen their cooperation in the relevant areas and join their efforts towards the progress and prosperity of Asia.”

So what’s the deal?

The core of the Iran-China strategic partnership – no secret whatsoever since at least last year – revolves around a $400 billion Chinese investment in Iran’s energy and infrastructure for the next 25 years. It’s all about securing a matter of supreme Chinese national interest: a steady supply of oil and gas, bypassing the dangerous bottleneck of the Strait of Malacca, secured with a median 18% discount, and paid in yuan or in a basket of currencies bypassing the US dollar.

Beijing will also invest roughly $228 billion in Iranian infrastructure – that’s where the AIIB comes in – over 25 years, but especially up to 2025. That ranges from building factories to badly needed energy industry renovation, all the way to the already in progress construction of the 900 km-long electric rail from Tehran to Mashhad.

Tehran, Qom and Isfahan will also be linked by high-speed rail – and there will be an extension to Tabriz, an important oil, gas and petrochemical node and the starting point of the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline.

All of the above makes total sense in New Silk Road terms, as Iran is a key Eurasian crossroads. High-speed rail traversing Iran will connect Urumqi in Xinjiang to Tehran, via four of the Central Asian “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) all the way to West Asia, across Iraq and Turkey, and further on to Europe: a techno revival of the Ancient Silk Roads, where the main language of trade between East and West across the heartland was Persian.

The terms of aerial and naval military cooperation between Iran and China and also Russia are still not finalized – as Iranian sources told me. And no one has had access to the details. What Mousavi said, in a tweet, was that “there is nothing [in the agreement] about delivering Iranian islands to China, nothing about the presence of military forces, and other falsehoods.”

The same applies to – totally unsubstantiated – speculation that the PLA would be granted bases in Iran and be allowed to station troops in Iranian territory.

Last Sunday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stressed Iran and China had been negotiating “with confidence and conviction” and there was “nothing secret” about the agreement.

Iranian, Chinese and Russian negotiators will meet next month to discuss terms of the military cooperation among the top three nodes of Eurasia integration. Closer collaboration is scheduled to start by November.

Geopolitically and geoeconomically, the key take away is that the US relentless blockade of the Iranian economy, featuring hardcore weaponized sanctions, is impotent to do anything about the wide-ranging Iran-China deal. Here is a decent expose of some of the factors in play.

The Iran-China strategic partnership is yet another graphic demonstration of what could be deconstructed as the Chinese brand of exceptionalism: a collective mentality and enough organized planning capable of establishing a wide-ranging, win-win, economic, political and military partnership.

It’s quite instructive to place the whole process within the context of what State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed at a recent China-US Think Tanks meeting, attended, among others, by Henry Kissinger:

“One particular view has been floating around in recent years, alleging that the success of China’s path will be a blow and threat to the Western system and path. This claim is inconsistent with facts, and we do not agree with it. Aggression and expansion are never in the genes of the Chinese nation throughout its 5,000 years of history. China does not replicate any model of other countries, nor does it export its own to others. We never ask other countries to copy what we do. More than 2,500 years ago, our forefathers advocated that ‘All living things can grow in harmony without hurting one another, and different ways can run in parallel without interfering with one another’”.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: China, Eurasia, Iran, New Silk Road 
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The no holds barred US-China strategic competition may be leading us to the complete fragmentation of the current “world-system” – as Wallerstein defined it.

Yet compared to the South China Sea, the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Straits, India-China’s Himalayan border, and selected latitudes of the Greater Middle East, Central Asia shines as a portrait of stability.

That’s quite intriguing, when we consider that the chessboard reveals the interests of top global players intersecting right in the heart of Eurasia.

And that brings us to a key question: How could Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world, manage to remain neutral in the current, incandescent geopolitical juncture? What are the lineaments of what could be described as the Kazakh paradox?

These questions were somewhat answered by the office of First President Nursultan Nazarbayev. I had discussed some of them with analysts when I was in Kazakhstan late last year. Nazarbayev could not answer them directly because he has just recently recovered from Covid-19 and is currently in self-isolation.

It all harks back to what was Kazakhstan really like when the USSR dissolved in 1991. The Kazakhs inherited a quite complex ethno-demographic structure, with the Russian-speaking population concentrated in the north; unresolved territorial issues with China; and geographical proximity to extremely unstable Afghanistan, then in a lull before the all-out warlord conflagration of the early 1990s which created the conditions for the emergence of the Taliban.

To make it even harder, Kazakhstan was landlocked.

All of the above might have led to Kazakhstan either dispatched to political limbo or mired in a perpetual Balkan scenario.

Have soft power, will travel

Enter Nazarbayev as a fine political strategist. From the beginning, he saw Kazakhstan as a key player, not a pawn, in the Grand Chessboard in Eurasia.

A good example was setting up the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building measures in Asia (CICA) in 1992, based on the principle of “indivisibility of Asian security”, later proposed to the whole of Eurasia.

Nazarbayev also made the crucial decision to abandon what was at the time the fourth nuclear missile potential on the planet – and a major trump card in international relations. Every major player in the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia knew that selected Islamic nations were extremely interested in Kazakhstan’s nuclear arsenal.

Nazarbayev bet on soft power instead of nuclear power. Unlike the DPRK, for instance, he privileged Kazakhstan’s integration in the global economy in favorable terms instead of relying on nuclear power to establish national security. He was certainly paving the way for Kazakhstan to be regarded as a trustworthy, get down to business neutral player and a mediator in international relations.

The trust and goodwill towards Kazakhstan is something I have seen for myself in my pan-Eurasia travels and in conversations with analysts from Turkey and Lebanon to Russia and India.

The best current example is Astana, currently Nur-sultan, becoming the HQ of that complex work in progress: the Syrian peace process, coordinated by Iran, Turkey and Russia – following the crucial, successful Kazakh mediation to solve the Moscow-Ankara standoff after the downing of a Sukhoi Su-24M near the Syria-Turkish border in November 2015.

And on the turbulent matter of Ukraine post-Maidan in 2014, Kazakhstan simultaneously kept good relations with Kiev and the West and its strategic partnership with Russia.

As I discussed late last year, Nur-sultan is now actively taking the role of the new Geneva: the capital of diplomacy for the 21st century.

The secret of this Kazakh paradox is the capacity of delicately balancing relations with the three main players – Russia, China and the US – as well as leading regional powers. Nazarbayev’s office boldly argues that can be even translated to Nur-sultan placed as the ideal venue for US-China negotiations: “We are tightly embedded in the US-China-Russia triangle and have built trusting relationships with each of them.”

In the heart of Eurasia

And that brings us to why Kazakhstan – and Nazarbayev personally – are so much involved in promoting their special concept of Greater Eurasia – which overlaps with the Russian vision, discussed in extensive detail at the Valdai Club.

Nazarbayev managed to set a paradigm in which none of the big players feel compelled to exercize a monopoly on Kazak maneuvering. That inevitably led Kazakhstan to expand its foreign policy reach.

Strategically, Kazakhstan is smack in the geographical heart of Eurasia, with huge borders with Russia and China, as well as Iran in the Caspian Sea. Its territory is no less than a top strategic bridge uniting the whole of Eurasia.

The Kazakh approach goes way beyond connectivity (trade and transport), two key planks of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to get closer to the converging vision of BRI and the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU): a single, integrated Eurasian space.

Nazarbayev sees the integration of the Central Asian “stans” with Russia and with Turkic-speaking countries, including of course Turkey, as the foundation for his concept of Greater Eurasia.

The inevitable corollary is that the Atlanticist order – as well as the Anglo-American predominance in international relations – is waning, and certainly does not suit Asia and Eurasia. A consensus is forming across many key latitudes that the driving force for the reboot of the global economy post-Covid-19 – and even a new paradigm – will come from Asia.

In parallel, Nazarbayev’s office make a crucial point: “A purely Asian or Eastern answer is unlikely to suit the collective West, which is also in search of optimal models of the world’s structure. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative clearly showed that Western countries are not psychologically ready to see China as a leader.”

Nur-sultan nonetheless remains convinced that the only possible solution would be exactly a new paradigm in international relations. Nazarbayev argues that the keys to solve the current turmoil are not located in Moscow, Beijing or Washington, but in a strategic transit node, like Kazakhstan, where the interests of all global players intersect.

Thus the push for Kazakhstan – one of the key crossroads between Europe and Asia, alongside Turkey and Iran – to become the optimal mediator allowing Greater Eurasia to flourish in practice. That is the uplifting option: otherwise, we seem condemned to live through another Cold War.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Central Asia, China, Eurasia, Kazakhstan 
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No less than 78.03% of Russians have just voted in support of constitutional amendments.

Among these, we find the paramount Atlanticist obsession: the possibility that Vladimir Putin will be able to run for two more presidential terms.

Predictably, anguished cries of “Dictator! Dictator!” have been lobbied like deadly shells all across the Beltway.

They might even silence the echoes of the latest CIA press release to the New York Times, based on “raw” intel, and supported by no evidence or proof whatsoever, that Russia had been paying bounties to the Afghan Taliban to kill US troops.

A crafty amalgamated headline in the Washington Post – the CIA/Jeff Bezos vehicle – gave away the game: “The only people dismissing the Russian bounties intel: The Taliban, Russia and Trump.”

Simpletons will easily fall for it. The message is clear. No one cares about the endless war in and on Afghanistan. The only thing that matters is whether President Trump knew months ago about the intel, and why the National Security Council did not unload another Himalaya of sanctions on Russia.

When in doubt, ask House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a notorious D.C. swamp dweller, who gave away the game with her famous, “With him, all roads lead to Putin. I don’t know what the Russians have on the president, politically, personally, or financially.”

Ray McGovern – who knows one or two things about the CIA – completely debunked the CIA plant. He included a key assessment by Scott Ritter – who knows a thing or two about US “intel” from his experience as a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq:

“Perhaps the biggest clue concerning the fragility of the New York Times’ report is contained in the one sentence it provides about sourcing — “The intelligence assessment is said to be based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals.” That sentence contains almost everything one needs to know about the intelligence in question, including the fact that the source of the information is most likely the Afghan government as reported through CIA channels.”

No wonder the Kremlin dismissed it for what it is: “an unsophisticated plant.” And fine, sophisticated Russian diplomacy did smell the proverbial rat: the framing of Trump, once again, as a Russian agent.

A delicious touch of mischief was added by a Taliban spokesman: “We” have conducted “target killings” for years “on our own resources.”

Anyone familiar with the Afghanistan quagmire knows that if Moscow wanted to raise hell on Americans, it could easily supply the Taliban with deadly surface and surface to air missiles – and end that endless war in a flash.

That, of course, would send NATO into a frenzy. As NATO is the weaponized arm of the EU, Russian-European relations would be sunk into eternal permafrost.

Russia simply does not need to expel the US from Afghanistan. As much as US bases such as Bagram keep an eye on everything happening in the strategic intersection between Central Asia and South Asia, Russia, China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) keep an eye on the Americans.

What the SCO wants is to devise a realistic Afghan peace plan – already a work in progress – brokered by Asians, including India, Pakistan and SCO observers Iran and Afghanistan.

Russian diplomacy also clearly identifies the collateral damage of the CIA plant – in fact a meek Russiagate 2.0 attempt, but with perfect timing.

Everything that Putin and Trump had been negotiating – the oil market, arms control, the G-7, and of course Afghanistan – is now on hold. The only “winner” would be NATO’s wet dream of – hostile – power play, capable of thwarting the Eurasia integration project led in tandem by China and Russia’s “pivot to Asia”.

 

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong…

Hybrid War by the Deep State on Russia, a relentless affair, now proceeds in tandem with Hybrid War on China.

So cries of deep despair once again had to be lobbied all across the NATO spectrum when, 23 years after the Hong Kong handover, the special administrative region (SAR) finally started to be de facto decolonized.

The full text of the Hong Kong National Security Law is here. It got the seal of approval of President Xi Jinping only a few hours before midnight on June 30 – exactly 23 years after the handover.

Article 9 is particularly interesting: it stresses the necessity to “strengthen public communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security, including those relating to schools, social organizations, the media and the internet.”

This means that if media and social media are let loose in Hong Kong, 5th columnists will run riot, as they do in any color revolution, and as they did during the “protests” last year, black blocs included. Now it’s a matter of being responsible, or otherwise landing in major legal trouble.

The new National Security Law is as much about preventing sedition – and Hybrid War tactics – as smashing money laundering by dodgy mainland characters. There is nothing extraordinary with Hong Kong now having legislation with a broad extrajudicial reach.

The US arbiters itself the privilege of being extrajudicial as it sees fit. Take the Julian Assange case, facing extradition to the US for the “crime” of acting as a publisher, committed outside US territory.

The Assange case – complete with psychological torture inflicted by British minions in a high-security prison fit for terrorists – reduces to ashes the whole US hysteria over Hong Kong.

And then there are European so-called leaders, in unison, condemning China over the “deplorable” security law.

The late, great Gore Vidal told me in London in 1987 that in the future Europe would be a mere, inconsequential boutique. Now Europe is in fact terrified that sooner rather than later it will be reduced into Far Western Asia. Talk about the revenge of history on those who named Asia “the Far East”.

 
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Greece invented the concept of barbaros. Imperial Rome inherited it as barbarus.

The original meaning of barbaros is rooted in language: an onomatopoeia meaning “unintelligible speech” as people go “bar bar bar” when they talk.

Homer does not refer to barbaros, but to barbarophonos (“of unintelligible speech”), as in those who don’t speak Greek or speak very badly. Comic poet Aristophanes suggested that Gorgias was a barbarian because he spoke a strong Sicilian dialect.

Barbaru meant “foreigner” in Babylonian-Sumerian. Those of us who studied Latin in school remember balbutio (“stammer”, “stutter”, babble”).

So it was speech that defined the barbarian compared to the Greek. Thucydides thought that Homer did not use “barbarians” because in his time Greeks “hadn’t yet been divided off so as to have a single common name by way of contrast”. The point is clear: the barbarian was defined as in opposition to the Greek.

The Greeks invented the barbarian concept after the Persian invasions by Darius I and Xerxes I in 490 and 480-479 BC. After all they had to clearly separate themselves from the non-Greek. Aeschylus staged The Persians in 472 BC. That was the turning point; after that “barbarian” was everyone who was not Greek – Persians, Phoenicians, Phrygians, Thracians.

Adding to the schism, all these barbarians were monarchists. Athens, a new democracy, considered that to be the equivalent of slavery. Athens extolled “freedom” – which ideally developed reason, self-control, courage, generosity. In contrast, barbarians – and slaves – were childish, effeminate, irrational, undisciplined, cruel, cowardly, selfish, greedy, luxurious, pusillanimous.

From all of the above two conclusions are inevitable.

  1. Barbarism and slavery was a natural match.
  2. Greeks thought it was morally uplifting to help friends and repel enemies, and in the latter case Greeks had to enslave them. So Greeks should by definition rule barbarians.

History has shown that this worldview not only migrated to Rome but afterwards, via Christianity post-Constantine, to the “superior” West, and finally to the West’s supposed “end of history”: imperial America.

Rome, as usual, was pragmatic: “barbarian” was adapted to qualify anything and anyone that was not Roman. How not to relish the historical irony: for the Greeks, the Romans were also – technically – barbarians.

Rome focused more on behavior than race. If you were truly civilized, you would not be mired in the “savagery” of Nature or found dwelling in the outskirts of the world (like Vandals, Visigoths, etc..) You would live right in the center of the matrix.

So everyone who lived outside of Rome’s power – and crucially, who resisted Rome’s power – was a barbarian. A collection of traits would establish the difference: race, tribe, language, culture, religion, law, psychology, moral values, clothing, skin color, patterns of behavior.

People who lived in Barbaria could not possibly become civilized.

Starting from the 16th century, that was the whole logic behind the European expansion and/or rape of the Americas, Africa and Asia, the core of the mission civilisatrice carried as a white man’s burden.

With all that in mind, a number of questions remain unanswered. Are all barbarians irredeemably barbarous – wild, uncivilized, violent? The “civilized”, in many cases, may also be considered barbarian? Is it possible to configure a pan-barbarian identity? And where is Barbaria today?

The end of secularized religion

Barbarism begins at home. Alastair Crooke has shown how in an extremely polarized US “both parties” are essentially accusing each other of barbarism: “these people lie, and would stoop to any illegitimate, seditionist (i.e. unconstitutional) means, to obtain their illicit ends.”

Adding to the complexity, this clash of barbarisms opposes an old, conservative guard to a Woke Generation in many respects aping a Mao Cultural Revolution mindset. “Woke” could easily be interpreted as the opposite of the Enlightenment. And it’s an Anglo-America phenomenon – visible among the aimless, masked, unmasked, socially disillusioned, largely unemployed and not-distanced victims of the raging New Great Depression. There is no “woke” in China, Russia, Iran or Turkey.

Yet the central Barbaria question goes way beyond street protests. The “indispensable nation” may have irretrievably lost the Western equivalent of the Chinese “mandate of heaven”, dictating, unopposed, the parameters of its own construct: “universal civilization”.

The fundaments of what amounts to a secularized religion are in tatters. The “narrow, sectarian pillar” of “liberal core tenets of individual autonomy, freedom, industry, free trade” was “able to be projected into a universal project – only so long as it was underpinned by power.”

Roughly for the past two centuries this civilizational claim served as the basis for the colonization of the Global South and the West’s uncontested domination over The Rest. Not anymore. Signs are creeping everywhere. The most glaring is the evolving Russia-China strategic partnership.

The “indispensable nation” lost its military cutting edge to Russia and is losing its economic/trade preeminence to China. President Putin was compelled to write a detailed essay setting the record straight on one of the pillars of the American Century: that only happened, to a large extent, due to the sacrifices of the USSR in WWII.

It’s quite enlightening to check how the civilizational claim is unraveling across Southwest Asia – what the Orientalist perspective defines as the Middle East.

In a paroxysm of missionary zeal, the self-appointed heir to imperial Rome – call it Rome on the Potomac – is bent, via the Deep State, on destroying by all means necessary the allegedly “barbarian” Axis of Resistance: Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Hezbollah. Not by military means, but via economic apocalypse.

This testimony, by an European religious figure working with Syrians, concisely shows how the Caesar Act sanctions – perversely depicted as a “Civilian Protection Act” and drafted under Obama in 2016 – are designed to harm and even starve local populations, deliberately steering them towards civil unrest.

James Jeffrey, the US envoy to Syria, even rejoiced, on the record, that sanctions against “the regime” have “contributed to the collapse” of what is essentially Syrian livelihood.

Rome on the Potomac sees the Axis of Resistance as Barbaria. For one hegemonic US faction, they are barbarous because they dare to reject the superior, “moral” American civilization claim. For another no less hegemonic faction, they are so outright barbarian that only regime change would redeem them. A great deal of “enlightened” Europe happens to supports this interpretation, slightly sweetened by humanitarian imperialism overtones.

The Wall of Alexander

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, China, Iran, Russia 
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So what’s goin’ on in Iran? How did the Islamic Republic really respond to Covid-19? How is it coping with Washington’s relentless “maximum pressure”?

These questions were the subject of a long phone call I placed to Prof. Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran – one of Iran’s premier, globally recognized analysts.

As Marandi explains, “Iran after the revolution was all about social justice. It set up a very elaborate health care network, similar to Cuba’s, but with more funding. A large hospital network. When the coronavirus hit, the US was even preventing Iran to get test kits. Yet the system – not the private sector – managed. There was no full shutdown. Everything was under control. The numbers – even contested by the West – they do hold. Iran is now producing everything it needs, tests, face masks. None of the hospitals are full.”

Expanding Marandi’s observations, Tehran-based journalist Alireza Hashemi notes, “Iran’s wide primary healthcare system, comprising public clinics, health houses and health centers is available in thousands of cities and villages”, and that enabled the government to “easily offer basic services”.

As Hashemi details, “the Health Ministry established a Covid-19 call center and also distributed protective equipment supplied by relief providers. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ordered the armed forces to help – with the government deploying 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to disinfect streets and public places, distribute sanitizers and masks and conduct tests.”

It was the Iranian military that established production lines for producing face masks and other equipment. According to Hashemi, “some NGOs partnered with Tehran’s chamber of commerce to create a campaign called Nafas (“breath”) to supply medical goods and provide clinical services. Iran’s Farabourse, an over-the-counter stock market in Tehran, established a crowd funding campaign to purchase medical devices and products to help health workers. Hundreds of volunteer groups – called “jihadi” – started producing personal protective equipment that had been in short supply in seminaries, mosques and hussainiyas and even natural fruit juices for health workers.”

This sense of social solidarity is extremely powerful in Shi’ite culture. Hashemi notes that “the government loosened health-related restrictions over a month ago and we have been experiencing a small slice of normality in recent weeks.” Yet the fight is not over. As in the West, there are fears of a covid-19 second wave.

Marandi stresses the economy, predictably, was hurt: “But because of the sanctions, most of the hurt had already happened. The economy is now running without oil revenue. In Tehran, you don’t even notice it. It’s nothing compared to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey or the UAE. Workers from Pakistan and India are leaving the Persian Gulf in droves. Dubai is dead. So, in comparison, Iran did better in dealing with the virus. Moreover, harvests last year and this year have been positive. We are more self-reliant.”

Hashemi adds a very important factor: “The Covid-19 crisis was so massive that people themselves have pitched in with effort, revealing new levels of solidarity. Individuals, civil society groups and others have set up a range of initiatives seeking to help the government and health workers on the front line of countering the pandemic.”

What a relentless Western disinformation campaign always ignores is how Iran after the revolution is used to extremely critical situations, starting with the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Marandi and Hashemi are adamant: for older Iranians, the current economic crisis pales in comparison with what they had to put up with throughout the 1980s.

Made in Iran soars

Marandi’s analysis ties up the economic data. In early June, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht – responsible for planning Iran’s state budgets – told the Majlis (Parliament) that the new normal was “to sideline oil in the economy and run the country’s programs without oil.”

Nobakht stuck to the numbers. Iran had earned just $8.9 billion from the sale of oil and related products in 2019-20, down from a peak of $119 billion less than a decade ago.

The whole Iranian economy is in transition. What’s particularly interesting is the boom in manufacturing – with companies focusing way beyond Iran’s large domestic market towards exports. They are turning the massive devaluation of the rial to their advantage.

In 2019-20, Iran’s non-oil exports reached $41.3 billion. That exceeded oil exports for the first time in Iran’s post-revolutionary history. And roughly half of these non-oil exports were manufactured goods. Team Trump’s “maximum pressure” via sanctions may have led to total non-oil exports going down – but only by 7%. The total remains near historic highs.

According to Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data published by the Iran Chamber of Commerce, private sector manufacturers were seriously back in business already in the first month following the relaxation of the partial lockdown.

The fact is Iranian consumer goods and industrial products – everything from cookies to stainless steel – are exported by small and medium enterprises to the wider Middle East and also to Central Asia, China and Russia. The myth of Iranian “isolation” is, well, a myth.

Some new manufacturing clusters bode well for the future. Take titanium – essential for myriad applications in military, aerospace, marine industries and industrial processes. The Qara-Aghaj mine in Urmia, the provincial capital of West Azarbaijan, which is part of Iran’s mineral belt, including the country’s largest gold reserves, has tremendous potential.

Iran features in the Top 15 of mineral-rich countries. In January, after getting the technology for deep-level mining, Tehran launched a pilot project for extraction of rare earth minerals.

Still, Washington pressure remains as relentless as the Terminator.

In January, the White House issued yet another executive order targeting the “construction, mining, manufacturing, or textiles sectors of the Iranian economy.” So Team Trump is targeting exactly the booming private sector – which means, in practice, countless Iranian blue-collar workers and their families. This has nothing to do with forcing the Rouhani administration to say, “I can’t breathe”.

The Venezuelan front

Apart from a few scuffles between the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Health Ministry about China’s response to Covid-19, the Iran-China “comprehensive strategic partnership” (CSP) remains on track.

The next big test is actually in September. That’s when Team Trump wants to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Add to it the threat to trigger the snapback mechanism inbuilt in UNSC resolution 2231 – if other Security Council members refuse to support Washington and let the embargo expire for good in October.

 
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Nixon 68 is back with a vengeance, with President Trump placing himself as the guarantor/enforcer of Law & Order.

That slogan guaranteed Nixon’s election, and was coined by Kevin Phillips, then an expert in “ethnic voting patterns”.

Philips makes for a very interesting case. In 1999, he became the author of a seminal book: The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America, where he tracks how a “small Tudor kingdom” ended up establishing global hegemony.

The division of the English-speaking community into two great powers – “one aristocratic, ‘chosen’ and imperial; and one democratic, ‘chosen’ and manifest destiny-driven”, as Philips correctly establishes – was accomplished by, what else, a war triptych: the English Civil War, the American revolution and the U.S. Civil War.

Now, we may be at the threshold of a fourth war – with unpredictable and unforeseen consequences.

As it stands, what we have is a do-or-die clash of models: MAGA against an exclusivist Fed/Wall Street/Silicon Valley-controlled system.

MAGA – which is a rehash of the American dream – simply cannot happen when society is viciously polarized; vast sectors of the middle class are being completely erased; and mass immigration is coming from the Global South.

In contrast, the Fed as a Wall Street hedge fund meets Silicon Valley model, a supremely elitist 0.001% concoction, has ample margins to thrive.

The model is based on even more rigid corporate monopoly; the preeminence of capital markets, where a Wall Street boom is guaranteed by government debt-buybacks of its own debt; and life itself regulated by algorithms and Big Data.

This is the Brave New World dreamed by the techno-financial Masters of the Universe.

Trump’s MAGA woes have been compounded by a shoddy geopolitical move in tandem with Law and Order: his re-election campaign will be under the sign of “China, China, China.” When in trouble, blame a foreign enemy.

That comes from serially failed opportunist Steve Bannon and his Chinese billionaire sidekick Guo Wengui, or Miles Guo. Here they are in Statue of Liberty mode announcing their no holds barred infowar campaign to demonize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to Kingdom Come and “free the Chinese people”.

Bannon’s preferred talking point is that if his infowar fails, there will be “kinetic war”. That is nonsense. Beijing’s priorities are elsewhere. Only a few neo-conned Dr. Strangeloves would envisage “kinetic war”- as in a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Chinese territory.

Alastair Crooke has masterfully shown how the geoeconomic game, as Trump sees it, is above all to preserve the power of the U.S. dollar: “His particular concern would be to see a Europe that was umbilically linked to the financial and technological heavyweight that is China. This, in itself, effectively would presage a different world financial governance.”

But then there’s The Leopard syndrome: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. Enter Covid-19 as a particle accelerator, used by the Masters of the Universe to tweak “things” a bit so they not only stay as they are but the Master grip on the world tightens.

The problem is Covid-19 behaves as a set of – uncontrollable – free electrons. That means nobody, even the Masters of the Universe, is able to really weigh the full consequences of a runaway, compounded financial/social crisis.

Deconstructing Nixon-Trump

Russiagate, now totally debunked, has unfolded in effect as a running coup: a color non-revolution metastasizing into Ukrainegate and the impeachment fiasco. In this poorly scripted and evidence-free morality play with shades of Watergate, Trump was cast by the Democrats as Nixon.

Big mistake. Watergate had nothing to do with a Hollywood-celebrated couple of daring reporters. Watergate represented the industrial-military-security-media complex going after Nixon. Deep Throat and other sources came from inside the Deep State. And it was not by accident that they were steering the Washington Post – which, among other roles, plays the part of CIA mouthpiece to perfection.

Trump is a completely different matter. The Deep State keeps him under control. One just needs to look at the record: more funds for the Pentagon, $1 trillion in brand new nuclear weapons, perennial sanctions on Russia, non-stop threats to Russia’s western borders, (failed) efforts to derail Nord Stream 2. And this is only a partial list.

So, from a Deep State point of view, the geopolitical front – containment of Russia-China – is assured. Domestically, it’s much more complicated.

As much as Black Lives Matter does not threaten the system even remotely like the Black Panthers in the 60s, Trump believes his own Law & Order, like Nixon, will once again prevail. The key will be to attract the white women suburban vote. Republican pollsters are extremely optimistic and even talking about a “landslide”.

Yet the behavior of an extra crucial vector must be understood: what corporate America wants.

When we look at who’s supporting Black Lives Matter – and Antifa – we find, among others, Adidas, Amazon, Airbnb, American Express, Bank of America, BMW, Burger King, Citigroup, Coca Cola, DHL, Disney, eBay, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, IBM, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Netflix, Nike, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Sony, Starbucks, Twitter, Verizon, WalMart, Warner Brothers and YouTube.

This who’s who would suggest a completely isolated Trump. But then we have to look at what really matters; the class war dynamics in what is in fact a caste system, as Laurence Brahm argues.

Black Lives Matter, the organization and its ramifications, is essentially being instrumentalized by selected corporate interests to accelerate their own priority: to crush the U.S. working classes into a state of perpetual anomie, as a new automated economy rises.

That may always happen under Trump. But it will be faster without Trump.

What’s fascinating is how this current strategy of tension scenario is being developed as a classic CIA/NED playbook color revolution.

An undisputed, genuine grievance – over police brutality and systemic racism – has been completely manipulated, showered with lavish funds, infiltrated, and even weaponized against “the regime”.

 
PastClassics
The sources of America’s immigration problems—and a possible solution
The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
The unspoken statistical reality of urban crime over the last quarter century.
Our Reigning Political Puppets, Dancing to Invisible Strings