June was a month so heavily saturated with key turning point events, that it seemed like the longest month of the year—but then July came. Already, on the first day, we were treated to a very unusual sight: an obviously chastened and tamed John Bolton, just back from his visit with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, sounding unusually diplomatic, cautious, and productive. But what really opened the month with fireworks was the coming to life of an international trade war. Added to that was another series of key international trips for Donald Trump, with visits to the NATO summit, the UK, and then the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin. July 2018 might be recorded as one of the key months in the history of the Trump administration.
The Trade War is Finally Here
July opened with the complete start of a trade war, as Canada’s retaliatory tariffs went effect, joining those of Mexico, the EU, and China, which had already gone into effect or would soon go into effect. In addition, Mexico elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador a populist and nationalist left-wing president, who was reputed to not be open to making concessions to the US on NAFTA, a deal which he criticized. NAFTA seemed certain to die at this point. On the other hand, the first contacts between Trump and Obrador seemed amiable and conciliatory, suggesting that an impending “showdown” between the two was not in the works (and indeed, it never happened).
Obrador’s landslide victory also meant that the apparent recession in the rise of left-wing governments across Latin America was momentarily halted. Obrador was immediately congratulated by Latin America’s top leftist politicians. It seemed likely that Mexico would now return to a foreign policy independent of the US, after decades of electing presidents who spoke English and had lived and studied at the top Ivy League universities in the US. (Countering the development in Mexico, in October Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, would take the country’s leadership to the far right—a figure whose views are far more extreme than anything uttered by Trump.)
Meanwhile, Donald Trump had clearly succeeded in provoking the replication of his populist nationalism worldwide, as neoliberal governments in the immediate neighbourhood either fell or crumbled, and with major players in the world economy responding with protectionist tariffs. Trump also made another veiled threat about US participation in the WTO. At home, a leading US business group openly opposed Trump’s protectionism—in return, Trump ignored their lobbying.
Yet it would be the EU which would end up making the best case for Trump’s argument. Towards the end of the month, the EU imposed a massive $5 billion fine on Google, which was seen by some in the US as a form of protectionism. The championing of free trade abroad, while pursuing protectionism at home, underscored the hypocrisy built into the international system, which Trump was vigorously challenging. The EU ended up validating Trump’s argument, and he was quick to notice: “I told you so!”.
(In the face of all this, Fox News clearly had trouble digesting it all. As this first full day of Canada’s retaliation passed, its news anchors continued to speak of a “potential” trade war, indicating some disbelief at what was happening, or an inability to comprehend it, or the usual wishful thinking that masked facts. On Obrador’s win, Fox hosts commented about a possible visit to the White House, and rumours that Obrador might refuse to shake Trump’s hand, and laughed at the idea—when the network had itself been the one to push opinions urging Trump not to shake Kim Jong-un’s hand just over two weeks earlier.)
On July 6, China entered the trade war, making it what China called the “largest-scale trade war in history,” while Chinese state media accused the Trump administration of being a “gang of hoodlums” for trying to “shake down” the world economy. An editorial in the official China Daily expanded on the last point:
“The U.S. has maintained hegemony in the military and financial fields for many decades. Now it is pursuing economic hegemony. It has frequently waged wars against other sovereign countries and made use of the dominant influence of the U.S. dollar in the international markets to fleece other countries. Now it is attempting to resort to an all-out trade and economic war to hold back China’s normal development”.
Another editorial, in the supposedly Communist daily, lauded the virtues of free trade. Sounding a level of panic, yet another editorial accused Trump and his “cabal” of “plunder”. One memorable editorial in the China Daily lambasted Trump’s government as a “gang of hoodlums”. Claiming that China would “emerge stronger from the test,” readers were left to figure out why China was denouncing the trade war, since it would allegedly benefit China. The alarm that was palpable in Chinese state media was backed by Chinese stock markets losing a fifth of their value. Echoing arguments one can find on Zero Anthropology, Vladimir Putin likened trade tariffs to economic sanctions.
The opening round of tariffs covered $34 billion worth of goods, a minimal amount, but the likelihood was that the list would grow to cover virtually all of China’s exports to the US. The opening round of US tariffs could then be expanded in three further rounds, covering $16 billion, then $200 billion, and finally $300 billion. Interestingly, while Chinese government officials promoted the idea that China and the European Union were “natural partners” in the trade struggle with the US, Europe rejected China’s offer of an alliance for the purposes of joint action in the WTO. The likely direct impact, at least of the opening round of tariffs, was projected to be minimal in terms of economic growth; the indirect impact could be far greater, affecting US firms with investments in China, plus some of the key economies of Southeast Asia. The US also blocked key Chinese investments in the US, specifically in automobiles and information technology.
A few days later, the US went into its second and far bigger round of tariffs, imposing duties on $200 million worth of Chinese imports. This was retaliation in response to China’s retaliation—a move that showed Trump was not bluffing about punishing any Chinese response. The next and only remaining step would be tariffs on virtually the total amount of all imports from China. News that China expanded its trade surplus with the US this year, would only inflame calls for protectionism.
“Sometimes our friends, when it comes to trade, are treating us worse than the enemies”—Trump made this statement, almost an exact riposte to Donald Tusk, when justifying the international trade war that would soon be underway.
One of the more interesting interpretations of current events came from RT’s Max Keiser, who tied the trade war with Trump’s signalled intentions to withdraw forces from South Korea, Germany, and the Middle East, and tied these withdrawals, as cost-cutting measures, to the effort to protect the US given its heavy foreign debt exposure. Keiser’s conclusion is that the US would win the trade war, either way, and that any initial shocks, though sharp, would be short-lived. Keiser’s thesis went against previous opinions pushed by RT, which cast a global trade war as dangerous, possibly leading to military conflict, and ultimately very damaging to the world economy. Other articles began to come out arguing that Trump was winning the trade war with China, because China had much more to lose and the impacts were already showing.
By the end of the month there were signs that Trump’s trade strategy was working—but the ramifications could prove to be considerable in terms of unintended consequences and ironic outcomes. On July 24, Trump was the first to mention that a trade delegation from the EU was due to arrive in Washington, then he added: “Tariffs are the greatest!”. Tariffs would indeed help further deglobalization, and protect and revitalize domestic industries that Trump himself had identified as critical to national security—so any removal of tariffs might produce an example of an ironic outcome. On the other hand, any EU agreement to totally free trade would mean exposing the agricultural sector, ardently protected by France for example, to open competition—a situation that might not sit well with EU members, and could impel already strong centrifugal forces that challenge the existence of the EU as such. Both the US and EU were playing a dangerous game here by calling each other’s bluff. If the tariffs had already produced domestic successes in revitalizing the US steel industry, as Peter Navarro maintained at the same time as Trump met with the EU chief, then how could one defend their removal? It’s also possible that mere talk of an agreement to do things in the future, was intended as a momentary truce. On the other hand, Trump’s hand against China, not to mention the US’ NAFTA partners, would be significantly strengthened, because where the US lost markets in the trade war, it could make up with the EU.
The EU “blinked,” as a number of US media commentators put it. On July 25, after a meeting with the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker, Trump announced: “we agreed today, first of all, to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods” and that the two sides would also work to “reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans”. Trump also announced that the “European Union wants to import more liquefied natural gas—LNG—from the United States, and they’re going to be a very, very big buyer”. Trump further hinted that the EU was joining the US in an anti-China alliance, to put it bluntly, though the speech was slightly more subtle:
“We will therefore work closely together with like-minded partners to reform the WTO and to address unfair trading practices, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions created by state-owned enterprises, and overcapacity”.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross summed up this agreement as, “zero tariffs, zero non-tariff trade barriers, zero subsidies, and zero barriers to our market access, so four big zeroes”. However, by the end of the following month, Trump appeared to express complete disinterest in the EU offer to eliminate all tariffs on US automobile imports, claiming that the real problem was that Europeans preferred their own cars while European cars attracted US consumers.
However, it was the US Senate that “blinked”: like a house of addicts, the Senate “quietly” passed legislation that lowered trade barriers on hundreds of Chinese imports. The legislation essentially rewarded US-based corporations that relocated all of their manufacturing abroad, and who now use the excuse that existing tariffs do not protect domestic manufacturers, because these same companies put an end to US manufacturing. In fact, though the legislation has yet to be signed into law by Trump, mere news of it caused some small US companies to shelve plans to produce products on the import list. In addition, the version passed by the House of Representatives offers tariff reductions on imports competing with at least 146 products made in the US.
The NATO Summit
Allegations that “Trump trashed NATO” at the previous month’s G7 meeting, saying it was as bad as NAFTA, plus news circulating about a letter the Trump administration sent to all NATO heads of government, pointedly pressing them on military spending, seemed to prepare the stage for a tense summit. The Atlantic Council called the letters “disturbing,” even though its own sidebar to the article reproduced quotes from numerous Obama administration officials who had made the exact same points.
When others were saying they were plainly “scared shitless” by Trump, Canadian media such as the CBC upheld the liberal tradition of being mealy-mouthed in saying that Canadian officials expected a “lively debate” would ensue at the NATO summit. The reality is that matters could not have been worse for Canada: a trade war, increased military spending (unpopular) that was still insufficient by US standards, a migrant crisis, and personal conflict between Trudeau and Trump.
Added to their worries about the Helsinki Summit (see below), NATO officials were worried that Trump would reduce US military commitments in Europe. Leon Panetta claimed that the Europeans were “scared to death” that Trump would seriously act on his “America First” strategy. Being “absolutely worried” seemed justified, as NATO members had no good arguments for maintaining NATO and for perpetuating what some astute analyses saw as an obsolete and abusive relationship.
Predictably, The Economist voiced the outcry of liberal imperialist elites for the waning NATO alliance, touting it as an anchor for democracy—despite all evidence to the contrary, particularly its disastrous intervention in Libya, and the corrupt and rigged elections which it supervised in Afghanistan. The one argument one could not credibly make, is the one about NATO as a support system for democracy. Moreover, the manner in which NATO is upheld, against the wishes of citizens in its member states, who are tired of NATO’s incessant war agenda, and the way NATO leaders try to delegitimize democratically-elected leaders, blasts more holes into the democracy illusion advanced by NATO’s elitist apologists. Indeed, democracy is in decline even among NATO members themselves, albeit according to some questionable analyses. Democracy is the last argument one should ever make in defence of NATO, and is easily one of the worst arguments.
It is also quite possible that outlets such as The Economist wanted to raise alarms about Trump’s impact on NATO, to instil fear that he is erratic, unpredictable, destructive, and a “disaster” waiting to happen. Few of the fears expressed by the elites of the old liberal imperialist order were actually borne out.
As if intended to exemplify how the relationship had become abusive, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, continued his two-year barrage of criticisms against Trump, now stating: “Dear America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don’t have that many”. This was the same Tusk who two months before stated in Twitter, that with “friends like” the US, “who needs enemies”. This would have seemed to any rational person as precisely the wrong way to approach Trump, and to spoil for a fight would guarantee that he would eventually get what he asked for.
On his way to the NATO gathering in Belgium, President Trump said this about the alliance and its benefits: “Frankly it helps them a lot more than it helps us”. The fact of the matter, one that even Fox News finally admitted, is that unlike NATO and G7 summits of the past two decades, this one would not be nearly as boring. The divisions dominating NATO, since Trump took office, were now apparent to everyone.
Trump expressed acute condemnation of Germany, going as far as calling it a “captive” of Russia. For those who would use Russiagate conspiracy theories against Trump, provoking a new Cold War, Trump seized on their contrived fears and turned them against the fear-mongers. Some argued that NATO itself has helped to cause a new Cold War. Trump’s harangue against Germany’s agreement to be connected via a gas pipeline to Russia, had two sides to it. On the one hand, it blatantly challenged Germany’s sovereignty. On the other hand, it also pointed to the German government’s hypocrisy—in demanding the US remain committed to the defence of Germany, presumably against Russia, while doing business with Russia. Implausibly, the German response was that the two matters were separate. For his part, Trump also risked hypocrisy, for complaining about Germany’s relationship with Russia while Trump himself said this: “I am meeting with President Putin next week and getting along—let me tell you, getting along with Russia and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing”. (How Trump imagines he is “getting along” with either is a bit of mystery, with increased sanctions against Russia and a trade war against both China and Russia, among many others.) Indeed, Trump later altered his message, saying the pipeline deal would not be so bad, if NATO states improved their relations with Russia—which seems to have been his larger point, which both undermined the new Cold War and NATO’s reason for being. How Trump used the new Cold War and its Russiagate conspiracy theory rhetoric against its own purveyors, calling out their hypocrisy and then attaching a price to it, seems to have been missed in most analyses. It was a particularly deft move, similar to his holding neoliberals hostage to their own free trade rhetoric (while they practiced less than free trade).
Trump’s stance received some support in the US media, likely because his policy favoured more transfers of public wealth to the military-industrial complex—while others, such as The Washington Post, could not stop feigning fainting spells because a US president had dared to criticize precious NATO allies. Not getting the full picture of Trump’s strategy, neocon think tanks predictably seized on the anti-Russian element of Trump’s message, and then amplified it according to the rhetoric of the new Cold War which the US has single-handedly provoked. Rare was the more intelligent analysis, which argued that the US needed to lower its military spending, not have Europeans increase theirs, thus disagreeing with the liberal media that supported the call for increased military spending: “the fact that some of America’s most prominent progressive politicians and journalists think they should underscores just how detached liberal foreign policy has become from the values liberals supposedly prize”. The only problem with that statement—and it’s not a small one—is that it fails to recognize liberal imperialism for what it is. Otherwise, by the end of the NATO meeting it seemed that NATO would inevitably face a crisis challenging its existence at some point.
As if understanding nothing at all and completely missing Trump’s point, German and British leaders decided to pose as obdurate blockheads. Thus with the meeting with Vladmir Putin just a day away, German leaders actually warned Trump not to make any “unilateral” deals with Russia—like they had, and for which Trump had just finished upbraiding them. If making deals with Russia was so bad, why did Germany get to do so? On top of that, they warned against any peace deal. How one can dare to warn anyone not to make peace, and still keep office? In their view, a peace treaty would not check “Russian aggression,” which tells us two things: either they have not even a basic understanding of what a peace treaty means, or they give us insight into how they themselves abide by peace treaties. What the “warnings” made abundantly clear, and they were useful only for that, was that NATO’s existence is contrived to support an elite foreign policy establishment, and is then forced onto citizens—and is all based on a fabricated Russian threat which Europeans themselves ignore whenever it is convenient. Of course NATO will have its day of reckoning, and thanks to Trump it might come sooner than some expect.
Trump, Brexit, and the UK: Between NATO and Helsinki
After leaving the NATO summit on July 12, President Trump arrived in the UK. Immediately he made waves, on the very same day that the FBI’s Peter Strzok received a sustained grilling over his corrupt, biased, and bigoted “investigations”. In the UK, in an exact reversal of Obama’s stance—when Obama had threatened that the UK might lose its “special relationship” status as a trade partner if it voted for Brexit—Trump also interfered in the UK’s domestic politics. Trump argued that if the UK failed to opt for “hard Brexit” and remained too tied to the European Union, which Trump was penalizing with his trade war, that then the UK might lose out on a special trade deal with the US. In a wide-ranging, “explosive” interview with The Sun, Trump blasted London’s mayor, praised Boris Johnson (who had resigned as Foreign Secretary in a row over Brexit not being implemented according to voters’ wishes), and criticized the EU for allowing in millions of immigrants, among other things.
The Helsinki Summit
Added to Bolton’s sudden calmness toward Russia and Vladimir Putin, President Trump sounded open to the idea of finally recognizing reality, contra the US foreign policy establishment: that Crimea is indeed a part of Russia. In addition, NATO members such as Germany began to publicly express “worries” about what sort of agreement Trump might reach with Putin, that could affect German and NATO interests but without consulting either one—Germany’s official in charge of transatlantic relations said openly that he thought Putin would “put one over” on Trump. Meanwhile, as one of only six countries to meet its defence spending targets under NATO, the US intended to pressure NATO members—who were thus in a weakened position to place any demands or expectations on the US before the summit with Russia.
The US’ foreign policy establishment, and specifically the military-industrial-complex, had been alarmed at least since 2016 that Trump, in improving relations with Russia, would yank the rug out from underneath their lucrative anti-Russia scare-mongering. True to form, just three days before Trump would meet with Putin and in an obvious attempt to “pressure” Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued an indictment alleging 12 Russian operatives had attempted to interfere with the US election of 2016. Not facing a realistic prospect that these 12 individuals would ever appear in a US court, the alleged evidence against them would never be tested—the easiest indictment to make. Of course an onslaught of alarmist, anti-Russia and anti-Trump hyperbole vented from the US media once more, as if oblivious not only to popular distrust of the same media, but the incredible fatigue over everything constantly being likened to Pearl Harbour. Absurdly irrational contradictions continued—the Russians apparently stole DNC emails, and then spread “fake news”…except both of those statements cannot be true. Either the news was fake, or the emails were real and thus dissemination of their contents was real. Clearly Rosenstein, with the aid of the FBI’s Bob Mueller, was intent on destabilizing Trump’s government and specifically its authority to conduct foreign policy. (The move backfired somewhat: almost immediately it was announced that Rosenstein would face impeachment, while Trump pointed out that the alleged Russian interference occurred under Obama, which did nothing to stop it.) The indictment also came just one day after a scandalous performance by the FBI’s Peter Strzok in front of cameras in an open Congressional hearing, revealing the level of corruption, bigotry and bias permeating the highest levels of the FBI. Strzok successfully caricatured himself as the classic fascist secret policeman. Meanwhile, Rosentein’s opportunistic and futile indictment not only failed to present any new information, it left out a great deal about how Republicans were also allegedly targeted.
If the Democrats and the media only suggested opposition to Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un a month before, they both came out openly against any meeting with Vladimir Putin. In the two days leading up to the event, there were shrill demands that the meeting be cancelled outright. As such, the Democrats and their media were sealing their fate as the party of imperialism, the party of the Cold War, and the party of the past. Their denunciations of diplomacy served as a reminder of how they earned the outcome of the 2016 elections.
In an interview with Larry King, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, outlined the issues of importance to Russia—these ranged from a strong critique of the West’s humanitarian imperialism, to its double-standards on the popular referendum in Crimea that saw its Russian majority choose to join Russia (there was no “invasion”), to the continued threat of NATO expansion. Lavrov specifically cited NATO as an “atavism of Cold War times” and criticized the “inertia of Cold War thinking” that dominates the West. As for the much touted “rules based international order,” Lavrov correctly pointed out that it was built on Western double-standards that allowed the US to flout international law with impunity and live by a separate set of norms. Separately, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, pointed out that it was not Russia that was responsible for initiating the deterioration in relations, and that the US seemed to particularly resent that Russia would not simply bend to its will like a dependent puppet state. In advance of the summit, Peskov made some very reasonable and basic observations on the need for peaceful cooperation, while each state should safeguard the interests of its own citizens. There was nothing here indicative of the fabled Russian “aggression” that seems to preoccupy the shrill, imperialist “resistance” in the US.
Finally, on Monday, July 16, 2018, the Helsinki Summit bringing together Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump took place, despite alarmist demands that it be stopped, cancelled, or turned into a platform for more aggression. For example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said:
“President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections. Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy”.
There could never be any “proof” of not doing something in the future, and to implement the conditions for it would require turning off all the electricity in Russia and seizing all computers everywhere on its territory. It was thus simply an absurd, irrational, and unrealistic statement that was meant to satisfy partisan emotional needs. Otherwise, as a recipe for international relations, it would be a disaster of a policy. In a desperate effort to maintain the interests vested in the new Cold War, Democrats tried to elbow their way into the summit, to no avail. Thus days before the event, President Trump pointed critically at the shrill media and Democrats firing up the new Cold War:
“Heading to Helsinki, Finland – looking forward to meeting with President Putin tomorrow. Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia… …over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition! Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems… …know how to do is resist and obstruct! This is why there is such hatred and dissension in our country – but at some point, it will heal!” (Twitter 1, Twitter 2, Twitter 3).
What united all of the US media, from Fox News to CNN and right across to MSNBC, was the dominance of the America-the-innocent-victim narrative. Joining them was an established band of encrusted “neocons” such as Senator John McCain who asserted, in the usual evidence-free fashion that brought the US to Iraq, that Putin was guilty of “ongoing aggression towards the United States”. McCain himself would not be around for much longer at this point, though he remained nasty until the end.
However, in an amazing press conference featuring Putin and Trump at the close of the summit, virtually everything the Democrats, their neocon associates, the media, and the military-intelligence establishment did not want to hear, is what they were instead forced to hear. Allegations of “collusion” between Trump and Russia faced thorough embarrassment as utter idiocy. Putin tossed back allegations of Russian interference in US elections, and essentially laughed at the bogus “assessment” that has been treated as if it were sacrosanct truth in the US media, such that Trump was expected to perform an auto da fé in front of the new Cold War media’s Grand Inquisition. There was no hint of Russia withdrawing from Syria—though Trump reiterated the near total defeat of ISIS that had been achieved, which also eliminates the US’ rationale for its illegal intervention in Syria (a point made by Trump himself at the end of the year). Russia refused to accept that Crimea did not legally, peacefully, and democratically choose to join Russia, to which it belonged for the majority of its history. On these and other issues, it was as if a stake had been driven through the heart of the new Cold War. Of course, it was also just a beginning, and not an end.
Trump returned home to a massive hysteria surrounding his remarks at the press conference, provoking some to call for a military coup, for impeachment, for protests in the street, and branding him a traitor—there was no awareness of any irony in their use of nationalist precepts to condemn Trump. The Democrats were now making themselves vulnerable on issues of trade with China and border control—any effort to block these could be used against them as signs of their treason, and they would have helped to validate the accusations. Indeed, Democrats supporting calls to abolish ICE, plus San Francisco allowing illegal immigrants to vote in local school board elections, did in fact open them precisely to charges of betraying the nation and allowing foreigners to interfere in elections.
There was also no awareness of history on the Democrats’ side, with the many instances where Obama called for precisely what Trump had done in meeting with Putin, forgetting when Putin praised Obama and said he wanted Obama to win in 2012, to Obama’s own deference to Russia in seeking to improve relations. Instances of “collusion” by the Clintons with Russia, raking in millions of dollars in donations and oversized fees for speeches, were also conveniently forgotten. Both sides of the partisan divide share blame of course, since the Republicans had often made suggestions of Obama’s treasonous nature regarding his relations with Muslim nations.
What became inescapable was the dangerous, destabilizing extent of the neoliberal imperial elites’ excuse for losing the 2016 election. Seeking exogenous factors, they externalized their defeat by deflecting blame onto a mysterious foreign “enemy,” Russia. The Democrats would seemingly prefer outright war with Russia to admitting that they lost the elections through their own fault. At one point the hysteria reached a level where some in Congress demanded that the translator present in the private meeting between Trump and Putin be summoned to testify, a move which, had it succeeded, would have permanently ended the ability of the US to conduct diplomacy. In fact, many of the Democrats’ own dealings with Russia would have to also be labelled “treason” if one wanted to be consistent.
Also cemented was this notion that while it would be impeachable for a president to command the loyalty of his FBI director, it was mandatory that the president show absolute loyalty to the intelligence agencies—this places the secret police and spy agencies at the top of the political pyramid. Trump was required to bend his knee to the very people who sought to prevent and/or ruin his presidency. Securitization has thus resulted in a virtual coup against constitutional order in the US. At the same time Trump was mobbed for criticizing highly criticisable “intelligence assessments,” the same authors of those initiatives were publicly militating for Trump’s removal. Where the overthrow of the duly elected president is predetermined as “justice,” then anything Trump did in his own defence could be construed as “obstruction of justice” and, following circular logic, furnish reason for his impeachment.
As for the media, while figures like CNN’s Jim Acosta (himself an actual creator of fake news) could complain that Fox News is a case of “state-supported media” (he is quite mistaken, and his analysis is exceptionally flawed), the reality is that as instruments of power the media see themselves as entitled to determine and drive executive power—i.e., a media-supported state. That too is tantamount to a coup. Media hysteria was symbolized by the TIME magazine cover showing Trump and Putin as the same person.
For a more complete analysis of what transpired, please see “The Helsinki Summit: Trying to Turn the Page on the New Cold War”. In addition, the following links point to key resources on the summit:
- Remarks by President Trump and President Putin of the Russian Federation in Joint Press Conference, July 16, 2018
- Chris Wallace interviews Russian President Vladimir Putin, July 16, 2018
- Tucker Carlson Interviews President Donald Trump, July 17, 2018
- Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with Members of Congress, July 17, 2018
- President Donald J. Trump is Protecting Our Elections and Standing Up to Russia’s Malign Activities, July 17, 2018
For more, please see the top articles for July, below.
Trump’s statement at the Helsinki press conference was already a bit muddled, and there was some confusion about even what Putin said. It’s therefore not clear that there was much of a reversal on Trump’s part. In addition, given both the full context of the remarks, and the remarks he made in the days that followed in Twitter—none of which were in any way apologetic about the summit with Putin—Trump was in no way reversing course on improving relations with Russia at this point. On the contrary, Trump announced that it was full steam ahead for a second summit, in the fall, in Washington—or so it seemed. By the end of the month the White House announced that it was postponing the second summit with Putin to 2019—after the fall midterm elections, and with the hope that Mueller’s investigation would be concluded by then. Clearly domestic political conflict was doing damage to the US’ foreign relations.
In the meantime, the indictment of 12 Russian officials went exactly nowhere. Trump, at the height of the Democrat/neocon wave of hysteria, openly announced his intentions for a second summit, in short order too, clearly defiant of the entrenced establishment in the media and in Washington, DC. That was eventually postponed, and then Trump accepted Putin’s invitation to a summit in Moscow, clearly to the displeasure of the media acting as lobbyists for Cold War II. Meanwhile US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was considering holding the first talks in years with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu. US media barely touched that topic, maintaining deferential silence toward the military which, according to Trump, had actually forged much better relations with the Russian military than politicians.
The week after the summit generally saw the tide turn once again in Trump’s favour. This happened in spite of “the greatest hysteria in American history,” as one writer put it. As Trump withstood the onslaught, even moving forward with improving relations with Russia, the adversarial commentariat was left confused and outraged. How could this be happening? One said it must be because the “Trump regime” really is authoritarian, and declared the current state a “consitutional crisis”; another took a different approach to the same end: Trump equals tyranny. Both opinions came out a week after the Helsinki Summit—having “cried wolf” about Russia, the “experts” needed to find some excuse for their side’s renewed failure. Others instead wrote about the facts of “Trump’s resilience” and about the deep nature of Trump’s support. In addition, we would have to consider the following:
- Rather than losing popular support, Trump gained it: a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that in the days of the Helsinki Summit and thereafter, during the worst organized outcry against Trump, his approval rating went up to the highest it had ever been for that poll.
- In another poll, a majority of Americans expressed their support for a second Trump-Putin summit. The poll found that 54% of Americans support a second summit, and 61% want to see improved relations with Russia. The narrative pushed as “bipartisan, bicameral, from coast to coast” about opposition to Trump’s meetings with Putin, is in fact the narrative of a closed, self-reinforcing virtual community—an establishment echo chamber that is apparently divorced from the actual positions of US voters.
- The release of FBI documents concerning the warrant presented to the FISA court, validated the Trump team’s claims that his campaign was spied upon illegally on the basis of fabrications paid for by the Democrats. To put this in bold relief, and in language that Americans normally use when speaking of others: the ruling party fabricated lurid tales about the opposition candidate, which were then sent to the secret police to place the opposition campaign under surveillance with the aim of delegitimizing that campaign, during an election. If not worse than the Watergate scandal, it is at the very least just as grave. This news also put the “Russia collusion” allegations back in their proper frame of reference. Thus suddenly the FBI and the “deep state” fell back into disrepute, after a week of being hailed as sacred by Trump’s opponents in both parties and the media. As a result, Carter Page, a member of the Trump campaign spied on by the FBI because of supposedly criminal ties with Russia, was vindicated.
- As punishment for the extreme hyperbole of the week before, the Trump administration moved to strip a select group of former intelligence and Obama administration officials of their security clearances—if the aim had been to intimidate Trump the week before, it had clearly resulted in failure.
- Donald Trump, in a visceral and menacing response to a warning issued by Iran’s president, clearly showed his intent to tackle a Russian partner in the Middle East—not the kind of thing one would expect of a “puppet” of Russia.
- A week of accusations of “treason” passed without producing any results, and once more Trump moved on. The out party elite had nothing to show its supporters for their maximum opposition, and voters were either unmoved or gravitated towards Trump. For the Democrats, the Helsinki Summit would thus prove to be a major setback. Nancy Pelosi sent out a petition, that immediately raised questions about its legality: through the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Pelosi promised that if 100,000 signed the petition, she would be able to block Putin’s visit to Washington in the fall—and then asked for contributions. This appeared to be fraudulent, as neither Pelosi nor any number of petitions can block the president’s authority to invite a foreign leader on a state visit. It’s not the first such bizarre email from Pelosi. Meanwhile Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer’s statement—“Until we know what happened at that two hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin. In the United States, in Russia, or anywhere else”—produced no result. In the Senate, Schumer’s motion—calling for formal hearings to learn what happened behind closed doors at the Helsinki Summit, demanding testimony from President Trump’s national security team, a demand that Republicans stop “attacking” the FBI’s Mueller probe, a call that Trump insist on Russia extraditing the 12 indicted officials, and another call for more election security—never made its way to a vote. In the House of Representatives, a call to subpoena Trump’s interpreter at the Helsinki Summit, was shot down. Likewise in the Senate, a Republican motion to impose new sanctions on Russia, never materialized. The only thing that the Senate managed to pass was a non-binding resolution asking the Trump administration to reject Russia’s proposal that, in return for US officials interviewing the 12 indicted Russians (in Russia), Russia would be given access to 11 US officials in the US. The resolution was largely pointless since by then Trump had already refused the Russian offer. Senator Rand Paul denounced opponents’ “crazy hatred for the President,” a hatred that failed to achieve any actual results in the US Congress.
Finally, a series of articles that had been appearing since 2016 described how former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was active behind the scenes (as in liaising with Steve Bannon) in persuading Trump to undo the China-US pact that had been achieved when he worked with Nixon, and to reverse it by now favouring Russia and moving Russia away from China. The argument was that a China-Russia alliance, as has been taking shape, would produce a monumental bloc that by itself would challenge US hegemony on all fronts.
North Korea’s Negotiations with the US
At the beginning of July, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepared to start his third visit to North Korea, reports were that the US was backing down from its insistence on “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID), opting for a “softer” approach, at South Korea’s urging, that instead emphasized either “final, verified denuclearization” or simply “mutual threat reduction”. In addition, claims were being made in the US press, based on alleged intelligence leaks, that North Korea was maintaining its nuclear weapons development—this claim would be renewed later in the year. The problem over the definition of “denuclearization” continued to be unresolved, and the question of timelines for completion was supposedly no longer a prime concern. What became even clearer was just how unsettled was the two sides’ conception of “denuclearization” plus the limited knowledge the US possessed about the amount of nuclear warheads North Korea had stockpiled, and where they were located. Of course Democrats, and not without any justification, would be able to point to all of this as a failure on Donald Trump’s part, especially in light of his abrogation of the strict and precise regulations of the JCPOA with Iran only to produce a weaker and watered-down version with North Korea.
As Pompeo departed, North Korean officials surprised Western media by calling the just concluded talks with the US Secretary of State “regrettable” and “gangster-like”. Pompeo did not deny any of it, he merely brushed off the remarks.
Later in the month, as North Korean dismantled another test site, President Trump denounced fake news reports that alleged he was angry with the slow pace of North Korean efforts to denuclearize.
Iran, the EU, and US Sanctions
Continuing fallout from Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear agreement), began to put a strain on negotiations between Iran and the EU. The EU promised buffers and relief for Iran, to keep it in the agreement, and to safeguard its oil exports against US promises to impose financial penalties on any nations importing Iranian oil—but the EU was moving too slowly. Iran began to threaten abandonment of the JCPOA altogether, reducing cooperation with the IAEA, and ominously threatened to block all oil shipments passing through the Strait of Hormuz if its own oil was blockaded. That would essentially set up the right conditions for US war with Iran.
Late in July, a virtual shouting match erupted when Iran’s president issued a stern warning to the US, and President Trump immediately responded with a blazing threat against Russia’s partner in the region. It was nothing more than a rhetorical skirmish in the end, but it still made a mockery of anti-Trump hysteria that maintained the illusion of Trump as a pawn of Russia. More serious was the effort by the US to orchestrate global pressure on Iran, with the aim of reducing foreign trade with Iran down to zero.
In addition to Trump’s threat (which would be slightly moderated at the end of the month by his apparent willingness to meet with President Rouhani), rumours circulated that the US was preparing for a military strike against Iran in August, which did not transpire.
After the US, France, and the UK used a “chemical attack” as a justification for attacking Syria, Western media largely ignored the facts that were revealed by the OPCW. In a July report, the OPCW stated that it had found “no organophosphorous nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties”. That it called the casualties “alleged,” meant it also found none. Like the Iraq WMD myth, once again Western governments and media perpetrated fictions against their own citizens, to justify acts of unlawful military aggression.
In what became an all too obvious and predictable pattern, shortly before Donald Trump was to finally meet with Vladimir Putin—worrying the globalists and interventionist establishment—another chemical hoax emerged, this time involving a random couple being poisoned not far from the site of the Skripal attack in the UK. The only thing that was apparent about this attack, and this is according to The Guardian which has lusted after any anti-Russia conspiracy theory, is that “someone is out to embarrass Vladmir Putin”:
“all we can see are the devious tools of the new international politics. We see the rush to judgment at the bidding of the news agenda. We see murders and terrorist incidents hijacked for political gain or military advantage. Ministers plunge into Cobra bunkers. Social media and false news are weaponised. So too are sporting events”.
Late in the month, fake news reports in the mainstream media, alleged without verifiable evidence that President Trump was upset about the slow pace of North Korean denuclearization. Proving the reports to be untrue, Trump directly contradicted them.
Top Articles for July
On Zero Anthropology this month:
- “The Trade War is Here: Some of the New ‘Facts of Life’,” July 2.
- “Book Review: Patriots, Traitors and Empires—The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, by Stephen Gowans,” July 4.
- “The Helsinki Summit: Trying to Turn the Page on the New Cold War,” July 17.
- “Robert Reich’s ‘Inequality for All’: A Documentary Review,” July 29.
Top articles of the month:
- “Survival of the Richest,” Douglas Rushkoff, Medium, July 5.
- “The Never-Trumpers Are Never Coming Back,” Patrick J. Buchanan, July 5
- “Canadians to Trump: Don’t mess with us,” John Geddes and Shannon Proudfoot, Macleans, July 5.
- “NATO Is Obsolete,” Christian Whiton, The National Interest, July 6.
- “The nationalism America needs now,” Megan McArdle, New York Post, July 6.
- “How Liberal Partisan Politics Strengthen the Right Wing,” William C. Anderson, TruthOut, July 7.
- “A Chance for Trump to End America’s Endless War,” Erik D. Prince, Real Clear Politics, July 11.
- “Donald Trump is right to question NATO,” Michael C. Desch, USA Today, July 11.
- “We should be aware of Russia’s perspective,” Rand Paul, USA Today, July 11.
- “Julian Assange, CrowdStrike, and the Russian Hack That Wasn’t,” Michael Thau, American Greatness, July 13.
- “No Evidence In Mueller’s Indictment Of 12 Russians – Release Now May Sabotage Upcoming Summit,” Moon of Alabama, July 13.
- “Indictment of 12 Russians: Under the Shiny Wrapping, a Political Act,” Scott Ritter, Truthdig, July 15.
- “We asked psychologists why so many rich people think the apocalypse is coming,” Nicole Karlis, Salon, July 16.
- “Climb Down From the Summit of Hostile Propaganda,” Norman Solomon, Truthdig, July 16.
- “Trump Is Right to Meet Putin,” Rand Paul, Politico, July 16.
- “The Coming American-Russian Alliance Against China,” Harry J. Kazianis, The American Conservative, July 16.
- “Trump Calls Off Cold War II,” Patrick J. Buchanan, July 16.
- “US Media is Losing Its Mind Over Trump-Putin Press Conference,” Joe Lauria, Consortium News, July 16.
- “Helsinki Talks – How Trump Tries To Rebalance The Global Triangle,” Moon of Alabama, July 17.
- “Ron and Rand Paul Call Out Foreign Policy Hysteria,” Jack Hunter, The American Conservative, July 17.
- “Stephen F. Cohen on Helsinki Summit: Media Held A ‘Kangaroo Court’ And Found Trump Guilty,” Real Clear Politics, July 17.
- “Donald Trump is right; Countries spy on each other all the time,” Paul Mulsine, The Star-Ledger, July 17.
- “Donald Trump and the Age of Unconventional Diplomacy,” James Jay Carafano, The National Interest, July 17.
- “Diplomacy 101 Versus Politics Writ Small,” Angelo Codevilla, American Greatness, July 17.
- “Trump Will Win This Round With the Deep State,” Conrad Black, American Greatness, July 18.
- “Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism,” C.J. Hopkins, CounterPunch, July 18.
- “NATO’s Challenge Is Germany, Not America,” Victor Davis Hanson, Real Clear Politics, July 19.
- “Tucker Carlson: Are You OK With Your Kids Dying to Protect Montenegro?” Real Clear Politics, July 19.
- “Trump Stays Defiant Amid a Foreign Policy Establishment Gone Mad,” Patrick J. Buchanan, The American Conservative, July 20.
- “The Mysteriously Vanished NATO Critique,” Branko Marcetic, Jacobin, July.
- “American society would collapse if it weren’t for these 8 myths,” Lee Camp, RT, July 26.
- “The Elite Fixation With Russiagate” Aaron Maté, The Nation, July 26.
While August opened with the possibility that Trump would focus more on the upcoming mid-term elections, and sideline major foreign policy actions for a while, that proved illusory. Iran, North Korea, Turkey, and Russia, all quickly returned to centre stage. Whatever was gained from the Singapore and Helsinki summits began to evaporate.
Cold War II, the Russia Election “Meddling” Scare, and Still More Sanctions
August began with a stupendous press briefing: the heads of the US’ top intelligence agencies appeared to essentially complain about the Internet, and all the foreigners voicing their opinions online, specifically Russian foreigners—that is all that was really involved in their charges of “election meddling”. Apparently, without the influence of nasty foreigners and their incredibly persuasive messaging skills, the US would be a land of total unity and harmony. One cannot write about such events with polite respect, because they are such an insult to the intelligence of the public. Later in the month, the US intelligence apparatus would apply even more pressure on Google, Facebook, and Twitter, to engage in even further censorship that would underscore what we should already know: “social media” are another form of US imperial media. What was delegitimized in all of this was any notion of a truly “world wide web”. The world was moving ever closer to the realization of national “Internets”.
In the bipartisan continuation of July’s Helsinki Hysteria, senators introduced legislation to impose more sanctions on Russia, over its alleged “election meddling”. The entrenched foreign policy establishment, speaking through the senators, wanted to couple the proposed new sanctions with measures to make US withdrawal from NATO more difficult (suddenly that option at last became thinkable), and try to force Trump’s hand to become even more aggressive toward Russia. It seemed like another effort engineered to fail, as it seemed unlikely Trump would sign such a thing into law at a time when he was pursuing greater diplomacy with Russia.
The conspiracy theories involving imagined “Russian meddling” reached new extremes, when it seemed like there could be nothing more extreme. One was that Russia had something to do with last year’s violence in Charlottesville, a claim so bizarre that it found a home on CNN, from the mouth of a disgraced Republican congressman who had given up on running for re-election. Of course, no evidence was put forth, as usual. The other fabrication came from Florida Democrat Senator Bill Nelson (soon to lose re-election), who claimed to have information about Russian hacking of the election systems of a number of unspecified counties—however, he refused to provide any evidence to the Governor of the state, or the media, claiming it was “classified” (even the names of the counties were “classified”), while neither Homeland Security nor the FBI, nor anyone else, would corroborate Nelson’s tale. To top it off, actress has-been Alyssa Milano claimed that Russia was behind voters choosing the Green Party in a recent Ohio by-election. The only claims that thus appeared to receive even further corroboration, were that the out-party elites had left sanity behind—meanwhile, the media would not condemn the banning of “conspiracy theorist” Alex Jones, while these proven conspiracy theorists were given wide room for manoeuvre online.
As if to pander to the Russiagate conspiracy theory popular with the crowd of hysterics, and totally undoing whatever was gained in Helsinki, Trump almost inexplicably imposed a new round of extreme sanctions on Russia, for something that was still alleged, still not proved—the revived Skripal controversy—and for which the US had already imposed excessive sanctions this year. The first round of sanctions banned the sale of “sensitive national security goods” to Russia. What was truly alarming was the US threat of a second round of sanctions in November, “which includes downgrading diplomatic relations, banning the Russian airline Aeroflot from flying to the US and cutting off nearly all exports and imports…unless Russian authorities provide ‘reliable assurances’ that they won’t use chemical weapons in the future and agree to ‘on-site inspections’ by independent monitors”. Russia was getting the Iraq treatment, which was also applied to Iran and North Korea, with the danger being that Russia has a wide array of weapons to fight back against what appears to be a full-scale economic war. Russia began planning significant retaliation for the second round of sanctions, while adopting retaliatory measures for the first round, which could cripple the US space industry. November came and went without the US implementing the second round.
Even some of the neocon talking heads on Fox News had difficulty justifying the new actions. Trump was doing damage to his own foreign policy, adding to the bizarre nature of the US as if it were stuck on a merry-go-round of madness, where things seemed not so much unpredictable as almost deranged. That the US would be seen internationally as untrustworthy, unreliable, likely to ignore international agreements it had demanded, with policies not stable from one day to the next, is now inevitable.
Adding to the perception of chaos, of confusion balanced only by illusion, was a report suggesting that John Bolton, James Mattis, and Mike Pompeo, worked behind Trump’s back on establishing a NATO closing communiqué, before Trump had even left for the summit. It was alleged that they did this without Trump’s knowledge or approval. Is it really a “deep state” when the commander-in-chief is the one responsible for planting it squarely in his own administration? This of course assumes that there is any validity to The New York Times’ report, and that it is not another deliberate act of propaganda designed to destabilize the Trump administration.
Turkey vs. the US
Increasing the widening gap between Turkey and the US, both NATO members, in August a row erupted between the two countries over Turkey’s detention of the US pastor, Andrew Brunson. In response to a US asset freeze, Turkey announced its own asset freeze directed at US officials. Added to the sanctions and counter-sanctions, was an unprecedented level of acrimony in the rhetoric traded between the two governments, added to the irritation of Turkey purchasing an advanced missile defence system from Russia, plus working against US interests in Syria.
The rupture reached unprecedented extremes in early August. In an early morning tweet, Trump declared:
“I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump, 5:47 AM – 10 Aug 2018)
In an understandably angry response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Turkey would find “new friends and allies,” namely Russia and China, further underlining Turkey’s drift away from the US geopolitical orbit. President Erdogan published a strong denunciation and critique of Trump’s policy toward Turkey, in an op-ed in The New York Times. In addition to this, a group of Turkish lawyers called for US soldiers at Incirlik Air Base to be arrested, alleging they had ties to the movement behind the 2016 coup attempt. Turkey also adopted financial counter-sanctions, and imposed its own tariffs on US imports.
US tariffs sent Turkey’s currency, the Lira, into a deep nosedive, provoking a financial crisis in Turkey. Note the tweet above from Donald Trump, taking credit for the financial collapse—yet, when questioned, the State Department’s Heather Nauert ignored the evidence of Trump claiming credit for the financial plunge, and she blamed Turkey instead—the US had nothing to do with the collapse of the lira, in her view. As always now, the Trump administration spoke with multiple, mutually incompatible voices. The financial crisis, which began to spread to Europe, was seen as most likely leading to a final and total rupture in relations between the US and Turkey, posing severe risks for both. At this point it seemed like the Turkish situation might become the most important development of the year, along with the US’ global trade war. Turkey’s president directly blamed Trump for the attack on Turkey’s financial system and the fall of the lira, which declined in value by 40%. Qatar came to the aid of Turkey, which caused the value of the lira to rebound, while the US hardened its line by announcing that even the release of Andrew Brunson would not result in US tariffs being lifted. Without any hint of irony, the US condemned Turkey’s counter-tariffs.
Ironically, though Trump seemed triumphant about currencies weakened by US sanctions/tariffs, in an interview he bemoaned a strong US dollar: it made selling US goods overseas much more difficult, thus heightening the US trade deficit.
Trump also made it clear that at this point, for the US, sanctions and tariffs were one and the same thing. Still speaking with the forked tongue of “tariffs + free trade,” Trump praised the role of tariffs, suggesting more to come:
“Our Country was built on Tariffs, and Tariffs are now leading us to great new Trade Deals – as opposed to the horrible and unfair Trade Deals that I inherited as your President. Other Countries should not be allowed to come in and steal the wealth of our great U.S.A. No longer!”—Donald J. Trump, @realDonaldTrump, August 15, 2018.
Venezuela: Regime Change, the CIA, and Nikki Haley
After barking for regime change in Nicaragua the previous month, and renewing hopes for regime change in Iran (see below), the US seemed to pursue some lethal options where Venezuela was concerned. After Mike Pompeo spoke at the Aspen Security Forum about working with Colombia, the Venezuelan opposition, and the CIA in developing “options” for regime change, and just a month after Colombia joined NATO as a “Global Partner”—an attempted assassination against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took place on August 5. Soon after that, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN and a dedicated neocon, went on a tour to Colombia’s border with Venezuela, covered exclusively by Fox News, in which she advocated for the illegal overthrow of Venezuela’s government.
Fox News has consistently bolstered Haley as if preparing her for a presidential campaign—giving her the soap box to announce sanctions on Russia that had not been approved, then praising her for making the summit in North Korea happen (she played no such role), and now foisting her to the forefront of regime change in Venezuela.
That the mainstream media in the US, Canada, the UK, to name a few, are in favour of regime change is an established fact, going as far as backing conspiracy theories akin to those of 9/11 Truthers in insinuating that “alleged” anti-government violence in Venezuela is staged by the government. However, this pattern of censorship (see below for more on this topic), has recently been bolstered by US social media—banning “conspiracy theorists” like Alex Jones, while promoting conspiracy theories like Russiagate and allegations of staged assassination attempts in Venezuela. The irony was lost on many, if they were even aware of these events. Facebook thus suspended the page for Venezuelanalysis.com, which the news site observed was part of a wider censorship spree in the US that stems from the orchestrated elite hysteria around Russiagate (which, fortunately, fails to infect most Americans who have learned to be sceptical). Facebook also deleted the page for Venezuela’s Telesur just a few days later, in what began to appear as a concerted campaign of censorship against sites supporting the legitimate government of Venezuela. Then, Telesur’s page was reinstated a few days later, without an explanation as to why it had been deleted.
While Nikki Haley, other US politicians, and the US media were encouraged by the attempted murder of President Maduro, the assassination attempt was widely condemned everywhere from Moscow to the UN Secretary General, and several Latin American and Caribbean states which immediately condemned it, along with key regional blocs, unions, and political parties of the Latin American and Palestinian left.
Threatening Iran, Threatening US Allies
New US sanctions against Iran went into effect in early August, which officially marked the US’ direction violation of the JCPOA, or so-called Iran nuclear agreement. In addition, the US threatened all foreign companies doing business in Iran, regardless of their nationality, with being blocked from doing business with the US. This amounts to placing sanctions on third parties. With oil sanctions due to begin in November, the US was essentially declaring an all-out economic war against the entirety of the Iranian population. Did Trump assume that Iran’s leaders would just roll over and die? It seemed that Trump’s officials approached Iran with the suggestion of holding talks, which Iran rejected while the illegal sanctions remained in place. China was helping Iran to evade US sanctions, using a method where oil imports from Iran would continue, transported by Iranian freighters.
North Korea and the US: Continued Sanctions, Continued Tensions
Nearly two months after the historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, little seemed to have actually improved for North Korea. There was the exchange of minor pleasantries in the form of letters between the two leaders, and the return of US soldiers’ remains from the Korean War. However, at an ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore in early August, North Korean and US representatives “sparred” over what the US called the slow pace of change in North Korea (with the development of more ICBMs also alleged by the US), while North Korea denounced continued US sanctions and a US retreat from declaring an end to the Korean War. The US also accused Russia of violating international sanctions against North Korea. North Korea demanded that at least some sanctions be lifted or eased, as a sign of US reciprocity—to this point, all concrete steps toward peace had been taken by the North Korean side alone. Fortunately, both Russia and China halted US efforts to add a Russian bank, a Moscow-based North Korean banker, and two other entities to a UN Security Council blacklist.
Showing the extent to which relations between the US and North Korea were still subject to confrontation, US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that future US–South Korean joint military exercises would no longer be suspended—though previously scheduled exercises for August had indeed been cancelled. A trip to North Korea, by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also abruptly cancelled (it would have been his fourth). The US also hinted that additional sanctions were likely.
On a separate front, relations between North and South Korea continued to improve: 534 elderly South Koreans crossed into the North to be temporarily reunited with their families, after decades of separation, adding to past rounds that have seen thousands participate in such reunions.
In a wide-ranging foreign policy interview with Reuters, Trump claimed that a second summit with Kim Jong-un was most likely.
Encircling China: US Expansionism Mounts
Also at the ASEAN forum, the US announced it was spending a further $300 million US to reinforce “security cooperation” in the Asia-Pacific region (or what US diplomats now prefer to call the “Indo-Pacific”). This reflected an expansion of US militarization of the region, aimed at China. The US also said it would invest $113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in what was billed as “a downpayment on a new era of US economic commitment to the region”.
In terms of the growing trade war between the US and China, which the US initiated, a very strong counter-argument came from a Chinese scholar, that sought to debunk the top myths advanced by US anti-China protectionists. It was a very persuasive attempt to balance the story most often told by Donald Trump, that showed all of the (growing) gains made by US investors and exporters. To the extent that the counter-argument is correct, or even partially correct, it would cast legitimate doubt on the stated economic motives of Trump’s trade war—which would then raise the question: so why launch a trade war? As the paragraph above suggests, the real aim would be that of maintaining the national hegemony of the US, even if it comes (momentarily) at the expense of the transnational capitalist class that has both rented US military power when convenient while also favouring China’s lucrative economic expansion.
More suggestions came out in August that the trade war would be tougher on China than the US, contrary to some initial expectations by some that China would prove politically and economically more resilient. Instead, China’s leadership was increasingly finding itself in a no-win situation—but one had to wonder whether the same might not apply to the US. In addition, in a context such as a trade war, one would need to be careful about media reports that serve as propaganda designed to “demoralize the enemy,” especially in this period where journalism’s role in psychological operations seems to be even more acute than during the first Cold War. On the other hand, there were apparent rifts in the Chinese Communist Party that came out in the open, with doubts expressed about whether China had taken a stance that was too hard-line in response to Trump. Yet economist Robert Samuelson continued to articulate reasons why Donald Trump would lose the trade war—his focus is on the fact that the US dollar serves as the key world reserve currency, which inflates its value, making US exports costlier and imports cheaper as a result, which results in trade deficits, and these deficits are the price of the US maintaining the dollar’s central position in global finance. In advance of a possible new round of US tariffs covering $200 billion worth of imports from China, numerous US corporations warned that Americans would face increased prices on a wide range of everyday products—which might be their way of engaging in price gouging while using tariffs as an excuse.
China, accusing the US of acting with a “mobster mentality,” imposed additional tariffs of 25% on $16 billion worth of US imports, which was in retaliation for US plans to apply 25% extra in tariffs on $16 billion of Chinese goods from August 23.
Canada and the US: NAFTA and the Dependency Problem
In terms of the broader US trade war, the Trump administration attempted—perhaps too transparently—to play divide and rule between Canada and Mexico in NAFTA negotiations that dragged on, but which seemed to accelerate on a bilateral level between the US and Mexico. According to some reports, Canada was barred by the US from participating in NAFTA talks with Mexico. Trump claimed to be nearing an agreement with Mexico, and was full of cheer and praise for his Mexican counterpart, while stern and threatening toward Canada:
“Deal with Mexico is coming along nicely. Autoworkers and farmers must be taken care of or there will be no deal. New President of Mexico has been an absolute gentleman. Canada must wait. Their Tariffs and Trade Barriers are far too high. Will tax cars if we can’t make a deal!”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump, 4:12 PM – 10 Aug 2018)
When in the closing days of Obama’s second term Canadian parliamentarians erupted in cheers of “four more years!” at Obama’s address to parliament, just as Trump was campaigning for the presidency, they might have considered what the fallout could be if Trump won. Trump has no love for Ottawa or its Liberals. Canada is increasingly finding itself in the lonely position of the isolated globalist, with a growing record of foreign policy failures under Justin Trudeau. Likewise, the imperial order of “human rights” interventionism is being struck down, just as Canada continues to defend it. A pattern of reality-denying triumphalism and virtue-signalling that could not be backed up with substance continues to persist as official ideology.
By the final week of August, matters between the US and Canada seemed to turn even more dramatic. Trump triumphantly announced that his government had reached a bilateral agreement with Mexico, in place of NAFTA, and that Canada’s participation was not really needed. As an apparent pressure tactic designed to press Canada to make major concessions, the strategy seemed to work, and it appeared to cause a level of panic at least in the Canadian media. While it seemed possible in August that Trump would terminate NAFTA and slam Canada with tariffs against its automobile manufacturing industries, by early September matters appeared to once again cool off, especially as domestic opposition to Trump’s trade strategy broadened. What seemed like immediate deadlines for Canada to meet, or else face an end to NAFTA, were gradually replaced by longer and longer extensions that prolonged negotiations well into September. Nonetheless, on August 31 Trump notified Congress that the US had entered a bilateral trade deal with Mexico, excluding Canada (at least for the time being).
Particularly abrasive were comments by Donald Trump, which he confirmed making, when he declared that Canadians “ultimately…have no choice” but to make a deal that would be “totally on our terms”. Trump seemed to take pride in owning these and other remarks, which he admitted were insulting, and he relished recounting attempts to threaten and intimidate the Canadian side by brandishing the weapon of auto tariffs. As far as Trump was concerned, though the “leak” was to be condemned (even if some thought he was behind the leaking), he was glad that the Canadian side would know how he really felt. What that also meant is that it would be harder for Canadian negotiators to sell any deal to the public without suspicion that the Canadian side had bent its knee to Trump—compromise, in other words, would be that much more difficult to achieve, or to sell. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s publicly stated position, running counter to Trump’s expectation of a Canadian surrender, was: “no deal is better than a bad deal for Canada”. In the end, Trudeau opted for a deal many said was bad.
Censorship: US “Social Media” Monopolies and Sanctions on Dissent
In February, Zero Anthropology withdrew from Twitter and Facebook in contempt for the steadily increasing censorship which had suppressed the number of its subscribers. Our YouTube account remains inactive after several years, over active censorship of one of our videos which was banned and the account was temporarily blocked. It is thus with great interest that we followed the growing censorship by US social media monopolies, which seemed to reach new heights in August. Despite the ignorance and complicity among many US liberals and some on the left, who celebrated the banning of Alex Jones, there was growing evidence that social media censorship targeted both websites of the left and right.
The course of events was as follows:
- Twitter suspended the account of Candace Owens, which merely replicated the tweets of the New York Times’ Sarah Jeong, replacing the word “white” with “Jews” precisely to query whether the racism would be tolerated when directed at another group. The answer was no. This raised the question, effectively addressed by Reiham Salam in The Atlantic, about why white-bashing had become the norm among certain elites. Twitter reaffirmed that norm, in a comically ironic fashion, before reversing itself without an intelligent explanation other than it was a “mistake”. Meanwhile, Candace Owens claimed that The Huffington Post had incited violence against her, in what has now become a documented pattern of media-approved violence against Trump supporters.
- The biggest story was the complete banning of Alex Jones’ InfoWars from platforms operated by Facebook, Apple, Spotify, and Google/YouTube, in a concerted purge that the companies jointly conducted simultaneously. Key questions about what led these virtual monopolies to conspire in such a manner, went unanswered, apart from some generic statements about “hate speech,” a concept which Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was personally unable to define.
- CNN distinguished itself by openly lobbying for the further purge of InfoWars when it discovered that the InfoWars app, still available via iTunes, had surged ahead of CNN in popularity. Meanwhile, Democrat Senator Chris Murphy publicly advocated for sweeping censorship against all dissenting sites.
- Almost at the same time as the banning of InfoWars, Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, and Scott Horton, the editor of AntiWar.com, were suspended from Twitter on extremely dubious grounds that made little sense.
- As if to confirm what was expected, that the censorship campaign would expand, Facebook suspended the page for com, without a credible explanation, targeting a news site that showcases articles sidelined by the mainstream media about Venezuela, with the intent of challenging the regime change bias in such media.
- Journalists Byron York, Mark Hemingway, and Benjamin Weingarten, all had their messages flagged by Twitter and were investigated for possibly violating its rules against abusive speech—for links to their reports on the activities of Christopher Steele, and Senator Diane Feinstein’s links to China. The clear pattern was an attempt to suppress any news that was unflattering to Democratic Party interests, while indicating a fear of the truth being made public.
- Universities joined in the act of surveillance and censorship, holding social media posts against student applicants: “Merely following Alex Jones on Twitter almost cost one teen a college admission. Another lost his scholarship over a Facebook message about the 2016 election”.
- Coming back to Venezuela and Facebook, a few days after taking action against com Facebook deleted the page for Telesur, Venezuela’s international television and news channel. It was the second time for 2018 that Facebook had done this to Telesur. The move appears part of a Facebook purge, advised by the “Digital Forensic Lab,” which is associated with the Atlantic Council which is a political extension of NATO. Two days after the controversial move, Facebook reinstated Telesur’s page with no explanation as to why it had been deleted.
- Twitter suspended an Australian writer merely because she believes that the world will be a better place after John McCain dies. McCain was in fact dying, so the writer was saying she felt no grief over his alleged loss. Nonetheless, that was enough for Twitter to suspend her account, temporarily, since apparently all deference was due to unstable neocons like McCain.
- Facebook prevented the three million followers of a conservative educational site from seeing several of its posts and videos, and banned some of its videos for alleged “hate speech” (i.e., offering a positive view of masculinity).
- Facebook also (temporarily) banned the page of Occupy London, followed by more than 150,000 persons. Yet again, the company offered no explanation for the interference.
President Trump also entered the debate on social media censorship, denouncing all censorship, but also misleading his followers into believing that only conservatives were being targeted—clearly, as shown above, that was not the case. Nonetheless, it was an important warning shot that was being fired by Trump, in a series of three tweets:
“Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others…….”—Donald J. Trump, @realDonaldTrump, August 18, 2018
“…..Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police. If you are weeding out Fake News, there is nothing so Fake as CNN & MSNBC, & yet I do not ask that their sick behavior be removed. I get used to it and watch with a grain of salt, or don’t watch at all..”—Donald J. Trump, @realDonaldTrump, August 18, 2018
“….Too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad, and that cannot be allowed to happen. Who is making the choices, because I can already tell you that too many mistakes are being made. Let everybody participate, good & bad, and we will all just have to figure it out!”—Donald J. Trump, @realDonaldTrump, August 18, 2018
It seems that the new normal in the US now is either sanctions and/or censorship, as both the state and sectors of the society attempt to cut others off in order to beat them into submission—the logic is murky. What is usually the result is that, after some time, others learn to make do without you. The central operating principle behind censorship and sanctions is the myth of indispensability. The only good that will come out of this, at the very least, is the gradual deglobalization of the world, increased national self-reliance, and the growth of solidarity within regions.
However, what is almost baffling is the slew of Twitter account holders who huddle together as if they were screaming hostages, wondering if they are the next ones to be censored. Absolutely nobody and nothing is forcing them to be dependent on Twitter. The way monopolies are made, and empires built—and this seems to be a dirty secret, since so few speak it—is in large part thanks to the work of collaborators, clients, and the creation of an artificial dependency on a contrived centre. If Twitter has the power it does, it is to a good measure the result of those who behave as if it were absolutely essential. If the myth of indispensability lives on, it is at least partly due to those who function as if indispensability were real.
Aside from these issues, one of the most fundamental problems that was neither raised nor addressed by most journalists or analysts, was the glaring problem of placing public information (as in statements by heads of government, ministers, parliamentarians, officials, and other staff) into the hands of a private, US-owned corporation. This is an especially glaring problem when it comes to the accounts of non-US governments. The second and closely related problem, which is almost never examined, is the fact that employees of Twitter, for example, can read the private “direct messages” exchanged between government leaders, or between officials, and this can be sensitive information that could be valuable to traders on various stock exchanges. This is not to mention the work of possible hackers working for governments or corporations also being able to access such information.
Top Articles for August
On Zero Anthropology this month:
- “Canada Imports the White Helmets from Syria: A Dangerous, Criminal Decision,” (by Eva Bartlett), August 11.
Top articles of the month:
- “How Identity Politics Fuel Hatred,” Nathanael Blake, The Federalist, August 1.
- “The new-McCarthyism of our censorious age,” Joel Kotkin, Orange County Register, August 4.
- “Americanization: An American Idea That Works,” Pedro Gonzalez, American Greatness, August 5.
- “The Utility of White-Bashing,” Reihan Salam, The Atlantic, August 6.
- “Venezuela Assassination Attempt: Maduro Survives but Journalism Doesn’t,” Ricardo Vaz, Venezuelanalysis, August 7.
- “It’s not a ‘defense’ of Alex Jones to argue that we’re on a slippery slope of internet censorship,” Danielle Ryan, RT, August 8.
- “Canada’s liberal image gets snared by $11.5bn Saudi arms deal,” Finian Cunningham, RT, August 9.
- “Venezuelanalysis: Official Statement on Facebook’s Removal of Our Page,” Venezuelanalysis, August 9.
- “Acclaimed Venezuelan News Site Latest Victim in Facebook Censorship Spree,” Sputnik International, Venezuelanalysis, August 9.
- “Why the Attempt to Assassinate Maduro?” Farooque Chowdhury, Venezuelanalysis, August 9.
- “The 2008 financial crash: Punishing the victims, rewarding the perpetrators,” Neil Clark, RT, August 10.
- “Five examples that show internet censorship is as much a threat to the left as the right,” Danielle Ryan, RT, August 15.
- “The Untouchables vs. The Deplorables,” Julie Kelly, American Greatness, August 18.
- “Ten Years After the Crash,” George Packer, The New Yorker, August 27.
- “New Power: ‘Purpose’ as Key Force Multiplier in a World on Fire,” Cory Morningstar & Forrest Palmer, Counterpunch, August 31.
Note: for two weeks, between the end of August and the start of September, a separate period of research introduced a pause in coverage of daily events. As a result, there may be important gaps in the review that follows below.
September did not open in a way that suggested any new break from the flow of developments that took shape over the summer, especially where NAFTA, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Iran were concerned. What became clearer, perhaps, is the imperial nationalism pursued by Trump, whose unilateralism is often mistaken for “isolationism”. The Trump administration apparently prefers the “hard power” mode, even when it comes to diplomacy, which is arguably even more abrasive than US diplomacy has typically been.
Canada and NAFTA
Continuing directly from August, which ended with a storm between the US and Canada over ongoing talks to revise NAFTA, President Trump threatened the US Congress to “stay out” of negotiations or he would terminate NAFTA outright. A deadline to reach a deal passed when it became clear to the Canadian side that Trump would not make any compromise whatsoever. Speaking of the US’ newest trade deal with Mexico, Trump claimed that “there is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal”. Yet, any new trade deals require congressional approval, so it seemed that Trump was setting forces against himself, especially as many in Congress insisted that Canada be included in any new deal. Trump, some argued, had next to no authority to terminate NAFTA, or sign a new deal with Mexico that excluded Canada. Meanwhile a wide spectrum of political, business, and labour organizations spoke up against Trump’s stance on Canada, reminding everyone that Canada is a market of critical importance to the US. It became clearer that, in spite of Trump’s fierce bluster, Trump lacked political leverage at home that would facilitate extracting major concessions from the Canadian side. Trump faced growing domestic pressure to preserve the trade relationship with Canada, especially as it had been particularly beneficial to the US.
As shown in articles on Zero Anthropology, the US has benefited from NAFTA at Canada’s expense: “U.S. exports in goods and services have soared since NAFTA was signed. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office says that U.S. exports to Canada are up 181 per cent from 1993 and U.S. exports of services to Canada are up from pre-NAFTA levels by some 243 per cent”. What was particularly positive about the US-Mexico negotiations, which the Canadian side also praised, was the provision that Mexican auto workers be paid more, thus reducing the likelihood of jobs flowing to Mexico. Whatever the outcome, some expected that US-Canadian relations would be permanently damaged by the NAFTA renegotiation.
Rumours began to circulate that the Canadian government would concede in some areas that were of particular concern to Trump, specifically access to the Canadian diary market. Two other areas of special concern to Trump were the dispute resolution system, and protections for Canadian culture industries. Nonetheless, talks dragged on well into the middle of September—rather than feeling pressured by Trump to hurry up and reach a resolution, the Canadian side vowed to take as much time as needed.
In the final days of the month, with the September 30 deadline looming, there was still no mention about any breakthrough in US–Canada trade negotiations. Some analysts saw it as highly unlikely that the Canadian side could ever concede on trade dispute resolutions, which were vital to selling the original Canada–US free trade deal. The current mechanism means that when Canada has a complaint, it is not confined to the domestic authority of US courts, which means there is a greater chance of getting a fairer hearing. The US wants to do away with that provision, allowing US courts to have the only say in any trade dispute. Mexico’s president-elect, for his part, insisted that Mexico wanted Canada to be included in any new trade deal.
Amazingly, Donald Trump admitted to refusing to meet with Justin Trudeau at the UN, saying: “His tariffs are too high and he doesn’t seem to want to move, so I told him, ‘forget about it’”. The trade tensions had obviously taken a personal turn, and now it became a matter of Trump dominating Trudeau—which as we saw at the start of October, he largely achieved. The Canadian side dismissed the claim, saying it never requested a meeting with Trump.
The US’ Trade War against China
As promised, President Trump escalated the US trade war against China in September, by moving to apply a 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of imports, covering over 1,000 Chinese products, with that tariff due to rise to 25% in January. In response, besides promising further retaliation, China cancelled trade talks with the US.
Trump warned all other countries: “If countries will not make fair deals with us, they will be ‘Tariffed!’”. Indeed, the list of countries embroiled in Trump’s trade wars was already considerable.
One policy adviser tied to the Trump campaign explained how it was that the costs of US tariffs to US consumers themselves would be negligible, but more significant for producers. However, in return the US federal government is also collecting little or nothing in terms of revenue from tariffs. On the other hand, the tariffs are hurting investment in China, and are thus proving to be successful.
North Korea: Continued Struggle with the US?
On September 9, North Korea marked the historic 70th anniversary of its founding. A large military parade took place in Pyongyang, but without any intercontinental ballistic missiles on display; instead, the parade this year focused heavily on economic development, with nearly half of the parade consisting of civilian workers, such as nurses, students, and construction workers. Attempts by US President Trump to cheer the change in the composition of the military parade were met with a stinging rebuke from a North Korea expert.
The third inter-Korean summit between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, which began on September 17 in Pyongyang, was perceived by the US media as particularly problematic, given the tensions once again increasing between the US and North Korea. There was still, remarkably, continued doubt and debate about what North Korea understood by “denuclearization”. In addition, the US had not made any steps toward the promised end-of-war declaration to which Trump agreed during his summit with Kim. The ongoing presence of US military forces in South Korea also continued to be a serious issue for North Korea. In addition, there was the problem that South Korea had previously indicated that the North would take radical new stances to appease the US, except that Kim Jong-un never repeated any of them either in speech or in writing—it almost appeared as if these positions had been invented by the South. Nonetheless, the two Koreas petitioned the UN to accept the “Panmunjom Declaration on Peace, Prosperity and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula” as an official UN document. In addition the two countries established their first-ever liaison office to handle continuous communication between the two sides.
Frustrated that US efforts to starve North Korea into submission were dissipating, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, criticized Russia and China for alleged violations of the international sanctions against North Korea. China is the target of a US trade war, and the US recently increased already drastic sanctions against Russia—yet somehow the US continues to be perplexed that Russia and China would not serve as willing proxies of US foreign policy. According to US allegations: “From coal shipments to revived construction projects to planes ferrying Chinese tourists to Pyongyang, China has reopened the door to both legal and illegal trade with the North, throwing the North Korean government a vital lifeline while derailing U.S. diplomacy”. North Korea was also accused of smuggling refined petroleum products into the country, transferring coal at sea, and not halting work on its missile and nuclear programs. Haley called for an emergency Security Council meeting, but it seemed as if the tide was turning against the US and the action would result in nothing. Further damaging diplomatic efforts, the US charged an alleged North Korean hacker supposedly responsible for the 2014 attack on Sony (a Japanese corporation, for which Trump was apparently taking responsibility). North Korea not only called the allegations “preposterous falsehoods” and a “smear campaign,” but also that the named person did not exist. Nevertheless, the US and North Korea were reportedly planning for a second Kim-Trump summit.
North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Ri Yong-ho, gave a sharp speech at the UN on September 29 which clearly sounded as if North Korea was neither succumbing to US pressure nor was it being swayed by any of Trump’s self-proclaimed charm. In his speech, Yong-ho criticized the US for not doing enough to build trust with North Korea, and cited mistrust as the number one reason for the failure of past agreements. Yong-ho complained that in return for several trust-building measures carried out by North Korea, as reported in the US media and hailed by Trump, there was nonetheless little in the way of a corresponding response from the US. As he made clear:
“On the contrary, instead of addressing our concern for the absence of peace regime in the Korean peninsula, the U.S. insists on the ‘denuclearization-first’ and increases the level of pressure by sanctions to achieve their purpose in a coercive manner, and even objecting the ‘declaration of the end of war’. The perception that sanctions can bring us on our knees is a pipe-dream of the people who are ignorant about us. But the problem is that the continued sanctions are deepening our mistrust. The reason behind the recent deadlock is because the U.S. relies on coercive methods which are lethal to trust-building”.
While denouncing the US, the North Korean Foreign Minister praised South Korea and stated that if the party to the agreement had been South Korea and not the US, there would be no such deadlock. Yong-ho rejected the idea that North Korea would unilaterally disarm first, and reminded listeners that the North needed to have confidence in its national security. Yong-ho also slammed Donald Trump’s domestic opposition which, as he observed, was so driven to delegitimize anything done by Trump that it was insisting that unreasonable unilateral demands be imposed on North Korea, replacing trust-building with coercion, and threatening the realization of the joint agreement:
“Those in the political opposition in the U.S. make it their daily business to slander the DPRK claiming that we cannot be trusted with the sole purpose of attacking their political opponent and they are enforcing the administration to make unreasonable unilateral demand to our side thereby impeding the smooth progress of the dialogue and negotiations”.
Yong-ho also rightly condemned the UN Security Council, which was always quick to impose sanctions and pass resolutions over any “concerns” about North Korea’s defence measures, but had not said one word about either a whole year passing without any tests, nor was there any statement welcoming the DPRK–US summit in Singapore.
Trump Escalates US Aggression against Iran
In September Donald Trump sounded gleeful at the prospect of chairing a UN Security Council meeting on Iran, as he described it. The widely held view was that Trump would use the UNSC as a bully pulpit to sound off about Iran—except there was a problem with that assumption. If the meeting was about Iran, then Iran had the right to be at the same meeting and this opened the possibility of Iran’s president engaging in a direct verbal confrontation with Trump. In addition, the US was politically and diplomatically isolated on the UNSC: France, the UK, Russia, and China—the other permanent members—all vowed to uphold the Iran nuclear deal which the US violated. China and Russia, both being the targets of US tariffs and/or sanctions themselves, have invested further in Iran. Trump chairing the session, if about Iran, sounded like a recipe for a disastrous humiliation of the US, and US officials (late to sense this) began to back pedal: they now claimed the meeting would be about “non-proliferation issues” and a “broader” agenda. Yet it was after this promised broadening of the agenda, that Trump exclaimed he would be chairing a meeting on Iran, suggesting continued chaos, factionalism, and indecision in the White House. Iran’s Foreign Minister also denied any possibility of a meeting between the US and Iranian presidents at the UN, something which the US side had floated. The fact that what the US really aimed at was regime change in Iran, guaranteed that it would have few if any allies in its continued aggression against Iran. Even former US administration officials appeared to be working against Trump’s policy: a war of words erupted between Trump and former Secretary of State John Kerry over the latter’s repeated private meetings with Iranian officials after Trump took office.
Notions that Trump was actually working towards a new deal, a treaty, with Iran made no sense to independent and well-informed analysts:
“Even if the U.S. had not reneged on the nuclear deal and proven that it can’t be trusted to honor its commitments, it would be extremely unlikely that Iran would be open to making more concessions than it has already made on the nuclear issue. Once the U.S. reneged on the deal, that made it politically impossible for any Iranian leader to negotiate with Washington. Once the U.S. started reimposing sanctions without justification, it became clear that the administration’s real goal was not a ‘new deal’ but the destabilization and toppling of the regime”.
Iran faced increased US sanctions on November 4, designed to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero and to crush the Iranian economy, and thus inflict punishment on all Iranians. To achieve that aim, the US promised to apply sanctions to any foreign companies doing business with Iran—though this had little impact on Russia and China, others such as India felt menaced as Trump signed an executive order to enforce sanctions on entities violating the US’ Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Meanwhile the European Union set itself the task of creating a “special payments channel” to Iran to evade any impact of US restrictions. Turkey was emphatic about continuing to import oil from Iran, in spite of US sanctions (though there is some early evidence that US sanctions are working, in that China, India, and Japan have either reduced or ceased imports of Iranian oil). Belgium’s Prime Minster, Charles Michel, also condemned the US for presuming to tell companies of other countries that they cannot do business with Iran.
It is clear not just to independent analysts that regime change is the actual goal of US policy on Iran—this was confirmed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself. In response to a speech given in May by Pompeo, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards made threats that were outright gory. The official US hope that protests in Iran would achieve regime change from within, have repeatedly proven to be illusory. Both Iran and the US suffered some consequences of the US decision to renew its hostility toward Iran.
For the US, Syria is Terra Nullius
Early in September, the Trump administration threatened Syria not to engage in a military assault to retake territory from terrorists allied to Al Qaeda based in Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold and the final step to the termination of the war on Syria. The US also warned Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, not to participate in a military attack on Idlib, and a for a brief while it seemed like the US had created the opportunity for a direct confrontation between Russian and US forces. The US was quite explicit about asserting “US interests” in Syria, and of using Syria to “create quagmires” for the Russians and Iranians. Nikki Haley also seemed to be inventing a chemical weapons pretext for justifying further illegal US aggression against Syria. (As usual, Fox News which champions Nikki Haley and war-mongering, could not refrain from putting the appropriate propagandistic spin into articles it produced and which instructed readers on the correct way to think.)
Selectively outraged by civilian deaths, the US continued to play a part in the ongoing slaughter of civilians in Yemen by its partners, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
What seemed to eventually impede the combined Syrian-Russian-Iranian campaign in Idlib were disagreements between Turkey, Russia, and Iran on achieving a ceasefire and demilitarization of the zone. Pressure to avoid creating an outflow of refugees also seemed to be the main issue behind the scenes, as Turkey could not host any more and the refugees would likely stream north into Europe. US threats seemed to be of less importance, with analysts noting the US had few or no options for influencing events on the ground in Syria. By the middle of the month, instead of the promised assault on Idlib, the leaders of Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib. Though the momentary conclusion of the last-minute diplomacy seemed ambiguous (especially on the practicalities of demilitarization), the government of Syria welcomed the Idlib agreement.
At the end of the month, there was news of continued debate within the Trump administration about US plans for a prolonged “presence” in Syria, ranging from troops to some unspecified option not involving ground forces. The argument, as presented by John Bolton, was now that the US would have to stay until Iranian forces—present at the invitation of the Syrian government—were withdrawn. Trump had said that after ISIS was defeated (a mission that has largely been accomplished), US forces would be withdrawn from Syria. That goal now seemed to become a distant hope once more.
Donald Trump at the United Nations: Act II
In the final week of September, President Trump returned to the UN. Though not making as much of an impact as with his first appearance a year ago, this visit combined a number of the themes under review for this month: focusing in particular on Iran, Syria, and North Korea. At a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday, September 24, Trump announced that a second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was likely to come soon. The next day, on September 25, Trump made his second address to the UN General Assembly. Though language promising the total destruction of a member state was absent this time, the speech presented the usual grab-bag of contradictory and inconsistent elements. On the one hand, Trump spoke out against globalism, and for patriotism. He emphasized sovereignty, and the values and traditions that constitute every nation. Trump preached the values of patriotism as valid for all nations. He reiterated his pledge that the US would not interfere by telling other nations what model they should follow. On the other hand, he denounced nations that chose socialism, and specifically pledged to interfere in Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. The combination seemed like a recipe for imperial nationalism. The real departure was with the neoliberal alliance of the recent past: Trump condemned the International Criminal Court as lacking in legitimacy, authority, or the jurisdiction to prosecute, denouncing it as another body of unelected and unaccountable officials; he also condemned the UN Human Rights Council, and the “global compact on migration”. Contrary to the trend to resettle asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia in places as far away as Europe and North America, Trump emphasized that refugees should be temporarily settled in nations closest to their homes, to facilitate an easy and speedy return when conditions permitted. Critics noted that Trump failed to criticize Russia, yet he made time to blast Germany for its reliance on energy imports from Russia. (Trump would prefer Germany relied exclusively on the US—dependency is far from his genuine concern. The idea of Germany replacing cheap and easily accessible Russian gas, with costlier and more distant US sources, is a complete non-starter.) Trump also denounced OPEC and blamed it for the rise in oil prices (rather than his attempt to choke off Iran’s oil exports, US sanctions on Venezuela, and the aftermath of the US/NATO war on Libya), even as he boasted that the US was the number one energy supplier in the world, and would thus stand to benefit from increased oil prices. OPEC ignored Trump’s demands, and refused to raise oil production. Short on logic, and sometimes lacking credibility, this year Trump was apparently laughed at by some members of his international audience after boasting of his successes.
Trump’s anti-globalism brought out all the usual defence of a bankrupt and broken system, one that Trump helped prove was indeed breakable. Robert Kagan, apparently preaching to the choir of orthodox elites, thus bemoaned the fall of an international liberal rules-based-order (an unwieldy euphemism for US imperialism). A has-been who still calls herself “ambassador” in Twitter, Susan Rice thought she might please a few with an entirely forgettable critique of Trump’s speech, published in friendly territory. Whoever was laughing at Trump, they were now doing so from increasingly distant margins.
Whatever was noteworthy about Rice’s screed was the repetition of the Washington foreign policy divide: Democrats feel free to stoke a new Cold War with Russia (China’s close ally) while trying to please China, while Republicans switch the two countries around—a new Cold War with China (Russia’s close ally). If anything Trump’s position comes closer to making sense than Rice’s incoherent scramble: thinking of eventually improving relations with Russia in the increasingly vain hope that it can prevent the further formation of a Russia-China superpower bloc, with immense combined economic and military resources, and stretching across a vast part of the globe.
Also at the UN on September 26, in remarks to the press Trump claimed to be interested in “helping people” and “saving lives” in Venezuela. Trump added, “we’re going to fix Venezuela” and that “all options are on the table” including “strong options”. He told the journalists that they should understand what he means by “strong options”. Though inarticulate, it seemed as if Trump was rehashing the “responsibility to protect” idea or that of “humanitarian interventionism” to justify US intervention in Venezuela. This was a mere day after Trump touted sovereignty and not imposing American values on other nations. Trump appeared to be completely unaware of any contradiction.
Following completely in line with US foreign policy, US-owned “social media” continued their campaign of censorship against Venezuelan government accounts and those supporting the Venezuelan government. Twitter, without explanation, blocked the account of the Presidential Press of Venezuela.
Outside of the UN building in New York, US ambassador Nikki Haley chose to display her deliberate misunderstanding of the UN Charter, by openly advocating for the overthrow of a foreign government and hinting loudly that it would happen thanks to strong US intervention. On Thursday, September 27, Haley shouted into a megaphone in front of demonstrators: “We are going to fight for Venezuela and we are going to continue doing it until Maduro is gone!… We need your voices to be loud, and I will tell you, the US voice is going to be loud”.
September opened with a splash, that like previous episodes would soon fade away—this time it was the simultaneous release of a controversial new book by Bob Woodward, citing White House inside sources with the most pejorative opinions about Trump, and an op-ed in The New York Times that spoke of an internal cell in the Trump administration that set for itself the mission of undermining Trump, specifically the policies on which he campaigned and which voters supported. The events that followed suggested heightened paranoia within the administration, with dozens of officials coming forward and swearing they were not the author of the anonymous op-ed.
Rather than have an actual crime that merited a special investigation, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page confirmed that the FBI had no evidence whatsoever about any “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia—not that it would be a crime under the law—but nonetheless a special counsel was called. On this point, President Trump appeared to have been vindicated: the Mueller investigation should never have been started. As the lead attorney in the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, Page’s unearthed text messages showed an intent to do anything possible to harm Trump’s election chances.
In a long-overdue move, Trump decided to strike back against the Russiagate conspiracy theorists by ordering the declassification of “key documents related to the FBI investigation of Russian actions during the 2016 presidential election, including 21 pages of an application for a renewed surveillance warrant against former campaign aide Carter Page, and text messages from disgraced FBI figures Peter Strzok and Lisa Page”. Opposition politicians and journalists (a formalistic distinction can still be made between the two), were almost unanimous in protesting against government transparency—which rather looked like they had something to hide. On the other hand, true to form, Trump soon reversed himself: the documents would not be declassified after all.
In a bit of hypocrisy that conveniently escaped commentary from the US media, at the start of the month ex-president Obama engaged in defamatory speeches that alleged Trump had a soft spot for neo-Nazis. Obama exclaimed: “we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad”. Obama should have answered his own question, having backed actual neo-Nazis in Ukraine and refusing to support a UN declaration against the glorification of Nazis. Apparently, it’s very hard to say that Nazis are bad.
Top Articles for September
On Zero Anthropology this month:
- “Book Review: Afghanistan Post–2014—Misreading Afghanistan’s Crypto-coloniality,” M. Jamil Hanifi, September 27.
Top articles of the month:
- “Set Theory of the Left,” Haydar Khan, Counterpunch, September 14.
- “Donald Trump Versus the Foreign Policy Blob,” Josh Cohen, The National Interest, September 23.
- “Why Trump’s Tariffs Won’t Cost Consumers a Nickel,” Curtis Ellis, Real Clear Politics, September 25.
- “Here’s Why World Leaders Are Laughing at Trump,” Jarrett Blanc, Politico, September 25.
- “How an American Anthropologist Tied to US Regime-Change Proxies Became the MSM’s Man in Nicaragua,” Max Blumenthal, MintPress News, September 26.
- “Online smear campaign targets freelance reporter in Nicaragua,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 25.
- “Is Erik Prince Pointing the Way Out of Afghanistan?” James Durso, Real Clear Defense, September 28.
- “Why The Senate’s Ritual Defamation Of Brett Kavanaugh Threatens Every American,” Stella Morabito, The Federalist, September 28.
- “The Great Revolt: Understanding Real Trump Voters,” Carson Holloway, Public Discourse, September 30.
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