Weapons of Mass Destruction Redux

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

That’s what I’d say to the Western governments currently planning an invasion of Syria under the pretense that Bashar al-Assad is readying the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War.

The Telegraph reports:

NBC News quoted an unnamed US official as saying there was evidence that the bombs, loaded with the chemical weapon, could be dropped on the Syrian people from fighter planes once president Basah al-Assad gives the order.

If it proves to be true, the move would be a dramatic escalation in the conflict in Syria, which could lead to US involvement.

Earlier this week, US officials said the regime had begun mixing the chemicals to make the deadly sarin gas.

Sarin, used in two terrorist attacks in Japan in the 1990s, is a man-made nerve agent which can cause convulsions, respiratory failure and death.

The Syrian regime has never overtly admitted having chemical weapons, though it is believed by western analysts to have the biggest stocks in the Middle East. It has also denied it would ever use chemical weapons against its own people.

Western intelligence agencies never had to publicly display their evidence for the invasion or Iraq — their wrong claims that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction which could be deployed against Western countries at 45 minutes notice.

And now they expect us to take it at face value that they have evidence that Syria is ready to use chemical weapons? Talk about the boy that cried wolf.

Want to commit blood and treasure to fight another middle eastern war? (Even though the most recent interventions have all ended in Islamists and even groups affiliated with al-Qaeda coming to power)

To be taken seriously, Western intelligence agencies need to prove these claims with hard evidence open to public scrutiny. If the claims are based on second-hand reports, circumstantial evidence and bad guesswork (as was the case in Iraq) then Western taxpayers deserve to know the truth.

But they won’t. Governments are already massing armies to intervene. The politicians and bureaucrats making these decisions won’t have to pay for it. They will leave that up to taxpayers.

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Blowback Works Both Ways

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows how to inflame American and Israeli leaders.

He’s claimed 9/11 was an inside job:

Making reference to what he called the “mysterious September 11th incident” and the “slave masters and colonial powers” of the West, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad excoriated Western member nations in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York

Ahmadinejad said after the speech that as an engineer he’s sure the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York were not brought down by jetliners.

Ahmadinejad, in an interview with The Associated Press, says it would have been impossible for two jetliners to bring down the towers simply by hitting them. He says some kind of planned explosion must have taken place.

(Amusingly, this sparked al-Qaeda to supposedly put out a counter-statement defiantly claiming responsibility and condemning Ahmadinejad, although such disputes have not prevented America from claiming that Iran and al-Qaeda were jointly responsible for 9/11).

He’s claimed that the holocaust may have never happened:

During an interview with CNN, which aired Monday on “Piers Morgan Tonight,”the Iranian president said he will not judge Nazi Germany’s extermination of the Jews during World War II.

“Whatever event has taken place throughout history, or hasn’t taken place, I cannot judge that. Why should I judge that? I say researchers and scholars must be free to conduct research and analysis about any historical event,” Ahmadinejad said.

And today, he claimed that Israel was a “nuclear armed fake regime”, and that Israel will be eliminated:

 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be “eliminated,” ignoring a U.N. warning to avoid incendiary rhetoric ahead of the annual General Assembly session.

Ahmadinejad also said he did not take seriously the threat that Israel could launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, denied sending arms to Syria, and alluded to Iran’s threats to the life of British author Salman Rushdie.

Ahmadinejad claims that Israel and America are bluffing in their threats to attack Iran:

In a series of combative interviews in New York on the eve of the UN General Assembly, Iran’s political leader said Israel was making a lot of ‘noise’ and encouraging the West to prevent legitimate scientific progress in his country.

Reiterating that he was open to dialogue with the United States on the nuclear issue he also said he was prepared to defend Iran from any external threat.

“Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists,” he said. “We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end. While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously.”

He may be right on that count, because America can ill afford another costly invasion, and nothing less than a full invasion and regime change is likely to in the long run prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.Yet while I believe that an American or Israeli attack on Iran is an entirely foolish policy that will only serve to weaken America and Israel in the long run, it is foolish and dangerous for Ahmadinejad to needlessly enrage the ferocious neoconservative beast.

Ahmadinejad may well be playing the same long game as Osama bin Laden:

We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.

Osama bin Laden

And they may succeed (although those who believe that war is a stimulus that can end a depression will surely disagree — as Antal Fekete has noted, Western governments may look to a new hot war in the middle east as an opportunity to exit an economic depression that they cannot control).  But for Ahmadinejad and Iran, it may come at a huge, huge cost — a long painful invasion, ending in death in the street or on the gallows. Neoconservatism — and Obama and Romney are both to lesser and greater degrees neoconservatives — is a violent utopian ideology that seeks to force the entire world — by whatever means and at any cost — to conform to American foreign policy imperatives. As America should have learned a long time ago — and as Ahmadinejad may well soon learn — needlessly pissing off violent utopian ideologues creates blowback.

Should Obama and Congress Be Arrested Under the NDAA?

Should President Obama (alongside Lindsay Graham and John McCain) be wearing an orange jumpsuit?

Welcome to the beautiful and surreal reality of life under American corporatism, under a Congress that churns out thousands  and thousands of pages of (often contradictory) legislation a year.

If providing material assistance to al-Qaeda is illegal under the National Defence Authorization Act (2012), and Obama and Congress are sending $25 million of aid to al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian opposition, aren’t Congress and President Obama violating their own law? Should Obama (or at least the Justice Department) not be using “all necessary and appropriate force” including “the power to indefinitely detain” to prevent Obama and Congress from assisting al-Qaeda? Did anyone in Congress or the Obama administration even bother to read the law that they were signing? Do Federal laws no longer apply to lawmakers?

The only question left from this abrupt and absurd turnaround — from funding bin Laden’s mujahideen thirty years ago, to ten years ago declaring war on al-Qaeda, to today sending them material assistance — would appear to be whether or not Obama will pull a 1984 and claim that “we have always been at war with Eurasia“.

“Russia and China Will Pay a Price”

Hillary Clinton just made a very memorable statement.

I do not believe that Russia and China are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime.  The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price

So — exactly what price must Russia and China pay? Should the United States stop buying the debt they issue to support bloated welfare states and fiscal irresponsibility? Should the United States stop exporting consumer goods that fill their stores, and keep their people fat and happy? No — I do not think it is Russia and China who would “pay” in the case of increased mutual antagonism. I think the United States will pay the greater price.

In any case, Russia denies the premise of her argument.

From RT:

Russia rejects in the strongest possible terms allegations that it supports President Assad in the Syrian conflict. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Moscow and Beijing must ‘pay a price’ for backing Assad.

While I think Russia and China are the thing standing between Syria and another Iraq-style “democratisation”, I do not necessarily think Russia and China are doing the wrong thing. While the Assad regime is certainly inhumane and brutal, the rebels that Clinton seems so urgent to support seem little better — at least judging by their attempt to get British journalists killed in the name of propaganda, and their well-known affiliation with global jihadism.

As I noted back in February:

Can we honestly say that committing guns, blood and money to deposing Assad will guarantee peace and stability? Can we honestly say that the next regime might not be worse? I do not believe we can — especially considering that almost every nation involved in the “Arab Spring” has since elected Islamists to power.

Even with the support of the Arab league, is getting entangled into another messy and open-ended conflict in Russia and China’s backyard really a good idea?  Some voices in China are already rumbling that they would be willing to go to war to prevent an American takeover of Iran.

If avoiding nuclear proliferation is our goal, intervention is certainly a bad idea. Qaddafi’s deposition — in stark contrast to nuclear-armed North Korea — was a signpost to rogue regimes that the only way to ensure their survival is to pursue nuclear armaments.

The real question though, is what Hillary Clinton thinks she can achieve through throwing unveiled threats around and destabilising the fragile global system? Is she so fervently committed to expensive and bloody foreign interventionism that she is willing to risk creating a global diplomatic and political crisis in order to get what she wants? How far will she go to force the American agenda? Regional war? Global trade war? World war?

My guess is that her threats are completely hollow.

The Absurdity of NATO

The whole world knows the name Gavrilo Princip, and that of he man he assassinated, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Princip’s shot triggered the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia that set in motion the chain of events leading to the Great War of 1914.

After Serbia appealed to Russia for help, Russia began moving towards mobilization of its army, believing that Germany was using the crisis as an excuse to launch war in the Balkans. Upon hearing news of Russia’s general mobilization, Germany declared war on Russia. The German army then launched its attack on Russia’s ally, France, through Belgium, violating Belgian neutrality and bringing Great Britain into the war as well.

Is it possible that a similar chain of events may have already begun unfurling with the Syrian downing of a Turkish F-4 fighter jet? Turkey have already invoked a full meeting of NATO,  claimed that Syria have fired on a second Turkish plane, and vowed that Syria’s actions “won’t go unpunished”.

The vast and sprawling system of national alliances that existed prior to the events 1914 were considered by policy makers of the time to be a counterbalance against excessive tension and the threat of war. The great powers created alliances ostensibly for the purpose of deterring war. The dominant view was that the potential for dragging in allies reduced the chances of an attack. In reality, it just meant that one spark could set the entire world aflame.

This is functionally the same as the interconnecting mesh of derivatives and shadow intermediation that foreshadowed the crash of 2008. As financial parties sold each other more and more “hedges“, the consensus of the time was that this made the system safer, as it allowed risk to be dissipated around the system. The theory was — and there were plenty of inaccurate mathematical models to back this up — that spreading risk around the system made the financial system safer. As it turned out, it didn’t. In the wake of MF Global and the London Whale, we know that the financial system has not learned the lessons of 2008. But it seems even more absurd that the diplomatic system has not really learned the lessons of 1914. 

The NATO system — set up to oppose the Warsaw Pact system, which no longer exists — functions the same way — rather than dissipating risk, it allows for the magnification of international tensions into full-on regional and global wars. In the late 20th century the threat of nuclear war proved a highly-effective deterrent which limited the potential for all-out-war between the great powers, offsetting much of the risk of the hyper-fragile treaty system. Yet the potential for magnifying small regional problems into bigger wars will continue to exist for as long as NATO and similar organisations prevail.

We do not know exactly what arrangements Syria has with Russia and China — there is no formal defensive pact in place (although there is one between Syria and Iran) though it is fair to assume that Russia will be keen to maintain its Syrian naval assets, a view which is supported by the fact Russia heavily subsidises the Syrian military, and has blocked all the UN-led efforts toward intervention in Syria.

After the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was allowed to disintegrate. Until NATO is similarly allowed to disintegrate, the threat of magnification will remain large. Could a border skirmish between Syria and Turkey trigger a regional or even global war? Under the status quo, anything is possible.

Time to Get Out of the Middle East

It takes a lot of time and effort to try to understand American counter-terrorism policy today.

Personally, I think the status quo is like trying to treat a cocaine overdose with methamphetamine. It’s like trying to cure chlamydia by having sex with multiple random strangers in a park. It’s like trying to cure a broken nose by punching oneself in the face.

Or, as Glenn Greenwald puts it:

I absolutely believe that another 9/11 is possible. And the reason I believe it’s so possible is that people like Andrew Sullivan — and George Packer — have spent the last decade publicly cheering for American violence brought to the Muslim world, and they continue to do so (now more than ever under Obama). Far from believing that another 9/11 can’t happen, I’m amazed that it hasn’t already, and am quite confident that at some point it will. How could any rational person expect their government to spend a full decade (and counting) invading, droning, cluster-bombing, occupying, detaining without charges, and indiscriminately shooting huge numbers of innocent children, women and men in multiple countries and not have its victims and their compatriots be increasingly eager to return the violence?

Isn’t it painfully obvious? The interventionist policies — occupation, drone strikes, cluster-bombing, indefinitely detention, false vaccination programs and so forth — in the middle east advocated by both “liberal” and “conservative” hawks that are supposed to prevent terrorism are creating anger, creating enemies, and creating terrorists. I too am amazed another 9/11 hasn’t happened. I despise jihadism and Islamism. It is contrary to everything I stand for. That’s exactly why I oppose a foreign policy that serves as a hugely effective recruiting tool for the totalitarian jihadists. 

Yemeni lawyer Haykal Bafana explained the rationale last month:

Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

Or as convicted terrorist Faisal Shahzad put it:

Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people.  And, on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attack.  Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.

Or as former CIA counter-terrorism expert Michael Scheuer noted:

The idea that has been pushed by President Clinton and President Bush and Mr. Cheney and Barack Obama and Senator McCain, that America is being attacked [for its freedom] is a disservice to the population of the United States. This war is not against Americans because we’re Americans, it’s motivated by the activities of our government and its allies in the Muslim world.

So why do we keep doing this? Two reasons: hubris and greed.

First, the hubris. We know Ron Paul was booed in South Carolina for advocating that we should do to others as we would like done to us:

My point is if another country does to us what we do others, we’re not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in — in foreign policy. Don’t do to other nation what we don’t want to have them do to us.

But that’s just the propagandistic nature of being a superpower. Years of prosperity, military supremacy and pro-war propaganda have made it normal to believe strongly in the idea that America is intrinsically better, and wherever America goes America brings freedom, and anyone who doesn’t agree with that needs to be waterboarded until they do.

Yet however many times as the phrase “they hate us because we are free” is repeated, mantra-like by a Rick Santorum or a Newt Gingrich, it does not become truer. It is just an illusion, just a fantasy. While the jihadis were always anti-American, anti-democratic and anti-capitalistic, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Sayyid al-Qutb — the fathers and grandfathers of modern Wahhabism, jihadism and al-Qaeda — became anti-American militants because of America’s role in the middle east.

As bin Laden himself said:

Those who kill our women and innocent, we kill their women and innocent, until they refrain.

And even more clearly:

Free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. If so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike Sweden, for example.

Second, the greed. America is in the middle east because America likes cheap energy. That myth of America as liberators flourished first as a justification for America’s petrodollar foreign policy.

And people get rich from America being at war — so far in the region of $4 trillion has gone to fighting since 9/11. A lot of weapons contractors are happy with the status quo.

So the military-industrial complex — the lobbyists, the weapons makers, the media — may accept it if Obama kills 14 women and 21 children to get one suspected terrorist. More terrorism means more weapons spending. For the lucky few it’s a self-perpetuating stairway to riches. Yet for wider society it means spending time, money and effort on war, instead of on domestic prosperity. It means the constant threat of terrorism. And it means the loss of our liberty, as the security state adopts increasingly paranoid anti-terrorism measures.

We should do to others as we would have done to ourselves. That means — unless we are comfortable with the idea of ourselves living under military occupation and drone strikes — getting out of the middle east, and letting that region solve its own problems — forget another costly and destructive occupation in Syria. Slash the war and occupation spending, and redirect the money to making America independent of middle eastern energy and resources.

The Complex Syrian Situation

I have talked at length about the growing monetary, ideological and political schism developing between the Eurasian powers, and the Western ones.

I have talked at length about the growing Eurasian coalition of resistance against American interests, against American interventionism, against the dollar.

I have talked at length about that coalition’s fear of further American encroachment into Eurasia.

So I was especially prepared for further spats between the two coalitions during 2012, and especially over Iran and Syria.

But the nastiness and disdainfulness of today’s events surprised even me.

From the BBC:

An Arab and Western-backed resolution condemning the violent crackdown in Syria has been vetoed at the UN Security Council by Russia and China.

The two permanent council members rejected the draft resolution, which came hours after activists accused Syrian security forces of killing at least 55 people at Homs.

The US ambassador said the vetoes were “shameful”, Britain was “appalled”.

China and Russia defended their move, saying the draft was “unbalanced”.

Russia says the draft resolution had singled out the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and did not containing measures against armed opposition groups.

But proposed Russian amendments to the text were described as “unacceptable” by the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to have talks with Mr Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.

To be clear: this resolution was a step toward military intervention against Bashar al-Assad. I am extremely sceptical that this is a good idea. I believe that the best thing that the global community can do is facilitate dialogue between the government and the protestors, and work toward a peaceful compromise.

This is not because I believe al-Assad deserves to remain in power. He is certainly a tyrant and despot of the highest order. But can we honestly say that committing guns, blood and money to deposing him will guarantee peace and stability? Can we honestly say that the next regime might not be worse? I do not believe we can — especially considering that almost every nation involved in the “Arab Spring” has since elected Islamists to power.

Even with the support of the Arab league, is getting entangled into another messy and open-ended conflict in Russia and China’s backyard really a good idea?  Some voices in China are already rumbling that they would be willing to go to war to prevent an American takeover of Iran.

If avoiding nuclear proliferation is our goal, intervention is certainly a bad idea. Qaddafi’s deposition — in stark contrast to nuclear-armed North Korea — was a signpost to rogue regimes that the only way to ensure their survival is to pursue nuclear armaments.

So the biggest story here — and the real reason for the Sino-Russian veto — is the rumbling tension between the Western and Eurasian blocs.

It is a hornets’ nest the West should not stir. Instead, I believe, we should be more concerned about our own economies, particularly the factors of energy independence, resource independence and domestic manufacturing. For the Eurasian powers are not merely nations far across the world: they are our productive base, our resource base, our labour base. Without their support and co-operation the West’s physical economy will be severely damaged.

In insisting upon picking sides in the Syrian Civil War, we might well be shooting ourselves in the foot. Or the head.

China is Not Ready to Pull the Plug on America

A very interesting article on alt-market asks a question I have been contemplating these past few weeks. In my view, America’s economic health is totally dependent upon two things: the flow of dollars to the middle east in exchange for oil, and the flow of dollars to China for consumer goods. Any disruption to either or both of these flows would result in sustained and significant disruption to America’s economy. That’s why America — absent of any real plan to move its energy generation, and its supply chains back to America — spends so much money policing the world.

So, that brings us onto the question: What would happen if China liquidated its dollar and bond holdings and moved its wealth into harder assets? And is China on the verge of doing just that?

From alt-market:

There are two mainstream market assumptions that, in my mind, prevail over all others. The continuing function of the Dow, the sustained flow of capital into and out of the banking sector, and the full force spending of the federal government are ALL entirely dependent on the lifespan of these dual illusions; one, that the U.S. Dollar is a legitimate safe haven investment and will remain so indefinitely, and two, that China, like many other developing nations, will continue to prop up the strength of the dollar indefinitely because it is “in their best interest”. In the dimly lit bowels of Wall Street such ideas are so entrenched and pervasive, to question their validity is almost sacrilegious. Only after the recent S&P downgrade of America’s AAA credit rating did the impossible become thinkable to some MSM analysts, though a considerable portion of the day-trading herd continue to roll onward, while the time bomb strapped to the ass end of their financial house is ticking away.

The debate over the health and longevity of the dollar comes down to one very simple and undeniable root pillar of economics; supply and demand. The supply of dollars throughout the financial systems of numerous countries is undoubtedly overwhelming. In fact, the private Federal Reserve has been quite careful in maintaining a veil of secrecy over the full extent of dollar saturation in foreign markets in order to hide the sheer volume of greenback devaluation and inflation they have created. If for some reason the reserves of dollars held overseas by investors and creditors were to come flooding back into the U.S., we would see a hyperinflationary spiral more destructive than any in recorded history. As the supply of dollars around the globe increases exponentially, so too must foreign demand, otherwise, the debt machine short-circuits, and newly impoverished Americans will be using Ben Franklins for sod in their adobe huts. As I will show, demand for dollars is not increasing to match supply, but is indeed stalled, ready to crumble.

We know from insiders in the Chinese government that China are looking at “liquidating more of our holdings of Treasuries once the US Treasury market stabilizes”, and “buying stakes in Boeing, Intel, and Apple and these types of companies… in a proactive way”, and of course gold. But does that mean China will be liquidating as soon as possible? After all Bernanke won’t stop printing, the dollar won’t stop being devalued, and America won’t stop burning through its productive capital on military spending.

I don’t believe they will. Wen Jiabao’s subtle and supportive public remarks during Joe Biden’s recent visit suggests that China wants a controlled and managed transition away from the dollar as the global reserve currency. Withdrawing support for the dollar right now would send China’s remaining dollar pile crashing into the earth.

From the Council on Foreign Relations:

China has accumulated a massive stock of U.S. dollar reserves in recent years. Statements of concern from China regarding the risk that U.S. economic policy might undermine the future purchasing power of these assets has fuelled the market’s concern that China may shift away from dollar purchases. Yet in the 12 months ending in July 2009 China accumulated more dollar-denominated assets, mainly U.S. Treasuries, than foreign assets in total. Despite its rhetoric, China has thus far taken no actions to wean itself off of the dollar.

And as I have noted numerous times, China has no interest in upsetting the global balance — under the current circumstances it is very rapidly strengthening, whilst America falters. And why change something that is working for China?

So when will China pull the plug? There are a few relevant pictures to watch:

  1. China’s gold reserves: currently at 1,000 tonnes, these would have to go significantly higher.
  2. China’s acquisitions of American industry: this would signify Chinese dollar-outflows.
  3. China’s holdings of U.S. debt: if Bernanke keeps printing, these would have to remain stable, or more likely tip-toe lower.
  4. Flotation of the yuan: if China wishes to curb domestic inflationary pressures, they will float the yuan on global markets. A successful yuan flotation would cut the relative value of China’s dollar holdings, lessening the incentive to hang onto U.S.-denominated assets

I expect all of these developments to take place over years, not months. And, in my view, the greatest threat to the dollar’s status as global reserve currency is a global oil shock, triggered by a new middle eastern war, or some black swan. And it is an oil shock that is precisely the event that might force China to accelerate offloading its dollar hoard.