Tuesday, June 12, 2018

An Opening for Peace

By Reginald Johnson

    Prospects for peace on the war-torn Korean Peninsula got a big boost at the historic summit just concluded between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    In a head-to-head meeting in Singapore, the two leaders pledged to establish new US-North Korea relations for “peace and prosperity” and “the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
  In a joint statement the two leaders stated that “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
  While the details of what the US will promise in the way of security guarantees is not spelled out in writing,  Trump indicated in a press conference following the completion of the meeting that the US and South Korea would halt war games, or military training exercises, which have taken place frequently and have always created alarm for the North Koreans. Trump accurately described the war games as “provocative.”
  The US president also said in response to a reporter’s question that there could be a pullback of US troops in South Korea, depending on how well the negotiations for denuclearization are proceeding. The US has some 35,000 troops in South Korea and a large number of military bases.

President Trump meets Kim Jong Un of North Korea at summit in Singapore (Time)

   Trump and Kim seemed to get along and the atmosphere at the summit by all appearances was positive.
  With a smiling Kim Jong Un sitting next to him, Trump said, “We are very proud of what took place today. I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a much different situation than it has been in the past.”
  What a change this all represents from where the United States and North Korea were just eight months ago when Kim was firing off nuclear test missiles and Trump was warning him to stop and belittling Kim as “Little Rocket Man.”
   The new atmosphere is also an improvement over the period of icy relations between the two countries during the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
  Of course, as many critics have already pointed out, there is no certainty that this summit will really lead to anything, since North Korea has pledged in the past to scale back their nuclear program, and then reneged on it. It will obviously take a long time -- many months and possibly years -- before a solid agreement will be worked out, outlining both a verifiable program of denuclearization by North Korea and the guarantees the US will provide to ensure North Korea's security.  But Trump indicated that negotiations on details of a full agreement are set to begin very soon.
     Trump --- with a big assist from South Korean President Moon Jae --- deserves credit for making this summit happen and moving US-North Korea relations onto a positive track. There is ample reason to criticize Trump as a president for his handling of numerous issues, particularly on the domestic side, but he’s done a good thing at this summit and taken a big step towards dealing with one of America’s most intractable problems in foreign affairs.
  Let’s hope the summit fulfills its promise and finally brings peace and more prosperous times to the people of both North and South Korea. Time will tell.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Greenwich Rally against War and Income Inequality

By Reginald Johnson

      One of the wealthiest communities in the United States will be the scene this weekend of a rally against income inequality and America’s ongoing wars.
    The “Rally and Teach-in for Peace and Economic Justice” will take place Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm on the Greenwich Common, 290 Greenwich Avenue in the heart of downtown Greenwich.
   According to Nick Mottern, one of the organizers for the event, speakers at the rally will address the destructive consequences of the wide and rapidly expanding gap between rich and poor.
   “We will emphasize what Martin Luther King labeled the 'Triplets of Evil: Racism, Extreme Materialism and Militarism' and the takeover of our democracy by an increasingly insular plutocracy,” said Mottern.
   Representatives of social justice and antiwar organizations will discuss strategies on how to stop US wars, police oppression and how to create income equality, including a call for divestment from the military-industrial complex.
   Mottern said that Greenwich was selected for the protest since a number of its residents have extraordinary economic and political power and as such have the ability to make a difference as to how national resources are spent, whether for war or for peaceful reasons.
   “Greenwich is not only one of the wealthiest communities in the United States but the world.  I’ve read press reports that show there are at least 10 multi-billionaires in Greenwich and their total worth combined is about $35 billion, and six of those people control investment companies that have under their management about $500 billion,” said Mottern, an activist with the peace organization in Westchester County called WESPAC.
   Investment firms and banks have holdings in publicly-funded weapons manufacturers and large health companies which benefit from massive military spending and US involvement in wars.
   Mottern said “we would want these people (leaders of the investment firms) to take leadership in selling stock they own in companies that are making weapons.”
   Mottern drew the connection between stopping wars and economic justice. He said the US wars overseas are "essentially colonial" wars where this country makes sure that foreign lands are open for corporate exploitation. "Economically, these wars, by repressing people overseas and grabbing their resources at cheap prices keep their economy struggling, keep wages low and thereby maintain low wage zones that undercut US workers," Mottern said.  "In addition, dollar for dollar more jobs are created by taxpayer spending on education health and green energy then on military industry."
   Out of the rally and teach-in, Mottern added, “it is hoped that people will go out and form local peace and economic justice groups that will carry forward with the purpose of using economic power to stop war and achieve some kind of economic justice.”
   Speakers at the rally will include some nationally known figures, including Medea Benjamin, of the antiwar organization Code Pink/Divest from the War Machine.  There will also be representatives from Veterans For Peace, Black Lives Matter and the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC).
  The event was organized by Mottern and others in WESPAC and by Orange County Peace and Justice.
  It has been endorsed by a number of groups including Code Pink, Friends of the Congo, the Greater New Haven Peace Council, Knowdrones.com, WESPAC and the Hudson Valley Green party.
    Another theme that will be emphasized at the event is to urge people to put pressure on their members of Congress to curb US involvement in wars.
   Hanging over the event is the announcement by the Trump administration that the United States will likely attack Syria due to charges that the Syrian military recently dropped chemical bombs on a town near Damascus where the government has been fighting Islamic militants. The alleged attack, not yet substantiated, killed dozens of civilians. A number of members of Congress have already expressed support for a retaliatory strike.
   The US has 2000 troops and military personnel in Syria in violation of international law, since the UN never authorized US intervention in that country and Syria had never attacked the United States.
  The American military has been fighting to dismantle the ISIS terrorist group while at the same time covertly aiding rebel groups trying to oust the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
   Mottern said people coming to the rally should bring folding chairs.
  (For more information call Taylor Rae Bundy at 929-305-2351 or Nick Mottern at 914-806-6179)



Monday, April 9, 2018

Rush to Judgment in Syria

 By Reginald Johnson

  Once again there are claims that the Syrian government launched an attack against its own people, using chemical weapons.
  And once again the United States is threatening to punish Syria, even though there has been no independent verification proving that an attack took place and identifying who was responsible.
  Aid workers and opposition leaders charged on Saturday that Syrian aircraft dropped barrel bombs over the town of Douma, near Damascus, releasing a chemical gas which left people suffocating and eventually dying. Press reports indicated that dozens of people may have died.
  Media outlets such as the New York Times and CNN said there had been no outside confirmation that the attack took place and that the Syrian military was responsible.
  Officials of both the government of Syria and Russia, which is helping Syrian forces in their battle against opposition groups during a seven-year civil war, have denied responsibility for the bombing.
  Despite the lack of firm evidence as to who was culpable, President Donald Trump and members of Congress wasted no time in naming Syria, Russia and Iran as the guilty parties.
 Trump, who only last week said that the United States was interested in withdrawing its forces from Syria, put out a Tweet on Sunday morning, labeling Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as an “animal” and blaming  “Putin’s Russia” and Iran, for supporting him. Trump said that there would be a “big price to pay” because of the incident.
   Trump did not spell out what kind of retaliation the U.S. was thinking about.  But the White House’s Homeland Security advisor Thomas P. Bossert said on ABC’s “This Week” program that a military strike was possible.  “Nothing should be taken off the table,” he said.
  U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, one of the most hawkish members of Congress, said Trump must act to punish Syria. Graham told the “This Week” show on ABC that this was a “defining moment”  for Trump’s presidency. “Assad is at it again,” he said.
  So-called moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, also chimed in, telling a reporter that some kind of “targeted attack” against Syria was needed right now.
  Just a year ago, Trump ordered the U.S. military to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syrian targets in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack carried out by the government in which 100 people reportedly died. Trump's action at that time won bipartisan praise.
   Just as there was little questioning about the veracity of the reports about the chemical attack one year ago, there’s also little skepticism being voiced now about the validity of the claims by anti-government militants and so-called aid workers about barrel bombs being dropped on the population in Douma.
   It seems odd that the Syrian military would want to carry out a chemical attack at this time. The government has been winning the civil war against various insurgent groups, including some that are affiliated with Al-qaeda. Syrian forces had encircled the city of Douma and it was really just a matter of time before the Syrian army would take control of the city.
  What would be gained by Syria carrying out this terrible attack? The government would be risking world condemnation as well as the possibility that the Trump administration would change its mind and decide not to begin the withdrawal of some 2000 American military personnel.
   The question of cui bono, or who benefits? has to be asked in assessing the claims about a chemical attack. Clearly opposition forces will stand to benefit if this attack is linked to the Syrian government and the Americans decide to not only launch a punishing military strike to hurt Assad, but also to reconsider the idea of leaving Syria.
   The possibility that this attack was staged by opposition groups or by some intelligence forces from different countries who are aiding them, cannot be ruled out.
   The United States, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been aiding the forces who are trying to topple the Assad government. The U.S. has had military personnel in Syria for several years now in violation of international law, since America was not attacked by Syria and the U.S. had no UN authorization to introduce forces into that country. The Trump administration has maintained that the primary purpose of American forces in Syria has been to dismantle the ISIS terrorist group. However, it has been clear for years that the U.S. has been aiding opposition forces in order get rid of the pro-Russia and pro-Iranian Assad government.  
    We don’t really know at this time who may have carried out the chemical attack, if indeed there was a bombing. The Russians and the Syrians are actually maintaining that the incident may have been fabricated.
   What is needed here is an international investigation overseen by the United Nations to determine the exact nature of this attack and who in fact carried it out. It is wrong for both the Trump administration, members of Congress, and the press to automatically assume that the Syrian government, the Russians or the Iranians were somehow responsible for this attack, simply based on the claims of very self-interested people in the opposition groups or from the “White Helmet” aid group, whose authenticity has been questioned. At this point we do not have firm evidence to lay the blame on the Syrian government and their allies.
   It would be completely irresponsible for the Trump administration to launch another missile strike against Syria, simply based on the limited information that is now available.
   However, given the power of the pro-war, neocon bloc in Washington, symbolized by people like Sen. Graham, combined with Trump’s shaky political situation due to the Russia-gate investigation, and the fact that Trump won praise from both sides of the aisle after his attack on Syria last year,  it is likely that Trump will decide to launch another military strike against Syria.
   Another factor in the situation is what impact super hawk John Bolton, the extremist former UN ambassador, will have on Trump’s thinking. Bolton was recently appointed as Trump’s national security advisor and his work begins Monday.
 As with the recent claims made by the UK about an alleged poisoning attack by Russia against a former British spy in England, it is critical for the media to challenge government claims. The media cannot just roll over and accept sweeping accusations about the possession of, or use of, chemical weapons by other countries without asking tough questions.  That’s because these claims ---- sometimes erroneous --- are often used as a predicate for military action. Military action means loss of life and sometimes that loss of life can be huge, as we have seen in the Iraq War.
  So the press has a crucial job in challenging government officials. Lives are at stake and ultimately the peace of the world is at stake.


Monday, April 2, 2018

The UK Poisoning Case: Truth or Fiction?

     By Reginald Johnson


      Do I hear an echo?
      The administration of President Donald Trump announced that it would be expelling 60 Russian diplomats from the United States due to the charges made by its long-time ally the United Kingdom that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of a former Russian spy turned British double agent and his daughter, in Salisbury, England recently.
   “It looks like” Russia was behind the poisoning, Trump told reporters.  The alleged attack, Trump said, “is something that should never, ever happen.”
  Britain and countries in the European Union, Canada and Ukraine also expelled dozens more  Russian diplomats based on the charge of Russian complicity in the incident, in which a nerve agent was allegedly used to contaminate Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
  Russia has now retaliated by expelling 60 American diplomats and closing the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.
  The diplomatic expulsions have worsened relations between the United States  and Russia, relations which were already strained due to sanctions previously slapped on Russia in connection with Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and so-called wrongdoing by Russia in Ukraine.
    But there’s a big problem with the poisoning story:  there is no solid proof that the Russian government was actually behind the chemical attack.  There is only a claim by UK government officials that the Russians were behind the crime, simply because,  in their words,  the chemical agent found in the victims  “was of a type developed by Russia.”  That’s it. There’s been no further details or supporting evidence given.
  The British “analysis” was done by officials at Porton Down, the biochemical warfare facility dedicated to developing weapons of mass destruction, which is located only 10 miles from  Salisbury.
   The Russian government has vigorously denied the UK claims.  The Russians repeatedly requested that samples of the nerve agent be given to them so they could examine the substance and respond to the charges.  But the samples have not been provided.

A scene from Moscow, Russia. The West is blaming the Russian government for poisoning a former Russian spy turned British agent in Salisbury, England.
    In refusing to provide the material to the Russians, the UK government of Prime Minister Theresa May is violating the terms of the Chemical Weapons Treaty. It is also denying due process to Russia. It is standard legal practice in the United States the UK and other Western countries, not to mention most countries around the world, that if some person, some institution or some country is accused of committing a crime,  they or their counsel have a right to examine the evidence that forms the basis of the charges that have been leveled against them.  They can then raise questions if necessary, and contest the charges.
  But this right has not been given to Russia.  Apparently,  the principles of due process and presumption of innocence mean nothing when it comes to charges against Russia.
   Any accusation, any wild accusation, suddenly becomes verified fact if Russia is the named culprit. If there’s some vague link that Russia is behind a terrible event, forget about a careful gathering of evidence, just assume Russia did it.
   This is a mockery of justice.
 And it also recalls a time not too long ago ------ to be exact, just over 15 years ago ---- when the United States and the UK were claiming repeatedly that Saddam Hussein, the leader of a Iraq, had weapons of mass destruction in his arsenal and therefore represented a grave threat to the rest of the world.  Officials of the administration of the President George W. Bush, led by the CIA,  insisted that they knew for sure that Hussein had stockpiles of chemical weapons and possibly nuclear weapons, and that he was hiding them. They refused to provide the evidence of this charge but said in effect ‘Trust us, he’s got them.’
    CIA director George Tenet said famously at the time, that it was a  “slam dunk” certainty that Hussein had the weapons.
    International weapons inspectors were not so sure and said they had found no evidence of WMD in Iraq.
    But Bush and his administration stuck to their position that Iraq was a major threat. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said it was important to move quickly against Saddam because he had terrible weapons of war that could threaten this country.
    Bush said at one point “we can’t wait for final proof --- the smoking gun --- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
   So on March 19, 2003, American forces launched an invasion of Iraq, an attack which was not authorized by the UN and was illegal under international law.  American forces quickly overran the country, killed Saddam and set up a new government.
   But just a few months later, the whole case made by the Bush administration for making war in Iraq fell apart. An American team sent in to find WMD ---- after months of searching --- came up empty. There were no  weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
   By that point, thousands of Iraqis had already been killed, many Americans had been killed and there was massive damage to the infrastructure of Iraq, which up to that point had been one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East.
    The war did not stop there. The U.S. military and its allies had to spend the next eight years fighting in Iraq, maintaining large troop contingents in an effort to stabilize the country and suppress rebellions against the U.S. imposed government.
    By the time President Barack Obama decided to pull the bulk of U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011,  the U.S. had lost some 4500 soldiers and military personnel and more than 30,000 were wounded.  The Iraqi death toll was estimated at close to 1 million.
  Now, according to researchers Nicolas J.S. Davies and Medea Benjamin, a study of mortality figures in Iraq show that the Iraqi death toll for the past 15 years is likely to be an incredible 2.4 million.
  If that figure is correct, a case could be made that the U.S., Britain and allied forces committed genocide in Iraq.
   The financial cost to the United States already for waging war in Iraq has been a staggering  $1.7 trillion. Estimates are that future costs stemming from the war will be trillions more, once the cost of ongoing veterans care is factored in.
   By any rational standards, the Iraq war has been a total disaster for the United States, and catastrophic for Iraq and its people.
   Did the U.S. really wage war on Iraq because of the possible presence of weapons of mass destruction? No. There was no imminent threat posed by Iraq and U.S. and British officials knew it, despite their public statements.
  The real reason for the invasion was that the United States wanted to lay claim to Iraq’s considerable oil reserves and make them available to Western companies. U.S. policymakers also wanted to remove Saddam,  because he was a sometimes independent actor in the Middle East who was seen as an impediment for the U.S. maintaining total control over the region.
   The Iraq experience shows that people both in the United States the UK as well as other Western countries always have to be skeptical about statements made by their leaders when they blame other countries for committing crimes or invoke the supposed danger those countries pose. There is often a hidden agenda behind accusations of wrongdoing made against different countries whether it’s Russia, Iraq, Syria or Iran.
   Just as there was an agenda behind the propaganda about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, so too there’s an agenda today behind the statements and charges being made about Russia. The agenda with Russia is the same as it was with Iraq: the U.S. wants to get rid of the existing government and replace it with a leadership that is more obedient to the United States.
    For a number of years now,  U.S. leaders have been blaming Vladimir Putin and Russia for acting inappropriately, they say, in a number of arenas, whether it’s the war in Syria, relations with Iran or in Ukraine. The Russians have also been blamed --- and with some degree of merit, for interfering in the 2016 US election ---- although it is rarely noted that Americans did the exactly same thing to Russia in 1996 in order to help Boris Yeltsin retain power and also aided in the 2014 coup in Ukraine which unseated a democratically-elected government.
   Now comes the poisoning incident in Britain allegedly carried out by Russia and ordered by Vladimir Putin.
   Prof. James Petras, writing recently in Global Research, said the  “UK poison plot was concocted to heighten economic tensions and prepare the Western public for heightened military confrontations” with Russia.
   “The Western regimes recognize that Russia is a threat to their global dominance…. They believe they can topple Russia via economic warfare including sanctions,” said Petras, who has written widely on foreign-policy issues.
   The U.S. and its NATO allies in recent years have also been stepping up their military activities in Eastern Europe which has alarmed Russian leaders.
 The increased NATO activity, together with the drumbeat of criticism directed at Russia, all serve to undermine any chance for a new detente between the U.S., its allies and Russia.
Commenting on the UK poisoning incident, veteran journalist John Pilger said  “….this is so dangerous, with Russia being effectively pushed into a corner with these accusations, it’s part of a propaganda campaign. I can tell you that, I’m a journalist who has spent almost all my career working in the mainstream (media) in Britain.”
 “This is a propaganda campaign promoted specifically in the media and in the government,” Pilger said in an interview with RT, which was reprinted in the UK’s Press-Gazette.
    It is crucial that the media and the public in the United States and in Western countries show skepticism about claims being made by their governments particularly with respect to foreign policy and the actions of other countries. Frequently leaders lie and make up facts,  covering up the truth so they can justify  some plan like an intervention or a war, which will be costly in lives and treasure.
   There were lies told in the lead-up to the war with Iraq and the result was disastrous. The media failed to ask the tough questions. Reporters too easily accepted the government narrative.
  The media today and people in general have to demand that the British and U.S governments provide more information about just how the UK poisoning incident took place. Government leaders cannot be allowed to just keep spinning a storyline  without providing real facts, and in the process worsen relations with a nuclear-armed country and heighten the chance for a catastrophic war.