“A Certain Hope Died:” How the White nationalist Republican Party used up Colin Powell, then Spit Hi



Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Colin Powell died on Monday, not long after his rival inside the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld. Both of them tore down the post-World War II order that the framers of the United Nations had erected (among them, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower), which aimed at criminalizing aggressive warfare. Despite his many achievements, Powell will go down in history as a warmonger who betrayed his own “ Powell Doctrine” of limited military objectives to become part of an aggressive war of choice against Iraq, ruining the lives of millions of Iraqis and Americans and making the world back into the dangerous jungle it had been in the 1930s.

The difference between Rumsfeld and Powell was that Rumsfeld was not made the point man for the lies that the Bush administration told about Iraq’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction.” On February 5, 2003, Powell was sent by Bush and his Neocons to present the case for war to the United Nations. His litany of untruths and fantasies provoked, according to an eyewitness to whom I spoke shortly thereafter, laughter in the room. Laughter. This UN official told me he thought that the push for war must be over after that humiliation. I told him he did not know the Bushies, who were completely shameless.

Among the assertions Powell made that provoked such mirth was, “One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.”

Biological weapons labs require a clean room that interfaces with the outside world, where microbes are killed so that they don’t escape. You can’t put a biological weapons lab on a winnebago and drive around Iraq’s pot-holed streets, throwing the viruses and bacteria up onto the hazmat suits of the scientists who, without a clean room, would track them out into the world.

Powell also accused the secular, socialist one-party Baath state of Iraq, a notorious crusher of Muslim fundamentalist movements, of “harboring” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom he incorrectly called “al-Qaeda.” In fact, Saddam’s secret police had been instructed to track down and neutralize al-Zarqawi, whom they characterized as an associate of the “Saudi terrorist” Usama Bin Laden, of both of whom Saddam was afraid.

Such tissues of lies and transparent falsehoods were woven throughout the speech that the Neoconservatives in the Bush administration ordered Powell to read out to the world, provoking the laughter and humiliation. Ironically, it was precisely because Iraqis were not white that they could so easily be railroaded by Bush and the Neoconservatives. Britain could never have plausibly been set up that way. Powell should have resigned at that point, but did not.

This shitty task given to Powell, who was of Jamaican-American heritage, by his white colleagues recalls what James Baldwin wrote about African-American soldiers in World War II:

    “The treatment accorded the Negro during the Second World War marks, for me, a turning point in the Negro’s relation to America. To put it briefly, and somewhat too simply, a certain hope died, a certain respect for white Americans faded. One began to pity them, or to hate them. You must put yourself in the skin of a man who is wearing the uniform of his country, is a candidate for death in its defense, and who is called a “nigger” by his comrades-in-arms and his officers; who is almost always given the hardest, ugliest, most menial work to do; who knows that the white G.I. has informed the Europeans that he is subhuman (so much for the American male’s sexual security); who does not dance at the U.S.O. the night white soldiers dance there, and does not drink in the same bars white soldiers drink in; and who watches German prisoners of war being treated by Americans with more human dignity than he has ever received at their hands. And who, at the same time, as a human being, is far freer in a strange land than he has ever been at home.”

In the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, educated African-Americans had sometimes gravitated to the Republican Party, associating it with Lincoln and emancipation. That was back before the 1970s “Nixon strategy” of inducting into it the racist whites of the Deep South, who were bruised and sore at the federal legislation in the mid-1960s that ended their Jim Crow Apartheid. Of course, there was a lot of racism in the party (and in its Democratic rival) before the 1970s, too, but at that time it was spread around more rather than being concentrated in the GOP.

But the administration in which Powell served as secretary of state was already deeply entangled in systemic white supremacy. George W. Bush had won the South Carolina primaries when one of his PACs arranged for robocalls asking people if they would vote for Bush’s rival, John McCain, if they knew he had fathered an out-of-wedlock African-American child. The McCains had adopted a daughter from Bangladesh who appeared in family portraits and the racist PAC played on those images.

Bush cynically used Powell and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, for the purposes of tokenism. I remember seeing Bush challenged by a journalist on the lack of diversity in the GOP. Have you ever watched one of their national conventions? You need sunglasses for the glare. Bush replied that when he looked around the table at cabinet meetings he saw Powell and Rice.

Rumsfeld denied that there was a guerrilla war brewing in Iraq in 2003, comparing the situation there to race protests in Benton Harbor, Michigan. In other words, Iraqis were Black and like all Blacks, he implied, were given to a little mayhem, but it was nothing to worry about; their cities burned sometimes, but the white people would be all right.

Bush’s vice president Dick Cheney sold a house back in the 1960s with a covenant attached that it could not in turn be sold to an African-American. Cheney, when he was in Congress, had voted against Martin Luther King Day.

Having used up Powell and spit him out, the Republican party for the rest of his life lurched further and further to the right, meeting up with the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan in the end under Trump. Powell began abandoning the party in 2008, when he voted for Barack Obama because he did not feel that McCain was full-throated enough in combating the racist stereotyping of his rival, as a Muslim and as a radical. That McCain brought on Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who routinely sent out dog whistles to the “patriots” (i.e. white nationalists), must also have hurt.

And then the Republican Party swooned over Donald Trump, perhaps the most virulently racist president since Andrew Jackson, and that is saying something, since Andrew Johnson came after Jackson.

After the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, Powell called for Trump to resign “like Nixon.” A couple of weeks later, as he fought the blood cancer that would kill him by leaving him unable to fight COVID even with a vaccination, Powell announced that he had left the Republican Party.

What he had not realized as a young man was that the party had left him long ago, as soon as Tricky Dick Nixon plotted to induct the white nationalists into the party, which they then gradually took over.


Bonus Video:

CNN: “Colin Powell: Trump Should ‘Just Do What Nixon Did And Step Down’ | TODAY”

Trivializing the Holocaust: Georgia GOP Senatorial Wannabe Herschel Walker Fumbles Backwards, Coache



Oakland, CA. (Special to Informed Comment) – Maybe Republicans don’t know the historical significance of the swastika. Many don’t know the history of WWII. Thanks to former football great and Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, the Republican Party’s open embrace of Fascism just got more visible and messier. Walker is running against Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, with Donald Trump’s support. He’s the frontrunner for the Republican primary on the strength of collecting $3.7M from all 50 states over five weeks. Walker recently cancelled a fundraiser scheduled at the home of an avowed Nazi sympathizer. Now he’s in full “backspin” mode. That’s what happens when the “spin machine” of PR wonks tries to spin something backwards. Republicans have most things backwards.

Walker was a Heisman Trophy winner at Georgia and NFL great. But he’s always been a political and social puzzlement. When he talked in college about wanting to become an FBI agent, that was a little weird; but no weirder than Elvis, who also had an infatuation with law enforcement. But Elvis never spoke at a rally for Richard Nixon. Walker WAS a featured speaker last month at Trump’s “Save America” rally in Perry, Georgia.

Walker is running on the strength of his . . . football career, as did former Auburn Coach, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). Walker had been scheduled to hold a fundraiser at the Texas home of filmmaker Bettina Sofia Viviano-Langlais until a Texas-sized dust storm rose up over her Twitter profile picture. It inconveniently featured a set of syringes arranged to form a swastika. There they go again trivializing the Holocaust. Viviano-Langlais is known for producing truly awful films: Mystery Science Theatre 3000, please come back; great material awaits.

Walker’s campaign said, “Despite the fact that the apparent intent behind the graphic was to condemn government vaccine mandates, the symbol used is very offensive and does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign.” Wait, hasn’t the swastika always been a symbol of Jew-hating, Black-hating, gay-hating, book-burning madness since about 1933? Whereas this anti-vax brand of Fascism is a fairly new thing. Just one more thing they have backwards.

Can we agree that most Republicans are opposed to any and all public health safeguards, because Trump said so? And that opposing vaccine mandates is a high value for them. And that use of Nazi symbolism is acceptable to make a point about that, without acknowledging the historical offensiveness of that symbol? NO! They can’t have it all 3 ways.

Walker’s campaign issued a statement claiming great affection for Jews and Israel; “The previously scheduled event has been called off. Herschel is a strong friend of Israel and the Jewish community and opposes hatred and bigotry of all forms. Even though the apparent intent behind the graphic was to condemn government vaccine mandates, the symbol used is very offensive and does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign,” There they go again, getting it all backwards. They desperately want to present a mythical smokescreen that Viviano-Langlais innocently used the swastika, not knowing what it really stood for. Oh Herschel, how do you insult the public intelligence, let me count the ways:

1.) Using your popularity from football as a front for the biggest ego-crap of your life. Who is your role-model now, former Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville? Sen. Tuberville is so stupid that his campaign made him unavailable to the media, KNOWING that many in Alabama would gladly vote for a former ball coach for anything, as long as he wasn’t a known moron, or caught in bed with a live underage girl or a dead boy? Herschel is a Black Jo-ja Bulldog, who wants to go to Washington, and be coached by an Auburn coach on how to vote . . . and Trump.

2.) Your campaign lamely INSISTED that the use of the swastika was, “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic,” and nothing more.

3.) You claim affection for Israel and the Jewish community, with the same sense of dissonance expressed by most Evangelical Christians: “Let’s support the Jewish state, so we can round them all up and get on with the Apocalypse. That will solve the ‘Jewish problem’.”

4.) Your Texas connection said she removed the symbol “because of the left’s need to silence free speech.” And oh BTW, she didn’t intend it to be anti-Semitic. There they go again, trying to coopt and misapply the Free Speech Movement to promote their own dystopian, draconian agenda.

But Atlanta has some really smart Jewish “crackers.” Dan Gottlieb of the Democratic Party of Georgia said, “Herschel Walker defended a swastika, and canceling a fundraiser does not change the fact that he failed to condemn a hateful, anti-Semitic symbol.”

My kitty-cat curiosity (ok, morbid) led me to Viviano-Langlais’ twitter account, which has been scrubbed. Before the content was removed she said, “I am the poster and because of the Left’s need to silence free speech I took it down. It’s insane to think that pic was Anti-Semetic (sic). Desperate actually. It was a pic showing what happens when fascists demand people insert foreign material into their body they don’t want…” Maybe both Walker should hire Rudi Giuliani to manage his campaign, and Viviano-Langlais should hire Rudy to get her Twitter account reinstated. Maybe Walker should just shut up and apologize thusly: 1.) I’m sorry I did it; 2.) I recognize how deeply hurtful this was, 3.) I won’t do it again, 4.) What can I do to make it right? THOSE are the components of a valid apology; “I’m sorry for any ways I may have hurt you,” doesn’t cut it even on the Jewish High Holy Days.

The central issue is the growing Republican compulsion to trivialize the Holocaust. A parallel disturbance is the recent Texas school district order that teachers “must present both sides of the Holocaust!” Both sides? My personal experience studying Israeli-Palestinian issues comes to mind. I’ve been told, “If you say something bad about Israel, you have to say something bad about the Palestinians or its not balanced journalism.” NO, it doesn’t work that way; then have to say, “Both sides in the animal cruelty debate have valid points.”

Walker’s campaign did not try to argue that the swastika had thousands of years of history before it was adopted by the Nazis Republicans are not even mindful of WWII, much less the origins of the swastika in Hindu culture and Islamic art, long before the Nazi’s took ownership.. It was also used by Greeks, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons. It appeared in Greek art as early as 700 BCE, and was originally used as a sign of good fortune or well-being by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains in India. In the early 20th Century, the swastika evolved into a common symbol of good luck. During the 19th and early 20th Centuries, it was common in architecture. It was also used in American military in WWI, and by the British RAF as late as 1939.

German scholars adopted it upon reading old Sanskrit texts, and found linguistic similarities between German and Sanskrit. This led to an assumption of common linguistic and cultural origins, and nationalistic Germans adopted it to promote the myth of superior White Aryan warriors. Under German Nazis, it became a symbol of oppression, hate, terror and depraved cruelty. All that made the prior history of the swastika irrelevant. It is embossed into the conscience of the world as a permanent symbol of depravity, oppression and core evil. Since WWII, the swastika has been used as a symbol of intimidation and terror, similar to a burning cross in the South . . . and now the MAGA hat. So while the swastika has a rich multi-cultural history, its use by Nazis erased all that, never to be reclaimed or rehabilitated. Any efforts to do so are incendiary provocations.

The recent campaign by Trump supporters to compare vaccine mandates to the Holocaust is the most profane insult to the Jewish people since then. Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene’s (R-GA) arguing that mask mandates to protect American public health, are reminiscent of the oppression and horrors of the Holocaust is not only misapplied, but a deliberate provocation against Jewish, Black and gay people. It represents a horrifying embrace of those same Nazi values. In this context, creating a swastika out of syringes may be clever “art pun” to the American far-far right. To the rest of the country and the world, it is a profane acceptance of Nazi values, and a criminal attempt to revive an evil ideology that was almost extinguished . . . until Donald Trump. He has called on his supporters to revive the Lost Causes of 19th and 20th Century oppressors, and fold them all into his own. Walker’s failure to forcefully and publicly dissociate from Viviano-Langlais illustrates his gross ignorance of history and unfitness for office.

Upon entering the Buchenwald Camp, Liberator-General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Take a picture of every goddamn thing you see, because some day some bastard will try to argue that none of this happened.” Ike’s comments have never been more prescient and relevant, thanks to the twisted direction the Republican Party has taken under Trump.

To some, there is a beautiful irony in seeing a Southern state represented in the Senate by a Black man (Warnock) and a Jewish man (Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-GA). Now comes Herschel Walker wanting to turn all that upside down, with his goal to represent Georgia represent as a Black man, complicit in overturning and un-doing all the progress of the 20th Century.

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBS 46 Atlanta: “Herschel Walker cancels fundraiser because of profile photo resembling swastika”

Top Trump Fundraiser Boasted of Raising $3 Million to Support Jan. 6 “Save America” Rally



By Joaquin Sapien and Joshua Kaplan | –

The Insurrection
The Effort to Overturn the Election

( ProPublica) – As much as $3 million may have been raised to support the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., that preceded the attack on the Capitol, according to interviews and documents reviewed by ProPublica, with some money flowing to Republican dark-money groups that helped bring crowds to the event.

Caroline Wren, a former top fundraiser for the Trump campaign, managed distribution of some of the money raised to support the rally. She told one associate that she sent funds to a number of political organizations backing the event.

Dustin Stockton, a Republican operative who helped organize the rally, told ProPublica he met with Wren at the Willard Hotel in Washington on the evening of Jan. 5.

At that meeting, Stockton said, Wren boasted of having raised $3 million to support the rally. She also described how she had “parked” unspecified amounts of money for Jan. 6 at an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, at the Tea Party Express and at Turning Point, a collection of affiliated nonprofits that serve young Republicans.

Routing funds to multiple groups “added a layer of confidentiality for the donor and offered institutional support for the 6th,” Stockton said.

A Wren associate told another rally organizer that $3 million had been raised to support the rally on Jan. 6. The organizer, who did not want to be named because of the ongoing House investigation into Jan. 6, did not provide further details.

ProPublica could not independently confirm exactly how much was raised or ultimately spent on preparations for the rally because the organizations that allegedly received funds are “dark money” groups, meaning they are not legally required to publicly disclose their donors or the details of their expenditures. However, the two accounts suggest the events of Jan. 6 may have been significantly better funded than previously known.

Earlier news reports estimated that staging the rally cost only about half a million dollars, primarily funded by a roughly $300,000 donation Wren facilitated from the Publix supermarket heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli.

Wren provided a statement from her lawyer last week that did not address the Jan. 5 meeting, how much money was raised for the rally or how it was spent.

“Ms. Wren, in her role as an event planner, assisted many others in producing and arranging for a professionally produced and completely peaceful event at the White House Ellipse,” the statement said, adding that Wren was not present at the Capitol that day.

Ahead of the Jan. 6 rally, Wren directed roughly $150,000 from Fancelli to the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the dark-money arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA, according to a person familiar with the transaction. The Rule of Law Defense Fund then paid for a robocall inviting people to the Capitol in order to satisfy the conditions of the donation Wren brought in, the source said.

“At 1:00 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” the robocall said. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections.” Wren’s role in arranging the robocall was first reported Saturday by the Washington Post.

Rally planning documents obtained by ProPublica also show that Wren listed RAGA as the payer for five hotel rooms in Washington the week of Jan. 6, including a $1,029-a-night suite for Fancelli. The documents suggest Wren expected the group to pay for several other attendees’ hotel rooms, including those of Trump campaign surrogate Gina Loudon and Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox.

RAGA officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story. Loudon, Cox and Fancelli did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Wren did not respond to questions about her work with RAGA.

Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, told ProPublica that his group received donations to support the events of Jan. 6 but that he did not know who the money came from or how exactly it was spent.

Tea Party Express began as a national bus tour in the early days of the Tea Party movement. Though it once wielded formidable influence in GOP circles, it now employs just a handful of people and has remained largely on the sidelines in recent election cycles. A since-deleted Tea Party Express website promoting the Jan. 6 rally said the site was paid for by an affiliated dark-money organization called State Tea Party Express.

Russo said he believed that Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud were a conspiracy theory. “I heard there were a bunch of donors who wanted Trump to have a good send-off so he would calm down,” he said, explaining his decision to participate.

ProPublica has not independently confirmed that any money went to Turning Point for the purposes of the Jan. 6 rally, and Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for the organization, declined to respond to questions about Wren.

On Jan. 4, Turning Point president Charlie Kirk announced on Twitter that his group would be sending at least 80 “buses full of patriots” to Washington for the rally. In a statement, Kolvet told ProPublica that the group ended up sending only six buses. “The organization condemns political violence of any kind,” he said.

A House of Representatives select committee is investigating the assault on the Capitol. Last month, it issued subpoenas to Wren and several other Trump allies, including former chief of staff Mark Meadows, citing previous ProPublica reporting. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has so far refused to comply with a subpoena. The committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to recommend that the Justice Department pursue criminal contempt charges against him.

In June, ProPublica reported that Wren pushed relentlessly for far-right provocateurs Alex Jones and Ali Alexander to appear on stage with the president, a proposal that was met with resistance from some Trump aides. The tension escalated until the morning of Jan. 6, when a senior White House official suggested rally organizers call the U.S. Park Police on Wren and have her escorted off the Ellipse. Officers arrived but took no action.

The robocall facilitated by Wren led to turmoil at RAGA, a 22-year-old group traditionally dedicated to helping conservatives win state attorney general races. Four days after the existence of the call was revealed by the watchdog website Documented, the attorneys general group’s then-executive director, Adam Piper, resigned. In the months to come, much of the organization’s senior staff followed suit, as did Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who was the organization’s chairman on Jan. 6.

Piper did not respond to questions from ProPublica. A spokesperson for Carr declined to answer specific questions for this story and referred us to a previous statement from Carr explaining his decision to resign.

“When we discovered that the executive director of RAGA had used the organization’s funds for an unauthorized robocall urging attendance at the Jan. 6 rally, I accepted his resignation, ordered an audit and investigation, imposed new internal controls, and began a search for a new executive director,” said Carr in his April statement. “Based on what I know, I had no other choice but to step down as chairman and as a member of the executive committee.”

Carr would not answer ProPublica’s questions about the result of the investigation he ordered.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

How US-Soviet Cold War Competition led to Fall of the Afghan Left and Collapse of the Country into F



By Luis Edel Abreu Veranes | –

From the turbulent 1970s

( Middle East Monitor) – With its geographic centrality on the Asian continent, Afghanistan has historically become a corridor and civilisational interstice between Persian and Hindustani empires and peoples flowing in from the north. Some were Turkic-speaking, who marked and shaped the ethnic synthesis that today makes up this heterogeneous Central Asian country. Afghanistan, now with a population of more than 30 million, is a multi-ethnic conglomerate whose predominant group is the Pashtuns, followed by the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. There are also minority ethnic groups such as the Baloch, Turkomans, Nuristani, Brahui and others. They hold less demographic weight and are scattered throughout the country, characterised by a topographical diversity of the terrain that has also permeated the identity of these peoples.

Linguistically, Pashto and Dari are the predominant and official languages of the nation, spoken by the majority ethnic groups. Pashto is an ancient Iranian language written in modified Arabic characters. It is spoken by the people of the same name in Afghanistan and the groups that share this ethnic identity on the Pakistan side of the border. Meanwhile, Dari is an Afghan variant of Persian, also known as Farsi, and is the language of several of the country’s ethnic groups, such as the Tajiks, Hazaras and other minor groups who have Dari as their mother tongue. There are minority languages such as Hazaragi and Uzbek, and others of lesser weight, spoken among the Afghan population.

In order to make a direct connection with the Taliban phenomenon in Afghanistan’s contemporary history, one must understand the shocking processes of history during the last decades in Afghanistan, mainly from the 1970s onwards. In the seventh decade of the twentieth century, Afghanistan faced the dilemma of modernisation in the context of the monarchical power of former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, and some political forces were the repositories of these modernising factions. One of the figures who represented the interest in capitalist modernisation of the country was former president of Afghanistan, Mohammed Daoud Khan, who was related to the monarchy and had held high public office during the monarchy’s rule. His alliance with sectors of the army and other political forces of different ideological persuasions won him the support to stage the coup d’état in 1973.

READ: After killing Muslim women, the international community cannot teach us how to treat them

Progressive forces, such as the People’s Democratic Party founded in 1965 by Nur Muhammad Taraki, initially supported Daoud’s coup, whose modernising projection contrasted with the political forces of the old regime. At the beginning of his rule, Daoud’s discourse was permeated by ideas related to “Afghan socialism” or “national socialism” that reflected the global impact of such a system on some progressive social sectors in Afghanistan. While in power, this regime experienced a bogging down course related to the moderate projection of some of its allies and the complex ethnoreligious landscape in the Central Asian country. Along the way, it moved towards an increasingly conservative outcome that abandoned this initial phraseology, and some of the more progressive measures were abandoned, left on the back burner, or not implemented in the right way. For its part, the Marxist-oriented People’s Democratic Party had become deeply rooted in certain sectors of the army because of its humble origins, because some had studied in the Soviet Union, or because of the party’s own work in this sector. What was certain, was that by 1978, Daoud’s administration was moving towards a repressive policy that triggered the April Revolution, a movement that led the communists to seize power through a coup d’état against Daoud’s government.

Applying socialism on Afghan soil, and taking progressive measures such as land reform, meant not only confronting the large feudal landowner, as might be thought from a traditional conception of Marxism. There were many small tribal interests and traditions in Afghanistan that could interpret any transformation promoted by the central power as an intrusion, even if they were socially progressive measures. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that the Marxist-oriented party that took power in the Central Asian nation was an organisation divided into factions from its very inception. However, these divisions had largely been bridged with the maturation of events that led to the revolution of April 1978. This coincided with the month of Saur in 1357, according to the Islamic calendar, when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan came to power.

Thereafter, the Revolutionary Council met and elected Taraki as head of state and Babrak Karmal as vice-president, the two main leaders of the two main factions within the People’s Democratic Party – the Khalq (people) led by Taraki and the Parcham (flag) led by Karmal. With this triumph, intra-party dissent was rekindled, and Hafizullah Amin, the government’s foreign minister who had had a key role in the April triumph, played a fundamental role. But with the People’s Democratic Party in power, Amin began to occupy key sectors of the Afghan state, while at the same time engaging in a centrifugal exercise within the organisation that would deepen the fracture between the two factions mentioned above. Amin began to exalt Taraki’s personality, while at the same time marginalising Karmal and the Parcham members. The result of all this was the creation of a support base of his own that gradually isolated Taraki, while transformations in Afghan society remained pending. At the end of 1978, the “Afghan-Soviet Friendship Treaty” was signed. This materialised the continuity of a principle of Russian policy regarding the security of its borders that had been expressed since Tsarist Russia, however, at that time, with a more aggressive projection of colonialism. Whereas, after the October Revolution, it was expressed through friendly treaties. This agreement made explicit the need to take all necessary measures to preserve the territorial integrity of the two nations. However, the profound process of deviations within the ruling party and towards Afghan society had already begun. This accelerated the growth of opposition, including the expulsion of members of the Parcham bloc, accused of counter-revolution by Amin and his allies, who had the government’s security apparatus in their hands.

READ: A Turkish Policy Shift towards the Taliban?

When Taraki was alerted to the problems by other states and tried to rectify them, he was assassinated by Amin’s supporters once the Parcham trend was isolated. Simultaneously, a repressive process towards the Afghan people was put in place, undermining the credibility of the People’s Democratic Party government, which had become totally disoriented from its original principles, transforming the revolution into chaos. Amin’s government fell into crisis in the last months of 1979, and in December, there was an uprising led by disgruntled and marginalised sectors of the ruling party itself. This was led by Karmal, who seized power on 27 December and, a day later, decided to ask the Soviet Union for support on the basis of the friendly treaty signed a year earlier. This is the origin of Soviet intervention, which was not only military, but also economic. However, in the military field, it was aimed at containing the advance of the anti-systemic opposition that began to strengthen from Pakistan with the support of the West, turning Afghanistan into a major Cold War scenario. To better understand the opposition phenomenon, it is necessary to consider the regional context of the Middle East, which is linked to the global Cold War scenario. Nearby, Iran’s Islamic Revolution had triumphed, toppling the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Afghanistan at the time of Soviet intervention

During the 1970s, Islamist factions that saw political Islam as a goal to be pursued had re-emerged with renewed strength at the regional level. This came when secular nationalism had declined, especially following the death of Egypt’s former president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the region’s foremost nationalist leader. Secularism gave way to Islamist factions, and the most concrete reflection of this was the triumph of an Islamic Revolution in Iran. In Afghanistan, with a government sustained by Soviet support and intervention, the opposition reinforced its Islamic character. The increase and strengthening of the Islamist parties’ confessional bases had the close collaboration of the US, Saudi Arabia and also Pakistan, which, from its side of the border, sustained on its terrain a point of relaunching the Islamic jihadist insurgency towards Afghanistan. This was mainly from the Peshawar area, where a large community of Afghan refugees were raised. At the same time, there was a pole of attraction for international jihadism – not only Afghan. This was accompanied by a concept of Holy War which, on this occasion, was ideologically marked by the Cold War and anti-Sovietism in the face of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) ‘s intervention.

The anti-Soviet Islamist insurgency known as the Mujahideen movement comprised a cluster of Islamic organisations, such as those led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani. They had different backgrounds but shared the Islamic and insurgent character with which they imbued their organisations. Others also nurtured this spirit and practice of confrontation against the communist enemy from the training received by the students of Islam in the madrassas of Peshawar. This included military preparation in training camps to confront the enemy occupying Afghan territory – a scenario inspired by the fundamentalist Islamic training received by these students. Their interpretation of Sharia was projected as the model to be followed by Muslims wanting to revive Islam in its original character, paired with a strong Salafist influence of Wahhabi inspiration, in terms of the interpretation of all human and social phenomena. Peshawar was a region with a large population of Pashtuns, the predominant ethnic group in Afghanistan, so this worldview was heavily permeated by Pashtunwali, the tribal code of this ethnic group. In the military field, they developed an irregular war in the form of guerrilla warfare. Their advances and retreats were often determined by the greater or lesser presence of the Soviet Army that supported the Afghan forces in the different regions.

The Soviet-backed Afghanistan that Karmal presided over between 1979 and 1986 tried to create a balance of power that would integrate other political forces typical of the traditional Afghan world. It also aimed to incorporate ethnic minorities into the government and other institutional tools intended to strengthen the popular base of the government. However, the increase in military devices occupied the greatest energies of Karmal’s government because of the border issue and the Islamic opposition resistance.

In the second half of the 1980s, global changes took place that again led to a change in the Afghan context as Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, leading to a new strategy towards Afghanistan aimed at the withdrawal of Soviet troops. This situation was mainly faced by the government of former Afghan president, Mohammad Najibullah, the former head of Karmal’s secret police, who headed the Afghan government during the period of socialist collapse between 1986 and 1992. Najibullah attempted to sustain his rule with a set of transformations that set a democratic, multi-party course, the drafting of a new constitution and other measures that did not stand up to the fragility of a state at war, sustained by foreign intervention. The Soviet Union took the lead in negotiations for an exit from the Afghan scenario. In 1988, international negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan took place in April in Geneva, with the support of the USSR and the US. This diplomatic exercise was the direct prelude to the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, a decade after their entry into Afghan territory.

How did the Taliban emerge?

Following Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan remained at war. The country had not been pacified, and the conflict continued to develop internally, including the incursion from Pakistan. During the years of the collapse of the USSR, logistical and arms support for Najibullah’s government continued until 1991, and the West continued to supply resources to the Mujahideen opposition, albeit to a lesser extent. The final collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991 occurred at the same time as the prelude to the fall of the Afghan government. Firstly, the insurgent commanders in Afghanistan had not agreed to negotiate with the government. Secondly, by the time 1992 came, Najibullah’s government was already a caricature, with some of its senior members in the state, police and army having joined various insurgent factions. From this point on, the fragility of alliances between the various insurgent factions, parties, guerrillas and tribes was reflected as never before. Several coalitions jostled for control of Kabul, while in the country’s interior, the so-called warlords reproduced a centrifugal process aimed at obtaining greater levels of autonomy from the central power.

Taliban forces in Afghanistan on 6 September 2021 [Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency]

” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/www.middleeastmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/20210906_2_49919534_68533430.jpg?fit=393%2C333&quality=85&strip=all&zoom=1&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/www.middleeastmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/20210906_2_49919534_68533430.jpg?fit=933%2C790&quality=85&strip=all&zoom=1&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/www.middleeastmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/20210906_2_49919534_68533430.jpg?resize=933.5%2C790&quality=85&strip=all&zoom=1&ssl=1″ alt=”Taliban forces in Afghanistan on 6 September 2021 [Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency]” data-recalc-dims=”1″ data-lazy-loaded=”1″ >

Taliban forces in Afghanistan on 6 September 2021 [Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency]

Between March and April 1992, the Najibullah government finally collapsed and the various contending factions vying for control of Kabul entered the scene. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, with his Uzbek militia, allied with other generals and joined forces with General Ahmad Shah Massoud, who commanded a military force composed mostly of Tajiks. On the other hand, some members of Najibullah’s government joined other insurgent factions, such as the one led by partisan leader Hekmatyar. Another contending faction was a coalition of Islamic parties that formed a Jihad Council led by Professor Mojadidi, which Hekmatyar did not join. The latter group allied with Massoud and his generals and triumphantly entered Kabul at the end of April 1992. They appointed an interim government headed by Rabbani, also a Tajik, in contrast with the traditional predominance in power of the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. In this spiral of lightning alliances and very fragile consensuses, Kabul became a nest of confrontation between the Mujahideen. Meanwhile, inside the country, chaos was wreaked by local commanders and commanders with tribal and regional roots. The violence in Afghanistan had a dual dimension: the struggle for central power in Kabul by the Mujahideen and their allies, and in turn, the war inside the country for control of regional and local powers, often tribal or ethnically conditioned.

READ: Taliban vehicle hit in bomb attack in provincial capital

The era of Mujahideen “rule” immediately preceded the creation of the Taliban phenomenon, which emerged within the context of political and ethno-tribal violence in Afghanistan between 1992 and 1994. The Mujahideen failed to mature a central government in Kabul with the capacity to govern and control the country. All this consumed the nation in civil confrontations that wore down any chance of a Mujahideen government. They became demoralised in the violent course of events that seemed to have no end in sight. In pre-Taliban Afghanistan, the country was on the brink of the abyss and disintegration. The Rabbani government had only been able to gain control of Kabul and its environs, as well as a corridor to the northeast of the country. A group of provinces in the western region was controlled by Ismail Khan, operating from Herat. At the same time, the Pashtun region bordering Pakistan was under collegial rule by a council of Mujahideen, with its centre of power radiating from Jalalabad. Another small region was controlled by Hekmatyar to the south and east of Kabul. In turn, we find the Uzbek lord Dostum in the north controlling six provinces, who had dissociated himself from the Rabbani and Massoud government and made a new alliance – this time with Hekmatyar. In the centre of the country, Bamiyan was controlled by the Hazaras, while the south and Kandahar were in the hands of a collection of politically unimportant warlords who indulged in looting and mayhem.

Out of all this violence, the Taliban emerged in 1994 in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, led by Mullah Mohamed Omar. He brought together the efforts of former students of the Peshawar madrassas and former Mujahideen. Dissatisfied with the chaotic situation that had prevented them from continuing their studies, they created this new organisation baptised with the name linking them to their status as Islamic students, whose knowledge was imparted by a mullah. The Taliban began to confront the excesses of the warlords in Kandahar and soon became an operational force capable of getting the population out of great trouble in different local disputes. It is said that Mullah Omar did not demand any economic remuneration from the people saved, only that they support him in the objective of establishing true Islam, free from the deviations of the warlords and the Mujahideen.

Between 1994 and 1996, the Taliban gradually triumphed in the interior of the country until they reached the capital, a process that was not without setbacks and risks in their confrontation with their main rivals, mainly those in the northern region. Gradually, with the support of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban occupied the major cities in the country’s interior, such as Kandahar, Herat and Jalalabad. However, their initial success was not due to foreign support, but rather a consequence of the Taliban’s initial advance, controlling strategic smuggling routes between Kandahar and Pakistan. The Taliban created a single system of tolls, unifying the previous fiscal jigsaw puzzle that damaged the smuggling mafias between the two countries. Thousands of young men, many of them students in Pakistani madrassas, joined the new organisation, which by the end of 1994 numbered more than 10,000 Taliban. The Taliban rigorously enforced Sharia law, disarmed the population and reopened the country to smuggling. The years 1995 and 1996 were the years of the Taliban’s journey to Kabul. They consolidated their victories in most of the Central Asian nation and were much more eventful campaigns than those they had initially waged against the small southern chiefs, occupying these territories relatively easily. In the north were the big warlords, and in the capital, the hostile Rabbani and Massoud government faced different actors such as the coalition led by Hekmatyar. The Taliban had to wage tough campaigns to occupy key urban sectors such as Herat and the capital, Kabul. In September 1995, the ancient city of Herat fell to the Taliban, a victory that opened the door to the Taliban’s control of the west of the country. From then on, the Taliban felt they were in a better position to attack Kabul, although they had to retreat on several occasions against Massoud’s forces, who had been very effective in containing the Hazaras, Hekmatyar’s troops and the Taliban themselves.

Internationally, regional powers such as Iran, Russia and India looked favourably upon the Kabul regime of Rabbani and Massoud, fearful of Taliban radicalism. Iran was concerned about the country’s Shia population, while Russia focused on securing its borders with the Central Asian republics and India because of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. Among the international alliances, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were the most committed to the Pashtun and fundamentalist cause and showed the most effective results. In this case, the Taliban were crowned with a success to which these two nations also contributed logistical support and infrastructure. By 1996, two major opposing forces seemed to be clearly visible, that of the Rabbani government with its Defence Chief Massoud, who had been active in diplomatic efforts to bring together different warlords and all possible anti-Taliban sectors, and on the other hand, had succeeded in repelling the Taliban’s entry into Kabul. In parallel, there was the fledgling fundamentalist organisation with Saudi and Pakistani support that was advancing and dominating several regions of the country at the same time, and was at the gates of the capital by the summer of 1996. Towards the end of August and the beginning of September 1996, the Taliban took the eastern city of Jalalabad, which allowed them to dominate the entire eastern region and open a corridor from there to Kabul. By the end of September, the Taliban finally succeeded in breaking through the defences of Massoud and his troops, who eventually retreated and left the capital. Meanwhile, the Taliban savagely hanged former president, Najibullah, who had been in power until 1992. The act was widely condemned by the international community.

Taliban in power!

Between 1996 and 2001, Afghanistan witnessed Taliban rule. Harsh campaigns were waged in the direction of the north of the country where the anti-Taliban resistance around the deposed Rabbani and Massoud government and their allied generals, the Northern Alliance, later renamed the United Front, were based. The north was of economic importance to the country because of its mining industries and agricultural resources, so the Taliban were not going to give up the region easily, despite international warnings. In this sense, the longed-for peace that had motivated the creation of the Taliban at its genesis was to be shattered throughout his rule.

Some northern regions also fell to the Taliban due to the treachery of the generals of Uzbek lord Dostum, who eventually fled the country in the face of the exotic Taliban-Uzbek alliance against Dostum in 1997. Dostum would later return and denounce the ethnic killings carried out by treacherous General Malik against the Taliban in the northern provinces controlled by the insubordinate Uzbek senior officer. The United Front inflicted major military defeats on the Taliban in the northern region, and Kabul itself, during 1997. Rabbani and Massoud’s resistance was supported by Iran, Russia and the Central Asian republics, but their main vulnerability lay in the ethno-tribal divisions between Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. The civil strife between the Taliban and the resistance in the north often took on a very acrimonious and ethnically-cleansing character between the Pashtun Taliban and the other ethno-tribal groups. It was sometimes ethno-confessional when it involved the Hazaras, the country’s Shia minority, who were also the target of Taliban encirclement and repression. This was a war that not only took on this focus of anti-Taliban resistance, but was atomised within itself along local and tribal lines – a civil war on two levels or two different dimensions.

The deployment of inter-ethnic and Taliban killings towards the other sectors of the resistance and the encirclement of the Hazara region, the Hazarajat, were denounced and rejected by the United Nations (UN). This created a very delicate situation for agencies playing a humanitarian role in the Hindu Kush between 1997 and 1998. The humanitarian problem became even more critical for women who could not receive medical care due to the strict application of Sharia law by the Taliban. In the face of the Taliban’s refusal of restraint, there was a stampede of humanitarian organisations in the summer of 1998. This included UN agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP), which then created a more chronic situation of shortages of basic commodities such as water and food. In August 1998, the Taliban again launched a campaign in the north, which led to the defeat of Dostum, the capture of his headquarters in Shibarghan and his second departure, this time to Uzbekistan and then Turkey. The Taliban’s military campaigns and victories in non-Pashtun lands were usually accompanied by indiscriminate killings. Ethnic violence was a constant feature of the Afghan scene, regardless of the government in power.

Osama Bin Laden’s transnational terrorism had taken Afghanistan as its headquarters. In 1998, two major attacks were carried out on US embassies in Africa – Kenya and Tanzania – resulting in hundreds of deaths. The Saudi terrorist had been part of this pole of attraction for international jihadism in the days of the Soviet-Afghan opposition from Pakistan, but in his case, he had drifted towards international terrorist practices with a profoundly anti-Western content promoted by his organisation Al-Qaeda. The Taliban were the continued target of Western and US denunciations in particular, not only for the acts committed by their government on the Afghan scene, but also for their protection of Bin Laden. The northern power carried out direct attacks on alleged Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

The Taliban government’s rampages from 1996 to 2001 included the destruction of part of Afghanistan’s universal cultural heritage, such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, which had stood for some 1,500 years of Afghan history in territory inhabited by the Hazaras. The encirclement of the region strained diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Iran over the former’s support for the Taliban against the Hazaras, the main Shia population of the Central Asian country. By the end of the 1990s, the only major visible opposition leader was Massoud, after the Uzbek takeover of the region and the offensive against the Hazaras, with the only real possibility of resistance and progress against the Taliban, amid international pressure from the UN and the US. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the US had largely succeeded in identifying its new enemy. The year 2001 was saturated with events that contributed to the US government’s post-9/11 war policy. From the logic of the White House, the Taliban government’s position was heading towards a dead end of any reconciliation with the Western world. The humanitarian situation was becoming increasingly acute. The attack on international organisations and the extreme application of Sharia law seemed to pit two fundamentalist worldviews against one another. However, the results of the climatic, humanitarian, economic and political catastrophes ravaging the Central Asian country had the Afghan population as their main victim, and international sanctions led to a quagmire in relation to structural poverty, deepened by the chaos of decades of conflict and the fragmentation of the country.

US intervention: An epilogue to twenty years of war

After 9/11, the US immediately set its sights on the transnational terrorist network, Al-Qaeda, led by Bin Laden, which had taken over Afghanistan from the Taliban, who had created an Emirate in the nation under the rule of Mullah Mohammed Omar. The aspiration to destroy Al-Qaeda, combined with geopolitical ambitions in a strategic area, was marked by the presence of countries with a degree of ascendancy in the international arena. This did not always cohabit with US interests, which were placed on the immediate agenda of the White House. This situation led to the US’ adventure in Afghanistan in 2001, which, in turn, took place in the context of the global hegemony that the US still enjoyed after the collapse of socialism, thus beginning the War on Terror.

Beyond the initial US intervention, the mission underwent a kind of war mimicry with the passage of time. This aimed to achieve a transfer of the intervening functions to the Afghan armed forces themselves trained by the occupier, passing through an intermediate transition of Security Council or North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) domination over the destiny of the war. However, the White House played a decisive role in every sense. As events unfolded, the application and preservation of this tool were little helped by the development of an insurgency fuelled by the draining of the Afghan government’s own army forces. On more than a few occasions, they became embroiled in corruption scandals and other processes that increased the discredit of a power sustained by an occupying force. The Afghan Air Force was one of the main variables in the construction of the US scheme for the “Afghanisation” of US intervention. If we look at the very midpoint of the war in Afghanistan, we find, in 2011, more than forty countries were part of the NATO coalition in the Central Asian nation. As the human and material destruction resulting from the war intensified, the US government found itself increasingly in a very delicate position. This became the subject of debate during the various administrations regarding a possible withdrawal, especially since the administration of Barack Obama, and was experienced more visibly on the ground since 2014. However, this transfer of power to the Afghan government supported by the intervenor showed large cracks in recent years, when a considerable percentage of Afghanistan’s territory was already under the control of, or in dispute with, the Taliban, reflecting the failure of the US strategy.

The war deepened all the structural and social rifts in the country. The US was forced to spend billions on reconstruction as a result of the material devastation and increased violence, civilian casualties as a result of attacks and other social and economic phenomena, such as the increase in poppy cultivation and drug production in the country. With the arrival of US President Joe Biden to power, the commitment to the definitive withdrawal of US troops was reaffirmed, a process that turned into a flashy stampede in the summer of 2021, which some analysts have described as a resurgence of the Vietnam Syndrome. The abandonment of modern weaponry by the outgoing troops contributed to the consolidation of the Taliban’s advance, a process that had been underway since the country was under US occupation. The international community is now advocating a moderation of the new Taliban government’s policy, based on the need to rebuild the country. For this, it will have to count on the support of those nations that have certain interests, such as China and Russia, but also Pakistan, India, Iran and others. The new Taliban era seems to be opening with this interest in mind, and the new, exclusively Taliban government has shown a certain outward laxity in its fundamentalist behaviour, at least in appearance. This is connected to the need to erase the traces of war from a country destroyed by twenty years of intervention and more than forty years of conflict. However, it must be understood that the variable that completes the peace-making equation lies within the country, and in the Taliban’s capacity for greater permeability in the face of the heterogeneous corpus of identity and traditional fabrics in the nation of the Gardens of Babur.

Historically, the Middle East has played a central role in the regional contexts that have shaped the Afghan conflict. In the 1970s, the emergence of political Islam in the region was linked to the rise of Islamist opposition in Peshawar. But the Afghan domestic and Middle Eastern regional contexts were interconnected with the international Cold War scenario. The Islamist turn in the region, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Saudi Arabia’s influence on regional developments provided ideological backing for the Mujahideen insurgent movements. In the particular case of Saudi Arabia, this support transcended the economic sphere, not only in the era of the Mujahideen, but also in the victory of the Taliban in the 1990s.

The Central Asian country has been impacted by regional dynamics in the Middle East in different ways. Saudi terrorist Bin Laden had been part of the international insurgency that developed during the Cold War in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After the Taliban’s victory, he used the Afghan nation as a centre of operations, resulting in events contributing to the Taliban government’s deteriorating relations with the Western world and Saudi Arabia itself. After the events of 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror launched in 2001 by former US President George W. Bush, Afghanistan became an essential variable in US policy and projection towards the Middle East, reflecting US hegemony in the area at the beginning of the 21st century. Over the course of the occupation, this predominance was succeeded by a more heterogeneous balance of power, which resulted from the emergence of other international powers and their influence in the Middle East, such as Russia, China and Iran. The most recent reflection of this new context was the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan, the internal correlate of which was the rise to power of the Taliban.

Afghanistan has acted as a seismograph of international relations in Central Asia, which, at different times from the Cold War to the War on Terror, has placed the Central Asian country in the sights of major international actors. Its strategic position makes this Hindu Kush country invaluable for major nations seeking to consolidate their positions in the region. Within Afghanistan, the predominance of ethno-tribal fabrics, whose customary traditions are combined with the religious traditions of the predominant Sunni Islam and minority Shia Islam, have remained a structural continuity. Together with the geographic footprint and its abrupt civilisational mark, they have historically shaped Afghanistan’s heterogeneous ethnic and national puzzle. The development of forty years of war, and especially the last twenty years of US intervention, has defined the contemporary historical features of an insurgency that has been built on the identity walls of a fundamentalist Islam that has been gradually enhanced according to the requirements of the historical moment. This insurgency has often acquired a stamp of resistance to the occupying force. Combined with extreme violence on Afghan soil, it reflects the fractures of a tribal and ethnically-divided society that seems to have been stuck in time due to the war, in the fusion of its essential elements giving it a definitive national flavour.


Figure 1: Number of US troops during 2002-2020.

Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), 2021. Taken from The US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Vietnam Defeat Syndrome.

Figure 2: Budget costs for the war in Afghanistan, 2001-2021.

Source: The US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Vietnam Defeat Syndrome, with data from The Watson Institute (2021).


Amuchástegui, Domingo: Historia Contemporánea de Asia y África (Tomo IV). Editorial Pueblo y Educación, La Habana, 1988.

Blancarte, Roberto J: Afganistán. La revolución islámica frente al mundo occidental. Colegio de México, México, 2001.

Collective of Authors: “La retirada estadounidense de Afganistán. El síndrome de la derrota en Viet Nam.” http://www.cipi.cu/articulola-retirada-estadounidense-de-afganistán-el-sindrome-de-la-derrota-en-vietnam Consultado el 05/09/2021.

Collective of Authors: Nueva Historia Universal 5. El Mundo en los siglos XX y XXI (1946-2012). Editorial Imagen Contemporánea, La Habana, 2020.

Green, Nile (editor): Afganistan´s Islam. From conversion to the Taliban. University of California Press, California, 2017.

Pérez Gavilán, Graciela, Ana Teresa Gutiérrez y Beatriz Nadia Pérez: La Geopolítica del siglo XXI. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, México D.F, 2017.

Sánchez Porro, Reinaldo: Aproximaciones a la historia del Medio Oriente. Editorial Félix Varela. La Habana, 2004.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

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Will Israel’s Muslim Fundamentalists help Pass Marijuana Bill?



Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Jack Khoury and Noa Shpigel report at Haaretz that the Israeli government is advancing a marijuana bill that may gain the support of the United Arab List, a Muslim fundamentalist party that forms part of the 8-party coalition underpinning the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Although Mansour Abbas, the leader of the UAL, declined to support a similar bill in 2019 or even last summer, he says he may be on board with this one.

Medical marijuana is permitted in Israel, though people complain about the fewness of dispensaries. Recreational marijuana is forbidden. Marijuana is illegal in Israel not because of Jewish or Islamic law but because of the British colonial heritage. It is Western Victorian prudery.

Haaretz reports that MK David Amsalem, of the far right wing and racist Likud Party, ridiculed Abbas for changing his position: “You are trampling on Islam. They gave you a few dimes, promised you a few jobs and suddenly Islam permits it (cannabis).”

Amsalem, like most Israeli politicians, clearly knows nothing about Islamic law or Islamic history. In fact, the use of marijuana was widespread in the premodern Muslim world. If the United Arab List in the end balks at legalizing marijuana, it will be because of modern fundamentalism, not because of Islamic tradition.

The great tradition of medieval Muslim medicine valued marijuana. Avicenna in his classic Canon recommended it as an analgesic for headaches, and the great physician al-Razi (Rhazes in the Latin west) prescribed marijuana as a treatment for “ear problems, dandruff, flatulence as well as epilepsy,” according to Maziyar Ghiabi and his colleagues.

Avicenna’s Canon was central to Renaissance science in its Latin translation and its influence lingered in some medical schools in Europe and Russia into the nineteenth century.

Ghiyabi et al. also note that some groups of Muslims, especially the itinerant holy men called Qalandars, regularly incorporated marijuana into their spiritual practices, in the same way that some American Indians used peyote in their religious lives. In my research on Islam in premodern India, I found that marijuana or bhang was used by major Sufi orders such as the Suhrawardis. That is, there are major Muslim spiritual traditions of recreational use of marijuana.

The medieval Egyptian historian Taqi al-Din al-Maqrizi (1364–1442) said that marijuana or hashish had first been brought to Egypt in 1230 or 1231 by a Sufi or Muslim mystic, and that it became wildly popular. He said he knew of no fatwa or considered religious legal opinion against it in his own time. Hashish came to be grown all over Egypt and even in parts of Cairo. The Mamluk government tried to set a minor fine for its cultivation, but apparently no one paid any attention to it. By 1412 it was widely used, and the upper classes took pride in consuming it, without there being any stigma attached to it. It continued to be grown after the Ottomans took Egypt in 1517. In medieval and early modern Egypt, recreational marijuana was a normal part of the life of Muslims.

It was only in the early 19th century in Egypt that the mercantilist, modernizing government of Albanian military man Mehmet Ali (Muhammad Ali) Pasha, who had become the Ottoman viceroy, tried to ban marijuana on the grounds that it reduced workers’ productivity and made them lazy.

So, yes, anti-marijuana attitudes are in part a reflection of modernist concerns and have nothing to do with medieval Muslim practice. Fundamentalist Muslim legislation against marijuana is largely a modern phenomenon.

The Qur’an does not mention marijuana or hashish. It does discourage alcohol, though since the Muslim scripture does not specify any punishment for its use, many Muslim jurists over the centuries declined to punish its use.

Some Muslim thinkers wanted to forbid marijuana on analogy to alcohol, since both are intoxicants and both affect moral judgment. This analogy, however, was rejected by most jurists, as Maziar Ghiabi and his colleagues point out.

Some clerics did rule against the use of marijuana as an intoxicant. But as Ghiabi et al. note, Islamic law permits believers to do what they urgently need to do (darura). If you are thirsting to death in the desert and the only drink available is wine, then it is permitted to drink it. Likewise, even some medieval thinkers admitted that if someone had an urgent medical need for marijuana,, that would be permitted.

Contemporary Muslim jurisprudence notes that there are two substances in marijuana, CBD and THC. It is the THC that gives you the high. Legal thinkers urge that marijuana high in CBD and low in THC be used for pain killing, but say that if there is a medical need that can only be met (e.g. nausea from chemotherapy) by marijuana high in THC, that would be permissible.

So the joke is on David Amsalem, who just spoke out of ignorance of the finer points of Islamic law and of the actual history of the Muslim world. If Mansour Abbas and his party, which is influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, do end up supporting the legalization of marijuana, they would be in the long tradition of Islamic medicine going back to Avicenna. And note that al-Maqrizi said there was no fatwa at all against marijuana use in the 1200s to the 1400s, which was ubiquitous in medieval and early modern Egypt, so the great Muslim jurists of that era appear not to have even attempted to forbid it.


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Saudi-Iranian Rapprochement would bring Stability to Mideast, but would it make America Irrelevant?



By Mohammad Makram Balawi | –

( Middle East Monitor) – Since 1979, when Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and held American diplomats captive, the US strategy towards Iran has been aggressive. The US led the whole world to isolate Iran, turning it into a pariah state even among its neighbours and fellow Muslim countries. The US had a pivotal role in building an Arab alliance that included Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Gulf countries, to stop what was then called the “Iranian revolution export” to the rest of the Islamic countries.

This policy was the official strategy in the US until it and its European partners felt that there was no other way to harness Iranian nuclear ambitions except by making some concessions. This idea was vehemently opposed by Israel and Gulf countries. Eventually, the pressure paid off when President Donald Trump came into the White House and pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and practised the “maximum pressure” policy.

In actuality, prodding the Iranian hornets’ nest did not stop the pursuit of an active nuclear programme, but pushed it towards accelerating the programme as a barging tool. This situation seems to have led many US policymakers to realise that their policy did not hold Iran back. On the contrary, it made it more aggressive and pushed it away from India, the US’ ally, to fall into the arms of China, making the Chinese front stronger and more alarming.

The US political elite is haunted by the idea that China will soon remove itself from world leadership, if the US does not stop it before it is too late. Although President Joe Biden’s administration met with Trump’s administration on defining China as the US’ main competitor and rival, Biden’s administration seems to have a different strategy regarding Chinese-Iranian relations, which aims to drive a wedge between Iran and China to weaken the Chinese front. Therefore, it would not be a surprise if we see a kind of US leniency towards Tehran in the next few months, which could pave the way to better relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia, for its part, seems to be a bit restless after President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner left the White House, especially as this coincided with Benjamin Netanyahu’s loss of power in Israel. It has become evident that the new US administration is not on good terms with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) over the Jamal Khashoggi case, and would not give him carte blanche, as Trump’s administration did.

On a larger level, many indications, including the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, made Gulf countries realise early in Biden’s term that the new US strategy to concentrate power in the Indo/Asia- pacific and rapprochement with Iran would ultimately mean lifting the US security umbrella off of the Gulf. This would leave them exposed in front of Iran, especially as Israel is not willing to fight their wars for them, as many Israeli leaders tend to declare.

After all, although there are many differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the main reason for their animosity is that they both stand on different fronts. In other words, Saudi Arabia’s association with the US is the main reason for this tense relationship with Iran. The Saudis may have sensed that their US allies might make them a scapegoat in the perceived improved US relations with Iran. Therefore, they might be willing to overtake the US and strike a deal with their Iranian neighbours before the US does. If this happens, it would be well-received in the Muslim world. It would: “Show the wisdom of the Saudi leadership and its eagerness to maintain peace and brotherly relations with other Muslim countries, as the Saudi media would probably put it,” helping both Saudi Arabia and Iran score additional points.

For Iran, mending its relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries is a declared goal. If Saudi Arabia is willing to change the direction of its sails towards Tehran, it would be faced with open arms, as this helps Iran change its status from a pariah state to an accepted part of the region.

This rapprochement would have a positive impact on proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, and would also reduce the political fractions in Lebanon and Iraq. A better relationship between the two countries would also be received with a sigh of relief in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as both countries are trapped in a tiresome balancing game between the two important Muslim countries. On the other hand, it could negatively affect the Arab wave of normalisation with Israel, as Israel’s services would no longer be needed in the region, or in Washington.

Few could argue about the importance of Saudi Arabia in the region and beyond, especially in the Muslim world. A new Saudi policy towards Iran, a traditional regional power, would lead to stability and security in the region, including delivering a strong punch to terrorism and militant organisations. But would it be in the US’ favour, or would it be another blow to its strategic clout and credibility? Days will certainly answer this question. However, unpleasant surprises might be waiting around every corner.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

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TRT World: “Saudi Arabia confirms recent talks with Iran to improve relations”

Celebrating Rep. Barbara Lee, our Cassandra who warned against the Failed 20-Year Wars



( Tomdispatch.com ) – For decades, I kept a poster on my wall that I’d saved from the year I turned 16. In its upper left-hand corner was a black-and-white photo of a white man in a grey suit. Before him spread a cobblestone plaza. All you could see were the man and the stones. Its caption read, “He stood up alone and something happened.”

It was 1968. “He” was Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy.As that campaign slogan suggested, his strong second-place showing in the Maine primary was proof that opposition to the Vietnam War had finally become a viable platform for a Democratic candidate for president. I volunteered in McCarthy’s campaign office that year. My memory of my duties is now vague, but they mainly involved alphabetizing and filing index cards containing information about the senator’s supporters. (Remember, this was the age before there was a computer in every pocket, let alone social media and micro-targeting.)

Running against the Vietnam War, McCarthy was challenging then-President Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic primaries. After McCarthy had a strong second-place showing in Maine, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the race, too, running against the very war his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had bequeathed to Johnson when he was assassinated. Soon, Johnson would withdraw from the campaign, announcing in a televised national address that he wouldn’t run for another term.

With his good looks and family name, Bobby Kennedy appeared to have a real chance for the nomination when, on June 5, 1968, during a campaign event in Los Angeles, he, like his brother, was assassinated. That left the war’s opponents without a viable candidate for the nomination. Outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago that August, tens of thousands of angry, mostly young Americans demonstrated their frustration with the war and the party’s refusal to take a stand against it. In what was generally recognized as a police riot, the Chicago PD beat protesters and journalists bloody on national TV, as participants chanted, “The whole world is watching.” And indeed, it was.

In the end, the nomination went to Johnson’s vice president and war supporter Hubert Humphrey, who would face Republican hawk Richard Nixon that November. The war’s opponents watched in frustration as the two major parties closed ranks, cementing their post-World-War-II bipartisan agreement to use military power to enforce U.S. global dominance.

Cassandra Foresees the Future

Of course, the McCarthy campaign’s slogan was wrong on two counts. He didn’t stand up alone. Millions of us around the world were then working to end the war in Vietnam. Sadly, nothing conclusive happened as a result of his campaign. Nixon went on to win the 1968 general election and the Vietnam War dragged on to an ignominious U.S. defeat seven years later.

Nineteen sixty-eight was also the year my high school put on Tiger at the Gates, French playwright Jean Giraudoux’s antiwar drama about the run-up to the Trojan War. Giraudoux chronicled that ancient conflict’s painful inevitability, despite the fervent desire of Troy’s rulers and its people to prevent it. The play opens as Andromache, wife of the doomed Trojan warrior Hector, tells her sister-in-law Cassandra, “There’s not going to be a Trojan war.”

Cassandra, you may remember, bore a double curse from the gods: yes, she could see into the future, but no one would believe her predictions. She informs Andromache that she’s wrong; that, like a tiger pacing outside the city’s walls, war with all its bloody pain is preparing to spring. And, of course, she’s right. Part of the play’s message is that Cassandra doesn’t need her supernatural gift to predict the future. She can guess what will happen simply because she understands the relentless forces driving her city to war: the poets who need tragedies to chronicle; the would-be heroes who desire glory; the rulers caught in the inertia of tradition.

Although Tiger was written in the 1930s, between the two world wars, it could just as easily have appeared in 1968. Substitute the mass media for the poets; the military-industrial complex for the Greek and Trojan warriors; and administration after administration for the city’s rulers, and you have a striking representation of the quicksand war that dragged 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians to their deaths. And in some sense, we — the antiwar forces in this country — foresaw it all (in broad outline, if not specific detail): the assassinations,

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<p class="ljsyndicationlink"><a href="https://www.juancole.com/2021/10/celebrating-barbara-cassandra.html">https://www.juancole.com/2021/10/celebrating-barbara-cassandra.html</a></p><p class="ljsyndicationlink"><a href="https://www.juancole.com/?p=200675">https://www.juancole.com/?p=200675</a></p><p>(<a href="https://tomdispatch.com/seeing-the-future/ "> Tomdispatch.com </a>) &#8211; For decades, I kept a poster on my wall that I’d saved from the year I turned 16. In its upper left-hand corner was a black-and-white photo of a white man in a grey suit. Before him spread a cobblestone plaza. All you could see were the man and the stones. Its caption read, “He stood up alone and something happened.”</p> <p>It was 1968. “He” was Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy.As that campaign slogan suggested, his strong second-place showing in the Maine primary was proof that opposition to the Vietnam War had finally become a viable platform for a Democratic candidate for president. I volunteered in McCarthy’s campaign office that year. My memory of my duties is now vague, but they mainly involved alphabetizing and filing index cards containing information about the senator’s supporters. (Remember, this was the age before there was a computer in every pocket, let alone social media and micro-targeting.)</p> <p>Running against the Vietnam War, McCarthy was challenging then-President Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic primaries. After McCarthy had a strong second-place showing in Maine, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the race, too, running against the very war his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had bequeathed to Johnson when he was assassinated. Soon, Johnson would withdraw from the campaign, announcing in a televised national address that he wouldn’t run for another term.</p> <p>With his good looks and family name, Bobby Kennedy appeared to have a real chance for the nomination when, on June 5, 1968, during a campaign event in Los Angeles, he, like his brother, was assassinated. That left the war’s opponents without a viable candidate for the nomination. Outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago that August, tens of thousands of angry, mostly young Americans demonstrated their frustration with the war and the party’s refusal to take a stand against it. In what was generally recognized as a police riot, the Chicago PD beat protesters and journalists bloody on national TV, as participants chanted, “The whole world is watching.” And indeed, it was.</p> <p>In the end, the nomination went to Johnson’s vice president and war supporter Hubert Humphrey, who would face Republican hawk Richard Nixon that November. The war’s opponents watched in frustration as the two major parties closed ranks, cementing their post-World-War-II bipartisan agreement to use military power to enforce U.S. global dominance.</p> <p><strong>Cassandra Foresees the Future</strong></p> <p>Of course, the McCarthy campaign’s slogan was wrong on two counts. He didn’t stand up alone. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/opinion/vietnam-antiwar-movement.html" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">Millions</a> of us around the world were then working to end the war in Vietnam. Sadly, nothing conclusive happened as a result of his campaign. Nixon went on to win the 1968 general election and the Vietnam War dragged on to an ignominious U.S. defeat seven years later.</p> <p>Nineteen sixty-eight was also the year my high school put on <a href="https://www.concordtheatricals.com/p/3798/tiger-at-the-gates" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer"><em>Tiger at the Gates</em></a><em>, </em>French playwright Jean Giraudoux’s antiwar drama about the run-up to the Trojan War. Giraudoux chronicled that ancient conflict’s painful inevitability, despite the fervent desire of Troy’s rulers and its people to prevent it. The play opens as Andromache, wife of the doomed Trojan warrior Hector, tells her sister-in-law Cassandra, “There’s not going to be a Trojan war.”</p> <p>Cassandra, you may remember, bore a double curse from the gods: yes, she could see into the future, but no one would believe her predictions. She informs Andromache that she’s wrong; that, like a tiger pacing outside the city’s walls, war with all its bloody pain is preparing to spring. And, of course, she’s right. Part of the play’s message is that Cassandra doesn’t need her supernatural gift to predict the future. She can guess what will happen simply because she understands the relentless forces driving her city to war: the poets who need tragedies to chronicle; the would-be heroes who desire glory; the rulers caught in the inertia of tradition.</p> <p>Although <em>Tiger</em> was written in the 1930s, between the two world wars, it could just as easily have appeared in 1968. Substitute the mass media for the poets; the military-industrial complex for the Greek and Trojan warriors; and administration after administration for the city’s rulers, and you have a striking representation of the quicksand war that dragged 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians to their deaths. And in some sense, we — the antiwar forces in this country — foresaw it all (in broad outline, if not specific detail): the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrest_and_assassination_of_Ngo_Dinh_Diem" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">assassinations</a>, <href ="#Vietnam_War" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">carpet bombings, <a href="https://www.historiansagainstwar.org/resources/torture/luce.html" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">tiger cages</a>, and the CIA’s first mass assassination and torture scheme, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/opinion/behind-the-phoenix-program.html" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">Phoenix Program</a>. Of course we couldn’t predict the specifics. Indeed, some turned out worse than we’d feared. In any case, our foresight did us no more good than Cassandra’s did her.</href></p> <p><strong>Rehabilitations and Revisions</strong></p> <p>It’s just over a month since the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the start of the “Global War on Terror.” The press has been full of recollections and rehabilitations. George W. Bush used the occasion to warn the nation (as if we needed it at that point) about the dangers of what CNN <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/11/politics/george-w-bush-9-11-speech-domestic-violent-extremism/index.html" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">referred to as</a> “domestic violent extremists.” He called them “children of the same foul spirit” as the one that engenders international terrorism. He also inveighed against the January 6th Capitol invasion:</p> <blockquote> <p>“‘This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic,’ he said in a statement at the time, adding that he was ‘appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election.’”</p> </blockquote> <p>You might almost think he’d forgotten that neither should elections in a democracy be “disputed” by <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20060216081537/http:/opinionjournal.com/columnists/pgigot/?id=65000673" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">three-piece-suited thugs shutting down</a> a ballot count — as happened in Florida during his own first election in 2000. Future Trump operative Roger Stone has <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/capitol-hill-insurrection-has-roots-in-brooks-brothers-riot-2021-1" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">claimed credit</a> for orchestrating that so-called Brooks Brothers Rebellion, which stopped the Florida vote count and threw the election to the Supreme Court and, in the end, to George W. Bush.</p> <figure><a href="https://www.amazon.com/American-Nuremberg-Officials-Should-Post-9/dp/1510703330/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&amp;amp;keywords=rebecca+gordon&amp;amp;qid=1610640336&amp;amp;s=books&amp;amp;sr=1-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow external noreferrer" data-wpel-link="external"></a></figure> <p> <a href="https://www.amazon.com/American-Nuremberg-Officials-Should-Post-9/dp/1510703330/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&amp;amp;keywords=rebecca+gordon&amp;amp;qid=1610640336&amp;amp;s=books&amp;amp;sr=1-3" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow external" data-wpel-link="external"> <img src="https://www.juancole.com/images/2021/10/Screen-Shot-2021-01-14gord-at-11.21.03-AM.png" alt="" width="230" height="343" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-200676" srcset="https://www.juancole.com/images/2021/10/Screen-Shot-2021-01-14gord-at-11.21.03-AM.png 230w, https://www.juancole.com/images/2021/10/Screen-Shot-2021-01-14gord-at-11.21.03-AM-154x230.png 154w" sizes="(max-width: 230px) 100vw, 230px" /> <br />Buy the Book</a></p> <p>You might also think that, with plenty of shoving from his vice president Dick Cheney and a <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20070810113947/http:/www.newamericancentury.org:80/iraqclintonletter.htm" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">cabal of leftover neocons</a> from the Project for a New American Century, Bush had never led this country into two devastating, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/10/world/asia/us-air-strike-drone-kabul-afghanistan-isis.html" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">murderous</a>, <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/09/01/how-much-did-war-afghanistan-cost-how-many-people-died/5669656001/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">profoundly wasteful</a> wars. You might think we’d never seen the resumption of institutionalized CIA- and military-run state torture on a massive scale under his rule, or his administration’s refusal to join the International Criminal Court.</p> <p>And finally, you might think that nobody saw all this coming, that there were no Cassandras in this country in 2001. But there you would be wrong. All too many of us sensed just what was coming as soon as the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan began. I knew, for example, as early as November 2001, when the <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/time-think-about-torture-149445" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">first mainstream article</a> extolling the utility of torture appeared, that whatever else the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks would entail, organized torture would be part of it. As early as December 2002, we all could have known that. That’s when the first articles <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/09/AR2006060901356.html" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">began appearing</a> in the <em>Washington Post</em> about the “stress and duress” techniques the CIA was already beginning to use at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Some of the hapless victims would later turn out to have been sold to U.S. forces for bounties by local strongmen.</p> <p>It takes very little courage for a superannuated graduate student (as I was in 2001) to write academic papers about U.S. torture practices (as I did) and the stupidity and illegality of our invasion of Afghanistan. It’s another thing, however, when a real Cassandra stands up — all alone — and tries to stop something from happening.</p> <p>I’m talking, of course, about Representative Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/107th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/23/text" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">granting</a> the president the power to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” It was this Authorization of the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, that provided the legal grounds for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in September 2001. Lee was right when, after agonizing about her vote, she decided to follow the counsel of the dean of the National Cathedral, the Reverend Nathan Baxter. That very morning, she had <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/08/17/barbara-lee-afghanistan-vote/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">heard him pray</a> that, in response to the terrible crimes of 9/11, we not “become the evil we deplore.”</p> <p>How right she was when she said on the House floor:</p> <blockquote> <p>“However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, ‘Let’s step back for a moment, let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.’”</p> </blockquote> <p>The <a href="https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/107/hjres64/text/ath" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> she opposed that day would indeed allow “this” to spiral out of control. That same AUMF has since been used to justify an ever-metastasizing series of wars and conflicts that spread from Afghanistan in central Asia through the Middle East, south to Yemen, and leapt to Libya, Somalia, and other lands in Africa. Despite multiple attempts to repeal it, that same minimalist AUMF remains in effect today, ready for use by the next president with aspirations to military adventures. In June 2021, the House of Representatives did finally pass a <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/256" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">bill</a> rescinding it, sponsored by Barbara Lee herself. At present, however, it languishes in the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations.</p> <p>In the days after 9/11, Lee was roundly excoriated for her vote. The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122418640015141825" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">called</a> her a “clueless liberal,” while the <em>Washington Times</em> <a href="https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2001/sep/18/20010918-025434-6670r/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">wrote</a> that she was “a long-practicing supporter of America’s enemies.” Curiously, both those editorials were headlined with the question, “Who Is Barbara Lee?” (Those of us in the San Francisco Bay Area could have answered that. Lee was — and remains — an African American congressional representative from Oakland, California, the inheritor of the seat and mantle of another great black congressional representative, Ron Dellums.) She <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/08/17/barbara-lee-afghanistan-vote/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">received</a> mountains of hate mail then and enough death threats to force her to seek police protection.</p> <p>Like George W. Bush, Lee received some media rehabilitation in various 20th anniversary retrospectives of 9/11. In her case, however, it was well-deserved. The <em>Washington Post</em>, for instance, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/08/17/barbara-lee-afghanistan-vote/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">praised</a> her for her courage, noting that no one — not Bernie Sanders, not Joe Biden — shared her vision, or, I would add, shared Cassandra’s curse with her. Like the character in <em>Tiger at the Gates, </em>Lee didn’t need a divine gift to foresee that the U.S. “war on terror” would spin disastrously out of control. A little historical memory might have served the rest of the country well, reminding us of what happened the last time the United States fought <a href="https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/gulf-of-tonkin" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">an ever-escalating war.</a></p> <p><strong>Cassandras and Their Mirror Images</strong></p> <p>It was clear from the start that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were never that interested in Afghanistan (although that was no solace to the many thousands of Afghans who were <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/13/523777933/u-s-drops-biggest-non-nuclear-bomb-ever-used-in-combat" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">bombed</a>, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/10/31/theyve-shot-many/abusive-night-raids-cia-backed-afghan-strike-forces" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">beaten</a>, and <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0854678/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">tortured</a>). Those officials had another target in mind — Iraq — <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/feb/24/freedomofinformation.september11" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">almost literally</a> from the moment al-Qaeda’s hijacked planes struck New York and Washington.</p> <p>In 2002, after <a href="https://tomdispatch.com/jim-lobe-on-timing-the-cheney-nuclear-drumbeat/" data-wpel-link="internal">months</a> of lies about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s possession of (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and his supposed pursuit of a nuclear bomb, the Bush administration got its <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/107th-congress/house-joint-resolution/114" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">second AUMF</a>, authorizing “the President to use the U.S. armed forces to: …defend U.S. national security against the continuing threat posed by Iraq,” functionally condoning the U.S. invasion of his country. This time, Barbara Lee was not alone in her opposition. In the House, she was joined by 132 Democrats, 6 Republicans, and one independent (Bernie Sanders). Only 23 senators, however, voted “nay,” including Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee and Vermont independent Jim Jeffords.</p> <p>In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion, figures who might be thought of as “anti-Cassandras” took center stage. Unlike the Greek seer, these unfortunates were apparently doomed to tell falsehoods — and be believed. Among them was Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security advisor, who, when pressed for evidence that Saddam Hussein actually possessed WMD, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2003/US/01/10/wbr.smoking.gun/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">told</a> CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” implying Iraq represented a nuclear threat to this country.</p> <p>Then there was secretary of State Colin Powell, who <a href="https://theintercept.com/2018/02/06/lie-after-lie-what-colin-powell-knew-about-iraq-fifteen-years-ago-and-what-he-told-the-un/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">put the case</a> for war to the United Nations General Assembly in February 2003, emphasizing the supposedly factual basis of everything he presented:</p> <blockquote> <p>“My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”</p> </blockquote> <p>It wasn’t true, of course, but around the world, many believed him.</p> <p>And let’s not leave the mainstream press out here. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but perhaps the anti-Cassandra crown should go to the <em>New York Times</em> for its promotion of Bush administration war propaganda, especially by its reporter Judith Miller. In 2004, the Times published an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/26/world/from-the-editors-the-times-and-iraq.html" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">extraordinary mea culpa</a>, an apologetic note “from the editors” that said,</p> <blockquote> <p>“[W]e have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.”</p> </blockquote> <p>I suspect the people of Iraq might share the <em>Times</em>’s wish.</p> <p>There was, of course, one other group of prophets who accurately foresaw the horrors that a U.S. invasion would bring with it: the millions who filled the streets of their cities here and around the world, demanding that the United States stay its hand. So powerful was their witness that they were briefly dubbed “the other superpower.” Writing in the <em>Nation</em>, Jonathan Schell <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/other-superpower/" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">extolled</a> their strength, saying that this country’s “shock and awe” assault on Iraq “has found its riposte in courage and wonder.” Alas, that mass witness in those streets was not enough to forestall one more murderous assault by what would, in the long run, prove to be a dying empire.</p> <p><strong>Cassandra at the Gates (of Glasgow)</strong></p> <p>And now, the world is finally waking up to an even greater disaster: the climate emergency that’s burning up my part of the world, the American West, and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/09/02/nyregion/nyc-storm" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">drowning</a> others. This crisis has had its Cassandras, too. One of these was 89-year-old <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/global-warming-kitchener-meteorologist-climate-change-1.4160469" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">John Rogalsky</a>, who worked for 35 years as a meteorologist in the federal government. As early as 1963, he became aware of the problem of climate change and began trying to warn us. In 2017, he told the Canadian Broadcasting Company:</p> <blockquote> <p>“[B]y the time the end of the 60s had arrived, I was absolutely convinced that it was real, it was just a question of how rapidly it would happen and how difficult it would become for the world at large, and how soon before people, or governments would even listen to the science. People I talked to about this, I was letting them know, this is happening, get ready.”</p> </blockquote> <p>This November, the 197 nations that have signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change <a href="https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/conferences/glasgow-climate-change-conference" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">will meet</a> in Glasgow, Scotland, at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. We must hope that this follow-up to the 2015 Paris agreement will produce concrete steps to reverse the overheating of this planet and mitigate its effects, especially in those nations that have contributed the least to the problem and are already suffering disproportionately. Italy and the United Kingdom will serve as co-hosts.</p> <p>I hope it’s a good sign that at a pre-Glasgow summit in Milan, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi <a href="https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/09/30/italy-pm-mario-draghi-reacts-to-greta-thunberg-s-blah-blah-blah-broadside" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">met</a> with three young “Cassandras” — climate activists Greta Thunberg (Sweden), Vanessa Nakate (Uganda), and Martina Comparelli (Italy) — after Thunberg’s now famous <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UryIL4kUcx8" data-wpel-link="external" target="_blank" rel="nofollow external noopener noreferrer">“blah, blah, blah” speech</a>, accusing world leaders of empty talk. “Your pressure, frankly, is very welcome,” Draghi told them. “We need to be whipped into action. Your mobilization has been powerful, and rest assured, we are listening.”</p> <p>For the sake of the world, let us hope that this time Cassandra will be believed.</p> <p>Copyright 2021 Rebecca Gordon </p> <p>Via <a href="https://tomdispatch.com/seeing-the-future/ "> Tomdispatch.com </a></p>

Can the Collapse of West Antarctica’s Ice Sheet and massive Sea Level Rise be Avoided?



By Dan Lowry, Mario Krapp, and Nick Golledge | –

( The Conversation) – Rising seas are already making storm damage more costly, adding to the impact on about 700 million people who live in low-lying coastal areas at risk of flooding.

Scientists expect sea-level rise will exacerbate the damage from storm surges and coastal floods during the coming decades. But predicting just how much and how fast the seas will rise this century is difficult, mainly because of uncertainties about how Antarctica’s ice sheet will behave.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections of Antarctica’s contribution to sea-level rise show considerable overlap between low and high-emissions scenarios.

But in our new research, we show the widespread collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is avoidable if we can keep global warming below the Paris target of 2℃.

In West Antarctica, the interior of the ice sheet sits atop bedrock that lies well below sea level. As the Southern Ocean warms, scientists are concerned the ice sheet will continue to retreat, potentially raising sea level by several meters.

When and how quickly this process could happen depends on a number of factors that are still uncertain.

Our research better quantifies these uncertainties and shows the full impact of different emissions trajectories on Antarctica may not become clear until after 2100. But the consequences of decisions we make this decade will be felt for centuries.

People standing on a ridge in Antarctica.
New modelling shows if warming stays below 2℃, West Antarctica’s ice sheet remains intact.
Author provided

A new approach to projecting change in Antarctica

Scientists have used numerical ice-sheet models for decades to understand how ice sheets evolve under different climate states. These models are based on mathematical equations that represent how ice sheets flow.

But despite advances in mapping the bed topography beneath the ice, significant uncertainty remains in terms of the internal ice structure and conditions of the bedrock and sediment below. Both affect ice flow.

This makes prediction difficult, because the models have to rely on a series of assumptions, which affect how sensitive a modelled ice sheet is to a changing climate. Given the number and complexity of the equations, running ice-sheet models can be time consuming, and it may be impossible to fully account for all of the uncertainty.

To overcome this limitation, researchers around the world are now frequently using statistical “emulators”. These mathematical models can be trained using results from more complex ice-sheet models and then used to run thousands of alternative scenarios.

Using hundreds of ice-sheet model simulations as training data, we developed such an emulator to project Antarctica’s sea-level contribution under a wide range of emissions scenarios. We then ran tens of thousands of statistical emulations to better quantify the uncertainties in the ice sheet’s response to warming.

Low emissions prevent ice shelf thinning

To ensure our projections are realistic, we discounted any simulation that did not fit with satellite observations of Antarctic ice loss over the last four decades.

We considered a low-emissions scenario, in which global carbon emissions were reduced quickly over the next few decades, and a high-emissions scenario, in which emissions kept increasing to the end of the century. Under both scenarios, we observed continued ice loss in areas already losing ice mass, such as the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica.

These maps of Antarctica show the projected change in ice thickness between the present and the year 2300, for a low-emissions scenario (left) and a high-emissions scenario (right), with red indicating ice loss and blue showing ice gain.
These maps of Antarctica show the projected change in ice thickness between the present and the year 2300, for a low-emissions scenario (left) and a high-emissions scenario (right), with red indicating ice loss and blue showing ice gain.
Author provided

For the ice sheet as a whole, we found no statistically significant difference between the ranges of plausible contributions to sea-level rise in the two emissions scenarios until the year 2116. However, the rate of sea-level rise towards the end of this century under high emissions was double that of the low-emissions scenario.

By 2300, under high emissions, the Antarctic ice sheet contributed more than 1.5m more to global sea level than in the low-emissions scenario. This is because the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses.

The earliest warning sign of a future with a multi-metre Antarctic contribution to sea-level rise is widespread thinning of Antarctica’s two largest floating ice shelves, the Ross and Ronne-Filchner.

These massive ice shelves hold back land-based ice, but as they thin and break off, this resistance weakens. The land-based ice flows more easily into the ocean, raising sea level.

In the high-emissions scenario, this widespread ice-shelf thinning happens within the next few decades. But importantly, these ice shelves show no thinning in a low-emissions scenario — most of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet remains intact.

Planning our future

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep warming well below 2℃. But current global government pledges commit us to 2.9℃ by 2100. Based on our emulator projections, we believe these pledges would lead to a 50% higher (70cm) Antarctic contribution to sea-level rise by the year 2300 than if warming remains at or under 2℃.

But even if we meet the Paris target, we are already committed to sea-level rise from the Antarctic ice sheet, as well as from Greenland and mountain glaciers around the world for centuries or millennia to come.

Continued warming will also raise sea levels because warmer ocean water expands and the amount of water stored on land (in soil, aquifers, wetlands, lakes, and reservoirs) changes.

To avoid the worst impacts on coastal communities around the world, planners and policymakers will need to develop meaningful adaptation strategies and mitigation options for the continued threat of sea-level rise.The Conversation

Dan Lowry, Ice Sheet & Climate Modeller, GNS Science; Mario Krapp, Environmental Data Scientist, GNS Science, and Nick Golledge, Professor of Glaciology, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Sharjah24 News: “Antarctic ice sheet faces chain reaction collapse”

Sordid Advantage: America can’t avert Climate Hellhole because Manchin, Sinema are Corporate Hired M



Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – American journalists like to personalize stories and create horse races empty of real content. That is why most Americans don’t know what is in the Democratic Build Back Better Bill backed by President Joe Biden– the substance has not been reported on. That bill was originally budgeted at $350 billion a year for ten years, less than half what the US spends– rather uselessly — on its war budget, a war budget that has not enabled it to win any wars for decades.

The horse race du jour is the obstruction by arch-plutocrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and wannabe plutocrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona of Build Back Better. These two have been dubbed “moderates” by the corporate press owned by a handful of billionaires sympathetic to their obstructionism, hence the moniker “moderate” for a far right wing plot hatched by big Oil and Big Pharma to gut Biden’s bill.

But Manchin and Sinema are not plucky mavericks standing on high personal principle against those spend-and-tax Democrats in their own party. They are mercenaries. The second meaning given by Merriam Webster for mercenary is, “serving merely for pay or sordid advantage: venal also: greedy.” Sordid advantage just about sums it up. Nowadays when you say “mercenary,” for-profit paramilitaries come to mind, where ex-soldiers are paid large sums to kill people. An example is the Russia-based Wagner group, which has been hired recently by Mali to replace French troops pulled out by President Emmanuel Macron; Wagner mercenaries were accused of war crimes in Libya. That is the kind of thing I mean when I say that Manchin and Sinema are mercenaries. They are guilty of transgenerational war crimes.

It matters because at the core of Build Back Better was a set of programs that would accelerate the greening of America’s energy infrastructure, which Manchin is insisting be canceled. Since nothing at all can pass without his vote, he is likely to get his way. The bill can still have lesser and vaguer encouragements to fight global warming. While better than nothing, these will, however, be inadequate to the task of avoiding making earth into a hellhole. It is also possible that the Democratic progressives, which is to say the non-mercenaries in the party not hostage to sordid advantage, will refuse to vote for such a gutted bill. But in that case nothing at all will pass, and the Republicans will likely get back in control of the legislature in 2022, making sure that the US goes on farting out over 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, dooming our children and grandchildren to live in an oven.

The full horror of the American political system and of the Manchins and Sinemas as mercenaries can be understood better by looking at the rest of the world, which American news almost never does. This year Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president (2007-2012), has been convicted and sentenced to jail twice, though he will probably serve house arrest with an ankle bracelet. The cases against him arose from allegations that he received illegal campaign contributions from the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and from Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of the L’Oreal make-up company fortune. Ironically, although these contributions set off the investigations, he was ultimately convicted on other grounds, of bribing a judge and of spending too much money on a presidential campaign (yes).

By French law, virtually all American politicians would be in jail. Corporations are not allowed to donate to presidential political campaigns. Individuals can’t give more than about $8,000 a year to a political party. No more than about $23.5 million can be spent by a candidate on a presidential campaign. Sarkozy was just convicted of exceeding that limit in 2012 and of phonying up his campaign’s receipts, and sentenced to a year in jail.

Bill Allison at Bloomberg gets the goods on Manchin’s mercenary motivations. In just the third quarter of 2021, Mr. Manchin raised $1.6 million in campaign donations. Of that total, in excess of $400,000 came in from the oil and gas industry. That is a lot of sordid advantage.

This is not to mention that Manchin himself is personally wealthy and received $5 million in the past decade from dividends on coal investments alone (see the Young Turks clip below). Very clever of Big Carbon to hire a coal baron as their mercenary.

As for Sen. Sinema, she accepted $1.1 million in campaign contributions in the third quarter, $100,000 of it from sources linked to the pharmaceutical and financial services industries, according to Brett Wilkins at Salon.com. These industries object to provisions of Build Back Better. Most of the over $1 million in contributions came from outside Arizona. The donors are not stupid. They are not backing Sinema, who just a few years ago was an anti-war environmentalist with a limited income, out of the goodness of their corporate hearts. They are hiring a mercenary. She is perfectly willing to betray all of her stated principles of a decade ago and sell herself just as Manchin does.

American law permits corporations to hire our politicians, who should be representing the people, as their private mercenaries.

And that is why, friends, it is going to get very, very hot on earth and become very inconvenient for human beings and other living things. Because of some people’s sordid advantage today.

Young Turks: “EXACTLY How Much Money Joe Manchin Made Off Dirty Coal INVESTMENTS”

The US and China must cooperate in Face of Climate Armageddon, not fall into New Cold War



( Tomdispatch.com) – This summer we witnessed, with brutal clarity, the Beginning of the End: the end of Earth as we know it — a world of lush forests, bountiful croplands, livable cities, and survivable coastlines. In its place, we saw the early manifestations of a climate-damaged planet, with scorched forests, parched fields, scalding cities, and storm-wracked coastlines. In a desperate bid to prevent far worse, leaders from around the world will soon gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for a U.N. Climate Summit. You can count on one thing, though: all their plans will fall far short of what’s needed unless backed by the only strategy that can save the planet: a U.S.-China Climate Survival Alliance.

Of course, politicians, scientific groups, and environmental organizations will offer plans of every sort in Glasgow to reduce global carbon emissions and slow the process of planetary incineration. President Biden’s representatives will tout his promise to promote renewable energy and install electric-car-charging stations nationwide, while President Macron of France will offer his own ambitious proposals, as will many other leaders. However, no combination of these, even if carried out, would prove sufficient to prevent global disaster — not as long as China and the U.S. continue to prioritize trade competition and war preparations over planetary survival.

In the end, it’s not complicated. If the planet’s two “great” powers refuse to cooperate in a meaningful way in tackling the climate threat, we’re done for.

That harsh reality was made clear in September. The United Nations then issued a report on the likely impact of pledges already made by the nations that signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (from which President Trump withdrew in 2017 and which the U.S. has only recently rejoined). According to the U.N.’s analysis, even if all 200 signatories were to abide by their pledges — and almost none have — global temperatures are likely to rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius (nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by century’s end. And that, in turn, most scientists agree, is a recipe for catastrophically irreversible changes to the planetary ecosphere, including the kind of sea level rise that will inundate most American coastal cities (and many others around the world) and the sort of heat, fire, and drought that will turn the American West into an uninhabitable wasteland.

Scientists generally agree that, to avert such catastrophic outcomes, global warming must not exceed, at worst, 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels — and preferably, no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Mind you, the planet has already warmed 1 degree Celsius and we’ve only recently seen just how much damage even that amount of added heat can produce. To limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, by 2030, scientists believe, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would have to be reduced by 25% from 2018 levels; to limit it to 1.5 degrees, by 55%. Yet those emissions — driven by strong economic growth in China, India, and other rapidly industrializing nations — have actually been on an upward trajectory, rising on average by 1.8% per year between 2009 and 2019.

Several European countries, including Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands, have launched heroic efforts to lower their emissions to reach that 1.5 degree target, setting an example for nations with far bigger economies. But however admirable, in the grand scheme of things, they just won’t matter enough to save the planet. Only the United States and China, by far the world’s top two carbon emitters, are in a position to do so.

It all boils down to this: to save human civilization, the U.S. and China must dramatically reduce their CO2 emissions, while working together to persuade other major carbon-emitting nations, beginning with fast-rising India, to follow suit. That would, of course, mean setting aside their current antagonisms, however important they may seem to U.S. and Chinese leaders today, and instead making climate survival their number one priority and policy objective. Otherwise, put simply, all is lost.

The U.S.-China Carbon Juggernaut

To fully grasp just how central China and the United States (the largest carbon polluter in history) are to the global climate-change equation, you have to grasp their present roles in both carbon consumption and CO2 emissions.

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In 2020, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021 (a widely respected source), China was the world’s top user of coal, the most carbon-intense of the three fossil fuels. That country was responsible for a staggering 54.3% of total world consumption; India came in second at 11.6%; and the U.S. third at 6.1%. When it came to petroleum consumption, the U.S. took first place with 19.9% of world usage and China came in second with 15.7%. The U.S. was also number one when it came to consumption of natural gas, followed by Russia and China.

Combine all three kinds and China and the U.S. were jointly responsible for 42% of total global fossil-fuel consumption in 2020. No other countries came even remotely close. Rising fast in the energy realm, India accounted for 6.2% of global fossil-fuel consumption and the European Union for 8.5%, which should give you some idea of the way the two countries dominate the global energy equation.

Not surprisingly, since they’re responsible for such a large share of fossil-fuel consumption every year and the combustion of those fuels is responsible for the overwhelming majority of global carbon emissions, China and the U.S. also account for a comparably large share of those discharges. According to BP, China was the world’s leading source of CO2 emissions in 2020, responsible for 30.7% of the global total, while the United States came in second with 13.8%. No other country even reached double digits and the European Union as a whole accounted for only 7.9%.

Put simply, the heating of this planet can’t be slowed down and eventually stopped if the U.S. and China don’t slash their carbon emissions drastically in the coming decades and invest massively — on a scale comparable to preparing for a world war — in alternative energy systems. We’re talking about trillions of dollars of future expenses. But there’s really no choice, not if we want to save our civilization.

The Mastodon in the Room

Any strategy to substantially reduce global CO2 emissions and keep global warming from exceeding 2 degrees (let alone 1.5 degrees) Celsius above pre-industrial levels must confront the largest obstacle to success around: China’s continuing reliance on coal to provide the lion’s share of its energy supply. According to BP, in 2020, China obtained 57% of its primary energy needs from coal. No other country comes close to that. If China was responsible for 26% of total world energy consumption that year, then its coal combustion alone constituted 15% of global energy usage — a greater share than Europe’s from all energy sources combined.

If China phases out its coal plants in this decade and other countries followed through on their Paris commitments, meeting that target of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius and avoiding a climate Armageddon would at least be possible. But that’s not the way China’s headed. Not faintly. According to some reports, that country is actually expected to boost (yes, boost!) its coal consumption in this decade by adding 88 gigawatts of coal-fired power capacity. (A large, modern coal-fired plant can generate about 1 gigawatt of electricity at a time.) Worse yet, its officials are mulling over plans to sooner or later build another 159 gigawatts worth. Because coal is the most carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels, to construct and operate so many new coal-powered plants will add monstrously to China’s CO2 emissions, making a sharp reduction in global emissions impossible.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has indeed spoken of building an “ecological civilization” and has also promised to halt the rise in China’s carbon emissions by 2030. For a time, it appeared that he was even prepared to take stern measures to halt the growth of China’s coal consumption. He did, in fact, pledge that his country would reach peak oil consumption by 2025 and halt the financing of the construction of coal plants abroad as part of its globalizing “Belt and Road Initiative,” a major shift in policy. But it seems that his government has otherwise turned a blind eye to efforts by provincial governments and powerful state-owned energy firms to rush the construction of new coal plants at home.

Western analysts believe that Chinese leaders are desperate to propel economic expansion in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Offering cheap energy from coal is one obvious way of facilitating investment in new infrastructure projects, a standard tactic for boosting growth. Some analysts also suspect that Beijing has allowed coal production to increase in response to U.S. trade sanctions and other expressions of Washington’s hostility. “The recent U.S.-China trade war has further heightened Chinese concerns about energy security, given that the country imports roughly 70% of its oil needs and 40% of its gas requirements,” Daniel Gardner of Princeton’s High Meadow Environmental Group pointed out in the Los Angeles Times, adding, “Coal — abundant and relatively inexpensive — seems to many a reliable, tried-and-true energy source.”

Why a U.S.-China Climate Survival Alliance is Essential

Recently, during a meeting with top officials in Tianjin, President Biden’s global climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, chided the Chinese for their addiction to coal. “Adding some 200-plus gigawatts of coal over the last five years, and now another 200 or so coming online in the planning stage, if it went to fruition would actually undo the ability of the rest of the world to achieve a limit of 1.5 degrees [Celsius],” he reportedly said to them during their interchange.

There was, however, no way Chinese leaders were going to respond positively to his entreaties, given the growing hostility between the U.S. and China. Even more than during the final Trump years, Washington under President Biden has voiced support for Taiwan — considered a renegade province by Beijing — while seeking to encircle China with an ever-more-militarized network of anti-Chinese alliances. These include the newly formed “AUKUS” (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.) pact that also involved the ominous promise to sell American nuclear-powered submarines to the Australians. Chinese leaders have responded angrily that any progress on climate change must await improvement in what they consider more critical aspects of their relationship with America.

“China-U.S. cooperation on climate change cannot be divorced from the overall situation of China-U.S. relations,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry during his September visit to China. “The U.S. side wants the climate change cooperation to be an ‘oasis’ of China-U.S. relations. However, if the oasis is all surrounded by deserts, then sooner or later, the ‘oasis’ will be desertified.”

In theory, the two countries could pursue the goal of radical decarbonization on their own — each independently spending the necessary trillions of dollars on domestic energy transformation. It is, however, essentially impossible to imagine such an outcome in today’s world of intensifying military and economic competition. In March, for instance, China announced a 6.8% increase in military spending for 2021, raising the official budget of the People’s Liberation Army to $209 billion. (Many analysts believe the actual figure is much higher.) Similarly, on Sept. 23rd, the U.S. House of Representatives authorized defense spending of $740 billion for Fiscal Year 2022, $24 billion more than the staggering sum requested by the Biden administration. Both countries are also moving to “decouple” their critical supply lines, while investing vast amounts in the race to dominate technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and microelectronics assumed to be essential to future success, whether in trade wars or actual ones. Neither is planning to invest anything faintly comparable in efforts to slow the pace of global warming and so save the planet.

Only when China and the United States elevate the threat of climate change above their geopolitical rivalry will it be possible to envision action on a sufficient scale to avert the future incineration of this planet and the collapse of human civilization. This should hardly be an impossible political or intellectual stretch. On January 27th, in an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis, President Biden did, in fact, decree that “climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.” That same day, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a companion statement, saying that his “Department will immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments, to mitigate this driver of insecurity.” (At the moment, however, the thought that Republicans in Congress would support such positions, no less fund them, is beyond imagining.)

In any case, such comments have already been overshadowed by the Biden administration’s fixation on dominating China globally, as have any comparable impulses on the part of the Chinese leadership. Still, the understanding is there: climate change poses an overwhelming existential threat to both American and Chinese “security,” a reality that will only grow fiercer as greenhouse gases continue to pour into our atmosphere. To defend their respective homelands not against each other but against nature, both sides will increasingly be compelled to devote ever more funds and resources to flood protection, disaster relief, fire-fighting, seawall construction, infrastructure replacement, population resettlement, and other staggeringly expensive, climate-related undertakings. At some point, such costs will far exceed the amounts needed to fight a war between us.

Once this reckoning sinks in, perhaps U.S. and Chinese officials will begin forging an alliance aimed at defending their own countries and the world against the coming ravages of climate change. If John Kerry were to return to China and tell its leadership, “We are phasing out all our coal plants, working to eliminate our reliance on petroleum, and are prepared to negotiate a mutual reduction in Pacific naval and missile forces,” then he could also say to his Chinese counterparts, “You need to start phasing out your coal use now — and here’s how we think you can do it.”

Once such an agreement was achieved, Presidents Biden and Xi could turn to Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and say, “You must follow in our footsteps and eliminate your dependence on fossil fuels.” And then, the three together could tell the leaders of every other nation: “Do as we’re doing, and we’ll support you. Oppose us, and you’ll be cut off from the world economy and perish.”

That’s how to save this planet from a climate Armageddon. There really is no other way.

Copyright 2021 Michael Klare

Via Tomdispatch.com