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Does Oliver Stone Have a Weak Spot for Dictators?

By Peter Kuznick. This article was first published on History News Network.

In Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, Susanna Martin was executed for being a witch. The evidence against her was compelling and irrefutable. In capital cases like this, testimony by at least two eyewitnesses was required to convict. One man testified that in 1660 he had seen Ms. Martin bewitch a horse. Another testified that she had broken uninvited into his dreams 20 years later. The judges ruled that this constituted two eyewitnesses to the same crime because witchcraft was a “habitual” crime. She was hanged on July 19.

By similar logic and equally “solid” evidence, Joel Sucher, in a piece titled “Has Oliver Stone Ever Met a Dictator He Doesn’t Admire?” published in the Observer in January accuses Oliver of despotophilia, which Joel too identifies as a “habitual” crime. Joel thinks he knows Oliver. He made a highly laudatory documentary about Oliver in the early 1990s when, he recalls, “Oliver was an aw’ shucks, pot-smoking, break your balls, tweak your chain, say outrageous things” kind of guy. But he and Oliver have had little if any relationship since.

I, myself, have been close friends with Oliver for more than 20 years. Oliver and I co-authored The Untold History of the United States documentary film series and New York Times bestselling book between 2008 and 2013 and have been writing articles together and doing screenings and lectures around the world for the past four years. In his article, Joel describes me as a “friend and a legit American University historian, an anti-nuclear activist.” Joel has been trying to reach Oliver through me for years, but Oliver spurned all his requests, telling me he didn’t “trust” Joel.

Perhaps this is Joel’s attempt at payback. It is not serious analysis. To me, the Oliver who Joel describes is completely and utterly unrecognizable. The man who loves despots doesn’t exist except in Joel’s mind. But the methodology Joel employs to discredit Oliver is precisely the same one used over and over again by conservative hacks who are out to do a hatchet job. It anticipated the assault on Oliver that has begun in an effort to preemptively discredit his forthcoming series of interviews with Vladimir Putin that air June 12-15 on Showtime. Joel is not a conservative hack. Why he would want to emulate those he once despised baffles me.

Oliver is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and talented directors. He has won several Academy Awards and would have won more if it had not been for his outspoken, controversial, and often radical stands on topics such as the U.S. invasion of Vietnam; the CIA death squads, covert wars, and toppling of popular governments in Central America and South America; the sinister forces who may have been behind the Kennedy assassination; the Wall Street looting of the American economy; the odious presidencies of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush; the revelations by and persecution of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden; the nuclear arms race and its threat to all life on our planet; America’s far-flung empire of bases; the corrosive effects of U.S. militarism on a global scale; the overreach of the national security state; and a host of other issues.

He is not only a brilliant filmmaker; he is a provocateur. Over the course of the past 40 years, he has said and done his share of outrageous things. Those who recognize his artistry but disdain his politics cherry pick from the same tired litany of examples to paint the portrait of an apocryphal Oliver Stone. Their purpose is not to understand Oliver but to demean him. That’s too bad because Oliver plays a unique and essential role in American public life. He is one of a tiny handful of Hollywood artists who cares enough about his country to say the things that need to be said, offering a serious critique of the United States and its role in the world. He doesn’t do it out of hatred of the United States. He does it out of a sincere patriotism—the same patriotism that motivated him to drop out of Yale and volunteer for combat in Vietnam, where he was twice wounded and highly decorated. Disillusionment with that war began his process of lifelong exploration and led to his deep-seated belief that America can and should live up to its highest ideals.

Having worked as closely with Oliver as I have, I can say categorically that he is no lover of despots. He admires those who speak truth to power—people like the young William Jennings Bryan, FDR, Henry Wallace, JFK, and Martin Luther King. To suggest, as Joel does, that Oliver admired the enormously popular and four times democratically elected Hugo Chavez for his authoritarian tendencies rather than because he dramatically reduced Venezuelan poverty, sparked a populist upsurge throughout Latin America, and defied those business, State Department, and CIA interests which tried to oust him, is complete nonsense. To think that Oliver would want to interview Fidel Castro because he admired his despotic tendencies rather than because he was a charismatic, larger-than-life figure who stood up to the United States, and, despite his flaws, inspired revolutionaries around the world for decades is equally meretricious.

To suggest that Oliver’s decision to interview Vladimir Putin for a forthcoming series of interviews came from some desire to lionize the Russian leader is also hogwash. Oliver interviewed Putin long before this current brouhaha over the Russian intervention into the U.S. presidential elections. Oliver saw that tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Syria, Ukraine, and the Baltics were driving our two nations closer toward war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He had already lived through a war about which American leaders lied shamelessly and one in which neither they nor the American people had any understanding of who our Vietnamese adversaries were and what motivated them. Watching the demonization of Putin in the American media and the simplistic rendering of Russian aggression and future expansionist plans, he didn’t want to see this happen again. And with the U.S. and Russia possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, hundreds of which are pointed at each other on hair-trigger alert, a military confrontation between the world’s two military superpowers could have consequences too frightening to contemplate. For Joel to suggest that Oliver was intending to whitewash and sanctify Putin rather than try to understand him and prevent a cataclysmic catastrophe is again simply unconscionable.

Joel’s discussion of The Untold History of the United States is another disingenuous attempt to distort the record in order to put Oliver in the worst possible light. He begins by referencing the Television Critics Association press conference at which some reporters deliberately twisted Oliver’s remarks to suggest that we were going to exonerate Hitler. Oliver, contrary to Joel’s assertion, never said that Hitler was “misunderstood” or that we were going to treat him sympathetically. Oliver was saying that fascism, as the most vile of historical movements, is not sufficiently well understood in the United States and that those who treat Hitler as a case of individual pathology rather than as a complex historical phenomenon are dangerously misinformed.

In Untold History, Oliver and Ideplore anti-Semitism and reveal the fraudulence of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Oliver is half Jewish. Most of my relatives were killed in the Holocaust. To imply that Oliver is anti-Semitic is beyond absurd. What Oliver was referring to and what we do reveal is U.S. businessmen’s much deeper and longer involvement with Nazi Germany than most Americans realize. To say, as Joel does, that Untold History met with “mixed reviews” might be technically correct, but it is highly misleading. That the New York Times and New York Review of Books would take issue with a book and documentary series that critically explore the history of the American empire and national security state is not a surprise. It certainly shouldn’t be a surprise to Joel, who describes himself as having been a “left-wing anarchist” in his younger days. Nor should the fact that right wingers would share that assessment. If Joel were being more honest, he would have mentioned that the overwhelming majority of reviews were not only positive but effusive. And to have to dig down to Boise, Idaho to find a reviewer who makes fun of Oliver’s narration shows how desperate Joel was to cast aspersions on anything Oliver touches.

Perhaps Joel’s radical days are long past and, in the words of Phil Ochs, he has “grown older and wiser and that’s why he’s turning [us] in,” but I would have thought he might cite instead the effusive encomiums for Untold History from Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Maher, Dan Ellsberg, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, or from the dozens of historians who have sung its praises, or from Pulitzer Prize-winner Martin Sherwin who called Untold History “the most important historical narrative of this century,” or from the Nobel nominated antiwar activist David Swanson, who called it “phenomenally great.” I was similarly taken aback by Joel’s deep and presumably newfound trust of the CIA and his disbelief in the fact that the CIA might have attempted to overthrow a left-wing Latin American leader, which, we know, has only occurred dozens of times.

I could but won’t go through the entire bill of particulars that Joel levels at Oliver. Suffice it to say that, whatever his motives, Joel is trying to tarnish the reputation of one of the very few Hollywood filmmakers who refuses to be cowed by the establishment into making movies that lull the population into conformist somnambulance rather than ones that make viewers think critically and want to change the world. Oliver’s supposed “love” of dictators is simply a figment of Joel’s fertile imagination. But, just to be safe, I’ll be sure to tell Oliver to stop bewitching horses and breaking into Joel’s dreams.

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Review of Always with Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor

By Bruce Parry

June 13, 2017

The New Poor People’s Campaign, of which Dr. Liz Theoharis and Dr. William Barber are National Co-Chairs, will not just commemorate the 2018 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign; it is to be a New Poor People’s Campaign for today. Never has such a Campaign been more needed. And the Co-Chairs are eminently qualified to make this a national and historic event. The Rev. Dr. Barber, who wrote the Foreword to Theoharis’ book, comes, of course, from the North Carolina NAACP where he created a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-everything movement of the poor in their own interest. The Rev. Dr. Theoharis has spent the last two decades of her life organizing among the poor in the United States and worldwide. Together, they have travelled through more than 20 states, organizing among the poor.

Dr. Theoharis’ book Always with Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor is, then, a timely, persuasive, eminently readable, and even inspiring appeal to end poverty forever. Starting with Jesus’ words, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11),[1] Theoharis shows that this quote is regularly used as proof that the Bible says that it is impossible to end poverty. Step by step, she shows that the quote means exactly the opposite: that Jesus’ intent was for us to do God’s work by ending poverty completely.

She begins by pointing out that Jesus himself was poor and homeless, almost certainly illiterate, and a representative of the poor in his time. First, she places the quote from Matthew in its full context (Matthew 26: 6-13) and then shows its interrelation with Deuteronomy 15: 1-11, which outlines God’s laws for the elimination of debt and of poverty. “There need be no poor people among you. … I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” These commandments, which Jesus quotes, are to forgive debts, release slaves, and lend money even when the lender knows he or she will never be repaid. Deuteronomy says that since these commandments will not be followed, there will be poor among you. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God hates poverty and commands them to end it. “Therefore,” concludes Theoharis, “the passage is a critique of empire, charity and inequality, rather than stating that poverty is unavoidable and predetermined by God.”[2]

The contextual analysis that Theoharis employs also shows that during the dinner at which Jesus utters these words (not the Last Supper), an unnamed woman anoints him with expensive oil. It was at that point in the Bible that Jesus was anointed the Christ, the Messiah. There is no other place in the Bible where these words are used. This emphasizes the centrality of the Matthew scripture.

Theoharis devotes an entire chapter, entitled “Reading the Bible with the Poor,” to show she puts Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 26 into action. In this central chapter, which is really the core of the book, she outlines the entire process of contextual Bible study. She explains that the Bible study they practice is not only a lesson in the interpretation of scripture, but also an organizing tool, educating and empowering the participants to follow Jesus by working to end poverty. The process they employ is to have the poor read the Bible themselves and interpret the scriptures. The students, called Poverty Scholars, wind up identifying with the disciples and the challenges they faced. They compared the disciples’ work to the community organizing they themselves are doing among the poor. But more than this, the Poverty Scholars shaped the methodological and contextual aspects of the study of the Bible. She outlines their contributions in identifying what poverty means, who the poor are, and in connecting the scriptures from Matthew and Deuteronomy. They present a searching consideration of the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus at this dinner, feasting in the house of the poor, as described in Matthew, and of the setting in which the dinner takes place. Their contributions were a central contribution to Theoharis’ presentation of the deeper meaning of what Jesus experienced and what he said.

Theoharis also provides a historical analysis of empire in Jesus’ time. The Roman Empire, ruled by Caesar had myriad clients, one of which was Herod, who ruled over Galilee and surrounding areas, oppressing and exploiting the people. Herod, the client, was, of course, beholden to Caesar. The parallels with current-day empire, wealth and oppression – and the creation and perpetuation of poverty – are clear. She points out that while the poor make history, it is the rulers – the rich and powerful – who write history. This is why it is so important that the poor themselves read, study and interpret the scriptures for themselves. The real meaning of the scriptures and of Jesus’ ministry is a powerful tool for those working to eliminate poverty.

The book draws on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King as well. Theoharis begins a chapter with a quote from Dr. King:  “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”[3] In other words, as she emphasizes throughout the book, charitable giving is insufficient. The essence of God’s work is to end poverty and this requires the crucial insight that for this goal to be achieved, society needs to be restructured. This is the central economic content of Jesus’ words and teaching, Theoharis suggests.

The final chapter is summed up in its title, “Christ, the Social-Movement Leader.” Jesus, poor himself, was anointed the Christ in a poor man’s home by an unnamed woman specifically because he did minister not just “to the poor,” but “with the poor.” His ministry was to build a society to carry out God’s commandment to end poverty. For that, he was crucified: the death sentence reserved for revolutionaries.

Dr. Theoharis has presented a compelling argument for a New Poor People’s Campaign to continue the work to end poverty. This inspiring work is not only an important theological addition to the literature, but an important tool for those in the trenches today, working to end poverty and to change society. Her description of the organizing work to empower the Poverty Scholars is an especially important contribution. There is no question that the movement has important spiritual and moral components. This book outlines the importance and centrality of morality and spirituality and is for everyone. While the teachings of the book are Christian, the lessons it contains are not only accessible, but applicable to all.


[1] All biblical quotations are from the New International Version (NIV).

[2] Theoharis, L. (2017).  Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor. Prophetic Christianity (PC) Series. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 73.

[3]Theoharis, p. 100.

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Labour’s Permanent Reformation

By Benjamin Selwyn. This article was first published on Socialist Project.

The 2017 British general election has generated the beginnings of a qualitative-change in the relationship between the Labour Party, much of British society, and parliament. That transformation can be understood as the emergence of a permanent reformation.

Jeremy Corbyn - No More Austerity

Labour’s much better-than expected support raises the distinct possibility of its victory in the next election. Against all the odds – the polls, the hostile right-wing press, expectations within the Labour Party itself – Jeremy Corbyn led the party through a brilliantly coordinated campaign, presided over the biggest swing to Labour since the earth-shaking 1945 general election, and placed socialist ideas firmly back on the political agenda.

The significance of the Labour surge is not, primarily, a question of a shift in the balance of political power in parliament. It is much more profound than that. Labour’s campaign let the proverbial genie of class politics out of the bottle.

The Genie of Class Politics

For decades that genie has been kept prisoner. First, under Margaret Thatcher’s momentous attack upon the trade union movement and her declaration that there was “no such thing as society.” Second, under Tony Blair’s third way progressive policies were framed as benign gifts to the poor, to be delivered in a context where Labour was, in Peter Mandelson’s infamous words, “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” Blair’s New Labour discouraged any revival of working class militancy. For example, he famously opposed and beat back the Fire-Fighter’s strike for a 30K a year wage. Thirdly, following David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition, austerity was imposed with a vengeance, with working class communities bearing the brunt.

During the election campaign Corbyn was relentless in his critique of the wealth-gap in the UK. The campaign gave confidence to the millions of people, who voted Labour, that an alternative to austerity is possible.

While the Tories won the election, Theresa May’s authority is shattered, and the Tories are weakened. But, whenever the next election comes, the Tories will be much better prepared. They will, in all probability, have replaced May with a leader who can communicate effectively with the press and public. They will have a fully costed Manifesto. Their attacks on Labour will be sharper and better coordinated. So what about Labour?

Labour’s result has put Corbyn firmly at the head of the party for the foreseeable future. The key dynamic is not, however, within the parliamentary Labour Party. It is among the party’s 500,000+ membership and its support base.

The hung parliament represents a breathing space for Labour, and a chance for it to consolidate, build upon, and strengthen its base. A core ingredient of Labour’s victory was the unprecedented volunteer mobilization across the country to campaign and canvass for the party. While the hugely successful Bernie Sander’s campaign was built over two years, Labour’s election campaign was put into action over less than two months.

Can Labour Continue It's Momentum?

The question is, how can Labour increase the momentum of this campaign so that it can prevail when it faces a better-organized Tory party at the next election?

There are a number of things that Labour can do. First, it must continue to increase its membership base. Given the success of the campaign it is not unrealistic to aim for a membership of 1 or even 2 million people. Members should be encouraged to contribute financially to the party. A 1 or 2 million-strong party, with each member contributing £10 a month, would generate the new-found resources with which to finance its momentum.

Secondly, membership and support for the party cannot be based, simply, on the electoral cycle. The culture-ideology of neoliberalism – self-seeking individualism – has sunk deep roots in the UK (and across much of the world). Labour needs to help generate a counter-culture of solidarity and community to combat neoliberal ideology. A mass, subs-paying membership, can contribute to financing a counter-cultural movement. Labour Party branch meetings will, quite obviously, be a place to discuss local and national politics. But they must be so much more. Tens of thousands of artists, intellectuals, and musicians support Labour. Branch meetings can be a place for a counter-cultural flowering, where members and supporters can meet. Well-financed local Labour parties can support myriad cultural events (for example, showing films such as “I Daniel Blake” with discussions).

Thirdly, Labour must engage in an ideological insurgency. The Tory mantra during the election was that Labour are fiscally irresponsible and that there is ‘no magic money tree’ to pay for Labour’s projects. Let us leave aside that, in response to the global financial crisis, the Bank of England and the UK Treasury collaborated to create £375-billion of new money through quantitative easing. There is a real need for something approaching a Labour Party membership and supporter education which explains the rationale of alternative economic and social policies.

Fourthly, there is a need for a combination of defensive and offensive campaigning, at the local and national level. Defensive campaigns will range across issues such as defending the National Health Service (NHS) and schools against cuts and privatization. Offensive campaigns will probably include those to reinstate free education, to cease arms-sales to dictatorships (such as Saudi Arabia) to protect the environment, and ensure clean air for all. Given the Tory party austerity-addiction and their desire to privatize everything in sight, these campaigns will, more likely than not, be permanent as long as the Tories are in power.

Fifthly, and crucially, struggles and strikes by workers need to be supported and stimulated. Theresa May leads the weakest Tory party government since the Edward Heath government in the early 1970s. Strikes will not only contribute to weakening it further, but can also be part of the generation of a solidarity-based counter-culture.

The Labour Party sees itself as a family. The massive surge in support for it during the election represents the political crystallization of the yearning for a different form of government, democracy and society. The five points above could represent the first steps of Labour’s permanent reformation. When it gains political office that reformation will need to be ramped up all the more. •

Benjamin Selwyn is Professor of International Relations and International Development, University of Sussex, UK. He is author of The Struggle for Development.

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Arms Industry-Funded Democrats Vote to Help Saudi Arabia Continue Slaughtering Civilians in Yemen

By Ben Norton / AlterNet

Five Democratic senators joined Republicans in narrowly voting to approve Trump’s arms deal

Displaying a Yemeni starving under Saudi siege, Sen. Rand Paul clamored for the cancellation of Trump's arms package to Saudi Arabia

Five Democratic senators joined hands with Republicans to push through the Trump administration’s sale of $510 million in precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, in a narrow 53-47 vote.

Three of these Democrats have received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the arms industry, which will be reaping an unprecedented windfall profit from Trump's record-breaking $110 billion weapons deal with the Saudi monarchy.

The Saudi regime will likely use these weapons to continue waging a brutal U.S.-backed war on Yemen, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people and created what the United Nations has repeatedly warned is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

Senators from both sides of the aisle proposed the bill S.J.Res.42 in late May to try to block this $510 million portion of the larger arms deal. Lawmakers voted on the legislation on June 13, and it was defeated with 47 votes for and 53 against.

Voting fell largely on partisan lines, with most Republicans for it and Democrats in opposition. However, Democratic senators Mark Warner (Virginia), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Bill Nelson (Florida) and Joe Donnelly (Indiana) crossed to the other side and gave the GOP the majority it needed to shoot down the legislation.

AlterNet contacted the offices of all five Democratic lawmakers with a request for comment as to why they voted in support of arming Saudi Arabia. None replied.

The weapons and military technology industry have given three of these Democratic senators large campaign contributions.

Among Bill Nelson’s top ten donors from 2011 to 2016 was the arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin, with nearly $40,000 in contributions. Lockheed will not only reap at least $6 billion from the $110 billion deal with Saudi Arabia, selling the kingdom warships and advanced military hardware; it will also extend its contract to train the Saudi army.

Senator Mark Warner received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from defense contractors Northrop Grumman, Huntington Ingalls Industries and the Harris Corporation between 2011 and 2016, according to the transparency group OpenSecrets.

Similarly, one of the top donors to Claire McCaskill is Boeing, which gave tens of thousands of dollars between 2011 and 2016.

Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky and one of the few outspoken opponents of interventionism, delivered an indignant floor speech on the resolution he sponsored. He pointed the finger directly at his colleagues who had cynically defended the arms deal as a job creating initiative.

"I am embarrassed that people are out here talking about making some money and making a buck while seventeen million people live on a starvation diet and are threatened with famine, I am embarrassed," Paul thundered. "I am embarrassed that people would bring up trying to feather the nest of corporations in order to sell these weapons."

Four Democratic senators — Chris Murphy, Al Franken, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren — joined Paul in co-sponsoring the legislation.

 

Bloodshed in Yemen

A Saudi-led coalition backed by the U.S. and the U.K. launched a bombing campaign in March 2015 in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. Since then, the U.S.-Saudi coalition has launched at least 90,000 airs raids in yemen, more than one-third of which have hit civilian areas.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have for well over a year called for an immediate halt in U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing its atrocities in Yemen. The United Nations has likewise accused the U.S.-Saudi coalition of committing apparent war crimes in the conflict.

Without support from the U.S. and the U.K., Saudi Arabia would have been unable to wage the war. Saudi Arabia is attacking Yemen with U.S. planes, U.S. weapons, U.S. fuel and intelligence from U.S. military officials, who have physically been in the command room with Saudi officials.

The U.S. military has also joined Saudi Arabia in imposing a crippling blockade on Yemen, which has prevented critical food aid and medicine from getting to the civilian population, fueling mass starvation in what has become the worst food insecurity emergency on Earth, and exacerbating a cholera epidemic.

As of January, at least 10,000 civilians had been violently killed in Yemen, in a conservative estimate. This figure does not take into consideration the tens of thousands of children who have died from nonviolent causes, such as malnutrition and preventable diseases, because of the war.

Dozens of hospitals and medical centers have been destroyed or damaged by U.S.-Saudi bombing. The World Health Organization warned in November that more than half of the impoverished country’s health facilities were out of operation or only partially functioning.

Defending the Arms Deal

Republican lawmakers bent over backward to portray the arms deal as a way to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen, not cause more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky defended the vote, paying lip service to civilians in Yemen and claiming that “blocking this arms sale will diminish Saudi capability to target with precision.” He also noted the sale could help weaken Iran.

Senator John McCain, the senate’s standard bearer of neoconservatism and the powerful chairman of the Armed Services Committee, insisted it would be “crazy” to oppose the package, The Hill reported.

Finally, Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, proclaimed, “It’s hard for me to understand why people would oppose the selling of precision-guided missiles.”

Praise for Progressive Opponents of the Sale

Human Rights Watch and the humanitarian group Oxfam praised lawmakers who tried to block the arms deal.

“The U.S. has no business providing weapons that will further fuel one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, with 7 million Yemenis on the brink of starvation and with cholera spreading rapidly,” said Scott Paul, Oxfam America senior humanitarian policy advisor, in a statement.

Paul applauded the members of Congress for “voting to block the sale of U.S. precision bombs that have been used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to destroy farms, factories, schools, hospitals and Yemen’s most important port.”

Largest Arms Deal in U.S. History

The $510 million precision munitions deal is just one part of the massive $110 billion package Trump signed with the Saudi regime — the largest single arms deal in U.S. history.

Trump solidified the deal during a visit to the Saudi regime in May, in which he demonized Iran — a Shia-majority country that is leading the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Salafi-jihadist groups.

Saudi Arabia, a theocratic absolute monarchy that shares the same extremist Islamist ideology of genocidal groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, has also armed and supported violent Salafi-jihadist groups, internal U.S. government documents have acknowledged.

Extending Obama’s Arms Deals

Partisan opposition to massive U.S. arms deals with the Saudi regime is a relatively new phenomenon.

President Barack Obama sold more than $110 billion in arms to the Saudi regime during his two terms in office. Congress let these deals — including a massive $60 billion package — go through with little opposition.

A small pocket of members of Congress from both parties, led by the lawmakers who proposed the newly defeated bill, also unsuccessfully tried to block past weapons deals, raising concerns over Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen.

When Sen. Paul concluded his floor speech, he displayed harrowing photos on the senate floor showing the emaciated victims of the US-Saudi siege and bombing campaign. "Seventeen million folks in Yemen live on the brink of starvation. I think to myself, is there every anything important in Washington? Is there ever anything I can do to save some of the millions of children that are dying in Yemen? This is it. This is this debate today."

Ben Norton is a reporter for AlterNet's Grayzone Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Why Israel and Hezbollah are heading for a new, devastating war in the Middle East

By Nicholas Noe. This article was first published on Independent.

In 13 years of watching these two bitter opponents, I have never seen such a high degree of anxiety that war is coming

hezbollah.jpg

Lebanon’s Hezbollah is backed by Iran and has greater support among ordinary citizens than Israel suggests AFP/Getty

This past Sunday, with great fanfare, Israeli politicians and military leaders finally announced to the Israeli public – and to the country’s enemies – that they had successfully layered the nation’s airspace with the most sophisticated anti-missile defence system ever developed.

Long-range Iranian or Syrian missiles, as it is anticipated, would mainly be handled by the US-backed Arrow system at high altitudes; smaller, but nevertheless extremely accurate, missiles from Hezbollah in Lebanon or Syria would be the domain of the US-backed David’s Sling, while drones, artillery and smaller rockets will continue to be dealt with by the (also US-backed) Iron Dome.

In mid-March, the new Arrow-3 missile system had seen its first successful use, knocking out a Syrian missile fired towards Israel in response to yet another Israeli Air Force attack within Syria, allegedly targeting Hezbollah positions.

This unprecedented ratcheting up of military confrontation in the Levant is raising significant concerns that a climactic war at least involving Hezbollah and Israel is increasingly likely, just 11 years after the last inconclusive round of hostilities left both sides licking their wounds and promising a “final” engagement.

In 13 years of watching these two bitter opponents, I have never seen such a high degree of anxiety among Lebanon’s political elite that war is coming.

Donald Trump says ‘you'll see’ when asked about Syria policy

This incredibly unstable and violent moment in geopolitics is undermining the central element that kept Israel and Hezbollah from overstepping each other’s red lines: fear, or rather a balance of fear based on the belief that the next conflict will be devastating for all sides.

When the next war hits, Israel will not only be well positioned to defend against Hezbollah’s main weapon – rockets launched against military and civilian targets – but it will also employ the unrestrained bombing of all Lebanese infrastructure and “supportive” civilian populations, ensuring that other Lebanese citizens turn on Hezbollah as a result.

Unfortunately for the balance of terror, Hezbollah and their allies seem to believe, with some cause, that the Israelis are wrong. First, a vicious bombing of all Lebanon will likely produce greater solidarity among Lebanese, rather than lead to any combination of ill-equipped communities to somehow confront Hezbollah.

Second, Hezbollah is not the same as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was expelled from Lebanon after the devastating Israeli invasion in the summer of 1982. It is a deeply rooted Lebanese political grouping that has significant support in the country. As the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, has long reminded the Israelis, party supporters and especially his base among the Shia people of Lebanon are not going to get on a ship and move to Tunis as PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat once did. Most will stay and fight for their country.

Remembering the Israel-Gaza conflict

Third, Hezbollah and its key partner Iran seem to believe that Israel’s nuclear and chemical facilities, and even its new missile system, are vulnerable and could be easily overcome.

Finally, just as Israeli leaders seem overly confident that other Lebanese communities will quickly turn on Hezbollah if hit hard enough, Nasrallah and other key Hezbollah leaders I have met over the years seem equally entranced by the idea that the Israelis have become a soft people protected by a soft army that will not be able to collectively bear the dislocation resulting from Hezbollah’s land, sea and air strikes.

The core problem with all of these – mostly inaccurate – assumptions is that they are providing vital lubricant for the main casus belli that has now fully emerged in Southern Syria and the Occupied Golan. Indeed, both Hezbollah and Iran are very likely continuing to pursue the sort of underground military infrastructure in Southern Syria that they successfully pioneered against the Israelis in South Lebanon and more recently in other parts of Lebanon and Syria. For the Israelis, this activity is now being characterised in no uncertain terms as an existential red line.

Not surprisingly, the pace and scope of Israeli strikes has expanded in recent weeks and months. At the same time, the Syrian government, Hezbollah and Iran have now also made it clear that pushing the carte blanche that Israel claims in the skies above Lebanon and Syria will lead to greater counter-force.

As these dynamics gather pace, both Hezbollah and Israel can also claim that they were acting defensively if a major conflict starts in Syria or in Lebanon. On the one hand, Israel will argue that it was forced to pre-empt a growing terror threat on its border, while on the other Hezbollah and its allies will argue that they were illegally attacked and responded proportionately in order to maintain the balance of terror.

Perhaps even more problematic, Iran and Hezbollah have some reason to fear that the Trump administration, Russia and Syria’s al-Assad might find a suitable deal in the coming period that essentially deals out the Shia duo. Any attempt to sideline Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, however, would probably provoke a strong counter-reaction that could lead to a wider war. It would certainly leave both actors looking particularly vulnerable to an attempted knock-out blow by the Israelis.

At the very least, the new Trump administration considers Iran the main strategic enemy in the region. It has already signalled that it will pursue a more aggressive and confrontational policy, in sharp contrast to the previous Obama administration. As such, the White House and the US Congress are starting to take apart the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran while essentially assuring that there will be an unprecedented American support for Israel in the event of any conflict, no matter who is seen as “starting” it or how such a war is conducted.

On this score alone – the likely removal of American limitations on Israel – the balance of terror has been dramatically weakened.

Can anything be done to prevent the escalation of tensions? Sadly, it does not seem that any of the great powers, and especially the US, might intervene expeditiously and intelligently to address the root causes of conflict in this part of the world, much less the immediate triggers of a new Levantine war. One can only wait and hope that all sides recognise the Middle East simply cannot bear any more destruction and bloodshed.

Nicholas Noe is co-founder of the Beirut-based Mideastwire.com and editor of 'Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah'

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