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Trump’s Middle East Policies – The Blind Leading The Blind; The Military Takes Over Foreign Policy, Diplomacy Out The Window: KGNU Hemispheres “Middle East Dialogues” with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince: Tonight, Tuesday, March 28, 2017 @ 6 pm, Mountain States Time – Part One

April 1, 2017

Jim Nelson, co-host of KGNU’s Hemispheres

KGNU – Interview, March 28. 2017 – Transcript – Part One

What we can say at this point, unquestionable: it will be a diet of more guns, less butter. That’s the Trump program. Cutting human services to feed the military budget – all these trends which have existed in the past until now have become exacerbated. I would add here, that from the point of view of people living in the United States, the connection between cutting the military budget and redirecting those funds for human needs has never been greater. It’s an old focus for the peace movement, but it’s day has come.

1

Jim Nelson: If some of you have been listening to BBC at the bottom of the hour Guy Erikson gave an introduction to tonight’s program. Ibrahim and Rob will be discussing Trump’s Middle East policy now two months into his presidency. We’ll begin with Rob

Rob Prince: We titled this talk “Trump’s Middle East Policies – The Blind Leading The Blind; The Military Takes Over Foreign Policy, Diplomacy Out The Window.”

That segment “Diplomacy out the window is only a slight exaggeration. What is happening to U.S. foreign policy – in the Middle East and elsewhere is that an already militarized foreign policy is becoming that much more so.

The Blind: Trump – who knows less about Middle East policy than he does about healthcare, suggesting that in the end it has little to do shaping M.E. policy – and that to a great degree that is the charge of the generals around him, Mattis and others. Trump doesn’t have much to do with shaping Middle East policy.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: That goes for everything, Rob.

Rob Prince: Yes.

The Blind that is being led by “The Blind Trump” – are the Generals themselves, who think that at its heart and soul, U.S. Middle East policy can be furthered by dropping more bombs and using diplomatic initiatives less. It’s a still more militarized foreign policy in the Middle East, one in which diplomacy is playing a continually shrinking role.

2.

Two months into this presidency the political blitzkrieg that is the Trump presidency continues.

For most people in Colorado, the US in general, the focus has been on the dramatic cuts in environmental regulations, the attack on the Affordable Care Act, the gutting of the Dept. of Education, the EPA, labor rights, and tax reform that give tax breaks for the rich at the expense of the poor, working class and professional classes of the country…

In the media, and in the minds of many in the United States, foreign policy issues have taken a back seat in the news – but not in the plans of the Trump Administration which is “forging ahead” toward Armageddon… Flashes, an outline of these policies, have come to light. What can we say about Trump’s Middle East policy in the Middle East in general, a framework for what is happening on the ground in the region?

The first thing we can say…

The Administration has called for a $54 billion increase in the military budget which, for 2016 stood at close to $600 billion. That amount does not include a number of secret budgets (Special Forces) nor the that controlling the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, located in the budget of the Department of Energy). The economist Jeffrey Sachs estimated that if these additional items were covered, the total military budget approaches $1 trillion annually.

Jim Nelson: Rick Perry, former Texas governor, (and now Secretary of Energy) was excited to discover – apparently he was unaware – that the Department of Energy included oversight and management of the country’s nuclear arsenal. Talk about the blind leading the blind

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Only in America!

3.

Rob Prince: As has often been noted, the U.S. military budget is greater than the combined military budgets of the next eight largest militaries. The Chinese military budget is about 1/3 that of the U.S., the Russian military budget even smaller, less then 10% the size of Washington’s. Who’s threatening whom?

The second point to be made: the Trump Administration is reversing the Obama Administration’s attempts to somewhat draw down U.S. troop numbers on the ground in the Middle East. What is happening with Trump is just the opposite: American troop numbers are increasing again in the region. American troops are being re-introduced to a number of countries at this time.

It is also known that the Trump Administration is going to add to the Special Forces operations (Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC). These additional operations are already underway already in many if not all of the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) countries.

Something else is also happening in Washington where the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, are asking a sub-committee of the Senate to provide a legal basis for the so-called War on Terrorism. This is interesting. Unending, unregulated war-making has not been passed by Congress which is still working under the shadow of the whittled down, but still in existence War Powers’ Act. Basically what the military is asking for is the legal basis, the formal legal authority for engaging in unlimited warfare, when and where they want, without Congressional authorization. Such a change would give a legal justification for all kinds of war crimes, torture, etc.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Rob, I can come up with something to help him (Trump). It’s called “humanitarian intervention.”

Jim Nelson: General Mattis is also known as “Mad Dog Mattis” for his role in the 2004 U.S marine attack on Fallujah, Iraq in which phosphorus weapons were used.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Strange enough, Jim now that you have opened this can of worms, James Steele, the troublemaker who helped initiate the “Salvador Option” (death squads targeting opposition leadership) under John Negroponte, then U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, around the same time was operating in Iraq as well, collaborating with James “Mad Dog” Mattis. Robert Ford, who would play an insidious role in Syria, was active in this program as well.

Rob Prince: That part of the program is what is called targeted – or not so targeted – assassinations

4.

In terms of more general militarization of the Middle East, Trump is speaking of:

□ sending 1000 troops to Kuwait to use as “a reserve force in the war against ISIS.
□ sending 400 additional troops to Syria on top of the 500 or so already there in place

There are, if one looks carefully, continuities, in Middle East policy between Obama and Trump. One of these continuities is making “temporary” U.S. military bases more permanent. Ibrahim and I were discussing how the Trump Administration is planning for more permanent bases in Iraq. Can you talk about that Ibrahim?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: If you remember during the election campaign, repeatedly Trump criticized Obama’s partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq both for economic and military reasons. Everything he has done ever since is in line with this view.

By the way, the actual number of increased U.S. troop presence is far greater than what the media actually talks about. I decided to back to look at the numbers mentioned in different reports during the past four or five months and literally count these 200 troop increases here, 150 there. Putting these numbers together, the United States has placed more than 6000 soldiers on the ground which under one circumstance or another the Trump Administration has admitted, these troops are present under the pretext of so-called defeating ISIS, Da-ish, Al Qaeda or whatever.

But there is another kind of trick, deception here. Those military personnel who are sent to the region on a temporary basis are not counted nor are the private mercenaries included in the numbers given. So if all these elements are combined there are a huge number of U.S. military personnel and U.S. paid personnel on the ground and nothing is said about it by the administration or the media here. Literally there are probably more than 10 or 15,000 U.S. military on the ground.

Rob Prince: and the Special Forces numbers are never given, which are considered secret.

Guy Erickson, in the studio at KGNU, Boulder.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Exactly

Rob Prince: To sum up, what we’re looking at in terms of Trumps Middle East policy is a re-militarization, an intensification of U.S. ground troops. It’s reminiscent of Viet Nam in 1962 or 1963.

Beyond that…other developments…

5.

The Trump Administration has implemented new rules for bombing/drone attacks that include civilian casualties. Here are a number of examples:
□ A Special Forces attack in Yemen shortly after Trump was inaugurated resulted in the deaths of 30 civilians including 10 women and children – This set the tone for what is to come. In the previous administration drone and/or bombing attacks did result in significant civilian casualties. However, the Administration described such incidents as unfortunate collateral damage, expressed “formal regret” at times. Now the attitude in these first months of “Trumpism” is a quite different approach: civil casualties are not unfortunate; this is just part of “the game” – war making.
□ More recently more than 250 civilians were killed in a U.S. bombing of ISIS targets in Mosul where Iraqi government forces and ISIS are engaged in struggle. Other estimates place the number of dead at over 500.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Over a thousand.

Rob Prince: This was nothing less than a catastrophic event. Here is a quote from Democracy Now! – Amy Goodman’s program: “The Mosul bombing is just one of an onslaught of U.S.-led coalitions air strikes in Iraq and Syria that has killed as many as 1000 civilians in March alone,” this according to the journalistic project “Air Wars.”

As we have repeatedly argued over the airwaves here on KGNU, the U.S. military operations in Syria are less about defeating ISIS and much more about partitioning the country as originally outlined in the Doha Protocols of 2012. The partition plan remains very much alive.

Jim Nelson: I just wanted to add that during the presidential election campaign Trump mentioned that the United States would be willing to kill relatives of ISIS members as well, increasing yet again the number of civilian casualties. This is in contrast to the Obama Administration, which at least formally sought to keep down civilian casualty numbers.

Rob Prince: To wrap up this part of the discussion, all this is reflected in the Trump budget. Thus at the same time the military budget is burgeoning by an additional $54 billion, funding for the State Dept is being cut by nearly 30%.

Will it be bread or guns? Trump answers this definitively – more guns, less butter.

There is another generalized trend I would like to mention…the further militarization of U.S. foreign policy at the expense of diplomacy. Diplomacy itself has become overwhelmingly military, or as it used to be called, gunboat diplomacy.

By the way this trend of upping the influence of military at the expense of diplomacy in the United States didn’t start yesterday, or only with Trump’s inauguration. Peace movements have been asking about “will it be guns or butter?” for the past 70 years, since the end of World War II, if not longer.

What we can say at this point, unquestionable: it will be a diet of more guns, less butter. That’s the Trump program. Cutting human services to feed the military budget – all these trends which have existed in the past until now have become exacerbated. I would add here, that from the point of view of people living in the United States, the connection between cutting the military budget and redirecting those funds for human needs has never been greater. It’s an old focus for the peace movement, but it’s day has come.

6.

One must try to discern, where it comes to the Middle East, what precisely is the policy all this militarization is defending. How has Middle East policy under Obama and Trump compare? While the media and the Trump Administration suggest the policies of the two presidencies are quite different, to the contrary, when it comes to the overall goals, what stands out are the continuities.

Focusing specifically on U.S. policy towards the Middle East…as we have repeatedly emphasized, the strategic goals for the region remain the same as they have over the past 75 years

– control of energy resources and choke points (Suez, Gibraltar, Straits of Hormuz, Bab El Mandeb)
– the partitioning of the region into as many smaller units as possible, easier for energy companies and big power governments to negotiate both economic and security arrangements with
– reliance on a number of strategic allies – Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt – to help implement its policies
– increased military naval and on-the ground military presence in the region and nearby countries (bases in Italy, Greece, Germany, Spain, Iraq – extensive use of Special Forces throughout the region.)

– Central – as it has been since 1933 when King Saud signed an agreement with the Standard Oil Company of Southern California (SoCal) giving the United States a 65 year lease of uninterrupted exploitation of Saudi oil (and natural gas): control of energy resources and regional choke points (Suez, Gibraltar, Straits of Hormuz, Bab El Mandeb) through which that energy would flow to the rest of the world. Add to this, specifically today – determining the geography of and controlling energy pipe lines. “Pipeline politics” is key today in understanding what is transpiring in the region.
– the partitioning of the region into as many smaller units as possible, easier for energy companies and big power governments to negotiate both economic and security arrangements. Recent events in Iraq, Libya, Syria are classic examples of this strategy.
– reliance on a number of strategic allies – Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt – to help implement its policies, all of whom in recent years, during the Obama Administration have been armed to the teeth even more so than in the past. For the Saudis and the Gulf Emirates – the largest arms purchase in American history topping more than $60 billion in sophisticated arms sales; for Israel $38 billion is military aid over the next ten years.
increased military naval and on-the ground military presence in the region and nearby countries (bases in Italy, Greece, Germany, Spain, Iraq – extensive use of Special Forces throughout the region.)

All this has been going on before Donald Trump won the presidency…with minor variations, these themes will continue during the Trump years, if not intensify. This is what we mean when we say the changes between Obama and Trump’s Middle East policy are more a shift in emphasis, but the overall strategy, the ultimate goal remains unchanged.

To be continued in Part Two of the interview.

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