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“Trump’s Continued Descent into the Middle East Maelstrom: The Caesar Act’s Impact on Lebanon and Iraq: Egypt Inching To War on Two fronts: Libya and Ethiopia.” Tuesday, June 30, 2020. KGNU: Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues.

July 7, 2020

Trump’s Continued Descent into the Middle East Maelstrom: The Caesar Act’s Impact on Lebanon and Iraq: Egypt Inching To War on Two fronts: Libya and Ethiopia.” Tuesday, June 30, 2020. KGNU 1390 AM, 88.5 FM; 6 pm Mountain States Time – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Hosted by Jim Nelson.

This is a continuation of the radio program of June 23, 2020. taped a week later on June 30. In this first segment we continue to discuss “The Caesar Act” – more punishing U.S. sanctions against Syria and its neighbors as well as some updates on U.S. Congressional legislation that concerns the Middle East. In later segments (to be posted as they are transcribed) the discussion turns to the situation in Libya pitting regional powers in struggle for control of Libyan oil and natural gas, and finally a discussion of the Egyptian dilemma with Cairo faciing crises on two fronts – that of Libya and with the completion of Ethiopia’s Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam along the Blue Nile, which will be transcribed over the next few days. 

KGNU Hemispheres – June 30, 2020 – Transcript…Part One KGNU Hemispheres – June 30, 2020 – Transcript…Part One

(audio at the end of the article)

Formally called the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection, it was packaged as a law to protect the Syrian civilian population. But in essence the goal of the Caesar Act is to destabilize and prevent Syria from its national reconstruction and development. This was admitted by Ambassador James Jeffrey who said that “the U.S. seeks to prevent Syria from rebuilding. We have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the Caesar Act.”

Any economic or political support of the Syrian government will be punished.

– Ibrahim Kazerooni

In the past when Washington had a need to deal with some kind of local issue or tension in the Middle East – here is an example of what they did: they brought in their main allies, the protagonists from the region and essentially the State Department, the President or both, essentially dictated how the issue would be resolved and who would get what out of the deal, always with U.S. strategic interests uppermost. This was done with the Israelis and the Saudis – repeatedly, with Israel and Egypt in the run up to the Camp David Accords. The U.S. imposed the broad frameworks for the agreements and let the protagonists bicker over the details to give the appearance of “negotiations.” Washington dictate dressed as negotiations.

That is how things went bu that is history.

– Rob Prince

Jim Nelson: As previously mentioned, we’re going to continue our discussion of the Caesar Act, – specifically how it’s implementation will effect countries neighboring Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Then we’ll move on to the growing conflict in Libya. One of the key players in the Libyan situation is Egypt; Egypt is facing a double crisis – one with Libya, the other with Ethiopia over the probable opening of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the allocation of the waters of the Blue Nile.

Living in Colorado, we know about upstream-downstream water issues and how water is allocated.

Go ahead Ibrahim.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Good evening to everyone.

It’s going to be an interesting discussion as usual between Rob and myself regarding the few issues that Jim has just sketched as we have deliberated over the most important themes. Last week, Rob briefly discussed the Caesar Act. I want to recap, go over it, to understand its consequences.

Although it was drawn up primarily as a law targeting Syria (with more sanctions), but in effect, any country neighboring Syria is effected too. The primary target is Iran but the tertiary countries effected are Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The Caesar Act is in reference to a 2014 propaganda stunt involving an anonymous pseudo-named Syrian who called to testify before the U.S. Congress. He was alleged to be a military expert, military photographer. At the time, the Christian Science Monitor said that Caesar’s testimony was nothing more than “a well timed propaganda exercise funded by Qatar” to destabilize and build support against the Syrian government.

As discussed in an earlier program, this took place during the height of the terrorist/mercenary attack on Syria and the approving of the Doha Protocol as a consequence of that. Doha is the capitol of Qatar. Qatar is one of those countries that invested huge amounts of money in destabilizing Syria in support of the terrorists and mercenaries that were being trained to go to Syria to overthrow the Damascus government.

The “Caesar” propaganda was similar to the Kuwait fictional allegation against Iraq in 1990 (that the Iraqi military was stealing Kuwaiti enfants from hospital incubators. The daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, pretending to be an eye witness, was brought to Washington to testify before Congress. In a similar manner, the Caesar allegations were made and later, the Caesar Act came into existence.

Formally called the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection, it was packaged as a law to protect the Syrian civilian population. But in essence the goal of the Caesar Act is to destabilize and prevent Syria from its national reconstruction and development. This was admitted by Ambassador James Jeffrey who said that “the U.S. seeks to prevent Syria from rebuilding. We have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the Caesar Act.”

As Rob and I were discussing, the Caesar Act represents the failure of the United States to achieve its goals militarily to overthrow the Assad government, partition the country. Having failed to do so militarily Washington hopes to achieve the same goal by economic pressure (sanctions) on the Syrian government as well as targeting Lebanon, Iraq with the same. Any economic or political support of the Syrian government will be punished.

The Caesar Act also has consequences for Lebanon.

Lebanon has long and deep ties with Syria and its people on both sides of the border between the countries. The same goes for Iraq. The Iraqis also have economic and business relationships with Syria.

Concerning Syria, the Caesar Act excludes two regions – Idlib Province which is on the northwest, the province in which the mercenary/terrorists are located. Secondly it excludes Syria’s northeast province, controlled by U.S. troops and proxy Kurdish elements, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

These two areas of Syria are excluded from the Caesar Act but every other part of Syria is included within it. The whole goal is to further destabilize the Syrian (and Lebanese) currency in the anticipation that as the socio-economic conditions in both countries deteriorates, people will revolt.

As we talk about the Caesar Act, we really need to understand that this did not just begin recently or in 2011 when the Syrian crisis intensified. The U.S. has been hostile to Syria for many decades. Unlike Anwar Sadat, who signed the Camp David Accords in 1978, Hafez Assad refused to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Since then – and similar to Iran – Syria has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, already sanctioned by the United States in 1979. Literally, Iran, Syria – and to a degree Iraq – have been used to American sanctions starting from 1979. These most recent sanctions – the Caesar Act – effects the Syrian economy and particularly the value of its currency. Eight months back, 650 Syrian lira equable a dollar. Today it has skyrocketed to nearly 2500 or close to 3000 per dollar.

The same thing has happened in Lebanon. Last week the exchange rate was 4000 Lebanese Lira to a dollar, now today it has gone to 10,000. Iranian money has followed the same pattern. Eight months ago it was 10000 Iranian rial to a $1. Today it was about 25,000 rial to a dollar.(1)

These devaluations are a part and parcel of the policy of destabilization. As these currencies are increasingly devalued, prices go up and particularly in the case of Syria there are punishing sanctions on what Syria can import – cultural, medical, industrial and other imports – leading to all kinds of problems including serious food shortages, the Trump Administration is banking on the possibility that the Syrian people will feel fed up, despondent and rise up against the central government.

It’s part of regime change policy that the United States has had towards Syria “right from the beginning.” (1978). Whether it’s going to succeed or not, this is debatable because Iran, as well as Syria, as noted a few minutes ago, has been under a U.S sanctions regime literally from 1979. So it’s been 41 years that both countries have had to deal with sanctions.

Rob do you want to add anything to what I’ve already said.

Rob Prince: Yes, I’d like to add a few thoughts.

Looking at American foreign policy today – in the Middle East, but also in other parts of the world as well – it seems to be reduced to three themes: Sanctions – galore, drone assassinations and the use of special forces.

All of these measures are punitive and what might be called defensive actions in nature.

What is missing from the picture is an absence of an overall strategy other than to draw out the defeat that United States and its allies have suffered in Syria and to make the price of Syrian victory – in the sense of preserving the government and defeating U.S. attempts to partition the country – as difficult, painful and as delayed as possible.

What is happening in the Middle East, for which Syria is a key example, is a tectonic shift, slowly but surely, and that tectonic shift, very simply is that the American stranglehold on the Middle East is eroding. It started, quite frankly, when one of the solid bricks of U.S’s postwar Middle East policy – its system of alliances, became unstable with the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

The period we’re in today, is a new era. It’s an era of transition and of the shifting balance of power in the region where the U.S. role in the region, despite its undeniable strength, still, is weaker and where other forces – both regionally and internationally – are gaining strength and influence.

One more point here.

In the past when Washington had a need to deal with some kind of local issue or tension in the Middle East – here is an example of what they did: they brought in their main allies, the protagonists from the region and essentially the State Department, the President or both, essentially dictated how the issue would be resolved and who would get what out of the deal, always with U.S. strategic interests uppermost. This was done with the Israelis and the Saudis – repeatedly, with Israel and Egypt in the run up to the Camp David Accords. The U.S. imposed the broad frameworks for the agreements and let the protagonists bicker over the details to give the appearance of “negotiations.” Washington dictate dressed as negotiations.

That is how things went, but that is history today. So what we’re talking about is Washington’s growing inability to have its way in the Middle East.

Let’s keep in mind that the overall U.S. policy in the Middle East is referred to as “maximum pressure” – the maximum pressure targeting Iran and Syria in particular. That campaign continues.Recently there was a small bill – I talked about it in an earlier program – HR 2407 – which would put limitations on Israel for its treatment of Palestinian youth in Israeli prisons.

Contrast that with the number of bills providing goods and services to Israel. In the last session there were 68 such bills and now they’ve added another 18. This gives you a vivid example of how the powers that be in Congress relate to the Middle East. The largest foreign policy gift is to Israel – some $3.8 billion annually over the next ten years. Think about that as we are facing an economic crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic …

And then more sanctions on Iran. Here again – that reflex reaction of more sanctions, with the latest ones becoming surrealistic. The latest U.S. sanctions are being placed on the Iranian merchant marine, specifically the captains of the five ships that brought oil from Iran to Venezuela.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Rob can I add one point. By now everyone knows that Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that pushed the Caesar Act to become a law, was defeated in a Democratic Primary race by Jamaal Bowman. This was considered a blow to pro-Israel lobby, no?

Rob Prince: No question.

He’s been in Congress since 1989. He was one of the key point people in terms of resolutions supporting Israel and its Occupation, in close contact with AIPAC. Engel was defeated by an Afro-American former high school principal in the Democratic Party primary.

That was significant enough, but even more significant was the lopsided aspect of the vote by which Engel lost; Jamaal Bowman received nearly 70% of the vote. This a clear rejection of Engel and his politics. Engel is an absolutely classic “liberal on everything but Israel” Representative. So this is a slap in the fact of AIPAC, pro-Israeli lobby.

Some friends think that this is the beginning of the downfall of AIPAC. That is a serious exaggeration but it was unquestionably something of a blow.

_____________________

1. And a week later, on July 6, 2020 it spiked again to 42100 rial to a dollar.

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