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U.S. Senate to Tunisia: If You Want Foreign Aid, Support Israel At The United Nations.

July 14, 2017

Amilcar Tile Work

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Tunisia: Want Aid? Soften Criticism of Israel.

The U.S. has Tunisia in a bind…again: support U.S. Middle East political initiatives  and allies or else the aid  or face serious reductions in military and economic aid. No mystery where that could lead. What choice does Tunisia have…having already dug its hole so deep. Although much has been made of the fact that Tunisia has not been plunged into the chaotic political maelstrom of Libya or Syria, the continued chronic economic and social crisis that has gripped the country places Tunisia in a vulnerable position where it is difficult to go against the wishes of Washington (or Paris).

It’s an old story, actually.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed came to Washington recently (July 10-12, 2017) to plead his country’s case against the Trump Administration’s plan to cut its aid package to the North African country from $141 million (2016) to $54.6 million in (2018). In a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chahed was presented with a list of eleven “concerns,” one of which was a request (demand?) that, in exchange for maintaining the aid package at the 2016 levels that Tunisia support U.S. efforts to stifle efforts in different United Nations organizations critical of Israel.

Having the US pressure Tunisia to side with Israel at the United Nations (or elsewhere) undoubtedly creates tension between the Tunisian people and government undermining the stability that the US claims it is pursuing in the Maghreb. It is a case of typical U.S. political blackmail in which the influence of  the American Israeli Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and like organizations is more than likely. The threat is not especially subtle: if Tunisia wants to continue to receive U.S. economic and military aid it must follow “the rules of the game,” be a part of the team…and to play the role it has long played under Bourguiba – to push the Arab/Islamic world to normalize its ties with Israel in exchange from political and economic support from Washington.

Let’s be frank though, Tunisia’s weight in all this is so little that it doesn’t have much to lose by accepting these terms. No one in the Arab world listens to it – be it Bourguiba or Beji-Caid Essebsi-Ghannouchi – who is voicing such a policy. In exchange for badly needed economic and security aid, Essebsi will probably be willing to swallow his national pride without much hesitation, mind you, and cave to such pressures. Read more…

Earth Flatteners and Hobby-Lobby Iraqi Artifact Theft – 2. Hobby-Lobby Fined $3 million and Forced to Return 5,500 Stolen Iraqi Artifacts

July 8, 2017

This box of artifacts was on sale in a Baghdad market. Iraq National Museum identification numbers are visible on many cylinder seals inside the box.

A New York Times July 5, 2017 news story details how the toy manufacturer, Hobby Lobby, was taken to a federal court in Brooklyn for having knowingly bought 5,500 cultural artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq during the March-April, 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The stolen items, purchased for $1.6 million from an unnamed antiquities dealer had been among the estimated 130,000 items looted from Iraq as a whole in the midst of the U.S.-led storming of Baghdad in which hundreds of looters in three waves savaged one of the world’s greatest archaeological collections.

The mostly U.S. led (or encouraged) wars which have wreaked havoc on Iraq since 1980 have not only done near-irreparable damage to Iraqi infrastructure, resulting, easily, not only in the death of a million people, but millions of people, the overwhelming majority of them civilian casualties. They have also produced an antiquities trafficking bonanza of unprecedented size and scope. In the vacuum created by war zone situations, looting – highly organized and targeted – has also resulted with pretty much everyone getting into the act, including ISIS, Daesh types who as part of their effort to purge the Middle East of all non-Salafist representations of religion have not only destroyed precious religious and other cultural artifacts, but have also sold tons of them on the black market to raise money for arms and other equipment. So ISIS, Daesh are not just destroying ancient artifacts, they are selling them! Strange as it seems, in its rush to buy up whatever antiquities it can get its hands on, Hobby Lobby is doing business – knowingly or not – with ISIS and like organizations.

As one researcher noted, it was not only the National Museum that was targeted. Other looted Iraqi cultural institutions included the National Library, the National Academy of Arts, institutes of music, dance, and art, and universities in Baghdad and elsewhere. Likewise, organized looting of archaeological sites, which had begun during the mid 1990s in the south of Iraq, resumed at a greatly increased rate while the invasion was taking place, and it continues unabated Read more…

Flat Earthers and Hobby Lobby Iraqi Artifact Theft – 1 Background

July 7, 2017

The theft of Latin American archeological treasures continues a pace today. These items are recently recovered (January, 2017) Guatemalan Mayan “steeles,” as they are called, stolen from their archaeological site and sold to art dealers who then turn around and sell them to private collectors and museums

Two news items triggered an emotional reaction.

  • The first was NY Times story concerning Hobby Lobby. The company was found guilty in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York of having illegally acquired 5,500 items smuggled out of Iraq from that country’s National Museum of Antiquities.
  • The second was a rather curious article in The Denver Post about a small group of people who meet regularly in Ft. Collins – fifty miles north of Denver on the front range. This esteemed group meets in semi-secret, afraid of reprisals, they say. As the Post article notes: “They call themselves Flat Earthers. Because they believe Earth — the blue, majestic, spinning orb of life — is as flat as a table.” But is it, as the early Christian’s believed, the center of the universe, God’s perfect creation?

A little history for starters – the first of the stolen Guatemalan Mayan Temple and some commentaries on the Ghanaian-made file, ‘You Hide Me” in this entry. In the next one I’ll go into detail about Hobby Lobby’s venture into valuable Iraqi artifacts and the these more recent items in the news.

In fact there is a great tradition going back centuries of Europeans, Euro-Americans stealing the wealth, the cultural items of Third World, “indigenous” peoples. By the way, that is what most European and North American museums are about. Some of these items were purchased. Many were, in one way or another looted, the result of war booty, conquest, and the like. When they are displayed, which isn’t very often, it is mostly as trophies, while the overwhelming majority of the collections remain in hidden in boxes and cabinets in museum basements.

I have two favorite stories about cultural-item looting to share before getting into the Hobby Lobby theft of the Iraqi cultural artifacts.

The Guatemalan Temple That Wound Up In San Francisco

Some four decades ago I was in San Francisco area visiting a group of my old Peace Corps Tunisia (1966-1968) buddies who lived there at time – Dan Cetinich and Bob Stam in particular. Cetinich, who died in October, 2016, noted an exposition of a Guatemalan Mayan temple that was on display at a San Francisco museum. Off we went. Sure enough there was a fully restored Guatemalan Mayan temple on display. It was quite extraordinary with an intricate design patterns on both the outside and inside. As we left the exhibit, we wondered aloud about how it might have been that a Guatemalan Mayan temple had made its way to a San Francisco museum. Made of some kind of stone – it must have weighed tons. At a loss to answer our own question, our discussion, as it often did, moved on from Guatemalan Mayan temples to other long forgotten subjects – but knowing Dan Cetinich I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned to film, a subject on which he was a genuine expert. Read more…

The U.S. Descends into the Syrian Maelstrom

June 21, 2017

Syrian National Forces Liberating Aleppo from ISIS-al Nusra in May 2016. The world should have celebrated (and many did). But instead of acknowledging that this was a significant military victory that isolated the likes of ISIS, the American media tried to manipulate it into a tragedy.

For what can war but endless war still breed? (John Milton, Sonnet 15 – Thanks Richard Rozoff)

We were waste deep in the big muddy, but the big fool said to push on” (Pete Seeger)

The latest news from Syria, is once again is unsettling. All appearances are that the Trump Administration has crossed its own red line. As one writer, Jim Kavanagh, succinctly put it:The latest news from Syria, is once again is unsettling. All appearances are that the Trump Administration has crossed its own red line. As one writer, Jim Kavanagh, succinctly put it:

The United States is at war with Syria.

Though few Americans wanted to face it, this has been the case implicitly since the Obama administration began building bases and sending Special Ops, really-not-there, American troops, and it has been the case explicitly since August 3, 2015, when the Obama administration announced that it would “allow airstrikes to defend Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. military from any attackers, even if the enemies hail from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.” With the U.S. Air Force—under Trump, following Obama’s declared policy—shooting down a Syrian plane in Syrian airspace, this is now undeniable.  The United States is overtly engaged in another aggression against a sovereign country that poses no conceivable, let alone actual or imminent, threat to the nation.

This is an act of war.

Washington has entered the Syrian fray in a more direct manner. More U.S. troops are being sent there. Already there are confrontations – not so much with ISIS and al Nusra – but with the Syrian government forces, the Iranians and the Russians – all of which are, in principle, U.S. allies fighting these Muslim fundamentalists. Nothing could be worse for Syria and for Middle East peace.

Let us briefly note the escalation of tensions in the past few days:

• The United States shot down a Syrian national government jet fighter, although supposedly both the United States and the Assad Government are “theoretically” on the same side in the fight against a common enemy – ISIS, Al Nusra and the like.

The Independent (British newspaper) reports that “Israel is giving secret aid to the Syrian rebels” referring to a report in the Wall Street Journal June 18, 2017.• And now the U.S. has shot down an Iranian made drone over Syria

So what’s the deal with Syria? Read more…

Saudi Intimidation of Qatar – The Syrian Connection

June 17, 2017

Bangladeshi workers living in cramped quarters in Doha, Qatar. Qatar boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world. But these living standards do not extend to foreign workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines who work in conditions that international human rights organizations have described as close to slave labor

 

Anti-Iranian Coalition Trump and the Saudis Tried to Slam Together in Chaos.

The Saudi led blockade (which the Saudis insist is not one) of Qatar is stuttering. The anti-Iranian campaign heralded by Donald Trump in Riyadh in mid-May has failed to get off the ground. Not only that it has backfired. The Saudis underestimated Qatari support in the region from Turkey and Iran. The blockade has, for all practical purposes failed. They also miscalculated U. S. support for the effort. True enough Donald Trump and his little family entourage might have been enthusiastic, but the representatives of the military industrial complex (Mattis) and the energy industry (Tillerson) are far from enthusiastic and have not bought in to the Saudi project of regime change in Qatar. Not at all.

The blockade which Saudi Arabia has spearheaded against Qatar with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt is now more than a week old. Blockades, lest it be forgotten, are a form of warfare. These countries have cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, kicked out their embassy staff, closed down branches of the Qatari run Al Jazeera media outlet. They have cut transport links, making it difficult for the country to import and export goods. Air space for Qatar Airways, the country’s airlines has been denied air space over Saudi Arabia and landing possibilities in the other states involved, complicating the airlines travel routes. On the opening days of the embargo/boycott – essentially a full court economic siege – the computer systems of many of the country’s institutions experienced cyber attacks.

As an example of how far this anti-Qatari blitzkrieg has gone, the United Arab Emirates made it illegal “for citizens to feel sorry for what is happening in Qatar.”As an example of how far this anti-Qatari blitzkrieg has gone, the United Arab Emirates made it illegal “for citizens to feel sorry for what is happening in Qatar. The UAE Attorney General Hamad Saif- al Shamsi noted:”

“Strict and firm action will be taken against any one who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar or anyone who objects to the position of the United Arab Emirates, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form.

Certainly the Saudi hope for a quick knockout blow that would tame the Qataris into submission to Washington and Riyadh’s coordinated diktats has not taken place. Key Washington regional allies (Turkey, Iran, Oman, Kuwait) have opposed it to one degree or another and have been able to stall any military action against Qatar that Saudi might have been contemplating and to place the Saudis on the ideological offensive. A call from the United Arab Emirates to move the U.S. air base from Qatar to the Emirates has been outright rejected by Secretary of Defense James Mattis. A stalled crisis plays in Qatar’s favor that some grace saving formula (for Saudi) can be found to smooth over this spat among U.S. strategic allies.

Read more…

The Trump Circus In Saudi Arabia – 3 – U.S Troops In Saudi Arabia?, The “Arab NATO,” Why Trump To Saudi Arabia Now?

June 11, 2017

What is known as the South Pars field (in blue) whose underground natural gas reserves are divided between Qatar (in amber). Having failed to “produce” for the US in Syria through its terrorist allies – that is to overthrow the Assad government there, the U.S has turned to Saudi Arabia to do the job. The Saudis and Washington want Qatar to “fall in line” and accept “Saudi leadership” – it too is a major funder of terrorism in Syria – but Qatar is resisting. The Saudis, for whom economic crises continue to add up, are also eyeing control of the lucrative Southern Pars natural gas field which help ease its financial burden as well as enabling Riyadh to put more pressure on Iran…target of the new sectarian Sunni campaign which Trump has encouraged.

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Note: In Part Three of this interview – KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues on May 23, 2017 – we discuss a number of things –  The little known fact of U.S Troops In Saudi Arabia, The collapse of  “Arab NATO” even before it got off the ground,” Why Trump To Saudi Arabia Now?

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Part One of the Series

Part Two of the Series

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Transcript: Part Three.  KGNU – Boulder – May 23, 2017. Hemispheres – Middle East Dialogues

Rob Prince: Ibrahim, one of the things we talked about in our discussions before tonight was the rarely acknowledged presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. I’d like to look at that a little bit because their presence is kind of opaque if you like in terms of how it’s seen here in the United States.

It takes place in a number of ways.

First of all of this weaponry that the Saudis have been buying from the United States – not just this most recent $110 billion deal – but they have been doing so for some time. Just in the Obama years, and even before – the Saudis purchased more than $150 billion worth of arms sales, 42 military contracts – this was during the Obama presidency! Now Trump is trying to outdo him. But the interesting point is, that the Saudi ability to use that weaponry is, to put it politely, rather limited.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Or nonexistent Read more…

The Trump Circus in Saudi Arabia – 2: Targeting Iran, The Kissinger Deal, Doctrines – Obama and Trump

June 7, 2017

Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank demonstrated against the Trump visit and the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi effort to force a humiliating settlement agreement down their throats.

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Part One: The Trump Circus in Saudi Arabia Milking the  Saudi Cash Camel-1

Part Three: The Trump Circus in Saudi Arabia – 3 – US. Troops in Saudi? The “Arab NATO,” Why Trump to Saudi Now?

(Note: In Part Two of this interview – KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues on May 23, 2017 – we discuss a number of things – the consequences of the Iran Nuclear Issue, the relevance of the Kissinger Deal of 1973 to current U.S.-Saudi relations and what might be called the Obama and Trump Doctrines for the Middle East.)

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Transcript: Part Two.  KGNU – Boulder – May 23, 2017. Hemispheres – Middle East Dialogues

While Obama tried to focus on China and to curtail the expansionist plan that the Chinese have, with Trump – if it’s true to call it “the Trump Doctrine – I don’t know if he is intelligent enough to have a doctrine, but let’s say for the sake of argument it is a doctrine – his making a u-turn and focusing back onto the Middle East, particularly in the manner in which it is being done, this is a dead end.

Jim Nelson: In the last month China has announced a new “Silk Road Agenda.” How does it play into what you have described as this antiquated attack on Iran. It seems that the United States is missing the boat, both on the economic opportunities which opened up with the Iran Nuclear Deal and with the expansion of the Silk Road Agenda as well.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Concerning the nuclear issue, Rob and I have repeatedly talked about this during the past months. The nuclear deal opened Iran up to the international community. Europeans are going to Iran from the left, right and center as are Far Easterners and South Americans. They are going into Iran and making various economic deals.

The options for the United States in being able to isolate Iran again to the point where they were able to in the past since the revolution, unfortunately for Washington, doesn’t exist. The Iranians are well aware of this.

The Chinese approach, particularly the “Version Two of the Silk Road Agenda” that I briefly talked about last week (on another radio program) clearly includes a number of key players into the mix. Iran is one of them. We are no longer speaking uniquely of the Silk Road between East and West, going from China through Mongolia, northern Iran, across Turkey and so on. It now has “its arms,” extensions, tentacles that connect to various places – going into Bangladesh, through Kashmir to Pakistan to Iran into the warmer waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean giving the Chinese the opportunity to invest in the infrastructure and bringing all these countries in line with its own foreign policy. That is something that unfortunately Trump, in his rush to sing the Saudi tune, has failed to understand. Read more…