What Did 9/11 Inaugurate?

9-11 Calamity

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Viktor Vasnetsov)

On this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, we should ask ourselves what those attacks inaugurated.  In a word, calamity.  The wildly successful actions of Al Qaeda, combined with the wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, marked the 21st century as one that will likely become known to future historians as calamitous.

The wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, essentially continued by Obama and the present national security state, have played into the hands of those seeking a crusade/jihad in the Greater Middle East.

In thinking about the 9/11 attacks, as an Air Force officer, what struck me then, and still does now, is the psychological blow.  We Americans like to think we invented flight (not just that the Wright Brothers succeeded in the first powered flight that was both sustained and controlled).  We like to think that airpower is uniquely American.  We take great pride that many airliners are still “Made in the USA,” unlike most other manufactured goods nowadays.

To see our airliners turned into precision missiles against our skyscrapers, another potent image of American power, by a terrorist foe (that was once an ally against Soviet forces in Afghanistan) staggered our collective psyche.  That’s what I mean when I say Al Qaeda’s attacks were “successful.”  They created an enormous shock from which our nation has yet to recover.

This shock produced, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, a form of government psychosis for vengeance via airpower.  The problem, of course, is that the terrorist enemy (first Al Qaeda, then the Taliban, now ISIS) simply doesn’t offer big targets like skyscrapers or the Pentagon.  The best the U.S. can do via airpower is to strike at training camps or small teams or even individuals, all of which matter little in the big scheme of things.  Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes (and subsequent land invasions by ground troops) arguably strengthen the enemy strategically.  Why?  Because they lend credence to the enemy’s propaganda that the USA is launching jihad against the Muslim world.

The wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, essentially continued by Obama and the present national security state, have played into the hands of those seeking a crusade/jihad in the Greater Middle East.  What we have now, so the experts say, is a generational or long war, with no foreseeable end point.  Its product, however, is obvious: chaos, whether in Iraq or Libya or Yemen or Syria.  And this chaos is likely to be aggravated by critical resource shortages (oil, water, food) as global warming accelerates in the next few decades.

We are in the early throes of the calamitous 21st century, and it all began fifteen years ago on 9/11/2001.

William J. Astore

What Did 9/11 Inaugurate?

Obama and the US secret war in Laos


6 September 2016

Barack Obama arrived Monday night in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, becoming the first US president to return to the scene of one of US imperialism’s bloodiest crimes, even as his administration is preparing new wars on a far greater scale.

Obama will attend the East Asian Summit where rising tensions with China over the South China Sea are set to dominate following a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favour of a US-backed Philippine challenge to China’s territorial claims.

In a pre-recorded CNN interview aired on Sunday, Obama signalled his intent to deliver a blunt message to Chinese President Xi Jinping to abide by the court’s decision. “When we see them violating international rules and norms, as we have seen in some cases in the South China Sea, or in some of their behaviour when it comes to economic policy, we’ve been very firm,” he said, warning: “We’ve indicated to them that there will be consequences.”

What utter hypocrisy! As with every other international rule and norm, the US insists that others abide by rulings under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which it has not even ratified. Over the course of his two terms in office, Obama has transformed the long-running regional disputes in the South China Sea into a dangerous international flashpoint that threatens to trigger war.

Obama routinely declares that China must abide by the “international rules-based order”—that is, the post-World War II order that enshrined American global hegemony and empowered Washington to write the rules for others. He also boasts that it was US military might in the Asia Pacific that ensured “peace” and underwrote the region’s massive economic expansion over the past 40 years.

American dominance in Asia, however, was only established through a series of criminal neo-colonial wars—in particular in Korea and Indochina—that cost the lives of millions, as well as countless diplomatic intrigues and CIA-backed coups. The bloodiest coup, in Indonesia in 1965-66, involved the slaughter of at least a half million workers, peasants and members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).

The CIA’s secret war in Laos ranks among American imperialism’s worst war crimes. Between 1964 and 1973, the US conducted 580,000 missions and dropped more than two million bombs on a country less than the size of New Zealand. That is equivalent to one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, or roughly one tonne of explosives for every man, woman and child in Laos at the time. Laos remains the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.

The US took over from the French in attempting to suppress the anti-colonial movement throughout Indochina—Vietnam and Cambodia as well as Laos—that was dominated by Stalinist parties and backed by the Soviet Union and China. The CIA used every dirty trick in the book to prop up the Royal Lao Government and disrupt North Vietnamese soldiers and supplies from passing down the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam.

The CIA was centrally involved, as the war did not have congressional approval and was kept under a cloak of secrecy by the American political and media establishment. As the Royal Laotian army crumbled, CIA operatives recruited, armed and trained an anti-communist guerrilla force estimated at 30,000 from among hill tribes, largely the Hmong. These were bolstered by a secret army of mercenaries from Thailand and US-trained soldiers from South Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines.

Some 350,000 men, women and children were killed in the carnage, and a tenth of the country’s population was displaced by the fighting. The CIA’s Hmong allies lost so many fighters that they turned to the forcible recruitment of child soldiers as young as eight. To fund the war, the Hmong, assisted by the CIA, grew and sold opium, helping to fuel a global heroin epidemic. The CIA company, Air America, flew the drugs out of land-locked Laos.

The secret war devastated the country. According to one account, “Village after village was levelled, countless people burned alive by high explosives, or by napalm and white phosphorus, or riddled by anti-personnel bomb pellets.” Vast quantities of unexploded ordnance cover nearly a third of the country and have killed or maimed at least 20,000 people since the end of the war. More than 12,000 survivors are in need of ongoing medical care and rehabilitation.

A pittance in US aid—just $118 million—has been provided to deal with unexploded bombs. An estimated 1 percent of contaminated land has been cleared. The Obama administration has increased the amount from $5 million in 2010 to $19.5 million this year, not out of any concern for the Laotian people, but rather as part of its efforts to bully and bribe the Vientiane regime to loosen its ties with Beijing and reorient towards Washington.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War has not led to peace but to an escalating succession of wars over the past 25 years, as American capitalism has sought to offset its decline through military might. As was the case in Laos and more broadly Indochina and Korea, whole countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya—have been devastated in an effort to shore up American global hegemony.

As the global economic breakdown worsens, the United States is actively and aggressively preparing for war against major powers—above all, China and Russia. Washington’s diplomatic efforts in Vientiane are part of Obama’s far broader “pivot to Asia” over the past five years aimed at undermining, weakening and militarily encircling China. As a result, the South China Sea is just one of the flashpoints in Asia that Obama has deliberately inflamed and that could set off a conflict between the two nuclear-armed powers.

Only the working class can halt the slide into another catastrophic world war. This underscores the necessity of the political fight being waged by the International Committee of the Fourth International to build an international anti-war movement uniting workers in the US, China, throughout Asia and the world to put an end to capitalism and to reconstruct society on socialist foundations.

Peter Symonds


The wonders of Pluto revealed

NASA’s latest findings are a sight to behold

New Horizons fly-by captures dwarf planet’s haunting beauty and offers new clues of a possible sub-surface ocean

The wonders of Pluto revealed: NASA's latest findings are a sight to behold
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific AmericanLast July, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto, the last unvisited world of the classical solar system. As the largest known member of the Kuiper belt, Pluto is also the gateway to a new frontier, a scarcely studied collection of primordial icy bodies far from the sun that constitutes the “third zone” of the solar system after the realms of the inner rocky planets and the outer gas giants.

Like most first glimpses of new frontiers, Pluto held so many surprises for New Horizons that the past eight months have seen a steady stream of discoveries coming from the mission, as the spacecraft’s small radio transmitter beams its gathered data back home. The biggest surprises have been Pluto’s surface and atmosphere, which are restlessly active and diverse despite average temperatures of only tens of degrees above absolute zero. Some scientists expected New Horizons would find Pluto to be little more than an inert, sunlight-starved orb. Instead, the spacecraft encountered a world where nitrogen glaciers flow down into plains of frozen methane from towering mountains of water ice. Sunless half-frozen oceans lurk deep beneath the surface, and multiple moons tumble overhead through hydrocarbon-hazed red skies that tinge to blue at sunrise and sunset.

But beyond celebrating the visceral thrill of the Pluto flyby itself, or the intellectual frisson of gazing on full-color close-ups of a place so alien and faraway, most of these discoveries from New Horizons have so far found a muted public reception. The story has simply been that we went to Pluto, and witnessed wonders. What those wonders actually mean—for our understanding of Pluto, for planetary evolution, and for the broad history of the solar system—is something that the mission scientists themselves are still working out. They summarize their latest thoughts in this week’s edition of the journal Science, with a quintet of papers that constitute the synthesis of our current understanding of Pluto.

Here are the three big-picture takeaways from our emerging portrait of this strange, frozen world:


New Horizons was only able to closely study one hemisphere of Pluto as it whizzed by, revealing a sprawling heart-shaped plain of mixed nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices ringed by mountains and heavily cratered terrain. Dubbed Sputnik Planum, the 1,000-kilometer-wide western lobe of the heart looks almost bubbly, like a churning pot of creamy oatmeal or frothy foam on a pint of Guinness beer.

An 80-kilometer strip of Pluto’s surface, stretching from the crater-free northwest shoreline of Sputnik Planum on the right, through blocky mountains of water ice, into rugged, pitted icy plains on the left.

Sputnik Planum has no craters, and is likely less than 10 million years old, probably formed from fresh snow and glaciers sliding down from nearby rugged highlands. Its bubbles are convection cells driven by heat rising through the thick ice from deep below. A small “mountain range” at Sputnik Planum’s northwestern edge is in fact blocks of water ice that seem to be bobbing in the higher-density ices like cubes in a glass. These blocks are perhaps crust fractured and overturned by some tectonic upheaval. To the south, New Horizons scientists have spied what seem to be two young cryovolcanoes, Wright Mons and Piccard Mons, relatively unblemished kilometers-high mounds surrounding central pits at least as deep.

Taken together, these features show that more than four billion years after its formation, Pluto still somehow retains enough internal heat to maintain an active geology and, here and there, a very youthful surface replenished by cryovolcanism and the seasonal sublimation and deposition of volatile ices. Deep within the world, Pluto’s heat could be sufficient to sustain an ocean of ammonia-rich water beneath a thick roof of water-ice bedrock. Long linear striations upon parts of Pluto’s surface hint that any subsurface ocean may be slowly freezing, deforming the ground and releasing additional latent heat as it turns to ice.


Sputnik Planum’s smooth-featured youth is exceptional. Most of the rest of Pluto’s exterior is far more craggy and ancient, altered extensively across hundreds of millions or billions of years. Varying mixtures and combinations of nitrogen, water, carbon monoxide and methane that make up Pluto’s crust create different varieties of ice and terrain, similar to how rocks on earth can form cliffs of soft chalk or mountains of hard granite. These varying substrates can then be textured with pits, grooves and channels produced by subliming ice, eroding glaciers and precipitating frost—effects driven by Pluto’s weather, which fluctuates in decades-long seasons.

Centered on Sputnik Planum, this partial geological map of Pluto reveals the diversity of terrain seen by NASA’s New Horizons mission during its flyby.

The results are usually bizarre, and difficult to decipher. Northeast of Sputnik Planum, past stretches of pitted plains, the surface is wrinkled with closely spaced ridges that rise sharp and knife-like half a kilometer into the air. This “bladed terrain” may be vestiges of an old, once-buried layer of highly durable material exhumed and weathered by some combination of scouring ice, swirling winds and glaring sunlight. Or it may be newer, formed from airborne methane frost glazing rigid crests of water ice. What is clear is that Pluto’s landscape cannot be understood without also closely studying its weather—its atmosphere.

An intricate series of sharp, steep ice ridges form the distinctive “bladed terrain” of a region called Tartarus Dorsa, northeast of Sputnik Planum.

New Horizons has revealed Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere of gaseous nitrogen and methane to be colder and more compact than previously thought, and layered with hazes of soot-like hydrocarbon particles produced by ultraviolet light and cosmic rays. The particles are reddish, but at sunrise and sunset when sunlight passes through the thickest hazes, they scatter the light to give Pluto’s sky a blue tint. The particles are also sticky, and grow like snowflakes over tens of thousands of years, until at last they become heavy enough to fall, accumulating as crimson sludge in the world’s most ancient terrains.

Silhouetted against the sun, Pluto’s atmosphere appears blue. The azure color comes from sunlight scattered by layers of soot-like hydrocarbon particles.

The most primordial part of Pluto’s surface may be a hemisphere-spanning splash of red called Cthulhu Regio, a region so thoroughly pulverized by craters it is thought to be some four billion years old. Curiously, it is directly adjacent to the western edge of what could be Pluto’s youngest landform, the fresh, cream-colored ices of Sputnik Planum. Even Sputnik Planum, it turns out, has surprisingly ancient roots: Its youthful ice fills a deep basin that may be the oldest, largest impact crater still in existence on Pluto.

A close-up of the transition between the fresh, light-colored ice of Sputnik Planum and the dark, heavily cratered and ancient terrain of Cthulhu Regio.


Besides Cthulhu Regio, Pluto’s most notable other old, reddish, impact-generated feature isn’t actually on the dwarf planet at all—it’s Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Long thought the product of a cataclysmic impact of the same sort that made Earth’s moon, Charon’s violent origins have been all but confirmed by New Horizons. Most of Charon’s surface is actually grayish bright water ice, with craters indicating it is more than four billion years old—a strong hint it coalesced from shattered and ejected pieces of Pluto’s water-ice crust. Its connection to Pluto hasn’t been completely severed, though: Mordor Macula, a cap of dark red hydrocarbons at its north pole, is likely produced by ultraviolet light reacting with wisps of upper atmosphere that drift away from Pluto’s gravity and freeze onto Charon, building up like layers of red varnish over billions of years.

Much like Pluto, Charon also seems to have a subsurface ocean—or at least it used to. New Horizons discovered a deep gash snaking across some 1,800 kilometers of the moon’s surface—a furrow four times longer than the Grand Canyon on a moon roughly the size of Texas. The gash seems to be from a time when Charon’s inner ocean froze, bulging as it turned to ice and rupturing the moon’s crust from within.

A high-resolution image of Pluto’s moon Charon, revealing the reddish region called Mordor Macula at its north pole and a moon-girdling gash that hints at a now-frozen subsurface ocean.

In addition to Charon, Pluto has four much smaller moons: Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra. New Horizons has found them to be much brighter and smaller than most researchers expected. They all are spinning rapidly, and have extreme axial tilts so off-kilter to those of Pluto and Charon that they are not easily explained. These smaller moons were probably also produced by the great Charon-forming impact. Like Charon, they seem to possess crater-battered surfaces of four-billion-year-old water ice, and they are oblong rather than spherical, as if they are all less moons and more barely-held-together piles of coalesced rubble. At least one of them, Kerberos, is shaped like a dumbbell, signaling its formation from two smaller bodies merging after the cataclysmic impact.

One of New Horizons’ final images of the “encounter hemisphere” of Pluto, snapped by the departing spacecraft as the frozen world rolled into twilight.

What’s next for all these weird worlds of staggering geological richness? We’ll find out soon. Fully half the data New Horizons took remains onboard, still awaiting transmission. Meanwhile, the spacecraft is continuing its mission, cruising toward a rendezvous with a smaller, more distant Kuiper belt object in 2019. The best may be yet to come.



Pentagon deploying drone aircraft within the US


By Joseph Kishore
12 March 2016

A report released by the Department of Defense inspector general reveals that for nearly ten years, the US military has been coordinating the domestic use of drones with local officials and the National Guard. It has done so without any public accountability or reporting by the media.

The Pentagon report, prepared last month, was made public last week only after a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Federation of American Scientists.

The inspector general report provides only a glimpse into the extensive use of the military within the borders of the United States. It refers to “less than 20” instances since 2006 when drones were requested by US agencies for use outside of military bases. It does not include a complete list of cases where drones were used, but instead provides nine examples occurring between 2011 and 2016.

While the report is accompanied by the usual reference to “protecting the American public’s civil liberties and privacy rights,” the use of drones (or unmanned aircraft systems, UAS) within the country is a serious warning. It is part of a broader expansion of domestic military activity over the past fifteen years and complements the much more extensive deployment of drone aircraft by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Several of the examples listed include large-scale training exercises that involve a simulated natural disaster. Such exercises provide an opportunity for the military to practice the coordination of its assets with local, state and federal civilian agencies.

The cases listed include Exercise Guardian Shield 2015. In this exercise, carried out last summer in Ohio, the Ohio Air National Guard, the FBI and state and local agencies simulated incidents throughout the state. Exercise Ardent Sentry 2011, another example listed in the report, was a nationwide exercise simulating an earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which includes parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee. The exercise was overseen by the US Northern Command, set up in 2002 under the Bush administration as the first-ever command in charge of military activity within the United States.

Military drones were also reportedly deployed during several natural disasters, including flooding in the Mississippi River Valley at the beginning of this year and in South Carolina last October. Of the nine cases listed, six took place in the last 10 months, indicating a significant expansion of military drone use.

The use of drone aircraft is part of the integration of the military with domestic agencies (through a program known as Defense Support of Civil Authorities, or DSCA), under the authority of the US Northern Command. In 2006, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed an interim order that, according to the inspector general report, “encourages the use of DoD [Department of Defense] UAS to support appropriate domestic mission sets.”

The current DSCA policy guidelines (adopted in 2012 under the Obama administration) contain extremely broad language calling for the military to respond to requests “from civil authorities for domestic emergencies, law enforcement support, and other domestic activities, or from qualifying entities for ‘special events.’”

The ground is being laid for a much broader use of military drones. A 2012 Department of Defense report to Congress identified 110 potential drone bases within the US and called for expanded military access to domestic airspace, ostensibly for the purpose of training individuals to meet the vast growth in “operational demand” abroad, i.e., the assassination program of the Obama administration in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries.

The potential drone bases cited in the 2012 report were located in 39 different states throughout the country.

Since the US Northern Command was first established, the Pentagon, under the Bush and Obama administrations, has pushed for a reinterpretation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of the military for domestic purposes. In 2008, the Pentagon established an “anti-terror” unit within the framework of the Northern Command composed of 20,000 regular Army troops that could be used within the US.

A Department of Justice “white paper” on drone assassination, leaked to the press in February 2013, outlined the Obama administration’s position that the White House has the authority to kill anyone, including US citizens, anywhere in the world without judicial process. In the spring of that year, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to rule out the possibility that the president could, under “extraordinary circumstances…authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” including by means of drone strikes.

Over the past several years, the Pentagon has carried out a series of domestic exercises simulating large-scale military operations. These include most significantly Operation Jade Helm, begun in July 2015 and involving drills in parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas.

The expanded use or simulated use of military forces within the country has coincided with the militarization of local police and the use of the National Guard to impose effective martial law in response to terrorist attacks or social protests, including the lockdown of Boston following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and the states of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland during protests against police violence in 2014 and 2015.

Last June, FBI Director James Comey acknowledged that his agency had used drone surveillance aircraft to monitor the protests in both Ferguson and Baltimore. An Associated Press report prior to Comey’s testimony revealed that the FBI had conducted more than 100 flights in 11 states during a single month that year, employing shell companies to operate the aircraft.

The events in Ferguson and Baltimore revealed the essential purpose behind all of these measures. Utilizing the “war on terror” as a pretext, the White House and the Pentagon have worked systematically to expand the apparatus of surveillance and repression—military and police—to utilize the instruments of war ever more directly against social opposition within the United States.




Exporting Death: When It Comes to Arming the Planet, America Is Unrivaled

New report shows that over the past five years, the United States was the top arms exporter in the world.

Over the past five years, the United States oversaw the dramatic rise in weapons transfers worldwide.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The United States is driving the global surge in militarization, as the number one arms exporter over the past five years—during which it shipped deadly weapons to at least 96 countries—according to a disturbing new reportby the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

From 2011 to 2015, the U.S. oversaw the dramatic rise in weapons transfers, the global volume of which jumped a stunning 14 percent compared to levels seen during the previous five years.

The Middle East was the top recipient of American arms, and within the region, Saudi Arabia was the number one importer. These shipments continued despite human rights calls for an arms embargo, over concerns that the Saudi-led coalition is committing widespread war crimes in Yemen.

In fact, SIPRI researchers note that the coalition has been able to continue its relentless aerial assault of Yemen thanks primarily to U.S. and European shipments. “A coalition of Arab states is putting mainly U.S.- and European-sourced advanced arms into use in Yemen,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

Worldwide, U.S. arms exports over the past five years jumped 27 percent over 2006-2010 levels. Weapons exports are poised to rise even more.

“As regional conflicts and tensions continue to mount, the U.S. remains the leading global arms supplier by a significant margin,” said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program. “[T]he U.S. arms industry has large outstanding export orders, including for a total of 611 F-35 combat aircraft to 9 states.”

Coming in behind the United States, Russia, China, France, and Germany were in the top five exporters. The top five importers were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the UAE and Australia.

The U.S. led the world in arms exports during a period of rising conflict and war, leading to levels of human displacement not seen since World War II.

The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated last year that one out of every 122 people on the planet has been violently uprooted from their homes by war and persecution, thereby forced to become refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced people. If all of these displaced people formed a country, it would be the 24th largest in the world.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.



Putin accuses US of colluding in downing of Russian plane


By Chris Marsden
28 November 2015

Tensions between Russia and the United States continue to escalate, after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of handing Ankara details of the flight path of the Russian plane downed by Turkey in Syria on Tuesday. US President Barack Obama signed a defence bill handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to militias fighting Russian-backed forces in Ukraine and Syria.

The Russian Su-24 bomber was shot down by a Turkish fighter jet based on claims that it had entered Turkish airspace for around 17 seconds. One of the two pilots was killed by gunfire from Turkmen forces in Syria as he parachuted from the burning jet. The other was rescued by Russian and Syrian Special Forces, with the loss of one marine rescuer—prompting Putin to accuse Ankara of acting as “accomplices of terrorists.”

At a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande in the Kremlin, Putin accused the US of passing on to Turkey details of where Russian planes were flying. He said, “The American side, which leads the coalition that Turkey belongs to, knew about the location and time of our planes’ flights, and we were hit exactly there and at that time.”

Washington is responding to the shoot-down of the Russian jet by provocatively escalating its funding of proxy forces fighting Russia.

Yesterday, reports emerged that the $607 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes hundreds of millions of dollars to arm forces in Ukraine and Syria. It includes $300 million for the security forces of the Ukrainian regime, which has fought a bloody civil war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. There are also nearly $500 million to train “moderate rebels” fighting the Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Turkey’s response has been equally bellicose. Erdogan bluntly told Putin, “Shame on you. Those who claim we buy oil from Daesh [ISIS] are obliged to prove it. If not, you are a slanderer… I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us.”

“Those who carry out a military campaign with the pretext of fighting Daesh are targeting anti-regime opponents,” he said. “You say you are fighting Daesh. Excuse me, but you are not fighting Daesh. You are killing our Turkmen kinsmen.”

Erdogan said he might speak with Putin at a climate summit in Paris next week, but Putin has so far refused to contact him without receiving an apology, his aide Yuri Ushakov said Friday.

Previously, Erdogan had told France 24 television: “If we had known it was a Russian plane, maybe we would have warned it differently.”

The NATO powers’ bellicose response to the downing of the Su-24 bomber directly poses the danger that their conflicts with Russia will escalate into all-out war. They provoked an angry retort from Putin.

He dismissed the claim that the Turkish government would not have shot down the plane had it known it was Russian, as suggested by Erdogan on French television, as “rubbish.” It was “not possible” that the downed plane could not have been identified as a Russian jet. Russian planes, he said, “have identification signs and these are well visible.”

“If it was an American aircraft, would they have struck an American?” he asked. “What we hear instead is they have nothing to apologise for… One gets the impression that the Turkish government is consciously driving Russian-Turkish relations to a deadlock.”

Putin again asserted that Turkey was buying oil from Islamic State. There was “no doubt” that oil from “terrorist-controlled” territory in Syria was making its way into Turkey, he said. “We see from the sky where these vehicles are going. They are going to Turkey day and night.”

He accused Turkey of sponsoring terrorism: “These barrels are not only carrying oil but also the blood of our citizens because with this money terrorists buy weapons and ammunition and then organise bloody attacks.”

On Wednesday, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the Russian military will send its S-400 missile system to Syria’s Latakia province, bordering Turkey, and is deploying the guided missile cruiser Moskva to the area. The S-400 system can hit targets 250 miles away.

Putin said of the decision, “We did not have those systems in Syria because we believed that our air force was working at an altitude which would not be reachable by terrorists… We didn’t even think that we could receive a strike from a party that we thought to be our partner… we thought Turkey to be a friendly country.”

Russia has been engaged in a bombardment of the border region occupied by Turkmen forces.

Major economic sanctions are being imposed by Russia against Turkey. Russia is Turkey’s second-largest trading partner, at $30 billion, while Turkey is one of the biggest foreign destinations for Russian tourists.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated Thursday that Moscow would be looking to cut economic ties with Turkey and scrap investment projects within two days in response to an “act of aggression against our country.”

Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said that sanctions would affect TurkStream, the proposed gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey announced by Putin last December, and the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Turkey’s first nuclear power plant that was to be built by Russia.

Russia’s Defence Ministry announced Thursday that it had suspended all “channels of interaction” with Turkey’s military, including a hotline set up to avoid clashes in Syrian airspace.

Russia’s tourist board has also suspended all tours to Turkey, which could cost the Turkish economy $10 billion. On Friday, there were calls to ban imports of all Turkish produce. The Russian media reported that trucks carrying Turkish goods were stranded at the border.

In the city of Krasnodar, dozens of Turkish workers were rounded up and arrested for supposed visa violations. In the southern Kuban region, Russia’s Migration Service said it had arrested and deported 39 Turkish businessmen attending an agricultural trade fair.



Syria and the South China Sea: Two flashpoints for world war


27 November 2015

The downing of a Russian bomber by Turkish fighters this week dramatically escalated global tensions and posed point blank the danger of a conflict between nuclear-armed powers. Yet even as the US-led war in the Middle East was placing the world on a knife-edge, President Barack Obama spent last week ramping up the confrontation with China over its land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

Obama took part in top-level Asian gatherings—the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Manila and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-sponsored East Asia Summit—determined to drive home the point that the US would continue to challenge Chinese maritime claims, even if that led to war.

In the lead-up to the summits, the Pentagon last month provocatively sent the guided missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, within the 12-mile-territorial limit around Chinese-controlled islets and flew nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers close to the same area. Like the shooting down of the Russian aircraft, a provocation, accident or miscalculation on either side in the hotly-contested South China Sea could become the trigger for a catastrophic conflict.

Obama’s first engagement in Manila was on board the Philippine navy’s flagship, the Gregorio del Pilar, speaking to assembled military officials, including the country’s defence secretary and armed forces chief. He used the occasion to again declare his commitment to “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea and announce $250 million to provide “maritime security assistance to our allies and our partners across the region.”

The Obama administration has exploited “freedom of navigation” as the pretext for intervening in the maritime disputes between China and its neighbours ever since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in 2010 that the US had a “national interest” in the South China Sea. While regularly lecturing China over its failure to adhere to international law, Washington has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is supposed to determine the competing maritime claims.

Obama’s announcement in Manila was a deliberate slap in the face to Beijing. China had insisted that the South China Sea not be discussed at the APEC summit, which focusses on trade and economic issues. Obama followed this up in his meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino. He specifically named China, rather than referring to it indirectly, as the chief culprit and demanded it halt reclamation activities, new construction and militarisation.

Over the past five years, the Obama administration has transformed the South China Sea into a dangerous flashpoint. It has encouraged the Philippines and Vietnam, in particular, to more aggressively press their territorial claims against China. The deliberate whipping up of tensions in the area is part of Obama’s “pivot to Asia”—a comprehensive diplomatic, economic and military strategy aimed at establishing unchallenged American domination in Asia and subordinating China to US interests, if necessary by military means.

In Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, Obama sealed a “strategic partnership” with ASEAN leaders, with an emphasis on “ensuring maritime security and safety.” In the closed door leaders’ session of the East Asia Summit, key US allies, including Japan and the Philippines, lined up to criticise Beijing, prompting Chinese officials to hit back. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin defended China’s actions as “beyond reproach” and branded the USS Lassen’s intrusion as a “political provocation” by Washington.

The driving force behind Washington’s actions in the Middle East and Asia is the worsening crisis of world capitalism that erupted in 2008. Determined to maintain its global hegemony, US imperialism is increasingly resorting to military might to offset its historic economic decline. The Obama administration’s willingness to recklessly risk war to achieve its ends in seemingly disparate areas of the globe points to the huge stakes involved.

American geo-political strategists such as former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski have long regarded the huge Eurasian landmass, its people and resources as the key to world domination and thus view China and Russia as the chief obstacles to US ambitions and interests. Washington’s confrontations with Moscow in Syria and Beijing in the South China Sea are components of an overarching strategy aimed at securing a dominant position across this vast region.

China’s emergence as the world’s second largest economy cuts across US plans. Beijing has reacted to the US “pivot to Asia” by elaborating an ambitious grand scheme to integrate Eurasia. Announced in 2013, it is known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Silk Road, or One Belt, One Road (OBOR). President Xi Jinping has indicated that China is willing to commit $1.4 trillion to create a comprehensive network of high-speed railways, roads, air and sea links, pipelines, transmission grids and electronic cables linking Europe and Asia.

Beijing is clearly hoping to entice European powers to sign on and, in the process, marginalise the United States. As Wang Yiwei, one of the project’s proponents, declared in May: “The New Silk Road Initiative could help redirect the centre of geopolitical gravity away from the US and back to Eurasia. Europe is faced with an historic opportunity to return to the centre of the world through the revival of Eurasia.”

US imperialism cannot tolerate such a development. Just as the “pivot to Asia” involves the consolidation of military alliances and partnerships throughout Asia directed against China, so the US seeks to disrupt and prevent the emergence of ties between its European allies and Russia and China. There is no question that, given the potential for a conflict involving NATO, Washington gave the green light to Turkey to shoot down the Russian war plane. By doing so, the US effectively sabotaged French plans for closer collaboration with Russia over the war in Syria.

Neither Moscow nor Beijing has any progressive answer to Washington’s military provocations and threats of war. Both regimes represent the class interests of the super-wealthy oligopolies that emerged through the processes of capitalist restoration and accumulated their fortunes at the expense of the working class. Their responses oscillate between cringing appeals to imperialism, and military bluster and actions that only heighten the danger of war.


Peter Symonds