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:

1. PLUTO IS YOUNG AT HEART

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.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

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.

2. MOST OF ITS SURFACE IS STILL ANCIENT AND REALLY WEIRD

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.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

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.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

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.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

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.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

3. PLUTO’S MOONS ARE CHIPS OFF THE OLD BLOCK

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.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

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.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

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.

 

http://www.salon.com/2016/03/20/the_wonders_of_pluto_partner/?source=newsletter

Pentagon deploying drone aircraft within the US

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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.

 

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/03/12/dron-m12.html

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.

 

http://www.alternet.org/world/exporting-death-when-it-comes-arming-planet-america-unrivaled?akid=13999.265072.OHLa4y&rd=1&src=newsletter1051158&t=2

Putin accuses US of colluding in downing of Russian plane

Obama-vs-Putin

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.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/11/28/russ-n28.html

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

The-Long-But-Inevitable-Road-to-World-War-3-Explained

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

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/11/27/pers-n27.html

Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet and the danger of world war

Syrian-warplane

25 November 2015
 The downing of a Russian fighter-bomber by Turkish fighter jets yesterday on the Turkish-Syrian border is a flagrant act of war. Turkish authorities have seized on the alleged Russian violation of their airspace to launch a monumental escalation of the proxy war in Syria between Islamist opposition fighters supported by NATO and the Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It threatens to provoke all-out war between Russia on the one hand, and Turkey and the rest of the NATO alliance on the other.

Turkish officials claimed that the Russian SU-24 had violated Turkish air space for one minute, while Russian officials said that it never left Syrian air space at all. The Turkish air force did not scramble jets to warn the Russian fighter or escort it back to Syrian air space, but, after allegedly warning the Russian jet for five minutes, shot it down.

It is unthinkable that Turkey would have taken a decision against a powerful neighbor, fraught with incalculable consequences, without direct prior approval from the US government.

US officials supported the Turkish downing of the Russian plane, making clear that they are willing to accept a direct military clash with Russia, a nuclear-armed power, in order to crush its intervention in Syria to defend the Assad regime.

At a press conference yesterday with French President François Hollande in Washington, Obama endorsed the downing of the Russian jet, claiming that Turkey “has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.” This amounts to a blank check to Turkish forces to attack Russian fighter jets again, should similar circumstances arise.

Obama then bluntly warned Russia not to attack Islamist opposition militias in western Syria that are supported by NATO: “I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to a Turkish border, and they are going after a moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries. And if Russia is directing its energies towards Daesh and ISIL, some of those conflicts, or potentials for mistakes or escalation, are less likely to occur.”

After Obama spoke, former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns again made clear that the Turkish government had acted as a proxy for Washington by shooting down the Russian plane. He told PBS News that US officials were considering declaring a no-fly-zone in the Syrian-Turkish border area. This would mean shooting down Russian fighters overflying the area in order to protect the Islamist opposition forces—that is, doing precisely what Turkey did.

The comments of Obama and Burns underscore the fraud of Washington’s claims to be waging a “war on terror” aimed at the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militia. While claiming to oppose Islamist terrorism, Washington is in fact protecting Islamist militias in the Lattakia mountain areas that include the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front, as well as Chechen Islamist fighters. On the pretext of fighting ISIS, Washington is in fact recklessly pursuing its geopolitical ambitions, which in the Middle East currently center on removing Assad from power.

This is only one step in a further confrontation with any powers posing a military obstacle to the ambitions of US imperialism, including Assad’s key allies, Russia and Iran, as well as China. Even as he was preparing to escalate the conflict in the Middle East, Obama exploited top-level summits in Asia over the past week to ramp up the US confrontation with China over its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

It is becoming ever clearer that ISIS itself emerged and was presented in the international media primarily in line with the shifting needs of the imperialist powers as a pretext for their wars. After the Obama administration sought to justify the pullout from Afghanistan by assassinating Osama bin Laden in 2011—when he was hiding in Pakistan, a key US ally—there was no clear target for the “war on terror.” Washington and the other NATO powers worked directly with Islamist militias as proxies, in the 2011 Libyan war and the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

The situation changed, however, when Washington and Paris were forced to pull back from a planned war in Syria in 2013, due to its unpopularity and deep divisions in the foreign policy establishment. As the NATO powers sought to find a way to justify a war, the claim that they were fighting against Islamist terrorism—though completely belied by their actual record of relying on these forces—again became attractive to them as a way of marketing the war.

Though its operations were little different than the bombings and atrocities carried out by other Islamist militias in Syria, ISIS was selected for attack in the media, while other similar Islamist groups continued to enjoy tacit and even explicit US support.

Yesterday’s events further darken the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the November 13 attacks in Paris, and the terrorists’ astonishing ability to pull off an operation under the noses of the intelligence services. In fact, close connections exist between Islamist terror groups and the NATO powers. The security panic whipped up by ruling circles in Europe after the attacks, along with confusion sown over the phantom war with ISIS, helps these powers create the political climate for the pursuit of their ambitions through catastrophic global wars.

The timing of the shoot-down is highly significant, coming also against the backdrop of conflicts between Washington and imperialist powers in Europe, particularly Germany and France, over the degree of Russian involvement in a planned neo-colonial settlement of the Syrian war. Washington has moved to decisively scuttle European attempts to negotiate a deal with Russia.

After the ISIS attacks in Paris and November 14 talks in Vienna, Hollande announced plans to forge a united coalition of the United States, Russia, and the European powers to fight ISIS in Syria and negotiate the ouster of Assad on terms acceptable to all the major powers.

As Hollande arrived for talks with Obama in Washington, however, the downing of the Russian jet presented him with a fait accompli, cutting off his diplomatic overtures towards Russia. The attack, USA Today noted, “badly damaged France’s drive to build an alliance with the United States and Russia to defeat the Islamic State in retaliation for the Paris attacks.”

Since the US- and German-backed coup in Ukraine last year, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has repeatedly warned of the danger of world war. These warnings are being realized with extraordinary speed.

Today, the danger of war between nuclear-armed Russia and the nuclear powers of the NATO alliance is openly referred to in the media and by leading politicians. This danger does not, however, give pause to the reckless assertion of imperialist interests, above all by the United States. Instead, they are stepping up the war drive.

The Russian and Chinese regimes offer no counterweight to the ever more unhinged policies of the imperialist powers.

Events in Syria again point to the catastrophic geopolitical consequences of the dissolution of the USSR a quarter century ago. Moscow is desperate to defend its residual influence in the Middle East and to stop Islamist fighters from Chechnya and other regions of Russia from toppling Assad and returning to fight in Russia, where they can easily exploit the anger caused by disastrous social conditions and by the Russian-chauvinist policies of the Kremlin.

The warning made by Trotsky, that the restoration of capitalism in Russia would be followed by its transformation into a semi-colony, is being fulfilled. Putin’s delusion that the offensive of imperialism can be answered by using Russia’s military might is not only hopeless, it leads to catastrophic consequences. The policy of the Kremlin oscillates between surrender to imperialism and reckless military measures posing the danger of world war with the imperialist powers.

A world war is not only possible, it is inevitable, unless it is stopped by the emergence of a revolutionary movement in the international working class.

The war in Syria emerged and grew into an explosive proxy war, devastating the lives of millions and drawing in all the major powers in the region, as the imperialist powers sought to crush the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. The next political offensive of the international working class must base itself on the struggle for socialism against the looming danger of imperialist world war.

World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/11/25/pers-n25.html

The blood on Obama’s hands

Kunduz hospital attack designed “to kill and destroy”

Members of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) look inside the damaged compound of a MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Members of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) look inside the damaged compound of a MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 17, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

6 November 2015

“Patients burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building.”

So reads the opening of an initial review issued Thursday by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders—MSF), documenting the horrifying October 3 US airstrike on the charitable agency’s hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

While spelling out the carnage inflicted upon wounded men, women and children as well as doctors, nurses and other medical staff that day, the report adds to the already overwhelming evidence that the attack was neither an accident nor a case of “collateral damage,” but rather a deliberate war crime ordered by the Pentagon to further US military objectives in Afghanistan.

Among the new information provided by the report is that, after repeatedly providing the Pentagon, the US Army in Kabul as well as the Afghan authorities with the coordinates of the well-known medical facility, MSF staff at the Kunduz hospital received a phone call two nights before the attack from a US government official in Washington. He asked whether it “had a large number of Taliban ‘holed up’ there.” The official was told that the hospital was functioning normally and at full capacity, with some wounded Taliban fighters among the patients.

The hospital, the report states, was well-lit and clearly marked, with MSF insignia on its roof. Based on interviews with some 60 staff members, the report establishes that there were no armed individuals in the facility and, indeed, there had been no fighting, gunshots or explosions in the vicinity of the hospital in the evening preceding the attack.

The attack by the slow-moving, propeller-driven AC-130 gunship lasted between an hour and an hour and 15 minutes, with the plane continuously circling the hospital, hitting it with its multiple rapid-fire cannon, precision bombs and missiles.

“The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” Christopher Stokes, MSF’s general director, told reporters at a press conference in Kabul on Thursday. “A mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this time.”

The MSF report gives a chilling sense of the brutality of this crime. It recounts that the first area to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit, where immobile patients, including two children, were killed outright or burned to death in their hospital beds.

The operating theaters were then destroyed, with at least two patients killed as they lay on operating tables.

“An MSF nurse arrived at the administrative building covered from head to toe in debris and blood with his left arm hanging from a small piece of tissue after having suffered a traumatic amputation in the blast,” the report recounts.

Staff members described people being mowed down as they tried to flee the airstrike. “MSF doctors and other medical staff were shot while running to reach safety in a different part of the compound,” the report adds.

“One MSF staff member described a patient in a wheelchair attempting to escape from the inpatient department when he was killed by shrapnel from a blast,” the report states. “Other MSF staff describe seeing people running while on fire and then falling unconscious on the ground. One MSF staff was decapitated by shrapnel in the airstrikes.”

The US airstrike turned what had been the principal medical facility for over one million people in northeastern Afghanistan into hell on earth. In addition to wantonly killing patients and medical staff, it left the region’s entire population without badly needed medical care.

There are two plausible theories that have been advanced to explain the attack. The first, based on reporting by AP, indicates that the strike was ordered out of suspicion that a Pakistani intelligence officer who was coordinating operations with the Taliban was present in the hospital. In other words, mass murder against innocent civilians was carried out as part of a “targeted assassination” against one man.

The other explanation is that the US military decided to obliterate the hospital because it was treating wounded Taliban fighters.

In either case, under international law the attack constitutes a war crime, the kind of offense for which Nazi officers were tried and convicted at Nuremberg.

But not so under the legal rationales for US criminal aggression fashioned under the Obama administration.

As the four-part series, “The Pentagon’s Law of War Manual,” being finalized on the WSWS today establishes, the pseudo-legal doctrine that has been crafted for the US military, while giving a formal nod to international law’s prohibition against targeting civilians, makes clear that in practice such attacks are not only allowed but encouraged.

“Civilians may be killed incidentally in military operations; however, the expected incidental harm to civilians may not be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage from an attack,” the law of war manual states. In other words, the US military is allowed to kill civilians, and the greater the military objective, the more innocent men, women and children, not to mention doctors, nurses and patients, may be slaughtered.

Similarly, while stating that “feasible precautions” should be taken to “avoid” civilian casualties, the manual goes on to affirm that, if US commanders determine that “taking a precaution would result in operational risk (i.e., a risk of failing to accomplish the mission) or an increased risk of harm to their own forces, then the precaution would not be feasible and would not be required.” This is a clear mandate to US military officers to wipe out however many civilians they deem necessary to “accomplish the mission” or reduce their own casualties.

No doubt, within the US chain of command, such calculations were made to arrive at the decision to order an AC-130 to slowly and deliberately reduce a civilian hospital to rubble, killing at least 30 patients and medical staff and wounding many others.

The responsibility for this crime lies not merely with the crew of the flying gunship, the commanders on  the ground in Afghanistan or the top brass of the US military. It extends to the top of the US political establishment, including President Barack Obama and his top aides, who have done so much to make murderous violence around the world routine, from aggressive war, to drone assassinations to cold-blooded massacres.

The White House and the Pentagon have thus far stonewalled MSF’s demand for an independent investigation into the Kunduz hospital massacre.

Even more telling, Joanne Liu, president of MSF, reported this week that the agency had appealed to some 76 governments seeking support for an impartial investigation, but had received none. “The silence is embarrassing,” Liu told Reuters.

Behind this apparent indifference by capitalist governments around the globe to the horrors unleashed by the US military in Kunduz lies the recognition that this attack constituted not the exception, but the rule, not the product of a “tragic error” or “collateral damage,” but the inevitable expression of  the criminality of American imperialism.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/11/06/pers-n06.html