A central figure in an autonomist Chavista organization talks about grassroots organization in Venezuela.
A central figure in an autonomist Chavista organization talks about grassroots organization in Venezuela.
Venezuelan communard Iran Aguilera examines the advances of popular power in Anzoátegui State.
Venezuela’s government has announced it has foiled a potential terror attack, arresting a former CIA operative while he was on a stakeout near the country’s largest oil refining facility.
Matthew John Heath was arrested with three other Venezuelans outside the Amuay and Cardon refineries in Falcon state in the west of the country, reportedly carrying a submachine gun, a grenade launcher, four blocks of C4 explosives, a satellite phone, and stacks of U.S. dollars. He has been charged with terrorism and weapons trafficking.
The post Venezuela Foils CIA Terror Plot; Pompeo On Regime Change Tour appeared first on PopularResistance.Org.
Aggression against Venezuela from the US has intensified in recent weeks and all signs are pointing towards an escalation ahead of elections in the US and Venezuela.
Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair
In 2016, Alan Lichtman departed from conventional wisdom to predict a Donald Trump victory in that year’s presidential election. The political scientist was following something he called the “13 keys to the White House.” Using this relatively straightforward metric, Lichtman had correctly predicted the outcome of presidential elections stretching back to 1984.
Trump was so delighted with Lichtman’s unorthodox prediction that, after the election, he sent a congratulatory note.
Last week, Lichtman applied his model to this year’s presidential election. Biden narrowly beat Trump in 7 out of the 13 categories.
With three months to the election, Trump doesn’t have much of a chance to reverse any of the determinations in Lichtman’s test. Of the seven categories that he lost to Biden, the president can’t change the results of the 2018 midterms, erase the numerous scandals that have beset his administration, suddenly acquire the kind of charisma that attracts people outside his narrow base, eliminate the social unrest that has accompanied his rule, or magically revive a cratering economy.
Okay, on that last item, Trump is indeed trying to bluff the economy into a recovery and, in the absence of congressional action on another stimulus bill, use the limited powers of his executive orders as a magic wand. Wall Street might be fooled, but the tens of millions of unemployed are not.
Which leaves the two foreign policy keys in Lichtman’s model. The first, avoiding a foreign policy disaster, tips in Trump’s favor. To my mind, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate deal, and the World Health Organization all represent foreign policy fiascos, but Lichtman has in mind a screw-up on the order of the Iraq invasion in 2003.
The second foreign policy key is achieving a major global victory. This, Lichtman points out, Trump has failed to do.
Trump is well aware of Lichtman’s model and track record. He knows that he only has to flip one key to change Lichtman’s prediction. What are the prospects that the president will pull out the stops in an effort to achieve some grand foreign policy success in the final 100 days?
Is Donald Trump preparing an October surprise?
The Hibernating President
To put it mildly, Donald Trump has not been the most engaged president in U.S. history. He doesn’t pay attention to his briefings. He plays golf while a pandemic rages throughout the land. He has only a vague understanding of the world that exists beyond the global archipelago of Trump Organization holdings.
Most recently, in discussing the explosions in Beirut, Trump falsely opined that it was “a bomb of some kind.” It was yet another flight of fancy from a president who prefers to make things up instead of hewing to the facts or keeping his mouth shut. “Yet aside from some initial concern among Lebanese officials, Trump’s assertions were largely met with a collective global shrug,” reports The Washington Post.
The president who shook up the foreign policy consensus by meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, forging a new economic relationship with China, and embracing a cadre of autocrats in the Middle East has seemingly gone into hibernation. The world knows quite well how royally Trump has screwed up the U.S. response to the coronavirus. Global leaders see the blood in the water. They’re expecting a change in White House occupancy come November.
Seasoned observers of the international scene have concluded that, with little geopolitical leverage, Trump will not be able to pull off any major foreign policy success in the days leading up to the election. There’s little time or political commitment on the ground to push through a peace agreement in Afghanistan that hastens the withdrawal of American troops. The much-vaunted Middle East peace deal that Jared Kushner presented to the UN in February is dead on arrival. Any meetings with North Korea, much less a surprise deal, are off the agenda between now and November. Denmark is not interested in selling Greenland.
That doesn’t leave a lot of options for a president struggling with a raft of domestic issues that are likely to prove more influential in the long run at the polls.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that a foreign policy success has to be something constructive. Donald Trump is much better at destroying things than building them. He has already asked foreign leaders — in Ukraine, in China — for help in destroying Joe Biden’s reputation. He has looked the other way as Russia has worked to destroy American democracy.
For an encore in November, Trump may well be planning something even more destructive.
War with Iran
Donald Trump has not tried to conceal his antipathy toward Tehran. He has done everything short of war to bring down the Iranian government. He withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. He applied harsh sanctions to squeeze the Iranian economy. Two years ago, he provided the CIA with new authority to intensify a cyberwar against the country. And, to kick off 2020, he orchestrated the assassination of a top Iranian official, Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force in the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Bizarrely, Trump continued to maintain throughout that he still held out hope of negotiating a new deal with Iran.
But last week Brian Hook, the instrument of that policy of continued engagement with Iran in the midst of a punishing cold war, stepped down. Hook was something of a moderate in the very skewed politics of the Trump administration. Indeed, compared to his successor, Hook’s a veritable peacenik.
Replacing Hook as special envoy to Iran is Elliott Abrams. Fresh from his failures to promote regime change in Venezuela, Abrams will likely apply his extremist philosophy to his new portfolio. The first opportunity takes place this week as the administration pushes the UN to extend the arms embargo on Iran due to expire as per the terms of the nuclear deal. It’s part of an effort to destroy any chance of a Biden administration returning to the status quo ante with Iran.
Abrams is assuming his new position at a fraught moment. An explosion took place last month at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. It was but one of several such mysterious “accidents” that are likely the result of covert Israeli operations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is anxious about the prospect of Joe Biden winning in November and resurrecting some version of the Obama administration’s détente with Iran. So, Netanyahu is getting in his licks while he can, though even he is not interested in a full-scale war with Iran.
For hawks in the United States who were disappointed that the Bush administration didn’t march into Tehran after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the latest turmoil in the region is encouraging. “Iran has been in a weakened state, its economy hobbled by U.S. sanctions and its regime facing domestic discontent, including a massive protest campaign last fall,” writes Jonah Shepp in New Yorkmagazine. “Those protests raised hopes among Iran hawks in the U.S. that their dreams of regime change might soon be realized.”
A war with a major Middle Eastern power is probably not on Trump’s agenda. After all, he’s been pushing for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region. And in June 2019, after Iran shot down a U.S. drone, Trump decided not to retaliate, even though a number of his advisors were urging him to do so.
But this time, an election beckons, Trump is down in the polls, and desperate times call for desperate measures. It wouldn’t be the first time that Donald Trump rolled the dice in one last bid for the jackpot.
What about China?
After experimenting with North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran, the Trump administration has decided that China is the most useful adversary to distract attention from the president’s many failures. Just last week, the administration placed new restrictions on TikTok and WeChat, two Chinese social media applications. Microsoft has been in negotiations to acquire part of TikTok’s business, a deal Trump’s actions potentially disrupt.
The administration also announced new sanctions against 11 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over the imposition of the recent national security law in Hong Kong. Included in the list is Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong chief executive. Other recent U.S. sanctions targeting China have focused on the treatment of the Uighur minority, on cybersecurity, and for transporting Iranian oil.
This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is visiting Taiwan, a previously unheard-of breach in diplomatic etiquette since U.S. officials have studiously ignored Taiwan for four decades.
These actions take place against an ominous backdrop: the U.S. closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston in July, high-level complaints about Chinese actions in the South China Sea, and the ongoing attempts to draw together security allies from India to Australia into an Indo-Pacific alliance against China.
And don’t forget the speech by Mike Pompeo last month in which the secretary of state essentially declared the end of engagement with China because it failed to induce “the kind of change inside of China that President Nixon had hoped to induce.”
Actually, Nixon was more interested in driving a further wedge between Beijing and Moscow and opening China up for business. That kind of change is exactly what happened. Democracy and human rights were never really much of a consideration for either Nixon or Henry Kissinger — just as they’re of little interest to Pompeo or Donald Trump.
Pompeo’s speech and the various punitive measures directed at Beijing all amount to a fundamental shift in U.S. policy: not just skepticism about engagement but support for regime change inside China.
As with Iran, Trump is probably not thinking about starting a war with China. But a skirmish in the South China Sea that produces a rally-around-the-flag surge in support of the president could certainly fit the bill for an October surprise.
The U.S. military seems to be preparing for such a contingency, with Pentagon chief Mark Esper effectively drawing a line in the water near China. “The secretary said that the U.S. military is positioning forces to counter Chinese behavior and support U.S. policies, revealing that the U.S. conducted more freedom-of-navigation operations challenging unlawful movement restrictions and excessive claims in 2019 than it has any year in the past four decades,” writes Ryan Pickrell in Business Insider.
Surely, you might be saying, Donald Trump wouldn’t pick a fight with China or Iran just to win an election. Wouldn’t the potential casualties, if nothing else, stay his hand?
But remember, this is a president who has already dismissed more than 150,000 American coronavirus deaths as “it is what it is.”
What’s another few thousand deaths to guarantee four more years?
The post What Will Trump Do to the World to Win Re-Election? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.
Vijay Prashad and Érika Ortega-Sanoja examine the US’ failed attempts to topple Nicolas Maduro and their consequences.
Around $24 billion of Venezuelan public money has been looted, and the Trump administration has used at least $601 million of it to construct a militarized wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Though the bizarre story has been subsumed by other events, last month’s aborted invasion of Venezuela should’ve hardly shocked anyone. The United States has long used mercenaries to do its bidding. They have provided Washington distance and deniability for unsavory operations. During the Cold War, the U.S. hoped this would limit domestic and international protest. Policymakers also discerned mercenary alternatives to bloody, expensive quagmires like the Vietnam or Iraq Wars. Traditionally, most of these hired guns were foreigners – ex-soldiers of declining European empires.
Much of this parallels the latest Venezuelan affair. However, American mercenaries and the system that produced them, are relatively new. The stillborn coup exposed the blurred line between what’s private and public in modern US warfare. Past and present evidence suggest the phenomenon is here to stay and set to increase.
Few Americans know or much care that more contractors than servicemen were killed in the ongoing wars. Thus, part of the mercenary strategy’s cynical brilliance is that privatization helps enable perpetual war.
There is now little doubt that the Trump administration had foreknowledge of the incursion. It may even have played some part. If America’s regional history is any indicator, it probably did. Washington has long sought President Nicolas Maduro’s overthrow, and recently put a literal bounty on his head. Furthermore, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all but admitted some role when he announced that the US had “no direct involvement.”
Nevertheless, most mainstream reporting focused on the details of the harebrained scheme. Others profiled the mercenary mastermind, ex-green beret Jordan Goudreau, and his Silvercorp private security outfit (Per the company website, he prefers “entrepreneur“). Still, the Economist’s clever moniker for the operation – “Bay of Piglets” – has stuck, and there’s been understandable fascination with the air-soft rifle apparently totted by one invader.
However, if the Venezuela debacle seemed stranger than fiction, that’s because such adventures often are. More disturbingly, the failed coup reflects past US behavior and evidenced the ascendancy of mercenaries. Also worrying was the substitution of American combat veterans for more traditional British, French, or South African ex-soldiers.
In the 19th century, such American adventurers were called “filibusters,” and repeatedly invaded Latin American countries. Most sought plunder, but some hoped to annex new slave states to the union. One famous filibuster even briefly installed himself as president of Nicaragua. Nonetheless, while these invasions often received financial support from prominent slaveholders, Washington’s connection was at best tenuous.
The Cold War was the true golden age of US mercenary employment. Even then, Washington rarely hired Americans. European veterans of imperial wars and anti-communist Chinese or Cuban exiles predominated. The US paid these fighters to install and prop-up right-wing dictators or topple vaguely leftist governments.
In the 1950s, the US employed 15,000 exiled nationalist soldiers who had fled to Burma after the Chinese civil war. Washington used them to challenge Communist China, discipline the left-leaning Burmese government, and to allegedly smuggle heroin for the CIA. The US also recruited Chinese exiles to pilot fighter bombers in its then largest covert operation: toppling uncooperative Indonesian President Sukarno. Washington then supported – even providing lists of Communist Party members – the new military strongman, and stood by as he massacred half a million leftist-sympathizers in a matter of months. More well known was the disastrous CIA-orchestrated1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro exiles. Yet less remembered is the agency’s subsequent use of Cuban expats in a decades-long campaign of sabotage and terror against the island.
In mid-1960s Africa, the CIA paid and organized European mercenaries – including famed Brit “Mad Mike” Hoare – to suppress a faintly socialist rebellion in Eastern Congo. It also operated a private air force piloted by Cuban exiles. They bombed rebels and ferried 500 Belgian paratroopers (of the hated ex-colonial power) into the fight. The US then lost control of its hired guns, who unleashed an abusive fury. One mercenary recalled seizing a Congolese town: “After the looting came the killing…Three days of executions, of lynchings, of tortures, of screams, and of terror.”
Unfazed, the CIA raised a new mercenary army in 1974, to back its favored faction in the Angolan Civil War. The agency advanced $500,000 cash for Bob Denard, the infamous soldier-of-fortune and Congo veteran, who provided twenty fellow Frenchmen. Once again, the US added despised former colonialists, recruiting 300 Portuguese settlers for the campaign. According to the CIA’s mission chief, the key was deniability:
Mercenaries seemed to be the answer, preferably Europeans with the requisite military skills and perhaps experience in Africa. As long as they were not Americans.
The operation failed miserably, but the core concepts persisted.
Trends in modern mercenary recruitment had three main phases. After the Second World War, most soldiers-of-fortune hailed from declining empires. The majority were disillusioned veterans of the final imperial “dirty wars” in Kenya, Algeria, Vietnam, Congo, Angola, and Mozambique. Most sought fortune, glory, or adventure, but some maintained connections to their home governments. This was particularly true in the era’s mercenary mecca: the Congo Civil War (1960-65). There, the Britons were tacitly supported by conservative factions in Parliament tied to local mining interests. One top mercenary was the brother of a prominent MP. The French contingent was considered the most political – often described as “fanatics” – and operated as an unofficial arm of Paris’ neo-imperial Africa policy.
As this generation died off, seasoned veterans from Africa’s last two white settler regimes dominated the mercenary business. Thousands of white soldiers were demobilized after Rhodesia (1980) and then apartheid South Africa (1994) finally succumbed to majority-rule. Many out-of-work veterans of Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts and South Africa’s 32 Battalion – the ex-unit of Leonardo DiCaprio’s fictional character in Blood Diamond – turned guns for hire. Most had served in earlier forever conflicts: Rhodesia’s Bush War (1964-79) and the South African Border War (1966-89). In the more corporate 1990s, they formed official-sounding private military companies (PMCs).
The most famous, Executive Outcomes (EO), sold its services in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea, enriching its leadership with conflict diamonds and other mining concessions. White mercenaries were loathed by most Africans, so EO repeatedly rebranded until forced to shut down. Nevertheless, some of its former employees joined a farcical 2004 coup plot in Equatorial Guinea, funded by the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. According to the group’s leader, Thatcher encouraged the mercenaries to next overthrow Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor. As late as 2015, aging EO alumni were battling a current U.S. nemesis, Boko Haram, in Nigeria.
Until recently, relatively few Americans joined the mercenary ranks. While hundreds – many Vietnam vets – fought for white Rhodesia in the 1970s, this was a rare exception. However, endless post-9/11 wars produced a surplus of younger American combat veterans. Hit hard by the 2008 economic crash – and now facing pandemic unemployment – many “war on terror” veterans gladly collect six-figure salaries from private security companies. One of the first and most famous was an American rehash of Executive Outcomes: Blackwater USA. Its founder and CEO was the ex-Navy SEAL, Erik Prince.
The Blackwater model set an industry standard and undoubtedly influenced Goudreau’s smaller Silvercorp organization. It also portends an American mercenary future. Prince is a religious fundamentalist, militarist right-wing zealot, and was an early Trump-ally. His sister is the current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Talk about a sibling power-couple.
Early on in the “terror” wars, George W. Bush’s administration hired Blackwater to provide security in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, the company and Prince became infamous for their employees’ violent excesses. I served in Baghdad when Blackwater contractors shot and killed fourteen civilians – “without cause,” according to the FBI. The anti-American blowback was palpable and predictable, since most Iraqis (understandably) didn’t distinguish between private and public armed occupiers. Nevertheless, criminal convictions of the Blackwater guards and condemnation from senior military officers hardly stemmed the PMC tide. Nor did it drive Prince permanently underground.
Donald Trump’s election generated fresh energy and new schemes from the ex-CEO. Since 2017, Prince has briefed the president on plans to privatize the entire Afghanistan War, and recruited ex-spies to infiltrate liberal groups. Trump was reportedly “interested,” but ultimately passed on total outsourcing of operations in the graveyard of empires. This hardly tempered Prince’s oddball imagination. Before Goudreau beat him to the punch, Prince apparently considered raising his own mercenary army to topple Venezuela’s Maduro.
If Prince lost the battle in Afghanistan, he and his broader privatization project won the war. While Washington still hires European mercenaries that “mentor” its dubious proxies in Somalia, the Blackwater/Silvercorp model is the new normal. After the Cold War, the Pentagon downsized the bloated military by privatizing key support positions. Simultaneously, it outsourced many protection duties. In the 2003 Iraq invasion, the proportion of security contractors was 10 times greater than it had been in the First Persian Gulf War (1991). Yet the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations truly altered American war-making. Despite already enormous changes, the contractor-to-soldier ratio was still 1:10 during the Gulf War. By 2016, contractors outnumbereduniformed troops three-to-one in Afghanistan.
But see, there’s a method to Washington’s madness. High casualty rates at the height of the Iraq and Afghan Wars demonstrated that even volunteer soldiers’ flag-draped coffins raise pesky public ire. On the other hand, few Americans know or much care that more contractors than servicemen were killed in the ongoing wars. Thus, part of the mercenary strategy’s cynical brilliance is that privatization helps enable perpetual war.
Perhaps Trump should have clarified: They pay others to do it for them.
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and contributing editor at antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Mother Jones, and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. His forthcoming book,Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War (Heyday Books) is available for pre-order. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and see his websitefor speaking/media requests and past publications.
The White House insisted that Trump “has not lost confidence” in opposition leader Guaido.