Republicans have spent years expanding the popular base for Trump’s fascism

When a country is ripe for fascism, a fascist leader will emerge. The mistake we commonly make is to focus all our attention on such a leader, while being less critical of those who follow him — because they are uneducated, misinformed, and gullible. After all, it’s easier to express contempt for a man like Donald Trump than it is to criticize ones own neighbors.

As conservative politicians and commentators are becoming increasingly vocal in their criticisms of Trump — many are now openly calling him a fascist — the fact is, many of those critics have also long fanned the same bigotry around which Trump has built his presidential campaign, especially the Islamophobia that has been the backdrop of American politics for over a decade.

CNN reports: “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it,” tweeted Max Boot, a conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is advising Marco Rubio.

“Forced federal registration of US citizens, based on religious identity, is fascism. Period. Nothing else to call it,” Jeb Bush national security adviser John Noonan wrote on Twitter.

Conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace, who has endorsed Ted Cruz, also used the “F” word last week: “If Obama proposed the same religion registry as Trump every conservative in the country would call it what it is — creeping fascism.”

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Moreover, as Trump’s popularity is viewed in the context of contemporary American culture — the Tea Party, the polarizing effect of social media, fear of government, xenophobia, and isolationism — let’s not forget that as Hitler’s fascism rose in Germany, some of its most outspoken supporters could be found in the United States.


Putin’s politics of uncertainty: How the Kremlin raised the stakes

Alexander Morozov writes: ‘Russia is returning to the political arena as a global player,’ that’s what the commentators are saying today—even those who don’t support Vladimir Putin.

Whether this return is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, whether it’s a threat to the world or not, these commentators are simply stating a fact: Russia has kicked off military operations far beyond its borders. A ‘regional power’ doesn’t have this kind of reach.

Celeste Wallander, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia on the US National Security Council, calls Putin’s strategy ‘mistaken’, but the tactics ‘brilliant’. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice also finds room for ‘praise’ in her recent, and highly critical, evaluation of Putin’s foreign policy in The Washington Post: ‘The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well’. It’s worth pausing on what that hand has been so far.

Indeed, the calling card of the European press reaction to Russia’s moves over the past year has been the assertion that the Kremlin is strategically weak, but tactically successful.

These assertions are put to Putin too, who sees that his ‘politics of increasing uncertainty’ are bringing results. Earlier this year, observers declared that the Kremlin would have to suddenly change the agenda in order to find a way out from the conflict in Ukraine. This is exactly what he’s done in Syria.

Despite western leaders’ frequent statements that the independent, or even coordinated, participation of Russia in the war against ‘Islamic State’ will not influence their position on Crimea’s annexation or the Minsk accords, it is clear that Putin has made a successful move, and is continuing to play his game.

This game is a bad one, but it allows Putin to stay in motion. We often see figures on the differing resources of the US and Russia, the consequences of falling oil prices and sanctions on the Russian economy. Putin, it seems, doesn’t have the resources to continue raising the stakes. But while this assertion is correct, the timeline is unclear—perhaps seven or ten years of economic sanctions will lead to catastrophic economic collapse in Russia. You can achieve a lot in that time.

At the beginning of his administration, Putin wanted to play the ‘good boy’ in international relations. He was worried by what other people thought of him. Now though, Putin isn’t afraid of earning the reputation of a ‘bad boy’. Moreover, there are now millions of television viewers who, in a world ‘of American hegemony’, believe that anyone designated ‘bad’ is in fact ‘good’, and that all our real enemies are sitting in Washington and Brussels. [Continue reading…]


It’s time for the West to deal with the real problem in Syria

Leela Jacinto writes: if we’re all allies in the fight against the so-called “caliphate,” we can’t seem to agree on the Lion King in Damascus. Over the past few months, there has been much talk of Washington and Paris easing their “President Bashar al-Assad must go” position to “Assad may stay a while” until a transition to the great unknown is hammered out.

In a rousing speech before a special session of parliament the first working day after the Paris attacks, Hollande signaled a shift in France’s hard-line stance when he noted that the country’s new top priority is the fight against the Islamic State.

The Paris attacks have done wonders for Assad. On both sides of the Atlantic, some influential people are starting to warm up to — or at the very least tolerate — him. In an interview with CBS News, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell acknowledged that Washington’s Syria strategy has not worked and it was “time to look at something else.” Assad, he conceded, was “part of the problem,” but Morell noted that “he may also be part of the solution.”

In France, the calls for Hollande to adopt a realistic approach to Syria have turned into a roar. Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine did not mince his words in a France Inter radio interview in late September when he said, “Let’s not forget that in the fight against Hitler, we had to ally with Stalin, who killed more people than Hitler.”

That’s a Socialist former minister and a darling in certain French lefty circles talking. In Parisian chattering circles, where speculation of a cabinet reshuffle is rife, Védrine is on top of the speculation charts to replace Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the staunchest defender of the “Assad must go” position.

On the extreme right — a rising force in France — the romance with Assad, the exterminator of “les barbus” (the bearded ones), never faded. [Continue reading…]


The Syrian Jihad: An interview with Charles Lister

Aron Lund interviews Syria analyst, Charles Lister: How would you characterize the Syrian insurgent movement at this point?

The armed opposition in Syria is so often characterized as divided, extremist, chaotic, and a danger unto itself, to Syria, and to the world. Perception doesn’t always add up in reality. Over the last twelve months, I’ve witnessed firsthand a real maturing of the armed opposition, especially politically. All these groups, whether big or small, feel the pressure of what they themselves call their “constituents.” After such a long time of brutal conflict, the armed opposition is feeling the pressure to find a way out of more war, but while securing the interests of the revolution. This has necessitated a more intensive engagement in politics and diplomatic engagement.

I think most people would be surprised by how capable many group leaderships are in engaging in serious political and diplomatic discussions. Ideological differences also don’t always add up to differing political agendas—though I realize I’ve been privy to meetings and conversations that most others haven’t, so it’s difficult to convince skeptics otherwise.

But it’s important to note that there are also major obstacles. The Islamic State is an obvious one, as is of course the Assad regime. But in my opinion, al-Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, is the biggest challenge the opposition faces. [Continue reading…]


Range of frustrations reached boil as Turkey shot down Russian jet

The New York Times reports: As Turkey and Russia promised on Wednesday not to go to war over the downing of a Russian fighter jet, Turkey’s still-nervous NATO allies and just about everyone else were left wondering why, when minor violations of airspace are relatively common and usually tolerated, Ankara decided this time to risk a serious confrontation with Moscow by taking military action.

The reply from the Turkish government so far has been consistent: Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Turkey had repeatedly called in Russia’s ambassador to complain about bombing raids near its border and previous airspace incursions by Russian aircraft. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday evening — and a Pentagon spokesman later confirmed — that Turkish forces had warned the Russian plane 10 times in five minutes to leave before a Turkish F-16 shot it down.

“I personally was expecting something like this, because in the past months there have been so many incidents like that,” Ismail Demir, Turkey’s undersecretary of national defense, said in an interview. “Our engagement rules were very clear, and any sovereign nation has a right to defend its airspace.” [Continue reading…]


Russians may have a strong case in Turkish shootdown

Charles J. Dunlap Jr writes: The shootdown of the Russian Su-24 bomber by Turkish F-16s raises a number of critical issues under international law that the U.S. needs to carefully navigate. This is especially so since the result of the Turkish action was the apparently illegal killing by Syrian rebels of one of the Russian aircrew, as well as the possibly unlawful death of a Russian marine attempting to rescue the downed aviators.

While President Obama is certainly correct in saying that “Turkey, like every country, has a right to defend its territory and its airspace,” exactly how it may do so is more complicated than the president implies. In fact, the Russians may have strong legal arguments that any such right under international law was wrongly asserted in this instance.

Article 51 of the U.N. charter permits the use of force in the event of an “armed attack.” However, in a 1986 case, the International Court of Justice concluded that a “mere frontier incident” might constitute a breach of the U.N. charter, but did not necessarily trigger the right to use force absent a showing that the attack was of a significant scale and effect. Most nations also accept that states threatened with an imminent attack can respond in self-defense so long as they did not have under the circumstances “any means of halting the attack other than recourse to armed force,” as noted by Leo Van den hole in the American University International Law Review.

The problem here is that the Turks are not asserting that any armed attack took place or, for that matter, that any armed attack was even being contemplated by the Russians. Instead, in a letter to the U.N., the Turks only claimed that the Russians had “violated their national airspace to a depth of 1.36 to 1.15 miles in length for 17 seconds.” They also say that the Russians were warned “10 times” (something the Russians dispute) and that the Turkish jets fired upon them in accordance with the Turks’ “rules of engagement.” Of course, national rules of engagement cannot trump the requirements of international law. Moreover, international law also requires any force in self-defense be proportional to the threat addressed. [Continue reading…]


ISIS recruitment thrives in Egypt’s brutal prisons

Murtaza Hussain reports: While in jail [in Cairo], [Mohamed] Soltan [a 26-year-old citizen of both Egypt and America] says he witnessed the recruitment efforts of Islamic State members. “There were people from across the spectrum of Egyptian society in jail: liberals, Muslim Brotherhood members, leftists, Salafis, and some people who had pledged allegiance to ISIS,” Soltan says. “Everyone felt depressed and betrayed, except for the ISIS guys. They walked around with this victorious air and had this patronizing and condescending attitude towards everyone else.”

Among the facilities in which Soltan was incarcerated was the notorious Tora Prison, where he was kept in an underground dungeon with dozens of other prisoners. Between regular beatings, humiliation, and torture by guards, the prisoners would talk to one another. In this grim environment, ISIS members would attempt to convince others of the justice of their cause. “The ISIS guys would come and tell everyone these nonviolent means don’t work, that Western countries only care about power and the Egyptian regime only understands force,” Soltan says. “They would say that the world didn’t respect you enough to think you deserve democracy, and now the man who killed your friends is shaking hands with international leaders who are all arming and funding his regime.”

While the other political factions represented in Egypt’s jails grappled with a seemingly hopeless situation, Islamic State members were consistently filled with hope and optimism, citing a steady stream of “good news” about their state-building project in Iraq, Syria and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Soltan says.

When the prisoners would discuss their circumstances, even avowed leftists found themselves unable to rebut Islamic State members’ arguments. “They would make very simple arguments telling us that the world doesn’t care about values and only understands violence,” says Soltan. “Because of the gravity of the situation they were all in, by the time the ISIS guys were finished speaking, everyone, the liberals, the Brotherhood people, would be left completely speechless. When you’re in that type of situation and don’t have many options left, for some people these kinds of ideas start to make sense.” [Continue reading…]

The headline for this article in The Intercept reads: “ISIS RECRUITMENT THRIVES IN BRUTAL PRISONS RUN BY U.S.-BACKED EGYPT” — as though the phrase “U.S.-backed” is the only reliable hook for the publication’s readers.

Yes, the fact that the Obama administration continues to provide military aid to the Sisi regime in spite of its appalling human rights record is inexcusable. What this otherwise excellent report neglects to mention, however, is that Sisi’s most generous supporters been Gulf states — driven by their fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And while the U.S. has a terrible track record in supporting authoritarian rule across the Middle East, blame for the stifling of representative government needs to be apportioned more widely, including the roles played by Russia, Iran, the UK, and other European powers.


Arabs accuse Kurds of exploiting war with ISIS to grab land

The Wall Street Journal reports: After U.S.-backed Kurdish forces drove Islamic State militants from the Iraqi city of Sinjar this month, some of the fighters involved began looting houses of Sunni Arabs suspected of ties to the extremist group.

A week later in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk, Kurdish fighters expelled about 60 Sunni Arab families who had remained in the ruins of one village, according to local officials and residents. They said it was one of more than 50 Arab villages razed or partially demolished by Kurds who recaptured them from Islamic State since July. The Kurds suspected some male relatives of the expelled families of fighting with the Sunni radicals of Islamic State.

Sunni Arab officials and residents in Iraq accuse Kurds of exploiting the war with Islamic State to grab land. In Syria as well, Sunni Arabs are either fleeing, being forced out or are blocked from returning to areas seized by Kurds or Iran-backed groups, according to residents and some of the Kurdish fighters themselves.

It is part of a broader shift in Iraq and Syria, where opponents of Islamic State such as Shiites and Kurds are claiming recaptured land and oil resources that have long been in dispute. These conquests are redrawing internal boundaries, displacing communities and deepening ethnic and sectarian tensions in the two increasingly fragmented countries. [Continue reading…]


Terrorism response puts Belgium in a harsh light

The New York Times reports: A month before the Paris terrorist attacks, Mayor Françoise Schepmans of Molenbeek, a Brussels district long notorious as a haven for jihadists, received a list with the names and addresses of more than 80 people suspected as Islamic militants living in her area.

The list, based on information from Belgium’s security apparatus, included two brothers who would take part in the bloodshed in France on Nov. 13, as well as the man suspected of being the architect of the terrorist plot, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Molenbeek resident who had left for Syria to fight for the Islamic State in early 2014.

“What was I supposed to do about them? It is not my job to track possible terrorists,” Ms. Schepmans said in an interview. That, she added, “is the responsibility of the federal police.”

The federal police service, for its part, reports to the interior minister, Jan Jambon, a Flemish nationalist who has doubts about whether Belgium — divided among French, Dutch and German speakers — should even exist as a single state. [Continue reading…]


Darkness in the Arab Spring’s brightest spot, Tunisia

The Atlantic reports: Last month, the Norwegian Nobel Committee bestowed the world’s most prestigious prize upon The Quartet, a body consisting of four Tunisian groups, whose work helped ensure a peaceful democratic transition in Tunisia in 2013.

In its statement, the Nobel Committee paid homage to Tunisia’s successes in the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution, but also acknowledged that the country still “faces significant political, economic, and security challenges.”

As Tunisia tries to endure as the birthplace of the Arab Spring and its golden child, violence keeps interrupting. Back in March, 23 people died in a terrorist attack at the Bardo Museum in the capital city of Tunis and, in July, 38 tourists were killed when a gunman opened fire at a beach in Sousse. Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State.

On Tuesday, not far from the Bardo Museum, an explosion killed a dozen Tunisian presidential guards and wounded several others on a bus in the central part of the capital. No group has claimed responsibility yet, but following the attack, President Beji Caid Essebsi reinstated the country’s state of emergency, which had been lifted in October, and set a curfew. The violence comes just one week after Tunisia’s interior ministry boasted that security forces had foiled a major plot against a number of targets when it broke up a heavily armed terrorist cell in the country. [Continue reading…]


U.S. says Syria is buying oil from ISIS

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration on Wednesday charged Syria’s government with purchasing oil from the Islamic State terrorist group and sanctioned a Syrian businessman for allegedly facilitating these transactions.

U.S. Treasury Department also sanctioned Russian and Cypriot businessmen and companies for allegedly helping the Syrian central bank evade international sanctions through a web of companies based in Russia, Cyprus and Belize. [Continue reading…]


Underneath Sinjar, ISIS built a network of tunnels

The Associated Press reports: Under the Iraqi town of Sinjar, Islamic State group militants built a network of tunnels, complete with sleeping quarters, wired with electricity and fortified with sandbags. There, they had boxes of U.S.-made ammunition, medicines and copies of the Quran stashed on shelves.

The Associated Press obtained extensive video footage of the tunnels, which were uncovered by Kurdish forces that took the city in northwestern Iraq earlier this month after more than a year of IS rule.

“We found between 30 and 40 tunnels inside Sinjar,” said Shamo Eado, a commander from Sinjar from the Iraqi Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga. “It was like a network inside the city.” [Continue reading…]


The cost of inaction with climate change

Pacific Standard reports: Next week in Paris, some 40,000 government officials, journalists, activists, and lobbyists will descend on the city as delegations from 195 countries convene to nail down plans for curbing emissions and opening new energy markets in the face of climate change. The last Conference of the Parties, as the summit is known, occurred six years ago in Copenhagen. While the Copenhagen COP was supposed to be a turning point in climate change policy, it was largely deemed a failure. Should COP21 fall similarly short, it’ll likely be at the expense of the 3.5 billion poorest people around the world, according to a new report from Oxfam International.

Ahead of this year’s conference, participating nations submitted emissions reduction pledges, known officially as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. The United States, for example, agreed to cut emissions 25 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Still, the promises of many developed nations tend to fall “well short of their fair share,” according to the report. And either way, cumulatively, the pledges wouldn’t be enough to prevent runaway climate change. “Even if all countries meet their INDC commitments, the world is likely to warm by a devastating 3°C or more, with a significant likelihood of tipping the global climate into catastrophic runaway warming,” the report warns.

If that were to happen, developing countries would be left to foot an astronomical bill by mid-century, according to the report. [Continue reading…]


Music: Dino Saluzzi — ‘Romance’


Could downing of Russian jet over Turkey really lead to a wider war?

By David J Galbreath, University of Bath

The dangerous skies over Syria have now earned their reputation. The Turkish foreign ministry has confirmed that its forces had shot down a fighter aircraft near the Turkish border with Syria. The Russian foreign ministry confirmed soon afterwards that it has lost an SU-24 over Syria.

The situation remains tense: two pilots were filmed ejecting from the stricken aircraft; one is reported to be in the hands of pro-Turkish Turkmen rebels along the border but the fate of the other is unknown – early reports from Reuters said it had video of the second pilot seemingly dead on the ground.

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called the incident a “a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists”. He said the shooting down would have “significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations”.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is understood to have cancelled a planned trip to Turkey and NATO announced there would be a meeting of its North Atlantic Council in Brussels to discuss the shootdown.

The bigger picture

This comes at a time, following the Paris attacks, when the US and its Western allies had been reaching a tentative agreement with Russia to solve the previous impasse over a possible transition of power in Syria. Turkey and other Sunni Middle Eastern states are ranged against the Assad regime and not happy at the prospect of a deal that would leave him in power – even if only on a temporary basis. Iran and Russia have been keen to see their Syrian ally remain in power, although Russia has been coming around to the idea of a transition but has steadfastly argued that it is imperative to defeat Islamic State militarily first.

[Read more…]