Category Archives: US foreign policy

The Muslim ban

On June 26th, the Supreme Court handed the president a huge victory in Trump v. Hawaii, the case challenging the legality of his executive order barring citizens of five Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The verdict upholding the ban generated a wave of condemnation across the country, as well as comparisons to some of the most ignominious court decisions in U.S. history.

The same day, in an episode of his podcast, “Deconstructed,” journalist Mehdi Hasan went over “some of the patently absurd and dishonest arguments made in favor of the ban by Trump and by his Republican apologists over the past year and a half. This is about national security, they said. Despite the fact that the number of Americans killed on U.S. soil by citizens from countries on the banned list is exactly zero. This is about vetting refugees from Syria, they said. Despite the fact that it is near-impossible for a Syrian refugee to get into the United States without already going through quote-unquote ‘extreme vetting’ by both the United Nations and the FBI.

This isn’t about security, this isn’t about vetting, this Muslim ban is about white nationalism, just as stripping brown kids from their parents at the border isn’t about security or vetting; it’s about white nationalism. Wake up America, wake up media, and smell the racist coffee. This is not a drill. This is the real thing; the United States is being governed by a group of racists, nationalists and, yes, wannabe fascists, who it turns out have the full blessing and protection of a nakedly partisan and rigged judiciary. Let’s not forget that the Republican 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court this morning only happened because the Republican Party stole a Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by President Obama in his last year in office.

But, look: We can complain all we want about Supreme Court fixes and the pro-Trump Electoral College, but we are where we are. We now have to look forward, not back. How do we push back against decisions like this going forward? How do we stand with those families who won’t be able to see or meet the people they love because of this cruel and discriminatory ban? How do we make a stand with kids from Muslim communities, minority communities, migrant communities, who are seeing kids being banned from the U.S., who are seeing kids being stripped from their parent? How do we make sure that we don’t become immune to this stuff, and turn a blind eye to it? Because there’s so much of this racist, discriminatory stuff around. It’s exhausting. Last week it was caged kids, this week it’s the Muslim ban; it’s easy to want to switch off and look away.

But we can’t afford to. And I say this to my American friends and neighbors, as well to my fellow journalists here in the United States: We Muslims, and our Latino brothers and sisters at the border, are the canaries in the coal mine, and we’re not just chirping right now, we’re screaming. This is not a drill.

My guest today is one of America’s leading progressive politicians, the first-ever Muslim American to be elected to the United States Congress and now running for attorney general of the state of Minnesota. Who better to speak to for reaction to this horrific Supreme Court ruling than Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, who’s also deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, the DNC? Keith, you’ve been very active on Twitter this morning talking about this. Give us your initial response to this verdict from the Supreme Court.”

KE: This is really sad because we’ve seen these kinds of failures by Supreme Courts over the years. We all know Dred Scott, where they ratified slavery. We know Plessy, where they said separate but equal. They ratified Korematsu, where they said it was OK to intern Japanese Americans, U.S. citizens. So this is an ugly issue, but there’s also another history and that is people pushing back, people fighting back, people litigating, marching, protesting, speaking out and that is what I’m counting on now.

MH: Yeah. A lot of people, today, are going to be very dejected, really dispirited. The whole reason this ban got to the Supreme Court was because lower-level federal judges took on the Trump administration and shot it down as discriminatory. Now it’s gone to the highest court in the land and they’ve rubber-stamped it. Where do we go legally, judicially from here? You’re running for attorney general of Minnesota; a lot of states attorney generals have tried to push back against Trump. What’s the legal strategy, before we get to the politics. Is there any?

KE: Well, I think that there absolutely is, because the Supreme Court made a decision that I think is wrong, that’s not based on the facts. We could continue this battle in the courts, and we should, since real people are aggrieved and separated from their families. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had a stellar life. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had an exemplary history. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a two year-old girl. It just matters what your religion and your country is, and I don’t believe that can stand. In order to overrule this decision, we need another case. We have to keep up the fight and not relent. I’m committed to it. That’s why I’m running for attorney general of the State of Minnesota, to protect people’s rights.

MH: We have a Supreme Court that’s not really about the law, the precedent, or the principle. They’re a highly partisan, carefully selected group of politicians, and I expect we’ll see more bad decisions that favor the powerful over regular people, that allow the big to roll over the small. These are the kind of decisions that Neil Gorsuch specializes in. He doesn’t need to know what the law and the history and the facts are. He just needs to know who’s got the money and the power, and then he knows whose side he’s on. What’s your message to Americans listening to you today on a dark day like this in American history? What’s your message to Americans, especially Muslim Americans? What would you say to someone like my 11-year-old daughter who’s wondering what her place is in the country, with the Supreme Court ruling like this?

KE: What I say to her is that we love her, that she’s safe, that her family is with her, and that her community is looking forward to her offering her leadership to this nation. I say: Go run for student council. Go be a leader in your community. Go offer your leadership, your talent, and your skills, because it’s you who’s going to lead us forward, not these people who let hate drive them. That’s what I say to your wonderful, blessed young daughter. Because I know she’s a little nervous, but she has all of us around her, and she’s our hope.

MH: Congressman Keith Ellison, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

KE: You bet, buddy. Take care.

MH: For more on the impact of the travel ban on the ground, inside of Muslim-American, Arab-American, Iranian-American communities who are suffering as a direct result of this ban and now of this Supreme Court ruling, I’m joined by Debbie Almontaser, one of the co-founders of the Yemeni-American Merchants Association.

Debbie, when you heard the news of the Supreme Court ruling upholding this Muslim ban, what was your response?

DA: I felt like someone punched me so hard in the stomach. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I was trying very hard to be optimistic and say to myself, you know, the Constitution is on our side, this is a country that was built on the back of immigrants, this is a country that was built on freedom of religion and expression. But today’s decision didn’t uphold these great values.

MH: You’re a Yemeni-American immigrant who came to this country as a child, right?

DA: Yes. I came at the age of three.

MH: And you came with your family. You now have a family, a community in New York and beyond. Members of your family, your own children have served in the armed forces and the police, I believe. You’ve done a lot for this country, your family, and the Yemeni-American community. And now people from your community can’t see members of their own family because of this ban.

DA: That’s correct. My phone and text messaging has been off the hook with people calling and saying, “What does this mean?” “Is my daughter going to be able to come?” “Is my wife going to be able to come?”And, I have to say, this is truly a betrayal to the existence of my family, seven of whom have served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have family members in the New York Police Department. I have family members who are teachers, you know, civil servants. And this is saying to me and my family, “You don’t belong here,” when, in fact, we’ve been a part of the American fabric and building this nation.

MH: And your father, who brought you to this country, I believe he passed away. How do you think he would feel if he were alive today to see the Supreme Court ruling? He came here as an immigrant — to build a life for his family, for his kids, for his community — from Yemen.

DA: My father, today, would be devastated to hear this. When we first came to the United States, his thing was: “You’re an American now. You’re going to get educated, you’re going to work, you’re going to be a part of this country. You don’t need to speak your language, talk about your culture. You’re American.” And I know that if he were here today, he’d be absolutely devastated, because this isn’t the country that welcomed him and gave him an opportunity to raise his children in America.

MH: Where do we go from here? We’ve seen so much protesting, so many examples of people taking to the streets, and yet the Supreme Court comes along and says: This is all fine. This is all legal. Where do you as an activist go from here?

DA: Well, where we go from here is we continue to resist this decision. For example, today, at 6 PM, we’re congregating at Foley Square in New York City with thousands of Yemeni Americans and other impacted countries, along with our allies and organizers. This isn’t over. We have to stay strong, we have to stay committed, and we’ll get through this. The best and greatest way for us to combat all of this is to make sure that people across this nation are registered to vote, and when it comes to the presidential race, we put this administration out of its misery.

MH: What would you say to a young Muslim-American kid who’s listening to this podcast, who wonders about his or her place in America?

DA: Be proud of who you are and where you came from. Stay strong. Don’t let this break you. You have people like me and other activists in your community, and outside of your community, who believe in you and believe in your right to exist with respect and dignity in this nation.

 

 

Real socialism

The United States has gone so far to the right politically in the past 40 or 50 years that, except for its foreign policy, FDR’s administration – that went left to save capitalism and its ruling class – is still more radical than anything on offer today. And Bernie Sanders and up-and-coming members of the Democratic Socialists, who are reformists rather than seeking an entirely new system, are considered radical socialists.

True socialism is international, with workers of all countries working together to overthrow the rule of the capitalist bosses and refusing to fight each other in nationalist wars. Read your history to see how truly radical socialist and anarchist workers’ movements in the United States and Germany were suppressed and coopted prior to World War I. The mirror image of this was the 1917 Bolshevik revolution toward the end of that war that turned imperial Russia into the Soviet Union. Lenin used Marx’s supposedly temporary “dictatorship of the proletariat” to initiate a complete suppression of the worker democracy of the soviets, a dictatorship that Stalin made permanent.

True socialism has never been fully implemented on a country-wide scale, except perhaps in Spain in the 1930s – Russia, China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba all became dictatorships, partly because of the fierce opposition of capitalists within and globally. That doesn’t mean, however, that Marxism and socialism have nothing to offer in turning our emphasis from individualism to cooperation and looking at the importance of collective ownership of the means of production. All of this is being obscured, often intentionally, by the current powers-that-be and by the average American’s ignorance of history and social and political analysis (it isn’t taught in our schools or promoted by our media – you have to go looking for it).

One of the many places I look for it is the World Socialist website, wsws.org, where I found an article posted today by Joseph Kishore entitled “Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders praise McCain: An object lesson in the politics of the pseudo-left.” I preface the following quotes taken from this article by saying that, especially compared to Trump, I respected Republican senator John McCain, who died Saturday, as an honest and principled man, even though I disagreed with his politics and actions. The article says that amid “the outpouring of praise from all sections of the political establishment for McCain, two statements stand out. The first was from Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who tweeted: ‘John McCain was an American hero, a man of decency and honor and a friend of mine. He will be missed not just in the US Senate but by all Americans who respect integrity and independence.’ The second was from Democratic Socialists of America member and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted, in part: ‘John McCain’s legacy represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service.’ Ocasio-Cortez posted with her tweet the editorial from the Washington Post on McCain’s death, which praised him for his work on ‘national defense and deterrence of foreign aggression’ and for ‘[rising] above party politics to pursue what he honestly saw as the national interest.’

What, one is compelled to ask, are these two individuals, who present themselves as figures of the left and even socialists, talking about? What is McCain’s legacy of ‘human decency and American service?’ What made him an ‘American hero?’

Was his human decency on display when he was dropping bombs on the Vietnamese people, or when he was acting as one of the earliest supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of one million people? Was his heroism expressed in his call for the bombing of Iran, his visit with Islamic fundamentalist organizations spearheading the CIA-backed civil war in Syria, or his demands, up to his last day, for stepped-up aggression against Russia? The list of countries McCain advocated bombing is a long one, and there was no war launched by the US that he didn’t support. Political positions have consequences, and McCain had the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands.”

Kishore believes “the praise for McCain by Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders is a calculated political decision that reveals the politics of the Democratic Party.

Sanders’ declaration of solidarity with McCain is in line with his Democratic Party election campaign in 2016, in which he supported the foreign policy of the Obama administration, including its wars in the Middle East, and said that a Sanders administration would utilize Special Forces and drone strikes – ‘all that and more.’ After losing the primaries, Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, seeking to channel the social opposition reflected in support for his campaign behind the candidate of the military-intelligence establishment.

As for Ocasio-Cortez, in just two months since she defeated the incumbent Democrat in the primary election for the 14th Congressional District of New York, she’s distanced herself from any association with socialism, backtracked on her previous criticisms of Israel, pledged her support for ‘border security,’ stood beside Sanders as the latter endorsed the Democrats’ anti-Russia campaign, and now heaps praise on one of the biggest warmongers in American politics. At the time of Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory, the World Socialist Web Site wrote that ‘anyone who suggests that her victory marks a shift to the left in the Democratic Party should be told, in no uncertain terms: Curb your enthusiasm! The DSA isn’t fighting for socialism, but to strengthen the Democratic Party, one of the two main capitalist parties in the United States.’ Those who may have been attracted to the DSA based on the impression that it’s a socialist or anti-war organization should draw the necessary conclusions.

The Democratic Party is engaged in a ferociously right-wing campaign in its conflict with the Trump administration. Its focus isn’t on Trump’s fascistic policies or warmongering, but on the claim that he’s insufficiently committed to war in the Middle East and aggression against Russia. The Democrats have used the death of McCain as part of a calculated strategy, elevating him – along with figures such as former CIA Director John Brennan – as political heroes. They, along with the corporate media and the Republican Party establishment, are seeking to use McCain’s death as an opportunity to shift public opinion in favor of war and political reaction.

In the 2018 midterm elections, as the WSWS has documented, the Democrats are running an unprecedented number of former intelligence and military operatives as candidates. The promotion of groups such as the DSA is an integral part of this strategy. ‘The politics of the “CIA Democrats,”’ the Socialist Equality Party noted in the resolution passed at its Congress last month, ‘is not in conflict with, but rather corresponds to, the pseudo-left politics of the upper-middle class, as expressed in organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO).’ The role of Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, the DSA, and the ISO, is to give a ‘socialist’ label to politics entirely in line with the right-wing, militarist, and imperialist character of the Democratic Party.

The elevation of the DSA doesn’t represent a movement toward socialism, but rather a defensive reaction by the ruling class against what it perceives as an existential danger. The corporate-financial elite is well aware of polls that show growing support for socialism and opposition to capitalism among workers and particularly among young people. The DSA is therefore promoted by the media (the New York Times published yet another prominent article on Sunday boosting Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA) even as genuine left-wing and anti-war publications face ever more direct forms of internet censorship.

The politics of the DSA and the broader pseudo-left has far more in common with the politics of McCain than it does with genuine socialism. There can be no question as to what role these organizations would play if brought into positions of power. A similar path has already been trod by the Left Party in Germany, which has implemented austerity measures and promoted the anti-immigrant policies of the far-right AfD, and Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece, which since coming to power in 2015 has implemented the brutal austerity measures demanded by the European banks.

The Socialist Equality Party is fighting to organize workers and youth on the basis of a socialist program. This means not mild and insincere reformist demands to provide cover for the right-wing, militarist Democratic Party, but the mobilization of the working class, in the United States and internationally, for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. The building of such a movement must be based on the exposure of and struggle against figures such as Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders and the treacherous politics they espouse.”

Wikipedia says, “According to the party’s website [socialequality.com], the SEP “seeks not to reform capitalism, but to create a socialist, democratic, and egalitarian society through the establishment of a workers’ government and the revolutionary transformation of the world economy. We seek to unify workers in the United States and internationally in the common struggle for socialism – that is, for equality and the rational and democratic utilization of the wealth of the planet. The Socialist Equality Party fights for the unity of the working class and opposes ‘identity politics.’ According to the party, the ‘shift from class to identity has been at the expense of an understanding of the real causes, rooted in the capitalist system, of the hardships that confront all working people. At its worst, it’s promoted competition among different “identities” for access to educational institutions, jobs and other “opportunities” which, in a socialist society, would be freely available to all people without such demeaning, dehumanizing and arbitrary distinctions… The Socialist Equality Party fights for the unity of the working class and opposes “identity politics”. According to the party, the “shift from class to identity has been at the expense of an understanding of the real causes, rooted in the capitalist system, of the hardships that confront all working people. At its worst, it has promoted a competition among different “identities” for access to educational institutions, jobs and other “opportunities” which, in a socialist society, would be freely available to all people without such demeaning, dehumanizing and arbitrary distinctions.’ The party opposes all forms of discrimination and asserts that only a politically unified working class, composed of all races, religions and sexual orientations, can bring forth a free society…

Political equality is impossible without economic equality.’

The Socialist Equality Party asserts that capitalism leads inevitably to war as imperialist states seek geo-political dominance, spheres of influence, markets, control of vital resources, and access to cheap labor.”

 

Looking into the Iranian and North Korean nuclear threats

Want to know whether the US should withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran or what’s involved in the upcoming negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons? Check out “War Games,” the latest episode of Jeremy Scahill’s “Intercepted” podcast, available on in the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll learn a ton — all critical information in understanding today’s (and yesterday’s) world…Like which country or countries are currently the biggest threats to world peace?

Newsflash @ Trump

So, you’ve picked John Bolton as your new national security adviser…a man who, according to NPR this morning, is likely to derail planned negotiations with North Korea and sabotage the nuclear arms agreement with Iran. Add this to the trade wars you’re starting, etc., etc., and I just have to say: “Hey, buddy, this is not your private corporation to play around with. It’s our country, our world, and lives are at stake. You’re not to blame for everything wrong with our system, but the fact that it could cough you up and make you president is all the proof we need that it needs immediate, radical change. You’re ridiculous, but so dangerous it’s not funny.”

Come on, everybody — there are plenty of grounds for impeachment — have been since inauguration day. Let’s add a demand for it to the list, just ahead of gun control, for the midterm elections. We can’t wait 3 plus years to get rid of this clown!

Great powers fighting over tattered Syria show that state power needs to be limited

Yesterday, 2-13-18, Democracy Now aired a segment entitled “It’s Hard to Believe, But Syria’s War Is Getting Worse: World Powers Clash as Civilian Deaths Soar.” Here’s my edited version of the transcript:

“Tensions across northern Syria are escalating sharply amid a series of clashes between external and internal powers, including Israel, Iran, Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian government. On Saturday, Israel shot down what it says was an Iranian drone that had entered Israel’s airspace after being launched in Syria. Israel then mounted an attack on an Iranian command center in Syria, from which the drone was apparently launched. One of the Israeli F-16 military jets was then downed by a Syrian government anti-aircraft missile. Meanwhile, also in northern Syria on Saturday, a Turkish Army helicopter was shot down by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters near the Syrian Kurdish city of Afrin, where Turkey has launched a bombing and ground offensive. All this comes as the United Nations is warning of soaring levels of civilian casualties in Syria. For more, we speak with Anne Barnard, The New York Times bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon. Her recent articles are titled ‘Israel Strikes Iran in Syria and Loses a Jet’ and ‘It’s Hard to Believe, But Syria’s War Is Getting Even Worse.’ And we speak with Syrian-Canadian researcher Yazan al-Saadi.

ELIZABETH THROSSELL (UN high commissioner for human rights spokesperson): This has been a week of soaring violence and bloodshed in Syria, with more than a thousand civilian casualties in six days. We’ve received reports that at least 277 civilians have been killed, 230 of them by airstrikes by the Syrian government and their allies. In addition, 812 people were injured.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations is warning civilians are being killed and wounded at a rapid pace amidst an escalation in the Syrian government bombing against the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. At least 200 civilians have reportedly been killed in the last week alone.

ANNE BARNARD: Well, thank you so much, first of all, for being interested in this subject. It’s very important that it continues to be talked about. I haven’t been in Syria for a year. I’m constantly applying for visas, but the Syrian government is quite unpredictable and restrictive about when it grants visas to foreign journalists. And once you’re there, you can’t operate entirely freely anyway. We’ve covered recent events from here in Beirut through an extensive network of contacts on all sides inside Syria. Over the last seven years, these kinds of death tolls are happening all the time. Civilians and hospitals are under attack, and it’s very hard to get humanitarian aid access. The Syrian government’s attempts to take back rebel-held areas have been particularly characterized lately by an intensified bombing campaign that’s taken a heavy toll on civilians, who are already tired, malnourished, maybe displaced already several times. Some of them are stuck behind siege boundaries. So, it’s really been a tough week.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Anne, most of the media attention in the United States has been focused on the war against ISIS, and with the declaration that most of the ISIS enclaves had been defeated, the attention has largely dropped from the U.S. media. What’s happened since the so-called defeat of ISIS? How has the war in Syria transformed?

ANNE BARNARD: Yes, the U.S. focus has tended to be on ISIS within a framework of the so-called war on terror. But the war in Syria didn’t begin with ISIS and isn’t going to end with it. First of all, I think it’s probably a mistaken “mission accomplished” moment to claim that ISIS has actually been defeated, because many fighters have gone underground, and their ideology, of course, is continuing to assert itself. But since then, what the relative defeat of ISIS has unleashed is the ability of the Syrian government and its allies – Russia and Iran – to turn their attention fully back to fighting the rebels, who have already been on the run. And it’s very complicated, because there are different patches of areas around the country that aren’t connected to each other, that are controlled by different rebel groups, Islamist groups, some al Qaeda-linked groups. There are many wars within the war. And the rest of the world cares less about them than they cared about ISIS, because they saw ISIS as a threat to themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday’s event marking the first Israeli jet shot down since the 1980s, also believed to be the first time Israel carried out an attack in Syria on a site where Iranian troops were present. Can you talk about the significance of this?

ANNE BARNARD: Yes. This brings us to the second consequence of the end of the main part of the territorial fight against Islamic State. Many different international powers, as well as the Syrian government and some of its opponents within Syria, were all against each other, in a way, but united against the Islamic State. And they launched competing campaigns to defeat the Islamic State, racing one another to take its territory. Now that the Islamic State has been largely driven out of territory in Syria, these different combatants are finding that their conflicting interests are coming to the fore again. So, you see Turkey going against Syrian Kurdish groups supported by the US, and even confrontations between the US and Turkey. Israel has been bombing targets in Syria throughout the war, with relative impunity, but this is the first time that the Syrian government has managed to shoot down a jet. You also have Syria’s allies – Russia and Iran – which have differing views about how exactly the future of Syria should be laid out. So, we may be getting to a phase in the Syrian war where all the foreign interveners are turning it into an arena to fight each other, regardless of what Syrians want or the effect on Syrians. And, unfortunately, that could go on for a long time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Anne, I wanted to ask you about the role of Hezbollah, because, it’s been widely involved in the fighting in Syria, and has undoubtedly grown stronger as a result. Could you talk about its role in the conflict, and the concerns of Israel over the growth of Hezbollah?

ANNE BARNARD: Hezbollah entered the war overtly as an expeditionary force in 2013. And that was a big surprise, because this is a group that was founded to fight Israeli occupation of the south of Lebanon, not to go and help put down uprisings in other countries. But nonetheless, because of their close alliance with Damascus and Tehran, Hezbollah entered the war, first in areas that made sense, in a way, for it in a local sense – areas near the Lebanese border. But gradually their role expanded. They were a much more effective pound-for-pound force than the Syrian military, and they ended up helping out in battles across the country. The southern part of Syria is now the biggest issue, because Hezbollah is entrenching itself increasingly in areas bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. So, that’s obviously of big concern to Israel. There is also, of course, an Iranian presence in Syria. That’s something Israel’s been trying to counter throughout the conflict, and I think we’re going to see more tensions around that.

AMY GOODMAN: Yazan al-Saadi, you’re a Syrian-Canadian researcher. Talk about the situation in Syria, your country, as you see it.

YAZAN AL-SAADI: It’s absolutely tragic – a complete annihilation of the struggle for Syrian self-determination by various communities within the country. You’re seeing the complete devastation of a society. The healthcare system is gone. Half the population are either refugees or amputees. It’s absolutely devastating. What we’re witnessing in Syria is the failure of international mechanisms to hold states accountable. This has happened before in places like Iraq, Palestine, Congo, the Central African Republic, and in Myanmar now with the Rohingya. [And Yemen.] And it’s going to continue in various places, as long as states are allowed to do as they please. This can only end if populations and communities around the world start mobilizing and pressuring their governments to stop these types of actions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yazan, I wanted to ask you about the role of Bashar al-Assad. Many of the Western powers were originally calling for regime change to end the civil war, and now that’s dropped off the table for a lot of them. Could you talk about that?

YAZAN AL-SAADI: I’m not surprised it dropped off the table, because, let’s be honest, Western governments don’t really care about dictatorships. In fact, they’re quite a fan. They don’t care if Bashar stays or not, as long as he plays ball and fits into their interests. Should Bashar go? Yes, obviously. He’s a dictator. But it can’t happen through Western intervention or Western forms of regime change, because we’ve seen what happened in Libya and Iraq. So we need to do something else here. There needs to be an international mechanism to hold dictatorships accountable, whether they’re allies to the West or to Putin.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Anne Barnard, could you talk about whether the potential is increasing or decreasing for some kind of a conflict between the outside powers spreading beyond Syria?

ANNE BARNARD: Well, that’s certainly the danger. I mean, and just to build on what Yazan was saying, the reason that the international community, such as it is, hasn’t been able to come to any consensus is the deadlocked Security Council. So, we start from a situation in which Russia and the United States are completely deadlocked – they can’t agree on anything. And now they’re each backing a side in Syria that sees itself as fighting an existential battle. For Russia this is about restoring its great power status and countering the U.S. in a key area of the Middle East. Russia has interests with its port on the Mediterranean Sea, in Tartus on the western coast of Syria. And it’s clearly put more skin in the game than the US has. At the same time, the US has extended its commitment, perhaps indefinitely, in northeastern Syria, where most of Syria’s oil is. Now we’re hearing that last week US forces hit a pro-government force that may have included Russian contractors

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking January 17th at the Hoover Institution, calling Iran a ‘strategic threat’ to the United Sta,tes and using this alleged threat as justification for keeping U.S. troops in Syria.

SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON: Iran has dramatically strengthened its presence in Syria by deploying Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops, supporting Lebanese Hezbollah, and importing proxy forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Through its position in Syria, Iran is positioning to continue attacking U.S. interests, our allies and personnel in the region. US disengagement from Syria would allow Iran to further strengthen its position there.

AMY GOODMAN: Yazan al-Saadi, if you can respond to the U.S. secretary of state?

YAZAN AL-SAADI: This concern by the US about Iran is typical, in terms of the warmongering mentality within the U.S. military-political establishment and their need to dominate the region. At the same time, Iran is a dictatorship and a problematic regime, just like every other regime in the region, including the Syrian regime, the Zionist regime, the Saudi regime, and others. We need to start creating mechanisms of accountability that force these regimes to accept the power of people and respect their rights of people beyond all.

AMY GOODMAN: Anne, what percentage of Lebanon is now Syrian refugees who have come over the border, not to mention Jordan and other places?

ANNE BARNARD: Well, Lebanon is a country of around 4 million people, and there are at least one-and-a-half million Syrian refugees here, more than a quarter of the population. So, Lebanon is bearing a huge brunt, and Turkey and Jordan also have large numbers of refugees. I like Yazan’s idea of creating a mechanism to hold the powers accountable, but look what happened when Syrian people and people in many other countries in the region tried to speak up and use people power to ask for more rights or reforms in their countries. Almost all of them were defeated by state power in one way or another. So, it’s really a puzzle. I wonder, Yazan, if you have any, you know, specific ideas about how things can go differently for ordinary people who want to make their voices heard. I mean, you know, we’ve seen a lot of idealistic people try, and, you know, you see the results.

YAZAN AL-SAADI: People have tried and are still trying, and we should continue. I mean, one of the most important things is international solidarities, right? Working between communities, whether it’s the Syrian community, working with communities in the United States, for example – let’s say the Black Lives Matter, because they are facing injustices and tyranny of the state. So I believe in creating ties like that. I believe in creating ties between the BDS movement in Palestine with other pro-rights movements in Bahrain or among the Rohingya. That’s the only way forward, because we’re dealing with an international problem of domination over our communities, wherever we are. What’s happening in Syria is a violent, physical manifestation of that. And it’s going to continue in other forms in other places, as long as states still have all the power.

AMY GOODMAN: Yazan al-Saadi, we want to thank you for being with us, Syrian-Canadian researcher, usually in Beirut, Lebanon, now in Kuwait, and Anne Barnard, the New York Times bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon.”