How the ‘Center’ Is Spinning Apart

There’s the old warning that at times the “center cannot hold,” but today’s “center” appears to be self-destructing, creating unnecessary crises and conflicts that worsen the world’s predicament, notes ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

That “icon” of the “centrists,” Facebook, recently wrote to a site on the U.S. “Alt-Right” telling them that various posts which they had authored must be immediately taken down, or would be deleted. The references which had offended were the words ‘trannies” for transgenders and “cross-dressers.” The message from Facebook further suggested that gender “identity” is considered a “protected characteristic” (under the law – which it is not), and that reference to transgenders as “trannies” could be considered “hate speech” (i.e. a legal offence).

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at joint press conference on Feb. 15. 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

A totally trivial issue, in itself, except that it goes to the heart of the disputed vision which encapsulates the present U.S. civil stand-off:  On the one side, the notion that diversity, freely elected sexual orientation, and identity rights, equals societal cohesion and strength. Or, on the other hand, the vision encapsulated by Pat Buchanan: that a nation (including its new-comers) are bound more by the possession of a legacy of memories, a heritage of manners, customs and culture, and an attachment to a certain “way-of-being,” and principles of government. And it is this that constitutes the source of a nation’s strength.

The point here, is that the “centrist” center visibly is folding. The insistence to manage and control discourse (per Michel Foucault), around a strictly de-limited, political ideology is drawing now public disdain (and street demonstrations in the U.S.) targeted both at social media, and at elements of the MSM (mainstream media outlets, such as CNN). That is to say, the more the centrist diversity meme is pushed in the U.S., the greater the popular push-back, it seems.

The sites opposing such “correctness” are attracting a much higher audience than those espousing it. But that is not the whole story. It is not even the half of it: “the center” is giving way on multiple fronts (with huge, and likely turbulent consequence).

Foreign Policy Chaos

Most evidently, this is occurring in foreign policy generally, and in the Middle East more particularly. It has been only lightly reported in the MSM, but the U.S. National Security Council again has failed – according to reports – to offer any compelling arguments as to how America might, in any way, succeed in Afghanistan even with a hefty increase in military forces, (as advocated by NSC Advisor H.R. McMaster). It has been a long-haul war – and there will be no pleasing outcome to this war for anyone; rather the opposite – but that has been long evident to almost all who followed events there.

President Donald Trump announces the selection of Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new National Security Adviser on Feb. 20, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

Secondly, Hizballah has routed – in just four days – Al Qaeda from the Arsal enclave in north Lebanon. Once again, Lebanon is contiguous with Syria, just as Iraq is now contiguous, adjoining and open to Syria. Aided by the psychological shock to insurgents of the news of the halting of CIA of weapons and salaries supplied to (some, not all) insurgent groups, the Syrian army and its partner forces are quite rapidly taking back the Syrian state. The U.S. has decided, it seems, that there are no good options for America in Syria, either. And that, when Raqa’a falls and ISIS is defeated, the White House may well conclude that U.S. objectives there will have been met.

Thirdly, the Iraqi people have been passing through a significant metamorphosis. Mobilized and radicalized by ISIS’s physical brutality and ideological totalitarianism in northern Iraq, this is a nation in motion: The political landscape, henceforth, will change too. The Shi’a of Iraq are sensing their empowerment.

The (unpopular) government, and the (respected, but now elderly) Hauza (religious leadership) – necessarily – are having to swim with this new tide of popular mobilization and self-assertion. These profound shifts in mood already are finding their reflection in Iraq’s strategic positioning in that Iraq is moving closer to Russia (i.e. the purchase of Russian T20 tanks), and to Syria and Iran. The “spine” of the Middle East is consolidating in a new way.

This mood-change may well shape, too, the future of Sunni Islam: Most ordinary Iraqi Sunnis have been repelled, and disgusted, by the excesses of Wahhabist Da’esh, (as have Syrians of all sects). Sunni citizens of Mosul – now free to relate their experiences – have been telling their Iraqi compatriots (I have been told) of their lingering anger at the ISIS’s beheadings of the local Sunni clergy for complaining about the un-Islamic actions of foreign jihadists in the ranks of Da’esh in Mosul. This adverse experience of Nejd Islam will have repercussions, ultimately, on Saudi Arabia and its leadership, (now heartily disliked in Iraq) – and America, Saudi Arabia’s close ally.

In short – for Europe and America – the “center” of its Middle East policy is folding (while its Gulf Cooperation Council-led bulwark is in crisis). Across the West, cries of distressed Syria “hawks” are in the air.

There will, of course, be repercussions: Israel will threaten that “it cannot stand idly-by” with Hizbullah and Iran situated on the Golan armistice line, and may try to test Russia’s resolve as guarantor of the southwest Syrian de-escalation zone. Prime Minister Benhamin Netanyahu is particularly angry that Israel has been outmaneuvered in Syria (by Russian President Putin), that the hope to create an Israeli-controlled cordon sanitaire inside southwest Syria has been frustrated. And Israel and its allies now will push the U.S. hard for a punitive containment vice to be imposed on Iran in retribution.

The new Saudi Regent (Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salma or MbS) represents another unpredictable and volatile element in this mix. Despite this, the Pentagon is well aware that much of Israel’s bluster concerning Iran, is just that: bluff. Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE have no capacity to take on Iran, beyond a day – without America’s full backing.

Wobbly Economic Center

The other part of “the center,” which is looking increasingly wobbly, is that of economic policy. A consensus seems to be hardening among some market leaders that asset values cannot simply go on levitating upwards – carried up on a sea of liquidity, and near zero interest rates – entailing near zero volatility and one-sided trades that have the market listing like some capsizing, overloaded boat after all the passengers have rushed to one side of the craft.

President Trump shakes the hand of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman on May 20, 2017. (Screenshot from Whitehouse.gov)

Some market participants however, seem to believe that the Central Bankers will never have “the spine” either to hike rates, or to shrink their balance sheets, and thus face a market “tantrum.” These participants – until recently, perhaps a majority – believe that the new normal “boat” of low inflation and low rates – will continue to be floated off, practically indefinitely, albeit with the help of a further $20 trillion to $50 trillion of “qualitative easing” or QE.

This argument is far from new, but recently a substantial number of major financial leaders (and some Central Bankers) have been sounding grave warnings about the high multiple valuations of financial assets, about pockets of sub-prime debt re-emerging (automobile loans), and debt-to-GDP levels (personal and public) soaring above 2008 crisis values.

Global debt is up $68 trillion or 46 percent, since the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, and now stands at 327 percent of global output. A critical mass of senior financial opinion seems now to be turning. They put this troubling monetary and market distortion against the prospect of a U.S. debt ceiling likely to guillotine U.S. Federal Government spending quite imminently, and against the probability that deeply conflicted Congress – with polarization in both main parties – being able neither to pass a budget; nor produce the Trump “reflation”; nor even launch a significant infrastructure re-build.

Their fear is that there is a substantial tranche of congressmen and senators in both parties that are so hostile to Trump that they would be happy to see him fall flat on his face – even at the cost of economic crisis. Or, they worry that even if some stimulus is passed, that the Central Banks will remove the liquidity punchbowl from markets too fast.  Either way, they see grave risks running through to the end of this year, and into 2018.

In short, not just foreign policy but financial policy, too, may find itself hostage to the dissolved center of U.S. politics – with all which that implies, i.e., the lack of the functioning, largely centralized, mainly cohesive unit, that used to be the American government as it has been known since World War Two.

Inviting Push-back

And here we return to our initial, rather trivial anecdote about Facebook trying to re-establish the centrist meme of gender choice being an undiscussable “protected category.” The point is that the center is not holding: the more it tries, the more it invites, and gets, willful push-back.

Equally, as the hawks clamor to restore the former centrist foreign policy meme that arming, training and paying Wahhabi jihadists to slaughter 100,000 Syrian soldiers (many, if not most of whom, were Sunni) represents an American interest is no longer holding. See, for example, David Stockman’s Bravo! Trump, For The Tweet That Is Shaking The War Party (Trump: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..”).

And the meme that too much debt should be solved by adding even more debt – and that the consequent soaring asset inflation should welcomed as mere confirmation that economic recovery is unfolding, as it should – is no longer holding also. This whole approach is now in in sharp contention.

Even the Central Bankers now worry about asset inflation (that they themselves have nurtured) but they worry even more about the consequences of any attempt to roll it back. They lie between a rock and a hard place.

Where will this take us?  Possibly, the psychological turmoil of the reverses in U.S. foreign policy will continue to roil throughout the summer; but come autumn, there may be less U.S. appetite (or attention available) for foreign policy initiatives as the economic “winter” approaches. Or, at worst, the sheer overwhelming conflict on the domestic front could invite the notion that a foreign initiative would prove a welcome distraction from economic woes.

Iran and North Korea are the current U.S. rhetorical punch bags, but neither should ever be contemplated as candidates for some “distraction.” Rather they represent potential nemeses.

As for the economic woes – not so much QE 4 – but direct, deficit funding helicopter money beckons, perhaps. Which is to say that freshly minted new, “empty” money would be used to directly fund Federal expenditure. (Trump in business, has never shied away from debt).

Often it is said that there is no precedent to our present extraordinary monetary circumstances, but the history of the Assignat in France of the early 1790s, offers some hints. Despite massive money creation, Andrew White, in his book Fiat Money Inflation in France (published in 1896) notes that “[t]hough paper money had increased in amount, prosperity had steadily diminished. In spite of all the paper issues, commercial activity grew more and more spasmodic. Enterprise was chilled and business became more and more stagnant”.

Finally, just to be clear, Donald Trump undoubtedly is facilitating the dissolution of the Establishment’s “center” – but that, after all, was his declared aim. But he is not responsible for it. This potential was already latent: he simply saw it – and adroitly, climbed aboard.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.

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America’s Militarized Police: Made in Israel?

Philip Giraldi — The Unz Review July 25, 2017

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The horrific execution by police of an Australian woman in her pajamas that took place last week in Minneapolis has again produced a torrent of criticism over killings initiated by law enforcement in situations in which the officers are in no way threatened. America has always been a violent place relative to much of the rest of the world, but even so there has been a noticeable shift in how, since the trauma of 9/11, some policemen believe themselves to be superior to and detached from the society they are supposed to be protecting. And the public is reciprocating, seeing the police frequently as a force that is no longer there to serve the people and instead something that should be feared. Even in the upper middle class predominantly white county that I live in, residents not infrequently discuss the increasingly visible and aggressive police presence. It is widely believed that arguing with cops or showing even the slightest attitude in contacts with them is done at one’s peril.

Even in low crime parts of the country, the police are able to deploy fully armed and equipped swat teams that are more military than civilian in their threatening demeanor as well in the body armor and weapons they carry. Many cities and counties now have surplus military armored vans for crowd control even if they have no crowds. Armed drones are increasingly becoming part of the law enforcement arsenal and it sometimes appears as if the police are copying the military as a model of “how to do it.”

The various levels of government that make up the United States seem to be preparing for some kind of insurrection, which may indeed be the case somewhere down the road if the frustrations of the public are not somehow dealt with. But there is another factor that has, in my opinion, become a key element in the militarization of the police in the United States. That would be the role of the security organs of the state of Israel in training American cops, a lucrative business that has developed since 9/11 and which inter aliagives the “students” a whole different perspective on the connection of the police with those who are being policed, making the relationship much more one of an occupier and the occupied.

The engagement of American police forces with Israeli security services began modestly enough in the wake of 9/11. The panic response in the United States to a major terrorist act led to a search for resources to confront what was perceived as a new type of threat that normal law-and-order training did not address.

Israel, which, in its current occupation of much of Palestine and the Golan Heights as well as former stints in Gaza, southern Lebanon and Sinai, admittedly has considerable experience in dealing with the resistance to its expansion manifested as what it describes as terrorism. Jewish organizations in the United States dedicated to providing cover for Israeli’s bad behavior, saw an opportunity to get their hooks into a sizable and respected community within the U.S. that was ripe for conversion to the Israeli point of view, so they began funding “exchanges.”

Since 2002 there have been hundreds of all-expenses-paid trips including officers from every major American city as well as state and local police departments. Some have been sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also been directly funding trips since 2008, explaining that “As a people living under constant threat of attack, the Israelis are leading experts in security enforcement and response strategies.” The intent? To “learn” and “draw from the latest developments” so the American cops can “bring these methods back home to implement in their communities.”

AIPAC has several pages in its website dedicated to security cooperation between the two countries. It asks “Did you know? In May 2010, 50 retired Generals and Admirals wrote to President Obama, highlighting the value of U.S. Israeli cooperation.” It goes on to cite an Alabama sheriff who enthuses that “There is no other country [Israel] that shares the same values and overarching goal to allow others to live in peace.” Regarding airport security, it also quotes a U.S. “security expert” who states “We should move even closer to an Israeli model where there’s more engagement with passengers…We’ve just stated to do that at TSA…” Indeed. That’s called profiling and pre-boarding interrogations.

Even the federal government has gotten onto the Israel bandwagon, perhaps not a surprise given the number of Israel Firsters in Congress. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security established a special Office of International Affairs to “institutionalize the relationship between Israeli and American security officials.” The New York City Police Department has a branch in Israel and carries out frequent exchanges.

It should be noted from the git-go that Israel is no more knowledgeable about possible responses to acts of terror than is anyone else. The techniques employed to create physical barriers, to develop sources for intelligence gathering, and to train in tactical responses are quite familiar to anyone who has studied modern-style terrorism since it emerged in Western Europe in the 1970s.

Most countries that have a high or even moderate risk level deriving from terrorists, either domestic or foreign, have recruited and trained special police and paramilitary forces that are familiar with the basic techniques and are quite capable of responding. Ironically, even though the United States government and local police forces have tended to look at the “real pro” Israelis for guidance, state of the art resources for learning about how to deal with terror are available right here at home. JSOC has teams that are every bit as effective – and lethal – as anything the Israelis can muster and the CIA and FBI together know far more about terrorists and how they behave than do the ideologically driven Mossad and Shin Beth.

The American policemen who go on the “exchanges” are probably only dimly aware that what they are being shown is part of Israel’s military justice system, which has nothing to do with Israeli criminals, but instead is designed to keep the lid on the millions of Palestinians who live in what has become a virtual outdoor prison camp. It is an apartheid police state that uses deadly force as a form of crowd control. And the Palestinian former residents of the lands Israel now holds are the “terrorists” that Israel is protecting itself against.

You can bet that the American guests for their part clearly do not realize that they are being trained as prison guards and you also can be sure that they never catch so much as a glimpse of the 300 child prisoners that Israel continues to hold without charges.

Israel’s reputation for “dealing with” terrorism has in any event been glamorized by the Israel-friendly media and entertainment industry while also being promoted by Jewish organizations. It has meant in practical terms that many of the contract security firms operating at airports in the United States and Europe are Israeli. They have also infiltrated state Homeland Security agencies and corporate security in the U.S. Many of the Israeli companies with offices in the United States work closely with Mossad and might reasonably be considered arms of the Israeli government.

Where Israel really excels is in its willingness to kill large numbers of Arabs of all ages and genders using the excuse that they are terrorists. It does so with impunity because Israeli courts almost never hold the army and police accountable for whatever they do. It might reasonably be suggested that when American police officers go through their training in Israel they acquire at least a bit of that attitude from their instructors.

Recognizing that Israel is not exactly a model to be emulated when it comes to the human rights of its Palestinian victims, there is alternative viewpoint which suggests that American law enforcement might just be learning the wrong things when it travels to Israel. Amnesty International asks “With Whom are Many U.S. Police Departments Training? With Chronic Human Rights Violator Israel.” It notes that last August when the Department of Justice documented numerous violations by the Baltimore Police Department the report failed to mention that policemen from that city had received training in Israel.

Amnesty makes clear what we are dealing with when our policemen are being trained – “…military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years…carrying out extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, using ill treatment and torture (even against children). Suppression of freedom of expressions/association, including through government surveillance, and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.”

And actually, it is worse than that. The American visitors will be welcomed to contemplate the Potemkin village miracle of a democratic, multicultural, inclusive, clever Israel. They will not be allowed to see how the soldiers training them, representatives of “the most moral army in the world,” force Palestinian women to give birth at military checkpoints and watch their babies die, shoot Palestinian teenagers as they are running away for throwing stones, drag men and women out of their beds and kill them while terrorizing their children and dragging them off to jail during midnight raids.

Amnesty’s article documents many of the abuses by Israeli security forces and concludes that using “Public or private funds spent to train our domestic police in Israel should concern all of us. Many of the abuses [in the U.S.] parallel violations by Israeli military, security and police officials.” I would also add that the training provided by JINSA, ADL and the AJC is also partly on the American taxpayers’ dime as the organizations are all tax exempt.

Finally, Israel’s ability to market its state sponsored brutality has even become a form of light entertainment. A company in Israel called Caliber 3 that was set up by a reserve colonel in the Israeli army is offering what has been described as a two hour boot campcounter-terrorism experience. It includes a life size target consisting of a man in Arab attire holding a cell phone. The mostly Jewish American audience ponders if he should be shot, but the instructors eventually intervene and declare that he does not quite meet the standard for being killed. Visitors are also treated to simulations of Israeli commandos taking down terrorists and can even shoot live rounds from a semi-automatic weapon at a firing range. Ironically, the Caliber 3 gated compound camp is located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc on the West Bank, land that was stolen from the Palestinians.

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