Nuclear weapons and the legacy of Dr. King

Vincent Intondi writes:

On February 6, 1968, Dr. King, stepped up to the pulpit to warn against the use of nuclear weapons. Addressing the second mobilization of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, King urged an end to the war and warned that if the United States used nuclear weapons in Vietnam the earth would be transformed into an inferno that “even the mind of Dante could not envision.”

Then, as he had done so many times before, King made clear the connection between the black freedom struggle in America and the need for nuclear disarmament: “These two issues are tied together in many, many ways. It is a wonderful thing to work to integrate lunch counters, public accommodations, and schools. But it would be rather absurd to work to get schools and lunch counters integrated and not be concerned with the survival of a world in which to integrate.”

King was not alone. Since 1945, many in the African American community actively supported nuclear disarmament, often connecting the nuclear issue with the fight for racial equality and with liberation movements around the world. While African Americans immediately condemned the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not all of the activists protested for the same reason. For some, race was the issue. Many in the black community agreed with Langston Hughes’s assertion that racism was at the heart of Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons in Japan. Why did the United States not drop atomic bombs on Italy or Germany, Hughes asked.

Black activists’ fear that race played a role in the decision to use atomic bombs only increased when the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons in Korea in the 1950s and in Vietnam a decade later. For others, mostly black leftists ensconced in Popular Front groups, the nuclear issue was connected to colonialism.

From the United States obtaining uranium from the Belgian-controlled Congo to France testing nuclear weapons in the Sahara, activists saw a direct link between those who possessed nuclear weapons and those who colonized the nonwhite world. However, for many ordinary black citizens, fighting for nuclear disarmament simply translated into a more peaceful world. The bomb, then, became the link that connected all of these issues and brought together musicians, artists, peace activists, leftists, clergy, journalists, and ordinary citizens inside the black community. [Continue reading…]

Israel and Iran are on a collision course in Syria – and the U.S. and Russia don’t care

Anshel Pfeffer writes:

The escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran in the skies over Syria in the past 24 hours has brought their secret war of the last two years well and truly into the open.

On Sunday, Israel carried out a rare daylight series of airstrikes in the Damascus area, followed by an Iranian attempt to fire a mid-range missile toward northern Israel. Overnight Monday, at 1 A.M., Israel not only launched a second, much wider series of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria, but for the first time announced in real time that they were taking place.

Israel and Iran are now engaged in direct and open conflict in Syria – which is perhaps not so surprising, considering how the events of the last eight years since Syria was plunged into civil war have led to this moment.

What is remarkable is how this latest development is happening without either of the world powers – the United States and Russia – trying to exert any significant influence on the outcome.

In recent years, geopolitical analysts have talked about the world and the Middle East transitioning from an international system where the United States was the only superpower to a more “multipolar” balance. What is happening in Syria now is a nonpolar situation. Neither side, Israel or Iran, seems to want to go all the way to all-out war, but without any restraining hand that could well happen.

Russia pretends to have plans for Syria’s future, but doesn’t seem to be doing much to implement them. The United States, meanwhile, doesn’t even pretend. It is now well into its second White House administration that quite clearly does not consider Syria and the surrounding region important enough for any meaningful U.S. intervention. [Continue reading…]

How the Assad regime has exploited ‘evacuation deals’ to redirect ISIS against the rebels

Omar Sabbour writes:

On September 2018, when the Assad regime was preparing to launch its (now on-hold) offensive against rebel-held Idlib in northern Syria, a rather surprising report emerged in TheTimes. The report alleged that the regime had transported 400 Isis fighters from the province of Deir Al-Zor, where the group has been under siege by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and the regime, to the vicinity of Idlib.

Idlib had been Isis-free since 2014, when opposition fighters managed to expel the fighters that had briefly held territory. In early 2018, the group staged a brief comeback, but were once again repelled.

The Assad regime has long claimed its aim is to “fight and crush terrorism”, so the idea that it aided and abetted Isis fighters may seem shocking. But in fact, the claim of a regime-Isis deal was not the first of its kind. Over the past two years, a pattern has emerged, where the Assad regime and Isis have co-existed on the battlefield while attacking rebel forces. The two so-called enemies have struck evacuation deals, and the Assad regime has been accused of smuggling Isis fighters into rebel-held areas.

The flow of Isis fighters into rebel-held areas begins with the evacuation deals. [Continue reading…]

U.S. equipment, but not troops, begins exiting Syria in chaotic withdrawal

The New York Times reports:

The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but not yet troops, from Syria as part of President Trump’s order to wind down that battleground against the Islamic State, two Defense Department officials said on Friday amid continuing confusion over plans to disengage from one of the Middle East’s most complex conflicts.

The officials said the number of American troops might actually increase slightly in Syria, to help protect the final process of pulling out — an operation that is still expected to take at least four to six months to complete.

There are currently about 2,000 troops — mostly Army soldiers and Marines — in northeast Syria or in the Middle Euphrates River Valley to oust the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters and secure newly-liberated areas from their return. A vaguely worded statement from the American military headquarters in Baghdad, which is overseeing the fight against the Islamic State, said the withdrawal process from Syria had begun.

Last month, officials said, Mr. Trump said that he intended to pull out American troops within 30 days. But as recently as Sunday, the White House national security adviser, John R. Bolton, had said that the pullout was conditional — based on circumstances that could leave American forces there for months or even years.

The surprise announcement on Friday, from Col. Sean Ryan, the spokesman for the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State, gave no indication of whether any troops were being pulled out or whether the United States was taking other measures that could be considered a withdrawal. [Continue reading…]

Turkey issues ultimatum to Trump: Pull out of Syria or we strike

Haaretz/Reuters reports:

A military operation against the Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey has pledged to carry out in northern Syria, is not dependent on a U.S. pull-out from the region, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

“If the [pullout] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Çavuşoğlu said, referring to Turkey’s threat to launch an incursion into Kurdish controlled Syria.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV, Cavusoglu said it was not realistic to expect the United States to fully collect weapons it gave to its YPG ally, which Ankara views as a terrorist group.

The U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria will not be scuppered despite Turkish threats against Washington’s Kurdish allies there, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, promising to ensure that the Kurds would still be protected. [Continue reading…]

U.S. will expel every last Iranian boot from Syria, says Mike Pompeo

The Guardian reports:

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has vowed the US and its allies will “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria as he sought to reassure Middle Eastern nations it was not withdrawing from the region despite Donald Trump’s call for troops to return home.

In a keynote speech delivered in Cairo, pitched as the centrepiece of his nine-country regional tour, Pompeo called for a common stand against Tehran. “It’s time for old rivalries to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region,” he said.

The US would “use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria and bolster efforts “to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people”, he said.

The US’s most senior diplomat also delivered a rebuke to Barack Obama, whose address from the Egyptian capital a decade ago set the course for his government’s outreach to Iran and disavowal of George W Bush’s intervention in Iraq. [Continue reading…]

Erdoğan chides Bolton and calls on U.S. to hand over Syria bases

The Guardian reports:

Turkey has asked Washington to hand over its bases in Syria as the Trump administration appeared to reverse plans to withdraw from the country’s north-east on Tuesday, jeopardising Ankara’s plans to launch a widespread military operation targeting Kurdish groups.

The fresh row between the two Nato allies broke out as the US national security adviser, John Bolton, visited Ankara to row back on a surprise announcement by Donald Trump in December that US forces would leave Syria imminently, abandoning Kurdish proxies who had led its ground war against the Islamic State terror group. Turkey views those same Kurdish groups as mortal foes.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a scathing speech to parliament delivered while Bolton was still in the Turkish capital, said the US envoy had “made a serious mistake” and that Turkey would never agree to a compromise that protected the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, whose members helped a US-led coalition push Isis out of most of Syria’s east. [Continue reading…]

Bashar al-Assad’s international rehabilitation has begun

Christopher Phillips writes:

For Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, 2018 ended well. Alongside President Trump’s announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from eastern Syria, several Arab states indicated they were willing to reconcile.

In December, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab leader to visit Syria since the civil conflict broke out in 2011. Soon afterward the United Arab Emirates, previously opposed to Assad, announced it was restoring ties with Damascus, with Bahrain and Kuwait indicating they could soon do likewise. With Tunisia resuming direct flights to Syria and Jordan reopening trade ties, many observers suspect Assad’s days as a regional pariah are numbered.

Saudi Arabia, a lead rebel sponsor during the war, seems increasingly willing to accept Assad remaining in Damascus, hoping to lessen his dependence on Riyadh’s regional rival, Iran. It is even expected that the Arab League, which expelled Assad following his brutal crackdown on protesters in 2011 that initiated the civil war, will welcome him back in 2019. [Continue reading…]

1.32 million Jews were killed in just three months during the Holocaust

Live Science reports:

Operation Reinhard, known as the single largest murder campaign during the Holocaust, was worse than historians imagined. In a mere three months, at least 1.32 million Jewish people died — close to one-quarter of all the Jewish victims who perished during World War II, a new study finds.

The finding is based on an old data set that tallied the number of Jews who were forced from their homes onto trains, which then took them to the death camps in Poland known as Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Once there, the majority of these victims were killed in gas chambers.

This data set allowed study researcher Lewi Stone, a professor of biomathematics at Tel Aviv University in Israel and a professor of mathematics at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, to estimate the rate at which the Nazis killed their victims during Operation Reinhard.

Stone’s analysis shows how the Nazis worked toward their “goal of obliterating the entire Jewish people of occupied Poland in as short a time [as] possible, mostly within three months,” Stone told Live Science in an email.

The mass killing happened quickly and in complete secrecy, which “ensured the Jewish people did not have a chance,” Stone said. “And [it] made the formation of organized resistance extremely difficult.”

The scale of the killing happened so quickly and was so extreme that it exceeds that of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which is often considered the most intense genocide of the 20th century, Stone said. [Continue reading…]

Arab states move to reconcile with Syria

Deutsche Welle reports:

Nearly eight years into a devastating war and with victory in sight, Syrian President Bashar Assad looks set to be freed from his isolation in the Arab world in 2019.

Syria was booted out of the Arab League seven years ago as Arab states recalled their ambassadors, and Gulf Arab states shuttered their embassies to isolate the Assad regime amid a crackdown on protesters and descent into civil war.

Now Arab states are seeking to reconcile with Assad, who with the support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, controls more than two-thirds of the country following decisive battlefield victories against rebels and jihadis over the past three years.

Such a drive to bring Syria back into the Arab fold would be a major victory for the cash-strapped Assad regime, which faces Western sanctions and needs an estimated $400 billion (€350 billion) to reconstruct the war-torn country. [Continue reading…]