The march toward full Republican acceptance of a Trump Dictatorship 

52 percent said that they would support postponing the 2020 election, and 56 percent said they would do so if both Trump and Republicans in Congress were behind this.

Moreover, nearly half of Republicans (47 percent) believe that Trump won the popular vote, which is similar to this finding. Larger fractions believe that millions of illegal immigrants voted (68 percent) and that voter fraud happens somewhat or very often (73 percent). Again, this is similar to previous polls.

Not surprisingly, beliefs about the 2016 election and voter fraud were correlated with support for postponement. People who believed that Trump won the popular vote, that there were millions of illegal votes in 2016, or that voter fraud is not rare were more likely to support postponing the election. This support was also more prevalent among Republicans who were younger, were less educated, had less factual knowledge of politics and strongly identified with the party.

Of course, our survey is only measuring reactions to a hypothetical situation. Were Trump to seriously propose postponing the election, there would be a torrent of opposition, which would most likely include prominent Republicans. Financial markets would presumably react negatively to the potential for political instability. And this is to say nothing of the various legal and constitutional complications that would immediately become clear. Citizens would almost certainly form their opinions amid such tumult, which does not at all resemble the context in which our survey was conducted.

Washington Post

Bernie Sanders and William J Perry talk about how to avoid war with North Korea  


Bernie Sanders talks to the former secretary of defense William J Perry, who served in the Clinton administration. The subject of their chat?  How to avoid war North Korea!

 Welcome everyone. This show has a tendency to focus on domestic issues. On the economy, healthcare, education, the environment. We are delighted to be talking about a topic that deserves a lot more discussion: foreign policy. Former secretary Perry, thank you so much for joining us today.

Perry Senator Sanders, the problems you have to face every day are healthcare, budget, education and so on. But there is a real existential danger we face with nuclear weapons.

Sanders There are no ifs, buts or maybes. In a world where many countries have nuclear weapons, this is an issue that we have got to deal with.

Mr Secretary, you and a number of retired senior security officials released a letter recently urging President Trump to begin negotiations – without preconditions – with North Korea over its nuclear program.

In your judgment, why is that the best course of action? Haven’t we tried negotiation with North Korea in the past?

Perry North Korea today has a real nuclear weapons arsenal. That’s very dangerous. But North Korea is not a crazy nation. They are reckless, ruthless, but they are not crazy. They are open to logic and reason.

Their main objective is to sustain their regime. If we can find a way of dealing with them that they can see gives them an opportunity to stay in the regime, we can get results.

Sanders But do you think Kim Jong-un is a leader with whom we can seriously negotiate?

Perry He is a leader with whom we must negotiate. He is working on getting an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. In all probability, he will achieve that goal within a few years.

Sanders An ICBM capable of reaching the United States?

Perry Yes.

In the meantime, he already has medium-range missiles capable of reaching Tokyo and Seoul. The problem is here and now. We can do things to stop that and slow him down, and we should be doing those things for our own security.

Sanders You mentioned that Kim Jong-un is not crazy. What do we know about this very secretive regime?

Perry Everything we know suggests that he is just an extension of the Kim family. All of the leaders they’ve had in the past have been ruthless. All of them have been reckless. All of them have pursued a nuclear weapon program.

His main objective is to stay in power. We have to understand, that’s what he’s trying to achieve. Our understanding and our goal would be to lower the danger from the nuclear weapons and, eventually, to eliminate them.

I think its possible to achieve that. It will require some teaming with China. With China, we can put together both the carrots and sticks. We cannot simply point to China and say: “You solve the problem.” We have to work together with them.

Sanders Do you have confidence that China is prepared to do what it takes to develop a nuclear agreement with North Korea?

Perry China is more concerned about the nuclear weapons program in the North than they were a decade ago. But they have to be convinced that the negotiating path that we put together is not designed to overthrow the regime. They are opposed to doing that.

As long as they think that’s the objective, they will not team up with us. If we can convince them that we have the same objective, which is to lower the nuclear danger, then we can put together a [negotiation] package with China.

Sanders If China were seriously involved in that effort, what might that nuclear agreement look like?

Perry We’d have to look at it in two stages.

The first-stage agreement would be to lower the dangers. We’d do that by freezing their missile testing, and by freezing their nuclear testing.

That is an objective in and of itself worth achieving because it would keep them from getting an ICBM. It would also keep them from getting a hydrogen bomb. That objective is worth achieving.

Using that as a platform, we could then work to get them to roll back the nuclear platform. So we’d have to see it, I believe, as a two-stage program.

Sanders And what does one offer them to achieve that?

Perry We need to offer both carrots and sticks.

We and our allies, Japan and South Korea, have many carrots to offer. South Korea and Japan have both offered economic incentives in the past, and would be willing to offer them again. The US could offer security assurances. That doesn’t cost anything, but it’s something we could offer.

The sticks would have to come from China, which would be cutting off the trade they have. They would not do that by themselves. As part of a package, we might be able to persuade them to do it.

Sanders From your perspective, the main goal of the regime is to maintain their power?

Perry That is their goal: to sustain the regime in power. If they see a package that allows them to do that, they may be willing to cut back the nuclear weapons.

Sanders This is a country that has in the past allowed its people to literally starve to death in order to fund a nuclear program. Is that correct?

Perry This is an abhorrent regime. It’s a regime that we rightly detest. But they do have nuclear weapons. We cannot ignore that fact. We have to deal with that fact. Those nuclear weapons pose a threat to South Korea, Japan and, in time, will pose a threat to us –

Sanders Right – and to the whole world.

Perry We have to separate out the variables here. There are the things they are doing that we don’t like, and then there are the things that could cause nuclear catastrophe.

Sanders Right, I get that. But what I’m suggesting is that a country with severe economic problems in a rational situation [might be willing to] accept some carrots that might be offered, at least in terms of economic aid –

Perry We’ve offered them carrots in the past. They are not enough. They’ve demonstrated over and over again that they are willing to suffer economic hardship, they are willing to let their people starve in order to keep the nuclear program. We must learn from that lesson.

Sanders Well, if there’s anybody who knows about that, it’s you. Could you review for us the work you did and what happened?

Perry I was involved first of all as a secretary of defense in the 90s. The first crisis I faced as secretary was a crisis with North Korea. That was in 1994. We nearly went to war with North Korea.

Sanders Remind us, as not everybody remembers that.

Perry North Korea had a nuclear facility at a place called Yongbyon. They were processing plutonium. Had they completed that processing, they would have had enough plutonium to build six nuclear bombs.

We were determined that they should not do that. We confronted them and we threatened them with military action. We offered them economic incentives. A combination of that led to the agreement known as the Agreed Framework which, for at least a period of seven to eight years, stopped the program.

Sanders It did stop the program?

Perry Yes, it did stop the program at Yongbyon. It did not stop their aspirations for nuclear weapons, but it did stop that program.

Had we not had the Agreed Framework, which was signed in 1994, by the year 2000 they could have had as many as 50 nuclear weapons. That bought us time. It didn’t solve the fundamental problem of how they provide for their security. That had to be done in future negotiation.

Sanders Do you have optimism that the approach you are suggesting can succeed?

Perry I have optimism that it can succeed if we take the opportunity. But I do not have optimism that we are going to take the opportunity.

That involves some very sophisticated diplomacy. First and foremost, in forming some sort of a team with China, where we agree on what the objectives are, we agree on what the carrots and sticks we are going to offer them.

If we can put together that diplomatic package, then we have a great chance at succeeding.

But there is a big “if”, there. It requires us dealing constructively and intelligently with China, to make them see we have the same objectives and are trying to achieve the same thing.

Sanders Is there anything that we can learn from the Iran nuclear agreement that could give us some lessons for North Korea?

Perry Yes, I believe so. The Iran agreement successfully – as a minimum – put off the program for a decade or so. That in itself was worth achieving. It also gives us a platform for which we can go further than that.

With North Korea, we should use that as a model. We should use it as a way to delay the nuclear program, and their long-range missile program. I think we can do that. Then we may be able to go further and get the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons in North Korea.

We have to understand, though, that they have regime survival very strongly in mind. They see the nuclear weapons program as a key to that. So they may look to ways to evade the agreement – as they have done in the past – so we should be very wary of dealing with North Korea. But the alternative is very, very stark.

The option of a pre-emptive strike, which we had considered in 1994, is not really there today. A pre-emptive strike has very few upsides, and very many, and very great downsides. So I would not recommend that. I considered it in the past, but I would not recommend it today.

Sanders We have, to say the least, a very, very difficult situation.

Perry Very difficult and very dangerous. It’s not dangerous because North Korea is going to launch nuclear weapons at Seoul or Japan or the United States in an unprovoked way.

They are not crazy. They know that if they did that, the regime would be destroyed. Deterrence does work with North Korea. But the actions they take and the actions we take could lead to some sort of a military conflict. That could well escalate into full-scale war.

In a full-scale war, North Korea would lose. The military power of the United States and South Korea is far superior to theirs. But as they lost, they might use their nuclear weapons.

That’s what’s dangerous. Not that we deliberately enter into a nuclear war, but that we would blunder into a nuclear war. That would be truly catastrophic.

Sanders It truly would.

Trump’s “Northern Triangle” Tangle – Cops, Soldiers, and Cartels on the Same Team

Inside Trump’s Disastrous ‘Secret’ Drug War Plans for Central America

At closed-door meetings in Miami, Trump and his generals plotted a muscular military response to violence in Central America..

Scores were killed or wounded during what Hondurans still call El Golpe de Estado (the phrase means “coup d’état”; those who backed it are called golpistas). To further intimidate the opposition, and break the will of the nonviolent Resistencia movement, human rights centers sheltering victims were deliberately targeted by government troops. Well, we all learned the hard way back in those days. But at least we did learn just how dangerous democracy-hating, Third-World warmongers can be.

The same can’t be said of the Trump administration. As of now, it’s set to double down on the same hard-line, authoritarian strategies that enabled the Honduran president-snatching in the first place—and resulted in the country’s descent into a gang-ridden, apocalyptic nightmare from which it has yet to awaken.

The “Northern Triangle” Tangle

The corner of the Central American isthmus consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras is referred to by military strategists and policy geeks as the “Northern Triangle.” Over the last 10 years or so it’s become one of the deadliest regions on earth. Young people are particularly impacted. The homicide rate among youths is a staggering 90 per 100,000, in part due to rampant gang violence. Based on murders per capita, the Triangle is far more dangerous than Mexico, no matter what Mr. Trump says on Twitter.

The Triangle is an important stopover on the smuggling routes that connect the cocaine breadbaskets of South America with their cartel distributors in Mexico. As such it suffers under powerful maras (gangs) with names like Barrio 18 and the Salvatruchas—both of which originated in the U.S. prison system, incidentally, and arrived in Honduras thanks to mass deportations.

These street gangs are tangentially linked to the cartels operating out of Mexico, as well as places like Colombia. The maras are often hired to hack out small airstrips in the jungle for drug-smuggling planes, or to run overland narcotics shipments across international borders. And they find plenty of time to torture local residents. The gangs rule entire neighborhoods, specializing in rape, forced recruitment tactics, abduction for ransom, drug dealing. Blackmail is rampant, and they often collaborate with local authorities in shaking down their victims.

Gang violence is one of the driving factors behind the Central American migrant crisis, which has sent hundreds of thousands fleeing northward, many of them children.

All that mayhem finally caught the attention of the Trump regime. But, as usual when it comes to narcotics interdiction efforts under Trump, the proffered solution seems to be more show than substance—all at the expense of American taxpayers.

A shadowy summit last month in Miami brought together Vice President Mike Pence, high-powered cabinet members like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the leaders of all three Triangle nations, and officials from at least nine other countries. The plan they espoused? Spend untold millions more dollars on a strategy that, according to experts, is guaranteed to fail. So what’s not to like about that?

Co-hosted by Mexico, the two-day session was grandly touted as “The Conference for Prosperity and Security.” The first phase focused on wealth creation; it went down at Florida International University on June 15, and was immediately met by protests on campus.

“We’re in this together,” Pence told Central American leaders at the end of the day. He then went on to emphasize that sense of fellowship by adding, “President Trump has already taken decisive action to protect the American people from the harshest consequences of illegal immigration…” In other words: We’re here for you, neighbors—just stay the hell on your side of The Wall.

The second stage was geared toward the “Security” side of the equation, and took place the next day behind closed doors at the SOUTHCOM military base. Because press access was restricted, it’s hard to know all the specifics that were discussed. But there are clues that point to a coming crackdown.

Despite the cloak-and-dagger staging of the conference, some of the Trump administration’s harsh plans for escalating the Drug War have already been hinted at in speeches, budget proposals, and conference calls with the press. And critics contend this “old-is-new” approach is unlikely to result in either “Prosperity” or “Security” in the region.

An editorial on the conference by the watchdog group InsightCrime referred to the Trump doctrine for the Northern Triangle as “heavy-handed” and “going backwards.” It also pointed out that all three leaders from the Triangle countries in attendance had been accused of corruption or involvement with drug traffickers or both—in fact the vice president of El Salvador showed up in Miami already under indictment back home.

The InsightCrime op-ed concluded by lambasting Trump’s vision “that the main threats to U.S. national security come from impoverished migrants, the majority of whom have no ties to the organized crime groups, gangs, or drug traffickers that safely operate under state protection in Central America.” (Italics added.)

The statement issued by Doctors Without Borders about the goals set forth in Miami is even more damning. Likening conditions in the Triangle to those found in “some of the world’s deadliest war zones,” the group estimates the number of immigrants bee-lining it out of their native countries to be about 500,000 a year.

As for the solutions proposed by Trump’s proxies, Doctors Without Borders accused conference planners of “turning a blind eye” to the emergency and went on to say, “Addressing the crisis in Central America cannot only be about future prosperity and security; it must also be about saving and protecting lives today.”

Militarization Nation

There are two schools of thought on how you help countries climb out of multifaceted maelstroms like the one currently walloping the Northern Triangle. The first, as favored by the Obama administration, is an aid-based approach, usually involving democracy-building incentives, humanitarian programs, and the strengthening of law enforcement and judicial actors.

Obama’s legacy in the region is far from pristine, but to his credit he intuited that the coup in Honduras was a mistake not to be repeated. (He also understood the importance of development to affect positive change even if, as with Afghanistan, he thought the military had to play a major role.)

The second method is just to send on down millions of dollars for “security assistance”—oversight be damned—and hope for the best. Care to guess which strategy Team Trump prefers?

POTUS’ congressional budget proposal called for a $54 billion increase in military spending, with an undisclosed amount of that earmarked for ramping up the counter narcotics campaign and barricading borders against migrants. Meanwhile the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would see their budgets slashed by about 39 percent from last year’s levels under the Trump budget.

Economic aid and assistance to Central America is projected to fall from $520 million down to about $300 million, according to a study by the Washington Office on Latin America. All that “charity” chopping will directly endanger social and educational programs in the Northern Triangle—further reducing quality of life overall, and making immigration (legal or otherwise) all the more tempting, observers say.

The focus of the Trump agenda is not about solving the root problems like poverty and government corruption that drive gang violence and narcotics trafficking, says Jake Johnston, a research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C.

Johnston refers to the Trumpite approach as “outsourcing security to countries with checkered pasts [on] human rights.” Far from winning the Drug War, or curbing the flood of migrants, he tells The Daily Beast, “empowering these sectors is only going to exacerbate those problems.”

But strong-arming our way to victory remains a popular fantasy, especially among Trump’s all-gringo cabinet. Johnston says Homeland Security boss Kelly—also a retired general and the former director of SOUTHCOM—seems determined to apply the belligerent approach in Central America, and is responsible for the “reprioritization” away from programs like USAID, which directly targeted problems like economic inequality in the region.

“It’s unprecedented that the conference took place behind the gates of a military barracks,” says Johnston. “The security apparatus and the Pentagon’s specific plans [for the Triangle] are incredibly opaque,” although the overall implications are clear enough.

“The writing’s on the wall that this is a shift away from soft power to hard power,” says Johnston, who’s been conducting research into Latin American economic issues for the last decade.

During a Senate hearing in late May, police officers from multiple jurisdictions in the U.S. lectured lawmakers about just how ineffective, even dangerous, the Trump administration’s brand of steroidal, community-alienating policing can be when it comes to fighting entrenched gangs like the Salvatruchas.

Nevertheless, says Johnston, “in the future, U.S. diplomacy in the region will likely be wearing a uniform instead of a suit.”

Cops, Soldiers, and Cartels on the Same Team

Over the last two decades of the Drug War, the Pentagon’s penchant for propping up repressive generalissimos in places like Mexico, Colombia, and Central America has caused widespread suffering among the populations of those nations, including a plague of extrajudicial killings.

To get a precise read on current conditions in heavily occupied regions of the Triangle zone, I reach out to the national coordinator for the Honduran Solidarity Network (HSN), Karen Spring, who is based in Tegucigalpa.

“Honduran society is already very militarized,” said Spring, in a phone interview on the eve of the Miami conference. “Since the 2009 coup they’ve created a whole series of new police and military units like the Tigres, who are vetted and trained by the U.S. government.”

Following the 2009 coup the U.S. has sent some $200 million in security aid to Honduras, despite a petition signed by dozens of American congressmen asking for a boycott over human rights concerns. And yet in spite of all that martial funding the country remains mired in one long, slow-burn Armageddon, with one of the highest homicide rates on the planet.

At the same time, says CEPR’s Johnston, the post-coup years have also seen “a real spike in poverty and economic inequality” despite the millions flowing south from Washington.

According to Spring, of the Solidarity Network, the militarization craze has also sparked a rise in human rights abuses, including right-wing death squads tasked with eliminating political dissidents. The fact that “the military is not trained to be providing civilian security” is part of the problem Spring says. But the troubles go far deeper than that.

“The police and military are known to be linked to, or infiltrated by, the drug cartels,” says Spring, who first went to Honduras eight years ago as a human rights worker sent down in the wake of the Zelaya takedown.

(Full disclosure: I knew Karen Spring back in those woeful, post-coup days in Honduras, and have seen this brave young woman stand her ground against civil abuses by armed actors more than once.)

“Even high-level military officials are known to be involved in drug trafficking,” she says, and yet, “impunity rates have not gone down. If you are not punishing people who are corrupt—especially people in positions of power—what deters them from committing crimes?”

Indeed, that corruption permeates Honduran politics at the highest levels, according to a recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (PDF), which describes the country as being run by “intertwined, or ‘integrated,’ … kleptocratic networks.” Even the son of the former president was recently accused in a New York courtroom of working with organized crime.

Death and (War) Taxes

“The way that gangs down here are portrayed in the international press and by the government is that they’re these autonomous actors that take over communities and prisons,” says Spring, when our conversation turns to the dreaded maras.

“That’s an elaborate narrative,” she adds, and a false one.

“I work in urban communities every day—and nobody here believes gangs are acting on their own.” Instead, they “work alongside and are enabled by a corrupt police force.”

In Spring’s eyes, the social-aid-first ethos espoused by President Obama—who also took his fair share of flack for sending down questionable military aid to Honduras—has done little or nothing to curb connivance between authorities and organized crime. Trump’s hardball tactics, on the other hand, are “much worse for everybody.”

“I don’t think any aid from the U.S. to Honduras has made any changes for the majority of the population,” she says, and as evidence cites the fact that “60 percent of the country is still in poverty.”

The soft-power initiatives seem to have proven useful in some cases, but Spring also accuses them of “promoting very specific interests” that don’t “have an impact on security or why people live in fear.”

Johnston, of CEPR, also wonders if the soft programs are adequate. “State and USAID have rolled out a number of community-driven crime prevention programs and held them up as illustrative of their success but the reality is we have little knowledge about their actual effectiveness.”

The playbook on social development might need fine-tuning or expansion, but it’s far better than indiscriminately empowering crooked goon squads. As human rights worker Spring puts it, “hard power just doesn’t do anything to address the problems that are perpetuating” Honduras’ downward spiral.

To illustrate the failure of the stick-before-carrot strategy, she goes on to describe a neighborhood where she works in Tegucigalpa:

“The 18 Street gang controls the community,” Spring says, and all local business owners must provide a regular quota for the privilege of living under thug tyranny, or risk being shot.

“It’s literally called a war tax,” she says. “An impuesto de guerra,” and from taxi and bus drivers to “the women selling tortillas,” everyone has to pay it.

A special unit of military police set up a permanent base on the same barrio’s soccer field, back in 2013, which has put the kibosh on local futbol games as well—one of the few innocent pastimes formerly available to local kids.

Although the borough is now an occupied zone, “everybody is still paying the war tax,” Spring continues. “Extortion is still going on. There’s still a high level of control in the neighborhood by the gang.”

In fact, the barrio taxi stand “is right in front of the military-police base—but the drivers are still paying” tribute to the gangs. And that’s not a coincidence.

The blackmailing goes on in front of the barracks where the officers “eat, sleep, and live,” and not by accident, but because “the police are involved in organized crime.” Everyone in the area knows “they’re working with the gangs, extorting people for profit.”

Far from being independent entities, she says, the gangs are often tools of the authorities, who “use them for their own purposes.”

Most citizens know they can’t “call the Honduran police for help” when they’re targeted themselves since “they assume [officers] are involved” with the maras.

“You can’t just walk into a community with a complex social structure and take it over,” Spring says. “Militarization is not solving the problem—it’s making it worse.”

Drug War Redux

As a general rule, when arming oppressive regimes, lack of accountability is the root of all evil. When we send military aid to tropical tyrants we shouldn’t be shocked when they commit atrocities with those expensive and deadly toys.

Take the March 2016 murder of, a well-known Honduran activist and winner of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize. During the counter-coup movement, Cáceres gained fame for her habit of striding out to meet with army commanders in the streets of Tegucigalpa, in an effort to stem the assaults on protesters. So it wasn’t a great surprise when her killers were found to have ties to the Honduran military.

(Since her death, at least two other members of Cáceres’ NGO have been assassinated.)

One oft-proffered solution by hawks in Washington is to improve screening and background checks on individual units south of the border. The sad truth, however, is that even our best attempts to vet security forces engaged in the Drug War in Mexico, Central, and South America have proven fruitless.

A prime example of this futility went down in the remote Ahuas region of Honduras, during a botched DEA raid on an indigenous village in Moskitia that left four innocent people dead, and several others wounded.

A State Department chopper team, working with a vetted Honduran unit, opened fire on a boatload of locals after mistaking them for drug smugglers.

“The Honduran door gunner didn’t fire until he received orders from the DEA agent,” according to CEPR’s Johnston, who co-authored an article on the incident. (The DEA declined to respond to an interview request for this story.)

As reported by The Daily Beast last year, another badly bungled Drug-War op took place in Mexico’s Coahuila state, in 2011, when DEA officers shared intelligence with Mexican officers—who then leaked that intel to the Zetas cartel, resulting in a massacre that wiped out parts of an entire town.

“We know from experience that the violent model that has been in place in Mexico is to be intensified in the Central American countries as well,” says Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program, in Mexico City. Some 160,000 people have lost their lives since Mexico’s Narco Guerra began in 2006.

“Lack of justice and collusion between [authorities] and organized crime,” are hallmarks of the war in Mexico, Carlsen says. “In cases of assassinations of journalists and attacks on human rights defenders, at least 50 percent of the perpetrators are identified as government officials.” And yet conviction rates hover in the single digits.

Mexico’s Other Wall

A preview of what’s to come in the Northern Triangle is already on display along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. That’s where the Pentagon and [DHS Director] Kelly “have placed a real emphasis on militarizing,” says Americas Program director Carlsen.

That plan for shutting down the border—or the Frontera del Sur initiative—was also on the docket at the recent conference in Miami, where Vice President Pence bragged about how it’s already stifled immigration from Triangle-land by 70 percent. Carlsen describes the clampdown as another attempt to “make Mexico pay for The Wall again—only this time on its own southern border.”

Thanks to Frontera del Sur, Mexico now deports more Central American migrants than does the U.S. And in fact our own Border Patrol reports that illegal immigration from the isthmus has been halved since this same time last year. And yet that reduction has come with a price.

The crackdown on the Guatemalan border “has had a devastating impact on migrants,” says Carlsen, who has worked in Mexico since the mid-1980s.

The refugees “are fleeing very serious violence in their country.” Yet instead of offering succor, Mexico is now “attempting to box them in,” in part to curry favor with President Trump and his advisers ahead of upcoming NAFTA negotiations.

Mexican cartels are “delighted at these kinds of policies,” she goes on, “because they criminalize migrants, and turn them into into prey.”

For Carlsen, the Trump team’s script for the Drug-War reboot has “much more to do with repressing people than trying to solve deeper social problems that they’re facing.”

CEPR economist Johnston believes the Trumped up approach to immigration and the Drug War will actually worsen Central America’s ongoing crisis. Nothing presented at the Miami conference will “address the problems that are actually driving people to leave these countries,” he says.

Karen Spring agrees. But she also holds that it shouldn’t be left to the Trump administration to implement ham-fisted fixes in the Triangle. Viable solutions have already been put forth by those closest to the violence, who know the risks and realities best of all—if only the ruling junta would hear them out:

“There has never been a space in Honduras to really listen to some of the proposals that are put forward by local communities and organizations,” explains Spring, who laments what she calls a “failure of democracy” in the Northern Triangle.

Former President Zelaya tried to listen, but his modest attempts to fight economic inequality got him shanghaied by his own troops. Trouble-making crusaders like Bertha Caceres have been assassinated for daring to suggest land-ownership reforms that challenge traditional elites and transnational corporations.

“It’s the voices which have typically been excluded that are trying to promote an alternative,” Spring says, “and for doing so they’re being killed, criminalized, and silenced.”

Rep. Barbara Lee’s lonely 16 year struggle to curb the “Blank Check for Endless War”

Even Some Republicans are ready to limit Trump’s unchecked ability to use Military Force

After 16 Years, House Panel Takes Step to Cancel ‘Blank Check for Endless War’

‘The 2001 AUMF has provided three administrations with a blank check for war’

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is a modern day prophet!


A House committee on Thursday took a surprising—yet welcome—step towards canceling the “blank check for endless war.”

That’s because the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee passed a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has been used justify ongoing military actions in regions around the world spanning the George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations.

The amendment to the 2018 Defense Appropriations Bill was put forth by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)— the sole member of Congress to vote against the AUMF passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack—and would repeal the AUMF 240 days after enactment of the appropriations bill.

On Twitter, Lee said the vote “was 16 years in the making,” adding that “a floor debate and vote on endless war is long overdue.” At long last, I am pleased that my Democratic and Republican colleagues supported my effort to put an end to the overly-broad blank check for war that is the 2001 AUMF,” Lee said in a statement Thursday.

“If passed into law as part of the DOD bill, it would repeal the 2001 AUMF eight months after enactment of this legislation. That would allow plenty of time for Congress to finally live up to its constitutional obligation to debate and vote on any new AUMF. It is far past time for Congress to do its job and for the Speaker to allow a debate and vote on this vital national security issue,” she said.

Writing at Lawfare blog, Robert Chesney called the amendment’s near-unanimous passage a “pretty remarkable development.” Politico adds: “Even Republicans with military experience embraced Lee’s defense spending bill amendment, which would repeal the 2001 authorization.”

Committee member Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) for her part, said the passage meant her “colleagues on both sides of the aisle finally said ‘enough is enough.'” Indeed, according to The Hill, “Lawmakers applauded when the amendment was added by voice vote to the defense spending bill.”

Foreign Policy writes that the amendment’s adoption “could signal Congress’s increasing willingness to straitjacket the Trump administration’s ability to wage war against terrorist organizations without prior congressional approval.”

Addressing that issue, Robert Naiman, policy director at the advocacy organization Just Foreign Policy, said his group hopes “that it will set the stage for Congress to block President [Donald] Trump from using military force that Congress has never authorized against actors in Yemen and Syria that are clearly not associated forces of Al Qaeda, including the Houthi-Saleh alliance in Yemen and Syrian government and allied forces in Syria.”

The development was praised by anti-war organizations.

“Over the past sixteen years, the 2001 AUMF has provided three administrations with a blank check for war. Not only does Rep. Lee’s amendment stand as a strong statement against endless warfare, but we hope that it will also promote debate and compel Congress to reckon with its history of inaction on this issue,” said Yasmine Taeb, a lobbyist for human rights and civil liberties at Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Peace Action welcomed the development as “an opportunity to course correct after a decade and a half of failed U.S. policy in the Middle East.”

“The 2001 AUMF is the reason the U.S. has been involved in military campaigns in at least seven countries. It’s the reason we’ve allowed the war in Afghanistan to become America’s longest war. It’s the reason a whole generation has grown up not knowing a time without war,” said Jon Rainwater, executive director of the peace organization.

“Rep. Lee has championed opposition to endless war brought on by the 2001 AUMF since day one with her sole vote to oppose it. The adoption her amendment to repeal it gives Congress a chance to reclaim its constitutional role as an arbiter of war and peace,” he continued.

The amendment’s passage is no sure thing, “as the defense appropriations bill will have to be eventually reconciled in the Senate, giving congressional leaders the ability to strip the AUMF language from a final spending bill,” CNN notes.

Thus, Win Without War director Stephen Miles called on Congress to keep the provision as it continues to weigh the appropriations bill, saying: “The men and women elected to serve us have no more important duty than deciding whether to send the American military to war. This important legislation is the only way to finally force Congress to once again fulfill that solemn duty.”

Swooning news media fails to learn anything

War porn, the 100 million dollar light show that changed nothing

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took major cable news organizations to the woodshed on Monday over their cheerleading for President Donald Trump’s use of military force in Syria.

In his Monday column, Krugman explained that Trump’s Tomahawk missile strike against a Syrian airbase was mostly an empty gesture that did little to change the dynamics of the Syrian civil war.

“Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy,” he noted. “Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.”

Nonetheless, the strikes earned swooning reviews from cable TV news personalities such as MSNBC’s Brian Williams and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria — which led Krugman to conclude that much of the media is making the same mistakes that it made in the lead up to the Iraq war.

“The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures,” he wrote. “The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump ‘became president.’ Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.”


Paul Krugman’s full column:

Does anyone still remember the Carrier deal? Back in December President-elect Donald Trump announced, triumphantly, that he had reached a deal with the air-conditioner manufacturer to keep 1,100 jobs in America rather than moving them to Mexico. And the media spent days celebrating the achievement.

Actually, the number of jobs involved was more like 700, but who’s counting? Around 75,000 U.S. workers are laid off or fired every working day, so a few hundred here or there hardly matter for the overall picture.

Whatever Mr. Trump did or didn’t achieve with Carrier, the real question was whether he would take steps to make a lasting difference.

So far, he hasn’t; there isn’t even the vague outline of a real Trumpist jobs policy. And corporations and investors seem to have decided that the Carrier deal was all show, no substance, that for all his protectionist rhetoric Mr. Trump is a paper tiger in practice. After pausing briefly, the ongoing move of manufacturing to Mexico has resumed, while the Mexican peso, whose value is a barometer of expected U.S. trade policy, has recovered almost all its post-November losses.

In other words, showy actions that win a news cycle or two are no substitute for actual, coherent policies. Indeed, their main lasting effect can be to squander a government’s credibility. Which brings us to last week’s missile strike on Syria.

The attack instantly transformed news coverage of the Trump administration. Suddenly stories about infighting and dysfunction were replaced with screaming headlines about the president’s toughness and footage of Tomahawk launches.

But outside its effect on the news cycle, how much did the strike actually accomplish? A few hours after the attack, Syrian warplanes were taking off from the same airfield, and airstrikes resumed on the town where use of poison gas provoked Mr. Trump into action. No doubt the Assad forces took some real losses, but there’s no reason to believe that a one-time action will have any effect on the course of Syria’s civil war.

In fact, if last week’s action was the end of the story, the eventual effect may well be to strengthen the Assad regime — Look, they stood up to a superpower! — and weaken American credibility. To achieve any lasting result, Mr. Trump would have to get involved on a sustained basis in Syria.

Doing what, you ask? Well, that’s the big question — and the lack of good answers to that question is the reason President Barack Obama decided not to start something nobody knew how to finish.

So what have we learned from the Syria attack and its aftermath?

No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.

Actually, what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change.

What changed? The images of poison-gas victims were horrible, but Syria has been an incredible horror story for years. Is Mr. Trump making life-and-death national security decisions based on TV coverage?

One thing is certain: The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures.

Mr. Trump may like to claim that the media are biased against him, but the truth is that they’ve bent over backward in his favor. They want to seem balanced, even when there is no balance; they have been desperate for excuses to ignore the dubious circumstances of his election and his erratic behavior in office, and start treating him as a normal president.

You may recall how, a month and a half ago, pundits eagerly declared that Mr. Trump “became the president of the United States today” because he managed to read a speech off a teleprompter without going off script. Then he started tweeting again.

One might have expected that experience to serve as a lesson. But no: The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump “became president.” Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.


Think ISIL is the biggest terrorist threat to worry about, think again.


October 20, 2014 2:00AM ET

The horrific rampage of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has captured the world’s attention. Many Western commentators have characterized ISIL’s crimes as unique, no longer practiced anywhere else in the civilized world. They argue that the group’s barbarism is intrinsically Islamic, a product of the aggressive and archaic worldview that dominates the Muslim world. The ignorance of these claims is stunning.

While there are other organized groups whose depravity and threat to the United States far surpasses that of ISIL, none has engendered the same kind of collective indignation and hysteria. This raises a question: Are Americans primarily concerned with ISIL’s atrocities or with the fact that Muslims are committing these crimes?

For example, even as the U.S. media and policymakers radically inflate ISIL’s threat to the Middle East and United States, most Americans appear to be unaware of the scale of the atrocities committed by Mexican drug cartels and the threat they pose to the United States.

Cartels versus ISIL

A recent United Nations report estimated nearly 9,000 civilians have been killed and 17,386 wounded in Iraq in 2014, more than half since ISIL fighters seized large parts on northern Iraq in June. It is likely that the group is responsible another several thousand deaths in Syria. To be sure, these numbers are staggering. But in 2013 drug cartels murdered more than 16,000 people in Mexico alone, and another 60,000 from 2006 to 2012 — a rate of more than one killing every half hour for the last seven years. What is worse, these are estimates from the Mexican government, which is known to deflate the actual death toll by about 50 percent.

mexican marines


Statistics alone do not convey the depravity and threat of the cartels. They carry out hundreds of beheadings every year. In addition to decapitations, the cartels are known to dismember and otherwise mutilate the corpses of their victims — displaying piles of bodies prominently in towns to terrorize the public into compliance. They routinely target women and children to further intimidate communities. Like ISIL, the cartels use social media to post graphic images of their atrocious crimes.

The narcos also recruit child soldiers, molding boys as young as 11 into assassins or sending them on suicide missions during armed confrontations with Mexico’s army. They kidnap tens of thousands of children every year to use as drug mules or prostitutes or to simply kill and harvest their organs for sale on the black market. Those who dare to call for reforms often end up dead. In September, with the apparent assistance of local police, cartels kidnapped and massacred 43 students at a teaching college near the Mexican town of Iguala in response to student protests. A search in the area for the students has uncovered a number of mass graves containing mutilated bodies burned almost beyond recognition, but none of the remains have been confirmed to be of the students.


While the Islamic militants have killed a handful of journalists, the cartels murdered as many as 57 since 2006 for reporting on cartel crimes or exposing government complicity with the criminals. Many of Mexico’s media have been effectively silenced by intimidation or bribes. These censorship activities extend beyond professional media, with narcos tracking down and murdering ordinary citizens who criticize them on the Internet, leaving their naked and disemboweled corpses hanging in public squares. Yet American intellectuals such as Sam Harris appear to be more outraged when Muslims protest or issue threats in response to blasphemous or anti-Muslim hate speech than when cartels murder dozens of journalists and systematically co-opt an entire country’s media.

Similarly, Westerners across various political spectrums were outraged when ISIL seized 1,500 Yazidi women, committing sexual violence against the captives and using them as slaves. Here again, the cartels’ capture and trafficking of women dwarfs ISIL’s crimes. Narcos hold tens of thousands of Mexican citizens as slaves for their various enterprises and systematically use rape as a weapon of war.

U.S. media have especially hyped ISIL’s violence against Americans. This summer ISIL beheaded two Americans and has warned about executing a third; additionally, one U.S. Marine has died in efforts to combat the group. By contrast, the cartels killed 293 Americans in Mexico from 2007 to 2010 and have repeatedly attacked U.S. consulates in Mexico. While ISIL’s beheadings are no doubt outrageous, the cartels tortured, dismembered and then cooked one of the Americans they captured — possibly eating him or feeding him to dogs.

The cartels’ atrocities are not restricted to the Mexican side of the border. From 2006 to 2010 as many as 5,700 Americans were killed in the U.S. by cartel-fueled drug violence. By contrast, 2,937 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Over the last decade, some 2,349 Americans were killed in Afghanistan, and 4,487 Americans died in Iraq. In four years the cartels have managed to cause the deaths of more Americans than during 9/11 or either of those wars.

Barack Obama’s administration claims ISIL poses a severe threat to U.S. interests and national security. However, the militants were primarily concerned with seizing and holding territory in Iraq and Syria until the U.S. began targeting them. Even now, while they have called for lone wolves to carry out attacks on targets in the United States, so far those arrested in connection to ISIL have been trying to go and fight abroad rather than plotting domestic attacks. To the extent ISIL wants to kill Americans, its primary tactic has been to try to lure U.S. troops to its turf by publicly executing citizens they already hold hostage. In fact, several U.S. intelligence officials have asserted that ISIL poses no credible threat to the United States homeland. However, the same cannot be said of the cartels.

Narcos have infiltrated at least 3,000 U.S. cities and are recruiting many Americans, including U.S. troops and law enforcement officers, to their organizations. They have an increasingly sophisticated and robust foundation in the U.S., with Mexican cartels now controlling more than 80 percent of the illicit drug trade in the United States and their top agents deployed to virtually every major metropolitan area. There are no realistic assessments indicating that ISIL could achieve a similar level of penetration in the United States.

Explaining the dissonance

It is clear that the anti-ISIL campaign is not driven by the group’s relative threat to the United States or the scale or inhumane nature of their atrocities. If these were the primary considerations, the public would be far more terrified of and outraged by the narcos. Perhaps the U.S. would be mobilizing 50 nations to purge Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel rather than shielding it from prosecution, helping it polish off its rivals or even move drugs into the United States.

Some may argue that despite the asymmetries, the cartels are less of a threat than ISIL because ISIL is unified around an ideology, which is antithetical to the prevailing international order, while the cartels are concerned primarily with money. This is not true.

A good deal of the cartels’ violence is perpetrated ritualistically as part of their religion, which is centered, quite literally, on the worship of death. The narcos build and support churches all across Mexico to perpetuate their eschatology. One of the cartels, the Knights Templar (whose name evokes religious warfare), even boasts about its leader’s death and resurrection. When cartel members are killed, they are buried in lavish mausoleums, regarded as martyrs and commemorated in popular songs glorifying their exploits in all their brutality. Many of their members view the “martyrs” as heroes who died resisting an international order that exploits Latin America and fighting the feckless governments that enable it. The cartels see their role as compensating for state failures in governance. The narco gospel, which derives from Catholicism, is swiftly making inroads in the United States and Central America. In short, the cartels’ ideological disposition is no less pronounced than ISIL’s, if not worse.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government cannot formulate an effective response to these much more severe threats because the American public is far too busy disparaging Islam while the U.S. military kills Arabs and Muslims abroad. One thing is certain: America’s obsession with ISIL is fueled by Islamophobia rather than any empirical realities.

Musa al-Gharbi is an instructor in the Department of Government and Public Service at the University of Arizona, and an affiliate of the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC).

Military historian: US policy in Islamic world has been a failure

Retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich discusses the US

fight against ISIL, ‘the third Iraq War’aljezera

For 23 years, Andrew Bacevich served in the United States Army, beginning during the Vietnam War and and ending in the early 1990s, when he retired during the U.S.’s first foray into the Persian Gulf. Now an emeritus professor of history and international relations at Boston University, he is one of the most outspoken critics of U.S. intervention in Iraq. (His son, an Army First Lieutenant, was killed at the age of 27 by an improvised explosive device in 2007 while serving in Iraq.)

Fault Lines sat down with Bacevich to discuss the U.S. decision to begin airstrikes targeted at the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—also known as ISIL and ISIS—as well as what caused this most recent round of fighting in Iraq. He also discusses why the Iraqi Army is not equipped to handle the threat of ISIL on its own and how American strategy in the region has gone awry. (Fault Lines traveled to Iraq to document the U.S.’s most recent intervention in the region in our new film “Iraq Divided: The Fight Against ISIL,” airing Saturday, October 18, at 7 pm Eastern time/4 pm Pacific on Al Jazeera America.)

An edited transcript of Fault Lines’ discussion with Bacevich follows:

Fault Lines: What prompted the U.S. to begin airstrikes against ISIL?

Bacevich: I would say what triggered the airstrikes was the offensive that was seemingly closing in on Baghdad, had taken Mosul, was engaged in these theatrical beheadings, besieging the Yazidis up on a mountaintop. That all of these things together, with a tremendous amount of play given to these events by the American media, created something of a perfect storm that obliged president Obama to act.

Can you explain what happened to the Yazidis? That was kind of the trigger point for military action.

During the second Iraq war, the U.S. forces and the Yazidis developed a fairly friendly relationship. As far as I understand it, the Yazidis provided a disproportionate number of interpreters working for U.S. forces. I have a friend who came to know the Yazidis quite well, and I think that was one of the issues that drew attention toward ISIS, in official circles and amongst civilians—to begin to see ISIS as something that we need to deal with.

Do you think the U.S. involvement in the conflict helped the Yazidis?

I think the U.S., in the sense that U.S. action, both the application of airpower and the relatively small scale humanitarian response, probably did help save some number of Yazidi lives. It’s not as if that momentary crisis led to any long term commitment, and, in that sense, it’s kind of metaphor for U.S. interests in Iraq more broadly—it’s episodic, and when it no longer serves our interests, we forget Iraq just like we forget the Yazidis.

Can you discuss the current state of the Iraqi army?

The U.S. expectation was that once forces withdrew, the Iraqi army would be able to provide minimally adequate security for the state of Iraq. And the ISIS offensive revealed that expectation to be bankrupt. At the time, it didn’t appear to me that ISIS posed a real threat to Baghdad. But it’s clear that the perception existed in Washington that ISIS posed a threat to Baghdad. I think the prospect of the entire state of Iraq falling under the control of ISIS is what prompted the United States to intervene.

My speculation is that we did a reasonable job of imparting skills to Iraqi soldiers. We can teach them how to shoot a rifle, hit a target, apply first aid, dig a foxhole and the like. I don’t think we had the capacity to impart will/motivation. My guess is that the principal factor for the failure of the Iraqi army is that they are not sufficiently motivated to fight and die for their country.

How would you describe the American motivation to ally with certain groups in this conflict?

I would place this third Iraq war, if we want to call it that, in a much wider context. And the wider context is an effort on the part of the United States, dating back to 1980. We set out on this undertaking back in 1980 with only the thinnest understanding of the religious, political and cultural dynamics within that part of the world—a remarkable level of naivete on the part of American policymakers. Our efforts to impose stability inadvertently fostered greater instability, and we have been trying to catch up ever since. And I would argue that down to the present moment, policymakers still do not have a proper grasp of those religious, social, cultural fault lines that actually explain why there is continuing conflict in the region.

peshmerga Jalula
Kurdish peshmerga fighters prepare to launch an attack on the northeastern Iraqi town of Jalula, which ISIL had recently taken.
Josh Rushing for Al Jazeera America

There are a lot of different groups on the front lines. Do you think the other groups are going to use this fight to pursue their own interests?

Of course. Iraq now qualifies not as a country, but more as a coalition of groups. In any war involving a coalition, members of the coalition are going to fight when they want to fight, fight for what they value. That’s just sort of the way politics works.

Why do you think ISIS seems to have found supporters and sympathizers among Sunnis in Iraq?

My sense is that this reflects the absence of a legitimate government in Iraq that can attract the support of all the various sectarian and ethnic groups that constitute Iraq. And of course this is further effort of the failure of the Iraq war. But the expectation when we invaded in 2003 was not simply that we were going to be able to overthrow C—that was, relatively speaking, the easy part—but we also expected that, having disposed of Saddam Hussein, we would also be able to insert a new political order that would be relatively stable, relatively democratic and able to command the allegiance of the Iraqi people. And we didn’t get that done.

What would have happened if these guys would have captured the Kurdish capital of Irbil?

American air power alone is not going to be enough to turn the tide. That success requires partnering with a force on the ground, and the peshmerga (Kurdish militants) tends to be featured pretty high on that roster of friendly ground forces that we want to partner with. Now the peshmerga’s record in the past six weeks has not been so impressive. But had Irbil fallen, had, in essence, Kurdistan fallen, the peshmerga would not have been available for the United States to use as a surrogate, which would have made the task that much harder.

Could airstrikes that actually degrade the Islamic State be a victory for the U.S.?

They would be a victory in the tactical sense. We would succeed in eliminating this vile, vicious group. But that vile, vicious group didn’t come out of nowhere. My sense is that ISIS emerged from a particular set of conditions that are endemic to that part of the world. What are those conditions? Well, political dysfunction, economic underdevelopment, social alienation, the residue of European imperialism, the effects of which are still present and problematic. All these entities together produce ISIS.

What policy should the U.S. be pursuing in response to ISIL?

I tend to answer questions like that by putting U.S. policy in this broader context, the context of post-1980 U.S. military efforts not simply in Iraq but in any number of places in the Islamic World. If we take this entire effort together, and say what have we achieved—if the aim is to bring stability, to bring democracy, to dominate or control—however you describe the aim, we haven’t achieved it. And I believe it is past time Americans recognize that this military effort has failed. And the failure is irredeemable.

So the place to begin moving toward a wiser policy is to recognize that our military efforts are counterproductive, that we have to lower our profile in this region—quite frankly, that we need to recognize that the fate of people in the Middle East needs to be determined by the people who live in the Middle East, and it is extremely arrogant for us to think we can solve their problems. At the end of the day, they’re going to decide their fate, and we need to get out of the way and protect ourselves from any adverse consequences of them solving their problems. I think the place to begin moving toward a sensible policy is to demilitarize U.S. policy in the region.


In “Iraq Divided: The Fight Against ISIL,” Fault Lines travels to Irbil to examine the consequences of the latest U.S. intervention in Iraq. The film airs on Al Jazeera America Saturday, October 18, at 7 p.m. Eastern time. It will air again that evening at 10 p.m. Eastern and Sunday, October 19, at 2 a.m. Eastern.

Some our previous posts on this subject: