Trump’s Parting Sanctions

All the tumult over a disputed election and the protest march on the Capitol obscure a possibly greater danger overseas. The Trump White House with a foreign policy under the control of the war-fixated neocons has imposed a stream of crippling sanctions on Iran that could lead to a possible military clash before the Democrats take charge.

The White House understandably fears that President Biden will restore the agreement that President Obama made with Iran: a suppression of its nuclear activities in return for a lifting of U.S. sanctions. It was by no means perfect but a way of reducing tensions with Iran, a Middle East power, much the way Trump eased hostilities with nuclear-armed North Korea. As Bob Woodward writes in his none too favorable account of Trump in his book Rage, “…it was not by the Establishment playbook, but as Trump says repeatedly, we had no war. That was an achievement. Diplomacy should always be worth a try.”

But Trump has done the opposite with Iran without apparently noting the contradiction. He has applied sanctions not only to Iran but to companies doing business with Iran. These have been added weekly since November, perhaps a record in economic punishment short of war. Secretary of State Pompeo adds that Iran has joined al-Qaeda as “partners in terrorism,” which is reminiscent of the charge that Iraq was allied with al-Qaeda, a fiction that helped lead to the disastrous U.S. Iraq war.

Iran is of little danger to the U.S. It vies with Israel for power and influence in the Middle East. Israel has nuclear weapons, but Iran does not, and Israel wants it to stay that way. Like other countries – the U.S., Israel, China, Russia, whatever – Iran pursues its national interests. While these can be unsettling, they are not the menace of the fanatical, death-dealing ideologies that imperiled the world for close to a century. We’re dealing with practicalities of statecraft today even if nuclear weapons hover in the background. Containment worked before. It can work again.

Stopping Drugs At Sea

The U.S. Coast Guard may be the least celebrated of the US. military services. It’s a law enforcement member of the intelligence community, but its glamour is limited. It doesn’t take lives, but saves them – those in peril at sea and those who may perish from deadly drugs on their way here. The Coast Guard’s reach is global, but its mission is to protect America. America first but internationally oriented, an enviable combination.

Catching the enemy in the act is not easy. It takes a seamanship that might be admired by a John Paul Jones. First a suspicious vessel has to be sighted among all those at sea. A drug carrier may elude attack by mingling in a congested area near a port the way a drug laden truck squeezes among other vehicles at a land entry. Heavy traffic is the smuggler’s boon. If his boat is farther out, say 300 to 400 miles, it’s pretty clear he has something to hide.

A Coast Guard team approaches the likely suspect and calls for it to stop. It usually does since it’s much harder to run away at sea than on land. There’s seldom violence because the operation follows a pattern understood by both pursued and pursuer. If the boat carries a U.S. flag, the team can board right way once it seems to be safe. If there’s a foreign flag, the team must get approval from headquarters that can be done quickly or may take a few hours.

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team (US Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone)

Then comes the challenge of finding the suspected drugs which can be ingeniously concealed. The Coast Guard must match wits with some of the most inventive criminals on earth. The contraband may be in a secret compartment or under a false floor or in a spare engine on deck. In Miami Lt. Commander Daniel Delgado notes that on one occasion some fresh concrete seemed suspicious. Back in port, a jackhammer cut through the concrete to reveal the profitable cargo below.

Sometimes the trafficker may toss the drugs overboard to avoid detection and arrest. What floats to shore are known as “wash-ups,” debris that is often spotted by beach goers who pick it up and turn it in. It’s not a suitable souvenir.

For obvious reasons there are far fewer drug busts at sea than on land, but each haul is many times larger. The traffickers take their losses in stride. They can easily make these up in the trips that get through. Despite its best efforts, the Coast Guard estimates it only stops abut fifteen per cent of the sea smugglers.

There may be something if not purifying, at least cleansing by water. The Coast Guard is spared the every day scandals of land enforcement. There’s a going rate of $10,000 for a guard who lets a drug laden truck across the Mexican border – a pittance compared to what’s inside. A seagoing Coast Guard team faces no such temptation and can take pride in its accomplishments – not to detract from the heroism of the U.S. border patrol who can face every day violence from the aggressive drug cartels

At some point the U.S. must withdraw from its highly dubious efforts to intervene militarily in nations overseas with an idea of reforming them. Then more attention and budget can be given to the Coast Guard, a prime defender of the U.S. and those who want to come here without, to be sure, drugs.

Afghans Betrayed

U.S. treatment of Afghans in the unending war has been a mixture of confusion and indifference. Friends and enemies may be indistinguishable, the friend today may be the enemy tomorrow in multi-faceted Afghanistan. How is a hapless Washington bureaucrat going to keep up with all of this? That said, Major Mohammed Naiem Asadi was clearly on our side.

A decorated helicopter pilot, he has logged thousands of flight hours and is said to have destroyed more of the enemy than anyone else in the Afghan air force. In response the Taliban have threatened his life on the ground. They told his father hand over your son or we’ll kill your entire family.

Major Mohammed Naiem Asadi

Knowing the threat is serious, Major Asadi asked for asylum in the U.S. and apparently it was granted. But just before he and his wife and daughter were about to board a plane to the U.S., the decision was reversed on Washington orders. The reason? Like so much else in the Afghan war it was unclear. But orders are orders.

Now Asadi is in hiding no less a target of Taliban wrath.

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar was intelligence chief of the Taliban until its leader Mullah Omar had some doubts and demoted him to deputy interior minister, where he still had control of a large police force. When I met him in Kabul on an assignment for Voice of America a year before 9/11, he seemed friendly and hospitable but clearly the voice of the Taliban.

No so. At great personal risk, he was in contact with the CIA and was furnishing not only useful information but plans on how he and other defecting Taliban leaders could link with an anti-Taliban military force and overthrow Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. He told Kathy Gannon, a top reporter covering Afghanistan: “There were people in the Taliban who wanted to work with the international community, who didn’t want the foreign fighters, who wanted them gone. But with no help from the outside, we couldn’t do anything, and then it was too late.”

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar

With the war underway, he offered information on where bin Laden might be found. That too was ignored. Knowing he was now an obvious target of the Taliban, he asked for some protection from the U.S. He was turned down and soon executed by the Taliban in the city of Kandahar.

Mullah Khaksar of the past and Major Asadi of today may serve as bookends for a  war that didn’t have to be, and their plight can symbolize what a beautiful country and proud people have endured.

The Basement Guy Won

If perception is often reality, there’s no arguing with what we saw of Joe Biden. Here he was comfortably at home in his basement while running for one of the world’s most demanding jobs. It shows he is temperamentally, maybe mentally unfit for commander in chief, charged the critics. He didn’t move much more in response. Why give up what turned out to be a winning hand?

He seemed to reflect a changing mood in the electorate. a growing weariness with U.S. interventions everywhere for every kind of reason, wars started but never won and never ended, threats of future violence from all over the globe when in fact, the U.S. has never been quite so safe. No overriding ideological menace like Stalin’s Communism is pushing us to the brink.

Joe Biden in his basement

But where does Biden with his long Senate record fit into this? Not too badly with grounds for optimism. He joined the stampede for the ill conceived ’03 war with Iraq but afterwards exercised more caution. In fact, during his years as Vice President, he almost alone among advisers to President Obama argued against the militarization of U.S. policy, opposing more troops to Afghanistan and the disastrous war in Libya. As usual, there were the scoffs and eye rolling of other advisers, but was it his sometimes halting delivery to blame or his message?

Like President Trump before him, Biden faces the formidable opposition of the so-called deep state, a combination of elements of the intelligence agencies, the unelected bureaucracy and billionaire moneyed interests who are quite content to keep all U.S. wars going. Hated for so many reasons, Trump is not given credit for calming the perceived threat from nuclear armed North Korea. Not a real lasting solution, claim the critics. But in foreign policy half a loaf is better than none. Similarly, Biden says he wants to rejoin the nuclear agreement with Iran that was abandoned by Trump. It has flaws ino doubt, but they can be dealt with. The point is to lessen unnecessary tensions in a world that is all too trigger happy.

Biden is not without baggage: a U.S. investigation of his family’s financial dealings, a large part of the electorate, including a growing populist movement currently allied with the Republican party, who are outraged by what they consider a rigged election. He must also deal with a clamorous, influential left led by Senator Bernie Sanders who will increasingly object to his centrist domestic policies. Yet this same group appears to share his foreign policy views

Then there is chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, who recently commented on the Defense Department budget: “We must take a hard look at what we do, how we do it. There’s a considerable amount that the U.S. spends on overseas deployments, on overseas bases and locations, etc. Is everyone of these absolutely, positively necessary for the defense of the United States?”

A Cartel Victory in the U.S.

Retired Mexican General Salvador Cienfuegos seemed clearly headed for a U.S. prison. An exhaustive investigation by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) showed that the former Mexican defense minister had taken heavy bribes to keep the military from interfering with the cartels whose drugs are poisoning Americans. As an aside, he aided one cartel against its rival. Such is politics in the narco state.

The DEA was dumbfounded. One of its top cases had exploded for no credible reason, hardly discouraging other traffickers from doing their business in the U.S. Mike Vigil, former international operations chief for the DEA, said freeing the general was a “huge gift” from President Trump to Mexico, perhaps for its help in slowing immigration. Keep the people out, let the drugs in.

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda

Even by Washington standards the explanations offered were threadbare. The U.S. said there were “sensitive and important foreign policy considerations” in the decision, too sensitive apparently to specify. A U. S. Justice Department spokeswoman said the case was dismissed because of confidence in the Mexican justice system, which in fact doesn’t exist. But don’t worry, U.S. Attorney General William Barr was assured, Mexico will soon serve up a narco boss trafficking in fentanyl. No name was given. Don’t want to alarm him.

From academy came a comforting explanation. Gladys McCormick, history professor at Syracuse University whose specialty is Mexico, said prosecuting Cienfuegos would have compromised intelligence for years to come. His arrest was “scandalous,” she added. “ He truly is untouchable and sacrosanct because of what he represents and the secrets he carries with him.” Cienfuegos could not have said it better.

It’s generally agreed this was a rare procedure in contrast to normal behavior. For example, U.S. prosecutors have resisted efforts by Turkey to get charges dropped against a state owned bank accused of violating sanctions on Iran. But Turkey is in the Middle East and hardly a threat. Drug smuggling Mexico is right next door.

Femicide in Mexico

Ordinarily, it was just another murder among the many thousands that have occurred so far this year on the way to establishing a homicidal record for Mexico. But this one struck a nerve – Bianca Lorenzana, a 21 year old resident of Cancun whose dismembered body was found in plastic bags. Local women decided they had had enough. Ten women are murdered every day in Mexico.

Hundreds gathered peacefully at first, but then with a rage that perhaps emulated current U.S. protests began spraying graffiti and destroying property. As they tried to break into city hall, the police arrived and started shooting live ammunition. Four people were wounded, including two journalists, always a special target. Three have been murdered within the last month in Mexico, maintaining the country’s standing as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

The protesters were quickly dispersed and eight were arrested. The very limited U.S. coverage suggested the police were operating on their own without official approval, which is nonsense. They are an arm of the drug cartels which basically run Mexico. As such, they behave in cartel fashion. While U.S. police are routinely injured in dealing with protests, Mexican police are only hurt by one another in typical cartel rivalry. Anyone who dares to confront a cop, much less throw a stone at him, is lucky to die without being tortured first

Tourists can visit seaside Cancun because the cartels allow it. They don’t mind picking up some loose change on top of their mammoth drug earnings. The day they decide to shut the place down, that will be the end of it. The women victims, alas, are only part of the story. The cartels don’t discriminate but kill anybody regardless of race, gender or religion. Understandably distressed, Abelardo Vera, hotel association president in Cancun, told reporters: “We’re living in the worst horror movie – robberies, extortion and people being murdered and mutilated every day. It’s unacceptable.”

The cure for this lies no longer in Mexico but in U.S. hands with proposals ranging from the legalization of marijuana that undercuts the cartel market to outright attack on the cartels as they assemble for their murderous business. That means taking some responsibility for the country that is being ruined by the drug traffic financed by the U.S.

Our Mexican Colony

Arturo Alba Medina became the seventh journalist to be killed in Mexico this year, approaching the record of twelve murdered last year, surpassing even the killings of news people in war-torn Syria. Alba Medina, a TV anchor, died significantly in the border town of Juarez, known from time to time as the “murder capital of the world.” There’s a lot of competition in Mexico for that title.

The various Mexican governments promised to catch the killers, but they hardly ever do since the killers are in control; namely, the drug cartels who run what is considered a “narco state.” Not just offending journalists, to be sure, are victims of their wrath. Mexican murders this year are about to overtake last year’s record of more than 35,000.

Mexican marines escorting five alleged drug traffickers – Yuri Cortez – AFP/Getty Images

By any standards this is a major story, especially happening next door to the U.S., but try finding it in the U.S. media. More likely there will be reports of these kinds of deaths in distant Somalia or Libya. Media compassion is very selective. Slavery and the Holocaust are voluminously covered for good reason, but why so little on the current slaughter of Yemenis by Saudi Arabia with some U.S. assistance or the massacres in Mexico?

Ignoring Mexico can be attributed to that well-worn accusation “racism.” Mexicans don’t matter except in the U.S. where they vote. But the reason for this is probably more complex and indeed sinister. Americans profit from the Mexican violence, both those who take the drugs and those who take the drug money. Aside from some modest efforts to stop the trafficking, including a new border wall, illicit drugs continue to pour into the U.S., poisoning a vast number of people especially distraught by the coronavirus and the accompanying restrictions.

Bodies of women killed in Mexico by drug cartels- Francisco Robles – AFP/Getty Images

The American media has noticed this development and cited China as responsible. China is the manufacturer of deadly fentanyl which is delivered, however, by the Mexican cartels who control everything and every person that crosses the U.S. border. Once again the cartels evade blame. To whose benefit? Americans can get all the drugs they want that are killing them at a cost of some 100 billion dollars a year. Half of that is laundered or smuggled back to Mexico. The remainder stays in the U.S. to keep the cartels in business.

The bribes start at the border – maybe $5,000 or is it now $10,000? – to let a truck load of drugs through the border. Then right up the social scale to all kinds of respectable groups that need or desire the money. Those who resist or object can pay a serious price, as two FBI investigators (names omitted) learned when they tried to find where the money goes beyond the border. On discovering that it reaches bankers, judges and law enforcement, both lost their jobs and one had his life threatened by a knife. ”Big names,” they said, did them in.

Mexico is in essence a colony of the U.S. But it differs from previous colonial powers in that it takes no responsibility for the land that provides for it. Mexico can go about its business unmolested, a business that amounts to a humanitarian crisis for Mexicans. The U.S. is rebuked for its imperialism that led to the conquest and annexation of half of Mexico in 1848. Today’s imperialism is hidden but just as deadly.