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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/17/16

Pick Your Poison? Presidential Politics and Planetary Prospects

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I have more than once heard fellow U.S. leftists describe the choice between dismal Democrats and rancid Republicans as like a choice of how one would like to be executed: firing squad or hanging; electric chair or gas chamber; guillotine or liquid injection. With the official range of selection narrowed to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for U.S. President, we might extend the metaphor to all of humanity (and to the other species homo sapiens hasn't already eradicated) and ask: which is your preferred near-term path of extinction, accelerated anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) global warming (AGW) or thermonuclear world war?

If one wants to work with the dichotomy of "greater" and "lesser" evil, Trump is quite probably the "greater evil" on climate change, whose existence he denies. If president, he says, he would "deregulate [American] energy." He would help the nation's fossil fuel firms and their customers extract, sell, and burn as much coal, gas, and oil as they could (and the executive branch can do quite a bit in that regard). Noam Chomsky is right that this could signal "almost a death knell for the species." We are speeding to ecosystem collapse with AGW in the lead of numerous interrelated "ecological rifts." A stepped-up carbon orgy under a Trump administration could well seal the tipping-point deal.

But Hillary Clinton is the greater evil when it comes to World War III. She is showing signs that she would view a landslide victory against Trump as what the left analyst Glen Ford calls "a mandate for war with [nuclear] Russia." The nuclear "dice on humanity's future" (Ford) are already being shaken by the Obama administration. Consistent with Obama's long-time commitment (shared the Clintons, Madeline Albright, and the rest of the Council on Foreign Relations crowd) to the Zbigniew Brzezinski project of humiliating Russia, Washington has helped install a vicious right wing and pro-Western government in Ukraine, a key state on Russia's western border (one that past European invaders have marched through on a path to Moscow).

Last May, Washington announced the installation of a so-called European missile defense system in Romania -- a deployment that Russia naturally interpreted as an attack on its nuclear deterrence capacity. The White House disingenuously claimed that the system was meant to protect Europe from Iran, something that Moscow immediately and reasonably denounced as a lie. Russia suggested that it might retaliate by placing nuclear missiles in Crimea and Kaliningrad, its exclave on the Baltic Sea, between Poland and Lithuania.

The key hotspot in the U.S. and Western-led "new Cold War" now is of course Russia- and Iran-backed Syria, where U.S. and other Western airplanes "mistakenly" killed 62 Syrian troops one month ago. The attack effectively blew up a Syrian "ceasefire" Washington had arranged with the Syrian government's key ally Russia just a week before. Now, Pepe Escobar reports, "the Pentagon -- supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- "is peddling 'potential strikes' on Syria's air force to 'punish the regime' for what the Pentagon actually did; blow up the ceasefire."

Washington disingenuously claims to have deep humanitarian concerns for the 250,000 or so civilians who are trapped on the eastern side of the city of Aleppo, a rebel/al Qaeda-controlled territory under siege by the Syrian army and Shia paramilitary forces from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. This follows a provocative Washington Post story leaking reports that the Obama administration is thinking about undertaking a direct U.S. covert war on the ground against the Syrian state.

All of this has quite naturally elicited a stern response from Moscow. The Russian Ministry of Defense telling Washington to "weigh the consequences" of its schemes. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov informed the world that it was ready and willing to use its state-of-the-art air defense systems to shoot down U.S. war planes attacking Syrian troops or Russian military installations. If and when that happens, Konashenkov added, things will be moving too fast for the Russians to use the "hotline" to give Washington the "exact flight program" of its air defense missiles in Syria.

This is all bad enough, but Hillary seems to want to up the ante. Listen to her language in her second "presidential" "debate" with Trump. "The situation in Syria is catastrophic," Mrs. Clinton said. "And every day that goes by, we see the results of the regime by Assad in partnership with Iranians on the ground, the Russians in the air...when I was Secretary of State, I advocated and I advocate today a no-fly zone and a safe zone." All because she wants to protect "the rebels," most of whom are radical Islamist jihadists, and the mass of civilian noncombatants under jihadist control in Eastern Aleppo.

Forget for now her absurd disavowal of Washington's and her own leading creating the Syrian calamity by backing barbarian jihadists in their war on the (undeniably murderous and repressive) Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad. If she wants to see a much bigger catastrophe she should try as president to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. The Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, has told Congress that the Pentagon trying to control the airspace over Syria would "require us to go to war against Syria and Russia." As Glen Ford notes at Black Agenda Report:

"As punishment for saving Syria from being entirely overrun by western-backed jihadists... the Russians now face direct attack from the United States. It could come any moment, and is highly likely if Clinton wins what she can claim is a resounding 'mandate' in November. The 'no fly zone' that Clinton wants to impose over Syria would mean war with Russia from the very second it was implemented since, under U.S. military doctrine, it requires the immediate destruction of all 'enemy' air defenses. That was a relatively easy assignment for NATO forces in Libya, in 2011, but Syrian airspace is now guarded by the world's most sophisticated defense systems, manned by Russian operators, guarded by Russian Marines, and backed by Russia's strategic nuclear forces. Will Washington risk nuclear war to protect al-Qaida? Isn't it insane to have to ask such a question?"

To be sure, Hillary's chest-pounding belligerence should be taken with at least half a grain of salt. As the intrepid British Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn reported last week, "The West is not going to risk a war against a nuclear power and its Syrian ally in order to help the 250,000 to 275,000 civilians trapped there." Cockburn's comment should not to be taken to mean that "the West" -- really in this case the Obama administration -- could care less about the fate of civilians in Syria or anywhere else. Its real interest is in protecting the not-so "moderate" rebels it has been deploying as horrible proxies in its great imperial game in the Middle East. Still, it seems unlikely that Obama or even his more rhetorically hawkish successor (almost certainly Hillary Clinton, that is) would really risk going to Strangelovian lengths in service "to protect al Qaida" (well, its Syrian incarnation the Al-Nusra Front, the so-called moderates holding East Aleppo). I think the answer to Ford's question is almost certainly no.

But presidential and presidential-candidate words matter, especially to Moscow. The Russians have reasons to be alarmed by Hillary's anti-Russian/anti-Putin and NATO-expansionist rhetoric, which matches the record of the original, Serbia-bombing, Russia-humiliating, and NATO- expanding Clinton42 White House and her record as Secretary of State. Mrs. Clinton has even likened Putin to (who else?) Hitler, suggesting that the "Queen of Chaos's" wild regime change dreams extend to the Kremlin itself. Such rhetoric provides fertile ground for dangerous confrontations, paranoia, and accidental missile and bomber launches across the world's great oceans and the Arctic, not just the Baltic Sea or Syrian air space. Hence the properly chilling title of Ford's latest reflection: "Apocalypse Hillary." (Maybe the Trump campaigns should run a remake of the Lyndon Baines Johnson campaign's infamous anti-Barry Goldwater commercial during the 1964 presidential campaign -- the one that showed a little girl counting daisy petals while a military commander counted down to the launch of a nuclear missile. Hillary is probably still proud of the fact that she was a teenage "Goldwater Girl" in 1964, for what that's worth).

By contrast, the noxious eco-cidal bigot and man-child Donald Trump sounds relatively rational on the subjects of Russia, Syria, and Middle East jihadism. Contrary to the doctrinal beliefs of what Escobar smartly calls the "neoliberalcon" wing of the richly bipartisan U.S. "War Party" (Hillary is its top figurehead), Trump wants "a normalized working relationship with Russia" (Escobar). Imagine.

The Clinton machine, the Democratic National Committee, the New York Times and most of the corporate media portray Trump as Putin's poodle because he says reasonable things like this: "I don't like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS."

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Paul Street ( and is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (2004), Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (2007), Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (more...)
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