On January 3, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation imposing sanctions on Belarus. The Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011 was passed by Congress in December in response to a litany of alleged human rights abuses on the part of the former Soviet Republic.
The text of the act enumerates several causes of the congressional effort to punish Belarus:
The Government of Belarus has engaged in a pattern of clear and uncorrected violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Government of Belarus has engaged in a pattern of clear and uncorrected violations of basic principles of democratic governance, including through a series of fundamentally flawed presidential and parliamentary elections undermining the legitimacy of executive and legislative authority in that country.
The Government of Belarus has subjected thousands of pro-democratic political activists to harassment, beatings, and jailings, particularly as a result of their attempts to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly and association.
A veteran in uniform who spoke out in favor of GOP presidential contender Ron Paul and his foreign-policy views after the Iowa Republican caucus could face discipline for potentially having violated military regulations, according to Defense Department officials. But the soldier has already gained a tremendous following online among Paul’s enthusiastic supporters.
After caucusing for the top-tier candidate Rep. Paul (R-Texas), Cpl. Jesse Thorsen spoke to CNN about why he supported the 12-term Congressman’s bid for the Republican nomination. The veteran of the Afghanistan war also called for peace and warned against starting more wars overseas before being abruptly cut off, apparently because of technical problems.
“I’m really excited about a lot of his ideas — especially when it comes to bringing the soldiers home,” the 28-year-old corporal told the CNN interviewer about Dr. Paul before the video feed dropped. “I’ve been serving for 10 years now and all 10 years of those have been during wartime. I’d like to see a little peacetime army and I think he has the right idea.”
U.S. sanctions on Iran are “acts of war.” The Iranian government, which views the sanctions, along with assassinations of its nuclear scientists and belligerent rhetoric from Washington, as precursors to “regime change,” is seeking to obtain nuclear weapons “as a deterrent to foreign intervention.” War could occur at any moment, and the only way to avert it with any certainty is for “Western powers [to] imagine how the situation looks from Tehran.”
This may sound like a Ron Paul stump speech. But in fact, it is the essence of a recent Bloomberg article by Vali Nasr, a Middle East expert with contacts in the government of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni. Nasr’s piece, says Robert Wright of the Atlantic, vindicates the Texas Republican’s “sheer conjecture” about Iran’s interpretation of Western actions as “acts of war.”
Paul’s “conjecture,” of course, was based on a simple understanding of human nature. If Oceania routinely threatens Eastasia and begins punishing it, the Eastasian people and their government are not going to sit idly by and allow their country to be destroyed. They will fight back. Then Oceania will escalate the conflict further, Eastasia will respond in kind, and so on, until a full-scale war is under way.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation this week imposing tough sanctions on Iran’s relatively unique state-owned central bank, prompting a steep drop in the value of the Iranian rial. He also added a controversial “signing statement” indicating that he would violate the law if it interfered with his agenda and purported authority.
Passed as part of the hugely unpopular (for several other, unrelated provisions) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the sanctions will eventually freeze any institution that does business with Iran’s monetary authority out of the American economy. And about half of all Iranian oil sales are currently processed through the Islamic Republic’s central bank — one of the few remaining in the world that is entirely government owned after Libya's was recently replaced.
But in a signing statement released on the White House website, Obama said that while he approved of the bill overall, he signed it despite serious reservations about some sections — especially those related to terror-war and detainment regulations. But the anti-Iran segment was also criticized in the statement.
Another Middle Eastern despot may be facing a violent end for atrocities his accusers say he perpetrated against his own people. Egypt’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who enjoyed 30 years of mostly undisturbed rule under a nearly perpetual “Emergency Law,” is being tried along with his security chief and six top police officers for their complicity in the killings of hundreds of protesters during last year’s uprisings that ended Mubarak’s rule.
During court proceedings January 4, reported the Associated Press, “chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman said the defendants clearly authorized the use of live ammunition and a shoot-to-kill policy against peaceful protesters. He also complained that the prosecution had to launch its own probe after security authorities ignored the prosecution’s requests for help in the inquiry. Prosecutors interviewed hundreds of witnesses, physicians, and police officers to build [their] case.”
Specifically, Suleiman charged that on January 27, two days after large-scale protests erupted in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, Mubarak and his security heads made the decision to use armed force against the protesters in an attempt to put a stop to the opposition. According to another prosecutor, Mustafa Khater, “special police forces armed with automatic rifles targeted the heads, chests and eyes of protesters,” reported the AP.
In the aftermath of a series of bombings on Christmas Day, Nigerians have reason to worry that Islamic terrorism will continue to increase in their country. Boko Haram, the organization behind much of the escalating anti-Christian violence in that African country, is dedicated to a campaign of fear and murder in a society where Muslims and Christians constitute nearly equal proportions of the population.
China has been hit once more by a food safety crisis, as officials in that country attempt to assure its own people, as well as consumers in the United States and elsewhere, that its products are safe. The Chinese government’s official Xinhua press agency reported on December 30 that food safety inspectors in the southern city of Shenzhen had discovered carcinogenic mildew in peanuts and cooking oil at some markets and restaurants.
High levels of the toxin aflatoxin were found in peanuts in three markets, and in cooking oil in four restaurants, Xinhua reported. “Aflatoxin is produced by a fungus that commonly grows on crops such as grains and peanuts,” the news site reported.” While the toxin is found in insignificant levels in most peanut crops, including those grown in the United States, high levels of aflatoxin have been linked to liver damage and cancer.
An earlier report from the government news site said that high levels of the same toxic substance had been found recently in milk and other products from a popular dairy company in the region. “An initial investigation showed that the contamination was caused by mildewed feed given to cows in the dairy’s plant in southwest Sichuan province,” reported Xinhua. The news agency said that the Mengniu Dairy Company had “issued a public apology in an online statement, but insisted that the problem was discovered before the tainted milk could enter the market.”
The former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unit tracking terror leader Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, endorsed Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for President in 2012, days before the Iowa caucus. He argued, among other points, that the top-tier GOP hopeful is the best candidate to protect America from violent Islamic extremism.
In a column entitled "Iowa’s Choice: Dr. Paul or U.S. bankruptcy, more wars, and many more dead soldiers and Marines" published on his website over the weekend, Scheuer said voting for any candidate other than Paul would help inflict further damage on an already-wounded America. It would also contribute toward the continuation of a foreign policy that will ensure total national bankruptcy, noted the 22-year intelligence-community veteran, who now serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.
“Dr. Paul’s non-interventionist policy will allow foreigners to work out their political destiny in their own way and at their own pace; prevent unnecessary additions to America’s growing list of enemies; and save countless young lives,” Scheuer wrote in his endorsement, blasting senior leaders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with harsh words. “Electing anyone but Ron Paul will further increase the already strong chances of widespread Islamist-conducted violence inside the United States.”
Hysteria over Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program has been steadily rising among some U.S. and Israeli officials. But Tamir Pardo, the chief of Israel’s intelligence service known as the Mossad, said last week that a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian government would not necessarily pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish state.
“What is the significance of the term ‘existential’?” Pardo was quoted as saying in an article by the Washington Times. Citing Israeli diplomats who met with the spy chief last week in a closed-door session, the paper reported that, according to Pardo, the danger posed by a hypothetical nuclear weapon in Iranian hands was being overblown.
“If you said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an ‘existential’ threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop,” the Mossad boss told the gathering of about 100 Israeli ambassadors. “That’s not the situation. The term is used too freely.”
Speaking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, several diplomats said Pardo had stated that a nuclear-armed Iran would “absolutely” pose a threat to the nation. But even if the Iranian regime were to acquire a bomb, the intelligence chief was quoted as saying, it would not mean the destruction of Israel.
The $30 billion sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, announced by the Obama administration on Thursday is a continuation of a history of U.S. weapons sales that has resulted in the arming of a wide array of enemies as well as friends of America in the Middle East and other parts of the world. The deal includes the sale of 84 F-15 jets and “assorted weaponry” to the Arab kingdom, the Washington Post reported. It also provides for the modernization of 70 of the Saudi's current aircraft, as well as munitions, spare parts, training, and maintenance. The announcement comes at a time of increasing tension between the United States and the Saudis' neighbors in Iran and threats and counter-threats surrounding the strategically important Persian Gulf region.
“This sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East,” Andrew Shapiro, assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs, told reporters. But the history of arms sales in the region has shown that the allies we arm one year may turn out be our enemies the next.
In the years preceding the Islamic revolution in Tehran, the United States sold tens of billions of dollars worth of military hardware and technology to the Shah of Iran. When the revolution ushered in the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini, America was confronted with a new enemy in the Middle East, one armed with American high-tech weapons.