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Getting a Grip

by Berry Friesen (July 28, 2017)

Many of us are deeply troubled by the words and actions of the Trump Administration. The President’s impulsiveness, unpredictability and lack of respect for long-established norms leave us afraid for the future.  Just think: this man has ready access to launch codes for the US nuclear force.

That’s not to mention the millions of Americans who may lose their access to health care because of the manic attempts to destroy Obamacare.

Fear is in part a spiritual problem, especially when it involves something as impactful and as distant as the US government.  I hope our spiritual leaders will recognize this and apply their resources to help.

Inevitably, the convergence of uncertainty, fear and troubled spirits brings us face-to-face with our assumptions about the US-led empire.  Is it part of the solution to our distress or does it create our distress?  Do we pray for its continued dominance or for its demise?

The balance of this post will point your attention to items that spur reflection about how to regard the empire.

1. First up is the recent Jeremy Scahill interview of Dr. Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and one of the world’s leading historians on the empire’s involvement in regime change and drug-running in Southeast Asia, Central America and Afghanistan.  The interview is published by The Intercept.

Simply reading this interview of Dr. McCoy is like a auditing a graduate course in post-WW II history.  McCoy’s research has taken him deep into seldom reported aspects of the Vietnam War, US support for the Contras in Nicaragua, the financing of the mujahedeen and the overthrow of the Soviet-aligned government of Afghanistan. It will help you better understand how heroin and cocaine became such scourges in US society.

And it will bring you face-to-face with the question of empire.

Donald Trump and the Coming Fall of the American Empire” is the headline The Intercept chose to promote the interview.  And yes, McCoy addresses the issue of imperial collapse head-on:  “Either with a bang or a whimper . . . by 2030, it’s pretty much over for our global dominion.”

“Is that in your opinion a bad thing?” Scahill asks. “Well, yes it is,” answers McCoy. He thinks Trump is accelerating the decline of the US-led empire; this is one of the reasons he is critical of Trump’s leadership.

Yet the biblical witness takes us in a different direction than McCoy.  It views the empire as the great deceiver and oppressor, the enemy of YHWH.  It recognizes some empires are worse than others, but it doesn’t encourage us to invest our time and energy splitting the differences. (For much more on this, see our book, If Not Empire, What?)

Instead, we hear in scripture a call to invest in the kingdom of God, that stateless global community defined by compassion, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance to evil. Through the words of Jesus, it says: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).

2. There is good news from war-wracked Syria.  President Trump has officially ended Timber Sycamore, the covert CIA operation to train and equip mercenaries to invade Syria and bring down the Assad government.  As reported by Scott Ritter, “Thousands of fighters serving under the banner of Al Qaeda and ISIS were, in fact, armed and trained by the CIA.”  According to a frequent Pentagon source, “CIA-backed fighters may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years.”

This decision by President Trump is an answer to my prayers. To be sure, a President Clinton never would have made it.

3.  Our third item is the bipartisan eagerness in Congress to poison relations with Russia and initiate a trade war with Europe.  By a July 25 vote of 419-3, the US House moved new sanctions legislation on to the Senate, which is expected to vote yet this week. (UPDATE: On July 27, the Senate approved the measure by a vote of 98-2, thus sending it on to the President.)

The legislation has triggered very strong reactions in Europe.  As reported by Reuters, here is EU Chief Executive Jean-Claude Juncker speaking on July 26:

"The U.S. bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU's energy security interests. If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days. 'America First' cannot mean that Europe's interests come last."

Perhaps you thought this latest push for new economic sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea is simply another instance of America telling its adversaries to back off.

Actually, these sanctions are different.  They threaten European companies doing business with Russian companies building a new natural gas pipeline (Nord Stream 2) from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Also threatened are European companies participating in the Blue Stream pipeline carrying Russian gas to Turkey.

Why? Because US energy companies are determined to drive a wedge between Europe and Russia, severing commercial relationships.  Then the hungry European energy market will turn to the US and its Middle East allies for supplies.

This is the reason there is such urgency in the US to build natural gas pipelines to coastal ports.  This is why the law of eminent domain is being used to seize private farmland.  It all is preparation of the infrastructure necessary to exploit an artificially deprived European market.

President Trump has criticized the legislation because it ties his hands with Russia, but has not promised to veto it.  Were Trump to use his veto, it likely would be overridden anyway.

4. We end with Venezuela, a deeply divided country that seems to be drifting quickly toward economic collapse and civil war.  The parties and leaders of the violent protests are the same people who in 2002 briefly overthrew President Hugo Chávez.

In a July 30 nationwide vote, Venezuela will elect a new national assembly, which will redraft the national constitution. The redraft will then be voted up or down in a national plebiscite.

On July 20, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was asked about events in Venezuela.  Here is the heart of his reply to a gathering of the Aspen Security Forum 2017.

“I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there's a lot of stories. (Laughter)   So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others. The Colombians, I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.”

“A transition?” That’s another regime-change operation.  “The things they might do?” In other Latin America contexts, that has included election rigging, interference with economic markets, lots of money to pay protesters, the infiltration of peaceful protests with assassins, and arms shipments (to name a few).

The “laughter” of the posh Aspen audience?  It was triggered by the hilariously bloody history of US intervention in Latin affairs, repeatedly frustrating the wishes of the people and putting the power of governments in the hands of rulers owned and controlled by US corporations.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, elected in 2013, denounced Pompeo’s remarks and hit out at the governments of Mexico and Colombia for collaborating with the CIA to “overthrow the constitutional government in Venezuela and to intervene in our beloved Venezuela.”

My advice?  Don’t believe a word of what you read in the mainstream media about Venezuela. It will be obediently working off the CIA script.  Instead follow

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