Posts Tagged ‘Obama Administration’

 

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically.

The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts.

The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization.

The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia.

This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih.

Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and even the UAE, have shown an increased eagerness to develop military and economic relations with Moscow, even if this means dealing with a global power currently supporting their archenemy Iran. Analysts wonder where the current visit of King Salman will really lead to, but all signs are on green for a straightforward Arab-Saudi support for a bigger Russian role in the region, and more in-depth cooperation in oil and gas markets.

In stark contrast to the difficult relationship of the West with the Arab world, Moscow seems to be playing the regional power game at a higher level. It can become an ally or friend to regional adversaries, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt and now Saudi Arabia. Arab regimes are also willing to discuss cooperation with Russia, even though the country is supporting adversaries in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts and continues to supply arms to the Shi’a regime in Iran.

Investors can expect Russia and Saudi Arabia to sign a multitude of business deals, some of which have already been presented. Moscow and Riyadh will also discuss the still fledgling oil and gas markets, as both nations still heavily depend on hydrocarbon revenues. Arab analysts expect both sides to choose a bilateral strategy to keep oil prices from falling lower. Riyadh and Moscow have the same end goal: a stable oil and gas market, in which demand and supply keep each other in check to push price levels up, but without leaving enough breathing space for new market entrants such as U.S. shale.

Putin and Salman will also discuss the security situation in the Middle East, especially the ongoing Syrian civil war, Iran’s emerging power, and the Libya situation. Until now, the two have supported opposite sides, but Riyadh has realized that its ultimate goal, the removal of Syrian president Assad, is out of reach. To prevent a full-scale Shi’a triangle (Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon), other options are now being sought to quell Tehran’s power surge. Moscow is key in this.

Putin’s unconditional support of the Iranian military onslaught in Iraq and Syria, combined with its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or Houthis in Yemen, will be discussed and maybe tweaked to give Riyadh room to maneuver into the Russian influence sphere. The verdict on this isn’t yet out, but Riyadh’s move must be seen

in light of ongoing Moscow discussions with Egypt, Libya, Jordan and the UAE.

A growing positive Putin vibe in the Arab world is now clear. The strong leadership of Russia’s new Tsar has become a main point of interest for the (former pro-Western) Arab regimes. The U.S. and its European allies have only shown a diffuse political-military approach to the threats in the MENA region, while even destabilizing historically pro-Western Arab royalties and presidents. Putin’s friendship, however, is being presented as unconditional and long lasting.

Even though geopolitics and military operations in the Middle East now are making up most headlines, the Saudi-Russian rapprochement will also have economic consequences. Riyadh’s leadership of OPEC is still undisputed, as it has shown over the last several years. Saudi Arabia’s eagerness to counter the free-fall of oil prices has been successful, but a much bigger effort is required to bring prices back to a level of between $60-75 per barrel. Russia’s role—as the largest of non-OPEC producers—has been substantial, bringing in not only several emerging producers, but also by putting pressure on its allies Iran, Venezuela and Algeria.

The historically important Moscow-Riyadh cooperation in oil and gas is unprecedented. Without Russia’s support, overall compliance to the OPEC production cut agreement would have been very low, leading to even lower oil prices.

The Saudi-Russian rapprochement could, however, be seen as a threat by the West and OPEC itself. Western influence in the region has waned since the end of the 1990s, not only due to the peace dividend of NATO, but especially because OECD countries are moving away from oil. Saudi Arabia had to find new markets, which happened with China and India. The Saudi future is no longer based on Western customers or support, but lies in Asia and other emerging regions. The FSU region has also popped up on Saudi screens. Investment opportunities, combined with geopolitical support and military interests, are readily available in Russia and its satellite states.

For OPEC, the Moscow-Riyadh love affair could also mean a threat. Throughout OPEC’s history, Riyadh has been the main power broker in the oil cartel, pushing forward price and production strategies; most of the time this was done in close cooperation with all the other members, most of them Arab allies. This changed dramatically after Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to cooperate in global oil markets. Through the emergence of this OPEC/ non-OPEC cooperation, Moscow and Riyadh have grown closer than expected. The two countries now decide the future of global oil markets before they discuss it with some of the other main players like UAE, Iran, Algeria and Nigeria. King Salman’s visit is seen as another step toward a more in-depth cooperation in oil and gas related issues.

Besides global oil market cooperation, Saudi Arabia is and will become more interested to invest in natural gas development, not only to have an interest in Russia’s gas future but also to bring in Russian technology, investment and LNG to the Kingdom.

At the same time, media sources are stating that Saudi Arabia is NOT asking Russia to take part in the long-awaited Aramco IPO in 2018. Russian individual investors and financial institutions, however, are expected to take an interest.

Putin understands not only Russian chess tactics but also the Arab “Tawila” approach. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman already will prepare his Tawila strategy, putting enough stones on the table to ensure his successful end game. MBS, currently de-facto ruler of the Kingdom, is targeting a full house—Russian cooperation in energy, defense and investments—while softening Moscow’s 100% percent support of the Shi’a archenemy Iran.

For both sides, Moscow and Riyadh, the current constellation presents a win-win situation. Moscow can reach its ultimate goal in the Middle East: to become the main power broker and knock the US from the pedestal. For Riyadh, the option to counter the Iranian threat, while also bolstering its own economy and hydrocarbon future, is now within reach.

King Salman’s trip could go down in history as the point of no return for the West. Pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia could replace historic pictures of King Saud and U.S. President Roosevelt (Bitter Lake, 1945). In a few years, King-to-be Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman might tell his children that this was one of the pillars that changed not only the Middle East but also supported his Vision 2030 plan of becoming a bridge between the old (West) and the new (Russia-Asia).

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For the better part of a year now Americans have speculated over precisely what pressing national security issue may have prompted the Obama administration to take the extreme measure of unmasking the names of Trump officials captured in foreign intelligence reports…you know, because bypassing the typical warrant process and violating an American citizen’s fourth amendment protections is kind of a big deal.

So what was it…intelligence concerning an imminent terrorist attack…concrete evidence that Putin stole Hillary’s emails? No, according to CNN, National Security Advisor Susan Rice ultimately made the call to unmask Trump officials because Obama was offended that the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates traveled to New York last December, after the election mind you, without giving him a heads up first.

 

Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.

The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.

The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.

The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.

Of course, CNN attempts to downplay the gravity of these new revelations but somehow we suspect that Obama getting his feelings hurt over a breach in travel protocol of a foreign dignitary is not a valid reason to spy on American citizens…though we’re not lawyers.

CNN noted that it’s unclear precisely which Trump officials Rice discussed at the House meeting, and thus which officials were ultimately unmasked, but multiple sources apparently confirmed to them that Zayed met at the time with Flynn, Kushner and Bannon. The three-hour discussion focused on a range of issues, including Iran, Yemen and the Mideast peace process, according to two of CNN’s sources who insisted that opening up a back-channel with Russia was not a topic of discussion.

 

A senior Middle East official told CNN that the UAE did not “mislead” the Obama administration about the crown prince’s visit, but acknowledged not telling the US government about it in advance. The meeting, which took place December 15, 2016, the official said, was simply an effort to build a relationship with senior members of the Trump team who would be working in the administration to share assessments of the region.

“The meeting was about ascertaining the Trump team’s view of the region and sharing the UAE’s view of the region and what the US role should be,” the official said. “No one was coming in to sell anything or arrange anything.”

Meanwhile, Republican responses on the hearing have been mixed with Trey Gowdy saying it appears as if Rice did nothing illegal while White House press secretary Sarah Sanders simply deferred on the legality of her actions.

 

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who is helping lead the House investigation, told the Daily Caller “nothing that came up in her interview that led me to conclude” that she improperly unmasked the names of Trump associates or leaked it to the press.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, did not say explicitly whether Trump still believes Rice committed a crime but added the issue of leaking and unmasking needs to be investigated.

“We’ve seen illegal leaking of classified materials, including the identities of American citizens unmasked in intelligence reports,” Sanders told CNN. “That’s why the President called for Congress to investigate this matter and why the Department of Justice and Intelligence Community are doing all they can to stamp out this dangerous trend that undermines our national security.”

Just to summarize, Susan Rice unmasked the names of American citizens, which effectively means she spied on them without a warrant, because President Obama was offended that the crown prince of the UAE met with the newly elected administration without first giving him a heads up? Does that sound reasonable to everyone?

Then again, maybe this entire story from Rice/CNN is complete bullshit and was only concocted as a way to avoid admitting that the Obama White House was pissed they lost an election and basically turned the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus into a political weapon to dig up any dirt they could find on an adversary.

So, what say you?

 

In the days following the September 2012 terrorist attack on the Benghazi embassy in Libya, the Clinton State Department and Obama White House launched an all-out media propaganda blitz designed to convince Americans that the whole thing had been sparked by an ‘insensitive’ YouTube video that Muslims in Libya apparently found offensive. As you’ll undoubtedly recall, Susan Rice became the face of that propaganda blitz after appearing on every major TV network to blatantly lie to the American public.

As punishment for her lies, Rice was promptly promoted to National Security Advisor by the Obama administration.

Of course, for anyone capable of rational thought, the lies concocted by the State Department and White House were obvious attempts to coverup an inconvenient terrorist attack which occurred just weeks before the 2012 Presidential election as voters were considering whether the Obama administration had been too soft on terrorism. Apparently it worked.

That said, just in case you need more evidence that Hillary’s State Department lied about Benghazi from the start, Brad Owens and Jerry Torres, owners of the security contracting firm Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, told Fox News earlier that they were instructed by a State Department official to “stay silent and get on the same page” with regard to the security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.

But as the Obama administration and Clinton’s team struggled to answer questions about the attacks, Visintainer apparently took it one step further — summoning Jerry Torres from overseas to attend a meeting at her government office in Rosslyn, Va., in early 2013.

Torres took Fox News back to the Virginia office building where he recalled that day’s events.

“[Visintainer] said that I and people from Torres should not speak to the media, should not speak to any officials with respect to the Benghazi program,” he said.

Torres said he was afraid for his company – and hasn’t spoken publicly until now.

“We had about 8,000 employees at the time. You know, we just didn’t need that level of damage because these guys, their livelihood relies on the company,” he said. “I trust that our U.S. government is going to follow chain of command, follow procedures, follow protocols and do the right thing.”

Another part of that conversation stuck out to Torres. He said Visintainer told him “in her opinion, that guards should not be armed at U.S. embassies. She just made that blanket statement. … And she said that they weren’t required in Benghazi. So I was kind of confused about that. And she said that she would like my support in saying that if that came up. And I looked at her. I just didn’t respond.”

Meanwhile, and perhaps even more disturbing, Owens and Torres say they know for a fact the State Department knew the Benghazi attack wasn’t a spontaneous event because their firm was contacted on 8/31/12, 11 days before the attack, with regards to providing additional staffing in response to a “deteriorating” environment at the embassy.

Problems soon arose. One month before the attack — in August 2012, with The Blue Mountain Group still in charge of compound security — Ambassador Stevens and his team alerted the State Department via diplomatic cable that radical Islamic groups were everywhere and that the temporary mission compound could not withstand a “coordinated attack.” The classified cable was first reported by Fox News.

By Aug. 31, 2012, the situation had deteriorated to the point that Owens and Torres said the State Department asked them to intervene – as Owens put it, an “admission of the mistake of choosing the wrong company.”

“They came back to us and said, ‘Can you guys come in and take over security?’ Owens said. “So we were ready.”

But Torres emphasized that time was against them, saying it would have taken two-to-three weeks to get set up.

Twelve days later, the ambassador was killed. Torres learned of the attacks by watching television. He called the circumstances leading up to the tragedy “bad decision-making from top to bottom.”

“There was nothing we could’ve done about it. If we’d had one month warning … who knows what might’ve happened,” Owens said.

And, worst yet, Torres notes that all of the Obama lackeys responsible for the bad security decisions leading up to the Benghazi attack are still performing their duties under the Trump administration today.

Jerry Torres remains haunted by the fact that specific bureaucrats and policies remain in the State Department after the Benghazi attack despite tAsked if there was a specific effort by a senior State Department contracting officer to silence them, Torres said, “Absolutely, absolutely.”he change in administrations. “A U.S. ambassador is dead and nobody is held accountable for it. And three guys … all died trying to defend him,” said Torres, the company’s CEO and a former Green Beret.

Asked if there was a specific effort by a senior State Department contracting officer to silence them, Torres said, “Absolutely, absolutely.”

Owens, a former Army intelligence officer, echoed his colleague, saying those “who made the poor choices that actually, I would say, were more responsible for the Benghazi attacks than anyone else, they’re still in the same positions, making security choices for our embassies overseas now.”

Here are Owens and Torres confirming that Obama led a “scandal-free” administration:

The U.S. Army is ranked “weak” and the other branches of services “marginal” when it comes to military power, according a new think tank report. Military.com reports that overall, American military power is just “marginal” and trending toward “weak,” according to the 2017 Index of U.S. Military Power, released Wednesday by the Heritage Foundation.

The scores are based on the military’s “capability or modernity, capacity for operations, and readiness to handle assigned missions successfully,” the document states.

The group’s Army assessment is the same from last year (the index began in 2015) and stems from the service’s decision to decrease the size of the force and delay equipment upgrades to improve readiness — yet only a third of its units are prepared for war, according to the document.

“Even for units deployed abroad, the Army has had to increase its reliance on contracted support to meet maintenance requirements,” the report states. “In summary, the Army is smaller, older, and weaker, a condition that is unlikely to change in the near future.”

Military Boost

Based on the U.S. military fulfilling the strategic goal of waging two major wars at the same time, Heritage argues the size of the military must be increased to include 50 brigade combat teams in the Army, 346 surface combatants and 624 strike aircraft in the Navy, 1,200 fighter and ground-attack aircraft in the Air Force and 36 battalions in the Marine Corps.

Similarly, President-elect Donald Trump has called for increasing the size of the Army to about 540,000 active-duty soldiers, the Marine Corps to 36 battalions, the Navy to 350 surface ships and submarines, and the Air Force to at least 1,200 fighter aircraft.

The Obama administration in 2012 argued for changing the force-structure model based on the two-war scenario. The proposal came after Congress and the White House approved decade-long spending caps known as sequestration.

The Pentagon’s $583 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, requests funding for 460,000 active soldiers, 24 Marine infantry battalions, 287 naval ships and roughly 1,170 fighter aircraft (excluding A-10 ground attack aircraft) — all for the active component. The figures don’t take into account additional troops and equipment for the Guard and Reserve.

The United States spends more on defense than the next several nations combined, with annual outlays of more than $600 billion — three times more than China and seven times more than Russia, according to figures compiled earlier this year by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Other Service Rankings

The sea service is sacrificing long-term readiness to meet short-term needs, according to the Heritage report. “While the Navy is maintaining a moderate global presence, it has little ability to surge to meet wartime demands,” it states. “Deferred maintenance has kept ships at sea but is also beginning to affect the Navy’s ability to deploy.”

Despite an inventory of nearly 1,600 combat aircraft — including fifth-generation fighters such as the F-22A Raptor and the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp., the Air Force is facing a shortage of 700 pilots and 4,000 maintainers, affecting its ability to generate combat power, according to the report.

“The lack of ability to fly and maintain [aircraft], especially in a high-tempo/threat combat environment, means that its usable inventory of such aircraft is actually much smaller,” it states.

The Marine Corps also faces a partially utilized aviation fleet, with less than a third of its F/A-18 Hornets made by Boeing Co. about a quarter of its CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters made by Lockheed’s Sikorsky unit available to fly operational missions, according to the report.

While its modernization programs are relatively on track, the Corps “has only two-thirds of the combat units that it actually needs, especially when accounting for expanded requirements that include cyber units and more crisis-response forces,” it states.

Strategic Threats

Even the nation’s nuclear forces only received a score of “marginal,” according to the document.

While the delivery platforms such as the B-2 Spirit bomber “are good, the force depends on a very limited set of weapons (in number of designs) and models that are quite old, in stark contrast to the aggressive programs of competitor states,” it states.

“Russia has rattled its nuclear saber in a number of recent provocative exercises; China has been more aggressive in militarily pressing its claims to the South and East China Seas; North Korea is heavily investing in a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability; and Iran has achieved a nuclear deal with the West that effectively preserves its nuclear capabilities development program for the foreseeable future,” the document states.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made the case for a down payment of $108 billion over the next five years in the long-term effort to modernize the nation’s nuclear triad that will eventually cost hundreds of billions.

Notably, while Trump has taken a softer approach toward Russia — he recently talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the telephone about possible ways to combat terrorism and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — the Heritage report states “Russia and China continue to be the most worrisome, both because of the investments they are making in the modernization and expansion of their offensive military capabilities and because of the more enduring effect they are having within their respective regions”

As the US slams Russian bombing in Aleppo, accusing Putin of “crimes against humanity” and in the process sending US-Russian relations to levels not seen since the Cold War, it quietly sells billions in weapons and equipment to Saudi Arabia, a nation which as Hillary Clinton revealed in a “private setting” to the 2014 Jewish United Fund Advance & Major Gifts Dinner, has “exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth over the course of the last 30 years.” It also happens to be one of the biggest state donors to the Clinton Foundation. Which may explain why as Reuters reported in an exclusive story today, the Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite misgivings and warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

Citing government documents and the accounts of current and former officials, Reuters reveals that while the Obama administration and the Pentagon rail against Russian bombing in Syria, State Department officials have been skeptical – in private of course – of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover.

However, and this may be where Saudi funding for Hillary’s campaign – according to a recent report, Saudi Arabia funded 20% of Hillary’s presidential campaign – and her election came into play, government lawyers ultimately did not reach a conclusion on whether U.S. support for the campaign would make the United States a “co-belligerent” in the war under international law, Reuters said citing four current and former officials. Such a finding would have obligated Washington to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen and would have raised a legal risk that U.S. military personnel could be subject to prosecution, at least in theory.

The findings emerge days after an air strike on a wake in Yemen on Saturday that killed more than 140 people renewed focus on the heavy civilian toll of the conflict. The Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility, but the attack drew the strongest rebuke yet from Washington, which said it would review its support for the campaign to “better align with U.S. principles, values and interests.”

What Reuters’ report reveals is that instead of Russia being the war criminal, as the US has now alleged, the real aggressor would be Saudi Arabia, and the US – whose actions have enabled Saudi war crimes – would be a “co-belligerent” participant.

Reuters notes that a 2013 ruling from the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor significantly widened the international legal definition of aiding and abetting such crimes. The ruling found that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” is sufficient to determine liability for war crimes. Prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant participated in a specific crime, the U.N.-backed court found.

Ironically, and exposing the unabashed hypocrisy behind the US political system, the U.S. government already had submitted the Taylor ruling to a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to bolster its case that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda detainees were complicit in the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

The previously undisclosed material sheds light on the closed-door debate that shaped U.S. President Barack Obama’s response to what officials described as an agonizing foreign policy dilemma: how to allay Saudi concerns over a nuclear deal with Iran – Riyadh’s arch-rival – without exacerbating a conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands.

Exposing the selective morality of the US government, the documents, obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act, date from mid-May 2015 to February 2016, a period during which State Department officials reviewed and approved the sale of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia to replenish bombs dropped in Yemen. The documents were heavily redacted to withhold classified information and some details of meetings and discussion.

It gets better. While the US would take even the slightest opportunity to slam Russia for allegations of civilian deaths, State Department lawyers “had their hair on fire” as reports of civilian casualties in Yemen multiplied in 2015, and prominent human rights groups charged that Washington could be complicit in war crimes, one U.S. official said. That official and the others requested anonymity. During an October 2015 meeting with private human rights groups, a State Department specialist on protecting civilians in conflict acknowledged Saudi strikes were going awry.

The strikes are not intentionally indiscriminate but rather result from a lack of Saudi experience with dropping munitions and firing missiles,” the specialist said, according to a Department account of the meeting.

Ah, the old, they are not bloodthirsty murderers (whom we are supplying), they are just incompetent, defense. At least the US did not blame Putin’s crack team of hackers for this fiasco as well.

Meanwhile, truly pleading stupidity, the Saudi government called allegations of civilian casualties fabricated or exaggerated and has resisted calls for an independent investigation – considering the civilian death toll is estimated to be over 10,000 one can see why. The humor continued when the Saudi-led coalition has said it takes its responsibilities under international humanitarian law seriously, and is committed to the protection of civilians in Yemen. The Saudi embassy in Washington declined further comment.

In a statement issued to Reuters before Saturday’s attack, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said, “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check. … We have repeatedly expressed our deep concern about airstrikes that allegedly killed and injured civilians and also the heavy humanitarian toll paid by the Yemeni people.”

The Saudi “cooperation” with the US most certainly is not a blank check: since March 2015, Washington has authorized more than $22.2 billion in weapons sales to Riyadh, much of it yet to be delivered. That includes a $1.29 billion sale of quote-unquote precision munitions announced in November 2015 and specifically meant to replenish stocks used in Yemen.

The billions in recycled petrodollars may explain why the Pentagon and the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau leaned toward preserving good relations with Riyadh “at a time when friction was increasing because of the nuclear deal with Iran.” That’s the pretext: the real reason why it was critical to preserve good relations with Riyadh despite risks of being branded a war criminal, is to keep the money rolling in.

Still, not everyone was corrupt: the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, backed by government human rights specialists, expressed concern over U.S. complicity in possible Saudi violations of the laws of war. As Reuters adds, U.S. refueling and logistical support of Riyadh’s air force – even more than the arms sales – risked making the United States a party to the Yemen conflict under international law, three officials said.

The estimate of Yemeni casualties range from 3,800 to over 10,000, with Saudi-led airstrikes on markets, hospitals and schools accounting for 60 percent of the death toll, the United Nations human rights office said in August. However, unlike the Syria campaign, there is hardly a mention of US support of Saudi Arabia anywhere in the prime time media.

Still, in a surprising move, the UN just stopped short of accusing  accusing either side of war crimes, saying that was for a national or international court to decide. No international court has decided yet.

Reuters also reports that in August 2015, the White House convened a meeting on how best to engage the Saudis over rising civilian casualties in a sign of mounting concern over the issue. That same month, State Department officials gathered to discuss how to track those casualties. What Obama decided on was not to halt arms sales but to provide Saud Arabia with… no strike lists.

While preserving military ties with Riyadh, the Obama administration has tried to reduce civilian casualties by providing the Saudis with “no-strike lists” of targets to avoid, dispatching to Saudi Arabia a U.S. expert on mitigating civilian casualties and pressing for peace talks, the officials said.

“If we’re going to be supporting the coalition, then we have to accept a degree of responsibility for what’s happening in Yemen and exercise it appropriately,” a senior administration official said.

Did Saudi Arabia follow the no strike lists? Nope

 After ceasefire talks collapsed in August and airstrikes resumed, coalition bombs destroyed the main bridge from the port of Hodeidah to the capital of Sanaa, a main supply route for humanitarian food aid, Oxfam International said.

Another U.S. official said the bridge was on a U.S. no-strike list

Meanwhile, the sales go on. As we reported previously, despite demands to halt it, the Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year. More than 60 U.S. House of Representatives members urged Obama not to do the deal, but the push to block that sale failed in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 21.

Some critics say the administration’s approach has failed.

In the law of war, you can be guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes and at some point the … evidence is going to continue to mount and I think the administration is now in an untenable situation,” said Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and former military prosecutor.

Of course, if and when the evidence becomes too big to ignore, whoever is the prosecutor will simply be replaced, bought out or silenced by other more unconventional means, because if there is anything the past few months of Clinton scandals have shown us, it is that US foreign policy goes to the highest bidder, a list topped by – you guessed it – Saudi Arabia.

Following the White House’s decision to suspend talks with Russia regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the “efforts to end Syria’s war must continue.”

Contending Russia’s approach to the Syrian civil war is “irresponsible” due to Vladimir Putin’s support for President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. government accused Moscow of “not living up to its commitments to halt fighting and ensure aid reached besieged communities.” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., called Russia’s bombing of Aleppo an act of “barbarism.”

The decision to halt communications with Russia “on the re-institution of the cessation of the hostilities agreement,” Kerry said, did not “come lightly.He vowed to continue “to try to find a way forward in order to end this war” some other way.

But despite the United States’ vows to continue to pursue an end to the Syrian war, it’s difficult to ignore the U.S. government’s decision to halt any bilateral talks with Moscow. This is mainly because, since 2015, the Obama administration has been calling on Assad to step down, often arguing “that the dictator serves as a magnet and recruiting aid for the jihadists of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other groups engaged in the conflict.”

Unless the United States is willing to remove itself from the conflict entirely, it might be difficult for the Obama administration to “pursue peace” without being involved in regime changeespecially since the U.S. Syria campaign continues to be heavily criticized for the U.S. government’s lack of concern regarding the unintended consequences of their interference.

Furthermore, Kerry also accused Russia and Assad of “[rejecting] diplomacy in furtherance of trying to pursue a military victory over the broken bodies, the bombed-out hospitals, the traumatized children of a long-suffering land.” With these comments, Kerry seemed to sidestep the U.S. role in the suffering of the same people he professes to be concerned about, ignoring the U.S. botched military campaigns in the region — many of which targeted forces fighting terrorist groups like ISIS.

With what some might call Russia’s ongoing struggle to become less isolated at play, many believe Putin sees the support for the Syrian regime as a way to exert more power and influence in the region. But while Russia’s intentions may or may not be as honorable as its government professes, the country still has a lot to lose with the spread of Islamic terrorist forces in the region — a problem that does not impact the United States.

While the United States accuses Russia of “[bombing] civilian populations into submission,” the U.S. runs the risk of being called out for its own record of aggressive and unsuccessful military interventions in the Middle East in the past decades. But instead of admitting to its mistakes and living up to the administration’s vows to steer away from becoming more heavily involved in the Syrian civil war, the U.S. government, according to Russian officials, is pursuing a more “threatening” approach despite its promise of working for peace, using “a language of sanctions and ultimatums” and taking part in “selective cooperation with [Russia] … where this cooperation [only] benefits the United States.

While members of U.S. military leadership push back against the U.S. government’s intrusive tactics, we’re left wondering whether President Obama will escalate the American military’s involvement in Syria during his last months in office.

Instead of pushing for more involvement, he could simply be buying the government some time until the next president takes over, as Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s own campaign admits her policy toward Syria would include regime change.

The fate of the relationship between Russia and the United States may soon be in the hands of Obama’s pick, and as many have repeatedly pointed out, that could put the two major world powers at odds, igniting a conflict that could even trigger war beyond the Syrian conflict.

As relations between Russia and the US disintegrate as a result of the escalating proxy war in Syria, which today culminated with Putin halting a Plutonium cleanup effort with the US, shortly before the US State Department announced it would end negotiations with Russia over Syria, tomorrow an unprecedented 40 million Russian citizens, as well as 200,000 specialists from “emergency rescue divisions” and 50,000 units of equipment are set to take part in a four day-long civil defense, emergency evacuation and disaster preparedness drill, the Russian Ministry for Civil Defense reported on its website.

According to the ministry, an all-Russian civil defense drill involving federal and regional executive authorities and local governments dubbed “Organization of civil defense during large natural and man-caused disasters in the Russian Federation” will start tomorrow morning in all constituent territories of Russia and last until October 7. While the ministry does not specify what kind of “man-caused disaster” it envisions, it would have to be a substantial one for 40 million Russians to take part in the emergency preparedness drill. Furthermore, be reading the guidelines of the drill, we can get a rather good idea of just what it is that Russia is “preparing” for.

The website adds that “the main goal of the drill is to practice organization of management during civil defense events and emergency and fire management, to check preparedness of management bodies and forces of civil defense on all levels to respond to natural and man-made disasters and to take civil defense measures.” Oleg Manuilov, director of the Civil Defence Ministry explained that the exercise will be a test of how the population would respond to a “disaster” under an “emergency” situation.

 

Some further details, on the 3-stage, 4 day drill:

I stage: organization of civil defense actions

 

The stage is going to practice notification and gathering of senior officials of federal and regional executive authorities, local governments and civil defense forces, deployment of civil defense management system on all levels, readying civil defense communication and notification system. After the National Crisis Management Center have brought the management signals, all management bodies, state authorities, forces and facilities on duty and people will be notified through notification systems available.

 

II stage: Planning and organization of civil defense actions. Deploying a team of civil defense forces and facilities designed to respond to large disasters and fires.

 

The stage plans to practice deployment a mobile interagency multi-functional team of civil defense forces and facilities in each federal district in order to carry our rescue and other urgent operations, civil defense actions and to deploy special civil defense units in constituent territories; putting rescue military units, divisions of the federal fire service, rescue units on standby. The stage provides for the team to be reinforced, activation of backup control centers and practicing collecting and exchanging information in the field of civil defense.

 

III stage: Organization of actions of civil defense management bodies and forces for response to large disasters and fires.

 

The stage will deal with the use of the civil defense team to respond to large disasters and fires, setting up aerial and mobile control centers, revising of routes for save evacuation of people, organization of vital services; taking off fire and rescue units of the federal fire service to put out fires and conduct rescue operations at potentially dangerous facilities, including closed administrative territorial entities.

 

The drill will rehearse radiation, chemical and biological protection of the personnel and population during emergencies at crucial and potentially dangerous facilities. Fire safety, civil defense and human protection at social institutions and public buildings are also planned to be checked. Response units will deploy radiation, chemical and biological monitoring centers and sanitation posts at the emergency areas, while laboratory control networks are going to be put on standby.

The fact that among the measures tasked for the civil defense team will be a response to “disasters and fires” as well as the rehearsal of “radiation, chemical and biological protection”, makes it clear that Russia is about to hold its biggest nuclear war drill since perhaps the end of the Cold War.

Why now? Perhaps, in addition to the sharp deterioration in relations between Russia and the west, where tensions are on par with the cold war, another answer may come from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, who last week warned Congress that the implementation of a No Fly Zone in Syria as proposed by John Kerry recently, and a centerpiece of Hillary’s foreign policy strategy, would result in World War III.

During testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services last week General Joseph Dunford rang the alarm over a policy shift that is gaining more traction within the halls of Washington following the collapse of the ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia in Syria saying that it could result in a major international war which he was not prepared to advocate on behalf of. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi asked about Hillary Clinton’s proposal for a no fly zone in Syria in response to allegations that Russia and Syria have intensified their aerial bombardment of rebel-held East Aleppo since the collapse of the ceasefire.

“What about the option of controlling the airspace so that barrel bombs cannot be dropped? What do you think of that option?” asked Wicker. “Right now, Senator, for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That is a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make,” said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggesting the policy was too hawkish even for military leaders.

As a reminder, Hillary Clinton strongly argued in favor of a no fly zone ever since October 2015, just days after Russia began a bombing campaign aimed at maintaining the stability of the Syrian government. “I personally would be advocating now for a no fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air, to try to provide some way to take stock of what’s happening, to try to stem the flow of refugees,” said Clinton in an interview with NBC in October 2015.

Despite the warnings, the former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate, who has a well-known hawkish position towards regime change and matters related to Russia, has continued to advocate this position which has gained traction in recent weeks among top US diplomats.

Clinton is note alone: as the WSJ reported in June, more than 50 US diplomats endorsed a notorious dissent memo, demanding that that the Obama administration employ military options against Assad, such as the implementation of a no fly zone if not a direct attack against the Syrian regime. The argument from the diplomats is that the situation in Syria will continue to devolve without direct action by the US military, an argument of dubious legality if undertaken unilaterally without a UN Security Council resolution but which as Sputnik reports, the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has been laying the groundwork for under the controversial “right to protect” theory of international law arguing that Russia’s opposition to a resolution should be ignored because they are a party to the conflict.

Russia, in turn, has countered that if the Assad regime falls then terrorist groups including ISIS and al-Nusra Front will likely fill the resulting power vacuum descending the country into an even greater harbor for international terrorism. Ultimately, the Syrian conflict is fundamentally about the transport of energy, and whether Russia maintains its dominance over European natural gas imports, or if – with the Syrian regime deposed – a Qatar natural gas pipeline can cross the territory and make its way to Europe.

As for the Russian nuclear war drill, we can only hope that any such rising hints of nuclear warfare remain in the realm of the purely theoretical.