towards ww3

How a key Pentagon official turned China policy over to arms industry and Taiwan supporters
Gareth Porter, The Grayzone, Oct 27 2020

When the US finalized a set of seven arms sales packages to Taiwan in August, including 66 upgraded F-16 fighter planes and longer-range air-to-ground missiles that could hit sensitive targets on mainland China, it shifted US policy sharply toward a much more aggressive stance on the geo-strategic island at the heart of military tensions between the United States and China. Branded “Fortress Taiwan” by the Pentagon, the ambitious arms deal was the engineered by Randall Schriver, a veteran pro-Taiwan activist and anti-China hardliner whose think tank had been financed by America’s biggest arms contractors and by the Taiwan government itself. Since assuming the post of Asst Sec Def for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in early 2018, Schriver has focused primarily on granting his major arms company patrons the vaunted arms deals they had sought for years. The arms sales Schriver has overseen represent the most dangerous US escalation against China in years. The weapons systems will give Taiwan the capability to strike Chinese military and civilian targets far inland, thus emboldening those determined to push for independence from China. Although no US administration has committed Washington to defend Taiwan since it normalized relations with China, the Pentagon is developing the weapons systems and military strategy it would need for a full-scale war. If a conflict breaks out, Taiwan is likely to be at its center.

Schriver is a long-time advocate of massive, highly-provocative arms sales to Taiwan who has advanced the demand that the territory be treated more like a sovereign, independent state. His lobbying has been propelled by financial support from major arms contractors and Taiwan through two institutional bases: a consulting business and a “think tank” that also led the charge for arms sales to US allies in East Asia. The first of these outfits was a consulting firm called Armitage International, which Schriver founded in 2005 with Richard Armitage, a senior Pentagon and State Dept official in the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations. Schriver had served as Armitage’s Chief of Staff in State Dept and then as Deputy Asst Sec State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. (Armitage, a lifelong Republican, recently released a video endorsement of Joseph Biden for President). As a partner in Armitage International, Schriver was paid consulting fees by two major arms contractors, Boeing and Raytheon, both of which hoped to obtain arms sales to Taiwan and other East Asian allies to compensate for declining profits from Pentagon contracts.

Schriver started a second national security venture in 2008 as President and CEO of a new lobbying front called The Project 2049 Institute, where Armitage served as Chairman of the Board. The name of the new institution referred to the date by which some anti-China hawks believed China intended to achieve global domination. From its inception, The Project 2049 Institute focused primarily on US military cooperation with north-east Asian allies, and Taiwan in particular, with an emphasis on selling them more and better US arms. Schriver, known as the Taiwan government’s main ally in Washington, became the key interlocutor for major US arms-makers looking to cash in potential markets in Taiwan. He was able to solicit financial support for Institute from Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, BAE and Raytheon, according to the Institute’s internet site, which provides no figures on the amounts given by each prior to 2017. Equally important, however, is the Project 2049 Institute’s heavy dependence on grants from the government of Taiwan. The most recent annual report of the Institute shows that more than a third of its funding in 2017 came either directly from the Taiwan government or a quasi-official organization representing its national security institutions. Project 2049 received a total of $280k from the Taiwan Ministry of Defense and Taiwan’s unofficial diplomatic office in Washington (TECRO) as well as $60k from the “Prospect Foundation”, whose officers are all former top national security officials of Taiwan. Another $252k in support for Schriver’s Institute in 2017 came from the State Dept, at a time when it was taking an especially aggressive public anti-China line.

By creating a non-profit “think tank,” Schriver and Armitage had found a way to skirt rules aimed at minimizing conflicts of interest in the executive branch. The Executive Order 13770 issued by Trump in early 2017 that was supposed to tighten further restrictions on conflicts of interest barred Schriver from participation for a period of two years “in any particular matter that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients.” However, the financial support for Project 2049 from Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, General Atomics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, and from Taiwanese official and quasi-official bodies were considered as outside that prohibition, because they were not technically “clients.”

Brought into the Pentagon at the beginning 2018 to push China policy toward a more confrontational stance, Schriver spent 2018 and the first half of 2019 moving proposals for several major arms sales to Taiwan, including the new F-16s and the air-to-ground missiles capable of hitting sensitive targets in China, through inter-agency consultations. He secured White House approval for the arms packages and Congress was informally notified in Aug 2019. Congress was not formally notified of the decision until Aug 2020. That was because Trump was engaged in serious trade negotiations with China and wanted to avoid unnecessary provocation to Beijing. Lockheed Martin was the biggest corporate winner in the huge and expensive suite of arms sales to Taiwan. It reaped the largest single package of the series: a ten-year, $8b deal for which it was the “principle contractor” to provide 66 of its own F-16 fighters to Taiwan, along with the accompanying engines, radars and other electronic warfare equipment. The seven major arms sales packages included big wins for other corporate supporters as well: Boeing’s AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM), which could be fired by the F-16s and hit sensitive military and even economic targets in China’s Nanjing region, and sea surveillance drones from General Atomics.

In Feb 2020, shortly after Schriver left the Pentagon, the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen received the lobbyist in her office in Taipei and publicly thanked him for having “facilitated the sale of F-16V fighter jets to Taiwan, and attached great importance to the role and status of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region.” It was an extraordinary expression of a foreign government’s gratitude for a US official’s service to its interests. Having delivered the goods for the big military contractors and the Taiwan government, Schriver returned to the Project 2049 Institute, replacing Armitage as chairman of the board. The arms sales to Taiwan represented a signal victory for those who still hoping to reverse the official US acceptance the PRC as the legitimate government of all of China. Ever since the 1982 US-China Joint Communique, in which the US vowed that had “no intention of interfering in China’s internal affairs or pursuing a policy of “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan,” anti-China hard-liners who opposed that concession have insisted on making the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which called for the US to sell Taiwan such arms “as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” as keystone of US Taiwan policy. The neocon Project for a New American Century (PNAC) led by William Kristol and Robert Kagan wanted to go even further; it pushed for the US to restore its early Cold War commitment to defend Taiwan from any Chinese military assault. Thus a 1999 PNAC statement called on the US to “declare unambiguously that it will come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of an attack or a blockade against Taiwan, including against the offshore islands of Matsu and Kinmen.”

After leaving the World Bank in 2008 amidst a scandal involving his girlfriend, Paul Wolfowitz, the author of that 1999 statement on East Asia, turned his attention to protecting Taiwan. Despite the absence of any business interest he was known to have in Taiwan, Wolfowitz was chairman of the board of the US-Taiwan Business Council from 2008 to 2018. The Project 2049 Institute was a key member of the Council, along with all the major arms companies hoping to make sales to Taiwan. During the first days of Wolfowitz’s chairmanship, the US-China Business Council published a lengthy study warning of a deteriorating air power balance between China and Taiwan. The study was obviously written under the auspices of one or more of the major arms companies who were members, but it was attributed only to “the Council’s membership” and to “several outside experts” whom it did not name. The study criticized both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations for refusing to provide the latest F-16 models to Taiwan, warning that US forces would be forced to defend the island directly if the jets were not immediately supplied. It also called for providing Taiwan with land-attack cruise missiles capable of hitting some of the most sensitive military and civilian targets in the Nanjing province that lay opposite Taiwan.

The delicacy of the political-diplomatic situation regarding Taiwan’s status, and the reality of China’s ability to reunify the country it chooses to do so has deterred every administration since Bush 41 sold 150 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. That was, until Shriver’s provocative “Fortress Taiwan” sale went through. The triumph of corporate and foreign interests in determining one of the most consequential US decisions regarding China is likely to bedevil US policy for years to come. At a moment when the Pentagon is pushing a rearmament program based mainly on preparation for war with China, an influential former official backed by arms industry and Taiwanese money has helped set the stage for a potentially catastrophic confrontation.

Amid tense India-China border stand-off, US and India boost military-security partnership
Deepal Jayasekera, Keith Jones, WSWS, oct 29 2020

Amid the ongoing tense border stand-off between tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese troops, India and the US held the third edition of their 2+2 dialogue, a summit between their foreign and defence ministers, on Tuesday in Delhi. The main aim of the meeting, which was attended by Pompeo, Esper and their Indian counterparts, was to boost their countries’ military-strategic partnership, which is aimed above all at China. India’s government, led by Narendra Modi, has exploited the border dispute, which erupted last May, to further integrate Delhi into Washington’s military-strategic offensive against Beijing. The Trump administration has been more than willing to reciprocate, since in response to the further decline in the world position of US imperialism triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is dramatically intensifying its campaign of diplomatic, economic and strategic pressure on China and accelerating its plans for war with its nuclear-armed rival. This is a bipartisan policy of American imperialism that will continue irrespective of the outcome of next week’s presidential election.

The conflict between India and China over their disputed Himalayan border continues to percolate. Both sides have mobilised upwards of 50k troops, and forward deployed warplanes, missile and anti-missile batteries near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the undefined boundary which separates the world’s two most populous countries. The border conflict is currently focused in the east, where Indian-controlled Ladakh adjoins Chinese-held Aksai Chin. From its outset, Washington has provocatively intruded in the current dispute, denouncing Chinese “aggression” and egging India on in adopting a hard-line stance. In so doing, it has greatly heightened the risk that the conflict, which has already resulted in dozens of fatalities, could spiral into all-out war. Washington’s stance is in striking contrast with the public pose of neutrality it adopted in 2017, when Indian and Chinese troops confronted each other for 73 days on the Doklam Plateau, territory claimed by both China and Bhutan, a Himalayan state New Delhi has long treated like a protectorate.

Underscoring the change in the US stance, American officials have repeatedly linked Chinese “aggression” against India to its actions in the South China Sea, where the US has incited territorial disputes between China and its neighbours and mounted a series of naval and military provocations against Beijing. The visit by Pompeo and Esper succeeded in further integrating India into Washington’s war plans against China. Washington and New Delhi signed the long-negotiated Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on Oct 27. It will allow sharing of high-end military technology and classified satellite and other data between the two countries. Finalization of the BECA will open the door to India acquiring armed US-made Predator drones and the sharing between Washington and New Delhi of geospatial information necessary for accurate missile and drone targeting.

The two sides also reportedly discussed a wide range of weapons deals and arms development projects, including the production of small drones that would be used in drone swarm attacks. Press reports suggested that India made an urgent request for extreme-winter fighting gear so it can sustain its deployment of troops in inhospitable Himalayan terrain, including on remote mountain ridges on its border with China that were captured during a provocative operation involving thousands of troops in late August. After three decades of US-led wars, the outbreak of a third world war, which would be fought with nuclear weapons, is an imminent and concrete danger. Following the talks, Pompeo said:

Together, we are taking steps for cooperation against all manners of threats from the Chinese Communist Party. Our leaders and our citizens see with increasing clarity the CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, the freedom of navigation [which is] the foundation of a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific. The US will stand with the people of India as they face threats to their sovereignty and their liberty.

In a further barb aimed at Beijing, he noted that he had visited the National War Memorial, where he had honoured the 20 Indian soldiers “killed by the PLA in the Galwan Valley” on the evening of Jun 15. Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said that the 2+2 discussions had a “political military” content. Explaining that India’s growing partnership with US imperialism has a global reach, he added:

Our national security convergences have obviously grown in a more multipolar world. We meet today to not only advance our own interests but to ensure that our bilateral cooperation makes a positive contribution in the world arena.

The central importance the US attaches to the Indian Ocean in its strategic offensive against China is a key factor behind Washington’s push for an ever closer military-strategic partnership with India. Sea routes vital for China’s export trade and its imports of oil and other raw materials pass through the Indian Ocean. In recent weeks, India has taken an important initial step toward mounting joint Indian Ocean naval patrols with the US, a long-standing Washington ambition, by organizing two impromptu exercises with US aircraft carrier battle groups passing through the Indian Ocean.

Signalling India’s further integration into the US-led security alliance against China in the Asia-Pacific, New Delhi last week invited Australia to participate in the annual Malabar naval exercise, to be held next month. This will be the first joint military exercise bringing India together with the US and its two main Asia-Pacific treaty allies, Japan and Australia. It is widely viewed as opening the door for the US-led ‘Quad’ becoming a NATO-style military alliance. India had previously been reluctant to invite Australia to join the Malabar exercise for fear of antagonizing China. Referring to the wider reach of India-US military cooperation throughout the Asia-Pacific region, Esper said:

Our focus now must be on institutionalising and regularising our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future.

As part of these growing military ties, Washington is pushing New Delhi to purchase more weaponry from US firms instead of Russia. India has purchased $21b of US-made military equipment since 2007. Confronting a mounting socioeconomic crisis that has been greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing social opposition, the Modi government is doubling down on “pro-market,” neo-liberal “reform” and on the pursuit of ever-closer relations with US imperialism, that is on the strategic orientation pursued by the Indian bourgeoisie and every one of its governments since 1991. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have initiated a “quantum jump” in pro-investor reforms, including the gutting of labour laws, a fire sale of public assets, and measures to boost agribusiness at the expense of small famers. At the same time, in pursuit of the Indian bourgeoisie’s predatory great-power ambitions and so as to strengthen its hand against a rebellious working class at home, the Modi government is cementing India’s role as a junior partner of US imperialism and anti-China front-line state. Washington has pledged to assist India in pressing American and western-based companies to make India an alternate production-chain hub to China. Significantly, both New Delhi and Washington see armaments production as a key element in this plan. Washington is eager to exploit Indian cheap labour, but also to use expanded investments as a further mechanism to harness India to its predatory strategic agenda.

The BECA is the last of four “foundational” agreements Washington has pressed India to sign so as to create the framework for close Indo-US military cooperation and joint action. The first foundational agreement, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was signed in 2002. It ensured security standards for the safeguarding of critical information shared by the US with India. In 2016, the US designated India as a “Major Defence Partner,” allowing India to purchase technologically-advanced US weapon systems limited to Washington’s closest NATO and non-NATO treaty allies like Australia. In 2016, Washington and New Delhi signed a second foundational agreement, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), that grants Pentagon warplanes and warships access to Indian bases and vice versa. And in 2018, they signed a third foundational agreement, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and the sale of high end technology from the US to India.

In a major shift in Jan 2015, eight months after Modi and his Hindu supremacist BJP came to power, India adopted the US line on the South China Sea dispute and has parroted it ever since. The Joint Statement issued at the conclusion of the Pompeo-Esper visit predictably raised this issue. In a clear strategic favour to India, the Joint Statement also included warnings against Pakistan, India’s historic rival and on whom Delhi places all blame for the mass disaffection of the Muslim population in Indian-held Kashmir and the continuing Islamist separatist insurgency there. The statement said:

We denounce the use of terrorist proxies and strongly condemn cross-border terrorism in all its forms. We urge Pakistan to take immediate, sustained and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks, and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators and planners of all such attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai, Uri, and Pathankot.

The entire Indian ruling elite is backing New Delhi’s growing military-strategic partnership with the US and aggressive stance against China. The main opposition Congress Party has repeatedly attacked Modi from the right, alleging his government has not done enough to counter “Chinese aggression.” While claiming to oppose the India-US alliance, the Stalinist Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI-M is deepening its alliance with the Congress, which it trumpets as a “democratic, secular” alternative to the BJP. It was the Congress-led UPA government, which held office for a decade prior to Modi’s election in May 2014, that first forged a “global strategic partnership” with the US under Bush 43.

The Pompeo-Esper visit to India is part of a broader US drive to integrate the countries of South Asia into its war drive against China and make the Indian Ocean and, in particular, various Indian Ocean chokepoints, a key arena in any economic blockade or war with China. Pompeo flew to Sri Lanka from India on Tuesday evening and engaged in talks with Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on Wednesday. From there he flew to the Maldives, a tiny, thousand-island-chain state that, like Sri Lanka, lies close to the main Indian Ocean sea lanes. In September, Washington announced a defence agreement with the Maldives. India, which in the past had sought to deter the US from gaining a strategic foothold in what it considers its backyard, immediately voiced its strong support for the pact, few details of which have been publicly disclosed.

Half of India’s population could be infected with COVID-19 by next February
Wasantha Rupasinghe, WSWS, Oct 29 2020

While the Indian government of Narendra Modi and the media are boasting of a “sharp fall” in the number of COVID-19 infections, a committee appointed by the government warned half of the population of 1.3b would be infected by February next year. As of yesterday, India’s tally of coronavirus cases rose to 7.94m, with 36,370 new cases over the previous 24 hours. The total death toll rose to 119.5k, with 488 deaths in the last 24 hours. A week before, the number of daily confirmed cases was 46.8k, and at the beginning of October, the number of daily infections was 86,821. The fall has prompted the health ministry to declare that India was “fortunate to have the decline in numbers.” However, India is currently the second worst impacted country in the world behind only the US. Moreover, the official numbers are highly understated. Speaking to Reuters on Oct 19, Manindra Agrawal, a professor at the India Institute for Technology, said:

Our mathematical model estimates that around 30% of the population is currently infected and it could go up to 50% by February.

He is a member of a government-appointed, 10-member committee on the pandemic. The estimate is much higher than the government’s serological surveys which showed that 14 percent of the population had been infected as of September. The committee, headed by the government’s think tank NITI Aayog member V.K. Paul, was appointed to study the progress of the COVID-19 virus in India. Among its findings, it warned:

India may see an exponential increase of 260k cases in a month because of the festival season if precautions are not followed.

Noting that Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal are still seeing a rise in the number of cases, it stated:

A second wave of coronavirus can’t be ruled out in winter.

At the same time, the committee report tried to downplay the disastrous situation for which the government is responsible. It declared that India had reached the peak in COVID-19 cases in September, and “now is on the downward slope.” It also claimed that the COVID-19 curve had “flattened” and the “early lockdown bolstered by better-equipped health care system helped in flattening the curve.” In fact, India’s highly under-funded public healthcare system has been overwhelmed by a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 infections. Trying to paint a rosy picture, Modi on Oct 26 tweeted:

We are seeing a decline in the number of cases per day and the growth rate of cases. India has one of the highest recovery rates of 88% because we were one of the first countries to adopt a flexible lockdown.

Modi’s announcement is absurd, given the obvious fact that India’s two months long lockdown was a disaster for hundreds of millions Indian workers and the oppressed who lost their jobs. Many millions were pushed into extreme poverty without any income and enough food. Moreover, Modi’s lockdown has failed to control the pandemic as it was not implemented with mass testing, contact tracing and, most importantly, a massive financial boost to the public health-care system. In response to demands from big business, the government eased the restrictions from the end of April leading to an exponential growth of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Following in the footsteps of his counterparts around world including Trump and Bolsonaro, Modi has unofficially adopted the homicidal “herd immunity policy,” allowing the pandemic to run freely across the country. In a televised address on Oct 20, Modi reiterated his claims, saying that in comparison to the US and Brazil, India’s death rate of 83 per 1m persons was low. While the figure is low, it may well be the result of a gross under-reporting of deaths due to COVID-19. The apparent fall in COVID-19 cases is also likely to be an understatement due to a decrease in the number of tests. India is among the countries with the lowest levels of testing. An article published in September by the Hindu noted:

In at least 10 states there was a sharp fall in the number of tests conducted in the last 10 days despite an increase in the share of people testing positive.

The worst hit is the state of Maharashtra. According to the Times of India, daily testing has fluctuated widely, from a high of over 1.2m to under 900k. shows a sharp decline by more than half in the testing rate, from 1.08 per 1k people on Oct 1 to 0.62 per 1k people on Oct 19. While the government is downplaying the dangers, a BBC article on Oct 19 wrote:

Most epidemiologists believe that another peak is inevitable and that northern India will likely see a rise in caseloads during a smog-filled winter that begins in November. Dr Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of bio-statistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan, told the BBC: “It is far too soon to say that the pandemic is receding. There could be a rise in deaths in the winter due to pollution, which is especially bad for respiratory diseases.”

Exponential growth of infections beginning from May is related to Modi’s unstated policy of “herd immunity,” allowing the virus to run rampant, that will hit the most vulnerable layers of the population, particularly the elderly, the hardest. Acting on the demands of the business elite, Modi has reopened businesses and other institutions exposing many millions to the deadly virus. Like its counterparts around the world, the Indian ruling elite is prioritising economic activity and corporate profits over the health and lives of workers and rural toilers.

US threatens military strikes against Iran and Venezuela
Bill Van Auken, WSWS, Oct 28 2020

A senior Trump administration official threatened this week that Washington would carry out military action to prevent Iran’s sale of missiles to Venezuela, either by means of confiscating the weapons on the high seas or destroying them with air strikes if they were to reach the South American country. The threat was issued by Elliott Abrams, who holds the combined posts of US special envoy for both Venezuela and Iran. A veteran right-wing operative, Abrams was convicted in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, when he played a central role in creating a covert and illegal network for funding the terrorist “Contra” forces organized by the CIA to attack Nicaragua. He has remained a thuggish defender of every crime carried out by US imperialism internationally. Abrams said:

The transfer of long-range missiles from Iran to Venezuela is not acceptable to the US and will not be tolerated or permitted. We will make every effort to stop shipments of long-range missiles, and if somehow they get to Venezuela they will be eliminated there. Every delivery of Iranian arms destabilizes South America and the Caribbean, and is especially dangerous to Venezuela’s neighbors in Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana.

The three named countries were visited last month by Pompeo in an anti-Venezuela, anti-China tour of Latin America that was accompanied by threatening joint maneuvers by US troops and the Colombian armed forces. While Abrams presented no evidence of any imminent missile deal between Tehran and Caracas, his threat follows the Oct 18 lifting of a UN ban on Iran’s purchase or sale of conventional weapons that had been imposed in 2007. The restriction was ended as part of the 2015 JCPoA, whereby Iran agreed to restrictions on its civilian nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. While the Trump administration unilaterally abrogated the accord in 2018, imposing a “maximum pressure” sanctions regime tantamount to an act of war, it nonetheless arrogantly demanded that the UN invoke a “snapback” provision to reimpose international sanctions, and in particular the arms embargo. The proposal found no support from the other signatories of the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the EU, and was rejected by the UNSC. After three decades of US-led wars, the outbreak of a third world war, which would be fought with nuclear weapons, is an imminent and concrete danger.

In response, Washington has intensified its own regime of punishing international sanctions. In addition to imposing secondary sanctions against any entity trading in arms with Iran, it extended its financial blockade of the country to virtually every Iranian bank, even further hindering Iran’s importation of vitally-needed food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. On Monday, US Treasury Sec Mnuchin announced yet another round of sanctions, targeting the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company, and the National Iranian Tanker Company effectively as terrorist entities on the grounds that oil revenues have funded the IRGC. Washington has also branded the IRGC as a terrorist organization, the first time that such a designation has been employed against any country’s armed forces. Iran’s Foreign Ministry denounced the unrelenting escalation of US sanctions in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. the ministry tweeted:

Corona’s proven deadly, vicious & brutal everywhere, but it’s worse in Iran as it has a cruel collaborator: US regime. US has elevated maximum pressure to Health Terrorism & targeted Iranian people with inhuman sanctions while they’re fighting the pandemic. We’ll overcome but NEVER forget.

On Wednesday, Iran reported 415 COVID-19 deaths, the highest one-day total since the pandemic began. This brings the country’s official death toll to 33,714. It also reported another 6,824 confirmed coronavirus infections, bringing the total number to 558,648. Iran has been the country hardest hit by the coronavirus in the Middle East. Even before the pandemic, unilateral US sanctions blocked Iran’s access to medications, leading to numerous preventable deaths from cancer and other diseases. Now, Iranian hospitals are reportedly overwhelmed and undersupplied, with ambulances driving patients to one facility after another searching for available beds. In addition to the US sanctions regime, the pandemic has been exacerbated by the policies of Iran’s bourgeois government, which recklessly sought to reopen schools and the economy with the spread of the virus still out of control. Iran has defended its right to sell arms in defiance of Washington’s unilateral sanctions. Iran’s Defense Minister Brig-Gen Amir Hatami said last Sunday that Tehran was prepared to sell weapons to countries under attack by Washington. Hatami said:

Many countries have already talked to us; we have held negotiations with some countries, and the grounds are totally prepared for exchanges, both for selling and for supplying certain needs of our own.

Iran and Venezuela have conducted trade, particularly in terms of Iranian shipments of gasoline and oil products, despite US threats to seize such shipments on the high seas. A seizure of an Iranian vessel shipping arms to the South American country would have the potential of triggering retaliation and the eruption of a wider war throughout the Middle East. Washington came to the brink of provoking such a conflict at the beginning of this year with its drone missile assassination of one of Iran’s top officials, Gen Qassem Suleimani, after he arrived at Baghdad’s international airport for an official state visit. Since then, the US has steadily escalated both sanctions and military provocations, including the dispatch of a US Navy carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf for the first time in a year, along with open threats to carry out military strikes against Iranian-aligned militias in Iraq.

A similar escalation of military threats has been carried out against Venezuela, with the deployment of the largest US force in the region since the Panama invasion of 1989 under the phony pretext of interdicting drugs. Despite the abject failure of Washington’s puppet, self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó, to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro, including through an attempted military putsch and an invasion by US mercenaries, the Trump administration remains committed to regime change. According to Bloomberg, it sent its former ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to meet Venezuelan Vice President for Communications Jorge Rodriguez in Mexico last month with the aim of brokering Maduro’s ouster. The talks reportedly went nowhere. The Trump administration had hoped to pull off a foreign policy coup, particularly with an eye to Cuban and Venezuelan exile voting blocs in Florida.

With the US election barely a week away and Trump’s campaign in crisis, there is a clear and present danger that his administration may deliberately provoke a war. While such an action has been generally referred to in American politics as an “October Surprise,” with Trump threatening to reject the results of the election if he loses, such a deadly “surprise” could well be staged in December or January to derail a transfer of power and create the pretext for martial law. Such a political maneuver would count on the Democrats subordinating themselves to the military under conditions of war. The working class must prepare to conduct its own struggle against the war danger by building a mass independent political movement fighting for socialist policies and against all the parties of the capitalist ruling elite and the profit system. This is the perspective fought for only by the SEP.

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