Previous posts in this discussion:
PostUS Seizure of Four Tankers in International Law (George Aucoin, -France, 08/17/20 3:59 am)
John E asked about the legality of the US seizure of four oil tankers headed from Iran to Venezuela.
The US Government filed a lawsuit in Federal Court last month related to Iran's violation of US sanctions on the terrorist state and emerged with a warrant signed by a Federal Judge for seizure of the contraband cargo.
US Allies were involved. No military force was used. Shippers, their creditors, and port facilities were persuaded, through the means described above, to hand over the ships' cargo to US control.
That's how it's done. Legally, effectively, and in accordance with US and International law.
JE comments: Appreciate the explanation, George. Does International Law permit one nation to enforce its sanctions on the high seas? As I understand it, the UN sanctions on Iran have to do with materials related to its nuclear program. It is not (internationally) illegal for Iran to export oil, nor for another nation to buy it. What am I missing here?
Imagine if Iran seized a US cargo bound, say, for Saudi Arabia. Wouldn't we consider this an act of war?
Sanctions, Lawful Seizure...or Piracy?
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
08/17/20 7:31 AM)
Very good comment from our esteemed moderator JE on the post of George Aucoin (17 August).
The legality of the confiscation of four tankers with Iranian oil is only due to the strength of the Empire, which can commit any act of piracy on the high seas. The Federal Court is part of this pirate act.
Finally, the sanctions are a criminal act that the Empire imposes on other nations that are too weak to contest.
Similar acts were already performed by the US on 29 March 1941 against the ships of Italy and Germany. At first it was without retaliation but it did lead to US involvement in WWII. Are we desperately looking for war, maybe to win the November elections?
JE comments: One person's piracy is another's legitimate application of naval law. I am somewhat reminded of the old distinction between pirates and privateers. The latter did the same thing but carried a letter of marque. I'm curious why the US seized the tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, instead of allowing them to travel on their own "dime" all the way to the Caribbean. Any thoughts/speculations?
Why Call the US the "Empire"?
(Brian Blodgett, USA
08/18/20 4:48 AM)
Greetings to Eugenio Battaglia and others. For some time now I noticed that the United States of America is being branded as the "Empire" by some members of WAIS and I would like to know when this Empire began, in your opinion, and why.
JE comments: Excellent question, Brian! Eugenio Battaglia has called the US the "Empire" for as long as we've known him, and it's become one of his signature phrases, together with describing his native Italy as "lay, democratic and anti-fascist, born of the Resistance." Alternately, Eugenio calls Italy after 1945 an obedient "lackey of the Empire." Why? Well, that's our beloved Bastian Contrario!
Eugenio, don't you really mean "hegemon" instead of "Empire"? The states of Europe have marched in step with US wishes most of the time since 1945, but they are far from colonies or even "neo-colonies" in the commonly understood sense. As a parallel thought, shouldn't New York reconsider its Empire State status? (Some credit George Washington with giving NY the name.) Empires are no longer fashionable, but "Fourth Largest State by Population" doesn't have the same cachet.
Origins of the US "Empire"
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
08/19/20 6:01 AM)
I wish to thank Brian Blodgett and our esteemed moderator for their kind greetings and nice words in the post of 18 August. I will try to answer the questions about the US "Empire."
First of all, I did not know that Florida lately surpassed the state of New York in population. I was convinced that it was still the third, as the US is also the third country in the world in population, 330,000 million after the two behemoths China 1.435 and India 1.370 billion. Soon India will be the first, while Indonesia now at 271 million may overtake the US. Italy is 23rd with 60 million, while Russia is 9th with 146 million. The smallest "nation" at 233rd is the Vatican with 800 inhabitants.
Professor Daniel Immerwahr (Northwestern U) states in his book How to Hide an Empire: "The US is an empire that has always denied being such." For sure he can explain this much better than me.
However, I will offer my impressions. The US from its very beginning had the "empire state of mind." I already mentioned the myths of "City on the Hill" and "Manifest Destiny" in a previous post.
Immerwahr seems to indicate that the Empire started from 1898 with the annexation of Hawaii and the (false flag?) war against Spain. About the Philippines, many do not know that the US suppressed the archipelago's first and second republics. The first following the conquering war of 1898-1902 and the second granted by Japan in 1943 with president José Paciano Laurel, who participated at the Tokyo Conference November 1943 of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere with the allied chiefs of state of Manchukuo, Republic of Nanking, Burma, Free India (with the famous Subhas Chandra Bose) and Thailand. (Maybe you wish to call them puppet states.)
The Empire is a great thalassocracy, dominating all the oceans with its extremely powerful fleets, while on land it is not the same as the old European empires. It is an empire dominating the various nations with its 800+ military bases. Consider that all other nations in total may have only a few dozen in foreign countries. Significantly, the largest bases are still in the defeated former Axis countries. There are problems with the locals; see protests in Okinawa, and Niscemi (MUOS) in Sicily. Lately German sentiment is also against the US bases.
The Empire is also economically hegemonic, as it can easily impose sanctions, which must be followed by all its allies (colonies).
However, the Empire, lately pushed by extreme capitalism/globalism, has made a terrible mistake as it has outsourced too many industries looking for cheap labor. But this fact has impoverished its middle class and put the nation at the mercy of foreign states, which now have a monopoly on many items. Do not forget, some autarky is imperative.
This process started with the foreign sailors. At first, cheaper Italian seamen were placed on Liberian or Panamanian ships owned by US interests (and we were so proud), but when the Italian crews became too expensive it was the turn of Koreans, Taiwanese, then Filipinos and so on. When I was in Chicago every quarter I would argue with my company's accountants, who were always finding some new cheaper crew, no matter how skilled or reliable they could be from a seamanship point of view.
Anyway, this outsourcing of crews was not so bad or dangerous, as it was well known that in case of emergency all these ships would have received orders from the US Navy.
But the real founder of the Great Empire, in my opinion, was FDR and his willingness to enter WWII with any possible excuse, providing the blame could be placed on the enemy. But he was so damned smart that even before entering the war he had already neutralized the British Empire with the accords "Destroyers for Bases" (2 September 1940) and "Lend-Lease" (11 March 1941).
JE comments: I've never considered that the process of US "outsourcing" began with Merchant Marine crews. As for the origins of US imperialism, we could also go back to the Mexican-American war of 1846-'48. Or how about the Louisiana Purchase (1803)? The US didn't extend its ambitions overseas until it had fully occupied this continent. There's a parallel here with the Russian Empire.
We've all heard of (and shudder to recall) the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, but what do we really know about it? Some more benevolent interpretations claim that Japan's theorists of "Co-Prosperity" took inspiration from the Monroe Doctrine and US hegemony over Latin America. Japan also based its rhetoric on anti-imperialism of the Western kind, which is ironic given its brutal imperialist actions.
Who can tell us more? Any interest in a "Co-Prosperity Week" on WAIS?
Empire, Hegemon, or Old-Fashioned Bully?
(Enrique Torner, USA
08/19/20 1:47 PM)
I think it is time for me to add my grain of salt to the "empire" discussion.
My WAISer friend Eugenio Battaglia has, for as long as I remember, referred to the US as the "American empire." My impression is that, when he does so, it seems to me that he uses the term as a synonym of "hegemony" or, if we want to use a colloquial term, a "bully."
From an academic and historic perspective, having studied empires over the last few years, even though, as Eugenio noted, some historians refer or have referred recently to the US as empire, I am afraid I have to disagree with this terminology.
Let's look at some definitions of "empire":
1) A first Google search renders the following definition: "an extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, formerly especially an emperor or empress." Under this definition, the US fails to be an empire: can anybody name a country ("state" is here used as a synonym of "country") that belongs to the US? Yes, the US took the Philippines from Spain, but it does not belong to the US anymore. For what I know, neither Alaska, Hawaii, or anything similar fall under this category. Puerto Rico, which belonged to Spain, would, but, even if we take into account all of the current possessions of the US outside its territories into account, it is far from being "an extensive group of states or countries." In addition, the US does not have a single supreme authority as an emperor or empress: the US president does not have the power of an emperor, and any attempt at that could easily lead to his/her impeachment.
2) Dictionary.com offers the following definition: "noun. a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government: usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom, as the former British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire, Byzantine Empire, or Roman Empire." So here we have "a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor... or other powerful sovereign or government... of greater extent than a kingdom..." There is no group of nations ruled over by the US, so that rules the US out of being an empire.
3) Interestingly enough, after Googling "define empire," way at the top, I encountered the question, "Is the US an empire?" Here is the answer: "The federal government of the United States has never referred to its territories as an empire, but some commentators refer to it as such, including Max Boot, Arthur Schlesinger, and Niall Ferguson." However, these commentators are a minority: most academicians deny their claim, as I do. What the US has is a global influence, an important power over most of the other nations because of its geographical extent, an economy (the dollar being considered the global currency) that is above most other economies, despite its deficit and debt, and a military presence in places all over the world. However, this global presence does not have the intention of conquering other lands, unlike previous empires pretended.
4) Wikipedia has an interesting article on "American imperialism" that you may read:
I find the following article on empires more interesting and enlightening:
In conclusion, I disagree with Eugenio calling the US an empire, though we could call about its intention of having a global influence, but not with an intention of widening its territory, which I find the main characteristic of an empire, but with the intention of keeping the peace, or with other intentions, but not with the intention of colonizing, unlike the historical empires: the British, the Spanish, the French, the Roman, the Greek, the Persian, to mention a few.
I find it ironic that it is Eugenio Battaglia, who is from Italy, the one WAISer to call the US an empire, when Rome (now part of Italy) had one of the largest and mightiest empires in history. Also ironic is the fact that, despite Rome having been such a great and wide empire, there was no Italy until 1861, having been just a bunch of city-states for many centuries. I find Italy such a great paradox: in a way, it has a long and amazing history; in another, it is a very young country.
JE comments: We can confidently say there will never again be an empire in the "classic" definition of metropole and colonies. Still, the United States acts in many ways that remind one of the empires of yore. The second link above is sobering if you're a fan of American hegemony: No empire (or "empire") in modern times has lasted more than a few centuries. The longest-lived one in history is also eponymously famous for its complexity and dysfunction: the Byzantine Empire, which lasted 1000 years.
Is the US an Empire?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
08/21/20 4:42 AM)
My tech support person just fixed some password glitch that was very irritating, so I am very happy to comment on this empire discussion.
First, some wise old lady once said: If it looks like a duck and quacks like one, it is one.
Second, my dear friend and marvelous olive oil supplier Captain Battaglia said the US is an empire, so by God it is an empire. I believe he is an expert on such matters.
Third, since after WWII the US was a very nice and well-camouflaged empire under construction. Once its main rival, the USSR, was no more, whenever its will was not followed peacefully, the empire fangs would execute under pretexts of all sorts: freedom, democracy, the rule of law, motherhood, apple pie, etc. Today the gloves are off, even with old friends and partners.
Just make a list of all the nations which the US government has screwed one way or the other for whatever reason. It's one hell of a long list. One can say that does not fit the old definition of empire. The real definition is based on the use of power to manipulate other nations militarily, economically, financially, technologically, religiously, etc.
On the other hand, I must admit that I prefer to be a citizen of the screwer than the screwee nation while continually asking the question why can't we all get along? That is humans for you. Today we can't blame the damned Soviets, Saddam Hussein, Mossadegh, Gaddafi, etc. so let's blame the Iranians, Maduro, the Chinese, Assad, etc. What is the difference as long as we get our way?
JE comments: Glad you got your computer issue fixed, Tor. I'm writing this on WAISworld's new Laptop One, an HP "Envy" 360. It's the fourth machine since I became editor in 2006, and the first non-MacBook. Derek at Best Buy pointed out that if I jumped the Goodship Apple, I'd get more features and power at a lower price. Sounds good to me.
MacBook #3 served WAIS faithfully for nearly eight years, but it couldn't be updated to do Zoom, Webex, and all the demands of Covid culture. Planned obsolescence, indeed.
Apologies for going on a tangent, Tor, but there may be a relevance here. My new HP was designed in Palo Alto and built in China. This says something profound about empire and hegemony.
- Is the US an Empire? Does the Discussion Matter? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/21/20 6:08 AM)
I have been reading the latest posts on whether the United States is an empire or not, and I cannot resist adding my thoughts.
In the first place, it seems to me the debate is a classic Byzantine discussion, which does not add or reduce anything to the true hegemonic role of the United States in contemporary times. In second place, it seems that being labeled an "empire" is tantamount to an insult, an offense inadmissible to the sensibilities of some people. Historically empires have not in themselves been nefarious and evil institutions, although imperial powers have often abused their colonies, with slavery and economic exploitation. It is also true that they have made significant and important contributions in many, if not most, fields of human development.
Now, clinging to a scholastic and formal definition to claim that the US is not an empire seems a futile effort that denies reality. Indeed, the United States has dominated the political and diplomatic scene for many decades. Its influence in most parts of the world has been undeniable. Its economic and commercial hegemony has allowed its own growth and control over many other regional economies, and of course its military and technological power still allows it to maintain a dominant presence and influence in many regions of the world or even to exert it actively. It is not necessary to add that its cultural influence has marked and influenced worldwide generations. These aspects, in my opinion, constitute the characteristic profile of an "empire" in a historical and real sense. As is commonly said, "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is surely a duck."
It seems very difficult for humanity in general to resign itself to the fact that there is always a hegemonic power, an "empire" that at least temporarily controls its destiny. The question of how long the so-called "empire" can last is interesting, and I suppose many of us have been intrigued. It is hard to say, but the growing importance of the main US adversary China and the speculation that they will overtake the United States in this race for world hegemony is telling. In this sense I was reading the news a few days ago about the agreement of intent between China and Iran, for the investment of US$250 billion in 25 years, in infrastructure, construction, industries, etc. that seems to represent a further step for China in its strategy of the new "Silk Road" to increase its sphere of influence and reduce that of its rival in that race.
JE comments: It's appropriate to label this discussion Byzantine. Yesterday I pointed out that Byzantium has the honor of the longest-lasting empire in human history. It was truly a "thousand-year Reich"--1058 years to be precise. Second place goes to the equally millennial Holy Roman Empire. Significantly, both empires were multi-lingual and multicultural. And neither is remembered as particularly orderly or efficient.
Nacho Soler has made an important observation: labeling a country "imperial" is an insult in the present age. As recently as a century ago, it was something even the "minor" powers strove for.
A final thought for possible discussion: is it legitimate to define empire in terms of "soft power," or do you need the money and guns?
How Long Did Byzantium Last?
(Harry Papasotiriou, Greece
08/22/20 4:46 AM)
John, how do you get the Byzantine Empire lasting 1058 years?
JE comments: I did it the old-fashioned way: with a link! Sorry for the slipshod scholarship; I would reprimand my students for such a thing. This link was sent by Enrique Torner a few days ago:
The "expiration date" for the Byzantines clearly dates to the 1453 fall of Constantinople, but what about the beginning? The FP article above cites the death of Theodosius in 395 CE. Some would go back to the refounding of the "New Rome" (Constantinople) in 330.
Harry, you clearly know more about the history of your neck of the woods. How do you interpret these dates?
When Did the Byzantine Empire Begin?
(Harry Papasotiriou, Greece
08/23/20 4:47 AM)
No Byzantine would describe his or her empire as Byzantine. The emperor
Basil II, who ruled from 976 to 1025, explicitly named Ceasar Augustus
as the founder of his empire in the preamble of a "neara" (new
legislation) in 996.
If we define as Byzantine the continuation of the
Roman empire when ruled from Constantinople (built on the site of the
ancient city of Byzantium), then it would be from AD 330 to 1453.
Taking the death of Theodosius as the starting date was presumably done
because after him the administrative division of the Roman empire
between a western and an eastern part became permanent.
JE comments: Do I understand correctly that the Byzantines considered themselves Roman, pure and simple? Harry Papasotiriou makes an interesting observation about empires: the more hegemonic you are, the less precision you need when naming yourself. The Inca Empire considered itself simply the "Four Parts of the World." Likewise, the Chinese with their Middle Kingdom took it for granted that they were the center of the world, surrounded by barbarians. Possibly a parallel exists here with the United States, which has appropriated the term "America" from our cousins on this/these continents.
Muscovy later boarded the Rome bandwagon, calling itself the Third Rome (after Constantinople passed into Ottoman hands).
- Seizure of Iranian Oil, Sanctions, and International Law (George Aucoin, -France 08/18/20 9:17 AM)
International Law recognizes lawful international agreements between sovereigns. By any chance do any WAISers remember this quote from five years ago to the day--
"If at any time The United States believes Iran has failed to meet its commitments, no other State can block our ability to snap back those multilateral sanctions."
Anyone? Let me help out. None other than the 44th President of the United States Barack H. Obama on August 19, 2015, while touting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
The JCPOA was Obama's signature foreign policy accomplishment in eight years. It guaranteed Iran nuclear weapons capability if only they would wait until Obama was long out of office.
The quoted statement above is as true today as it was in 2015 and the basis for Trump's Iran foreign policy of "Maximum Pressure" against the World's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran acknowledges that it refuses to meet its commitments under the JCPOA. Selling refined gasoline to Venezuela is inimical to the US foreign policy of driving Iran's foreign petroleum sales to zero.
The rest, as they say, is just follow-through.
JE comments: George, can you fill us in on the US policy towards China's oil purchases from Iran? I read reports that China is still the largest buyer of Iranian crude. Much of it is transshipped in the UAE or Malaysia, presumably to muddy the waters of where it comes from.
Would the US Navy have seized Iranian oil bound for China? Somehow I don't think so.
JCPOA and the Seizure of the Iranian Oil
(Francisco Ramirez, USA
08/19/20 4:56 AM)
On May 8, 2018 the United States announced its withdrawal from JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). So, why is Iran obligated under international law to abide by an agreement to which the US is no longer a party? I realize we are still a "participant," whatever that means. But it seems odd to invoke JCPOA, as George Aucoin has done (August 18th).
It seems more honest to say that the US did what it did because the US knew it could do so without much by way of costs. Heck, we did not even have to secretly agree to withdrawing from Turkey.
JE comments: Yes, if the US really wanted to make a statement of principle, it would have seized Iranian oil bound for China. I hope our correspondent in Caracas, José Ignacio Soler, will weigh in on the Venezuelan reaction to the incident. One obstacle possibly limiting Maduro's outrage would be the question, why does Venezuela have to import its oil/gasoline?
US "Hijacking" of the Iranian Oil
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
08/19/20 6:53 AM)
Francisco Ramírez (August 19th) is obviously an honorable man regarding the hijacking of the four tankers carrying oil from Iran to Venezuela. Francisco phrased it aptly: "It seems more honest to say that the US did what it did because the US knew it could do so without much by way of costs."
Unfortunately, honesty has long had very little to do with the most powerful nation's foreign activities. What's the problem with a little hijacking when we have already invaded so many nations to ensure that a more "pliable" government is in place?
Venezuela's Maduro is lucky that Russia and China have in the past signed contracts with the Venezuelan government (for trade and weapons needing servicing, according to Putin). Otherwise the government would have been replaced by force. Several unsuccessful attempts on Maduro's life have been orchestrated by our government, but so far it only strengthened their resolve and ability to resist. Also, they are lucky that the puppet we anointed (Juan Guaidó) is really a discredited idiot to the Venezuelan people living there.
John Eipper asked, "why does Venezuela have to import its oil/gasoline?" They totally mismanaged their oil production and have no working refinery, not even some of the chemicals necessary to produce gasoline.
JE comments: We're all aware of why Venezuela must import its oil. I was trying to make a different point: Maduro has to be careful with his outrage over the seized shipment, as Venezuelans will reach the obvious conclusion that the country wouldn't need to import oil if it weren't so mismanaged. (Of this, to be sure, they need no reminder.)
As for "discredited idiots," Maduro has already long outlasted even the most cautious predictions. He has bungled literally everything except the most important imperative (for him and his cronies) of staying in power.
On Iranian oil and China, George Aucoin comments, next.
US Assassination Attempts on Maduro?
(Alan Levine, USA
08/20/20 4:34 AM)
Tor Guimaraes wrote on August 19th: "Several unsuccessful attempts on [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro's life have been orchestrated by our government."
I am unaware of such attempts by our government. Can Tor please document?
JE comments: According to Maduro's claims, which are suspect, there have been at least two: the botched drone attack of 2018, and the "invasion" by boat, equally bungled, of May 2020. See Nacho Soler's report on that event:
Tor, have we missed something? Even if these are true, Maduro has a very long way to go to reach the reported 638 attempts on Fidel Castro.
Assassination Attempts on Maduro
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
08/25/20 5:16 AM)
Alan Levine (August 20th) requested evidence about my statement on unsuccessful attempts on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's life orchestrated by the US government.
Below is what I could find easily available. In isolation one might question any media outlet, but after checking indirectly specific details provided by these media, I see clear evidence that there is a big fire behind all the possible smoke.
There many other sources, including many personal interviews of Maduro by reporters I respect. However, most politicians are not to be trusted, so use your own judgment.
JE comments: The specific incidents are the 2018 drone attack during a Maduro speech, and the keystone-cops beach landing of June 2020. Here we see how such events become fertile ground for speculation. Maduro predictably claims there was official US backing, while the US predictably denies its involvement. Some days ago our colleague in Caracas, José Ignacio Soler, wrote that Venezuelans believe that if the US wanted Maduro gone, it would already have happened. Yes, but...what about the 600 (or 900?) botched attempts to take out Castro?
600+ Attempts to Kill Castro
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
08/27/20 3:40 AM)
I am somewhat surprised that the United States seriously failed in its attempts to kill Fidel Castro more than 600 times or more recently, that it has tried to assassinate the President of Venezuela without success.
First of all, I do believe that at the beginning of the Cuban revolution, in the middle of the Cold War, US intelligence agencies may have planned to assassinate Fidel when their ethical values were doubtless perhaps distorted by nationalist fanaticism. Castro was the icon of the revolution and its main leader, and without him the revolutionary process would most likely have failed. At least in the minds of the Cold War strategists, this is what would most likely have happened. While it is true that investigations by the US Senate and the CIA's own revelations mentioned assassination plots between 1959 and 1975, particularly in 1959 and 1960 at the beginning of the revolution, the number of attempts did not exceed seven or eight. All of them were attempted by Cuban refugees or some alleged CIA agents in a clumsy and ineffective manner. In fact, the figures are as disjointed as they are fanciful and contradictory; Fidel himself spoke publicly of "only" about 300, and according to some propaganda media from within the regime, they reached 900.
The main reasons, in my opinion, for the creation of the legend of the 600 failed attempts, some of them as exotic as they were incredible, is the result of various factors. First, the propagandistic need to strengthen the Cuban regime to create the myth of Fidel's invincibility despite persecution by the US, the most powerful country. This myth has been consolidated by the Cuban Fabián Escalante Font, head of security of the Cuban regime from 1976 to 1996, author of several conspiratorial books, among them CIA Targets Fidel and The Cuba Project. I understand they are available on Amazon for those who wish to embark on a reading of adventures and conspiratorial fantasies. If these versions are true, either the US intelligence agencies are ridiculously incompetent or the Cuban intelligence services are far superior and impregnable.
The reality seems to be that the alleged attempts and conspiracies against Castro were planned by exiles or dissidents in exile, poorly planned and much less executed, although it remains to be proven whether they were funded by US intelligence agencies in the Cold War era. Now, if you look with common sense at the so-called attempts on Fidel and on the current Venezuelan president, it is hard to believe that they were planned and executed by a moderately intelligent mind. Their clumsiness is so obvious that it seems to me rather like a media show, awkward scenes by mediocre actors for propaganda purposes, and surely inspired by the same Cuban intelligence that currently handles this country's political strategy.
Now it is an absurdity to compare Fidel with the president of this country who, in the current situation, has not been, or will ever be, fundamental or indispensable for the survival of the regime. It is equally doubtful that US strategic intelligence believes that Maduro's disappearance would end the so-called "revolutionary process" supported by the army and sustained by political and commercial alliances with Cuba, China, Russia, Turkey and Iran. Moreover, unlike the 1960s, it is logical to assume that in today's reality of fragile geopolitical alliances and instability, sophisticated public communications of the media and espionage agencies, it would be very reckless for the US government to risk its relations with its democratic allies by promoting conspiracies and political crimes. With its technical and military resources, if the US government had seriously decided to secretly end the life of a politician, they would have done so more effectively. That is why it seems that the options for military intervention have been, and will be justified or not, the more suitable and likely course of actions.
A final question apparently unrelated is the 1971 book by Eduardo Galeano, Las venas abiertas de America Latina, which contributed to creating in the public opinion, especially in Latin American leftist sectors, a very negative image of the CIA and the lack of ethics of US governments. Galeano described many real and some other imaginary political conspiracies against Latin American countries. I mention this as an example of the kind intellectual works that seemed to influence the creation of the popular myths and conspiracy theories in this part of the continent. However, the very same author later distanced himself from the book because of its bias and lack of historical rigor. He said, "I would never again write a book like that."
JE comments: Galeano died in 2015. His Venas abiertas [Open Veins] was on my summer reading list. Galeano is strongest in his analysis of the Colonial period, in particular with his thesis that stolen resources from Latin America created the industrial and financial wealth of Europe. In short, that Europe (later the US) became developed and powerful precisely through impoverishing Latin America.
Cuba's "official" count of assassination attempts on Castro is more than 900, according to several museums I visited on the island. This number rings of magical realism. Nacho, I've never read Escalante Font's books, but does he enumerate a few dozen of the more significant plots?
US Track Record with Regime Change: Lindsey A. O'Rourke
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
08/28/20 4:02 AM)
Now that my friend Eugenio Battaglia's evidence put to rest the great hegemonic nature of our beloved American nation, very few of us should question the likelihood that the US government has often tried to replace Venezuela's late Hugo Chávez and now Maduro. Here is some more background information.
According to the respected Professor Lindsey A. O'Rourke, just as the Russians and many other countries are often accused of doing, the US has a long history of hacking other unpleasant democracies and dictators alike.
Professor O'Rourke has spent many years investigating allegations of US-backed covert regime changes during the Cold War by going through relevant documents from the National Archives, National Security Archive and presidential libraries.
Contrary to empire deniers, between 1947 and 1989 alone, the United States tried to change other nations' governments 72 times, including 66 covert operations and six overt ones. A look at these US actions allows us to survey the covert activities of a major power and understand these interventions' causes and consequences.
Most covert efforts to replace another country's government failed, with 26 of the covert operations being declared a success by bringing a US-backed government to power. The remaining 40 operations failed.
Success depended in large part on the tactics used. Not a single US-backed assassination plot during the Cold War actually killed the intended target. Two foreign leaders (South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem and the Dominican Republic's Rafael Trujillo) were killed by foreign intermediaries supposedly without Washington's blessing during US-backed coups.
Covert actions to support militant groups trying to topple a foreign regime nearly always failed. Of 36 attempts, only five overthrew their targets. Sponsoring coups was more successful: nine out of 14 attempted coups put the US-backed leaders in power.
Meddling in foreign elections is the most successful covert tactic, with 16 cases where Washington sought to influence foreign elections by covertly funding, advising and spreading propaganda for its preferred candidates, often doing so beyond a single election cycle. Of these, the US-backed parties won their elections 75 percent of the time.
It is impossible to say whether the US-supported candidates would have won their elections without the covert assistance; many were leading in the polls before the US intervention. However, as the CIA's head of the Directorate of Intelligence Ray S. Cline once put it, the key to a successful covert regime change is "supplying just the right bit of marginal assistance in the right way at the right time."
Regime changes rarely work out as the intervening states expect. Leaders installed via regime change generally don't act as puppets for long. Once in power, the new leaders find that acting at their foreign backers' behest brings significant domestic opposition. They tend to moderate their policies or turn against the foreign backer completely.
Covert regime change can devastate the target countries. After a nation's government was toppled, it was less democratic and more likely to suffer civil war, domestic instability and mass killings. At the very least, citizens lost faith in their governments.
We have already discussed the US government assault on the Socialist Venezuelan government. How about Bolivia's Evo Morales?
JE comments: Lindsey O'Rourke is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boston College. Her research brings clarity to what is commonly known: powerful countries meddle in other nations' internal affairs. We Americans are outraged by the Russian interference in our 2016 elections. Absolutely: it's always unpleasant to get a dose of your own medicine. Granted, the Russians are anything but neophytes in the game of regime change.
WAIS likes to take the long historical view. What was the first example of regime change (rather than outright conquest) imposed from outside? We'll probably have to look at Antiquity. (The earliest documented use of the term "regime change" dates from 1925. The practice goes back centuries earlier.)
US Meddling in Italy's Politics Post-WWII
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
08/30/20 4:32 AM)
A short time ago the BBC published an interesting article on the meddling of the US Empire in the internal affairs of various foreign countries. Ça va sans dire, this article confirms the excellent post of our friend Tor Guimaraes, 28 August.
It not only confirms Tor's points, but also previous posts in which I referred to the three-quarters of a century of US meddling in Italy.
Italy had the "privilege" of being the first country ruled by the AMGOT (Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories) from 22 July 1943 until 31 December 1945 (in Trieste until 1954).
Theoretically, the first "free" Italian government from 1 January 1946 was a coalition of the zombies of the old revived parties behind the bayonets of the foreign victors--Christian Democrats, Communists, Socialists, liberals (Actionists and Laborists promptly vanished and were substituted by Republicans). The PM was Alcide De Gasperi, formerly a deputy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then the Italian Parliament. During this government, there was a referendum to decide between a Monarchy and a Republic. The Republic won thanks to monkey business, but the Savoy monarchy was not worthy of winning.
In May 1947 the US forced De Gasperi to drop the Communists and the Socialists if Italy wished to obtain the benefits of the Marshall Plan.
For the following elections of 1948 William Blum in his book The CIA: Forgotten History wrote, "The first CIA intervention in the internal affairs of another country was in Italy." The CIA did everything possible to keep the Communists from power, discharging on the Italians all its economic, political, and psychological weapons plus plenty of money to help in the electoral process.
It is widely believed, see the many books on the topic, that the CIA with the help of the asserted Italian Secret Service and the Gladio (Stay Behind) was deeply involved in the low-intensity civil war of the "Anni di Piombo" (Years of Lead) of the 1960s through the '80s, including the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, leader of the Christian Democrats, who was favorable to a government that included Communists.
I would say that the Empire's meddling is continuing through the present day.
The former CIA Veteran Jack Devine in his book Good Hunting: An American Spymaster's Story stated, "Without the CIA the Communists for sure would have won the elections of 1948." I do not agree. In 1948 the survivors of the RSI, the good Catholics both disarmed and armed (including a good friend who later became a priest and died two months ago), the regular army was ready to vote against the Communists and then ready to fight if the Reds were to attempt a coup.
I remember very well those tense days. In the building where we lived, there was a local leader of the Christian Democrats and the family of a murdered RSI follower. The communists set up a kind of gallows nearby, saying that they would have to use it after winning the elections. When the news came out that the Communists (united with the Socialists) had badly lost, a communist living on the first floor of our building grabbed his shotgun and tried to climb two floors to kill the previously indicated persons.
Fortunately, his wife, daughter, and other tenants, including my mother, succeeded in stopping him, and after a long quarrel to calm him the difficult time was over. Anyway, there was almost a comical side to this episode, as the poor Communist was a stammerer and was screaming: "I...I... w...w...ant..to..to... k...k...ill!"
Finally, there is a joke in the BBC article:
Question: Why has there never been a coup in the US?
Answer: Because in Washington there is no US Embassy.
JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia sent the URL to the BBC article, but I couldn't get it to work. I'll append it in a postscript if Eugenio sends me the correct link.
Eugenio, could you walk us through the conspiracy theories about the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro? It's long been taken as fact that it was the work of the Red Brigades. How could the CIA have been involved?
Finally, I am very sorry about the death of your priest friend. You have mentioned him in several WAIS posts. Could you send a longer tribute/bio? I'd be honored to share it on WAIS.
Revisiting the Aldo Moro Kidnapping, Murder
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
09/01/20 7:04 AM)
When commenting on my post of 30 August, our esteemed moderator is absolutely correct when he wrote that the murder of the leader of Italy's Christian Democrats was the work of the Red Brigades.
On the morning of 16 March 1978, Aldo Moro was en route to Parliament where the new government of Christian Democrats (pro-West) and Communists (pro-East) of Compromesso Storico (Historic Compromise, this was largely the result of Moro's efforts) was to be approved.
But his kidnapping and murder wiped out the possibility of such a compromise.
Moro was held prisoner for 55 days, in which there was a continuous exchange of documents, communications, and even letters from the victim. The idea was to reach a compromise by which Moro would have been freed in exchange for a few Red Brigadistas.
Italy was officially divided between those in favor of the deal to save Moro and those who did not want any accord with terrorists, even if it meant the death of Moro. Poor Moro, being formed in the new "lay, democratic and antifascist" Italy, was not a hero of the good old days, so from his captivity he tried to convince the government to reach an agreement. But the internal and foreign forces against his freedom were stronger.
Furthermore, Moro had friendly relations with the Palestinians. He became know for the "Lodo Moro" (Moro Accord), by which Italy gave the green light for the safe passage of "Palestinian Freedom Fighters" ("terrorists" of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), providing they refrained from attacking Italian interests; therefore it was clear that he had to die.
Consider that Italy during the Cold War had an extremely important geopolitical strategic position and the West could not risk losing this advantage to save Moro. Consider also that due to the Italian national weakness from 1945 the country was (is?) almost a "no-man's land," where many foreign secret services were (are?) active and establishing alliances.
The conspiracy theories state that this strategy of tension, sponsored by the CIA, would have pushed the Italian public opinion toward an authoritative government, strongly in favor of NATO and antagonistic to Communists and the Soviet Empire. Therefore it is believed that even the Red Brigades had been favored, directly or indirectly, by the CIA as one of the main actors to foment this tension.
However, the Communist Party which was dominating most of the media, university, and judiciary system was masterful in the use of propaganda. So regardless if it was clear who had committed a political crime, it was said that the culprits were the Fascists. When the Red Brigades were openly claiming responsibility, these fellows were said to be only a few comrades committing a foolish act. Working on different fronts, the PCI could maintain its position but could not join the government for many more years. Only after the end of the Cold War, the Communists with a different name could finally (and unfortunately) join the government. They are still masters in the use of propaganda. Now despite being full of hate. they scream that they are against any form of hate.
Later I will try to write about my priest friend who recently passed away, but these days I am extremely busy in the fields.
JE comments: So do I perceive a suggestion that there was an Israeli-led conspiracy as revenge for Moro's embrace of the Palestinians? To my mind, a half-hearted attempt to rescue Moro is not the same thing as actually orchestrating his murder.
This stuff is very controversial, so let's talk about harvests. Eugenio, how does the olive yield look this year? WAIS HQ had a bumper crop of tomatoes--the best year in memory. We're giving them away to anyone who will take them. Unfortunately, home-grown tomatoes don't ship well, and we're too lazy to turn them into bottled sauce. So now, we have tomatoes at least twice a day. Aldona's gazpacho is the Gods' own ambrosia.
- Memories of My Tanker Days, Venezuela (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/20/20 9:45 AM)
Let me come to the defense of Venezuela. If the nation of the "Libertador" (Simón Bolívar) is in such awful condition, it is not only due to the poor management by Chávez/Maduro, but also because of the sanctions imposed by the Empire.
Venezuela in the basin of the Orinoco has the greatest reserves of crude oil--300 billion barrels. Saudi Arabia has 265 billion, while the US with its shale oil has only 44.
Unfortunately, the crude oil of the Orinoco is "extra pesado" (extra-heavy) with an API grade between 4° and 16°. The lighter the better. By the API scale, the crude oil is heavy if below 25° API (specific gravity 0.9). The light is above 40° (s.g. 0.83) while the "extra pesado" around 10° has a specific gravity above 1. Therefore it is heavier than water.
Even if the extra pesado is at a relatively shallow depth between 150 and 1400 meters, its consistency makes it very difficult to extract and then to transport and refine, as it is like a molasses with a very high viscosity.
Such a crude needs to blend with light crude oil or naphtha (this is the reason why Venezuela imports these products from abroad) and special additives before sanctions were supplied by the US.
The main receiver of Venezuelan oil once was the US at 800,000 barrels per day, also Cuba receives oil at a ridiculously cheap price, while China at present is the main receiver with more than 600,000 barrels per day.
In 2003 the PDVSA (the Venezuelan Oil Co.) faced a big strike that was fought with the layoffs (oh, oh, capitalist measures in a socialist country) of many specialized technicians, including foreigners. This led to a terrible loss of technical expertise. I do not know if the strike had political motivations but it is probable.
My experience as a tankerman in Venezuela was generally very pleasant. Going up and down the Orinoco river was fabulous, even if extremely dangerous due to the shifting sandbars. A local pilot once told me: "Captain, if you do not go aground at least once you cannot be a true Orinoco-man." Fortunately I never became an Orinoco-man!
But I had one bad experience. I was already loading normal crude (Venezuela outside the Orinoco basin has also this type of crude oil) when I received the order to stop and go to load a partial cargo of heavy crude oil. The two other tankers dedicated to this transport had troubles but without such a cargo the Brazilian refinery would have had to case operations. Prepared for the variation, I went to the new terminal to load the heavy crude oil which was heated at 150° F. The soles of our shoes were almost liquefying when we moved around on the main deck. And then the difficulties came. I was told that I should not continue the process but instead, I should have tried to go below 120° F. Otherwise, the other light cargo could blow up with all the ship (and port).
So I placed all the fire-hoses on deck spraying seawater, pumping it into the permanent ballast tanks, careful not to sink the vessel from too much weight until we reached the port of Santos. There I immediately discharged very quickly the warm light crude and then I started to heat up the extra pesado at full steam. But the latter by then had cooled down too much and was almost solidified. The main turbine pumps were not working and I had to use the slow stripping pumps. The rate of discharge was ridiculous and went on for a very long time. I never worked so long without sleeping. Once I fell asleep on deck even if it was raining but for good luck, I had good help from the officers, and finally, all the cargo went ashore.
The owner sent congratulations for a job well done, but for sure I could not go ashore even for the two regular hours and not being able to go ashore in Santos when you are young is a curse.
JE comments: How many of you knew the logistics of shipping extra-heavy crude? Eugenio, I'll remember this post, and I also award you the title of "Orinoco king" for never running aground! By the by, what do you do when you beach a zillion-ton tanker (after panicking, of course)?
José Ignacio Soler has weighed in on the Iranian oil episode. He writes from Caracas, next.
How To Get Your Oil Tanker Unstuck
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
08/22/20 3:49 AM)
Many thanks for your comments on my post of 20 August.
In the case of an oil tanker going aground on sandbars, really it is not that bad, as generally the hull is not cracked but only bent.
Therefore if the hull is intact and after checking the depth of water all around the vessel, it may be possible to change the trim of the vessel, moving the cargo/ballast and using the ship's own engines to get out.
If that is not successful, it is possible to try to be pulled out by tugs. And if that is not successful, it is necessary to call in another vessel to lighten the grounded ship.
Running aground, even if a pilot is on board, is not good for one's career. Just to be on the safe side I had insurance on my license. Once I told the President/CEO of my company that I had this insurance but I believed that with such a great company behind me it was no longer necessary. The honest marvelous President, an ex-captain on US tankers, told me: "Captain, you did the right thing, as the interests of the Company may go against your interests."
About the foreign crews I mentioned in my previous post, let me tell you something:
Once I traveled as inspector on one of our ships with an Asian crew to the Orkneys. During the trip, it was necessary to change ballast from dirty to clean. This is a relatively easy and routine procedure. But during the night in which it was performed, I had a bad feeling even though everything seemed correct during a previous check. So I went on deck. The sea was almost at the level of the main deck! The chief mate was such a damned fool that he was loading heavy ballast (bad weather had been forecasted) without discharging the dirty ballast and the vessel was almost ready to sink from overloading. Immediately I ran to explain the correct action to take and no problems followed.
In my final report, I did not mention the incident. Anyway said crews were not up to our standards and the crews were replaced by Koreans.
Generally, the Asian crew members give a very good impression, as they move in a military style with the proper (company-supplied) safety helmets, shoes, and overalls. They stick to the rules on eating and resting times, and if something is broken they repair it with the correct spare part. But if there are no spare parts on board, there is no repair.
On the contrary, the Italians do not move to work like an SS squad, and instead of a helmet they prefer a normal cap, no overalls but a T-shirt. However, if it is necessary to do a "colpo di mano" (sleight of hand) they are always (if properly motivated) ready to forget sleep, to eat only a sandwich or to forego shore leave. Furthermore, if something is broken and the spare part is missing there is always some engineer/ mechanic who will be able to perform a makeshift fix.
JE comments: Useful advice, Eugenio! When I run the WAIS HQ 20-foot pontoon aground, it's usually enough to jump out and push. Don't try this with a 100,000-ton tanker.
I was telling Aldona about your travels up the Orinoco, and she asked if you encountered any exotic animals. Birds? Huge fish? Crocodiles?
- US Seizure of Iranian Oil Shipment: The View in Venezuela (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/20/20 12:31 PM)
In a recent post, John E asked me about the reaction in Venezuela to the US seizure of Iranian oil tankers en route to this country. The answer is very simple: we received the most absolute and discreet silence on the part of the authorities. The only reaction was from the ambassador of Iran and the Iranian foreign minister denying that the ships were from that country, although indeed they admitted the fuel was of Iranian origin, more than 1.1 million barrels, coming to Venezuela and had already been paid for by the Venezuelan government. The reaction on the street has been one of indifference as well as some concern because the country is running out of fuel. The shortage is growing and the queues to fill up a car are kilometers in length. When gas is available, people must wait many hours and even several days to obtain it.
It seems that there was an order from an American judge authorizing the seizure, under the dubious pretext that the accusations were somehow related to the Revolutionary Guard of Iran, a terrorist group according to the United States. I am not going to comment on the alleged legality or lack thereof. However and exclusively from the regional point of view, any measure of political pressure is perhaps necessary, even if this means worsening the humanitarian crisis.
I would like to take this opportunity to comment on a recent statement by Tor Guimaraes, in which he stated that "several unsuccessful attempts on Maduro's life have been orchestrated by [the US] government, but so far it only strengthened their resolve and ability to resist. Also, they are lucky that the puppet we anointed (Juan Guaidó) is really a discredited idiot to the Venezuelan people living there."
First, to affirm that the attacks on Maduro's life have been orchestrated by the American government is hard to believe, although this is the official propagandist version. The majority of Venezuelans recognize that if the US government, with all the resources at its disposal, really attempted on the life of someone it surely would not fail. Second, Tor also claims that Guaidó is a discredited puppet in the Venezuelan view. Nothing could be further from the truth. Guaidó, despite not having any real executive power and little room for maneuver, has managed to maintain the spark and mood of the people. For most of the population he is a symbol that represents the only hope for change.
Meanwhile, the severe social crisis is worsened by scarcity, the epidemic, restrictions and confinement, and people pay little attention to the parliamentary elections announced by the government in a few months, which most presume will be fraudulent and with little participation. It is curious how the Covid epidemic has strengthened the regime rather than weakened it, but on this subject I will perhaps comment at another time. The situation reminds me a little of the current crisis in Belarus, fraudulent elections and a totalitarian regime that clings to power without any scruples. It is no surprise that Venezuela has excellent relations with this regime.
JE comments: I wanted to crib a recent news photo of the gasoline queues in Caracas, but there are too many to chose from. Some of these lines go on literally for blocks.
Much obliged for the report, Nacho. Might we conclude that the Venezuelan authorities were "secretly" importing the Iranian oil to hide their own inability to produce adequate supplies? Wouldn't it be wiser for the Maduro government to import Iranian petroleum engineers? Or Russians, for that matter.
And in Putin's neighborhood, who is following the events in Minsk?
- Iranian Oil and China (George Aucoin, -France 08/19/20 12:01 PM)
In response to Francisco Ramírez (August 19th) and John E's comments:
Iran and China are completely different sovereigns. Which should go without saying, but the responses to US contractual action of "snapping back" sanctions through a foreign policy of "maximum pressure" seems to miss this point. The goal of "maximum pressure" on the Mullah regime in Iran is to choke off the financial sourcing of state-sponsored terrorism regionally and around the globe.
China is a different animal. China is contractually reducing its trade deficit with the US by buying US goods. China is a malevolent world actor and originator of the current pandemic. China has forced a re-alignment of US National Security assets into the Indo-Pacific region and out of the Middle East.
Forcibly seizing Chinese vessels transporting black market petroleum products from pariah Iran wouldn't put a dent in US issues with China, and would likely cause a complicating Chinese reaction. It would simply be an unforced error on the part of the US--all moral proselytizing aside.
On Venezuela: Unrepentant Socialism in the past 20 years has rendered its vast offshore petroleum assets unattainable and unrefinable. That's why it is forced to hunt clandestinely for resources. The Venezuelan people deserve a free and fair election of representative government which would most certainly reintroduce them to freedom and bonafide economic markets.
JE comments: I believe we're in agreement here, in that the "complicated Chinese reaction" is exactly what the US seeks to avoid. Francisco Ramírez was suggesting that Iran and Venezuela are easy pickings for US gunboat diplomacy.
Monday afternoon at the Buick dealership, I sat through a 45-minute Donald Trump stump speech from Minnesota. Venezuela was featured front and center. A Biden-Harris victory, the president assures us, will lead us down the Venezuelan path. It's a simple message to grasp, but are the American people buying?
- US Seizure of Iranian Oil Shipment: The View in Venezuela (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/20/20 12:31 PM)
- Memories of My Tanker Days, Venezuela (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/20/20 9:45 AM)
- Revisiting the Aldo Moro Kidnapping, Murder (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/01/20 7:04 AM)
- US Meddling in Italy's Politics Post-WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/30/20 4:32 AM)
- US Track Record with Regime Change: Lindsey A. O'Rourke (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/28/20 4:02 AM)
- 600+ Attempts to Kill Castro (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/27/20 3:40 AM)
- Assassination Attempts on Maduro (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/25/20 5:16 AM)
- US Assassination Attempts on Maduro? (Alan Levine, USA 08/20/20 4:34 AM)
- US "Hijacking" of the Iranian Oil (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/19/20 6:53 AM)
- Seizure of Iranian Oil, Sanctions, and International Law (George Aucoin, -France 08/18/20 9:17 AM)
- When Did the Byzantine Empire Begin? (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 08/23/20 4:47 AM)
- Is the US an Empire? Does the Discussion Matter? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/21/20 6:08 AM)
- Is the US an Empire? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/21/20 4:42 AM)
- Empire, Hegemon, or Old-Fashioned Bully? (Enrique Torner, USA 08/19/20 1:47 PM)
- Origins of the US "Empire" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/19/20 6:01 AM)
- Why Call the US the "Empire"? (Brian Blodgett, USA 08/18/20 4:48 AM)