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The War on Iran has already begun

by Stephen Gowans

Global Research, January 31, 2007

The war has already begun and it has nothing to do with nuclear weapons and threats against Israel and everything to do with who rules America.

According to US economist Jeffrey Sachs, “Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world in 50 years…he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world’s oil.” Sachs pointed out that stoking fears over who will control the world’s petroleum reserves is not new to the Bush administration.

In the lead up to the Anglo-American war on Iraq, US vice president Dick Cheney made the ridiculous claim that Saddam Hussein was assembling a massive arsenal of WMD “to take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.” “Perhaps though, Saddam was too eager to sell oil concessions to French, Russian and Italian companies rather than British and US companies,” Sachs observed. (“Fighting the wrong war,” The Guardian, September 25, 2006) Strip away the fear-mongering, and what Bush and Cheney are really saying is that a resource as lucrative as petroleum won’t be allowed to remain in the hands of its true owners. It will be stripped from them, by force if necessary.

In the Bush administration’s assessment “Iran sees itself at the head of an alliance to drive the United States out of Iraq and ultimately out of the Middle East,” (New York Times, January 28, 2007) forcing the US hand from the world’s oil spigot. Like Iraq, which was said to be a WMD threat, Iran is portrayed as being on the verge of making a nuclear breakthrough. But the fears over Iran’s nuclear program are contrived. “Despite being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world power…a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian program (say) it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the material for industrial scale production.” (Observer, January 28, 2007)

The mistake is often made of assuming the absence of overt hostilities amounts to peace. War, however, can have various faces. It’s not only missiles crashing into buildings, tanks advancing across international borders, and troops smashing down doors. It can be economic strangulation (blockades and sanctions); funding and training dissidents; military threats, to cow an enemy into submission or bankrupt its economy (as it tries to keep pace.) By these criteria, the US is at war with Cuba, north Korea, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran. War need not be Sturm und Drang. Diplomacy, in the age of imperialism, remarked R. Palme Dutt, is simply war by other means. Sanctions, the funding of civil society to bring about color revolutions, war games along an enemy’s borders -- are as much manifestations of war, as overt military intervention. And sometimes, they’re just as devastating. The sanctions on Iraq in the 90s – what some regarded as a pacific alternative to war -- killed hundreds of thousands.

Subversion

The US has established new offices in the State Department and Pentagon to build an opposition movement in Iran to topple the government. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked the US Congress a year ago for $75 million to supplement $10 million already allocated to underwriting the activities of dissidents in Iran and to expand Voice of American broadcasts. (Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2006) The CIA’s budget for programs aimed at bringing about regime change in Iran is probably many times larger.

Financial Isolation

Last September, the new US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (as chairman of the New York investment firm Goldman Sachs he amassed a personal fortune of $700 million in a career than has seen him move between the Nixon administration, the Pentagon and the world of high finance) announced that Iran needed to be isolated financially, in the manner of north Korea. North Korea’s foreign trade was disrupted when the US sanctioned a Macau bank. Wary of being cut-off from the US financial system, other banks, seeking to avoid the example of Banco Delta Asia, have steered clear of transactions with north Korean enterprises. As a result, the DPRK finds it difficult to export to other countries to earn the foreign exchange it needs to import vital goods.

In Paulson’s view, Iran is still a major player globally, and needs to suffer the same pariah treatment. (New York Times, September 17, 2006) In October, US Treasury Department officials banned US banks from facilitating transactions involving Iran’s state-owned Bank Saderat. In January, the ban was widened to include another Iranian bank, Bank Sepah.

When Iran sells oil to a customer in Germany, the German customer asks a European bank to deposit US dollars into an Iranian bank account. The European bank then arranges for the transfer of US dollars from a US bank to an Iranian bank account in Europe. Paulson’s ban prohibits US banks from transferring funds if Bank Saderat and Bank Sepah are involved. (New York Times, October 16, 2006) With oil sales denominated in US dollars, the aim is to impede Iran’s ability to sell oil. The way around the US manoeuvre is to sell oil in Euros, something Iran has already begun to do. (New York Times, January 10, 2007)

This would seem to be a simple enough way of beating the US at its own game. It also raises questions about the prudence of compelling Iran to switch to Euros, since a change to Euros, if adopted by a number of oil-exporting countries, would push down the value of the US greenback. US investment banker John Hermann, a comptroller of currency in the Carter administration, wonders whether the US is shooting itself in the foot. (New York Times, October 16, 2006)

On the surface, these are valid concerns. But Paulson’s aims are broader. In September he let the world banking community know that it should stop doing business with more than 30 named Iranian enterprises. Behind the request lay a veiled threat. Banks that deal with Iranian businesses run the risk of jeopardizing their future access to the US financial system. Already, a number of European banks have taken heed, scaling back their dealings with Iranian banks and businesses. Credit Suisse and UBS in Switzerland, ABN Amro in the Netherlands and HSBC in Britain are starting to steer a wide berth around Iran. Economic Warfare

Additionally, Washington is pressuring Europe to curtail exports to Iran and to block transactions with Iranian companies. (New York Times, January 30, 2007) For its part, Israel is campaigning to isolate Iran economically. Israel plans to apply pressure to “major US pension funds to stop investment in about 70 companies that trade directly with Iran, and to international banks that trade with the oil sector, cutting off” Iran’s access to hard currency. “The aim is to isolate Iran from world markets in a campaign similar to that against South Africa at the height of apartheid.” (The Guardian, January 26, 2007)

To win support for its campaign, Israel will argue that Iranian president Mohamed Ahmadinejad is working to acquire nuclear weapons to carry out a systematic extermination of the Jews and will pursue the Iranian leader in international courts “under the 1948 UN Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, which outlaws ‘direct and public incitement to genocide.’” (The Guardian January 26, 2007) Former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has already filed suit against Ahmadinejad at the International Court of Justice, claiming the Iranian president is inciting genocide. Additionally, Bolton charged Ahmadinejad with “making numerous threats against the United States,” a claim so risible as to mark Bolton as a man whose chutzpah is limitless. (The Guardian, December 13, 2006) Both Bolton’s trip to the ICJ, and Israeli’s plan to pursue litigation against Ahmadinejad, are mischievous. Ahmadinejad hasn’t called for genocide but for the replacement of Israel as a Jewish state by a multi-national democratic state based on equality among the peoples of historic Palestine. What matters for Israel, however, is not so much winning a conviction but incessantly repeating the lie that the Iranian leader is a new Hitler. Who’s going to object to sanctions on a country whose president Israel’s ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman describes as “saying, ‘There really was no Holocaust, but just in case, we shall finish the job.’”? (Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2007)

The Israeli campaign, if successful, will add to sanctions the United States has already imposed under the Iran Non-proliferation Act, passed by the US Congress in 2000. The US sanctions prohibit trade with companies that sell goods to Iran that could be used to build missiles or weapons of mass destruction. Foreign firms that trade with Iran run the risk of getting caught up in the sanctions and losing their access to the US market. Since 2000, 40 companies have fallen afoul of the US law, including Russian, north Korean and Cuban firms. (New York Times, August 5, 2006) Since any of a number of goods that have non-threatening uses could conceivably be used in the manufacture of missiles and other weapons, the effect of the sanctions is to isolate Iran economically by discouraging companies from trade with Iran. A company that sells chlorine for water treatment, for example, wouldn’t want to be accused of supplying Iran with the means of manufacturing chemical weapons and lose its access to US customers. As a consequence many companies tend to give Iran a wide berth, making it difficult for the country to import the goods it needs.

In recent weeks, Washington has opened yet another front in its war on Iran: driving down the price of oil to reduce Iran’s revenue. The US can’t affect the price of oil itself, but it can pressure Saudi Arabia to increase output to bring prices down. In January, Ali al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, vetoed an emergency meeting of OPEC to discuss cutting production after oil dropped below $50 a barrel. The Saudis have signalled that they’re committed to keeping the price of oil hovering around $50 a barrel, down $27 a barrel from the summer. From Washington’s perspective, the high prices allow Iran (and another US bete noire, Venezuela) to export “radical agendas,” (New York Times, January 28, 2007) or more directly, to mount a threat of self-defense.

Intimidation

It’s unclear whether elements of the Israeli ruling circle are preparing to attack Iran or whether they’re simply engaged in a campaign of psychological warfare, seeking to unnerve Tehran by threatening war. The press is full of warnings of an imminent Israeli attack. “Two Israeli air force squadrons,” warned The Guardian (January 7, 2007) are training to use nuclear ‘bunker busting’ bombs to demolish Iran’s heavily guarded enrichment program.” (The Guardian, January 7, 2007.) The Independent (January 22, 2007) concluded that “senior Israeli politicians and analysts appear to be preparing the public for military conflict with Iran” and (January 25, 2007) “Israeli military officials warned … that Israel – acting alone or in coordination with the US – could launch pre-emptive military strikes against Iran before the end of this year.” The warnings were described by a senior British military source as “watering the turf.” Iran, the source said, “is not under enough pressure.” (The Independent, January 25, 2007.)

In early January, the Pentagon deployed a second aircraft carrier, the USS John Stennis to join a battle group led by the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, stationed menacingly close to Iran. (The Independent, January 14, 2007.) Britain also beefed up its complement of ships in the region (New York Times, December 21, 2006.) At the same time, the Pentagon dispatched a 600-strong Patriot anti-missile defense system to the Middle East. Asked to explain why the anti-missile defense system was being deployed, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a press conference that “We are simply reaffirming…the importance of the Gulf region to the United States and our determination to be an ongoing strong presence in that area for a long time into the future.” (Globe and Mail, January 15, 2007) US officials would later say the building naval presence was intended to deter Iran from trying to dominate the region.

Provocation

US troops raided an Iranian diplomatic office in Ebril on January 11, detaining six Iranians working inside. Despite the apparent breach of diplomatic immunity, the incident was greeted with supreme indifference by the Western media, which, some two and half decades ago, howled in outrage at Iranian radicals overrunning the US embassy in Tehran and seizing US diplomats, an event since seared into the US collective conscience as “the hostage crisis.” Military Industrial Complex

Elevating Iran to a threat comes in handy in justifying extravagantly high military expenditures, incurred, not to build a legitimate national defense, but to soak up surplus capital and provide influential corporations with a boost to their bottom lines. The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan help. “The steadily rising cost of the Iraq war will reach about $8.4 billion a month this year…as the price of replacing lost, destroyed and aging equipment mounts.” (Reuters, January 19, 2007) Manufacturers of helicopters, airplanes and armoured vehicles -- among the largest and most influential corporations – will rake in loot hand over fist replacing worn out and destroyed military equipment.

British prime minister Tony Blair is proposing to spend $40 billion to buy a new generation of submarines to carry nuclear warheads. Blair says the expenditures are needed to counter “the desire by states, highly dubious in their intentions, like north Korea and Iran, to pursue nuclear weapons capability.” (New York Times, December 5, 2006)

His reasoning is chock full of holes. First, there’s no evidence Iran is producing a nuclear weapons capability. Second, if Iran did develop one, it would be dwarfed by Britain’s existing capability. Iran’s arsenal would be so small and rudimentary to be nothing more than defensive -- a way of deterring the British and American habit of busting down the doors to take whatever they like rather than a way of presenting an offensive threat. Third, Blair talks as if Britain hasn’t a massive deterrent capability already.

The United States is also planning to spend over $100 billion to replace its own nuclear arsenal, despite a study that says its existing warheads can be expected to work reliably for a century or more. (New York Times, January 7, 2007) This suggests the real purpose of the program has little to do with self-defense. Massive expenditures on weapons – which distributes income upward through the transfer of tax dollars from working people to the owners and high-level executives of arms-producing corporations – is an ongoing US practice, and has been since the Himalayan military expenditures of WWII dragged the US out of the Great Depression. It has been evident in ruling circles since that without large military expenditures to soak up surpluses, the US economy teeters on the brink of stagnation. Having a stable of demons that can be trotted out whenever necessary to justify frivolous military spending is a necessary part of keeping the profits rolling in.

The Class Basis of US and British Foreign Policy

The foreign policy of capitalist countries, including that of the US and Britain, is driven to secure investment opportunities for the high-level executives, bankers and hereditary capitalist families that have capital to invest and need places to invest it in. By virtue of their wealth and their ownership and control of major enterprises, they are able to dominate public policy and shape it to their own interests.

Two important ways in which this class secures opportunities for the profitable investment of its capital is by shaping foreign policy to dominate other countries in order to secure access to their natural resources, markets, and other assets and by providing opportunities for profitable investment in the production of arms and the machinery of war. Both imperatives necessitate a third: to invent threats to national security to justify massive military expenditures, to provide the basis for the deployment of military forces abroad to protect existing overseas investments, and to furnish a plausible reason for wars of conquest to pry open nationalist, socialist or communist economies to investment.

Here’s how it works. I have idle capital I need to put to work. I loan part of my capital to the US government by buying bonds. The government sells bonds to raise money to finance government programs, including military and weapons programs, and pays interest to me on my investment. I also invest part of my capital in companies that have secured contracts with the US government to supply the Pentagon with tanks, helicopters, bombers and missiles. Thanks to these contracts, I receive dividends from my investments on the profits these companies make. In effect I’m loaning my capital to the government to spend on companies I have investments in. Moreover, the military equipment I’ve profited from (through interest on the bonds I’ve bought and dividends from the defense contractors I have a stake in) will be used to deter foreign countries in which I’ve invested from confiscating my capital through programs of nationalization and may be used to pry open economies currently off-limits to my capital.

I use part of my capital to buy lobbyists and help fund think-tanks and foundations to press the government to change policies I dislike – not only in my own country, but in other countries as well. I press for the opening of investment opportunities that are closed to foreign investment (in the oil industry in Iraq, for example), for the removal of restrictions on investments overseas, and for the improvement of conditions for the profitable investment of my capital. To pre-empt opposition to policies that enlarge my capital, I buy public relations expertise, fund university chairs, employ sympathetic researchers and buy media outlets to make the case that policies beneficial to me are natural, desirable, necessary and ultimately advantageous to all.

To ensure the public policy prescriptions formulated by the think-tanks and foundations I support are implemented (and which in turn are promoted by the public relations network I underwrite) I put part of my capital to work by contributing to the major political parties. I also hand out high-paying corporate and lobbying jobs to ex-politicians who have looked after my interests while in office. In this way, I send a message to those who hold public office today that if they play their cards right, they’ll be rewarded. I support the candidacies for public office of promising high-level executives in companies I have major investments in and the high-level operatives of the think-tanks and foundations I support. In this way, those who implicitly share my values and understand my objectives are placed in positions in which they can shepherd public policy through the executive and legislative branches of government to facilitate my profit-making activities.

The Real Reason for War by Other Means

The US, Britain and Israel are at war with Iran. The war is not conducted, at the moment, anyway, through missile strikes, bombing campaigns or land invasion, but by intimidation, provocation, subversion, and economic warfare. While the war is being justified as a necessary response to a growing threat of nuclear proliferation and to counter the alleged existential threat to Jews living in Israel posed by the president of Iran, the real reason for the war is to be found in the domination of public policy by the owners and high-level executives of banks and large corporations and in the directions in which the logic of capitalism pushes them to shape foreign policy.

Iran is not a nuclear threat. Its nuclear program is oriented to civilian uses, and even then is “archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the material for industrial scale production.” Moreover, the country vehemently denies it is seeking nuclear weapons, and no one has produced a shred of evidence to say it is. All we have are the unsubstantiated claims of a Bush administration notorious for sexing up intelligence and lying about its reasons for going to war. What’s more, even if Iran managed to produce a nuclear weapon, it would be rudimentary and incapable of presenting an offensive threat against the much bigger arsenals of the US, Britain and Israel. At best, it would create a threat of self-defense.

The president of Iran, no matter what he thinks of the truth or scope of the systematic extermination of Jews by Nazi Germany, is not an existential threat to the Jewish inhabitants of Israel, though he is unquestionably an implacable anti-Zionist. Anti-Zionism, however, is not equivalent to hating Jews, and nor is the promotion of anti-Zionist aims equivalent to inciting genocide.

Iran is not a threat to anyone in the West, but is an irritant to a tiny stratum of the population with capital to invest and a need, driven by the logic of capitalism, to find places to invest it in. Iran’s economy is in large part state-owned, inclined to attach conditions to foreign investment, and competes with US enterprises (Iran has its own automobile industry, for example, and has invested in automobile factories in Syria and Venezuela.) From the perspective of the US capitalist class, an Iran that limited itself to oil exports (preferably with plenty of scope for US investment), recycled petrodollars through New York investment banks, and worked with the Pentagon to crush the resistance in Iraq, would be preferable to the current economically nationalist regime that bristles at the idea of throwing its doors wide open to US domination and has too many ties to Europe.

As for the Israeli ruling class, its aims are to facilitate US foreign policy as a condition of continuing to receive the US military and economic aid and diplomatic support it needs to remain viable to pursue the Zionist project of dispossessing the rightful inhabitants of historic Palestine. To secure the consent of the Israeli population for the sacrifices of a potential war on Iran, and to play the role of potential victim of Iranian aggression to justify an Anglo-American naval build up in the Gulf, Israel’s ruling circles liberally employ the arts of public relations to bamboozle Israelis, and the rest of the world, into believing Iran is working toward the revival of the Nazi project of exterminating the Jews. Iran’s pursuit of civilian nuclear energy becomes a secret program to build a nuclear bomb to wipe Israel off the face of the map. Ahmadinejad’s anti-Zionism becomes an insane anti-Semitism headed toward a nuclear confrontation with Israel.

My Enemy’s Enemy

“The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend,” intone those too unwilling, too frightened, too unprincipled, or too comfortable, to rouse themselves to defend Iran. (By defend Iran I mean doing what one can to thwart the de facto war against the country, even if it only means challenging the deceitful pretexts used to “water the turf”.) While it may be that my enemy’s enemy is not always my friend, this has nothing to do with the reasons why the US, Britain and Israel are locked in a war (by other means) with another oil-rich Gulf state. Powerful countries driven by the expansionary logic of capitalism have always sought, in various ways, to dominate other countries for the purposes of opening new opportunities for the profitable investment of capital. Imperialism is carried on independently of whether the dominated countries are ruled by the friends of progressives in the West, or their enemies. The Iranian government needn’t be your friend to recognize why a war on Iran is being carried out, whose interests it serves, and that it doesn’t serve yours. On the contrary, it detracts from them.

Peek below the surface, and the hostility to our own interests of the recurrent pattern of capitalist-driven expansion at the expense of the sovereignty of other countries becomes evident. Who pays the taxes to pay the interest on bonds sold to investment bankers and hereditary capitalist families to refurbish nuclear arsenals that don’t need refurbishing, to replace tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters lost in the wars that should never have been fought, and to build war machines to outrage the sovereignty of other countries? Who foots the bill for lucrative defense contracts to make the machinery of war? Who carries the ball to finance the programs of subverting democracy in other countries? Who sacrifices their limbs, eyesight, hearing, sanity and lives to fight wars to secure profitable investment opportunities for the super-rich? In this system, the bulk of us are exploited, while a tiny minority reaps the benefit of monstrous profits. We are the cannon-fodder, the vote-fodder, the tax-fodder that allows the system to run and the super-rich get super-richer. True, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. But we should be clear on who – and what -- the enemy is, who the victims are, and how the victims have a common interest in challenging their common enemy

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US & Israel: The Real Failed States

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Growing references by the US and Israel to the Muslim Middle East as a collection of failed states are part of the propaganda campaign to strip legitimacy from Muslim states and set them up for attack.

These accusations spring from the hubris of many Israelis, who see themselves as "God's Chosen People," a guarantee of immunity instead of a call to responsibility, and many Americans, who regard their country as "a city upon a hill" that is "the light of the world."

But do the US and Israel fit the profile of successful states, or are they "failed states" themselves? A compelling case can be made that the US and Israel are failed states. Israel allegedly is a democracy, but it is controlled by a minority of Zionist zealots who commit atrocities against Palestinians in order to provoke terrorist acts that are then used to perpetuate the right-wing's hold on political power.

Israel has perfected blowback as a tool of political control. The Israeli state relies entirely on coercion and has no diplomacy. It stands isolated in the world except for the US, which sustains Israel's existence with money, military weapons, and the US veto in the United Nations. Israel survives on life support from the US. A state that cannot exist without outside support is a failed state.

What about the United States? The US is an even greater failure. Its existence is not dependent on life support from outside. The US has failed in another way. Not only has the state failed, but the society as well. The past six years have seen the rise of dictatorial power in the executive and the collapse of the separation of powers mandated by the US Constitution.

The president has declared himself to be "The Decider." The power to decide includes the meaning and intent of laws passed by Congress and whether the laws apply to the executive. President Bush has openly acknowledged that he disobeyed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and unlawfully spied on Americans without warrants. Bush and his Attorney General could not make it more clear that their position is that Bush is above the law.

It is also Bush's position that he is above the Constitution. Bush and his Attorney General maintain that as commander-in-chief in "the war on terror," the executive has the power to decide the applicability of civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution. The US Department of Justice (sic) has taken the position that this decision is an executive decision alone beyond the authority of the judiciary and the legislature.

An enfeebled and eviscerated Congress has acquiesced in the growth of executive power, even legislating unconstitutional executive powers into law. The Decider has grabbed the power to arrest people on accusation alone and to detain them indefinitely without charges or evidence. He has obtained the right to torture those whom he arrests. The Geneva Conventions do not apply to the US president, declares the Regime.

Bush has obtained the right to commit people to death in military tribunals on the basis of hearsay and secret evidence alone. The Bush Regime has succeeded in moving the American state off the basis on which the Founding Fathers set it.

The Bush Regime led the American people to war in Iraq based entirely on lies and deception. This is a known and undisputed fact. Congress has done nothing whatsoever about this monstrous crime and impeachable offense.

Under the Nuremberg standard, unprovoked aggression is a war crime. The US established this standard. Bush has violated it with impunity.

Bush and his Attorney General assert Bush's power to attack Iran independently of a Congressional declaration of war or any form of congressional approval. Bush claims that his power to attack Iran is merely an extension of his present power to conduct war in Iraq, a power seized on the basis of lies and deception. Congress has taken no action to disabuse Bush of his presumption.

Bush's preparations for attacking Iran are highly visible. The entire world can see the preparations and expects the attack. Congress is mute in the face of a catastrophic widening of a war to which a large majority of the American people are now opposed.

In national elections three months ago the American people used democracy in an unsuccessful attempt to restrain the Bush Regime from its warmongering ways by defeating the Republican Party and giving control of both houses of Congress to Democrats.

Instead of acting, the Democrats have postured.

Indeed, some have joined Bush in his warmongering. Hillary Clinton, regarded as the frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination, recently declared at an affair hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading instigator of war with Iran, that Iran is a danger to the US and a great threat to Israel.

Hillary's claims are preposterous. Israel has large numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Iran has none. Iran has no ability to harm the US and would have no motive except for the Bush Regime's gratuitous provocations. A state in which a leading contender for the presidential nomination can make utterly absurd claims and suffer no consequence is a failed state.

The United States is a failed state, because in the US it is not possible for leadership to emerge. Politics is controlled by powerful interest groups, such as AIPAC, the military-industrial complex, transnational corporations, and "security" agencies that are accumulating vast amounts of unaccountable power. The American people spoke in November and it means nothing whatsoever.

The people are enfeebled because the media no longer has independence. The US media serves as propagandist for the state. It cannot be otherwise in a highly concentrated media run not by journalists but by advertising executives protecting stock values that derive from federal broadcast licenses granted by the state. Like the three monkeys, Congress sees no evil, the media speaks no evil, and the people hear no evil. In the US "news" consists of the government's propaganda. "News" in America is exactly like the "news" in George Orwell's 1984.

The US is a failed state, because it is not true to any of the principles upon which it was established. All over the world today, America is seen as a rogue state, a hegemonic evil, and as the greatest threat to peace and stability. In its new identify, America is the total opposite of the Founding Fathers intention. There is no greater failure than that. Academics differentiate between failed states and rogue states. The US and Israel meet both criteria. The US and Israel lead the world in aggressive military actions and in killings of civilian populations. Both countries meet the main indicators of failed states as published in Foreign Policy's 2005 Failed States Index.

The leading indicators of failed states are inequality (not merely poverty), "criminalization or delegitimization of the state, which occurs when state institutions are regarded as corrupt, illegal, or ineffective," and "demographic factors, especially population pressures stemming from refugees" and "internally displaced populations." All economic indicators show that income and wealth inequality is rapidly increasing in the US. The growth in inequality is the result of the state's policy that favors shareholders and corporate executives at the expense of American workers.

The income differences between Israelis and ghettoized Palestinians are huge.

Trials and investigations of leading political figures in the US and Israel are an ongoing occurrence. Currently, the former chief-of-staff of the vice president of the US is on trial for lying to the FBI in an attempt to obstruct an investigation into the Bush Regime's illegal disclosure of an undercover CIA operative. The accused claims he is the fall guy for higher ups.

In Israel the president of the country is accused of rape and faces indictment.

Both the US and Israel routinely ignore international law and are accused of committing war crimes by human rights organizations. The US Congress stands revealed as totally ineffective and unwilling to constrain the executive. The American people have learned that they cannot change the government's policies through elections. By fomenting the demise of the civil liberties that they are sworn to uphold, President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales have delegitimized the American state, turning it into an instrument of oppression.

Israel's policies in the West Bank have displaced a million Palestinians, forcing them to be refugees from their own land. Jordan is filled with Palestinian refugees, and Palestinian existence in the West Bank is being increasingly confined to ghettos cut off from farm land, schools, medical care and from other Palestinians. President Jimmy Carter has described Israeli-occupied Palestine as "apartheid."

For decades in the face of public opposition the US government has encouraged massive legal and illegal immigration of diverse peoples whose failure to assimilate is balkanizing the US population. Economic refugees from Mexico are changing the culture and allegiance of entire sections of the American southwest, and racial animosities are on the rise. In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky defined one characteristic of a failed state as a "democratic deficit, that is, a substantial gap between public policy and public opinion." We see this gap in Bush's decision to escalate the war in Iraq despite the opposition of 70% of the American public. What does democracy mean if elected leaders ignore public opinion?

Another characteristic of failed states is the failure to protect their own citizens. Israel's aggressive policies against Palestinians provoke terror attacks on Israeli citizens. These attacks are then used to justify more oppression of Palestinians, which leads to more terror. Bush's military aggression in the MIddle East is the main cause of any terror threats that Americans now face.

Another characteristic of a failed state is the departure of citizens. Many Israelis, seeing no future for Israel in the government's hostility to Arabs, are leaving Israel. Among Israelis themselves, the legitimacy of the Israeli state is so endangered that the Knesset has just passed a law to revoke the citizenship of "unpatriotic" Israelis.

In the US a large percentage of the population has lost confidence in the government's veracity. Polls show that 40% of Americans do not believe the government's story that the 9/11 attacks were the work of Arab terrorists. Many believe the attack was a "false flag" operation carried out by elements in the Bush Regime in order to create public acceptance for its planned invasions in the Middle East.

A state that cannot tolerate moral conscience in its soldiers is a failed state. The failure of the American state can be seen it its prosecution of Lt. Ehren Watada. Watada comes from a family with a military heritage. His response to the 9/11 attack was to join the military. Diagnosed with asthma, he failed his physical, but persevered and ended up with an officer's commission.

Watada's problem is that he can recognize a war crime even when it is committed by a might-makes-right state. The Abu Ghraib prison tortures and the evidence that Bush deceived Americans about weapons of mass destruction caused Watada to realize that he was on the wrong side of the Nuremberg Principles, the UN Charter, and the US military code, which says American soldiers have an obligation to disobey unlawful orders. He signed up to serve his country, not to kill people for illegal and immoral reasons.

Watada refused to deploy to Iraq. He is being tried for refusing deployment and for suggesting that President Bush deceived Americans. By now every attentive American knows that Bush deceived them, and our greatest patriots have said so. Watada is on trial for suggesting what everyone knows to be true. He is not being tried for veracity. He is being tried for speaking the truth.

Failure to deploy is a more understandable charge. There is no army if soldiers do not follow orders. However, as the US established at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, following orders is not an excuse for participating in war crimes. At the Nazi war crimes trials, it was the US that insisted that soldiers were responsible for using judgment about the legality of their orders.

That is what Lt. Watada did. His trial will not broach the subject of whether his judgment was correct. The evidence against him will merely be that he did not deploy. By trying Lt. Watada the US government is insisting that American troops are not responsible for judging the legality of their orders, only for following them. The standard applied to WW II Germans is too high to be applied to Americans.

In a draft army Watada's refusal to accept illegal orders could be used by conscripted cannon fodder to derail the state's intended aggression. However, in a voluntary army in which soldiers seek to serve, permitting Lt. Watada to have his conscience does not imperil the command structure. Others less thoughtful and less aware will carry forth the state's enterprise.

The case against Israel and the US does not preclude some Muslim states from also meeting the criteria for failure. However, Iraq, an artificial creation of Western colonial powers, was driven into failure and civil war by American aggression. Iran, a nation with a 5,000 year history, is certainly not a failed state. The main failed states in the Middle East are those that are US puppets. They represent American hegemony, not the interests of their people.

What the US and Israel are attempting to do is to turn the entire Muslim Middle East into failed states, that is, into puppet regimes. By extending their hegemony in the Middle East, the US and Israel hope to prolong their own failed existence.

*** Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts02052007.html

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The Great Dollar Crash of '07

By Mike Whitney http://www.informationliberation.com/?id=20078

“Whatever future developments may prove to be, my best guess is that the US will continue to maintain a façade of Constitutional government and drift along until financial bankruptcy overtakes it.” Chalmers Johnson, “Empire V. Democracy: Why Nemesis is at our Door” Every time a US Dollar is traded, a check is issued on an account that is overdrawn by $8.6 trillion. (That is the present size of the national debt) It is, without question, the biggest swindle in history. Flimsy sheets of faded-green scrip are eagerly exchanged for costly goods and services without any regard for the real value of the currency.

And, the real value of the currency is absolutely nothing!

How is it that this scam persists when people appear to be aware of the massive debt and deficits which underwrite the dollar? Do they still believe in that puerile fairy tale about “the full faith and credit” of the United States backing up every greenback? Or are they pacified by the wizened graybeards, like Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson, who soothingly bray about the “strong dollar policy”?

What gibberish.

In truth, the dollar rests on the crumbling foundation of consumerism and oil. The American consumer’s gluttonous appetite for spending has kept the greenback flying high for decades. Economists marvel at America’s lust for electronic gadgetry, the latest fashions, and useless knick-knacks. They call our profligate spending “the engine for global growth”; and indeed it is. No other country in the world is nearly as addicted to binge-spending as the US consumer. As long as he can beg, borrow or steal his way into the shopping mall; the orgy of spending is bound to continue. (Consumer spending is 70% of GDP)

Regrettably, there are signs that the US consumer is beginning to buckle from the weight of personal debt. The Associated Press reported just this week that “people are saving at the slowest rate since the Great Depression… and the Commerce Dept stated that the nation’s personal savings rate for 2006 was a negative 1%, the worst showing in 73 years.”

Additionally, credit card debt has skyrocketed, which is an indication that homeowners are no longer able to siphon easy-money from their home-equity. The nose-diving real estate market has slowed refinancing to a dribble; cutting off the additional $825 billion of cash which was extracted from home-equity just last year.

Clearly, the well is running dry; the housing bubble is hang-gliding into the abyss and there’s nothing Fed-master Bernanke can do to save it from its inevitable crash-landing.

The central banks around the world are now watching for any sign that the American consumer is about to give up the ghost. As soon as that happens, bank managers everywhere will swing into action, ditch their U.S.Dollars and head for the exits. When the “global engine” sputters to a halt; it’ll be curtains for the greenback.

The Oil-extortion Racket

The dollar’s link to oil has helped to keep it afloat but, in truth, it’s just another dismal rip-off. More than 70% of the world’s oil is denominated in USD; a virtual monopoly for the USA. Until last year, even Russia was using dollars in its oil transactions with Germany. Imagine a comparable deal, like the US purchasing oil from Canada in rubles?!?

It’s lunacy; and yet this is the system the US hopes to preserve so it can maintain its unique status as the world’s “reserve currency” and keep expanding its debt into perpetuity. It explains why the Federal Reserve has been able to increase the money supply by a whopping 15% for the last 6 years! Trillions of dollars are now circulating in the oil trade keeping the value of the dollar high by creating artificial demand.

The other reason the dollar hasn’t succumbed to hyperinflation is because the current account deficit is running at roughly $800 billion per year. The Asian giants (China and Japan) and the oil exporting countries are mopping up more than $700 billion of our red ink every year!

The dollar’s link to oil forces central banks to maintain humongous stockpiles of USD to pay the steadily rising price of oil that keeps their industries and vehicles running. Otherwise they would have chucked the flaccid greenback years ago and converted to the more steadfast euro.

The so-called ‘global economic system’ has nothing to do with competition, free markets or private enterprise; that’s just public relations gobbledygook. In practice, it is the world’s biggest extortion racket, wherein, the “Godfather”-- Uncle Sam-- holds a gun to the heads of his subjects and forces them to use our fiat-paper to purchase the oil that lubricates their economies.

Why would anyone accept a personal check from a nation that owes the bank more than $8.6 trillion dollars?

Why, indeed?

It’s blackmail, pure and simple; and yet, the Chinese, Japanese etc. continue to play along knowing full-well that we neither have the inclination nor the resources to pay them back in kind?

It’s madness.

Every so often, a rebel nation will try to break the shackle of greenback-tyranny and operate outside the US-run system?

For example, Saddam Hussein switched to euros 6 months before he was carpet-bombed in Shock and Awe. His defiance only hastened his ultimate downfall. Now Iran and Venezuela are threatening to convert to euros. Is it any surprise that they are both on Bush’s axis-of-evil hit list?

Russia has already made the conversion to euros and rubles (and has considerably depleted his supplies of USD) but, of course, regime change is more difficult when a state has nuclear weapons. Instead, the mainstream media is conducting an impressive “Swift Boat” campaign against Putin, smearing him as a “Russian autocrat” who is “rolling back democracy”. At the same time, the Bush administration is threatening to deploy missile systems in Eastern Europe and ratcheting up the pressure in the former Soviet republics.

Bush would rather restart the Cold War than abandon the supremacy of the greenback. But, why? Is Dollar-primacy really that crucial to our economy?

The greenback is the baling wire that keeps the global economy in the hands of the doddering old misers at the Federal Reserve. It’s the cornerstone of the whole wretched system; a system which now includes torture, extraordinary rendition, and myriad other war crimes.

The young Muslim men who are abducted off the streets of Europe and Asia and taken to CIA Black Sites where they are waterboarded or stacked in naked pyramids; are tortured in defense of the crumpled piece of green paper we carry in our pants pockets.

Think I’m kidding?

Just look at Bush’s budget for 2007-2008; $700 billion for foreign wars?!? There’s no way the US can pay off that debt through the normal means of increasing exports. In fact, Bush has already said that he plans to preserve his unfunded tax cuts whether they produce massive deficits or not.

What Bush plans to do is force the foreign central banks to hold more dollar-based assets, thus, thrusting our gigantic debt onto our trading partners. According to Bob Chapman of The International Forecaster, “US debt was up 10.1% to $4.085 trillion and accounts for 58.8% OF ALL THE CREDIT ISSUED GLOBALLY LAST YEAR. The US is producing more debt than the rest of the world combined.

As long as foreign lenders are willing to take our paper, Bush will keep expanding our debt. As Chalmers Johnson opined, “We are dependent on ‘the kindness of strangers’”. (The Blanche Dubois economy)

Of course, if the central banks grow tired of this pyramid-scheme and dump the dollar; the world can get on with the business of addressing global warming, poverty, AIDs, Peak Oil, nuclear proliferation etc. That won’t happen as long as the dollar reigns supreme and a small cadre of unelected racketeers at the Fed continue Gerry-rig the system.

Economic justice and equitable distribution of wealth begin with greater parity among the currencies. That requires “regime change” for the greenback and a loosening of its tyrannical grip on the system.

Sleepwalking in the Weimar U.S.A.

The good news is that the Bush administration is pushing the dollar towards extinction anyway. Another few years of $800 billion trade deficits, lavish unfunded tax cuts for the mega-rich, and a Pentagon budget of $700 billion-plus; and the old greenback will be going the way of the Dodo. Jim Willie of GoldenJackass.com summarized it this way:

“Never in the history of central bankers has the hidden coordination, influenced pressure, gargantuan money creation, doctored statistics, and interference with financial markets been so broad, so deep, and so profound. My allegation is clear, that we now live in Weimar times, as has been warned for two years worth of scribbles. Collectively, they have abused the privilege of printing money, and in doing so, have guaranteed a gold bull market. … The more heavily the counterfeit press dispenses electronic dollars, devoted to operations, to credit, to consumer spending, to military adventures, to good old fashioned fraud, the gold bull benefits from ample new oxygen and blood flow”.

Willie is right; the system is rotten to the core. Once the dollar crashes, other currencies rush in to fill the void generating greater competition between the energy and manufacturing giants. A new paradigm will emerge distributing power more equitably among the states. It’s a way to resuscitate a system that is currently held together through force of arms.

Besides, how long will China and Japan continue to abet Washington’s war-mongering adventurism? My guess is that the daggers have already been sharpened in Beijing, Caracas, Delhi and Moscow. Everyone is just waiting for Bush to cross that invisible line in the sand before they fling their greenbacks into the jet-stream and wait for Goliath to tumble.

That “invisible line in the sand” is Iran.

The world is at a crossroads and everyone who can fog a mirror knows it. The superpower model of global governance has failed miserably. We need more responsible stewardship of the planet and its resources.

How can we build our economies when a handful of western plutocrats control the spigot for quickly dwindling oil reserves? How can we attack climate change when those same blinkered reprobates employ pseudo-scientists to dispute global warming? How can we address nuclear proliferation when neocon militarists believe in “useable” low-yield, bunker-busting warheads?

The model is hopelessly shattered. We’d be better off boarding-up the White House and the Federal Reserve and starting from Square One.

The world needs a break from Washington’s wasteful spending and unprovoked wars. At the same time, foreign creditors are increasingly reluctant to keep financing America’s extravagant consumption. And, no one is hoodwinked by Bush’s “war on terror” scam; a conflict that was clearly concocted to assert control over the world’s remaining resources.

The world is realigning according to mutual interests and a shared vision of the future. The rise of energy alliances in Latin America and Asia (particularly the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which now controls most new oil deposits and output) signals the waning of western influence and the ascendancy of a new energy paradigm. Power is progressively shifting away from Washington.

That’s bad news for the greenback which depends on its linkage to oil to sustain its enormous debt.

The dollar now faces challenges from all directions. Western elites have savaged the country’s economic base by hollowing out our manufacturing base in order to destroy the American labor movement. Free trade has transformed the US into the biggest creditor nation in history. The country exports nothing but bombs and misery.

Also, as Congressman Ron Paul notes, “Most knowledgeable people assume that inflation of the money supply is not only going to continue, but accelerate. This anticipation, plus the fact that many new dollars have been created over the past 15 years that have not been fully discounted, guarantees the further depreciation of the dollar.” Eventually, the markets will catch on, foreign lenders will stop buying our Treasuries, and the dollar will fall through the floor. The laws of gravity apply to economics as well as science.

Red flags are going up everywhere. China’s central bank issued a warning in December about the risks of the weakening dollar: “If external capital stops flowing into the US, a significant drop in the dollar may occur with consumption and investment shrinking, interest rates rising, and financial markets experiencing turbulence, endangering global financial and economic stability. There could be adjustments to how European private capital, Asian foreign exchange reserves and oil export proceeds are invested.”

Yes, of course, a complete economic meltdown with capital fleeing the United States to foreign countries and the American economy collapsing in a heap.

The Chinese central bank statement adds:

“If the US current account deficit continues to grow faster than GDP, then the investment value of US assets may be subject to doubts and challenges and the willingness of investors to continue holding and buying US financial products may weaken. This could cause changes in capital flows, the exchange rates of major currencies, and the value of foreign exchange assets.”

The Chinese bank is giving the Bush Team a chapter out of Econ. 101: “If you keep spending more than you are taking in; the stock market will fall, the dollar will plummet, and the US economy will tank”.

What could be clearer than that?

The administration, however, chooses to ignore the basic laws of economics and pursue a madcap plan to wage aggressive war across the planet and pilfer the world’s oil reserves. So far, the results have been less than reassuring. The Decline of U.S. Sovereignty; blame it on the Fed

The United States set off on the road to perdition when it transferred the power to create money to the privately-owned Federal Reserve. It’s been downhill ever since.

The man who can set interest rates and create money is more powerful than the man who can move armies and change laws. By conferring that authority on the Federal Reserve we have assured that the policies that govern our economy are decided by unelected members of the ruling elite whose choices will naturally reflect the interests of their class.

The wealth gap that has opened up like a yawning chasm between rich and poor in America originated with the class-based policies of the Fed. The massive equity bubbles which arose from artificially low interest rates and the deliberate destruction of the dollar by reckless increases in the money supply have shifted trillions of dollars from working class Americans to the predatory aristocrats at the top of the economic food chain. The gulf between rich and poor has grown so wide that it now poses a direct threat to our increasingly fragile democracy. That’s why Thomas Jefferson said:

“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of our currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and the corporations that will grow up will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing of power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”

Free people cannot control their own destiny unless they control their own currency. The Federal Reserve must be abolished.

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Russia to Build Up Number of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles — Defense Minister

MosNews

The Russian military will sharply increase the number of new intercontinental ballistic missiles to be deployed this year as part of an ambitious weapons modernization plan, The Associated Press news agency quoted Russian Defense Minister as saying on Wednesday.

Sergei Ivanov said the military would get 17 new ballistic missiles —- a drastic rise compared with an average four deployed annually over recent years. The purchases are part of a weapons modernization program for 2007-2015 worth about $189 billion.

Ivanov said in a speech before lawmakers that the plan envisages the deployment of the total of 34 new silo-based Topol-M missiles and their control units, as well as another 50 such missiles mounted on mobile launchers through 2015; Russia so far has deployed more than 40 silo-based Topol-Ms.

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have described the Topol-M as a bulwark of Russia’s nuclear might for years to come, and hailed its ability to penetrate any prospective missile defenses. Putin last week dismissed Washington’s claims that missile defense sites it hopes to establish in Poland and the Czech Republic were intended to counter threats posed by Iran, and said that Russia would respond by developing even more efficient weapons systems.

A rising tide of oil revenues gave Russia a chance to increase its defense spending following a desperate money shortage that plagued the military throughout the 1990s. “The economic growth and the scientific achievements allow us to reach a qualitatively new level in military procurement,” Ivanov said.

Russia’s defense budget which stood at $8.1 billion in 2001 nearly quadrupled to $31 billion this year, Ivanov said. But despite a steady increase in military spending in recent years, Putin said last week that Moscow’s military budget was still 25 times smaller than Washington’s defense spending.

Ivanov said that a share of weapons purchases in the military budget also has been growing over years. This year, the military will spend $5.4 billion on new weapons, buying aircraft, tanks and other armored vehicles and four new satellites, he said.

Russia Sends Missiles to Belarus in Response to U.S. Warplanes Delivery to Poland

MosNews Russia has sent anti-aircraft systems to Belarus in retaliation against the delivery to Poland of US-made F-16 warplanes, a source in the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) said on Friday, the AFP news agency reported.

“Anticipating the arrival of the F-16s in Poland, Russia has sent to Belarus four S-300 anti-aircraft systems which have already been put into service,” according to a source at the headquarters of the anti-aircraft defence alliance of the CIS, quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency.

The CIS is made up of the former members of the Soviet Union less the three Baltic states. The alliance was set up in 1995 by 10 CIS members (all bar Azerbaijan and Moldova) to protect the air borders of the former Soviet republics.

On Thursday Poland took delivery of the first four of the 48 F-16 fighters it has ordered from US plane-maker Lockheed Martin.

Vladimir Putin at a meeting of senior Russian military officials / Photo: AP

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Putin Says Russia Needs High End Nuclear Forces

Created: 17.11.2006 10:54 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 11:57 MSK

MosNews The country’s nuclear forces must remain capable of guaranteeing the destruction of any potential aggressor, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday, as he addressed a meeting of senior military officials, The Associated Press reports.

“Maintaining a strategic balance means that our strategic deterrent forces must be capable of destroying any potential aggressor, no matter what modern weapons systems it has,” Putin said at a meeting of senior military officials.

He said Russia needed to build “principally new strategic weapons systems” to maintain the balance of forces. “We’re not going to keep comparing quantities of strategic forces in nuclear powers as we have been doing for decades, although it still makes some sense,” Putin said in televised remarks. “In the modern world, it’s the quality of weapons that is more important than the number of nuclear warheads.”

He said that along with a strong nuclear deterrent, the military should also preserve efficient conventional forces.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said a strong military power was essential for Russia to “protect the nation’s security and territorial integrity, firmly defend our national interests and, if necessary, adequately respond to any attempts of political pressure and blackmail,” Itar-Tass reported.

In his state-of-the-nation address in May, Putin emphasized that Russia needed a strong military to resist foreign pressure. Windfall oil revenues over recent years have allowed the government to increase weapons purchases and fund the development of new weapons.

“The period of patching holes and elementary survival is over,” Putin said Thursday in a reference to a cash shortage that followed the Soviet collapse. “The Army and the Navy are again acquiring power and self-confidence.”

Ivanov said that of the military’s budget of 820 billion rubles ($30.7 billion) next year, 300 billion rubles would be spent on new weapons, including 17 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. That is a significant increase over recent years, when the military was buying just several new strategic missiles per year. Ivanov added that a state weapons program for 2007 to 2015 envisaged spending the total of 5 trillion rubles ($188 billion) on the development and production of new weapons.

In response to broad criticism of poor conditions and rampant bullying of young conscripts by older soldiers, Ivanov pledged Thursday to punish officers who allowed abuses and open the military to more public scrutiny. Ivanov said there were 473 noncombat deaths in the military in the first 10 months of the year, compared with 876 during the same period last year. Of that number, 20 deaths resulted from bullying compared with 26 during the same period last year, and 167 were suicides, compared with 206 in 2005, he said.

He said the military this year would disband all construction battalions, notorious for the most vicious bullying and other abuses. He added that three generals were fired this year for assigning to soldiers tasks unrelated to service.

Photo from www.rg.ru

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Russia, Kyrgyzstan Hold Joint Drill to Counter U.S. Presence in Region Created: 05.10.2006 16:45 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 16:45 MSK

MosNews

Russian special forces supported by helicopters took part in a joint anti-terrorism drill with Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, as Moscow seeks to counter U.S. military presence in its traditional sphere of influence, Reuters news agency reports.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Central Asian state, is home to a U.S. military airbase set up in 2001 to support American operations in Afghanistan. The exercises, held high in the mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan, involved 400 special armed forces and aircraft from a Russian airbase near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

“These exercises are aimed at deflecting real threats,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said after the drill. “We are ready to help our allies not only on paper ... but also in terms of military assistance,” he told reporters.

The scenario for the training exercise involved troops freeing hostages seized by militants in a Kyrgyz village. During their talks earlier in the day, Ivanov told President Kurmanbek Bakiyev that Russia would supply helicopters to the Central Asian nation as part of its defence assistance.

Russia and Kyrgyzstan say their military cooperation could help prevent what they see as a growing threat by Islamist extremists in the region. Rights groups have accused a number of Central Asian governments of clamping down on dissent under the veil of their war against terrorism.

But analysts say there is also a tussle between Moscow and Washington for influence in Central Asia, an energy-rich region near to China.

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