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Senate Approves Bill Opposing ‘Precipitous’ US Pullout From Afghanistan, Syria

Sputnik – 01.02.2019

WASHINGTON – The Senate has voted to advance legislation opposing any “precipitous withdrawal” of US forces from Syria and Afghanistan, following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would be pulling all US troops out of the country.

The Senate voted 68-23 to limit debate on an amendment introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that calls on the United States to remain in Syria and Afghanistan until all terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Daesh are defeated there.

McConnell’s move was backed by almost all Republicans in the Senate, with only three of them — John Kennedy, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz — voting against the motion to advance the amendment.

Trump is reportedly considering plans to withdraw around 7,000 of the 14,000 US troops deployed to Afghanistan after ordering the Defense Department to pull out all 2,000 US soldiers stationed in Syria.

However, Senator Bernie Sanders criticized Trump’s move and supported congressional intervention to help create a more gradual troop withdrawal plan in a statement on Thursday.

“Congress must play a role, consistent with its Constitutional authority over war, in developing a troop withdrawal plan that is coordinated with our allies, that continues to provide humanitarian aid and that supports political settlements in these countries”, Sanders said.

The amendment will be introduced to a wide-ranging Senate bill on the Middle East, the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act”. The sweeping legislation must still go up for a vote in the Senate, along with the US House.

If passed, the legislation would impose new sanctions against Syria, boost defense spending in the region and punish activists who call for economic boycotts of Israel to protest its policies in Palestine, among other measures.

The move marks a rare break between Senate majority Republicans and President Donald Trump who has said he plans to pull US troops out of both countries. The 68 votes in favor of the motion mean it could be re-passed with two-thirds of the 100 senators overriding any presidential veto by Trump.

On December 19, President Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing its troops from Syria over a period of several months. According to Trump, the US coalition’s mission, the defeat of Daesh (ISIS), had been secured.

The US and NATO initially launched military operations in Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attack. While most of the US troops had left the country by the end of 2014, NATO launched a new mission in 2015, called Resolute Support, to provide training and assistance to Afghan security forces.

January 31, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

McConnell Mulls Introducing Amendment to Stop US Pullout from Syria, Afghanistan

Sputnik – 30.01.2019

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation to prevent what he called a “precipitous” withdrawal of US forces from Syria and Afghanistan before terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Daesh are defeated there.

“My amendment would acknowledge the plain fact that al Qaeda, ISIS[Daesh], and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to our nation”, McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.

McConnell said his amendment, which he plans to introduce to a wide-ranging Senate bill on the Middle East, would “recognize the danger of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict, and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan”.

He stressed that his amendment would ensure the continued commitment of US forces until “vile terrorists” suffer an enduring defeat in both countries.

Moreover, McConnell emphasized that if the US exit the two countries before defeating the terrorists, the two conflicts would “reverberate in the United States”.

The comments mark a rare break between the Republican Senate majority leader and President Donald Trump, who has signaled that he intends to pull US troops out of both countries.

McConnell said he would introduce the amendment to the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act”, a sweeping package of measures that would impose new sanctions against Syria, boost defense spending in the region and punish activists who call for economic boycotts of Israel to protest its policies in Palestine, among other measures.

The bill cleared a first Senate hurdle on Monday in a 74-19 vote, and the chamber is expected to decide on the final version of the legislation in the coming days.

In December, the US-based media reported that Washington planned to withdraw around 7,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. The reports came in the wake of Trump’s announcement regarding his intention to pull the US troops out of Syria since, according to him, the Daesh had been defeated.

The White House, however, has dismissed the claims about Afghanistan, saying that Donald Trump had no such plans.

January 30, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Senate’s First Act: “An Implicit Rebuke” Of Trump’s Syria Draw Down

By Tyler Durden – Zero Hedge – 01/05/2019

The Republican-held Senate’s first order of business as it reconvened on Friday for 2019 was to push back against President Trump’s planned Syria withdrawal, as the first bill Republican leadership introduced, led by hawk Marco Rubio, is being described as “an implicit rebuke” of the president’s Syria policy.

Senate Bill 1, expected to be one of the first pieces of legislation under consideration of the new Senate, was introduced Thursday by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is being co-sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho. Sen. McConnel subsequently announced this means Congress is finally set to debate Syria policy; however ironically at the very moment Trump is attempting a “full” and “immediate” pull out of some 2,000+ US forces. This after US officials reiterated on Friday that “no fixed deadline” for troop withdrawal has been given and they would seek to ensure “no power vacuum” in previously occupied northeast Syria would remain.

NBC describes the proposed legislation, which focuses on a new round of sanctions against Damascus, as follows:

Although Congress can’t force the commander-in-chief to keep troops in Syria, Senate aides say the move is designed to illustrate the need for a strong, continuing U.S. presence in the Middle East and re-assert the role of Congress on national security. It comes as many of Trump’s GOP allies have joined Democrats in deploring his announcement of a Syria withdrawal without consulting allies and lamenting the subsequent resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The Senate is moving quickly to assert its point-of-view on U.S. policy regarding Syria and in the broader Middle East, and it could serve as a rebuttal to the decision by President Donald Trump to pull back U.S. forces from Syria.

Of note is that Congress is only attempting to “re-assert” its role on national security the moment a US president is seeking to pull out of the Middle East.

Statements by the bill sponsors referenced consulting “steadfast” allies first. While naming Israel and Jordan specifically, Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch said, “This package of legislation is an important step toward finishing the work of the last Congress. Israel and Jordan have been steadfast allies of the United States that deserve this support.”

Also noticeable was the complete lack of appeal to American self-defense and the unpopularity among the American public of remaining in Syria, according to recent polls.

Sen. Risc continued to cite foreign allies first and foremost as necessitating the bill: “Also, it is vital to confront Syrian government atrocities and end discrimination against Israel,” he said while calling for it to move forward rapidly.

And well-known Iran hawk Sen. Rubio echoed the same:

It is in America’s national security interests to ensure that our allies in the Middle East like Israel and Jordan remain secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran and Syria’s Assad regime… This important bill will also impose new sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters who continue to commit horrific human rights violations against the Syrian people.

On Wednesday President Trump altered his language after immense pushback in Washington, saying the US will get out of Syria “over a period of time” and in such a way that will protect America’s Kurdish partners on the ground, at a moment pro-Turkish forces backed by Turkey’s army are set to invade and annex Kurdish enclaves in the north of the country.

Notably, Trump also told reporters on Wednesday: “Syria was lost long ago. we’re not talking about vast wealth. we’re talking about sand and death,” while also noting: “It’s not my fault. I didn’t put us there.”

But it appears senators like Rubio, McConnell and Risch want to come keep the US there indefinitely, continuing what’s unfortunately becoming an American tradition of “forever wars” and quagmires.

January 5, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 3 Comments

GOP senators introduce new Iran sanctions bill

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Press TV – March 17, 2016

A group of US Republican senators has introduced legislation to impose new sanctions against Iran over what legislators have described as Tehran’s support for terrorism and human rights violations.

The legislation, which was introduced on Thursday by Senator Kelly Ayotte, aims to impose harsher sanctions on Iran’s economy.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio and Senators Mark Kirk, Dan Coats and Cory Gardner as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Several other Republican senators have also signed on the new bill, dubbed the “Iran Terrorism and Human Rights Sanctions Act of 2016.”

The bill’s co-sponsors include Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, and Senators John Cornyn, Rob Portman, Pat Roberts, Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Jerry Moran, Johnny Isakson and Lisa Murkowski.

The senators have accused Iran of supporting terrorism in the Middle East and committing human rights abuses.

“I reject our current posture of willful ignorance and inaction towards Iran’s terrorist activities, illegal missile testing, funding Assad’s war, and human rights abuses,” said Kirk, a strong supporter of Israel and advocate of Iran sanctions.

“The Administration’s response cannot once again be it’s ‘not supposed to be doing that’ as Iran continues to walk all over US foreign policy and the international community,” he said.

The Obama administration has advised the Republican-dominated Senate not to impose more sanctions on Iran after the historic nuclear agreement between Tehran and the world powers.

With the Iran Sanctions Act expiring at the end of this year, GOP senators are trying their best to reauthorize and impose more sanctions on Tehran on the pretext of terrorism, human rights issues, and ballistic missile tests.

Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France as well as Germany started implementation of the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, on January 16.

After JCPOA went into effect, all nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Iran by the European Union, the Security Council and the US were lifted.

Iran in return has put some limitations on its nuclear activities. The nuclear agreement was signed on July 14, 2015 following two and a half years of intensive talks.

March 18, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congress is Writing the President a Blank Check for War

By Ron Paul | January 24, 2016

While the Washington snowstorm dominated news coverage this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was operating behind the scenes to rush through the Senate what may be the most massive transfer of power from the Legislative to the Executive branch in our history. The senior Senator from Kentucky is scheming, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, to bypass normal Senate procedure to fast-track legislation to grant the president the authority to wage unlimited war for as long as he or his successors may wish.

The legislation makes the unconstitutional Iraq War authorization of 2002 look like a walk in the park. It will allow this president and future presidents to wage war against ISIS without restrictions on time, geographic scope, or the use of ground troops. It is a completely open-ended authorization for the president to use the military as he wishes for as long as he (or she) wishes. Even President Obama has expressed concern over how willing Congress is to hand him unlimited power to wage war.

President Obama has already far surpassed even his predecessor, George W. Bush, in taking the country to war without even the fig leaf of an authorization. In 2011 the president invaded Libya, overthrew its government, and oversaw the assassination of its leader, without even bothering to ask for Congressional approval. Instead of impeachment, which he deserved for the disastrous Libya invasion, Congress said nothing. House Republicans only managed to bring the subject up when they thought they might gain political points exploiting the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi.

It is becoming more clear that Washington plans to expand its war in the Middle East. Last week the media reported that the US military had taken over an air base in eastern Syria, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the US would send in the 101st Airborne Division to retake Mosul in Iraq and to attack ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. Then on Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden said that if the upcoming peace talks in Geneva are not successful, the US is prepared for a massive military intervention in Syria. Such an action would likely place the US military face to face with the Russian military, whose assistance was requested by the Syrian government. In contrast, we must remember that the US military is operating in Syria in violation of international law.

The prospects of such an escalation are not all that far-fetched. At the insistence of Saudi Arabia and with US backing, the representatives of the Syrian opposition at the Geneva peace talks will include members of the Army of Islam, which has fought with al-Qaeda in Syria. Does anyone expect these kinds of people to compromise? Isn’t al-Qaeda supposed to be our enemy?

The purpose of the Legislative branch of our government is to restrict the Executive branch’s power. The Founders understood that an all-powerful king who could wage war at will was the greatest threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is why they created a people’s branch, the Congress, to prevent the emergence of an all-powerful autocrat to drag the country to endless war. Sadly, Congress is surrendering its power to declare war.

Let’s be clear: If Senate Majority Leader McConnell succeeds in passing this open-ended war authorization, the US Constitution will be all but a dead letter.

January 25, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Militarism | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Senate’s Excuses for Reauthorizing Section 215–and Why They’re Wrong

By Mark Jaycox | EFF | May 19, 2015

Three provisions of the Patriot Act expire on June 1 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to delay taking action on the issue by calling for a two month or 5-year reauthorization of Section 215—the provision of the Patriot Act the NSA relies on to collect millions of Americans call records.

Before June 1 we expect to see plenty of fear-mongering from intelligence officials and national security hawks. Last year, the Wall Street Journal began the foray with an op-ed by Former NSA Director General Mike Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey—key architects of many of the NSA’s unlawful activities. This time, the mongering started with op-eds by John Yoo, Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Tom Cotton.

Here are the top excuses officials will use to continue spying on Americans calling records and why they’re wrong:

Congress Needs Time to Debate

“I don’t know how we have the kind of fulsome debate that is going to be required on NSA without passing a temporary extension,” —Sen. John Cornyn

Congress has had two full years to publicly debate the NSA’s use of Section 215. Indeed, the debate has been vigorous and thoughtful. While Congress didn’t create a separate investigative committee, it was still able to hold over a dozen hearings where Section 215 was discussed. The hearings, which called upon officials like the Attorney General, Director of National Intelligence, and Director of the NSA, included hours of testimony on the programs, what they collect, and their effectiveness.

Congress has also debated Section 215 via Senator Patrick Leahy and Jim Sensenbrenner’s reform bill called the USA Freedom Act. Last year, the House passed a gutted bill of the USA Freedom Act, but debated the legislation for days. This year, the House debated a stronger version of the USA Freedom Act and passed it 338 to 88.

The Senate has also debated the legislation. Last year, after two days of debate, the Senate failed to advance a stronger version of the USA Freedom Act by two votes. Congress has had more than enough time to discuss these authorities and must act.

The Section 215 Program is Effective

“This has been a very important part of our effort to defend the homeland since 9/11.” —Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

There’s one problem: there’s no evidence to support that. Two independent commissions concluded the calling records program was not effective and has not been used to stop a terrorist attack. The first, called the President’s Review Group on Signals Intelligence, concluded “Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks.”

Like the President’s Review Group, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board also concluded:

Based on the information provided to the Board, including classified briefings and documentation, we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.

The quotes speak for themselves.

Fixing Section 215 Puts the Nation at Risk

“[The USA Freedom Act] would be rolling [the nation] back to exactly where we were pre-9/11. —Sen. Richard Burr

The Attorney General, Director of National Intelligence, and House Intelligence Chair and Ranking Members do not think reforming the Section 215 program will harm national security. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote letters (.pdf) to Congress noting that Section 215 reform would preserve both “vital national security authorities” and “essential Intelligence Community capabilities.”

The Program is “Lawful”

“Contrary to irresponsible rumors, the [bulk surveillance] program is lawful, carefully monitored, and protects personal privacy. The program does not conduct mass surveillance of American citizens—or any surveillance at all.” —Sen. Cotton and Rep. Mike Pompeo

Apparently, one of the “irresponsible rumors” Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. Mike Pompeo reference is a decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. (The circuit courts are the federal courts directly below the Supreme Court). The Second Circuit held that the NSA’s telephone records program went far beyond what Congress authorized when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act in 2001. The court rejected the government’s secret reinterpretation of Section 215 that has served as the basis for the telephone records collection program. The Second Circuit’s opinion stands as a clear sign that the courts are ready to step in and rule that mass surveillance is illegal.

In addition, the program is “surveillance.” As we’ve repeatedly said: the collection of metadata matters. It reveals a host of information and context about a person’s habits, traits, and beliefs. The Circuit Court opinion explained that metadata is often a proxy for the content of the communication, and that phone records can “reveal a startling amount of detailed information” about callers. The court also recognized that aggregation of calling records matters because collection of large amounts of metadata plus the application of sophisticated data processing technologies gives the government access to even more revealing portraits of individuals and groups.

Congress Must Say No to a Short-Term Reauthorization

In the next few days, Congress will begin to debate whether or not they should vote for a short-term reauthorization of Section 215. The answer is clearly no. Join us now in telling your lawmaker to vote against any short-term reauthorization.

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NSA Spying Ruled Illegal, But Will Congress Save the Program Anyway?

By Ron Paul | May 10, 2015

This week the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s metadata collection program was not authorized in US law. The PATRIOT Act, under which the program began, was too vague, the court found. But the truth is the Act was intended to be vague so that the government could interpret it in the broadest possible way.

But this is really more of a technicality, because illegality and unconstitutionality are really two very different things. Even if Congress had explicitly authorized the government to collect our phone records, that law would still be unconstitutional because the Constitution does not grant government the power to access our personal information without a valid search warrant.

Even though the court found the NSA program illegal, it did not demand that the government stop collecting our information in this manner. Instead, the court kicked the ball back in Congress’ court, as these provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of the month and the Appeals Court decided to let Congress decide how to re-authorize this spying program.

Unfortunately, this is where there is not much to cheer. If past practice is any lesson, Congress will wait until the spying program is about to expire and then in a panic try to frighten Americans into accepting more intrusions on their privacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put forth a new bill as a stop-gap measure to allow time for a fuller debate on the issue. His stop-gap? A five year re-authorization with no changes to the current program!

The main reform bill being floated, the FREEDOM Act, is little better. Pretending to be a step in the right direction, the FREEDOM Act may actually be worse for our privacy and liberties than the PATRIOT Act!

One silver lining in the court decision is that it should exonerate Ed Snowden, who risked it all to expose what the courts have now found was illegal US government activity. That is the definition of a whistleblower. Shouldn’t he be welcomed back home as a hero instead of being threatened with treason charges? We shouldn’t hold our breath!

This week Snowden addressed a conference in Melbourne, Australia, informing citizens that the Australian government watches all its citizens “all the time.” Australia’s program allows the government to “collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion,” he told the conference. That means the government is no longer in the business of prosecuting crimes, but instead is collecting information in case crimes someday occur.

How is it that the Australian government can collect and track “pre-crime” information on its citizens? Last month Australia passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata information on their customers for two years.

Why do Australia’s oppressive laws matter to us? Because the NSA “reform” legislation before Congress, the FREEDOM Act, does exactly what the Australian law does: it mandates that US telecommunications companies retain their customers’ metadata information so that the NSA can access the information as it wishes.

Some argue that this metadata information is harmless and that civil libertarians are over-reacting. But, as Ed Snowden told the Melbourne conference, “under these mandatory metadata laws you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are.”

This one example of what happens when the government forces corporations to assist it in spying on the people should be a red flag. How can an independent media exist in the US if the government knows exactly whom journalists contact for information? It would be the end of any future whistleblowers.

The only reform of the PATRIOT Act is a total repeal. Accept nothing less.

May 11, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption | , , , , , | 2 Comments