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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


U.S.

  • Protests against police brutality spread from Minneapolis to other U.S. cities, with Atlanta facing some particularly heated demonstrations that led to a 72-hour State of Emergency declaration. New York City is also facing major protests.

  • SpaceX is due to reattempt its manned launch today, after cancelling the first attempt on Wednesday because of bad weather. Today’s forecast is also dicey, so there’s a good chance the launch will be postponed again. Whenever it happens, it will be the first time since the space shuttle was retired in 2011 that U.S. astronauts took off for the International Space Station from U.S. soil—rather than hitchhiking aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

  • Forbes printed a brutal article alleging that Kylie Jenner and family duped its reporters into thinking Kylie was a billionaire by showing off fake tax returns—and estimating that Kylie isn’t a billionaire anymore anyway, given the slump in cosmetics sales from coronavirus lockdowns. Sad face!

Venezuela

  • Honduras passed a new law that boosts its cooperation with the U.S. against drug trafficking, and in particular allows its armed forces to shoot down “narco jets” ferrying drugs from Venezuela into Honduras. The U.S. welcomed the news, saying the law’s passage would allow it to resume counternarcotics assistance to Honduras (which were on rocky footing, especially after the Honduran president and his brother were accused of complicity in drug shipments). The State Dept. estimates that 4% of South American cocaine shipments to the U.S. make a first stop in Honduras.

  • A Post opinion piece pasted below thinks U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela are actually backfiring by giving the sanctioned regimes an opportunity to look like the good guys when they pull off good-for-the-people feats like illegal oil shipments, despite sanctions.

  • It now appears that the WSJ’s report (citing U.S. officials) that two of the ships carrying Iranian gas for Venezuela had turned around and aborted their deliveries was actually incorrect: the fourth of five boats is already docked and unloading in Venezuela, and the fifth appears to be still on its way, due in the next two days.

Niger

  • Niger’s parliament passed a new law authorizing wiretapping to curb “terrorism and transnational criminality.” The opposition objected on privacy grounds, to which the Justice Minister responded with some not-so-comforting words: “You feared being listened in on? Well, you were before and you still are - only now it will be organised.”

North Korea

  • Today we got a peek into what was on Kim Jong Un’s mind while he was hiding from the public eye over the last few weeks: Kim is apparently very upset about “decadent capitalist influences” like porn that have made North Korean teens desire “treasonous” sex, and he threatened to hold parents and teachers accountable for wayward youth.

  • According to U.S. analysts who examined satellite images, North Korea is still operating and improving its Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant, which produces yellowcake uranium—a precursor to nuclear fuel. The U.S. has repeatedly asked North Korea to dismantle Pyongsan, but apparently hasn’t asked nicely enough.

Afghanistan

  • Abdullah Abdullah, who was recently appointed to head intra-Afghan talks from the government’s side, said he was ready to start discussions with the Taliban “at any moment,” as long as there was a new ceasefire while the talks take place.

  • An IED targeted a vehicle belonging to the Khurshid TV channel in Kabul, wounding six. No group has claimed the attack yet.

Libya

  • More grisly details emerged about the revenge murder of 30 migrants in Libya. Survivors say the group—which included 24 Bangladeshis—was taken hostage by an armed group near Mizda for two weeks as they tried to cross the desert from Benghazi to find work, and were then tortured for ransom. Eleven survived, and the GNA is trying to find their captors.

Other News

  • Angela Merkel declined Pres. Trump’s invitation for an in-person G7 summit in late June, “considering the overall pandemic situation.” Hers is the first firm no; the other five countries’ leaders haven’t responded definitively yet.

Trump’s sanctions are failing. Venezuela and Iran just proved it. (WaPo)

Iranian tankers sailed into Venezuelan waters this week, raising alarm among hawks in Washington who cite the news as evidence that Caracas and Tehran are partners in a nefarious alliance threatening security in the Western Hemisphere.

The reality is more mundane — and far less frightening.

The governments in both Tehran and Caracas are repressive and incompetent. Neither serves the interests of its citizens. But U.S. efforts to effect regime change through what it calls “maximum pressure” — harsh sanctions and other forms of economic pressure — have so far had little impact on either government’s policies.

Even though it has plenty of oil, the Maduro government’s mismanagement has left it desperately poor in gasoline. Iran, which has more refining capacity, has gasoline to sell. Both governments are more than willing to cooperate in defiance of U.S. threats.

“The Venezuelan oil industry is on its last legs,” Venezuelan journalist (and Post contributor) Francisco Toro told me. “It’s been hollowed out in every way. It can’t produce gasoline.” He called the gasoline purchase “the ultimate Band-Aid on an amputated limb.”

But the Iranians showed up and the Venezuelans took delivery. By showing that they were able to trade to mutual benefit, these hobbled states not only successfully circumvented U.S. sanctions; they also scored public relations points in the process.

“My sense is that, even if they don’t celebrate it publicly, most people here are happy for anything that alleviates the fuel shortage,” Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told me from Caracas (though he conceded that it’s hard to measure public opinion in Venezuela).

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the socialist Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela are states based on failed ideas that put the desires of corrupt officials ahead of their people’s needs. Neither has ever been less popular that it is at this very moment.

Yet Washington’s current approach to both seems to be strengthening their hold on power. The maximum pressure strategy is doing nothing to enable the aspirations of Iranians or Venezuelans; instead, it’s just depriving them of resources. Meanwhile, leaders in Tehran and Caracas show no signs of bending to external pressure or the desires of their populations.

Iran and Venezuela have been moving closer together for years. The relationship began to flourish after Venezuela hosted the 2006 OPEC summit, when then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez formed a personal tie to his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Soon after, Chávez visited Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

“Ahmadinejad is a character much more in the mold of Chávez,” Gunson said. “They were both militantly anti-U.S. The sense they were in a common struggle was a large part of what made the relationship. Those two men felt that they were in the same battle.”

Direct flights between Tehran and Caracas began. Iran invested heavily in Venezuela, particularly in construction. The Islamic Republic even set up an auto manufacturing plant. Hijab-wearing Iranian women became a common sight around the country.

Washington grew concerned over signs that Iran was making inroads in Latin America.

But in 2013, with Chávez’s death and the end of Ahmadinejad’s second term, the strength of these connections waned. Even though some observers continue to assert that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has set up shop in Venezuela, there is little evidence to back up the claim.

Now Trump’s maximum pressure policy appears to have unwittingly helped resurrect this flimsy alliance. When officials in the current administration talk about third-rate adversaries such as Iran and Venezuela, it sometimes feels as though they’re trying to will these regimes back into international relevance.

“This is a failing state,” Gunson told me. “Everything is falling apart. That said, Maduro is fully in charge politically.”

No doubt Nicolás Maduro is an incompetent thug whose government’s mismanagement has run Venezuela’s economy into the ground. But the U.S. government’s insistence on officially referring to the government in Venezuela as the “former Maduro regime” only underscores just how removed from reality its policies are.

Meanwhile, regular Venezuelans are starving — yet another instance of the harmful impact of sanctions on the livelihoods of ordinary citizens.

“This is a complex humanitarian crisis, being exacerbated by gasoline shortages,” Gunson said. “The sanctions didn’t cause the humanitarian crisis, but they’ve certainly made it worse.”

The idea that the Maduro and Khamenei governments are coordinating to advance each other’s revolutionary ideals and interests is a farce. They’re both authoritarian states based on anti-American ideologies, but other than that, they have little in common — and they constitute little threat even when combining their forces. These ramshackle regimes are on their last legs.

Both systems, however, seem capable of limping along until they implode under the weight of their own inefficiency, corruption and disregard for the needs of their people.

But how does the United States benefit from depriving Venezuelans and Iranians of needed resources during a pandemic? How does this make us look to ordinary citizens?

The United States must come up with new ways of putting pressure on its ideological foes in the 21st century. There are limits to American influence. This episode makes that clear. The administration should focus on encouraging democratic change around the world. Instead, Trump’s policies continue to embolden thugs.

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