New York Quake Overdue (The Sixth Seal) (Rev 6:12)

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Won-Young Kim, who runs the seismographic network for the Northeast at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said the city is well overdue for a big earthquake.

The last big quake to hit New York City was a 5.3-magnitude tremor in 1884 that happened at sea in between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook. While no one was killed, buildings were damaged.

Kim said the city is likely to experience a big earthquake every 100 years or so.

“It can happen anytime soon,” Kim said. “We can expect it any minute, we just don’t know when and where.”

New York has never experienced a magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake, which are the most dangerous. But magnitude 5 quakes could topple brick buildings and chimneys.

Seismologist John Armbruster said a magnitude 5 quake that happened now would be more devastating than the one that happened in 1884.

China Is NOT a Nuclear Threat to the US (Daniel 7:7)

China, according to the Federation of American Scientists, has 270 warheads in its nuclear arsenal.

The Washington-based research group’s estimate has never been challenged by the Pentagon. It compares with an official tally of 4,480 nuclear warheads for the US. Unlike the American side, China also renounces “first use” of nuclear weapons and holds that its ability to retaliate is sufficient to deter attack.

Why, then, is Beijing’s modernization of its nuclear arsenal — something that Washington is also doing — considered a major security threat requiring a sharp turn in US policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons?

That’s part of the reasoning behind the Pentagon’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) issued on February 2. The document is a benchmark US statement on nuclear policy and is drawn up by new presidents. The Trump administration’s first policy position on the issue focuses on creating new nuclear deterrents to Russia and China, while addressing North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Deteriorating US security environment?

Unlike previous NPRs, the White House sees a rapidly deteriorating security environment for the US in which Russia and China are bumping up their nuclear capabilities. It argues the US should follow suit. Most of the analysis focuses on Russia but China is also singled out because of “its lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization program.”

Among other things, the review spotlights China’s ability to putmultiple warheads on its silo-based ICBMs, and its development of missile submarines and strategic bombers, as evidence of a growing threat.

But critics contend the latest NPR reverses years of bipartisan consensus on the use of US nuclear weapons. The review also gives the go-ahead to develop low-yield tactical nukes and sub-launched cruise missiles in the first roll-out of new US nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. It also expands the circumstances under which the US would consider using nukes to include “non-nuclear strategic attacks” such as cyberattacks.

The review further confirms that the US has begun preliminary R&D on a new ground-launched intermediate-range missile system that, if deployed, would violate a decades-long Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia.

Greg Thielmann, a nonproliferation specialist on the board of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, noted that President Obama’s prior 2010 NPR laid the foundation for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US defense policy. He also credits Obama for seeking a one-third reduction in US nuclear strategic forces that the Pentagon says would still allow the US to meet all military contingencies.

‘Misleading characterization’

“Trump’s NPR has reversed course, calling for an increase in the role and types of nuclear weapons and essentially abandoning the nuclear arms reduction efforts to which it is legally committed by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Thielmann told Asia Times. “All this is based on a highly misleading characterization of nuclear and missile developments in Russia, China, and North Korea.”

Thielmann’s assessment is backed by other disarmament advocates. “Ever since Richard Nixon, American presidents have cut the size of the US nuclear arsenal,” Joe Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, said in an Op-Ed published by military website Defense One on February 2. Cirincione blames Trump administration hawks for the shift in US nuclear policy.

Chinese not on nuclear ‘alert’

Gregory Kulacki, the China project manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a Washington-based science advocacy group, argues that Trump’s NPR is surfacing at a time when China isn’t preparing to fight a nuclear war with the US. He says his talks with Chinese nuclear strategists indicate they don’t believe such an attack from the US is possible because the Americans know a sufficient number of Chinese missiles would survive to launch a nuclear counter-strike.

One of Obama’s Advisers is Finally Correct (Daniel 8)

 

The Trump administration has made it clear that it does not believe the nuclear deal with Iran goes far enough. One of the individuals that played a role in the negotiations of the deal, Trita Parsi, is in Louisville to talk about the deal and what might happen next.

Parsi is president of the Iran-American Council and advised the Obama White House as the nuclear deal was negotiated. He’ll speak at a World Affairs Council event Wednesday evening. I spoke to him about the nuclear deal and the future. You can hear our conversation in the player above.

Interview Highlights

On the stakes in the negotiations:

“The most important thing, again, was to see that there was such a strong desire on both sides to resolve this that they really went the extra miles. Because they all knew that if they did not succeed in reaching a deal, the likelihood of war between the two countries — between the U.S. and Iran — would dramatically increase.”

On Trump and the future of the deal:

“Now, I think the Trump administration’s opposition to this is far less to do with not trusting Iran, than the fact that President Trump himself seems to be inclined to oppose almost anything that has Obama’s name on it without much regard for what the national security implications of that would be.

“And that is, I think, a very tricky situation right now because their approach to this does make sense if you are very adamantly opposed to what Obama was doing and if you don’t trust the Obama administration. But from a national security perspective, if they even up undermining this deal to the point that it collapses, it does present a tremendously dangerous national security crisis for the U.S. because we would seriously have had an international crisis that was on the verge of a military confrontation, which was avoided by through this diplomacy. But if you kill the deal, the U.S. and Iran will be back on a track towards war with each other.”

Russia’s New Nuclear Torpedo (Daniel 7)

The “collateral damage” of the Russia investigation becomes ever more apparent. From the breakdown of American institutional norms between the executive and the legislature, to increasing distrust regarding the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus to regional crises, for example in Syria, that seem to spin increasingly out of control, the probe has brought both U.S. domestic and foreign policy making to a the point of crisis. Yet these calamities, which are largely advantageous to newspaper subscriptions and cable news ratings, may mask a deeper and more fundamental threat: the accelerating pace of a nuclear arms race [гонка ядерных вооружений] between Moscow and Washington.

Even during the relatively halcyon days of the 1990s, the Kremlin still kept its finger on the nuclear trigger, in part due to the perceived weakness of its conventional forces but also as a reaction to NATO’s new interest in “out of area” missions. The successive waves of NATO expansion that began in 1999 had the predictable effect of significantly exaggerating strategic tensions and ballistic missile defense programs made an already touchy situation worse. Thus, even as the Obama administration first talked about a “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations, the Kremlin was already starting to implement a major overhaul of its nuclear forces. However, the dam was completely broken by the Ukraine crisis beginning in spring 2014. The Cold War has returned in force with the full flowering of the Russia investigation that shows few signs of easing its “death grip” on Washington, DC and U.S.-Russia relations specifically. The multitudes of Russia hawks on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the Beltway, now more strident on the Left than the Right, may count the truly grotesque Status-6 Russian naval, mega-nuclear weapon as the fruit of their bellicose ravings.

This “megaton-class nuclear weapon” [ядерное оружие мегатонного класса], as described by one Russian source, is delivered by an unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) and has the potential to exterminate a significant portion of the U.S. population in a single doomsday blow if deployed against the East Coast of the United States. This source explains: the Status-6 UUV is “designed to defeat important enemy economic facilities in the region of the coast and to inflict guaranteed unacceptable damage to the country’s territory by creating zones of extensive radioactive contamination unsuitable for carrying out military, economic and other activities in these zones for a long time.” [предназначен для поражение важных объектов экономики противника в районе побережья и нанесение гарантированного неприемлемого ущерба территории страны путем создания зон обширного радиоактивного заражения, непригодных для осуществления в этих зонах военной, хозяйственно-экономической и иной деятельности в течение длительного времени]. For good measure, it is additionally explained that the weapon can also be used to destroy naval bases or aircraft carrier battle groups. This edition of Bear Cave takes makes a brief examination of what Russian commentators are actually saying about Status-6.

First, however, it should be said that TNI has carried several articles that provide a good analysis of this new weapons system, including in particular, a fine exploratory piece by Dave Majumdar. He quotes CSBA undersea warfare expert Bryan Clark explaining that the system is far from an ideal weapon and may face real technical hurdles since a one-hundred megaton weapon could be exceedingly heavy and thus “difficult to control.” Monterey nuclear weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis is quoted reassuringly as saying: “I think we could build defenses against it … It should be easier than intercepting a missile, for sure.” To state the obvious at the outset: this Russian system’s main advantage is that it bypasses missile defenses altogether. Needless to say, it is a grave symptom of the new and continuously accelerating Cold War.

Pakistan Aligns With the Four Horns (Daniel 8:8)

Pakistan rebuilds global ties after Trump kiss off

By Jonathan Manthorpe. Published on Feb 21, 2018 5:36pm

The message bouncing back from Trump’s New Year’s tweet is that no one can afford to wait for the U.S. to get its house in order, if it ever does.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khan Abbas, center right, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
As the internal frictions and fissures in the United States drive Washington towards inconsequence, countries around the world are scrambling to find new secure footings.

Pakistan is a bad district in a rotten neighbourhood at the best of times. But Washington’s decision last month to slash military and other support payments to Islamabad in the belief Pakistan harbours the terrorists the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan, has jettisoned a 40-year partnership.

In his first tweet of the New Year, U.S. President Donald Trump railed against Pakistan, which he said was providing safe havens for terrorists the U.S. was fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan. He accused Islamabad of “lies and deceit.”

Pakistan has been the route through which Washington projected its policies in Afghanistan for close to 40 years. First Washington used Pakistan as the base for supporting Afghan mujahideen fighters against the Soviet invasion. Then, after 2001, it was fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Although the alliance between Washington and Islamabad was never close, the practical partnership gave Pakistan reimbursed expenses and some security against regional rival India, with which it has fought four wars since 1949.

With the prospect of links with Washington ending, Islamabad, and more particularly Pakistan’s military – the country’s only fully functioning institution – finds itself forced to rebalance its key relationships with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The big trick for Islamabad is finding the right balance in its relationships with the Middle East’s increasingly belligerent rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In the last weeks and months, the head of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, has been shuttling between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is trying to find a way of keeping happy both countries that are of great economic, diplomatic, and cultural importance to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s nearly 200 million people are almost all Muslims, and the vast majority follow the Sunni branch of Islam, which is led by Saudi Arabia. Around 10 per cent of Pakistani Muslims follow the Shia tradition, which is championed by Iran.

Gen. Bajwa is the right man for the job because the civilian administration is in some disarray as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif awaits trial on corruption charges. Even on those rare occasions when there has been a stable civilian government in Pakistan, the military’s view of the country’s security is the determinant influence on regional foreign policy.

Islamabad cannot afford to seriously damage relations with either Tehran or Riyadh. But Islamabad’s relations with Saudi Arabia have been at rock bottom since 2015 when Pakistan’s parliament voted to stay neutral in Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen. Islamabad also refused to get involved in Riyadh’s sanctions war against the Gulf State of Qatar, which the Saudi’s accused of funding terrorism and being far too cosy with Tehran.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, took Islamabad’s insistance on neutrality as a gross act of betrayal from a country that for decades had benefited from Riyadh’s largesse, including funding for its nuclear weapons program.

Indeed, there are persistent reports that a condition of Riyadh’s funding was that Pakistan would deliver nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia if the kingdom ever felt the need. Thus to Riyadh, Pakistan’s refusal to get involved in the war in Yemen put Islamabad’s trustworthiness at question, and therefore the ultimate security of Saudi Arabia.

Close to one million Pakistanis work in Saudi Arabia, remitting money to their families at home. Riyadh showed its displeasure at Islamabad’s refusal to join the coalition in Yemen by evicting 40,000 Pakistani workers last year on various pretexts.

Gen. Bajwa went to Riyadh earlier this month to try to patch up relations with the Crown Prince. As a result, on February 15 the Pakistan army announced that it will deploy troops to Saudi Arabia, though Gen. Bajwa still intends to keep out of the war in Yemen.

The Pakistani announcement emphasized its troops are part of an existing bi-lateral security arrangement with Saudi Arabia and will be used only for training and advice. They will not be used outside the kingdom.

Gen. Bajwa appears to have tried to ensure Iran would not be ticked off by this limited military support for Saudi Arabia. He went to Tehran in November, when as well as forewarning Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani about the coming deal with Prince Mohammed, he tried to erase irritants in the Iran-Pakistan relationship.

The Iran-Pakistan border has major security problems, with terrorists and tribal fighters on both sides lashing out at enemies on the other side of the line. Both Islamabad and Tehran have accused each other of supporting or failing to corral these groups.

But the looming economic opportunities of their relationship far outweigh these irritants.

>Pakistan has thrown in its lot with Beijing and President Xi Jinping’s dream of a New Silk Road transportation network linking China to the rest of Asia and Europe. China is managing and financing the development of Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Indian Ocean and a transportation corridor the length of the country from the port to China’s Xinjiang province.

Iran is building a natural gas pipeline from its South Pars field, the world’s largest, into Pakistan. At one point there were plans for the pipeline to cross Pakistan into India, but it may now travel up the Gwadar corridor to China.

China has become Iran’s largest economic partner since sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2015. To enhance those ties, China has put up $1.5 billion U.S. to finance the electrification of the Tehran-Mashhad railway, which will eventually form part of a 3,200-kilometre New Silk Road link between Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang and Iran.

The message bouncing back from Trump’s New Year’s tweet is that no one can afford to wait for the U.S. to get its house in order, if it ever does.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

Antichrist Allies with the Communists (Revelation 13)

The coalitions have formed for Iraq’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for May. While parties and coalitions based on ethnic and sectarian identities are prevalent in the race, at the same time, formerly sectarian parties have reinvented themselves as national movements.

The Sadrists, followers of Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr, have formed a joint list with the Iraqi Communist Party, ostensibly an anomalous occurrence of Islamists uniting with an established secular party.

However, an examination of Iraq’s history indicates that an alliance between secularists and those with religious backgrounds does have a precedent. The Sadrist-Communist alliance appears to be a reversion to older patterns in Iraq’s political history based on civic and national issues, and a repudiation of the sectarian politics that took root after 2003.

Past precedents

Iraqi communists were active in Iraq during the state’s formation in the 1920s, just a few years after the Bolshevik seizure of power in the USSR. The Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) was formally founded in 1934, and its numbers expanded under the leadership of Yusuf Salman Yusuf, or “Comrade Fahad”, who upon assuming leadership of the Party in 1941, recruited from urban elites to peasants, workers and students.

Faris Kamal Nadhmi. a leftist Iraqi intellectual, wrote an article as early as 2010 predicting a future Sadrist-Communist alliance. His foresight was based on past precedents, writing that in the 1950s the ICP cooperated with religious Shia movements in the traditional shrine cities of Najaf, Karbala, and Kadhimiyya.

At the outset, it appears incongruous that a religious movement and a secular party would find common cause

Both the ICP and Shia activists agitated against the Iraqi monarchy, which was overthrown in 1958.

After the establishment of Iraq’s republic, however, tensions emerged. The Shia Islamic Dawa Party was formed to promote religious ideals to counter the ICP, which had recruited heavily amongst Iraq’s Shia.

A prominent Shia cleric at the time, Muhsin al-Hakim, had even issued a religious decree labelling membership in the ICP as blasphemy, yet he was also wary of the Dawa Party as well. Regardless, both the ICP and the Dawa were ruthlessly suppressed when the Baath seized power in 1968, seeing both as challengers to its one-party rule.

Only after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 could both the ICP and Dawa reemerge openly in Iraq’s political landscape

The Sadrist Transformation

While Dawa had a long history of Shia political activism, it was challenged by the rise of Muqtada Sadr to political prominence, which was not a given in post-2003 Iraq. As a young religious leader then in his late 20s,  his only real asset was the legacy of his father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, a prominent religious figure opposed to Saddam Hussein, and murdered in 1999 by Iraqi intelligence agents.

Muqtada inherited a network that his father had developed among Iraq’s urban Shia poor, concentrated in Baghdad’s slum, which was rebranded as Sadr City.

Sadr in his early years raised a militia, the Al-Mahdi Army, which clashed with US forces and the Iraqi military on numerous occasions, and factions within the militia were implicated in some of the worst sectarian killings from 2006 to 2008.

Eventually, Sadr disbanded his militia, attempting to disavow himself of its violence, and in early 2016 saw an opportunity to seize the helm of an anti-government protest movement in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, which had emerged to pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to deliver on anti-corruption reforms.

In this new political incarnation he embraced the politics of protest and formed an alliance the Iraqi CP and other secular groups that had been instrumental in organising the rallies.

The common ground

The protest movement was the first major alliance between a major Shia Muslim political movement and a secular one. In June the Sadrists and the Communists agreed to run a joint ticket in the 2018 elections, a forward-thinking move in contrast to the other ad-hoc and fractious coalitions that emerged just before the January 2018 deadline to register for the elections.

Sadr declared the creation of a new political party, Istiqama, or Integrity, and joined in a coalition with the ICP and several over secular parties to create the Marching Toward Reform coalition, adopting the slogan of the anti-corruption street protests.

The Sadrist-Communist alliance represents another fissure within the greater Muslim Shi’a alliance

At the outset, it appears incongruous that a religious movement and a secular party would find common cause. Indeed, some secular politicians refused to join this coalition, believing it is impossible for a religious and secular group to cooperate.

However, there is some common ground. Both movements claim to represent the marginalised, deprived, dispossessed and oppressed. Both base their legitimacy on combatting injustice and social inequality.

Al-Sadr’s following amongst the poor Shia Muslims of Baghdad and the southern provinces could mobilise followers that the ICP has not been able to reach.



Muqtada al-Sadr (C) with Communist party member Jassim al-Halfi (L) and Iraqi journalist Ahmed Abdul-Hussein(R) in a recent meeting (Screen grab)

Even seasoned observers of Iraqi politics are uncertain how many votes the Marching Toward Reform coalition will get, given the elections are still a few months away in May. They are also running against a new political actor, the Iraqi Shia militia party, and it is uncertain how their popularity amongst the Shia for defeating Islamic State (IS) will translate into votes.

However, based on the past election of 2014 the Muslim Shia parties combined won 178 out of 328 seats, 34 of which belonged to the Sadrist party. The Communists, running under the Civil Democratic Alliance, won three seats in 2014.

Abandoning sectarian affiliation

Thus, an alliance with the Communists, based on past precedents, does not seem to indicate that it would give the Sadrists a qualitative edge. In fact the Sadrists may lose some among religious voters for allying with a secular party.

However, the loss may be offset by the symbolic value of the abandoning their sectarian affiliation and allowing it to brandish their nationalist credentials, appeal to secular Iraqi voters.

Even though the Iraqi Shia are the majority in the country, they do not necessarily always vote on sectarian lines and have given support to Shia candidates, like Ayad Allawi in 2010, who ran on a nationalist platform.

Ultimately, the Sadrist-Communist alliance represents another fissure within the greater Muslim Shia alliance. Even if all the other rival Shia Muslim parties agree to form a governing coalition alliance after the elections, al-Sadr’s factions would deprive the other Shia parties of an outright majority.

The Sadrist-Communist alliance might end up as the king-maker of a new Iraqi government, and thus also once again give Iraqi Communists the opportunity to assume ministerial posts in a new cabinet.

Regardless of the number of votes this Sadrist-Communist coalition receives, the alliance itself is significant in that it demonstrates the fusion of a civil-national movement with a religious one that seeks to transcend the boundaries of sect and ethnic group, and in the words of Faris Kamal Nadhmi, “moving towards the horizon of the state, the nation, and humanity.”

– Ibrahim al-Marashi is Associate Professor of Middle East History at California State University San Marcos. His publications include: Iraq’s Armed Forces: An Analytical History (2008), The Modern History of Iraq (2017), and A Concise History of the Middle East (forthcoming).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A resident casts her vote at a polling station in Baghdad’s Sadr City 7 March 2010 (Reuters)