Escobar: Erdogan, MbS, Islamic Leadership, & The Price Of Silence

Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Asia Times,

The House of Saud’s ties to the Khashoggi slaying are being milked by the Turkish President for maximum benefit amid debate on leadership of the Islamic world and how the crisis may affect US and Saudi strategy in the Middle East

It was packaged as a stark, graphic message, echoing across Eurasia: Presidents Erdogan and Putin, in a packed hall in Istanbul on Monday, surrounded by notables, celebrating completion of the 930 kilometer-long offshore section of the TurkStream gas pipeline across the bottom of the Black Sea.

This is no less than a key landmark in that fraught terrain I named ‘Pipelineistan’ in the early 2000s. It was built by Gazprom in only two and a half years despite facing massive pressure from Washington, which had already managed to derail TurkStream’s predecessor, South Stream.

TurkStream is projected as two lines, each capable of delivering 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas a year. The first will supply the Turkish market. The second will run 180 km to Turkey’s western borderlands and supply south and southeast Europe, with first deliveries expected by the end of next year. Potential customers include Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary.

Call it the Gazprom double down. Nord Stream 1 and 2 supply northern Europe while TurkStream supplies southern Europe. Pipelines are steel umbilical cords. They represent liquid connectivity at its best while conclusively decreasing risks of geopolitical friction.

Turkey is already being supplied by Russian gas via Blue Stream and the Trans-Balkan pipeline. Significantly, Turkey is Gazprom’s second largest export market after China.

Erdogan’s speech, strenuously emphasizing the benefits of Turkey’s energy security, was played and replayed all across a rainy, ultra-congested Istanbul. To witness this geopolitical and geoeconomic breakthrough was particularly enlightening, as I was deep into discussing Turkish geopolitics with members of the progressive Turkish Left.

Even the opposition to what in Europe is routinely defined as Erdogan’s brand of “Asian illiberalism” concedes Turkey-Russia trade connectivity – in energy, in the military domain via the sale of the S-400 missile system, in the building of nuclear power plants – has been conducted with consummate skill by Erdogan, who is always careful to send direct and indirect messages to Washington that Turkish national interests will not be compromised.

The big prize: leading Islam

Now juxtapose this developing entente cordiale between the Bear and the (aspiring) Sultan with the gripping drama in Istanbul. Ibrahim Karagul – never afraid to apply a Rabelais touch – is always useful as a mirror reflecting the state of play of AKP circles around Erdogan.

For this political elite, a breakthrough in the Erdogan-conducted “Death By a Thousand Leaks” is imminent, allegedly proving that Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) directly gave the order for the killing and slaying of Jamal Khashoggi.

The consensus among the AKP leadership – confirmed by independent Left academics – is that the US-Israel-House of Saud-UAE axis is deep in negotiations to extricate MBS from any culpability.

That includes key items in the hefty Erdogan “package” dangled to the axis to essentially buy Ankara’s silence – an end of the Saudi blockade on Qatar and the extradition of Fetullah Gulen, described across the Turkish political spectrum as the leader of FETO (the Fetullah Terrorist Organization).

The Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry are very much aware that the high-stakes game goes way beyond ‘Pulp Fiction’ in Istanbul and the Astana peace process on Syria – carefully micro-managed by both Putin and Erdogan alongside Iran’s Rouhani. The big prize is no less than the leadership of the Islamic world.

There is nowhere better than a few stops in select landmarks of Ottoman imperial power, or a lively conversation at Istanbul’s Old Book Bazaar, to be reminded that this was the seat of the Islamic Umma for centuries – a role usurped by those Arabian desert upstarts.

Alastair Cooke has captured with perfection the House of Saud’s close involvement in the slaying of Khashoggi and how this raises questions about Saudi Arabia’s status as “no more than an inept Custodian of Mecca and Medina”. This is indeed splashed all over the – Erdogan-aligned – Turkish media. And Cooke notes how this status “would strip the Gulf of much of its significance and value to Washington”.

My ongoing conversations with progressive, Kemalist Turkish academics – yes, they are a minority – have unveiled a fascinating process. The Erdogan machine has sensed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to simultaneously bury the House of Saud’s shaky Islamic credibility while solidifying Turkish neo-Ottomanism, but with an Ikhwan framework.

And that’s the rationale behind Erdogan and Turkish media relentlessly denouncing what is interpreted as a plot concocted by MBZ (MBS’s puppet master), Tel Aviv and the Trump administration.

No one can possibly advance the endgame. But that carries the strong possibility of a dominant, Erdogan-led Turkey all across the lands of Islam, allied with Qatar and also with Iran. Plus all of the above enjoying very close geopolitical and economic relations with Russia. Expect major fireworks ahead.

Christopher Steele’s Russia Intel Sucked, Contradicted CIA Assessment: Solomon

It turns out that Christopher Steele, the former MI6 spy tasked with creating an opposition research dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump using “Kremlin sources,” actually had terrible intelligence on Russian matters, reports The Hill‘s John Solomon. 

In a business matter unrelated to the dossier, Steele boasted in a Feb. 8, 2016 email to a potential private-sector client that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be losing his grip on power. 

“I also don’t believe any Russian client or associate will admit to a Western business contact that PUTIN has been weakened or is on the way out, as the intel suggests, out of fear of being branded an oppositionist,” Steele cautioned the recipient. “We shall see but I hope you find them informative/useful anyway.” –The Hill

Steele was very hush-hush to the prospective client of his firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, writing “All are sensitive source, of course, and need handling accordingly with anyone Russian or Ukrainian.”

Not only was Steele’s information dead wrong, it flew in the face of CIA intelligence indicating that Putin was in fact gaining power

…more than two-and-a-half years later, Steele’s intelligence seems debunked in retrospect.

Putin is firmly entrenched in power and, in the summer and fall of 2016, he pulled off one of his most daring feats against the Western world with his meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

Yet, even more alarming at the time was the fact that Steele’s reporting in February 2016 flew in the face of the CIA’s own assessment of Moscow, ironically given that exact same month to Congress in the agency’s annual global threats assessment. –The Hill

On Feb. 9, 2016 – just one day after Steele sent the email, the CIA declared that Putin was pursuing a “more assertive foreign policy approach,” as well as a Western disinformation campaign since his popularity at home was soaring

“President Vladimir Putin has sustained his popular approval at or near record highs for nearly two years after illegally annexing Crimea,” the CIA reported, suggesting that protests in 2016 over the weakening Russian economy could be tamped down using “repressive tactics.”

In other words, Steele’s Russian intel was crap. 

Washington, Moscow, what’s the difference?

When it came to the wildly salacious and unproven “Trump-Russia dossier,” meanwhile, the icing on this particular cow-pie has to be that Steele’s “Kremlin” sources – described in Vanity Fair as “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure” and “a former top level intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin – was instead a former intelligence figure in Washington D.C. 

In notes between Steele’s former employer, Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, and the former #4 official at the Justice Department, Bruce Ohr, Ohr writes “Much of the collection about the Trump campaign ties to Russia comes from a former Russian intelligence officer (? not entirely clear) who lives in the US,” quoting Simpson. 

In other words, Steele’s intelligence was hearsay collected a continent away from Moscow. -The Hill

What makes this particularly troubling is that the FBI relied on Steele’s Trump-Russia dossier, which they struggled to verify, in order to justify surveiling the Trump campaign. 

Steele’s correspondence with the business associate is the latest piece of evidence suggesting the former British spy may not have been as well-versed or -sourced in Russian intelligence as he was portrayed when the FBI used his now-infamous anti-Trump dossier to support a request for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Both the DOJ’s inspector general and multiple committees in Congress are investigating whether the FBI properly handled the Trump-Russia collusion case or whether it fell prey to political pressure and shoddy investigative work, as congressional Republicans and President Trump himself claim.

The FBI has an obligation to submit only verified information to support a FISA warrant. –The Hill

No wonder Steele is afraid to come to the United States and testify in front of lawmakers! 

Going, Going, God: Money & Jobs More Important To Today’s Americans Than ‘Faith’

Authored by Michael Snyder via The End of The American Dream blog,

What gives you a sense of meaning and purpose in life?

That may seem like a very unusual question, but I believe that it is a very important one considering how deeply unhappy our society currently is.  Everyone needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning, because there wouldn’t seem to be much point to living a life that was completely void of meaning and purpose. 

So what motivates most Americans to do what they do?  Well, a new survey that was just released by the Pew Research Center has some rather startling results.  When people were asked an open-ended question about what gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in life, 69 percent mentioned family, 34 percent mentioned career, 23 percent mentioned “money” and only 20 percent mentioned faith.

In other words, Americans find more meaning and purpose in life from money and from their careers than they do from faith.

Wow.

I have previously written about the stunning decline in church attendance in America, but I still would have figured that more than 20 percent of all Americans would mention faith when discussing what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

And the question was not limited to just one answer.  If you will notice, the combined total for just the top four answers was well over 100 percent.  So respondents could have actually chosen to mention as many factors as they would have liked.

But only 20 percent mentioned faith at any point during their answers.

As you can probably guess, conservatives were far more likely to mention faith than liberals were

Spirituality and faith are commonly mentioned by very conservative Americans as imbuing their lives with meaning and fulfillment; 38% cite it in response to the open-ended question, compared with just 8% of very liberal Americans – a difference that holds even when controlling for religious affiliation.

That is a huge gap, and I think that it helps to explain some of the division that we are witnessing in our nation right now.

Of all of the religious groups, the survey found that evangelical Protestants were the most likely to mention faith in their answers

Spirituality and religious faith are particularly meaningful for evangelical Protestants, 43% of whom mention religion-related topics in the open-ended question. Among members of the historically black Protestant tradition, 32% mention faith and spirituality, as do 18% of mainline Protestants and 16% of Catholics.

Millions of Americans find a sense of meaning and purpose in the Christian faith, but so many others have been burned by hypocritical religious leaders that do not live out what they supposedly believe.

For example, check out what just happened in San Francisco

San Francisco police on Tuesday announced a sweeping child-porn bust that netted five suspects, including the senior pastor at a Sunset District Lutheran church who allegedly possessed hundreds of pictures and videos of children engaged in sexual acts and was sharing them on social media.

The suspect, the Rev. Steven Sabin, 59, is senior pastor at Christ Church Lutheran on Quintara Street, where he has been since 2001, according to the church’s website. Church officials did not return multiple phone calls or messages.

Nobody wants that kind of sick behavior from our faith leaders.

But just because there are some really bad people out there, does that mean that Americans should abandon faith altogether?

In “Living A Life That Really Matters”, I lay out a blueprint for what a truly faith-filled life can look like.  There is a reason why hundreds of millions of people around the world find meaning and purpose in the Christian faith, and no matter what has happened in the past, God can take the broken pieces of your life and turn them into a beautiful thing.

If your meaning and purpose come from your career and your bank account, what happens when you lose your job and your money dries up?

Or if your meaning and purpose come from family and friends, what happens when they let you down?

People change, and so do circumstances.  And if you allow your sense of meaning in life to be based on such temporal things, it is a recipe for disaster.

Today, Americans are more anxious than ever before.  The following comes from an outstanding article for The Week by Damon Linker entitled “American Anxiety”

The United States is a country consumed by anxiety. This has been true for a very long time. But it’s getting worse.

Be honest: You sense it in yourself. The vague mist of worry that always lurks in the background, ebbing and flowing through the day, the sense of creeping inadequacy that prompts you to work ever-harder. You can detect it in the agitated drive to do ever-more to protect those you love from an endless stream of dangers and threats — and in the urge to keep up with friends, acquaintances, and news online during almost every waking moment, perhaps even crowding out sleep, making it impossible to settle down or drive away the subtle sensation of insufficiency.

And Linker also shared some statistics to back up his bold assertions…

Nearly one-third of adolescents and adults suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A poll released in May by the American Psychiatric Association, meanwhile, found that 39 percent of respondents were prepared to describe themselves as more anxious than they were just a year ago. Another 39 percent say they are equally anxious, while only 19 percent feel less anxious now than they did in the recent past.

Right now, more Americans are on anti-depressants than ever before in our history, and the suicide rate has risen 34 percent since the year 2000.

What we have been doing is clearly not working.

We desperately need a different path as a nation, and let us hope that people start waking up while there is still time to do so.