Thursday, January 30, 2020

China's Highest Level Bio-safety Laboratory

We've all been exposed to a great deal of media coverage regarding the newest iteration of the coronavirus over the past few days but there is one story that really hasn't received much coverage as you will see in this posting.

Let's look at some background first.  From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here is a summary of each of the four Biosafety Levels:

1.) BSL-1

2.) BSL-2

3.) BSL-3

4.) BSL-4

Let's focus on the BSL-4 laboratories since they deal with the world's most deadly pathogens.  Here is a partial listing of BSL-4 labs around the world current to 2011:

According to the Federation of American Scientists, in 2014, there were 13 operational or planned BSL-4 labs in the United States:

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested $400 million to build a new lab and to complete related work to house the world's deadliest pathogens as shown here:

Now, let's focus on China and its efforts to build a BSL-4 facility.  Here is a report dated February 6, 2015 from China Daily:

Here is another report from China Daily about the lab in Wuhan and its potential:

Here is an interesting February 2017 article from Nature:

The laboratory is certified as meeting the standards of BSL-4 by China's National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment in January 2017.  This means that the lab which cost $44 million US to build can now handle the world's most dangerous pathogens and is the only lab in China capable of doing so.  According to the article in Nature, China plans to build a total of five to seven BSL-4 laboratories across China by 2025. 

Let's close with this 2004 article about China and its efforts to contain the SARS virus at its Beijing BSL-3 laboratory:

So, is it just a coincidence that the world's latest potential pandemic-creating coronavirus was first discovered in the same city as China's only BSL-4 laboratory?  Let's close with a quote from the 2017 article in Nature:

"But worries surround the Chinese lab, too. The SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times, notes Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. Tim Trevan, founder of CHROME Biosafety and Biosecurity Consulting in Damascus, Maryland, says that an open culture is important to keeping BSL-4 labs safe, and he questions how easy this will be in China, where society emphasizes hierarchy. “Diversity of viewpoint, flat structures where everyone feels free to speak up and openness of information are important,” he says."

The Ongoing Trade War with China

The signing of Phase One of the Trump Administration's trade deal with China on January 15, 2020 as shown here:

...suggests that at least some progress is being made, however, the deal still leaves most of the trade war-related tariffs that have created problems for both manufacturers and consumers.  A recent piece in the Global Times, the Communist Party of China's unofficial newspaper, suggests that China is well aware of the deal's shortcomings.

Let's start by looking at the comments made by Donald Trump at the signing ceremony:

"Today, we take a momentous step — one that has never been taken before with China — toward a future of fair and reciprocal trade, as we sign phase one of the historic trade deal between the United States and China. Together, we are righting the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers, and families….

So, for decades, American workers, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and innovators have been hurt by the unfair trade with China. Forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft have been huge problems. Since China joined the World Trade Organization two decades ago, we have racked up nearly $5 trillion — the Vice Premier, I hope he’s not listening to this — (laughter) — in trade deficits, lost millions and millions of manufacturing jobs, and saw tens of thousands of factories close. And that had to do, also, with Mexico, and, to an extent, Canada.

What they did to this country with trade and trade deals — NAFTA. We had no deal with China. I mean, we had no deal. And it was like just easy pickings.

For years, politicians ran for office, promising action to remedy these practices, only to do nothing but allow them to continue. And it was pillage.

As a candidate for President, I vowed strong action. It’s probably the biggest reason why I ran for President, because I saw it for so many years. And I said, “How come nobody is doing something about it?” In the meantime, immigration, and building our military — also important. But that’s probably the biggest reason.

In June of 2016, in the great state of Pennsylvania, I promised that I would use every lawful presidential power to protect Americans from unfair trade and unfair trade practices. Unlike those who came before me, I kept my promise. They didn’t promise too hard but — (applause) — they didn’t do anything. And I actually think I more than kept my promise.

Now our efforts have yielded a transformative deal that will bring tremendous benefits to both countries. We have a great relationship with China, we have a great relationship with the leadership of China, and China fully understands that there has to be a certain reciprocity. There has to be. It cannot continue like this. It would be dangerous for it to continue like it was.

The agreement we signed today includes groundbreaking provisions in an area of critical importance to the United States: protecting intellectual property. So the deal you’re seeing today is a much bigger deal than — we have it very much guarded…

This is an unbelievable deal for the United States. And, ultimately, it’s a great deal for both countries. And it’s going to also lead to even a more stable peace throughout the world.

And it’s all a very, very beautiful game of chess, or a game of poker, or — I can’t use the word “checkers” because it’s far greater than any checker game that I’ve ever seen. But it’s a very beautiful mosaic.

But China is giving us a lot of help, and we’re giving them a lot of help on things that we help them with. And one of the things that we are also talking about is fentanyl. And President Xi has already instituted very strong penalties and arrested large numbers of people who are sending fentanyl into our country. That never happened before. (Applause.)

So China has made substantial and enforceable commitments regarding the protection of American ideas, trade secrets, patents, and trademarks. This was not, according to most — they didn’t know we covered any of this. We’ve covered a lot of this. It’s phase one. But they’re doing many more things in phase one than anyone thought possible.

China has also pledged firm action to confront pirated and counterfeit goods, which is a big problem for many of the people in the room — the counterfeiting. We’ll make sure that this happens, and we have very, very strong protection.

In addition, the agreement addresses forced technology transfer policies that can require companies to give away their know-how and trade secrets. So now, when Boeing has some work done over in China or wants to sell planes over in China, they don’t have to give up every single thing that they’ve ever — you know, that they’ve worked so hard to — to develop and to come up with. Are you guys hearing that? You don’t have to give up anything anymore. Just be strong. Just be strong. Don’t let it happen. But you don’t have to do that.

It was a terrible — it was a terrible situation going on there. And a lot of it was because our co- — our companies, I have to say this, were very weak. You were very weak. You gave up things that you didn’t have to give up. But now, legally, you don’t have to give them up.

Under this deal, transfers and licensing of technology will be based on market terms that are fully voluntary and reflect mutual agreement.

Phase one will also see China greatly expand imports of the — to the United States. We want to buy a lot of their product inexpensively.

But we have an additional $200 [billion]. They are going to be what — what is, to me, very important. Number one, they’re going to be spending much more than $200 billion over the next two years, including up to $50 billion just on agriculture alone.

And some of the numbers that I wrote down — on manufacturing, they’ll be spending $75 billion. They’ll be putting into our country, okay? They’re going to be putting into our country $75 billion on manufacturing. Fifty billion dollars’ worth of energy. So that’s great for our energy people. We’re the number one in the world now; we weren’t. We’re now the number-one energy group in the world. We’re bigger than Saudi Arabia, and we’re bigger than Russia. We’re bigger than everybody. (Applause.)"

It all sounds great, doesn't it?

Now, let's see what China had to say in response one week after the signing of Phase One.  Here is a screen capture of the entire article:

Here are some key excerpts:

"He (Trump) touted that most tariffs on Chinese products would remain during talks for a phase two agreement and again falsely claimed that the US was being paid "billions and billions of dollars a year" because of the tariffs. At the forum, Trump renewed his threat to impose hefty tariffs on European cars if the EU does not agree to a trade agreement in favor of the US. If the US president might seem erratic and just wants to appear tough on the global stage for a partisan audience at home, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was also in Davos, left no doubt that the US would continue on the same path. Echoing his boss, he threatened tariffs on Italy and the UK if the two US allies went ahead with taxes on US technology companies.

Mnuchin, who plays a major role in the US' trade negotiations with China, added that the US could maintain some tariffs on Chinese products even if the two countries reach a more comprehensive deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Needless to say, such comments are not at all helpful coming before Beijing and Washington even start talks on a phase two agreement. Laying out the US' stance ahead of the talks will definitely not bode well with Chinese officials, who have already shown reluctance in rushing into negotiations for a phase two deal." (my bold)

Here is the key:

"The warning lights are already flashing. Trump started the tariff war with China to drive down the US' trade deficit with China, but the tariffs have also contributed to significant declines in bilateral trade. …

Some in Washington might loath the massive trade between China and the US, but that has been a bedrock and stabilizer of China-US relations. What the bilateral relationship will be without it is simply unimaginable."

The Trump Administration seems possessed by the idea of America's trade deficits with any nation.  While the trade deficit with China is the largest among all of America's trading partners, it is far from the only nation with a negative merchandise trade balance as shown here:

Another issue with the current deal is China's obligation to increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services to $200 billion above 2017 levels (a 92 percent increase) over the next two years.  In order to fulfill this pledge, rather than relying on the open market to determine purchasing decisions, China will have to rely on its state-owned businesses to fulfill the obligation.  As well, while the bilateral or two-way trade relationship between China and the United States will be set in stone, there will be a ripple effect throughout the global economy since global trade does not just take place between two nations, it relies on the multilateral relationships between nations as shown on this graphic which shows the nations that China exports products to:

...and this graphic which shows the nations that China imports from:

As you can easily see, any impact that the new, incomplete trade agreement between the United States and China will ripple though the global economy, particularly the nations that export goods to China since China is now obligated to purchase more American goods and services.

Here is a quote regarding the importance of multilateral free trade from the Library of Economics and Liberty:

"The best possible outcome of trade negotiations is a multilateral agreement that includes all major trading countries. Then, free trade is widened to allow many participants to achieve the greatest possible gains from trade. After World War II, the United States helped found the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which quickly became the world’s most important multilateral trade arrangement.

The major countries of the world set up the GATT in reaction to the waves of protectionism that crippled world trade during—and helped extend—the Great Depression of the 1930s. In successive negotiating “rounds,” the GATT substantially reduced the tariff barriers on manufactured goods in the industrial countries. Since the GATT began in 1947, average tariffs set by industrial countries have fallen from about 40 percent to about 5 percent today. These tariff reductions helped promote the tremendous expansion of world trade after World War II and the concomitant rise in real per capita incomes among developed and developing nations alike. The annual gain from removal of tariff and nontariff barriers to trade as a result of the Uruguay Round Agreement (negotiated under the auspices of the GATT between 1986 and 1993) has been put at about $96 billion, or 0.4 percent of world GDP."

If we think that the United States - China trade war is over simply because Phase One has been signed then I would suggest that we think otherwise.  China's leadership, through its media outlet, has made it quite clear that they are prepared for their bilateral trade relationship with the United States to remain on shaky ground, a reality that greatly concerns them.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Afghanistan - America's War Without an End

While you might be forgiven for thinking that the war in Afghanistan is over because it rarely makes it to the front pages of newspapers or a lead item on the nightly news, recent data from the United States Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) shows that such is clearly not the case.  The war, now in its 19th year, is still going strong from the viewpoint of the United States Air Force as you will see in this posting.

Let's open with this article from Janes:

It is important to keep in mind that up until December 2014, the United States was operating in Afghanistan with its allies in the International Security Assistance Force.  Since then, the United States and Afghani forces (AAF) are the only two nations flying strike missions in Afghanistan.

Now, let's look at the actual statistics from the United States Air Forces Central Command or AFCENT.  Here is a graphic showing the Airpower Statistics for the period between 2013 and 2019:

At 8,733 sorties using manned aircraft (an average of 23.9 sorties per day over the entire year), the total number of sorties in 2019 was the highest since 2014 and was up 89.7 percent from the low point in 2017.  As well, in 2019, the number of sorties with at least one weapon being released was at the highest level going all the way back to 2011, hitting 2,434 or 72.9 percent higher than the previous seven year high in 2013 as shown here:

Additionally, the number of weapons released in 2019 was at a seven year high, reaching 7,423 or 683.8 percent higher than the seven year low of 947 weapons in 2015.

The United States Air Forces Central Command is quite proud of its bombing abilities in Afghanistan.  In fact, in December 2018, AFCENT published a news item cleverly entitled "Life of a bomb: from 'cradle to grave'" to celebrate the bombing that killed a high-stakes member of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, Sultan Aziz Azam who was killed on December 23, 2018:

In this article, the author Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs department outlines the journey that a bomb takes from receipt at the Bagram Airport to assembling the bomb for use then to loading it onto an aircraft.  Here is the closing line of the article:

"Every pair of hands guiding he bomb along the way makes a difference every single day for all those serving in any capacity at Bagram and beyond."

....and apparently it makes a big difference to those Afghanis that the bombs are targeting as well!

Statistics don't lie and it would certainly appear that, given the Taliban's increasing hold on large parts of Afghanistan, the United States military is nowhere close to leaving Afghanistan with total appropriations reaching $978 billion (FY2001 through FY2020) and killing more than 43,000 Afghani civilians as shown on this table:

Afghanistan - the longest war that shows few signs of ending.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Epidemiology of the New Corona Virus

With China's spreading outbreak of a new refrain of the coronavirus (termed 2019-nCoV), one has to wonder how fast this latest threat to human life can spread, particularly given the high density of China's urban areas and the vast numbers of Chinese citizens that travel throughout the world.  A recent study by Jonathan M. Read et al examines the rate of spread of this virus and its implications to China's population.  

Let's start with a basic concept, that of R0 or Rnaught.  R0 is defined as follows:

"R0 is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. It’s also referred to as the reproduction number. As an infection spreads to new people, it reproduces itself.

R0 tells you the average number of people who will catch a disease from one contagious person. It specifically applies to a population of people who were previously free of infection and haven’t been vaccinated. If a disease has an R0 of 18, a person who has the disease will transmit it to an average of 18 other people, as long as no one has been vaccinated against it or is already immune to it in their community.

Here are some examples:

1.) If R0 is less than 1, each existing infection causes less than one new infection. In this case, the disease will decline and eventually die out.

2.) If R0 equals 1, each existing infection causes one new infection. The disease will stay alive and stable, but there won’t be an outbreak or an epidemic.

3.) If R0 is more than 1, each existing infection causes more than one new infection. The disease will spread between people, and there may be an outbreak or epidemic.

R0 only applies when everyone in a population of people is equally and completely vulnerable to the disease.  This means that no one is vaccinated against the disease, no one has had the disease before and there is no way to control the spread of the disease.

In 1918, there was a global outbreak of the swine influenza that killed 50 million people.  In this case, R0 was estimated to be between 1.4 and 2.8.  In a more recent example, the swine influenza H1N1 that came into existence in 2009 had an R0 of between 1.4 and 1.6.

Now, let's go back to the study by Read et al.  In this case, based on current information, the authors of the study estimate the R0 to be 3.8 (with a 95 percent confidence interval of 3.6 and 4.0) which is higher than the average of SARS estimated from outbreaks back in 2003.  This means that between 72 percent and 75 percent of transmissions must be prevented by control measures to prevent the number of infections from increasing.  The high R0 value suggests that sustained human-to-human transmission is occurring in China.

The authors then looked forward in time.  They predict that, should the epidemic continue unabated in Wuhan, the origin of the outbreak, the number of infected will grow very rapidly. By February 4, 2020, the authors estimated that there will be between 132,751 and 273,649 infected individuals with a 95 percent certainly that there will be 191,529 infections.

While the Chinese government has taken significant steps to restrict travel to and from Wuhan, the authors project that a reduction in air travel will have little impact on reducing the number of infections as follows:

- 50 percent travel reduction - 12.6 percent infection reduction

- 80 percent travel reduction - 20.1 percent infection reduction

- 90 percent travel reduction - 22.6 percent infection reduction

- 99 percent travel reduction - 24.9 percent infection reduction

As you can see, while the reduction in air travel into and out of Wuhan will have some impact on the number of people that are infected by 2019 nCoV, there will still be a very rapidly growing number of newly infected people in Wuhan and the surrounding district.  Additionally, there will be a growing number of infected people in other cities throughout China and the surrounding nations as the days pass, thanks to travellers moving throughout the region.

Let's close with this video from the Event 201 pandemic exercise hosted by The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security held in October 2019 which looked at the preparedness efforts for a severe pandemic:

In this mock exercise, the participants estimated that a novel coronavirus could result in the deaths of 65 million people.

While we are still in the early phases of this outbreak, the conclusions of this study would suggest that the current outbreak of this virus could worsen significantly over the coming days and weeks.    With the disease being spread during the incubation phase, it is quite likely that it has spread far further than is currently believed.  Once all of the pieces fall into place, it is only then that we will know whether this version of the coronavirus will be responsible for a global pandemic.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Washington and What Lies Ahead For Iran

While some people may think that Washington achieved its Iran-linked antiterrorism goal with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, it appears that they would be sadly mistaken.  A recent interview that appeared in a London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat with United States Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, has telegraphed Washington's future moves against Iran which I will outline in this posting.  Since the interview was posted in Arabic on Asharq al-Awsat, I have used Google Translate to translate the entire interview into English.

Let's look at some background before we look at what Mr. Hook had to say to Asharq al-Awsat.  Brian Hook, educated as a lawyer, has had several key positions in Republican administrations starting as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Special Assistant to the President for Policy in the White House Chief of Staff's office during the Bush II Administration.  He worked on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign as a staff advisor on foreign policy and was the foreign policy director for Governor Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign.  He served as the Director for Policy Planning in the Trump Administration from February 2017 to September 1, 2018 when he was took over his current position after the firing of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Here is his background as supplied by the United States Department of State:

Here are some quotes from Iran's Mehr News Agency regarding Mr. Hook upon his appointment as Special Representative for Iran in August 2018 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

"Hook will lead a newly established Iran Action Group to coordinate the State Department’s pressure campaign on Iran, Pompeo told a news conference on Thursday.

The appointment came despite the fact that Hook had opposed Trump’s exit from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran....

Hook has been leading the State Department’s talks with allies in Europe and Asia to persuade them to support US sanctions and cut off Iran’s oil supplies as of November.

“The Iran Action Group will be responsible for directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity, and will report directly to me,” Reuters quoted Pompeo as saying.

Hook, who was a close adviser to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, worked with US national security advisor John Bolton on Iran sanctions while Bolton was the US Ambassador to the United Nations under Republican President George W. Bush.

He also served as an assistant secretary of state during the Bush administration and was an adviser to the Republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

According to Foreign Policy, for over a year, Hook was one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes officials at the State Department. He was one of Tillerson’s closest confidants, as career diplomats were shut out of policy deliberations and senior State Department posts went unfilled.

Tillerson’s unceremonious sacking via Twitter earlier this year was accompanied by other dismissals and resignations among senior appointees and secretary staff. But Hook survived the purge and helped shepherd Pompeo through a contentious confirmation process on Capitol Hill.

Some analysts view the announcement as more symbolism than substance. “There were no new resources, no new strategy, and no new authorities announced [for the action group],” said Brett Bruen, a former US diplomat who now runs the Global Situation Room, a Washington consulting firm.

“Instead, it should be interpreted as a typical Washington move to create the appearance of action by putting in the title,” Bruen added.

Dennis Ross, a former US official in Democratic and Republican administrations, also said Hook’s new post might be a bureaucratic maneuver.

“It creates an address within the administration for ... making the approach a more coherent one, with someone being given broader responsibility across departments to try to shape the policy,” said Ross, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. “At least that would be theory.” However, some other analysts say since Trump shows no tolerance toward his opponents, the new mandate given to Hook is “strange”. They say the appointment on the anniversary of the 1953 coup shows neocons are firm to heighten economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran.

They are of the opinion that for Washington “regime change” is given priority over “change of behavior”. (my bolds)

Given Mr. Hook's past association with John "I never saw a war I didn't like until it was my turn to serve" Bolton, I think we have a pretty good idea of his views on Iran.  If you want to get a better sense of Mr. Hook's philosophy on Iran, please watch this relatively short video of a press briefing held on December 5, 2019:

As well, here is a quote from his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 16, 2019 with was dealing with Washington's relationship with Iran:

"Furthermore, under the deal, Iran was given a clear pathway to import and export dangerous arms. Two days from now, on October 18th, we will be exactly one year away from the expiration of the UN arms embargo on Iran. Because of the Iran nuclear deal, countries like Russia and China will be able to sell conventional weapons to Iran. The Iranian regime will also be free to sell weapons to anyone. This will trigger a new arms race in the Middle East.

The moment Iran is allowed to buy advanced drones, missiles, tanks, and jets, it will do so. This will be a win for its proxies across the region, who will use such arms to then attack other nations on Iran’s behalf. The United Nations Security Council needs to renew the arms embargo on Iran before it expires. We have made this a priority….

In recent months, Iran has launched a series of attacks in a panicked bid to intimidate the world into halting our pressure. Iran was responsible for the attacks at the Port of Fujairah, the assault on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and the attack on Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq.

Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed, and extortion. Our diplomacy does not entitle Iran to undertake violence against any nation or to threaten maritime security.

This Administration does not seek armed conflict with Iran. We have been equally clear to the regime that we will defend our citizens, forces, and interests, including against attacks by Iran or its proxies." (my bold)

Remember the statement - Washington does not seek armed conflict with Iran as you read the remainder of this posting.

With that background, let's look at two key excerpts from Mr. Hook's interview with Asharq al-Awsat, particularly the portion relating to the recent assassination of Qassem Soleimani with all bolds being mine.  

Question - After the American operation that targeted Soleimani, it was reported that the initial European response was disappointing to Washington. How true is that? And did you threaten the Europeans with imposing customs duties if they refused your support?

Brian Hook - I will not comment on bilateral talks with the Europeans. But we gained broad support for the defense work we did to protect US diplomats and soldiers, and to prevent a massive and imminent attack that Soleimani was planning on US diplomats and soldiers in the region. The most dangerous terrorist in the world neutralized us from the battlefield. As a result, the region will be safer, because Soleimani was the "gum" that brings together Iran's agents in the region, and his death will create a vacuum that the (Iranian) regime will not be able to fill...

Question - Iran has appointed Qaani as the successor to Suleimani at the head of the "Quds Force". What do you know about him? Will he adopt a different strategy from his predecessor, and have you received threats from him?

Brian Hook - If Qaani continues the approach of killing Americans, he will meet the same fate. For years, President Trump has been clear that any attack on Americans or American interests will be met with a decisive response, as the President demonstrated on January 2. Consequently, this is not a new threat, as the President has always said that he will respond decisively to protect American interests.

And I think the Iranian regime now understands that it cannot attack America and deliver on it. We will hold the regime and its agents responsible for any attack on Americans or American interests in the region.

Question - American interests only? What about the allies in the region?

Brian Hook - No, we have also talked about our allies in the past, and we work closely with them. Consequently, the response is not limited to that (i.e. an Iranian assault on American citizens and interests).

And, to switch gears momentarily, this exchange is most interesting:

Question - The United States has expressed support for the Iranian demonstrators, do you think they welcome this support?

Brian Hook - We know they welcome it. And President Trump's tweet in Persian broke the Twitter numbers.  When we look at last November's demonstrations, we see brave Iranian women tearing the flags of "Death to America", as we see brave demonstrators burning the images of the Supreme Leader and tearing up the pictures of Qasim Soleimani. I think that the international media does not do a good job conveying the true beliefs of the Iranian people. They (the Iranians) hate this system and love America, and they want to witness a partnership between Iran and the United States. The Iranian and American peoples share a lot, and this system has separated us over 40 years.

We will continue to support the Iranian people. Countries around the world are not making enough efforts to stand by the Iranians, and they have suffered the most from the regime. We would like to see more countries follow our example, and stand with the Iranians and against the Iranian regime."

As I quoted earlier in this posting, Brian Hook has made it abundantly clear that Washington is not interested in having Iran change its behaviour, it is interested only in regime change in Iran.

Let's close this posting with a thought.  America's Special Representative to Iran has stated very clearly that Washington will, once again, assassinate the current head of Quds, Esmail Qaani, if they deem that he has any connection to an attack on any American personnel or interests as well as any attack on its allies in the region, stating that he will suffer the same fate as his predecessor.  Remembering that Mr. Hood testified before Congress that Washington does not seek armed conflict with Iran, this most recent threat seems to be a very odd way to achieve that goal.  Why is it that many of those who occupy positions of influence in Washington are the same people who have never served in combat but are quite willing to sacrifice the young men and women of Main Street America for their nebulous causes?