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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Saudi

  • As expected, Saudi Arabia formally announced its Saudi Aramco IPO today, setting plans in place for a domestic listing in December—followed by other potential listings thereafter.
  • Crown Prince MBS’s $2 trillion valuation target isn’t certain: in fact, analysts now say Aramco is worth no more than $1.5 trillion—Iran’s attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure likely created a discount.
  • The company’s valuation and the percent of shares it floats will determine whether it beats AliBaba’s IPO record of raising $25 billion: on the low end (1% of shares, at a $1.5 trillion valuation), it would only raise $10 billion; on the high end (2% of shares, at a $2.0 trillion valuation), it would blow that record away and raise $40 billion.

Iran

  • A day before the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the hostage crisis in Iran, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami—the head of the IRGC—unveiled new anti-American “art” at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which is now a museum.
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei celebrated the anniversary by reiterating Iran’s ban on talks with the U.S., “because they certainly and definitely won’t make any concessions” even if they were to negotiate.
  • Meanwhile, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh—one of the student leaders of the U.S. Embassy takeover that kicked the whole thing off in 1979—gave an excellent anniversary interview with AP, in which he claimed their invasion began as mere “unprofessional and temporary” student activism, but was later co-opted by the clerics and their establishment. Moreover, he says fellow student leader (and future President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had actually argued for them to storm the Soviet Embassy instead, since leftists caused many of the woes the Islamist students were upset about. That could’ve led to quite a different world today, but it wasn’t to be: the student leaders decided to target the U.S. Embassy, in hopes that the U.S. would then be forced to return the shah (who was in the U.S. for medical treatment at the time) to Iran for prosecution. Anyway, the AP article is pasted below.

Hong Kong

  • Protests got wild again in Hong Kong, with one white-shirted assailant reportedly slashing people with a knife, and biting a Democratic district councilor’s ear, Mike Tyson-style.

Guyana

  • Guyana joined the International Offshore Petroleum Environment Regulators (IOPER)—an international energy regulation group—ahead of its first oil production (which was delayed to next month). As far as I can tell, that’s more of a procedural step, but it’s at least a sign that Guyana aims to comply with international norms as it begins production.

Venezuela

  • El Salvador’s government issued a statement recognizing Pres. Guaido as the leader of Venezuela, and expelling Pres. Maduro’s diplomats. Maduro reciprocated by booting Salvadorian diplomats from Caracas.
  • El Salvador had mostly stayed out of the Venezuela debate until now—though Pres. Bukele claims to have “repeatedly” not recognized Maduro, when given the chance (he didn’t get many chances, since most of the foreign policy attention in his five months in office have focused on U.S. complaints about immigrants northwards). There’s some online speculation that his government’s decision to jump in now—just a week after the U.S. extended temporary protected status for Salvadorans refugees—was part of a deal with the U.S.
  • Bukele’s government invited Guaido to send diplomats to run Venezuela’s soon-to-be-vacated Embassy in San Salvador, though the building will probably sit empty…unless Maduro flies some Code Pink activists there to take it over.

Russia

  • Yesterday, hitmen in Moscow assassinated Ibragim Eldzharkiyev, the head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Anti-Extremism Center of Ingushetia (a mostly-Muslim North Caucasus region that’s far quieter than neighboring Chechnya).

U.S.

  • An NYT article called out that suicides now kill more American veterans and soldiers than combat does. The article vaguely proposes making mental health as high of a priority as physical fitness for troops and vets, and keeping weapons away from people in distress, but perhaps it’ll start a conversation with more actionable recommendations. Article pasted below.
  • United Auto Workers President Gary Johnson is being investigated in a federal corruption probe that has already jailed 10 people, and the UAW board forced him into a paid leave of absence (though he has not been criminally charged yet).

Migration

  • Pres. Trump conceded that his border wall isn’t impenetrable, after the Post reported that migrants and traffickers had cut through the steel and concrete barrier with widely-available reciprocating saws fitted with special blades. However, Trump also said it was easy to repair the damaged parts.
  • Two boats brought a total of 239 migrants into Italy today. Under an agreement with the EU, 67 of the 88 passengers on one of them will be distributed to four other countries in the EU; it’s not clear whether or where the 151 passengers on the other ship will be sent from Italy.

Former Iran Student Leader Says He Regrets 1979 US Embassy Attack (AP)

His revolutionary fervor diminished by the years that have also turned his dark brown hair white, one of the Iranian student leaders of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover says he now regrets the seizure of the diplomatic compound and the 444-day hostage crisis that followed.

Speaking to The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s 40th anniversary of the attack, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh acknowledged that the repercussions of the crisis still reverberate as tensions remain high between the U.S. and Iran over Tehran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.

Asgharzadeh cautioned others against following in his footsteps, despite the takeover becoming enshrined in hard-line mythology. He also disputed a revisionist history now being offered by supporters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that they directed the attack, insisting all the blame rested with the Islamist students who let the crisis spin out of control.

“Like Jesus Christ, I bear all the sins on my shoulders,” Asgharzadeh said.

At the time, what led to the 1979 takeover remained obscure to Americans who for months could only watch in horror as TV newscasts showed Iranian protests at the embassy. Popular anger against the U.S. was rooted in the 1953 CIA-engineered coup that toppled Iran’s elected prime minister and cemented the power of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The shah, dying from cancer, fled Iran in February 1979, paving the way for its Islamic Revolution. But for months, Iran faced widespread unrest ranging from separatist attacks, worker revolts and internal power struggles. Police reported for work but not for duty, allowing chaos like Marxist students briefly seizing the U.S. Embassy.

In this power vacuum, then-President Jimmy Carter allowed the shah to seek medical treatment in New York. That lit the fuse for the Nov. 4, 1979, takeover, though at first the Islamist students argued over which embassy to seize. A student leader named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who later became president in 2005, argued they should seize the Soviet Embassy compound in Tehran as leftists had caused political chaos.

But the students settled on the U.S. Embassy, hoping to pressure Carter to send the shah back to Iran to stand trial on corruption charges. Asgharzadeh, then a 23-year-old engineering student, remembers friends going to Tehran’s Grand Bazaar to buy a bolt cutter, a popular tool used by criminals, and the salesman saying: “You do not look like thieves! You certainly want to open up the U.S. Embassy door with it!”

“The society was ready for it to happen. Everything happened so fast,” Asgharzadeh said. “We cut off the chains on the embassy’s gate. Some of us climbed up the walls and we occupied the embassy compound very fast.” Like other former students, Asgharzadeh said the plan had been simply to stage a sit-in. But the situation soon spun out of their control. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the long-exiled Shiite cleric whose return to Iran sparked the revolution, gave his support to the takeover. He would use that popular angle to expand the Islamists’ power.

“We, the students, take responsibility for the first 48 hours of the takeover,” Asgharzadeh said. “Later, it was out of our hands since the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the establishment supported it.” He added: “Our plan was one of students, unprofessional and temporary.”

As time went on, it slowly dawned on the naive students that Americans wouldn’t join their revolution. While a rescue attempt by the U.S. military would fail and Carter would lose to Ronald Reagan amid the crisis, the U.S. as a whole expressed worry about the hostages by displaying yellow ribbons and counting the days of their captivity.

As the months passed, things only got worse. Asgharzadeh said he thought it would end once the shah left America or later with his death in Egypt in July 1980. It didn’t.

“A few months after the takeover, it appeared to be turning into a rotten fruit hanging down from a tree and no one had the courage to take it down and resolve the matter,” he said. “There was a lot of public opinion support behind the move in the society. The society felt it had slapped America, a superpower, on the mouth and people believed that the takeover proved to America that their democratic revolution had been stabilized.”

It hadn’t, though. The eight-year Iran-Iraq War would break out during the crisis. The hostage crisis and later the war boosted the position of hardliners who sought strict implementation of their version of Islamic beliefs. Seizing or attacking diplomatic posts remains a tactic of Iranian hard-liners to this day. A mob stormed the British Embassy in Tehran in 2011, while another attacked diplomatic posts of Saudi Arabia in 2016, which led to diplomatic ties being cut between Tehran and Riyadh. And Iran will commemorate the 40th anniversary of U.S. Embassy takeover on Monday by staging a rally in front of the Tehran compound where it was located.

However, Asgharzadeh denied that Iran’s then-nascent Revolutionary Guard directed the U.S. Embassy takeover, although he said it was informed before the attack over fears that security forces would storm the compound and retake it. Many at the time believed the shah would launch a coup, like in 1953, to regain power.

“In a very limited way, we informed one of the Guard’s units and they accepted to protect the embassy from outside,” Asgharzadeh said. “The claim (by hard-liners) on the Guard’s role lacks credit. I am the main narrator of the incident and I am still alive.”

In the years since, Asgharzadeh has become a reformist politician and served prison time for his views. He has argued that Iran should work toward improving ties with the U.S., a difficult task amid President Donald Trump’s maximalist campaign against Tehran.

“It is too difficult to say when the relations between Tehran and Washington can be restored,” Asgharzadeh said. “I do not see any prospect.”

Suicide Has Been Deadlier Than Combat for the Military (NYT)

The Pentagon has made strides in helping those in need, but the rate of deaths is rising.

Struggling with mental demons, Kayla Williams went to her bathroom and held a gun in her hand, contemplating suicide. It was 2004, and she’d been home for only a few months after serving as an Army sergeant and Arab linguist in the Iraq war.

But hers is one story that doesn’t end in tragedy: Ms. Williams held those demons at bay long enough to get help and learn to manage the challenges of marriage to a combat-wounded veteran while writing two books about her experiences. “I’m doing well,” she told me. She is now the director of the Military, Veterans and Society program at the Center for a New American Security.

Her journey, like that of so many others, has not been smooth. Recovery sometimes requires working with several therapists, changing providers when one isn’t working and undergoing repeated treatment. The government has begun to acknowledge the danger that suicide poses for an all-volunteer fighting force and has invested $1 billion in seeking solutions.

But that hasn’t proved to be enough. Suicide rates for active-duty service members and veterans are rising, in part, experts say, because a culture of toughness and self-sufficiency may discourage service members in distress from getting the assistance they need. In some cases, the military services discharge those who seek help, an even worse outcome.

More than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have killed themselves in the past six years. That is more than 20 deaths a day — in other words, more suicides each year than the total American military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The latest Pentagon figures show the suicide rate for active-duty troops across all service branches rose by over a third in five years, to 24.8 per 100,000 active-duty members in 2018. Those most at risk have been enlisted men under 30.

The data for veterans is also alarming. In 2016, veterans were one and a half times more likely to kill themselves than people who hadn’t served in the military, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Among those ages 18 to 34, the rate went up nearly 80 percent from 2005 to 2016. The risk nearly doubles in the first year after a veteran leaves active duty, experts say.

The Pentagon this year also reported on military families, estimating that in 2017 there were 186 suicide deaths among military spouses and dependents.

Military officials note that the suicide rates for service members and veterans are comparable to the general population after adjusting for the military’s demographics — predominantly young and male. But given the military’s size and influence, it is an institution that is well placed to lead the nation in suicide prevention.

Other than pointing to national trends, officials have offered few explanations for why military suicides are rising. Studies seeking more answers are underway.

Experts say suicides are complex, resulting from many factors, notably impulsive decisions with little warning. Pentagon officials say a majority of service members who die by suicide do not have mental illness. While combat is undoubtedly high stress, there are conflicting views on whether deployments increase risk.

Where there seems to be consensus is that high-quality health care and keeping weapons out of the hands of people in distress can make a positive difference.

Studies show that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides high-quality care, and its Veterans Crisis Line “surpasses most crisis lines” operating today, according to Terri Tanielian, a researcher with the RAND Corporation. (The Veterans Crisis Line is staffed 24/7 at 800-273-8255, press 1. Services also are available online or by texting 838255.)

But Veterans Affairs often can’t accommodate all those needing help, resulting in patients being sent to community-based mental health professionals who lack the training to deal with service members.

Kim Ruocco’s husband, John, a decorated Cobra gunship pilot who flew 75 combat missions as a Marine, also returned home tormented. But he did not seek help to deal with depression and combat trauma. He killed himself in 2005 as he prepared for a second deployment to Iraq. As an executive at the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Ms. Ruocco now helps grieving families and friends and raises awareness about the risk of suicide. She says even when service members in distress know about available resources, they often resist.

“One of the biggest battles is the military culture,” Ms. Ruocco said. “Seeking mental health treatment goes against everything they are taught in boot camp,” where service members are told “to push through pain, to think of everybody else before self, to solve problems with lethal force if necessary.”

Marines wouldn’t think of not working out physically, she said, but “there is no space and time for self-care until it interferes with their ability to do their jobs.” She is confident that if Marines had been drilled on the importance of mental and emotional health, her husband would have found a safe way to cope.

Not only do these deaths devastate families; suicides can also undermine morale and cohesion within units that lose a member this way and can discourage potential recruits, threatening the viability of the all-volunteer force.

The other obvious imperative is doing more to reduce easy access to firearms — the most widely used method of suicide — by distributing gun locks, training individuals in safe storage methods and enabling military commanders to remove a service member’s firearm if warranted. Health care professionals who treat service members and veterans should discuss this issue with their patients, just as they encourage people to wear seatbelts and bike helmets.

In the end, everyone has a role in helping those we love who are experiencing tough times to discuss their struggles, reduce alcohol and drug use and seek professional help.

To quote the Marine commandant, Gen. David Berger, “We must create a community where seeking help and assistance are simply normal, important decisions Marines and sailors make.”

As mentioned above, the crisis line for veterans is 1-800-273-8255 (press 1). Another resource for those having thoughts of suicide is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

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