Dear Kenneth Roth,
While we welcome your stated commitment to Human Rights Watch’s independence and credibility, we are dismayed by your rejection of our common-sense suggestion for strengthening them: bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members—or, at a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government.
Before addressing your letter’s objections to the three instances of HRW’s advocacy that suggest a conflict of interest, we would like to reiterate that they were “limited to only recent history,” and that other cases could have been raised as well. One obvious example of HRW’s failure to appropriately criticize U.S. crimes occurred after the 2004 coup d’état against the democratically elected government of Haiti. The U.S. government essentially kidnapped Haiti’s president; thousands of people were killed under the ensuing coup regime; and deposed officials of the constitutional government were jailed.
In the face of what were likely the worst human rights abuses of any country in the Western hemisphere at the time, HRW barely lifted a finger. HRW never hosted a press conference criticizing the coup or post-coup atrocities. In contrast to HRW’s appeals to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter for Venezuela and Cuba, HRW never publicly invoked the Charter in the case of Haiti, even as Articles 20 and 21 afforded multilateral measures “in the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime.” HRW never placed an op-ed about the overthrow in a prominent newspaper. (In 2004 The New York Times alone published at least five HRW opinion pieces and four HRW letters on other subjects.) It is reasonable for outside observers to question whether this lack of response from HRW to such large-scale human rights violations had anything to do with U.S. foreign-policy priorities.
The very existence of such questions regarding HRW’s advocacy should be reason enough to impose sharp restrictions on HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government. Given the impact of global perceptions on HRW’s ability to carry out its work, simply the appearance of impropriety can impede HRW’s effectiveness. Closing HRW’s revolving door would be an important first step to allaying or preempting concerns that HRW’s priorities are compromised.
Concrete evidence of a revolving-door phenomenon between HRW and the U.S. government renders crucially incomplete your admission that “it is true that some served in the US government before or after their involvement with Human Rights Watch.” We provided examples of those who served in the U.S. government both before and after their involvement with HRW, a norm widely recognized to generate perverse incentives and undermine an institution’s reputation for independence.
For instance, you may disagree with our view that a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency—one of the world’s greatest institutional human rights violators over the past half-century—has no standing to advise on human rights issues for your organization. Surely you must concede, however, that a conflict of interest was raised when Miguel Díaz, the ex-CIA analyst in question, exploited the eight years of experience and relationships he accumulated within HRW’s advisory committee for his subsequent role as the U.S. State Department’s “interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.”
Your colleague, HRW Counsel and Spokesperson Reed Brody, seemed to misunderstand the nature of our proposal, arguing in a June 11 debate on Democracy Now! that “Miguel Díaz never worked at Human Rights Watch,” and that the organization is “a big tent—we’ve got people on the right; we’ve got people on the left.” In fact, our letter suggested prohibitions or cooling-off periods for “any associate,” including advisory-committee members like Díaz. Secondly, our proposals would not impact political diversity; rather, they would make it more difficult for those previously employed by human rights-abusing organizations like the CIA from adversely influencing HRW’s priorities or damaging HRW’s reputation.
It is important to further clarify our request, as Brody made two mutually irreconcilable claims: that “there is no revolving door,” and that “this revolving-door policy, if we implemented it, would have changed one person at Human Rights Watch.” Both statements are untrue. A cooling-off period, which all HRW associates would accept, would have prevented both Díaz and former HRW Washington director Tom Malinowski from almost immediately entering the U.S. State Department (Malinowski is now Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), and would have also applied to Nik Steinberg, a senior researcher in HRW’s Americas division as of May 2014.
Just one week after you received our May 12 letter, Mr. Steinberg announced that he was leaving HRW to take a position with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, which he described as an “extraordinary opportunity.” This is disturbing from a human rights perspective, because Ms. Power’s July 17, 2013 confirmation hearing was riddled with provocative comments, including her evidence-free claim of an Iranian “nuclear weapons program,” her promise to “never apologize for America,” and her commitment to “work tirelessly to defend” Israel. After assuming her post, she advocated in favor of a U.S. strike against Syria in 2013, defending it as “legitimate” while tacitly acknowledging its illegality. She later declared that the United States has “nothing to apologize for” in Afghanistan, despite its record of numerous atrocities. Most recently, Ms. Power engaged in a coordinated media event with Henry Kissinger, whom Mr. Brody once referred to as a war criminal.
HRW’s proximity to Ms. Power damages HRW’s stated independence in light of her declarations that “the United States is the greatest country on Earth,” “the leader in human rights,” and “the leader in human dignity.” Shortly after leaving HRW, Malinowski similarly lauded the “bipartisan consensus for America’s defense of liberty around the world” and the “exceptional” nature of the United States at his own September 24, 2013 confirmation hearing.
Mr. Roth, we are deeply worried that Mr. Steinberg’s announced transition to Ms. Power’s office—a week after your receipt of our letter—is just one of many more revolving-door episodes that will continue to create perverse incentive structures within the organization. How can we expect HRW associates to be completely unafraid to hold human rights violators in the U.S. government accountable for their offenses and crimes when they are hoping to work for some of these very same functionaries immediately upon leaving HRW? That is the question that you must answer, Mr. Roth, in light of the transitions of Malinowski, Díaz and Steinberg to the U.S. State Department.
If you nevertheless object to prohibiting the involvement of U.S. foreign-policy officials at HRW or instituting cooling-off periods for them, we suggest, in parallel, an even narrower proposal: bar the participation at HRW of those who bear a direct responsibility for violating international humanitarian law. Javier Solana, currently a member of HRW’s board of directors, served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Secretary General during its 1999 military campaign in Yugoslavia. NATO’s use of cluster munitions and its bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia led HRW itself to conclude that the organization “committed violations of international humanitarian law.”
Solana is therefore a poor choice for HRW’s board of directors. His removal from your board would signal HRW’s good-faith effort to bolster its independence and credibility as an advocate for human rights. When Mr. Brody was asked on Democracy Now! to respond to the argument that “those who bear direct responsibility for human rights violations should not be on the board of directors of an independent human rights organization,” Mr. Brody said, “I would agree with that.” We hope you concur with your colleague.
We will now address in turn your responses to the three cases of problematic HRW advocacy mentioned in our letter:
First, you objected to our concerns over the 2009 statements made by Tom Malinowski as HRW’s Washington director to the LA Times. He contended that “under limited circumstances” there was a “legitimate place” for renditions. You argue that our letter “mistakenly claims he was supporting unlawful CIA renditions,” and that “Malinowski was certainly not endorsing the CIA’s illegal rendition program, which entailed transferring individuals without due process protections to countries where they faced torture.” You further define renditions as simply “the transfer of a person in custody from one jurisdiction to another, which is legal under certain circumstances,” and cite extraditions as a legitimate form of rendition.
We appreciate your attempt to clarify Malinowski’s statement, which at the time provoked public consternation from law professors specializing in constitutional law and international law, such as Darren Hutchinson and Kenneth Anderson. This reaction arose because the LA Times article in question focused exclusively on CIA renditions and President Barack Obama’s executive order, which preserved them through a redefinition that allowed the transfer of suspects on a “short-term, transitory basis.” All CIA renditions, whether long- or short-term, whether they lead to torture or not, deny suspects the right to legal proceedings in which they can challenge their transfer from the country in question. Unlike commonplace extraditions, CIA renditions—extraordinary or otherwise—do not guarantee the detainees’ right to legal counsel or access to the court system of the country where they are seized.
In our previous letter to you, we cited Obama’s “preservation of renditions” as a serious human rights concern, and hyperlinked to a widely cited Open Society Justice Initiative report from 2013 which observed that Obama’s 2009 “executive order did not repudiate extraordinary rendition,” and that “it appears that the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition.” In light of this and the fact that the LA Times solely focused on an executive order pertaining to CIA renditions, Malinowski’s comment on their “legitimate place” was troubling and remains so, especially given his now-senior position within the Obama administration. Controversy around the practice persists, as exemplified by the headline of a 2013 Washington Post news article: “Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns.”
Malinowski’s subsequent statement to the LA Times was perhaps even more dubious, for additional reasons. As HRW’s Washington director, he paraphrased the Obama administration’s claim that designing an alternative to “people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured” was “going to take some time,” without questioning whether a gradual approach to ending such abuses was justifiable or even legal. For an organization that operates under the principle that human rights are absolute rights, not rights to be traded away for expediency or other political goals—which is the only way that a credible human rights organization can or should operate—such a statement should be deeply alarming. In fact, the Obama administration did proceed to “take some time,” sustaining the use of such “foreign dungeons” for years—likely up to the present day.
Numerous eye-witness testimonies led to articles by Der Spiegel in 2009 and the BBC in 2010 that reported on torture conducted under Obama’s presidency at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where detainees have had no right to habeas corpus. A 2011 Nation investigative piece detailed the conditions of an underground “secret prison” in Somalia used by the CIA, which serves as a destination for U.S.-assisted renditions. U.S. officials are said to conduct joint “debriefings,” or interrogations, at the site. The report’s author, Jeremy Scahill, found that the prisoners were unable to be seen by the Red Cross, and “they are not ever presented with charges.”
We note with interest that none of the HRW reports on rendition that you listed and hyperlinked to in your letter refer to torture, CIA renditions, or long-term detention without due process that have occurred under the Obama administration. While we welcome HRW’s call for criminal investigations regarding Bush-era human rights abuses, it appears that HRW has not advocated for criminal investigations into any of these Obama-era abuses. In fact, two HRW researchers have publicly fretted over the U.S. handover of the Bagram base to the Afghan government due to concerns over Afghanistan’s use of torture, without ever mentioning Obama-era, U.S.-directed torture at the same base. There may be some legitimate reason for HRW’s very different positions regarding the two administrations, but combined with the existence of HRW’s revolving door, they reinforce a reasonable suspicion that Malinowski’s inappropriate comments in 2009 as an HRW employee were influenced by his intention to serve in the Obama administration, and that HRW’s decidedly more muted position today on Obama’s policies is perhaps related to its ties to the administration.
Your second point pertains to our argument that in light of HRW’s 2012 letter to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela questioning the country’s suitability as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, HRW had reason to write a similar letter to President Obama expressing reservations over the U.S. position in the same council. In our previous letter to you, we cited the U.S. record of human rights abuses that include a secret, global assassination program and the illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay. You have countered by avoiding a discussion of comparative abuses between the two countries, and have instead argued that for HRW, a “central concern on council membership is whether a government takes the council and its special procedures seriously,” and that Venezuela, unlike the United States, does not.
However, under no objective standard was this a “central concern” of the 2012 letter to Chávez signed by your colleagues José Miguel Vivanco and Peggy Hicks that we originally cited. After asserting in their introduction that “Venezuela currently falls far short of acceptable standards” in “promoting and protecting human rights,” Vivanco and Hicks outlined specific “policies and practices of [the Chávez] administration” and argued for their reversal. Their letter then dedicated the next 10 paragraphs to arguing that Venezuela has failed in the areas of judicial independence, media freedom and civil society. Before concluding their letter, Vivanco and Hicks devoted only one paragraph to “cooperation with the Human Rights Council.”
Given the broad scope of the content and priorities of HRW’s letter to Chávez, HRW simply has no tenable justification for its continued support of the U.S. presence on the UN Human Rights Council. Aside from its far grimmer human rights record than Venezuela, “[t]he United States is the only country to vote against all the Council’s resolutions focusing on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” admits HRW. “The US rejection of any resolution focusing on Israel and the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and Israel [sic] exposes its double standards.” HRW’s own finding, coupled with the U.S. role in blocking the implementation of the Council’s recommendations of the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes during the Gaza attack of 2008-09, certainly weakens your letter’s claim that “on balance, the United States has played a constructive role at the Human Rights Council.”
It is not too late for HRW to demonstrate its independence from the U.S. government by writing a letter to President Obama outlining the most egregious U.S. human rights violations that should be reversed in order for the country to serve as a credible member of the UN Human Rights Council. HRW’s letter could demand an end to the Obama’s extrajudicial “kill list,” an authoritarian U.S. policy for which a Venezuelan analogue is nonexistent and inconceivable, and the letter could also condemn U.S. intransigence within the Council, particularly toward Palestinian human rights.
Our third and final example questioned HRW’s lack of opposition to Obama’s consideration of a missile strike on Syria in 2013—a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition on the unilateral “threat or use of force” in international affairs. We appreciate your clarification of HRW’s mandate, “which is to monitor governments’ adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.” We would urge HRW to consider expanding its purview to adopt the UN Charter as a foundation for its legal determinations due to the inevitable human rights violations that occur as a result of a war of aggression, considered the “supreme international crime” by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
We express our concern, however, that HRW’s stated neutrality on matters of war and peace is compromised by your public statements of questionable judgment. At the height of intense pressure for a U.S. bombing campaign on Syria in late August of 2013, you all but advocated military intervention on social media, while maintaining plausible deniability in the context of a climate of warmongering. A sampling of your tweets include:
* To justify #Syria inaction, top US general trots out age-old ethnic animosities line. Heard that B4? Bosnia. Rwanda. trib.al/qSzrz1N
* Top general suggests US is more interested in a geopolitical partner in #Syria than saving civilians from slaughter. trib.al/WElNRGM
* It took chemical attack to convince Obama/Kerry that Assad isn’t interested in negotiated solution!? No more excuses. trib.al/viu2scd
* If the appalling slaughter in #Syria won’t get Obama to act, maybe ridicule will: trib.al/gp7HDo1
* If Obama decides to strike #Syria, will he settle for symbolism or do something that will help protect civilians? trib.al/hl6QhA1
Such behavior is unbecoming for the head of a major human rights organization and runs counter to the spirit of HRW’s official neutrality toward the impending intervention in Syria. We encourage you to demonstrate greater tact and responsibility in light of the near-inevitability that U.S. missile strikes would have led to violations of international humanitarian law, including the killing, maiming, and displacement of many innocent civilians—as shown by the U.S. bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, and of Iraq during the 2003 invasion and subsequent years of war.
HRW’s official abstention from endorsing or opposing wars also appeared to be broken by Tom Malinowski’s March 27, 2011 article in The New Republic on NATO’s Libya intervention. The piece was originally titled “Why Isn’t Obama Getting Credit For Stopping An Atrocity?” and contended that “NATO acted more quickly [than in Bosnia] to stop atrocities in Kosovo.” In the case of Kosovo, “we could see and feel the difference Clinton and NATO had made.” Malinowski then celebrated NATO’s intervention in Libya as “the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history” for which “we should be grateful.”
As Washington director for HRW at the time of the article, Malinowski offered no disclosure of his previous responsibilities in foreign-policy speech-writing as the Senior Director of the White House’s National Security Council during Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Nor did his sanitized portrayal of those actions include his own organization’s inconvenient conclusion that “NATO committed violations of international humanitarian law.” Malinowski’s piece also omitted the clearly unconstitutional nature of Obama’s military intervention in Libya. Furthermore, he excluded evidence that the NATO coalition quickly had moved away from the scope of the civilian-protection mandate provided in UN Resolution 1973 and toward the aim of regime change, which conformed with Obama’s comments weeks prior that “it’s time for Qaddafi to go.”
More egregiously, the following year—months after your organization’s report, “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” examined eight NATO strikes that killed 72 civilians—Malinowski offered unalloyed praise for the NATO intervention. He argued that “Barack Obama’s administration made its most unequivocal stand on behalf of an Arab Spring uprising” in Libya, where the destabilizing consequences of the administration’s support in arming rebel forces continue to be felt. Completely ignoring the issue of civilian deaths at the hands of NATO (confirmed by HRW itself), Malinowski claimed in this October 2, 2012 Foreign Policy article that “recent events have reinforced, not weakened, the rationale for supporting political change in the Arab world.”
Advocacy divorced from HRW’s own empirical findings, unconditionally applauding U.S.-NATO military actions in Libya and endorsing their suitability elsewhere, is a predictable outcome for a former Clinton official who became HRW’s chief lobbyist in Washington, and who may have aspired to a position in the Obama administration as he wrote such statements. However, such advocacy is unhelpful to HRW’s stated concerns over NATO’s airstrikes and its failure “to acknowledge these casualties or to examine how and why they occurred.”
We are heartened, Mr. Roth, by your expressed willingness to “speak out, as we have done” in Kosovo and elsewhere. But HRW’s track record for holding NATO accountable for its violations of international humanitarian law is wholly inadequate. Javier Solana initiated a war in violation of the UN Charter in 1999 and presided over the deliberate NATO bombing of a Serbian television station, a war crime that killed 16 civilians including a make-up artist, a cameraman, an editor, and a program director.
In your May 1999 letter to Solana, which mentioned that bombing, you urged that “these issues be scrutinized promptly and rigorously,” and that “disciplinary or criminal investigations be launched.” NATO implemented none of your suggestions and has held no one to account for that atrocity or for any other crime in Yugoslavia. And yet Solana was awarded a position on HRW’s board in 2011. It is hard to escape the conclusion that HRW’s admonishments of NATO’s behavior are toothless, and that Solana’s subsequent leadership role at HRW signals to former and future NATO leaders who violate international law that they should be undeterred by HRW’s objections and inquiries.
Finally, you responded to our emphasis on HRW’s ties to the United States by mentioning the involvement of former government officials of Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and other countries at HRW. But our focus is HRW’s ties to the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government, which, unlike the foreign-policy arms of many of the governments you cite, are continuously engaged in massive human rights abuses. This is a consequence of the status of the United States as the world’s sole military superpower, which frequently violates international law with impunity, and, as in the case of its invasion of Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. As a recent poll showed, the rest of the globe sees the United States as “the greatest threat to peace in the world today” by a wide margin, so HRW’s unabashed closeness to that government is understandably viewed as an extremely political decision.
One of us would be delighted to meet with you whenever convenient at your New York offices to discuss these matters further and to personally deliver a petition signed by over 15,500 people so far, along with their individual comments in support of the following demand:
The credibility of a global human-rights organization depends on its independence. Human Rights Watch has done important, critical work, but it can do better. It should implement at least a five-year “cooling-off” period before and after its associates move between HRW and the U.S. government’s foreign-policy divisions. Human Rights Watch associates should concentrate on protecting human rights. They should not have conflicts of interest with past or future careers in branches of the U.S. government that may themselves be involved in human-rights violations.
We eagerly await your reply, and believe that HRW’s implementation of cooling-off periods for its associates and its removal of Solana from its board of directors will represent valuable first steps toward greater independence. Thank you for engaging with us on issues that we believe are essential to the pursuit of human rights throughout the world.
Mairead Maguire – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1977)
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1980)
Richard Falk – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (2008-14)
Hans von Sponeck – United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)
Keane Bhatt – activist, writer
A principal way that the New York Times and other leading U.S. news outlets engage in propaganda is by selecting which facts to include in a story and which ones to exclude, a process exemplified by a Times article on an interview in which the head of NATO excoriates Russia over Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accused Russia of playing a “double game,” warned the West not to be fooled by the peaceful overtures of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and declared, “There’s no doubt that Russia is heavily engaged in destabilizing eastern Ukraine, and they continue their activities.”
However, since Rasmussen provided no evidence, his credibility would seem to be central to this story. And, on Wednesday, correspondents Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon provided some background about Rasmussen, noting that he served as prime minister of Denmark before getting the NATO gig in 2009.
But what is excluded from the Times’ story is what the readers would need to evaluate Rasmussen’s honesty as well as his own ability to weigh evidence. Not mentioned by Landler and Gordon was the fact that this is the same Anders Fogh Rasmussen who swallowed President George W. Bush’s bogus case for invading Iraq hook, line and sinker.
Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Rasmussen famously declared that “Iraq has WMDs. It is not something we think; it is something we know. Iraq has itself admitted that it has had mustard gas, nerve gas, anthrax, but Saddam won’t disclose. He won’t tell us where and how these weapons have been destroyed. We know this from the UN inspectors, so there is no doubt in my mind.”
Of course, pretty much everything that Rasmussen declared was wrong, but it succeeded in tricking the Danish parliament into voting to join Bush’s “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. Yet, while Rasmussen was rewarded for his cooperation and his duplicity with the NATO job, a Danish intelligence analyst Frank S. Grevil was imprisoned for four months for disclosing documents that exposed Rasmussen’s deception.
While such an arrangement might now seem normal for Americans who have gotten use to prosecutions of truth-tellers who expose war crimes and immunity for liars who start unnecessary wars, Rasmussen’s falsehoods on Iraq – and his role in that criminal invasion – are facts that should have been provided to the Times’ readers as they judge whether to believe his current allegations about Russia and Ukraine.
But Landler and Gordon saw fit to protect the Fogh machine by leaving out his unpleasant history, all the better to sell the preferred narrative blaming the entire Ukraine crisis on Russia and Putin. [For more on the New York Times' journalistic malfeasance, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Will Ukraine Be NYT’s Waterloo?”]
Checkered Journalistic Careers
Michael Gordon’s bias in favor of U.S./NATO propaganda also has a long history. He co-wrote, with Judith Miller, the infamous aluminum tube story of Sept. 8, 2002, relying on U.S. intelligence sources and Iraqi defectors to frighten Americans with images of “mushroom clouds” if they didn’t support Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The timing played perfectly into the administration’s advertising “rollout” for the Iraq War.
The story turned out to be false and to have unfairly downplayed skeptics of the nuclear-centrifuge scenario. The aluminum tubes actually were meant for artillery. But the article provided a great impetus toward the Iraq War, which ended up killing nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Gordon’s co-author, Judith Miller, became the only U.S. journalist known to have lost a job over the reckless and shoddy reporting that contributed to the Iraq disaster. For his part, Gordon continued serving as a respected Pentagon correspondent.
Gordon’s name also showed up in a supporting role on the Times’ botched “vector analysis” story of Sept. 17, 2013, which nearly helped get the United States into another Mideast war, with Syria. That story traced the flight paths of two rockets, recovered in suburbs of Damascus after the Aug. 21 sarin gas attack, back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.
The article became the “slam-dunk” evidence that the Syrian government was lying when it denied launching the sarin attack that killed several hundred people. However, like the aluminum tube story, the Times’ ”vector analysis” ignored contrary evidence, such as the unreliability of one azimuth from a rocket that landed in Moadamiya because it had struck a building in its descent. That rocket also was found to contain no sarin, so it’s inclusion in the vectoring of two sarin-laden rockets made no sense.
But the Times’ story ultimately fell apart when rocket scientists analyzed the one sarin-laden rocket that had landed in the Zamalka area and determined that it had a maximum range of about two kilometers, meaning that it could not have originated from the Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away. C.J. Chivers, one of the co-authors of the article, waited until Dec. 28, 2013, to publish a halfhearted semi-retraction. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis.”]
Last April, Gordon was involved in another journalistic fiasco when he and two other correspondents fell for some grainy photographs peddled by the U.S. State Department to supposedly prove that Russian military personnel — who had been “clearly” photographed in Russia — turned up fighting in Ukraine.
However, two days later, the Times was forced to retract the story when it was discovered that a key photo that was supposedly taken in Russia was actually snapped in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the article. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Retracts Russian Photo Scoop.”]
Taking the Israeli Line
Landler, the Times’ White House correspondent, has been another propaganda specialist when it comes to framing foreign confrontations in ways favorable to the U.S. government and its allies. For instance, on March 5, 2012, he appeared on MSNBC and offered this account of Israeli-Iranian tensions:
“The Israelis feel the window for that [denying Iran the capability to build nuclear weapons] is closing and it’s closing really fast, and if they allow it to close without taking military action, they would find themselves in a position where the Iranians suddenly are in possession of nuclear weapons, which they’ve threatened already to use against Israel. As the Israelis always say, that’s an existential threat to Israel, which is something we don’t necessarily feel here in the United States.”
Landler’s account was hair-raising, claiming that Iranians have “threatened already to use [nuclear weapons] against Israel” which the Israelis understandably would perceive as an “existential threat.” But Landler’s statement simply wasn’t true. Iranian leaders continue to deny that they even want nuclear weapons, so it makes no sense that they would threaten to use them against Israel.
For instance, in February 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who controls the armed forces, called “the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin” and said “the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.” He insisted that “the Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.”
Further, the U.S. intelligence community reported in 2007 that Iran stopped research work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has not resumed that effort. That assessment has been reaffirmed periodically and remains the position of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Beyond that, for Iran to threaten to “annihilate” Israel with its hypothetical nuclear weapons would represent one of the strangest threats in world history. Here is a nation without nuclear weapons – and whose top leader disavows any intent to get nuclear weapons – supposedly threatening to use those non-existent weapons against a nation which has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.
So, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Times would spare its readers the relevant background on NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s credibility because otherwise the supposed “newspaper of record” might also be expected to explain why it continues to entrust sensitive stories to journalists who have a history of slanting information in ways that may advance their careers but misleads the public.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
NATO’s newest Eastern European members are handing over their Soviet arms stockpiles to the Ukrainian army, Russia’s Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin says, adding that the alliance is in danger of pouring gasoline on the flames of that country’s civil war.
Rogozin, who supervises the Russian military industry, has tweeted that NATO is asking its newest members to get rid of operable Soviet military equipment and send it to Ukraine, to aid the miserable state of the country’s military hardware.
“In turn, the US is ready to compensate for the “losses” of the newly co-opted NATO member states. The American military-industrial complex must be happy,” Rogozin wrote in his Twitter account.
“By the way, this is NATO’s commonplace to put out civil wars’ fire with aviation kerosene,” Rogozin added.
Over the months of Ukraine’s hot political crisis, NATO member states, primarily the US, announced they are planning non-lethal aid to Ukrainian troops, supplying uniforms and tents, and even promising to deploy a number of military instructors to train the Ukrainian army to fight the adherents of federalization of the country in Eastern Ukraine.
Political commentator Mikhail Rostovsky told RIA Novosti news agency that the “US and EU are thinking not about Ukraine but about the neutralization of Russia.”
Rostovsky compared the current policies of the European and American leaders with that of British PM Margaret Thatcher and French President François Mitterrand towards the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990.
Speaking loudly about “the European choice for Ukraine,” the EU and US politicians are essentially seeking ways to drive a wedge between Moscow and Kiev to neutralize what they regard as Russia’s possible “imperial ambitions,” Rostovsky said. “We’re dealing with politics dictated by fear: God forbid the Kremlin’s imperial instincts got awakened! This is a matter of principle to deny the Kremlin such an opportunity and break Ukraine away from Russia.”
Rostovsky said he fully agreed with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who told Der Spiegel in late April that Europe has slid “into the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.”
“Those who can remember the fall of the Berlin Wall know what we’ve accomplished over the past 25 years. The gains we’ve made almost everywhere in Europe in terms of peace, freedom and prosperity are now at risk,” Steinmeier said, adding that that it was important to take “every measure to prevent things [in Ukraine] from getting worse.”
The US put pressure on Danish authorities to close the Kurdish Roj TV channel in order to appease Turkey. This was done so Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s position as NATO secretary general would be secure, the station’s lawyer told RT amid WikiLeaks revelations.
WikiLeaks documents released back in March suggest Rasmussen abused his powers during his time as Denmark’s prime minister, in order to secure his future job.
In 2009, Denmark reportedly agreed to start legal action against Roj TV, a Kurdish separatist channel that was broadcasting from Copenhagen, in order to appease Turkey. In return, Ankara said it would back Rasmussen as the future NATO chief.
“There were some conflicts of political character between Denmark and Turkey. And the US intervened because they liked very much [for the] then-Danish prime minister to become secretary general. And therefore they felt confident with him as a secretary general,” Roj TV lawyer Bjorn Elmquist told RT.
“There was big pressure from the US to think in a creative manner how to indict and how to prove that Roj television was promoting terrorism. And in the end, the indictment was there. And within hours after that indictment it was announced that there was an agreement between the Turkish government and the other NATO countries to decide for the previous Danish prime minister to be secretary general.”
Roj TV began broadcasting in 2004. In 2010, it was accused in Denmark of promoting terrorist activities. It was officially shut down in February 2014.
Turkey maintained that Roj TV was a mouthpiece for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which fights for the rights of the Kurdish minority – and is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey and the West.
In fact, Turkey had on three different occasions unsuccessfully complained to the Danish Radio and Television Board about Roj TV, with the watchdog ruling that the channel’s reporting standards matched those of other TV stations in Denmark, Elmquist added.
“We have a special independent committee on television in Denmark, which would issue the certificates. And the Turkish government had on three different occasions complained to the committee. And each time they concluded that the coverage of the conflict between the PKK, the Kurdish guerrillas, and Turkish security forces was just like the coverage you would find at the big Danish news television stations,” he said.
“So, we thought that also the courts would respect the freedom of expression, the freedom of press, the freedom of information, but it didn’t occur.”
When NATO was asked to comment on the leaks about the deal to appoint Rasmussen, its press office directed RT to the Danish judicial authorities, insisting that the courts were fully independent.
“We do not comment on alleged leaked documents. However, in general I can say that in real democracies, such as Denmark, the courts are fully independent. For any other inquiries, I refer you to the Danish judicial authorities,” press officer Ben Nimmo from NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division told RT in a letter.
Kurdish activist Dilar Diriq said that Turkey has been after Roj TV ever since it launched.
“They repeatedly filed complaints, but they were unsuccessful until Rasmussen became NATO’s secretary general in 2009. And Turkey did not make it a secret that Roj TV’s closure was a condition for them to support Rasmussen. And suddenly in the next year, the Danish government decided to prosecute Roj TV. This really does not come as a surprise because there had been several anti-Kurdish policies that were adopted by European governments to appease Turkey,” she told RT.
The 2009 WikiLeaks diplomatic cable sent by Terence McCulley, then-deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Copenhagen says that the Danish promised to come after Roj TV.
“Danish pledges to intensify efforts against Roj-TV — among the measures offered Turkey for not blocking former PM Rasmussen’s appointment as NATO secretary general — have given additional impetus to the investigation while also prompting senior officials to tread carefully, to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo (i.e., sacrificing freedom of speech in exchange for a high-level post),” the cable states.
The cable also says that “no clear evidence has been found to connect the broadcaster with the PKK,” but that the Danish are being encouraged to “think creatively about ways to disrupt or close the station.”
NATO is preparing a package deal to ramp up the Ukrainian military because it ‘must adapt’ to Russia viewing it as an enemy, the outgoing chief of the military bloc said.
The deal would be submitted to foreign ministers of members states later this month, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told El Pais in an interview. He declined to go into detail, but said it provides for defense industry reform and modernization of the Ukrainian military.
The alliance may also facilitate cooperation with Ukraine over military training, although whatever exercises of NATO member troops would be held in Ukraine is up to individual countries, Rasmussen said.
“We must adapt to the fact that Russia now considers us its adversary,” he explained.
The help that NATO plans to give Ukrainian military comes as the said military are used in a bloody crackdown on the defiant eastern provinces, where local militias defend cities from daily artillery shelling and airstrikes.
Kiev regards the militias as Russia-backed terrorists and refuses any kind of negotiation with them. NATO shares the view, accusing Russia of funneling heavy weapons into Ukraine across the border, although so far no solid evidence of such actions was presented.
The alliance itself is experiencing a sort of revival playing the ‘Russian threat’ card to justify the build-up of troops in Central and Eastern Europe. Moscow sees such deployments as provocative and confirming NATO’s aggressive stance towards Russia.
NATO claims that it has been cooperating with Russia in every way until the Ukrainian crisis sparked the cold war hostilities again. It’s not quite true, considering the alliance’s expansion eastwards in Europe and its plans to deploy a system of anti-ballistic missile defense closer to Russian borders. Both have been done against Russia’s objections that such moves compromise Russian national security.
NATO leaders are currently acting out a deliberate charade in Europe, designed to reconstruct an Iron Curtain between Russia and the West.
With astonishing unanimity, NATO leaders feign surprise at events they planned months in advance. Events that they deliberately triggered are being misrepresented as sudden, astonishing, unjustified “Russian aggression”. The United States and the European Union undertook an aggressive provocation in Ukraine that they knew would force Russia to react defensively, one way or another.
They could not be sure exactly how Russian president Vladimir Putin would react when he saw that the United States was manipulating political conflict in Ukraine to install a pro-Western government intent on joining NATO. This was not a mere matter of a “sphere of influence” in Russia’s “near abroad”, but a matter of life and death to the Russian Navy, as well as a grave national security threat on Russia’s border.
A trap was thereby set for Putin. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. He could underreact, and betray Russia’s basic national interests, allowing NATO to advance its hostile forces to an ideal attack position.
Or he could overreact, by sending Russian forces to invade Ukraine. The West was ready for this, prepared to scream that Putin was “the new Hitler”, poised to overrun poor, helpless Europe, which could only be saved (again) by the generous Americans.
In reality, the Russian defensive move was a very reasonable middle course. Thanks to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Crimeans felt Russian, having been Russian citizens until Khrushchev frivolously bestowed the territory on Ukraine in 1954, a peaceful democratic solution was found. Crimeans voted for their return to Russia in a referendum which was perfectly legal according to international law, although in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, which was by then in tatters having just been violated by the overthrow of the country’s duly elected president, Victor Yanukovych, facilitated by violent militias. The change of status of Crimea was achieved without bloodshed, by the ballot box.
Nevertheless, the cries of indignation from the West were every bit as hysterically hostile as if Putin had overreacted and subjected Ukraine to a U.S.-style bombing campaign, or invaded the country outright – which they may have expected him to do.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry led the chorus of self-righteous indignation, accusing Russia of the sort of thing his own government is in the habit of doing. “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests. This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext”, Kerry pontificated. “It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century”. Instead of laughing at this hypocrisy, U.S. media, politicians and punditry zealously took up the theme of Putin’s unacceptable expansionist aggression. The Europeans followed with a weak, obedient echo.
It Was All Planned at Yalta
In September 2013, one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs, Viktor Pinchuk, paid for an elite strategic conference on Ukraine’s future that was held in the same Palace in Yalta, Crimea, where Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met to decide the future of Europe in 1945. The Economist, one of the elite media reporting on what it called a “display of fierce diplomacy”, stated that: “The future of Ukraine, a country of 48m people, and of Europe was being decided in real time.” The participants included Bill and Hillary Clinton, former CIA head General David Petraeus, former U.S. Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, former World Bank head Robert Zoellick, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, Shimon Peres, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Mario Monti, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, and Poland’s influential foreign minister Radek Sikorski. Both President Viktor Yanukovych, deposed five months later, and his recently elected successor Petro Poroshenko were present. Former U.S. energy secretary Bill Richardson was there to talk about the shale-gas revolution which the United States hopes to use to weaken Russia by substituting fracking for Russia’s natural gas reserves. The center of discussion was the “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement” (DCFTA) between Ukraine and the European Union, and the prospect of Ukraine’s integration with the West. The general tone was euphoria over the prospect of breaking Ukraine’s ties with Russia in favor of the West.
Conspiracy against Russia? Not at all. Unlike Bilderberg, the proceedings were not secret. Facing a dozen or so American VIPs and a large sampling of the European political elite was a Putin adviser named Sergei Glazyev, who made Russia’s position perfectly clear.
Glazyev injected a note of political and economic realism into the conference. Forbes reported at the time on the “stark difference” between the Russian and Western views “not over the advisability of Ukraine’s integration with the EU but over its likely impact.” In contrast to Western euphoria, the Russian view was based on “very specific and pointed economic criticisms” about the Trade Agreement’s impact on Ukraine’s economy, noting that Ukraine was running an enormous foreign accounts deficit, funded with foreign borrowing, and that the resulting substantial increase in Western imports could only swell the deficit. Ukraine “will either default on its debts or require a sizable bailout”.
The Forbes reporter concluded that “the Russian position is far closer to the truth than the happy talk coming from Brussels and Kiev.”
As for the political impact, Glazyev pointed out that the Russian-speaking minority in Eastern Ukraine might move to split the country in protest against cutting ties with Russia, and that Russia would be legally entitled to support them, according to The Times of London.
In short, while planning to incorporate Ukraine into the Western sphere, Western leaders were perfectly aware that this move would entail serious problems with Russian-speaking Ukrainians, and with Russia itself. Rather than seeking to work out a compromise, Western leaders decided to forge ahead and to blame Russia for whatever would go wrong. What went wrong first was that Yanukovych got cold feet faced with the economic collapse implied by the Trade Agreement with the European Union. He postponed signing, hoping for a better deal. Since none of this was explained clearly to the Ukrainian public, outraged protests ensued, which were rapidly exploited by the United States… against Russia.
Ukraine as Bridge… Or Achilles Heel
Ukraine, a term meaning borderland, is a country without clearly fixed historical borders that has been stretched too far to the East and too far to the West. The Soviet Union was responsible for this, but the Soviet Union no longer exists, and the result is a country without a unified identity and which emerges as a problem for itself and for its neighbors.
It was extended too far East, incorporating territory that might as well have been Russian, as part of a general policy to distinguish the USSR from the Tsarist empire, enlarging Ukraine at the expense of its Russian component and demonstrating that the Soviet Union was really a union among equal socialist republics. So long as the whole Soviet Union was run by the Communist leadership, these borders didn’t matter too much.
It was extended too far West at the end of World War II. The victorious Soviet Union extended Ukraine’s border to include Western regions, dominated by the city variously named Lviv, Lwow, Lemberg or Lvov, depending on whether it belonged to Lithuania, Poland, the Habsburg Empire or the USSR, a region which was a hotbed of anti-Russian sentiments. This was no doubt conceived as a defensive move, to neutralize hostile elements, but it created the fundamentally divided nation that today constitutes the perfect troubled waters for hostile fishing.
The Forbes report cited above pointed out that: “For most of the past five years, Ukraine was basically playing a double game, telling the EU that it was interested in signing the DCFTA while telling the Russians that it was interested in joining the customs union.” Either Yanukovych could not make up his mind, or was trying to squeeze the best deal out of both sides, or was seeking the highest bidder. In any case, he was never “Moscow’s man”, and his downfall owes a lot no doubt to his own role in playing both ends against the middle. His was a dangerous game of pitting greater powers against each other.
It is safe to say that what was needed was something that so far seems totally lacking in Ukraine: a leadership that recognizes the divided nature of the country and works diplomatically to find a solution that satisfies both the local populations and their historic ties with the Catholic West and with Russia. In short, Ukraine could be a bridge between East and West – and this, incidentally, has been precisely the Russian position. The Russian position has not been to split Ukraine, much less to conquer it, but to facilitate the country’s role as bridge. This would involve a degree of federalism, of local government, which so far is entirely lacking in the country, with local governors selected not by election but by the central government in Kiev. A federal Ukraine could both develop relations with the EU and maintain its vital (and profitable) economic relations with Russia.
But this arrangement calls for Western readiness to cooperate with Russia. The United States has plainly vetoed this possibility, preferring to exploit the crisis to brand Russia “the enemy”.
Plan A and Plan B
U.S. policy, already evident at the September 2013 Yalta meeting, was carried out on the ground by Victoria Nuland, former advisor to Dick Cheney, deputy ambassador to NATO, spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton, wife of neocon theorist Robert Kagan. Her leading role in the Ukraine events proves that the neo-con influence in the State Department, established under Bush II, was retained by Obama, whose only visible contribution to foreign policy change has been the presence of a man of African descent in the presidency, calculated to impress the world with U.S. multicultural virtue. Like most other recent presidents, Obama is there as a temporary salesman for policies made and executed by others.
As Victoria Nuland boasted in Washington, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has spent five billion dollars to gain political influence in Ukraine (this is called “promoting democracy”). This investment is not “for oil”, or for any immediate economic advantage. The primary motives are geopolitical, because Ukraine is Russia’s Achilles’ heel, the territory with the greatest potential for causing trouble to Russia.
What called public attention to Victoria Nuland’s role in the Ukrainian crisis was her use of a naughty word, when she told the U.S. ambassador, “Fuck the EU”. But the fuss over her bad language veiled her bad intentions. The issue was who should take power away from the elected president Viktor Yanukovych. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party been promoting former boxer Vitaly Klitschko as its candidate. Nuland’s rude rebuff signified that the United States, not Germany or the EU, was to choose the next leader, and that was not Klitschko but “Yats”. And indeed it was Yats, Arseniy Yatsenyuk , a second-string US-sponsored technocrat known for his enthusiasm for IMF austerity policies and NATO membership, who got the job. This put a U.S. sponsored government, enforced in the streets by fascist militia with little electoral clout but plenty of armed meanness, in a position to manage the May 25 elections, from which the Russophone East was largely excluded.
Plan A for the Victoria Nuland putsch was probably to install, rapidly, a government in Kiev that would join NATO, thus formally setting the stage for the United States to take possession of Russia’s indispensable Black Sea naval base at Sebastopol in Crimea. Reincorporating Crimea into Russia was Putin’s necessary defensive move to prevent this.
But the Nuland gambit was in fact a win-win ploy. If Russia failed to defend itself, it risked losing its entire southern fleet – a total national disaster. On the other hand, if Russia reacted, as was most likely, the US thereby won a political victory that was perhaps its main objective. Putin’s totally defensive move is portrayed by the Western mainstream media, echoing political leaders, as unprovoked “Russian expansionism”, which the propaganda machine compares to Hitler grabbing Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Thus a blatant Western provocation, using Ukrainian political confusion against a fundamentally defensive Russia, has astonishingly succeeded in producing a total change in the artificial Zeitgeist produced by Western mass media. Suddenly, we are told that the “freedom-loving West” is faced with the threat of “aggressive Russian expansionism”. Some years ago, Soviet leaders gave away the store under the illusion that peaceful renunciation on their part could lead to a friendly partnership with the West, and especially with the United States. But those in the United States who never wanted to end the Cold War are having their revenge. Never mind “communism”; if, instead of advocating the dictatorship of the proletariat, Russia’s current leader is simply old-fashioned in certain ways, Western media can fabricate a monster out of that. The United States needs an enemy to save the world from.
The Protection Racket Returns
But first of all, the United States needs Russia as an enemy in order to “save Europe”, which is another way to say, in order to continue to dominate Europe. Washington policy-makers seemed to be worried that Obama’s swing to Asia and neglect of Europe might weaken U.S. control of its NATO allies. The May 25 European Parliament elections revealed a large measure of disaffection with the European Union. This disaffection, notably in France, is linked to a growing realization that the EU, far from being a potential alternative to the United States, is in reality a mechanism that locks European countries into U.S.-defined globalization, economic decline and U.S. foreign policy, wars and all.
Ukraine is not the only entity that has been overextended. So has the EU. With 28 members of diverse language, culture, history and mentality, the EU is unable to agree on any foreign policy other than the one Washington imposes. The extension of the EU to former Eastern European satellites has totally broken whatever deep consensus might have been possible among the countries of the original Economic Community: France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux states. Poland and the Baltic States see EU membership as useful, but their hearts are in America – where many of their most influential leaders have been educated and trained. Washington is able to exploit the anti-communist, anti-Russian and even pro-Nazi nostalgia of northeastern Europe to raise the false cry of “the Russians are coming!” in order to obstruct the growing economic partnership between the old EU, notably Germany, and Russia.
Russia is no threat. But to vociferous Russophobes in the Baltic States, Western Ukraine and Poland, the very existence of Russia is a threat. Encouraged by the United States and NATO, this endemic hostility is the political basis for the new “iron curtain” meant to achieve the aim spelled out in 1997 by Zbigniew Brzezinski in The Grand Chessboard: keeping the Eurasian continent divided in order to perpetuate U.S. world hegemony. The old Cold War served that purpose, cementing U.S. military presence and political influence in Western Europe. A new Cold War can prevent U.S. influence from being diluted by good relations between Western Europe and Russia.
Obama has come to Europe ostentatiously promising to “protect” Europe by basing more troops in regions as close as possible to Russia, while at the same time ordering Russia to withdraw its own troops, on its own territory, still farther away from troubled Ukraine. This appears designed to humiliate Putin and deprive him of political support at home, at a time when protests are rising in Eastern Ukraine against the Russian leader for abandoning them to killers sent from Kiev.
To tighten the U.S. grip on Europe, the United States is using the artificial crisis to demand that its indebted allies spend more on “defense”, notably by purchasing U.S. weapons systems. Although the U.S. is still far from being able to meet Europe’s energy needs from the new U.S. fracking boom, this prospect is being hailed as a substitute for Russia’s natural gas sales – stigmatized as a “way of exercising political pressure”, something of which hypothetic U.S. energy sales are presumed to be innocent. Pressure is being brought against Bulgaria and even Serbia to block construction of the South Stream pipeline that would bring Russian gas into the Balkans and southern Europe.
From D-Day to Dooms Day
Today, June 6, the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day landing is being played in Normandy as a gigantic celebration of American domination, with Obama heading an all-star cast of European leaders. The last of the aged surviving soldiers and aviators present are like the ghosts of a more innocent age when the United States was only at the start of its new career as world master. They were real, but the rest is a charade. French television is awash with the tears of young villagers in Normandy who have been taught that the United States is some sort of Guardian Angel, which sent its boys to die on the shores of Normandy out of pure love for France. This idealized image of the past is implicitly projected on the future. In seventy years, the Cold War, a dominant propaganda narrative and above all Hollywood have convinced the French, and most of the West, that D-Day was the turning point that won World War II and saved Europe from Nazi Germany.
Vladimir Putin came to the celebration, and has been elaborately shunned by Obama, self-appointed arbiter of Virtue. The Russians are paying tribute to the D-Day operation which liberated France from Nazi occupation, but they – and historians – know what most of the West has forgotten: that the Wehrmacht was decisively defeated not by the Normandy landing, but by the Red Army. If the vast bulk of German forces had not been pinned down fighting a losing war on the Eastern front, nobody would celebrate D-Day as it is being celebrated today.
Putin is widely credited as being “the best chess player”, who won the first round of the Ukrainian crisis. He has no doubt done the best he could, faced with the crisis foisted on him. But the U.S. has whole ranks of pawns which Putin does not have. And this is not only a chess game, but chess combined with poker combined with Russian roulette. The United States is ready to take risks that the more prudent Russian leaders prefer to avoid… as long as possible.
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the current charade is the servility of the “old” Europeans. Apparently abandoning all Europe’s accumulated wisdom, drawn from its wars and tragedies, and even oblivious to their own best interests, today’s European leaders seem ready to follow their American protectors to another D-Day … D for Doom.
Can the presence of a peace-seeking Russian leader in Normandy make a difference? All it would take would be for mass media to tell the truth, and for Europe to produce reasonably wise and courageous leaders, for the whole fake war machine to lose its luster, and for truth to begin to dawn. A peaceful Europe is still possible, but for how long?
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. She can be reached at email@example.com
Two Eastern European nations, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have refused to host foreign troops and military bases. The prime ministers of both countries have consecutively spoken against the proposal voiced by US President Barack Obama.
Following the example of their neighbor the Czech Republic, the prime minister of Slovakia stated that his country is ready to meet its obligations as a NATO member state, but stationing foreign troops on its territory is out of the question.
Slovak PM Robert Fico said he “can’t imagine foreign troops being deployed on our territory in the form of some bases.”
The proposal to host more NATO troops in Eastern Europe was voiced by Obama on his current tour of Europe.
Speaking at a news conference in Warsaw, Obama said America is stepping up its partnership with countries in Eastern Europe with a view to bolstering security.
Initially, it was Poland that asked for a greater US military presence in Eastern Europe.
In April, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak called on the Pentagon to deploy as many as 10,000 American troops in his country.
Two countries opposed deployment of any foreign soldiers on their territory.
On Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said his country sees no need to allow foreign military presence on its territory.
Last month, Defense Minister Martin Stropinsky sparked a political storm in the Czech Republic by recalling the 1968 invasion as the biggest reason not to host NATO troops in the country in a Reuters interview.
Slovakia’s Fico joined in the debate Wednesday, saying that for his country such a military presence is a sensitive issue because of the Warsaw Pact troops’ invasion into Czechoslovakia in 1968.
“Slovakia has its historical experience with participation of foreign troops. Let us remember the 1968 invasion. Therefore this topic is extraordinarily sensitive to us,” he said.
Fico said that Slovakia is committed to fulfill its obligations towards NATO despite military budget cuts and that allies would be allowed to train on Slovak territory anyway.
Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
The Czech Republic entered NATO in 1999, whereas Slovakia joined the alliance later, in 2004.
Fico’s Smer party, which has an absolute majority in Slovakia’s parliament, has been advocating warmer relations with Russia.
Defying threats of violence, tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians went to the polls to cast a vote that was more about Syrian dignity and self-determination than any of the candidates on the ballot. After three years of unimaginable atrocities fomented by a demented and dying U.S. empire, with the assistance of the royalist monarchies of the Middle East and the gangster states of NATO, the Syrian people demonstrated, by their participation, that they had not surrendered their national sovereignty to the geo-strategic interests of the U.S. and its colonial allies in Europe and Israel.
The dominant narrative on Syria, carefully cultivated by Western state propagandists and dutifully disseminated by their auxiliaries in the corporate media, is that the conflict in Syria is a courageous fight on the part of the majority of the Syrian people against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. As the story goes, the al-Assad “regime,” (it is never referred to as a government), can only maintain its power through the use of force. By attacking “its own citizens,” the regime, representing the minority Alawite community, can only maintain its dominance over the rest of the country through sheer terror.
However, events in Syria, with the election being a dramatic example, continue to reveal fissures in that story.
First, it became clear that substantial numbers of non-Alawite people and communities support the government. And even those elements of Syrian society that were not enthusiastic supporters of the government grew to understand that the legitimate indigenous opposition had been displaced by powerful non-Syrian forces from the U.S. and the Gulf States who provided material, political and diplomatic support to an opposition that not only had tenuous ties to the country but seemed only committed to waging war. This convinced many that the only politically consistent option was to support the government, as an expression of support for Syria’s sovereignty and its’ national project.
As a result, not only did popular support for the government hold over the last three years of carnage, it expanded to include those in the opposition who were against the destruction of the country and the slimy Syrian ex-pats who traveled from one European capital to another begging for the U.S. and NATO to do what it did in Libya – destroy the infrastructure of the country through the use of NATO air power and flood the country with weapons.
But the most graphic undermining of the dominant Western narrative has been the participation of tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians who have braved threats and violence to participate in the election process.
Western corporate news outlets, especially in the U.S., were unable to explain the huge turnout of Syrian refugees voting in Lebanon preceding the election on Tuesday, so they just decided not to cover it. Images of Syrians displaced by war yet backing al Assad for president did not support the carefully crafted story that the only people fleeting war were those who had been terrorized to do so by the government.
Instead, the U.S. press raised the question of the “legitimacy” of elections taking place in a country involved in a “civil war,” a position consistent with their narrative of the war being one between the Syrian people and the government as opposed to what it has turned out to be – a war largely being fought by foreign forces, with the indigenous opposition forces allied with the feckless Syrian National Coalition; isolated, out-gunned and militarily irrelevant.
And while the U.S. press uncritically propagated the position of the U.S. state, which wrote off the election as illegitimate and a farce, the media seemed not to notice the contradictory position of the U.S. writing off the election in Syria because of conflict but giving enthusiastic support to the election in Ukraine in the midst of a conflict and contested legitimacy. The Western media could explore a few obvious questions if it was really independent, such as: what makes the election in Ukraine legitimate when half of the country boycotts the vote and the national army violently attacks its own citizens in Eastern Ukraine who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the coup-makers in Kiev?
Other questions might be: if they deem it appropriate to support an election in Ukraine, why would the Obama Administration violently oppose elections in Syria, especially if, as it claims, the majority of the people oppose the current government? Wouldn’t the illegitimacy of the government in Syria be confirmed by the low turnout, even in areas where there was a modicum of security? If Syrian authorities organized opportunities for displaced Syrians in various countries around the world to vote and very few participated, wouldn’t that verify the Administration’s position that the al Assad government lacks popular support?
Yet in various European capitals and other countries like Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt, efforts were made to block the opportunity for displaced Syrians to vote in their election – why? Were the authorities afraid that the narrative of non-support for al Assad might be challenged if there was a proliferation of images like the ones that came out of Lebanon showing thousands of Syrians marching to the polls holding signs of Bashar al Assad?
It will be interesting to see how the authorities and their spokespeople in the corporate media spin the voting process in Syria.
The U.S. position is a position of continued war in Syria
Secretary of State John Kerry declared that Syria’s presidential election was a “farce,” and that the U.S. and its partners are prepared to quickly redouble efforts to support opposition forces in the county. The meaning of this position is that it does not matter what kind of public display of support is given to al Assad or anyone who might emerge as the head of state in Syria, the U.S. objective is more death, more war and more chaos.
This is the essence of the “new” global strategy unveiled by President Obama during his foreign policy speech at West Point last week. The U.S. declaration that it will “change the dynamics on the ground in Syria” came out of a meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria,” a motley collection of 11 Western colonial nations and their Arab creations. The Obama Administration intends to work through these kinds of regional formations and alliances to advance its strategic objectives with as minimal a cost to the U.S. as possible. Of course, the interests and desires of the states or peoples involved are of secondary concern. The desire on the part of the majority of the people to end the conflict in Syria is not even considered. As part of the effort to secure public support in the U.S. for destabilizing and then attacking Syria it was posited that by deposing the al Assad government a real democracy can be introduced. That is why policymakers pretended to back so-called moderate elements that support democracy. But over the last year or so, even that proposal has been eliminated. Democracy in Syria is as much a threat to U.S. imperialist interests as it is in Ukraine – and increasingly even in the U.S.
Policymakers in Washington and London have already made the shift to supporting what are being called “moderate” Islamists forces grouped around the Islamic Front (IF) with al Nusrah, al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, operating in the background. The problem for the Syrian people is that these moderates the west is supporting are Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalists who reject representative democracy and support the imposition of sharia law in Syria. So while the U.S. and their allies characterize the election in Syria a farce, their solution is to back forces who would eliminate even the pretext of democratic participation. This is the progress that is being imposed on the secular, pluralist society of Syria by the Western “liberators.”
It is not about al Assad, it is about the people of Syria and imperialism:
Questions of democratic legitimacy have never determined U.S. relationships with any state where the U.S. had strategic and economic interests. If a commitment to democracy and democratic governance was the determining factor for U.S. support, the Obama Administration would not be in alliance with the dictatorship of the royalists in the Gulf states, it would have condemned the coups in Honduras and Egypt, not given diplomatic or economic support to the coup in Ukraine, and would not be supporting right-wing elements in Venezuela attempting to destabilize the democratically-elected government in that country.
There was a time when this position would have been clear to the peace and anti-war, anti-imperialist progressive and left movements in the U.S. and the West. But over the last two decades, with the ideological infiltration of the left by liberalism, social democracy and the rightist tendencies of “anti-authoritarian” anarchism, the resulting political confusion has seen a consistent alignment of the left with the imperial project of the U.S. – from the attacks on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia through to attacks on nationalist projects throughout the global South, from Libya to Syria. Since the last gasp of anti-imperialism solidarity represented by the massive marches in opposition to the illegal attack on Iraq in 2003, the peace, anti-war and anti-imperialist movements have been in relative disarray.
This disarray and ineffectiveness is taking place right at the historical moment when in order to maintain its global hegemony, the colonial/capitalist West has decided to revert to what it does best – spread death and destruction. For those of us who understand our responsibility situated, as we are, at the center of this monstrosity called the U.S., we have to strip away the veneer of humanitarianism that hides the ugly inner logic of domination and we have to “struggle” – a term now passé for the hip post-modern nihilist left.
When a people, like the people of Syria, demonstrate their commitment to the integrity of their own national experience in opposition to the efforts of the imperialist states that we reside in, the only principled position we can take is to stand in solidarity with those people, no matter how we see the internal contradictions of that nation/state. The people of Syria have said no to foreign intervention. Those of us in the imperialist West, can we do anything less?
Ajamu Baraka, a long-time human rights activist and organizer, is an editor and contributing columnist for Black Agenda Report. Baraka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and http://www.AjamuBaraka.com
The Left Forum’s tenth annual conference was held this year at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York. Left Forum describes itself as “convening “the largest annual conference of a broad spectrum of left and progressive intellectuals, activists, academics, organizations and the interested public.”
The rather enigmatic theme for Left Forum 2014 was “Reform and/or Revolution: Imagining a World of Transformative Justice,” but one heard no mention of justice for the victims of sixty-nine years of US-NATO genocide presently ongoing in a dozen Muslim nations in the Middle-East and Africa as being a reason for either “reform” or “revolution.” The entire focus of the three day event, save in a a very small number of the three-hundred-and-eighty panel/workshops, was on “reform and/or revolution” to benefit Americans in America.
For this writer, the actual theme of Left Forum 2014 seems to have been: Martin Luther King was Wrong!: Americans CAN make a better America WHILE still continuing to kill the poor overseas in spite of the cost in human and financial resources that SHALL NOT stop Americans from making progress on social and justice issues at home.
Martin Luther King Jr. said:
I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly … for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence. … Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. … I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak … for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and … in sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportion relative to the rest of the population.
A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then … I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war.
Martin Luther King cried out, “For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence I cannot be silent!”
But Cornel West, now of New York Theological Seminary, the keynote speaker at Left Forum 2014’s Opening Plenary, and Harry Belafonte and Angela Davis, who spoke at its Feature Event, were silent on the sixty-seven years of US-NATO genocide overseas, the ongoing US-NATO slaughter of Muslims in a dozen nations in the Middle East and Africa and the covert violence around the world for “unjust predatory investments” that Rev. King condemned. Amazingly, their cries and exhortations were to fight for justice for Americans at home. Left Forum 2014 was a truly an ‘America First’ proposition.
All three most beloved African American celebrities of the Left railed against the injustices suffered by African Americans, Native Turtle Islanders, Latin Americans, and non-heterosexuals (including one supposes those returning from military duty in one or the more of the nations under military occupation or attack, and from US military bases in more than a hundred and fifty nations.)
The shouting was mainly about getting a better deal for Americans in America, Americans who King had held responsible for atrocity wars and covert genocide on three continents since 1945. Yours truly was uncomfortably aware that he sat in a college gymnasium filled with knowledgeable people, who, by virtue of their anti-government stance and protests, felt themselves innocent of the massive atrocities that King held himself responsible for, along with his fellow Americans.
Perhaps the most galling pill to swallow was the presence on stage of progressive media Democracy Now director Amy Goodman, long committed to false reporting to destroy the government and the population that supports it in Syria, having had a dedication to the destruction of beautiful, democratic and prosperous Libya and third world hero Muammar Gaddafi, and to dutiful backing of the Orange, Green and now Ukrainian “revolutions” sponsored by CNN and arranged by CIA and its many foreign branches.
I was gratified to find that quite a few panel facilitators and speakers at the three day conference were very knowledgeable and outspoken about the perfidy and treachery of Amy Goodman — and just as angry about her role in contributing to the death and maiming of so many innocent citizens by disseminating false propaganda in support of US-NATO bombings and funding of terror.
In fact, the panels I sought out were run and attended by dedicated scholars well aware of the traitorous nature of so many of those who pride themselves in being leftists and progressives critical, or even damning, of their government without realizing that not working firstly to stop the carnage of US-NATO deadly military operations and CIA’s equally deadly covert activities makes Leftists and Progressives more responsible for the genocide continuing than anyone else. For as the segment of society most informed about the horror of American actions overseas, yet refraining from referring to them as prosecutable crimes against humanity, not calling for their prosecution, and not seeking justice for America’s victims, makes such intellectuals, professors, historians and journalists accessories after the fact, even in some cases before the fact, for backhandedly protecting criminals in hindering the arrest and bringing to justice of all fellow Americans responsible. … Full article
The US military has finally closed its transit center at Bishkek’s Manas airport, Kyrgyzstan. During the 12 1/2 years of the Afghan military campaign the facility remained the primary air supply hub for the ISAF’s contingent in the war zone.
Formerly known as Manas Air Base (unofficial name: Ganci Air Base), the facility became operable in 2001, when the US started Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
The facility soon proved to be absolutely indispensable, as it transported to and from Afghanistan up to 5.5 million American servicemen and allied troops from 26 countries – accounting for 98 percent of personnel rotation during the Afghan campaign.
Under the base’s current commander, US Air Force Colonel John Millard, there were days when it hosted up to 4,000 servicemen either being deployed on a mission to Afghanistan or returning from the warzone.
Another important job done by the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing in Manas was the aerial refueling of ISAF fighter jets operating in Afghanistan. Over the years, Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers performed 33,000 flight refueling operations in Afghan skies, pumping 1 million tons of aviation fuel into the tanks of assault fighter jets.
The US base has been at the center of several scandals, including the fatal shooting of a local man by an American guard at a base checkpoint. The killing was not prosecuted by Kyrgyzstan, as US military personnel have legal immunity in the country. Critics also voiced concerns over environmental damage and potential terrorist threats from US enemies against the base.
In 2009, then-Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced plans to shut the base. Yet after long negotiations with Washington, the airbase was simply renamed Transit Center Manas.
But in 2013, the Kyrgyz parliament refused to prolong the contract with Washington, obliging the US to withdraw all personnel form the base no later than on July 10, 2014. Now it appears that the demand will be fulfilled one month earlier than the deadline, by the end of next week.
Millard, who earlier handed over the symbolic keys to the base to Kyrgyz authorities, told journalists that the US government has left $30 million worth of equipment, facilities and generators to the country’s government.
The base’s closure has left several hundred locals previously employed at the base without work.
Reportedly, there are 300 American servicemen left at Manas airfield, carrying out the closure of the base.
Yet its closure does not mean that the US has no more interests in Kyrgyzstan. A new US embassy is currently being constructed in the country.
The new building will reportedly be big enough to host not only a diplomatic mission but also a detachment of US intelligence personnel to be stationed in the country.
The geographical position of Kyrgyzstan, situated right at the crossroads between Russia, China, Afghanistan and a number of Central Asian countries, make Kyrgyzstan an ideal place for intelligence gathering and eavesdropping, to ensure that Washington keeps an eye on the region after its troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
President Obama has announced a plan to invest $1 billion in stepping up its military presence in Eastern Europe amid the Ukrainian crisis. The White House will send more troops and equipment to the region to “reaffirm” its commitment to NATO allies.
Speaking at a news conference in Warsaw, Obama said America was stepping up its partnership with countries in Eastern Europe with a view to bolstering security. The moves are aimed at upping the pressure on Russia, which Washington has accused of inciting unrest in Ukraine.
In line with the plans, Obama will ask Congress to provide up to $1 billion to finance the deployment of more troops and equipment.
“Under this effort, and with the support of Congress, the United States will preposition more equipment in Europe,” Obama said at the Polish capital’s Belweder Palace.
Earlier in the day Obama met with US and Polish air personnel in Warsaw and said the US had already begun rotating additional soldiers in the region.
“Given the situation in Ukraine right now, we have also increased our American presence. We’ve begun rotating additional ground troops and F-16 aircraft into Poland… to help our forces support NATO air missions,” said Obama, calling the commitment to NATO allies in Europe “the cornerstone of our own security.”
Obama called on Moscow to refrain from further provocation in Ukraine and said it has a responsibility to work constructively with the new government in Kiev. He added that the troop buildup in Eastern Europe was not meant to threaten Russia, but “rebuilding trust may take some time.”
The American president will meet with newly-elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during his two-day stay in Poland.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski praised Washington’s plans to beef up military forces in the region.
“We welcome them as an announcement of a real return by NATO to standing very strongly by the basis of the alliance, which is Article 5, which speaks about the collective defense of the countries’ territories,” Komorowski said.
Russia has decried the increase in NATO troops close to its border as a blatant provocation and accused the organization of fueling violence in Ukraine. Moscow has said it is ready for dialogue with Poroshenko, but has urged the newly elected President to halt the “anti-terror operation” in the east of Ukraine.
“NATO is providing Kiev – a member of its Partnership for Peace program – with technical assistance, thus encouraging the prolongation of its use of force. Thus the Alliance accepts a part of the responsibility for the escalation of the situation, and the collapse of diplomatic negotiations,” said Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s envoy to NATO.
Thus far the US has deployed 600 troops for military drills in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.