Historic opportunity missed
When Barack Obama, the first black president of America, delivered remarks Tuesday during a South African memorial service for that country’s first black president, he muffed a historic opportunity to right a grave wrong done by the American government – one that helped send Nelson Mandela to prison for nearly 30-years.
Obama, during his remarks at a Johannesburg, SA memorial service for Mandela, who died on December 5 at age 95, recalled how that world-revered leader had endured “brutal imprisonment.”
But the U.S. president conveniently excluded the fact that America’s CIA had helped South African agents capture Mandela, leading to the very imprisonment that Obama and other world leaders were decrying during that service.
A few miles from the soccer stadium where that memorial service for Mandela was held is the house in Soweto where Mandela lived before he went underground in the early 1960s to ramp up the fight in his homeland against apartheid – that racist system modeled on U.S. segregation laws.
That small four-room house on Vilakazi Street in Soweto’s Orlando West section is now a museum commemorating the life and sacrifices of the man credited universally hailed as the ‘Father’ of modern South Africa.
Included among the abundant memorabilia inside that museum is a June 1990 letter sent to then U.S. President George H.W. Bush Sr. by some state legislators in Michigan asking Bush to apologize to Mandela for the U.S. CIA’s role in helping South African government agents capture Mandela in August 1962, leading to his long imprisonment. Mandela was finally been released from prison in February of 1990.
Bush Sr., a former CIA Director, brushed aside that request. His cold-shouldered non-response to that request continued the stance among legions of American governmental and corporate leaders who aided-&- and abetted South African apartheid right up to the negotiated end of white supremacist rule and the 1994 election of Mandela. The U.S. government had backed South Africa’s white minority government economically, militarily and diplomatically for decades.
Obama, during his eloquent memorial remarks, could have apologized specifically for that CIA role in Mandela’s arrest or he could have at least acknowledged America’s decades-long stance on the wrong side of the anti-apartheid struggle. Instead, he took a pass, even at the point when he urged persons who attended that memorial to “act on behalf of justice.”
Obama’s immediate predecessors in the White House – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – also were on hand for the Mandela memorial service. Neither of them had extended an apology to Mandela for the CIA’s role in his arrest, during their respective presidencies. Bush, in 2008, did sign a measure removing Mandela and ANC leaders from America’s ‘Terrorist Watch List’– a labeling left over from the era of federal government backing of apartheid.
Despite an Obama declaration during his remarks that lauded Mandela for embracing the “moral necessity of racial justice” the failures – real and perceived – of America’s current president to practice what he preaches about justice, is precisely what sparked protests against him when he visited South Africa last June.
On the occasion of that presidential visit, protesters blasted Obama for his arrogant and oppressive foreign policy according to press accounts. Protesters castigated his drone wars, his failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and America’s continuing support of Israel in that country’s apartheid-like subjugation of the Palestinians. Protesters included leading members of COSATU (the Coalition of South African Trade Unions) and South Africa’s Communist Party. Those two organizations, along with the African National Congress (ANC), form the tripartite coalition now governing South Africa. Mandela once headed the ANC.
Obama, during his Mandela service remarks, assailed the fact that “around the world men and woman are still imprisoned for their political beliefs.” Yet there too, was an element of hypocrisy, since as president, Obama has not pardoned any of the scores of Americans who’ve spent decades in prison for their political beliefs in fighting against American apartheid during the late 1960s and early 1970s – many of whom were falsely imprisoned under the illegal police-state-style COINTELPRO program once operated by the FBI.
President Obama has exercised his pardon powers less than any U.S. President in modern history. As Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! noted recently, Obama’s has to date pardoned ten turkeys during Thanksgiving but only 39 people during his presidential tenure. None of those pardoned have been America’s political prisoners.
Obama praised Mandela for teaching “us the power of action…” Apparently, though, Obama has not learned a key lesson of Mandela’s legacy: moving beyond symbolic rhetoric to real action.
Obama applauded Mandela as a “giant of history (who) moved a nation toward justice.” Mandela’s death, Obama said, occasioned a “time of self-reflection.”
Ironically, self-reflection would appear to be exactly what this US president needs if he is to improve his record of putting real substance into his too frequent symbolic efforts towards remediating festering wrongs committed by the American government.
Washington knew Syrian rebels could produce sarin gas but “cherry-picked” intel to blame President Assad for the Aug. 21 attack on Ghouta, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed, citing senior US security sources.
The report was published in the London Review of Books after two of Hersh’s regular publishers, The New Yorker and The Washington Post, turned the article down.
Hersh, whose Pulitzers were for his exposes on American military misconduct in the Iraq and Vietnam wars, got his information on Syria from whistle-blowing acting and former intelligence and military officers, who for security reasons were not identified in the report.
According to Hersh’s findings, months before the chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus, which almost prompted US air strikes on Syria, “the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports… citing evidence that the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.”
The attack took place on August 21, the same day UN inspectors arrived in Damascus to investigate allegations of use of chemical weapons. The casualty figures have ranged from several hundred to more than 1,400 deaths.
Before the attack, the Obama administration repeatedly described the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a “red line,” which would signal the US could intervene in the conflict.
Hersh wrote that he does not believe that the intelligence data, pointing at the rebels’ having capability for making sarin, could have in any way escaped the White House’s attention.
“Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on Al-Nusra and its work with sarin,” he wrote.
Obama’s laying the blame for the nerve gas attack on Assad’s forces, completely disregarding Al-Nusra as a suspect in the case, is thus described in the report as the administration’s having “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.”
“The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war,” Hersh wrote.
It’s because of the lack of sufficient evidence against Assad that Obama quickly abandoned his plan for military strikes.
“Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal,” the report reads. “Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)”
The investigative journalist then points at an annual budget for all national intelligence programs, leaked to the media by Edward Snowden and partly published by The Washington Post. According to the document, by the time of the Eastern Ghouta chemical attack, the NSA “no longer had access to the conversations of the top military leadership in Syria, which would have included crucial communications from Assad, such as orders for a nerve gas attack”. That puts to question the confidence with which Obama spoke of Assad’s responsibility for the deaths.
The same document described “a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal”. Hersh wrote it was suspicious that the US intelligence received no alarm, if the Assad forces really prepared for an attack.
Hersh also analyses the news coverage of the chemical gas attack investigation, pointing to instances when the media outlets omitted the information that suggested there could be other suspects, beside Assad.
The UN September 16 report, confirming the use of sarin, contained one part that noted that the organization’s experts did not have immediate access to the attack sites controlled by rebels, so potential evidence could have been manipulated there. The passage was largely ignored in the news.
Following the release of the report, the spokesman for Director of National Intelligence, Shawn Turner, denied the report’s major point – that the US knew of the rebel group being capable of creating sarin.
“We were clear with The Washington Post and Mr. Hersh that the intelligence gathered about the 21 August chemical weapons attack indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible,” Turner told Buzzfeed. “Any suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence about a nonexistent alternative explanation is simply false.”
Hersh has remained unconvinced by the denial and has summed it up with a warning against ignoring alleged Al-Nusra’s chemical weapons potential.
“While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, Al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone. There may be more to negotiate.”
Young people in the US are disappointed with President Barack Obama’s administration and disapproved of his management of the main problems in the country, a poll revealed today.
Young people were the main support to the president in his election in 2008 and reelection in 2012. That sector of the population is currently showing a marked decrease in their support.
The poll by the Institute for Politics of the University of Harvard that included people from 18 to 29 years of age revealed that 44 percent of that sector disapproves of Obama’s work, compared to 41 percent in support.
The data shows an 11-point fall compared to a poll by the same entity this past spring, and to another poll in the fall of 2009, when 58 percent of the young supported him and 39 percent voted against.
According to Trey Grayson, director of Harvard’s Institute for Politics, this is the lowest level of support for the president since he assumed office in 2009.
Of those polled, 55 percent said they had voted for Obama, 33 percent said they voted in favor of Mitt Romney and four percent chose another politician.
Being asked today about their vote intention, 46 percent said they would vote for the current White House tenant, while 35 percent would do it for Romney and 13 percent would choose someone else.
Asking opinions about health reform, 61 percent of those polled disapproved of Obama’s administration and 57 percent rejected Obamacare, and also 44 percent consider that health care will worsen, while 34 percent said it will remain the same and just 17 percent think that it will improve.
The poll also revealed that frustration is not only against Obama, because 59 percent of those polled do not support democrats in Congress, while 35 percent approved them, but also two thirds of them do not support republicans and just 19 percent support them.
The poll included 2,089 people and defining their political inclination: 41 percent of the young defined themselves as independents, 33 percent as democrats and 24 percent as republicans, and predicted a large number of non-participants in the primary elections in 2014.
The first four years of the Obama Administration were marked by imposing an unprecedented set of sanctions and military threats against Iran. However, since July 2013 fewer sanctions have been imposed and less military threats issued. Indeed, the Obama Administration—along with some of the other four members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, commonly known as the P5+1—appeared to be sincere in trying to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran. They withstood pressures coming from Israel, its lobby groups and proxies in the US Congress and they pushed for a deal with Iran. In the end, a six-month accord between the P5+1 and Iran was reached on November 24, 2013, after a long and unprecedented set of negotiations. Will this accord last, and will it lead to a longer agreement? Was the deal the result of draconian sanctions imposed on Iran, as President Obama would have us believe? Was it the result of the election of President Hassan Rouhani and his promise of “constructive engagement,” as most people believe? Or could it be that President Obama’s policy toward Iran is changing?
In order to answer the above questions, a detailed examination of the Obama Administration’s policy of “tough diplomacy” is necessary. I have made such an analysis in Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” The book is a continuation of a pervious book that was published in 2008 on the dual containment of Iran and Iraq. The latter dealt with nearly three decades of attempts by the US and Israel to “contain” Iran, and it was concluded before President George W. Bush left office. The new book starts where the earlier book left off and follows the first four years of the Obama Administration’s policy toward Iran.
President Barack Obama came to office promising engaging Iran. Yet, in reality his administration followed the policy of “tough diplomacy,” which included, among other acts, imposing “crippling sanctions” against Iran. Indeed, a close look at the Obama Administration’s Iran policy reveals certain continuity between this policy and the policy of “dual containment” pursued by the previous administrations, particularly by the George W. Bush Administration.
Given the history of containment policy, it was not difficult to predict prior to the 2008 presidential election that regardless of the outcome, the US foreign policy toward Iran would be determined largely by Israel and its various lobby groups in the US, especially American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Indeed, it was easy to foresee that if Obama became president, Dennis Ross, Obama’s closest advisor on Iran and the former director of WINEP, would play a leading role in determining the policy. Based on Ross’s writings and WINEP’s publications, one could expect that Obama would pursue a “tough” or “aggressive diplomacy” with Iran. The diplomacy, as Ross and WINEP had formulated, was intended to give an ultimatum to Iran in some face to face meetings, telling Iran to either accept the US-Israeli demands or face aggression, including, ultimately, a naval blockade and military actions. The meetings were also intended to create the illusion of engaging Iran in negotiations and, in so doing, gaining international support for the subsequent aggressive actions.
What was expected in fact happened. Once Obama came to office Dennis Ross became special advisor to the Secretary of State for the “Gulf and Southwest Asia,” then special assistant to President Obama and his senior director for the “Central Region.” Thus, once more, an individual associated with WINEP became the main architect of Iran policy and in that capacity continued, with some modifications, the same policy that had been pursued by the Bush Administration.
It should, of course, be noted that besides Ross—who left his position at the end of 2011 and rejoined WINEP—there have been other Iran policy makers close to Israel and its lobby groups in the Obama Administration. One such person, who also left office in 2011, was Stuart A. Levey, the former Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Levey, a leftover from the Bush Administration, managed to carry on a crusade against Iran by formulating and implementing financial sanctions against Iran. Another person who left his position in February of 2013 and, subsequently, became president of the Israeli lobby group “United Against Nuclear Iran” (UANI) was Obama’s special assistant for arms control, Gary Samore. Nevertheless, for the most part the Obama Administration policy toward Iran proceeded along Ross’s policy of “tough” or “aggressive diplomacy.” How the policy was implemented is briefly discussed below.
As mentioned earlier, one of the main aims of the policy of “tough diplomacy” was to create the impression that the US is trying its best to engage Iran. This was tried soon after President Obama took office. For example, Obama’s message of March 21, 2009, on the occasion of the Persian New Year, was intended to create such an impression. To the uninitiated the message appeared to be conciliatory. But to those familiar with the history of the US-Iran relations, the message contained nothing that was essentially new and, indeed, accused Iran of some of the same charges that the Israeli lobby had concocted since the 1990s. Actually, a few days later Obama showed how little the US policy had changed when in his trip to Prague he spoke about a “real threat” posed by Iran to its “neighbors and our allies” and advocated the same missile defense system proposed by the Bush Administration.
By the summer of 2009, while numerous unilateral sanctions were being renewed, passed or contemplated, the Obama Administration was working hard to pass the fourth multilateral, United Nations Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran. In order to get the Russian vote in the Security Council, in July 2009 Obama offered the Russians a quid pro quo: in exchange for a deal on the expiring 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and postponing the US deployment of anti-missile system in Europe, Russia would agree to impose harsher sanctions against Iran. Later, the Obama Administration sweetened the deal by promising to drop the deployment of an anti-missile system in Europe altogether.
On October 1, 2009, Iran held a meeting with the P5+1. This was followed by three other meetings, one on October 19, 2009, and two others in December
2010 and January 2011. The first two meetings centered mainly on the swap of Iran’s low enriched uranium for higher enriched uranium intended to be used by a reactor in Tehran that produces isotopes for medical purposes. The swap deal was viewed by many, both inside and outside of Iran, as a ploy by the US to get enriched uranium out of Iran and then give Iran an ultimatum to stop any further enrichment or face the fourth round of UN sanctions. Even some US officials described the deal as a clever ploy.
Under massive pressure at home, President Ahmadinejad’s government, which had originally agreed to the swap, tried to modify the deal. Yet, the Obama Administration rejected any modification and began the final push for the fourth round of UN sanctions. By this time many US officials, including Secretary Clinton, were admitting openly that the Obama Administration’s policy had been, throughout, not just an “engagement policy” but a “two-track policy” and that it was now time for the “pressure track.” This was, indeed, similar to the “carrot and stick policy” of the Bush Administration, which was always no more than offering Iran a stick.
What stood between Iran and a new Security Council resolution however, was China, which was opposed to additional UN sanctions. The Obama Administration therefore cajoled China, twisted its arms, and even threatened it financially, to make it go along with the new set of sanctions. By mid-March 2010 China’s resistance to slow down the US-Israeli push had weakened, and toward the end of March China agreed to discuss the US proposal for the fourth round of UN sanctions. Now, the only stumbling block in getting a near unanimous vote in the Security Council was the presence of three non-permanent members on the Security Council, Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon, which opposed the sanctions despite massive pressure by the US to make them go along.
On May 17, 2010, Brazil and Turkey struck a deal with Iran for swapping enriched uranium, almost the same deal that had been offered by the P5+1 to Iran in October 2009. The only difference between this so-called tripartite agreement and the US proposed swap deal was that Iran would send the low enriched uranium to Turkey rather than Russia, as it had been initially proposed. The Obama Administration rejected the tripartite agreement, making it clear that the original swap deal proposed was a ploy and that the ultimate intention of the US had been, all along, to use the deal to impose, in the language of Benjamin Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton, “crippling sanctions” against Iran.
On June 9, 2010, Resolution 1929, the fourth UN sanctions resolution against Iran, was passed by the Security Council, with Brazil and Turkey voting “no” and Lebanon abstaining. This was, of course, the same resolution that the Bush Administration was unable to pass due to time running out. The passage of the resolution officially ended the “diplomacy” phase of the Obama Administration’s Iran policy. After this multilateral sanction the US and EU intensified their unilateral sanctions, despite Russia’s protest that the measures were exceeding the parameters agreed upon and reflected in the UN Security Council resolution.
With the Obama Administration giving the green light, the US Congress passed, on June 24, 2010, one of the most severe unilateral sanctions acts against Iran, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA). The act had been in the pipeline for some time, but had been held back until the passage of the UN Resolution 1929. CISADA, which was signed by President Obama on July 1, 2010, strengthened the harshest sanctions act passed during the Clinton era, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.
After CISADA much of the new sanctions against Iran were enacted by the State and Treasury Departments, particularly under the leadership of Stuart Levey and his successor, David Cohen. In addition, there were once again repeated talks of possible military attacks on Iran by Israel, the US or both. These were not just the usual talks by the Israelis, neoconservatives or media pundits, but threats made by some high officials in the Obama Administration, such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who stated on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on August 1, 2010, that “military actions have been on the table and remain on the table.” The push for attacking Iran intensified in late October and early November of 2010 as more Israeli and American officials and media pundits appealed to President Obama.
The combination of continuous threats and increasing sanctions affected the Iranian economy. In the fall of 2010 the value of Iran’s currency fluctuated wildly. The fluctuation was clearly a manifestation of uncertainty, speculation and fear that were mostly caused by the cumulative effect of sanctions. The sanctions were also exacerbating the rate of inflation in Iran and reducing the rate of growth of the economy. For example, while the rate of growth in Iran’s real GDP in 2007 was 7.8%, the rate for 2010, according to the April 2011 report of the International Monetary Fund, was only 1.0%. The same report forecasted the rate of growth in Iran’s real GDP for 2011 to be 0%.
The Obama Administration appeared to be fully aware of the toll that the sanctions were taking on the Iranian economy and adopted a wait-and-see attitude, despite the pressure exerted on it by Israel and its supporters to engage in military adventures against Iran. It also appears that the current administration found various forms of sabotage—such as the introduction of the Stuxnet computer worm in the Iranian nuclear facilities, assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists—as well as agitation among separatist movements in Iran, quite useful in containing Iran. The issue of human rights violations in Iran also became a tool in the hands of the Obama Administration to mount verbal attacks against Iran.
By the end of 2010 the US policy toward Iran was back on the same track that it had been for over thirty years, a blatant containment policy. In other words, the policy of “tough diplomacy” had no more “diplomacy” left in it; it was simply a tough policy. The two meetings between Iran and the P5+1, on December 6, 2010, and January 21, 2011, were therefore devoid of any substance and merely provided forums for the two sides to express their grievances.
With the advent of the so-called Arab Spring, and the preoccupation of the US, Europe and Israel with the revolutionary upheavals in the Middle East, there were less news reports in the popular US media about Iran and the need to contain it. Indeed, to the extent that the “Arab Spring” challenged some aspects of the old order in the Middle East and created uncertainty about the future of this order, the pressure on Iran slightly subsided. But once the dust started to settle, the attention turned, once again, toward Iran, and the push by Israel, its lobby groups, and supporters in the US Congress, to intensify sanctions and threaten Iran militarily resumed. Moreover, the campaign of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotaging Iranian nuclear facilities and trying to stir up ethnic tensions intensified.
In addition, there was increasing pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to accept the US demands. Under IAEA’s new director, Yukiya Amano—who was the preferred candidate of the West to replace Mohamed ElBaradei as the Director General of IAEA in 2010—Iran has faced harsh and confrontational reports about its nuclear activities. Indeed, the November 8, 2011 report of IAEA on Iran’s implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement was the harshest ever. The subsequent reports have continued to be confrontational.
Sanctions and threats of military action against Iran intensified after the November 2011 IAEA report. What Israel, its lobby groups, and their supporters in the US government wanted most was sanctioning the Iranian Central Bank. Such a sanction had been considered since the presidential election of 2008. The sanction was finally included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Obama signed on December 31, 2011 and has been implemented ever since. In January 2012, the Council of European Union passed similar sanctions against the Central Bank and the energy sector of Iran. In addition to these sanctions, there were repeated talks of possible military attacks on Iran by Israel, the US or both. For the most part, however, the threats, particularly by Israel, had been used to impose more severe sanctions.
Beginning in April of 2012 Iran and the P5+1 held five more rounds of meetings, including meetings at the technical level. These meetings, similar to the earlier ones, produced no agreement between the two sides. It was, indeed, difficult to expect any agreements as long as more and more draconian sanctions were being levied against Iran and there were repeated talks of military attacks.
In the final analysis, the Obama Administration’s policy of “tough diplomacy” had mostly followed the script written by individuals associated with Israel and its lobby groups. The policy was similar to those pursued by the neoconservatives under the previous administration. But while the “carrot and stick policy” of the Bush Administration was implemented in a brutish way, the Obama Administration’s “two-track policy” had been carried out in a more refined way.
At the end of President Obama’s first term in office, the combination of continuous threats and increasing sanctions had brought about massive economic hardship in Iran. However, these difficulties did not translate into what the architects of the policy of “tough diplomacy” had been waiting for, that is, widespread discontent in Iran. Nor did the sanctions result in a complete collapse of the Iranian economy. The fate of the policy of “tough diplomacy” therefore remained uncertain. This was even more so, since by the end of Obama’s first term in office, some of the old guard responsible for formulating or implementing the policy, such as Dennis Ross, Stuart Levey, Gary Samore, and Hillary Clinton, had either left the administration or were leaving it.
It is too early to evaluate the changes that have occurred in the composition of the new Obama Administration’s foreign policy team and their approach to Iran. However, it seems that with the departure of some of the old guard and the arrival of a new crew—such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel—the failed policy of “tough diplomacy” is withering away. True, the new crew, particularly Hagel, had to go through the mandatory vetting process by the Israeli lobby groups and publicly kowtow to Israel before being confirmed. Nevertheless, some of the newcomers, who were well versed with the power of Israel in formulating US foreign policy in the Middle East, could see that continuing the policy of “tough diplomacy” would ultimately lead to another war that the US could neither afford nor win.
One indication of the changing policy appears to be a softening in the position of the US in the meetings between Iran and the P5+1. In the last high level meetings, during the first term of President Obama, which took place in June 2012, Iran was told to “stop, shut and ship.” This meant, according to a summary provided by EU’s representative Catherine Ashton, a three step proposal to Iran: “stopping 20 percent enrichment activities, shutting the Fordow nuclear facility and shipping out stockpiled 20 percent enriched nuclear materials.”
The above proposal changed considerably in the second term of Obama’s presidency. In February of 2013, when the P5+1 and Iran meetings resumed, there was no more talk of “stop, shut and ship.” Instead, according to various news sources, Iran was asked to implement “voluntarily” three things in six months: 1) significantly restrict its accumulation of 20% enriched uranium, but keep sufficient amount to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR); 2) suspend enrichment at Fordow underground facility and accept conditions that constrain the ability to quickly resume enrichment at Fordow; and 3) allow more regular and thorough monitoring of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. As I wrote at the time, not only had the US blinked, but it had tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium, at least in the short-run. The Iranian negotiator at the time, Saeed Jalili, responded to these proposals by saying that they were more “realistic,” “positive,” and “closer to Iran’s position.” However, Iran argued that the so-called sanctions relief was not proportional to what was being demanded from Iran and that the endgame, i.e. what would happen after six months, remained unclear. With the Presidency of Ahmadinejad ending, and the presidential election in Iran on the horizon, no further high level meetings took place and no agreements were reached.
The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, and his Foreign Minister, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, picked up the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 where it had been left off under Ahmadinejad’s government. Even though what Iran proposed at the first round of meetings was kept relatively secret, from various leaked reports one can surmise that the proposal was a modified version of the earlier P5+1’s offering. Iran apparently proposed to: 1) freeze its production of 20% enriched uranium and convert the stock of such uranium into fuel rods for the TRR; 2) relinquish spent fuel from a yet-to-be-operational Arak heavy water reactor; 3) sign the so-called Additional Protocol—which would allow for the most intrusive inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the IAEA—once unilateral and multilateral sanctions were lifted.
Iran also proclaimed, as it had done since the beginning of such meetings, that its “inalienable right” to enrich uranium under Article IV of the NPT must be recognized. But Article IV merely states: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” This is a broad and vague statement that does not spell out any specific “inalienable right,” including the right to enrich uranium. The adversaries of Iran have used the ambiguity in the language to argue that Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium. Iran has been fully aware of this dispute and, even if it publicly insists upon recognizing such a right, it knows that there is nothing in the law about such a specific right. Indeed, the law must be rewritten at some point to specify the “inalienable right.”
The accord that Iran signed with the P5+1 on November 24, 2013, had some elements of what was offered to Iran in February 2013, during Ahmadinejad’s government, and the counter offers made by Iran under President Rouhani. For example, on the issue of uranium enrichment, Iran conceded not to enrich uranium above 5% for six months and either to convert the existing 20% enriched uranium into fuel or dilute it. This concession did not affect Iran, since Iran did not need any more 20% enriched uranium for TRR.
As far as Fordow was concerned, there was remarkably no more demand for its suspension. However, according to the agreement, there should be no “further advances” of activities at Fordow. The same was stated with regard to the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant and Arak reactor. This meant that the Arak reactor would not become operational for six months, a new demand that had been put forward as a result of pressure from Israel and its lobby groups. This concession, too, did not affect Iran very much, since starting this reactor had been postponed a number of times and, according to the last report of the IAEA, the start-up was not even achievable in the first quarter of 2014.
As far as the issue of allowing more regular and thorough monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the IAEA was concerned, Iran conceded. Without going into details, the accord called for “enhanced monitoring” by the IAEA of certain nuclear sites and facilities related to its nuclear program. But, again, this concession did not harm Iran, since Iran had persistently argued that it has nothing to hide and many of its nuclear facilities were already being monitored intrusively.
In exchange for these concessions, Iran was offered, in a nutshell: 1) a “pause” on “efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales”; 2) suspension of US and EU sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports, gold and other precious metals, auto industry, spare parts for safety of flight for Iranian civil aviation; 3) no “new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions” or “EU nuclear-related sanctions,” and a US “refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions”; 4) establishment of “a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad”; and 5) an increase in “the EU authorisation thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.” Some of these offers were similar to those offered to Iran during Ahmadinejad’s government, which, at that time, were deemed by Iran not to be proportional to the concessions.
The last section of the accord dealt with the clarification of the endgame that the Iranian negotiators during Ahmadinejad’s government had asked for. Under “Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution,” the parties agreed that within a year they will reach a long term accord that would: 1) “Reflect the rights and obligations of parties to the NPT and IAEA Safeguards Agreements”; 2) “Comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions”; 3) “Involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters”; 4) “Fully resolve concerns related to the reactor at Arak”; 5) “Fully implement the agreed transparency measures and enhanced monitoring. Ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Majlis”; and 6) “Include international civil nuclear cooperation.”
The above third element seems to tacitly recognize some sort of enrichment “right.” Indeed, the fact that Iran is allowed to continue enrichment at a low level for the short-run makes denying it the right in the long-run difficult. Nevertheless, as I argued in my recent book, the devil is always in the detail. We do not know how the above agreement will be interpreted in the future and whether it will be used in a deceptive way by the P5+1 to halt Iran’s nuclear program altogether. A similar agreement between Iran and the EU3 (France, Britain and Germany) in 2004—termed the Paris Agreement, which called for a temporary freeze of uranium enrichment in Iran—was used by the EU3 to permanently halt enrichment. Moreover, we do not know if Israel, its lobby groups and its surrogates in the US Congress, will be able to derail the agreement.
In conclusion, the new agreement between Iran and the P5+1, however it is interpreted and wherever it will lead, is not simply the result of the election of President Rouhani in Iran. Much of the agreement was already on the table before the new administration in Iran arrived. Rouhani and his team changed the tactic of negotiation, speeded up the process, and accepted what had been offered to Iran under Ahmadinejad’s government. The agreement was also not due to the success of the policy of “tough diplomacy.” On the contrary, it was the result of the failure of the policy. The policy of sanctioning Iran intensively was intended to collapse the Iranian economy, bring the masses into the street and prepare the ground for military actions. But, even though the draconian sanctions caused extreme hardship in Iran, the economy did not collapse and Iranians did not pour into the streets. Indeed, according to many reports, most people in Iran blamed the economic hardship on the sanctions. This caused the Iranian government to dig in its heels deeper and try to ride out the sanctions with what they called the resistance economy. Had it not been for the policy of “tough diplomacy,” a settlement with Iran could have been reached sooner. In that case, ironically, Iran’s nuclear program would not have been as advanced as it is today.
Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno. His new book Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy” will be available in December, 2013. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
 This essay is partly based on the introduction to Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy”: http://www.c-s-p.org/Flyers/Containing-Iran–Obama-s-Policy-of–Tough-Diplomacy-1-4438-5247-3.htm.
 See The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment: http://www.amazon.com/The-United-States-Iran-Containment/dp/0415612691.
 For a copy of the agreement see: http://www.ft.com/cms/d0fa3682-5523-11e3-86bc-00144feabdc0.pdf.
Anita Kumar, a reporter at McClatchy, has a good article highlighting how, for all the talk by the Obama administration about how it needs to be more open and transparent about what the NSA is doing, in actuality, the administration has built up the walls even higher, increasing the levels of secrecy… including secrecy about how he’s responded to everything:
Obama has been gradually tweaking his vast government surveillance policies. But he is not disclosing those changes to the public. Has he stopped spying on friendly world leaders? He won’t say. Has he stopped eavesdropping on the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? He won’t say.
Even the report by the group Obama created to review and recommend changes to his surveillance programs has been kept secret.
As is noted in the article, the administration, which likes to pretend it’s the most transparent in history, is actually one of the most secretive. Its attempts at transparency have almost exclusively been focused on where it can get the most political bang, not for what areas people expect the government to be transparent about — such as how it interprets the laws that allow the government to spy on everyone…
What’s incredible is that it appears that no one high up in the administration seems to recognize how this is a strategy that will almost certainly make things worse, not better. It may be how the administration is used to functioning, but it makes it much more difficult to believe anything that is said about a supposed “vigorous public debate” being held on the surveillance activities. It also means that as more leaks come out revealing more questionable practices, the constant backtracking and excuses will just destroy whatever credibility the administration has left on this issue. If, instead, it were to actually be transparent and simply reveal things like how it interprets the law, and allow for a real public discussion on these matters, that would actually result in some frank discussions that the administration seems terrified of actually having.
Extreme secrecy may seem like the easier short-term strategy, but it’s just digging an ever deeper hole that the administration is going to have to try to climb out of in the long-term. Hiding reality from a public that’s going to find out eventually is just making the problem worse.
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until “2024 and beyond.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He’d like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people’s doors at night. He’d like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He’d like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he’d like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai’s legacy — my own appraisal is unprintable — these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations’ concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai’s.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years and years. We’re spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan — or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country — would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we’d favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn’t stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn’t get the aid that we favored.
We aren’t asked about the drone strikes. We aren’t asked about most military operations. And we aren’t being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven’t learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We’d have invented a new disease. They’d replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he’s “ending” out for another decade, establishing that there’s very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won’t allow them to roll right over us.
When a man shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year, Barack Obama announced how “deeply saddened” he was that such an attack “took place at a house of worship.” His Republican challenger for the presidency, Mitt Romney, likewise expressed his disgust at “a senseless act of violence . . . that should never befall any house of worship.”
At the time, that was grotesquely funny because, by that point, Barack Obama had himself committed numerous acts of senseless violence against houses of worship. And, being the commander-in-chief of a military fighting a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he dramatically expanded upon taking office, he has continued to bomb religious institutions ever since.
As Reuters reported on Wednesday:
A suspected U.S. drone fired on an Islamic seminary in Pakistan’s northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa early on Thursday, killing at least five people, police said. [...]
Fareed Khan, a police officer, said the unmanned aircraft fired at least three rockets at the madrassa in the Hangu district, killing two teachers and three students just before sunrise on Thursday.
Now, and this is important: an anonymous official did say a potentially bad person was potentially seen at that madrassa a few days earlier (potentially), so Barack Obama can sleep soundly at night knowing he authorized the killing of a few people who were probably familiar with that bad guy…
Meanwhile Reuters continues:
The attack took place a day after Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying that the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
The United States has not commented on Aziz’s remarks.
I’m really pretty sure that it has.
Obamacare is unraveling, not because the administration is particularly incompetent or unlucky, and certainly not as a result of the Republicans’ unrelenting hostility to the Obama health insurance plan. Indeed, ever since the bill’s passage in early 2010, the GOP’s holy war against Obamacare has served to solidify reflexive Democratic support for what has always been a Republican-inspired bill.
The truth is, the Affordable Health Care Act is coming undone because of its own, tortured internal logic. At root, it is a fraud on the public: a scheme to subsidize and more deeply embed a private insurance system that can only make profits by denying sick and vulnerable people health care, and playing different demographics of Americans against each other. As every other industrialized country in the world has already learned, it is impossible to build a genuine, universal healthcare system on a cut-throat capitalist foundation. Private insurers make money by betting against the health interests of their customers. Obama served his corporate masters by conspiring to make tens of millions more Americans into customers of private insurers. He tried to dress up one of the greatest corporate subsidies in history as if it were a solemn national mission, a rebirth of the social compact between the American people. But of course, Obamacare is no such thing; it is a racket to prop up private insurers with public money, while allowing the profiteers to continue to run the show.
You can’t hide a truth that big. The Obamacare website has suffered from terminal complexity because white collar crime is usually quite complex. The web site attempts to reconcile the profit margins and various products of a universe of private insurance corporations, while at the same time pretending to serve the health needs of the people at an affordable cost. Obamacare claims to be in the business of serving both the public and corporate stockholders. But that’s mission impossible. If Obamacare is based on making profits for private corporations – if that is what keeps the system going – then the public’s health care needs will always be an afterthought. And, that will be obvious in the way that the website is organized as a sales platform that matches federal subsidies with corporate products, rather than matching people with the medical resources they need to survive and thrive.
Website complexity and failures aside, Obamacare can never become part of a national social compact, something of which all Americans can be proud. That’s because, by definition, corporate insurance schemes divide people into “winners” and “losers” – although, of course, the big winner is always the corporation. Young, healthy people know they are the fatted calves of the insurance business, and they are avoiding Obamacare like the plague. If this were really a national health care program, like Medicare for All, then most young people would join in the national health care mission. But this is just Obama working a scam for the insurance companies, and young folks know it. Anybody who manages to get access to the web site knows it.
The fatal flaw in Obamacare can’t be fixed. The best thing that could happen would be a quick and total collapse. Large majorities of Americans still support Medicare for All, but Obamacare stands in the way of a real national health plan – just as the Republican right-wingers that invented Obamacare back in 1989 intended.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- That Popping Noise? The Obamacare Bubble! (correntewire.com)
The great corporate myth-making machine has been hard at work of late, attempting to create the false impression that US corporations are increasingly uncompetitive with their foreign rivals due to the fact they pay much higher corporate taxes in the US and abroad than their capitalist counterparts. But that is one of the great myths perpetrated by corporate apologists, pundits and their politician friends. The myth is high in the pantheon of conscious falsifications their marketing machines feed the American public, right up there along with such other false notions that ‘business tax cuts create jobs’, ‘free trade benefits everyone’, ‘income inequality is due to a worker’s own low productivity contribution’, ‘overpaid public workers are the cause of states’ budget deficits’, or that ‘social security and medicare are going broke’.
If corporate America can create and sell the idea that they pay more taxes than their offshore capitalist cousins, then they are half way home to getting their paid politicians to provide them still more corporate tax cuts—a proposal by the way that both Republicans and Obama are on record for, in their joint proposal to reduce the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 28% (Obama) or 25% (Republicans).
The message of too high corporate taxes is appearing more frequently nowadays, since actual legislation for big corporate tax cuts is now working its way through Congress. Driving the legislation are Teaparty favorites in the House of Representatives, like David Camp, head of the Ways & Means Committee, and Max Baucus, Democrat in the Senate, who is set to retire in 2014 and wants to give his business buddies yet another big cash freebie (you know Max, the guy who rode herd on that Health Insurance Corporation subsidy bill called Obamacare?).
So it’s time to debunk the ‘US Corporations Pay Too Much Taxes’ (and thus need another tax cut) myth. What follows is the first segment of a longer essay—with tables and graphs—on the same topic that will appear shortly in the December issue of ‘Z’ magazine. More segments of that essay will follow.
US corporations don’t pay the nominal corporate tax rate of 35% today; they pay an effective (i.e. actual) rate of only 12%. The additional effective state-wide corporate income tax they pay amounts to only a 2% or so—not the 10% they claim. And the effective corporate tax on offshore earnings is only another 2.2% or so—not the 20% average they’ll complain. So the total US tax for US corporations is barely 16%–not the 35% plus 10% (state) plus 20% (offshore) nominal tax rate. And however you cut it, the story is the same: US corporations’ share of total federal tax revenues have been in freefall for decades. The share of corporate taxes as a percent of GDP and national income has halved over the decades. And corporations since 2008 have realized record level profits during the ‘Obama Recovery’—while their taxes as a percent of profits since 2008 is half that of the average paid as recently as 1987-2007. Okay, more detail on all that in parts 2 and 3 to follow.
For the moment, what all the corporate tax cutting to date has produced is a mountain of corporate cash.
US Corporations today in fact are sitting on more than $10 TRILLION in cash!
For example, even the US business press admits today that US multinational corporations have diverted more than $2 trillion to their offshore subsidiaries, to avoid paying the U.S. Corporate Income Tax. (watch for parts 2 and 3 of to follow for how they do this).
In addition to the $2 trillion now diverted by US multinational corporations offshore, after having paid federal taxes another $1 trillion is now held as cash on hand by the 1,000 largest nonfinancial companies based in the U.S. as of mid-2013, an increase of 61% in the past five years, according to a study by the REL Consulting Group.
For financial companies, deposits in US banks are currently at a record $10.6 trillion, while bank loans outstanding have been declining since 2008 and are now at a record low of $7.58 trillion—thus leaving US banks sitting on a cash hoard of nearly $3 trillion according to the Wall St. Journal. That’s a total approaching $7 trillion so far.
This record after-tax cash exists despite corporations having bought back their stock and paid dividends worth trillions more since 2008. Corporate buybacks of stock since 2009 passed the $1 trillion mark in 2012, according to a survey by Rosenblatt Securities—with projections to increase at an even faster rate of $400-$500 billion more in 2013. Corporate dividend payouts equaled another $282 billion in 2012 alone, perhaps at least that amount in years prior, and are today projected to exceed $300 billion in 2013. That’s another $2.5 trillion.
Include hundreds of thousands of US corporations and businesses that are not part of the largest 1000 or who don’t operate offshore—plus cash socked away in depreciation funds and other special funds for all the above—and that comes to at least another $500 billion.
That $10 trillion corporate total, moreover, doesn’t include still further additional dollars that have been spent by US corporations abroad. While business investment in the US has been declining, total US corporate foreign direct investment is estimated at $4.4 trillion in 2012, up from $3 trillion in 2007 and from $1.3 trillion in 2000. So that’s another roughly $1.4 trillion in corporate income committed offshore since the official ‘end’ of the recession in June 2009.
Add all that up and its well more than $10 trillion in buybacks, payouts, and hoarded cash (onshore and offshore) by US corporations since 2009—i.e. during the sub-par economic recovery (for the rest of us) of the past four years. That’s corporate income and cash that has been diverted, hoarded, or otherwise not committed to US real investment, and therefore never contributing to jobs, income creation and consumption in the US. No wonder consumption (70% of the US economy) for the bottom 80% households in the US has been stagnating, stalling, or declining in the US in recent years. No wonder all the US economy can do is create low wage, contingent, service jobs, while more than 20 million are still unemployed and uncounted millions more have left the US labor force altogether. No consumption recovery follows declining US investment, while tens of trillions of dollars go elsewhere or sit on the sidelines.
To summarize, at least as much as $10 trillion—and perhaps approaching $12 trillion—has been taken out, redirected, diverted, or otherwise hoarded by US corporations since the 2008 crash. Keep all that in mind when you next hear politicians from the two wings of the one party system in America—Republicans and Democrats—and their friends in mainstream media trying to justify proposals for still more corporate tax cuts.
Jack is the author of the 2012 book, ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’ (Pluto press), and host of the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network. His website is http://www.kyklosproductions and blog, jackrasmus.com. His twitter handle, @drjackrasmus.
About half of Lynch’s points boil down to, “Obama is for x, because he makes speeches talking about x all the time.” He starts out with the best one of all:
“Unlike the many presidents who preceded him, he cares about what is best for the greater good. He truly does represent The People. His actions have always been motivated by a sincere desire to do what is best for the majority, even if it meant losing ground with the wealthy, influential or powerful minority.”
Um, yeah. That’s why he adopted a Republican “universal healthcare” proposal to require everybody to buy private health insurance — and give taxpayer money to the ones who can’t afford it. That should be popular with “The People,” all right — at least those who own stock in insurance companies. That’s why he quietly promised the drug companies he wouldn’t use Medicare’s bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices. That’s why Joe Biden conducts copyright enforcement policy out of Disney’s corporate headquarters and the administration backs draconian copyright legislation dictated in secret by proprietary content industries.
Among my favorite other howlers:
“2. He is for civil rights. He has consistently spoken on behalf of the disenfranchised, the underdog and the most controversial members of society …”
Yeah, I know he said a lot of stuff about gay marriage and ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. But he refused to actually stop prosecuting gays in the military before the law was repealed, or to put enforcement on the back burner, even when he was fully capable of using his executive authority to do so.
And notice Lynch doesn’t say “civil liberties.” Obama said a lot of stuff about them, too — back in 2008. Since then he’s expanded unconstitutional wiretapping, run interference for the telecoms that help out with it and given amnesty to people who systematically ordered and engaged in torture. Holding war criminals accountable would be “divisive,” you see. He owes the late Nuremberg defendants an apology — they were only following orders, too.
4. Healthcare. I think we already covered that.
“5. He is for the middle class. Here are just a few of the comments made by President Barack Obama in recent months …”
A lot of presidents were for a lot of stuff, if you stick to reading their collected speeches. In practice, Obama’s farm policies are written by ADM and Monsanto, and the office of Secretary of the Treasury is permanently reserved for Goldman-Sachs alumni, just as under his predecessors.
Obama’s actual economic policy is classic Hamiltonianism: Responding to technologies of abundance that reduce the need for capital and labor by using Rube Goldberg mechanisms to artificially prop up the demand for those inputs — even if it means giving people tax breaks for throwing stuff away and replacing it. The stomach-churning irony is that most of the same greenwashed Whole Foods liberals who applaud this also condemn planned obsolescence and the Military-Industrial Complex, which were designed to accomplish exactly the same result. The proper approach to technologies of abundance is to make sure their benefits are fully internalized by workers and consumers, by ceasing to enforce monopolies, artificial scarcities and rents of all kind. If it takes only fifteen hours of labor a week to produce our standard of living, it should only take fifteen hours of labor to enjoy that standard of living. But that would annoy Obama’s Big Business friends.
My favorite, though, is this:
“10. He is for peace. Let us never forget that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 …”
Yeah, he uses that Peace Prize as a paperweight to hold down his drone kill list. Obama didn’t end the war in Afghanistan — he transformed it into a remote-control video game war in which wedding parties can be massacred at the push of a button. And of course, Lynch can’t resist throwing in a mention of the Zero Dark Thirty crap about killing Bin Laden.
I can’t help picturing someone fifty years ago breathlessly gushing “I love JFK because he’s the Peace President” — while ignoring the Bay of Pigs, the Diem assassination and Green Berets in Vietnam.
Lynch’s points, edited for substance, are basically on the same level as a guy in a bar decked out in Full Cleveland thirty years ago saying “I feel comfortable with Reagan.” Obama’s the Reagan of moderate center-left NPR liberals who shop at Whole Foods. If you’re satisfied with the image of peace and social justice, while government in substance continues to serve the same powerful interests, keep right on voting — that’s what it’ll get you.
- Obama, Starving Africans and the Israel Lobby
- 12 Reasons Why Obama Is Not The Greatest President Ever – A Rebuttal
Indonesia is recalling its ambassador to Australia over allegations that Canberra listened in on phone conversations of the Indonesian president.
Indonesia said the ambassador was being called to Jakarta for “consultations”.
The move by Jakarta comes as the Australian Department of Defence and the Defence Signals Directorate, or DSD, (now known as the Australian Signals Directorate), has been accused of monitoring the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati, as well as eight other high-ranking officials, including the vice president, Boediono.
The latest leak, provided in May 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was released jointly by The Guardian newspaper and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, and will likely aggravate another diplomatic firestorm between Canberra and Jakarta.
The top secret material from the DSD is in the form of a slide presentation, dated November 2009, and divulges information on the monitoring of mobile phones just as 3G technology was being introduced in Asia.
In one of the presentations, entitled Indonesian President Voice Events, a graphic of calls is given on Yudhoyono’s Nokia handset over a 15-day period in August 2009. The data provides CDRs – call data records – which record the numbers called, the duration of communications, and whether the transmission was a voice call or SMS.
The Australian spy agency “appears to have expanded its operations to include the calls of those who had been in touch with the president,” the report indicated. Another slide, entitled Way Forward, gives the simple command: “Must have content,” perhaps a reference to encrypted material.
Attached to the bottom of each slide in the 2009 presentation is the DSD slogan: “Reveal their secrets – protect our own.”
Also named in the surveillance slides are Dino Patti Djalal, then-foreign affairs spokesman for the president, who recently resigned as Indonesia’s ambassador to the US and is seeking the candidacy in next year’s presidential election for Yudhoyono’s Democratic party, and Hatta Rajasa, current minister for economic affairs and potential presidential candidate for the National Mandate party. Hatta served at the time of the surveillance as minister for transport; his daughter is the wife of the president’s youngest son.
Other high-level officials on the list of “IA Leadership Targets” are: Jusuf Kalla, the former vice-president who ran as the Golkar party presidential candidate in 2009; Sri Mulyani Indrawati, then a reforming finance minister and since 2010 one of the managing directors of the World Bank Group; Andi Mallarangeng, who was at the time the president’s spokesman, and later minister for youth and sports; Sofyan Djalil, who served until October 2009 as minister for state-owned enterprises; Widodo Adi Sucipto, a former head of the Indonesian military who served until October 2009 as security minister.
Another slide, entitled DSD Way Forward, acknowledges that the Australian spy agency’s must “capitalise on UKUSA and industry capability”, apparently a reference to assistance from telecom and internet companies, the same method that the NSA used to collect data on millions of individuals around the planet.
News of Australia’s high-level snooping on the Indonesian president and his top aides is certain to provoke a harsh response from Jakarta, especially considering this is not Australia’s first breach of trust between the Pacific Rim countries.
Tensions between Canberra and Jakarta began in October when top secret files revealed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel and published by Fairfax newspapers showed that Australian diplomatic posts across Asia were being used to intercept communications.
Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, issued a harsh response and threatened to review bilateral initiatives on issues important to Australia, including people smuggling and terrorism.
During a visit last week to the Australian city of Perth, Vice president Boediono – not yet privy to information that his own Blackberry device had been compromised by Australian spy agencies – briefly mentioned the long-standing spying controversy.
“I think we must look forward to come to some arrangement which guarantees that intelligence information from each side is not used against the other,” he said. “There must be a system.”
Yudhoyono is the latest in a growing list of global leaders who have had their personal communications listened to by the American intelligence service.
It has recently been reported that the leaders of Germany, Brazil and Mexico have been listened to by the so-called Five Eyes, the collective name for the intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who share information.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in late October demanded a personal explanation from US President Barack Obama as to why the NSA had tapped her mobile phone. The White House attempted to reassure the chancellor that her phone was “not currently being tapped and will not be in the future”.
It will be interesting at this point to see if the diplomatic backlash in wake of the recent wave of revelations will curb the Five Eyes’ surveillance program, or if it will just go deeper underground.
The Guardian then reported that the DSD worked together with the NSA to stage a massive surveillance operation in Indonesia during a UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.
On Monday a spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Consistent with the long-standing practice of Australian governments, and in the interest of national security, we do not comment on intelligence matters.”
After the Aug. 21 chemical weapons incident in Syria, a number of senior U.S. intelligence analysts disagreed with the Obama administration’s rush to judgment blaming the Syrian government, but their dissent on this question of war or peace was concealed from the American people.
The administration kept the dissent secret by circumventing the normal intelligence process and issuing on Aug. 30 something called a “Government Assessment,” posted at the White House press office’s Web site and fingering the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad as the guilty party.
Normally, such an important issue – a possible U.S. military engagement – would be the focus of a National Intelligence Estimate, but that would also cite the disagreements expressed within the intelligence community. By avoiding an NIE, the Obama administration was able to keep the lid on how much dissent there was over the Assad-did-it conclusion.
Once the “Government Assessment” was issued, Secretary of State John Kerry was put forward to present the case for launching a military strike against Syria, an attack that was only averted because President Barack Obama abruptly decided to ask congressional approval and then reached a diplomatic agreement, with the help of the Russian government, in which the Syrian government agreed to dispose of its chemical weapons arsenal (while still denying that it was responsible for the Aug. 21 attack).
Although war was averted, the Obama administration’s deception of the American public – by pretending that there was a government-wide consensus regarding Syrian government guilt when there wasn’t – was reminiscent of the lies and distortions used by President George W. Bush to trick the nation into war with Iraq over bogus WMD claims in 2003.
The behavior of the rest of Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. news media also shows that little has changed from a decade ago. Obvious indications of a deception were ignored and the few voices who raised the alarm were treated with the same mocking contempt that greeted skeptics of Bush’s case for invading Iraq.
Writers for Consortiumnews.com were among the few in the American media who noted the glaring flaws in the Obama administration’s case, including its refusal to release any of its supposed proof to support its conclusions and the curious absence of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper from the public presentation of the administration’s casus belli.
The reason for keeping the DNI on the sidelines was that he otherwise might have been asked if there was a consensus in the intelligence community supporting the administration’s certitude that Assad’s regime was responsible. At that point, Clapper would have had to acknowledge the disagreement from rank-and-file analysts (or face the likelihood that they would speak out).
Similarly, it appears that on-the-ground inspectors for the United Nations had their own doubts about the Syrian government’s responsibility, especially since Assad’s regime had allowed a UN team into Damascus on Aug. 18 to investigate what the regime claimed was evidence of rebels using chemical weapons.
It never made sense to some of these inspectors that Assad – just three days later – would launch a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus just a few miles from the hotel where the UN inspectors were staying. Assad would have known that the Aug. 21 incident would mean serious trouble for his government, very possibly drawing the U.S. military into the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels.
The UN inspectors also failed to find Sarin or other chemical agents at one of the two sites that they subsequently examined near Damascus, and they inserted a qualification in their report about apparent tampering at the one area where Sarin was found.
However, instead of noting the many holes in the U.S. “Government Assessment” and the UN report, the mainstream U.S. news media simply joined the rush to judgment, hyping dubious claims from both U.S. government officials and non-governmental organizations favoring U.S. military intervention in Syria.
The New York Times and other major news outlets that swallowed Bush’s false claims about Iraq WMD a decade ago also began reporting Obama’s dubious assertions about Syria as flat fact, not as issues in serious dispute. As I wrote on Oct. 25, one typically credulous Times story accepted “as indisputable fact that the Syrian government was behind the Aug. 21 attack on a suburb of Damascus despite significant doubts among independent analysts, UN inspectors and, I’m told, U.S. intelligence analysts.”
New details of the rebellion among the intelligence analysts have just been reported by former CIA officer Philip Giraldi for the American Conservative magazine. According to Giraldi’s account, a “mass resignation of a significant number of analysts” was threatened if the Obama administration issued an NIE without acknowledging their dissent.
A “hurriedly updated” NIE had reflected the Syrian government’s suspected use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians, “while conceding that there was no conclusive proof,” Giraldi wrote, adding:
“There was considerable dissent from even that equivocation, including by many analysts who felt that the evidence for a Syrian government role was subject to interpretation and possibly even fabricated. Some believed the complete absence of U.S. satellite intelligence on the extensive preparations that the government would have needed to make in order to mix its binary chemical system and deliver it on target was particularly disturbing.
“These concerns were reinforced by subsequent UN reports suggesting that the rebels might have access to their own chemical weapons. The White House, meanwhile, considered the somewhat ambiguous conclusion of the NIE to be unsatisfactory, resulting in considerable push-back against the senior analysts who had authored the report.”
Demands from Above
When Obama’s National Security Council demanded more corroborative evidence to establish Syrian government guilt, “Israel obligingly provided what was reported to be interceptions of telephone conversations implicating the Syrian army in the attack, but it was widely believed that the information might have been fabricated by Tel Aviv, meaning that bad intelligence was being used to confirm other suspect information, a phenomenon known to analysts as ‘circular reporting,’” Giraldi wrote.
“Other intelligence cited in passing by the White House on the trajectories and telemetry of rockets that may have been used in the attack was also somewhat conjectural and involved weapons that were not, in fact, in the Syrian arsenal, suggesting that they were actually fired by the rebels.
“Also, traces of Sarin were not found in most of the areas being investigated, nor on one of the two rockets identified. Whether the victims of the attack suffered symptoms of Sarin was also disputed, and no autopsies were performed to confirm the presence of the chemical.
“With all evidence considered, the intelligence community found itself with numerous skeptics in the ranks, leading to sharp exchanges with the Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public, forcing both Brennan and Clapper to back down.”
The Obama administration’s “solution” to this analyst revolt was to circumvent the normal intelligence process and issue a white paper that would be called a “Government Assessment,” declaring the Syrian government’s guilt as indisputable fact and leaving out the doubts of the intelligence community.
While this subterfuge may have satisfied the institutional concerns of the intelligence community – which didn’t want another Iraq-War-style violation of its procedural protocols on how NIEs are handled – it still left the American people vulnerable to a government deception on a question of war or peace.
Yes, there was no scene comparable to the positioning of CIA Director George Tenet behind Secretary of State Colin Powell as he delivered his deceptive Iraq War speech to the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. Both Clapper and Brennan were absent from the administration’s testimony to Congress, leaving Secretary Kerry to do most of the talking with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey bracketing Kerry as mostly silent wing men.
And, yes, one could argue that the Obama administration’s hyping of its case against the Assad regime had a happy ending, the Syrian government’s agreement to eliminate its entire CW arsenal. Indeed, most of the grousing about the Syrian outcome has come from neocons who wanted to ride the rush to judgment all the way to another regime-changing war.
Dogs Not Barking
But Americans should be alarmed that a decade after they were deceived into a disastrous war in Iraq based on bogus intelligence – and the complete breakdown of Official Washington’s checks and balances – a very similar process could unfold that brought the country to the brink of another war.
Besides the disturbing fact that the Obama administration refused to release any actual evidence to support its case for war, there was the gullibility (or complicity) of leading news outlets in failing to show even a modicum of skepticism.
The New York Times and other major news organizations failed to note the dogs not barking. Why, for instance, was there no NIE? Why were the U.S. government’s top intelligence officials absent from public presentations of what amounted to an intelligence issue? It shouldn’t have required a Sherlock Holmes to sniff out the silenced intelligence analysts.
When a government leader refuses to reveal any of his supposed proof for a claim and conceals the professionals who don’t agree with his claim, any reasonably savvy person should draw the conclusion that the government leader doesn’t really have a case.
Though some Americans may cite the work of a few Web sites, like our own Consortiumnews.com, as having challenged the misguided conventional wisdom on Syria as we also did on Iraq, they should not draw too much comfort from this. After all, our readership is tiny when compared to the many sources of misinformation being disseminated to the broad American public.
The dangerous reality is that the United States remains vulnerable to the kinds of stampedes in judgment that can end up crushing people around the world.
[Here is some of our earlier reporting on the Syrian crisis: “A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War”; “Murky Clues From UN’s Syria Report”; “Obama Still Withholds Syria Evidence”; “How US Pressure Bends UN Agencies.”]
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).