Ukraine’s offensive ‘aimed at preventing Russian sanctions being lifted’: provokes criticism instead
Just a few days ago on RT’s Crosstalk programme Peter Lavelle, myself and the two other guests, Dmitry Babich and Ed Lozansky, discussed the Ukrainian regime’s likely reaction to the new Trump administration.
We all agreed that the likely response of the Ukrainian regime to the steps the Trump administration is taking to try to patch up US relations with Russia would be to escalate military tensions in the Donbass with a view in part to bolstering its political support in the West as this appeared to slide.
Our discussion took place in the early stages of the latest Ukrainian military offensive near the village of Avdeevka in eastern Ukraine. Since we had our discussion the situation has escalated – exactly as we predicted – with the fighting becoming fiercer and more bitter.
There is as always dispute about the state of the fighting and who is winning. The Ukrainians predictably claim to be advancing. More reliable reports suggest they have in fact made little headway, and that their losses are high.
The most important point about the fighting is not that it is happening, or that it is getting worse. Despite the two Minsk agreements – agreed by Ukraine in September 2014 and February 2015 – fighting in the Donbass has never stopped, and bitter flare ups repeatedly happen, as the Ukrainian military repeatedly goes back onto the offensive.
Rather what is striking about the latest fighting is that for the first time Ukraine is coming under criticism from the West.
For the first time since it was created the OSCE monitoring mission is apparently blaming Ukraine for the fighting.
Meanwhile a statement released by the US State Department – whose press office is still headed by Obama’s appointee Mark Toner – not only failed to support Ukraine but also failed to blame Russia for the fighting. Instead it merely expressed “deep concern” and support for the Minsk II agreement (which Ukraine is violating) whilst appearing to contradict Kiev’s casualty claims by speaking of “dozens of Ukrainian military casualties” as opposed to the dozen dead Ukraine has admitted to.
Of far greater concern to the Ukrainian regime must however be the reaction of the German government, which following the change of administration in the US is now the one important ally it has left.
According to a report in Süddeutsche Zeitung, not only is the German government blaming Ukraine for the fighting, but it is apparently worried that the Ukrainian regime will achieve the opposite of its intentions. Specifically it seems the Germans realise the purpose of the offensive is to prevent US President Trump from cancelling the sanctions US President Obama imposed on Russia. However the Germans are worried that Trump will cancel the sanctions anyway, despite the fighting, leaving Ukraine further exposed.
Here is how Süddeutsche Zeitung explains German thinking
According to Berlin, whose information is based, among other things, on reports from the OSCE mission in the Eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian military forces are currently trying to shift the front line in their favour…..
According to some members of the German government, this might be intended to increase tensions so as to block plans by US President Donald Trump to relax the sanctions. According to Berlin’s interpretation, Poroshenko wants to do just about anything to prevent an end to the sanctions against Russia.
The Federal [German] Government is however concerned that Kiev’s calculus could be counterproductive. Trump might ease the sanctions independently of the situation at the contact line. And then Kiev would be faced with double damage: an improvement in Russia’s position with a simultaneous intensification of the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine.
Whether it is possible to dissuade Kiev from its own provocations, no one in Berlin dares to predict.
If the Germans really are thinking in this way then it is understandable why Ukrainian President Poroshenko has just cut short his visit to Germany. Instead of getting the support from the Germans he might have been expecting, hearing this sort of thing would have been – to put it mildly – extremely unwelcome. It’s not surprising that Poroshenko preferred to return home rather than hear it.
How far Poroshenko and the Ukrainian regime are prepared to go in pursuing their latest offensive remains to be seen. The key point however is that even if some sort of ceasefire is patched up, it will not mean peace in Ukraine or the Donbass. Quite simply peace in Ukraine and the Donbass cannot happen so long as the current regime in Kiev remains in power.
In that respect the article in Süddeutsche Zeitung points to the key problem which has stood in the way of peace in Ukraine and the Donbass since the start of the conflict there.
Having trapped herself into a policy of open ended support for the current Ukrainian regime, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (the likely source of the story in Süddeutsche Zeitung ) is not really concerned with Ukrainian responsibility for the latest fighting in the Donbass, even though it breaches the Minsk agreement and a succession of ceasefires which she has herself negotiated. The report in Süddeutsche Zeitung contains no hint of moral censure by her of Poroshenko’s or the Ukrainian regime’s actions.
Instead Merkel’s concern is that because of Donald Trump’s policy of rapprochement with Russia the Ukrainian regime, by violating the Minsk agreement and the ceasefires by going on the military offensive, may be overreaching itself, threatening its own existence and by extension Merkel’s position in Germany and Europe.
Needless to say the converse of this is that if contrary to Merkel’s expectations the Ukrainian “calculus” turns out right, and the Ukrainians either achieve a military breakthrough or prevent the lifting of the sanctions, then Merkel will be delighted, in spite of the fact that the Ukrainians have violated the Minsk agreement and the ceasefires she has herself negotiated by going on the offensive.
So long as such cynical attitudes persist in Western capitals the Ukrainian conflict will continue because the Ukrainian regime will feel that it has a critical mass of Western support it can always rely upon however badly it behaves.
I would add that the cynicism behind Merkel’s thinking revealed by Süddeutsche Zeitung – which is so different from the moralising poses she likes to strike – is actually typical of her, and in large part explains the widespread mistrust and dislike of her there now is in Russia, in many European capitals, and quite possibly before long in the US.
It remains to be seen whether the new Trump administration in the US is able or willing to break with it, bringing a hope of peace finally to the Donbass and Ukraine, and securing the basis for a better relationship with Russia, which without a settlement of the conflict in Ukraine is in the end impossible.
Britain is backing a Saudi invasion of Yemen that has cost thousands of innocent lives. It is providing advanced weaponry to the Saudis, training their military, and has soldiers embedded with the Saudis helping with targeting; and there is suspicion that British soldiers may even be involved in flying sorties themselves.
This is true of today. But it also describes exactly what was happening in the 1960s, in a shameful episode which Britain has, like so much of its colonial past, effectively whitewashed out of history.
In 1962, following the death of Yemeni King Ahmad, Arab nationalist army officers led by Colonel Abdullah Al-Sallal seized power and declared a Republic. The Royalists launched an insurgency to reclaim power, backed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Britain, whilst Nasser’s Egypt sent troops to support the fledgling republican government.
In his book ‘Unpeople’, historian Mark Curtis pieces together Britain’s ‘dirty war’ in Yemen between 1962 and 1969 using declassified files which – despite their public availability and the incendiary nature of their revelations – have only ever been examined by one other British historian. British involvement spanned both Conservative and Labour governments, and implicated leading members of the British government in war crimes.
Just as today, the side under attack from Britain clearly had popular support – as British officials were well aware. Christopher Gandy – Britain’s top official in Yemen’s cultural capital, Taiz – noted that the previous regime was “unpopular with large elements and those in many ways the best”, describing it as “an arbitrary autocracy”. Another British official, in the Prime Minister’s office, wrote that Nasser had been “able to capture most of the dynamic and modern forces in the area whilst we have been left, by our own choice, backing the forces which are not merely reactionary (that would not matter so much) but shifty, unreliable and treacherous” Even Prime Minister Harold Macmillan admitted it was “repugnant to political equality and prudence alike that we should so often appear to be supporting out of date and despotic regimes and to be opposing the growth of modern and more democratic forms of government”. Thus, wrote Curtis, “Britain decided to engage in a covert campaign to promote those forces recognised [by Britain itself] as ‘shifty’, ‘treacherous’ and ‘despotic’ to undermine those recognised as ‘popular’ and ‘democratic’”.
At the request of Mossad, MI6 appointed Conservative MP Neil MacLean to run a guerrilla war against the new Republican government. At first Britain’s role was primarily to support and equip Jordan’s involvement in the war; just as today, it was British fighter jets carrying out airstrikes on Yemen, with British military advisors embedded with their allies at the most senior level. This involvement stepped up a gear in March 1963, however, when Britain began covertly supplying weapons to the Royalist forces themselves via their Gulf allies. The following month, says MI6 biographer Stephen Dorrill, millions of pounds worth of light weapons were shipped from an RAF station in Wilstshire to the insurgents, including 50,000 rifles. At the same time, a decision was taken by Britain’s foreign minister (shortly to become Prime Minister) Alec Douglas-Home, MI6 chief Dick White and SAS founder David Stirling to send a British force to work directly with the insurgents. But to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and public accountability, this force would be comprised of mercenaries, rather than serving soldiers. SAS soldiers and paratroopers were given temporary leave to join this new force on a salary of £10,000 per year, paid by the Saudi Prince Sultan. An MI6 task force was also set up, to facilitate weapons and personnel supplies, and authorisation was given for British mercenaries to lay mines. The same time as these decisions were taken, Douglas-Home told parliament “our policy in Yemen is one of non-intervention in the affairs of that country. It is not therefore our policy to supply arms to the Royalists in the Yemen”. Foreign minister Rab Butler was more uneasy with such barefaced lying, especially when evidence began circulating of exactly what Britain was up to; a memo he sent to the PM in 1964 complained that his job of rebuffing UN claims that Britain was supplying the Royalists was made slightly more difficult “since we know that this is in fact true”.
British officials also knew that their insurgency had no chance of winning. But this was not the point. As Prime Minister Macmillan told President Kennedy at the time, “I quite realise that the Loyalists will probably not win in Yemen in the end but it would not suit us too badly if the new Yemeni regime were occupied with their own internal affairs during the next few years”. What Britain wanted, he added, was “a weak government in Yemen not able to make trouble”. Nor was this only Macmillan’s personal opinion; his foreign policy advisor Philip de Zulueta wrote that “All departments appear to be agreed that the present stalemate in the Yemen, with the Republicans and Royalists fighting each other and therefore having no time or energy left over to make trouble for us in Aden, suits our own interests very well…our interest is surely to have the maximum confusion in the tribal areas on the Aden frontier” with Yemen.
Labour came to power in the autumn of 1964, but the policy stayed the same; indeed, direct (but covert) RAF bombing of Yemen began soon after. In addition, another private British military company Airwork Services, signed a $26million contract to provide personnel for training Saudi pilots and ground crew involved in the war. This agreement later evolved into British pilots actually carrying out bombing missions themselves, with a foreign office memo dated March 1967 noting that “we have raised no objection to their being employed in operations, though we made it clear to the Saudis that we could not publicly acquiesce in any such arrangements”. By the time the war ended – with its inevitable Republican victory – an estimated 200,000 people had been killed.
At the same time as Britain was running the insurgency in North Yemen, it was fighting a vicious counter-insurgency campaign in South Yemen – then a colonial protectorate known as the Federation of Southern Arabia. This federation comprised the port city of Aden, under the direct colonial rule of the UK, and a series of sheikhdoms in the pay of the UK in the neighbouring hinterland. Its inhabitants were desperately poor, with one British commander noting that “there is barely enough subsistence to support the population”. These were the conditions behind a major revolt against British rule that broke out in the district of Radfan in April 1964 and would not be quelled for 7 months. The methods used to do so were typically brutal, with the British High Commissioner of Aden, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis suggesting that soldiers be sent to “put the fear of death into the villages”. If this didn’t work, he said “it would be necessary to deliver some gun attacks on livestock or men outside the villages”, adding that “we might be able to claim that our aircraft were shooting back of [sic] men who had fired at us from the ground”. The British use of airstrikes against the risen peasants was massive: historian John Newsinger writes that in just 3 months in 1964, British jets fired 2508 rockets and 200,000 cannon rounds, whilst British bombers dropped 3504 20-pound bombs and 14 1000-pound bombs and fired 20,000 cannon rounds. The government took Trevaskis’ advice and targeted crops in what Newsinger correctly described as a “deliberate, calculated attempt to terrorise and starve them into surrender.” Although the Radfan rebellion was eventually crushed, the British lost control of the hinterland to the National Liberation forces less than three years later, swiftly followed by Aden itself.
The 1960s was not the first time Britain had aided and abetted a Saudi war against the Yemenis, however. In 1934, Ibn Saud invaded and annexed Asir – “a Yemeni province by all historical accounts” in the words of the academic and Yemen specialist Elham Manea – and forced Yemen to sign a treaty deferring their claims to the territory for 20 years. It has never been returned to Yemen and remains occupied by the Saudis to this day. Britain’s role in facilitating this carve up was significant. As Manea explains, “During this period, the real power was Great Britain. Its role was crucial in either exacerbating or containing regional conflicts….[and] in the Yemeni-Saudi war they intensified the conflict to the detriment of Yemen”. When Ibn Saud claimed sovereignty over Asir in 1930, the British, who had been neutral towards disputes between the Peninsula’s various rulers hitherto, “shifted their position, perceiving Asir as ‘part of Saudi Arabia’… This was a terrible setback for [Yemeni leader] Yihia and drove him into an agreement with the British in 1934 which ultimately sealed his total defeat.” The agreement forced Yihia to recognise British sovereignty of Aden – Yemen’s major port – for 40 years. Britain then provided military vehicles for the Saudi suppression of the Asiri revolt and subsequent occupation that followed.
So the current British-Saudi war against Yemen is in fact the third in a century. But why is Britain so seemingly determined to see the country dismembered and its development sabotaged? Strange as it may seem, the answer is that Britain is scared of Yemen. For Yemen is the sole country on the Arab peninsula with the potential power to challenge the colonial stitch-up reached between Britain and the Gulf monarchies it placed in power in the nineteenth century, and who continue to rule to this day. As Palestinian author Said Aburish has noted, the very “nature of the Yemen was a challenge to the Saudis: it was a populous country with more than half the population of the whole Arabian peninsula, had a solid urban history and was more advanced than its new neighbour. It also represented a thorn in the side of British colonialism, a possible springboard for action against their control of Saudi Arabia and all the makeshift tributary sheikhdoms and emirates of the Gulf. In particular, the Yemen represented a threat to the British colonisation of Aden, a territory which considered itself part of a greater Yemen which had been dismembered by colonialism”. The potential power of a united, peaceful, Yemen was also highlighted by Aden’s High Commissioner Kennedy Trevaskis, who noted that, if the Yemenis took Aden, “it would for the first time provide the Yemen with a large modern town and a port of international consequence” and “economically, it would offer the greatest advantages to so poor and ill developed a country”. A peaceful, united Yemen – with over half the peninsula’s population – would threaten Saudi-British-US hegemony of the entire region. That is why Britain has, for over 80 years, sought to keep it divided and warring.
A Canadian school has been forced to reverse its decision not to accept an Israeli student based on his nationality, reports have said.
The Island School of Building Arts (ISBA), a trade school, denied Israeli Stav Doron admission on the basis that he is Israeli.
The Jewish organisation, B’nai Brith Canada, said the student was told the institution is “not accepting applications from Israel” due to “the conflict and illegal settlement in the region”.
However, after the school was inundated with complaints and inquiries regarding the matter, including from Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the institution retracted its decision.
On its website it said: “After significant thought and listening to all interested parties, ISBA has decided to rescind any restriction placed on accepting students from Israel and apologize for any impact or inconvenience. ISBA remains acceptant to all and will continue to do so without restrictions.”
The school, which is based on Gabriola Island in Canada’s British Columbia province, specialises in the design and construction of timber structures.
Britain, the US, France and Australia are holding maritime military exercises in the Persian Gulf as Iran warns that it will not allow any intrusion into its territorial waters.
The three-day war games, dubbed the Unified Trident, started on Tuesday.
They involve British Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean and Type-45 destroyer HMS Daring, US warships USS Hopper and USS Mahan as well as French anti-aircraft frigate FS Forbin.
Additionally, targeting Iranian combat jets, ships and coastal missile launching facilities will be simulated during the exercises, reports say.
“The exercise is intended to enhance mutual capabilities, improve tactical proficiency and strengthen partnerships” among the allies, a US Navy press release said.
Asked about the drills, Iran’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari (seen below) told the Mehr news agency on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic would not allow anybody to encroach on its territorial waters, which he described as the country’s “red line.”
Touching on the simulation of hitting Iranian targets, Sayyari said that Iran “does not care about who’s doing what,” adding, “For us, it is important to boost our defense capabilities to such a level that we can withstand any threats [posed against us from] anywhere,” he added.
The Iranian commander also noted that any exercises in high seas should comply with international law.
The Unified Trident drills come after a string of incidents, in which US vessels that sailed close to Iranian territorial waters were met with Iran’s befitting response.
Iran has repeatedly warned that any act of transgression into Iran’s territorial waters would be met with an immediate and befitting response.
In January last year, Iran’s Navy arrested the crews of two US patrol boats that had trespassed on Iranian territorial waters. Iran released them after establishing that they had done so by mistake.
Iran has invariably asserted that it only uses its naval might for defensive purposes and to send across the Islamic Republic’s message of peace and security to other nations.
Democrats will tell you that the Republicans are the reason the U.S. is the only industrial country in the world that does not have universal, government-provided health care. But, that’s not true. Despite their legislative majorities, the Republicans are not strong enough on their own to defeat a concerted campaign for a Medicare for All program, which is supported by overwhelming majorities of the public, including a very large percentage of Republicans. The U.S. does not have a single payer health care system because corporate Democratic leadership, most shamefully under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have confused the public about what is, and what is not, “universal” health care. They have offered counterfeit, private industry-based schemes – “Hillary-care” in 1993, Obamacare in 2009 — and fraudulently called them universal health care, when in fact these were bait-and-switch schemes designed to prevent the successful passage of a genuine single payer health program.
The numbers tell the tale. When Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992, two-thirds of the public – 66 percent – told pollsters they supported a “national health insurance plan financed by tax money.” The Clintons instead responded with a secretly-hatched “managed competition” plan that relied on private insurers and took more than 1,300 pages to explain. “Hillary-care” died ignominiously in Congress.
By late 2006, an amazing 69 percent of Americans were telling pollsters they agreed with the statement that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage.” Barack Obama was getting ready to make his run for the White House. He claimed to want something he called “universal health care.” Most people assumed he meant a single payer, Medicare for All-type program, but instead, Obama dusted off an old Republican private insurance-based plan devised by the far-right Heritage Foundation and later adopted by Republican Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Not only was Obamacare unpopular on its own merits, but because Obama had used the trick terminology “universal health care” to describe his program, the public became confused and demoralized about the whole subject of government health care. By 2016, only 44 percent of the people had a positive reaction to the term “single payer health coverage.” However, nearly two-thirds of those polled — 64 percent — liked the idea of Medicare-for-All, which is a form of single payer. Medicare for the elderly is probably the nation’s most popular social safety net program, and younger folks would like to be part of it, too, including lots of low-income Republicans. Even Donald Trump used to be for it.
Medicare-for-All is an idea whose time has come — again! And, with Obamacare being dismantled and a health care emergency looming, one would think the Democrats would seize the time to push for a truly universal health care plan with such broad support. But, corporate Democratic leadership — just like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — do not really want single payer health care, because their fat cat contributors oppose it. Therefore, they will urge the people to waste their energy on trying to salvage some aspects of Obamacare.
Bernie Sanders will help them do it, because he’s still sheep-dogging for corporate Democrats.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Representative Nancy Pelosi
House Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives
233 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
January 17, 2017
Dear Representative Pelosi:
I see you were quoted in The Hill newspaper recently (“Pelosi Rips GOP for Cut and Run Strategy on Obamacare,” by Mike Lillis, January 12, 2017) saying that you are for single payer health insurance. You had this preference before Presidents Clinton and Obama, who ideally agree with you, dismissed single payer as “impractical” given the entrenched and powerful healthcare industry.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article titled “21 Ways Canada’s Single Payer System Beats Obamacare”.
Within a week or so, your colleague, Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), will re-introduce HR 676, the single payer bill in the House.
Will you actively support this much more efficient and comprehensive legislation, with its many advantages proven in other countries, and persuade other House Democrats to also co-sponsor?
Last year, only 63 Democrats co-sponsored.
Obamacare, without a public option, has been a complex patchwork in so many ways — including forcing individuals to purchase inadequate insurance from private health insurance companies — insurance that carries with it high premiums, deductibles, co-pays and forces narrow networks.
For many, Obamacare is quasi-catastrophic insurance with limited choice of doctor and hospital.
If the Republicans repeal Obamacare, Democrats need to be ready and offer to replace it with something that can attract left/right support — single payer, Medicare for All — everyone in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital, no medical bankruptcies, no coercive co-pays or deductibles, with all their accompanying fears and anxieties, and no more deaths due to lack of health insurance.
A December 2015 national Kaiser public opinion poll found that 58 percent of adults in the U. S. supported single payer (Medicare for All), including 81 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and 30 percent of Republicans. Imagine the poll numbers when Full Medicare for All starts to be explained, in its clear simplicity, and promoted by a major political party.
Let’s work together to present the American people something both more efficient and responsive that they want and need — Medicare for All and freedom to choose their doctor, clinic and hospital.
PO Box 19312
Washington, DC 20036
#ProgressiveHypocrite of the Month for February 2017: Former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
Lazy, hypocritical progressive followers protest the unconstitutional machinations of Republican administrations like those of George W. Bush and Donald Trump while they ignore excuse the same crimes when committed by Democrats like the Clintons or Barack Obama. But Black Agenda Report does not bestow its coveted #ProgressiveHypocrite of the month award on mere followers. We pledge that each and every month our #ProgressiveHypocrite awardees will be leaders in their fields, major players whose recognized game inspires and enables the ordinary hypocrisy of countless partisan Democrats – or as they call themselves, progressives.
Thus we are proud to announce as Black Agenda Report’s very first #ProgressiveHypocrite of the month, for February 2017 is Madeleine K. Albright.
Madeleine Albright got her start as the protégé of notorious cold warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was her dissertation advisor at Columbia. As Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Z-big put Albright on as his special assistant. The next time a Democrat occupied the White House she was UN ambassador in Clinton’s first term and secretary of state in his second. Madeleine Albright famously asserted in a 1996 60 Minutes interview that although the US blockade of Iraq which she vigorously championed killed a half million Iraqi children that “… it was a hard choice but it was worth it…”
After the Clinton administration Albright founded a global consulting firm which became ASG, the Albright Stonebridge Group, representing and advising multinational corporations on six continents on how to enter and dominate local markets, how to privatize public land and public institutions like post offices and electric grids. The fixers at Albright Stonebridge help privatize water and sewer systems and chunks of the natural environment like the broadcast spectrum so outfits like Google and Facebook can own the internet in India and Africa. ASG claims credit for engineering the entry of WalMart into China and Thailand. Albright’s crew has global reach. They can make your corporation’s taxes in Mexico go away. They can rig the regs for Big Pharma in Brazil, they can prevent unfavorable laws affecting your profits in China or Japan and they can negotiate your bribe to the murderous Saudi royal family. They are consiglieri for hire in the global wave of corporate crime.
Albright mentored Susan Rice, the bare knuckled champion of vulture capital in Africa and of the US right to bomb and invade countries for their own protection. For her valued service to the one percent of the one percent, President Obama awarded Madeleine Albright the Medal of Freedom in 2012. She campaigned for Hillary alongside Cory Booker declaring there was “a special place in hell” for women who failed to support other women.
Now at the dawn of the Trump era, Madeleine Albright has been trotted out as the avatar of concern and compassion for Muslims who will be affected by the Islamaphobic policies of Donald Trump. She declared earlier this week that “… there are tears in the eyes of the Statue of Liberty…” and that she would “register as a Muslim” to protest Trump’s evil policies. We at Black Agenda Report recommend that Madeleine Albright register as an Iraqi toddler in the year 1995, when the blockade she championed killed half a million Iraqi children, mostly Muslims.
Thus for her inspirational hypocrisy in the service of Democratic – I mean progressive opposition to Donald Trump we name Madeleine K. Albright the #ProgressiveHypocrite of the month for February 2017.
The Washington establishment’s hysteria over its favorite new “group think” – that Russian President Vladimir Putin put Donald Trump in the White House – could set the stage for the Democratic Party rebranding itself as America’s “war party” alongside the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party.
This political realignment – with the Democrats becoming the party of foreign interventionism and the Trump-led Republicans a more inwardly looking America First party – could be significant for the future. However, in another way, what we’re seeing is not new. It is a replay of other “group thinks” in which some foreign leader is demonized beyond all reason allowing any accusation to be lodged against him with virtually no pushback from anyone interested in maintaining a U.S. mainstream career.
We saw this pattern, for instance, in the run-up to the Iraq War when Saddam Hussein was demonized to such a degree that any accusation against him was accepted without question, such as him hiding WMDs and colluding with Al Qaeda. In that context, some individuals supposedly with “first-hand knowledge” – “Iraqi defectors” – showed up to elaborate on and personalize the anti-Saddam propaganda message. We learned only later that many were scripted by the U.S.-government-funded Iraqi National Congress.
Since 2011, we saw the same demonization treatment applied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who was depicted as a ruthless monster opposed by a “moderate opposition” which, in turn, was embraced by “human rights” groups, touted by Western media and applauded even by citizen “peace groups” around the United States and Europe. The Assad demonization obscured the fact that many “opposition” groups were part of an externally funded “regime change” project spearheaded by radical jihadists connected to Al Qaeda.
A Reagan Strategy
For me, this pattern goes back even further. I have witnessed these techniques since the 1980s when the Reagan administration tapped into CIA psychological warfare methods to rally the American people around a more interventionist foreign policy – to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome,” the public skepticism toward war that followed the Vietnam debacle.
Back then, senior CIA propagandist Walter Raymond Jr. was assigned to the National Security Council staff where he tutored young neocons, the likes of Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan, drumming into them that the key was to personalize the propaganda by demonizing a particular leader, making him eminently worthy of hate.
Raymond counseled his acolytes that the goal was always to “glue” black hats on the side in Washington’s crosshairs and white hats on the side that Washington favored. The grays of the real world were to be avoided and any politician or journalist who sought to deal in nuance was disparaged as a fill-in-the-blank “apologist.”
So, in the 1980s, the Reagan administration targeted Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, “the dictator in designer glasses,” as President Reagan dubbed him.
In 1989, before the invasion of Panama, Gen. Manuel Noriega got the treatment. In 1990, it was Saddam Hussein’s turn, deemed “worse than Hitler” by President George H.W. Bush. During the Clinton administration, the demon du jour was Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic. In all these cases, there were legitimate criticisms of these leaders, but their evils were inflated to fantastical proportions to justify bloody military interventions by the U.S. government and its allies.
Regime Change in Moscow?
The main difference in recent years is that Official Washington’s neocons and liberal interventionists have taken aim at Russia with the goal of “regime change” in Moscow, a strategy that risks the world’s nuclear annihilation. But except for the stakes, the old script is still being followed.
Rather than a realistic assessment of what happened in Ukraine, the American people and the West in general have been fed a steady diet of propaganda. As U.S. neocons and liberal interventionists pushed for and achieved the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, he was lavishly smeared as the embodiment of corruption over such items as a sauna in his official residence. Yanukovych wore the black hat and the street fighters of the Maidan, led by ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis, wore the white hats.
However, after Yanukovych’s unconstitutional ouster, his supporters, concentrated in Ukraine’s ethnic Russian areas, resisted the putsch. But the Western storyline was simply a Russian “invasion.” The absence of any evidence – like photos of an amphibious landing in Crimea or tanks crashing across Ukraine’s borders – didn’t seem to matter. Since Americans and Europeans had already been prepped to hate Putin, no evidence apparently was needed. The New York Times and other mainstream publications just reported any accusations as flat fact.
Even the exposure of a pre-coup phone call in which neocon U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland discussed with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who would lead the post-coup regime and how to “glue this thing” or “midwife this thing” didn’t matter either. Evidence of U.S. coup plotting wasn’t welcome because it didn’t fit the narrative of brave young Ukrainians promoting democracy by overthrowing the democratically elected leader.
Indeed, the leaked phone call, which the Western media attributed to Russian intelligence, became – rather than proof of U.S. coup plotting – an example of Moscow’s use of “kompromat” (i.e., compromising material) against the “victim,” Assistant Secretary Nuland, who was embarrassed because she had also disparaged the European Union’s lack of aggressiveness with the pithy remark, “Fuck the E.U.”
So, while many of these U.S. propaganda patterns can be traced back to Reagan and his desire to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome,” they have truly become bipartisan. Up had become down whichever party was in office with the mainstream media reinforcing the propaganda themes and deceptions.
The Trump Future
One can expect that the Trump administration will come to enjoy its own control over the levers of propaganda – especially given President Trump’s obsession with always being right no matter what the contrary evidence – but there has been some addition by subtraction in the changeover of administrations.
Many of the neocons and liberal hawks who nested in the Obama administration – people like Victoria Nuland – are gone. That at least creates the possibility for some fresh thinking on such issues as continuing the “information war” against Putin and Russia. A more realistic assessment regarding the Kremlin may be possible given the fact that Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn are not Russo-phobes and have personal experience with the Kremlin.
But the Democrats – and even progressives – appear determined to keep alive the anti-Russian hysteria that reached “group think” levels in the final weeks of the Obama administration and is now being carried forward by leading liberal organizations.
As James W. Carden reported for The Nation, “In the time between the November election and [Trump’s] inauguration, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and its president, former Hillary Clinton aide Neera Tanden, have been at the forefront of what some are calling ‘the resistance.’ Yet one troubling aspect of ‘the resistance’ seems to be its belief that Trump owes his surprise victory in the early morning hours of November 9 to the Russian government.”
Carden cited a session at CAP’s Washington headquarters at which Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Tanden hammered home the U.S. intelligence community’s still evidence-free claims that Putin ordered his intelligence services to sabotage Clinton’s campaign and help Trump. Again, details and nuance were unwelcome and unnecessary since the villains were the thoroughly demonized Putin and the widely despised (at least in Democratic circles) Trump.
But there are multiple dangers from the continuation of this propaganda narrative: the obvious one is the risk that the Washington establishment will make the Putin-Trump “guilt” a certified “group think” rather than a charge that needs careful analysis and that certitude could lead to an eventual nuclear showdown with Russia.
Another risk, however, is that the Democrats will come to believe that Putin’s interference defeated Hillary Clinton and thus a desperately needed self-evaluation won’t happen.
Even if Putin did have his intelligence agents hack Democratic emails and then slipped them to WikiLeaks (although its founder Julian Assange and an associate, former U.K. Ambassador Craig Murray, have denied this), it is clear that the contents of the emails were legitimate and revealed some newsworthy facts about both the Democratic National Committee’s tilting the playing field against Sen. Bernie Sanders and what Clinton told Wall Street bankers in paid speeches that she was hiding from the voters. In other words, the emails weren’t disinformation; they provided real facts that the American people had a right to know before heading to the polls.
But the other key point is that these emails had little impact on the election. Even Clinton herself initially put the blame for her defeat on FBI Director James Comey for briefly reopening and then re-closing an investigation into her use of a private email server as Secretary of State. It was then that her poll numbers began to crater – and Putin had nothing to do with either her reckless decision to conduct State Department business through her private email server or Comey’s decisions regarding the investigation.
But the blame-Putin diversion has enabled the national Democratic Party to avoid reexamining its own contributions to Trump’s Electoral College victory, particularly its insistence on nominating Clinton despite many polls showing her high unfavorable numbers and a widespread recognition that 2016 was an anti-establishment year. The Democratic Party put on blinders to ignore the grave vulnerabilities of its candidate and the sour mood of the electorate.
In a larger sense, the Democratic Party ignored its own reputation as a home for internationalists, elitists and interventionists. Indeed, Clinton chose to cater to the neocons who are very influential in Official Washington but carry little weight in Middle America. Then, she made things worse by insulting many white blue-collar Americans as “deplorables.”
Yet, instead of conducting a thorough autopsy of their demise – sinking into minority status in Congress and across the country – the Democrats apparently think they can whistle past their political graveyard by blaming their defeat on Putin and by building a movement based on attacking Trump’s erratic and offensive behavior, very similar to the failed strategy that Clinton employed last fall.
Not only does this negative strategy threaten again to backfire but – by feeding into a new and dangerous Cold War – it risks tying the Democrats to conflict and militarism and letting the Trump Republicans position themselves as the alternatives to endless and escalating wars.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Days of protests in America against Trump’s entry into America order smack of dark forces manipulating and agitating against him no matter what he does or doesn’t do.
Denigration of Muslims is longstanding in America, taken to a fever pitch post-9/11, wrongfully portraying them as gun-toting terrorists, using them as a pretext to smash one country after another, responsible for appalling levels of carnage and human misery?
Where’s the outrage over an issue dwarfing all others? Why aren’t people furious about imperial madness, possible nuclear war if not curbed?
Why aren’t they protesting against bloated military spending and America’s empire of bases – used as launching pads for more wars?
Where’s the outrage over mega-corporations ruling the world, exploiting it for profits, harming millions, despoiling the environment?
Why aren’t people protesting against repressive laws, breaching international law, spurning constitutional rights, turning America into a police state – perhaps one more major 9/11-type false flag attack away from full-blown tyranny!
True enough, restricting or banning free travel to America by Muslims from designated countries is disgraceful. But the issue pales in importance compared to others the public largely ignores.
Why aren’t people protesting against what matters most? Where’s the outrage over bipartisan neocon lunatics infesting Washington?
Why is there mass silence over fantasy democracy masquerading as the real thing? What about deep poverty affecting millions, mass unemployment and underemployment, governance serving the privileged few at the expense of most others?
Where’s the outrage over the world’s richest country using its resources irresponsibly – for imperial wars, handouts to Wall Street and other corporate favorites, militarizing America against its own people, turning its inner cities into battlegrounds, enriching the few at the expense of so many?
Why aren’t people directing their anger against what most harms their rights, welfare and futures?
The main issue isn’t what Trump does or doesn’t do. It’s the appalling way America is run by its privileged class for its own self-interest exclusively – causing so much harm to so many at home and abroad.
Now that’s just cause for endless protests to change things!
The world continues to turn upside down. Think the Western democracies are still the authorities on the one thing they are supposed to know about? Think again.
For generations the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has been monitoring elections in various countries to ensure they meet Western democratic standards. After each one it publishes a report, which sometimes bears little relation to what people on the ground have seen, and each one of these mysteriously reflects the current political position of the Western powers – if they like a country and its government, they have conducted free and fair elections, if not, the elections are declared wholly or partially invalid.
This practice has often raised criticism, but still the OSCE is being called in to monitor elections all over the globe. Why? Because it is the institution representing countries with a long democratic tradition, and those these have since chosen as their friends. That’s it. It does not have to do anything to justify the vast sums given to it to be the authority on elections, simply be there.
Theoretically the OSCE is the product of a partnership between East and West. But in effect the OSCE is run by Western democracies and those countries it now believes have adopted Western standards since the Cold War. These nations, we are told, understand democracy and can therefore recognise it when they see it.
On 19 January the Head of Russia’s Central Elections Commission, Ella Pamfilova, recommended to the OSCE’s Michael Link that it should adopt a common set of standards for election monitoring. This would enable it to compare one country’s performance with another’s and see whether countries are improving or regressing compared to previous elections. “I consider it very important that the standards of elections monitoring in all OSCE member countries be unified,” she reportedly said.
This statement opened mouths all over the world. So let’s get this straight – the OSCE has been monitoring all these elections without any set standards of what democracy is, what is free and fair, what are the acceptable and unacceptable variables, what are the irreducible minimums or what the rights and responsibilities of governments, election commissions and political parties are? It has continued being regarded as the authority on these questions in spite of this? And now the Russians – the RUSSIANS – have to call for a common set of standards to give the monitors some idea what they are supposed to be doing?
You think, therefore we are
This isn’t about elections. It is about how long you can get away with a con. Since the end of World War Two The West’s policy has been based on lies – it is supposed to believe in certain values, such as democracy and human rights, but goes round depriving the rest of the world of the same values it says are paramount.
Everyone has seen this happen, but the West is still supposed to know more about these values than anyone else. So if other countries want democracy and human rights they automatically turn to the West. If they end up with governments which claim to respect democracy and human rights but do exactly the opposite, and Western monitors telling them that rigged elections are substantially free and fair, is that their own fault or that of the Westerners they asked to prevent these things happening? But still they feel they have nowhere else to turn, because Western democracies must somehow know best, and they won’t be better off any other way.
Russia’s request makes one simple point. If you believe in democracy, you will have developed a sophisticated definition of what it is and why it is so important after such long experience of it. If you have such a definition, every observer who monitors elections will know it and be able to assess the elections against it. Of course there will be some local variations in practice between democratic countries, and some of these might raise the concern of some countries. But there will be a common set of standards already in place against which these too can be judged, and thus everyone sent as a monitor will be able to cite these to acquire credentials as a democrat, even if they’ve played little or no part in actual elections.
This is indeed perfectly logical. If it hasn’t happened, this cannot be because the conditions don’t exist. It is because no one wants to be bound by any definition of what democracy is. The West wants to use the term how it wants, when it wants, and make everything up to fit whatever broader political goals it has. The West pronouncing on whether elections are free and fair is about as credible as Australia saying it is in the northern hemisphere because the cover of the North-South report said so and that was written by Western European politicians.
Power to some other people
Does this process actually achieve anything? It enables selected people to enjoy all-expenses-paid junkets to different countries, where they go around with badges on which technically say “Election Observer” but in reality say “You can’t say anything about me, I’m the expert”. How many of these junkets they get depend on how well they fit the evidence to the pre-existing script about that election. Many observers arrive before polling day and stay afterwards: maybe this is to do with monitoring the pre- and post-election situations, or maybe it is to give them time in various places of ill repute as a payoff for going along with the official script.
Lots of historic examples of election monitoring fraud are available. When India decided it wanted to annex the independent Kingdom of Sikkim in 1975 it persuaded its parliament to abolish the monarchy and then hold a referendum on joining India. Obviously, as Sikkim was already an Indian protectorate, it monitored that referendum to ensure it was free and fair. Very few others were able to find out anything about the referendum until the results came in, which showed 97% support for joining India, despite the fact the alleged number of people could not have physically voted on the day due to the terrain, most of the voters had been imported from India and the observers were also armed troops in many cases.
Similarly, when Viktor Yanukovych was up against Yulia Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential runoff in Ukraine Mikheil Sakkashvili’s Georgia sent hundreds of observers, as a neighbouring, friendly country. The trouble was, most of these were actually martial artists, or simply thugs, with no experience of organising elections. Saakashvili openly supported Tymoshenko in these elections and had already been happy to use force on his own citizens in Georgia. It would have interesting to quiz these observers about what a “free and fair” election is supposed to mean.
Indeed, the May 2008 Georgian Parliamentary Election had already provided a classic example of vote rigging and fraud which was obvious to anyone from a democratic country. The international observers looked on and saw nothing, and the OSCE rubber stamped the results, with the existence of various spying platforms in Georgia at stake.
What OSCE monitors do has nothing to do with the welfare of the people whose country they are pronouncing upon. It is about exerting control. If the outcome of an election is what the West desires, it is free and fair, and no one can complain because they have no other set of standards to refer to. They can’t call on some other organisation to review the OSCE’s judgment because, although such organisations exist and can act independently, their credibility can be easily exploded.
If someone disagrees with the conclusions of the mighty OSCE, however farcical those conclusions may be, they must have some political motive or be unaware of the full facts. This sort of common thinking, however baseless, is what has enabled the West to get away with this for so long. How it responds to Russia’s request for it to adopt standards it can be held to, which it should have done itself long ago, remains to be seen.
Velvet fist in an iron glove
This sort of control is familiar to anyone who has worked with aid agencies, which, like democratic systems, are designed to help people. Whether these are international or internal to a specific country, the principle is the same: we know everything; you know nothing, so you have to accept whatever we say so we can prevent you ever achieving what you want to achieve.
Eastern Europe is full of aid agencies from Western countries, regardless of the political orientation of that country. Each one brings money to conduct programmes which are supposed to bring greater democracy, rule of law, industrial or agricultural efficiency, human rights etcetera. The process is supposedly simple: benchmarks are set, and if prospective beneficiaries achieve these benchmarks they get the funding to take part in the programme, which involves meeting further benchmarks as they go along.
This results in situations such as the National Democratic Institute in Georgia insisting that the principles of democracy and fairness are “very clear” because it says so, without explaining what these principles actually are, why it therefore produces wildly inaccurate opinion polls at each election for pay and why it never says a word about a president who was democratically elected with 87% of the vote being overthrown in a coup and the state being built ever since on supporting that coup. It results in situations where people who’ve never set foot in a country before try to tell local farmers, with all their accumulated experience, that they have to do things differently, rather than better, to enter shiny Western markets whilst also supporting the rigging of those markets against them to suit other clients elsewhere, who pay better or are more politically reliable.
But the worst aspect is that the pump soon runs dry. The further people get involved in these programmes the more paperwork they have to do. That in itself is onerous, but it comes with strings attached. To keep receiving support they have to become increasingly politically acceptable to the donor, as the aid is not designed to improve the situation on the ground but to serve the broader political objectives of the donor governments. Georgia provides another disgusting example of this: during Saakashvili’s time even staff of the International Red Cross, most of who didn’t support him, had to be seen canvassing for him and his party, flags waving, trumpeting Western progress, when that same government wouldn’t let them rescue people stranded in South Ossetia during the 2008 war.
Internal aid organisations are no different. They also tell prospective clients, which are usually local welfare organisations with their own remit, that they have to adopt all kinds of quality standards to be eligible for any funding, because everyone else has trustworthy quality standards and they don’t. These standards are usually drawn up by people who have never worked in a similar organisation, and the standards themselves are often irrelevant to the organisations which are told to get them.
But the more money they get as a result, the more games they have to play to retain those funds and keep providing services, even though what they do has increasingly less to do with the welfare of their clients. Who is creating the problems their clients face? The same government whose various arms are telling them they have to adopt these systems to function. It is therefore rather obvious which such systems are invented, by whom, and what they are ultimately designed to achieve.
It’s not going to go away
It would be a positive thing if a country like Russia, which has always been told it has to learn from the West because it is deficient, was able to make Western countries adopt better standards. People in Eastern Europe know perfectly well what democracy actually means, which is why they cry out for it and object when they don’t get it. At every election in every Western country there are some offences committed, and no one has ever been able to demonstrate that people, who were originally from “young democracies” or no democracy at all, commit more of these than anyone else.
However it is likely that “Missionary Syndrome” will still hold sway. Whatever fine words the OSCE might come out with about listening to experts; it all depends on where those experts come from. In the 1980s there was a craze for Protestant countries which had formerly been British or German colonies to send missionaries to “the Old Country” to try and get local people going to church again. The common response was, “we sent our missionaries to you, what do you have to teach us?” Even those who agreed with every point being made wouldn’t accept it coming from the mouth of an ex-colonial, because natives of the former imperial power must automatically know more.
Nevertheless, this latest move is yet another example of Russia taking on the mantle the US used to have – Russia is increasingly the power of legality and international agreements, the US increasingly the rogue operator. Everything Russia does which the West objects to was done by the West long before, in defiance of its professed principles, and that is exactly why Russia is doing it. The way to change the game is for all sides to behave legally and properly, but it is Russia, not the US, which is seeking to bring that about.
All this is very alarming to the millions of people brought up with the opposite assumption, which at one time really was justified. Realising this is what is happening is like suddenly discovering you’re the opposite of what you thought you were.
Now that Donald Trump, allegedly a Russian stooge, has taken power in the US there is much cry over the threat Russia poses. That “threat” exists because Western hypocrisy and criminality put it there – and only by doing what it was always supposed to do, with or without Russian prompting, is that “threat” ever going to go away.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs.
The Syrian war was an artificial, deliberately planned and meticulously staged conflict from the very beginning, Carla Ortiz, a Bolivian documentary filmmaker told RT. She believes western MSM played a decisive role: repeating a stereotypical narrative while twisting the reality.
Ortiz, the director of the “The Voice of Syria” documentary, recently returned from the war-torn country, where she visited regions which suffered most from the conflict. She talked to the Syrian people struggling to save their country while rebuilding their shattered lives.
The real situation in Syria she witnessed is very different from the common narrative peddled by the western MSM. The entire idea of the Middle East being a “territory of a constant conflict” plagued by “dictators,” and Westerners being the “saviors” of the local people, is so customary you “almost stop questioning what you hear,” Ortiz told RT Spanish.
“Only when I’ve started to get into it, I realized that the reality, which exists on the other side, is completely different. It drastically contradicts what I supposedly ‘knew’ about it,” Ortiz said.
The Syrian conflict is portrayed by the western MSM as something “natural” and “organic” but she left with the feeling that it’s an artificially created campaign orchestrated from the outside.
“The war was deliberately and meticulously staged,” Ortiz told RT. Locals told the filmmaker, that not only was the initial unrest organized and fuelled by foreigners, who infiltrated the country, but even now, the majority of militants fighting against the Syrian army are of foreign origins.
“After having traveled three fourths of the country, I realized that my dialogue with Syria’s people always repeats itself. Regardless of a place, social rank and even religion, I got the same answer everywhere – this war was created artificially,” Ortiz added.
The religious component of the conflict also proved to be greatly exaggerated, as Syrian people of different religious denominations have lived in harmony for ages.
“I made a mistake once, I asked one man – ‘Are you a Muslim?’ And he told me – ‘I’m Syrian, we don’t ask about religion in Syria,” Ortiz said.
The Syrian people distrust western media and the West as a whole, and hold them largely responsible for the destruction of their country. The West made ousting the Syrian president a priority, instead of fighting terrorism.
Western media consume information from dubious sources and present it as “reporting.” Even those few journalists, who were in Syria while Ortiz was filming her documentary, preferred to “report” from the safety of their hotel rooms.
“I can confirm, that at the critical moment of the Aleppo battle, I travelled all six fronts and there was nobody from international media,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz witnessed and filmed the Aleppo liberation, and can state with authority that many videos, which emerged during these hard times depicting “Assad atrocities” or “Russian atrocities” were fake. Such videos have little to no gunfire, bombing and shelling sounds, while the fighting in the days before Aleppo’s liberation was really intense.
“In all my videos you can hear gunfire. I don’t know where such footage was filmed, if it doesn’t have such sounds, especially if it was allegedly filmed in East Aleppo,” Ortiz said.
Various shady groups, portrayed by the western media as brave warriors and “heroes,” such as the infamous White Helmets, are perceived quite differently by the Syrians. Rather, they are viewed as militants and terrorists who have and continue to rip their nation apart.
Syrian soldiers, young men and women, majority of whom are volunteers, struggle daily to save their country from terrorists, who grew strong on the “free advertising” provided by western MSM.
It’s the Syrian army, which fights for its country, not some “Assad army” or “regime forces” as the MSM portrays them, Ortiz said.