Aletho News


The Cult of Authority

By CJ Hopkins | CounterPunch | March 7, 2018

On a recent episode of “Intercepted,” Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, and Jeremy Scahill, three celebrity journalists employed by a billionaire to provide the masses with fearless, adversarial journalism, debated, for approximately fifty-seven minutes, whether Donald Trump might be guilty of treason. This debate was prompted by the negative response to Risen’s first investigative piece for The Intercept, “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?,” a lengthy rehashing of the official narrative the corporate ruling classes have been relentlessly disseminating for the last eighteen months. Dedicated readers of The Intercept had wondered aloud on social media how, exactly, this repetition of the evidence-free “Trump is a Putin Puppet” narrative qualified as fearlessly adversarial. Some had even gone so far as to suggest that Risen, a legend in the world of investigative and national security journalism,had been a bit reckless, ethically speaking, in throwing around words like “treason” and “traitor,” and in allowing his status as a journalistic legend to lend further credence to the most ridiculous official propaganda campaign since the “Saddam is stockpiling WMDs for al Qaeda to attack America with” hoax.

In any event, The Intercept, its brand identity under attack, sprang into action and arranged this debate. Scahill and Risen were live in New York, possibly at First Look’s Fifth Avenue studios, with Greenwald participating remotely from his home in the mountains above Rio de Janiero. Following a solemn introduction by Scahill, and after kowtowing to each other at considerable length, Greenwald and Risen get down to the work of defining the word “treason.” This takes twenty minutes. They then move on to ascertaining whether Greenwald believes, and will admit on camera, that “Russia intervened” in the 2016 elections. Mercilessly pressed on this point by Risen, he finally confesses that he probably believes that the Russians likely “did some things.” This takes up another twenty minutes. The rest of the episode is dedicated to establishing that Greenwald is not a Trump-loving pinko (despite his occasional appearances on FOX), and that Risen agrees that the general public (not to mention fearless, adversarial journalists) should not just accept whatever intelligence agencies tell them without supporting evidence. Scahill then wraps up the episode by joking about Greenwald getting paid in rubles and Risen getting paid by the CIA, and noting how “interesting” it is to be a fearless, adversarial journalist at a serious operation like The Intercept, where extremely affluent, award-winning colleagues are allowed to respectfully disagree about whether the President of the United States should be tried and executed for treason because some Russians bought some Facebook ads and said mean things about Hillary Clinton.

I realize you’ll probably want to break off now and go watch this thrilling debate yourself, but bear with me for just another few minutes, because this essay isn’t really about the debate, or The Intercept, or even First Look Media. Believe it or not, I’m a fan of Glenn Greenwald, who is one of the very few celebrity journalists who has had the guts to consistently challenge the ridiculous “Russiagate” narrative from the start. And just because The Intercept is owned by a neoliberal oligarch who backed a fascist coup in the Ukraine, micro-financed a few Indians to death, and employs a personal security detail of ex-Secret Service agents and State Department types who will fly him to safety in his private jet in the event of imminent zombie apocalpyse, that doesn’t mean The Intercept staff doesn’t publish important investigative journalism.

No, what struck me as I was suffering through this debate was how utterly divorced from reality it was, whatever “reality” might mean anymore. Watching Greenwald, Risen, and Scahill sitting there, like rational people, “debating” whether Donald Trump might be part of some convoluted Russian conspiracy to destroy America and Western democracy, I felt like I was finally having one of those apocryphal LSD flashbacks. It was as if I was watching these respected journalists debating whether the face of Jesus may have actually appeared on a breakfast taco at a daycare center in Beeville, Texas.

Now, I mean no offense to The Intercept, or Jesus, or even breakfast tacos. I’m simply trying to point out how, after eighteen months of relentless repetition, we have all been barraged with so much ridiculous “Russiagate” and “Collusion” propaganda that it is almost impossible to step back from it enough to recognize how ridiculous it is. Fundamentally. The basic premise of the narrative. Imagine for a moment, if you can, that you had never heard about “Russiagate,” and listen to the story concept as if you were hearing it for the very first time. Ready? OK, here it comes … “Donald Trump conspired with Putin to brainwash Americans with Internet ads into electing him President of the United States so he could help the Russians take over the world!” How is this story concept any more credible than the one where a radical Jewish prophet who’s been dead for over two thousand years, but who rules the universe with his omnipotent father, appeared on a taco in Beeville, Texas?

Well … OK, I’ll tell you how it’s more credible. It’s credible because “authoritative sources” say it is credible, over and over, and treat it as a “serious” story, in spite of how blatantly ridiculous it is. It’s not just the corporate media that does this. It’s also fearless, adversarial, “authoritative” organizations like The Intercept. I wish there were a more sophisticated theory I could set forth to explain this phenomenon, but, sadly, it really is that simple.

In any authoritarian society, social group, culture, or … cult, those with the power can make up pretty much any official narrative they want and get the members of the group to believe it, or at least conform their behavior to it. The social hierarchy does all the work. Cults provide the clearest example. The leaders come up with some ludicrous narrative (e.g., Helter SkelterThe House of DavidBody Thetans from Outer SpaceTransubstantiation, et cetera) which is reified by the “inner circle,” who conform their behavior and speech to this narrative, and then pressure the outer members to do likewise. Gradually, everyone gets the message: if you don’t want to be excommunicated, you had better believe, or pretend to believe, the official narrative of the cult. It isn’t a question of deception, belief, gullibility, or even intelligence. It is a question of power, social pressure, and fear of ostracization and exile. Anyone invested in any type of social group that functions along authoritarian lines is susceptible to this type of pressure, regardless of how savvy or intelligent they are.

Which brings me back to The Intercept and this debate about whether Trump is a traitor. If you have an hour to kill, try this experiment. Watch the debate, ignore what they’re saying, and pay attention to how they say it and the effect that is generated by how they say it. (You can also do this with any mainstream media political debate-type show, but assuming you’re as predisposed as I am to identify with The Intercept’s brand, it will be more instructive if you use this debate). What you’ll be watching is a simulation of “seriousness,” “authoritativeness,” and “credibility,” and a demonstration of how “respectable” journalists discuss a “legitimate, newsworthy” story (as opposed to, you know, a conspiracy theory).

In other words, you will be watching a performance … a performance intended to convince its audience that (a) the nonsense being “debated” is a “serious” story worthy of debate by serious, grown-up, authoritative journalists, (b) that there exists such a creature as a “serious, grown-up authoritative journalist,” and (c) that these serious, grown-up journalists, and the “authoritative sources” they rub elbows with, inhabit an exclusive “authoritative” realm populated by “serious people” deserving of our trust and deference.

As it just so happens, in this authoritative realm, where serious people (a/k/a “grown-ups”) are dealing with “real,” “adult” type matters that are none of our business, and which we wouldn’t understand, everyone is extremely well-paid. That’s one way you can tell they are serious. That, and various other hallmarks of “seriousness” and “respectability,” like their overuse of a certain type of adjective (i.e., the type I’ve been having fun with in this essay), important-sounding but meaningless adjectives like “major,” “serious,” “authoritative,” “well-respected,” “legitimate,” and so on. “Serious” people use these adjectives to refer to other “serious” people, or the views or statements of other “serious” people. The more ridiculous the propaganda they are pressuring you to take seriously is, the more they tend to overuse these words. Most of them do not do this consciously. They do it instinctively. They do it out of fear of being excommunicated from the Cult of Authority.

Which might explain why The Intercept has brought a legend like Risen on board to report the ridiculous Russiagate story from the viewpoint of serious, authoritative people, i.e., to balance out Greenwald’s “collusion rejectionism.” After all, at this point, the only people who continue to doubt that Donald Trump is somehow in league with Vladimir Putin and his plot to dominate the entire world by brainwashing folks with Facebook ads are Russian bots, Nazis, traitors, and other such non-authoritative persons. Given all the money they’re paying their journalists, First Look Media can hardly afford to allow them to be confused with that lot. Before too long, they would find themselves deranked, and would be reduced to writing for nothing. And who could possibly take them seriously then?

C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant. He can reached at or

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

‘Progressive’ Journalists Jump the Shark on Russiagate

By Ray McGovern | Consortium News | March 7, 2018

Russiagate’s sensationalist media coverage

Jane Mayer of The New Yorker and Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks are the latest progressives to jump on the anti-Trump, pro-Russiagate bandwagon. They have made it crystal clear that, in Mayer’s words, they are not going to let Republicans, or anyone else, “take down the whole intelligence community,” by God.

Odd? Nothing is too odd when it comes to spinning and dyeing the yarn of Russiagate; especially now that some strands are unraveling from the thin material of the “Steele dossier.”

Before the 2016 election, British ex-spy Christopher Steele was contracted (through a couple of cutouts) by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee to dig up dirt on candidate Donald Trump. They paid him $168,000. They should ask for their money back.

Mayer and Uygur have now joined with other Trump-despisers and new “progressive” fans of the FBI and CIA – among them Amy Goodman and her go-to, lost-in-the-trees journalist, Marcy Wheeler of All of them (well, maybe not Cenk) are staying up nights with needle and thread trying to sew a silk purse out of the sow’s-ear dossier of Steele allegations and then dye it red for danger.

Monday brought a new low, with a truly extraordinary one-two punch by Mayer and Uygur.

A Damning Picture?

Mayer does her part in a New Yorker article, in which she – intentionally or not – cannot seem to see the forest for the trees.

In her article, Mayer explains up front that the Steele dossier “painted a damning picture of collusion between Trump and Russia,” and then goes on to portray him as a paragon of virtue with praise that is fulsome, in the full meaning of that word. For example, a friend of Steele told Mayer that regarding Steele, “Fairness, integrity, and truth, for him, trump any ideology.”

Now, if one refuses to accept this portrait on faith, then you are what Mayer describes as a “Trump defender.” According to Mayer, Trump defenders argue that Steele is “a dishonest Clinton apparatchik who had collaborated with American intelligence and law enforcement officials to fabricate false charges against Trump and his associates, in a dastardly (sic) attempt to nullify the 2016 election. According to this story line, it was not the President who needed to be investigated, but the investigators themselves.”

Can you imagine!

I could not help but think that Mayer wrote her piece some months ago and that she and her editors might have missed more recent documentary evidence that gives considerable support to that “dastardly” story line. But seriously, it should be possible to suspect Steele of misfeasance or malfeasance – or simply telling his contractors what he knows they want to hear – without being labeled a “Trump supporter.” I, for example, am no Trump supporter. I am, however, a former intelligence officer and I have long since concluded that what Steele served up is garbage.

Character References

Mayer reports that Richard Dearlove, head of MI6 from 1999 to 2004, described Steele as “superb.” Personally, I would shun any “recommendation” from that charlatan. Are memories so short? Dearlove was the intelligence chief who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on July 23, 2002 after a quick trip to Washington. The official minutes of that meeting were leaked to the London Times and published on May 1, 2005.

Dearlove explained to Blair that President George W. Bush had decided to attack Iraq for regime change and that the war was to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.” Dearlove added matter-of-factly, “The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

Another character reference Mayer gives for Steele is former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin (from 2000 to 2004) who, with his boss George Tenet, did the fixing of intelligence to “justify” the war on Iraq. State Department intelligence director at the time, Carl Ford, told the authors of “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War” that both McLaughlin and Tenet “should have been shot” for what they did.

And then there is CIA veteran spy John Sipher who, Mayer says, “ran the Agency’s Russia program before retiring, in 2014.” Sipher tells her he thinks the Steele dossier is “generally credible” in “saying what Russia might be up to.” Sipher may be a good case officer but he has shown himself to be something of a cipher on substance.

Worse still, he displays a distinct inclination toward the remarkable view of former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who has said that Russians are “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever.” If Mayer wanted to find some ostensibly authoritative figure to endorse the kind of material in Steele’s dossier, she surely picked a good one in Sipher.

Mayer notes, “It’s too early to make a final judgment about how much of Steele’s dossier will be proved wrong, but a number of Steele’s major claims have been backed up by subsequent disclosures. She includes, as flat fact, his claim that the Kremlin and WikiLeaks were working together to release the DNC’s emails, but provides no evidence.

Major Holes

Mayer, however, should know better. There have been lots of holes in the accusation that the Russians hacked the DNC and gave the material to WikiLeaks to publish. Here’s one major gap we reported on Jan. 20, 2017: President Barack Obama told his last press conference on Jan. 18, that the U.S. intelligence community had no idea how the Democratic emails reached WikiLeaks.

Using lawyerly language, Obama admitted that “the conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking were not conclusive as to whether WikiLeaks was witting or not in being the conduit through which we heard about the DNC e-mails that were leaked.”

It is necessary to carefully parse Obama’s words since he prides himself in his oratorical constructs. He offered a similarly designed comment at a Dec. 16, 2016 press conference when he said: “based on uniform intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC. … the information was in the hands of WikiLeaks.”

Note the disconnect between the confidence about hacking and the stark declarative sentence about the information ending up at WikiLeaks. Obama does not bridge the gap because to do so would be a bald-faced lie, which some honest intelligence officer might call him on. So, he simply presented the two sides of the chasm – implies a connection – but leaves it to the listener to make the leap.

It was, of course, WikiLeaks that published the very damaging Democratic information, for example, on the DNC’s dirty tricks that marginalized Sen. Bernie Sanders and ensured that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic nomination. What remained to be demonstrated was that it was “the Russians” who gave those emails to WikiLeaks. And that is what the U.S. intelligence community could not honestly say.

Saying it now, without evidence, does not make it true.

Cenk Also in Sync

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks at once picked up, big time, on the part of Mayer’s article that homes in on an “astonishing” report from Steele in late November 2016 quoting one “senior Russian official.” According to that official, “The Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for secretary of state, Mitt Romney.” Steele’s late November memo alleged that the Kremlin had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions and cooperate on security issues like Syria.

Mayer commented, “As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it.” Fantastical or not, Uygur decided to run with it. His amazing 12-minute video is titled: “New Steele Dossier: Putin PICKED Trump’s Secretary of State.” Uygur asks: “Who does Tillerson work for; and that also goes for the President.”

Return to Sanity

As an antidote to all the above, let me offer this cogent piece on the views of Joseph E. diGenova, who speaks out of his unique experience, including as Counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Church Committee). The article is entitled: “The Politicization of the FBI.”

“Over the past year,” diGenova wrote, “facts have emerged that suggest there was a plot by high-ranking FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials in the Obama administration, acting under color of law, to exonerate Hillary Clinton of federal crimes and then, if she lost the election, to frame Donald Trump and his campaign for colluding with Russia to steal the presidency.”

He pointed out that nearly half of Americans, according to a CBS poll, believe that Mueller’s Trump-Russia collusion probe is “politically motivated.” And, he noted, 63 percent of polled voters in a Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll believe that the FBI withheld vital information from Congress about the Clinton and Russia collusion investigations.

This skepticism is entirely warranted, as diGenova explains, with the Russiagate probe being characterized by overreach from the beginning.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served in Army and CIA intelligence analysis for 30 years and, after retiring, co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite, Russophobia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

ACLU says revised anti-BDS bill remains unconstitutional, in blow to pro-Israel groups

MEMO | March 7, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticised a revised version of draft legislation intended to target the growing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, saying that the latest version of the bill remains unconstitutional.

The ACLU had voiced objections to the original bill in July 2017 on First Amendment grounds, and in response to such criticisms, Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released a revised version over the weekend.

But in a 6 March press release, the ACLU revealed that it had written to senators informing them of the veteran civil liberties group’s opposition to the revised bill, in what is a blow to pro-Israel groups who are hoping that the bill will become law (the letter can be viewed here).

“This bill is unconstitutional because it seeks to impose the government’s political views on Americans who choose to express themselves through boycotts,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

“The proposed changes are improvements, but the revised bill continues to penalize participants in political boycotts in violation of the First Amendment”, he added. “If it is enacted in this form and takes effect, we will strongly consider fighting it in court”.

ACLU noted that “the Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, and the ACLU is currently fighting two lawsuits challenging Kansas and Arizona laws requiring state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel”.

In the case of Kansas, “a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in January blocking enforcement of the law while the case proceeds”.

The ACLU press release clarifies that the organisation “does not take a position on boycotts of foreign countries”, but “has long supported the right to participate in political boycotts and has voiced opposition to anti-boycott bills in multiple states as infringements on free speech”.

Read also: 

California Democrats reject anti-BDS legislation

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , | Leave a comment

Danish pension giant divests from Motorola over ties to Israeli settlements

MEMO | March 7, 2018

Danish pension fund giant Sampension has officially excluded Motorola over the latter’s ties to Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

Sampension, a DKK290 billion ($43.5 billion) Danish labour market pension fund, made the announcement in an update to its exclusion list, stating that Motorola’s provision of products to Israeli settlements is a violation of UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

According to ActionAid Denmark (Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke), which welcomed the news, Sampension is withdrawing DKK15 million (some $2.5 million).

Motorola has well documented links to the Israeli military occupation and settlement enterprise, and is widely believed to be one of the companies contacted by the UN Human Rights Office, in the context of the latter’s work to publish a database of settlements-complicit businesses.

The latest development follows on from Sampension’s exclusion last October of four companies – including two Israeli banks and telecommunications company Bezeq – for their ties to Israeli settlements in, and the extraction of natural resources from, the oPt.

The companies were excluded for violating Sampension’s guidelines for investments in occupied territories, and specifically, “due to the financing of settlements, and the extraction of natural resources and establishment of infrastructure for telecommunication on occupied territory”.

Read also:

ACLU says revised anti-BDS bill remains unconstitutional, in blow to pro-Israel groups

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 1 Comment

Putin: Unlike US, Russia Didn’t Use Nukes against Other Countries

© Sputnik/ Michael Klimentyev
Sputnik – 07.03.2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia would use its nuclear weapon only as a response measure.

“As far as this issue is concerned, I should note that it’s extremely important and sensitive. I want to tell you so that the international community knew this. Our plan on the nuclear weapon is to use them as a response measure,” Putin said.

“The decision on the use of the nuclear weapon can be taken only if our air defense systems record not only the launch of missiles but their trajectory and the time they hit Russia’s territory,” Putin added.

“Yes, this will be a global catastrophe for the world, but as a Russian citizen, as the Russian president, I want to ask a question: who needs the world without Russia?” Putin said.

Speaking further, the Russian president said that Russia, unlike the US, has never used nuclear weapons against other countries.

“As far as the nuclear push-button is concerned, the issue is not quite correct. Foremost, we haven’t begun this ourselves. The first nuclear missile was built by the US. Secondly, we have never used a nuclear weapon, the US used it against Japan,” Putin noted.

The issue has also been commented on by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who said that the US was paving the way for future nuclear war.

“It is not clear why Berlin and other capitals have not yet been alarmed by Washington’s disproportionate approach to the use of nuclear weapons, which makes it possible to use them in case of extraordinary circumstances, as is written there, not limited to military scenarios. Such an understanding of its role as the guarantor of global security is fraught with delivering a nuclear strike on all whom the United States deems to be an aggressor,” Zakharova said.

“By reserving the right to a preventive nuclear strike, including with by means of low-power nuclear warheads, the United States creates dangerous prerequisites for the emergence of a missile and nuclear war even during a low-intensity conflict,” she told reporters.

Last week, Putin made his annual address to the country’s bicameral parliament, the Federal Assembly, which comprises the Federation Council and State Duma. The Russian leader announced his country’s development of new types of armaments, including intercontinental underwater drones, nuclear-powered cruise missiles, and a prospective hypersonic missile, and showed footage featuring tests of these weapons.

The Russian president stressed that Russia’s efforts toward enhancing its defense capabilities were being carried out within the framework of existing international accords. According to Putin, Russia is creating advanced weapon systems in response to the deployment of US missile defense systems, and these arms present no threat to other states.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | Leave a comment

Iran no threat to any country, says President Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) talks during a cabinet session in Tehran on March 7, 2017. (Photo by
Press TV – March 7, 2018

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the Israeli regime is in no position to call Iran a threat to the Middle East, stressing the development of the country’s missile program is aimed at safeguarding peace and security.

“Those who have over the past 70 years created tension, launched wars and caused destruction in the region and have committed genocide and caused [the] Sabra and Shatila [massacre] are in no position to portray Iran as a threat,” Rouhani said during a cabinet session on Wednesday.

“Iran is no threat to anyone. Iran is [the pillar] of stability and security for the entire region. But of course it will strongly defend its rights,” he added.

The Iranian president made the remarks a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Iran was responsible for “darkness descending” on the Middle East and said Israel faced threats from the Islamic Republic.

In a hawkish address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington on Tuesday, Netanyahu also alleged that Iran was increasing its influence in the Middle East and sought to dominate regional countries.

Rouhani criticized attempts by certain nations of the region to promote Iranophobia, saying Iran had never invaded and would not invade any country.

“History shows that the Iranian nation has never… occupied any country. We have never bombarded our neighbors or piled up pressure on regional nations. Not only haven’t we driven people out of their countries, but we have welcomed refugees,” he noted.

Iran seeks the progress and prosperity of all regional countries, Rouhani said, stressing Iran’s economic, political and military power was for deterrence not attacking other countries.

“Our weapons are meant to promote peace, strengthen stability and security, and to prevent others from thinking about invading our country. Therefore, no one should be concerned about Iran’s weapons, missiles or strengthening of its defense might,” Rouhani stressed.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Analysts alarmed over Pentagon’s 60,000-strong Syrian rebel force

‘US aid ends up with extremists’

RT | March 7, 2018

Analysts have warned that US-supported groups in Syria often defect to extremists with their weapons. That’s after it was revealed the Pentagon plans to spend around $300 million to train and equip a 60,000-strong army in Syria.

Commenting on the Pentagon’s plans to build, train and equip a massive ‘Vetted Syrian Opposition’ to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Syria, a number of US-based experts told RT the move has nothing to do with combatting terrorism. Instead, US weapons and aid could easily land in the hands of Islamist extremists, as has often been seen in the past.

“In the past, some of the groups who were the recipient of US aid ended up either taking over or [being] defeated by some of the radical forces on the ground in Syria. Or some of them ended up joining the extremists and taking some of the weapons with them,” Edmund Ghareeb, a scholar at the American University in Washington, DC, told RT.

Another expert said an armed formation will help Washington tighten its grip over rebel-controlled parts of Syria, while stressing that the US’ “hostile military presence in Syria” has no legal basis. “They want to create… conditions in Syria where the country is still divided. The record of the US and the CIA’s operations in Syria is that the people they have supported all along have been extremists,” said Nicolas J.S. Davies, the author of ‘Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.’

He argued that the State Department and Pentagon “clearly want to push ahead with a plan to basically keep forces under their control in command of all Syrian territory east of the Euphrates river.”

While the US justifies its presence in Syria with claims it is fighting terrorists, the only area IS “has survived is the area that is under American and its allies’ control,” Daoud Khairallah, a professor of international law at Georgetown University, believes.“One would wonder whether they are getting assistance from Americans for their survivability, ” Khairallah told RT.

Pentagon pays monthly allowance to rebels, seeks to establish large force in Syria

Following the virtual defeat of IS terrorists in Syria, the US appears to be trying to restructure its military presence in the war-torn country. In February, a fiscal year 2019 budget document mulled creating a new army out of elements of the so-called Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO). The forces are “projected to total approximately 60,000 to 65,000” by October 2018, according to a report titled ‘Justification for FY 2019 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)’.

The document explains that some 30,000 fighters will conduct “ongoing combat missions” against remaining pockets of IS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV), while another 35,000-strong contingent will form Internal Security Forces in liberated areas.

Creating the massive new military structure of rather questionable legality, roughly equivalent to the size of the Canadian armed forces, is an expensive endeavor. Besides seeking $250 million for border security requirements for areas outside of Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon is seeking some $300 million from US lawmakers to implement the creation of the new opposition bulwark machine that will be funded through the Syrian Train and Equip Program. Launched under the Obama administration in 2014, the program identified and trained selected Syrian opposition forces to fight IS.

The Pentagon plans to spend the bulk of the new funds on arming the forces. Nearly $50 million is allocated for buying AK-47s, PKM machine guns, as well as RPG-7 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Mortar launchers and sniper rifles are also on the menu next to hand grenades, different types of vehicles and tons of ammunition.

Washington plans to pay a monthly allowance to its force, in addition to providing the new force with uniforms, hygiene kits and medical equipment. “[The Department of Defense] will transition to a stabilization effort that will focus on support to local Internal Security Forces, who will receive stipends for their efforts to secure liberated territory and prevent the re-emergence of ISIS or its affiliates,” the document reads. “Currently, 10,000 established partner force personnel are being paid stipends. The individual stipend payments range from $200 to $400 per month.”

While Washington maintains that its goal is to defeat IS, Moscow has repeatedly questioned US intentions, especially as the American presence in Syria is viewed as a violation of sovereignty.

The Russian military last month asserted that the true US goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria, warning that America’s presence constitutes a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Ex-Argentine President to Be Tried for Alleged Jewish Center Bombing Cover-Up

Sputnik – 07.03.2018

Former Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner and 11 other senior members of her government will face a public trial over their alleged involvement in covering up Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio ruled on Monday.

According to Bonadio, the investigative phase of the case has been completed and it has been referred to a higher level court. Although no trial date has yet been set, at least four of those accused have already been detained, Al-Jazeera reported.

The Argentine-Israelite Mutual Aid (AMIA) organization was a community center established in Buenos Aires in 1984 to safeguard the values of the Jewish community in Argentina. On July 18, 1994, a van filled with 300 kg of explosives rammed into the center and exploded, killing 85 people and injuring more than 300.

Kirchner, along with former Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and other members of the 2007-2015 administration, are accused of abuse of power and obstruction for their signing of a 2013 agreement with the government of Iran to allegedly conceal the role of Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing. Kircher and other members of her government signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran that, it is alleged, promised to cancel the establishment of a “truth commission” to probe the bombing in exchange for trade deals on oil and other resources.

The case against Kirchner and others was opened in January 2015 by prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was looking into the incident at the time and claimed that the memorandum signed between Kirchner’s government and Iranian officials was an effort to hide the involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in the deadly attack.

The memorandum of understanding signed between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the bombing is officially called the “Memorandum of understanding between the Government of Argentina and the Government of Islamic Republic of Iran on the issues related to the terrorist attack against AMIA headquarter in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994.” The memorandum was voided in December 2015, after the inauguration of current Argentine President Mauricio Macri.

Four days after Nisman opened the case, he was discovered dead in his apartment with a bullet wound in his head. Last year, an investigation led by Argentina’s border police agency asserted that Nisman was murdered, challenging earlier assertions that Nisman had committed suicide, the New Jersey Herald reported.

Kirchner has repeatedly denied the accusations made against her and has welcomed a public trial to prove the “arbitrariness of the accusation,” the New Jersey Herald reported. Iran has also denied allegations that it was involved in the bombing.

This isn’t the only legal case in which Kirchner is embroiled right now.

In December 2016, Kircher was indicted on fraud and corruption charges over the “deliberate seizure of funds” intended for public road works. According to the ruling, the defendants are accused of conspiring to illegally take taxpayer dollars meant for public works projects between 2003 and 2015. She has denied the charges and has accused Macri of using the courts to persecute her. No arrest warrant has been issued yet.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , | 1 Comment

US State Dept.: “We want elections in Venezuela now, unless we’re not guaranteed a win, in which case they’re illegitimate”

By Ricardo Vaz | Investig’Action | March 5, 2018

With presidential elections announced in Venezuela, the US State Department moved quickly to declare that the contest was illegitimate and that its results would not be recognised. But less than a year ago the tune was quite different, as a cursory look through State Dept. briefings and press releases will show. We also examine how political developments from the past year have led to the current scenario, and how US demands for “free and fair” elections are not only arrogant and hypocritical but also misleading.

We begin by taking a look at what the US State Department was constantly saying less than a year ago. We could equally document the statements of the OAS and its secretary Luis Almagro, the Venezuelan opposition, US-allied regional governments, or the mainstream media. But it is easier to just go to the source. Sadly, when it comes to Venezuela, none of the mainstream actors and media will deviate from the State Department.

As violent opposition protests raged on in the Spring of 2017, there were repeated calls for immediate elections:

“President Maduro […] should hold elections as soon as possible.” (March 29)

“We call for the government of Venezuela to […] hold elections as soon as possible” (March 30)

“We […] echo the Venezuelan people’s calls for prompt elections” (April 10)

“We call again upon the Government of Venezuela to […] hold prompt elections” (April 18)

“It’s the Venezuelan people who should decide Venezuela’s future, which is why we once again call on the Venezuelan authorities to promptly hold free, fair, and transparent elections.” (May 2)

“…what people are asking for today, which is for national presidential elections to restore legitimacy to whomever might rule Venezuela moving forward.” (May 30)

“The United States has joined with a growing number of courageous democracies in our region to urge the Venezuelan Government to hold free elections” (June 20) (1)

US officials were adamant that elections were the only legitimate way forward.

“How is legitimacy defined in a democracy? Through elections.” (May 30)

“At the end of the day, it’s all about consensus. It’s about finding a way forward for Venezuelans to depolarize their situation, and the best way to do that is through elections.” (May 30)

“Venezuela needs consensus. It needs a genuine consensus or at least a legitimate path forward. That’s what elections provide.” (June 19)

So what happened since then to make the US no longer believe that elections should be held tomorrow? Maduro made a bold gambit of calling elections for a Constituent Assembly to solve the country’s problems. The Venezuelan opposition decided not to participate and vowed to stop those elections from taking place. They miserably failed, and on July 30 over 8 million people voted in what was a remarkable show of strength by chavismo.

From that point both the opposition and the US were trapped, unable to move on from their blunder. And soon cracks started to open. After months of violent protests claiming that the “dictatorship” was about to be overthrown, the opposition then turned to its supporters and asked them to go and vote in regional elections. The result was a disaster, with chavismo winning 18 out of 23 states. The opposition could not muster more than the usual vacuous claims of fraud, and then (mostly) boycotted the December municipal elections, which resulted in a chavista sweep of over 90% of the municipalities.

With the political momentum on its side, the government decided to schedule presidential elections for April 22. According to Jorge Rodríguez, head of the government’s delegation in the Dominican Republic dialogue, this date was agreed with the opposition MUD representatives. But with opposition figures more discredited than ever the US decided to pre-emptively unrecognise the vote, simply because an opposition victory is far from guaranteed.

In the end the main opposition parties followed suit in boycotting the election, but former Lara governor Henri Falcón broke ranks and registered as a candidate. The MUD promptly expelled him, and the US allegedly threatened him with sanctions to stop him from running. Ironically, as a former chavista, Falcón might be the ideal “moderate” opposition candidate to attract the votes of disaffected chavistas. But the imperial masters are past hedging their bets, they are all-in for regime change.

After talks with Falcón and the forces backing him, the vote was postponed to May 20. The MUD doubled down on their position that “there are no opposition candidates” in this election, and up to now there has been no reaction from the State Dept.. At the same time it is hard to read this as anything but a move to further sideline the MUD after they backed out of the dialogue to stick to the hardline coming from Washington.

“Free and fair” elections

We should also take a moment to refute the US assertions about elections not being “free and fair” and the presence of international observers. The “free and fair” demand means to discredit all previous electoral processes, whose results did not please the US. Nevertheless, as many people outside the mainstream media have explained, the Venezuelan voting system is as hard to fool as it gets. In all the elections where the opposition decided to take part they got to place their observers in every voting centre. Tens of thousands of audits took place to match the electronic and paper tallies, witnessed and approved by these opposition observers, and there has not been a single allegation of tampering with the vote count (2).

We could argue that the government makes use of state resources in its political campaigns. While this would hardly be exclusive to Venezuela, we should contend that the opposition has also made use of government resources, they just happened to come from the US government through its array of NED and USAID “democracy promoting”, “civil society building” programs, and that is just the overt part of it. Complaints about media coverage are also absurd when private media has the largest share of viewership and circulation and is overwhelmingly against the government, to say nothing about international media.

The demand for international monitoring is, at best, very dishonest from the State Department. First of all, despite the opposition walking away at the 11th hour, Maduro vowed to implement what had been agreed in the Dominican Republic dialogue, which included an open invitation for international observers to come to Venezuela for the upcoming election.

But that is not to say that previous elections did not have international observers. Organisations such as the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA) have been present and endorsed the procedures, as well as other observers from multiple countries, Latin American and otherwise. The problem is that they do not dance to the tune of the US State Department.

It is absurd to claim that the presence of the OAS is a boost for fairness and transparency. We do not even have to look very far, just take the recent elections in Honduras. Massive, documented fraud allowed Juan Orlando Hernández to revert what was an irreversible trend in favour of his opponent. Having the US empire on your side will allow you to overrule statistics. This was so blatant that even the OAS and EU missions had to raise questions. But in the end Hernández was declared the winner, the State Dept. gave its approval and all these champions of democracy fell in line.

An even more shameful event took place in the Haiti presidential election of 2011. After the first round, the US (through the OAS), simply ordered the Haitian authorities to advance Michel Martelly to the second round, despite him not being one of the two most voted in the first round. They threatened to cut off all aid if this did not happen. So when these officials talk about the OAS as some guarantor of decency, not even they believe it themselves.

Democracy and elections

A small digression: we do not mean to equate democracy with elections like US officials constantly do in the above statements. The Venezuelan leaders have on occasion also fallen for this reductionism. Whether they believe it or not, it is the most obvious way to expose the western hypocrisy on the matter.

This reduction of democracy to voting has been one of the biggest triumphs of capitalist hegemony. People are effectively convinced that their entire political participation should be the single act of marking a cross on a ballot every 4 or 5 years. Politics is thus detached from the rest of society and “commodified” like everything else in capitalism, with campaigns becoming mere advertising shows and the wealthiest literally buying their influence.

The Bolivarian Revolution is revolutionary precisely because it challenged the inevitability of representative politics and opened new spaces for protagonist, participatory democratic experiments. From the communes to workers councils, even to the constituent processes, and despite the natural contradictions that have emerged, we have seen an expansion of democracy in its literal sense – popular power.

Hands Off Venezuela!

In the end it seems like the ideal scenario for the US would be something like the Yemeni model: a single, US-backed candidate on the ballot. With elections coming up this year in key US allied countries (Brazil, Colombia and Mexico), all of which have the potential to bring to power someone less friendly to US interests, the US cannot afford a defeat in Venezuela.

These arrogant, imperial demands that the Venezuelan elections should satisfy are just meant to provide cover for the growing threats and aggression against Venezuela, and the uncritical echo chamber that the media has become on this matter is a crucial asset. With suggestions of an upcoming oil embargo against Venezuela, at this point the goal is clearly to impose as much suffering as possible on the Venezuelans in order to topple the government.

For all its lofty rhetoric, the State Department is not looking out for the well-being of the Venezuelan people. Neither are its Venezuelan and regional puppets, nor the mainstream media, whose positions are simply State Dept. communiques with make-up. Standing up to these shameless imperialist attacks is essential if we wish to stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan poor and working-class, allowing them to freely choose their path, both in the upcoming elections and beyond.


(1) “Courageous” is not the first adjective that comes to mind regarding lapdogs

(2) A possible exception is the gubernatorial race in the state of Bolívar last October, where some electoral acts were circulated on social media showing a mismatch with regard to the electronic totals in the CNE website. But, perhaps because it would undermine the other constant claims of fraud, the opposition did not press the case.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

MI5 Poisons Another Russian Asset to Smear Putin in Ongoing Propaganda War

By Joe Quinn | March 6, 2018

As you may have noticed from the title, I’m cutting to the chase on this one. Context is everything these days when attempting to understand major geopolitical events.

Sergei Skripal is a former Russian army colonel who worked for Soviet military intelligence during the Cold War. In the late 1990s he was recruited by MI6 as a double agent. In December 2004, Skripal was arrested and charged with “high treason in the form of espionage”, convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison. In July 2010, he was released as part of a spy exchange for ten Russian agents who had been arrested in the United States as part of the ‘Illegals Program’. Skripal was then settled in the UK by MI6 in the town of Salisbury. Yesterday he was found on a public bench with his 33 year old daughter, Yulia. Both were incoherent and/or incapacitated. When medical personnel arrived, some of them also allegedly became ill.

Within a few hours of the discovery of the pair, the British media and politicians had decided that they had been poisoned at the behest of Vladimir Putin himself, with some as yet “unknown substance”. British newspapers said it, so it must be true. British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, threatened fresh sanctions against Russia if it is proven to have poisoned a Russian double agent and branded the country “a malign and disruptive force”. No evidence was cited to back up any of these allegations, because everyone ‘knows’ that Putin is a ruthless dictator who just loves to bump off people that he doesn’t like. British newspapers and politicians said it, so it must be true.

For the unfortunate cretins who still refuse to swallow the anti-Russia narrative, the British government and media duly require you to remember the case of Alexander Litvinenko, another former Russian intelligence agent who became a British intelligence asset. Litvinenko was, ‘everyone knows’ murdered in 2006 by polonium that was given to him by two Russian spies on the ‘direct orders of Putin’. The problem is that there was, and is today, no hard evidence for this claim. But who needs evidence when you have a propaganda bullhorn to addle the public brain. Mush-for-brains are highly averse to evidence anyway. It’s much better to quote the words of people like Alexander Goldfarb, long term anti-Putin activist, author of Litvinenko’s death bed testimony accusing Putin, and promoter of the activities of ‘Pussy Riot’. On the Skripal situation, Goldfarb, who was (coincidentally) a close friend of Skripal, said:

“Any reasonable person would think immediately that Russia had the opportunity, motive and a prior history of this kind of crime so it is reasonable to think it was involved in this attack. This is the Kremlin’s modus operandi. There are plenty of precedents. ‘What’s interesting now is that this happens just before Russia’s presidential election.”

The Skripal event, and the way it is being reported, cannot be understood except in the context of the vicious and persistent defamation and slander campaign that Western governments and media have waged against Russia over the past several years. To put it another way, the Skripal event is simply one more chapter in that defamation campaign. The reasons for the West’s anti-Russia hysteria have everything to do with the fact that, over the past 10-15 years, Russia has re-emerged as a powerful independent player on the world stage, capable of pushing back long-standing Anglo-American designs on global control. Exceptional nations with a serious megalomaniacal streak (and their lackeys) don’t like being pushed back, not even an inch. When they don’t get their way, and lack the cojones to engage in a fair fight, they resort to dirty tricks and smear campaigns, at which they are very adept.

But really, is there NO evidence? Well, the UK Independent informed its readers today that, while there is still no word on any toxicology reports, ‘some experts’ suggest that Skirpal and his daughter may have been poisoned by ‘nerve agents’ because a witness described Mr Skripal and his daughter vomiting, twitching and unable to move. The Indy hacks then informed us that among the most powerful nerve agents is VX, “a toxin developed at the British Ministry of Defence Porton Down facility, which was used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam – the brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017″.

Without a hint of irony, Salisbury MP John Glen told the BBC today: “Fortunately just down the road in my constituency at Porton Down defence, science and technology labs exist and they will have taken the substance and will be trying to evaluate what they can, no doubt.” Indeed, Porton Down is about 5 miles from the bench where Skripal and his daughter were found. Very fortunate indeed, and more than a little coincidental.

The name of the research facility at Porton Down has undergone many changes over the years, although the words “chemical” and “defence” have been consistently used, giving the impression that…well….that it is used only for research into “defence” against “chemical” weapons. In 1991, however, the UK “Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research” moved to the Porton Down facility and its name was changed to the “Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment”, reflecting the addition of biological warfare agent research to the list of “services” that Porton Down offered. In 2004, with PC culture in full bloom in Western nations, the name was sanitized somewhat to ‘Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’.

Some of the known highlights of the Porton Down facility include:

When the foot-and-mouth virus ravaged British cattle in 2002, it was later revealed that the outbreak was likely caused when a phial of the virus ‘went missing’ from the facility.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, 20,000 ‘volunteers’ were unwittingly involved in a chemical and biological weapons trials at Porton Down that left them with long-term ill health.

Ronald Maddison

Ronald Maddison

20-year-old Ronald Maddison died 45 minutes after 200mg of the deadly nerve agent sarin was dripped onto a patch of uniform taped to his arm at Porton Down. He was told he was testing a flu vaccine.

Thousands of British orphans who were regarded as “feeble-minded” were allegedly used for trialing drugs for use in the Cold War

While no official source has confirmed it (for obvious reasons) it’s highly likely that Skirpal was settled by MI5 in Salisbury because his new job was five miles away at Porton Down. Perhaps the most dangerous part of working for Western intelligence agencies in the 21st century, particularly if you are a Russian double agent, is that your life is implicitly forfeit in service to the West’s new great game of ‘stop Russia at all costs’. Litvinenko and now (most likely) Skirpal and his daughter found that out a little too late.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , | 10 Comments

State Dept has $120mn war chest for Russia-bashing – and ex-envoy McFaul wants to spend it

RT | March 7, 2018

There is $120 million in funding for “countering Russian propaganda” stashed somewhere in the State Department. There are “Russia experts” willing to blame Russia for everything. The two are meant to be together.

The $120 million, of which Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic corps has failed to spend a cent, is funding for the Global Engagement Center – a task force originally meant to counter jihadist propaganda online. In the late days of the Obama administration, it was tasked with countering “Russian and Chinese propaganda” aimed against America’s democratic institutions. The State Department is yet to spend any of that money.

The State Department was granted $120 million to fight Russian meddling. It has spent $0.

— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 6, 2018

For people failing to read past the New York Times headline, the failure to spend these funds would appear to be a clear indicator that Tillerson and the rest if the Trump administration have no interest in doing anything against Russia. There are memes about it, and people crying “Treason!” on Twitter.

Those who do read the story will discover the small print. For instance, the Pentagon and the State Department have been wrangling for the first annual installment of $60 million for months, and have agreed on $40 million, which is not expected until April. The US military previously lead online counterpropaganda – a coordinated effort by several departments – because they also fought jihadists with more tangible means like drones. The inclusion of Russia and China put the diplomats in charge.

Also, this money is just a tiny portion of what the US government spends on its own soft power, including promoting narratives that counter those favored by Moscow. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the parent body for outlets like Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, requested over $685 million of taxpayers’ money for FY2018. The Trump administration also wants to allocate $527 million this year for the State Department’s assistance to Europe, which is meant to strengthen “European resilience to Russian meddling,” according to the NYT. This is significantly lower than the $1.3 billion last year, set aside under the Obama administration, but can hardly be considered petty cash.

Still, there is that pile of anti-Russian money that the State Department has not spent, and there are always people who would offer their services in spending Uncle Sam’s millions. One former diplomat has already come up with a public offer.

Is the @StateDept wants to contract out its assignment to spend $120 million to combat Russian propaganda, Im sure I could put together a great team ! (& I speak Russian!)

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 7, 2018

“Is [sic] the @StateDept wants to contract out its assignment to spend $120 million to combat Russian propaganda, I’m sure I could put together a great team! (& I speak Russian!)” tweeted Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration.

McFaul’s tenure in Moscow was somewhat awkward. He infamously invited Russian opposition leaders to the embassy in one of his first moves, more or less ensuring their reputation as American stooges in the eyes of many Russians. After returning to academia, he wrote a book on Russia, available from on May 8.

An avid social network poster, he recently pledged to never share anything in Russian – after he showed his audience a video clip of mass protests with a caption in Russian inciting people to kill security officials. Even worse, the video was shot in Bahrain and erroneously claimed by the original poster to be from the latest mass protest in Iran.

Fair point Dmitry ! Ill change that on my CV. I haven’t used Russian for over four years now, since I left in 2/14. Getting a little rusty.

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 7, 2018

Good question. I just did a live tv interview in Russian. But Im sure listeners would poke holes in all of my grammatical mistakes (forgetting that hardly any Americans show respect for Russian language/history/culture & dare do interviews in Russian.)

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 7, 2018

Of course, there are many other people in the West who wrote books about Russia and are willing to offer their expert opinions on why it poses such a danger to the US, and how it can be stopped. So there will be quite a competition for this $120 million stash, if State Department chooses to spend it.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

US lights up pathway to Afghan peace

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 6, 2018

The Principal Assistant Secretary of State in the US state department’s Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells gave an extraordinary briefing in Washington on March 5 on the Trump administration’s outlook on the Afghan peace talks and reconciliation. The fact that the briefing was on record is itself of significance, underscoring the cautious optimism that the 4-way contacts and below-the-radar discussions between Washington, Islamabad, Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have gained traction.

Wells has touched on all aspects of the situation and they are almost entirely in consonance with my own assessments contained in the opinion piece, which appeared in The Tribune newspaper on March 5. (Joint gains from Afghan Peace, The Tribune, March 5, 2018 )

The most significant thing will be that Wells has forcefully, unequivocally – even euphorically – backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer on February 27 to the Taliban, and has pledged that Washington intends to promote the process, no matter what it takes. Equally, Washington estimates that the Taliban has not yet “officially responded”, various media reports attributed to Taliban spokesmen notwithstanding. Wells pointedly urged the Taliban to accept the peace offer.

The Trump administration expects Pakistan too to put its weight behind the Taliban leadership to bring them to the negotiating table. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua arrived in Washington on March 5 for talks. Pakistan is confident of taking the process forward. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

Second, the Afghan peace process is not taking place in isolation but forms part of the broad framework of Pakistan-US strategic relationship.

From the Indian perspective, the salience of Well’s briefing lies in the US’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s centrality in the Afghan peace process and, notably, Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, which Washington intends to address. This is how Wells framed the US policy:

  • Pakistan has a very important role to play in a peace process. We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement. And our engagement with Pakistan is on how we can work together, on how we can address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and Afghanistan’s stability through a negotiated process as well. Obviously, as Pakistani officials have underscored, they see a variety of issues, whether it’s border management or refugees or terrorism that emanates from ungoverned space in Afghanistan, as important issues, and we would agree that all of these need to be resolved during the course of a reconciliation process.

Two vectors that are going to shape the agenda of the forthcoming peace talks are: a) Washington accepts that Taliban has “legitimate grievances… (that) will have to be addressed at the negotiating table”, and, b) the US does not “preordain” any factions or elements within the Afghan Taliban movement to be “irreconcilable.” The latter means, plainly put, that it is entirely up to the Haqqani network to bid farewell to arms and join the peace talks and reconciliation. Wells chose her words carefully:

  • I think there are always going to be elements and factions that do not participate – the irreconcilable, so to speak. I think a political process defines who is reconcilable, who is prepared to come to the negotiating table, who is prepared to adhere to an agreement that is negotiated through a political process. And so rather than preordain who is irreconcilable, let the process determine that. But certainly, we would anticipate that there will continue to be elements, not just Taliban elements, that will pose a terrorism threat and will need to be taken care of by the Government of Afghanistan with the support of its partners.

Of course, it is unthinkable that the Haqqanis will defy the Pakistani diktat and continue to pose a terrorism threat. It is hugely significant that at one point, Wells went out of the way to openly acknowledge without caveats as to what is it that distinguishes the Taliban from the ISIS – simply put, Taliban is a legitimate Afghan entity:

  • I think all of us recognize that while the Taliban may be – represent an insurgency, they stand for and are Afghan nationalists of one type. ISIS is a nihilistic force that is bent on the very destruction of Afghanistan. And so there is a seriousness, an extreme seriousness of effort, in defeating ISIS.

Then, there is the tantalizing question of the fate of the US military bases in Afghanistan. Here, Wells parried, pleading evasively that it is entirely up to the future government in Kabul to decide whether continued US military presence is needed or not. But then, en passé, she added meaningfully, “No one is precluding any formula…” To my mind, there is going to be some sort of trade off.

Indeed, it may suit Pakistan too that there is continued US military presence in Afghanistan. For one thing, there is the searing experience of the Mujahideen takeover in Kabul in 1992 and the ensuing anarchy. Fundamentally, Pakistan has always sought that Taliban enjoyed US recognition, and, in the given situation, it is in Pakistan’s interests too that the US remains a stakeholder in the post-settlement era in Afghanistan. For, that would inevitably translate as US/NATO dependence on Pakistani cooperation, resuscitation of Pakistan’s role as a “non-NATO ally”, US interest in strengthening the strategic partnership with Pakistan, a US mediatory role in India-Pakistan issues, and, most importantly, the US as a guarantor that what has been shored up by way of an Afghan settlement doesn’t get undermined by other regional states that might harbor revisionist tendencies. The bottom line is that the Pakistani elite cannot think of a future for their country without an enduring strategic partnership with the US.

Unsurprisingly, Wells singled out Russia in almost adversarial terms. What emerges is that the US approach is to try to forge a regional consensus at the forthcoming Tashkent conference this month, which would pile pressure on Russia to fall in line. Evidently, Washington proposes to bypass Moscow and deal directly with the Central Asian capitals to create a regional consensus and support system for the peace process leading to a settlement.

Finally, Washington is still keeping its fingers crossed that Pakistan rises to its expectations, which is not surprising, given the backlog of distrust. Wells said,

  • We’ve not seen decisive and sustained changes yet in Pakistan’s behavior, but certainly we are continuing to engage with Pakistan over areas where we think they can play a helpful role in changing the calculus of the Taliban.

Once bitten, twice shy? At any rate, the Trump administration has no alternative but to take Pakistan at its word. Despite the bravado about the US military strategy making headway, Pentagon would know that the Taliban cannot be defeated through air strikes and this is a hopeless stalemate what needs to be addressed on the political and diplomatic track. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

All in all, Wells’ briefing augurs the opening of a new page in the chronicle of the Afghan war. It signifies that that the war is most likely drawing to a close and the ending is going to be like how all insurgencies in history rooted in native soil finally ended – via reconciliation with the insurgents. The full transcript of Wells’ briefing is here.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment