‘Alternative facts’ is a term in law to describe inconsistent sets of facts put forth in a court given that there is plausible evidence to support both alternatives. The term is also used to describe competing facts for the two sides of the case. – Wikipedia
So . . . what exactly is a ‘fact’? From the Wikipedia:
A fact is something that has occurred or is correct.
Facts may be checked by reason, experiment, personal experience, or may be argued from authority.
In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts.
With this context, it is not surprising that there are competing ‘facts’ of which their proponents are equally certain. ‘Facts’ are being confused with hypotheses and theories, and too many ‘facts’ are being asserted by authority.
So . . . what’s wrong with ‘alternative facts?’
Nothing — absolutely nothing. Quite the opposite, really. Alternative facts are what we use to learn new things about the world around us. Science is the subject of using alternative facts to come to a better understanding. Discovering that there are alternative facts about something – even better, seemingly contradictory facts – is what points us to an area of study that promises the reward of new insights into the natural world.
Out in today’s world of U.S. Two-Party Politics – an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque landscape being repainted daily in the “news” and “social” media – a lot of ill-mannered, Queen-of-Hearts-style nonsense is being churned out by turning this perfectly good and useful idea – alternative facts – into a mockery of truth-finding — turning Truth into an one-word oxymoron.
Facts vs factoids
Much of what we know as facts, and much of what are presented to us as facts, are more correctly characterized as “factoids” – a word believed coined by Norman Mailer – which has two closely related meanings:
1) a piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact even though it is not actually true, or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print.
a piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact even though it is not actually or strictly true, or an invented fact either deliberately created or created by sloppy thinking, poor logic skills, lack of critical thinking or poor journalism believed to be true because it appears in print, in a journal article, in mainstream or social media, on a web site or has ‘gone viral’ on the Internet.
2) a brief or trivial item of news or information.
Factoids are often presented to us as numbers – which influence us to find them somehow truer or more believable – or are presented as impossibly simplistic assertions about complex topics. Factoids most often are used rhetorically [as in argument, debate, or propaganda] in opposition to other facts in a fact-vs-fiction construction, explicitly stated or implied – “Here are the facts!” – implying that all else is fiction, all other ‘facts’ are false.
Tied to the use of factoids is the principle of “Only One Fact”. This is the rampantly popular idea that for each subject there exists only one fact (or set of related facts) and, from that, it follows that all other statements on the subject are falsehoods, lies, or errors. We hear this in common speech: “The fact is…” and we see on single issue websites “The Facts are…”. This “Only One Fact” version of reality is a serious cognitive malfunction – and leads to serious critical thinking errors.
Climate science, and the never-ending debate about its implications, is particularly rife with Factoids and Alternative Factoids. Each side, mostly from the extreme edges of the field, sling factoids at one another in endless streams of numbers, graphs, trend-lines, echo-chamber talking-points (prepared by their own side’s experts) – spiced with a truly incredible number and variety of personal opinions presented as if they were facts.
Once we weed out the truly daft opinions, the obvious non-physical misunderstandings and the delicious-and-nutty fruit-cakery served up from the far edges of climate alarm and hard-core “its all a big hoax” skepticism alike, we are still left with a huge number of seemingly true statements, facts, that seem to contradict each other, sometimes apparently in direct opposition.
Competing ‘facts’ about the Amazon
How’s that, you ask? Let’s look at an example. It has long been considered a fact, and still is by almost all environmental movements, that:
[T]he Amazon forests are pristine forests, never touched by humans…. the rain forests of the Amazon were untouched by human hands before the arrival of European explorers in the 15th century. [The Amazon is] an old-growth forest — primary forest, virgin forest, primeval forest — is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance and thereby exhibits unique ecological features and might be classified as a climax community [a biological community of plants, animals, and fungi which, through the process of ecological succession the development of vegetation in an area over time, had reached a steady state].
Yet, reappearing again in the science press this week is the story of ancient earthworks deep in the Amazon forest:
Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.” The study [ doi: 10.1073/pnas.1614359114 ] states “We reconstructed environmental evidence from the geoglyph region and found that earthworks were built within man-made forests that had been previously managed for millennia.
The existence of these earthworks, and their antiquity are facts – actualities, they really exist and strong, replicable evidence exists for the dates of creation.
The facts reported by Watling et al. (2017) in regard to the earthworks are not only alternative to our accepted facts [above] about the Amazon; they directly contradict long-standing, almost universally-accepted, facts. It is because they are contradictory that we can begin to develop a new and better understanding of the ecology of the Amazon rainforests, their history, their evolution and the South American nations within whose boundaries these forests exist, can create national policies based on this better understanding.
By combining the two sets of seemingly contradictory facts– alternative facts, we can see that while the Amazonian forests are certainly old-growth forests, having existed in their current states for hundreds, up to thousands, of years, they are not “virgin forest, primeval forest” at all but have actually been created by long-term interactions with the human civilizations that lived within them.
This is not a trivial example of “new discoveries lead to better understanding”, though it could be viewed that way. There has been a long constant stream of alternative facts to the background fact of a pristine, primeval Amazon. The investigation of a soil type named “Terra Preta” (Portuguese for “black soil”) began producing alternative facts in the 1960s and they have rolled out regularly since. Yet it was fact not long ago, despite these alternative facts, that the land of the Amazon was relatively useless for agriculture.
Now we see that there is very strong evidence that the Amazon is not being newly deforested but is apparently being re-cleared, re-claimed as arable land. It is land that in the past was cleared and used for agriculture, speculatively thought to be a sort of ancient perma-culture, and for the building of extensive towns and cities.
Example: climate science ‘alternative facts’
Consider the following statement:
“Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by about 0.8° Celsius since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”
Well, we have a fact – “Earth’s average surface temperature has risen”; a number related to the magnitude of the temperature increase (which must be considered subject to some degree of factual uncertainty); and a time period. The statement can be considered, factual (subject to some caveats) or true. However, the statement implies causation — that the warming was caused by the Industrial Revolution–which makes it a factoid because the cause of the warming is a hypothesis.
Consider the following alternative statement:
“Earth’s average surface temperature has risen for the last several hundred years, since the depths of the Little Ice Age*, and by about 0.8° since the mid-19th century, which is the beginning of the instrumental temperature record.”
[* = “three particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, all separated by intervals of slight warming.”]
This statement is equally true but again implies causation – “since the depths of the LIA”.
It is possible to construct a clear Fact about changes in global mean surface temperature changes and the associated uncertainties. However the IPCC’s mandate to focus on man-made climate change resulted in a conclusion dictated by their mandate that is arguably a factoid.
Not all alternative facts lead to a better understanding. Some just stand in opposition to one another until such time as new and better facts or evidence emerge from the confusion to help clarify the situation. Those new facts or evidence will be, at first, Alternative Facts – they should not necessarily be expected to match either of the preferred climate science factoids above.
As these new alternative facts emerge, they should be embraced and seriously considered by all sides and positions in the climate debate. Those new, alternative facts –those few that survive the fire of massive open public review– will lead to better understandings of the physical actualities of Earth’s climate which in turn will allow policy makers to make better climate policy.
NAZARETH – Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested deploying international forces in the Gaza Strip as a security solution to deal with the Gaza Strip.
According to Israel’s Channel 2, Netanyahu made his remarks during his meeting on Sunday morning in Sydney with Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop.
The two sides discussed several regional issues and Israel’s concerns over taking legal action against its officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
Netanyahu told the Australian minister that he did not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state with the presence of Israeli security control over the entire West Bank and limited Palestinian sovereignty.
He also expressed his rejection of any presence of peacekeeping forces in the West Bank because of Israel’s bad experience with such forces, and called for dispatching them to Gaza.
He urged the minister to make efforts to prevent the ICC from putting pressure on Israel and dissuade it from seeking to try Israeli officials accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians.
He said that Australia could influence other countries to act against the ICC and force it to reduce its investigations and fact-finding missions on claims related to war crimes.
The two officials also talked about Iran, its nuclear program and its intervention in regional problems and agreed on promoting relations and cooperation between the two sides in the areas of security, intelligence, economy and technology.
JERUSALEM – After Israeli authorities shut down a Palestinian elementary school in the occupied East Jerusalem town of Sur Bahir last Thursday over alleged “incitement” in its study materials, students attended class in the street on Sunday and protested against Israel’s decision to close the school.
Children who were enrolled at al-Nukhba (“the elite” in Arabic) arrived to the campus with their parents in an action organized by the parent committees of Sur Bahir’s schools, holding posters expressing support for al-Nukhba and denouncing Israel’s closure of educational institutions as “tyrannical.”
Last Thursday, head of the school Luay Jamal Bkirat and the school’s financial manager Nasser Hamed were summoned to an Israeli police station for interrogation, when Israeli intelligence officials informed them that the school was being shut down for carrying inciting content in the teaching materials used at the school.
Bkirat denied the claims, saying that al-Nukhba school was “teaching the Palestinian curriculum used in all schools in Jerusalem and that no one of the faculty had ever been summoned for interrogation before over incitement.”
He added that the school — which serves 250 boys from kindergarten to grade six — was opened last year and gained a temporary operating license from the Jerusalem municipality, and that the license was revoked in November for unknown reasons.
Bkirat condemned the decision and said that he would “conduct procedures to stop this decision which aims to destroy education.”
The Times of Israel reported that the school was shut down for being a “Hamas front,” after a months-long joint probe by Israel’s Education Ministry, Jerusalem police, and Israeli intelligence, the Shin Bet.
Israeli authorities from the education ministry claimed the school was established by Hamas with the aim of teaching “content that undermines the sovereignty of Israel,” and that the school’s aims were “consistent with the ideology of the terror organization, which calls for the destruction of Israel,” the Times of Israel said.
According to the Israeli news outlet, the ministry ordered the school not to open in September “and when it continued to operate, issued the closure order.”
Israeli Jews and Palestinians study in separate school systems in occupied East Jerusalem, with the Palestinian schools run by either Israel’s Jerusalem municipality, the Islamic Waqf and administered by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, private institutions, or UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education, Palestinian children suffer from routine Israeli interference and political pressure to replace Palestinian curricula with an Israeli one in occupied East Jerusalem, where full Israeli military and civil control deprives students from proper and secure educational services.
A 2016 report by Israeli daily Haaretz also said that Palestinian schools in occupied East Jerusalem received less than half the funds that the Jerusalem municipality transferred to Jewish schools in West Jerusalem.
Though Sur Bahir lies beyond the periphery of occupied East Jerusalem, the town remained under full Israeli security and civil control within Israel’s Jerusalem municipality after the territory was illegally annexed in 1967.
A 2011 report by the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) said that due to a lack of some levels of education in Sur Bahir, many students were forced to attend schools in neighboring villages.
Hebron, occupied Palestine – Yesterday the Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the extra-judicial killing of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, which happened last year in Hebron. Everybody in Hebron was waiting for the sentence. Everybody knew by one o’clock what it was. Everyone was heavy hearted. Palestinian friends compared a sentence of two years for stone throwing with Azaria’s eighteen months for murder. The implications here on the ground for what soldiers can do with impunity is also clear to all.
We at ISM had been in touch with Imad Abu Shamsiya, the Palestinian who filmed the execution, in case he wanted our support if the settlers were angry at the sentence as he has experienced large amounts of threats and harassment from both soldiers and settlers for bringing this incident to light.
Today I get email from the UK with news of how the case was reported on the BBC flagship morning show:
‘… almost all of the piece consisted of a discussion with their Jerusalem correspondent about Israeli anger that Azaria had been jailed. The fact that Palestinians were angered at the brevity of the sentence was tacked on as an afterthought. It was not explained that the Israeli soldiers are an army of occupation that is protecting settlers who are in Hebron illegally. It was not explained that Abdel Fattah al-Sherif had been lying injured and motionless on the ground for ten minutes and presenting no threat to anyone before Azaria executed him. Al-Sherif was described as “an attacker”, Azaria as “a soldier”. The framing of what happened could have been scripted by the IDF. The impression given was of the IDF acting in support of the civil authorities and being subjected to a military assault by enemy combatants. The right-wing Israeli perspective that Azaria was an inexperienced conscript who acted in the heat of the moment in battle was reported unchallenged. The alternative view that al-Sharif had committed grievous bodily harm or some such criminal assault before being totally incapacitated and that he was then murdered in cold blood by a heavily-armed agent of an occupying power was not given.’
The video so bravely filmed by Imad which led to the case being heard at all can be seen here.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan sparked a row in tweets preceding his latest speech by implying Scottish nationalism is akin to racism. He was forced to backpedal after Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, slammed his remarks as “spectacularly ill-judged.”
“The last thing we need now is to pit different parts of our country or sections of our society against each other – or to further fuel division or seek separation.”
“There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish, and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race, or religion,” Khan said in tweeted remarks preceding his speech to the Scottish Labour conference in Perth on Saturday. He also implied that a new Scottish independence referendum would be destabilizing.
“The world is an increasingly divided place – with Brexit, the election of President Trump and the rise of populist and narrow nationalist parties around the world,” he said.
He then went on to stress the need to find an “antidote to Brexit and the rise of right-wing populist parties” that does not “break away or push our neighbors away,” but is based on unity.
SNP [Scottish National Party] leader Nicola Sturgeon branded Khan’s statements as “spectacularly ill-judged,” tweeting that Khan’s “intervention… is an insult to all those Scots who support independence for reasons of inclusion & social justice.”
Sturgeon was not the only one who found his words insulting. People posted angry remarks on Twitter, saying London mayor’s own policies are more akin to racism, while warning that Khan’s Labour party now has little chance of success in Scotland.
However, shortly before delivering his speech to the Labor conference, Khan clarified his statements with the BBC, insisting that he was “not saying that nationalists are somehow racist or bigoted.”
“Of course, I am not saying that the SNP are racists or bigots.”
“What I am saying is that the world is increasingly divided by Brexit result and the election of President Trump, with the rise of populist and narrow nationalist parties across the world, now is the time to come together, now is the time for unity, not a time for division or isolation,” Khan told a BBC reporter.
While he followed his initial script during his speech, Khan also attempted to make his points more clearly.
“With the world becoming an increasingly divided place. Brexit. President Trump. And the rise of populist and narrow nationalist parties around the world. Now’s not the time to play on people’s fears. Or to pit one part of our country – or one section of our society – against each other.”
“In that respect, there’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish, and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race, or religion. Now, of course, I’m not saying that nationalists are somehow racist or bigoted – but now, more than ever – what we don’t need is more division and separation,” he specified.
Scotland voted 55 to 45 percent in favor of remaining in the UK in a tightly contested September 2014 referendum, but then largely opposed the UK’s decision to leave the European Union known as Brexit last year, with 62 percent of the Scottish population voting for Britain to remain in the EU. As the British government is increasingly leaning toward a “hard Brexit,” which would entail totally withdrawing from the European single market and customs union, the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) has intensified calls for a second independence referendum lately, publishing a draft bill for the vote last October. However, the British government could block the second referendum, according to Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who said earlier this month that London would not allow a repeat of the 2014 plebiscite.
Scottish independence campaigners claim that an independent Scotland would continue to work closely with the rest of the UK, insisting that their civic nationalism is inclusive and non-sectarian.
In early February, unnamed US officials told Reuters the Trump administration might designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) a terrorist organization.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment. Iran categorically denies involvement in terrorism. No evidence suggests it, just baseless allegations.
Reports now indicate the proposed action stalled, US defense, state, and intelligence officials warning it could backfire, undermining Trump’s pledge to combat ISIS, along with complicating enforcement of the Iran nuclear deal.
US NATO allies are against it. The designation was supposed to be announced this month. It’s unclear if it’s suspended or cancelled altogether.
IRGC involvement is important in combating regional terrorism in Syria, Iraq and perhaps Yemen.
The administration’s proposal was part of a broader scheme to get tougher on Iran – instead of responsibly working to end 38 years of US-instigated adversarial relations.
If implemented, it would be the first move of this kind under the 1996 Foreign Terrorist Organizations law against a foreign government – meant for al-Qaeda and likeminded groups.
It would likely initiate tougher sanctions on Iran, possibly undermining the nuclear deal, sabotaging what took years to agree on.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif praised the IRGC’s efforts in combating terrorism, saying:
“The entire world admits that the IRGC has rendered the utmost support to (Iran’s) neighboring countries in the face of terrorism” – warning of adverse consequences if Trump orders more sanctions on Iran.
Reports indicate he intended to designate the ICRG and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization on Monday – during a visit to CENTCOM’s Tampa headquarters.
It’s believed Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states urged him to target Iran’s IRGC. It’s now on hold.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at email@example.com. His new book is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.
On the heels of Amnesty International’s admittedly and entirely fabricated report regarding Syria’s Saydnaya prison, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published its own baseless report on Syria – this one regarding alleged chlorine bomb attacks in Aleppo during the city’s liberation late last year.
In a post on HRW’s website titled, “Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo,” it claims:
Syrian government forces conducted coordinated chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city, Human Rights Watch said today.
However, when qualifying HRW’s accusations, it admits:
Through phone and in-person interviews with witnesses and analysis of video footage, photographs, and posts on social media, Human Rights Watch documented government helicopters dropping chlorine in residential areas on at least eight occasions between November 17 and December 13, 2016. The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200.
Watching the videos and viewing the photographs reveals that none of them actually link any of the alleged “chlorine attacks” to Syrian forces, or even to chlorine itself.
The body of evidence presented by HRW also reveals that the interviews they conducted with alleged “witnesses” included almost exclusively opposition forces. Among them were the US-UK funded White Helmets – referred to disingenuously as “Syria Civil Defense” in HRW’s report – who served as designated terrorist organization Jabhat Al Nusra auxiliaries, often found on the battlefield shoulder-to-shoulder with armed militants.
Not only are these clearly compromised sources of information based on their admitted political alignments, but also because of their respective, systematic fabrications throughout the Syrian conflict. It is telling of HRW’s systematic bias that it would base an entire report on compromised sources drawn from the opposition, but not even a single report based on government claims. United Arab Emirate-based Al Nusra propaganda platform Orient News was also cited, as were other notorious anti-government propaganda networks including the Aleppo Media Center. In reality, a true rights advocacy organization would only report what is physical evidence verified. Human Rights Watch has deliberately avoided doing so not only in Syria, but amid virtually every conflict it involves itself in.
From conflating the number of civilians “trapped” in eastern Aleppo, to attempts to downplay or dismiss the role designated terrorist organizations played in the occupation of Aleppo, the groups and individuals cited by Human Rights Watch have practiced deliberate deceit throughout the battle for Aleppo, and the Syrian conflict at large.
For Human Rights Watch – an allegedly world-renowned rights advocacy organization – to cite such sources indicates that this latest report, like Amnesty International’s recently fabricated report, constitutes a politically-motivated attack hiding behind rights advocacy, not upholding it.
Considering the timing of Amnesty International, Human Rights, and also the Atlantic Council’s reports, rolled out in a multi-organizational campaign attacking the Syrian government, the individual deceit of each organization transforms into collective and coordinated impropriety.
A final consideration in the wake of Human Rights Watch’s latest, politically-motivated report is the fact that all actual evidence points to the opposition itself for being behind both the production and deployment of chlorine-based weapons.
TIME Magazine in an article titled, “Syria’s Civil War: The Mystery Behind a Deadly Chemical Attack,” would admit:
In August rebel forces took Sabbagh’s factory by force, as part of a sweep that also netted them an electricity station and a military airport about 30 km from Aleppo. Sabbagh, who has since fled Aleppo for Beirut, says his factory is now occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group with strong ties to al-Qaeda that has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. He knows this because his site manager has struck a deal with the rebels — they supply 200 L of fuel a day to keep the generator running so that the valves of his $25 million factory don’t freeze up. The factory isn’t operational anymore, but this way at least, says Sabbagh, it might be one day in the future. In the meantime, he has no idea what has happened, if anything, to the 400 or so steel barrels of chlorine gas he had stored in the compound. The yellow tanks, which hold one ton of gas each, are used for purifying municipal water supplies. “No one can know for certain, but if it turns out chlorine gas was used in the attack, then the first possibility is that it was mine. There is no other factory in Syria that can make this gas, and now it is under opposition control,” he says.
Military experts since the advent of modern chemical warfare have noted its limited utility during combat. It has very temporary tactical advantages when used on a very large scale – a scale much larger than any of the alleged attacks cited by Human Rights Watch. Strategically, a military force with superior conventional means would have no logical use for chemical weapons.
Likewise, chemical weapons would not turn the tide in the battle of Aleppo for the occupying terrorists. However, the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo and the use of the West’s powerful propaganda arms to assign blame to the Syrian government did promise a very significant political and possibly strategic advantage. It was accusations of “weapons of mass destruction” that served as a pretext for war with Iraq in 2003 – a pretext the US attempted to recreate versus Syria in 2013.
With these latest, weak, and baseless accusations presented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Atlantic Council, we are witnessing a redux of 2013 propaganda aimed at undermining the Syrian government and expanding the West’s pretext for more direct involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Reports surfacing in the British media of a Russian plot to kill Montenegro’s former prime minister Milo Djukanovic should be seen for the cynical ploy they are. To give just the smallest bit of defense to these British publications – yes, it is true Djukanovic is making these allegations. Is there any substance or proof to these allegations? No. The UK media has shown it is as politicized as its American mainstream counterparts like CNN by publishing such fake news.
Good reason to doubt these baseless charges starts from the fact that they come from Djukanovic, who has a stupendous reputation for corruption and is trying to move forward desperately with NATO accession for Montenegro which has stalled in the U.S. Senate for about two months. At this point if he were to say the sky is blue, it would be reason to disbelieve him and look for an ulterior motive.
Djukanovic transparently is throwing this red meat on the table in the context of hysteria that is going on in Washington concerning allegations of Moscow’s hacking the American election (“the Russians did it!”) and the open attack by the “deep state,” by elements of the intelligence community with their leaks, and by the mainstream media that just claimed the scalp of general Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser. Besides criminally seeking to overthrow the constitutionally elected government – as they have imposed “regime change” on other countries – they want to do anything they can to block any rapprochement from the Trump administration with Moscow.
Djukanovic has very artfully inserted himself into this narrative. His message is simple: you can’t let the Russians win. Nothing else matters. He is trying to use “the Russians are coming” meme as a way to jumpstart Montenegro’s stalled NATO bid. Let’s remember the debate in Washington isn’t about letting Montenegro into NATO because having it as an ally makes American more secure. Montenegro obviously does nothing for our defense. The question is whether the NATO door will remain open, particularly for Georgia and Ukraine.
It seems no one cares to ask why America should be allied with a nation that doesn’t particularly want to be allied with us. According to opinion polls, it is far from clear that most Montenegrins want to be in NATO and aligned to us in the first place. Most recent polls indicate a slight plurality in the “against” camp despite relentless government propaganda and the braying of Soros-controlled media. A recent survey indicated that some 84% of Montenegrins want a vote on the matter. Even a solid majority of NATO supporters favor a referendum. Djukanovic won’t hold a referendum because he knows he would lose it.
Djukanovic’s ploy is well timed. It both feeds and feeds off of the anti-Russian frenzy, which is the basis of what former Congressman Denis Kucinich has called an attempted coup to bring down the Trump administration. Calls are openly heard for “patriots” in the intelligence services to overthrow Trump for the “good of the country.”
It is uncertain whether Djukanovic will successfully ride the wave of Russophobia to get Montenegro into NATO. What is certain is that America is on the edge of turning into a banana republic. Trump has very little time to strike back, hard. One way for him to show who’s boss is to turn thumbs down on Djukanovic and his trickery.
Recently, we had a look at the ways President Trump’s Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, is making her predecessor, “humanitarian bomber” Samantha Power, look like a model diplomat by comparison. It turns out Haley’s ghastly performance at the UN thus far is no fluke. Each time she opens her mouth she spews not the kind of foreign policy that President Trump campaigned on, but rather the boot-in-the-face know-nothingness that we have grown accustomed to in recent years.
In the latest “Haley Alert,” the Ambassador is furious over a Russia-threatened veto of a UN Security Council resolution offered by the US, UK, and France to impose new sanctions on the Syrian government over unproven allegations that Syria used chemical weapons against its own population.
Yes, under Ambassador Haley we have entered a time machine back to 2013, where the US is ready to deploy its entire diplomatic (and perhaps military) arsenal against the one government in the Middle East actually fighting President Trump’s sworn enemies: ISIS and al-Qaeda.
President Trump, in one of his first interviews after the November election, starkly contrasted his position with those both of the outgoing Obama Administration and his defeated opponent, Hillary Clinton:
I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria. … My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.
His employee, the US Ambassador to the UN, clearly does not share her boss’s “opposite view” on Syria. And she is not afraid to contradict her boss’s position on a regular basis. Today the US Mission to the UN released Ambassador Haley’s remarks condemning the threatened Russian veto of new sanctions against Syria, and her comments do not in any way suggest a diplomat remotely well-informed about the complex matters at hand:
I think what we saw in there was pretty amazing, because you had unity in the fact that we needed to be concerned about chemical weapons being used in Syria. You had an overwhelming vote to say we need an investigative mechanism that would prove that these chemical weapons were being done by the Syrian regime. Now you’ve got the results that have come out, and people don’t like what the results are. It is ridiculous. How much longer is Russia going to continue to babysit and make excuses for the Syrian regime? People have died by being suffocated to death. That’s barbaric.
So what we’re going to do is – we were given all these reasons on why we shouldn’t propose the resolution. We were given all these reasons on why the timing was wrong. That is exactly why the timing is right. That is exactly why this resolution needs to happen. Whether people are going to veto it or not, you are either for chemical weapons or you’re against it. People died because of this, and the United States isn’t going to be quiet. Thank you.
Let’s unpack this head-scratcher of a statement. First off, “we need an investigative mechanism that would prove that these chemical weapons were being done by the Syrian regime.” So she is stating that there must be an investigation to prove what she has pre-determined to be true before the investigation took place? Does that sound like “innocent until proven guilty”? Or does it sound like Hoxha-era revolutionary justice? “We must have a trial to prove comrade X guilty so we can execute him!”
And this from Haley: “How much longer is Russia going to continue to babysit and make excuses for the Syrian regime?”
Ms. Ambassador: Do you mean the regime that just liberated Aleppo from its murderous occupation by al-Qaeda? You know, those guys who attacked the US on 9/11?
If Assad is using chemical weapons against his own people (Why? Presumably for fun?) then why once Aleppo was cleansed of the al-Qaeda occupiers have former residents flocked to return to an Aleppo under Assad’s control? Do they enjoy being gassed?
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is an absolute train wreck. She embodies the worst traits of her predecessors with a much lower level of understanding of foreign affairs or diplomacy. Will President Trump recognize his mistake in appointing her to represent the US at the UN and replace her with someone who will actually carry out his foreign policy? Or was he simply lying when he said he had an “opposite view” from the conventional Washington wisdom on Syria (and Russia as well)?
Pat Buchanan – perhaps the U.S. politician with the greatest feel (as a thrice-times U.S. presidential candidate himself) for what President Trump is trying to achieve – tells us compellingly, just why Trump is now the US President:
[Simply,] …“He [Trump], read the nation and the world, better than his rivals. He saw the surging power of American nationalism at home, and of ethno-nationalism in Europe. And he embraced Brexit. While our bipartisan establishment worships diversity, Trump saw Middle America recoiling from the demographic change brought about by Third World invasions. And he promised to curb them.
“While our corporatists burn incense at the shrine of the global economy, Trump went to visit the working-class casualties. And those forgotten Americans in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, responded. And while Bush II and President Obama plunged us into Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Trump saw that his countrymen wanted to be rid of the endless wars, and start putting America first. [And] He offered a new foreign policy … Putin’s Russia is not ‘our number one geopolitical foe.’”
That’s it. That’s Trump’s domestic, and his foreign policy, in one.
What we all presently are obsessed with, is the bellicosity and hysteria to which Trump and his agenda has given rise: Is détente with Russia now effectively dead, as a consequence of the new Russo-phobic McCathyism? Or, is that which we are witnessing nothing more than “a mere tantrum by a clutch of ‘spooks’ whose jobs are under threat … along with the liberal press having a ‘parallel tantrum’: [not believing] that they lost the election to Donald Trump” – as one American commentator told MK Bhadrakumar? Or, are we seeing a brittle American Establishment splitting apart, in a more profound way?
We do not know the answer. The notion of removing Trump from office seems somewhat far-fetched (see here). Certainly, America is deeply divided: Trump plainly evokes strong, emotional reactions. Three-fourths of Americans react to him strongly – either positively or negatively.
The Pew Research Center’s latest survey shows that only eight percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents approve Trump’s job performance, which is the lowest rating for any new president from the opposing party in more than three decades. But interestingly, Pew also finds that 84 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners, regard Trump’s initial job performance as president “favorably.”
A Divided Administration
But then, Gilbert Doctorow relates, as the new Administration got underway, “came a stunning about-face in the early roll-out of Donald Trump’s new foreign policy, which looked a lot like Barack Obama’s old foreign policy. We heard presidential press secretary Sean Spicer say Trump ‘expected the Russian government to … return Crimea’ to Ukraine.
“Then we heard Defense Secretary James Mattis in Brussels (NATO headquarters), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Bonn (G20 Foreign Ministers meeting) and Vice President Pence in Munich (Security Conference) collectively pledge unswerving loyalty to the NATO alliance, insist that any new talks with Russia must be conducted from ‘a position of strength,’ and vow to hold Russia accountable for the full implementation of the Minsk Accords, meaning all sanctions stay in place pending that achievement which the Ukrainian government has consistently blocked, while blaming Moscow.
“Amid these signals of surrender from the Trump Administration – suggesting continuation of the disastrous foreign policy of the last 25 years – the newly revived enemies of détente on Capitol Hill added more anti-Russian sanctions and threats. In response to alleged violations by the Kremlin of the Treaty on Intermediate and Short-range Missiles (INF) dating back to 1987, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, introduced a bill enabling the re-installation of American nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in Europe. If enacted, this would undo the main achievements of disarmament from the Reagan years, and bring us back to a full-blown Cold War.”
This has unnerved Trump supporters; apparently disappointed some in Moscow; and also failed to reassure anxious Europeans at the Munich Security Conference. They are puzzling over which Administration faction to believe more correctly reflects future U.S. policy: the Pence/Mattis/Haley ‘wing’, that Europeans would like to hope is dominant; or, the Trump/Bannon/Miller triumvirate, which Steve Bannon hints views the European Union as a flawed construct, and who foresees conducting future relations with Europe, on a bilateral basis.
Which of these two, reflects America’s likely path, more accurately? Has the Establishment now succeeded in walking-back Trump’s agenda? Who now speaks for the President?
The answer is not hard to fathom: return to Pat Buchanan’s clear explanation of how Trump became President: “He saw the surging power of American nationalism at home, and of ethno-nationalism in Europe. And he embraced Brexit. While our bipartisan establishment worships diversity, Trump saw Middle America recoiling from the demographic change, brought about by Third World invasions. And he promised to curb them.”
Obviously, it is the Trump-Bannon wing. Were Trump to abandon his reading of the nation and of the Europeans that brought him to the Presidency, he might as well throw in the towel now. He will not be re-elected.
Weakening the Dollar
And Mr. Trump is showing no signs of reversing (for all the mixed messaging that has emanated from his diverse team). So, back to basics. What then is his foreign policy? Simply this: If President Trump wishes to keep his 84 percent (Republican) approval rating – and stay elected – there is only one way that he can do that: he must continue to carry “the working-class casualties and those forgotten Americans” (as Buchanan called them) of the Midwest, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
And the only way to do that is to bring back manufacturing jobs to this (white), Middle America, (hurting) constituency. And the only way you can bring those jobs back, is with a weak dollar. A strong dollar would be deadly to Trump’s project.
Today, the dollar is too strong to allow any real return of manufacturing to the U.S. Trump needs to staunch any propensity for the dollar to rise. And, in his very first interview upon taking office (with the Wall Street Journal), Trump’s main point, was that he wanted the U.S. dollar “down.”
Here it is, then: Trump’s main foreign policy objective is the return of jobs to Middle America – and that means, in practical terms, avoiding a strong dollar. Secondly, the ultimate point of détente with Russia – apart from Trump’s reading that Middle America is experiencing war fatigue – is that détente can release a “peace dividend” which would be vital for the task of rebuilding America’s frayed infrastructure. (His tax proposals ultimately will have to be revenue neutral if Trump is to avoid an ugly row with his Tea Party supporters, who are aggressively fiscal conservative.)
Again, détente with Russia is a domestic need, required to attend to the re-building of the frayed structures of the communities who voted him into office. It is not anchored in any particular foreign policy ideology, but merely in a sense of peoples’ fatigue.
Of course, wanting a weaker dollar and wanting détente with Russia, does not mean that Trump will get either; he will continue to face stiff internal resistance and filibustering. But these two aims, as it were, may be seen to constitute the overriding prism by which Trump views his foreign policy aims, in the longer term.
In the shorter term – perhaps – what we are seeing now, is a tactical pause, dictated by the malicious leaks from within the system, and by the unrelenting “war” being waged by the mainstream media – a pause to allow Trump to get on with sorting out his Administration – purging the leaks, putting in place his people, and contending with certain of the mainstream media.
It seems the purge is slowly happening (it must be a huge process, and be imposing a heavy demand on time). It is however, simply not very realistic for Trump to pursue an accord with either Russia or China while he is under siege, and when his very survival is being widely questioned. And, as is now widely known, Trump believes in negotiating from a position of strength, and not weakness. Pence and Mattis may well have been dispatched to Europe to apply some anaesthetizing balm, while the difficulties of the first month are being resolved.
So, how might this “foreign policy” be conducted in practice? Well, if Trump were to impose protectionist measures on other states (China, say), this would likely result in their currencies depreciating, as a consequence. A 30 percent tax might result in a 30 percent currency devaluation. We have seen something of the sort happening with the peso, in the case of Mexico. And, ipso facto, if the Mexican or Chinese currency weakens, the dollar appreciates (thus weakening U.S. capacity to compete).
There are two possible routes ahead: one is for Trump to negotiate bilaterally with (say) Germany, Japan, China and others, to warn them that either they revalue their currencies (or, at minimum, hold their foreign exchange value stable), or else to suffer the consequences of a U.S.-imposed protectionism, which would badly damage the health of their economies.
Or, Trump can revert to the Reagan tactic of the mid-1980s, when the then the U.S. President pulled together all the main global central banks and finance ministers in Paris, to instruct that the dollar was not to be allowed to rise in value any further (after its rapid appreciation in the early 1980s). This was known as the “Plaza Accord.”
Going with ‘Bilateralism’
It seems that Trump will pursue the first course (bilateralism), as he has already made it clear that he wants to negotiate on a fuller field than just the stability of foreign exchange values. Specific trade deals, and inward investment into the U.S., will be on the agenda – as well as his declared aim of leveraging U.S. defense provision as a bilaterally negotiated quid pro quo, in return further economic benefit to the U.S. – rather than having the U.S. defense umbrella being provided as a highly subsidized “good.”
The implications of this bilateral approach are significant. It does not imply, per se, that Trump should want to split Russia from China. Trump, by his own logic, would not want, ultimately, to resort to protectionism against China (other than as a negotiating ploy). Imposing punitive tariffs on China would likely lead to a strengthening of the dollar, and risk a devaluation of the yuan – even possibly a maxi-devaluation of the yuan. Rather, he wants a deal. One that would bring additional jobs and Chinese infrastructure investment to America.
The notion that America needs to divide Russia from China (or Iran) for strategic reasons (though one probably embraced by some of his team) is essentially “old think.” It belongs to the neoconservative era, which held that America must remain as a global defense and financial hegemon. And therefore must contain and weaken any contending rising power.
Russia will not, in any case, break with China. But in the Trumpian logic, why should that matter, so long as Trump has achieved satisfactory commercial deals with each? (Kissinger though, may try to persuade Trump otherwise.)
Again, pursuing the war on radical Islam (for which Trump has called for proposals from the Pentagon) would not necessarily call for decisive military U.S. interventions in the Middle East, on this logic. A change in policy, and in ethos, by a reformed CIA – away from using radical Islam as “a tool” by which to pursue its “interests” (as it has from Afghanistan in the 1980s to Syria in recent years), would in and of itself, bring about a profound change. It would quickly percolate through to European intelligence services – and more slowly – marinate Gulf thinking.
Changing the ‘Group Think’
Pat Lang, a former senior U.S. Defense Intelligence officer, notes how a small shift in bureaucratic “group think” from one paradigm to another can bring crucial change, simply by virtue of approaching a problem from a different direction:
“1. General Dunford, USMC, the uniformed head of the US armed forces, is meeting this week at Baku in Azarbaijan with General Gerasimov, the head of the Russian General Staff.
“2. My sources tell me that US and Russian air forces are increasingly coordinating and de-conflicting their air actions in Syria and Iraq. This can clearly be seen in USAF and US Navy air attacks on ‘moderate’ (in fact jihadi forces) in Idlib Province. These obviously have been coordinated with Russian air defenses.
“3. The CIA has stopped providing assistance to aforesaid ‘moderate’ jihadi and FSA forces in Syria. They would not have done that without instructions from outside and above CIA.
All of that tells me that sanity reigns in the Trump Administration no matter what lunatics like Schumer, Waters and McCain may do, think or say.” (emphasis added).
What then are the major risks to the Trump “paradigm”? They are not negligible. Any increase in international tension usually will lead to a flight to the “safety” of the U.S. dollar – thus to a “strengthening” of the dollar. (One good reason why Trump may stick with rhetoric against Iran, rather than action).
Secondly, although Trump has been trying to “talk down” the value of the U.S. dollar, most of his policies (de-offshoring of corporate cash, de-regulation and tax cuts) are seen as inflationary – and therefore are pushing the dollar upwards. So, too, are pronouncements by the Federal Reserve about the prospects for an interest rate hike next month. It is not clear that Trump will be able to keep the dollar weak, against a general sense that interest rates are heading upwards. David Stockman’s inflation index for the U.S., which uses more realistic values for energy, food, shelter and medical insurance than the official CPI index, is now rising at better than a 4 percent annual rate.
And thirdly, China may yet undo Trump’s plans. As one well-versed economic commentator notes:
“I strongly contend that a more than one-half Trillion ($) one-month Chinese Credit expansion in early 2017 will exert divergent inflationary impacts to those from early 2016…
“Inflationary biases evolve significantly over time… Liquidity will tend to further inflate the already inflating asset class(s); ‘hot money’ will chase the hottest speculative Bubble. Inflationary surges in Credit growth can, as well, have profoundly different impacts depending on inflationary expectations, economic structure and the nature of financial flows.
“I would argue that Chinese officials today face a more daunting task of containing mounting financial leverage and imbalances than just a few months ago. The clock continues to tick, with rising odds that Beijing will be forced to take the types of forceful measures that risk an accident.”
These inflationary risks threaten Trump, more than the unlikely prospect of impeachment. He has been consistent in warning that whomsoever won this Presidential election, would, sooner or later, face a financial crisis – and then possibly a concomitant social crisis. Like most revolutions, Trump’s revolution cannot afford to stand still: if it cannot, or does not, go forward, it will go backwards. We will return to the past. Trump, no doubt, grasps this.
Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.
Opponents of the Trump administration have generally accepted as fact the common theme across mainstream media that aides to Donald Trump were involved in some kind of illicit communications with the Russian government that has compromised the independence of the administration from Russian influence.
But close analysis of the entire series of leaks reveals something else that is equally sinister in its implications: an unprecedented campaign by Obama administration intelligence officials, relying on innuendo rather than evidence, to exert pressure on Trump to abandon any idea of ending the New Cold War and to boost the campaign to impeach Trump.
A brazen and unprecedented intervention in domestic U.S. politics by the intelligence community established the basic premise of the cascade of leaks about alleged Trump aides’ shady dealing with Russia. Led by CIA Director John Brennan, the CIA, FBI and NSA issued a 25-page assessment on Jan. 6 asserting for the first time that Russia had sought to help Trump win the election.
Brennan had circulated a CIA memo concluding that Russia had favored Trump and had told CIA staff that he had met separately with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director James Comey and that they had agreed on the “scope, nature and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.”
In the end, however, Clapper refused to associate himself with the document and the NSA, which agreed to do so, was only willing to express “moderate confidence” in the judgment that the Kremlin had sought to help Trump in the election. In intelligence community parlance, that meant that the NSA considered the idea the Kremlin was working to elect Trump was merely plausible, not actually supported by reliable evidence.
In fact, the intelligence community had not even obtained evidence that Russia was behind the publication by Wikileaks of the e-mails Democratic National Committee, much less that it had done so with the intention of electing Trump. Clapper had testified before Congress in mid-November and again in December that the intelligence community did not know who had provided the e-mails to WikiLeaks and when they were provided.
The claim – by Brennan with the support of Comey – that Russia had “aspired” to help Trump’s election prospects was not a normal intelligence community assessment but an extraordinary exercise of power by Brennan, Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.
Brennan and his allies were not merely providing a professional assessment of the election, as was revealed by their embrace of the the dubious dossier compiled by a private intelligence firm hired by one of Trump’s Republican opponents and later by the Clinton campaign for the specific purpose of finding evidence of illicit links between Trump and the Putin regime.
When the three intelligence agencies gave the classified version of their report to senior administration officials in January they appended a two-page summary of the juiciest bits from that dossier – including claims that Russian intelligence had compromising information about Trump’s personal behavior while visiting Russia. The dossier was sent, along with the assessment that Russia was seeking to help Trump get elected, to senior administration officials as well as selected Congressional leaders.
Among the claims in the private intelligence dossier that was summarized for policymakers was the allegation of a deal between the Trump campaign and the Putin government involving full Trump knowledge of the Russian election help and a Trump pledge – months before the election – to sideline the Ukraine issue once in office. The allegation – devoid of any verifiable information – came entirely from an unidentified “Russian emigre” claiming to be a Trump insider, without any evidence provided of the source’s actual relationship to the Trump camp or of his credibility as a source.
After the story of the two-page summary leaked to the press, Clapper publicly expressed “profound dismay” about the leak and said the intelligence community “has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable,” nor did it rely on it any way for our conclusions.”
One would expect that acknowledgment to be followed by an admission that he should not have circulated it outside the intelligence community at all. But instead Clapper then justified having passed on the summary as providing policymakers with “the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”
By that time, U.S. intelligence agencies had been in possession of the material in the dossier for several months. It was their job to verify the information before bringing it to the attention of policymakers.
A former U.S. intelligence official with decades of experience dealing with the CIA as well other intelligence agencies, who insisted on anonymity because he still has dealings with U.S. government agencies, told this writer that he had never heard of the intelligence agencies making public unverified information on a U.S. citizen.
“The CIA has never played such a open political role,” he said.
The CIA has often tilted its intelligence assessment related to a potential adversary in the direction desired by the White House or the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but this is the first time that such a slanted report impinges not only on domestic politics but is directed at the President himself.
The egregious triple abuse of the power in publishing a highly partisan opinion on Russia and Trump’s election, appending raw and unverified private allegations impugning Trump’s loyalty and then leaking that fact to the media begs the question of motive. Brennan, who initiated the whole effort, was clearly determined to warn Trump not to reverse the policy toward Russia to which the CIA and other national security organizations were firmly committed.
A few days after the leak of the two-page summary, Brennan publicly warned Trump about his policy toward Russia. In an interview on Fox News, he said, “I think Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions that it’s taken in the past number of years is a road that he, I think, needs to be very, very careful about moving down.”
Graham Fuller, who was a CIA operations officer for 20 years and was also National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East for four years in the Reagan administration, observed in an e-mail, that Brennan, Clapper and Comey “might legitimately fear Trump as a loose cannon on the national scene,” but they are also “dismayed at any prospect that the official narrative against Russia could start falling apart under Trump, and want to maintain the image of constant and dangerous Russian intervention into affairs of state.”
Flynn in the Bull’s Eye
As Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn presented an easy target for a campaign to portray the Trump team as being in Putin’s pocket. He had already drawn heavy criticism not only by attending a Moscow event celebrating the Russian television RT in 2016 but sitting next to Putin and accepting a fee for speaking at the event. More importantly, however, Flynn had argued that the United States and Russia could and should cooperate in their common interest of defeating Islamic State militants.
That idea was anathema to the Pentagon and the CIA. Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had attacked Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating a Syrian ceasefire that included a provision for coordination of efforts against Islamic State. The official investigation of the U.S. attack on Syrian forces on Sept. 17 turned up evidence that CENTCOM had deliberately targeted the Syrian military sites with the intention of sabotaging the ceasefire agreement.
The campaign to bring down Flynn began with a leak from a “senior U.S. government official” to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about the now-famous phone conversation between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on Dec. 29. In his column on the leak, Ignatius avoided making any explicit claim about the conversation. Instead, he asked “What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?”
And referring to the Logan Act, the 1799 law forbidding a private citizen from communicating with a foreign government to influence a “dispute” with the United States, Ignatius asked, “Was its spirit violated?”
The implications of the coy revelation of the Flynn conversation with Kislyak were far-reaching. Any interception of a communication by the NSA or the FBI has always been considered one of the most highly classified secrets in the U.S. intelligence universe of secrets. And officers have long been under orders to protect the name of any American involved in any such intercepted communication at all costs.
But the senior official who leaked the story of Flynn-Kislyak conversation to Ignatius – obviously for a domestic political purpose – did not feel bound by any such rule. That leak was the first move in a concerted campaign of using such leaks to suggest that Flynn had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions with Kislyak in an effort to undermine Obama administration policy.
The revelation brought a series of articles about denials by the Trump transition team, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, that Flynn had, in fact, discussed sanctions with Kislyak and continued suspicions that Trump’s aides were covering up the truth. But the day after Trump was inaugurated, the Post itself reported that the FBI had begun in late December go back over all communications between Flynn and Russian officials and “had not found evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government….”
Two weeks later, however, the Post reversed its coverage of the issue, publishing a story citing “nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls,” as saying that Flynn had “discussed sanctions” with Kislyak.
The story said Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak was “interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.”
The Post did not refer to its own previous reporting of the FBI’s unambiguous view contradicting that claim, which suggested strongly that the FBI was trying to head off a plan by Brennan and Clapper to target Flynn. But it did include a crucial caveat on the phrase “discussed sanctions” that few readers would have noticed. It revealed that the phrase was actually an “interpretation” of the language that Flynn had used. In other words, what Flynn actually said was not necessarily a literal reference to sanctions at all.
Only a few days later, the Post reported a new development: Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on Jan. 24 – four days after Trump’s inauguration – and had denied that he discussed sanctions in the conversation. But prosecutors were not planning to charge Flynn with lying, according to several officials, in part because they believed he would be able to “parse the definition of the word ‘sanctions’.” That implied that the exchange was actually focused not on sanctions per se but on the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.
Just hours before his resignation on Feb. 13, Flynn claimed in an interview with the Daily Caller that he had indeed referred only to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.
“It wasn’t about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys who were thrown out,” Flynn said. “It was basically, ‘Look, I know this happened. We’ll review everything.’ I never said anything such as, ‘We’re going to review sanctions,’ or anything like that.”
The Russian Blackmail Ploy
Even as the story of the Flynn’s alleged transgression in the conversation with the Russian Ambassador was becoming a political crisis for Donald Trump, yet another leaked story surfaced that appeared to reveal a shocking new level of the Trump administration’s weakness toward Russia.
The Post reported on Feb. 13 that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, had decided in late January – after discussions with Brennan, Clapper and FBI Director James Comey in the last days of the Obama administration – to inform the White House Counsel Donald McGahn in late January that Flynn had lied to other Trump administration officials – including Vice President Mike Pence – in denying that he discussed sanctions with Kislyak. The Post cited “current and former officials” as the sources.
That story, repeated and amplified by many other news media, led to Flynn’s downfall later that same day. But like all of the other related leaks, the story revealed more about the aims of the leakers than about links between Trump’s team and Russia.
The centerpiece of the new leak was that the former Obama administration officials named in the story had feared that “Flynn put himself in a compromising position” in regard to his account of the conversation with Kislyak to Trump members of the Trump transition.
Yates had told the White House that Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail because of the discrepancies between his conversation with the Ambassador and his story to Pence, according to the Post story.
But once again the impression created by the leak was very different from the reality behind it. The idea that Flynn had exposed himself to a potential Russian blackmail threat by failing to tell Pence exactly what had transpired in the conversation was fanciful in the extreme.
Even assuming that Flynn had flatly lied to Pence about what he had said in the meeting – which was evidently not the case – it would not have given the Russians something to hold over Flynn, first because it was already revealed publicly and second, because the Russian interest was to cooperate with the new administration.
The ex-Obama administration leakers were obviously citing that clumsy (and preposterous) argument as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of the new administration. The Post’s sources also claimed that “Pence had a right to know that he had been misled….” True or not, it was, of course, none of their business.
Pity for Pence
The professed concern of the Intelligence Community and Justice Department officials that Pence deserved the full story from Flynn was obviously based on political considerations, not some legal principle. Pence was a known supporter of the New Cold War with Russia, so the tender concern for Pence not being treated nicely coincided with a strategy of dividing the new administration along the lines of policy toward Russia.
All indications are that Trump and other insiders knew from the beginning exactly what Flynn had actually said in the conversation, but that Flynn had given Pence a flat denial about discussing sanctions without further details.
On Feb. 13, when Trump was still trying to save Flynn, the National Security Adviser apologized to Pence for “inadvertently” having failed to give him a complete account, including his reference to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats. But that was not enough to save Flynn’s job.
The divide-and-conquer strategy, which led to Flynn’s ouster, was made effective because the leakers had already created a political atmosphere of great suspicion about Flynn and the Trump White House as having had illicit dealings with the Russians. The normally pugnacious Trump chose not to respond to the campaign of leaks with a detailed, concerted defense. Instead, he sacrificed Flynn before the end of the very day the Flynn “blackmail” story was published.
But Trump appears to have underestimated the ambitions of the leakers. The campaign against Flynn had been calculated in part to weaken the Trump administration and ensure that the new administration would not dare to reverse the hardline policy of constant pressure on Putin’s Russia.
Many in Washington’s political elite celebrated the fall of Flynn as a turning point in the struggle to maintain the existing policy orientation toward Russia. The day after Flynn was fired the Post’s national political correspondent, James Hohmann, wrote that the Flynn “imbroglio” would now make it “politically untenable for Trump to scale back sanctions to Moscow” because the “political blowback from hawkish Republicans in Congress would be too intense….”
But the ultimate target of the campaign was Trump himself. As neoconservative journalist Eli Lake put it, “Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.”
Susan Hennessey, a well-connected former lawyer in the National Security Agency’s Office of General Counsel who writes the Lawfare blog at the Brookings Institution, agreed. “Trump may think Flynn is the sacrificial lamb,” she told The Guardian, “but the reality is that he is the first domino. To the extent the administration believes Flynn’s resignation will make the Russia story go away, they are mistaken.”
The Phony “Constant Contacts” Story
No sooner had Flynn’s firing been announced than the next phase of the campaign of leaks over Trump and Russia began. On Feb. 14, CNN and the New York Times published slight variants of the same apparently scandalous story of numerous contacts between multiple members of the Trump camp with the Russian at the very time the Russians were allegedly acting to influence the election.
There was little subtlety in how mainstream media outlets made their point. CNN’s headline was, “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign.” The Times headline was even more sensational: “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.”
But the attentive reader would soon discover that the stories did not reflect those headlines. In the very first paragraph of the CNN story, those “senior Russian officials” became “Russians known to U.S. intelligence,” meaning that it included a wide range Russians who are not officials at all but known or suspected intelligence operatives in business and other sectors of society monitored by U.S. intelligence. A Trump associate dealing with such individuals would have no idea, of course, that they are working for Russian intelligence.
The Times story, on the other hand, referred to the Russians with whom Trump aides were said to be in contact last year as “senior Russian intelligence officials,” apparently glossing over a crucial distinction that sources had made to CNN between intelligence officials and Russians being monitored by U.S. intelligence.
But the Times story acknowledged that the Russian contacts also included government officials who were not intelligence officials and that the contacts had been made not only by Trump campaign officials but also associates of Trump who had done business in Russia. It further acknowledged it was “not unusual” for American business to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly in Russia and Ukraine, where “spy services are deeply embedded in society.”
Even more important, however, the Times story made it clear that the intelligence community was seeking evidence that Trump’s aides or associates were colluding with the Russians on the alleged Russian effort to influence the election, but that it had found no evidence of any such collusion. CNN failed to report that crucial element of the story.
The headlines and lead paragraphs of both stories, therefore, should have conveyed the real story: that the intelligence community had sought evidence of collusion by Trump aides with Russia but had not found it several months after reviewing the intercepted conversations and other intelligence.
Unwitting Allies of the War Complex?
Former CIA Director Brennan and other former Obama administration intelligence officials have used their power to lead a large part of the public to believe that Trump had conducted suspicious contacts with Russian officials without having the slightest evidence to support the contention that such contacts represent a serious threat to the integrity of the U.S. political process.
Many people who oppose Trump for other valid reasons have seized on the shaky Russian accusations because they represent the best possibility for ousting Trump from power. But ignoring the motives and the dishonesty behind the campaign of leaks has far-reaching political implications. Not only does it help to establish a precedent for U.S. intelligence agencies to intervene in domestic politics, as happens in authoritarian regimes all over the world, it also strengthens the hand of the military and intelligence bureaucracies who are determined to maintain the New Cold War with Russia.
Those war bureaucracies view the conflict with Russia as key to the continuation of higher levels of military spending and the more aggressive NATO policy in Europe that has already generated a gusher of arms sales that benefits the Pentagon and its self-dealing officials.
Progressives in the anti-Trump movement are in danger of becoming an unwitting ally of those military and intelligence bureaucracies despite the fundamental conflict between their economic and political interests and the desires of people who care about peace, social justice and the environment.
Palestinian lawyers call for investigation of police minister as survey shows soaring levels of anti-Arab speech on Hebrew social media
By Jonathan Cook • Middle Eastern Eye • February 25, 2017
Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens are facing a tidal wave of incitement and hate speech on social media, including from government ministers, community leaders have warned.
They say the increasingly hostile political climate in Israel is stoking violence from the police and street gangs, and has laid the ground for a recent raft of racist legislative proposals.
The alert comes as a group of Palestinian lawyers demand that Israel’s attorney general investigates Gilad Erdan, the internal security minister, for incitement to racism.
Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s Palestinian minority, highlighted statements from Erdan blaming Palestinian citizens for “arson terrorism” last November after forest fires swept the country, despite their having been no prosecutions.
“Israel has experienced arson terrorism and I won’t let anyone sweep this fact under the rug,” he wrote on Facebook in December. “Why does it seem unrealistic that Arabs would attempt to harm Jews?”
Adalah argued Erdan’s comments were part of a wider government strategy to portray Palestinian citizens, about 20 per cent of Israel’s population, as a “fifth column”.
Although other government ministers had incited, the group said, Erdan’s statements were especially harmful because of his role overseeing the police. Adalah said he was bolstering a police culture that already treated Palestinian citizens as an “enemy within”.
“Incitement from Erdan is dangerous because it reinforces and sanctions existing prejudices in the police,” Nadim Shehadeh, a lawyer with Adalah, told Middle East Eye. “As a result, the police are likely to have an even lighter finger on the trigger.”
Concern about the effects of incitement from leading politicians has been underscored by a survey published this month that found rocketing levels of online abuse from Israeli Jews against Palestinians.
7amleh, an organisation promoting social media rights for Palestinians, identified 675,000 posts in Hebrew last year expressing racism or hatred towards Palestinians – one every 46 seconds, and more than double the previous year’s figure.
“There are terrifying levels of hate speech online from Israeli Jews,” Nadim Nashef, 7amleh’s director, told MEE. “No one in Israel – politicians, the police, the courts and the social media companies – has shown any interest in doing something about it.
“But it’s worse than that. The politicians are fuelling the problem. It has become completely normal in Israel to incite against Palestinians. You find it everywhere. It is entirely mainstream.”
The research identified more than 50,000 Hebrew speakers as persistent offenders on social media, especially Facebook, said Nashef. Spikes in online abuse correlated with incitement from Israeli politicians and the media, he added.
Popular terms of abuse included threats to kill, rape, burn, expel, and assault Palestinians.
Both Adalah and 7amleh said incitement from Israeli Jews was rarely investigated or prosecuted. Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, on the other hand, had their accounts closed or were arrested and jailed over less serious online activity.
7amleh said its research showed that the brunt of online abuse was directed at leading Palestinian politicians in Israel.
The most common targets were Haneen Zoabi, one of only two Palestinian women in the parliament, and Ahmed Tibi, a former adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, 7amleh said. Both Zoabi and Tibi have reported regular death threats.
According to the survey, they received more online abuse than the leader of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas.
“When we are targeted rather than the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories, a clear message is sent to the [Jewish] public that we have no place in the parliament and those we represent have no right to be citizens,” Zoabi told MEE.
She said dozens of Palestinian citizens had died in unexplained circumstances at the hands of the police in the last 15 years.
Zoabi also pointed to the increasing reports of gangs chanting “Death to the Arabs!” in Israeli cities and Jerusalem, as well as a growing incidence of street assaults.
Polls have shown high levels of racial prejudice among Israeli Jews. A survey last year found 49 per cent would not live in the same building as a Palestinian citizen.
Another showed a similar number of 16 and 17-year-olds would deny Palestinian citizens the right to vote.
Adalah said constant incitement from government politicians had made possible the drafting of ever-more discriminatory and anti-democratic legislation.
Shehadeh noted that recent laws allowed the parliament to expel the minority’s legislators over their views, and hampered the work of human rights groups assisting Palestinians.
Zoabi agreed. “Every week we see bills being introduced, such as a ban on the mosque call to prayer, or moves to step up home demolitions in Palestinian communities. The political culture sanctions ever more violence through legislation.”
Nashef said a turning point in the levels of incitement could be traced to comments by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the last general election, in early 2015. Netanyahu posted a video on Facebook telling the Jewish public it was vital they voted because “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls”.
“When the prime minister talks like this, then everyone else understands that it is okay to do it too,” Nashef said.
7amleh’s survey showed a significant peak of online incitement and hate speech last November, as hundreds of fires broke out across Israel and the occupied territories, triggered by a prolonged drought and high winds.
Despite the exceptional weather conditions, Erdan led government ministers in accusing Palestinians, especially those in Israel, of being behind the fires.
Adalah cited Erdan’s Facebook post from early December. Dozens of Palestinian citizens were arrested by police, but none have been charged with “nationalist crimes” over the fires.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu has continued to make similar accusations, stating last month: “That fact that we can’t prove it [that the fires were terrorism] doesn’t mean it’s not what happened.”
Nashef said: “These inciteful statements garner a lot of media attention and our research shows they have a powerful impact in shaping public attitudes. But few notice when they turn out to be based on lies or misinformation.”
Adalah also cited comments by Erdan justifying the fatal shooting of Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan by police last month during a demolition operation in Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin community in Israel’s south.
A police video and post-mortem examination report indicated that Abu al-Qiyan lost control of his car after he was shot, and careered into a group of policemen, killing one of them.
According to Israeli media, a justice ministry report – due to published next month – has found no evidence that Abu al-Qiyan carried out an attack or belonged to an extremist organisation.
Nonetheless, said Shehadeh, Erdan and other government ministers repeatedly accused Abu al-Qiyan, without evidence, of being an Islamic State terrorist.
Erdan tweeted hours after the two deaths: “The terrorist sharply turned his wheel and quickly accelerated in order to run over a group of police officers.”
Netanyahu’s office similarly described the incident as a “car-ramming attack”. Implying that Abu al-Qiyan was part of global trend of Islamic terrorism, Netanyahu said Israel and the world were “fighting this murderous phenomenon”.
Adalah’s letter to the attorney general also pointed out that Erdan had repeatedly blamed the deaths in Umm al-Hiran on Palestinian legislators there to protest against the demolitions. Erdan singled out Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, the Palestinian coalition in the parliament.
In comments to the media, he said: “Ayman Odeh and the rest of the MKs from the Arab [sic] List who have come to enflame sentiments this morning: This blood is also on your hands. … You are a disgrace to the State of Israel.”
In Umm al-Hiran, Odeh was himself injured twice, including to the head, by sponge-tipped bullets fired at him by police.
Problem with Facebook
Nashef criticised Facebook, where most of the online hate speech was found, for contributing to the problem.
Last summer Facebook agreed to crack down on what Israel defines as incitement by Palestinians. Paradoxically, Erdan was the minister who met the tech companies.
According to reports, in the first half of 2016, a tenth of all content restrictions imposed by Facebook globally were at the Israeli government’s behest.
But Nashef said nothing was being done to deal with incitement and hate speech from the Jewish public.
“It is not reasonable that large numbers of Palestinians have their accounts shut down or are arrested and jailed for online hate speech, while Israeli Jews can engage in the same or worse activity and there are no consequences,” he said.
Neither the justice or police ministries were available for comment.
7amleh said the biggest peak in online abuse followed the arrest last March of army medic Elor Azaria. He was filmed executing a badly wounded Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. This week he was sentenced to 18 months’ jail for manslaughter.
Several government ministers, including Netanyahu, expressed strong support for Azaria.
The survey showed another outburst of online abuse followed attacks last September by the culture minister, Miri Regev, against two Palestinian cultural icons.
She described the late national poet Mahmoud Darwish as the “leader of the Palestinian industry of lies”, and accused a popular rapper, Tamer Nafar, of giving “legitimacy to terrorism”.