The major influential western print media are engaged in a prolonged, large-scale effort to demonize Russian President Putin, his politics and persona. There is an article (or several articles) every day in which he is personally stigmatized as a dictator, authoritarian, czar, ‘former KGB operative’ and Soviet-style ruler; anything but the repeatedly elected President of Russia.
He is accused of hijacking Russia from the ‘road to democracy’, as pursued by his grotesquely corrupt predecessor Boris Yeltsin; of directing the bloody repression of the ‘freedom loving Chechens’; of jailing innocent, independent, and critical oligarchs and robber barons; of fomenting an uprising in the ‘democratic, newly pro-Western’ Ukraine and seizing control of Crimea; of backing a ‘bloody tyrant’ in Syria (elected President Bashar Assad) in a civil war against ISIS terrorists; of running the Russian economy into the ground; and of militarily threatening the Baltic and Eastern European NATO member countries.
In a word, the media have propagated an image of an ‘out-of-control autocrat’, who makes a mockery of ‘democratic’ norms and ‘Western values’, and who seeks to revive the ‘Soviet (aka Evil) Empire’.
The corollary is that ‘Western powers’, despite their peace-loving propensities and fraternal attempts to bring Russia into the democratic ‘fold’, have been ‘forced’ to now surround Russia with NATO military bases and missiles; to finance a violent coup in the Ukraine (on Russia’s frontier) and arm the Ukrainian putsch government and neo-fascist militias to ‘restore democracy’ and violently suppress ethnic Russian ‘separatists’ in Eastern Ukraine. We are told that US and EU sanctions against Russia were carefully crafted ‘diplomatic’ measures designed to punish the Moscow ‘aggressor’.
In reality, the Western media has relentlessly demonized Vladimir Putin in a campaign to further NATO military expansion and undermine the Russian economy and its national security. The goal is ultimately to force a ‘regime change’, restoring the neo-liberal elites who had pillaged Russia’s economy during the 1990s and whose brutal economic policies led to the premature death of over 6 million Russians due to deprivation and the collapse of the healthcare system.
Putin: Demon or Realist, Autocrat or Democrat, Vassal or Independent Leader?
The Western media has backed every oligarch, gangster, and fraudster who has gone on trial and been convicted during Putin’s term in office. The propagandists tell us the reason for this affinity between the Western media and the gangster-oligarchs is that these convicted felons, who claim to be ‘political dissidents’ and critics of Putin’s rule, have been dispossessed, and jailed for upholding ‘Western values’.
The Western media conveniently ignore the well-documented studies on the source of the gangster-oligarchs’ wealth: The violent and illegal seizure of multi-billion dollars-worth of natural resources (aluminum, oil and gas), banks, factories, pension funds and real estate. During the Yeltsin period the oligarchs controlled thousands of armed gangsters and engaged in internal warfare during which thousands were killed, including top government regulators, police officials and journalists who dared to oppose or expose their pillage and property grabs.
Putin’s prosecution of a mere fraction of the most notorious oligarch-gangsters has won the support of the vast majority of Russian citizens because it represents a return to law and order and the return of stolen public wealth.
Only the Western media has dared to refer to these convicted felons as ‘political victims and reformers’. They did so because the oligarchs had become the most loyal and submissive assets in the US and EU governments’ efforts to convert Russia into an irreversibly weak vassal state.
The Western media constantly refer to President Putin as the ‘authoritarian ruler’, despite the fact that he has been repeatedly elected by large majorities in competitive elections against Western backed and funded candidates. His popularity is attested to by opinion polls conducted by Western agencies.
In 2015, President Putin’s support soared to over 85%. The pro-Western Russian neo-liberal politicians scored in the low single digits according to the same independent polls.
Clearly the Russian public does not want to return to the poverty and chaos of the Western-backed gangster politics of the 1990s.
Whatever reservations working and middle class Russians have over President Putin’s style of decision-making, they clearly value his crackdown on gangster-controlled elections, Chechen terrorism, and his restoration of Russian military defense of its frontiers, including the annexation of Crimea, following the US-engineered coup in Ukraine.
Every day, the Western media recycle reports of the ‘decline and demise’ of the Russian economy, blaming ‘statist’ mismanagement of the economy by Putin. They claim ‘declining living standards’, the ‘negative growth’ of the economy and the ‘growing isolation’ of an ‘expansionist’ Russia in the face of Western sanctions.
These media claims are laughable. Readily available data demonstrate that living standards of the vast majority of Russian citizens have significantly increased under President Putin’s administration, especially after the utter collapse under the free marketers of the 1990s. Russian workers receive their pay, pensioners their pensions, enterprises their loans – on time. During the ‘free market’ days of Boris Yeltsin, workers went up to a year without pay, pensioners were selling their heirlooms in the street to survive and enterprises paid extortionate interest rates to oligarch-gangster controlled banks! Comparative data, easily obtained, are deliberately ignored by the mass media because it doesn’t fit the demonological narrative.
The mass media present the neo-liberal ‘opposition’ and ‘liberal critics’ as Russian democrats defending ‘Western values’. They forget to mention that these ‘liberal critics’ have been directly funded by Western foundations (National Endowment for Democracy, Soros Foundation, etc.) and Russian non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) with longstanding ties to US and EU governments, intelligence agencies and exiled Russian billionaires. The so-called ‘Russian’ democratic opposition revealed their abject servility to Western interests when they openly supported the Ukrainian coup and Kiev’s bloody assault on ethnic Russian-Ukrainians in the eastern ‘Donbas’ regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa. Whatever shreds of respectability and credibility the ‘democratic opposition’ retained with the Russian public, up to that point, was lost. They were seen for what they are: propaganda arms of Western imperialism and mouth-pieces for neo-fascists.
The Western mass media charge Putin’s government with the same crimes that their own governments commit. After the US State Department’s Victoria Nuland admitted to channeling $5 billion to fund the 2014 coup in Ukraine and after the Polish regime boasted of training far right street fighters, whose mob violence served as a pretext for the coup, and after neo-fascist coalition partners in Odessa of burned alive four dozen ethnic Russian-Ukrainian citizens opposed to the coup, the Western mass media accused Putin of ‘intervening’ in Ukraine. This was because Russia had convoked a referendum in Crimea, in which over 80% of the electorate voted to secede from the illegitimate Ukrainian coup regime and rejoin Russia.
In truth, the Putin government is a victim of the Western power grab in the Ukraine, with Russia having to absorb hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russian refugees driven out of the Donbas, yet the Western media portray Putin as the executioner. Meanwhile the Western coup-makers and their far-right allies are depicted as victims… forced to bomb and decimate the Donbas region.
The charade continued. The Western media portray the subsequent punitive, economic sanctions imposed by the expansionist US and EU on Russia as a result of Putin’s ‘aggression’, referring to Russia’s defense of Crimea’s self-determination and the rights of the millions of bilingual ethnic Russian citizens of Ukraine.
The absurdity and convoluted nature of Western demonological propaganda has reached new even more bizarre heights with their hysteria against Russia’s military support of the secular Syrian government against ISIS and other jihadi terrorists.
The Western mass media have launched a global campaign charging that the Russian air force bombs ‘non-ISIS military bases’, presumably the bases of Western-backed ‘friendly’ jihadi terrorists. This ridiculous ‘reportage’ and its accompanying ‘photos’ were published before the Russian air strikes even took place!!
Apparently timing doesn’t matter in Washington’s ‘alternative universe of lies’!
NATO passed its political line to the media that Russian support for the legitimate regime of President Assad must be discredited; that the Russian presence is ‘provocative’ and responsible for ‘creating tensions’ in the region – after years of Western-sponsored jihadi terrorism against Syria!
Obedient to its masters, the Western media breathlessly ‘reported’ that the Russians were ‘really’ engaged in Syria in order destroy the pro-Western ‘fighters’, leaving ISIS alone.
No credible evidence for this propaganda was ever presented. They trotted out aerial photos of wreckage, which had likely been lifted from previous US bombings.
The media’s clumsy execution of the Pentagon’s line managed to embarrass even the US Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, who backed off of such claims and called for an explanation from Russia. Even Secretary Kerry, who now seeks to secure Putin’s military support for the US against ISIS while withdrawing Russia’s political backing of President Assad, has cautioned the media to modify its line, now that the US favors ‘greater coordination’ with Russia — but under US leadership. The media has recently conformed to this line, although it has not managed to explain how Washington could now work with the demonic President Putin.
Western media is engaged in an intense long-term propaganda campaign to demonize President Putin. Its role is to convince world public opinion and world leaders to blindly follow the US and EU, as well as their ‘allies’ and vassal states, in a campaign to degrade and undermine Russia, and consolidate a unipolar empire under US tutelage.
The Western mass media is important; but it must be remembered that the media is an instrument of imperial state power. Its lies and fabrications, its demonization of leaders, like President Putin, are one part of a global military offensive to establish dominance and to destroy adversaries.
The more intense the imperial campaign, the riskier the power grab, the greater the need to demonize the victims.
This explains how the escalation of the rabid anti-Putin propaganda campaign coincides with the single biggest Western power grab — the Ukraine coup (‘regime change’) — since West Germany annexed East Germany, and NATO and the EU incorporated the Baltic States, Eastern Europe and the Balkans into the West’s strategic alliance. The West’s bloody break-up of the Yugoslav federation was part of this strategic program.
The problem with the Western demonization of adversaries, whether it is Russia, Iran and China today, or earlier Cuba, Libya and Yemen in the past, is that Washington and the EU face severe economic crises at home and military defeats abroad by armed Islamic and nationalist resistance movements.
The US had invested hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up a shaky puppet regime in US-occupied Iraq, yet the US-trained and supplied Iraqi Army fled as the Baathist-Islamist ‘ISIS’ quickly over-ran half the country.
US troops have occupied Afghanistan for fourteen years, losing tens of thousands of lives and limbs and yet the nationalist-Islamist Taliban can easily take over Afghanistan’s third largest city, Kunduz (population 300,000), and occupies three quarters of the rest of the countryside.
Libya and Somalia are a disaster. And still Washington allocates a half billion dollars to train pro-Western mercenaries to overthrow Syria’s President Assad – mercenaries who give up their arms or join ISIS the moment they cross the border from Jordan or Turkey. The US trained mercenaries have handed over untold millions of dollars worth of heavy and light weapons and armored carriers to ISIS and Al Qaeda. The EU and the US face the dismal reality that Libya, Somalia and Syria are over-run by anti-Western Islamic fighters.
In Asia, China is demonized in the Western media, portrayed as being on the verge of collapse, facing a hard landing, even as China grows at 7%. The Western media wring their collective hands over the crisis in China while Beijing finances two new international development banks for $100 billion, raises its contribution to the IMF and brings 50 countries, including most of the EU but minus the US and Japan, into a new infrastructure lending institution.
Two big questions face the US and EU:
Why do the Western media launch a campaign of demonization that doesn’t correspond to reality? What is the goal of such demonization, which objectively undermines the possibility of forming tactical alliances to end the US’ military losses, political defeats and diplomatic isolation? The US needs Russia to defeat ISIS.
For Moscow, the fight against ISIS is crucial to Russian national security: thousands of Chechen terrorists (some trained by the US) are fighting with ISIS and threaten to return to the Caucuses and terrorize Russia. Unlike the US public’s opposition to Washington’s role in forcing ‘regime change’ in Syria, the Russian public supports Moscow’s military support for the Syrian government because the Chechens’ campaign of terror within Russia, especially the 2004 massacre of hundreds of school children, teachers, and parents in Beslan, is seared into their memory – a fact conveniently ignored by Western media when it ‘sympathizes’ with Chechen ‘freedom fighters’.
In reality, Washington should have a common interest to ally with Russia in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. However Obama is committed to ousting Assad (Russia’s ally) to expand US dominance in the Middle East in partnership with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Clearly there are insurmountable contradictions between short-term military objectives (fighting ISIS) and strategic imperial political imperatives (consolidating US-Israeli hegemony over the Middle East and Iran).
Washington has moved to end its isolation in Latin America by re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Meanwhile, Washington retains the economic blockade of Cuba and its huge US military base in Guantanamo. Cuba is seen as a tactical political ally in ‘moderating’ the leftist government of Venezuela and pressuring the Colombian FARC to disarm, even as Washington deepens its military presence in the continent.
Obama signed off on a nuclear agreement with Iran (but the crippling sanctions and blockade remain in place) in order to secure Tehran’s support for the war against ISIS in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Temporarily, the Western mass media has ‘toned-down’ its demonological reporting on Iran and Cuba, for tactical purposes.
The Obama regime has adopted a ‘good cop/bad cop’ (or schizophrenic) posture with Russia on Syria – Secretary of State John Kerry speaks of joint co-operation with Moscow while Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter proposes to militarily confront ‘Russian aggression’. The media hasn’t made the switch because they don’t know which orders to obey or which line to ‘parrot’.
In the meantime, the domestic economic crisis deepens, ISIS advances, the Taliban approaches Kabul, the Russians are arming and defending President Assad and millions of refugees, fleeing the war zones, have over- run Europe. European border wars are raging. And Obama wrings his hands in impotence. Demonology offers no allies, no solutions and no positive path to peace and co-existence.
When the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was attacked on Oct. 3 by a U.S. AC-130 gunship, it was not a unique event. Hospitals have come under fire during conflicts presided over by the two previous presidents as well as Barack Obama.
The Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a signatory, prohibits the targeting of hospitals. “Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict,” according to the treaty.
After the Kunduz attack, U.S. officials at first said Afghan forces had been taking fire from the building. Obama later apologized for the attack in which 22 patients and staff members were killed. Médecins Sans Frontières has called the attack a war crime and wants an independent investigation.
Hospitals also came under fire during the Iraq War under the George W. Bush administration. U.S. planes bombed a Baghdad maternity hospital in 2003, according to ThinkProgress. Several people were killed in the attack and 27 injured.
Nor were hospitals safe under Bill Clinton’s watch. NATO forces bombed a hospital in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1999, killing four. Technical problems were blamed for the attack. Also that year in Nis, Serbia, NATO dropped cluster bombs on an outdoor market and neighboring hospital, killing three in the hospital.
In 1993, U.S. and Turkish forces bombed the largest hospital in Mogadishu, Serbia, where Médecins Sans Frontières was working. Three patients were killed. The United Nations said the hospital was attacked because it was being used as a hideout by forces loyal to Gen. Mohammad Farah Aidid, the Somali military commander who had taken over the government in a coup.
Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières
US/NATO planes bombed a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan on Saturday. The attack lasted an hour, and continued even after medics “frantically phoned NATO and Washington” to tell them what they were bombing.
It was no use. The attackers already knew full well what their target was. Doctors Without Borders had long ago provided them with the GPS coordinates of their facilities. And the US-installed Afghan government, which had raided that very same hospital in July of this year, had requested the strike, claiming the hospital was being used by insurgents.
The attack killed 22 people, including 12 medical workers and 10 patients. Three of the patients were children. The first bombardment targeted the Intensive Care Unit, where an eyewitness nurse said, “Patients were burning in their beds.” And a hospital caretaker said that he could hear women and children, “screaming for help inside the hospital while it was set ablaze by the bombing.”
Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. President Obama was awarded his in 2009. As Commander-in-Chief of the military that bombed the Doctors Without Borders hospital, this makes Obama perhaps the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to bomb another Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Or maybe not? Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, and he masterminded the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos for President Nixon around that time. Shortly thereafter, it came to light that in that campaign, hospitals were routinely targeted for bombing. As The Nation recently reported:
“A letter from former Army captain Rowan Malphurs said that in 1969 and 1970, he analyzed aerial photographs where B-52 bombs (the ones ordered by Kissinger) fell on Cambodia: “I saw on several occasions where possible hospitals had been bombed…. On another occasion I observed a red cross on a building that was partially destroyed by bombs.”
By then, the Red Cross had already been awarded its three Nobel Peace Prizes.
Sorry, Obama, it looks like that’s one “historic first” you can’t claim. That old fox beat you to it.
If it makes you feel any better, Kissinger seems to think your mass-murder record actually beats his. (I know this will warm your heart, since you once bragged, “Turns out I’m really good at killing people.”) When confronted about bombing Cambodia on a recent book tour, Kissinger said in his own defense:
“I think we would find, if you study the conduct of guerrilla-type wars, that the Obama administration has hit more targets on a broader scale than the Nixon administration ever did. (…)
And I bet if one did an honest account, there were fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia than there have been from American drone attacks.”
Whether that dubious claim is true or not, it’s the thought that counts. Consider it a compliment: a gold star from teacher. Or even an elder statesman’s passing of the torch: from one peace-prize winning war criminal to another.
President Barack Obama is turning his back on possibly the last best chance to resolve the bloody Syrian war because he fears a backlash from Official Washington’s powerful coalition of neoconservatives and “liberal interventionists” along with their foreign fellow-travelers: Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf sheikdoms.
The route toward peace would be to collaborate with Russia and Iran to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to accept a power-sharing unity government that would fairly represent Syria’s major religious and ethnic groups – Christians, Alawites, Shiites and moderate Sunnis – along with a commitment for free, internationally monitored elections once adequate security is restored.
But for such an arrangement to work, Obama also would have to crack down aggressively on U.S. regional “allies” to ensure that they stopped funding, supplying and otherwise assisting the Sunni extremist forces including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State (or ISIS). Obama would have to confront the Sunni “allies” – including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – as well as Israel.
His pressure would have to include stern action aimed at the global finances of the Gulf states – i.e., seizing their assets as punishment for their continuing support for terrorism – as well as similar sanctions against Turkey, possibly ousting it from NATO if it balked, and a withdrawal of political and financial support for Israel if it continued helping Nusra fighters and viewing Al Qaeda as the “lesser evil” in Syria. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia and Israel.”]
Obama also would have to make it clear to Syria’s “moderate” Sunni politicians whom the U.S. government has been subsidizing for the past several years that they must sit down with Assad’s representatives and work out a unity government or the American largess would end.
This combination of strong international pressure on the Sunni terror infrastructure and strong-arming internal players in Syria into a unity government could isolate the Sunni extremists from Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and thus minimize the need for military strikes whether carried out by Russia (against both Al Qaeda and ISIS) or the U.S. coalition (focusing on ISIS).
And, the arrival of Russian military support for the Assad government – as well as the increased backing from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah – represented the moment when the prospect for peace was brightest, whatever one thinks of those various players. However, instead of working with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, President Obama chose to bend to the pressures of Official Washington.
Appeasing the Warmongers
Thinking he had stretched the tolerance of neocons and liberal hawks as far as he could by pushing through the nuclear deal with Iran, Obama fell in line behind their propagandistic denunciations of Assad and Putin. Obama’s administration joined in promoting the new favorite “group think” of Washington – that Putin had promised to only bomb the Islamic State and then reneged by attacking “moderate” rebels and their more powerful ally, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Conveniently, this storyline doesn’t cite the wording of Putin’s supposed “promise” although some articles do mention him vowing to attack “terrorist” groups, which the mainstream U.S. news media has interpreted as the Islamic State only. But this odd framing accepts the breathtaking premise that Al Qaeda is no longer a terrorist organization – apparently rehabilitated by the fact that Israel has been helping Al Qaeda’s affiliate, the Nusra Front, along the Golan Heights and prefers it to Assad’s continued rule. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Should US Ally with Al Qaeda in Syria?”]
Among the many purveyors of this “Putin lied” narrative is Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who on Tuesday repeated the canard that Putin had “promised” to strike only the Islamic State and then broke that promise. For good measure, Cohen added that the Russians had “invaded” Syria although they were formally invited by the recognized government of Syria.
“Yes, the Russians did invade,” Cohen wrote. “They sent war planes, mechanized units and even troops into Syria. They have begun bombing missions, apparently hitting insurgents seeking to topple Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and not only, as Russian President Vladimir Putin promised, Islamic State units. Putin – surprise! – lied.”
Normally in journalism, before we accuse someone of lying, we show what they actually said and contrast it with the facts. But Official Washington has long since moved Putin into the free-fire zone of demonization. Anything can be said about him, whether based in reality or not, and anyone who objects to this “group think” is called a “Putin bootlicker” or a “Putin apologist.”
Thus, any reality-based skepticism is ruled out of the frame of debate. Such was the way that the United States plunged blindly into the Iraq War in 2003 when Saddam Hussein was the demonized figure and the Europeans who warned President George W. Bush not to invade were laughed at as “Euro-weenies.” American skeptics were “Saddam apologists.”
Cohen is back at it again in his Tuesday column, which – on the Internet – has the curious title “The High Cost of Avoiding War in Syria.” Cohen throws around the word “invasion” where Russia is involved – even when there was no “invasion” – but he advocates an actual U.S. invasion with cavalier hypocrisy.
Cohen slams Obama for not having established “a no-fly zone” in Syria earlier, which would have involved the United States bombing and destroying Syria’s air force, a clear act of aggression and an obvious boon to Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Cohen also says he was for “arming the rebels,” another violation of international law which – when tried by Obama to appease the drumbeat from Cohen and his ilk – led to many U.S.-trained and U.S.-armed rebels taking their equipment and skills to Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Yet, Cohen — on the prized opinion real estate of The Washington Post’s op-ed page and in his nationally syndicated column — unapologetically encourages an illegal invasion of another country while condemning Russia for doing the same except that Russia was following international law by working with the sovereign government of Syria and therefore has not “invaded” Syria.
We also are supposed to forget that Cohen’s ideas would benefit Sunni jihadists, such as the Al Qaeda-dominated “Army of Conquest” which could use the “no-fly zones” to mount a victorious offensive to capture Damascus and create a humanitarian crisis even worse than now.
Possibly with ISIS chopping off the heads of “infidels” – Christians, Alawites, Shiites, etc. – and with Al Qaeda having a new home in the center of the Middle East to plot terror strikes on the West, Cohen’s plan might necessitate a major U.S. military intervention that would get even more people killed and deal the final death blow to the American Republic.
In evaluating Cohen’s lame-brained double-think, it is worth remembering that he was one of the many U.S. opinion leaders who cheered on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s deceptive Iraq War speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. Waving “we-love-Colin” pompoms alongside all his esteemed colleagues, Cohen laughed at anyone who still doubted that Saddam Hussein possessed hidden WMD stockpiles.
“The evidence he [Powell] presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them,” Cohen wrote. “Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.”
Ha-ha, did you get that clever line – “Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman” – pretty funny except that by heaping ridicule on those of us who doubted Powell’s evidence, Cohen contributed to the deaths of some 4,500 U.S. soldiers, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $1 trillion, and chaos now spreading across not just the Middle East but into Europe.
In a normal place where there was some modicum of accountability, you would have expected Cohen to be banished to Storage Room B with his red stapler or worse. But no, Cohen is back running with the same juvenile in-crowd, behaving just as stupidly and just as recklessly as he has many times in the past.
But the larger problem is that President Obama appears intimidated by this collection of know-it-alls who preen across the editorial pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times or who hold down prestigious “fellowships” at the Brookings Institution or other big-name think tanks or who self-identify as “human rights activists” advocating “humanitarian” wars.
Arguably, Obama has always had an outsized regard for people with establishment credentials. It is, after all, how he rose through the ranks as first an extremely bright academic and later a talented orator and politician. Without family connections or personal wealth, he needed the approval of various influential individuals. If he offended them in some way, he risked being pigeonholed as “an angry black man.”
Indeed, the comedy duo Key & Peele developed a series of funny skits with Jordan Peele playing the always proper and controlled Obama and Keegan-Michael Key as “anger translator Luther.” Obama even invited “Luther” to translate Obama’s speech to the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner, except that by the end of that talk Obama was expressing his own anger and Luther peeled away.
The problem in the real world is that Obama remains cowed by the Important People of Washington – represented in that oh-so-important crowd at the dinner – and bows to their misguided thinking.
Obama also is facing a beefed-up lobbying operation for Saudi Arabia to go along with the always formidable Israel Lobby. The Intercept reported that in September the Saudi kingdom added to its large stable of thoroughbred influence-peddlers by signing “Edelman, the largest privately owned public relations agency in the world [and] the Podesta Group … a lobbying firm founded by Tony Podesta, a major fundraiser for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.”
Indeed, the repressive Saudi kingdom may need some special P.R. help as it prepares to behead Ali Mohammed al-Nimr whose body would then be attached to a cross or otherwise displayed in a crucifixion that would leave his corpse to rot for several days as a warning to others. Al-Nimr is a Shiite who at the age of 17 in 2012 participated in a pro-democracy demonstration that was viewed as an affront to the monarchy.
The Saudis also have been waging a ruthless air war against impoverished Yemen, attacking Houthis who stem from a branch of Shia Islam which Saudi Sunni Wahhabism considers apostasy. The Saudi bombing campaign, which recently killed some 131 celebrants at a wedding inside Yemen, gets intelligence and logistical support from the Obama administration even though the slaughter of Houthis has benefited their Yemeni rivals, “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” who have gained ground behind the Saudi air offensive.
Yet, the Saudis’ P.R. battalions – along with the Israel Lobby – have kept Official Washington’s focus in other directions. Indeed, there are now so many false or dubious narratives dis-informing the capital’s “group think” that U.S. decisions are driven more by mythology than facts.
Obama could begin the process of restoring sanity to Washington by declassifying U.S. intelligence analyses on several key issues. For instance, Obama could release what’s now known about the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus.
After that attack, there was a rush to judgment at the State Department and within the mainstream U.S. news media to blame that atrocity on Assad’s forces, although I’m told that CIA analysts have since moved away from that view and now agree that the attack was likely a provocation designed to draw the U.S. military into the war on the side of the Sunni jihadists. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]
Though Obama and other officials have dropped the sarin accusations from their public speeches – harping instead on “barrel bombs” as if those homemade weapons are some uniquely evil device – Obama has refused to retract the sarin allegations which helped shape the hyper-hostile “conventional wisdom” against Assad.
Similarly, Obama has withheld U.S. intelligence information about the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, letting stand hasty accusations blaming Putin. Obama appears infatuated by the trendy concept of “strategic communications” or “Stratcom,” which blends psy-ops, propaganda and P.R. into one noxious brew to poison public opinion about one’s “enemy.”
With the recent Russian military intervention in Syria, Obama had the chance to correct the record on the sarin-gas attack and the MH-17 shoot-down but instead continued the “Stratcom” both in his United Nations speech and his news conference last Friday with more hyperbolic attacks against Assad and Putin. In doing so, Obama apparently bowed to the desired rhetoric of hardliners like U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and the editorial-page masters of The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Obama may have hoped his harsh language would appease the neocons and their liberal-hawk pals, but the tough-guy rhetoric has only opened him up to new attacks over the disparity between his words and deeds. As the clueless columnist Richard Cohen wrote, “A no-fly zone needs to be established. It is not too late to do something. By doing so little, the United States has allowed others to do so much.” [Emphasis in original.]
In other words, Cohen appears to want the U.S. military to shoot down Russian planes over Syria, even though the Russians have been invited by the recognized government to be there and the U.S. has not. The minor complication of possible human extinction from a nuclear war apparently is of little consequence when compared to the street cred that one gets from such manly talk.
For Official Washington – and apparently Obama – the peace option is regarded as unacceptable, i.e., working with Russia and Iran to achieve a power-sharing unity government in Damascus (with the promise of elections as soon as possible) along with the United States demanding from its regional “allies” a complete shutdown of assistance to the Islamic State, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and all other Sunni jihadists.
That option would require Obama and the neocon/liberal-hawk cowboys to get down off their high horses, admit they have been tossing their lasso in the wrong direction – and compromise.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
On Dec. 26, 2009, a U.S. Special Operations team flew from Kabul to Ghazi Khan village in the Narang district of Kunar province. They attacked three houses, where they killed two adults and eight children. Seven of the children were handcuffed before they were shot. The youngest was 11 or 12, three more were 12, and one was 15. Both the United Nations and the Afghan government conducted investigations and confirmed all the details of the attack.
U.S. officials conducted their own inquiry, but no report was published and no U.S. military or civilian officials were held accountable. Finally, more than five years later, a New York Times report on Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) Seal Team 6 named it as the U.S. force involved. But JSOC operations are officially secret and, to all practical purposes, immune from accountability. As a senior U.S. officer told the Times, “JSOC investigates JSOC, that’s part of the problem.”
Accountability for the U.S. attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz on Saturday, killing at least 22 people, is likely to be just as elusive. The bilateral security agreement that President Karzai refused to sign, but which President Ghani signed in September 2014, provides total immunity from Afghan law for U.S. forces and officials. So whoever should be held legally responsible for the massacre at the hospital will only be subject to accountability under U.S. military and civilian legal systems, which routinely fail to prosecute anyone for similar war crimes.
What makes this attack unique is not that U.S.-led forces attacked a hospital or killed civilians, but that, for the first time in many years, a Western NGO found itself operating behind enemy lines in territory controlled by Anti-Coalition Forces (ACF) or Taliban. Doctors Without Borders (or MSF for its French initials) thus found itself subject to U.S. rules of engagement under which Afghans have lived and died in their thousands for the past 14 years, effectively excluded from the protections formally guaranteed to civilians, the wounded and medical facilities by the Geneva Conventions.
While UN officials have condemned the attack on MSF in Kunduz, the UN itself has been complicit in the under-reporting of civilian casualties in ACF-held territory in Afghanistan. The UN has issued reports on civilian casualties based only on the small number of civilian deaths that it has fully investigated. When Western officials and media have cited these numbers as estimates of total civilian deaths in Afghanistan, the UN has failed to correct that misleading and dangerous impression.
For instance, when the UN documented 80 civilian killings in U.S. night raids in 2010, this was based on completed investigations of only 13 of the 73 incidents reported to the UN that year. Nader Nadery of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who worked on the UN report, estimated that 420 civilians were killed in all 73 incidents.
But Nadery still failed to make it clear that these 73 incidents were only the ones reported to the UN, which had little or no access to ACF-held areas that were targeted by thousands of U.S. night raids and the bulk of 5,100 U.S. air strikes in 2010. U.S. officials and the Western media have used these absurdly low estimates of civilian casualties in Afghanistan to whitewash the deadly effects of 60,000 U.S. air strikes and thousands of special forces night raids over the past 14 years.
‘War Is Not Pretty’
As a former U.S. Navy Seal told the New York Times, “War is not this pretty thing the United States has come to believe it to be.” But it is not really “the United States” that has come to see war as a “pretty thing.” Rather it is our leaders who have targeted the American public with propaganda or “Stratcom” – “strategic communications” — to disguise the horrific reality of war, while providing JSOC and other U.S. forces with secrecy and legal cover to systematically violate the Geneva Conventions.
As retired Admiral James Stavridis told the Times, “If you want these forces to do things that occasionally bend the rules of international law, you certainly don’t want that out in public.”
While U.S. forces feel free to disregard the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, the People On War survey conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that ordinary people in war-torn countries like Afghanistan hold strongly to the international legal conventions that are supposed to protect them.
This ICRC report did find the United States exceptional, not in believing war to be “pretty,” but in its failure to educate its people and its soldiers about the Geneva Conventions and the protections they guarantee to civilians in wartime.
While three-quarters of people in other developed countries knew that soldiers in war “must attack only other combatants and leave civilians alone,” only 52 percent of Americans were aware of this basic principle of military law. Twice as many Americans as people in other countries subscribed to an erroneous and lower legal standard that military operations should only “avoid civilians as much as possible.”
The ICRC concluded that, “Across a wide range of questions, in fact, American attitudes towards attacks on civilians were much more lax.”
U.S. officials claim that their air strikes are carefully designed and vetted by military lawyers and planners to ensure minimum “collateral damage,” but William Arkin discovered a dirty little secret about this process when he was invited to observe an attack on an alleged ACF leader in Afghanistan from the safety of the U.S. Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Qatar.
Arkin watched on a large TV screen as A-10 Warthog planes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a convoy of vehicles. U.S. officials explained that 1,000-pound bombs would have caused more casualties, while 150-pound Hellfire missiles might have missed their target, so the 500-pound bombs were carefully chosen to kill the target without causing unnecessary casualties.
But then one of the planes did something unexpected. It turned to make a second pass and blanketed the whole area with 30mm armor-piercing shells from its Gatling gun, which fires 65 shells per second. A “precision strike” had just turned into an indiscriminate massacre. A U.S. official quickly told Arkin that this was “not unauthorized.”
The dirty little secret Arkin had discovered was that, once such an operation is under way, special forces ground controllers in the area take full control, and the plans drawn up by lawyers and controllers far from the action no longer apply. Similar rules may have applied to the U.S. air strikes on the MSF hospital in Kunduz, making it difficult for anyone in Washington or Kabul to stop them once they were under way.
Senior U.S. military officers have told Dana Priest of the Washington Post that more than 50 percent of U.S. special forces night raids target the wrong person or house. But that didn’t stop President Obama making them a central tactic in his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, boosting the number of night raids from 20 raids in May 2009 to 1,000 per month a year later.
There is no reason to believe that U.S. air strikes are more accurate or based on better intelligence than night raids by special operations forces. British military adviser Kamal Alam explained to the BBC last Friday that Russian air strikes in Syria are likely to be more accurate than U.S. ones because they have the critical advantage of being guided by Syrian military intelligence on the ground.
Alam noted that even the Iraqi government depends on Syrian military intelligence in its campaign against the Islamic State, and added that this is a source of embarrassment to U.S. officials, who have no such human intelligence capabilities in Syria or Iraq.
Maybe the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz will force more Americans to confront the ugly reality of the devastating air war our country has waged across half a dozen countries for 14 years. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Endless Air Wars.”]
Whether any institution can succeed in holding U.S. officials legally accountable for the bombing of the MSF hospital or not, it may finally bring home the horrors and the indiscriminate nature of our country’s endless air war to millions of Americans. U.S. propaganda will try to portray this as a tragic isolated incident. It is not. It is a war crime, and only the latest in a 14-year-long policy of systematic war crimes.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
The US regime change policy for Syria has been a catastrophe. More than 200,000 killed and an entire country reduced to rubble at least partly because President Obama decided that “Assad has lost his legitimacy.” How is it that the president of a country 6,000 miles away has the authority to decide whether another leader belongs in office or not? What if Rouhani in Iran decided that Obama had lost his legitimacy for killing a number of American citizens by drone without charge or trial? Would we accept that?
At least three years of US efforts to train rebels to overthrow the Syrian government has produced, as General Lloyd Austin, Commander of US Central Command, testified last month, “four or five” trained and vetted “moderates” in Syria. The $500 million appropriated for this purpose has disappeared.
The neocon solution to this failure to overthrow Assad and “degrade and destroy” ISIS is to increase the bombing and lead a ground invasion of Syria. The confusing policy of fighting Assad and also fighting his enemies does not seem to bother the neocons. They want us to forget all about their recent failures in Libya and Iraq and to try the same failed strategy one more time.
But something dramatic happened last week. Russian president Vladimir Putin delivered a speech at the United Nations criticizing the US policy of partnering with one set of extremists – al-Qaeda and its allies – to attack both ISIS and Assad. “Do you realize now what you have done?” asked Putin.
Shortly after Putin’s UN speech, he requested and was granted authority from the Russian parliament to use force in Syria in response to the Syrian government’s request for assistance against the rebels. Russian fighters and bombers began flying sorties over Syria almost immediately. In less than a week of Russian bombing, considerable damage appears to have been done to both ISIS and to al-Qaeda affiliates – some of which are considered allies by the US and were actually trained by the CIA.
It may be tempting to cheer Russian military action in Syria, as it seems ISIS is finally suffering some considerable losses. Press reports suggest large numbers of desertions in their ranks after the Russian attacks. All of a sudden what looked to be an inevitable ISIS takeover of Syria once Assad was overthrown, seems far less likely with the Russians on the scene.
But I cannot cheer the bombs, whether they are Russian bombs or US bombs or French or British bombs. I do not believe a terrorist group created by foreign intervention in the region will be solved by more foreign intervention in the region. Bombs represent a total failure of policy. They destroy a country’s economy and infrastructure.
I wish the American people would finally demand that their government end its destructive policy of trying to change any regime that does not bow to Washington’s demands. I wish Congress respected our Constitution enough to demand that the president seek a declaration of war before attacking a foreign country. I wish President Bush and his neocon advisors had never decided to overthrow the Syrian government. I wish President Obama had fired the neocons who led him from one foolish intervention to another. I wish the CIA had not trained rebels to fight alongside al-Qaeda in Syria. I wish we would reject the shrill cries of the warmongers. I wish the US media was more than just a propaganda arm of the US government.
I am not thrilled that Russia is bombing Syria. I wish nobody was bombing Syria.
And then there was one.
Somalia last week deposited its instrument of ratification of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), leaving the United States as the world’s only country that has not done so. And it doesn’t look like the U.S. will join the club any time soon.
The convention, adopted in 1989, is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, with 196 signatory nations. It is a commitment to promote and respect the human rights of children, including the right to life, to health, to education and to play, as well as the right to family life, to be protected from violence and from any form of discrimination, and to have their views heard, according to the UN. Somalia began its process of ratification in January 2015; another holdout, South Sudan, ratified the treaty in May.
Although President Barack Obama gave his support to the CRC before he took office, saying “it is embarrassing that the U.S. is in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. If I become president, I will review this and other human rights treaties,” he hasn’t submitted the treaty for Senate approval.
If he did submit it, it’s unlikely it would be approved. Conservatives oppose the CRC, some saying it would weaken U.S. sovereignty. Others say being a party to the treaty will undermine the role of American parents in raising their children.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged the United States “to join the global movement and help the world reach the objective of universal ratification.”
To Learn More:
Only 2 Countries Have Not Joined the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child: South Sudan and…United States (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Reprieve – October 2, 2015
The US government has asked a D.C. court to dismiss the case of a Yemeni man whose family members were killed by a US drone strike, on the basis that he has no legal ‘standing’ to bring a case against them.
Earlier this year, Mr bin Ali Jaber filed a lawsuit against President Obama, seeking a declaration from a federal court in Washington, D.C., that the 2012 strike was unlawful and his innocent relatives were wrongfully killed. The Obama administration yesterday filed a motion asking the court to dismiss Mr bin Ali Jaber’s case entirely. They argued that Mr Jaber has no standing – i.e. that he has no legal right to bring his case in the US – and that whether a US drone killed his relatives is a ‘political question’ that no court should review.
However, in November 2013 Mr bin Ali Jaber travelled to Washington, D.C. where he had meetings with White House and NSC officials about his relative’s deaths. No US official suggested then that Mr. Jaber, who is the appointed representative of the Jaber family estates, lacked authority to speak for the family.
Faisal lost his nephew Waleed and his brother-in-law Salem in a US drone attack in the village of Khashamir on August 29 2012. Waleed was a local policeman, and Salem was an imam who was known for speaking out against al-Qaeda in his sermons – including on the Friday before he was killed. After the strike and Faisal’s travels to the US, Faisal’s relatives were given a plastic bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked US dollar bills as a condolence payment, but the US has never admitted responsibility for the killings.
Mr bin Ali Jaber had previously written to the White House offering to settle the case on one condition – that he receive a public apology from the US. He did so in the footsteps of President Obama’s apology, earlier this year, to the families of Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, an Italian and an American citizen who were killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in January. It marked the first known US acknowledgement of responsibility for civilian deaths under the drone programme.
In a letter to President Obama, Cori Crider – Mr bin Ali Jaber’s lawyer at human rights organization Reprieve – writes: “I write today to make a formal offer of settlement. In consideration for dropping this lawsuit, Mr. Jaber asks for nothing more than what you gave the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto: an apology and an explanation as to why a strike that killed two innocent civilians was authorized.”
Covert strikes by the CIA in Yemen and Pakistan are believed to have killed hundreds of civilians, but the US has never formally admitted responsibility beyond the deaths of Mr Lo Porto and Mr Weinstein.
Cori Crider, attorney for Faisal bin Ali Jaber and a director at international human rights charity Reprieve, said: “Once again we see the yawning gulf between this President’s rhetoric on drones and the reality. President Obama once said innocent drone deaths would haunt him as long as he lives – so why, then, does sorry seem to be the hardest word? It is insulting to my client to be told he has no right to represent his family’s estate, when White House officials certainly thought he was worthy of meetings in Washington. The US is now trying its level best to block Faisal’s quest for justice by kicking him out of the courts. There is no good reason that the President stood up in front of the world with the Lo Porto and Weinstein families to say sorry for the US’ tragic mistake, but can’t do so for a Yemeni man. The hypocrisy of the Administration’s stance sends a harmful message, telling the entire Muslim world that its lives have no value to the United States.”
The U.S. government has dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs on Iraq alone in the last dozen years – and even hailed the start of the bombing campaign in 2003 as “shock and awe” – but now has coyly and repeatedly decried the Syrian government’s supposed use of crude “barrel bombs.”
This hyper-hypocritical propaganda theme was given voice in President Barack Obama’s Sept. 28 speech to the United Nations General Assembly when he denounced anyone who doesn’t favor “regime change” in Syria as advocating “support [for] tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children.”
Yet, Obama offered no criticism of various U.S. administrations and American allies that have leveled whole cities, killing countless men, women and children. That slaughter has included two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945 and the devastation of Indochina during the 1960s and 1970s with more bomb tonnage than was dropped in all of World War II. Millions, including countless children, were killed in these bombing campaigns.
More recently, Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush ordered the devastation of Fallujah and other Iraqi cities to suppress resistance to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Obama himself has boasted of ordering military strikes in seven countries, mostly aerial bombardments with many confirmed civilian dead.
In 2014, Israel used American warplanes and armaments to blast apart Gaza killing some 2,100 people – the vast majority civilians and many of them children, including four little boys playing on a beach. President Obama not only refrains from criticizing Israel’s indiscriminate use of these devastating weapons but stays silent on Israel’s rogue nuclear stockpile and today ponders which giant “bunker buster” bombs should be added to Israel’s bristling arsenal.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is dropping U.S.-supplied ordnance, reportedly including cluster bombs, on the helpless population of Yemen with Obama’s tacit approval and reportedly with U.S. intelligence assistance.
On Monday, the Saudi air force apparently bombed a wedding party on Yemen’s Red Sea coast killing more than 130 people, including women who had taken refuge in a tent, according to various news reports.
One surviving relative said it was difficult to determine the exact number of dead because the bodies were blasted into so many bloody pieces. “I saw no body intact,” said Ahmed Altabozi, the uncle of one of the victims.
Yet, while President Obama has avoided any direct public rebukes of U.S. or allied militaries for their slaughter of civilians, he singled out Syria’s embattled government for using a homemade weapon in its desperate fight against terrorists of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Further, Obama claimed that President Assad dropped the “barrel bombs to massacre innocent children” when there is no evidence that Assad had any such intent. Obama’s comment amounted to crude and deceptive propaganda.
By contrast, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launches one of his periodic “lawn mowing” operations against the people of Gaza and many children are cut down in the process, Obama stands mute, apparently judging that the exercise in recurring butchery is just one of those “price is worth it” moments.
Obviously, any killing of civilians in wartime is to be deplored – whoever is dropping the bombs and whatever the weapon’s degree of lethality – but it was still stunning to watch Obama apply such selective outrage. Indeed, much of the UN General Assembly seemed genuinely shocked by Obama’s blatant double standards.
Propaganda Buzz Phrase
But it’s really all par for the course. Whenever propagandists develop their “themes” for a conflict, they look for certain “hot button” phrases that make the behavior of a “black-hatted enemy” appear particularly venal. “Barrel bomb” has become the propaganda buzz phrase of choice associated with the Syrian conflict.
Yet, it seems likely this clumsy, improvised weapon – supposedly dropped from helicopters – would be far less lethal than rocket-propelled bombs delivered from afar by jet planes or drones, the approach favored by the U.S. government and its “allies.”
Civilians would have a much better chance to seek safety in a bomb shelter before some “barrel bomb” is shoved out the door of a helicopter than when a sophisticated U.S.-made bomb arrives with little or no warning, as apparently happened to the victims of that wedding in Yemen.
And that is not to mention the U.S. bombs that involve depleted uranium, napalm, phosphorous and cluster munitions, which present other humanitarian concerns. However, while U.S.-assisted or U.S.-directed slaughters of civilians attract little attention in the mainstream U.S. media, there are endless denunciations of the Syrian government’s “barrel bombs.”
The propaganda drumbeat is such that the American people are told that they must support “regime change” in Syria even if it risks opening the gates of Damascus to a victory by the Islamic State and Al Qaeda terrorists.
This odd “humanitarian” equation, tallied up by the State Department and “human-rights” NGOs, holds that to secure revenge for Syria’s alleged use of “barrel bombs,” the world must accept the possibility of the black flag of Sunni terrorism flying over a major Mideast capital while its streets would run red with the blood of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other “heretics.”
Then, apparently, the United States would have little choice but to lead a massive expeditionary force into Syria to oust the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, ensuring the deaths of hundreds of thousands more innocents and sending millions more fleeing into a destabilized Europe.
But such is the power of propaganda in managing public perceptions. Use a phrase like “barrel bomb” over and over again as if it is a uniquely evil weapon when, in fact, it is far less lethal and destructive than the ordnance that the United States routinely deploys or hands out to its “allies” like candy on Halloween. Soon the people lose all perspective and are open to manipulation. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Power of False Narrative.”]
Once the U.S. public is softened up with the propaganda and psy-ops – also known as “strategic communications” or Stratcom – the only acceptable option is “regime change” in Syria even if that prospect holds the likelihood of a far worse human catastrophe.
By hearing “barrel bomb” enough times, the judgment of American citizens is clouded and any practical suggestion for a realistic political settlement of Syria’s conflict is deemed “appeasement” of a tyrant, which was the clear message of President Obama’s UN tirade.
And, thus, the killing continues; the chaos grows worse.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
If the peevish expression on Barack Obama’s face was any indication, Vladimir Putin is a force in the world who cannot be ignored. Ever since Russia annexed Crimea in response to the United States – and NATO – backed coup in Ukraine, Obama and the corporate media have falsely declared that Putin is isolated from the rest of the world. They claim he is a monster, a despot and an irrelevance on the world stage.
While the G8 member nations turned themselves into the G7 in order to snub Russia, president Putin was making friends elsewhere. He may have been isolated from the United States and its clique, but not from China and the other BRICS nations or Syria or Iran or Iraq. While western nations use the Islamic State (ISIS) as a ruse to exact regime change in Syria, Putin has formed an alliance to carry out the task of eradicating that danger which was created by western intervention.
Presidents Obama and Putin both made their respective cases before the United Nations General Assembly at its annual meeting. Obama’s speech was an apologia for imperialism and American aggression. He repeated the lies which no one except uninformed Americans believe. If he calls a leader a tyrant he claims the right to destroy a nation and kill and displace its people. Despite the living hell that the United States made out of Libya, Obama continues to defend his crime. He blandly adds that “our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.” Apparently he hopes that no one is paying attention to the horrors inflicted on Libya or the ripple effect which created numerous other humanitarian crises.
Not content to defend the indefensible, the president made it clear that the Obama doctrine of regime change and terror is alive and well. “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.”
In contrast, the man labeled a dictator acknowledged the importance of respecting every nation’s sovereignty. “Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and life itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.” Making good use of his time in the spotlight, he made clear that he wasn’t fooled or cowed by the United States. “I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.”
Obviously Putin has self-interest in supporting his allies in Syria and for fighting ISIS. He acknowledged that his country is at risk from some of its own citizens who have sworn an allegiance to that group. Nonetheless, it is important that at least one nation in the world is capable of standing up to American state sponsored destruction and is willing to take action in that effort. Before the United Nations proceedings took place, Russia announced that it would share intelligence with Iran, Iraq and Syria in order to combat ISIS. If the United States were true to its word, that alliance would be welcomed instead of scorned.
Not since the late Hugo Chavez declared that George W. Bush left a “smell of sulfur” has an American president been so openly confronted at the United Nations. Putin’s presence makes it clear that Obama can no longer expect to carry out his international dirty work without effective opposition.
While the corporate media noted the tense photo opportunity between the two presidents they neglected to mention the real issues behind the bad feelings. At a press conference after his address Putin was asked about French president Hollande’s insistence that Assad leave the Syrian presidency. “I relate to my colleagues the American and French presidents with great respect but they aren’t citizens of Syria and so should not be involved in choosing the leadership of another country.”
That simple statement explains the totality of American enmity towards Russia. The NATO nations claim a right to choose leaders, create and support their own terrorist groups and destroy anyone who doesn’t do what they want. Putin is making a case for non-interference and that makes him persona non grata in the eyes of the supposedly more democratic West.
The world ought to fear pax Americana, not a Russian military presence in Syria. There cannot be true peace and stability unless nations and peoples are left to their own devices. The helping hand of United States democracy is anything but. It is a recipe for disaster and requires forceful opposition. If Russia can be a reliable counterforce the whole world will benefit, even if Barack Obama frowns before the cameras.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
Clandestine American-led interventions have fuelled the explosion in terror networks across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Yet amid this American legacy of international violence, Obama was charged with painting a rose-tinted view of the world that was breath-taking in its distortion and absurdity.
US President Barack Obama is someone to almost pity. For he has the unenviable task of standing before the nations of the world and smugly spouting endless falsehoods — as he did, yet again, during his address to the UN General Assembly.
By contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin in his address to the UN may not have displayed the same oratorical flourishes as Obama, but far more importantly Putin spoke about some of the most pressing international problems with words that were the plain truth.
When Putin spoke about the UN and international law being undermined by “exceptional” unilateral actions of the United States, he was able to put his finger on the crux of why conflict, chaos and terrorism are raging in so many parts of the world.
And if we are trying to fix these problems, genuinely, then what the world needs is an accurate diagnosis. Putin delivered that, while Obama just added further layers of obfuscation and misinformation, making such problems ever-more insoluble.
As Putin clearly indicated, illegal US-led regime-change operations that subvert international law and the UN Charter are at the root of ongoing, widespread conflicts, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Libya to Syria and to Ukraine.
These clandestine American-led interventions have also fuelled the explosion in terror networks across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Putin provided the most logical, rational and credible explanation that allows for collective solutions. Supporting the sovereign government of Syria to defeat foreign-backed terrorism in that country is one such solution.
Yet amid this American legacy of international violence, Obama was charged with painting a rose-tinted view of the world that was breath-taking in its distortion and absurdity.
On Syria, the American president sought to ascribe the violence and growth of terrorism in that country as being due to “tyrannical”
Bashar al-Assad who “attacked peaceful protesters” back in 2011. This falsification by Obama flies in the face of admissions by Washington — in declassified documents — that it hatched secret plans for regime change in Syria as early as 2006.
The Pentagon has also admitted in declassified documents that it sponsored jihadist extremists like Islamic State to wage war against the Assad government for the “willful” objective of regime change. In both instances, the US government indicts itself of heinous crimes.
Nevertheless, Obama blithely regaled the UN with claims that his government is “supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power” — while, unbelievably, ignoring the long and execrable history of American-sponsored regime change in every corner of the globe.
This American criminal expertise in violating international law and democratic rights of nations spans at least a century. During the early 20th century decades, Major General Smedley Butler in his book, ‘War is a Racket’, described how the Pentagon’s military muscle was used to ransack Latin America and the Caribbean to install despotic regimes in order to make the hemisphere “safe” for Wall Street banks and US corporations.
Then following the Second World War, the US ruling class applied their regime-change dexterity in every continent over the subsequent seven decades up to the present day. From the early postwar European states of Greece, Italy and France where nationalist or socialist governments were thwarted or subverted, right up to the most recent cases of Libya, Syria and Ukraine.
In between, we have the notorious cases of US subversion and coups in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, Brazil, Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras — to mention just a few. For a complete list of scores of American dirty operations across the world, see William Blum’s book ‘Killing Hope’.
Obama describes US involvement in Libya in 2011 as “helping to prevent a massacre”; and he claims Washington is helping to resolve conflict in Syria and supporting democracy in Ukraine. But in each case, as in countless other countries down through the decades, Washington’s finger-prints are all over the crime scenes and point to its illegal schemes for overthrowing governments and “deterring democracy”, as Noam Chomsky puts it.
But perhaps the ultimate regime change that American rulers engaged in was not against some far off African, Asian or Latin American land.
The most audacious act of criminality was against one of their own democratically elected governments.
In 1963, the brutal assassination of President John F Kennedy as he drove through Dallas in a motorcade was unmistakably a covert regime-change operation. The slaying of Kennedy happened only three weeks after US intelligence were implicated in the murder of Washington’s puppet-dictator in South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem.
Kennedy, whose policies were viewed as being anti-war and amenable to mediation with the Soviet Union and revolutionary Cuba, had made powerful enemies within the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon’s military-industrial complex. The sophistication and political context of Kennedy’s assassination, the vast official cover-up, including the murder of the alleged assassin, the patsy Lee Harvey Oswald, all point to a covert operation to get rid off the president.
American corporate-controlled news media to this day treat the subject of who really killed Kennedy as an off-limits “conspiracy theory”. But reading an array of investigative literature, such as James Douglass’ ‘JFK and the Unspeakable’, as well as testimony of attorney, the late Jim Garrison, it is scarcely disputable that President Kennedy was assassinated by powerful and secretive elements within the American ruling class.
The objective was to replace Kennedy with a president who would be more obedient to the strategic interests of the American military-industrial complex. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B Johnson, was such a figure, paving the way for the escalation of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s and heightened hostilities towards the Soviet Union and Cuba, including numerous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Returning to the UN address delivered by Barack Obama this week, at one point he bragged: “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.”
This is the kind of unquestioning militarism and use of unilateral military force that America’s ruling class expects from White House occupants. Breaking international law, violating the UN Charter and implementing regime change — no matter how murderous — and then spouting lies with squeaky clean rhetoric, these are the qualifications that an American president must demonstrate to the dark, ruling forces within his country.
Otherwise, the fate of an independent, democratic leader would be the same as that of JFK. For regime change, and all its attendant criminality, is as American as mama’s homemade apple pie.
There was stunned silence in the General Assembly Hall on Monday as U.S. President Barack Obama warned leaders against falling back to pre-United Nations days, in which strong nations imposed their will by force against the weak. There was apparent disbelief as he said it was Russia and China that wanted a “return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution.”
These ancient rules included the “belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.”
The silence in the chamber came because everything Obama ascribed to others perfectly describes U.S. behavior from the end of the Second World War until today.
Since 1945, the U.S. has participated in dozens of documented invasions and overthrows of sovereign governments that resisted U.S. hegemony — the strongest nation imposing its will militarily on the weak. Among the best known are the 1953 and 1954 coups in Iran and Guatemala, and the invasions of Vietnam and Iraq. There were other democracies overthrown to install monarchies or dictatorships, such as Mobutu in Congo in 1961, Suharto in Indonesia in 1965 and Pinochet in Chile in 1973.
There was a setback to the American militarists with the loss in Vietnam, but a decade later Ronald Reagan was back at it, starting with a small invasion of Grenada. George H.W. Bush pounded Panama in 1989 and then devastated Iraqi forces in 1991 with an air and ground campaign, leading to his declaration that “we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” Thirty years after the defeat in Vietnam, his son, George W. Bush, staged a full-scale 2003 invasion of Iraq, unleashing utter chaos that’s led to the most fearsome terrorist power in history.
Yet Obama on Monday was blaming Russia and China for the mess Washington has created, saying, “We see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law.” Obama cited Russia’s “annexation” of Crimea and “further aggression” in Eastern Ukraine.
He didn’t mention the documented U.S. orchestrated coup against a democratically-elected president in Kiev, which eastern Ukrainians have resisted. Russia has helped them but the U.S. with all its fancy surveillance that can find out almost any detail of your private life has yet to come up with a scrap of evidence of a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine.
At heart is either Obama’s willful ignorance of Ukraine, a clumsy attempt at disinformation, or as Vladimir Putin suggested in his U.N. speech a half hour later, a big measure of self-deception.
Obama said Ukrainians favor the West. That may be true of most western Ukrainians but not the whole country. Then, he said the U.S. has “few economic interests” in Ukraine. That’s woefully ignorant or a blatant lie. Monsanto has a big interest. Then there’s Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and a John Kerry family friend joining the board of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, just after the coup.
And the country’s finance minister is an American, Natalie Jaresko, who was given Ukrainian citizenship on the day she began the job. Why put an American government official in charge of the treasury of a foreign country?
Despite Russia’s “aggression,” Obama said he did not want a new Cold War — just U.S. bases encircling Russia, and China. In the South China Sea, the “U.S. makes no territorial claims,” Obama said, and only has an altruistic interest in protecting freedom of navigation and resolving disputes peacefully and not by “the law of force.” Yet, when the International Court of Justice ruled the U.S. mining of Nicaraguan harbors in the 1980s was illegal, the U.S. just ignored it.
On Syria, Obama (and his junior partners in Europe) insist that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office, as though that would make ISIS lay down its arms. “Realism … requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild,” the President said.
Obama’s position presupposes that the war would end as soon as a new Syrian leader calls off the fight. Instead ISIS is fighting not only to topple Assad, but to take Damascus from whoever may take Assad’s place. They want the capital. It doesn’t matter who is in charge.
Putin argues that Assad’s military is the most effective ground force (along with the Kurds) against the monstrous group and that all nations who want ISIS defeated should work with Assad. “Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind,” Putin said.
While this is the most practical approach, it would be politically difficult for Western leaders, after three years of calling for Assad’s ouster, to reverse course. Instead the West blames Russian “ambition” in its military build-up in Syria rather than seeing it as a move to help Syria defeat this scourge that came about partly by the West playing around with terrorists who turned into a Frankenstein monster.
“The Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere,” Putin told the Assembly. “It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes.” He added that it was irresponsible “to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.”
Russia warned from three years ago that this could happen. “I’m urged to ask those who created this situation: do you at least realize now what you’ve done?” Putin asked. “But I’m afraid that this question will remain unanswered, because they have never abandoned their policy, which is based on arrogance, exceptionalism and impunity.”
Though Obama told the U.N. that he could essentially blow up the whole world if he wanted to, he’s decided to be a nice guy and seek diplomacy over confrontation with Russia and China. “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known,” he boasted to the quiet hall, “and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.”
“I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion,” Obama said. “We cannot look backwards.” Obama might try looking into a mirror instead.
Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.