It was another difficult week for Israel.
In Britain, 700 artists, including many household names, pledged a cultural boycott of Israel, and a leader of the Board of Deputies, the representative body of UK Jews, quit, saying he could no longer abide by its ban on criticising Israel.
Across the Atlantic, the student body of one of the most prestigious US universities, Stanford, voted to withdraw investments from companies implicated in Israel’s occupation, giving a significant boost to the growing international boycott (BDS) movement.
Meanwhile, a CNN poll found that two-thirds of Americans, and three-quarters of those under 50, believed the US foreign policy should be neutral between Israel and Palestine.
This drip-drip of bad news, as American and European popular opinion shifts against Israel, is gradually changing the west’s political culture and forcing Israel to rethink its historic alliances.
The deterioration in relations between Israel and the White House is now impossible to dismiss, as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama lock horns, this time over negotiations with Iran.
The US was reported last week to be refusing to share with Israel sensitive information on the talks, fearful it will be misused. A senior Israeli official described it as like being evicted from the “deluxe guest suite” in Washington. “Astonishing doesn’t begin to describe it,” he said.
The fall-out is spreading to the US Congress, where for the first time Israel is becoming a partisan issue. A growing number of Democrats have declared they will boycott Netanyahu’s address to the Congress next month, when he is expected to try to undermine the Iran talks.
Things are more precarious still in Europe. Several leading parliaments have called on their governments to recognise Palestinian statehood, and France rocked Israel by backing just such a resolution recently in the UN Security Council.
Europe has also begun punishing Israel for its intransigence towards the Palestinians. It is labelling settlement products and is expected to start demanding compensation for its projects in the occupied territories the Israeli army destroys.
This month 63 members of the European Parliament went further, urging the European Union to suspend its “association agreement”, which allows Israel unrestricted trade and access to special funding.
None of this has gone unnoticed in Israel. A classified report by the foreign ministry leaked last month paints a dark future. It concludes that western support for the Palestinians will increase, the threat of European sanctions will grow, and the US might even refuse to “protect Israel with its veto” at the UN.
Israel is particularly concerned about the economic impact, given that Europe is its largest trading partner. Serious sanctions could ravage the economy.
One might assume that, faced with these drastic calculations, Israel would reconsider its obstructive approach to peace negotiations and Palestinian statehood. Not a bit of it.
Netanyahu’s officials blame the crisis with Washington on Obama, implying that they will wait out his presidency for better times to return.
As for Europe, Netanyahu blames the shift there on what he calls “Islamisation”, suggesting that Europe’s growing Muslim population is holding the region’s politicians to ransom. On this view, the price paid for the recent terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen is Europe’s support for Israel.
Instead, Netanyahu has begun looking elsewhere for economic – and ultimately political – patrons.
In doing so, he is returning to an early Israeli tradition. The state’s founders were inspired by the collectivist ideals of the Soviet Union, not US individualism. And in return for attacking Egypt in 1956, Israel was secretly helped by Britain and France to build nuclear weapons over stiff US opposition.
In response to recent developments, Netanyahu announced last month that he was courting trade with China, India and Japan – comprising nearly 40 per cent of the planet’s population.
Last year, for the first time, Israel did more trade with these Asian giants than with the US. Much of it focused on the burgeoning arms market, with Israel supplying nearly $4 billion worth of weapons in 2013. A region once implacably hostile to Israel is throwing open its doors.
India, plagued by border tensions with Pakistan and China, is now Israel’s largest arms purchaser – and such trade is expected to expand further following the election last year of Narendra Modi, known for his anti-Muslim views.
He has lifted the veil off India’s growing defence cooperation with Israel, one reason why Moshe Yaalon last week became the first Israeli defence minister to make an official visit.
Ties between Israel and China are deepening rapidly too. Beijing has become Israel’s third largest trading partner, while Israel is China’s second biggest supplier of military technology after Russia.
Last month the two signed a three-year cooperation plan, with China keen to exploit – in addition to Israel’s military hardware – its innovations on solar energy, irrigation and desalination.
Emmanuel Navon, an international relations expert at Tel Aviv University, claims that, despite its poor public image, Israel now enjoys a “global clout” unprecedented in its history.
Israel’s immediate goal is to future-proof itself economically against mounting popular pressure in Europe and the US to act in favour of the Palestinian cause.
But, longer term, Israel hopes to convert Chinese and Indian dependency on Israeli armaments – based on technology it tests and refines on a captive Palestinian population – into diplomatic cover. One day Israel may be relying on a Chinese veto at the UN, not a US one.
NATO member Estonia has held a military parade in the border town of Narva, just 300 meters from the Russian border. Tallinn is a long-time critic of Moscow, which it accuses of having an aggressive policy towards the Baltic nation.
Tuesday’s military parade was dedicated to Estonia’s Independence Day. Chief military commander Lt. Gen. Riho Terras headed the troops as President Toomas Hendrik Ilves reviewed them.
Over 140 pieces of NATO military hardware took part in the parade, including four US armored personnel carriers M1126 Stryker flying stars-and-stripes. Another foreign nation, the Netherlands, provided four Swedish-made Stridsfordon 90 tracked combat vehicles (designated CV9035NL Mk III by the Dutch).
Estonia also showed off its own howitzers, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, armored vehicles and other hardware. Over 1,400 troops also marched the streets of Narva.
The parade is an obvious snub at Estonia’s eastern neighbor Russia, whom it accuses of pushing aggressive policies in Eastern Europe. The Estonian government is among several vocally accusing Russia of waging a secret war against Ukraine by supplying arms and troops to anti-Kiev forces in the east.
Moscow denies the accusations, insisting that the post-coup government in Kiev alienated its own people in the east and started a civil war instead of resolving the differences through dialogue.
NATO seized the Ukrainian conflict as an opportunity to argue for a military build-up in Eastern Europe, supposedly to deter a Russian aggression. The three Baltic States are among the most vocal proponents of this policy.
Russia sees it as yet another proof that NATO is an anti-Russian military bloc that had been enlarging towards Russia’s border and compromised its national security.
The Estonian government defended its right to hold whatever military maneuvers it wants in its territory.
“Narva is a part of NATO no less than New York or Istanbul, and NATO defends every square meter of its territory,” Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas said in a speech in capital, Tallinn.
Historically Narva was a point of centuries of confrontation between Russia and Sweden, when the two nations fought for dominance in the region. The city changed hands several times and ended up under Russian control in 1704, serving as a military outpost for decades.
The city was again contested in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the dissolution of the Russian Empire it triggered. Narva took turns between being governed by the self-proclaimed Estonian Republic, occupying German troops and the Red Army until eventually becoming Estonian again under a peace treaty between Estonia and Russia.
It then changed hands between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union along with the rest of the Baltics during World War II and went on to be part of an independent Estonia in 1991.
The city has a large number of ethnic Russians and a strong pro-autonomy movement, with some Estonian politicians fearing that it could be exploited now by Russia to sow dissent. Commenting on the issue in an interview with Washington Post, President Ilves said seeing Narva as a potentially separatist region “is stupid.”
From Torture to Drone Assassination, How Washington Gave Itself a Global Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card
“The sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” said conservative thinker Carl Schmitt in 1922, meaning that a nation’s leader can defy the law to serve the greater good. Though Schmitt’s service as Nazi Germany’s chief jurist and his unwavering support for Hitler from the night of the long knives to Kristallnacht and beyond damaged his reputation for decades, today his ideas have achieved unimagined influence. They have, in fact, shaped the neo-conservative view of presidential power that has become broadly bipartisan since 9/11. Indeed, Schmitt has influenced American politics directly through his intellectual protégé Leo Strauss who, as an émigré professor at the University of Chicago, trained Bush administration architects of the Iraq war Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky.
All that should be impressive enough for a discredited, long dead authoritarian thinker. But Schmitt’s dictum also became a philosophical foundation for the exercise of American global power in the quarter century that followed the end of the Cold War. Washington, more than any other power, created the modern international community of laws and treaties, yet it now reserves the right to defy those same laws with impunity. A sovereign ruler should, said Schmitt, discard laws in times of national emergency. So the United States, as the planet’s last superpower or, in Schmitt’s terms, its global sovereign, has in these years repeatedly ignored international law, following instead its own unwritten rules of the road for the exercise of world power.
Just as Schmitt’s sovereign preferred to rule in a state of endless exception without a constitution for his Reich, so Washington is now well into the second decade of an endless War on Terror that seems the sum of its exceptions to international law: endless incarceration, extrajudicial killing, pervasive surveillance, drone strikes in defiance of national boundaries, torture on demand, and immunity for all of the above on the grounds of state secrecy. Yet these many American exceptions are just surface manifestations of the ever-expanding clandestine dimension of the American state. Created at the cost of more than a trillion dollars since 9/11, the purpose of this vast apparatus is to control a covert domain that is fast becoming the main arena for geopolitical contestation in the twenty-first century.
This should be (but seldom is considered) a jarring, disconcerting path for a country that, more than any other, nurtured the idea of, and wrote the rules for, an international community of nations governed by the rule of law. At the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899, the U.S. delegate, Andrew Dickson White, the founder of Cornell University, pushed for the creation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration and persuaded Andrew Carnegie to build the monumental Peace Palace at The Hague as its home. At the Second Hague Conference in 1907, Secretary of State Elihu Root urged that future international conflicts be resolved by a court of professional jurists, an idea realized when the Permanent Court of International Justice was established in 1920.
After World War II, the U.S. used its triumph to help create the United Nations, push for the adoption of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ratify the Geneva Conventions for humanitarian treatment in war. If you throw in other American-backed initiatives like the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank, you pretty much have the entire infrastructure of what we now casually call “the international community.”
Breaking the Rules
Not only did the U.S. play a crucial role in writing the new rules for that community, but it almost immediately began breaking them. After all, despite the rise of the other superpower, the Soviet Union, Washington was by then the world sovereign and so could decide which should be the exceptions to its own rules, particularly to the foundational principle for all this global governance: sovereignty. As it struggled to dominate the hundred new nations that started appearing right after the war, each one invested with an inviolable sovereignty, Washington needed a new means of projecting power beyond conventional diplomacy or military force. As a result, CIA covert operations became its way of intervening within a new world order where you couldn’t or at least shouldn’t intervene openly.
All of the exceptions that really matter spring from America’s decision to join what former spy John Le Carré called that “squalid procession of vain fools, traitors… sadists, and drunkards,” and embrace espionage in a big way after World War II. Until the creation of the CIA in 1947, the United States had been an innocent abroad in the world of intelligence. When General John J. Pershing led two million American troops to Europe during World War I, the U.S. had the only army on either side of the battle lines without an intelligence service. Even though Washington built a substantial security apparatus during that war, it was quickly scaled back by Republican conservatives during the 1920s. For decades, the impulse to cut or constrain such secret agencies remained robustly bipartisan, as when President Harry Truman abolished the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), right after World War II or when President Jimmy Carter fired 800 CIA covert operatives after the Vietnam War.
Yet by fits and starts, the covert domain inside the U.S. government has grown stealthily from the early twentieth century to this moment. It began with the formation of the FBI in 1908 and Military Intelligence in 1917. The Central Intelligence Agency followed after World War II along with most of the alphabet agencies that make up the present U.S. Intelligence Community, including the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and last but hardly least, in 2004, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Make no mistake: there is a clear correlation between state secrecy and the rule of law — as one grows, the other surely shrinks.
America’s irrevocable entry into this covert netherworld came when President Truman deployed his new CIA to contain Soviet subversion in Europe. This was a continent then thick with spies of every stripe: failed fascists, aspirant communists, and everything in between. Introduced to spycraft by its British “cousins,” the CIA soon mastered it in part by establishing sub rosa ties to networks of ex-Nazi spies, Italian fascist operatives, and dozens of continental secret services.
As the world’s new sovereign, Washington used the CIA to enforce its chosen exceptions to the international rule of law, particularly to the core principle of sovereignty. During his two terms, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized 104 covert operations on four continents, focused largely on controlling the many new nations then emerging from centuries of colonialism. Eisenhower’s exceptions included blatant transgressions of national sovereignty such as turning northern Burma into an unwilling springboard for abortive invasions of China, arming regional revolts to partition Indonesia, and overthrowing elected governments in Guatemala and Iran. By the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, covert ops had acquired such a powerful mystique in Washington that President John F. Kennedy would authorize 163 of them in the three years that preceded his assassination.
As a senior CIA official posted to the Near East in the early 1950s put it, the Agency then saw every Muslim leader who was not pro-American as “a target legally authorized by statute for CIA political action.” Applied on a global scale and not just to Muslims, this policy helped produce a distinct “reverse wave” in the global trend towards democracy from 1958 to 1975, as coups — most of them U.S.-sanctioned — allowed military men to seize power in more than three-dozen nations, representing a quarter of the world’s sovereign states.
The White House’s “exceptions” also produced a deeply contradictory U.S. attitude toward torture from the early years of the Cold War onward. Publicly, Washington’s opposition to torture was manifest in its advocacy of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Geneva Conventions in 1949. Simultaneously and secretly, however, the CIA began developing ingenious new torture techniques in contravention of those same international conventions. After a decade of mind-control research, the CIA actually codified its new method of psychological torture in a secret instructional handbook, the “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual, which it then disseminated within the U.S. Intelligence Community and to allied security services worldwide.
Much of the torture that became synonymous with the era of authoritarian rule in Asia and Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s seems to have originated in U.S. training programs that provided sophisticated techniques, up-to-date equipment, and moral legitimacy for the practice. From 1962 to 1974, the CIA worked through the Office of Public Safety (OPS), a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development that sent American police advisers to developing nations. Established by President Kennedy in 1962, in just six years OPS grew into a global anti-communist operation with over 400 U.S. police advisers. By 1971, it had trained more than a million policemen in 47 nations, including 85,000 in South Vietnam and 100,000 in Brazil.
Concealed within this larger OPS effort, CIA interrogation training became synonymous with serious human rights abuses, particularly in Iran, the Philippines, South Vietnam, Brazil, and Uruguay. Amnesty International documented widespread torture, usually by local police, in 24 of the 49 nations that had hosted OPS police-training teams. In tracking torturers across the globe, Amnesty seemed to be following the trail of CIA training programs. Significantly, torture began to recede when America again turned resolutely against the practice at the end of the Cold War.
The War on Terror
Although the CIA’s authority for assassination, covert intervention, surveillance, and torture was curtailed at the close of the Cold War, the terror attacks of September 2001 sparked an unprecedented expansion in the scale of the intelligence community and a corresponding resurgence in executive exceptions. The War on Terror’s voracious appetite for information produced, in its first decade, what the Washington Post branded a veritable “fourth branch” of the U.S. federal government with 854,000 vetted security officials, 263 security organizations, over 3,000 private and public intelligence agencies, and 33 new security complexes — all pumping out a total of 50,000 classified intelligence reports annually by 2010.
By that time, one of the newest members of the Intelligence Community, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, already had 16,000 employees, a $5 billion budget, and a massive nearly $2 billion headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Maryland — all aimed at coordinating the flood of surveillance data pouring in from drones, U-2 spy planes, Google Earth, and orbiting satellites.
According to documents whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked to the Washington Post, the U.S. spent $500 billion on its intelligence agencies in the dozen years after the 9/11 attacks, including annual appropriations in 2012 of $11 billion for the National Security Agency (NSA) and $15 billion for the CIA. If we add the $790 billion expended on the Department of Homeland Security to that $500 billion for overseas intelligence, then Washington had spent nearly $1.3 trillion to build a secret state-within-the-state of absolutely unprecedented size and power.
As this secret state swelled, the world’s sovereign decided that some extraordinary exceptions to civil liberties at home and sovereignty abroad were in order. The most glaring came with the CIA’s now-notorious renewed use of torture on suspected terrorists and its setting up of its own global network of private prisons, or “black sites,” beyond the reach of any court or legal authority. Along with piracy and slavery, the abolition of torture had long been a signature issue when it came to the international rule of law. So strong was this principle that the U.N. General Assembly voted unanimously in 1984 to adopt the Convention Against Torture. When it came to ratifying it, however, Washington dithered on the subject until the end of the Cold War when it finally resumed its advocacy of international justice, participating in the World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna in 1993 and, a year later, ratifying the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
Even then, the sovereign decided to reserve some exceptions for his country alone. Only a year after President Bill Clinton signed the U.N. Convention, CIA agents started snatching terror suspects in the Balkans, some of them Egyptian nationals, and sending them to Cairo, where a torture-friendly autocracy could do whatever it wanted to them in its prisons. Former CIA director George Tenet later testified that, in the years before 9/11, the CIA shipped some 70 individuals to foreign countries without formal extradition — a process dubbed “extraordinary rendition” that had been explicitly banned under Article 3 of the U.N. Convention.
Right after his public address to a shaken nation on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush gave his staff wide-ranging secret orders to use torture, adding (in a vernacular version of Schmitt’s dictum),“I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” In this spirit, the White House authorized the CIA to develop that global matrix of secret prisons, as well as an armada of planes for spiriting kidnapped terror suspects to them, and a network of allies who could help seize those suspects from sovereign states and levitate them into a supranational gulag of eight agency black sites from Thailand to Poland or into the crown jewel of the system, Guantánamo, thus eluding laws and treaties that remained grounded in territorially based concepts of sovereignty.
Once the CIA closed the black sites in 2008-2009, its collaborators in this global gulag began to feel the force of law for their crimes against humanity. Under pressure from the Council of Europe, Poland started an ongoing criminal investigation in 2008 into its security officers who had facilitated the CIA’s secret prison in the country’s northeast. In September 2012, Italy’s supreme court confirmed the convictions of 22 CIA agents for the illegal rendition of Egyptian exile Abu Omar from Milan to Cairo, and ordered a trial for Italy’s military intelligence chief on charges that sentenced him to 10 years in prison. In 2012, Scotland Yard opened a criminal investigation into MI6 agents who rendered Libyan dissidents to Colonel Gaddafi’s prisons for torture, and two years later the Court of Appeal allowed some of those Libyans to file a civil suit against MI6 for kidnapping and torture.
But not the CIA. Even after the Senate’s 2014 Torture Report documented the Agency’s abusive tortures in painstaking detail, there was no move for either criminal or civil sanctions against those who had ordered torture or those who had carried it out. In a strong editorial on December 21, 2014, the New York Times asked “whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity.” The answer, of course, was yes. Immunity for hirelings is one of the sovereign’s most important exceptions.
As President Bush finished his second term in 2008, an inquiry by the International Commission of Jurists found that the CIA’s mobilization of allied security agencies worldwide had done serious damage to the international rule of law. “The executive… should under no circumstance invoke a situation of crisis to deprive victims of human rights violations… of their… access to justice,” the Commission recommended after documenting the degradation of civil liberties in some 40 countries. “State secrecy and similar restrictions must not impede the right to an effective remedy for human rights violations.”
The Bush years also brought Washington’s most blatant repudiation of the rule of law. Once the newly established International Criminal Court (ICC) convened at The Hague in 2002, the Bush White House “un-signed” or “de-signed” the U.N. agreement creating the court and then mounted a sustained diplomatic effort to immunize U.S. military operations from its writ. This was an extraordinary abdication for the nation that had breathed the concept of an international tribunal into being.
The Sovereign’s Unbounded Domains
While Presidents Eisenhower and Bush decided on exceptions that violated national boundaries and international treaties, President Obama is exercising his exceptional prerogatives in the unbounded domains of aerospace and cyberspace.
Both are new, unregulated realms of military conflict beyond the rubric of international law and Washington believes it can use them as Archimedean levers for global dominion. Just as Britain once ruled from the seas and postwar America exercised its global reach via airpower, so Washington now sees aerospace and cyberspace as special realms for domination in the twenty-first century.
Under Obama, drones have grown from a tactical Band-Aid in Afghanistan into a strategic weapon for the exercise of global power. From 2009 to 2015, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force deployed a drone armada of over 200 Predators and Reapers, launching 413 strikes in Pakistan alone, killing as many as 3,800 people. Every Tuesday inside the White House Situation Room, as the New York Times reported in 2012, President Obama reviews a CIA drone “kill list” and stares at the faces of those who are targeted for possible assassination from the air. He then decides, without any legal procedure, who will live and who will die, even in the case of American citizens. Unlike other world leaders, this sovereign applies the ultimate exception across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and elsewhere if he chooses.
This lethal success is the cutting edge of a top-secret Pentagon project that will, by 2020, deploy a triple-canopy space “shield” from stratosphere to exosphere, patrolled by Global Hawk and X-37B drones armed with agile missiles.
As Washington seeks to police a restless globe from sky and space, the world might well ask: How high is any nation’s sovereignty? After the successive failures of the Paris flight conference of 1910, the Hague Rules of Aerial Warfare of 1923, and Geneva’s Protocol I of 1977 to establish the extent of sovereign airspace or restrain aerial warfare, some puckish Pentagon lawyer might reply: only as high as you can enforce it.
President Obama has also adopted the NSA’s vast surveillance system as a permanent weapon for the exercise of global power. At the broadest level, such surveillance complements Obama’s overall defense strategy, announced in 2012, of cutting conventional forces while preserving U.S. global power through a capacity for “a combined arms campaign across all domains: land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace.” In addition, it should be no surprise that, having pioneered the war-making possibilities of cyberspace, the president did not hesitate to launch the first cyberwar in history against Iran.
By the end of Obama’s first term, the NSA could sweep up billions of messages worldwide through its agile surveillance architecture. This included hundreds of access points for penetration of the Worldwide Web’s fiber optic cables; ancillary intercepts through special protocols and “backdoor” software flaws; supercomputers to crack the encryption of this digital torrent; and a massive data farm in Bluffdale, Utah, built at a cost of $2 billion to store yottabytes of purloined data.
Even after angry Silicon Valley executives protested that the NSA’s “backdoor” software surveillance threatened their multi-trillion-dollar industry, Obama called the combination of Internet information and supercomputers “a powerful tool.” He insisted that, as “the world’s only superpower,” the United States “cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies.” In other words, the sovereign cannot sanction any exceptions to his panoply of exceptions.
Revelations from Edward Snowden’s cache of leaked documents in late 2013 indicate that the NSA has conducted surveillance of leaders in some 122 nations worldwide, 35 of them closely, including Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff, former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After her forceful protest, Obama agreed to exempt Merkel’s phone from future NSA surveillance, but reserved the right, as he put it, to continue to “gather information about the intentions of governments… around the world.” The sovereign declined to say which world leaders might be exempted from his omniscient gaze.
Can there be any question that, in the decades to come, Washington will continue to violate national sovereignty through old-style covert as well as open interventions, even as it insists on rejecting any international conventions that restrain its use of aerospace or cyberspace for unchecked force projection, anywhere, anytime? Extant laws or conventions that in any way check this power will be violated when the sovereign so decides. These are now the unwritten rules of the road for our planet. They represent the real American exceptionalism.
Alfred W. McCoy is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is the author of Torture & Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation, among other works.
Copyright 2015 Alfred W. McCoy
The United States is set to arm Israel with more fighter jets in a three-billion-dollar agreement signed between Washington and Tel Aviv over the weekend.
The deal includes 14 F-35 stealth fighters made by the US company, Lockheed Martin, at a cost of about $110 million each, Israeli officials announced on Sunday.
Other technological and training elements were also included in the military package.
Israel is expected to receive the fighter jets by the end of next year.
The United States provides Israel with some $8.5 million in military aid per day, adding up to over $3 billion annually.
In November, the Department of Defense announced plans to arm Israel with 3,000 smart bombs as part of Washington’s military aid to Tel Aviv.
In December, American lawmakers passed a bill to deepen Washington’s bonds with Tel Aviv, making Israel a “major strategic partner” of the United States.
The US House of Representatives approved the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, which reflects “the sense of Congress that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States,” and declares Washington’s “unwavering support” for Israel.
The US military aid to Israel has prompted several demonstrations across the country against such deals.
American protesters argue that the US taxpayer money is used for more Israeli aggression against Palestinians.
Nine months into Barack Obama’s presidency, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation”. Six years on, has the 44th president of the United States lived up to his peacemaker laurels?
Humility and Power
“… our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please… our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” – First inaugural address, January 2009.
“We’re the largest, most powerful country on Earth… [America] is going to be the indispensable nation for the remainder of this century.” – January 2015, interview with Vox magazine
“Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?“ – Candidate Obama in a June 2008 speech in Berlin, Germany
August 2014 news conference: “We tortured some folks… We did some things that were contrary to our values.”
“… might does not make right…Citizens, like nations, will never settle for a world where the big are allowed to bully the small. “ – Speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, September 2014
“We occasionally have to twist the arms of countries that wouldn’t do what we need them to do.” – February 2015 interview with Vox magazine
Embargoes don’t work…Do they?
President Obama announced lifting the embargo against Cuba in January 2015, because “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.”
In the same speech, Obama boasted that “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” due to sanctions by the US and EU governments for alleged Russian “provocations” in Ukraine.
“Ukraine must be free to decide its own destiny.” – Barack Obama, speaking in Estonia in September 2014
Legitimacy to lead
“A leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.” – Barack Obama at the UN General Assembly in September 2014, referring to President Bashar Assad of Syria.
“…since ultimately there is no military solution to this crisis, we will continue to support President Poroshenko’s efforts to achieve peace.” – Tallinn, September 2014
Petro Poroshenko’s plan for peace in Ukraine:
International law matters?
Addressing an EU youth conference in Brussels, in March 2014, Obama said: “in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force … international law matters.”
Partner, not policeman
Secretary of State John Kerry introduced President Obama at the Summit to Counter Violent Extremism as someone who has “consistently sought to act not as the world’s policeman, but as the world’s partner.”
While he doesn’t have the option of “simply invading every country where disorder breaks out,” the overall goal “is a world in which America continues to lead,” Obama told Vox magazine.
Many current members of Congress, especially progressives, may have envisioned how they would have handled the Tonkin Gulf crisis in 1964. In their imaginations, they would have asked probing questions and treated the dubious assertions from the White House with tough skepticism before voting on whether to give President Lyndon Johnson the authority to go to war in Vietnam.
If they had discovered what CIA and Pentagon insiders already knew – that the crucial second North Vietnamese “attack” on U.S. destroyers likely never happened and that the U.S. warships were not on some “routine” patrol but rather supporting a covert attack on North Vietnamese territory – today’s members of Congress would likely see themselves joining Sens. Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening as the only ones voting no.
Bravery in hindsight is always easy, but things feel quite different when Official Washington is locked in one of its pro-war “group thinks” when all the “important people” – from government to the media to think tanks – are pounding their chests and talking tough, as they are now on Russia and Ukraine.
Then, if you ask your probing questions and show your tough skepticism, you will have your patriotism, if not your sanity, questioned. You will be “controversialized,” “marginalized,” “pariahed.” You will be called somebody’s “apologist,” whether it’s Ho Chi Minh or Vladimir Putin.
And nobody wants to go through that because here’s the truth about Official Washington: if you run with the pack – if you stay within the herd – you’ll be safe. Even if things go terribly wrong – even if thousands of American soldiers die along with many, many more foreign civilians – you can expect little or no accountability. You will likely keep your job and may well get promoted. But if you stand in the way of the stampede, you’ll be trampled.
After all, remember what happened to Morse and Gruening in their next elections. They both lost. As one Washington insider once told me about the U.S. capital’s culture, “there’s no honor in being right too soon. People just remember that you were out of step and crazy.”
So, the choice often is to do the right thing and be crushed or to run with the pack and be safe. But there are moments when even the most craven member of Congress should look for whatever courage he or she has left and behave like a Morse or a Gruening, especially in a case like the Ukraine crisis which has the potential to spin out of control and into a nuclear confrontation.
Though the last Congress already whipped through belligerent resolutions denouncing “Russian aggression” and urging a military response – with only five Democrats and five Republicans dissenting – members of the new Congress could at least ascertain the facts that have driven the Ukraine conflict. Before the world lurches into a nuclear showdown, it might make a little sense to know what got us here.
The Nuland Phone Call
For instance, Congress could investigate the role of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in orchestrating the political crisis that led to a violent coup overthrowing Ukraine’s constitutionally elected President Viktor Yanukovych a year ago.
What was the significance of the Nuland-Pyatt phone call in early February 2014 in which Nuland exclaimed “Fuck the EU!” and seemed to be handpicking the leaders of a new government? “Yats is the guy,” she said referring to her favorite, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, with Pyatt musing about how to “midwife this thing”?
Among other questions that Congress could pose would be: What does U.S. intelligence know about the role of neo-Nazi extremists whose “sotin” militias infiltrated the Maidan protests and escalated the violence against police last February? [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.”]
And, what does U.S. intelligence know about the mysterious snipers who brought the crisis to a boil on Feb. 20, 2014, by opening fire on police apparently from positions controlled by the extremist Right Sektor, touching off a violent clash that left scores dead, including police and protesters. [A worthwhile documentary on this mystery is “Maidan Massacre.”]
Congress might also seek to determine what was the U.S. government’s role over the next two days as three European countries – Poland, France and Germany – negotiated a deal with Yanukovych on Feb. 21 in which the embattled president agreed to Maidan demands for reducing his powers and accepting early elections to vote him out of office.
Instead of accepting this agreement, which might have averted a civil war, neo-Nazi and other Maidan militants attacked undefended government positions on Feb. 22 and forced officials to flee for their lives. Then, instead of standing by the European deal, the U.S. State Department quickly embraced the coup regime as “legitimate.” And, surprise, surprise, Yatsenyuk emerged as the new Prime Minister.
What followed the coup was a Western propaganda barrage to make it appear that the Ukrainian people were fully behind this “regime change” even though many ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the east and south clearly felt disenfranchised by the unconstitutional ouster of their president.
A U.S. congressional inquiry also might ask: Was there any internal U.S. government assessment of the risks involved in allowing Nuland and Pyatt to pursue a “regime change” strategy on Russia’s border? If so, did the assessment take into account the likely Russian reaction to having an ally next door overthrown by anti-Russian extremists with the intent to put Ukraine into NATO and potentially bring NATO armaments to Russia’s front yard?
Since the entire crisis has been presented to the American people within an anti-Yanukovyh/anti-Moscow propaganda paradigm – both by the U.S. mainstream news media and by the U.S. political/academic elites – there has been virtually no serious examination of the U.S. complicity. No one in Official Washington dares say anything but “Russian aggression.”
Beyond the events surrounding the coup a year ago, there were other pivotal moments as this crisis careened out of control. For instance, what does U.S. intelligence know about the public opinion in Crimea prior to the peninsula’s vote for secession from Ukraine and reunification with Russia on March 16?
The State Department portrayed the referendum as a “sham” but more objective observers acknowledge that the vote – although hasty – reflected a broad consensus inside Crimea to bail out of the failed Ukrainian state and rejoin a somewhat more functional Russia, where pensions are about three times higher and have a better chance of being paid.
Then, there was the massacre of ethnic Russians burned alive in Odessa’s trade union building on May 2, with neo-Nazi militias again on the front lines. Like other topics that put the U.S.-backed coup regime in a bad light, the Odessa massacre quickly moved off the front pages and there has been little follow-up from international agencies that supposedly care about human rights. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Reality.”]
The next major catastrophe associated with the Ukraine crisis was the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17. Again, the State Department rushed to a judgment blaming the ethnic Russian rebels and Russia for the tragedy that killed all 298 people on board. However, I’ve been told that some U.S. intelligence analysts had a very different take on who was responsible, finding evidence implicating a rogue element of the Ukrainian government.
However, following the pattern of going silent whenever the Kiev coup regime might look bad, there was a sudden drop-off of interest in the MH-17 case, apparently not wanting to disrupt the usefulness of the earlier anti-Russian propaganda. When a Dutch-led inquiry into the crash issued an interim report last October, there was no indication that the Obama administration had shared its intelligence information. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case.”]
There also is little interest from Congress about what the MH-17 evidence shows. Even some progressive members are afraid to ask for a briefing from U.S. intelligence analysts, possibly because the answers might force a decision about whether to blow the whistle on a deception that involved Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior Obama administration officials.
This sort of cowardly misfeasance of duty marks the latest step in a long retreat from the days after the Vietnam War when Congress actually conducted some valuable investigations. In the 1970s, there were historic inquiries into Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, led by Sen. Sam Ervin, and into CIA intelligence abuses by Sen. Frank Church.
A Downward Spiral
Since then, congressional investigations have become increasingly timid, such as the Iran-Contra and October Surprise investigations led by Rep. Lee Hamilton in the late 1980s and early 1990s, shying away from evidence of impeachable wrongdoing by President Ronald Reagan. Then, in the 1990s, a Republican-controlled Congress obsessed over trivial matters such as President Bill Clinton’s personal finances and sex life.
Congressional oversight dysfunction reached a new low when President George W. Bush made baseless claims about Iraq’s WMD and Saddam Hussein’s intent to share nuclear, chemical and biological weapons with al-Qaeda. Rather than perform any meaningful due diligence, Congress did little more than rubber stamp Bush’s claims by authorizing the Iraq War.
Years afterwards, there were slow-moving investigations into the WMD intelligence “failure” and into the torture practices that were used to help fabricate evidence for the fake WMD claims. Those investigations, however, were conducted behind closed doors and did little to educate the broader American public. There apparently wasn’t much stomach to call the perpetrators of those abuses before televised hearings.
The only high-profile foreign-affairs hearings that have been held in recent years have been staged by House Republicans on the made-up scandal over an alleged cover-up of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a hot-button issue for the GOP base but essentially a non-story.
Now, the United States is hurtling toward a potential nuclear confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and this congressional ineptness could become an existential threat to the planet. The situation also has disturbing similarities to the Tonkin Gulf situation although arguably much, much more dangerous.
Misleading Americans to War
In 1964, there also was a Democratic president in Lyndon Johnson with Republicans generally to his right demanding a more aggressive military response to fight communism in Vietnam. So, like today with President Barack Obama in the White House and Republicans demanding a tougher line against Russia, there was little reason for Republicans to challenge Johnson when he seized on the Tonkin Gulf incident to justify a ratcheting up of attacks on North Vietnam. Meanwhile, also like today, Democrats weren’t eager to undermine a Democratic president.
The result was a lack of oversight regarding the White House’s public claims that the North Vietnamese launched an unprovoked attack on U.S. warships on Aug. 4, 1964, even though Pentagon and CIA officials realized very quickly that the initial alarmist reports about torpedoes in the water were almost surely false.
Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1964 was a young Defense Department official, recounts – in his 2002 book Secrets – how the Tonkin Gulf falsehoods took shape, first with the panicked cables from a U.S. Navy captain relaying confused sonar readings and then with that false storyline presented to the American people.
As Ellsberg describes, President Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara announced retaliatory airstrikes on Aug. 4, 1964, telling “the American public that the North Vietnamese, for the second time in two days, had attacked U.S. warships on ‘routine patrol in international waters’; that this was clearly a ‘deliberate’ pattern of ‘naked aggression’; that the evidence for the second attack, like the first, was ‘unequivocal’; that the attack had been ‘unprovoked’; and that the United States, by responding in order to deter any repetition, intended no wider war.”
Ellsberg wrote: “By midnight on the fourth, or within a day or two, I knew that each one of those assurances was false.” Yet, the White House made no effort to clarify the false or misleading statements. The falsehoods were left standing for several years while Johnson sharply escalated the war by dispatching a half million soldiers to Vietnam.
In August 1964, the Johnson administration also misled Congress about the facts of the Tonkin Gulf incident. Though not challenging that official story, some key members worried about the broad language in the Tonkin Gulf resolution authorizing the President “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression … including the use of armed force.”
As Ellsberg noted, Sen. Gaylord Nelson tried to attach an amendment seeking to limit U.S. involvement to military assistance – not a direct combat role – but that was set aside because of Johnson’s concern that it “would weaken the image of unified national support for the president’s recent actions.”
Ellsberg wrote, “Several senators, including George McGovern, Frank Church, Albert Gore [Sr.], and the Republican John Sherman Cooper, had expressed the same concern as Nelson” but were assured that Johnson had no intention of expanding the war by introducing ground combat forces.
In other words, members of Congress failed to check out the facts and passed the fateful Tonkin Gulf resolution on Aug. 7, 1964. It should be noted, too, that the mainstream U.S. media of 1964 wasn’t asking many probing questions either.
Looking back at that history, it’s easy for today’s members of Congress to think how differently they would have handled that rush to judgment, how they would have demanded to know the details of what the CIA and the Pentagon knew, how they wouldn’t let themselves be duped by White House deceptions.
However, a half century later, the U.S. political/media process is back to the Tonkin Gulf moment, accepting propaganda themes as fact and showing no skepticism about the official line. Except today, Official Washington’s war fever is not over a remote corner of Southeast Asia but over a country on the border of nuclear-armed Russia.
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).
Voices censored by the Israeli army for nearly 50 years can finally be heard in a powerful documentary that recently premiered in the Sundance Film Festival.
After an initial introduction “Censored Voices” leads into grainy footage showing the triumphant return of Israeli soldiers from the 1967 war. The streets are lined with people celebrating- Israel had just won the war. Fighting against the forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the odds had seemed stacked against the young nation however, after just 6 days, Israel proclaimed victory tripling the area under their control. The soldiers were returning as heroes.
Weeks after the war ended, Avraham Shapira and Amos Oz travelled from kibbutz to kibbutz with a borrowed reel-to-reel tape recorder. They asked the returned soldiers to recount their emotions. They wanted to, in the words of Oz, “try to explain the fact that we’ve all encountered, that people did not come back happy from this war. There is a sense of sadness that the newspapers don’t address.” But when they moved to publish what they had gathered, the Israeli government censored 70 percent of the material. Shapira published the remaining 30 percent in his book “The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War.”
Years on, filmmaker Mor Loushy convinced Shapira to give her access to the tapes. She traced some of the voices they recorded and asked the men behind them to take part in the documentary. We listen as these men, now almost 50 years older, hear the recordings for the first time and the past erupts into the present.
“Several times we captured guys, positioned them and just killed them,” one veteran recalls. Another says: “I was amazed at the calmness with which I was shooting… it was like at an amusement park.” One returning soldier tells of a time he killed an Egyptian soldier, and when gathering up the man’s papers finds a picture of his children- only then does it seem he registers this man as a human being.
After the war ends, the brutality does not stop. They recount orders to shoot Egyptian soldiers even after the ceasefire had begun, the callous killing of Syrian men, now refugees, yards away from their wives and children and a 70 year old Palestinian man forced to carry his lifetime’s belongings on his back- scenes that echo those of the Holocaust. Watching the elderly man take one last look at his house and weep, one of the soldiers says: “I had an abysmal feeling I was evil, a despicable person and nothing can make that feeling go away.”
The documentary takes an unflinching look at Israeli atrocities during a point in history that has been enshrined as a moment of victory within the Israeli psyche. The men today are mostly disillusioned with the Israeli state and the brand of Zionism it represents. Some say they have given up on peace or humanity, but they do not seem to be anti-Zionism or anti-Israel. It is much more of an anti-war documentary. As one of the few honest accounts of what happened in 1967 through the eyes of those who were part of it, it has great value. As Israel continues to conscript its youth into war, the tales they tell will mirror that of their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Towards the end of the documentary one soldier ponders on the future of Israel; “Are we destined to bomb villages every decade for defence purposes?” In 1967, he was tragically close to the truth.
British arms maker BAE Systems boasts lucrative weapons deals as the result of the so-called anti-ISIL fight
British arms manufacturer BAE Systems has boasted hiking demand for its support services of war machines, citing growing engagement of its Arab clients in the so-called anti-ISIL battle.
Speaking to journalists after posting the weapon maker’s 2014 spending, BAE’s Chief Executive Officer Ian King described the rise in demand as a “call to arms” and said, “You cannot let any performance degrade at this time when people are dependent on these assets,” RT reported Friday.
King further said the rise of the ISIL terror group as well as the persisting conflict in Ukraine would mean that governments will keep military spending high on their agenda despite degrading defense budgets due to austerity measures.
“We have a lot of bidding activity going on at the moment and a lot of support activity going on,” he said.
The report comes as some Middle Eastern states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, have joined the so-called anti-ISIL alliance led by the United States.
This is while some of the parties to the same coalition have been among the staunch supporters of the Takfiri groups operating against Syria over the past few years.
“For the first time in the Middle East, the big Middle East countries are deploying their assets against IS[IL],” King said. “Urgent operational requirements are high, support arrangements are high. It is high up on people’s agendas.”
According to the report, BAE’s support service to Saudi Arabia is its third largest market after Britain and the US. However, there is no evidence that the Saudis have engaged in any strikes against the ISIL terrorist group, which is widely believed to be financed by the US-backed kingdom and its other Persian Gulf rulers.
US admits ISIL established by its allies
The development comes after a former US military official admitted earlier this week that Washington’s Middle Eastern allies established the ISIL as part of a strategy to eliminate the Lebanese Islamic resistance group Hezbollah.
“ISIS got started through funding from our friends and allies,” said retired US general Wesley Clark on Tuesday, using another acronym for ISIL, adding the only group that would fight Hezbollah is ISIL because they are “zealots” and resemble a “Frankenstein.”
‘BAE prosperity at expense of human rights’
Critics, however, insist that BAE’s emerging prosperity comes at the expense of human rights and ethical trading. BAE weaponry is also thought to have fallen into the hands of the ISIL terrorists.
Speaking to RT, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) described the remarks by BAE’s chief as “tasteless.”
“This is yet another tasteless reminder that arms companies like BAE depend on war and conflict in order to make a profit. BAE isn’t concerned about human rights or democracy; many of the governments it sells weapons to are among the most oppressive in the world,” he said.
CAAT had also emphasized in the past that the British government is highly in favor of international weapons trading.
The US and Turkey have come to an agreement under which US military personnel will begin training so-called moderate rebels to fight in Syria. The announcement was made Tuesday. This is not just a foolish move; it is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire.
There are no moderate rebels. The moderate people in Syria support their government. If Obama is really serious about fighting ISIS he should join forces with the Syrian government and with Hezbollah–because they are the “boots on the ground” who are taking the fight to the terrorists.
How will the US know the “moderates” it trains aren’t really ISIS secret agents? That may sound funny, but I’m serious. In a report here we are told that the US has so far “screened” about 1,200 rebel fighters said to have been drawn from “several moderate groups in Syria.”
According to the report, the “screening” process is being headed up by Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata. The plans are to train about 5,000 “moderates” per year, but the process is going slowly because each applicant is supposedly being thoroughly checked. Some 100 US personnel are already in the area setting up three training camps–in Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia–and eventually about 1,000 US troops are expected to be involved in the program.
Question: how does Nagata know that at least some of the “moderates” being recruited for this effort aren’t in reality deep-cover ISIS operatives? Answer: he doesn’t. And even if they are moderates now, what’s to stop them from going over to the other side once they get their American training and equipment?
We saw an instance, late last year, in which two “moderate” rebel groups who had received US training–Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front–laid down their weapons and surrendered after coming into military conflict with Al-Nusra. The two groups had been supplied with GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles. All of this equipment ended up in Al-Nusra’s possession. It is said that Harakat Hazm gave up “without firing a shot,” and that some of its members even defected over to the takfiri militants. These events took place in early November of 2014, and they proved somewhat embarrassing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, or WINEP.
In April of 2014, WINEP fellow Jeffrey White published an article in which he referred to Harakat Hazm as “rebels worth supporting.” I discussed White’s piece in a post entitled The Myth of the ‘Moderate’ Rebels, which I put up on October 15 last year. At that time, Harakat Hazm had not yet surrendered to Al-Nusra, but the post included a video about the organization that placed its supposed “moderation” into considerable doubt. Below is that video. Starting at about 1:04 in you will see footage showing five men seated at a table. The one in the center is Salim Idris, former chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army–another supposed “moderate.”
In my article I noted that the best way for the US to defeat ISIS, perhaps the only way, is to join forces with the Syrian government. But this will not happen, I also mentioned, because it runs counter to the wishes of the Zionist lobby in America, which wants to see regime change in Syria.
Now, just months later, one has to wonder: was it Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata who made the decision to give GRAD rockets and TOW missiles to Harakat Hazm? Nagata was already on the job training Syrian rebels in October of last year, and you can go here to see a report filed at that time that offers a little bit of insight into his background. The report doesn’t leave you with a great deal of confidence in him.
Once the initial 1,200 “moderates” have undergone their training, what happens then? Will they simply be wished the best of luck, sent off into Syria, at which point that’s the end of it? Hardly. According to a report here, once they are in Syria, the “moderate” rebels will be given the power to call in US airstrikes, which opens up a host of possibilities, including a scenario in which US air power is manipulated by those on the ground for purpose of attacking rival rebel groups. And this, too, has happened before–in Afghanistan.
How much of our tax dollars are being wasted on this enterprise? How much is being wasted now–and how much will be wasted in the years to come? Another consideration is the chance that all this will escalate. Those who remember history will recall that the Vietnam war started out with just a small number of US “advisers” in the country to train South Vietnamese troops. In 1959, a total of just 760 US personnel were in South Vietnam; in 1960, the number grew to 900. By 1968, America had more than a half million troops stationed in the country.
As mentioned above, one of the US training camps being set up is in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabist ideology was born in Saudia Arabia, and the kingdom today remains its epicenter. Exactly what sort of persons do you suppose Nagata will be providing training for in his camp there? Perhaps they will include the enlightened followers of a Saudi cleric who recently explained why, in his view, the earth doesn’t rotate. The cleric has been identified as Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari:
The above video surfaced earlier this week. The following video, below, was posted three months ago and shows Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah discussing, in a somewhat bemused manner, the beliefs of clerics like al-Khaibari:
Not only is the “moderate rebel” a myth, but the notion that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar are sincere partners in fighting ISIS is also a myth. All three countries have been heavily implicated in providing assistance to the very terrorists the Obama administration claims to be fighting. Due to the low price of oil, filling up gasoline cans is cheap these days.
The only people who attempt to put out fires with gasoline are either, a) the very stupid; or, b) those who only pretend to want to see the fire put out but who in reality are seeking to create a bigger fire.
In a speech given on Thursday, February 19, Obama asserted that the world is “united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.” This is a fairly accurate statement as far as it goes; the vast majority of the world’s people are indeed united on that point. The question, of course, becomes: does Obama really not know who his friends are in this fight?
The Middle East is really not that hard to figure out. The best, the brightest, the most patriotic of the region–these people already know what side they are on; they have joined the ranks of Hezbollah, the Syrian and Lebanese Armies, and the Syrian National Defense Force. They will fight and they will defeat America’s trained proxies, and then when nothing is left but for America to send in its own ground forces, they will fight America as well.
This is the course our leaders are presently headed on–all for Israel.
In Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, the philosopher delivered his summarization of the writings of Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas thusly, “Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.”
American foreign policy is determined in much the same fashion. Valuable objects are desired. Noble justifications are manufactured. Trusting populations are deceived. War is made. Empires do their special pleading on a global scale. For instance, the U.S. and its allies know precisely how they want to portray the Ukrainian conflict to their deluded Western populations. They need only apply the false flags and fashion the nefarious motives—like so many brush strokes—to the canvas of geopolitics.
Both the government and their corporate media vassals know their conclusions in advance. They are simple: Russia is the aggressor; America is the defender of freedom; and NATO is a gallant security force that must counter Moscow’s bellicosity. As the chief pleader in the construction of this fable, the Obama administration has compiled a litany of lies about the conflict that it disseminates almost daily to its press flacks.
One lie is that Putin has a feverishly expansionist foreign policy. No evidence exists for this claim, repeated ad nauseum in the West. The annexation of Crimea hardly seems like an example of such a policy. Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine. Russia was quite content with its long-term agreements with Kiev over the stationing of its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol. It was the Kiev putsch that forced its hand.
There are plenty of signals that Putin has sent a stream of conscripts across the border to battle alongside the besieged “rebel separatists” in the East of Ukraine. But is this a crime of imperialism, sending soldiers to defend communities of ethnic peers under attack? Seems a difficult argument to make.
Moreover, Moscow has long stated that it wouldn’t permit NATO bases on its border—a purely defensive stance. The West knows this, but that is precisely its plan. It also surely knew that by capsizing Kiev and installing a few Westernized technocrats, it would provoke Russia into taking Crimea rather than sacrifice its Black Sea outpost. This cynical baiting permitted Washington to frame its aggression as self-defense, and Moscow’s self-defense as aggression. For context, consider how the U.S. might react if China suddenly toppled Mexico City using local drug lords with the aim of stationing hypersonic glide missiles in Tijuana. For once, Washington’s contempt for diplomacy would be justified.
Another lie is that we know Russia was behind the downing of MH17. Obama repeated this outlandish claim in the pulpit of the United Nations, no less. No proof exists, but plenty of circumstantial evidence seriously undermines the charge—missing air traffic controller (ATC) transcripts, the absence of satellite evidence of Buk anti-aircraft missile launchers in rebel territory, shelling traces on cockpit material, and Ukrainian ATC worker tweets pointing the finger at Kiev, and so on. Yet within hours of the crash, Barack Obama had told the world that Russian-backed separatists were responsible, and that Moscow must be punished. Nobody owns the narrative better than the USA.
A third lie is that the toppling of Viktor Yanukovych was a democratic uprising. Interesting how these always seem to occur wherever America has “strategic interests” in peril. Only then does the fever for representative government seize upon the minds of the rabble. Setting fantasy aside, the most reasonable conclusion, judging not least by admissions from Victoria Nuland and Obama himself, is that the U.S. engineered a coup using fascist thugs in the vanguard, and false flag shootings to drive Yanukovych into hurried exile. Odd how it all occurred when Yanukovych, after prevaricating for a time, discarded his association agreement with the EU for a better Russian offer. (Note likewise how Syria erupted in violence immediately following Bashar al-Assad’s decision to reject a Western-backed Qatari pipeline deal in favor of an Iranian one. In both cases, the inciting incidents were examples of an imperial province defying the diktats of Rome.)
A fourth lie is that Western sanctions against Russia are merited, since they are based on Russian aggression. However, a State Department run by his rhetorical eminence, Secretary of State John Kerry, would never phrase it so bluntly. Instead, we were informed that Russia was being chastened for “violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” and because it had worked to, “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets.” One can just imagine the media flacks in speechless submission as this decree was sonorously recited from on high. None of this puffery removes the fact that the coup was a contemptuous move to bring NATO to the edges of Russia.
My, how the media lemmings fall in line with the official rhetoric. Dutiful to a fault, Western corporate media have performed their servile tasks with aplomb this month. A Thursday Times edition earlier in the month led with the headline, “U.S. and Europe working to end Ukraine fighting.” Saturday morning’s edition led with “U.S. faults Russia as combat spikes in East Ukraine.” A lead in the Economist put it rather more bluntly, “Putin’s war on the West.” Beneath the headline was a Photoshopped image of the Russian President, looking resolute, hand extended with puppet strings dangling from each digit. The op-ed pages of the Washington Post teemed with vitriol, continuing efforts to portray Obama as a latter-day Neville Chamberlain, arch appeaser of transparent tyrants. The “alarmingly passive” White House should be more concerned about how “to keep Vladimir Putin in line.”
This isn’t nuanced propaganda. It isn’t hedging or garden variety bias. It’s flat-out mendacity. Surely these publications have, as none of the rest of us does, the resources to know that the United States, trailed by its milquetoast EU lackeys, is trying to provoke a conflict between nuclear powers in eastern Ukraine. It either wants Russia to quit backing eastern rebels and permit NATO to establish bases on its border, or allow itself to be drawn into a resource-sapping proxy war. The end goal of the former is to divide Moscow from Europe. The goal of the latter is to vastly diminish the federation’s capacity to support its Shiite and Alawite allies in the Middle East, all of who stand in the way of Washington’s feverish dream of regional hegemony. Neither option holds much hope for residents of Donetsk, Luhansk and the surrounding oblasts, or provinces.
Yet the Times leads the Western world in disseminating, in every Starbuck’s in America, the folderol that our high-minded, hand-wringing, and munificent leaders are pursuing peace. This despite the unquenchable imperial ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will not cease his provocations until he has resurrected the former glory of the Soviet Union, circa the Stalin era. How soon before the term “Hun” starts circulating? We’ve already got warmongering Senators releasing fake photos and cantankerously arguing that Obama is weak in the face of a world-historical threat.
Howitzers for Peace
Despite hysterical claims that Obama is a dove and tremulous fears that Putin will roll unopposed across the European mainland, the U.S. Congress approved new sanctions on Russia just before Christmas. The Orwellian, “Ukraine Freedom and Support Act” was intended to make sure that Vladimir Putin, “pays for his assault on freedom and security in Europe,” according to co-author of the bill, Senator Larry Corker, the Republican who will soon chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But what are sanctions without a little lethal aid thrown in? The bill also provided $350 million in such aid to Kiev. That means “anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries, fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance and control equipment, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment.”
Now President Obama, tired of the pretense of diplomacy, is said to be weighing a recommendation from the always-helpful Brookings Institute to speed some $3 billion more in military aid to Kiev, including missiles, drones and armored Humvees. Look at this stern-faced collection of the pale and pious, spines erect as they advocate more slaughter in East Ukraine, where the U.N. has condemn both sides of the conflict—Western-backed Ukrainian government and the Russian-supported Novorossiya Army in the East—of indiscriminate shelling, which no doubt accounts for the hundreds of civilian deaths in just the last few weeks. A million have already fled to Russia as shelling from their own nation’s army has destroyed power and medical infrastructure, one of the first steps toward the impoverishment of a region. Couple that physical distress with the economic stress being implemented through Kiev’s agreement with the European Union.
The U.S. has also promised energy aid to Kiev to counter—as the media generally puts it—Russian threats to cut gas supplies. It is rarely noted that Kiev has refused to pay or even schedule payments on its $2 billion past-due invoice on previous deliveries. This is no doubt a Western prescription or precondition of assistance.
Note the staggering disparities here. Kiev owes Russia $2 billion in back payments. Vice President Joe Biden promises $50 million in energy relief, none of which will make it to Moscow. Then the president weighs in with $350 million in military aid and contemplates a staggering $3 billion more. He also offers a piddling $7 million for humanitarian purposes alongside some 46 million in the same bill for border security and the like.
That’s some $3.35 billion to further destroy a fractured Ukrainian society and $57 million to help repair it. Forgive me for being obtuse, but how is this peacemaking? Yet Secretary of State Kerry, Senator John McCain and others in Congress have continuously cast the conflict in defensive terms, producing all manner of fabrication to support the conceit. In the next sound byte, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance wants to double its Response Force to some 30,000 troops. France’s Hollande has called for Ukrainian entry into NATO.
Peace Before the Thaw?
Amid all this belligerent posturing, cameras crisply flashed when Angela Merkel and Francoise Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko concluded a second Minsk ceasefire agreement last week, implemented Sunday. It was perhaps a last ditch effort by a temporizing EU to prevent a vicious proxy war, or possibly more insincere diplomatic posturing to provide cover for Western aggression. In any event, Washington was notably absent, but surely it loomed large over the meetings. The core points of the accord include a withdrawal of heavy weapons behind the nominal buffer zone; amnesty for prisoners; withdrawal of foreign militias and disarming of illegal groups; decentralization of areas controlled by Novorossiya Armed Forces, supposedly in the form of constitutional reform; but also Ukrainian control of the Russian border by year’s end. Despite the agreement, the battle for city of Debaltseve continued, with the rebels—or “terrorists” in Kiev parlance—finally emerging victorious yesterday and driving the Ukrainian Army into retreat.
Betting on peace isn’t a smart call in this circumstance. Already radical voices have flared up in Kiev and also in rebel circles declaring their contempt for the agreement. None of the contracting parties in Minsk seem to have control over these groups. Poroshenko himself said he agreed to the first Minsk agreement to let his troops regroup, and he has evidently refused the stipulation of constitutional reform this time around. Nor has Washington shown any serious interest in implementing a peace plan. In fact, the financial outlay by the White House suggests this is no token conflict, but part of a larger imperial strategy that many pundits claim doesn’t exist.
But it does. Look at Carter administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s strategic master plan, laid out in his book The Grand Chessboard, among others. Then see how that plan found its apostles in the neoconservative movement, re-articulated in Paul Wolfowitz’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance for the Clinton administration, and later in the Bush administration’s madcap blueprint for reshaping the Middle East. As ever, the objective is full-spectrum dominance, an arcadia or nightmare, depending on which side of the imperial fence you find yourself.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Taliban militants have censured the United Nations for what they describe as its “unjust and political motives” in attributing a rise in the number of Afghan civilian casualties in 2014 to the group’s militancy.
“The findings of the report are unjust and we refute them,” the Taliban militant group declared in a Thursday statement, claiming that Afghan government forces may have also contributed to the high civilian toll in the war-ravaged country in the past year.
The development came after the United Nations announced in a Wednesday report that 72 percent of the overall civilian casualties throughout Afghanistan were attributed to the Taliban and other militant groups.
“The United Nations does not show the crimes that the Afghan military under the Kabul administration is committing against civilians,” the Taliban statement further said.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, more than 10,000 civilian casualties were recorded across the Asian country during 2014, reflecting a 22-percent hike compared to figures from the previous year.
“Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfill commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm,” said Nicholas Haysom, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for Afghanistan.
The report, however, does not attribute any civilian casualties in the war-torn country to the US-led foreign forces, most of which withdrew from the country by the end of 2014.
Washington’s assassination drone strikes and other air raids and military operations conducted by the US-led forces have been widely blamed for large number of civilian casualties since the foreign troops began their military invasion of the country in 2001.
Afghan civilians have been bearing the brunt of the 13-year war in Afghanistan since the US-led occupation of the country under the pretext of a “war on terror.”
February 18, 2015
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister:
Many Americans love Canada and the specific benefits that have come to our country from our northern neighbor’s many achievements (see Canada Firsts by Nader, Conacher and Milleron). Unfortunately, your latest proposed legislation—the new anti-terrorism act—is being described by leading Canadian civil liberties scholars as hazardous to Canadian democracy.
A central criticism was ably summarized in a February 2015 Globe and Mail editorial titled “Parliament Must Reject Harper’s Secret Policeman Bill,” to wit:
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper never tires of telling Canadians that we are at war with the Islamic State. Under the cloud of fear produced by his repeated hyperbole about the scope and nature of the threat, he now wants to turn our domestic spy agency into something that looks disturbingly like a secret police force.
Canadians should not be willing to accept such an obvious threat to their basic liberties. Our existing laws and our society are strong enough to stand up to the threat of terrorism without compromising our values.”
Particularly noticeable in your announcement were your exaggerated expressions that exceed the paranoia of Washington’s chief attack dog, former vice-president Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney periodically surfaces to update his pathological war mongering oblivious to facts—past and present—including his criminal war of aggression which devastated Iraq—a country that never threatened the U.S.
You are quoted as saying that “jihadi terrorism is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced” as a predicate for your gross over-reaction that “violent jihadism seeks to destroy” Canadian “rights.” Really? Pray tell, which rights rooted in Canadian law are “jihadis” fighting in the Middle East to obliterate? You talk like George W. Bush.
How does “jihadism” match up with the lives of tens of millions of innocent civilians, destroyed since 1900 by state terrorism—west and east, north and south—or the continuing efforts seeking to seize or occupy territory?
Reading your apoplectic oratory reminds one of the prior history of your country as one of the world’s peacekeepers from the inspiration of Lester Pearson to the United Nations. That noble pursuit has been replaced by deploying Canadian soldiers in the belligerent service of the American Empire and its boomeranging wars, invasions and attacks that violate our Constitution, statutes and international treaties to which both our countries are signatories.
What has all this post-9/11 loss of American life plus injuries and sickness, in addition to trillions of American tax dollars, accomplished? Has it led to the stability of those nations invaded or attacked by the U.S. and its reluctant western “allies?” Just the opposite, the colossal blowback evidenced by the metastasis of al-Qaeda’s offshoots and similar new groups like the self-styled Islamic state are now proliferating in and threatening over a dozen countries.
Have you digested what is happening in Iraq and why Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said no to Washington? Or now chaotic Libya, which like Iraq never had any presence of Al-Qaeda before the U.S.’s destabilizing military attacks? (See the New York Times’ editorial on February 15, 2015 titled “What Libya’s Unraveling Means”.)
Perhaps you will find a former veteran CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, Robert L. Grenier more credible. Writing in his just released book: 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary (Simon & Schuster), he sums up U.S. government policy this way: “Our current abandonment of Afghanistan is the product of a…colossal overreach, from 2005 onwards.” He writes, “in the process we overwhelmed a primitive country, with a largely illiterate population, a tiny agrarian economy, a tribal social structure and nascent national institutions. We triggered massive corruption through our profligacy; convinced a substantial number of Afghans that we were, in fact, occupiers and facilitated the resurgence of the Taliban” (Alissa J. Rubin, Robert L. Grenier’s ‘88 Days to Kandahar,’ New York Times, February 15, 2015).
You may recall George W. Bush’s White House counterterrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who wrote in his 2004 book, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror—What Really Happened, “It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting, ‘Invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’”
Mr. Bush committed sociocide against that country’s twenty-seven million people. Over 1 million innocent Iraqi civilians lost their lives, in addition to millions sick and injured. Refugees have reached five million and growing. He destroyed critical public services and sparked sectarian massacres—massive war crimes, which in turn produce ever-expanding blowbacks.
Canadians might be most concerned about your increased dictatorial policies and practices, as well as this bill’s provision for secret law and courts in the name of fighting terrorism—too vaguely defined. Study what comparable practices have done to the United States – a course that you seem to be mimicking, including the militarization of police forces (see The Walrus, December 2014).
If passed, this act, piled on already stringent legal authority, will expand your national security bureaucracies and their jurisdictional disputes, further encourage dragnet snooping and roundups, fuel fear and suspicion among law-abiding Canadians, stifle free speech and civic action and drain billions of dollars from being used for the necessities of Canadian society. This is not hypothetical. Along with an already frayed social safety net, once the envy of the world, you almost got away with a $30 billion dollar purchase of unneeded costly F-35s (including maintenance) to bail out the failing budget-busting F-35 project in Washington.
You may think that Canadians will fall prey to a politics of fear before an election. But you may be misreading the extent to which Canadians will allow the attachment of their Maple Leaf to the aggressive talons of a hijacked American Eagle.
Canada could be a model for independence against the backdrop of bankrupt American military adventures steeped in big business profits… a model that might help both nations restore their better angels.