As Democrats compete to become the new War Party – pushing for a dangerous confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia – some constituents are objecting, as Mike Madden did in a letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Dear Senator Klobuchar, I write with concern over statements you have made recently regarding Russia. These statements have been made both at home and abroad, and they involve two issues; the alleged Russian hack of the presidential election and Russia’s actions in the aftermath of the February 22, 2014 coup in Kiev.
U.S. intelligence services allege that President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign to denigrate Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump. The campaign is purported to include the production of fake news, cyber-trolling, and propaganda from Russian state-owned media. It is also alleged that Russia hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, subsequently providing the emails to WikiLeaks.
Despite calls from many quarters, the intelligence services have not provided the public with any proof. Instead, Americans are expected to blindly trust these services with a long history of failure. Additionally, the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, have both been known to lie to the public and to Congress, Mr. Clapper doing so under oath.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange maintains the emails did not come from Russia (or any other state actor) and his organization has an unblemished record of revealing accurate information in the public interest that would otherwise remain hidden. While responsible journalists continue to use the word ‘alleged’ to describe the accusations, Republicans with an ax to grind against Russia, and Democrats wishing to distract from their own failings in the campaign, refer to them as fact. Indeed, on the ‘Amy in the News’ page of your own website, Jordain Carney of The Hill refers to the Russian meddling as “alleged”.
A congressional commission to investigate the alleged Russian hacking is not necessary. Even if all the allegations are true, they are altogether common occurrences, and they certainly don’t rise to the level of “an act of aggression”, “an existential threat to our way of life”, or “an attack on the American people” as various Democratic officials have characterized them. Republican Senator John McCain went full monty and called the alleged meddling “an act of war”.
Joining War Hawks
It is of concern that you would join Senator McCain and the equally belligerent Senator Lindsey Graham on a tour of Russian provocation through the Baltics, Ukraine, Georgia, and Montenegro. The announcement of your trip (December 28, 2016) on the ‘News Releases’ page of your website renewed the unproven claim of “Russian interference in our recent election”. It also claimed that the countries you were visiting were facing “Russian aggression” and that “Russia illegally annexed Crimea”.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham
It is unfortunate that these claims have become truisms by sheer repetition rather than careful examination of the facts. Russia has not invaded eastern Ukraine. There are no regular units of the Russian military in the breakaway provinces, nor has Russia launched any air strikes from its territory. It has sent weapons and other provisions to the Ukrainian forces seeking autonomy from Kiev, and there are most certainly Russian volunteers operating in Ukraine.
However regrettable, it must be remembered that the unrest was precipitated by the February 22, 2014 overthrow of the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych which, speaking of meddling, was assisted by U.S. State Department, other American government agencies, and one Senator John McCain. The subsequent military and paramilitary operations launched by the coup government against the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk were described by President Putin as “uncontrolled crime” spreading into the south and east of the country. In American parlance, both the interim coup government in Kiev and the current government of President Petro Poroshenko have engaged in “killing their own people”.
Ignoring the Details
If Russia’s actions are to be considered “aggression” or an “invasion”, one must find a whole new word to describe what the United States did to Iraq in 2003. If, like your colleague Senator McCain, you hold the annexation of Crimea to be illegal under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, I urge a closer look.
On February 21, 2014, an agreement brokered by the European Union was signed between President Yanukovych and the leaders of three major opposition parties. The agreement contained terms for a cessation of violence, immediate power sharing, and new elections. Smelling blood in the water, the opposition in Maidan Square did not withdraw from the streets or surrender their illegal weapons as agreed, but instead went on the offensive. Yanukovych, under threat to his life, fled Kiev along with many others in his Party of Regions.
Nor did the opposition party leaders honor the agreement. The next day, they moved to impeach Yanukovych, however they failed to meet several requirements of the Ukrainian Constitution. They failed to indict the president, conduct an investigation, and have that investigation certified by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Instead, they moved directly to a vote on impeachment and, even on that count, they failed to obtain the required three-fourths majority vote. So, even though the Budapest Memorandum did offer assurances of Ukrainian security and territorial integrity in exchange for surrender of Soviet-era nuclear weapons on its soil, the sovereign government of Ukraine had fallen in a violent unconstitutional putsch.
Yanukovych remained its legitimate president-in-exile and he, along with the prime minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, requested Russian intervention on the peninsula to provide security and protect the human rights of ethnic Russians threatened by the new coup government and neo-Nazi elements within it.
One can now see how real that threat was by looking to eastern Ukraine where the Ukrainian military and neo-Nazi paramilitaries such as the Azov Battallion, have moved with force against the defenders of the Donbass region whose people seek autonomy from a government in Kiev that they do not recognize. Approximately 10,000 people have died in the Donbass War, whereas only six people were killed during the period of annexation (February 23-March19, 2014) in Crimea.
While the Donbass War drags on, Crimea remains stable today. The popular referendum conducted on March 16, 2014 lent legitimacy to the subsequent annexation. Official results claimed 82% turnout with 96% of voters favoring reunification with Russia. Independent polling conducted in the early weeks of March 2014 found 70-77% of all Crimeans favored reunification. Six years prior to the crisis in 2008, a poll found that 63% favored reunification. Even though many ethnic Ukranians and Tatars boycotted the election, rejoining Russia was clearly the will of the majority of Crimean people.
President Putin, characterizing the situation in Ukraine as a revolution, claimed that Russia had no agreements with the new state and therefore no obligations under the Budapest Memorandum. He also cited Chapter I: Article 1 of the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect for the principle of self-determination of peoples. The 1975 Helsinki Accords, which affirmed post-World War II borders, also allowed for the change of national boundaries by peaceful internal means.
The Kosovo Precedent
It is also useful to consider parallel occurrences in Kosovo. In 1998 ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops and paramilitaries led to a NATO intervention without U.N. authorization. There is little question that the move was illegal, but legitimacy was claimed due to the urgent humanitarian need. Ten years later, Kosovo would declare independence from Serbia and the disputed matter would end up before the International Court of Justice. In 2009 the United States provided the Court with a statement on Kosovo that read in part: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.”
The United States should accept the Russian annexation of Crimea both as a pragmatic matter, and one of principle. In 1990, during negotiations for the re-unification of Germany, the United States promised that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO. That promise has now been broken three times and eleven new nations have been added to the alliance. Ukraine has also entered in partnership with NATO, and at various times, full membership has been discussed. Russia has consistently expressed its disapproval. According to your website, an objective of your trip was “to reinforce support for NATO”. If this weren’t provocative enough, your three-senator delegation went to a front-line military outpost in Shirokino, Ukraine to incite an escalation to the Donbass War. Senator Graham told the assembled soldiers “Your fight is our fight, 2017 will be the year of offense”. The leader of your delegation, Senator McCain, said “I am convinced you will win and we will do everything we can to provide you with what you need to win”.
After the speeches were given, you are seen in a video of the New Year’s Eve event accepting what appears to be a gift from one of the uniformed soldiers. With all of the furor over former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation, and possible violation of the Logan Act, for discussing alleviation of sanctions with a Russian ambassador, this appears to be a far more serious offense. Not only did your delegation advocate for a foreign policy that was not aligned with that of acting President Obama, it was also contrary to President-elect Trump’s approach to the region. And the results of your advocacy have the potential to be far more deadly than the mere alleviation of sanctions.
Sincerely, Mike Madden St. Paul, Minnesota
According to the New York Times, «a Trump administration official» has accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). The statement was supported by the Defense Department. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain chimed in, saying «Russia’s deployment of nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the INF treaty is a significant military threat to US forces in Europe and our NATO allies». According to him, Russian President Vladimir Putin was «testing» Trump.
The statement was immediately used by hawks as a pretext for instigating tensions. For instance, Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said he sees little reason for the US to continue adhering to the INF treaty in light of alleged Russia’s «violations». He has recommended building up US nuclear forces in Europe, which currently include about 200 bombs that can be delivered by aircraft. The US withdrew land-based nuclear-armed missiles from Europe as part of the INF deal.
The Treaty eliminated all ground-based nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometers (310–620 mi) (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 km (620–3,420 mi) (intermediate-range). Signed in December 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF deal is accredited with significantly reducing the threat of nuclear confrontation and accelerating the end of the Cold War.
By May 1991, 2,692 missiles were eliminated, followed by 10 years of on-site verification inspections. The document did not cover sea-launched missiles. It stands as the only arms treaty to eliminate an entire class of US and Russian weapons – nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles of intermediate range.
Last year, the State Department reported Russia was in violation of its treaty obligations not to possess, produce or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers for such missiles. «The administration is undertaking an extensive review of Russia’s ongoing INF treaty violation in order to assess the potential security implications for the United States and its allies and partners», said Mark Toner. The alleged violations had been mentioned in the 2014 and 2015 compliance reports.
No specifics have been released about which exactly Russian weapon is the source of the violation. The only thing it has said is that an unspecified Russian ground-launched cruise missile breaches the agreement. Supposedly, the missile in question is the SSC-8, a ground-based adaptation of the Kalibr missiles that were battle tested in Syria striking targets in Syria, nearly 1,000 miles away, from the Caspian Sea. Despite all the statements with accusations, no compelling evidence of the Russian non-compliance has ever been produced.
It should be noted that even if the missile has been tested, there is no violation. The INF Treaty allows the testing of sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) from ground-based platforms if they are fixed. Article VII (para 11) states, «A cruise missile which is not a missile to be used in a ground-based mode shall not be considered to be a GLCM if it is test-launched at a test site from a fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from GLCM launchers».
Russia, in turn, has accused the US of violating the pact. In a nutshell, it cites the following examples of non-compliance:
– The use of target missiles with characteristics similar to those of intermediate and shorter-range ballistic missiles during ballistic missile defense (BMD) tests. With its operational range (1,100 km) Hera qualifies as an intermediate ballistic missile and hence violates Item 1, Article 6 of the INF Treaty.
– The deployment in Romania and Poland of Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launchers capable of firing ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs). A US mid-range weapon launched from Poland would require only a short flight time to reach beyond the Urals.
– US unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or armed drones such as the MQ-1 Predator, fall under the INF Treaty definition of GLCMs. Moscow claims that their operational ranges (1,100 km) and lack of pilot mean that drones of this type are very similar to shorter-range cruise missiles.
It’s worth noting that the US plans to arm tactical aviation in Europe with modernized B61-12 guided warheads will virtually nullify all the benefits of the INF Treaty from the point of view of Russia’s security. The aircraft could fly from bases in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland to Russia’s largest cities in 15-20 minutes – not that much longer than the flight time of the missiles scuttled by the INF treaty.
The Special Verification Commission (SVC) envisioned by the INF treaty is a forum to confidentially address compliance concerns. It was convened last November for the first time since 2003 to produce no results. The opportunities provided by this venue should not be squandered. It would be much more fruitful to start serious discussions within the framework of the SVC than make public statements not backed up by facts. The accusations obviously pursue the aim of whipping up tensions to spoil the RF-US relationship at the time it has a chance to improve.
The INF treaty is under serious and increasing stress. Failure to resolve the dispute could threaten the agreement and impede further efforts to reduce Russia and US nuclear arsenals in the years ahead. The parties could use the SVC venue to consider additional confidence-building measure and information exchanges that take into account technological and political developments that have occurred recently. The Open Skies Treaty could be used for the purpose. Its observation capabilities could be upgraded. The NATO-Russia Council could serve as another mechanism to address specific security concerns.
The issue has been debated since 2014 but before this statement no one has officially accused Russia of violating the INF. It should be noted that this time the issue was raised immediately after the Flynn’s resignation from the position of national security adviser. Revelations about alleged ‘Russia connections» of the people who belong to the Trump’s team are hitting US media headlines. The statement about the INF violation is made against the background of the White House’s statement stressing the need to «return» Crimea to Ukraine and the ballyhoo raised over the alleged dangerous maneuvering of Russian aircraft in the Black Sea. These are provocative statements doomed to be rejected by Moscow but they pursue a definite purpose. Evidently, some powerful circles in the US have launched a well-orchestrated campaign to prevent the improvement of Russia-US relations.
John McCain, a hawkish US Senator known for his anti-Russia position, has called for boosting US deterrent posture in Europe after reports emerged alleging Moscow has secretly deployed nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The administration of President Donald Trump must immediately respond to Russia’s alleged deployment of nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles, McCain said in a press release.
The news comes as US media reported that Russia deployed ground-based nuclear cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The Pentagon supported the review of alleged the INF Treaty violations.
The treaty prohibits the development, deployment or testing of ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. It was implemented by 1991 with inspections carrying on until 2001.
“Russia’s treaty violation requires a meaningful response,” McCain stated in the release on Tuesday. “In light of the most recent developments, it is time for the new administration to take immediate action to enhance our deterrent posture in Europe and protect our allies.”
McCain claimed Russia’s violation of the INF treaty is a significant threat to US forces in Europe and its NATO allies, the release stated.
The United States should continue to modernize its nuclear forces and ensure NATO’s nuclear deterrence forces are prepared to counter Russian nuclear doctrine, which calls for the first use of nuclear weapons, McCain added.
Russia has rejected the accusations, and said that the United States deploying its Europe-based missile defense system violates the INF treaty.
RT | February 15, 2017
Top Russian officials have rejected accusations that Moscow violated an arms control treaty by deploying cruise missiles, saying that the people spreading the rumors were targeting the possible thaw in Russia-US relations.
Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Russia was observing all its international obligations and that none of its partners had accused Moscow of breaching any treaties.
“Russia has been and remains committed to its international commitments, including to the treaty in question,” Peskov told reporters. “Nobody has formally accused Russia of violating the treaty,” he said.
The comments came after US media reported that unnamed officials in the Trump administration had allegedly accused Moscow of deploying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The head of the Russian upper house Committee for International Relations, Senator Konstantin Kosachev, said on Tuesday that such media leaks were part of a wider information war being waged against Russia and everyone who supported the normalization of Russia-US relations.
“The main objective of this campaign is to prevent the new president [Trump] from making a U-turn over the Atlantic, I mean, to prevent him from reconsidering the transatlantic policies of the United States that are set at establishing the monopolar model of the world order,” the senator told reporters.
He added that in his opinion those behind the strategy were sure that US politicians and the general public must be kept in a state of constant fear from an imagined external threat. … Full article
The controversy over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election shows no sign of letting up. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its acts of “cyber intrusions.”
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham
At a press event in Washington on Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, called Election Day 2016 “a day that will live in cyber infamy.” Previously, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called the Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee “an act of war,” while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has claimed that there is near unanimity among senators regarding Russia’s culpability.
Despite all this, the question of who exactly is responsible for the providing WikiLeaks with the emails of high Democratic Party officials does not lend itself to easy answers. And yet, for months, despite the lack of publicly disclosed evidence, the media, like these senators, have been as one: Vladimir Putin’s Russia is responsible.
Interestingly, the same neoconservative/center-left alliance which endorsed George W. Bush’s case for war with Iraq is pretty much the same neoconservative/center-left alliance that is now, all these years later, braying for confrontation with Russia. It’s largely the same cast of characters reading from the Iraq-war era playbook.
It’s worth recalling Tony Judt’s observation in September 2006 that “those centrist voices that bayed most insistently for blood in the prelude to the Iraq war … are today the most confident when asserting their monopoly of insight into world affairs.”
While that was true then, it is perhaps even more so the case today.
The prevailing sentiment of the media establishment during the months prior to the disastrous March 2003 invasion of Iraq was that of certainty: George Tenet’s now infamous assurance to President Bush, that the case against Iraq was a “slam drunk,” was essentially what major newspapers and television news outlets were telling the American people at the time. Iraq posed a threat to “the homeland,” therefore Saddam “must go.”
The Bush administration, in a move equal parts cynical and clever, engaged in what we would today call a “disinformation” campaign against its own citizens by planting false stories abroad, safe in the knowledge that these stories would “bleed over” and be picked up by the American press.
WMD ‘Fake News’
The administration was able to launder what were essentially “fake news” stories, such as the aluminum tubes fabrication, by leaking to Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller of The New York Times. In September 2002, without an ounce of skepticism, Gordon and Miller regurgitated the claims of unnamed U.S. intelligence officials that Iraq “has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes … intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.” Gordon and Miller faithfully relayed “the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view that the type of tubes that Iraq has been seeking are used to make centrifuges.”
By 2002, no one had any right to be surprised by what Bush and Cheney were up to; since at least 1898 (when the U.S. declared war on Spain under the pretense of the fabricated Hearst battle cry “Remember the Maine!”) American governments have repeatedly lied in order to promote their agenda abroad. And in 2002-3, the media walked in lock step with yet another administration in pushing for an unnecessary and costly war.
Like The New York Times, The Washington Post also relentlessly pushed the administration’s case for war with Iraq. According to the journalist Greg Mitchell, “By the Post’s own admission, in the months before the war, it ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war.” All this, while its editorial page assured readers that the evidence Colin Powell presented to the United Nations on Iraq’s WMD program was “irrefutable.” According to the Post, it would be “hard to imagine” how anyone could doubt the administration’s case.
But the Post was hardly alone in its enthusiasm for Bush’s war. Among the most prominent proponents of the Iraq war was The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who, a full year prior to the invasion, set out to link Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Writing for The New Yorker in March 2002, Goldberg retailed former CIA Director James Woolsey’s opinion that “It would be a real shame if the C.I.A.’s substantial institutional hostility to Iraqi democratic resistance groups was keeping it from learning about Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda in northern Iraq.”
Indeed, according to Goldberg, “The possibility that Saddam could supply weapons of mass destruction to anti-American terror groups is a powerful argument among advocates of regime change,” while Saddam’s “record of support for terrorist organizations, and the cruelty of his regime make him a threat that reaches far beyond the citizens of Iraq.”
Writing in Slate in October 2002, Goldberg was of the opinion that “In five years . . . I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.”
Likewise, The New Republic’s Andrew Sullivan was certain that “we would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I have no doubt about that.” Slate’s Jacob Weisberg supported the invasion because he thought Saddam Hussein had WMD and he “thought there was a strong chance he’d use them against the United States.”
Even after it was becoming clear that the war was a debacle, the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer declared that the inability to find WMDs was “troubling” but “only because it means that the weapons remain unaccounted for and might be in the wrong hands. The idea that our inability to thus far find the weapons proves that the threat was phony and hyped is simply false.”
Opponents of the war were regularly accused of unpatriotic disloyalty. Writing in National Review, the neoconservative writer David Frum accused anti-intervention conservatives of going “far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies.” According to Frum, “They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.”
Similarly, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait castigated anti-war liberals for turning against Bush. “Have Bush haters lost their minds?” asked Chait. “Certainly some have. Antipathy to Bush has, for example, led many liberals not only to believe the costs of the Iraq war outweigh the benefits but to refuse to acknowledge any benefits at all.”
Yet of course we now know, thanks, in part, to a new book by former CIA analyst John Nixon, that everything the U.S. government thought it knew about Saddam Hussein was indeed wrong. Nixon, the CIA analyst who interrogated Hussein after his capture in December 2003, asks “Was Saddam worth removing from power?” “The answer,” says Nixon, “must be no. Saddam was busy writing novels in 2003. He was no longer running the government.”
It turns out that the skeptics were correct after all. And so the principal lesson the promoters of Bush and Cheney’s war of choice should have learned is that blind certainty is the enemy of fair inquiry and nuance. The hubris that many in the mainstream media displayed in marginalizing liberal and conservative anti-war voices was to come back to haunt them. But not, alas, for too long.
A Dangerous Replay?
Today something eerily similar to the pre-war debate over Iraq is taking place regarding the allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Assurances from the intelligence community and from anonymous Obama administration “senior officials” about the existence of evidence is being treated as, well, actual evidence.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told CNN that he is “100% certain” of the role that Russia played in U.S. election. The administration’s expressions of certainty are then uncritically echoed by the mainstream media. Skeptics are likewise written off, slandered as “Kremlin cheerleaders” or worse.
Unsurprisingly, The Washington Post is reviving its Bush-era role as principal publicist for the government’s case. Yet in its haste to do the government’s bidding, the Post has published two widely debunked stories relating to Russia (one on the scourge of Russian inspired “fake news”, the other on a non-existent Russian hack of a Vermont electric utility) onto which the paper has had to append “editor’s notes” to correct the original stories.
Yet, those misguided stories have not deterred the Post’s opinion page from being equally aggressive in its depiction of Russian malfeasance. In late December, the Post published an op-ed by Rep. Adam Schiff and former Rep. Jane Harmon claiming “Russia’s theft and strategic leaking of emails and documents from the Democratic Party and other officials present a challenge to the U.S. political system unlike anything we’ve experienced.”
On Dec. 30, the Post editorial board chastised President-elect Trump for seeming to dismiss “a brazen and unprecedented attempt by a hostile power to covertly sway the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.” The Post described Russia’s actions as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.”
On Jan. 1, the neoconservative columnist Josh Rogin told readers that the recent announcement of sanctions against Russia “brought home a shocking realization that Russia is using hybrid warfare in an aggressive attempt to disrupt and undermine our democracy.”
Meanwhile, many of the same voices who were among the loudest cheerleaders for the war in Iraq have also been reprising their Bush-era roles in vouching for the solidity of the government’s case.
Jonathan Chait, now a columnist for New York magazine, is clearly convinced by what the government has thus far provided. “That Russia wanted Trump to win has been obvious for months,” writes Chait.
“Of course it all came from the Russians, I’m sure it’s all there in the intel,” Charles Krauthammer told Fox News on Jan. 2. Krauthammer is certain.
And Andrew Sullivan is certain as to the motive. “Trump and Putin’s bromance,” Sullivan told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Jan. 2, “has one goal this year: to destroy the European Union and to undermine democracy in Western Europe.”
David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, believes Trump “owes his office in considerable part to illegal clandestine activities in his favor conducted by a hostile, foreign spy service.”
Jacob Weisberg agrees, tweeting: “Russian covert action threw the election to Donald Trump. It’s that simple.” Back in 2008, Weisberg wrote that “the first thing I hope I’ve learned from this experience of being wrong about Iraq is to be less trusting of expert opinion and received wisdom.” So much for that.
Foreign Special Interests
Another, equally remarkable similarity to the period of 2002-3 is the role foreign lobbyists have played in helping to whip up a war fever. As readers will no doubt recall, Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, which served, in effect as an Iraqi government-in-exile, worked hand in hand with the Washington lobbying firm Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey (BKSH) to sell Bush’s war on television and on the op-ed pages of major American newspapers.
Chalabi was also a trusted source of Judy Miller of the Times, which, in an apology to its readers on May 26, 2004, wrote: “The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles.” The pro-war lobbying of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has also been exhaustively documented.
Though we do not know how widespread the practice has been as of yet, something similar is taking place today. Articles calling for confrontation with Russia over its alleged “hybrid war” with the West are appearing with increasing regularity. Perhaps the most egregious example of this newly popular genre appeared on Jan. 1 in Politico magazine. That essay, which claims, among many other things, that “we’re in a war” with Russia comes courtesy of one Molly McKew.
McKew is seemingly qualified to make such a pronouncement because she, according to her bio on the Politico website, served as an “adviser to Georgian President Saakashvili’s government from 2009-2013, and to former Moldovan Prime Minister Filat in 2014-2015.” Seems reasonable enough. That is until one discovers that McKew is actually registered with the Department of Justice as a lobbyist for two anti-Russian political parties, Georgia’s UMN and Moldova’s PLDM.
Records show her work for the consulting firm Fianna Strategies frequently takes her to Capitol Hill to lobby U.S. Senate and Congressional staffers, as well as prominent U.S. journalists at The Washington Post and The New York Times, on behalf of her Georgian and Moldovan clients.
“The truth,” writes McKew, “is that fighting a new Cold War would be in America’s interest. Russia teaches us a very important lesson: losing an ideological war without a fight will ruin you as a nation. The fight is the American way.” Or, put another way: the truth is that fighting a new Cold War would be in McKew’s interest – but perhaps not America’s.
While you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage (or from reading deeply disingenuous pieces like McKew’s) as things now stand, the case against Russia is far from certain. New developments are emerging almost daily. One of the latest is a report from the cyber-engineering company Wordfence, which concluded that “The IP addresses that DHS [Department of Homeland Security] provided may have been used for an attack by a state actor like Russia. But they don’t appear to provide any association with Russia.”
Indeed, according to Wordfence, “The malware sample is old, widely used and appears to be Ukrainian. It has no apparent relationship with Russian intelligence and it would be an indicator of compromise for any website.”
On Jan. 4, BuzzFeed reported that, according to the DNC, the FBI never carried out a forensic examination on the email servers that were allegedly hacked by the Russian government. “The FBI,” said DNC spokesman Eric Walker, “never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers.”
What the agency did do was rely on the findings of a private-sector, third-party vendor that was brought in by the DNC after the initial hack was discovered. In May, the company, Crowdstrike, determined that the hack was the work of the Russians. As one unnamed intelligence official told BuzzFeed, “CrowdStrike is pretty good. There’s no reason to believe that anything that they have concluded is not accurate.”
Perhaps not. Yet Crowdstrike is hardly a disinterested party when it comes to Russia. Crowdstrike’s founder and chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, is also a senior fellow at the Washington think tank, The Atlantic Council, which has been at the forefront of escalating tensions with Russia.
As I reported in The Nation in early January, the connection between Alperovitch and the Atlantic Council is highly relevant given that the Atlantic Council is funded in part by the State Department, NATO, the governments of Latvia and Lithuania, the Ukrainian World Congress, and the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk. In recent years, it has emerged as a leading voice calling for a new Cold War with Russia.
Time to Rethink the ‘Group Think’
And given the rather thin nature of the declassified evidence provided by the Obama administration, might it be time to consider an alternative theory of the case? William Binney, a 36-year veteran of the National Security Agency and the man responsible for creating many of its collection systems, thinks so. Binney believes that the DNC emails were leaked, not hacked, writing that “it is puzzling why NSA cannot produce hard evidence implicating the Russian government and WikiLeaks. Unless we are dealing with a leak from an insider, not a hack.”
None of this is to say, of course, that Russia did not and could not have attempted to influence the U.S. presidential election. The intelligence community may have intercepted damning evidence of the Russian government’s culpability. The government’s hesitation to provide the public with more convincing evidence may stem from an understandable and wholly appropriate desire to protect the intelligence community’s sources and methods. But as it now stands the publicly available evidence is open to question.
But meanwhile the steady drumbeat of “blame Russia” is having an effect. According to a recent you.gov/Economist poll, 58 percent of Americans view Russia as “unfriendly/enemy” while also finding that 52 percent of Democrats believed Russia “tampered with vote tallies.”
With Congress back in session, Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain is set to hold a series of hearings focusing on Russian malfeasance, and the steady drip-drip-drip of allegations regarding Trump and Putin is only serving to box in the new President when it comes to pursuing a much-needed detente with Russia.
It also does not appear that a congressional inquiry will start from scratch and critically examine the evidence. On Friday, two senators – Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse – announced a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigation into Russian interference in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere. But they already seemed to have made up their minds about the conclusion: “Our goal is simple,” the senators said in a joint statement “To the fullest extent possible we want to shine a light on Russian activities to undermine democracy.”
So, before the next round of Cold War posturing commences, now might be the time to stop, take a deep breath and ask: Could the rush into a new Cold War with Russia be as disastrous and consequential – if not more so – as was the rush to war with Iraq nearly 15 years ago? We may, unfortunately, find out.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
The latest targets of US President Donald Trump’s ire are fellow Republican Senators John McCain & Lindsey Graham, who Trump says should focus on important issues “instead of always looking to start World War III.”
The president tweeted the rebuke in response to a joint statement by veteran GOP legislators who criticized Trump’s executive order placing a temporary travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries. McCain and Graham said the move was hasty and “not properly vetted,” and may ultimately work contrary to the stated goal of improving national security.
“This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security,” the statement said.
The Republican hawks joined the loud chorus of largely left-wing condemnation of the executive order, commonly known as the ‘Muslim ban’ by critics. McCain and Graham have criticized Trump on a number of issues, including his plans to work alongside Russia in fighting terrorism in Iraq and Syria. The senators consider Russia a major threat to America.
In addition to accusing McCain and Graham of being warmongers, Trump issued a statement defending his decision to impose the travel ban.
“The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” the statement said.
“This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days,” it added.
Critics accuse President Trump of hypocrisy for citing the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an example of what he hopes to prevent with the travel ban. The perpetrators of the plane hijackings were nationals of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon, but none of the countries were affected by the executive order.
The never-Trumpers are never going to surrender the myth that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee to defeat Clinton and elect Donald Trump.
Their investment in the myth is just too huge.
For Clinton and her campaign, it is the only way to explain how they booted away a presidential election even Trump thought he had lost in November. To the mainstream media, this is the smoking gun in their Acela Corridor conspiracy to delegitimize Trump’s presidency.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sees Russian hacking as a way to put a cloud over the administration before it begins. But it is the uber-hawks hereabouts who are after the really big game.
They seek to demonize Putin as the saboteur of democracy — someone who corrupted an American presidential election to bring about victory for a “useful idiot” whom Clinton called Putin’s “puppet.”
If the War Party can convert this “fake story” into the real story of 2016, then they can scuttle any Trump effort to attain the rapprochement with Russia that Trump promised to try to achieve.
If they can stigmatize Trump as “Putin’s president” and Putin as America’s implacable enemy, then the Russophobes are back in business.
Nor is the War Party disguising its goal.
Over the weekend, Sen. John McCain called for a congressional select committee to investigate Russian hacking into the Clinton campaign. The purpose of the investigations, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, “is to put on President Trump’s desk crippling sanctions against Russia.”
“They need to pay a price,” Graham chortled on Twitter.
“Crippling sanctions” would abort any modus vivendi, any deal with Russia, before Trump could negotiate one. Trump would have to refuse to impose them — and face the firestorm to follow. The War Party is out to dynamite any detente with Russia before it begins.
Among the reasons Trump won is that he promised to end U.S. involvement in the costly, bloody and interminable wars in the Middle East the Bushites and President Barack Obama brought us — and the neocons relish — and to reach a new understanding with Russia and Putin.
But to some in Washington, beating up on Russia is a conditioned reflex dating to the Cold War. For others in the media and the front groups called think tanks, Russophobia is in their DNA.
Though Julian Assange says WikiLeaks did not get the emails from Russia, this has to be investigated. Did Russia hack the DNC’s email system and John Podesta’s email account? Did Putin direct that the emails be provided to WikiLeaks to disrupt democracy or defeat Clinton?
Clinton says Putin has had it in for her because he believes she was behind the anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow in 2011.
But if there is to be an investigation of clandestine interference in the politics and elections of foreign nations, let’s get it all out onto the table.
The CIA director and his deputies should be made to testify under oath, not only as to what they know about Russia’s role in the WikiLeaks email dumps but also about who inside the agency is behind the leaks to The Washington Post designed to put a cloud over the Trump presidency before it begins.
Agents and operatives of the CIA should be subjected to lie detector tests to learn who is leaking to the anti-Trump press.
Before any congressional investigation, President-elect Trump should call in his new director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, and tell him to run down and remove, for criminal misconduct, any CIA agents or operatives leaking secrets to discredit his election.
Putin, after all, is not an American. The CIA saboteurs of the Trump presidency are. Will the media investigate the leakers? Not likely, for they are the beneficiaries of the leaks and co-conspirators of the leakers.
The top officials of the CIA and Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, should be called to testify under oath. Were they behind anti-Putin demonstrations during the Russian elections of 2011?
Did the CIA or NED have a role in the “color-coded” revolutions to dump over pro-Russian governments in Moscow’s “near abroad”?
If Russia did intrude in our election, was it payback for our intrusions to bring about regime change in its neighborhood?
What role did the CIA, the NED and John McCain play in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Ukraine in 2014? McCain was seen cheering on the crowds in Independence Square in Kiev.
Trump has promised a more hopeful foreign policy than that of the Republicans he denounced and is succeeding. No more wars where vital interests are not imperiled. No more U.S. troops arriving as first responders for freeloading allies.
The real saboteurs of his new foreign policy may not be inside the Ring Road in Moscow; rather, they may be inside the Beltway around D.C.
The real danger may be that a new Trump foreign policy could be hijacked or scuttled by anti-Trump Republicans, not only on Capitol Hill but inside the executive branch itself.
Copyright 2016 Creators.com
Senior US Senator John McCain has advised President-elect Donald Trump against putting “faith” in Moscow’s desire to improve relations with Washington, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of “tyranny” and “murder.”
Speaking after the first phone conversation between Trump and Putin, McCain said Tuesday that the Russian head of state was not to be trusted.
“With the US presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” the Republican senator of Arizona said in a statement.
“We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections.”
The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said “resetting” ties with Moscow would be too costly for Washington.
McCain’s comments were aimed at preventing Trump from following one of his most important campaign pledges, which included cooperation with Russia to solve mutual differences between the two sides.
At least that was what the Republican president-elect discussed with Putin during their phone call on Monday, according to Moscow.
According to a statement released by the Kremlin, America’s 45th president discussed with his Russian counterpart the importance of “normalizing” ties between Moscow and Washington.
Both Putin and Trump had acknowledged “the extremely unsatisfactory state of Russian-US relations at present” and “declared the need for active joint work to normalize them.”
During the conversation, the Russian president also voiced his preparedness to “create a dialogue of partnership with the new administration on the basis of equality, mutual respect and non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs.”
McCain did not look favorably to the contents of the discussion, warning in his statement that outgoing President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce tensions with Russia did not work either.
“The Obama Administration’s last attempt at resetting relations with Russia culminated in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and military intervention in the Middle East,” the 2008 Republican presidential nominee alleged.
Long before Trump’s election on November 8, Putin had made it clear that his government was willing to work with the next US president regardless of the vote’s outcome.
Russian prosecutors have recognized the International Republican Institute NGO headed by US Senator John McCain as an undesirable organization, banning the group’s operations in the country and forbidding Russian organizations and citizens from cooperating with it.
“After studying the received files [describing the activities of the International Republican Institute], the Prosecutor General’s Office has made the decision to recognize it as an undesirable group on the territory of the Russian Federation,” reads an official statement from prosecutors, released on Thursday.
Another US organization, the Media Development Investment Fund, was also recognized as undesirable.
Prosecutors added that they had established that the work of the two groups posed a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order and state security, but gave no further details.
The International Republican Institute was founded in 1983 with the declared goal of the promotion of democracy worldwide through helping political parties in foreign countries.
Since 1993 the institute has been headed by John McCain – a Republican senator for Arizona known for his numerous anti-Russian initiatives and statements.
In early 2015 Russia reportedly included McCain in the list of people subject to personal sanctions, including an entry ban and assets freeze, introduced in response to a similar measures imposed by the United States against Russian officials in 2014.
The Russian Law on Undesirable Foreign Organizations came into force in late May 2015. The act requires the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry to make an official list of undesirable foreign groups and outlaw their activities. Once a group is recognized as undesirable, all its assets in Russia must be frozen, its offices closed and the distribution of its information materials banned. If the ban is violated, both the personnel of the outlawed group and any Russian citizens who cooperate with it face heavy fines or even prison terms in the event of repeated or aggravated offenses.
About a month after the law came into force, Russia’s upper house released a list of foreign organizations it believed should come under the new restrictions. The list consisted of 12 entries, including such groups as the National Democratic Institute, the US National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society Institute also known as the Soros Foundation.
Several of these groups have already been put on the list of undesirables, including the US National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, the US-Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law (USRF), and the US National Democratic Institute – chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Although I admit that Donald Trump’s recent remarks that Obama Administration willfully created the Islamic State were a bit facile, it is an irrefutable fact that Obama Administration’s policy of nurturing the Syrian militants against the Assad regime from August 2011 to August 2014 created the ideal circumstances which led to the creation of not just Islamic State but myriads of other Syrian militant groups which are just as fanatical and bloodthirsty as Islamic State.
It should be remembered here that the Libyan and Syrian crises originally began in early 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings when peaceful protests against the Qaddafi and Assad regimes turned militant. Moreover, it should also be kept in mind that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, which has a highly porous border with Syria, took place in December 2011.
Furthermore, the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, served as the United States’ Secretary of State from January 2009 to February 2013. Thus, for the initial year-and-a-half of the Syrian civil war, Hillary Clinton was serving as the Secretary of the State and the role that she played in toppling the regime in Libya and instigating the insurgency in Syria is not hidden from anybody’s eyes.
Additionally, it is also a known fact that the Clintons have cultivated close ties with the Zionist lobbies in Washington and the American support for the proxy war in Syria is specifically about ensuring Israel’s regional security as I shall explain in the ensuing paragraphs. However, it would be unfair to put the blame for the crisis in Syria squarely on the Democrats; the policy of nurturing militants against the regime has been pursued with bipartisan support. In fact, Senator John McCain, a Republican, played the same role in the Syrian civil war which Charlie Wilson played during the Soviet-Afghan war in the ‘80s. And Ambassador Robert Ford was the point man in the US embassy in Damascus.
More to the point, the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s report  of 2012 that presaged the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria was not overlooked it was deliberately suppressed; not just the report but that view in general that a civil war in Syria will give birth to the radical Islamists was forcefully stifled in Washington’s policy making circles under pressure from the Zionist lobbies.
The Obama Administration was fully aware of the consequences of its actions in Syria but it kept pursuing the policy of funding, training, arming and internationally legitimizing the so-called “Syrian Opposition” to weaken the Syrian regime and to neutralize the threat that its Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, posed to Israel’s regional security; a fact which the Israeli defense community realized for the first time during the 2006 Lebanon war during the course of which Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Those were only unguided rockets but was it a wake-up call for Israel’s defense community as to what would happen if Iran passed guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel?
Notwithstanding, how can the US claim to fight a militant group which has been an obvious by-product  of US policy in Syria? Let’s settle on one issue first: there were two parties to the Syrian civil war initially, the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition; which party did the US support since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in early 2011 to June 2014 until Islamic State overran Mosul?
Obviously, the US supported the Syrian opposition; and what was the composition of the so-called “Syrian Opposition?” A small fraction of it was comprised of defected Syrian soldiers, which goes by the name of Free Syria Army, but a vast majority has been Sunni jihadists and armed tribesmen who were generously funded, trained and armed by the alliance of Western powers, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States.
Islamic State is nothing more than one of the numerous Syrian jihadist outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. The US-led war against Islamic State is limited only to Islamic State while all other Sunni Arab jihadist groups are enjoying complete impunity, and the so-called “coalition against Islamic State” also includes the main patrons of Sunni Arab jihadists like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan.
Regardless, many biased political commentators of the mainstream media deliberately try to muddle reality in order to link the emergence of Islamic State to the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the Bush Administration. Their motive behind this chicanery is to absolve the Obama Administration’s policy of supporting the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime since the beginning of the Syrian civil war until June 2014 when Islamic State overran Mosul and the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous policy of indiscriminate support to the Syrian opposition and declared a war against a faction of Syrian opposition: that is, the Islamic State.
Moreover, such spin-doctors also try to find the roots of Islamic State in al-Qaeda in Iraq; however, the insurgency in Iraq died down after the “surge” of American troops in 2007. Al-Qaeda in Iraq became a defunct organization after the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi and the subsequent surge of troops in Iraq. The re-eruption of insurgency in Iraq has been the spillover effect of nurturing militants in Syria against the Assad regime when Islamic State overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in January 2014 and subsequently captured Mosul in June 2014.
The borders between Syria and Iraq are highly porous and it’s impossible to contain the flow of militants and arms between the two countries. The Obama Administration’s policy of providing money, arms and training to the Syrian militants in the training camps located at the border regions of Turkey and Jordan was bound to backfire sooner or later.
Notwithstanding, in order to simplify the Syrian quagmire for the sake of readers, I would divide it into three separate and distinct zones of influence. Firstly, the northern and northwestern zone along the Syria-Turkey border, in and around Aleppo and Idlib, which is under the influence of Turkey and Qatar. Both of these countries share the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood and they provide money, training and arms to the Sunni Arab jihadist organizations like al-Tawhid Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham in the training camps located at the border regions of Turkey.
Secondly, the southern zone of influence along the Syria-Jordan border, in Daraa and Quneitra and as far away as Homs and Damascus. It is controlled by the Saudi-Jordanian camp and they provide money, weapons and training to the Salafist militant groups such as al-Nusra Front and the Southern Front of the so-called “moderate” Free Syria Army in Daraa and Quneitra, and Jaysh al-Islam in the suburbs of Damascus. Their military strategy is directed by a Military Operations Center (MOC) and training camps  located in the border regions of Jordan. Here let me clarify that this distinction is quite overlapping and heuristic at best, because al-Nusra’s jihadists have taken part in battles as far away as Idlib and Aleppo.
And finally, the eastern zone of influence along the Syria-Iraq border, in al-Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, which has been controlled by a relatively maverick Iraq-based jihadist outfit, the Islamic State. Thus, leaving the Mediterranean coast and Syria’s border with Lebanon, the Baathist and Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime has been surrounded from all three sides by the hostile Sunni forces: Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood in the north, Jordan and the Salafists of the Gulf Arab States in the south and the Sunni Arab-majority regions of Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in the east.
 United States’ Defense Intelligence Agency’s report of 2012
 How Syrian Jihad spawned the Islamic State?
 Weapons flowing from Eastern Europe to Middle East
The recent downing of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter and the death of all 5 on board over Al Qaeda-held Idlib province in Syria, represents the unenviable full circle US rhetoric has made surrounding both the Syrian conflict, and the wider “War on Terror.”
It was the United States who first created and used Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s to down Russian aircraft and to fight Russian troops. After successfully pushing Russia out of Afghanistan and plunging it into a sociopolitical dark age, the US went on to claiming to be victimized by the monster they themselves created, perhaps most spectacularly on September 11, 2001. Today, the US finds itself back to now fully using Al Qaeda to fight a proxy war against Russia, this time in Syria.
Russian Helicopter Was on Humanitarian Mission Over Al Qaeda Territory
The Russian Mi-8 helicopter was conducting humanitarian operations. This is not according to only Russian or Syrian sources, but even opposition sources including UK-based anti-Syrian government proponent Rami Abdulrahman who refers to himself as the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” (SOHR).
The New York Times in its article, “Russian Military Helicopter Is Shot Down in Syria, Killing 5,” would report that:
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which opposes the Syrian government and tracks the conflict from Britain through contacts in Syria, said the helicopter had crashed near the village of Saraqib in Idlib Province.
The aircraft had recently delivered aid to two Shiite villages nearby that have long been surrounded by Sunni rebels, the group said.
Qatari-state media Al Jazeera, also an admittedly pro-militant voice amid the conflict, would admit that Idlib province, Syria, is held by Al Qaeda.
In its article, “Syria’s civil war: Russian chopper shot down in Idlib,” Al Jazeera would admit:
Idlib is held almost entirely by a powerful coalition of hardline rebel groups, including the former al-Nusra Front, now known as the Fateh al-Sham group after renouncing its status as al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.
Despite Al Jazeera’s attempts to qualify Nusra Front as having “renounced” its Al Qaeda affiliations, it is still recognized by the US, Russia and Syria as a terrorist organization.
Justifying & Celebrating Al Qaeda’s Atrocity
In the immediate aftermath of the helicopter’s downing and now ongoing since, pro-militant pundits from both the public and Western policy centers, celebrated the incident.
Former director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, Salman Shaikh, repeatedly retweeted accusations that Russia’s Mi-8 was not in fact on a humanitarian mission, simply because empty rocket pods were found among the wreckage.
With SOHR insisting indeed the Russian helicopter was on a humanitarian mission, the empty rocket pods were most likely empty upon take off. So far, “experts,” including Atlantic Council’s “Digital Forensic Research Lab Senior Non-Resident Fellow” Eliot Higgins, previously an unemployed British social worker and blogger, have insinuated the Mi-8 was on a military mission, but have yet to provide any evidence.
This attempt to leverage supposed “experts” to justify the downing of a helicopter (and subsequent celebrations) engaged in humanitarian operations even in contradiction to media reports coming from both sides of the conflict, indicates just how far departed Western rhetoric has become from the principles it claims to uphold, particularly in regards to its involvement in the Syrian conflict and its backing of militant groups operating in Al Qaeda-held Idlib province.
US Aspired to Down Russian Aircraft in Syria
The downing of Russia’s Mi-8 over Idlib is not the first. Another Russian helicopter was shot down near Palmyra in early July.
Japan Times in its article, “U.S. missile brought down Russian helicopter in Syria: report,” would report:
Two Russian airmen killed in Syria on Friday were shot down with American weaponry, the Interfax news agency said Sunday, quoting a Russian military source.
It said insurgents from the Islamic State group hit the airmen’s Mi-25 assault helicopter with a U.S.-made TOW heavy anti-tank missile, a weapon that uses guidance from a ground station.
The possibility of terrorist organizations like the Islamic State (IS) ending up with US missiles should be no surprise. It is a “coincidence” it appears many US policymakers wanted to unfold in Syria, if a no-fly zone implemented over Syria by the US directly was not a possibility.
One of those US policymakers is US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who would say in a 2015 interview on Fox News that:
I might do what we did in Afghanistan many years ago, to give those guys the ability to shoot down those planes. That equipment is available.
He would elaborate further by stating:
The Free Syrian Army, just like the Afghans shot down the Russian…
It should be noted that the “guys” Senator McCain is referring to in Afghanistan were Al Qaeda. With the downing of 2 Russian helicopters at the hands of IS and Al Qaeda respectively, it appears very much like Senator McCain has (one way or another) gotten his wish, with Al Qaeda once again serving as the armed intermediary between the US and Russia.
The end result is US foreign policy coming full circle, having created Al Qaeda to fight Russia in the 1980s, then using the terrorist organization as a pretext to extend military interventionism globally, to now once again cheering them on in Syria as they down Russian aircraft amid a struggle to restore peace and stability to both Syria and the wider region.
One wonders if this irony is lost on the American people, who have been asked to sacrifice so much in the name of fighting “terrorism,” only to have those who have done the asking to ally themselves with the very terrorists in a destructive proxy war in the distant lands of the Levant.
Soon there could be an influx of Syrian refugee families settled in America. They would be typically settled in a small city, let’s say like Flint, Michigan. The city authorities would receive help and a few special federal programs to assist in supplying the needs of these newcomers to USA. They would be given a house or an apartment, which would be subsidized under a county housing program which in turn is paid from federal money. They would be given free medical coverage under an existing county or state medical program, and they could visit the local medical centers free of charge. The county medical bills would be sent to a federal source for payment.
These new Syrian refugees are not your typical group, who we have seen on TV, walking through Europe in summer 2015. These newcomers to America are not from the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan which the media has followed for years.
This is a special group with direct ties to the federal government of America. These are the fighters of the Free Syrian Army and their wives and children. To the Americans welcoming them into their communities, they would appear to be Syrian families who have suffered over 5 years of war and untold stories of loss and hardship. But, in reality these were the fighting men, the mercenaries of the US CIA program in Turkey and Syria. Some people labeled them “The John McCain’s Army”, in honor of the Republican Senator of Arizona, who was the FSA’s main supporter in Congress. Sen. McCain gave such passionate speeches in Congress; he was able to convince his fellow Senators of the need to send American military weapons, satellite imagery and technical training to these fighters. These men were paid large monthly paychecks, much more that the average income of uneducated laborers in Syria. In 2011 their monthly pay was $1,000. As the years went by, their salary was increased. The payroll was managed by an official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who was playing a key role in the regime change program in Syria. The paychecks were issued in Turkey, payable in US dollars.
USA, UK, NATO, EU, Australia, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia each had instrumental roles in the international attack on Syria for the purpose of regime change. People questioned: how could democratic countries promote armed terrorism for the purpose of bringing democracy to Syria? Experts pondered how democracy could be achieved from the barrel of a gun. The Americans never wondered how monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar could bring democracy to Syria, when there has never been any freedom or democracy in either country.
In the Vietnam War, the American government used a local tribe to fight for USA. They were a close-knit mountain tribe called Hmong. They were trained and given weapons. They were sent on specific missions to kill both North Vietnamese troops, and also others. It was a highly secret covert program. Those Hmongs fighting had made a specific deal with the US federal government. That in the event of failure on the US side in the war, they would be evacuated to USA and would be safely placed into new lives with full benefits to care for them. I am sure there were sleepless nights among them, wondering who will win the war, and would the Americans fulfill their promises to them. In the end, the US government stood by their word and evacuated the Hmong people, in the thousands, to Fresno, California. There, they were put into free houses and apartments; all paid by the Fresno county Section 8 program. Section 8 was a program designed to help the poorest people, typically with young children. Fresno county government offices then billed the US federal government offices to cover the free housing for the Hmong ‘refugees’. They were given free medical coverage at Valley Medical Center, which is the Fresno county funded hospital. Each was given a Medi-Cal card, which entitled them to free medical. The Medi-Cal program was a California State funded program to cover the poorest Californians.
They were given coverage on the Food Stamp program, which gave free foods to the Hmongs, through the existing welfare program.
History is about to repeat itself, as the Syrian Arab Army with their allies inside Syria have taken strategic areas in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Palmyra, Homs, Deir Ez Zor and many other locations, and the US sponsored ‘rebels’ appear to be facing defeat on the battlefields. The FSA spokesman has already predicted defeat.
When and if this happens in the coming days or weeks, the FSA will pull back into Turkey and the US agents, who are headquartered in Adana, will coordinate the safe and swift removal of the FSA and their wives and children. They will be put on chartered planes from the Adana airport to arrive finally at their new home, which could be Flint, Michigan.
Flint is a troubled community. It has severe water problems as well as economic problems. The Flint city and county officials could be more than happy to have special federal money coming their way, which would be tied to the “Syrian Refugee” settlement. The local churches, mosques and various charities would all rally around their newcomers. The American people are well known for their generous and welcoming nature. Everyone in USA can trace their ancestry back to newcomers at some point in time. America is a melting-pot and they are proud of that heritage.
At first glance, these Syrian refugees may appear to be war-weary and looking for a new life of security and peace. It might take years for some incident to happen, where their military training and terrorist background could re-surface. Their American neighbors will not be aware that the Free Syrian Army was founded on the principals of Radical Islam. The founders of the FSA were all fighting for the purpose of regime change in Syria, in order to establish Sharia law, and to transform the secular government of Syria into an Islamic State. The FSA fighters were all strictly Sunni Muslims, even though Syria is made up of 18 different sects, and millions of Christians, but the FSA were an exclusive ‘one-sect-militia’.
The American CIA plan of attack on Syria was formulated in 2006, and the wheels put into motion. The Radical Islamic political ideology was keeping pace with the CIA regime change plan. The Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated every major city in USA and UK, and had portrayed themselves as legitimate political persons, who just happened to be Muslims. Knowing that the US and UK protect religious rights; they found safe haven and grew stronger and stronger. The CIA decided to formulate the FSA, and describe it as “Freedom Fighters” to the western audiences, through the network of mainstream media. Political propaganda machines went to work through CNN, BBC, France24 and Al Jazeera as they cranked out story after story of Syrian ‘regime’ atrocities, while never mentioning the FSA war crimes and atrocities. Knowing that most Americans never check the details of news report independently, they could fabricate stories and use fabricated videos to change the hearts and minds of western viewers into believing that the “John McCain’s Army” were freedom fighters, akin to the founding fathers of America.
There are already hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Germany, and scattered through various European countries. The Europeans are fearful that terrorists could be hiding among the mainly normal refugees. They are fearful of future terrorist attacks which could be committed by the very refugees they welcomed in and housed, clothed and fed.
Welcoming in hundreds of past terrorists, such as the FSA, could have disastrous results in USA. When you ask the people of Aleppo: “Who made you leave your homes?” they answered, “The FSA.” When you ask the Christians in Homs: “Who destroyed your churches and killed the Priests?” they answered, “The FSA.” When you ask the 16 year old Christian girl near Homs: “Who captured you and gang raped you for 6 months in 2012?” she answered, “The FSA.”
Given the facts and past history of the Free Syrian Army, would you want them living next door to your family?
Reports that US and British aircraft carrying arms to ISIS have been shot down by Iraqi forces have been met with shock and denial in western countries. Few in the Middle East doubt that Washington is playing a ‘double game’ with its proxy armies in Syria, but some key myths remain important amongs the significantly more ignorant western audiences.
A central myth is that Washington now arms ‘moderate Syrian rebels’, to both overthrow the Syrian Government and supposedly defeat the ‘extremist rebels’. This claim became more important in 2014, when the rationale of US aggression against Syria shifted from ‘humanitarian intervention’ to a renewal of Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
A distinct controversy is whether the al Qaeda styled groups (especially Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS) have been generated as a sort of organic reaction to the repeated US interventions, or whether they are actually paid agents of Washington.
Certainly, prominent ISIS leaders were held in US prisons. ISIS leader, Ibrahim al-Badri (aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) is said to have been held for between one and two years at Camp Bucca in Iraq. In 2006, as al-Baghdadi and others were released, the Bush administration announced its plan for a ‘New Middle East’, a plan which would employ sectarian violence as part of a process of ‘creative destruction’ in the region.
According to Seymour Hersh’s 2007 article, ‘The Redirection’, the US would make use of ‘moderate Sunni states’, not least the Saudis, to ‘contain’ the Shia gains in Iraq brought about by the 2003 US invasion. These ‘moderate Sunni’ forces would carry out clandestine operations to weaken Iran and Hezbollah, key enemies of Israel. This brought the Saudis and Israel closer, as both fear Iran.
While there have been claims that the ISIS ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi is a CIA or Mossad trained agent, these have not yet been well backed up. There are certainly grounds for suspicion, but independent evidence is important, in the context of a supposed US ‘war’ against ISIS . So what is the broader evidence on Washington’s covert links with ISIS?
Not least are the admissions by senior US officials that key allies support the extremist group. In September 2014 General Martin Dempsey, head of the US military, told a Congressional hearing ‘I know major Arab allies who fund [ ISIS ]‘. Senator Lindsey Graham, of Armed Services Committee, responded with a justification, ‘They fund them because the Free Syrian Army couldn’t fight [Syrian President] Assad, they were trying to beat Assad’.
The next month, US Vice President Joe Biden went a step further, explaining that Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia ‘were so determined to take down Assad … they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad … [including] al Nusra and al Qaeda and extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world … [and then] this outfit called ISIL’. Biden’s admissions sought to exempt the US from this operation, as though Washington were innocent of sustained operations carried out by its key allies. That is simply not credible.
Washington’s relationship with the Saudis, as a divisive sectarian force in the region, in particular against Arab nationalism, goes back to the 1950s, when Winston Churchill introduced the Saudi King to President Eisenhower. At that time Washington wanted to set up the Saudi King as a rival to President Nasser of Egypt. More recently, British General Jonathan Shaw has acknowledged the contribution of Saudi Arabia’s extremist ideology: ‘This is a time bomb that, under the guise of education. Wahhabi Salafism is igniting under the world really. And it is funded by Saudi and Qatari money’, Shaw said.
Other evidence undermines western attempts to maintain a distinction between the ‘moderate rebels’, now openly armed and trained by the US, and the extremist groups Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS. While there has indeed been some rivalry (emphasised by the London-based, Muslim Brotherhood-aligned, Syrian Observatory of Human Rights), the absence of real ideological difference is best shown by the cooperation and mergers of groups.
As ISIS came from Iraq in 2013, its Syrian bases have generally remained in the far eastern part of Syria. However Jabhat al Nusra (the official al Qaeda branch in Syria, from which ISIS split) has collaborated with Syrian Islamist groups in western Syria for several years. The genocidal slogan of the Syrian Islamists, ‘Christians to Beirut and Alawis to the Grave’, reported many times in 2011 from the Farouk Brigade, sat well with the al Qaeda groups. Farouk (once the largest ‘Free Syrian Army’ group) indeed killed and ethnically cleansed many Christians and Alawis.
Long term cooperation between these ‘moderate rebels’ and the foreign-led Jabhat al-Nusra has been seen around Daraa in the south, in Homs-Idlib, along the Turkish border and in and around Aleppo. The words Jabhat al Nusra actually mean ‘support front’, that is, support for the Syrian Islamists. Back in December 2012, as Jabhat al Nusra was banned in various countries, 29 of these groups reciprocated the solidarity in their declaration: ‘We are all Jabhat al-Nusra’.
After the collapse of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ groups, cooperation between al Nusra and the newer US and Saudi backed groups (Dawud, the Islamic Front, the Syrian Revolutionary Front and Harakat Hazm) helped draw attention to Israel’s support for al Nusra, around the occupied Golan Heights. Since 2013 there have been many reports of ‘rebel’ fighters, including those from al Nusra, being treated in Israeli hospitals. Prime Minister Netanyahu even publicised his visit to wounded ‘rebels’ in early 2014. That led to a public ‘thank you’ from a Turkey-based ‘rebel’ leader, Mohammed Badie (February 2014).
The UN peacekeeping force based in the occupied Golan has reported its observations of Israel’s Defence Forces ‘interacting with’ al Nusra fighters at the border. At the same time, Israeli arms have been found with the extremist groups, in both Syria and Iraq. In November 2014 members of the Druze minority in the Golan protested against Israel’s hospital support for al Nusra and ISIS fighters. This in turn led to questions by the Israeli media, as to whether ‘ Israel does, in fact, hospitalize members of al-Nusra and Daesh [ISIS]‘. A military spokesman’s reply was hardly a denial: ‘In the past two years the Israel Defence Forces have been engaged in humanitarian, life-saving aid to wounded Syrians, irrespective of their identity.’
The artificial distinction between ‘rebel’ and ‘extremist’ groups is mocked by multiple reports of large scale defections and transfer of weapons. In July 2014 one thousand armed men in the Dawud Brigade defected to ISIS in Raqqa. In November defections to Jabhat al Nusra from the Syrian Revolutionary Front were reported. In December, Adib Al-Shishakli, representative at the Gulf Cooperation Council of the exile ‘ Syrian National Coalition’, said ‘opposition fighters’ were ‘increasingly joining’ ISIS ‘for financial reasons’. In that same month, ‘rebels’ in the Israel-backed Golan area were reported as defecting to ISIS, which had by this time began to establish a presence in Syria’s far south. Then, in early 2015, three thousand ‘moderate rebels’ from the US-backed ‘Harakat Hazzm’ collapsed into Jabhat al Nusra, taking a large stock of US arms including anti-tank weapons with them.
ISIS already had US weapons by other means, in both Iraq and Syria , as reported in July, September and October 2014. At that time a ‘non aggression pact’ was reported in the southern area of Hajar al-Aswad between ‘moderate rebels’ and ISIS, as both recognised a common enemy in Syria: ‘the Nussayri regime’, a sectarian way of referring to supposedly apostate Muslims. Some reported ISIS had bought weapons from the ‘rebels’.
In December 2014 there were western media reports of the US covert supply of heavy weapons to ‘Syrian rebels’ from Libya, and of Jabhat al-Nusra getting anti-tank weapons which had been supplied to Harakat Hazm. Video posted by al-Nusra showed these weapons being used to take over the Syrian military bases, Wadi Deif and Hamidiyeh, in Idlib province.
With ‘major Arab allies’ backing ISIS and substantial collaboration between US-armed ‘moderate rebels’ and ISIS, it is not such a logical stretch to suppose that the US and ‘coalition’ flights to ISIS areas (supposedly to ‘degrade’ the extremists) might have become covert supply lines. That is precisely what senior Iraqi sources began saying, in late 2014 and early 2015.
For example, as reported by both Iraqi and Iranian media, Iraqi MP Majid al-Ghraoui said in January that ‘an American aircraft dropped a load of weapons and equipment to the ISIS group militants at the area of al-Dour in the province of Salahuddin’. Photos were published of ISIS retrieving the weapons. The US admitted the seizure but said this was a ‘mistake’. In February Iraqi MP Hakem al-Zameli said the Iraqi army had shot down two British planes which were carrying weapons to ISIS in al-Anbar province. Again, photos were published of the wrecked planes. ‘We have discovered weapons made in the US , European countries and Israel from the areas liberated from ISIL’s control in Al-Baqdadi region’, al-Zameli said.
The Al-Ahad news website quoted Head of Al-Anbar Provincial Council Khalaf Tarmouz saying that a US plane supplied the ISIL terrorist organization with arms and ammunition in Salahuddin province. Also in February an Iraqi militia called Al-Hashad Al-Shabi said they had shot down a US Army helicopter carrying weapons for the ISIL in the western parts of Al-Baqdadi region in Al-Anbar province. Again, photos were published. After that, Iraqi counter-terrorism forces were reported as having arrested ‘four foreigners who were employed as military advisors to the ISIL fighters’, three of whom were American and Israeli. So far the western media has avoided these stories altogether; they are very damaging to the broader western narrative.
In Libya, a key US collaborator in the overthrow of the Gaddafi government has announced himself the newly declared head of the ‘Islamic State’ in North Africa. Abdel Hakim Belhaj was held in US prisons for several years, then ‘rendered’ to Gaddafi’s Libya, where he was wanted for terrorist acts. As former head of the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, then the Tripoli-based ‘Libyan Dawn’ group, Belhaj has been defended by Washington and praised by US Congressmen John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
Some image softening of the al Qaeda groups is underway. Jabhat al-Nusra is reported to be considering cutting ties to al Qaeda, to help sponsor Qatar boost their funding. Washington’s Foreign Affairs magazine even published a survey claiming that ISIS fighters were ‘surprisingly supportive of democracy’. After all the well published massacres that lacks credibility.
The Syrian Army is gradually reclaiming Aleppo, despite the hostile supply lines from Turkey, and southern Syria, in face of support for the sectarian groups from Jordan and Israel. The border with Lebanon is largely under Syrian Army and Hezbollah control. In the east, the Syrian Army and its local allies control most of Hasaka and Deir e-Zour, with a final campaign against Raqqa yet to come. The NATO-GCC attempt to overthrow the Syrian Government has failed.
Yet violent destabilisation persists. Evidence of the covert relationship between Washington and ISIS is substantial and helps explain what Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad calls Washington’s ‘cosmetic war’ on ISIS. The extremist group is a foothold Washington keeps in the region, weakening both Syria and Iraq . Their ‘war’ on ISIS is ineffective. Studies by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgent database show that ISIS attacks and killings in Iraq increased strongly after US air attacks began. The main on the ground fighting has been carried out by the Syrian Army and, more recently, the Iraqi armed forces with Iranian backing.
All this has been reported perversely in the western media. The same channels that celebrate the ISIS killing of Syrian soldiers also claim the Syrian Army is ‘not fighting ISIS’. This alleged ‘unwillingness’ was part of the justification for US bombing inside Syria. While it is certainly the case that Syrian priorities have remained in the heavily populated west, local media reports make it clear that, since at least the beginning of 2014, the Syrian Arab Army has been the major force engaged with ISIS in Hasaka, Raqqa and Deir eZour. A March 2015 Reuters report does concede that the Syrian Army recently killed two ISIS commanders (including Deeb Hedjian al-Otaibi) along with 24 fighters, at Hamadi Omar.
Closer cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is anathema to Israel, the Saudis and Washington, yet it is happening. This is not a sectarian divide but rather based on some clear mutual interests, not least putting an end to sectarian (takfiri) terrorism.
It was only logical that, in the Iraqi military’s recent offensive on ISIS-held Tikrit, the Iranian military emerged as Iraq’s main partner. Washington has been sidelined, causing consternation in the US media. General Qasem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force is a leading player in the Tikrit operation. A decade after Washington’s ‘creative destruction’ plans, designed to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq, an article in Foreign Policy magazine complains that Iran’s influence is ‘at its highest point in almost four centuries’.
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The New Yorker (2013) Syrian Opposition Groups Stop Pretending
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Washington Post (2015) Syrian rebel group that got U.S. aid dissolves
David Kenner (2015) For God and Country, and Iran, Foreign Policy
Reuters (2015) Syrian air strike kills two Islamic State commanders