For decades, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been relying on its partner’s money in discrete and covert operations; the money of the Saudi oil-rich kingdom.
Citing several current and former US officials, the New York Times reported on Jan. 23 that from the very beginning of the US operations against the Assad government in Syria, Saudi money was largely the supporter.
The most recent example of this ‘close bond’ between the US and Saudi Arabia has came to light in the New York Times article, which reported that US President Barack Obama knew well the US could rely on Saudi money when, in 2013, he secretly gave the CIA the green light to arm militant groups in Syria that were fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Code-named Timber Sycamore, the deal stipulates that the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money and the CIA takes the lead in training the rebels on AK-47 assault rifles and tank-destroying missiles.
In 2012, the US repeatedly claimed that the Timber Sycamore program was designed to deliver what it claimed to be ‘non-lethal’ aid, yet months later, Obama gave his approval for the CIA to begin directly arming and training the rebels from a base in Jordan, amending the Timber Sycamore program to allow lethal assistance.
Also, the NY Times report noticeably underlines that such a long intelligence relationship helps explain why the United States has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme ideology Wahhabism, that has inspired many of the very terrorist groups.
In the latest violation which brought uproar across the Muslim world in particular, Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, for challenging the oppression of the royal family and demanding human rights, yet the Obama administration did not publically condemn the action. Also, another form of Saudi human rights abuses to which the US has had no clear condemnation is its war on Yemen that has so far claimed the lives of more than 8,270 people including women and children.
The CIA covert operations in Syria began in 2013, in which more than 10,000 Wahhabi terrorists were armed, funded and trained. The trainings were taking place inside Jordan’s territories, and estimates have put the total cost of the ops at several billion dollars.
“They understand that they have to have us, and we understand that we have to have them,” said Mike Rogers, the former Republican congressman who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee when the CIA operation began.
The operation was described as part of the so-called “counterterrorism” program. On this note, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser and the author of a book on the Islamic State, William McCants points out “The more that the argument becomes, ‘We need them as a counterterrorism partner,’ the less persuasive it is. If this is purely a conversation about counterterrorism cooperation, and if the Saudis are a big part of the problem in creating terrorism in the first place, then how persuasive of an argument is it?”
Even though the biggest contributor was Saudi Arabia, yet its allies also had their share in the game. According to the NY Times, when Obama signed off on arming the rebels in the spring of 2013, the Qataris, Turkish and Saudis had been funneling weapons into Syria for more than a year. The Qataris had even smuggled in shipments of Chinese-made FN-6 shoulder-fired missiles over the border from Turkey.
In the “free and democratic system” being pushed upon all other states in the world by the United States and its Western allies, journalists are increasingly unhappy about the repressions they’ve been facing over the last decade, along with constant surveillance and the demand to cooperate with intelligence services. That is why German-speakers have even coined a special term for the Western media – Lügenpresse or “lying press”. It’s no wonder that the credibility of the most famous Western media outlets recently has hit a new low.
Since the days of Richard Nixon no American president was as hostile to the media as Barack Obama – this was stated by the former editor-in-chief of the Washington Post, Leonard Downie in a report that he drafted on the dire situation of the freedom of speech in the United States. According to this report, the Obama Administration has been routinely spying on journalists, while punishing harshly all sorts of whistleblowers. Moreover, the members of the administration feel personally offended when a critical article about its actions appears somewhere in the media. In order to prevent such perceived slights, government officials are being accused of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 that in the first 90 years of its existence was used only three times to convict foreign spies. Yet, in the period from 2009 to 2013 eight US officials went to jail on accusations of providing journalists with the information that could lead to a major scandal. As for US journalists, Leonard Downie notes, they are living in the atmosphere of constant fear, under a sense of being monitored daily.
Despite promises to put an end to the “excessive secrecy” that was imposed by the Bush Administration, Obama has only expanded it further still. It happens so that even the documents that pose no threat to national security whatsoever are being classified today in the West as “Top Secret” to ensure that reporters never get access to them. Since October 2011, civil servants in all US government bodies are being officially encouraged to spy on their colleagues, while employees of federal departments since 2012 are forced to regularly report their contacts with the press, as well as to inform superiors about “suspicious behavior” of their colleagues. The former head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, stated that these measures were adopted to “prevent any contact.” Even the employees of media outlets obedient to Washington, such as the Associated Press and Fox News have been targeted by the Obama Administration.
There’s growing evidence that suggests that Operation Mockingbird, launched by the CIA in the 1950s, has never ceased to exist. The main objective of this operation was to influence both the US and foreign media through agents that were planted among genuine journalists. When the operation was made official, US authorities had more than three thousand permanent and contracted agents of the CIA in hundreds of Western media outlets. And it seems that nothing has changed since those days, since the Western media spreads disinformation, produces propaganda and whitewashes anything that might harm the well-being of Western elites.
But the worst part is that it’s not simply the American media that has been destroyed, since the European media has suffered a similar fate. How else can the bias of the European press be explained?
The Western media is usually tasked with targeting specific individuals who dare oppose Washington. It will suffice to recall the rigid disinformation campaign against Saddam Hussein and the so-called “weapons of mass destruction” that never existed in the first place. Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi was subjected to a similar treatment, and now we are hearing revelations made by Hillary Clinton that regime change in Libya was carried out in the best interests of Washington, since Gaddafi had considerable oil and gold reserves at his disposal. A similar propaganda campaign has been launched by the United States against Syria, and especially Russia in light of the Ukrainian crisis. Even the revelations made by the French journalist Laurent Bravard or the speech given by the Director of French Military Intelligence Christophe Gomart in front of the National Assembly of France were ignored by the absolute majority of Western media sources.
The total control of the media by Western intelligence services has become painfully obvious recently. A while ago a German journalist contributing to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Dr Udo Ulfkotte, admitted that all authors are receiving gifts in the form of expensive watches, exotic tours, or stays in luxurious hotels. One can easily live a life of the rich and famous if he’s writing good things about NATO and demonizes Russia. In his book, published under the title Gekaufte Journalisten (Corrupt Journalists), Udo Ulfkotte says that those who write as they were told to, especially those “inspired” by the CIA or other Western intelligence services, are enjoying full protection and regular promotions. The utter and complete control over the Fourth Estate (as the press is usually referred to) exercised by intelligence services and oligarchs has turned the Western press into a political fifth column. As for those people who do not agree with this state of affairs, they simply have no say in the West.
It is impossible to publish facts in the West not simply because of the rigid censorship, but due to the fact that the better part of media outlets are owned by a small group of wealthy individuals. The world’s media, as well as the leading centers of Europe are being dominated by the Wall Street and the City of London, and none of these people, even if they understand the danger of obeying the orders of the few, dare to speak up against the actions of the US. For this reason European media outlets are facing a serious crisis these days.
The extensive amount of pressure that media is forced to live under has become so distinct and apparent that some Western reporters have decided to revolt against the system. A while ago, an American economist and author Paul Craig Roberts noted that we are a witnessing a complete decomposition of Western journalism, while journalists are forced to lie or simply give up their chosen profession.
According to the data published by the Insurge Intelligence project it’s not the media alone that is being used for propaganda purposes, but also search engines like Google as well. While bypassing the democratic norms and laws, Western intelligence agencies are influencing policies and public opinions in the United States and other states, to ensure “information superiority”. It is therefore not surprising that in 2015 the US took 49th place in the World Press Freedom Index, along with El Salvador, Burkina Faso and the Republic of Niger.
Martin Berger is a Czech-based freelance journalist and analyst.
The British government, whose foreign policy is overtly hostile to their Russian counterpart, declared last week that their investigation into the killing of a former Russian intelligence agent in London nearly a decade ago concluded there is a “strong probability” the Russian FSB security agency was responsible for poisoning Alexander Litivenko with plutonium. They further declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” of the act. The British investigation, which was likely politically motivated, seemingly raised more questions than it answered. But American corporate media were quick to use the accusations against Putin to demonize him, casting him as a pariah brazenly flaunting his disregard for international conventions.
The Washington Post (1/23/16) editorial board wrote that “Robert Owen, a retired British judge, has carefully and comprehensively documented what can only be called an assassination… Mr. Owen found (Andrei) Lugovoi was acting ‘under the direction’ of the FSB in an operation to kill Mr. Litivenko – one that was ‘probably approved’ by the director of the FSB and by Mr. Putin.”
Actually, Owen did not find that former KGB operative Lugovoi was acting under the direction of the FSB to kill Litivenko. He found there was a “strong probability” this was the case. This means that even in Owens’s view, there is not near certainty, which would meet the legal standard of reasonable doubt that would preclude a guilty judgement. There is even more doubt that even if it were the case the FSB ordered the murder, they did so on Putin’s orders.
The New York Times editorial board (1/21/16) finds the investigation’s results “shocking.” For the Times, this confirms a pattern of Putin’s rogue behavior. They claim Putin’s “deserved reputation as an autocrat willing to flirt with lawlessness in his global ventures has taken on a startling new aspect.”
Both of the prestigious and influential American newspapers argue that the British findings impugn Putin’s respectability in international affairs. The Times says:
Mr. Putin has built a sordid record on justice and human rights, which naturally reinforces suspicion that he could easily have been involved in the murder. At the very least, the London inquiry, however much it is denied at the Kremlin, should serve as a caution to the Russian leader to repair his reputation for notorious intrigues abroad.
The more hawkish Post says: “This raises a serious question for President Obama and other world leaders whose governments do not traffic in contract murder. Should they continue to meet with Mr. Putin as if he is just another head of state?”
Putin’s alleged “sordid record on justice and human rights,” which is taken for granted without providing any examples, is seen as bolstering the case for his guilt in the case of the poisoning death of Litivenko. This, in turn, adds to his “notorious” reputation as a violator of human rights.
The Post draws a line between the lawless Putin and the respectable Western heads of state, such as Obama. Though they frame their call to treat Putin as an outcast as a question, it is clearly intended as a rhetorical question.
It is curious that The Post draws a contrast between Putin and Obama, whose government is supposedly above such criminality. The newspaper does not mention the U.S. government’s drone assassination program, which as of last year had killed nearly 2,500 people in at least three countries outside of declared military battlefields. Estimates have shown that at least 90 percent of those killed were not intended targets. None of those killed have been charged with any crimes. And at least two – Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdul Rahman – were Americans.
Obama himself is personally responsible for those killed by missiles launched from unmanned aircraft over the skies of sovereign countries. Several news reports have indicated that Obama is presented in meetings each week by military and national security officials with a list of potential targets for assassination. Obama must personally approve each target, at which point they are added to the state-sanctioned “kill list.”
The British government has also assumed for itself the power to assassinate its own citizens outside a declared battlefield. Last fall, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the deaths of two British citizens in Syria, who were subsequently disposed of in a lethal drone strike.
The Washington Post editorial board (3/24/12) claimed that Obama was justified in carrying out lethal drone strokes that kill American citizens “to protect the country against attack.” Their lone criticism was that “an extra level of review of some sort is warranted.”
After it was revealed that an American hostage was inadvertently killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, The Post (5/1/15) said that the issue of whether the American government continues to conduct drone strikes should not be up for debate. “(T)here is little question that drones are the least costly means of eliminating militants whose first aim is to kill Americans,” they wrote.
While they tacitly accept the legal rationale for Obama’s assassination program, the New York Times editorial board at least demonstrated some skepticism. In “A Thin Rationale for Drone Killings” (6/23/14), they called the memo “a slapdash pastiche of legal theories – some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law – that was clearly tailored to the desired result.” They say that “the rationale provides little confidence that the lethal action was taken with real care.”
Yet they do not chastise Obama for his “intrigues abroad” nor do they condemn this as an example of his “sordid record on justice and human rights,” language they used for Putin. The idea that relying on what are transparently inadequate legal justifications for killing an American citizen without due process would merit prosecution is clearly beyond the limits of discussion for the Times.
Recently Faheem Qureshi, a victim of the first drone strike ordered by Obama in 2009 (three days after his induction as President), who lost multiple family members and his own eye, told The Guardian that Obama’s actions in his native lands are “an act of tyranny. If there is a list of tyrants in the world, to me, Obama will be put on that list by his drone program.”
Surely both The New York Times and Washington Post disagree with Qureshi, because they believe the U.S. government is inherently benevolent and its motives are beyond reproach. But based on their editorials about the British investigation of the Litivenko poisoning, if Putin was responsible and was described by Qureshi in the same way, they would wholeheartedly agree.
The U.S. government and its allies in NATO, like Great Britain, have a clear agenda in vilifying Russia and its President. The US-NATO alliance supported the government that came to power in Ukraine in 2014 through a coup. After provinces in Eastern Ukraine – the vast majority of whose population is ethnically Russian and Russian-speaking – refused to recognize the NATO-backed coup government in Kiev, the Russian government supported them.
It should be easy to see how, from Russia’s perspective, the Ukranian conflict can be understood as an extension of NATO encroachment towards Russia’s borders that has continued unabated since James Baker told Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 NATO would move “not an inch east.”
“We’re in a new Cold War,” Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies and politics, told Salon. “The epicenter is not in Berlin this time but in Ukraine, on Russia’s borders, within its own civilization: That’s dangerous. Over the 40-year history of the old Cold War, rules of behavior and recognition of red lines, in addition to the red hotline, were worked out. Now there are no rules.”
Additionally, Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011 throughout that country’s civil war, and more recently its direct military intervention in the conflict that has turned the tide against US-backed rebels, has strongly rankled Washington.
The language used by top government officials to describe Russia has been astoundingly combative. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the man in charge of the entire US military, claimed Russia is responsible for aggression and is “endangering world order.”
The U.S. government’s hyping of the Russian “threat” has been used to justify massive spending on the U.S. space program and other military expenditures, such as the $1 trillion to upgrade nuclear weapons,
One could even argue that the narrative of an aggressive and belligerent Russia is the principal justification for the continued existence of the NATO itself, two and a half decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The alliance allows the US military to be stationed in hundreds of bases throughout Europe under the guise of a purely defensive organization.
The U.S.’s most prominent media organizations should demonstrate the strongest skepticism towards the policies and actions of their own government. At the very least, they should hold their own country’s leaders to the same standards as they do others. But time and again, the media choose to act as a mouthpiece to echo and amplify Washington’s propaganda. They do the government’s bidding, creating an enemy and rallying the public towards a confrontation they would otherwise have no interest in, while allowing the government to avoid accountability for its own misdeeds.
At a time when America’s public sector is apparently too strapped financially even to provide safe drinking water for some of its residents, the Obama administration plans to commit the nation to spending at least $1 trillion over the next three decades to improve our ability to fight a nuclear war. That’s right — an almost unthinkable war that would end up destroying much of the habitable portion of the globe.
That wasn’t the message President Obama conveyed in April, 2009 when he declared in Prague, “The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. … Generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light. … Just as we stood for freedom in the Twentieth Century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the Twenty-first Century.
“And as . . . the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. … So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
How times change. Today, warns former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, “we are now on the verge of a new nuclear arms race” based on a return to Cold War thinking. “Moreover, I believe that the risk of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than it was during the Cold War — and yet our public is blissfully unaware of the new nuclear dangers they face.”
Russia shares some of the blame, with its ostentatious talk of developing new weapons like a giant nuclear-tipped torpedo designed to “cause guaranteed devastating damage to the country’s territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination.”
But a far greater risk to global security is the Obama administration’s so-called nuclear “modernization” program, which the Pentagon is promoting at the same time U.S. policymakers are incessantly demonizing Russia as the chief threat to the United States and its allies.
In theory, the administration aims merely to ensure that America’s nuclear deterrent remains “robust” — that is, credible enough to dissuade any other nuclear power from contemplating an attack on U.S. forces, or installations, or cities.
But U.S. nuclear forces are currently sized with only one potential enemy in mind: Russia. The United States has an estimated 1,900 nuclear weapons deployed, versus 1,780 for Russia. The next largest nuclear power is France, with just 290 deployed weapons. The total U.S. nuclear stockpile of 7,200 warheads is 28 times bigger than China’s.
Apparently all that isn’t enough to let top Pentagon officials sleep at night. President Obama’s new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that he believes Russia poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security — “an existential threat” no less. “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming,” he declared.
Curtis LeMay Redux
Lest Russia launch an all-out attack, for reasons unknown, the Obama administration proposes building 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, 100 long-range strategic bombers armed with a new class of bombs, 400 silo-based ballistic missiles, and 1,000 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. It’s almost as if Air Force General Curtis LeMay were still running the show.
An authoritative study by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimates the full cost of this program over 30 years at more than $1 trillion — with no allowance for cost overruns, delays, or clean-up and decommissioning costs.
But cost may be the least of the problems with Obama’s agenda. One common if disguised element of these “modernization” programs is their ability to make nuclear “war-fighting” more, not less, conceivable by increasing the targeting flexibility of these weapons and, in some cases, reducing their yield so they resemble very large conventional weapons rather than the all-or-nothing nukes of old.
For example, as the New York Times reported, the recently tested B61 Model 12 nuclear bomb has steerable fins that permit pin-point accuracy and configurable yields to as little as two percent of the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima. General James E. Cartwright, retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of the United States Strategic Command, said “what going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable.”
Similarly, the proposed new Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, a vastly upgraded nuclear cruise missile, “is designed for nuclear warfighting,” states Stephen Young, a senior analyst in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Unfortunately, for that very reason, deploying this weapon will actually make the United States less secure.”
Moving to a nuclear war-fighting capability violates the official U.S. policy outlined in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which called for steps to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attack, with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies and partners the sole purpose of US nuclear weapons.”
Once policymakers start seriously considering “limited war” scenarios in which nuclear weapons might come in handy, the risk of war shoots way up. At the same time, the acquisition of war-fighting capabilities will prompt the other side to follow suit.
Easing into Nuclear War
As James Doyle, a former nonproliferation analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory, put it, “Lowering the threshold of nuclear war poses the very real threat of rapid escalation in a conflict potentially resulting in the use of many, more destructive nuclear weapons.”
Russia certainly views the Obama administration’s current nuclear program as upsetting the stability of traditional deterrence. Following a recent test of the new B61-12 bomb, Russia’s deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, denounced it as “irresponsible” and “openly provocative.”
Russia is also gravely concerned about another development that could, in theory, make the United States contemplate a “limited” nuclear war: the expansion of the U.S. ballistic missile defense network in Europe. President Vladimir Putin called that “an attempt to undermine the existing parity in strategic nuclear weapons and essentially to upset the whole system of global and regional stability.”
The biggest risk from all these developments isn’t a planned nuclear war, but an unplanned nuclear exchange triggered by a false alarm in an atmosphere of mutual paranoia. Both the United States and Russia have hundreds of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to “launch on warning” lest they be destroyed in a sneak attack. Our survival thus far is thanks in part to luck; scholars have documented at least 20 accidents that might have started an accidental nuclear war in years past.
There’s no guarantee that our luck will hold out, however. Thanks to growing fears of being wiped out without warning by stealthy U.S. weapons, “Russia has shortened the launch time from what it was during the Cold War,” according to Bruce Blair, a nuclear security expert at Princeton. “Today, top military command posts in the Moscow area can bypass the entire human chain of command and directly fire by remote control rockets in silos and on trucks as far away as Siberia in only 20 seconds.”
The priority of U.S. nuclear policy today should not be investing in staggeringly expensive new technology that makes us less secure by making nuclear war more thinkable and thus more unpredictable. It should be overwhelmingly focused on nuclear risk reduction: lowering the threats perceived by each nuclear power, eliminating launch-on-warning policies, and exploring other confidence-building measures. Our greatest security task is to modernize our thinking about nuclear weapons, not our nuclear weapons technology.
Reprieve – January 23, 2016
Today marks seven years to the day since President Obama’s first drone strike in office, which he was reportedly informed afterwards had killed innocent civilians.
Faheem Qureshi, was 14 years old at the time of the strike. It killed several members of his family and left him without his left eye and severely burned.
At the time, Faheem was a high school student whose favourite subject was chemistry. Several of his cousins and uncles were killed in the strike, which Faheem survived only because he was able to drag his body far enough away that people felt it was safe to provide aid. Faheem was hospitalised for 24 days in Peshawar before he was recovered enough to leave. To this day, he still requires medical treatment for head injuries suffered in the attack.
During his time in office, President Obama has significantly expanded the CIA’s covert drone programme in Pakistan and Yemen, launching over 500 strikes in those two countries alone. He has never fully acknowledged the programme’s existence nor apologised to any of the hundreds of Yemeni and Pakistani civilians who have been killed since the drone programme began. Analysis of data by international human rights NGO Reprieve in 2014 found that 1,147 people – including women and children – were killed in attempts to target 41 men, raising serious concerns about the ‘precise’ nature of strikes.
Last year, US citizen Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto were mistakenly killed in a US drone strike. For the first and only time, President Obama admitted the US’ error and publicly apologised to the families of the two men. Attempts by Pakistani and Yemeni victims to get a similar apology have been met with silence.
Speaking about his ordeal this week to international human rights organization Reprieve, Faheem Qureshi said:
“On January 23rd 2009, a hellfire missile tore my family’s lives apart as they sat down to dinner. The drone strike – President Obama’s first – killed three members of my family. As the sole survivor, I lost my left eye and suffered serious head injuries. I was only 14 years old at the time, but I can still remember as if it was yesterday the feeling of my body burning and how I had to crawl from the rubble to get help. I am told reporting has since revealed that the President was told, almost immediately, that a mistake had been made. He had killed innocent civilians – my family – in the strike.
“In the years since, I have witnessed hundreds of drone strikes in my community that have killed many more innocent civilians. People became scared to go to funerals because drones targeted them. They became scared to remove bodies from the aftermath of a drone strike in case another strike hit. The constant threat from drones dominated every minute of our lives. And yet, seven years on, President Obama will not even fully acknowledge the existence of the covert drone program. The only ‘mistakes’ he acknowledges are an American and an Italian he accidentally killed last year.
“What about the hundreds of innocent Pakistanis who have also lost their lives in drone strikes? What about my family? President Obama knows we were innocent and yet we’ve never received an explanation for why we were targeted, much less an apology. As President Obama prepares to leave the White House, he needs to bring his drone programme out of the shadows. It is past time he face up to what his drones really do and apologise to me, to my family, and to all the other innocent people who have been killed by these terrible weapons.”
Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at international human rights organization Reprieve, which investigates civilian casualties from drone strikes, said: “For seven years, secret drone strikes have been President Obama’s weapon of choice in the War on Terror. Taken covertly in places where the US is not at war, these strikes have killed and injured hundreds of innocent men, women and children just like Fahim. Yet, even as is own Generals warn how counterproductive the programme is, President Obama has refused calls for even basic transparency.
This is a legacy no president should want to leave. President Obama needs to bring a halt to this illegal and counterproductive programme. He needs to open it up to scrutiny and he needs to extend the same apology to the innocent Pakistani and Yemenis he has killed, as the one he extended to the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni La Porto. Fahim deserves nothing less.”
Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor who writes The Wall Street Journal’s weekly “Global View” column, is not really a bad prose stylist, and his logic is not always unsound. But his unexamined assumptions lead him astray.
His latest installment is typical. Entitled “Why the U.S. Should Stand by the Saudis Against Iran,” it begins with not one premise, but two. The first, as the title suggest, is that the U.S. should stand by Riyadh in its time of woes. The second is that if the kingdom stumbles, only one person is to blame – President Obama.
The article opens on a promising note: “There is so much to detest about Saudi Arabia,” Stephens writes. It bans women from driving, it shuts its doors to Syrian refugees, it promotes “a bigoted and brutal version of Sunni Islam,” and it has “increased tensions with Iran by executing … a prominent radical Shiite cleric,” i.e., Nimr al-Nimr.
So why continue siding with a kingdom “that Israeli diplomat Dore Gold once called ‘Hatred’s Kingdom,’” Stephens asks, “especially when the administration is also trying to pursue further opening [sic] with Tehran?”
It’s a question that a lot of people are asking especially now that the collapse in oil prices means that the Saudis are less economically important than they once were. But Stephens says it would be wrong to abandon the kingdom “especially when it is under increasing economic strain from falling oil prices.”
Get that? It would be wrong to abandon the kingdom when oil is scarce and prices are high — because that’s when we need the Saudis the most — and it’s wrong to abandon the monarchy when oil is plentiful and prices are low when we need them the least. Oil, in other words, has nothing to do with it. It’s wrong because it’s wrong.
But Stephens thinks it’s wrong for another reason as well: because Saudi Arabia “feels acutely threatened by a resurgent Iran.” Why is Iran resurgent? Because the nuclear deal that it recently concluded with the U.S. has set it free from punishing economic sanctions.
He then goes on to list all the bad things Iran has done thanks to the power that the Obama administration has just handed it on a silver platter. “Despite fond White House hopes that the nuclear deal would moderate Iran’s behavior,” Stephens says, “Tehran hard-liners wasted no time this week disqualifying thousands of moderate candidates from running in next month’s parliamentary elections, and an Iranian-backed militia appears to be responsible for the recent kidnapping of three Americans in Iraq.”
Scary, eh? Yes – until one considers how Stephens has loaded the dice. His statement about Iran’s hardliners is accurate as far as it goes. But he might have pointed out that while Iran’s theocratic rulers certainly hobble democracy, they at least allow some sort of parliamentary elections to take place whereas Saudi Arabia, the regime he is now leaping to defend, allows exactly none. (Sorry, but last month’s meaningless municipal-council elections don’t count.)
In the Saudi kingdom, political parties, protests, even seminars in which intellectuals get to sound off are all verboten. Since March 2014, Saudis have been expressly forbidden to do anything that might undermine the status quo, including advocating atheism, criticizing Islam, participating in any form of political protest, or even joining a political party.
Stephens’s statement about the three kidnapped Americans is equally misleading. While Iran does indeed back such militias, Reuters cited U.S. government sources saying that “Washington had no reason to believe Tehran was involved in the kidnapping and did not believe the trio were being held in Iran.”
Plus, to follow Stephens’s logic, if Iran is responsible for specific actions like these, then Saudi Arabia is responsible for specific actions of the Sunni Salafist forces that it funds in Syria, which include lopping off the heads of Shi‘ites and committing many other such atrocities.
Stephens says that the U.S.-Iranian accord “guarantees Iran a $100 billion sanctions windfall,” a figure that the Council on Foreign Relations, no slouch when it comes to Iran bashing, describes as roughly double the true amount. He says Iran now enjoys “the protection of a major nuclear power” thanks to Russia’s intervention in Syria and agreement to supply Tehran with high-tech weaponry.
As a result, “Iranian proxies are active in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, and dominate much of southern Iraq. Restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province and neighboring Bahrain provide further openings for Iranian subversion on the Arabian peninsula.”
Possibly so – except that Stephens might have noted that Saudi proxies, up to and including Al Qaeda, are active in the same countries and that Shi‘ites in Bahrain and the Eastern Province might be a little less restive if Saudi repression were a little less savage.
Then Stephens gets to his main point, which is the nefarious role of Obama:
“Add to this an American president who is ambivalent about the House of Saud the way Jimmy Carter was about the Shah of Iran, and no wonder Riyadh is acting the way it is. If the administration is now unhappy about the Saudi war in Yemen or its execution of Shiite radicals, it has only itself to blame.
“All this means that the right U.S. policy toward the Saudis is to hold them close and demonstrate serious support, lest they be tempted to continue freelancing their foreign policy in ways we might not like. It won’t happen in this administration, but a serious commitment to overthrow the Assad regime would be the place to start.”
In other words, if the Saudi monarchy chops off the heads of dissident Shi‘ites and sentences liberal blogger Raif Badawi to a thousand lashes, it’s because Obama doesn’t show enough love. Ditto Yemen. If Saudi air raids have killed some 2,800 civilians according to the latest UN estimates, including more than 500 children, it’s because Obama has allowed his affections to flag for the Saudi royals. If only he would hug the Saudi princes a little closer, they wouldn’t feel so lonely and bereft and would therefore respond more gently to their neighbors in the south. No blame should be cast on the Saudi leaders. Their behavior can’t be blamed on the contradictions between their playboy lifestyles and the ascetic extremes of Wahhabism or the baleful effects of raking in untold oil riches while doing no work in return. No, everything’s the fault of Obama and his yuppie ways.
What can one say about reasoning like this? Only that it makes Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem like paragons of mental stability. But given that The Wall Street Journal has long filled its editorial pages with such swamp gas, why dwell on the feverish exhalations of just one right-wing columnist?
The answer is that Stephens speaks not just for himself, but for an entire neocon establishment that is beside itself over the mess in the Persian Gulf and desperate to avoid blame for the chaos (which is now spreading into Europe). So, talking points must be developed to shift responsibility.
The Lost Saudi Cause
But the Saudis may be beyond saving. With Iran preparing to put a million more barrels on the world oil market per day, prices – down better than 75 percent since mid-2014 – can only go lower. The Saudis, hemorrhaging money at the rate of $100 billion a year, know that when the foreign currency runs out, their power runs out too. Hence, they fear winding up as yet another failed Middle Eastern state like Syria.
“Islamic State and other jihadist groups would flourish,” Stephens observes, this time correctly. “Iran would seek to extend its reach in the Arabian peninsula. The kingdom’s plentiful stores of advanced Western military equipment would also fall into dangerous hands.”
It’s not a pretty picture, which is why the neocons are pointing the fingers at others, Obama first and foremost. As Jim Lobe recently observed, all the usual suspects are pitching in in behalf of their Saudi friends – Elliott Abrams, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and so on. All are furious at what Obama administration has done to their beloved petro-sheiks.
As neocon theorist Max Book put it at the Commentary Magazine website: “The American policy should be clear: We should stand with the Saudis – and the Egyptians, and the Jordanians, and the Emiratis, and the Turks, and the Israels [sic], and all of our other allies – to stop the new Persian Empire. But the Obama administration, morally and strategically confused, is instead coddling Iran in the vain hope that it will somehow turn Tehran from enemy into friend.”
Something else is also at work, however – the I-word. As Lobe notes, neocons have done an about-face with regard to the Saudis. Where Richard Perle once called on the Bush administration to include Riyadh on his post-9/11 hit list, the neocons are now firmly on the Saudis’ side.
Why? The reason is Israel, which has decided since tangling with Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War that the Shi‘ites are its chief enemy and the Sunni petro-monarchies, comparatively speaking, its friend. Like Communists responding to the latest directive from Moscow, the neocons have turned on a dime as a consequence, churning out reams of propaganda in support of Arab countries they once loathed.
A Saudi Makeover
In the neocon domain, Saudi Arabia has undergone a wondrous makeover, transformed from a bastion of reaction and anti-Semitism to a country that is somehow peace-loving and progressive. Formerly an enemy of Washington – or at best a distasteful gang of business associates supplying lots of oil and buying lots of guns – Saudi Arabia has been re-invented as America’s dearest friend in the Arab world.
People like Bret Stephens have done their bit in behalf of the cause, turning out article after article whose real purpose is hidden from view. Where neocons formerly scorned anyone who spoke well of the Saudis, they now denounce anyone who speaks ill.
The funny thing is that Obama is to blame for the disaster in the Middle East, not because he disregarded the latest diktat from the Washington neocon-dominated foreign-policy establishment, but because he has accepted its priorities all too dutifully. He stood by as Qatar steered hundreds of millions of dollars to Salafist jihadis in Libya and while the Saudis, Qataris, and other Gulf states did the same to Sunni fundamentalists in Syria.
Obama’s response to Saudi Arabia’s repression of Arab Spring protests in Bahrain was muted, he refused to condemn the beheading of al-Nimr — the best the State Department could come up with was a statement declaring that the execution risked “exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced” — and Obama has even given military support to the kingdom’s air assault on Yemen.
Yet now the neocons blame him for not doing enough to keep the Saudis happy.
Reprieve – January 21, 2015
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed the appeal today, January 21st, just one day before the seven year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Executive Order to close Guantanamo. Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the tapes be released in October 2014, after sixteen major US media organizations, including the New York Times, AP, and McClatchy newspapers, asked for the tapes to be made public under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
The tapes show the force-feeding and ‘forcible cell extraction’ of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who has since been released. Mr Dhiab is represented by international human rights NGO Reprieve. Reprieve lawyers are virtually the only people outside government to have seen the footage and have described it as ‘disturbing’, but are forbidden under classification rules from revealing its contents.
Eric Lewis, attorney and Chair of Reprieve US, said: “It is wrong to hide behind national security concerns when the Government wants to hide its mistaken actions from public view. Our national security requires the release of these tapes, and accountability for the cruel treatment imposed on men trying to call attention to their endless and lawless detention without trial.”
Cori Crider, Reprieve attorney for Guantanamo detainees, said: Make no mistake – the force-feeding tapes would make your blood run cold. One assumes that is why they have fought so hard to keep it secret. We’ll keep pushing for the truth in the Court of Appeals.”
Why are we “over there?”
I had expected that there would be little in last week’s State of the Union address about foreign policy as it is not an Administration strength, but, to my surprise, President Barack Obama gave it about eight minutes, a little over 1000 words. Governor Nikki Haley was, however, more detached from the issue in her rebuttal speech, stating only that “… we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.”
Obama made a number of points which illustrate his own inclinations regarding how to deal with the rest of the world. He emphasized that America, the “most powerful nation on earth,” must be the global leader, “… when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead. They call us.”
Regarding the major conflict zones, he observed that “In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia. Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria, client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.”
Obama added that “Both Al Qaida and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people… Our foreign policy has to be focused on the threat from ISIL and Al Qaida. We have to take them out. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries… If this Congress is serious about winning this war and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.”
Concerning nation building, Obama opined that “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis…even if it’s done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam. It’s the lesson of Iraq, and we should have learned it by now.”
And how to lead effectively? “On issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight. That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.”
A final State of the Union Address is more than most a political document, intended to establish a loose framework of success that will enable the president’s party to prevail in the next presidential election. This is why Obama, instead of addressing substantive issues in a serious way, gave time to the warm and fuzzy perspectives that will define the Democratic Party in national elections later this year. He touched on gay marriage, education reform, job growth, Obamacare, and on guns legislation, all of which are core issues for those who align with the Democrats. The reality of each of those alleged “successes” can, of course, be challenged as failures or even unconstitutional, but the highly structured and almost ritualistic annual presidential speech does not exactly present much of a debating society opportunity for the opposition party.
I have long thought that President Obama is basically a moderate politically speaking who is extremely cautious and disinclined to take any risks. He was, admittedly, elected president in spite of his having had no experience that qualified him for the office. His electoral success was due to a number of factors coming together, most notably a scary GOP candidate coupled with growing antiwar sentiment that was a reaction to the Bush regime’s muscular nationalism. Understanding that, Obama made some gestures that miscategorized him as a “peace” candidate and eventually earned him a Nobel Prize but he quickly surrendered his independence to the consensus driven advisers who were products of the groupthink that drives foreign policy in Washington. In short, he has received some very bad advice and the State of the Union Address inadvertently identifies just what is wrong with the way the Administration views itself within the context of the international community.
It is particularly odd to note the Obama contention that the United States must be the leader, which he cites several times. To a certain extent the claim is little more than self-satisfied preening, but it also goes along with the oft-stated contention that the U.S. President is “leader of the free world,” an expression that Obama frequently uses. Unfortunately, there is no such mandate and it is likely that if an election were held many so-called allies would be reluctant to concede leadership to Washington. The claim that other nations clamor for American leadership is hokum. Germans, in fact, believe that the United States role in world affairs is essentially negative.
And the assertion that Washington is leading a coalition of 60 countries to fight ISIS is clueless, as the coalition is basically inert and toothless, having only acquired some momentum after the Russians intervened on behalf of Syria. Leading coalition partners, to include Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have all along been playing a double game, supporting ISIS more often than not while many other nominal allies have done little or nothing. And the moderate rebels that White House expects to one day raise the liberty cap over Damascus? They have disappeared.
Indeed, Obama’s view of the conflict zones appears to derive more from a cold war style Manichean mentality than from current realities. Russia is incorrectly seen as having “client states” while the ongoing violence in the Middle East is regarded as a process of going through “transformations” that are “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.” That is a comment that could have been coined by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but it is self-serving misreading of reality intended to shift the blame for the anarchy in the region.
Ancient history does not explain the contemporary Middle East. Including the festering Israel and Palestine conflict, which has taken on its current form due to the connivance of Washington as Israel’s patron, all of the unrest in the region is quite plausibly a direct or indirect result of American missteps, starting with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 coupled with the attempts to destabilize and change regime in Syria that started in the same year, followed by the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011.
And Obama in his speech appears to want to up the ante, asking congress for war powers to get more deeply into the Syrian civil war. It contradicts his call for learning from past mistakes in Vietnam and Iraq and makes clear that the White House has not benefitted from hindsight as it intends to again repeat using military intervention as a foreign policy tool. It is also telling that Obama did not mention learning anything from the disastrous intervention in Libya, which, of course, occurred on his watch and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The fact is that the Arab world was relatively stable even if it was not very free before the U.S. sought fit to intervene in serial fashion after 9/11 and it would be nice if the president would just give that a nod, particularly as he went on to say that the United States should not seek to “take over and rebuild” every country that falls into “crisis.” As Obama has not hesitated to continue to do exactly that in Afghanistan with intentions to do likewise in Syria one has to question his perception of where the problem lies.
And finally, there is the question of what to do about terrorism. Describing ISIS and al Qaeda as major threats and the “focus” of U.S. foreign policy gives the groups way too much credit and also enhances their appeal to young Muslim men who will no doubt be volunteering in droves as a response to the Obama message. The reality is that they are not a major threat and never have been and if U.S. foreign policy is focused on them it is a bad misreading of what is important and what is not. Maintaining good working relations with adversaries Russia and China is far more important, as is increasing multilateral cooperation with friendly Asian rim nations and allies in Europe. Diplomacy is not just engaged in repressing bad guys, it is more so about building positive relations with friends and potential allies as well as bridges to opponents.
Foreign policy does not win or lose national elections but the diminished status of diplomacy over the past twenty years coupled with a basic incomprehension of what to do about the development of a multipolar world should be troubling for many Americans because the United States no longer operates in a vacuum. The perpetuation of myths that the U.S. must lead and should take steps to correct the policies of other nations, to include engineering regime change, must be once and for all explicitly discarded. Obama could have called for something like that but he didn’t.
The United States of America does just fine when it minds its own business and seeks friendship with everyone, as President George Washington recommended in his Farewell Address. Even the so-called terrorist problem would be much diminished because, as Ron Paul has correctly observed, “they are over here because we are over there.” Unfortunately, an undoubtedly intelligent and seemingly well-intentioned man like Barack Obama has chosen to go with the Washington consensus rather than heed his own instincts, which is something of a tragedy as whoever succeeds him in office is not likely to possess either of those virtues and will no doubt double down on “America the exceptional.”
The US Treasury says it is imposing new ballistic missile sanctions on Iran after Tehran released five American prisoners. The move also comes less than a day after some of the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program were removed by the US and EU.
Washington has imposed sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for helping to supply Iran’s ballistic missile program, the Treasury Department stated.
“Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions,” Adam J. Szubin, acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a press release.
“We have consistently made clear that the United States will vigorously press sanctions against Iranian activities outside of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – including those related to Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile program.”
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control says it will also block the assets of Mabrooka Trading, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, for providing Iran with parts used in their ballistic missiles. Others sanctioned include companies and individuals involved in the program, which supervised testing of two ballistic missiles in 2015.
President Barack Obama’s administration delayed implementing the sanctions for more than two weeks, while negotiations to release two US prisoners being held in Iran were taking place, Reuters reported, citing its sources.
Obama is also expected to make a statement later on Sunday, regarding the Iran deal and the release of five prisoners.
Out of all the political prostitutes in the Western world, one man stands out as the perfect illustration of a politician who works solely to serve his puppet masters. Even though the majority of politicians are controlled by economic and corporate elites, the current US President, Barack Obama, is the epitome of a man who is bought and paid for by special interests.
Obama was elected President in November 2008, and inaugurated in January 2009. From the very beginning of his Presidency, it was clear who the “lord and saviour” was beholden to. According to OpenSecrets.org, Obama’s top campaign donors in 2008 included: Goldman Sachs; JPMorgan Chase; Citigroup; Morgan Stanley; Microsoft; Google; and IBM. Considering Obama’s donors, it’s no wonder that (unlike Iceland) the US has not prosecuted the plethora of bankers and financial institutions that have engaged in fraud for years, and subsequently played a pivotal role in causing the financial crisis of 2007/08.
“I’ve now been in 57 states; I think one left to go”
In a bizarre speech in 2008, Obama said: “Over the last 15 months, we’ve travelled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states; I think one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii I was not allowed to go to, even though I really wanted to visit.” Did he simply make a mistake? Was he joking? Or was this just another slip from a person who is really just hypnotically going through the motions anytime he speaks, with no real interest in what he is saying. This bizarre statement is not an isolated one from the US President, as just a few months ago, Obama tried to argue that Russia bombing ISIL is only “strengthening ISIL.”
In Greek mythology, Narcissus, the son of a river god, fell in love with his own reflection. Judging from his actions in office, Obama also appears to care more about himself than anything else. In a recent 33-minute speech, Obama referred to himself a whopping 76 times; a true mark of a narcissistic, arrogant and egocentric person. Perhaps he was trying to challenge Julius Caesar’s record, as the former Roman general penned the majority of the ‘Commentaries on the Gallic War,’ in which the word “Caesar” is used 775 times, according to the historian Robin Lane Fox.
Tears of Deceit
Emotive propaganda 101; cry and weep during a highly controversial and political speech on gun control, pulling at the heartstrings of the American public to push a political agenda. In this piece, I’m not trying to underplay the death of innocent people, but merely point out the way in which Obama is emotively trying to manipulate the opinions of the American public in order to push through legislation. Whatever your personal views are on gun control in the US, Obama’s tactics should be denounced as deceitful and staged.
Remember, the man who stood up and gave an Oscar winning performance recently, is the same man who is the head of the country that is carrying out more drone strikes around the world than ever before; has been funding and arming terrorists to overthrow the secular Syrian government; bombed a hospital in Afghanistan which killed at least three children; destroyed and destabilized the nation of Libya (which previously had the highest standard of living in Africa); supports Saudi Arabia in its war crime in Yemen; tortures and interrogates people across the world; and countless other crimes that kill and maim innocent people, yet no tears are shed by the US President.
Was San Bernardino a Black Op?
There are also some anomalies in many of the mainstream narratives regarding mass shootings in the US. The tragic shooting in San Bernardino for instance, which the mainstream media claimed was carried out by husband and wife, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, appears to conflict with some eyewitness accounts of the attack. Two reported eyewitnesses claim that the shooters were three tall white men wearing military gear.
Was San Bernardino a black op carried out by military personnel or mercenaries to further legitimize the push for gun control? It is difficult to conclusively say what actually happened, but the official narrative is a shaky one. It should also be noted that some investigative journalists have argued that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of mass shootings under Obama, one of the most pro-gun control President’s in recent decades.
In a recent article for independent German magazine Zeiten Schrift, contributor Klaus Faissner reflected on the US president’s journey from an electrifying candidate with a savior-like quality to a tired leader tarnished by drone strikes, mass surveillance, and a relationship with the media reminiscent of the worst days of the Nixon administration.
In his article, republished and translated by foreign media translation service WhatTheySayAboutUSA.com, Faissner recalled that in the run-up to his presidency, while he was still a candidate, Barack Obama “was presented as the savior of the world – almost a Messiah.”
“He was rapturously greeted by a crowd of over 200,000 in Berlin in 2008 – even before he had been officially crowned as President of the USA. “Yes, We Can!” was the campaign slogan that electrified the crowd, even before he began speaking. The American presidential candidate gathered bigger crowds in Germany than even the Pope, rock stars, or a football game with the national team. He promised to liquidate nuclear arms, reestablish good relations with Russia, pull American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan – and to close the US’s nefarious concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay.”
“As the US’s first black president,” Faissner reflected, “Barack Obama ought to have become the antithesis of everything that George ‘Dubya’ Bush had stood for – a president whose wars had run through the world like cancer, whilst clamping down on basic freedoms for his own people. This was the way the media presented the incoming President Obama – and the world believed the simulacrum they’d been given.”
Unfortunately, the journalist recalled, “what the press wasn’t reporting, however, was that [by the end of his first term], Obama signed more orders for drone assaults than Bush Jr. had done in the entire eight years of his presidency. These were drone strikes which caused catastrophic levels of non-combatant casualties, which America simply wrote-off under the euphemism of ‘collateral damage.'””Like his predecessor, Obama threw all his weight behind GMO agriculture; he didn’t give the slightest thought to his promises to close Gitmo; he showed no interest whatsoever in improving relations with Russia, and he worked actively on destabilizing the situation in the Middle East.”
A ‘Tense’ Relationship With Journalists
“In 2009,” Faissner recalled, “the incoming president declared his intentions for a previously unprecedented level of transparency in government and the apparatus of national administration. ‘Openness will strengthen our democracy,’ as he stressed in subsequent legislation.”
However, “now that Obama has been at the helm for nearly seven years, it’s clear that all these promises were empty piffle. No president after Richard Nixon has been so aggressively opposed to the media, as was highlighted in a piece written by the former Washington Post chief editor Leonard Downie, published in 2013 – about freedom of speech in the United States. Downie suggested the Obama administration was operating a misinformation policy, used electronic snooping on journalists, and was behind a ratcheted-up campaign of persecution against whistleblowers and journalists involved in investigation.”
“An atmosphere of fear pervaded the work of journalists, Downie wrote, with their investigations permanently occluded in secret observation by the state. Despite the administration’s promises to end the ‘unreasonable secrecy’ that typified the Bush era, Obama has in fact continued to expand it. Often entirely irrelevant documents are systematically classified ‘top secret’ to deny reporters access to them.””On top of this,” Faissner laments, “Obama administration staffers frequently take personal offense to articles criticizing government policy. To ward off the increasing frequency of such articles, the Obama administration is increasingly reaching out for the 1917 Espionage Act. Although it had only been employed three times in the first 90 years of its existence, over the period between 2009 to 2013… eight different government officials were arraigned with it, charged with passing governmental information to journalists, putting out a powerful resonance on Capitol Hill. One of those thus charged was Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on government snooping on the whole world’s population by the National Security Agency. Bob Woodward, who broke the news of the Watergate scandal in the Nixon era, warns that any fight against critical journalists only leads in the long term to weaken the nation’s national security.”
A Unique and Powerful Surveillance System
“In reality,” Faissner warned, “Obama has set up a unique system of surveillance. It was done in such a way that people around the world have no idea that Obama’s policies are a continuation, or even a worsening of those of George W Bush. Since October 2011 government staffers in every branch of the administration have been encouraged to snitch on their colleagues. Staff in Federal departments have been obliged since 2012 to report all their contacts with the media, and moreover to report on suspicious colleagues. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA, said the program had been incepted to ‘block all contact.’ Even staffers of new agencies who are remote from revolutionary activities, such as Associated Press or Fox News have come under the crosshairs of the Obama administration.”
“One such journalist has been James Rosen of the Fox News television channel, who came under observation from the Justice Department, for using information he had received from a highly-placed government official. The information referred to the international community ratcheting up sanctions against Pyongyang over new nuclear weapons testing by North Korea. The Washington Post notes that the FBI monitored Rosen’s phone calls, and even screened his private email correspondence.”Moreover, Faissner suggests, “the situation worsened drastically in 2015. In a document entitled ‘Law on War’ [a set of instructions on the legitimate warfare practices approved by the US military], the Pentagon stated that journalists could be treated as ‘unprivileged belligerents,’ a status which, according to a representative from the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, ‘gives U.S. military commanders across all services the purported right to at least detain journalists without charge, and without any apparent need to show evidence or bring a suspect to trial.'”
“If the Pentagon is putting spying in the same basket as journalism, the New York Times noted, then this is a step in the same direction as totalitarian regimes. It’s hardly surprising that in the World Press Freedom Index for 2015, the USA is rated at 49 place – on a par with El Salvador, Burkina Faso and the Republic of Niger.”
“Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. And . . . as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.
“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
These words, the core of President Obama’s first major foreign policy speech, delivered in Prague in April 2009, now resonate with nothing so much as toxic irony — these pretty words, these words of false hope, which disappeared into Washington’s military-industrial consensus and failed to materialize into action or policy.
James Carroll, writing at Mother Jones in 2013, describes what happened in the wake of this extraordinary policy declaration:
“In order to get the votes of Senate Republicans to ratify the START treaty, Obama made what turned out to be a devil’s bargain. He agreed to lay the groundwork for a vast ‘modernization’ of the US nuclear arsenal, which, in the name of updating an aged system, is already morphing into a full-blown reinvention of the arms cache at an estimated future cost of more than a trillion dollars. In the process, the Navy wants, and may get 12 new strategic submarines; the Air Force wants, and may get a new long-range strike bomber force. Bombers and submarines would, of course, both be outfitted with next-generation missiles, and we’d be off to the races. The arms races.”
And the cause of global nuclear disarmament, once a dream with geopolitical cred, may wind up entombed in eternal apathy. As Carroll put it: “Nuclear abolition itself is being abolished.”
But I refuse to believe that. What I do believe is that change of such magnitude simply cannot emerge from the actions of top-down leadership, even sentimentally sympathetic leadership like Obama’s, until a counterforce for disarmament is able to stand eyeball to eyeball with world decision makers and the military-industrial matrix in which they operate.
Say hello to the Marshall Islands, the tiny, heroic island nation in Micronesia, with a population just over 70,000. This former U.S. territory, which still bears the terrible scars of 67 above-ground nuclear blasts between 1946 and 1958, when this country used it as an expendable nuclear test site, has engaged the United States — and, indeed, all nine nations that possess nuclear weapons — in lawsuits demanding that they comply with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and begin the process of negotiating global nuclear disarmament.
Specifically, the lawsuits — filed both in the International Court of Justice in the Hague and U.S. federal court — are demanding compliance with Article VI of the treaty, signed by the U.S. in 1970, which reads: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
General and complete disarmament…
Do these words actually have meaning? Right now the Marshall Islands stand alone among the nations of Planet Earth in believing that they do.
The U.S. suit was filed in April 2014 and dismissed as “speculative.” This ruling was appealed, the appeal was contested, and last month the attorneys for the Marshall Islands filed their reply brief, challenging, among other things, the U.S. government’s contention that an international treaty is the province of the Executive Branch to comply with (or ignore) as it chooses.
The brief is demanding that the Judicial Branch assert itself in this matter and rule on the island nation’s claims that A) as a signatory to the treaty, it is owed U.S. compliance to negotiate disarmament in good faith and dismantle its own nuclear weapons cache rather than upgrade it; and B) U.S. failure to do so creates a “measurable increased risk of nuclear danger” for the Marshall Island (and, of course, everyone else on the planet).
There’s no clear time frame for what will happen next, but at some point, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will either uphold the case’s dismissal or call for oral arguments to proceed.
“Under the treaty, they are obligated to do what they said they were going to do,” David Krieger, president of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which is working with the Marshall Islands on its case, said to me. The case alerts the public to how its interests are “being jeopardized by the failure of nuclear-armed countries to fulfill their obligations.”
Today, as I write this, North Korea is claiming that it has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb; if true, this is seriously disheartening news for the rest of the planet, and the claim is reaping universal condemnation. But the nuclear-armed nations aren’t condemning themselves for doing the same thing. Clearly, such enormous power is difficult — if not impossible — to give up on one’s own.
Is there a force for peace that can break this impasse? A tiny, wounded nation, which is still reaping the consequences of being forced to serve as a nuclear testing ground, says yes there is. The challenge is real, not symbolic. It’s also unprecedented. Multiply their effort by the hopes of almost everyone on the planet and maybe we could produce a leader who means what he says:
“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”