After nearly 15 years of Mideast war – with those conflicts growing ever grimmer – you might expect that peace would be a major topic of the 2016 presidential race. Instead, there has been a mix of warmongering bluster from most candidates and some confused mutterings against endless war from a few.
No one, it seems, wants to risk offending Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment that is ready to castigate any candidate who suggests that there are other strategies – besides more and more “regime changes” – that might extricate the United States from the Middle East quicksand.
Late in Thursday’s Democratic debate – when the topic of war finally came up – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued toeing the neocon line, calling Iran the chief sponsor of terrorism in the world, when that title might objectively go to U.S. “allies,” such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, all of whom have been aiding Sunni jihadists fighting to overthrow Syria’s secular regime.
Israel also has provided help to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which has been battling Syrian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters near the Golan Heights – and Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians has played a key role in stirring up hatred and violence in the Middle East.
But Clinton has fully bought into the neocon narrative, not especially a surprise since she voted for the Iraq War, pushed the disastrous Libyan “regime change” and has sought a limited U.S. military invasion of Syria (to prevent the Syrian army from securing its border with Turkey and reclaiming territory from jihadists and other rebels).
In Thursday’s debate – coming off her razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucuses – Clinton painted Iran as the big regional threat, putting herself fully in line with the neocon position.
“We have to figure out how to deal with Iran as the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Clinton said. “They are destabilizing governments in the region. They continue to support Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon against Israel. …
“If we were to normalize relations right now [with Iran], we would remove one of the biggest pieces of leverage we have to try to influence and change Iranian behavior. … I believe we have to take this step by step to try to rein in Iranian aggression, their support for terrorism and the other bad behavior that can come back and haunt us.”
Iran, of course, has been a longtime neocon target for “regime change” along with Syria (and before that Iraq). Many neocons were disappointed when President Barack Obama negotiated an agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remained peaceful (an accord reached after John Kerry replaced Clinton as Secretary of State). The neocons had been hoping that the U.S. military would join Israel in an air war to “bomb-bomb-bomb Iran” — as Sen. John McCain once famously declared.
Yet, there were other distortions in Clinton’s statement. While it’s true that Iran has aided Hezbollah and Hamas in their resistance to Israel, Clinton ignored other factors, such as Israeli acts of aggression against both Lebanon, where Hezbollah emerged as resistance to an Israeli invasion and occupation in the 1980s, and the Palestinians who have faced Israeli oppression for generations.
Silence on the ‘Allies’
In the debate, Clinton also avoided criticism of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey for their military and financial assistance to radical jihadists, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State. At the urging of Clinton, the Obama administration also approved military shipments to Syrian rebels who then either turned over or sold U.S. weapons to the extremists.
Iran’s role in Syria has been to help support the internationally recognized government of Bashar al-Assad, whose military remains the principal bulwark protecting Syria’s Christian, Alawite, Shiite and other minorities from possible genocide if Al Qaeda-connected jihadists prevailed.
Clinton also ignored her own role in creating a haven for these terror groups across the Middle East because of her support for the Iraq War and her instigation of the 2011 “regime change” in Libya which created another failed state where Islamic State and various extremists have found a home and started chopping of the heads of “infidels.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who battled Clinton to a virtual tie in Iowa, took a somewhat less belligerent position at Thursday’s debate, repeating his rather naïve idea of having Sunni states lead the fight against Sunni jihadists. On the more reasonable side, he indicated a willingness to work with Russia and other world powers in support of an anti-jihadist coalition.
“It must be Muslim troops on the ground that will destroy ISIS, with the support of a coalition of major powers — U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Russia,” Sanders said. “So our job is to provide them the military equipment that they need; the air support they need; special forces when appropriate. But at the end of the day for a dozen different reasons … the combat on the ground must be done by Muslim troops with our support. We must not get involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.”
Sanders continued, “We cannot be the policeman of the world. We are now spending more I believe than the next eight countries on defense. We have got to work in strong coalition with the major powers of the world and with those Muslim countries that are prepared to stand up and take on terrorism. So I would say that the key doctrine of the Sanders administration would be no, we cannot continue to do it alone; we need to work in coalition.”
Sounding Less Hawkish
While Sanders clearly sought to sound less hawkish than Clinton – and did not repeat his earlier talking point about the Saudis and others “getting their hands dirty” – he did not address the reality that many of the Sunni countries that he hopes to enlist in the fight against the jihadists are already engaged – on the side of the jihadists.
Clinton, as she seeks to cut into Sanders’s lead in New Hampshire polls, has been stressing her “progressive” credentials, but many progressive Democrats suspect that Clinton could become a neocon Trojan Horse.
Arch-neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, has praised Clinton’s aggressive foreign policy.
Kagan, who was made an adviser to Clinton’s State Department (while his wife Victoria Nuland received big promotions under Clinton), said in 2014: “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue … it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.” [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Is Hillary Clinton a Neocon-Lite?”]
Not only did Clinton vote for the Iraq War – and support it until it became a political liability during Campaign 2008 – but she rejoined the neocon/liberal-hawk ranks as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. She routinely sided with neocon holdovers, such as Gen. David Petraeus, regarding Mideast wars and Israel’s hardline regime in its hostilities toward the Palestinians and Iran.
In 2011, Clinton pushed for “regime change” in Libya, chortling over Muammar Gaddafi’s torture-murder in October 2011, “We came. We saw. He died.” Since then, Libya has descended into a failed state with the Islamic State and other jihadists claiming more and more territory.
Clinton also favored an outright (though limited) U.S. military invasion of Syria, setting up a “safe zone” or “no-fly zone” that would protect militants fighting to overthrow the secular Assad government. Over and over again, she has adopted positions virtually identical to what the neocons prescribe.
But Sanders, although he opposed the Iraq War, has hesitated to challenge Clinton too directly on foreign policy, apparently fearing to distract from his focus on income inequality and domestic concerns. He apparently has chosen fuzziness on foreign policy as the better part of political valor.
GOP Neocons Score
On the Republican side, the first week of the presidential delegate-selection process saw two candidates who mildly questioned the neocon conventional wisdom face reversals. Billionaire Donald Trump was upset in the Iowa caucuses and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul shut down his flailing campaign.
Trump has noted his opposition to the Iraq War and his willingness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against jihadist terror, while Paul pushed a libertarian-style approach that questioned neocon interventionism but not as aggressively as his father did, apparently hoping to avoid Ron Paul’s marginalization as “an isolationist.”
While Trump and Paul stumbled this week, neocon favorite Marco Rubio surged to a strong third-place finish, catapulting past other establishment candidates who – while largely me-too-ing the neocon orthodoxy on foreign policy – are not as identified with pure neoconservatism as the youthful Florida senator is.
However, even the non-neocons have opted for visceral warmongering. Tea Party favorite and winner of the Republican Iowa caucuses, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, has vowed to “carpet bomb” Islamic State strongholds and promised to see “if sand can glow in the dark,” as he told a Tea Party rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The phrase “glow in the dark” popularly refers to the aftermath of a nuclear bomb detonation.
However, as hardline as Cruz is, he still received a tongue-lashing from the neocon-flagship Washington Post for not doing a “full-neocon” when he suggested that the United States should not focus on “regime change” in Syria. Cruz has worried that overthrowing Assad’s government might pave the way for a victory by the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist terrorists.
In a Dec. 31, 2015 editorial, the Post’s editors instead hailed neocon favorite Rubio for arguing “forcefully” for Assad’s removal and castigated Cruz for saying Assad’s ouster was “a distraction at best – and might even empower the jihadist.”
A Beloved ‘Group Think’
It is one of Official Washington’s most beloved “group thinks” that Syrian “regime change” – a neocon goal dating back to the 1990s – must take precedence over the possible creation of a military vacuum that could bring the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda to power.
After all, it won’t be the sons and daughters of well-connected neocons who are sent to invade and occupy Syria to reverse the capture of Damascus by the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda. So, the Post’s editors, who in 2002-03 told the American people as flat fact that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD, engaged in similar exaggerations and lies about Assad in demonizing Cruz for his apostasy.
“Mr. Cruz is arguing for a stridently anti-American and nakedly genocidal dictator who sponsored terrorism against U.S. troops in Iraq and serves as a willing puppet of Iran,” the Post wrote.
That is typical of what a politician can expect if he or she deviates from the neocon line, even if you’re someone as belligerent as Cruz. Any apostasy from neocon orthodoxy is treated most harshly.
There is, by the way, no evidence that Assad is “nakedly genocidal” – his largely secular regime has never targeted any specific ethnic or religious group, indeed his government is the principal protector of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other minorities that have been targeted by Sunni extremists for death.
Nor did Assad sponsor “terrorism against U.S. troops in Iraq.” By definition, terrorism is political violence against civilians, not against a military occupation force. Assad also sought to collaborate with the Bush-43 administration in its “war on terror,” to the point of handling torture assignments from Washington.
But distortions and falsehoods are now the way of the modern Washington Post. The newspaper will say anything, no matter how dishonest or unfair, to advance the neocon cause.
But the most dangerous outcome from these pressures is that they prevent a serious debate about a most serious topic: what the next president must do to bring the costly, bloody and endless wars to an end.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Delusions on Syria prevail in official Washington
Tulsi Gabbard is one brave Congresswoman. She has challenged her party and the president saying that it’s time for Washington to halt its “illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad. I don’t think Assad should be removed. If Assad is removed and overthrown, ISIS, al Qaeda, Al Nustra, these Islamic extremist groups will walk straight in and take over all of Syria … they will be even stronger.”
Indeed, Washington’s senseless policy in Syria has been hanging out there like overripe fruit for quite some time with the mainstream media instead marching at lockstep to the tune being whistled by a large disengaged and unaccountable White House. Gabbard might go one step further to ask why Syria is the way it is in the first place since that would question Administration priorities under Democrats as well as Republicans, both of which have emphasized eliminating al-Assad for no conceivable reason that has anything to do with actual American interests.
Much has been made of Washington groupthink, which is the concept that when a meeting of senior staffers is held everyone will veer towards a point of view that is being espoused by whoever called the meeting, be they the president or one of the cabinet secretaries. It is also reflected in the output of foundations and think tanks, which rely on government access as well as funding from beneficiaries of the war economy. Current groupthink, rejected by Gabbard, is that removing al-Assad is somehow an essential precondition for any settlement of Syria’s torment.
Another prevalent groupthink that is sometimes linked to the Syria issue is that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is somehow a reincarnation of Josef Stalin and that today’s Russia is actually the Soviet Union, ready, willing and able to expand into Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Though considerable opposition to those two viewpoints can be noted in the alternative media it is not listened to in the White House.
Yet another kind of groupthink prevails within the government bureaucracies themselves, compounding the problem. From my own experience, analysts at CIA very often were scrupulous in their judgements on developments overseas but a funny thing would happen at Agency headquarters as information made its way from the ground floor up to the seventh floor where the political appointee mandarins would preside. It would become politicized and any viewpoints diametrically opposed to what prevailed at the consumer level in Congress and in the White House would be mitigated or even excised. Such is the nature of bureaucracy, which exists to support the status quo and inter alia requires a satisfied audience to prosper.
And the press fails to do its part to correct the listing ship. The rubbish that appears in the mainstream media under the rubric of “informed opinion” bears a large part of the blame because it continues to create a mythical magical kingdom in which Americans all wear white hats and go about slaying dragons because it is good for the whole wide world, even if those heathens don’t appreciate it. That is what Americans like to think about themselves apparently, all contrary evidence notwithstanding.
A piece on Syria that appeared in the Washington Post before Christmas exemplifies precisely what is wrong with the punditry that shapes the narrative that appears to drive the national consensus on what to do about terrorism and related issues. It is “Obama and Kerry’s wishful thinking on Syria,” by Frederic C. Hof, currently a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center. Hof was an army officer who had extensive service in the Middle East. He is, somewhat uncharacteristically, an actual expert on the Arab world and speaks Arabic. He joined the State Department in 2009 after an interlude in the private sector as the President and CEO of AALC, limited company, an international business consulting and project finance firm formerly known as Armitage Associates LC. In 2012 Hof served as President Barack Obama’s Special Adviser for Transition in Syria.
Hof is a bright and highly competent guy whose professional life has been closely linked to the U.S. government version of reality, a reality in which Washington calls the shots and is empowered to “draw red lines.” Relative to the U.S., all other governments are either client states or adversaries who can be disregarded or bullied into compliance. In October he wrote: “With regard to ISIL, a professional ground combat component provided by regional powers is desperately needed to work with coalition aircraft to sweep this abomination from Syria and permit a governmental alternative to the Assad regime to take root inside Syria. With central and eastern Syria free of both the regime and ISIL, an all-Syrian national stabilization force can be built. Western desires for a negotiated end to the Syrian crisis would be based, under these circumstances, on more than a wish and a hope. The United States should neither seek nor shy away from confrontation with Russian forces in Syria. Moscow will not like it if its client’s ability to perform mass murder is impeded. Russia will not be pleased if ISIL, its false pretext for military intervention in Syria, is swept from the table. Ideally, Russia will not elect to escort regime aircraft on their mass homicide missions. And it would be difficult for even Russian President Vladimir Putin to articulate outrage if ISIL is crushed militarily. But if Russia seeks out armed confrontation with the United States in Syria, it would be a mistake for Washington to back down. People like Putin will push until they hit steel. And he will not stop in Syria.”
The op-ed is saying several things, which most likely reflect the Washington consensus on foreign policy. First, it advocates a U.S. leading role in Syria in support of a currently non-existent and unlikely to exist regional force to fight ISIS thereby creating an alternative government enabling the removal of al-Assad from power and winding up with a “Western desired” democracy. Second, it characterizes Russia as supporting “mass homicide” in Syria and urges the U.S. to confront it militarily if necessary as Moscow is intent on expansion. That means that Syria somehow has become a vital American interest, important enough to go to war with Russia.
Hof’s more recent foray in the Post makes a number of similar points. First, that the Syrian civil war cannot end as long as al-Assad remains in power is described as an “objective truth” that adversaries like Russia and Iran refuse to accept. Al-Assad is described as a “barrel bomber in chief.” Iran, in particular, should “grasp the chance to become a normal state.” Hof likens the Syrian, Iranian and Russian leadership to Hitler thirty years ago in that they are being given a pass by the West and avers that they “know that Assad is the single greatest obstacle to a united front against Islamic State.” Iran is motivated by propping up a client state while Russia is into the game desirous of “humiliating the United States by preserving Assad.” The op-ed goes on to claim that delaying action for thousands of Syrians will mean “people slaughtered, maimed, stampeded, starved, tortured and raped by Assad’s people” and reiterates the call for “professional ground forces… under U.S. command” to deal simultaneously with both al-Assad and ISIS.
Given all of the above, it is no wonder that many of us find American foreign and national security policy incomprehensible. First of all, by what Act of God does the United States have a Special Adviser for Transition in Syria? Why does that position even exist? How would the White House react if the Chinese or Russians were to create a similar bureaucracy tasked with subverting the manifestly corrupt U.S. institutions and even arming “rebels” to do the job?
One suspects that antagonism towards Damascus is rooted in the fact that the United States government have been working hard in a neoconservative driven effort supported by Israel to subvert the Syrian regime ever since President George W. Bush signed the Syria Accountability Act in 2004. Al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people is frequently cited as a justification for armed intervention, but there is considerable controversy over the incident at Ghouta in 2013, with many observers believing that the attack was staged “false flag” by the rebels possibly aided by the Turkish intelligence service to implicate the Syrian government. And it is easy to forget that before Syria under al-Assad became an enemy it was considered friendly, having participated in the U.S. led coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991 and also having supported Washington’s counter-terrorism “rendition” program post-9/11.
It is simplistic to see everything as a problem created by the Syrian government, Russia and Iran, all of whom have been described as “adversaries” of the United States even though they are actively fighting ISIS. That label would be comforting if one were a reader of the Rupert Murdoch media but Tehran’s and Moscow’s desire to stabilize the Syrian government position as a prelude to negotiations for a settlement is not exactly wrongheaded, as Congresswoman Gabbard has noted. And any narrative’s thrust more-or-less depends on where one starts. To my mind the blame for the mess in Syria and Iraq coupled with the rise of ISIS should be put squarely where it belongs: at the White House under our two most recent presidents and their advisers. The rot began in 2003 when Iraq was invaded. At that time both Baghdad and Damascus were quiet, stable and terrorist free even if they were not democracies. Neither threatened the United States and neither threatens the U.S. to this day, which makes one wonder at why al-Assad has been elevated to enemy-in-chief status by the White House and media.
The inside the beltway dismissal of Iran and Russia is classic Washington groupthink. Iran may indeed not be a “normal” nation, but that just might be due to threats against it emanating from the United States and Israel since the foundation of the Islamic Republic in 1978. We are currently witnessing the U.S. Congress and Israel cranking up the pressure to defeat implementation of the nuclear program agreement recently signed with Tehran, an effort that suggests that no matter what it does or doesn’t do Iran will never be seen as normal or even acceptable by most of the power-brokers in Washington.
And the denigration of Russia is another given, complete with the often heard but ridiculous claim that Moscow is out to “humiliate” the U.S., which often comes coupled with a reference to Hitler. Russia may have a government that is not to our liking but it has a serious and legitimate interest in preventing the spillover of Islamic insurgency into its own heavily Muslim southern federated states. Creating a cartoon image of Vladimir Putin as someone who has to be taught a lesson even though he has in fact been a largely realistic, restrained and rational player in his foreign policy, is not a serious argument. Stating that Russia is only interested in propping up a client and enabling mass murder is both sloppy and does not allow for other considerations that might actually be both sensible and legitimate while a willingness to confront major power Russia militarily over unimportant Syria is something closely akin to madness. And attributing all the mayhem in Syria to its government is similarly myopic in that it ignores the other players on the ground, to include groups supported by America’s nominal Arab and Turkish allies that the United States calls “terrorist.”
The apparent willingness among policy makers to put U.S. troops on the ground in Syria against both its government and ISIS flies against all reason given the poor track record of White House initiated military interventions over the past fifteen years. The creation of a “stabilization force” without any current Syrian government participation is laughable as even President Obama has conceded that the identification and deployment of “moderate rebels” is a bit of a fantasy. And Syria is not taking place in a vacuum. Afghanistan is rapidly sliding back under Taliban control, Iraq is chaotic and its closest friend is Iran while Libya is anarchical. Another intervention? No thanks.
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.
Most normal people look at the smoldering cemetery that is post-“liberation” Libya, the gruesome graveyard of an almost-“liberated” Syria, the 14 year slow-motion failed regime change in Afghanistan, blood-drenched Iraq, and they are horrified. Washington Post’s neocon nag Jennifer Rubin looks across that bloody landscape and sees a beautiful work in progress.
She writes today in the online edition of the Post that despite what we might be hearing from some “libertarian/populist pols masquerading as conservatives,” the interventionist enterprise is chugging along just fine. Democracy promotion at the barrel of a gun is every American’s “white man’s burden” whether he likes it or not.
Never mind that Syria has been nearly leveled by almost five years of an Islamist insurgency that was but a few weeks from success when Russia stopped it in its tracks. The real villain is the secular Bashar al-Assad, writes Rubin. After all, he “is partnered with Iran and spurs support for Islamist rebels…”
Assad “spur[s] support for Islamist rebels” by waging war on them for six years? Or does she somehow deny that Assad is fighting the insurgents who seek to drive him from power? Both cannot be true.
And on Planet Rubin, funding, training, and arming Islamist rebels, as the US and its allies have done, can in no way be seen as spurring them on.
“It has become fashionable in some circles to pooh-pooh support for democracy,” Rubin moans. Not so fast, she says. This is not a failed project. Her evidence? From all the countries destabilized by US democracy promotion schemes there is “one encouraging success story” — Tunisia!
Yes, after the destruction and killing in places like Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and the rest, it is the great success in little Tunisia that makes it all worthwhile!
Unfortunately for Rubin, even her little Tunisian success story looks to have an unhappy ending. As reported by BBC News, unrest is spreading throughout Tunisia as demonstrators are clashing with police. Tunisians are in far worse economic shape now than before the US-backed “Arab Spring” brought them their “liberation.” One-third of young people are unemployed in post-liberation Tunisia and 62 percent of recent college graduates cannot find work.
“We have been waiting for things to get better for five years and nothing has happened,” Yassine Kahlaoui, a 30-year-old jobseeker, told the AP as reported by the BBC.
Here is the ugly truth that regime change enthusiasts like Rubin will never admit: it is very easy to destabilize and destroy a country from abroad in the name of “promoting democracy,” but those recipients of America’s largesse in this area soon find that it is all but impossible to return a country to even pre-“liberation” economic levels. They are left missing their “dictator.”
What does Rubin care: she doesn’t have to live in these hellholes she helps create.
A damning report on the conflict of interests in the Syrian Crisis debate identified numerous corporate and defense industry ties of experts and think tanks who commented on potential military intervention. Much of the debate over Syria got underway in 2013, when not only were the conflicts-of-interest and military-industrial complex ties of these “consultants” and “experts” rarely disclosed, but the ideas they expressed were mere permutations of an ideologically narrow spectrum of U.S. and Western neo-conservative interventionism.
As US official sources are now claiming that ISIS is developing chemical weapons those same experts and think tanks are back with a vengeance.
The conflict-of-interest report by the Public Accountability Initiative (http://public-accountability.org) offers a new look at an issue raised by David Barstow’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series on the role military analysts played in promoting the Bush Administration’s narrative on Iraq. In addition to exposing coordination with the Pentagon, Barstow found that many cable news analysts had industry ties that were not disclosed on air.
During the public debate around the question of whether to attack Syria, Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to George W. Bush, made a series of high-profile media appearances. Hadley argued strenuously for military intervention in appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg TV, and authored a Washington Post op-ed headlined “To stop Iran, Obama must enforce red lines with Assad.” The phrase “red line” has been used numerous times in reference to Syria and its President Bashar al-Assad, particularly in attempt to establish the legal intervention of Russian forces in Syria as a crossing of those lines. It was also used in 2014 by those in favor of forcible ‘regime change’ in Syria when rockets with sarin filled warheads landed in rebel-held residential areas in Ghouta, Syria, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. Each side naturally blamed the other, with western intelligence agencies providing evidence supporting the opposition, and Russian intelligence supporting the regime. Both sides issued biased reports with cherry-picked evidence, only adding to the confusion. An analysis of all evidence relating to the August 21st chemical attack indicate it was carried out by opposition forces. According to the most likely scenario, they used looted incendiary rockets, refilled them with sarin they manufactured themselves, and launched them from a rebel-held territory 2 km north of Zamalka.
Stephen Hadley’s television audiences were never informed that he serves as a director of Raytheon, the weapons manufacturer that makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were widely cited as a weapon of choice in a potential strike against Syria. Hadley earns $128,500 in annual cash compensation from the company and chairs its public affairs committee. He also owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate ($77.65 on August 23, making Hadley’s share’s worth $891,189). Despite this critically important financial stake, Hadley was presented to his audience as an experienced, independent national security expert.
Though Hadley’s undisclosed conflict is particularly egregious, it is not unique. The following report documents the industry ties of Hadley, 21 other media commentators, and seven think tanks that participated in the media debate around Syria. Like Hadley, these individuals and organizations have strong ties to defense contractors and other defense- and foreign policy-focused firms with a vested interest in the Syria debate, but they were presented to their audiences with a veneer of expertise and independence, as former military officials, retired diplomats, and independent think tanks.
A pentagonal network: think tank-defense industry ties [image via public-accountability.org]
If the recent debate around Syria is any guide, media outlets have done very little to address the gaps in disclosure and abuses of the public trust that Barstow exposed. Some analysts have stayed the same, others are new, and the issues and range of opinion are different. But the media continues to present former military and government officials as venerated experts without informing the public of their industry ties – the personal financial interests that may be shaping their opinions of what is in the national interest. This report details these ties, in addition to documenting the industry backing of think tanks that played a prominent role in the Syria debate. It reveals the extent to which the public discourse around Syria was corrupted by the pervasive influence of the defense industry, to the point where many of the so-called experts appearing on American television screens were actually representatives of companies that profit from heightened US military activity abroad. The threat of war with Syria may or may not have passed, but the threat that these conflicts of interest pose to public discourse – and democracy – is still very real.
In a widely remarked upon article for the online version of Foreign Policy last week, Harvard’s Stephen Walt asked a very good question. Why, Walt asked, are elite outlets like the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times “allergic to realist views, given that realists have been (mostly) right about some very important issues, and the columnists they publish have often been wrong?”
Walt then went on to do something pundits are generally loath to do: he admitted that he’d didn’t really know the answer. This is not to say that I do, but I think Walt’s question is worth exploring.
Why indeed? My own hunch is that we realists are a source of discomfit for the Beltway armchair warrior class not so much because we have been right about every major U.S. foreign policy question since the invasion of Iraq, but because we dare to question the premise which undergirds the twin orthodoxies of neoconservatism and liberal interventionism.
The premise, shared by heroes of the Left and Right, is this: America, a “shining city on a hill” (John Winthrop, later vulgarized by Ronald Reagan) “remains the one indispensable nation” (Barack Obama) and deprived of America’s “benevolent global hegemony” (Robert Kagan) the world will surely collapse into anarchy.
This strain of messianic thinking has deep roots in the psyche of the American establishment and so, in a sense, neoconservatism, which is really little more than a latter-day Trotskyist sect, is as American as apple pie.
Common though it is to trace, or conflate, the rise of American messianism to 1898 when the country first emerged as a global power, the cult of “American exceptionalism” has its roots in Puritan theology.
In his indispensable work, The Irony of American History, the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr cites a tract from 1650 in which the colonial leader Edward Johnson wrote that New England was “where the Lord would create a new heaven and a new earth, new churches and a new commonwealth together.” Niebuhr wrote that the Puritans had a “sense of being a ‘separated’ nation which God was using to make a new beginning for mankind.”
This strain of American solipsism was also noted with distaste by that most perceptive chronicler of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville who, in 1840, wrote that it was “impossible to conceive of a more troublesome and garrulous patriotism.”
The historian John Lamberton Harper has observed that the strain of messianic thinking was evident throughout the Nineteenth Century, reminding us that Indiana Sen. Albert Beveridge once claimed that the good Lord had “marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world.”
And so on and so on.
Throughout the Twentieth Century, the messianic way of thinking became ever more firmly entrenched – particular among the governing class – as America continued what many felt was its inexorable rise to global supremacy. At the turn of the century prominent men of politics and letters such as Brooks Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and the geopolitical theorist Alfred MacKinder enthusiastically subscribed to the notion that “all signs point to the approaching supremacy of the United States.” Indeed, that this was so was an “inexorable decree of destiny.”
America’s entry into the First World War only deepened that sense of singularity. Here’s Walter Lippmann, who later in life became something like the dean of American realists, writing about President Woodrow Wilson in the New Republic in 1917: “other men have led nations to war to increase their glory, their wealth, their prestige … no other statesman has ever so clearly identified the glory of his country with the peace and liberty of the world.”
Decades later, during the Cold War, Lippmann regained his sanity, while TNR all but lost its. And indeed, it was during that 40-year-long “twilight struggle” between the U.S. and the USSR that the messianic consensus grabbed hold of the American mind and, to this day, has not let go. But the roots of that way of thinking, as we have seen, are deep and long predate the Cold War.
And so I would submit that the reason the three major American newspapers are “allergic to realism” is because they are part and parcel of an establishment that has, for well over a century now, been in thrall to a messianic vision of global supremacy.
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.
Media hypes the terrorism panic
I have written frequently on how the terrorist threat is routinely hyped to serve a number of special interests in the United States and elsewhere in the world. In many countries, including most recently Saudi Arabia and Turkey, anyone who is a critic of the existing government is routinely labeled a “terrorist” as that justifies taking harsh and often extralegal steps to confront him or her. In reality, the likelihood of being killed by a terrorist almost anywhere but an active war zone is miniscule. In the U.S. it is so small as to be statistically insignificant but the public has been led to believe that heavily armed Islamic militants are lurking around every corner.
The vast majority of mass shootings in the United States are, in fact, carried out by white males who are at least nominally Christian in upbringing. Some of the incidents are subsequently described as domestic terrorism but most are labeled only as crimes and are treated routinely through the criminal justice system. Muslim attackers plausibly linked to terrorist groups, who dominate the media driven frenzy, have killed fewer than 45 Americans since September 12, 2001, slightly more than 3 a year, a toll that would hardly seem to justify the enormous expense and surrendering of civil liberties that have been part and parcel of the “global war on terror.”
Those of us who bother to monitor the groups that comprise part of the vast “terrorism business” are aware that the whole process runs on a number of essentially symbiotic relationships. The FBI needs to make terrorism arrests, so it uses paid informants to encourage otherwise harmless young men to embrace violence. Federal prosecutors who require terrorism convictions to pad their resumes call in phony expert witnesses like Evan Kohlmann who will basically support arguments that someone is a terrorist derived from internet based analysis that many would consider highly questionable.
The big money, however, goes to the think tanks and foundations, which are all politically aligned in one fashion or another and which are adept at providing seeming intellectual rigor to justify every point of view while keeping the taxpayer provided cash flowing. The foundations and think tanks thereby actually do considerable damage to the country by continuing wars that do not have to be fought and by wasting national resources that could certainly be put to better use.
I recently noted a couple of articles that hype the terror threat on behalf of well-funded groups that are in the terror business. One op-ed piece by Matthew Levitt entitled “Fighting terrorism takes more than drones” actually is largely sensible about legislation to fund anti-terrorism efforts at local levels worldwide until it goes off on a tangent, describing how it is necessary to “raise awareness about Iran’s and Hezbollah’s broad ranges of terrorist and criminal activities around the world” then adding that “Hezbollah is poised to get an infusion of money from Iran.” The reader might well note that Hezbollah and Iran are themselves on the front line fighting IS and the assertion regarding the omnipresence of their own terrorist activity is somewhat difficult to support, unless one is thinking about the spurious claims that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been making. Which is perhaps precisely the point as Levitt heads the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which is an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) creation. It is a major component of the Israel Lobby.
Another talking head who regularly appears in the Washington Post is Marc Thiessen. His December 21st piece is entitled “U.S. lets in four times as many suspected terrorists as it keeps out.” The claim is based on State Department statistics indicating that since 9/11 2,231 foreigners were denied U.S. visas based on suspected terrorism related issues while 9,500 more had visas issued but later revoked after issuance due to possible terrorist links or activities. When asked how many of the suspected terrorists who have revoked visas might still be in the United States, a State Department spokesman replied “I don’t know.”
Thiessen sees the revoked visa issue as an indication that the screening system does not work which is certainly arguable, but his rant is inevitably conflating a number of issues that are not necessarily linked while also assuming a worst case scenario as a result. He speculates that there must be many more “terrorists” who gamed the system successfully and did not have their visas revoked at all. He cites Tashfeen Malik, the distaff half of the San Bernardino shooters, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 2009 underwear bomber. Neither had a visa revoked before they undertook a terrorist act. Which means they beat the system and there are certainly others who have done likewise.
Marc Thiessen indeed has a point when he observes that there must be some genuine terrorists who have obtained visas to travel to the United States. Screening potential visitors from the third world and war zones means having to deal with a lack of reliable documentation coupled with numerous desperate individuals prepared to lie to get a visa. That’s why you rely on a skilled and frequently skeptical American Embassy visa officer to make the call if there is any doubt about credentials. The Thiessen alternative would apparently be to ban all travelers who fit certain profiles that he would no doubt be able to provide, i.e. all Muslims. He advocates in his article stopping the entry of all Syrian refugees, for example, because they cannot be properly assessed, which inevitably punishes the legitimate refugees who can be vetted.
Thiessen’s complaining lacks context. First of all, the number of revoked visas is relatively small when spread out over fifteen years. There are a lot of good reasons why a visa status might be changed and one should bear in mind that a state department officer will always err on the side of caution, revoking a visa if there is even a miniscule possibility that someone might have been radicalized. Without further information on what actually constitutes a “possible terrorist connection” it is impossible to determine what kind of threat actually exists, if any, but Thiessen is willing to take a plunge anyway. And it might be noted that even a legitimate U.S. government concern about one’s politics perhaps derived from comments on social media does not necessarily make one a terrorist. It should be reassuring to Thiessen rather than alarming to learn that the State Department is reviewing travel status even after visas are issued.
And Thiessen plays the threat card, implying that many of the visa holders might still be in the United States without providing any evidence that that is the case. Some might never have made the trip and one has to suspect that the vast majority of those who did visit are long since gone, having done absolutely nothing in the interim.
Indeed, Thiessen could just as easily have asked how many holders of revoked visas have committed terrorist acts or crimes in the United States since 9/11, but he avoids that question for obvious reasons. The answer is none and the FBI has no evidence to suggest that there are revoked visa holders currently in place in terrorist cells planning mayhem. One would think that if the point of terrorism is to do something that creates fear then the revoked passport holders have essentially failed in their mission unless someone reads Thiessen and believes what he is saying.
And oh yes, Thiessen works for the reliably neocon American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which is largely funded by defense contractors who have a vested interest in spending the taxpayers’ money to “keep Americans safe.” Back under the Bush administration Dick Cheney used to go to AEI when he had something important to say, trusting that the audience there would be his kind of people. They were his kind then and they still are.
And Thiessen continues to carry water for his old team. He was the principal speechwriter for George W. Bush and his first book, endorsed by Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, was entitled Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack. The book has been heavily criticized for numerous errors of fact and also due to its advocacy of torture “as lawful and morally just” but the reader of the op-ed in the Post would not know any of that. It’s how bad ideas circulate through the media and are given credibility, a mechanism that the “war on terror” fraudsters understand all too well.
As the New Year dawns, the neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks remain firmly in control of Official Washington’s storylines – on Syria, Russia and elsewhere – even as their policies continue to wreak havoc across the Mideast and threaten the stability of Europe and indeed the future of civilization.
The latest proof of this dangerous reality came when Saudi Arabia’s repressive Sunni monarchy executed prominent Shiite political leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr for criticizing the nation’s kings and princes. Before the killing, the Obama administration held its tongue in public so as not to antagonize the Saudi royals. (Nimr’s nephew awaits Saudi “crucifixion” for his role as a teenager in Arab Spring protests.)
After the Nimr execution, the State Department issued a mild protest toward the Saudis while blurring the guilt by twinning it with criticism of Iran where outraged protesters damaged the Saudi embassy, which led to Saudi Arabia’s retaliatory breaking of relations with Iran.
“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said meekly on Sunday, while some senior U.S. officials reportedly seethed in private over the latest Saudi provocation.
“This is a dangerous game they are playing,” one official told The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung while insisting on anonymity to discuss U.S.-Saudi relations.
But the fact that the Obama administration could not voice its revulsion over the Saudi mass head-chopping (along with some firing squads) for 47 men, including Nimr, over the weekend speaks volumes. President Barack Obama and other insiders continue to tip-toe around the unsavory U.S. “alliances” in the Mideast.
Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia sealed its impervious protection from U.S. government criticism by forming an undeclared alliance with Israel around their mutual hatred of Shiite-ruled Iran and its Shiite allies, a cause picked up by American neocons and shared by the career-oriented liberal interventionists.
Some more “realist-oriented” U.S. officials, reportedly including Obama and some national security aides, recognize the havoc that neocon/liberal-hawk strategies continue to wreak across the region and now spreading into Europe, but they act powerless to do anything bold to stop it.
With Israel’s lobby siding with the Sunni states in their bloody rivalry with Shiite states, most U.S. politicians and pundits have scrambled to defend each recurring outrage by the Saudis, Qataris and Turks by trying to flip the script and somehow put the blame on Iran, Syria and Russia.
Getting a Pass
Thus, the Saudis, Qataris and Turks get mostly a pass for arming and enabling radical jihadists, including Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Israel also provides assistance to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front along the Golan Heights and bombs allies of the Syrian government and, of course, faces no official U.S. criticism.
In 2014, when Vice President Joe Biden blurted out the truth about Saudi support for Islamic terrorism inside Syria, he was the one who had to apologize. [Quote at 53:20 of clip.] In 2015, when Saudi Arabia invaded and bombed Yemen after hyping Iran’s support for Houthi rebels, the Obama administration sided with the Saudis even as their wanton attacks on poverty-stricken Yemen killed thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian crisis.
For more than a year after President Obama announced his air war against the Islamic State in summer 2014, Turkey continued to let the terror group run an industrial-style oil smuggling operation from Syria and Iraq through Turkey. Only when Russia entered the conflict last fall was the U.S. government shamed into joining in bombing raids to destroy the truck convoys. Yet, Obama still defended Turkey and bought its promises about finally trying to seal a 100-kilometer gap in its border.
Then, when Turkey retaliated against the Russian anti-terrorist bombing raids inside Syria by willfully shooting down a Russian Su-24 plane whose pilot was murdered after bailing out, Obama again sided with the Turks even though their claim that the Russian plane had violated Turkish air space was dubious at best. By their account, the plane had intruded over a sliver of Turkish territory for 17 seconds.
In other words, whatever these U.S. “allies” do – no matter how brutal and reckless – the Obama administration at least publicly rushes to their defense. Otherwise, the neocon/liberal-hawk “group think” would be offended – and many angry editorials and columns would follow.
While this strange reality may make sense inside Official Washington – where careerism is intense and offending the Israel Lobby is a sure career killer – this pusillanimous approach to these grave problems is endangering U.S. national interests as well as the world’s future.
Not only has the neocon/liberal-interventionist obsession with “regime change” turned the Middle East into a vast killing field but it has now spread instability into Europe, where the fabric of the European Union is being shredded by dissension over how to handle millions of Syrian refugees.
The United Kingdom may vote to leave the E.U., removing one of the original anchors of the European project which — for all its faults — has deservedly gotten credit for replacing a history of European blood-soaked conflicts with peaceful cooperation.
The spreading disorder has had political repercussions in the United States, too, where panic over terrorism is reshaping the presidential race.
Yet, instead of practical solutions such as pressuring all rational sides in the Syrian conflict to engage in peace talks and hold free elections that give the Syrian people the power to decide who their future leaders will be, Official Washington instead generates “talking points,” such as calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “magnet for terrorism” who “must go” – although his forces have done the most to stop an outright victory by Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
If one buys this “magnet” theory, then you’d also have to seek “regime change” in every country that’s been attacked by terrorists, including the United States, France, United Kingdom, Spain, etc. In the case of Syria, what’s remarkable is that the sponsorship of terrorism by U.S. “allies” and indeed by the U.S. government itself has been so blatant. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al Qaeda.”]
However, as far as Official Washington is concerned, it doesn’t really matter what Assad has or hasn’t done. What’s important is that “regime change” in Syria has been on the neocons’ to-do list since at least the mid-1990s – along with the brilliant idea of “regime change” in Iraq. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents.”].
The Infallible Neocons
And since the neocons are infallible – as far as they’re concerned – the goal can’t be changed. The only option is to escalate the “regime change” planning to include other countries that get in the way, including Iran and now nuclear-armed Russia.
Yes, that’s the ultimate neocon idea – make the Russian economy scream, overthrow the calculating Vladimir Putin and risk having him replaced by some extreme and unstable nationalist with his or her hand on the nuclear button. That may be how life on the planet ends – but there will be evermore “group thinks” and “talking points” right up to the moment of Armageddon. The neocons can never stop generating false narratives.
Meanwhile, the “liberal interventionists” can boast of their own “regime change” – in Libya, a policy promoted by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who delighted at the gruesome torture-murder of Muammar Gaddafi – “we came, we saw, he died,” she laughed – after having ignored his warnings that the overthrow of his secular government would open the oil-rich country to chaos from radical jihadists, a prediction that has been fulfilled.
Yet, despite this record of spreading chaos and death around the world, the grip that the neocons and liberal hawks have on Official Washington remains almost absolute. They control most of the think tanks – from the Brookings Institution to the American Enterprise Institute – as well as the editorial pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times and pretty much the rest of the mainstream media.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Times’ “news” coverage of the Middle East and Russia has been consistently slanted to favor neocon/liberal-hawk positions. Just as the Times eagerly joined President George W. Bush’s bogus case for invading Iraq in 2003, “the newspaper of record” has peddled false and misleading articles about the crises in Syria and Ukraine as well as promoting anti-Russian propaganda.
In this climate of manufactured “reality,” any old-fashioned foreign policy “realist” – especially one who has criticized Israel – cannot expect to win Senate confirmation to any senior position, establishing what amounts to a blacklist against “realists,” such as happened to ex-U.S. Ambassador Chas Freeman whose intelligence appointment was dropped by Obama in his early days out of fear of offending the Israel Lobby and its many neocon backers.
As the rise of those neocons has played out since their emergence during the Reagan administration, the “realists” who were known for cold-hearted foreign policy calculations to protect American interests have aged, died out or otherwise disappeared. They have been largely replaced by ideologues, either neocons with their intense devotion to right-wing Israeli interests or liberal interventionists who almost invariably side with the neocons but cite “humanitarian” concerns to justify “regime change” wars.
No matter how foolhardy and deadly these policy prescriptions have been, there is almost no way to dislodge the neocons and liberal hawks inside Official Washington, since they monopolize almost all levers of political and media power.
Even when President Obama tried to collaborate under the table with President Putin to reduce tensions in Syria and Iran in 2013, Obama was quickly outmaneuvered by neocons and liberal hawks inside the State Department who pushed for the putsch in Ukraine in 2014 that effectively destroyed the Obama-Putin cooperation. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]
I have long argued that the only way to begin to challenge the neocon/liberal-hawk “group thinks” is to release facts about pivotal events, such as the 2013 Syria-sarin case, the 2014 sniper attacks at Kiev’s Maidan square, and the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. The neocons/liberal hawks currently control all those narratives, using them as clubs to advance ideological agendas just as they did with the false claims about Iraq’s WMD. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Power of False Narrative.”]
But other evidence suggests very different scenarios. Obama and his national security team could either release evidence to confirm the accuracy of the “group thinks” or puncture that self-certainty. Instead Obama has chosen to withhold what the U.S. intelligence community knows about these events, all the better to protect the dominant propaganda narratives.
So, the Obama administration continues down a road of tolerating or condoning outrages by its Mideast “allies” as the President and his timid intelligence bureaucrats do nothing to empower the American people with the truth. It is a recipe for worldwide catastrophe.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Granted it would be quite a competition, but is Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen the dumbest columnist ever?
For instance, in his June 19, 2007 op-ed, Cohen joined the neoconservative media riot over the 30-month jail sentence facing former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
From reading the column, it does appear that Cohen has the skills at least to master and recite the litany of talking points that the neocons have compiled to make their case about the injustice of Libby going into the slammer for committing perjury and obstruction of justice.
Cohen accuses special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of violating longstanding Justice Department guidelines on when to bring a case; he denounces the trial – over Libby’s lying about his role in unmasking covert CIA officer Valerie Plame – as “a mountain out of a molehill”; he asserts that there was no “underlying crime”; he even pokes fun at Americans who thought the invasion of Iraq might have been a bad idea.
“They thought – if ‘thought’ can be used in this context – that if the thread was pulled on who had leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to Robert D. Novak, the effort to snooker an entire nation into war would unravel and this would show . . . who knows? Something,” Cohen wrote.
Yet, beyond a talent for reprising the conventional wisdom from Washington dinner parties, it is hard to tell what justifies Cohen’s long career as a political columnist. On nearly every major development over the past couple of decades, Cohen has missed the point or gotten it dead wrong.
For example, during the Florida recount battle in 2000, Cohen cared less about whom the voters wanted in the White House than the Washington insiders’ certainty that George W. Bush would be a uniter, not a divider.
“The nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse,” Cohen wrote. “That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.”
Cohen also joined the Washington herd in the disastrous stampede for invading Iraq. After Secretary of State Colin Powell’s deceptive Iraq War speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, Cohen mocked anyone who still dared doubt that Saddam Hussein possessed hidden WMD stockpiles.
“The evidence he [Powell] presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them,” Cohen wrote. “Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.”
It took Cohen another three years before he recognized that his enthusiasm for the war had been misplaced.
On April 4, 2006, as the U.S. death toll reached into the thousands and the Iraqi death toll soared into the tens of thousands, Cohen wrote, “those of us who once advocated this war are humbled. It’s not just that we grossly underestimated the enemy. We vastly overestimated the Bush administration.”
In normal work settings, incompetence – especially when it is chronic and has devastating consequences – justifies dismissal or at least demotion, maybe a desk in Storage Room B where Cohen could sit with his red stapler, but without access to a word processor.
Yet, in the strange world of Washington punditry, success is measured not in being right but in keeping one’s opinion within the parameters of the capital’s respectable opinions, even if those judgments are atrociously wrong.
As for the Plame case, Cohen seems to be living in the propaganda dreamscape of the still-influential neocons, not in the real world where the disclosure of Plame’s identity caused actual damage, destroying her undercover career as a CIA officer and putting in jeopardy the lives of foreigners who worked with her investigating weapons proliferation.
Plus, the motive behind the leaking of Plame’s identity was not “gossip,” as Cohen asserts, but a White House-orchestrated campaign to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for telling the truth about his 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa. Wilson’s findings helped the U.S. intelligence community debunk false claims about Iraq attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Africa.
Despite warnings from the CIA, however, President George W. Bush cited Iraq’s supposed uranium shopping during his 2003 State of the Union Address, making it a key part of the case to invade Iraq.
When Wilson went public with his story in July 2003, the Bush administration sought to discredit him by suggesting that his Africa trip was just a junket arranged by his CIA wife. One White House official told a reporter from the Washington Post that the administration had informed at least six reporters about Plame.
The official said the disclosure was “purely and simply out of revenge.” That was a revelation that special prosecutor Fitzgerald corroborated in his investigation.
Also, contrary to Cohen’s column, Libby, as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, was a central figure in this anti-Wilson smear campaign. Libby briefed two reporters – Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper – about Plame’s identity and brought press secretary Ari Fleischer into the leak operation.
Though it turned out that other senior administration officials, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and his friend, White House political adviser Karl Rove, were the successful ones in getting a journalist, Robert Novak, to publish Plame’s identity, it wasn’t for the lack of Libby trying to get Plame’s identity into the press.
Nor is it accurate to say that there was no underlying crime. It is illegal to willfully disclose the identity of a covert CIA officer – and the administration officials involved were well aware that her identity was classified. Leaking classified material also can be – and often is – treated as a crime. …
Rather than a wild-eyed prosecutor on a rampage, Fitzgerald actually appears to have been a very cautious prosecutor who chose not to pursue what would have been a deserving but politically disruptive case against Bush, Cheney and other government conspirators implicated in both leaking classified material and participating in a cover-up.
But all this is missed by Cohen. In his June 19, 2007 column, he does reiterate his current position that the Iraq War was a mistake. He also acknowledges that lying under oath is a bad thing to do. But – blinded by the pervasive neocon talking points – he refuses to see the larger scandal.
“I have come to hate the war and I cannot approve of lying under oath – not by Scooter, not by Bill Clinton, not by anybody,” Cohen wrote. “But the underlying crime is absent, the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been conducted in the first place. This is a mess. Should Libby be pardoned? Maybe. Should his sentence be commuted? Definitely.” [As it turned out, President Bush did commute Libby’s sentence so he avoided jail time.]
Cohen took a similarly tolerant view of lies told by Reagan administration officials in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s and its successful cover-up by President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s when special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was pressing for long-withheld answers.
When Bush sabotaged Walsh’s probe by issuing six Iran-Contra pardons on Christmas Eve 1992, prominent U.S. journalists, including Cohen, praised Bush’s actions and brushed aside Walsh’s complaint that the move was the final act in a long-running cover-up that protected a secret history of criminal behavior and Bush’s personal role.
Cohen spoke for many of his colleagues when he defended Bush’s fatal blow against the Iran-Contra investigation. Cohen especially liked Bush’s pardon of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had been indicted for obstruction of justice but was popular around Washington.
In a Dec. 30, 1992 column, Cohen said his view was colored by how impressed he was when he would see Weinberger in the Georgetown Safeway store, pushing his own shopping cart.
“Based on my Safeway encounters, I came to think of Weinberger as a basic sort of guy, candid and no nonsense – which is the way much of official Washington saw him,” Cohen wrote. “Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me.”
There was a time when The Washington Post aggressively pursued cover-ups of government wrongdoing, such as Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Even during the Clinton administration, a favorite pearl of Washington wisdom was: “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”
But that was then and this is now. Today, the Post editorial page and its prized columnists, like Cohen, eagerly join in cover-ups and happily bash anyone who won’t go with the Washington flow.
So, the question remains, is Cohen just a clueless incompetent when he berates Fitzgerald for the “train wreck” of the Libby conviction or is this columnist really a clever guy who is very skilled at knowing how to stay on the gravy train of modern Washington journalism?
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
No other country, with the exception of maybe China, gets as much of a look in as Russia does from the Washington Post’s editorial board.
It’s hardly strange that the newspaper would focus some of its attention on Russia, an increasingly influential global player, but it does seem to have a bit of a bee in its bonnet about the old enemy.
Reading the Post’s editorials on matters of global affairs is like an exercise in understanding the very worst imaginable interpretation of American exceptionalism — and the latest dispatch on Syria is a perfect example. The headline reads: “A UN resolution on Syria is shattered – and Russia is to blame.”
The UN resolution referred to by the Post stated that all parties must “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects” as well as “any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.” Leaving aside the laughable notion that the US itself would adhere to such a resolution and “immediately cease” anything whatsoever, let’s take a look at what concerned the Post.
Two days after the resolution was passed, the editorial says, Russia carried out strikes in the northern Syrian provincial capital of Idlib “killing scores of civilians”. It is not for this writer to judge the authenticity of that claim or to question the word of the Post’s reporter in Beirut — and it would be ludicrous to claim Russia’s strikes have killed not one civilian, but it is at least worth noting that one of the newspaper’s original sources for the story was The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an ‘organization’ run out of a home in Coventry by one man who hasn’t visited Syria in 15 years, has received “small subsidies” from the European Union, and whose reports are at best, unreliable. Nevertheless, SOHR has become one of the single-most important “sources” of information on Syria in the Western press.
The Post continues on, unabashed. Secretary of State John Kerry, they chide, should be embarrassed by “this outrage” which “shattered” the UN resolution. They say this without so much of a hint of irony as the US continues to wage its illegal bombing campaign in the country they purport to care so very deeply about. They always care, you see. The more they care, the more bombs they want to drop.
And in the Post’s world, the UN is important and should be respected. Unless you’re the United States, in which case, go ahead and do whatever you want. Ever the pen-wielding champions for the spreading of good old freedom and democracy, they are always there, on the frontlines, cheering on America’s wars. It’s awfully easy to be in favor of ‘humanitarian’ military interventions when you comfort yourself with the knowledge that it’s okay, because you’re the good guys — always. But still, the board likes to be outraged (!) — and it needs to get its outrage fix from somewhere.
At least they’re consistent
Enter Russia. You have to at least hand it to the Post for its consistency. Russia and Putin continue to be the scapegoats for all seasons. There is nothing Moscow can’t be blamed for and nothing it can do right. If the Kremlin produced a cure for cancer tomorrow, the Post would re-imagine it as a sinister plot devised by Putin to put Western oncologists out of jobs.
In early October, the board warned Obama: Don’t green light Mr. Putin’s Syria project. That piece argued that the “moderate” opposition to Assad — which in the real world includes Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate Al Nusra, should be given more US anti-tank missiles and that Putin should be given “red lines”.
In November, after the Paris attacks, sensing that things were moving in Putin’s favor, and that an international anti-ISIS coalition might be in the making, they jumped in to ensure no one thought that was a good idea with a piece headlined: Teaming up with Russia in Syria could be a dangerous.
And of course, when Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border after claiming that it had violated Turkish airspace, the Post did its bit to make sure no one was left with the wrong impression about who exactly was responsible for the incident: Russian “provocations” and “dangerous behavior of Vladimir Putin’s regime.” Reading that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was Russia recklessly shooting planes out of the sky. One wonders would the Post’s reaction have been the same if an American warplane had been shot down in Syria? It’s certainly unlikely (to say the least) that the Post would be calling the US’s illegal flights over the war-torn country “provocations” and demanding accountability.
Occasionally, the newspaper likes to dabble in wishful thinking. Not the editorial board, but an opinion piece published by the Post in late November asked: Is Syria the beginning of the end of Putinism?
It’s our world. Everyone else just lives in it.
The Post’s penchant for US exceptionalism extends far beyond Syria. Here, they lament, Obama just “doesn’t understand” Putin’s “Eurasian ambitions”. Apparently it’s not worth noting that Russia is in fact a massive Eurasian country, unlike say, the US.
And God forbid any other countries might think they could act independently of Washington in any arena. Obama was “right to order a sail-by” in the South China Sea because “failure to respond” to the “aggression” of other countries is always the greatest sin. Meanwhile, Iran “steps up its aggression” in the Middle East. The list goes on and the Washington Post’s editorial board fails, time and again, to see the irony.
That’s the kind of world the Post’s editors live in: Black and white. Good and evil. We’re always right, you’re always wrong. Do what we say, not as we do. The destruction this kind of thinking leaves in its wake is always someone else’s problem to solve.
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance journalist and media analyst. She has lived in the US and Germany and is currently based in Moscow. She previously worked as a digital desk reporter for the Sunday Business Post in Dublin. She studied political reporting at the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism in Washington, DC and also has a degree in business and German. She focuses on US foreign policy, US-Russia relations and media bias.
Eleven years ago, I initiated a discussion about the fact that jet fuel fires could not have melted steel at the World Trade Center. The government agency investigating the WTC destruction responded by holding “some of its deliberations in secret.” Although it’s not a secret that jet fuel can’t melt steel, due to propaganda from sources like The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, Americans often get confused about what facts like that mean to any national discussion. In a nutshell, what it means is that the molten metal found at the WTC, for which there is a great deal of evidence, cannot be explained by the official 9/11 myth.
No one thinks that jet fuel fires can melt steel beams—not even The Posts’ new science champion, who doesn’t bother to actually use jet fuel or steel beams to teach us about “retarded metallurgical things,” believes it. Instead, he uses a thin metal rod and a blacksmith forge to imply that, if the WTC buildings were made of thin metal rods and there were lots of blacksmith forges there, the thin metal rods would have lost strength and this would be the result. If you buy that as an explanation for what happened at the WTC, you might agree that all the “truthers” should just stop bothering everyone and go get jobs.
This absurd demonstration highlights at least two major problems with America’s ongoing struggle to understand 9/11. The first is that there was a great deal of molten metal at the WTC. Those who know that fact sometimes share internet memes that say “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams” when they want to convey that “Thermite Melted Steel at the WTC.” The second major problem is that certain mainstream media sources continue to put a lot of energy into dis-informing the public about 9/11.
Sources like The Posts, The New York Times and some “alternative media” continue to work hard to support the official myth of 9/11. That effort is not easy because they must do so while providing as little actual information about 9/11 as possible. The dumbing down of the average citizen is a full time job for such propagandists. Luckily for them, American students receive almost no historical context that encourages them to think critically or consider ideas that conflict with blind allegiance to their government. When it comes to the WTC, it also helps that almost 80% of Americans are scientifically illiterate.
As media companies attempt to confuse the public about 9/11, they must avoid relating details that might actually get citizens interested in the subject. For example, it’s imperative that they never mention any of these fourteen facts about 9/11. It is also important to never reference certain people, like the ordnance distribution expert (and Iran-Contra suspect) who managed security at the WTC or the tortured top al Qaeda leader who turned out to have nothing to do with al Qaeda. In fact, to support the official myth of 9/11 these days, media must ignore almost every aspect of the crimes while promoting only the most mindless nonsense they can find. That bewildering strategy becomes more obvious every day.
Western media has published yet another doom and gloom article on Crimea, repeating a worn theme that surely, by now, the people of Crimea must be reconsidering their vote 21 months ago to secede from Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation.
The article was published in the New York Times on Dec 1 and is titled, ‘Months after Russian annexation, hopes start to dim in Crimea‘. This one has to skate around a new, added twist to the Crimea story: the electricity and commercial road transport blockade that has been mounted by small numbers of the extreme-right in Ukraine but endorsed by the governing regime in Kyiv while Western governments turn a blind eye.
The article begins:
SHCHYOLKINO, Crimea–When residents in this typical Soviet factory town voted enthusiastically to secede from Ukraine and to become Russians, they thought the chaos and corruption that made daily life a struggle were a thing of the past. Now that many of them are being forced to cook and boil drinking water on open fires, however, they are beginning to reconsider.
The article employs time-honored methods for when a pre-determined, negative theme is required and important facts must be obscured.
One, find disgruntled citizens in the street and cite them. That’s not difficult to do–is there a country in the world without many unhappy citizens? The Times writer cites two such people in his article.
Two, make it appear that the disgruntled citizen(s) speaks for large numbers of his or her fellow citizens.
Three, negative imagery is important. Thus we read in the Times article, “Twenty months after the Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula amid an outpouring of patriotic fervor by the ethnic Russian population, President Vladimir V. Putin’s promise in April 2014 to turn it into a showcase of his rule now seems as faded as Crimea’s aging, Soviet-era resorts.” Very evocative–‘aging, Soviet-era resorts’. This recalls the decades of New York Times reporting of aged-looking buildings in Cuba during the decades of the U.S. embargo of the island. The embargo made it difficult for Cuba to manufacture or obtain paint and building materials; such things as public health care, public education, international aid and solidarity, and national defense took priority. So yes, this writer visited Cuba three times during the 1990s and, indeed, many buildings in Havana looked aged. But the spirit of the people and the outlook for the country was anything but tired and worn out. To my eyes, the people were much more spirited and forward looking compared to what I experienced in wealthy Canada.
Four, the key word in all reporting of Crimea is “annex”, as per the above citation. The people in Crimea voted overwhelmingly in March 2014 for secession from Ukraine, following a violent, right-wing coup against the elected president of that country (a president for whom a large majority of Crimeans had voted in 2010). The secession referendum was organized by the elected and constitutional Crimean legislature, whose legality contrasted sharply with the illegal, coup regime which came into power in Kyiv on Feb 21, 2014. Crimeans have affirmed in survey after survey that they are satisfied with the secession decision. Yet, Crimeans are presented in the Times as hapless people who have been “annexed” by Russia. The Times reference to the secession as happening “amid an outpouring of patriotic fervor” suggests that the people were so swept away by fervor as to be too dumb to realize what was really taking place. They were not choosing a future of their own free will; no, they were undergoing “annexation” without even being aware.
Five, blame the victims for their plight. Thus we read in the Times article , “… people here are not sure whom to blame more for their predicament: the Crimean Tatar activists and Ukrainian nationalists who cut off Crimea’s link to the Ukrainian power grid or the local government officials who claimed to have enough power generators stored away to handle such an emergency.” Here we have an absurd spectacle of the Crimean government being blamed for failing to foresee and prepare for the day that right-wing extremists in Ukraine would blow up the electricity transmission lines serving the peninsula. Even more recklessly, the Crimean government failed to foresee that the blowing up of transmission lines by right-wing terrorists (oops, “cutting off of Crimea’s links” by “activists”) would be endorsed and escalated by the regime in Kyiv and that Western governments would turn a blind eye and Western media would largely be silent.
Six, and finally, choice of headline to convey the negative message is key. In this case, we have “hopes start to dim”. In reality, the Times headline joins a long parade of such headlines. Pick a typical, negative word, use it alongside the word “Crimea” in an internet search, and, voilà, you arrive in a world of negativity over prospects for Crimea. Here is a small sample of the trade in negative Crimea headlines and stories:
- Crimea’s football fans shiver at prospect of their team playing in Siberia (The Guardian, March 2014)
- Why Russia’s Crimea move fails legal test, (BBC, March 2014)
- Crimea after annexation: ‘We feel utterly discouraged,’ resident says (Belsat TV, in Belarus, April 2014)
- Crimea euphoria fades for some Russians (Reuters, July 2014)
- Tourism suffers in Crimea as Ukraine shuns breakaway region (Washington Post, Aug 2014)
- Kremlin preparing to combat demos as signs of Crimea-fatigue appear, (‘Euromaidan Press‘, Sept 2014)
- Human rights in decline in Crimea (Human Rights Watch, Nov 2014)
- To many in Crimea, corruption seems no less at home under Russian rule, New York Times, Aug 2015)
Oddly–well, not so oddly–the last article in this list was about Crimean citizens trying to take back into public control Black Sea waterfront land which had been lost during Crimea’s time in post-1991 Ukraine.
Funnily enough, the Times article concludes with a quotation from a Crimean woman that is supposed to show that Russians are naïve and habitual complainers who always blame others for their failings and shortcomings. But the quotation is the closest thing to truth in the entire article (leaving aside the suggestion that the extreme rightists in Ukraine who blew up electricity lines are “Tatars”):
As often happens in Russia, some blame Washington rather than Moscow or Kiev.
“If it wasn’t for the Americans, none of it could have happened. The Tatars, who are supported by the United States, would not do a thing,” said Tatyana Bragina, 57, an energetic woman who also once worked construction at a nearby, unfinished nuclear plant.
“Please write that we are not desperate. On the contrary, we are full of joy,” Ms. Bragina said, standing near a black iron kettle boiling away in the courtyard of her apartment block.
Russian legislator Konstantin Kosachev has said that Kyiv’s electricity and road-transport blockades against Crimea constitute a “gesture of final farewell” to Crimea.
Russia is racing to construct electricity, natural gas, road and rail links to Crimea across the 3 km wide Kerch Strait, which separates the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea. The first of the electricity will begin to flow in a few weeks. Crimea will be fully supplied with electricity by the summer 2016. Soon after that, it will be producing its own electricity courtesy of the gas pipeline under construction. By 2019, the road and rail bridge will begin to operate.