America resembles a banana republic. Its sham political process has no legitimacy, democracy in name only, voters with no say whatever.
Democrat party bosses intend nominating Clinton at their July convention – rigging primaries to assure it, perhaps the tainted NY one the latest example.
Republican counterparts want anyone but Trump, despite overwhelming GOP voter support he enjoys.
America’s political process is rigged, too debauched to fix, a vital issue media scoundrels ignore. Instead they pretend US elections show democracy works – for the privileged few alone, excluding most others.
A same day article asked if Clinton stole the NY primary, explaining it was rife with irregularities, including disenfranchising over 125,000 NYC voters and various other disturbing practices.
Media scoundrels airbrushed Tuesday electoral irregularities from their reports. The New York Times headlined “A Homecoming, and a Triumph, for Hillary Clinton in New York” – instead of explaining electoral irregularities too serious to ignore, tainting Democrat primary results, questioning their legitimacy.
The Times suppressed dirty politics, diverting attention from what’s most important, saying Clinton “danced the merengue in Washington Heights.”
“She slammed down a mean game of dominoes in East Harlem (and) d(ug) into an ice cream concoction named the Victory.”
The entire article was an unabashed Clinton commercial. Times editors endorsed her earlier, shill for her repeatedly, outrageously call her “the most broadly and deeply qualified (aspirant) in modern history.”
They ignore her pure evil, the greatest threat to world peace among all the deplorable candidates – none worthy of any public office, let alone the nation’s highest.
The neocon Washington Post was no better, highlighting Clinton saying “(t)here’s no place like home,” the Democrat party nomination “nearly within her grasp…”
WaPo quoted her hawkishness, risking possible global war if elected, saying “at a time when terrorists are plotting new attacks and countries like Russia, China and Iran are making aggressive moves, protecting America’s national security cannot be an afterthought.”
“Our next president has to be just as passionate about defending our country as she is about fixing our economy.”
No WaPo explanation about America facing no threats except ones it invents. Nothing about Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, war-profiteers and other corporate favorites.
Not a word about likely NY primary electoral rigging, voter rolls purged, other disturbing irregularities, or explaining America’s sham political process.
The Wall Street Journal highlighted Clinton, saying “(t)he race for the Democratic (sic) nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight.”
The fix is in to hand it to her, the nation’s highest office likely following after November elections.
She represents monied interests, not popular ones, supports endless wars of aggression, not world peace and stability.
She’s the greatest threat to humanity’s survival, more than any other presidential aspirant in US history. If elected in November, WW III may follow.
Media scoundrels ignore what’s most vital to hammer home to readers and viewers without letup. Instead they support what demands condemnation.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
(*What Anne Applebaum really meant but couldn’t say in her Washington Post column.)
The Washington Post’s foreign affairs columnist seems to believe that Dutch people are stupid and, as a result, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Of course, she can’t write it directly. So, instead, she blames RT, and other Russian media, for a democratic choice that delivered a result she doesn’t like.
In the legendary 1976 movie, Network, Peter Finch, as Howard Beale, famously bellowed: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” The film was loaded with preachy rants and self-righteous contempt for ordinary folk watching the television channel in question.
Anne Applebaum is a pro-establishment Howard Beale. Given to similar hubris from her various soapboxes. Yet, her visceral hatred of Russia helps makes her position even more entrenched than the fictional anti-hero. As a result, Applebaum seems incapable of reviewing a situation without seeing Russia’s hand somewhere.
Take last week’s Dutch Referendum on the proposed association agreement between Ukraine and the EU.
Numerous analysts, actual EU officials, the Dutch Prime Minister and voters themselves, have given reasons why the scheme was rejected. They have, most prominently, cited anger with the EU’s lack of transparency, Ukrainian corruption, fear of eventual EU membership for another large, poor eastern state and internal Dutch disillusion with the country’s elite.
Over in Kiev, locals have blamed “their (own) political leaders for not doing enough to tackle corruption and improve the country’s image,” according to Reuters correspondents on the ground. Here’s a sample reaction: “People there in Europe understand the level of corruption, that the authorities are now simply incapable of doing anything better for their own citizens,” said Ilya Zhyzhyyan, a 29-year-old Kiev resident. “So the Dutch probably think – why do they need a country that can’t do any good for its own people?”
The head of the Ukrainian parliament’s own committee on European integration MP, Iryna Herashchenko, blasted the fallout from the Panama Papers. The massive data leak contained information that Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko was probably evading taxes while his impoverished country endured a brutal civil war.
As you can see, people directly affected by the Netherlands ballot are capable of offering reasonable explanations for the negative verdict. They make grown up, measured arguments. Yet, Applebaum can only see Russia, Russia, Russia!
In her latest Washington Post column, her primary argument is that “the Dutch just showed the world how Russia influences Western European elections.” You can translate that to mean that Applebaum refuses to accept any other reason for failure aside from dastardly Russian meddling. This is utterly bizarre.
She takes issue with 59 percent of Dutch ‘no’ voters stating that Ukrainian corruption motivated their unfavorable ballots. Applebaum derides their, quite understandable, worries as “hardly a rational argument.” Yet, two years ago, she wrote: “The West has let Russian corruption destabilize Europe. It’s time to stop it.” It’s beyond reasonable logic that anybody could believe that Russian corruption is a grave threat to Europe, but extortion in Ukraine is totally harmless.
Even Ukrainians admit that bribery in their nation is endemic. In fact, Transparency International reports that it’s the “most corrupt country in Europe.” Indeed, many experts believe that graft has actually worsened since the Maidan coup in 2014. Even the Wall Street Journal has acknowledged the fact. Without question, this situation is depressing, considering that corruption was ostensibly the motivation for the initial, peaceful, marches against Viktor Yanukovich’s government. Nevertheless, remaining in denial about it isn’t going to help matters.
A European Dream
She also argues that Dutch voters are wrong to blame Ukraine for the MH17 disaster. However, families of the victims are suing Kiev for not closing its airspace during a time of war. Even if, as investigators believe, the Donbass rebels were responsible, they didn’t have control of civilian aviation.
Applebaum further rails against the belief “that the treaty would (eventually) guarantee Ukraine’s membership in the European Union.” The problem is that it’s not Russians scaring people with this notion. It’s Ukrainians. President Poroshenko has stated that Ukraine will be “ready to join the EU in five years.” Meanwhile, outgoing Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk recently said that he is “sure that Ukraine will become a European Union member state despite all the challenges and hardships.”
Applebaum has written extensively about her support for democracy. Indeed, she’s warned that we “shouldn’t take it for granted.” Now, because of a verdict she objects to, she backtracks. “A treaty already approved by 27 countries can’t be renegotiated from scratch,” our hero writes.
The problem here is that these countries didn’t vote on the Ukrainian question. Their governments merely nodded through the agreement, as is the norm on EU issues. Yet, when one country actually let the people decide, the verdict was an overwhelming ‘no.’ Now, Applebaum, a self-styled champion of democracy, suggests we ignore that choice. This is amazing hypocrisy.
Applebaum is blinkered by her association with a Eurocrat elite, who are doing their best to suppress suffrage within the EU. Despite platitudes about “liberation” and “freedom,” these people are vigorously anti-populist and are determined to deny people the right to choose their own fate. It’s revealing that Carl Bildt, a close political ally of Applebaum’s husband Radoslaw Sikorski, expressed almost identical sentiments on Twitter after the results became known.
Utterly convinced that their Atlanticist, neoliberal outlook is the only possible future for Europe, they are unwilling to accept their own inadequacies or admit their own failures. Thus, whenever something puts a brake on their plans, they need to blame a third-party. Russia, as the only major European nation outside the EU/NATO blocs, is their favorite whipping boy.
If something doesn’t go the way Brussels/Washington establishments want, the Kremlin is always behind it. This denies ordinary EU citizens any kind of respect for their own concerns and interests.
Nobody, with any grip on reality, could honestly believe that 2.5 million Dutch voters rejected closer cooperation with Ukraine because Russia, and its media services, told them to. So why does the Washington Post’s star foreign affairs columnist, and, presumably, the editorial board who appointed her, think people will swallow this nonsense?
The noted Brazilian political scientist and theologian Frei Betto recently said that “the Yankees will do everything so that our continent will go back to being their backyard.”
Despite the rhetoric about democratic values that emanates from Washington, the U.S. government has always been willing to use any means necessary to impose their will on Latin America. This has often translated into foreign intervention.
But the U.S. public has grown weary of their government’s imperialist adventures, which as of late have ended in utter disaster. Washington elites know they must first fool the public into believing that intervention is a necessity.
To accomplish this they turn to private media outlets and their editorial boards, who help drum up support for U.S. intervention in foreign countries.
Enter the latest example: a recent editorial by the Washington Post entitled: “Venezuela is in desperate need of a political intervention.”
This from the same paper that was once vilified by U.S. conservatives for its supposed leftist tilt.
The use of the word intervention is deliberate, the Post knows that the Bolivarian Revolution – started by Hugo Chavez and continued by his successor Nicolas Maduro – still commands enormous support. The Venezuelan people will not simply hand the state back over to the very same politicians that abused the working class for decades.
An intervention done in the name of the Organization of American States, as the editorial calls for, is still imperialist. And it’s not just Venezuelans who know it but the whole region, which has seen the OAS used time and again to legitimize the imperialist fancies of the U.S. in the region.
The Post also knows that deceiving their audience sometimes requires outright lies.
Like the New York Times editorial on Venezuela that proceeded the Post’s, the editorial team claims that lack of cooperation between the Maduro government and the opposition-controlled National Assembly is entirely the fault of Maduro.
The Post claimed that he “pursued scorched-earth warfare with the National Assembly,” while the Times claimed that it opposition only reluctantly settled on ousting the democratically-elected Maduro from power.
Lies. All of it.
From the moment they were declared the winners of the parliamentary election, the opposition said their goal was ousting Maduro from power.
There was never an opportunity for cooperation between the Venezuelan government and the opposition and the blame for that lies with the opposition. On the day the new parliament was sworn in, Henry Ramos Allup, a leading figure in the opposition, literally ran his finger across his throat to indicate his feelings about the government and its supporters.
Does that sound like a politician interested in dialogue? Hardly unsurprising that the Post would chose to leave that detail out.
But lying through omission isn’t enough for the Post editorial board. They fancy themselves legal experts, able to pass judgment on Venezuela’s division of powers and the decisions of its Supreme Court.
The Post took issue with the court’s decision to rule a highly controversial “amnesty” bill as unconstitutional. This bill doesn’t promote amnesty for so-called political prisoners, it affords impunity for people directly responsible for the deaths of dozens.
The objective of the opposition’s impunity bill was the release of politicians involved in efforts to oust Maduro by force, politicians like Leopoldo Lopez who was found guilty of inciting the violent protests that led to the deaths of 43 people.
Of course the truth doesn’t fit their narrative, so the Post brazenly claims that state security forces were largely responsible for the deaths during the 2014 protests. The truth is the vast majority of those killed were either innocent bystanders, government supporters, or state security officials.
It wasn’t the state that set up violent blockades, it wasn’t the state that strung up barbed wire so that passing motorists would be decapitated, it was Lopez’s supporters.
Venezuela is confronting a major economic crisis, that much is true, but the Post doesn’t bother with an investigation as to why. No, instead it blames everything on Maduro, including the drought that is affecting Venezuela’s ability to produce electricity. The same drought that is causing similar problems in neighboring Colombia. Is that too the fault of Maduro?
Seems as if the Post’s editorial board is also gifted with the power of premonition, predicting that the opposition’s efforts to prematurely end Maduro’s mandate would be declared void.
Media outlets made the same sort of predictions ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections, claiming that the government would not recognize the results. Of course Maduro immediately recognized the results.
The opposition is free to pursue a recall referendum against Maduro, as they did with Chavez, which they lost. All that Venezuela’s electoral authority asks is that they follow the rules, something they seem unable to do.
As for an effort to pass a law to shorten Maduro’s term, well even the Post’s friends at the Times understands that “it would be hard to justify carrying out that change retroactively when Mr. Maduro was elected for a six-year term.”
Any foreign intervention, even one under the auspices of the OAS, would indeed result the kind of intense scenes the Post describes, but it would come as a result of millions of Venezuelans hitting the streets to reject it.
Venezuelans, and more broadly speaking Latin Americans, have lived through an era where the shackles of imperialism have been shed. They will not allow the region to become the backyard of the United States ever again.
Several weeks ago, I received a phone call from legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh who had seen one of my recent stories about Syria and wanted to commiserate over the state of modern journalism. Hersh’s primary question regarding reporters and editors at major news outlets these days was: “Do they care what the facts are?”
Hersh noted that in the past – in the 1970s when he worked at The New York Times – even executive editor Abe Rosenthal, who was a hard-line cold warrior with strong ideological biases, still wanted to know what was really going on.
My experience was similar at The Associated Press. Among the older editors, there was still a pride in getting the facts right – and not getting misled by some politician or spun by some government flack.
That journalistic code, however, no longer exists – at least not on foreign policy and national security issues. The major newspapers and TV networks are staffed largely by careerists who uncritically accept what they are fed by U.S. government officials or what they get from think-tank experts who are essentially in the pay of special interests.
For a variety of reasons – from the draconian staff cuts among foreign correspondents to the career fear of challenging some widely held “group think” – many journalists have simply become stenographers, taking down what the Important People say is true, not necessarily what is true.
It’s especially easy to go with the flow when writing about some demonized foreign leader. Then, no editor apparently expects anything approaching balance or objectivity, supposedly key principles of journalism. Indeed, if a reporter gave one of these hated figures a fair shake, there might be grumblings about whether the reporter was a “fill-in-the-blank apologist.” The safe play is to pile on.
This dishonesty – or lack of any commitment to the truth – is even worse among editorialists and columnists. Having discovered that there was virtually no cost for being catastrophically wrong about the facts leading into the Iraq invasion in 2003, these writers must feel so immune from accountability that they can safely ignore reality.
But – for some of us old-timers – it’s still unnerving to read the work of these “highly respected” journalists who simply don’t care what the facts are.
For instance, the establishment media has been striking back ferociously against President Barack Obama’s apostasy in a series of interviews published in The Atlantic, in which he defends his decision not to bomb the Syrian government in reaction to a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
Though The Atlantic article was posted a month ago, the media fury is still resonating and reverberating around Official Washington, with Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt penning the latest condemnation of Obama’s supposed fecklessness for not enforcing his “red line” on chemical-weapon use in Syria by bombing the Syrian military.
Remember that in 2002-03, Hiatt penned Post editorials that reported, as “flat fact,” that Iraq possessed hidden stockpiles of WMD – and he suffered not a whit for being horribly wrong. More than a dozen years later, Hiatt is still the Post’s editorial-page editor – one of the most influential jobs in American journalism.
On Thursday, Hiatt reported as flat fact that Syria’s “dictator, Bashar al-Assad, killed 1,400 or more people in a chemical gas attack,” a reference to the 2013 sarin atrocity. Hiatt then lashed out at President Obama for not punishing Assad and – even worse – for showing satisfaction over that restraint.
Citing The Atlantic interviews, Hiatt wrote that Obama “said he had been criticized because he refused to follow the ‘playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment,’ which would have counseled greater U.S. intervention.” Hiatt was clearly disgusted with Obama’s pusillanimous choice.
The No ‘Slam Dunk’ Warning
But what Hiatt and other neocon columnists consistently ignore from The Atlantic article is the disclosure that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper informed Obama that U.S. intelligence analysts doubted that Assad was responsible for the sarin attack.
Clapper even used the phrase “slam dunk,” which is associated with the infamous 2002 pledge from then-CIA Director George Tenet to President George W. Bush about how “slam dunk” easy it would be to make the case that Iraq was hiding WMD. More than a decade later, brandishing that disgraced phrase, Clapper told Obama that it was not a “slam dunk” that Assad was responsible for the sarin attack.
In other words, Obama’s decision not to bomb Assad’s military was driven, in part, by the intelligence community’s advice that he might end up bombing the wrong people. Since then, evidence has built up that radical jihadists opposed to Assad staged the sarin attack as a provocation to trick the U.S. military into entering the war on their side.
But those facts clearly are not convenient to Hiatt’s neocon goal – i.e., how to get the United States into another Mideast “regime change” war – so he simply expunges the “slam dunk” exchange between Clapper and Obama and inserts instead a made-up “fact,” the flat-fact certainty of Assad’s guilt.
Hiatt’s assertion of the death toll – as “1,400 or more people” – is also dubious. Doctors on the ground in Damascus placed the number of dead at several hundred. The 1,400 figure was essentially manufactured by the U.S. government using a dubious methodology of counting bodies shown on “social media,” failing to take into account the question of whether the victims died as a result of the Aug. 21, 2013 incident.
Relying on “social media” for evidence is a notoriously unreliable practice, since pretty much anyone can post anything on the Internet. And, in the case of Syria, there are plenty of interest groups that have a motive to misidentify or even fabricate images for the purpose of influencing public opinion and policy. There is also the Internet’s vulnerability as a devil’s playground for professional intelligence services.
But Hiatt is far from alone in lambasting Obama for failing to do what All the Smart People of Washington knew he should do: bomb, bomb, bomb Assad’s forces in Syria – even if that might have led to the collapse of the army and the takeover of Damascus by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and/or the Islamic State.
Nationally syndicated columnist Richard Cohen, another Iraq War cheerleader who suffered not at all for that catastrophe, accused Obama of “hubris” for taking pride in his decision not to bomb Syria in 2013 and then supposedly basing his foreign policy on that inaction.
“In an odd way, Obama’s failure to intervene in Syria or to enforce his stated ‘red line’ there has become the rationale for an entire foreign policy doctrine – one based more on hubris than success,” wrote Cohen in a column on Tuesday.
Note how Cohen – like Hiatt – fails to mention the relevant fact that DNI Clapper warned the President that the intelligence community was unsure who had unleashed the sarin attack or whether Assad had, in fact, crossed the “red line.”
Cohen also embraces the conventional wisdom that Obama was mistaken not to have intervened in Syria, ignoring the fact that Obama did, in violation of international law, authorize arming and training of thousands of Syrian rebels to violently overthrow the Syrian government, with many of those weapons (and recruits) falling into the hands of terror groups, such as Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al Qaeda.”]
So, it appears that these well-regarded geniuses don’t appreciate the idea of ascertaining the facts before charging off to war. And there’s a reason for that: many are neocon ideologues who reached their conclusion about what needs to be done in the Middle East – eliminate governments that are troublesome to Israel – and thus they view information as just something to be manipulated to manipulate the public.
This thinking stems from the 1990s when neocons combined their recognition of America’s unmatched military capabilities – as displayed in the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 and made even more unchallengeable with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991– with Israel’s annoyance over inconclusive negotiations with the Palestinians and security concerns over Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
The new solution to Israel’s political and security problems would be “regime change” in countries seen as aiding and abetting Israel’s enemies. The strategy came together among prominent U.S. neocons working on Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign for Israeli prime minister.
Rather than continuing those annoying negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s neocon advisers — including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and Mevray Wurmser — advocated a new approach, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.”
The “clean break” sought “regime change” in countries supporting Israel’s close-in enemies, whether Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria under the Assad dynasty or Iran, a leading benefactor of Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Two years later, in 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. PNAC was founded by neocon luminaries William Kristol and Robert Kagan. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]
After George W. Bush became president and the 9/11 attacks left the American people lusting for revenge, the pathway was cleared for implementing the “regime change” agenda, with Iraq still at the top of the list although it had nothing to do with 9/11. Again, the last thing the neocons wanted was to inform the American people of the real facts about Iraq because that might have sunk the plans for this war of choice.
Thus, the American public was consistently misled by both the Bush administration and the neocon-dominated mainstream media. The Post’s Hiatt, for instance, was out there regularly reporting Iraq’s WMD threat as “flat fact.”
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and months of fruitless searching for the promised WMD caches, Hiatt finally acknowledged that the Post should have been more circumspect in its confident claims about the WMD. “If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction,” Hiatt said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “If that’s not true, it would have been better not to say it.” [CJR, March/April 2004]
Yet, Hiatt’s supposed remorse didn’t stop him and the Post editorial page from continuing its single-minded support for the Iraq War — and heaping abuse on war critics, such as former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson who challenged President Bush’s claims about Iraq seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger.
The degree to which the neocons continue to dominate the major news outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, is demonstrated by the lack of virtually any accountability on the journalists who misinformed their readers about an issue as consequential as the war in Iraq.
And, despite the disaster in Iraq, the neocons never cast aside their “clean break” playbook. After Iraq, the “regime change” strategy listed Syria next and then Iran. Although the neocons suffered a setback in 2008 with the election of Iraq War opponent Barack Obama, they never gave up their dreams.
The neocons worked through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Iraq War supporters who managed to survive and even move up through the government ranks despite Obama’s distaste for their military solutions.
While in office, Clinton sabotaged chances to get Iran to surrender much of its nuclear material – all the better to keep the “regime change” option in play – and she lobbied for a covert military intervention to oust Syria’s Assad. (She also tipped the balance in favor of another “regime change” war in Libya that has created one more failed state in the volatile region.)
But the most disturbing fact is that these war promoters – both in politics and the press – continue to be rewarded for their warmongering. Hiatt retains his gilded perch as the Post’s editorial-page editor (setting Official Washington’s agenda); Cohen remains one of America’s leading national columnists; and Hillary Clinton is favored to become the next President.
So, the answer to Sy Hersh’s question – “Do they care what the facts are?” – is, it appears, no. There is just too much money and power involved in influencing and controlling Washington and – through those levers of finance, diplomacy and war – controlling the world. When that’s at stake, real facts can become troublesome things. For the people who wield this influence and control, it is better for them to manufacture their own.
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).
“The problem with this response is that man-made climate change is real and happening now. The detonation of a nuclear bomb is a hypothetical.”
From the WaPo :
Reading Dennis Ross and David Ignatius is a good reminder that the neocons live in a different world than the rest of us. They do not conform their analysis to reality, but rather they conform reality to their view of the world. Where most people would be encouraged to read that Aleppo in Syria was about to be liberated from its 3.5 year occupation by al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the neocons see a disaster.
On the brink of al-Qaeda’s defeat in Aleppo, the Washington Post’s Ignatius is furious that, “President Obama won’t approve military tactics that could actually shift the balance.” Yes, he wants to shift the balance toward al-Qaeda because like the other neocons he is so invested in the idea of regime change in Syria that he would even prefer turning the country into another Libya than to see government forces defeat his jihadist insurgents. Failing to “shift the balance” toward al-Qaeda fighters in Aleppo only brings “greater misery for the Syrian people,” in the world of Ignatius.
Ignatius’s Washington Post, which has never seen a potential war it did not want to see turned into an actual war, thinks it a tragedy that the Syrian army’s advance on al-Qaeda occupied Aleppo has “cut off all vital routes of supply from Turkey to the rebel-held areas of the city.” Those would be Turkish supplies in support of al-Qaeda and ISIS rebels, but the Post is too deceptive to mention that fact.
It is as dishonest an inversion of reality as anything printed in Pravda of old.
In the same vein as Ignatius, former Bush/Clinton/Obama Administration Middle East “expert” Dennis Ross writes to tell us, “what Putin is really up to in Syria.” In the above-linked article, The Los Angeles Times does not reveal that Ross is hardly an objective observer of the situation. As one of the founders of AIPAC‘s Washington Institute for Near East Policy — and a current counselor to that organization — Ross strongly supports AIPAC’s position in favor of regime change in Syria and Israel’s active role in assisting jihadist rebels from al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in their efforts to overthrow the Assad government.
So what does regime change neocon Dennis Ross want us to believe is happening in Syria? The Russians, he asserts, are playing a dirty game by stepping up their bombing campaign against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and affiliated rebels instead of pushing for a ceasefire. How funny that when the US/Turk/Saudi/Israeli-back jihadists were on the verge of taking over all of Syria not that long ago there was no talk from neocon quarters about a ceasefire or a negotiated political solution. Only now that al-Qaeda’s stronghold in Aleppo is on the verge of liberation by government forces are the neocons screaming that diplomacy should be given a chance.
Russian operations are “designed to strengthen the Assad regime and weaken the non-Islamic State Sunni opposition in different parts of the country,” writes Ross. He doesn’t mention that particularly when it comes to Aleppo, the “non-Islamic State Sunni opposition” means al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and affiliated forces.
By relentlessly bombing Islamic State and other jihadist groups seeking to introduce Sharia law into secular Syria, “Putin is… undercutting our aim of isolating Islamic State and having Sunnis lead the fight against it.” Read that again. By attacking ISIS he is preventing the US from isolating ISIS. Doublespeak.
What is Putin really up to in the world of Dennis Ross? He is not sincere about defeating Islamist extremism in Syria or even helping Assad’s forces win the war. No, Putin “aims to demonstrate that Russia, and not America, is the main power broker in the region and increasingly elsewhere.” Ah yes, the old argument about Russian expansionism. Baltic invasion, restoration of the USSR. All the neocon tripe.
Ah but here is where Ross plants his seed, whispers in the Administration’s neocon power brokers’ ears:
“Certainly, were Russia’s costs to increase, Putin might look for a way out.”
Hmm, now we see what he’s getting at:
… it is time we make it clear to the Russians that unless they impose a cease-fire on Assad and Hezbollah and insist that humanitarian corridors are open, we will have no choice but to act with our partners to create a haven in Syria — for refugees and for the organization of the Syrian opposition.
In other words, tell Russia if you do not stop fighting al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria we will face-off in a WWIII-threatening stance to establish a “jihadistan” in part of Syria from where the hundredth or so version of a rebel fighting force can be re-assembled.
Ross’s plan is not for the weak of heart. “[W]e cannot threaten to create a haven without following through if Putin refused to alter his course,” he writes. Meaning of course that we must be willing to actually go through with WWIII if Putin does not blink, back down, and pull out of Syria just as Russia’s intervention is meeting its objective. Surrender when on the verge of victory in Syria or face a nuclear war with the United States.
No one ever accused the neocons of thinking small. But with much of the Middle East a smoldering ruin due to the disastrous interventions they lied us into, no one should count out even their most insane-sounding plan being seriously considered somewhere in Washington.
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.