Obama Ignores Russian Terror Victims

Exclusive: President Obama has displayed a stunning lack of sympathy for the Russian civilians killed in an ISIS plane bombing in Egypt and for two Russian military men slain as victims of U.S. weapons systems in Syria, putting insults toward President Putin ahead of human decency, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Normally, when a country is hit by an act of terrorism, there is universal sympathy even if the country has engaged in actions that may have made it a target of the terrorists. After 9/11, for instance, any discussion of whether U.S. violent meddling in the Middle East may have precipitated the attack was ruled out of the public debate.

Similarly, the 7/7 attacks against London’s Underground in 2005 were not excused because the United Kingdom had joined in President George W. Bush’s aggressive war in Iraq. The same with the more recent terror strikes in Paris. No respectable politician or pundit gloated about the French getting what they deserved for their long history of imperialism in the Muslim world.

But a different set of rules apply to Russia. Along with other prominent Americans, President Barack Obama and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman have expressed smug satisfaction over the murder of 224 people aboard a Russian charter flight blown up over the Sinai and in the slaying of a Russian pilot who had been shot down by a Turkish warplane and the killing of a Russian marine on a rescue mission.

Apparently, the political imperative to display disdain for Russian President Vladimir Putin trumps any normal sense of humanity. Both Obama on Tuesday and Friedman on Wednesday treated those Russian deaths at the hands of the Islamic State or other jihadists as Putin’s comeuppance for intervening against terrorist/jihadist gains in Syria.

At a news conference in Paris, Obama expressed his lack of sympathy as part of a bizarre comment in which he faulted Putin for somehow not turning around the Syrian conflict during the past month when Obama and his allies have been floundering in their “war” against the Islamic State and its parent, Al Qaeda, for years, if not decades.

“The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly,” Obama said. “In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet.  You’ve seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel.  And I think Mr. Putin understands that, with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he’s looking for.”

In examining that one paragraph, a “fair-minded” reporter could find a great deal to dispute. Indeed, the comments suggest that President Obama has crossed some line into either believing his own propaganda or thinking that everyone who listens to him is an idiot and will believe whatever he says.

But what was perhaps most disturbing was Obama’s graceless manner of discussing the tragedy of the Sinai bombing, followed by his seeming pleasure over Turkey shooting down a Russian SU-24 last week, leading to the killing of two Russian military men, one the pilot who was targeted while parachuting to the ground and the other a marine after his search-and-rescue helicopter was downed by a TOW missile.

Even more troubling, the key weapon systems used the Turkish F-16 fighter jet and the TOW missile were U.S.-manufactured and apparently U.S. supplied, in the case of the TOW missile either directly or indirectly to Sunni jihadists deemed “moderate” by the Obama administration.

The Ever-Smug Friedman

Columnist Friedman was equally unfeeling about the Russian deaths. In a column entitled “Putin’s Great Syrian Adventure,” Friedman offered a mocking assessment of Russia’s intervention against Sunni jihadists and terrorists seeking to take control of Syria.

While ridiculing anyone who praised Putin’s initiative or who just thought the Russian president was “crazy like a fox,” Friedman wrote: “Some of us thought he was just crazy.

“Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-ISIS militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him.”

Ha-ha, very funny! And, by the way, it has not been established that the Russian SU-24 did stray into Turkish air space but if it did, according to the Turkish account, it passed over a sliver of Turkish territory for all of 17 seconds.

The evidence is quite clear that the SU-24 was ambushed in a reckless act by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been collaborating with Syrian and foreign jihadists for the past four years to overthrow Syria’s secular government. And the murder of the pilot after he bailed out of the plane is not some reason to smirk; it is a war crime.

Even uglier is the lack of any sympathy or outrage over the terrorist bombing that killed 224 innocent people, mostly tourists, aboard a Russian charter flight in Egypt. If the victims had been American and a similar callous reaction had come from President Putin and a columnist for a major Russian newspaper, one can only imagine the outrage. However, in Official Washington, any recognition of a common humanity with Russians makes you a “Moscow stooge.”

The other wacky part of both Obama’s comments and Friedman’s echoes of the same themes is this quick assessment that the Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government has been some abject failure as if the U.S.-led coalition has been doing so wonderfully.

First, as a “fair-minded” reporter, I would say that it appears the Russian-backed Syrian offensive has at least stopped the advances of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its jihadist allies, including Ahrar al-Sham (which technically separates itself from Al Qaeda and thus qualifies for U.S.-supplied weaponry even though it fights side-by-side with Nusra in the Saudi-backed Army of Conquest).

The Afghan Memories

Obama’s reference to Afghanistan was also startling. He was suggesting that Putin should have learned a lesson from Moscow’s intervention in the 1980s in support of a secular, pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, which came under attack by CIA-organized-and-armed Islamic jihadists known then as mujahedeen.

Wielding sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and benefiting from $1 billion a year in Saudi-U.S.-supplied weapons, the Afghan fundamentalist mujahedeen and their allies, including Saudi Osama bin Laden, eventually drove Soviet troops out in 1989 and several years later behind the Taliban completed the reversion of Afghanistan back to the Seventh Century. Women in Kabul went from dressing any way they liked in public, including wearing mini-skirts, to being covered in chadors and kept at home.

Obama’s bringing up Afghanistan in the Syrian context and Putin’s supposed one-month Syrian failure was ironic in another way. After Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of bin Laden and has been bogged down in a quagmire there for 14 years, including nearly seven years under Obama.

So, Obama may not be on the firmest ground when he suggests that Putin recall Moscow’s experience in Afghanistan a few decades ago. After all, Obama has many more recent memories.

Further, what is different about Putin’s Syrian strategy compared with Obama’s is that the Russians are targeting all the terrorists and jihadists, not just the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh). While U.S. propaganda tries to present the non-ISIS jihadists as “moderates” (somehow pretending that Al Qaeda is no longer a terrorist organization), there is, in reality, very little distinction between ISIS and the alliance of Nusra/Ahrar al-Sham.

And, as for Official Washington’s new “group think” about the Syrian government’s lack of progress in the war, there is the discordant news that the last of rebel forces have agreed to abandon the central city of Homs, which had been dubbed the “capital of the revolution.” The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that “thousands of insurgents will leave the last opposition-held neighborhood in” Homs, with the withdrawal beginning next week.

Al-Jazeera added the additional fact that the remaining 4,000 insurgents are “from al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army.” In other words, the “moderate” Free Syrian Army was operating in collusion with Al Qaeda’s affiliate and its major jihadist partner.

While it’s hard to get reliable up-to-date information from inside Syria, one intelligence source familiar with the military situation told me that the Syrian government offensive, backed by Iranian troops and Russian air power, had been surprisingly successful in putting the jihadists, including ISIS and Nusra, on the defensive, with additional gains around the key city of Aleppo.

The Belated Oil Bombings

Also, in the past week, Putin shamed Obama into joining in a bombing operation to destroy hundreds of trucks carrying ISIS oil to Turkey. Why that valuable business was allowed to continue during the U.S.-led war on ISIS since summer 2014 has not been adequately explained. It apparently was being protected by Turkish President Erdogan.

Another irony of Obama’s (and Friedman’s) critical assessment of Putin’s one-month military campaign came in Obama’s recounting of his meeting during the Paris climate summit with Erdogan. Obama said he was still appealing to Erdogan to close the Turkish-Syrian border although radical jihadists have been crossing it since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

“With respect to Turkey, I have had repeated conversations with President Erdogan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria,” Obama said. “We’ve seen some serious progress on that front, but there are still some gaps.  In particular, there’s about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters, ISIL shipping out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities.”

In other words, all these years into the conflict and about 1½ years since Obama specifically targeted ISIS Turkey has not closed its borders to prevent ISIS from reinforcing itself with foreign fighters and trafficking in illicit oil sales to fund its terror operations. One might suspect that Erdogan has no intention of really stopping the Sunni jihadists from ravaging Syria.

Erdogan still seems set on violent “regime change” in Syria after allowing his intelligence services to provide extensive help to ISIS, Al Qaeda’s Nusra and other extremists. The Russians claim that politically well-connected Turkish businessmen also have been profiting off the ISIS oil sales.

But Obama’s acknowledgement that he has not even been able to get NATO “ally” Turkey to seal its border and that ISIS still remains a potent fighting force makes a mockery of his mocking Putin for not “significantly” changing the situation on the ground in Syria in one month.

Obama also slid into propaganda speak when he blamed Assad for all the deaths that have occurred during the Syrian conflict. “I consider somebody who kills hundreds of thousands of his own people illegitimate,” Obama said.

But again Obama is applying double standards. For instance, he would not blame President George W. Bush for the hundreds of thousands (possibly more than a million) dead Iraqis, yet Bush was arguably more responsible for those deaths by launching an unprovoked invasion of Iraq than Assad was in battling a jihadist-led insurgency.

Plus, the death toll of Syrians, estimated to exceed a quarter million, includes many soldiers and police as well as armed jihadists. That does not excuse Assad or his regime for excessively heavy-handed tactics that have inflicted civilian casualties, but Obama and his predecessor both have plenty of innocent blood on their hands, too.

After watching Obama’s news conference, one perhaps can hope that he is just speaking out of multiple sides of his mouth as he is wont to do. Maybe, he’s playing his usual game of “above-the-table/below-the-table,” praising Erdogan above the table while chastising him below the table and disparaging Putin in public while cooperating with the Russian president in private.

Or maybe President Obama has simply lost touch with reality and with common human decency.

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). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Global Angst over US Secrecy Fetish

With the reach of U.S. surveillance now global and with the U.S. military deployed all over the world anger at President Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers who disclose the U.S. government’s abuses and crimes has gone international, as this Norwegian opinion piece by Victor Wallis shows.

By Victor Wallis

The more extreme the crimes of state, the more the state seeks to shroud them in secrecy. The greater the secrecy and the accompanying lies, the more vital becomes the role of whistleblowers and the more vindictive becomes the state in its pursuit of them.

Whistleblowers are people who start out as loyal servants of the state. Their illusions about the state’s supposed moral agenda and the wholeheartedness of their own patriotic commitment make them all the more shocked when they discover evidence of the state’s wrongdoing.

Given the extreme concentration of weaponry (as well as surveillance capabilities) in the hands of the state, and given the disposition of the state to apply such resources even against nonviolent mass movements, the type of defection practiced by whistleblowers an option available to military and intelligence operatives at all levels is crucial to any eventual triumph of popular forces over the ruling class.

Whistleblowers thus not only embarrass the government, disrupt its policies, and (assuming adequate diffusion) educate the citizenry; they also are harbingers of a broader crumbling of the capitalist state and the order it defends. Acting largely in isolation and at great risk to themselves, they embody the conviction or at least the hope that basic decency has a more universal grounding than does any possible scheme of oppression.

Whistleblowing’s principal near-term function is educational. It demonstrates the undemocratic character of the regime whose secrets it lets out; it is thus an essential ingredient of investigative journalism. The documents it brings to light reach the public through those who practice such journalism, whom the government then threatens with prosecution unless they disclose their sources.

The novelty of Wikileaks is that it provided a new form of protection for the anonymity of sources. This, together with the facility of electronic transmission, has made the potential for disclosure greater than ever before. It accounts for the extraordinary fact that the U.S. government has been pursuing draconian charges against someone who not merely is only the recipient rather than the “leaker” of sensitive information, but someone who is not even a citizen or resident of the United States Julian Assange.

Disclosure is particularly embarrassing when it documents the fact that government officials have lied. The Director of Central Intelligence lied under oath to the U.S. Congress a felony for which he was never prosecuted when he denied that the National Security Agency monitors the communications of the entire U.S. population.

This lie was the culminating event in Edward Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle. As we all know, of course, it is Snowden who was then criminalized by the government. This parallels the experience of John Kiriakou, who publicly confirmed, on the basis of his first-hand knowledge, that the CIA practiced torture by waterboarding. Kiriakou then became the only government official to be prosecuted and imprisoned in connection with CIA and military practices of torture.

The debate over whistleblowers reached tens of millions of viewers when the presidential candidates of the Democratic Party were asked (on Oct. 13) their views about Snowden. Hillary Clinton falsely asserted that he could have used established channels to transmit his disclosures of excessive surveillance, presumably at no risk to himself.

This claim is refuted by the experience of previous whistleblowers who had taken just that approach. One of them, Thomas Drake, retold his story two days later, at a news conference ignored by most of the corporate media (video), which was organized on behalf of yet another whistleblower, Jeffrey Sterling, who recently began a 42-month prison term on a conviction of “espionage.”

What Sterling had done was report to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about a counterproductive CIA attempt (in 2000) to feed misleading technological data to Iranian scientists. What he was prosecuted for was his subsequent conversations with New York Times journalist James Risen, although no evidence was available as to the content of those conversations, since Risen refused to testify.

Sterling’s story is recounted in a letter from his wife, seeking presidential clemency from Obama. Sterling had been fired from the CIA in 2002 after filing a complaint against the agency for racial discrimination (an episode on which Risen wrote a news story). After Risen’s book State of War (2006) came out, the FBI raided Sterling’s home, but it was not until more than four years later under President Obama that he was arrested (2011).

The latest whistleblower, who documents the “normalization of assassination” via drone warfare, is wisely seeking to remain anonymous. The U.S. government will surely take all possible steps to track him down.

The work of whistleblowers, as well as their personal safety, is obviously an issue that cuts across national borders. Support for U.S. whistleblowers will need to be as global as the reach of the policies and the weapons that they expose.

Victor Wallis is managing editor of the journal Socialism and Democracy. [This is the original text of a column (written on Oct. 20) posted on the Norwegian website radikalportal.no.]




Obama Taunts Putin over Syria

President Obama mocked Russian President Putin for not fixing Syria during the past month and chided him about Moscow’s Afghan quagmire in the 1980s, proving that Obama has either no self-awareness or no sense of irony given the U.S. misadventures in both countries, as Sam Husseini describes.

By Sam Husseini

President Barack Obama’s remarks about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the Syria conflict were remarkably ironic: “The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who have looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly.

“In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet. You’ve seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel. And I think Mr. Putin understands that with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in an inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he’s looking for.”

In those remarks on Tuesday in Paris, Obama scrutinized the hard effects of Russian foreign policy, but not his own. “With Afghanistan fresh in the memory,” said the U.S. President, presumably referring to the Russian intervention there that ended in 1989 — and not the 14-year U.S. intervention in the same country which is ongoing.

Obama can see the speck in Putin’s eye, but not the log in his own. To say nothing of the fact that the U.S. started the modern movement of Islamic jihadists in the 1980s by organizing, funding and arming the Afghan mujahedeen to make the Russians bleed.

Gore Vidal called the USA the “United States of Amnesia” — but it’s more like the USSA: The United States of Selective Amnesia.

The U.S. has been bombing the Mideast for decades now — not a month — and has yet to make a serious accounting of all the people killed, cities destroyed and hatred engendered. Would some “fair-minded” reporter look at the U.S. experience from Afghanistan since the 1980s to Iraq in the 1990s and 2000s to Libya and Syria this decade and judge that Washington has solved the problems  or made them markedly worse?

A few hours after Obama made his remarks, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the U.S. was again expanding its military actions in Iraq.

Why Terrorism?

While it rarely occurs to anyone to question that the stated goals of the U.S. government might not be the actual goals, it’s rarely thought to examine the stated goals of the 9/11 or Paris attackers. Many have rightly noted that the “terrorism” label is applied selectively, most recently regarding the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, but beyond the use of the word “terrorism,” the notion of explicitly articulating an attacker’s motive is selective.

When talking about events like the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, “motive” doesn’t enter into it; indeed, talk of “terrorism” or “war” is partly a substitute for thinking through a motive. In the case of the Planned Parenthood attack, it’s seemingly taken for granted that someone can be opposed to abortion rights and be opposed to violent attacks on abortion clinics. But it’s not a point taken to heart when examining U.S. — or French, or British — foreign policy.

One nation seems to have come to grips with this contradiction, at least to an extent: On March 11, 2004, a series of nearly simultaneous bombs exploded on four commuter trains in Madrid. The blasts killed 191 people and wounded nearly 2,000.

That same day, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1530 that condemned in “the strongest terms the bomb attacks in Madrid, Spain, perpetrated by the terrorist group ETA.” Of course, it quickly became evident ETA — a Basque separatist group — had nothing to do with it.

This was a rare instance of officialdom not immediately trying to “blame the Muslims” after a bombing. And for good reason. The then right-wing ruling party in Spain, the inaptly named Peoples Party, had dragged the country into the Iraq War a year before and, with elections looming just three days later, there was fear that if the attack was shown to be Mideast-related, the public would be furious. In fact, the day of the election, Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Before the Madrid bombing, the Peoples Party led the polls by 5 percentage points, but the Socialist Party ended up winning by 5 percent. The victorious Socialist Party had called for the removal of Spanish troops from Iraq during the campaign.

Part of what was pivotal and crucial was that there were substantial protests in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. This included protests under the banner “No to Terrorism — No to War.” [See picture.]

The Socialist Party had promised to remove Spanish troops by June 30, 2004, and, after winning the election, the troops were withdrawn a month earlier than expected. I can’t find a record of any Mideast-related attacks in Spain since.

The story has been different with Great Britain and France, which took more prominent roles in interventions in their former colonies, Iraq and Syria, respectively. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was President George W. Bush’s principal sidekick during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, while French President Francois Hollande has joined Obama as leading voices in demanding “regime change” in Syria and in escalating war talk about the Islamic State.

There’s been much made in some circles about the French, who were derided in the U.S. for not supporting the 2003 Iraq invasion, now leading the fight in Syria and Hollande’s pro-war rhetoric. But Syria was a former French colony.

Yet, the fact that the interventionist dynamics line up with the imperial histories is damning to the Western powers by playing into the anti-Western narrative that today’s interventions are just modern versions of the Christian world’s war on and exploitation of the Muslim world dating back to the Crusades.

This Western imperial mindset toward the Mideast is evident, including the case of Israel’s active settler colonial project against the Palestinians. It’s also evident in the alliance between the U.S. establishment and the Western-installed monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other regimes.

And the mindset is even evident in the case of Iran, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated after the nuclear agreement with Iran earlier this year at the Brookings Institution: “I don’t see Iran as the partner in this agreement, I see Iran as the subject of this agreement.”

The imperial legacy is shown in restrictions to domestic freedoms as well. There’s the rhetoric of “liberté” in France, but the state of emergency in France and prohibition of protests has its roots in laws enacted from France’s colonial war with Algeria. (Many in France also seem to be letting “the terrorists win” by abrogating their own freedoms.)

A Pressing Need

The proclaimed motives of those claiming responsibility for attacks like 9/11 were never meaningfully discussed. They should be now, especially given the widespread sense that ISIS is now adopting Al Qaeda’s tactic of striking at the West, rather than simply focusing on constructing its own Mideast caliphate.

Al Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden addressed the U.S. public just before the 2004 election thus: “Contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom — if so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike for example — Sweden? … But I am amazed at you. Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11th, Bush is still engaged in distortion, deception and hiding from you the real causes. And thus, the reasons are still there for a repeat of what occurred.”

Around the same time, said bin Laden: “When I saw those destroyed towers in Lebanon it sparked in my mind that the oppressors should be punished in the same way and that we should destroy towers in America so that they can taste what we tasted and so they will stop killing our women and children.” (See my piece “U.S. Policy: ‘Putting out the fire with gasoline?” based on interviews with Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean.)

This passage is almost never cited, and its context was outright falsified by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in his book, where he claims Bin Laden was “referring to the destruction of the Marine barracks and the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.” Robin Wright correctly notes in her book the context was that bin Laden was referring to “Israeli’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon with American arms.”

Paris and London should be looking toward Madrid’s example in taking steps toward shedding their imperial mindsets in stopping their war-obsessed elites. You can either be an emissary of empire or a decent democracy, but not both.

Hollande is clearly escalating the bombing that France has been conducting in Syria for over a year — now calling for “merciless” bombing. British Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing for Britain to join the bombing in Syria — in effect adopting a U.S. style of ecumenical imperialism — and not just in Britain’s traditional domains like Iraq.

It doesn’t have to be this way. History can change. And the fact is that there is a great legacy of anti-imperialism in the U.S. that’s continually overlooked. Mark Twain the pen name of author Samuel Clemens is revered now, but what’s typically ignored is Twain’s opposition to the U.S. becoming a global imperial power.

In 1898, he helped found the Anti-Imperialist League and wrote in 1900: “I have read carefully the Treaty of Paris [between the United States and Spain], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. … And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”

Of course, U.S. colonialism actually goes backs to its own roots as a settler colonial state against the native peoples of North America.

Though Spain is still a NATO member and gave NATO support during the 2011 bombing of Libya (which has led to a massive disaster there), Madrid at least took a step away from the abyss with some positive results. This is in contrast to “leaders” in Paris, London, Washington and elsewhere who are plunging headlong into it.

In 2013, a British soldier was killed in the English town of Woolwich, a southeast part of London. Michael Adebolajo, one of the killers, explained his aim in vivid terms — literally with blood and knives in hand:

“Remove your governments, they don’t care about you. You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? You think politicians are going to die? No, it’s going to be the average guy, like you and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so can all live in peace. So leave our lands and we can all live in peace. That’s all I have to say.” [transcript and video]

People should listen closely for motive to better understand the choices before us.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseiniResearch assistance: Michael Getzler. 




The West’s Deadly Mideast Fantasies

Exclusive: Madness or at least self-deception now dominates the West’s approach to the Middle East, with ostensibly rational leaders like Barack Obama and Francois Hollande fueling public hysteria about terrorism and pursuing “regime change” strategies proven to fail, as Mike Lofgren explains.

By Mike Lofgren

Around the time of the 2003 Iraq invasion and the silliness of “freedom fries” (served in the cafeterias of the House office buildings at the behest of ostensibly adult members of Congress), it was possible to believe that the nations of Europe were more sane about world events than panicked, suggestible Americans.

Then as now, the American public and particularly its overclass of politicians, media personalities, and think-tank commandos lurched drunkenly between chest-beating hubris about American military invincibility and the craven fear of small children listening to ghost stories. We were omnipotent, but somehow the faceless terrorists were as well.

Six decades ago, American journalist Garet Garrett diagnosed this bipolar syndrome as the characteristic behavior of a militaristic empire: “a complex of fear and vaunting.”

The Madrid train bombings of 2004 seemed to be evidence that Europeans were more level-headed. Despite 191 deaths, Europeans did not succumb to panic and turn their civic spaces into locked-down garrisons. Life went on, with people unterrorized and refusing to grant criminals the moral victory that comes when a society acts intimidated.

That was over a decade ago. Perhaps it was the successive shocks of the 2008 financial crisis, the euro currency crisis, the Greek crisis, the Ukraine crisis, and the refugee crisis that weakened the resistance of European governments and publics to contagious hysteria. The November 2015 Paris attacks (which killed fewer people than the Madrid bombings) have ignited a mental agitation equivalent to what Americans have been suffering under since 9/11.

After the attacks, French President François Hollande “declared war” on the so-called Islamic State, thereby granting it de facto nation status: the same strategic error that George W. Bush committed with respect to Al Qaeda after 9/11. In Belgium’s capital, fittingly the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, ordinary social life ground to a halt.

European and American attitudes appear to have converged. A decade ago, Americans were panicked over fantasies about yellowcake, aluminum tubes, and mobile biological warfare vans, but relatively indifferent to the Madrid attacks. Part of this was the natural belief that carnage in foreign countries is less alarming, but also the fact that the incumbent President Bush was the standard bearer of the persons most likely to become terrified and blame the President for whatever misfortune occurred in the world. They couldn’t very well scapegoat their own hero without suffering serious cognitive dissonance, so we heard not a peep from them.

Accordingly, “Bush’s brain,” Karl Rove, successfully waged the 2004 presidential campaign on the premise that Bush had “kept us safe,” insinuating against all reason that 9/11 was a harmless mulligan that that in no way reflected on the President’s competence. Madrid was never a political issue; neither the Democrats nor the media raised it in a fashion that could negatively implicate Bush.

The Paris attacks, by contrast, have generated a major inflection point in the 2016 presidential campaign. GOP presidential candidates now talk about registering Americans by religion and bringing back torture. Sen. Marco Rubio sees the Paris attacks as a positive development insofar as it allows him to talk about being a foreign policy tough guy instead of being compelled to explain his shaky personal finances. A sitting member of Congress, Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, has accused President Obama of having “stood up for ISIS.”

One might have thought that the president of France would come here and tamp down the panic-mongering and cheap political theater. It is, after all, the expected role of worldly and cynical Europeans to admonish Americans when their panic-mongering becomes embarrassingly silly. But no.

Hollande’s and Obama’s joint White House press conference of Nov. 24 was marked, once they performed their required denunciation of ISIS, by the French president’s curious obsession with overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We should make no mistake about it all the talk from Western governments about a Syrian political “transition,” or suggestions that Assad “must go,” amounts, in the middle of a bloody civil war, to saying that Assad must be violently deposed.

Hollande has entered the same cloud cuckoo land inhabited by Bush when the latter, in the wake of Al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington, claimed that the best way to defeat the religious fanatics of Al Qaeda was to invade the secular state of Iraq. Deposing Assad, the principal military opponent of ISIS, would be as monumentally idiotic as if the United States, on entering World War II, decided the most expeditious manner of conquering Nazi Germany would be to defeat Stalin’s Red Army.

But that is the official Syria policy of the United States, France, Britain and the other Western powers. Having whipped up public hysteria about jihadist terrorism (a scourge exacerbated by the West’s own previous military interventions), the finest minds of our NATO governments now propose to defeat it by overthrowing one of the few secular regimes in the Middle East, where Christians and other religious minorities have been protected.

Bashar al-Assad is likely a gangster. But when has that ever been a characteristic disqualifying one to be a partner of the United States government? Sisi of Egypt, Erdogan of Turkey, and the bloodstained tyrants who run Saudi Arabia are all members in good standing of the Washington Consensus. If Assad has signed his death warrant, it is because of his failure to sign onto that consensus, rather than any concrete misdeeds.

Assad has been content to rule his country and he makes no claims of universal jurisdiction based on some obscure religious hallucination. Who do Parisians or Londoners or New Yorkers believe is going to bomb their metro, underground or subway, or shoot up their restaurants: Assad or ISIS?

Yet surrealistically enough, members of the French media at the press conference, making overt political statements dressed up as questions, pressured the two heads of state for a timetable for getting rid of Assad. (The European media, it appears, have become as shallow and uninformed as the American media, and are complicit in the derangement raging throughout the West).

Assad knows what is in store for him should Western desires prevail: the grisly fates of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi illustrate what “regime change,” Western style, entails. And one would have thought we might have learned from both misadventures that deposing a secular dictator does not bring Jeffersonian democracy in its wake.

The core of any sensible grand strategy is to reduce the number of your enemies while increasing the number of your allies, and to end a conflict on favorable terms that do not give rise to future conflict. Both the United States and Europe have declared ISIS to be a grave, existential and imminent threat. In so doing, they have incited fear in their publics and increased the potential of a domestic right-wing extremist backlash.

Yet these powers simultaneously pursue a senseless strategy designed to multiply the number of enemies not only the Assad regime, but Russia and Iran and all but guarantee strategic failure against the ostensible grave threat of ISIS. Dumping Assad all but assures that Syria in the long term will either be run by Islamist extremists or dissolve into an anarchic no-man’s land like Libya, regardless of Western fantasies about a “moderate” Syrian opposition.

It is said that the sleep of reason breeds monsters. On both side of the Atlantic, the monster of unreason has crawled out of the political id and is controlling foreign policy.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His book about Congress, The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, appeared in paperback in August 2013. His new book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, will be published in January 2016.