A ‘Brexit’ Blow to the Establishment

Exclusive: British voters turned a deaf ear to scary warnings about leaving the E.U. and struck a blow against an out-of-touch, self-interested and incompetent Western Establishment, a message to the U.S., too, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote may cause short-term economic pain and present long-term geopolitical risks, but it is a splash of ice water in the face of the West’s Establishment, which has grown more and more insular, elitist and unaccountable over recent decades.

The West’s powers-that-be, in both the United States and the European Union, too often display contempt for real democracy, maintaining only the façade of respecting the popular will, manipulating voters at election time with red-meat politics and empty promises – before getting back to the business of comforting the comfortable and letting the comfortable afflict the afflicted.

That has been the grim and tiresome reality with America’s two parties and with the E.U.’s bureaucrats. The average American and the average European have every reason to see themselves as a lesser concern to the politicians and the pundits than the special interests which pay the money and call the tune.

In the stunning “Brexit” vote – with 52 percent wanting to abandon the 28-nation European Union – U.K. voters rejected the West’s politics-as-usual despite dire warnings about the downsides of leaving. They voted, in effect, to assert their own nationalistic needs and aspirations over a commitment to continental unity and its more universal goals.

But, in the vote, there was also a recognition that the West’s Establishment has grown corrupt and arrogant, routinely imposing on the people “experts” who claim to be neutral technocrats or objective scholars but whose pockets are lined with fat pay checks from “prestigious” think tanks funded by the Military-Industrial Complex or by lucrative revolving-door trips to investment banks on Wall Street or The City.

Despite the Establishment’s self-image as a “meritocracy,” its corrupted experts and haughty bureaucrats don’t even demonstrate basic competence anymore. They have led Europe and the United States into catastrophe after catastrophe, both economically and geopolitically. And, there is another troubling feature of this Establishment: its lack of accountability.

In the United States, the rewards and punishments have been turned upside-down, with the benighted politicians and pundits who pushed for the Iraq War in 2003 still dominating the government and the media, from Hillary Clinton’s impending Democratic presidential nomination to the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

And, the Iraq War disaster was not a one-off affair. The neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks have their fingerprints on other “regime change” messes, from Libya to Ukraine to Syria (still in the works), with their predictable recommendations for more violence and more belligerence. Yet, they have impunity for their crimes and incompetence. They fail up.

Establishment Doesn’t Know Best

So, the West’s Establishment can’t even argue that it knows best anymore, which always had been its ace in the hole. The various insurgents could be painted as the dangerous option – and that is sometimes true as we’ve seen with Donald Trump – but it is arguably a toss-up as to whether Clinton or Trump would be the bigger risk to the world’s future.

Trump may be a blustering buffoon but he challenges the neocon “group thinks” about the wisdom of expanding the West’s war in Syria and launching a costly and existentially risky New Cold War against nuclear-armed Russia and China. Clinton surrounds herself with neocons and liberal hawks and shares their obsession with overthrowing the government of Syria and provoking Russia and China with military operations near their borders.

Trump and “Brexit” advocates also reject the Establishment’s neoliberal consensus on “free trade,” which has depressed (or eliminated) the wages of American and European workers while the benefits accrue mostly to financial and political elites. The Establishment’s embrace of the “winners” and its disdain for the “losers” have further enflamed today’s populism.

Yet, there are undeniably ugly features in the populist sentiment sweeping the U.S. and Europe. Some of it is driven by bigotry toward non-whites, especially immigrants. Some is inspired by wild conspiracy theories from a population that has understandably lost all faith in what it hears from Washington, Brussels and other capitals. Trump has espoused the scary know-nothing notion that the scientific evidence of global warming is “a hoax.”

There is always something unsettling when an incipient revolution takes shape and starts tearing down the old order. What follows is not always better.

In the end, the American election – like the “Brexit” referendum – may come down to whether voters feel more comfortable sticking with the status quo at least for a while longer or whether they want to blow up the Establishment and gamble on the consequences.

Right now, Clinton and the Democrats are carrying the banner of the Establishment, while Trump and his Republican insurgents fly the Jolly Roger. In a political year when the anti-establishment wave seems to be cresting, the Democrats may regret their choice of a legacy, status-quo candidate.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Two Corrupt Establishments”; “Democrats – Too Clever by Half on Clinton”; “The Coming Democratic Crack-up”; “Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill“; and “The State Department’s Collective Madness.”]

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 ‘Safe’ Risk of Hillary Clinton

Exclusive: The U.K.’s “Brexit” vote underscores the power of this year’s anti-establishment politics, a warning to Democrats as they nominate status-quo candidate Hillary Clinton, a “safe” choice who may prove very risky, says Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

With Hillary Clinton the all-but-official Democratic nominee, growing numbers of liberals are trying to talk themselves into backing someone they dislike (Hillary Clinton) versus someone they downright loathe (Donald Trump).

Noam Chomsky paved the way last January by announcing that he would “absolutely” vote for Clinton if he lived in Ohio or some other swing state instead of Massachusetts, where he teaches at MIT.

More recently, Nation columnist Gary Younge advocated voting for Clinton regardless of which state you live in because while she’s “merely bad,” Trump “represent[s] an existential threat to basic democratic rights.”

Frances Fox Piven said roughly the same thing at last weekend’s “People’s Summit” in Chicago: “I’m going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to work for her. … Lesser-evilism may be a curse word, but I think it’s reasonable. Another four years of a deceptive neo-liberal government, I’m going to swallow it.”

All of which begs not just one question but two. The first, obviously, is whether Clinton really is the lesser evil. The answer: domestically, there’s no argument. Say what you will about Clinton, at least she’s not a raging bigot the way Trump is.

But things are not so clear once you leave the U.S. and venture out into the great wide world beyond.  Trump’s foreign-policy ideas are all over the map. He has vowed to tear up the nuclear accord with Iran and blasted Obama for “abandon[ing] our missile defense plans with Poland and the Czech Republic.” In practically the same breath, he then calls for better relations with Russia even though Russia sees any such forward-based anti-missile system as a direct threat.

Trump wants closer relations with Israel if such a thing is possible given Washington’s long record of obsequiousness to Tel Aviv, and he wants to expand the military. But he’s also an opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even if it took him until 2004 to wake up to what was going on, and says that U.S. “actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have helped unleash ISIS,” which is of course correct. Last but not least, he opposes military action aimed at ousting Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Weighing Foreign Policy

So Trump’s foreign-policy stances are contradictory and ill thought out, yet at times almost reasonable and sane, especially by Washington standards. This is not the case with Clinton. To the contrary, she is a hawk through and through. Her rhetoric was every bit as ferocious as George W. Bush’s in the days after 9/11, if not more so.

She voted for the Authorization to Use Military Force, which gave the go-ahead for the invasion of Afghanistan, and also for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. She persuaded President Obama to pursue “regime change” in Libya and spent much of March 2011 recruiting ultra-rich Qatar to join in the effort. But she said nothing when Qatar then poured $400 million into the hands of Islamist rebels who proceeded to spread chaos throughout the country. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Entangled’ Foreign Policy.”]

Clinton has been no less reckless with regard to Syria.  She beat Obama to the punch in calling for Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow, she’s consistently pushed for stepped-up support for the rebels, and, as recently as April, she reiterated her call for a “no-fly zone” even though it would require massive military intervention and would almost certainly mean a confrontation with Russia.

So if Clinton is ahead on domestic policy, Trump is better abroad. It’s a choice between racism and war, which itself is an indictment of America’s increasingly rightwing political system. But since U.S. foreign policy directly affects 20 times more people than domestic – i.e. seven billion versus 322 million – then there’s no doubt as to whom the “lesser-evilism” award goes to. It goes to Trump.

But the other question that the pro-Clinton argument begs is one of political viability. People such as Chomsky, Younge, and Piven wouldn’t urge a vote for Clinton if they didn’t think she could win. Instead, they’d vote Green, Socialist Equality, or for some other leftist party. So they argue in favor of pulling the lever with one hand and holding one’s nose with the other because they think she can pull it off.

But can she really? Again, the picture is less clear than is generally assumed. To be sure, Trump is currently going through a rough patch. He’s having trouble transitioning from the primaries to the general election, and his campaign is such a shambles that The New Republic recently predicted that he’ll lose as big in November as Barry Goldwater did in 1964.

But forecasts like this are not terribly meaningful this early in the game, especially in an election year as topsy-turvy as this one. Rather than polls, what matters at this point are politics, i.e. a sense of the candidates’ relative ideological strengths and weaknesses. And it’s in this regard that Clinton is more vulnerable than her backers apparently realize.

Clueless Candidate

Her speech in Cleveland following the June 12 Orlando massacre is a good example why. She began – inappropriately in view of the tragic circumstances – with the usual glib shout-outs to local pols:

“I want to thank your extraordinary senator, Sherrod Brown, for his leadership. …  I want to thank your congresswoman, Marcia Fudge, who is both indomitable and indefatigable….  I want to acknowledge the mayor, Mayor Jackson, who was here, County Executive Budish….”

It’s the kind of thing that Clinton can do in her sleep, and it sounds like it too, i.e. robotic and impersonal.  When she got to the serious stuff, the clichés only multiplied:

“This is a moment when all Americans need to stand together … we must attack it [i.e. terrorism] with clear eyes, steady hands, unwavering determination, and pride in our country and our values … the barbarity that we face from radical jihadists is profound…”

Once again, the effect was thoughtless and frozen. But then came something truly bizarre:

“Now, the third area that demands attention is preventing radicalization and countering efforts by ISIS and other international terrorist networks to recruit in the United States and Europe. For starters, it is long past time for the Saudis, the Qataris and the Kuwaitis and others to stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations. And they should stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.”

Why bizarre? Simply because Clinton has been a national figure for two decades as First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State, yet this was a rare recognition that there was something wrong with the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Otherwise, there has been almost nothing but praise. When the State Department negotiated a record $60-billion arms deal with Riyadh in 2010, for instance, her officials stated (somewhat redundantly) that the sale would benefit the Middle East “by deepening our security relationship with a key partner with whom we’ve enjoyed a solid security relationship for nearly seventy years.”

How do you have a solid security relationship with a country that funds extremist mosques that function as a terrorist breeding ground?

When King Abdullah died in January 2015, she and her husband put out a statement praising the Saudi monarch “for his support of efforts for peace in the Middle East” and “the kingdom’s humanitarian efforts around the world.” Since when do you advance the cause of peace by funding Al Qaeda?

To be fair, Clinton was surprisingly frank – once.  In December 2009, she wrote in a State Department memo:

“While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority. Due in part to intense focus by the USG over the last several years, Saudi Arabia has begun to make important progress on this front and has responded to terrorist financing concerns raised by the United States through proactively investigating and detaining financial facilitators of concern. Still, donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Double-Talk about Saudis

The language was tough and unsparing. But the memo is the exception that proves the rule since it was a secret in-house communication that only saw the light of day when Wikileaks put it on the Internet – a disclosure, by the way, that Clinton assailed as “an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.” (Full quote here starting at 1:34.)

If it’s long past time now for the Saudis to cease funding extremist organizations, why wasn’t it long past time then? Why has Clinton repeatedly assured the American people that everything is fine when, as she now concedes, America’s “friends” are funding extremist forces that are trying to kill Americans in the streets?

Trump can be counted on to hammer at such themes, and the more he does, the more voters will want to know. Indeed, Trump followed up her remarks in Cleveland by posting a few hours later on Facebook: “Crooked Hillary says we must call on Saudi Arabia and other countries to stop funding hate. I am calling on her to immediately return the $25 million plus she got from them for the Clinton Foundation!”

Actually, the problem is worse since, if one includes other Gulf states such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as high-ranking businessmen, the amount of Persian Gulf money flowing to the Clinton family foundation is not $25 million, but anywhere from $51 million to $75 million. That’s a lot of dough.  So voters will want to know whether Clinton intentionally held off criticizing the Gulf monarchies because she wanted them to fork over as soon as she stepped down as Secretary of State and that she is only doing so now because the money is in the bag and there is nothing to lose.

Trump plays the politics of fear, as everyone knows. But he also thrives by citing examples of corruption, hypocrisy and incompetence, and Clinton exemplifies all three. Since she entered the Senate, Al Qaeda has grown from a tiny band of conspirators to a major military force wreaking havoc from Indonesia to California. Yet now she expects voters to show their thanks by propelling her into the White House.

Voters just might do it – if, that is, Trump is unable to get his campaign in proper working order, if there are no more terrorist outrages like San Bernardino and Orlando, and if the economy stays afloat.  Otherwise, voters may declare themselves fed up with an establishment candidate who obviously doesn’t know what she’s doing. In that case, they may vote for a know-nothing bigot who at least stands for change.

That’s just what voters have done in Britain by deciding to leave the European Union – and a similar anti-establishment uprising may occur in the United States. If so, liberals may once again find themselves in bed with not just a “lesser evil” but with a loser.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in May focused on the new Cold War with Russia, the U.S. presidential election race, and the costs – financial, ethical and human – from endless war.

Russia Rises From the Mat” by Gilbert Doctorow, May 1, 2016

Shying Away from 9/11 Evidence” by Kristen Breitweiser, May 3, 2016

If Russia Had ‘Freed’ Canada” by Joe Lauria, May 5, 2016

A Need to Clear Up Clinton Questions” by Ray McGovern, May 5, 2016

How Obama Legalized the War on Terror” by Michael Brenner, May 7, 2016

The Secret Behind the Yemen War” by Daniel Lazare, May 7, 2016

Price for Witnessing Against War” by Ray McGovern, May 8, 2016

China Closes the Innovation Gap” by John V. Walsh, May 9, 2016

A Longwinded and Winding Rhodes” by James W Carden, May 10, 2016

Exploiting Global Warming for Geo-Politics” by Jonathan Marshall, May 10, 2016

Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill” by Robert Parry, May 11, 2016

Army Chaplain Resigns over Drone War” by Ann Wright, May 12, 2016

Donald Trump’s Unsurprising Surprise” by Mike Lofgren, May 12, 2016

LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason’” by Robert Parry, May 13, 2016

Democrats, Too Clever by Half on Clinton” by Robert Parry, May 13, 2016

Political Pressure Stymies US-Iran Ties” by Gareth Porter, May 14, 2016

Escalations in a New Cold War” by Jonathan Marshall, May 14, 2016

Refugees from Endless War” by Ann Wright, May 15, 2016

The Coming Democratic Crackup” by Robert Parry, May 16, 2016

Muslim Memories of West’s Imperialism” by William R. Polk, May 17, 2016

The Danger of Demonization” by Robert Parry, May 17, 2016

Global Warming Accelerates” by Nicholas C. Arguimbau, May 18, 2016

US Media as Conduits of Propaganda” by Robert Parry, May 18, 2016

Up Close on Venezuela’s Crisis” by Lisa Sullivan, May 19, 2016

The Clinton-Colombia Connection” by Jonathan Marshall, May 19, 2016

US Downplays a New Syrian Massacre” by Daniel Lazare, May 20, 2016

The Widening Cracks of Zionism” by Lawrence Davidson, May 20, 2016

Pushing Russia Toward War” by Alastair Crooke, May 20, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s ‘House of Cards’” by Greg Maybury, May 21, 2016

Trump’s Five Questions on US Foreign Policy” by John V. Walsh, May 22, 2016

Intel Vets Urge Fast Report on Clinton’s Emails” by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, May 23, 2016

Does Russia Have Reason to Fear?” by James W. Carden, May 23, 2016

More Game-Playing on MH-17?” by Robert Parry, May 24, 2016

NFL’s War Against Science and Reason” by Robert Parry, May 25, 2016

Clinton’s Imperious Brush-off of Email Rules” by Ray McGovern, May 26, 2016

America’s Worst-Laid Plans” by Michael Brenner, May 27, 2016

Eerie Silence about a New World War” by John Pilger, May 27, 2016

Ticking Closer to Nuclear Midnight” by Jonathan Marshall, May 27, 2016

New Nukes for a New Cold War” by Chuck Spinney, May 28, 2016

Tragic Valor of Marines at Con Thien” by Don North, May 29, 2016

Democrats at a Clinton/Sanders Crossroad” by Lisa Pease, May 31, 2016

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