Exclusive: The prospect of Donald Trump in the White House alarms many people but bashing him over his contrarian views on NATO and U.S.-Russian relations could set the stage for disasters under President Hillary Clinton, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
The widespread disdain for Donald Trump and the fear of what his presidency might mean have led to an abandonment of any sense of objectivity by many Trump opponents and, most notably, the mainstream U.S. news media. If Trump is for something, it must be bad and must be transformed into one more club to use for hobbling his candidacy.
While that attitude may be understandable given Trump’s frequently feckless and often offensive behavior – he seems not to know basic facts and insults large swaths of the world’s population – this Trump bashing also has dangerous implications because some of his ideas deserve serious debate rather than blanket dismissal.
Amid his incoherence and insults, Trump has raised valid points on several important questions, such as the risks involved in the voracious expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders and the wisdom of demonizing Russia and its internally popular President Vladimir Putin.
Over the past several years, Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment has pushed a stunning policy of destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia in pursuit of a “regime change” in Moscow. This existentially risky strategy has taken shape with minimal substantive debate behind a “group think” driven by anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda. (All we hear is what’s wrong with Putin and Russia: He doesn’t wear a shirt! He’s the new Hitler! Putin and Trump have a bro-mance! Russian aggression! Their athletes cheat!)
Much as happened in the run-up to the disastrous Iraq War in 2002-2003, the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies bully from the public square anyone who doesn’t share these views. Any effort to put Russia’s behavior in context makes you a “Putin apologist,” just like questioning the Iraq-WMD certainty of last decade made you a “Saddam apologist.”
But this new mindlessness – now justified in part to block Trump’s path to the White House – could very well set the stage for a catastrophic escalation of big-power tensions under a Hillary Clinton presidency. Former Secretary of State Clinton has already surrounded herself with neocons and liberal hawks who favor expanding the war against Syria’s government, want to ratchet up tensions with Iran, and favor shipping arms to the right-wing and virulently anti-Russian regime in Ukraine, which came to power in a 2014 coup supported by U.S. policymakers and money.
By lumping Trump’s few reasonable points together with his nonsensical comments – and making anti-Russian propaganda the only basis for any public debate – Democrats and the anti-Trump press are pushing the United States toward a conflict with Russia.
And, for a U.S. press corps that prides itself on its “objectivity,” this blatantly biased approach toward a nominee of a major political party is remarkably unprofessional. But the principle of objectivity has been long since abandoned as the mainstream U.S. media transformed itself into little more than an outlet for U.S. government foreign-policy narratives, no matter how dishonest or implausible.
To conform with the neocon-driven narratives, much recent history has been lost. For instance, few Americans realize that some of President Barack Obama’s most notable foreign policy achievements resulted from cooperation with Putin and Russia, arguably more so than any other “friendly” leader or “allied” nation.
For instance, in summer 2013, Obama was under intense neocon/liberal-hawk pressure to bomb the Syrian military supposedly for crossing his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons after a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
Yet, hearing doubts from the U.S. intelligence community about the Assad regime’s guilt, Obama balked at a military strike that – we now know – would have played into the hands of Syrian jihadists who some intelligence analysts believe were the ones behind the false-flag sarin attack to trick the United States into directly intervening in the civil war on their side.
But Obama still needed a path out of the corner that he had painted himself into and it was provided by Putin and Russia pressuring Assad to surrender all his chemical weapons, a clear victory for Obama regardless of who was behind the sarin attack.
Putin and Russia helped Obama again in convincing Iran to accept tight restraints on its nuclear program, an agreement that may mark Obama’s most significant foreign policy success. Those negotiations came to life in 2013 (not coincidentally after Secretary of State Clinton, who allied herself more with the bomb-bomb-bomb Iran faction led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had resigned and was replaced by John Kerry).
As the negotiating process evolved, Russia played a key role in bringing Iran along, offering ways for Iran to rid itself of its processed nuclear stockpiles and get the medical research materials it needed. Without the assistance of Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the landmark Iranian nuclear deal might never have happened.
Obama recognized the value of this Russian help but he also understood the political price that he would pay if he were closely associated with Putin, who was already undergoing a thorough demonization in the U.S. and European mainstream media. So, Obama mostly worked with Putin under the table while joining in the ostracism of Putin above the table.
But Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment – and its allied mainstream media – check-mated Obama’s double-talking game in 2013 by aggressively supporting a regime-change strategy in Ukraine where pro-Russian elected President Viktor Yanukovych was under mounting pressure from western Ukrainians who wanted closer ties to Europe and who hated Russia.
Leading neocon thinkers unveiled their new Ukraine strategy shortly after Putin helped scuttle their dreams for a major bombing campaign against Assad’s regime in Syria. Since the 1990s, the neocons had targeted the Assad dynasty – along with Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq and the Shiite-controlled government in Iran – for “regime change.” The neocons got their way in Iraq in 2003 but their program stalled because of the disastrous Iraq War.
However, in 2013, the neocons saw their path forward open again in Syria, especially after the sarin attack, which killed hundreds of civilians and was blamed on Assad in a media-driven rush to judgment. Obama’s hesitancy to strike and then Putin’s assistance in giving Obama a way out left the neocons furious. They began to recognize the need to remove Putin if they were to proceed with their Mideast “regime change” dreams.
In late September 2013 – a month after Obama ditched the plans to bomb Syria – neocon National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman wrote in The Washington Post that Ukraine was now “the biggest prize” but also was a steppingstone toward the even bigger “regime change” prize in Moscow. Gershman, whose NED is funded by Congress, wrote:
“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
By late 2013 and early 2014, with Gershman’s NED financing Ukraine’s anti-government activists and journalists and with the open encouragement of neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain, the prospects for “regime change” in Ukraine were brightening. With neo-Nazi and other Ukrainian ultra-nationalists firebombing police, the political crisis in Kiev deepened.
Meanwhile, Putin was focused on the Sochi Winter Olympics and the threat that the games could be disrupted by terrorism. So, with the Kremlin distracted, Ukraine’s Yanukovych tried to fend off his political crisis while limiting the violence.
However, on Feb. 20, 2014, snipers fired on both police and protesters in the Maidan square and the Western media jumped to the conclusion that Yanukovych was responsible (even though later investigations have indicated that the sniper attack was more likely carried out by neo-Nazi groups to provoke the chaos that followed).
A Successful Coup
On Feb. 21, a shaken Yanukovych agreed to a European-brokered deal in which he surrendered some of his powers and agreed to early elections. He also succumbed to Western pressure that he pull back his police. However, on Feb. 22, the neo-Nazis and other militants seized on that opening to take over government buildings and force Yanukovych and other officials to flee for their lives.
The U.S. State Department and its Western allies quickly recognized the coup regime as the “legitimate” government of Ukraine. But the coup provoked resistance from the ethnic Russian populations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, political uprisings that the new Kiev regime denounced as “terrorist” and countered with an “Anti-Terrorism Operation” or ATO.
When Russian troops – already in Crimea as part of the Sevastopol naval basing agreement – protected the people on the peninsula from attacks by the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, the intervention was denounced in the West as a “Russian invasion.” Crimean authorities also organized a referendum in which more than 80 percent of the voters participated and favored leaving Ukraine and rejoining Russia by a 96 percent margin. When Moscow agreed, that became “Russian aggression.”
Although the Kremlin refused appeals from eastern Ukraine for a similar arrangement, Russia provided some assistance to the rebels resisting the new authorities in Ukraine. Those rebels then declared their own autonomous republics.
Although this historical reality – if understood by the American people – would put the Ukrainian crisis in a very different context, it has been effectively blacked out of what the American public is allowed to hear. All the mainstream media talks about is “Russian aggression” and how Putin provoked the Ukraine crisis as part of some Hitlerian plan to conquer Europe.
Trump, in his bumbling way, tries to reference the real history to explain his contrarian views regarding Russia, Ukraine and NATO, but he is confronted by a solid wall of “group think” asserting only one acceptable way to see this complex crisis. Rather than allow a serious debate on these very serious issues, the mainstream U.S. media simply laughs at Trump’s supposed ignorance.
The grave danger from this media behavior is that it will empower the neocons and liberal hawks already nesting inside Hillary Clinton’s campaign to prepare for a new series of geopolitical provocations once Clinton takes office. By opportunistically buying into this neocon pro-war narrative now, Democrats may find themselves with buyer’s remorse as they become the war party of 2017.
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).