Pushing for a Lucrative New Cold War

The New Cold War promises untold riches for the Military-Industrial Complex, causing hawks inside the Obama administration to push for more hostilities with Russia, as in a Syrian case study dissected by Gareth Porter for Truthdig.

By Gareth Porter

Airstrikes by the United States and its allies against two Syrian army positions Sept. 17 killed at least 62 Syrian troops and wounded dozens more. The attack was quickly treated as a non-story by the U.S. news media; U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) claimed the strikes were carried out in the mistaken belief that Islamic State forces were being targeted, and the story disappeared.

President Barack Obama waits backstage before making his last address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 20, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The circumstances surrounding the attack, however, suggested it may have been deliberate, its purpose being to sabotage President Obama’s policy of coordinating with Russia against Islamic State and Nusra Front forces in Syria as part of a U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement.

Normally the U.S. military can cover up illegal operations and mistakes with a pro forma military investigation that publicly clears those responsible. But the air attack on Syrian troops also involved three foreign allies in the anti-Islamic State named Operation Inherent Resolve: the United Kingdom, Denmark and Australia. So, the Pentagon had to agree to bring a general from one of those allies into the investigation as a co-author of the report. Consequently, the summary of the investigation released by CENTCOM on Nov. 29 reveals far more than the Pentagon and CENTCOM brass would have desired.

Thanks to that heavily redacted report, we now have detailed evidence that the commander of CENTCOM’s Air Force component attacked the Syrian army deliberately.

Motives Behind a Pentagon Scheme

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and the military establishment had a compelling motive in the attack of Sept. 17 — namely, interest in maintaining the narrative of a “new Cold War” with Russia, which is crucial to supporting and expanding the budgets of their institutions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

When negotiations on a comprehensive cease-fire agreement with Russia, including provisions for U.S.-Russian cooperation on air operations against Islamic State and Nusra Front, appeared to gain traction last spring, the Pentagon began making leaks to the news media about its opposition to the Obama policy. Those receiving the leaks included neoconservative hawk Josh Rogin, who had just become a columnist at The Washington Post.

After Secretary of State John Kerry struck an agreement Sept. 9 that contained a provision to set up a “Joint Integration Center” (JIC) for U.S.-Russian cooperation in targeting, the Pentagon sought to reverse it. Carter grilled Kerry for hours in an effort to force him to retreat from that provision, according to The New York Times.

Lobbying against the JIC continued the following week after Obama approved the full agreement. When the commander of the Central Command’s Air Force component, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigan, was asked about the JIC at a press briefing Sept. 13, he seemed to suggest that opponents of the provision were still hoping to avoid cooperating with the Russians on targeting. He told reporters that his readiness to join such a joint operation was “going to depend on what the plan ends up being.”

But the Pentagon also had another motive for hitting Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor. On June 16, Russian planes attacked a remote outpost of a CIA-supported armed group, called the New Syrian Army, in Deir Ezzor province near the confluence of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. The Pentagon demanded an explanation for the attack but never got it.

For senior leaders of the Pentagon and others in the military, a strike against Syrian army positions in Deir Ezzor would not only offer the prospect of avoiding the threat of cooperating with Russia militarily, it would also be payback for what many believed was a Russian poke in the U.S. eye.

Evidence in the Investigation Report

On Sept. 16, Gen. Harrigan, who also headed the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at al-Udeid airbase in Qatar, set in motion the planning for the attack on the two Syrian army bases. The process began, according to the investigation report, on Sept. 16, when Harrigan’s command identified two fighting positions near the Deir Ezzor airport as belonging to Islamic State, based on drone images showing that the personnel there were not wearing uniform military garb and, supposedly, displayed no flags.

Map of Syria.

But, as a former intelligence analyst told me, that was not a legitimate basis for a positive identification of the sites as Islamic State-controlled because Syrian army troops in the field frequently wear a wide range of uniforms and civilian clothing,

The report contains the incriminating revelation that the authorities at CAOC had plenty of intelligence warning that its identification was flat wrong. Before the strike, the regional station of the Air Force’s Distributed Common Ground System, which is the Air Force’s primary intelligence organ for interpreting data from aerial surveillance, contested the original identification of the units, sending its own assessment that they could not possibly be Islamic State.

Another prestrike intelligence report, moreover, pointed to what appeared to be a flag at one of the two sites. And a map of the area that was available to intelligence analysts at CAOC clearly showed that the sites in question were occupied by the Syrian army. Harrigan and his command apparently claimed, implausibly, that they were unaware of any of this information.

Further evidence that Harrigan meant to strike Syrian army targets was the haste with which the strike was carried out, the day after the initial intelligence assessment was made. The investigation summary acknowledges that the decision to go ahead with a strike so soon after the target had been initially assessed was a violation of Air Force regulations.

It had started out as a “deliberate target development” process — one that did not require an immediate decision and could therefore allow for a more careful analysis of intelligence. That was because the targets were clearly fixed ground positions, so there was no need for an immediate strike. Nevertheless, the decision was made to change it to a “dynamic targeting process,” normally reserved for situations in which the target is moving, to justify an immediate strike on Sept. 17.

No one in Harrigan’s command, including the commander himself, would acknowledge having made that decision. That would have been a tacit admission that the attack was far more than an innocent mistake.

The Deir Ezzor strike appears to have been timed to provoke a breakdown of the cease-fire before the JIC could be formed, which was originally to be after seven days of effective truce — meaning Sept. 19. Obama added a requirement for the completion of humanitarian shipments from the Turkish border, but the opponents of the JIC could not count on the Syrian government continuing to hold up the truck convoys. That meant that Harrigan would need to move urgently to carry out the strike.

Perhaps the single most damaging piece of evidence that the strike was knowingly targeting Syrian army bases is the fact that Harrigan’s command sent the Russians very specific misleading information on the targets of the operation. It informed its Russian contact under the deconfliction agreement that the two targets were nine kilometers south of Deir Ezzor airfield, but in fact they were only three and six kilometers away, respectively, according to the summary. Accurate information about the locations would have set off alarm bells among the Russians, because they would have known immediately that Syrian army bases were being targeted, as the U.S. co-author of the investigation report, Gen. Richard Coe, acknowledged to reporters.

“Who is in Charge?”

Gen. Harrigan’s strike worked like a charm in terms of the interests of those behind it. The hope of provoking a Syrian-Russian decision to end the cease-fire and thus the plan for the JIC was apparently based on the assumption that it would be perceived by both Russians and Syrians as evidence that Obama was not in control of U.S. policy and therefore could not be trusted as a partner in managing the conflict. That assumption proved correct.

Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN, addresses the Security Council meeting on Syria. Sept. 25, 2016. (UN Photo)

When Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, spoke to reporters at a press briefing outside a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on the U.S. attack on Syrian troops, he asked rhetorically, “Who is in charge in Washington? The White House or the Pentagon?”

Seemingly no longer convinced that Obama was in control of his own military in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled the plug on his U.S. strategy. Two days after the attacks, Syria announced, with obvious Russian support, that the cease-fire was no longer in effect.

The political-diplomatic consequences for Syrians and for the United States, however, were severe. The Russian and Syrian air forces began a campaign of heavy airstrikes in Aleppo that became the single focus of media attention on Syria. In mid-December, Secretary of State Kerry recalled in an interview with The Boston Globe that he had had an agreement with the Russians that would have given the United States “a veto over their flights. …” He lamented that “you’d have a different situation there now if we’d been able to do that.”

But it didn’t happen, Kerry noted, because “we had people in our government who were bitterly opposed to doing that.” What he didn’t say was that those people had the power and the audacity to frustrate the will of the President of the United States.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

22 comments for “Pushing for a Lucrative New Cold War

  1. Brad Benson
    January 9, 2017 at 17:12

    Carter should have been fired on the spot.

    • backwardsevolution
      January 9, 2017 at 19:09

      Brad – yep.

  2. backwardsevolution
    January 9, 2017 at 13:28

    Gareth Porter – really, really good article! Thank you. It’s almost too much to take in.

  3. Mark K
    January 8, 2017 at 10:51

    Not sure what is required to resort to a Deep State hypothesis on this one.
    Assume Obama wanted to investigate and cashier Air Force Gen. Harrigan. How was he going to go about doing that? I suppose he could issue a direct order which would proceed through channels successfully but how many film clips of Senators McCain and Graham and special military analyses in Wapo and NYT would he have to endure lamenting the unfounded destruction of a patriot and good man’s career?
    He could order an investigation but would have to assume there are absolutely no records implicating anyone in intentional actions. Unlike Mi Lai, there doesn’t appear to be any universal disgust in the military. So there will not be any leaks/discovery of evidence upon which to base an investigation.

    Obama walks around with a few hundred reporters and cameras and mike booms pacing backwards 20 feet in front of him so he is well acquainted with how the media works. No “news”, no eyeballs = no circulation, no ratings and no advertising.
    Sex sells but war sells better.
    So, he did nothing.

    After all, he had covered his right wing by supporting the Afghan war and it seems that concern over this kind of dynamic is what led to the absurd surge in Afghanistan:give the Marines 3 months to get to Helmland , one “fighting season” to subdue it and 3 months to come home in time for the elections.
    Oh, the Marines are going back to Helmland, only 300… For now.

    Anyway, I assess with low-medium confidence that he doesn’t seem too concerned about fanning the Russians-are-coming flames as it is just domestic politics. Maybe Space Command can shoot down a few Dish satellites to save us from RT.

  4. John Neal Spangler
    January 7, 2017 at 21:35

    These generals need to be court martialed and punished severely, if we don’t we will be living in a de facto military dictatorship. Obama just wimped out and campaigned for Hillary shirking his clear constitutional duties.

    • backwardsevolution
      January 9, 2017 at 13:26

      John Neal – I agree, but I’m wondering whether the order really did come from Obama. Don’t forget that the U.S. wanted to level Syria, blame the Sarin gas attack on Assad (it’s been proven it wasn’t the Syrians who did this), but Putin stepped in and said that Syria would hand over its gas to the U.S. Putin diffused the situation. Then when the U.S. was getting all uppity with Iran, Putin stepped in again to calm everything down. This made the U.S. furious! I mean, how are they going to coup and level countries under false pretenses when someone keeps stepping in and stealing their game? Putin has made Obama look like the idiot he is, so I could see Obama ordering the strike, or at least condoning it.

      It sure would be interesting to have a hearing on what really occurred here though, wouldn’t it? Was it a case of insubordination? A mistake (highly unlikely)? Or did the order come from above?

  5. bluto
    January 7, 2017 at 19:28

    coming talk

    ‘The Successful 2nd American Revolution and Seismic Transformations of Jewish Power in the US and Israel’

    WHEN: Sunday Jan 15 2017, 2:00 – 3:15 pm
    WHERE: Otay Branch San Diego Public Library,
    3003 Coronado Ave, San Diego, Ca 92154
    WHO: Dr Lance Dale


    The Successful 2nd American Revolution

    -The Successful 2nd American Revolution Playbook

    ‘Obama as a Transformational American President regarding Jewish Power in US and Israel’. A ‘Club of 2’

    ‘Red Lines on Bibi’ – UN SCR 2334 and American Recognition of Palestine. Legacy as ‘man who lost Israel’
    ‘Bibi, Trump, and the onrushing ‘Palestine Annexation Law-Woodchipper’.

    ‘Checkmated and desperate Knesset’s passage of the Palestine Annexation Law’ into the Ch 6/possible Chapter 7 teeth of UN Sec Co Resolution 2334

    Transitioning to ‘1P1V1S One State’, ‘1P1V1S One State replacing Apartheid-One State’, Marwan Barghouti. 10 million Palestinians and 6 million Jews – do the math

    The Cost of Netanyahu’s continued pursuit of passing the Palestine Annexation Law – triggered/greenlighted Chapter 7 upgrade to UN SCR 2334, and some Israeli summary removal as head of state apparently ‘on the table’, calls for it from Israel x 5, triggered ICC hot in flagrante delicto cases

    ‘One Big Bag’ – the entirety of the Kahanists swept up together – the Apartheid and the Kahanist Neocons, etc, ‘Bibi and Trump as Israel and the Israel Lobby’

    American Recognition of Palestine – shifts in American media coverage

    Diskin/CIS needs Chapter 7 upgrade of UN SCR 2334 to dismantle Apartheid

    Q and A after talk

  6. Drew Hunkins
    January 7, 2017 at 19:05

    “The political-diplomatic consequences for Syrians and for the United States, however, were severe. The Russian and Syrian air forces began a campaign of heavy airstrikes in Aleppo that became the single focus of media attention on Syria”

    In other words, the consequences were to the point where Russia could take the gloves off and liberate east Aleppo.

  7. Zachary Smith
    January 7, 2017 at 17:04

    When Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, spoke to reporters at a press briefing outside a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on the U.S. attack on Syrian troops, he asked rhetorically, “Who is in charge in Washington? The White House or the Pentagon?”

    For all we know Obama secretly ordered the attack. But if he didn’t, he’s just a figurehead President. A real and actual Commander In Chief would have had heads rolling in the face of such disobedience.

    • January 7, 2017 at 19:25

      To understand the weird zig-zags in U.S. policy we need to understand the context of these events and that involves our understanding of the Deep State (DS). In the past few years, a nasty struggle for power within the DS. The crude way of looking at the situation can be seen as “globalists” (pro-Empire) in conflict with “nationalists” (anti-Empire). This struggle seems to be out in the open and is now almost visible and we see a dramatic escalation of the conflict due to Trump’s election and so all-out war seems to have broken out. This is the first time since 1947 that the structure of the Deep State has been in real danger so who knows what will happen.

      • ErisX
        January 8, 2017 at 23:38

        Would you consider Trump to be an anti-Empire player then? I’m of that persuasion but nobody I know who supports Trump thinks that deeply about these things. Curious about your opinion as you clearly do think about these things!

        • backwardsevolution
          January 9, 2017 at 04:14

          ErisX – what a good question. Yes, Trump is anti-Empire. He’s concerned with the United States, with defending its borders, but not purposely making war, bringing jobs back, and he’s going up against pro-Empire people, the globalists, the multinational corporations who offshore jobs and those who make a fortune on perpetual war (military, arms dealers, weapons manufacturers, security companies). These are dangerous people to be dealing with. Kennedy got taken down by them.

          ErisX, if you keep coming to this site and reading the articles and comments, you are going to be so informed. Your friends won’t recognize you. Cheers.

    • Bill Bodden
      January 7, 2017 at 20:04

      That was time for another Saturday Night Massacre, but Obama is no Nixon.

    • Sam F
      January 8, 2017 at 09:12

      It would be interesting to trace Obama’s progress as a “constitutional scholar” from understanding the clearly written provisions to gaming the system to the max. Either his professors and associates were traitors, or he was so inclined, or he had no courage or sense of duty whatsoever. Such characters are hardly worth the study, except to find the corrupting influences. The obstacles and opposition are certainly no excuse, as he has had many alternatives and failed to announce any corrupted power in opposition.

      • backwardsevolution
        January 9, 2017 at 13:14

        Sam F – from your list, I choose “no sense of duty whatsoever”. Obama never struck me as being passionate about his country or the Constitution. To me, this was what was sorely lacking in him. All talk, but no passion. It has taken awhile to see this in him because he talked a good game. If a person doesn’t really care one way or another about his country, then no amount of courage is going to make him go up against the MIC. When you don’t really give a damn about something, you don’t fight for it. Well versed in Constitutional law, yes, but they were empty words for Obama. I am sure his professors, who most likely do love the Constitution, are shaking their heads in disbelief.

        IMO, a good behavioral psychologist could have easily seen what made Obama tick. I am sure he was chosen by TPTB for this very reason: he wouldn’t really give a damn, wouldn’t fight for his country, for the Constitution, easily overridden. What do you think?

    • backwardsevolution
      January 9, 2017 at 04:03

      Zachary – “For all we know, Obama secretly ordered the attack.” That would not surprise me at all. In fact, with Obama’s recent behavior, it makes absolute sense that he did order the attack. If not, he certainly wasn’t upset about what happened, or else he would have fired the lot of them, as you say. That guy can’t leave soon enough. He’s an absolute liability.

      That Harrigan needs to do some explaining. There is NO WAY he would have disobeyed Kerry’s deal without approval coming from the top.

  8. Bill Bodden
    January 7, 2017 at 15:49

    Why, when reading Gareth Porter’s typically excellent article did the story of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch come to mind?

  9. MaDarby
    January 7, 2017 at 08:47

    It just beats me how group think works, every journalist in the West left or right keep talking about “The New Cold War” – the analogy is just plane wrong. The current situation with the existence of Project 2020 and the policy of “Global full spectrum domination.” to be achieved by that date do not represent a “Cold War” stand off but preparation for invasion and regime change in both Russia and China. Amassing 60% of the US navy along with thousands of nuclear weapons around China + the 400 bases encircling it, the introduction of an unheard of 3rd aircraft carrier battle group to the Pacific ready to move in as necessary. along with osprey and other intrusive spy planes in Japan etc – along with the thousands of troops and tanks THAAD missals and numbers increasing every day, just last week 5,000 more troops along with all the tanks and equipment associated with them moved to Poland adding to the encirclement of Russia.

    If these bulligerant encirclement maneuvers represent the tactics of a “cold war” then I guess I just misunderstand the term.

    • Joe B
      January 7, 2017 at 13:04

      From the standpoint of the warmongers it is a cold war – one that serves only to let them talk up a new foreign threat so as to pose as protectors to demand power and money, and to accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty.

      If they do not see the foolishness of any invasion plan, either China or Russia could beat them easily just by not bothering to defend. I would like to see the Repubs’ army confronting Russia’s “General January and General February” as foolishly as did Napoleon and Hitler. China would be even more likely to defeat them by not defending.

      Imperialists can take territory but cannot hold it against insurgencies, as the US was shown in Vietnam and Afghanistan. The fools do not learn but their generals know better.

      • Todd Pierce
        January 7, 2017 at 15:19

        The Generals are fools as well and never learn anything from their own fiascos, but always believe “next time” their soldiers or Marines will execute their “brilliant” strategy better. Look at WW I, WW II, Korean War, the Vietnam War and the series of Iraq Wars . . . True, someone won those wars but they always come down to who is less hubristic and who is fighting on the “defensive,” meaning their own territory.

        • Joe B
          January 8, 2017 at 08:46

          Yes, there are certainly some hubristic fools in the military as well as among demagogic politicians.

          Eisenhower’s success in France (after Germany was essentially defeated by its hubris in Russia) did not encourage him to intervene for France at DienBienPhu in Vietnam, but even MacArthur’s disaster in Korea did not prevent generals/admirals from staging the Gulf of Tonkin incident to bomb and occupy Vietnam on the pretext of “defense” against China, although by then only the USSR supported N Korea and N Vietnam.

          Perhaps the use of air power to reduce casualties, together with secret wars and propaganda to deceive the people of the US, has encouraged aggression. The US set up AlQaeda to give the USSR a Vietnam in Afghanistan, where it could not hold any territory taken, but the US fell into its own trap only one generation later. Wherever the US sends ground forces it has heavy casualties, kills mostly civilians, creates a terrorist blowback, is hated forever by the population, leaves chaos and ruin, and (if it withdraws before being militarily expelled) its right wing declares and believes forever that it was victorious.

          No doubt the generals know that their budget depends upon public fear, and that they can have actual incidents rather than fabrications, after they have created a right wing in some “enemy” state, by constant provocations. So provocation and fake incidents are systematically approved by the military to get money. But I venture that top officers would very strongly discourage invasion of Russia or China, and.would resign rather than suicidally invade. Bullies attack the weak but become diplomatic when facing impossible fights.

          The cold war provocation is intended to create a right wing in Russia and China, both to create incidents and to weaken them economically, purely to get money for the MIC and give the right wing demagogues a foreign threat so that they can demand power and money as false protectors, and accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty. Aristotle warned of this tyranny over democracy.

    • Bill Bodden
      January 7, 2017 at 15:47

      The current situation with the existence of Project 2020 and the policy of “Global full spectrum domination.” to be achieved by that date do not represent a “Cold War” stand off but preparation for invasion and regime change in both Russia and China.

      and another March of Folly similar to the one that started the First World War. The difference is such a new war could be the First and Last Nuclear War.

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