Behind Brazil’s ‘Regime Change’

Government “corruption” – trumpeted by international media and exploited by U.S.-funded NGOs – is a favorite weapon for discrediting and removing populist leaders, as is now occurring in Brazil, explains Dan Steinbock.

By Dan Steinbock

While international media focuses on Brazil’s mass demonstrations against corruption, efforts behind the façade precipitate regime change, restoration of a pre-Lula order, and a struggle against the BRICS nations. The U.S. feels threatened by an era of multi-polarity, which deeply implicates China, and other emerging economies.

In August 2016, Rio de Janeiro should host South America’s first-ever Olympic games, which were supposed to be its great coming out carnival, even amid campaigns against the Zika virus. Only a few years ago, Brazil exemplified the BRIC dream of rapid growth. Now it is coping with its most severe recession in a century. But there’s worse ahead.

When Brazil’s first working-class President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva took office in 2003, the poor nation was on the verge of an economic implosion. President Lula’s center-left Workers’ Party (PT) and its coalition won the markets with conservative fiscal policy and lifted millions from poverty, while living standards rose by 60 percent.

Timing was favorable. A year after China joined the World Trade Organization; Lula initiated Brazil’s economic reforms. To modernize, Brazil needed demand for its commodities; to industrialize, China needed commodities. In the subsequent eight years, the U.S. share of Brazil’s exports plunged, while China’s soared. Regionally, Brazil became Latin America’s growth engine. Brazil and China shunned President George W. Bush’s unipolar foreign policy; each supported a more multipolar view of the world.

So Washington’s neoconservatives began to strengthen ties with Brazil’s center-right opposition. Politically, this opposition comprised conservative social democrats (PSDB), Democrats, and Lula’s more liberal allies, juridical authorities and military leaders. Economically, it featured the narrow elite, which reigns over an unequal economy polarized by class and race, as well as conservative and highly concentrated media conglomerates owned by a few families, including Marinho brothers’ Grupo Globo.

The demonstrators represent a multitude of groups, such as Free Brazil movement, neoliberal activists, Students for Liberty, Revolted Online etc. – but several have cooperated with or been funded by, the Koch brothers, the John Templeton Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy and many others.

During these years, Sérgio Moro, a Harvard-trained judge, and other emerging Brazilian leaders participated in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which opened doors to U.S. agencies and institutions struggling against terror and money laundering.

Created amid the Cold War, IVLP has engaged 200,000 international leaders with their U.S. counterparts, including current or former chiefs of state or heads of governments. Meanwhile, Brazil’s federal police began broader cooperation with the FBI and CIA in anti-terrorism. But in the Lula years, economic boom kept the forces of the Ancien Régime at bay.

Economic Erosion, Political Expediency         

By 2015, Brazil’s economy contracted 3.7percent. Inflation is still at 9 percent, although interest rate exceeds 14 percent. Meanwhile, leading credit-rating agencies downgraded Brazil’s debt to junk. In Congress, the speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha – who represents President Dilma Rousseff’s coalition partner, the huge but fractious Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) – seeks to remove Rousseff, presumably to deter allegations that he took $5 million in bribes from the state oil company Petrobras.

The reason why the state-run oil giant attracts so much heat today goes beyond corruption. In the Lula era, Petrobras was made accountable of all offshore blocks of oil, while U.S. oil giants were kept at distance and oil exploration was started with China’s Sinopec. Now that Petrobras is bleeding, a privatization fire sale would bring U.S. players back in.

When Rousseff took office half a decade ago, she hoped to build on Lula’s success. In practice, she rewarded her constituencies with higher pensions; ensured tax breaks to strategic industries and spent unwisely. Meanwhile, world trade plunged, commodity prices collapsed, and China’s growth decelerated . As a result, “hot money” began to flee Brazil leaving behind asset shrinkages, deflation and depreciation.

According to Wikileaks, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had been tapping some 30 Brazilian government leaders’ phones (Rousseff, ministers, central bank chief, etc), and corporate giants (including Petrobras). Brazilians believe that U.S. intelligence agencies have a dark track record not just in security intelligence but economic espionage and strategic destabilization.

And the story took a new turn. The two-year long Lava Jato (car wash) investigation, Brazil’s largest corruption enquiry, overturned decades of impunity as it broadened from the state-owned oil giant Petrobras across Brazil’s political elite. Before last Christmas, the police raided the offices of the ruling party PT and its main coalition partner PMDB, led by Vice President Michel Terner.

Brazil has a long legacy of corruption that stems from colonialism, economic elites, race and class, the military dictatorship (1965-84) and its foreign allies, including the U.S. Yet, there have been no comparable police raids in the post-military era. In this view, the timing of the corruption inquiry and the police raids was politically expedient. They did not begin when they were legally warranted but when Rousseff became politically vulnerable.

Corruption and Destabilization            

Internationally, Brazil’s mass demonstrations are depicted as a quest against government corruption. That is a gross simplification. In reality, current volatility is not just about corruption, which is pervasive and extends across Brazil’s entire political class, including the ruling PT. Rather, it is about destabilization that is paving way to a regime change.

When Lula left office in 2010, he enjoyed 90 percent approval ratings. A while ago, Lula was still expected to stage a comeback in the 2018 presidential election. Then he and his wife were forced to testify in São Paulo about alleged corruption. Opposition saw it as another reason for mass demonstrations; Lula’s supporters as an effort to tarnish the name of Brazil’s most successful political leader.

As Rousseff invited Lula to join the government as its most powerful member, conservatives argued that the invite was just another attempt to shield him from corruption investigations because in Brazil only the Supreme Court can authorize such investigations.

To neutralize Lula’s return, Moro blocked his appointment relying on recordings of tapped phone calls between Lula and prominent public figures, including incumbent President. Rousseff regarded the illegally-recorded and released calls as a political “attempt to overstep the limits of the democratic state.” In this narrative, Moro expressed his ultimate goal already in 2004, when he advocated “authoritarian subversion of juridical order to reach specific targets,” including the use of media to intoxicate the political atmosphere.

In this scenario, the corruption case has served to discredit the government. So when Rousseff invited Lula into the government, the objective became to neutralize Lula’s comeback. During his time in the U.S., Moro learned that dominant media can be used to leak stories that discredit targeted leaders in dominant media prior to the court. In the Kafkaesque new normal, you are no longer innocent until proven guilty; you are guilty until proven innocent in the name of “national security.”

Struggle against the BRICS  

The Brazilian judicial strategy is reminiscent of the Italian Mani Pulite investigation in the 1990s, which relied effectively on media (dominated by tycoon Silvio Berlusconi) to delegitimize the political system, which was replaced by authoritarian leadership (again, Berlusconi). Instead of violent coup d’etat or military dictatorship, judicial strategy can achieve regime change by legally acceptable means. In Brazil, Rousseff’s impeachment is moving ahead and much more will follow.

In the view of Washington (and Brazil’s opposition), Lula, Rousseff and the PT remain controversial because their emphasis on multipolarity (which excludes American exceptionalism); support of the BRICS (which is seen to operate against the US and G-7 interests); funding for the BRICS New Development Band and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (which are seen to undermine the power of G-7 international multilateral organizations); efforts to overcome income polarization (which is regarded as potentially subversive), Latin American integration (which is perceived as anti-NAFTA) and alternative global Internet regime (which would bypass U.S. control); and a multipolar currency basket (which is seen as an attempt to emasculate the global dominance of the U.S. dollar).

In this narrative, Brazil’s destabilization is strategic and less about the rise of democracy than about an effort to replace it with new authoritarianism. In turn, anti-graft campaigns focus on inconvenient political parties, but exclude economic elites and foreign interests that sustain corruption. However, what happens in Brazil won’t stay just in Brazil. Rather, it has potential to radicalize center-left opposition in Brazil and harden sentiments in other BRICS nations.

As global growth prospects continue to dim, what advanced and emerging economies need is cooperation that benefits both – not restoration of ancient regimes that insist on privileges that were never either legitimate or democratic.

Dan Steinbock is the founder of Difference Group and has served as research director of international business at the India China and America Institute (US) and a visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Centre (Singapore). For more, see http://www.differencegroup.net [This commentary was originally released by China-US Focus.]




Will China Take Lead on Global Warming?

As the American Right continues to reject climate-change science, China is showing signs of taking the lead in developing cutting-edge technology to combat global warming, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

A common argument made by some of those opposed to the United States reducing its greenhouse gas emissions — even by opponents who do not try to deny the fact of human-induced global warming — is that U.S. action would be useless as long as other major emitting countries continue their polluting ways.

This argument received a sharp blow when the Obama administration reached an agreement with the biggest emitter — China — about reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants, which have been the largest single component of China’s poisoning of the atmosphere.glacierdisappears

This week, meeting on the fringes of the nuclear security summit in Washington, Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping reaffirmed their seriousness on the issue by pledging to sign the Paris agreement on climate change on the first day this multilateral accord opens for signature. President Xi said, “As the two biggest economies, China and the U.S. have a responsibility to work together.”

This statement comes in the same week as release of yet another scientific study underscoring the gravity of the global warming problem. An analysis published in Nature shows how if current rates of emission continue, collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet may be even more rapid than according to previous estimates that were based on a less thorough study of the physical collision of ice and water at the edges of the shelf.

More rapid melting of this ice means a correspondingly rapid rise in sea level. To put this result in personally and politically meaningful terms, it means it is within the lifetime of children as well as grandchildren of politicians in office today that substantial parts of coastal U.S. cities — and not just those parts of Miami Beach that already get flooded regularly and where streets have had to be raised — will be under water.

As the New York Times article about the Obama-Xi declaration notes, there is more reason to worry about the United States, rather than China, fulfilling its pledges on the subject. The worry is not about the Obama administration’s commitment but rather about domestic political obstacles outside the administration’s control.

The immediate impediment as far as coal-fired power plants are concerned was erected in February when the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, in a burst of judicial activism in a 5-4 decision, took the unprecedented step of halting implementation of a federal regulation (in this case from the Environmental Protection Agency) before it was even reviewed by a federal appeals court.

Clear action by Congress would obviate this kind of judicial interference, but such action seems unlikely as long as Congress is controlled by a majority whose resistance to saving the planet goes beyond arguments about whether other countries would do their share. That resistance involves an attitude toward scientific knowledge on the subject that lies somewhere between medieval alchemy and the Scopes monkey trial.

And the resistance is rooted in narrow pecuniary interests. Presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s apparent fealty to ignorance on this subject, for example, probably is more a matter of fealty to the coal-mining industry.

Many of the same politicians who oppose the Obama administration’s efforts to arrest climate change also regularly bewail Mr. Obama’s supposed abandonment of “leadership” in the world. If the resistance to U.S. action on emissions persists, then China will be the state that, head and shoulders above the United States, will be exercising global leadership on the issue. And this will not be a matter of China just making sacrifices.

To the contrary, as an expert on Chinese climate policy at the World Resources Institute points out, “The understanding is that China is doing this for its own sake. It’s good for their environment; it’s good for their economy.” China has made a major commitment in its latest economic plan to expand greatly its use of renewable energy sources in place of fossil fuels.

So China will be moving ahead with the next generation of energy technology to power its economy. Meanwhile, if political resistance here doesn’t abate, the United States will be stuck with digging out of the ground and burning the residue of primeval muck — with an atmospheric result that continues to make the planet less habitable.

To candidates who like to talk so much about U.S. leadership, we should ask, what sort of leadership is this?

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




How Israeli Propaganda Succeeds

Pervasive Israeli propaganda has blinded many Americans to the injustice meted out to Palestinians, a “group think” that a new documentary calls “The Occupation of the American Mind,” reviewed by Abba A. Solomon.

By Abba A. Solomon

Harriet Beecher Stowe is reputed — in Stowe family legend at least — to have been greeted by President Abraham Lincoln with, “Is this the little woman who made this great war?” Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe’s novel that dramatized government-sanctioned human bondage, is credited, somewhat fancifully, with moving American public opinion about slavery and helping start the U.S. Civil War.

The documentary film — The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States — aims to explain why U.S. media, in contrast to most of the world’s, omits the Palestinian story, and thus why U.S. public opinion favors Israel so markedly. The film organizes the evidence in plain sight of the unnatural situation that has been maintained in U.S. news reporting — the tropes that reinforce Zionist ideology, and recognize only Jewish Israeli life as imperiled.

Roger Waters narrates that during the July 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, lasting 51 days — using 20,000 tons of explosives — “The sheer scale of the attack provoked outrage and condemnation around the world. But in the United States the story was different. Polls showed the American people holding firm in their support for Israel.”

Aerial surveys of Gaza now show vast wastelands and ruins of that urban area, holding more than 1.8 million people, the majority exiles from present-day Israel. The film’s title, “The Occupation of the American Mind” communicates the hope that once the mechanisms are seen, they can’t be unseen.

During Israel’s operation Protective Shield (summer 2014), as during Operation Cast Lead (2008-09), the plea that “Israel has the right to defend itself” dominated American reporting. With deft editing, the film shows a risible sequence of Israeli spokesmen, American politicians (up to President Obama) and U.S. newscasters all repeating the same lines of Israeli vulnerability and Arab menace.

We can presume that by understanding the highly calculated effort of American public relations experts and Israeli officials to “explain” the asymmetry of power and suffering between Jewish nationalist forces and Arab civilians, inexorably losing homes and homeland — a passion for justice in Americans will be excited.

The United States is one gentile culture where the Zionist narrative dominates. Key to this is control of language, controlling thought. U.S. pollster Frank Luntz was commissioned to maintain this, producing a “dictionary” of language to use — a playbook for shading domination as defense.

“When a narrative is so dominant, without any visible dissent or complication, it’s extremely difficult to make clear to people that it is basically a propaganda story.  How do you make that clear when the spectacle is so unrelenting and total?” asks New York University scholar Mark Crispin Miller, one of the film’s media studies experts.

What would break the spell?  The New York Times made a baby step with its concession in an editorial January 2016 that the “Two-state solution” is “fading.” In a masterwork of understatement, an American official is quoted by the Times, saying of the settlements that began in late 1967 and continue in 2016, “It is starting to look like a de facto annexation.”

(Israel has moved 3/4 million Jews into the captured territories, including a surprisingly large proportion who’ve moved from the United States).

The argument that the occupied Palestinian territories are held by Israel for “security reasons” serves to screen territorial expansion, the film argues. “If you buy that (security) argument, then it’s a license to occupy indefinitely,” media and militarism critic Norman Solomon explains in the film. (Disclosure: Norman Solomon is my brother.)

The film reports the overwhelming financial contributions to American politicians advocating the Jewish nationalist narrative in Palestine, and shows clips from the many public devotionals that congressmen, cabinet members and presidents attend, to pledge what can fairly be described as Zionist allegiance.

Historian Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University says that American media provides “no sense of how this started, where the animus comes from. It’s completely inexplicable in the way it’s generally presented — these people (Palestinians) kill because they hate, and they hate because they’re irrational Muslim fanatics, or whatever.”

In American politics on this issue, we can notice things that don’t happen, as Sherlock Holmes noted the dog that didn’t bark. When American Jewish legislators speak of their devotion to Israel, no fuss follows, and brilliant non-Jewish politicians like Joe Biden have made careers steeped in American Zionism and mirroring that loyalty.

A Jan.6 article by Hillary Clinton for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles is an example of the predominant way of relating to Israel/Palestine by centrist U.S. politicians. Her alignment with Israel is slavish, with a promise to raise the U.S.-Israel relationship to “the next level.” Clinton proclaims her “deep emotional connection with Israel.”

The procession of American presidential candidates at last week’s American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington (except for Sen. Bernie Sanders) gave a graphic demonstration of the place of Israel as something like an honorary U.S. state.

I hypothesize one contributing reason for the American atmosphere: for some American Jews, Jewish statehood is integral to their Jewish identity. Most Americans have not known Palestinians or Arabs, so making sense of the situation requires relating to what they do know — fellow Americans who are Jews. From that perspective, Americans can imagine Israel as just like the American Jews who are their neighbors, friends, and associates, with no idea of the complexities.

American demographic changes require that Arab-Americans remain a dangerous Other, for the phenomenon of Israeli-American “twinning” to continue. Otherwise, countervailing sympathy and empathy with Arabs will operate. For Israel’s purposes, Syria’s chaos and evisceration is a godsend, associating Arabs with danger.

With more exposure, the Ku Klux Klan-like behavior of settlers in the occupied Judea and Samaria and the Klan-like blending of religious identity and bigotry in Jewish supremacism may repulse Americans. However, for Americans to understand the Israeli violence systematically unleashed on captive Palestinians would be to sense a hint of the violence that the United States unleashed methodically in achievement of its North American empire.

That, and much of America’s direct and proxy military adventurism abroad since, has been invisible to the public, much as Israel’s infliction of death and suffering is invisible as precursor to “unprovoked” Arab attacks. Will Americans become conversant with Israeli, Zionist and Palestinian history, if their own is hidden from them?

One difference from the North American settler-colonialism is the Jewish claim of indigeneity, with accusations that Arabs are settlers in Palestine who should by rights move or be expelled from “the state of the Jewish people.”

A film of this sort can only review so much Zionist and Palestine history to set the scene.  The producers did a nice job fitting in a lot of content, selectively, in the time. (The U.S. organization Jewish Voice for Peace made an animated short, “Israeli/Palestinian Conflict 101,”that shows the challenge of compressing facts and sequences of events of Zionism and Palestine. Their summary is 6.5 minutes.)

Intended as an educational film to join the Media Education Foundation’s strong list, “The Occupation of the American Mind,” the work of writer/producers Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp, is invaluable as a contrast to Israel’s fantasy world in media. (The film is not about an allied subject, the Zionist Occupation of the American Jewish Mind, where another fantasy world operates, where Jews heroically rebuild Jewish sovereignty.)

The film concentrates on American media dating from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the formalization of Israel’s Western-media Hasbara/PR institutions in reaction to horror at consequences of Israel’s Lebanon occupation.  (Bombardment and siege of Beirut, and massacre at Sabra and Shatilla)

The film’s coda surveys pro-Palestinian campus activism and alliance-building with African-American and other groups locked out of the American narrative, younger Americans awakening to the Palestinian perception of events. A series of Pew polls show that among American young people, Democrats, and independents, sympathy for Palestinian Arabs is growing, and the Republican Party is becoming the repository of unconditional Israel advocacy.

Among developed nations, the United States has an unusually high proportion of religious believers, and more Christian Zionists than U.S. Jews figure in the Republican Party’s embrace of militant Zionism. In the film, executive producer Sut Jhally makes that point: “In fact, it’s not accurate to call it the Jewish lobby. It is the Israel lobby,” not consistent with the views of most American Jews.

It is difficult to imagine that Americans will become conversant with subtleties of Zionist and Jewish history.  One might expect revulsion as the system of political contributions and targeted propaganda to ensure and manipulate American support is illustrated. Film clips of Israeli violence at checkpoints and demonstrations are followed by Media Education Foundation founder Jhally commenting:

“The more Americans are able to see realities of the occupation with their own eyes, to see routine daily violence, to see repression and humiliation that never make it into mainstream news, the more they will question the image of Israel as this tiny little David up against this bullying Arab goliath, and start to wonder if it’s the outgunned Palestinians who are the Davids here.

“When that starts to become the dominant perception here in the U.S., all bets are off.  It all comes down to American popular perception.”

Noam Chomsky ends the film saying, “The U.S. government will support it as long as the U.S. population tolerates it.”

If the image of Israel becomes that of a cruel oppressor, may the shift be as consequential as when Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel (and its depiction of slavery) became part of a march to the Civil War? For Jews, what might a shift of U.S. public opinion about Israel mean? To the extent Israel is identified, naturally, as an indivisibly “Jewish” project — dismounting this tiger isn’t going to be graceful. Injury to Arabs in Palestine, and the manipulation of the United States, in the past Zionist century, will be reckoned.

Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.’” The film is available via streaming and DVD at www.occupationmovie.com . The documentary premieres in Massachusetts next month. [This article first appeared at Mondoweiss as http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/the-occupation-of-the-american-mind-documented/#sthash.eovxdIin.dpuf ]




Cleaning Up Hillary’s Libyan Mess

Exclusive: U.S. officials are pushing a dubious new scheme to “unify” a shattered Libya, but the political risk at home is that voters will finally realize Hillary Clinton’s responsibility for the mess, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Hillary Clinton’s signature project as Secretary of State – the “regime change” in Libya – is now sliding from the tragic to the tragicomic as her successors in the Obama administration adopt increasingly desperate strategies for imposing some kind of order on the once-prosperous North African country torn by civil war since Clinton pushed for the overthrow and murder of longtime Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The problem that Clinton did much to create has grown more dangerous since Islamic State terrorists have gained a foothold in Sirte and begun their characteristic beheading of “infidels” as well as their plotting for terror attacks in nearby Europe.

There is also desperation among some Obama administration officials because the worsening Libyan fiasco threatens to undermine not only President Barack Obama’s legacy but Clinton’s drive for the Democratic presidential nomination and then the White House. So, the officials felt they had no choice but to throw caution to the wind or — to mix metaphors — some Hail Mary passes.

The latest daring move was a sea landing in Tripoli by the U.S./U.N-formulated “unity government,” which was cobbled together by Western officials in hotel rooms in Morocco and Tunisia. But instead of “unity,” the arrival by sea threatened to bring more disunity and war by seeking to muscle aside two rival governments.

The sea landing at a naval base in Tripoli became necessary because one of those rival governments refused to let the “unity” officials fly into Libya’s capital. So, instead, the “unity” leaders entered Libya by boat from Tunisia and are currently operating from the naval base where they landed.

With this unusual move, the Obama administration is reminding longtime national security analysts of other fiascos in which Washington sought to decide the futures of other countries by shaping a government externally, as with the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s and the Iraqi National Congress in 2003, and then imposing those chosen leaders on the locals.

(When I heard about the sea landing, I flashed back on images of Gen. Douglas MacArthur splashing ashore as he returned to the Philippines in World War II.)

Making the Scheme Work

But the new mystery is how this Libyan “unity government” expects to convince its rivals to accept its legitimacy without the military muscle to actually take over governance across Libya.

The Obama administration risks simply introducing a third rival government into the mix. Though the “unity government” drew participants from the other two governments, U.S. resistance to incorporating several key figures, including Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya, has threatened to simply extend and possibly expand the civil war.

The U.S. scheme for establishing the authority of the “unity government” centers on using the $85 billion or so in foreign reserves in Libya’s Central Bank to bring other Libyan leaders onboard. But that strategy may test the question of whether the pen – poised over the Central Bank’s check book – is mightier than the sword, since the militias associated with the rival regimes have plenty of weapons.

Besides the carrot of handing out cash to compliant Libyan politicians and fighters, the Obama administration also is waving a stick, threatening to hit recalcitrant Libyans with financial sanctions or labeling them “terrorists” with all the legal and other dangers that such a designation carries.

But can these tactics – bribery and threats – actually unify a deeply divided Libya, especially when some of the powerful factions are Islamist and see their role as more than strictly political, though the Islamist faction in Tripoli is also opposed to the Islamic State?

I’m told that another unity plan that drew wider support from the competing factions and included Haftar as Libya’s new commander-in-chief was rejected by U.S. officials because of fears that Haftar might become another uncontrollable strongman like Gaddafi.

Nevertheless, Haftar and his troops are considered an important element in taking on the Islamic State and, according to intelligence sources, are already collaborating with U.S. and European special forces in that fight.

After the sea landing on Wednesday, the “unity government” began holding official meetings on Thursday, but inside the heavily guard naval base. How the “unity” Prime Minister Fayez Sirraj and six other members of the Presidency Council can extend their authority across Tripoli and then across Libya clearly remained a work in progress, however.

The image of these “unity” officials, representing what’s called the Government of National Accord, holed up with their backs to the sea at a naval base, unable to dispatch their subordinates to take control of government buildings and ministries, recalls how the previous internationally recognized government, the House of Representatives or HOR, met on a cruise ship in Tobruk in the east.

Meanwhile, HOR’s chief rival, the General National Congress, renamed the National Salvation government, insisted on its legitimacy in Tripoli, but its control, too, was limited to several Libyan cities.

On Wednesday, National Salvation leader Khalifa Ghwell called the “unity” officials at the naval base “infiltrators” and demanded their surrender. Representatives of the “unity government” then threatened to deliver its rivals’ names to Interpol and the U.N. for “supporting terrorism.”

On Friday, the European Union imposed asset freezes on Ghwell and the leaders of the rival parliaments in Tripoli and in Tobruk. According to some accounts, the mix of carrots and sticks has achieved some progress for the “unity government” as 10 towns and cities in western Libya indicated their support for the new leadership.

Shortly after being selected by U.S. and U.N. officials to head the “unity government,” Sirraj reached out to Haftar in a meeting on Jan. 30, 2016, but the move upset U.S. officials who favored isolating Haftar from the new government.

Political Stakes

The success or failure of this latest Obama administration effort to impose some order on Libya – and get the participants in the civil war to concentrate their fire on the Islamic State – could have consequences politically in the United States as well.

The continuing crisis threatens to remind Democratic primary voters about Hillary Clinton’s role in sparking the chaos in 2011 when she pressured President Obama to counter a military offensive by Gaddafi against what he called Islamic terrorists operating in the east.

Though Clinton and other “liberal interventionists” around Obama insisted that the goal was simply to protect Libyans from a possible slaughter, the U.S.-backed airstrikes inside Libya quickly expanded into a “regime change” operation, slaughtering much of the Libyan army.

Clinton’s State Department email exchanges revealed that her aides saw the Libyan war as a chance to pronounce a “Clinton doctrine,” bragging about how Clinton’s clever use of “smart power” could get rid of demonized foreign leaders like Gaddafi. But the Clinton team was thwarted when President Obama seized the spotlight when Gaddafi’s government fell.

But Clinton didn’t miss a second chance to take credit on Oct. 20, 2011, after militants captured Gaddafi, sodomized him with a knife and then murdered him. Appearing on a TV interview, Clinton celebrated Gaddafi’s demise with the quip, “we came; we saw; he died.”

However, with Gaddafi and his largely secular regime out of the way, Islamic militants expanded their power over the country. Some were terrorists, just as Gaddafi had warned.

One Islamic terror group attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel, an incident that Clinton called the worst moment of her four-year tenure as Secretary of State.

As the violence spread, the United States and other Western countries abandoned their embassies in Tripoli. Once prosperous with many social services, Libya descended into the category of failed state with the Islamic State taking advantage of the power vacuum to seize control of Sirte and other territory. In one grisly incident, Islamic State militants marched Coptic Christians onto a beach and beheaded them.

Yet, on the campaign trail, Clinton continues to defend her judgment in instigating the Libyan war. She claims that Gaddafi had “American blood on his hands,” although she doesn’t spell out exactly what she’s referring to. There remain serious questions about the two primary incidents blamed on Libya in which Americans died – the 1986 La Belle bombing in Berlin and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

But whatever Gaddafi’s guilt in that earlier era, he renounced terrorism during George W. Bush’s presidency and surrendered his unconventional military arsenal. He even assisted Bush’s “war on terror.” So, Gaddafi’s grisly fate has become a cautionary tale for what can happen to a leader who makes major security concessions to the United States.

The aftermath of the Clinton-instigated “regime change” in Libya also shows how little Clinton and other U.S. officials learned from the Iraq War disaster. Clinton has rejected any comparisons between her vote for the Iraq War in 2002 and her orchestration of the Libyan war in 2011, saying that “conflating” them is wrong. She also has sought to shift blame onto European allies who also pushed for the war.

Though her Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, hasn’t highlighted her key role in the Libya fiasco, Clinton can expect a tougher approach from the Republicans if she wins the nomination. The problem with the Republicans, however, is that they have obsessed over the details of the Benghazi incident, spinning all sorts of conspiracy theories, missing the forest for the trees.

Clinton’s ultimate vulnerability on Libya is that she was a principal author of another disastrous “regime change” that has spread chaos not only across the Middle East and North Africa but into Europe, where the entire European Union project, a major post-World War II accomplishment, is now in danger.

Clinton may claim she has lots of foreign policy experience, but the hard truth is that much of her experience has involved making grievous mistakes and bloody miscalculations.

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 ‘Hybrid War’ of Economic Sanctions

U.S. politicians love the “silver bullet” of economic sanctions to punish foreign adversaries, but the weapon’s overuse is driving China and Russia to develop countermeasures, as British diplomat Alastair Crooke explains.

By Alastair Crooke

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told a large group of people in the holy city of Mashhad on Sunday that “The Americans did not act on what they promised in the [Iranian] nuclear accord [the JCPOA]; they did not do what they should have done. According to Foreign Minister [Javad Zarif], they brought something on paper but prevented materialization of the objectives of the Islamic Republic of Iran through many diversionary ways.”

This statement during the Supreme Leader’s key Nowruz (New Year) address should be understood as a flashing amber light: it was no rhetorical flourish. And it was not a simple dig at America (as some may suppose). It was perhaps more of a gentle warning to the Iranian government to “take care” of the possible political consequences.

What is happening is significant: for whatever motive, the U.S. Treasury is busy emptying much of the JCPOA sanctions relief of any real substance (and their motive is something which deserves careful attention). The Supreme Leader also noted that Iran is experiencing difficulties in repatriating its formerly frozen, external funds.

U.S. Treasury officials, since “implementation” day, have been doing the rounds, warning European banks that the U.S. sanctions on Iran remain in place, and that European banks should not think, even for a second, of tapping the dollar or euro bond markets in order to finance trade with Iran, or to become involved with financing infrastructure projects in Iran.

Banks well understand the message: touch Iranian commerce and you will be whacked with a billion dollar fine – against which there is no appeal, no clear legal framework – and no argument countenanced.  The banks (understandably) are shying off. Not a single bank or financial lending institution turned up when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Paris to hold meetings with the local business élite.

The influential Keyhan Iranian newspaper wrote on March 14 on this matter that: “Speaking at the UN General Assembly session in September, Rouhani stated: ‘Today a new phase of relations has started in Iran’s relations with the world.’ He also stated in a live radio and television discussion with the people on 23 Tir: ‘The step-by-step implementation of this document could slowly remove the bricks of the wall of mistrust.’”

Keyhan continues: “These remarks were made at a time when the Western side, headed by America, does not have any intention to remove or even shorten the wall of mistrust between itself and Iran. … Moreover, they are delaying the implementation of their JCPOA commitments. Lifting the sanctions has remained merely as a promise on a piece of paper, so much so that it has roused the protest of Iranian politicians.

“The American side is promoting conditions in such a way that today even European banks and companies do not dare to establish financial relations with Iran – since all of them fear America’s reaction in the form of sanctions [imposed on those same banks]. Actually, the reason for the delay in the commencement of the European banks’ financial cooperation with the Iranian banks and the failure to facilitate banking and economic transactions, is because many of the American sanctions are still in place, and Iranian banks’ financial transactions are [still] facing restrictions. Moreover, given their continuing fear of the biting legislations and penalties for violations of the Americans’ old sanctions, European financial institutions are concerned about violating the American sanctions that continue to be in force …

“It is pointless to expect the US administration to cooperate with Iran given the comments of the US officials, including [National Security Advisor] Susan Rice, since the Americans’ comments and behaviour reveal their non-compliance with their obligations and speak of the absence of the US administration’s political will to implement even its minimum obligations.”

Here Keyhan is specifically referring to Susan Rice’s observation to Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic that, “The Iran deal was never primarily about trying to open a new era of relations between the US and Iran. The aim was very simply to make a dangerous country less dangerous. No one had any expectation that Iran would be a more benign actor.”

Keyhan continues: “Any action on the international scene calls for suitable and appropriate reaction. Therefore, we cannot expect a government like the US administration that seizes every single opportunity to restrict our county, to lift the sanctions. Rice’s recent comments are only a small part of the increasing anti-Iranian rhetoric of the American officials in recent months. These remarks should actually be regarded as a sign … that the dream of the JCPOA is nothing but wishful thinking and far from reality.” (Emphasis added).

The Supreme Leader’s nudge therefore was intended for the ears of the government: Do not build too much politically on this accord: beware its foundations may turn out to be built on sand.

‘Silver Bullet’ Worries

Recently U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew gave a talk at Carnegie, on the Evolution of Sanctions and Lessons for the Future, on which David Ignatius commented: “Economic sanctions have become the ‘silver bullet’ of American foreign policy over the past decade, because they’re cheaper and more effective in compelling adversaries than traditional military power. But Jack Lew warns of a ‘risk of overuse’ that could neuter the sanctions weapon and harm America. His caution against overuse comes as some Republican members of Congress are fighting to maintain U.S. sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program despite last year’s deal limiting that Iranian threat.”

So what is going on here? If Lew is warning against sanction overreach, why is it that it is precisely his department that is the one that is so assiduously undermining sanctions relief for Iran – “particularly since Lew’s larger point is that sanctions won’t work if countries don’t get the reward they were promised — in the removal of sanctions — once they accede to U.S. Demands”, in the paraphrase by Ignatius himself?

One reason for this apparent contradiction implicit in Lew’s remarks probably is China: Recall that when China’s stock markets were in freefall and hemorrhaging foreign exchange, as it sought to support the Yuan – China blamed the U.S. Fed (U.S. Reserve Bank) for its problems – and promptly was derided for making such an “outlandish” accusation.

Actually, what the Fed was then doing was stating its intent to raise interest rates (for the best of motives naturally!) – just as those, such as Goldman Sachs, have been advising. U.S. Corporate and bank profits are sliding badly, and in “times of financial depletion,” as the old adage goes, “bringing capital home becomes the priority” – and a strong dollar does exactly that.

But the Peoples’ Bank of China (PBOC) did a bit more than just whine about the Fed actions, it reacted:  It allowed the Yuan to weaken, which induced turmoil across a global financial world (already concerned about China’s economic slowing); then raised the Yuan value to squeeze out speculation, betting on further falls in the Yuan; then let it weaken again as the Fed comments started to slide in favor of interest rate hikes, and a strong dollar – until finally, as Zero Hedge has noted:

“It appeared the messaging from The People’s Bank Of China to The Fed was heard loud and understood. Having exercised its will to weaken the Yuan (implying turmoil is possible), Janet Yellen (Fed Chair) delivered the dovish goods [i.e. indicated that global conditions trumped the advice of the likes of Goldman Sachs to strengthen the dollar], and so China ‘allowed’ the Yuan to rally back. In a double-whammy for everyone involved, the biggest 3-day strengthening of the Yuan fix since 2005 also pushed the Yuan forwards, back to their richest relative to spot since Aug 2014 – once again showing their might against the dastardly speculative shorts.”

In short, the Ignatius’s “silver bullet” of foreign policy (the U.S. Treasury Wars against any potential competitor to U.S. political or financial hegemony) is facing a growing “hybrid” financial war, just as NATO has been complaining that it is having to adjust to “hybrid” conventional war – from the likes of Russia.

So, as the U.S. tries to expand its reach, for example by claiming legal jurisdiction over the Bank of China, and by blacklisting one of China’s largest telecom companies, thus forbidding any U.S. company from doing business with China’s ZTE, China is pushing back. It has just demonstrated convincingly that U.S. Treasury “silver bullets” can fall short.

This, we think, may have been Lew’s point — one directed, possibly, at Congress, which has become truly passionate about its new-found “neutron bomb” (as a former Treasury official described its geo-financial warfare).

In respect to Russia, this is important: Russia and America seem to be edging towards some sort of “grand bargain” over Syria (and possibly Ukraine too), which is likely to involve the Europeans lifting, in mid-2016, their sanctions imposed on Russia. But again, the U.S. is likely nonetheless to maintain its own sanctions (or even add to them, as some in the U.S. Congress are arguing).

So, if Russia, like Iran and China become disenchanted with promises of U.S. sanctions relaxation – then, as the Keyhan author noted, a suitable and appropriate (i.e. adverse) reaction, will ensue.

Boomerang Effect

What the Fed and Lew seem to have assimilated is that the U.S. and European economies are now so vulnerable and volatile that China and Russia can, as it were, whack-back at America – especially where China and Russia co-ordinate strategically. Yellen specifically signaled “weakening world growth” and “less confidence in the renormalization process” as reasons for the Fed backtrack.

Ironically, David Ignatius in his article gives the game away: Lew is not going soft, saying that the US needs to use its tools more prudently; far from it. His point is different, and Ignatius exposes it inadvertently:

“U.S. power flows from our unmatched military might, yes. But in a deeper way, it’s a product of the dominance of the U.S. economy. Anything that expands the reach of U.S. markets — such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in trade, for example — adds to the arsenal of U.S. power. Conversely, U.S. power is limited by measures that drive business away from America, or allow other nations to build a rival financial architecture that’s less encumbered by a smorgasbord of sanctions.”

This latter point precisely is what is frightening Lew and Ignatius. The tables are turning: in fact, the U.S. and Europe may be becoming more vulnerable to retaliation (e.g. Europe, with Russia’s retaliatory sanctions on European agricultural products) than China and Russia are, to unilateral Treasury or Fed warfare.

This is the new hybrid war (and not the hot air issuing from NATO). Lew and Ignatius know that a parallel “architecture” is under construction, and that Congress’ addiction to new sanctions is just speeding it into place.

So, why then is the U.S. Treasury so zealous in undermining the effectiveness of JCPOA’s agreed lifting of sanctions? Well, probably because Iran has less leverage over the global financial system than either China or Russia. But also perhaps, because “Iran sanctions” are (erroneously) viewed by U.S. leaders as the Treasury’s “jewel in its crown” of geo-financial success.

What may be missing from this hubristic interpretation, however, is the understanding that Iran’s experience will not be lost on the others, nor on the SCO when it convenes its next meetings on how to combat Western “color revolution” operations (with Iran likely joining that organization as a member, rather than an observer, this summer).

Alastair Crooke is a British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West. [This article previously appeared at the Conflicts Forum’s Web site and is republished with permission. Copyright Conflicts Forum ­- not to be reprinted, reproduced or re-circulated without prior permission. Please contact CF with any queries.]




The Establishment Strikes Back at Obama

Since President Obama went public with his objections to U.S. foreign policy orthodoxy and its many wars, the Establishment has been striking back with a fury, notes ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

The most fascinating aspect of President Barack Obama’s unusual interview with The Atlantic was his self-declared liberation from Washington’s foreign policy establishment. Now the establishment is striking back.

The president of the Council of Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, led the charge with the startling observation that Obama’s refusal to use force in Syria was comparable to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The latest broadside came from a former career diplomat, Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a likely secretary of state or national security adviser in a Hillary Clinton administration. Burns’s old thinking on national security policy is exactly what President Obama had in mind in breaking with the traditionalists among the so-called foreign policy mandarins.

Burns, like so many members of the orthodox establishment, is particularly critical of the President’s failure to use military force against Syria after drawing a “red line” on Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. In fact, without using military force, the United States and Russia were able to get Assad to admit to having chemical weapons, to give up the weapons, and to join international organizations responsible for monitoring such weapons.

Burns fails to mention that President Obama had parked five cruise-missile destroyers off the Syrian coast, which points to an important success for coercive diplomacy. Nor does Burns mention that even Israeli President Netanyahu praised the efforts of the Obama administration. Burns also ignores the observation that the intelligence regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons was not a “slam dunk.” [For more on the question of whether Assad actually was responsible for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons Red-Faced Over Red Line.”]

Defending ‘Allies’

Burns also castigates President Obama for his criticism of Britain and France for performing as “free riders” in the Libyan campaign of 2011. Unlike Burns and Hillary Clinton, who defend the use of force in Libya, the President understands that the Libyan operation was a “shit show” and that the incompetence of Washington’s European allies has made Libya one more haven for ISIS. Obama understands that the Middle East must be deemphasized, and that it would be a “basic, fundamental mistake” to try to “govern the Middle East and North Africa.”

Burns believes that the President’s major failing in Libya was allowing the United States to take a secondary role in an important NATO mission for the first time in its history. No, the President’s failing was in acceding to then-Secretary of State Clinton’s push for regime change in Tripoli. The U.S. policy of regime change, which began in Iran in 1953, has never worked. See the Congo, Chile, Vietnam, Iraq, etc. etc. etc.

Burns is critical of the President for his criticism of the Saudi royal family, arguing that it “never works to embarrass a friend publicly.” Unlike Burns, President Obama understands that for too long Saudi Arabia (and Pakistan) have sponsored an intolerant variant of political Islam that has poisoned countless Muslim minds with virulent propaganda and recidivist violence. Obama understands that the Middle East is far less important to the security interests of the United States, and that it is time to stop treating Saudi Arabia (and Israel) with kid gloves.

In arguing that President Obama has “ceded too much ground to Russia, Iran, and others” in the Middle East, Burns displays his ignorance of the limits that Moscow and Tehran face in gaining leverage in the region. Iran, a non-Arab Muslim nation, will have difficulty gaining influence over the long term. Russia, a nation in political and economic decline, cannot afford to invest heavily in the backwardness of the Middle East.

The notion that President Vladimir Putin has enhanced Russia’s credibility and influence with his moves in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria could not be more wrong. [For a contrasting view, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Putin Shuns Syrian ‘Quagmire’.”]

Mideast Realism

President Obama can be credited with understanding that the Middle East is “no longer terribly important” to U.S. interests and that, even if the region were surpassingly important, there would be “little an American president could do to make it a better place.”

The United States has lost credibility and power with its misuse of military force in the region, but Burns and the foreign policy establishment rely on the old shibboleths of credibility and force to make a case for the use of military power. Obama’s attack on these shibboleths is critical.

Finally, the President understands that the long-term goal of U.S. diplomacy in the region is to increase the number of diplomatic stakeholders in the Middle East and to nudge Iran and Saudi Arabia toward a less confrontational approach.

There will be no stability in the region until and Sunnis and their Saudi backers and the Shia and their Persian benefactors come to their senses and seek conciliation. Burns and Haass believe that more military force is necessary in the Middle East; the President understands that our overextension in the region has harmed our economy, compromised our ability to seek opportunities elsewhere (particularly in the Pacific), and unnecessarily endangering the lives of Americans in a region where there is less American national security interest.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author ofFailure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org, where this story originally appeared.




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How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS

Exclusive: By funneling TOW missiles and other weapons to Syrian jihadists for their “regime change” war, President Obama facilitated the Islamic State’s rise with the terrorist blowback now hitting Europe, says Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Why are Islamic militants wreaking havoc from Brussels to Lahore? The best way to answer this question is by taking a close look at how The New York Times covered this weekend’s liberation of Palmyra from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State.

The article, entitled “Syrian Troops Said to Recapture Historic Palmyra From ISIS,” began on a snide note. While the victory may have netted Bashar al-Assad “a strategic prize,” reporters Hwaida Saad and Kareem Fahim wrote that it also provided the Syrian president with “something more rare: a measure of international praise.”

The article noted that “Mr. Assad’s contention that his government is a bulwark against the transnational extremist group” has been bolstered, but added that “his foes and some allies argue that he must leave power as part of a political settlement to end the war in Syria” – without, of course, specifying who those allies might be.

Then it offered a bit of background: “Lost in the celebrations was a discussion of how Palmyra had fallen in the first place. When the Islamic State captured the city in May [2015], the militants faced little resistance from Syrian troops. At the time, residents said officers and militiamen had fled into orchards outside the city, leaving conscripted soldiers and residents to face the militants alone.”

Since the Times claims to have “several hundred” surreptitious contacts inside Syria, the charge that Assad’s troops fled without a fight may conceivably be correct. But it’s hard to square with reports that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) had to battle for seven or eight days before entering the city and then had to deal with a counter-offensive on the city’s outskirts. But even if true, it’s only part of the story and a small one at that.

The real story began two months earlier when Syrian rebels launched a major offensive in Syria’s northern Idlib province with heavy backing from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Led by Al Nusra, the local Al Qaeda affiliate, but with the full participation of U.S.-backed rebel forces, the assault proved highly successful because of the large numbers of U.S.-made optically guided TOW missiles supplied by the Saudis. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]

The missiles gave the rebels the edge they needed to destroy dozens of government tanks and other vehicles according to videos posted on social media websites. Indeed, one pro-U.S. commander told The Wall Street Journal that the TOWs completely “flipped the balance of power,” enabling the rebels to dislodge the Syrian army’s heavily dug-in forces and drive them out of town. Although the government soon counter-attacked, Al Nusra and its allies continued to advance to the point where they posed a direct threat to the Damascus regime’s stronghold in Latakia province 50 or 60 miles to the west.

Official Washington was jubilant. “The trend lines for Assad are bad and getting worse,” a senior official crowed a month after the offensive began. The Times happily observed that “[t]he Syrian Army has suffered a string of defeats from re-energized insurgents … [which] raise newly urgent questions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.”

Assad was on the ropes, or so everyone said. Indeed, ISIS thought so as well, according to the Associated Press, which is why it decided that the opportunity was ripe to launch an offensive of its own 200 miles or so to the southeast. Worn-out and depleted after four years of civil war, the Syrian Arab Army retreated before the onslaught.

But considering the billions of dollars that the U.S. and Saudis were pouring into the rebel forces, blaming Damascus for not putting up a stiffer fight is a little like beating up a 12-year-old girl and then blaming her for not having a better right hook.

So the U.S. and its allies helped Islamic State by tying down Assad’s forces in the north so that it could punch through in the center. But that’s not all the U.S. did. It also helped by suspending bombing as the Islamic State neared Palmyra.

As the Times put it at the time: “Any airstrikes against Islamic State militants in and around Palmyra would probably benefit the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. So far, United States-led airstrikes in Syria have largely focused on areas far outside government control, to avoid the perception of aiding a leader whose ouster President Obama has called for.”

The upshot was a clear message to ISIS to the effect that it had nothing to worry about from U.S. jet bombers as long as it engaged Assad’s troops in close combat. The U.S. thus incentivized ISIS to press forward with the assault. Although residents later wondered why the U.S. had not bombed ISIS forces “while they were traversing miles of open desert roads,” the answer, simply, is that Washington had other things on its mind. Rather than defeating ISIS, it preferred to use it to accomplish its primary goal, which was driving out Assad.

The Blowback

But what does this have to do with Brussels and Lahore? Simply that America’s fundamental ambivalence toward ISIS, Al Qaeda, and similar groups — its policy of battling them on one hand and seeking to make use of them on the other — is what allows Sunni terrorism to fester and grow.

The administration is shocked, SHOCKED, when Islamists kill innocent people in Belgium but not when they kill innocent people in Syria. This is why the White House long regarded ISIS as a lesser threat: because it thought its violence would remain safely contained.

 

“Where Al Qaeda’s principal ambition is to launch attacks against the West and U.S. homeland,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes explained in August 2014, “ISIL’s primary focus is consolidating territory in the Middle East region to establish their own Islamic State.”

Since the only people in harm’s way were Syrians, there was no cause for alarm. The rest of the world could relax.

Hence the confusion when ISIS did the unexpected by striking out at Western targets after all. As the Times observed in a major takeout this week on Islamic State’s Western operations, officials were slow to connect the dots because Euro-terrorism was not supposed to be ISIS’s thing: “Even as the group began aggressively recruiting foreigners, especially Europeans, policymakers in the United States and Europe continued to see it as a lower-profile branch of Al Qaeda that was mostly interested in gaining and governing territory.”

Turkish officials made essentially the same point last week in response to widespread complaints that they have done little to prevent Sunni terrorists from making their way to Syria. Not so, they countered. When they tried to return the jihadis from whence they came, they found that members of the European Union were none too eager to have them.

“We were suspicious that the reason they want these people to come is because they don’t want them in their own countries,” a senior Turkish security official told the London Guardian. Instead, they preferred to see them continue on their way. And why not? At home, they would only cause trouble, whereas in Syria they would advance Western interests by waging war against Assad’s Baathist government.

Thus, Brussels was unresponsive when Turkish officials informed it that they had detained a Belgian citizen named Ibrahim el-Bakraoui in the border town of Gaziantep on suspicion of traveling to Syria to join the jihad. The Turks deported him anyway, but the Belgians remained unconcerned until El-Bakraoui turned up among the suicide bombers at Zaventem airport.

The same thing happened when the Turks intercepted a Syria-bound French national named Omar Ismail Mostefai. Paris was also unresponsive until Mostefai wound up among the ISIS militants who stormed the Bataclan concert hall last November, at which point its attitude turned distinctly less blasé.

In June 2014, Turkish security officers in Istanbul intercepted a Norwegian citizen traveling to Syria with a camouflage outfit, a first-aid kit, knives, a gun magazine and parts of an AK-47, all of which E.U. customs officials had somehow overlooked.

Two months later, they intercepted a German citizen with a suitcase containing a bulletproof vest, military camouflage and binoculars that customs had also failed to notice. When they apprehended a Danish-Turkish dual citizen on his way to Syria, they sent him back to Copenhagen. But the Danes gave him another passport regardless so he could continue on his way. Everyone figured that what happens in Syria stays in Syria, so why worry?

Now, of course, everyone is worried big time. With the AP reporting that Islamic State has armed and trained 400 to 600 fighters for its European operations, talk of ISIS sleeper cells is ubiquitous. Referring to the Brussels district where the March 22 bombing plot was hatched, Patrick Kanner, the French social-democratic minister of youth, warned ominously: “There are today, as is well known, hundreds of neighborhoods in France that present potential similarities to what happened in Molenbeek.”

The implication was that the state of emergency should not only continue but deepen. As hundreds of neo-Nazis descended on Brussels chanting anti-immigrant slogans, paranoia took a giant leap forward as did its handmaidens racism and Islamophobia.

But as much everyone would like to blame it all on Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and others of that ilk, none of this is really their fault. To the contrary, the West’s disastrous Syria policy is entirely the creation of nice-guy liberals like Barack Obama. Desperate to appease both Israel and the Sunni oil sheiks, all of whom for various reasons wanted Assad to go, he signed on to a massive Sunni jihad that has turned Syria into a charnel house.

With death estimates now running as high as 470,000, which is to say one person in nine, the idea that massive violence like this could remain confined to a single country was absurd to begin with. Yet Obama went along regardless.

Indeed, the administration is still unwilling to back down despite all that has happened since. When a reporter asked point-blank at a State Department press briefing, “Do you want to see the [Damascus] regime retake Palmyra or would you prefer that it stays in Daesh’s hands,” spokesman Mark Toner hemmed and hawed before finally admitting that a takeover was preferable because “we think Daesh is probably the greater evil in this case.” (Exchange starts at 1:05.)

But the next day he walked back even that mealy-mouthed statement. Refusing to endorse Palmyra’s fall at all, he declared: “I’m not going to laud it because it’s important to remember that one of the reasons Daesh is in Syria is because Assad’s brutal crackdown on his own people created the kind of vacuum, if you will, that has allowed a group like ISIL or Daesh to flourish. Just because he’s now, given the cessation of hostilities, willing and-or able to divert his forces to take on Daesh doesn’t exonerate him or his regime from the gross abuses that they’ve carried out against the Syrian people.”

Since Assad is the only one to blame, the U.S. doesn’t have to ponder its own contribution to the problem. Instead, it gives itself a clean bill of health and moves on. Rather, it would like to move on if only ISIS would let it.

But the more aid the U.S. and its allies funnel into the hands of Sunni terrorists, the more groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda will grow and the farther their reach will extend. The upshot will be more bombings and shootings in Paris, Brussels, and who knows where else. Racism and Islamophobia will continue to surge regardless of what bien-pensant liberals do to talk it down.

The liberal center is engineering its own demise.

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




Derailing Peace Deal in Colombia

Exclusive: A resurgence of drug-connected right-wing terrorism in Colombia has undercut a historic peace deal between the government and the main leftist rebel group, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Cuban and U.S. leaders overcame immense obstacles to end more than a half century of confrontation between their countries with President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana. But they were unable to end more than a half century of political violence in Colombia by brokering a peace pact that was scheduled to be signed in Havana on March 23, one day after Obama departed.

That target date was set by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, during negotiations hosted by Cuban President Raúl Castro last September. Now the parties are aiming for a new deadline at the end of this year.

After 52 years of conflict, they are used to setbacks and delays. But the armed struggle has already killed more than 220,000 and claimed 7.9 million registered victims — including 77,000 who disappeared — so Colombia desperately needs peace and reconciliation as soon as possible.

The key sticking point concerns parties who are not at the negotiating table. They include a smaller but still potent rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN. More important are right-wing and criminal paramilitary groups who have the motive and means to massacre FARC soldiers and their civilian sympathizers if they get the opportunity.

Until Bogota — and Washington — find a convincing way to restrain these paramilitary terrorists after FARC lays down its arms, Colombia will never find peace.

The peace process has made great strides over the past year. Overall violence is down. The government pardoned some FARC prisoners and helped them return to civilian life. FARC promised to end child recruitment and release children under the age of 15 from its ranks; it also conducted an historic ceremony of public apology for its part in killing civilians during a 2002 firefight with paramilitary forces. The two sides engaged in clearing mines for the first time this spring. They have jointly asked the United Nations Security Council to monitor an eventual ceasefire.

But the Colombian government demands that FARC guerrillas demobilize and hand over their weapons in remote rural “concentration zones.” They would be spared arrest as long as they remain in isolation. FARC insists that it be permitted to store weapons in the zones and be granted their freedom anywhere in the country.

Explaining the organization’s reluctance to totally disarm, a FARC negotiator pointedly questioned whether the government could guarantee their security in the face of paramilitary threats.

“In the last month, more than 28 community organizers, human rights defenders and peasant farmers have been murdered and their killers continue to enjoy impunity,” he said. “Solving the paramilitary problem the main challenge we are facing today, to help this process move ahead.”

Opposing the Peace Process

The U.N. Human Rights Council for Colombia reported in March that “diverse local interests and groups opposed to change resulting from the peace process” — including armed political and criminal groups engaged in land seizures, drug trafficking, illegal mining and extortion — “are already employing violence and intimidation to protect their interests, and the State has not had a sufficiently effective response.”

It added, with a strong affirmation of FARC’s concerns, that “demobilizing guerrillas . . . could also be vulnerable.”

Referring to right-wing death squads that annihilated supporters of a prominent leftist political party affiliated with FARC, the report declared, “The hundreds of assassinations of Unión Patriótica political party leaders and members in the 1980s and 1990s illustrate the elevated risk for new political movements. Security guarantees and transformation of the political reality are essential to avoid repetition of this situation.”

Many experts estimate that more than 2,000 Unión Patriótica members were murdered by right-wing death squads serving powerful drug lords and allied government security forces. The victims included two of the party’s presidential candidates, one elected senator, eight congressmen, 70 councilmen, and dozens of deputies and mayors. The assassination campaign ended a ceasefire reached by FARC and the government in 1987 and destroyed hopes for peace.

Much of this terrorist violence was perpetrated by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary organization that eventually took over the cocaine trade from its original patron, the Medellín Cartel. The AUC enjoyed support from government and military officials who appreciated its help in the war against FARC (which also had dirty hands in the drug trade).

The AUC’s 30,000 members officially demobilized in 2006. Subsequent testimony by some of them helped convict 60 former congressmen and seven former governors for collaborating with the criminal organization. Former President Alvaro Uribe accepted money from the AUC for his 2002 presidential campaign; his brother Santiago was arrested in February on charges of helping to create a paramilitary group of his own.

The Colombian human rights group MOVICE reported in March that a new generation of criminal bands have launched a campaign of murder and intimidation to disrupt the current peace talks. Their victims include community leaders and peasants who claim their lands were illegally seized.

“I think part of the message [of the killings] is to intimidate the FARC, and let them know what awaits them if they enter politics,” said a MOVICE spokesman.

Rightist Drug Lords

Chief among the threats to FARC and its community supporters is Colombia’s most powerful drug trafficking organization, “Los Urabeños,” which has muscled its way into many former guerrilla territories and today controls much of the country’s Caribbean coast. It is a direct successor to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

“We feel obligated to continue our anti-subversive fight,” a spokesman for Los Urabeños declared soon after the group announced it formation.

The Santos government has made genuine moves to seek justice against the instigators of political violence. It recently arrested a senior general on charges of overseeing the grisly killing of thousands of civilians whom the Army falsely claimed were guerrillas in order to inflate body counts and win bonuses.

State prosecutors also said they will arrest a former head of the army — and ally of former President Uribe — for the same crime, known as the “false positives” scandal.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 16 active and retired army generals are currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s office for “false positive” killings, and about 800 lower-ranking soldiers have been convicted. But human rights groups warn that rules tentatively worked out by the government and FARC to promote reconciliation by granting immunity for war crimes could prevent further prosecution of false positive cases.

The United States, which bears a heavy responsibility for promoting state violence and the growth of paramilitary organizations to combat communism in Colombia in the 1950s and 1960s, can make partial amends by supporting President Santos’s efforts at reconciliation while pressing to see that justice is served by holding war criminals accountable.

In the interests of peace and justice, Washington should also offer all reasonable aid to help Colombia suppress organizations like Los Urabeños that continue the terrible legacy of previous terrorist and criminal paramilitary groups.

As Adam Isacson, a Colombia security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, noted recent murders by the new generation of paramilitary forces “make it a lot harder for the FARC leadership to convince their rank and file to demobilize. The U.S. has to make it clear that the paramilitaries…are right up there with the Zetas, Sinaloa [cartels] and the MS-13 as security threats, because of their ability to threaten a peaceful outcome in Colombia.”

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]




U.S. Troops on Russia’s Borders

Official Washington’s hype about “Russian aggression” has cloaked a U.S. military buildup on Russia’s borders, possibly increasing risks of escalation and even world war, explains ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

U.S. military deployments to Eastern Europe are being ramped up. The latest word as reported by the Wall Street Journal is that regular rotation of brigade-size forces, with the most modern equipment, will bring a de facto continuous U.S. military presence to the areas in question, which include the Baltic republics, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.

It is easy to see that the immediate motivation behind this measure, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work indicated to the Journal, is to calm nervousness among some of those states about what the Russian bear is up to. But there are other implications of any deployment of this nature; if there weren’t, then there would be no reason to expect the deployment to have the desired calming effect.

We are entitled to be told, to a greater extent than we have been told so far, just what the strategy is behind this deployment. What exactly is the threat that we are trying to meet, in more specific terms than just “Russian aggression”? What sort of scenario do we have in mind? What would be the U.S. response to such a scenario, and what role would the newly deployed U.S. troops be playing?

There has been plenty of precedent and practice in thinking about such matters. Throughout the Cold War the conundrum of how to protect Western Europe from the feared scenario of being overrun by a huge Soviet conventional assault was never solved to a high degree of satisfaction, although the stationing of U.S. troops in Europe had a lot to do with trying to solve it. Even when the United States had a couple of hundred thousand troops in West Germany, that still probably would not have been enough to stop a determined assault by the Red Army at its Cold War peak.

Nuclear weapons often figured into the strategic thinking of the time, although again without a high degree of satisfaction. At the level of long-range nuclear weapons there was always the question of whether the United States would be willing to risk New York and Washington to save Frankfurt and Hamburg. At the theater level, saving Western Europe from Soviet occupation would have been at best a pyrrhic victory if it meant turning much of the saved territory into a nuclear wasteland.

In the end the reliance was largely placed on the concept of the trip-wire and on the trip-wire’s hoped-for deterrent effect. U.S. troops were the wire; their forward presence in Europe assured that Americans would be killed, and that the United States would be directly involved, in the earliest hours of any European war. And the added costs and risks of escalation from U.S. involvement would, went the thinking, help deter the Soviets from starting such a war.

Perhaps the concept of the trip-wire is once more at work with these latest announced deployments. But again, it would be good to know more about the envisioned circumstances that would trip the wire. The Russians are not in a position to do anything as big as the feared pouring of Red Army hordes from East Germany through the Fulda gap into West Germany.

While being capable of less, one can imagine Russia trying something less. What about a seizure of the Baltic Republics? For several reasons, that is less likely to happen than what happened with Crimea. But even with that U.S. brigade around, Russia probably could accomplish such a seizure fairly quickly. This raises, in a different version of the old Cold War question about what the United States would be willing to risk to save Frankfurt or Hamburg, the question of what it would be willing to risk to save Vilnius or Riga.

The mere fact of NATO membership of the Baltic Republics and the application of the commitment to them under Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty already raises this issue. Having troops on the ground makes this question more acute.

Of course, we in the public cannot be expected to have every contingent U.S. response spelled out in detail and with certainty. Deterrence often depends on sowing some doubt in an adversary’s mind. But our own unease ought to get at least as much priority as the unease of governments in Eastern Europe.

Understanding and justifying the strategy are all the more important in that there are costs to this deployment beyond the material costs of personnel and equipment. Some of those costs involve relations with Russia.

The Russians have a strong case in complaining that such a deployment violates understandings reached with them as the Cold War was ending and that were directly linked to Moscow’s acquiescence in peaceful reunification of a Germany that everyone realized would have a Western orientation. The understandings were further codified a few years later in a joint statement by NATO and Russia.

The U.S. administration seems to be dancing around the issue of permanent deployments in Eastern Europe by using what technically are temporary rotations of troops, similar to the game it is playing with the U.S. public regarding how many U.S. troops are in Iraq. De facto reneging on previous understandings ought to worry anyone concerned about U.S. credibility. And we should remember how much difference Russian cooperation, or lack of it, can make in dealing with problems such as the war in Syria.

We also need to think, beyond simple reassurance, about possible reactions of the East European governments. For them to be a little nervous about what Russia might do is not necessarily a bad thing. It would not be in our interests or the interests of European stability, for example, for the Latvian government to be too relaxed about Russian reactions when it makes decisions about the treatment of its ethnic Russian minority — a matter with the potential to trigger a crisis-instigating response by Moscow.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)